You are here


The Basics & Beyond, 10 Must-Have Spring Essential

The Basics & Beyond, 10 Must-Have Spring Gardening Essentials

As the frost begins to melt and the days become warmer and longer, spring fever begins to set in. It won’t be long until we’ll be able to go outside and dig in dirt once again! If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to begin thinking about and prepping for your spring garden. Whether you're interested in edible gardening, seed starting, or just love to grow flowers, we’re here to help. We've been growing Hampton Roads gardeners for 75 years and our number one goal has always been one thing -- to make you a success in the garden. Our Green Team experts have put together a list of some of our favorite spring gardening basics to help you do just that, be a success. Whether you are a true green thumb or just getting started, we're here to grow your knowledge. So, dig in and get growing!

SPRING ANNUALS. Annuals provide color from the time of planting into early fall. Inexpensive, easy-to-grow and gorgeous - annuals are great for changing the look of your garden from year-to-year and filling in around bulbs, perennials and trees & shrubs. A few early-blooming annuals that are safe to plant now include petunias, dusty miller, snapdragons, geraniums, million bells, dianthus and verbena.

SEEDS & SEED STARTER ACCESSORIES. Starting plants from seed is one of the most exciting and rewarding gardening activities. Growing seed is not complicated, it just requires a little thought and care. For best results, it is important to use fresh seed and follow the instructions on each seed packet which include specific planting tips, light source requirements and watering specifications.

FRUITS & VEGGIES. More and more homeowners are finding their way back to the basics. Over the past four years harvesting home grown fruits and veggies has risen steadily. This is due to the popularity of organic food, concern for the environment, the cost of fresh produce and a burgeoning appreciation for great-tasting fresh food.

SOILS & AMENDMENTS. Giving your garden the best foundation will make it healthier, more beautiful and less difficult to maintain later on. Before you plant, however, bring in a sample of your existing soil for a free analysis. A McDonald Garden Center expert will test the ph level of your soil and make recommendations on adjusting the level for the specific plants you wish to install. You can also get planting recommendations based on the soil you have. Building healthy soil is an ongoing process. By making healthy soil a focus at the start of making a garden, you will have a head start on creating a sustainable organic garden.

GREENLEAF ALL-PURPOSE PLANT FOOD. A customer favorite! Greenleaf has been a McDonald Garden Center staple for years and now it’s even better! We are proud to introduce our new 3-pound container with an easy-to-use lid and scoop. Greenleaf was developed specifically for plants in Hampton Roads and is a great general all-purpose fertilizer. It releases nutrients slowly and we recommend using it in containers, planting beds, shrubs, trees, perennials, annuals and more. In fact, it’s what we use to fertilize our plants!

UNIQUE POTTERY. There is nothing quite as effective as adding pottery and containers to your decorating scheme, both indoors and out. Not only can you transform drab areas of your home or garden into elegant and charming focal points, but containers can be functional as well as beautiful. Planters make it possible for anyone to experience the joy of gardening and provide the opportunity to cultivate a favorite herb, a fresh tomato and a host of other delightful and colorful plants, flowers, shrubs, and even trees no matter the space available.

HERBS. Add tried & true herbs that grow great in Hampton Roads gardens. With parsley, basil, mint, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, oregano, chives, lavender, sage and many more... you can have culinary treats for every dish, right in your own backyard. Fresh herbs are easy to grow and can make all the difference between a good dish and an extraordinary dish! Once you begin to use fresh herbs in your favorite recipes, you'll never want to go back to using just dried herbs again. Chefs know that fresh food is always best and fresh herbs are no exception.

TREES & SHRUBS. Trees and shrubs are the backbone of your landscape, and they serve a multitude of other purposes as well. You can use them to create shade, attract birds, or to give your garden privacy from neighbors or a busy street. You can plant them to provide year-round color, fragrant blooms, or a delicious harvest of fruit or berries. And vines do an expert job of framing an entryway, decorating a bare wall or fence, or adorning a trellis with lovely foliage and flowers.

GARDEN STATUARY. Incorporating a special piece of statuary into your landscape is a great way to add architectural interest to your outdoor space. Garden statuary can be an integral part of any garden setting, adding to the aura of your peaceful sanctuary. There are often places that are natural focal points that would be ideal for statuary. A corner, a little alcove, a spot to the side of the front door - there are any number of places.

PERENNIALS. We love perennial plants, those long-lived plants that bring beautiful foliage and flowers year after year. Perennial flowers perform well in many situations: in flower beds, in combination with annuals and bulbs, as compliments to shrubs & trees, and in containers and window boxes. In addition, perennials often increase in size each year, which means they can often be divided and added to other spots in the landscape. Some must-haves are succulents, ornamental grasses, rudbeckia, coreopsis, geum, coneflowers, salvia, daylilies, and foxglove.

Check out the videos links below with Garden Guru, Mike Westphal. Mike is a 17 year veteran of McDonald Garden Center, who specializes in gardening solutions and visual merchandising.

To learn more about annuals click here.
To learn more about growing your own food click here.
To learn more about growing herbs click here.
To learn more about seed starting click here.

To view our online gardening videos click here.
To see our upcoming event schedule click here.

Horticulture Trailblazer & Hampton Roads Hero the Incomparable Asa Sim

Horticulture Trailblazer & Hampton Roads Hero the Incomparable Asa Sims

When it came to understanding how to excel in all things gardening, renowned horticulturist Asa Sims clearly got the memo. In 1908 he arrived in the Tidewater area, a place he would call home for over six decades. Sims aspired to become a painter. Instead, the teenager enrolled in agriculture classes at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now known as Hampton University.)

A position at the university greenhouse would last three decades with Sims rising to the role of General Manager. An additional job he took on in academia, as an Extension educator, allowed Sims to combine his love for plants and community. Driven by an ambition to make people “flower minded and beauty conscious” he traveled through various rural and urban areas in Virginia and North Carolina teaching landscaping, beautification, and floriculture to thousands of plant lovers in the region.

Sims was also the successful owner and operator of ‘Sims Florist,’ a shop located on his 2-acre estate between Phoebus and East Hampton. Known for beautifully decorated arrangements that were featured in commercial and residential spaces, this was not your everyday floral shop! Here Sims housed a nursery where he grew his own plants and cultivated hundreds of flowers. It was a true showcase of his floricultural talents.

Perhaps his most extraordinary contribution came at the height of the Jim Crow era when Sims forever sealed his horticulture legacy as founding father and state adviser to the ‘Negro Garden Club of Virginia.’ Led by Black women, what started as seven garden clubs in 1932, had decades later become a movement! Thousands of clubs sprang up in all states of the Southeast and across the nation from sea to shining sea. Sims was their biggest champion.

An absolute legend of the Hampton Roads community, may we give him all the flowers in Black History month and beyond. Here’s to forever celebrating the legacy of the incomparable Asa Sims!

Thank you again, Abra! To learn more about Abra, and other stories of African Americans in horticulture, follow her on social media conquerthesoil or visit her website click here.

Abra Lee Bio
Abra Lee is a national speaker, writer, and owner of Conquer the Soil a platform that combines Black garden history and current events to raise awareness of horticulture. She has spent a whole lotta time in the dirt as a municipal arborist, extension agent, airport landscape manager, and more. Lee is a graduate of Auburn University and alumna of the Longwood Gardens Society of Fellows, a global network of public horticulture professionals.

Celebrating Black History Month, Norfolk Botanical Gardens

Celebrating Black History Month, Norfolk Botanical Gardens

To celebrate Black History Month, we are highlighting some of the many contributions of African-Americans to the horticultural industry. Today we share a story especially important to the Hampton Roads community, the story behind the WPA Memorial Garden located in the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Content from Norfolk Botanical Garden

The idea for the eventual Norfolk Botanical Garden came from City Manager, Thomas P. Thompson. Because the climate of Norfolk was uniquely suited to azaleas he believed a garden could be created to rival those of Charleston, S.C., which even during the depression drew tourists to their city. On June 30, 1938, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) awarded a grant of $76,278 to begin the project. It began as Azalea Gardens. Since most of the male labor force was at work with other city projects; a group of 200 African American women and 20 African American men received the assignment.

Laboring from dawn until dusk, the workers cleared dense vegetation and carried the equivalent of 150 truckloads of dirt by hand to build a levee for the surrounding lake. For a period of four years, the 220 original workers continued the back-breaking task of clearing trees, pulling roots and removing stumps. They worked in harsh conditions, long hours during all four seasons, regardless of the blistering heat, humidity, rain, finger-numbing cold, snow or frigid temperatures. They battled snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, and poison ivy. In less than a year, a section of the trees, briers, vines and underbrush had been cleared and readied for planting, using only pickaxes, hoes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. By March 1939, the work had progressed so that 4,000 azaleas, 2,000 rhododendrons, several thousand camellias, other shrubs and 100 bushels of daffodils had been planted. The men and women turned overgrown, swampy acres into a garden that stylistically expressed the national trend of landscape architecture during the late 1930’s. Neither the work nor the pay was great, but it was a means of putting food on the table, which would not have been possible otherwise.

To watch and learn more about the WPA Memorial Garden click here.

We'd like to thank Norfolk Botanical Garden for the information, photo and video.

To help maintain the WPA Memorial Garden, please consider donating to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

June of 1870, the Flower Farmers in D.C.

Celebrate Black History Month, The Flower Farmers in D.C.

As we celebrate black history month, we'd like to highlight the achievements of black men and women in horticulture. We'd like to thank Abra Lee with @conquerthesoil for this image and story from June of 1870, which features the Flower Farmers in D.C.

Flower sellers, sometimes called peddlers or vendors, grew flowers on their rural land and brought them into cities like D.C., Richmond, and, to this day, Charleston. The ladies’ appearance marked the arrival of spring in Washington, D.C. long before the famed cherry blossoms. (Speaking of which, a special shout out to Roland Jefferson, African-American horticulturist recognized for saving said cherry blossoms. To learn more click here.

Thank you again, Abra! To learn more about Abra, and other stories of African Americans in horticulture, follow her on social media conquerthesoil.

Abra Lee Bio
Abra Lee is a national speaker, writer, and owner of Conquer the Soil a platform that combines Black garden history and current events to raise awareness of horticulture. She has spent a whole lotta time in the dirt as a municipal arborist, extension agent, airport landscape manager, and more. Lee is a graduate of Auburn University and alumna of the Longwood Gardens Society of Fellows, a global network of public horticulture professionals.