2017 VMGA Education Symposium

Virginia Master Gardener Association 2017 Educational Event

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August 27, 2017


VMGA Education Day
By Erica Jones, committee chair

“Ed Day” for 2017 was based in the Winchester area.  We started at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV) promptly at 9:30 am on Aug 27t and ended at the state arboreturm (Blandy).  Given that much of the day was going to be split into two outside tour groups, total attendance was limited to about 45.  Actual attendance was about 42.

The schedule was as follows.  MGers arrived at MSV and got an orientation talk by Perry Mathews.  Then we split into two groups; one group stayed inside for a talk by John Seiler on “Virginia Forests” while the other group did a tour of the grounds with Perry for about 60 minutes.  Then we switched (which went fairly smoothly).  Our choice of days was limited at MSV due to a scheduled wedding on Saturday 26th   which prompted us to try having our Ed Day on a Sunday.  The only part of the day that participants had to specifically sign up for was the afternoon “Tree ID” tour at Blandy, which filled up fast.

The afternoon set up was the similar but we did not switch groups.  We started with an overview of Blandy, and then split into two groups.  One –half the MGers went with Steve Carol for a tour, the other half went with John Seiler for a (live!) tree ID tour.

The MSV orientation talk in the meeting room on the first floor at MSV was a brisk talk by Perry Mathews (head of gardens at MSV) and covered the fairly complicated history of the farm, house and grounds.  Although maybe part of the MSV least advertised, part of the acreage is currently rented out for grazing beef cattle.  Perry mentioned future plans to add trails through the property connecting to surrounding community.

Dr. Seiler for his morning talk covered   a fair bit about how forests are changing with increased temperatures and introduction of invasive species.  His presentation was scattered with seven multiple choice questions, of which yours truly got two correct.  Some of the questions were “which is the most common invasive in VA. Forests” and which of these four species is the most common tree in Virginia forests (yellow popular – I got that one correct anyway).  At the end he gave prizes to the best score amidst a fair bit of giggling.

Outside, Perry talked about how the scope of the gardens has changed over the years.  One of the early designers, R. Lee Taylor was not professionally trained and would try things that did not work, and then change the planting again.  Perry discussed the problems with trying to maintain Mr. Taylor’s original ideas and the general progression to get away from some of those restrictions.  They did still have a  formal rose garden with all the usual disease/insect problems.  I have heard from other speakers that a monocrop like roses are very hard to keep looking good.


The garden is basically a series of smaller themed areas that the MSV rents out for public happenings.  Perry discussed how some of the areas were suited to seating and gathering; only one area is prone to flooding.  One word of advice was “don’t have a wedding site where the bride has to walk uphill to get married and the seating for the guests is not on very level turf”.  Another gathering area was a patio area beside the house (the oldest part was built in 1790 and then added on) was blazing hot in the summer.  So they took out a large planter in the middle and added fabric canopies to reduce the heat.  When we were there on an August morning it was very pleasant.

The grounds have a large spring and are the head waters for a creek running through Winchester.  The spring’s temperature is too cool to get water lilies to bloom, but the blond trout love the water.  Downstream from the spring Perry talked about some of the problems dealing with heavy rains and runoff; and how that affects planting and “hardscape” (in this case paving on the walkways).

MSV garden ares

Picture shows the lower “Japanese” area which houses the trout with Perry Mathews trying to stay dry.

After lunch on your own, we all reconvened at the arboretum of Virginia with a few stragglers showing up late for an overview of the grounds by ecologist Steve Carrol. Graham F. Blandy bequeathed 700 acres of his approximately 900 acre estate to the University of Virginia, which accepted it after his death in 1926.  Besides the planted grounds, the arboretum has a number of very picturesque buildings.  The original estate house was built in 1933 (which remains in the Blandy family) and is adjacent to the property.  The arboretum supports UVA students doing research there. During the summer staff and volunteers do a lot of educational activities for families. Steve suggested that we check out the herb garden after our respective tours.

The arboretum has an inside library area but it is fairly small, so I decided our event would be with outside activities.  If we had had rain that day we would have been under umbrellas.  The arboretum is not set up to entertain large indoor groups.

After our overview, we split into two predetermined groups (attendees had to stick to one of the two tours in the afternoon).

Steve started out his tour with a pollinator garden that had different sections for bees, other insects, and butterflies.  Then we slid down into the spring flowering wooded section.  Plants are labeled extremely well; even the resident poke berry had a  label!  He mentioned that the area was being dug up for installation of shade-loving wildflowers.

In the 172 acres of the arboretum the trees are grouped together if closely related; so we saw sections of buckeyes, beech and magnolia.  We also zipped by the remaining survivors of the chestnut planting.  The native/Chinese crosses are allowed to grow and then inoculated; survivors are left growing.  When I was there in January the large, (deer) fenced area was full; when we were there in August  there were maybe 5% of the trees left standing.

Late in the tour we saw the allée of Cedar of Lebanon.  This planting had some dead trees in it; probably due to being planted too closely together and perhaps because Virginia is not this tree’s favorite habitat.  They do not have the budget for tree pruning and other beautification activities unless it is a particularly nice/historic tree.  In contrast, the MSV had a short allée near the residence which was on its third planting of trees.

Our group voted to not tour the very large meadow planting which was blooming nicely.  Steve said that about every three years the VA Forestry Dept. comes and does a controlled burn in sections, to help keep “woodies” from getting a hold.

Dr. Seiler gave a tour of “tree ID” at the arboretum for the afternoon.

Dr. Seiler's tree ID

Dr. Seiler doing tree ID

In case you thought that was all; well no.  The education committee is always looking for more members and ideas for next year’s “do”.  The only criteria is that Ed Day location should move around the state.   And nothing says we could not do something in the winter months.  Summers are good for more hands on tours and the like; winter is for hitting the books.

Photographs courtesy of John Meenam and the “Greenspring Photo Team”