CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 15, 2016

Gardening Adventures in Virginia

Forward by Alison O'Connor: Susan Perry has been a Colorado Master Gardener for years; she's embarking on a new adventure in Virginia. I asked her to write down some thoughts about moving from Colorado to the (hot and humid) east coast. We wish her well! If you want more of Susan, read her tomatoes or cold frame blogs.


Posted by: Susan Perry, Master Gardener in Larimer County

Some of you know and some of you don’t, but my husband and I are trying to move to Blacksburg, Virginia.  I say trying because we sold our house in the fall and then the deal fell through a few days before closing.  We’ve sold it again but this time we won’t feel it’s “real” until the papers are signed at the end of February. 

Blacksburg is the home of Virginia Tech, the land grant college in Virginia.  It’s also the home of 40 inches of rain annually, summer humidity, and soils with pH of less than 7.  I guess saying it’s going to be a big change may be an understatement. 

Since growing veggies is our top gardening priority, I’d be sugar-coating if I didn’t admit I’m a little nervous.  Not so much about the water, although I do see powdery mildew in my future on a regular basis.  I keep telling myself that before we moved to Colorado 20 years ago, we gardened in the Washington, DC metro area with little problem.  Hopefully, it will be just like riding a bike and will all come back to us.

Besides the rain and summer humidity, we’re going to rent for a year to make sure it’s where we really want to stay.  So, it’s probably unlikely we’ll get lucky enough to find a good place in early March AND have our new landlord allow us to install a garden.  There’s a community garden where one can rent plots – we’re #18 on their waiting list although the garden coordinator assures me we’ll probably get a plot.  If not, we’ll have to come up with a plan B …….

In addition to weather and gardening location, we’ll have to learn to deal with more acidic soil.  Memo to self:  make offer to buy a house contingent upon an acceptable soil test.  VT literature says statewide soil pH ranges from 4.0 to 8.0, with most falling in the 5.1 to 5.5 range.  So at a minimum, there will be amending required to raise the pH somewhat.  Several years ago, I read a number of Eliot Coleman’s books and felt if he could grow throughout the winter in Maine, I could do it in Colorado.  Several years and several permutations of cold frames resulted in my being able to over-winter carrots, lettuce, and spinach.  Eliot Coleman also had to contend with transforming acidic, rocky, tree-covered land into ideal veggie gardening plots.  Once again, if he could do it in Maine, I’m not going to let anything I encounter in Virginia be a permanent obstacle.

If we stay, we’re both going to apply to become Virginia Master Gardeners.  Tom’s not a Master Gardener now but he’s become so interested in growing our own veggies for the last few years that he thinks it’s something he’s going to want to do.  It will be good (and necessary) to learn about plants that will thrive (beyond azalea, rhododendrons, and holly) in the Virginia conditions.  I’ll miss being a Colorado Master Gardener but will look forward to the challenges and adventures of gardening in Virginia.


  1. One of my most favorite trips was to Virginia in May, 2014. Heading my "mecca" list for years: Monticello, the lovely, productive gardens and home of Thomas Jefferson. After a day-long visit there, including tours of the gardens, and the well-detailed museum, I've continued to subscribe to the Monticello website. This unique site offers tips on gardening, heritage seeds, book and pamphlets authored by the inventor and entropreneur, Jefferson, are fun and amazing.

    So, dear Susan, if Jefferson could not only do it and left a planting trail for you, I think you and hubs will have mentors!
    Best of luck to you both, in the land where it's "OK" to use both eggs and coffee grounds in your compost,
    Phyllis Jachowski

  2. You will love the longer growing season and greater variety of plants that flourish. As opposed to Colorado where you have to babysit plants for them to be successful, if you turn your back on your garden in VA it will be overgrown! My sister has lived a few miles west on the New River for over 40 years and has fantastic gardens and home. Enjoy! BB

  3. Best of luck in Blacksburg. I went to graduate school there and the landlord allowed me to have a big garden. It was a shock to realize I didn't have to water and how quickly things grew. I grew enough produce for my fellow grad students that summer. I hope you can find a place that will still allow a garden. Andrea