Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite growers and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
Kathy Jentz is an author, podcaster, and founder of the garden magazine The Washington Gardener. When she’s not busy giving talks, attending garden events and hosting her podcast, she’s tending to her urban shade garden in the city. We chatted with Kathy about how she got started gardening, what she loves to grow in her city landscape, her popular podcast GardenDC and much more. You’ll love hearing all about this busy gardener’s projects and her passion for creating beauty in the city.
How Kathy First Got Into Gardening
I was born into a family of farmers on my dad's side and lifelong gardeners on my mom's side. My dad’s side are farmers in Northwest Indiana, originally from Germany and they came over [to the US] in the 1880s. On my mom’s side, I came over [to the US] with her. I was born in Nuremberg, Germany, and that side of the family is from Bavaria and they had a community garden or allotment garden. So a lot of my summers were spent with either sets of grandparents out in the garden or farm.
I think I really caught the gardening bug, even though I've been doing it all my life, when I bought my own condo. It was a walkout-style condo and I started to take over outside my area into the common area and got my hand slapped a few times. I had not only a huge 10x20 porch and walkout area with containers, I started expanding into the shrubs and over the hill and the association kept telling me that those areas weren’t mine [to garden]. I realized then that I needed to buy a single-family home just because I needed my own garden; I didn’t really need the extra space indoors. That’s when you know you’ve gone over the edge, when you make a large purchase like that just for the garden space.
Kathy’s Evolving Garden
When I first moved in here, it was all lawn and a couple of huge oak trees on one side, so it was full shade on one side of the house, full sun on the other and just turf all the way up to the foundation. The previous owner had just hired a mow-and-blow service and that was the extent of it. The person who flipped the house did a nice job and planted a couple of lilacs and azaleas and gave me the planting plan. From there, I just expanded all the beds until there was no turf grass left. It’s all containers, lots of shade plants, and groundcovers.
We started a community garden diagonally across the street from my house in some park space, so that's where I mainly do the things that need full sun like edibles and herbs. In my home garden I love a lot of the shade perennials like toad lily, hellebores, anything that can give me flowers in the shade and requires hardly any care is a favorite of mine.
My containers are mostly annuals but I do have a lot of containers that have evergreens that stay in year-round and then I just switch the annuals in and out by the season. I also have several containers where I have bulbs that go through different layers, like early-spring blooming through summertime and then I’ll put in a fall-blooming annual.
I’m in hardiness zone 7, heading towards 8, so I leave them all out year-round. There are a few containers that might be on the tender side so I’ll push them against the fence or the house in the winter and put leaves around them, but that’s about it. Then, because I’m trialing so many plants for the magazine for their hardiness, I’ll keep them exposed just to see how they’ll do. So I don’t baby those at all.
All About Washington Gardener Magazine
I started the magazine 17 years ago when I saw that there was this big need in the Mid-Atlantic area for a home gardening publication. There are a lot of professional gardeners in the area; MANTS is huge and it’s in our backyard and their research facilities, but everything in national magazines really overlooked the mid-atlantic home gardener. So that’s really what made me start the magazine.
I’m the chief bottle washer and everything else. I have a proofer that everything goes through and she’s remote so she can be working year-round. I have several steady columnists who focus on things like natives and edibles. Then, I usually get about two interns from the University of Maryland’s journalism program that work with me each semester, which is great because it’s the same program that I went through.
How The Content Shifted During COVID
Our content did shift because a lot of the local events that we would cover or have booths at were canceled. But some events did still go on, mostly outdoors, so we were able to still cover those. We also did a few cover stories about gardening during COVID. But one thing that COVID did for me was it gave me a chance to launch my podcast, the GardenDC Podcast. So that launched the first week of the shutdown of March 2020. I’ve been doing the podcast weekly since then and we actually just started our third season this week.
All About Kathy’s GardenDC Podcast
It's a long form, interview-style format podcast. So it’s just me and an expert, and I usually try the source from the Mid-Atlantic area, and we talked about one specific topic each episode. So one episode could be just about pruning trees, or how to grow persimmons. Each episode really drills down into a subject so you can learn everything you need about that one garden subject.
When I started it, I had been trying to start the podcast for a few years with a partner who lived out in the country. So we were going to do a city mouse/country mouse type style podcast. But then when COVID started, we were told we had a two-week shutdown where we weren’t supposed to leave our house, so I took it as an opportunity where I didn’t have any talks or events to sit down and bang out a couple of episodes. I decided to do an hour format every Saturday and I had no idea where I was going with it. But from there I made a plan to record every Saturday and I lined up experts.
I definitely plan on continuing it; it’s getting super popular and it actually won the best podcast in DC at the DC State Fair. Gardening podcasts are just starting to get their due and people are just starting to stumble upon them so I like to let people know that they can learn everything they need to about this one gardening topic while they’re washing the dishes or walking their dog. I think a lot of people are really drawn to the podcast format for learning.
You can listen to DCGardener Podcast anywhere you get your favorite podcasts.
Something New Kathy’s Learned About Gardening This Year
I did peanuts in a container for the first time this year, so that was a lot of fun experimenting with that because I always thought that our area was just a little too north for peanuts. They need such a long growing season to mature; basically it was through October and then I had to cure them for two weeks in November and then they were ready. We had a good, long summer and a warm fall so that gamble paid off. That’s something you learn with gardening; you can start your peas earlier and earlier and either Mother Nature cooperates or not. Our natural pea planting date is St. Patrick’s Day but last year I pushed it up to Valentine’s Day. So I started them early and I got an early harvest because I got a good break with the weather. But you never really know how it’s going to go.
I think this year I’m going to try to do a row of peanuts in the ground, which will be the ultimate test because I can’t baby them as much, and then I’ll give the rest of the seed peanuts I saved out at our annual seed exchange.
Kathy’s Advice For New Gardeners
I would tell people to start slow; start small, but I know that they aren’t going to listen to that advice because I wouldn’t have listened to that advice either. You really want to go whole-hog and want to do everything all at once. Some things are going to succeed and some things aren’t and it’s not always your fault. I just talked a lot about the weather and that has a lot to do with success in the garden; if things don’t work out don’t put it all on your shoulders. If your peas don’t do well this year, maybe it wasn’t you. If your tomatoes yield a small harvest, readjust and try again … it’s understandable to be excited but just try to pace yourself in the beginning.
Kathy’s Favorite Things To Grow
Everything! But really, anything that puts up with dry shade, so epimedium or heuchera are two great choices because I have the two big oaks on my property whose roots are sucking things up. Watering is the worst chore. Weeding is bad, but hauling water in 98 degree temps with 100% humidity is never fun. So anything that doesn’t require a lot of watering is great.
In the community garden, lettuce greens are super easy. Radishes are almost like ‘set it and forget it.’ I’ve had really good success with okra and the only thing you need to keep on top of with okra is harvesting daily or every other day. Once the pods start to ripen or if you let them get too big or hardened, they’re not going to produce any more.
I like tomatoes but I generally go with cherry tomatoes because I find them a lot more prolific and easier. I think a lot of people who go for those big, heirloom-sandwich size tomatoes don’t realize how long it takes for them to ripen. They occupy a big spot in your garden all season long and don’t really ripen until September. You better LOVE those tomatoes; every single one. Whereas if you go with Sun Gold or Sun Sugar, those easy cherry tomatoes, you’re getting them by the end of July and every day you're harvesting and just snacking on them. I really like anything that you could snack on out of hand in the garden. I am so busy that I’m not cooking much; I go out in the garden, eat what’s there, and if it makes it back to my kitchen it gets set aside and I usually never see it again. Even with okra, I’m eating the raw pods right in the garden. Fresh okra is absolutely amazing.
On Kathy’s New Book, The Urban Garden: 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City
The thread through it all has always been small-space, urban-gardening; it’s always been my specialty and what I love and really what I love to look at. When I do garden tours I love seeing the inner-city gardens and the creativity people put into their gardens. Having food and beauty in the city is really important. I think there’s a lot of attention put on the food part, which is great, but not so much on the beauty part and how important that is in our lives, especially now with what we’ve seen in the past few years.
The book is 101 ways to have food and beauty in the city and each chapter is an idea that you can use right away in your garden. It could be something like an herb spiral or laying pavers. It’s very photo-intensive and each chapter is a project that you can dip in and out of.
Kathy’s Upcoming Book Party
On March 24 I am MCing a virtual book party that is a co-event with the National Garden Bureau and GardenComm. We’re doing a series of these book parties where a garden podcaster is the house, so that’s me! Garden writers who have just come out with books are interviewed during that hour and this is free and open to anyone in the world to come in and view the book party. So if you love gardening, if you love books, it’s a great place to meet the authors and hear about their books, as well as get some great garden tips from them as well.
Where To Find Kathy
Kathy is such a busy gardener, we wanted to make sure we to together a list of her podcast, book, magazine, blog, social media, and more so it’s easy for you to follow and support her:
- Pre-Order Kathy’s Book, The Urban Garden: 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City
- Listen to Kathy’s Podcast GardenDC on Apple Podcasts
- Follow the Washington Gardener Magazine/Blog
- Follow Kathy on Instagram @wdcgardener