Valley Drive – an early “Spring Tidy”

We are entering our second year with this client. We have been periodically checking in, as the temps allowed, just to see how the plant life was looking and growing. In late fall last year we left the Pink Muhly Grasses to cut down today. They were keeping the garden beds from looking completely bare as everything died back in late fall.

Our homeowner hired us last year to transition his garden beds from….all shades of green plant life, to perennial flowering plants. He selected plants with some of our input and he chose his own placement. We completed the installs.  We started out conservatively, to see how they filled in, and so this year, once things begins to grow back in and populate, we’ll see where new purchases will be needed, and take into account room for proper space and growth. Our goal this year is to intersperse some spacing/timing on plant blooms. Planning so that each month…. working up to fall, he will have blooms for “showing” the entire summer.  It’s fun and challenging, mainly because he has a “guys” take on color, variety and height. His taste is somewhat eclectic. We are very much enjoying the unfolding of the process. Even though he is not a gardener he does like to do plant research.

Our early spring tidy was simply that. No real gardening yet, but weeding a lot and trimming up dead growth on the surrounding bushes. We completed four (4) hours, but need a couple more to continue keeping up on the typical spring weed invasion. Our community is a highly wooded area and so with wind and seeds blowing all over, we do get our share of pretty invasive weed infestations. So it’s really important in late March and early April to keep up on the weeding. I will be dropping by occasionally up to the break in temps around May 1st to take care of this. 

We still need to complete a deep edging of all the beds, including the outer perimeter of the property. This unit is in the center of a strip of 6 townhomes.  It has been landscaped with some higher end English Boxwoods and has a small estate look about it. We have been working hard to encourage fill-in of the Boxwoods growth, after five years of some previous owner neglect. It’s really coming along nicely. 

This is probably one of the nicer properties in our community and we very much look forward to adding more color and unusual flowering plants this year. Our assignment and “our joy.”

”Contessa” says…… it’s a very good thing!

Lenten Study – Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent


Do you want to have a real spiritual life? Then right here and right now….live your life in the experience of your “pains and your joys.” Take a close look at how you Think, Feel and Act. In that process of really looking… will find that you will become fully aware of your hunger for the spirit. Inside  each of us is an inner feeling of discomfort with how we live in “the now.” We all should each take a look at how we are truly living our lives. It’s time to get real. Be honest with yourself. Have the courage to confront yourself about how you are living your life. Trust yourself that your honesty and courage will lead you, not to a loss of hope, but to a new heaven and a new earth.

Read: Matthew 7:25-27, 32-35


My Father God, I wish to chase away my sadness and any worry….with your gift of Grace. I want to put away boredom and doubt, and with swift action I call out to you now, to infuse your Grace into my soul. Help me to be honest with myself and to put my childish and untrue games away, so that I may reach up with my true heart for your kingdom, Oh’ my God…I cry out to you now. I seek your loving care.


A Contessa TIP – Soil pH Testing from Home

Soooo….. simple, but so important……
Alkaline soil 
Dig a hole in your garden bed. Do not use surface soil.
Scoop out 2 tablespoons of soil into a bowl
Add a 1/2 Cup of white distilled Vinegar
Watch…… to see if the mixture fizzes
If it does, you have alkaline soil.

•Add organic matter.

The most organic way to lower your soil’s pH level is to add soil amendments. Use organic materials like mulch, pine needles, sphagnum peat moss, compost, and coffee grounds.


Acidic Soil

Collect 2 tablespoons of soil in a bowl.

Moisten it with distilled water

Add 1/2 Cup of baking soda

If the mixture fizzes

You have Acidic soil


•Add Nitrogen

Soil pH can be lowered by increasing soil nitrogen. Adding compost, manure, or organic soil amendments like alfalfa meal to the soil can help drop pH over time by increasing bacterial populations

Or you can purchase a product that takes care of this for you. Particularly with Hydrangeas. Very often folks will purchase a new BLUE hydrangea specimen. They bought blue specifically, because they love this color.

Generally within the first full year of growth it may begin to produce a more violet bloom, and by the second year they are leaning toward a pink blossom. This means your soil is too acidic.

Purchase this product and use it around the base of your Hydrangea every three months, beginning in the spring

Periodically soil pH testing is a very good idea, as waters can flow from other areas and this can greatly affect the soil in your garden beds.

Contessa” says……Give It A Go!

Lenten Study- Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Learn from the Master

Jesus was called to be a teacher, but he didn’t take advantage of his “connections” because he placed himself among the people who have to “learn.” The example of his life shows us that we do not need weapons, we don’t need to hide ourselves and we don’t need to play the games of being competitive with each other. If you want to be a true student of Jesus, don’t be afraid to show your weakness, allow yourself to be touched by the tender hand of the Teacher. If you share…in prayer with your Teacher, you will be able to be a real student.

Read: Mark 10:27-22


Dear Jesus, I ask you to touch my heart in my new endeavors so that I may listen for your perfect way and follow you. I am facing new challenges, but I’m very sure they are your special challenges for me. My challenges seem  huge and somewhat overwhelming. I think you will ask me to make some sacrifices as I journey in my new direction, but I will speak with you often and listen for your ways to fine tune and develop my new learning. Please Jesus, give me your Grace to become a wise learner. Help me to study, learn and explore things I need to learn about my new creative adventure. I wish to humbly value your truth for  me in my learning adventure. I know you are calling me to stretch and to grow. Jesus, I will follow You. 



“In the Dirt” Gardening

Hello Gardening Friends, 

We have recently updated our business card so that we could display it in our community newsletter, rather than the lengthy text Classified Ad that we ran every month for the last few years. Frankly, it was not only a lengthy Ad, it was also necessary to continually update it. And so we have teamed up with a graphic artist and created a 1/8 page color Ad that will appear beginning in May, in the Parkfairfax Forum Newsletter and the Fairlington Community Newsletter. We are hoping this will be easier for everyone to find our business. 

On the back of our card we identified four (4) key service items, if you will, that we offer….. which will give you a better sense of our hands-on gardening approach.

First on this list is “in the dirt” gardening. We wanted to give you a snipet about our style, and for us “in the dirt” is simple and suggests hands on gardening. We are definitely in your dirt when we book an appointment to come and work in your garden. We are a staff of one, namely moi,”“Contessa.” We do employ a couple helpers, but the key to our true gardening work and style is to dig dirt, remove weeds from your dirt, till and work your soil with our hands and add fertilizer, compost and rich organic matter into you beds.  We garden with our own hands and a large dose of TLC (tender loving care.) We often remove plantings, divide them, reposition/transplant them and work them back into the soil where they can grow successfully and produce for you. The point being, that sometimes plant life has grown to the point that it needs a new home. Or it’s become way overgrown for the space it’s in, or it’s looking sickly because it has a bug or a blight. It could be because it’s planted in too much sun or too little sun. And sometimes it has grown so large it is crowding another plant right beside it…that wants more room.

The real point is that when we evaluate our preparation of your beds, we will definitely get down “in the dirt” with our hands, our garden tools, and our “gardening soul.” You see, for us, it’s a manual and a spiritual endeavor. We have found our soul in all your gardens. Digging in the soil is definitely our “call” and our happy place. It’s where we can be close to nature, the earth (dirt) and our great and all loving God. He is with us and we are with Him. Rest assured that we will give your garden, the plants, and the soil, our very best effort. And we will give our best effort to you also. We also give our best, to our Lord and our God. He is our constant and ever loving companion. This is our blessing, and we take it very seriously. We are called to help you and glorify our God. So “in the dirt” gardening is our gift to you.

We provide the following service items to everyone, upon request.

  • In the Dirt” Gardening
  • Four Seasons Bed Preparation
  • Monthly Maintenance Contracts
  • Nursery Visits By Appointment

In our next blog post we will address:

“Four Season’s Bed Preparation”

Contessa” says…’s a very good thing!

Lenten Study – Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent


Count your blessings. It sounds so simple. They come along every day. After one year, you have so many but in our modern lifestyles we are often so busy we have forgotten how blessed we really are. I urge you to create and nurture presence. This presence means paying particular attention to notice that you are being blessed. It’s not easy for busy people to even receive a blessing, like a kind word from another, because we must stop, listen, pay attention and “receive” gracefully what is offered to us. Take time to really notice how you are being blessed.

Read: 3:17-21


Father, my great God, help me see and to experience each blessing you bestow on me. Our creation and the lives of others in my life are your glory at work. You bring blessings into all our lives. May I notice the moon and it’s evening light, the harvest season with plentiful fruits and vegetables, the fluffy clouds up in your most blue sky. Your blessings are always there for me. Father, I pray you will help me to slow down, and help me to show my gratitude through daily prayer. I ask for true reverence for all the many wonderful blessings that you provide. I thank you for every single moment that you have given me and I am grateful for all your gifts. 


• AMEN • 

Lenten Study – Fourth Sunday of Lent

Overcome Fear

Do you love Jesus?  Do you want to hold on to your friends, even if they do not lead you closer to Him? I love Jesus…. but I want to hold on to my independence even if that independence brings me no freedom. I love Jesus but I don’t want to give up my travel plans, my speaking plans, my writing plans, even if all these plans are more for my glory than the glory of God.

Am I like Nicodemus?….who admired Jesus but was afraid to loose the respect of his colleagues.

Read: John 7:40-52

This is the Messiah……


My dear Father God….help me to examine my motives and my actions with your purposes for me in mind. I do not want to be overly swayed or influenced by the advice of my friends, and those who share their free opinions. My prayer this morning is that I will always look to you, rather than to others for helping me to set my priorities. I wish to reject my own will…..and keep my peace with You.

Sometimes other people like family, friends, colleagues, media, and public opinion attempt to influence me. I wish to weed out influences that are not healthy for me. And Lord, help me to stand up for an unpopular belief, but one that is morally sound, true and right. So during my Lenten devotions, help me to always keep my peace with You.

* Amen *

Lenten Study – Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

Descend in Imitation of Jesus

Can you give up the upper hand? Can you let let others go ahead of you? Will you step aside and give the credit to someone else?  Will you learn the lessons of suffering, but also the way to healing? Can you experience humiliation, but also proceed on a journey to resurrection?

This  is Jesus’ descending way of love, the way to the poor, the broken and the oppressed, but it becomes the ascending way to love, joy, peace and new life.  Our descending way is what each person experiences in his own heart. Slowly but intentionally, we each must take our descending way in order to open our ascending way, to bring us to the way Jesus fills our life with his joy, peace, love and our “new life” in imitation of Jesus.

Read: 1 Peter 4:12, 5:1-5


Dear Jesus….. help me find my way of descent ~ my way of humility, tears, of suffering and of being hidden.  I know that I must seek the lowly way of life in order to reach the heights of your eternal happiness. I seek your light and pray that it follows me and fills me all the days of my life.

• AMEN •

Property and Gardening Prep for a Successful Open House

A new assignment and new relationship has transpired. We are working on a job for a realtor and his client/homeowner. And we were referred by one of our other very good clients. It’s good to know that this is how you build and grow your business. Helping others!

Our Day #1 – 3.0 hours.

Our property is going to be on the market very soon. Our homeowner has already relocated out of state. We were retained to clean things up, tidy the garden bed in front removing all crawling vines and trim anything growing out on to the sidewalk. Pansies were left for us to install. We did not have a water source, so limited tidying of the cement porch was all we could really accomplish. We planted the Pansies after cleaning everything up in the bed by the front door, tilled and leveled the garden bed and added one (1) 3 cu ft bag of shredded hardwood bark mulch. All porch items  were everywhere as we had placed them aside to clean. Many items will be tossed, but we left things “as is” for the homeowner to either give away or toss, once she comes to do some work inside the unit over the next weekend. Her contribution to the goal.

It definitely looks better, and she is replacing her front glass door next week, as well as having the Condo Association painters come to freshen the white paint on the brick background wall and the door frame. Little by little it’s coming along.

This video doesn’t exist

This video doesn’t exist


Day #2 – 5.0 hours

Bed clean up in the back patio area, narrow side bed, full of left over fall leaf debris was removed. Many left behind patio items to work around and clean up. Left side bed rubber border removed as it was bulging out of the dirt along the whole length of the wood deck. Very unattractive so we pulled it out. We then deep edged that bed after cleanup and added fresh mulch. Creating a drainage recess so mulch and rain would not escape from the bed on to the deck.

Many of our PFX residents use large stones that they have collected to create borders. We really discourage this because when the community gardeners come to clean up they cannot possibly remove all the leaf debris and the weeds that bury themselves in these rock borders. It’s so much better to create deep edges on the beds, in terms of a clean and more tidy look. But the back yard has a ton of these stones that were most luckily laid by PFX maintenance team members and so clearing and cleaning it all out, took a great deal of time.

We had contracted to complete ten hours for this project,  but at the end of our five hour day, it became clear that more work needed to be completed. So we came back for day#3 and finished up the project at 12.5 hours.

Our homeowner was pleased. Our real estate professional was pleased and on the 26th of March the property “Open House” will take place.

We trust everything will go well. Additionally, as an add-on we agreed to come the morning of the Open House and do a sweep of the property just to make sure it’s “show worthy.”

”Contessa” says…. It’s a very good thing!


New talk! Tom Massey: Resilient Garden

Tom Massey is one of the leading designers of his generation and his new book, RHS Resilient Garden (published by DK in April) is a climate emergency call to action for us all to garden more sustainably. To celebrate the publication, hear Tom and some of the book’s expert contributors discuss the important issue of climate-resilient gardening.

How can we design our gardens and green spaces to become more adaptable in a warming climate? How resilient are gardens, in the face of extreme weather events such as heatwaves and drought or excessive rainfall and flooding? Why should we be planting our own food forests, adopting green roof and swale planting, harvesting rainwater, or adding hügelkultur mounds? What are the best plants to cool the air and trap harmful pollutants?

The evening will be chaired by Chris Young, who will welcome guests Tayshan Hayden-Smith, Dr Tijana Blanusa, Dr Hayley Jones, and Thomas Rainer on stage, joining Tom Massey for a panel discussion on resilient gardening.

Tues 11 April, 7pm
£15 Standard, £10 Friends/Young Fronds
£10 Livestream

Book tickets

Jane Jacobs Day 2023

Join us for the Garden Museum’s inaugural Jane Jacobs Day, a day of activities celebrating the renowned urban theorist, writer, and activist Jane Jacobs, most famously known for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).

The day will include a Jane Walk in our local neighbourhood, a community workshop, and an evening panel discussion on London’s future, to commemorate the outstanding contribution Jane Jacobs made to urban studies, sociology, economics, and activism.

Full programme coming soon, but tickets are available now for the evening talk!

Ideas for a Greener London
Chaired by Evan Davis, this panel discussion will explore how to envision a brighter, greener, and better future for London. Speakers include Architect Alex Arestis on the development of an urban arboretum; academic Dr Morag Rose on walking together to shape the planet; Oli Mould on the futures of golf courses and writer George Hudson on why utilities are the problem…

Thurs 4 May, 7pm
£10 Adult, £8 Friend, £8 Student, £8 Unemployed
£10 Livestream

Book tickets

Plant of the Week: Fritillaria verticillata

By Matt Collins, Head Gardener

As anyone who follows my Instagram account will know, my fixation with fritillaries began in earnest while living at Benton End in Suffolk, where the appearance of various species once grown by Benton’s renowned artist-gardener, Sir Cedric Morris, still appear sporadically in the rough grass, decades after his death. Going out in the dewy spring mornings to spot dainty, elegant and sometimes curious fritillaries half hidden in the walled garden there — during the strange quiet of the pandemic — will forever remain one of my most favourite gardening experiences. Not least as it tuned my eye to the nuances and natural appeal of species bulbs more generally.

This week, while the cold weather creeps on into spring, stinging hands and stiffening boots, I have rejoiced at the indifference shown by our clumps of Fritillaria verticillata— a completely magnetising species fritillary from Japan whose multi-headed, cream-white blooms appear to have almost doubled in spread and size since last year, despite the chill temperatures. Planted in the Museum courtyard as a little drift last April, I staked the emerging shoots this winter with little berberis prunings (sturdily pronged and advantageously sharp), to give its slender, tendril-clad stems something to cling to. Here at the damper, partially sunny end of the garden they have now risen to well above two feet, dangling as many as five flowers each: qualities that make verticillata (which means ‘whorled’, in reference to the arrangement of its leaves around the stem) a fantastic garden plant for spring.

Verticillata wasn’t among the fritillaries I encountered at Benton End, but I came to know it around the same time during a visit to a garden once owned by late garden writer Tony Venison. Venison died in 2019, but for many years was a frequent visitor to (and great chronicler of) Benton End. So there is a small chance the fritillary is linked; if not given by Morris (who was famously generous with plants) then perhaps discussed with him in the garden. Upon seeing it I was instantly charmed: if the height, floral abundance and butterfly antennae-like tendrils weren’t captivating enough, you lift the little pendent heads to reveal an exquisite, blood-red crosshatch beneath the petals. If you’re visiting the museum, I encourage you to wander out and look.

About our gardens

Otros Vinos at the Garden Café

Friday nights at the Garden Café are back from next week, and to celebrate we’ve invited one of our wine suppliers and good friends of the Café, the excellent Otros Vinos, to join us and pick the wine list for the evening.

Focusing on low-intervention wine makers, Otros Vinos use lesser known grape varieties from some of the more obscure regions of France and Spain. Head chef Myles has put together a Mediterranean inspired menu for the evening to compliment the list.

Spots are limited so please book online in advance.

Friday 24 March, from 6pm

Book a table
Images: Tom Massey (c) Wax London; Jane Jacobs, chairman of the Comm. to save the West Village holds up documentary evidence at press conference at Lions Head Restaurant at Hudson & Charles Sts (1961), New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress; Fritillaria verticillata
Garden Museum
5 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB