Sunday, March 20, 2016

Washington Post Garden Editor Q&A with DC Master Gardeners

Adrian Higgins with Sandy Farber Bandier
On March 8,2016, Washington Post Garden Editor Adrian Higgins spent an evening with current and former master gardener trainees in an evening lecture at the David A. Clarke School of Law, arranged by DC Master Gardener Coordinator Sandra Farber Bandier. We've been fortunate to have the esteemed writer, who has been with the Post for 22 years, visit our research farm in Beltsville, Maryland, as well as the green roof on our Van Ness campus. 

"We live in two worlds - the screen world and the physical world; and we've learned to straddle both of them," said Mr. Higgins in his opening. "Gardening to me is not a hobby or a past time; it's an essential element of being a human being. Life is connected to nature."

Not only is gardening about creating a beautiful environment, it's the union of horticulture and ecology. As for the changing "landscape" of garden design, Mr. Higgins explains,"We're moving much more to an ecological design. We're seeing this in dealing with our stormwater run-off and heat island effect."

Before he took audience questions, he shared his five gardening secrets:
  1. Gardening isn't only just for spring.
  2. Don't rely on instant gratification (i.e. take shortcuts).
  3. Embrace mistakes and learn from them.
  4. Build the soil.
  5. Learn from others.
Continue reading for Mr. Higgins' response to audience questions. 

What are you going to grow this year in your garden?
AH: I always plant too many tomatoes. But hopefully not this year; I'll be growing lettuce and cabbages. I grow things intensively and vertically.

When you're talking about getting away from so much mulching, is there something you can use instead? 
AH: You don't need a lawn or high-nitricide fertilizer. Lawns need lots of water; trees don't. Mulch trees with leaf. Blow them onto the lawn and then mow them, collect them and lay them on the trees. This breaks down organic matter and helps tree soil. Lawn mulch depletes nitrogen from the soil.

Planning for El Nino? 
Who can plan for our weather? Everyone is hoping to make up for last year and we're hoping for a cool spring. With the exception of the last two, the winters here are noticeably warmer than they were 20-30 years ago. I don't know if it's climate change, but it's changed.

What damage do you think you'll see from the last two winters? 
The damage has already been seen. What's more worrying is how warm December was. The warmth followed by the cold spell in January has damaged a lot.  

Opinion on substituting tropical plants for annuals?
I think it's good fun.

Mr. Higgins' garden column is available at the Washington Post online. For questions about the DC Master Gardener program, contact Sandy Farber Bandier at

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