September 2011: Green Scene


 Shake it up

Don’t forget to toast the autumn equinox on September 23. The season changes and finally the planet tilts to our advantage after a relatively brutal summer, though compared to our fellows in Texas who are enduring historic drought, we really can’t complain. Cooling temperatures, and perhaps rain from Atlantic storms, give us a chance to make some changes.

Here in the hollow the big fall project is renovating the perennial border in front of the deer fence. Over the years it has degenerated into a mass of Tartarian asters (planted) and mugwort (not), as attention was diverted to the kitchen garden within and more prominent flower borders on either side of the front porch. The goal is to fill the space with a few larger plants instead of a variety of different perennials that need individual tending and weeding. And since it’s outside the deer fence, you know what that means.

  September in the garden
*Harvest vegetables regularly until frost.
*Time for renovating beds.
*Meet the beautyberry and Blue Star.

For many years, Rudbeckia and Sedum have thrived here, but lately the resident herd has added them to its palate, and once they get a taste, it’s all over. One beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotama) and an Amsonia, often called “Blue Star,” have persevered through everything, however, and allow me to invoke a key principle of design: If plants you like are doing well on a particular site, plant more of them.

Beautyberry, a deciduous shrub, has demure pinky-white powder-puff flowers in spring but goes total diva in fall with amethyst (or white) berries dramatically thrust out upon graceful arching sprays; it takes up a good three to four feet all around. Blue Star, a long-lived perennial (three to four feet again, though there are dwarf varieties to one foot), makes more of a narrow tower, blooming periwinkle blue in spring with spectacular peachy gold autumn foliage. Interesting seed heads see it through most of the fall if I don’t cut them all for arrangements. Then by late February, the miniature narcissus and crocus (which have been there forever) begin to bloom. Voila.

The old border lost its prominence to newer beds on either side of the front walk. With a perennial backbone of peonies, iris and hellebore, this summer they vibrated with annual color that took the heat and proved unpalatable to deer: a globe amaranth mix of purple, pink and white pom-poms (a classic “everlasting” for cutting and drying), zinnias, and—a surprise hit—a rosy red angel wing begonia, all of which have endured full sun and dry soil with just an occasional desperate drink.

The bare bones kitchen garden, put in so late, has borne fruit. Straw mulch and a couple of deep waterings paid off for the tomatoes. Jalapenos and basil love the heat and are producing well with general neglect but regular harvesting. Whole jalapenos freeze like lollipops in zip lock bags. Pop them into stews and soups through the winter.

To paraphrase good old TJ, patron saint of all local gardeners, the failure of one thing is indeed redeemed by the success of another.Cathy Clary


Cathy Clary is a gardening teacher and consultant; she tends ornamental beds and a kitchen and cutting garden at home in a hollow south of Charlottesville. Read more about her at, and e-mail her with questions at

Foodie fun

Need to know how to save seeds? Itching to taste a bunch of different pickles? Curious about natural fabric dyes? For the fifth year, Monticello will host the Heritage Harvest Festival, your one-stop, mouthwatering resource for education on these (and many other) topics. This year’s festival is Friday and Saturday, September 16 and 17. 

See the very thorough website,, for all the details on workshops, the seed swap, tastings, music, a chef’s demonstration tent and more. Included in the cost of admission ($8 advance, $10 day-of) are numerous lectures and workshops, from a panel on GMO crops to a talk about brewing kombucha by local expert Ethan Zuckerman. But also check out the extra-cost “premium workshops,” including one on brewing local beer (by Starr Hill’s Mark Thompson) and another on growing medicinal herbs.

You get the idea: It’s everything a rural or urban homesteader needs to know, plus great food and tunes. See you there!—Erika Howsare

Honors at Bundoran

Back in April 2010, ABODE brought you news of a house, then under construction in the North Garden development Bundoran Farm, designed by Jeff Sties of Sunbiosis and built by Artisan Construction. The home, called Woodhill, was designed for the Foraste family and features a small footprint, passive-solar principles and site-sourced lumber.

Now it’s also an award-winner, having snagged the Virginia Sustainable Building Network’s 2011 honor for Best Green Residential Project (New Construction). 

The house is set into its sloping site, with a great room that perches on piers to take advantage of a farmland view below. “Bundoran Farm was just done so well, with an eye towards preservation,” says John Foraste, explaining why he and his wife Diane chose to build here. Seems their house turned out quite nicely, too.—E.H.

Canned meet

If you’re anything like us, you spent June frantically making pickles, July sweating over jars of tomatoes, and August dealing with an onslaught of peppers. It’s possible that you won’t eat your way through 47 pints of kosher dills before next summer, and you never did get around to putting up peaches. The answer to the canner’s dilemma: Take your extras to the Canner’s Swap & Celebration, and make a trade!

The swap is sponsored by Market Central and will happen September 25 at the Haven. Keep an eye on for details. You’ll want to register in advance, and choose your best canned stuff to enter into a county fair-style contest. And polish up those jars of Fire-Breathing Salsa—they might just buy you some sweet strawberry jam.—E.H.

Beyond bottles and cans

Recycling the weird stuff

Even the Bettiest among us runs into some recycling conundrums now and again. Sonny Beale, University of Virginia Recycling Program Superintendent for over 24 years, offers a little help on those obscure items:

By the Numbers


That’s the average annual cost to own a car in the U.S., according to AAA. (Per month, we’re talking about $700.) That includes not only car payments, gas and insurance, but all the other expenses, from tolls to parking tickets, associated with driving. 

Source: How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, by Chris Balish

1. Bulk Styrofoam (actually expanded polystyrene): the bane of environmentalists everywhere. McIntire Recycling, as well as any packing stores in town, will accept and reuse the peanuts, but not the bulk pieces. Beale reports Styrofoam, in fact, can be recycled over and over again, but requires a heavy-duty expensive condensifier which Cville doesn’t have. (Any interested buyers out there? According to Beale, it’s a hot commodity.)

2. Plastic peanut butter tub: Don’t waste copious amounts of water cleaning the jar. Give it to your favorite pet dog to lick it clean! Then recycle as normal.

3. Whipped cream (or other liquid) aerosol can with the top broken off: As long as it’s empty, non-flammable, and non-hazardous, it can be recycled as steel. If it’s full, no go. Also, if it contained any highly toxic fluid (for example antifreeze or transmission fluid) or pesticides, it’s landfill-bound.

4. Hard plastics without numbers: Sorry! They actually can be recycled, but not in this area.

5. Clothing that is stained, torn or otherwise unwearable: Get creative and use it at home to wrap small gifts, or use as cleaning rags.

6. Prescription bottles: Call your local pharmacist to inquire about take-back programs or wait to hear about the next big take-back event at Martha Jefferson Hospital (last one was in May), where they properly dispose of medicines and recycle the bottles.

7. Half-full steel paint cans: Use eco-friendly cat litter or shred yesterday’s newspaper into bits to soak up all unused paint, then recycle as normal steel. Most are now plastic and can be recycled when empty.

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at and blog at