Irises, poppies and peonies are particularly tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions and pay you back with riotous color.

Use raised-bed gardens to grow produce anywhere

There are plants that require lots and lots of attention to get a little color in your landscape. And then there are irises, poppies and peonies. Horticulturist Mark Viette cited those three as good choices for adding low-maintenance color, even in poor soils.


Viette said perennial poppy varieties, also called oriental poppies, are “a tough, durable plant that likes harsh conditions,” not unlike their cousins that grow in interstate median strips.

They like full sun but might need bright shade in hotter areas. “It’s important that you don’t overly prepare the soil when you plant these,” Viette added.


While irises have been hybridized for larger blooms and a more pronounced scent, the tall, full-bearded antique varieties are quite hardy. “These are an old-fashioned, easy-to-grow plant,” Viette said. Given full sun, “they’ll root, they’ll flower and they’ll come back year after year.”

Reblooming iris varieties will flower again in the fall.

Once established, peonies have the potential to thrive for 50 years—or more! (Click to Tweet)


Peonies, a Viette family specialty, are available in a host of colors and have an arresting scent. “They make excellent cut flowers,” Viette said.

They have no problem with clay soil and produce the most dramatic blooms in full sun.

“Peonies will last in the garden for 50 years, maybe 100 years-plus,” Viette said.

Tips for selecting, storing and preparing berries

Strawberries should be fragrant and bright red, with no white or green patches near their stems. Blueberries should be firm but not hard, and raspberries and blackberries should be plump and shiny.

Berries have a short shelf life—their peak flavor and texture lasts only two to three days. To prolong it, immediately discard moldy or overripe berries. Put the remaining berries, unwashed, into a container lined with paper towels to absorb decay-hastening moisture, and refrigerate. Wash briefly in cold water just before eating.

Berries freeze well. Put dry berries on a cookie sheet in a single layer, and stick it in the freezer. Once the berries are frozen, put them into a container or plastic bag and leave it in the freezer for up to one year.

Virginia has a plethora of fresh berries available. Visit your local farmers market or a you-pick farm.

Chilled Strawberry Soup

May is that time of year when you can smell strawberries in the air—and in the kitchen. Try this easy and delicious Chilled Strawberry Soup. This dish is the perfect way to celebrate spring.

See Recipe

Farm equipment on the road? Farmers and motorists need to drive carefully

Sometimes the business of raising safe, fresh and local foods entails moving farm equipment on public roads.

It’s nothing responsible farmers and drivers can’t handle.

Each year, however, accidents involving farm equipment on the highway in Virginia result in property damage, injuries and occasionally deaths.

Don’t become a statistic. As soon as you spot farm equipment or a slow-moving vehicle emblem, you should slow down to the speed of the equipment

Farm equipment was not designed to go fast. Tractors and other machinery are designed for power—to pull plows through the soil, make hay into bales and pull planters—so they are geared for these jobs. Think about a car in first gear: It has more pulling power, but it won’t go very fast.”

Most farm equipment does not travel any faster than about 20 mph.

The farmer you are riding behind is going 20 mph because that’s as fast as he can safely go.

Farm equipment takes longer than your car does to stop. The closure distance between a car traveling at 55 mph and a tractor traveling at 15 mph can be extremely short, so don’t follow too closely. (Click to Tweet)

Farm equipment also takes longer to stop. The closure distance between a car traveling at 55 mph and a tractor traveling at 15 mph can be extremely short, so don’t follow too closely.

Some equipment requires the operator to swing wide to make a turn, so the farmer may be pulling off to the side of the road to make a turn and not motioning you to pass. Not all farm machinery will have a turn signal, so use extra caution.

If you are behind farm equipment followed by an escort vehicle, do not pass the escort and get in the middle. Treat escort vehicles as if they are part of the farm equipment.