An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

May 31, 2008

Bacon's Castle - Surry County Day Trip Pt. I

I took a day trip this week to Surry County, which is about an hour west of home. Before Michael Vick made it famous for dog fighting, Surry County's best known landmark was Bacon's Castle. The site is owned and managed by The Association for the Preservation of Virgina Antiquities, and any pilgrimage of Virginia history should include a stop. Bacon's Castle is considered to be one of the oldest surviving brick houses in Anglo-America, and was built in 1665 at a time when everyone else was living in simple wood structures. Its builder was Arthur Allen who became wealthy from tobacco, and he choose a combination of Jacobean, Tudor and Stuart styles. Bacon's Castle got its name from fact the followers of Nathaniel Bacon occupied the house during Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 against the Royalist, however Bacon probably never set foot in the house.

In the first shot you can see the original portion of the house is on the left of the lower connector. The connector and the portion on the right were added much later.
No old Virginia house is complete without a certain number of boxwoods.
The triple chimneys are my favorite part of the house, and there is a set on each end of the original structure.

The garden at Bacon's Castle was restored based on archaeological evidence. It is divided into six large sections with a central axis down the middle. Two of the sections have been planted with vegetables that are appropriate to the time of the house.
The paths are made with packed sand.
There is a forcing wall on one side of the garden that was used to keep tender plants and to bring vegetables and fruit into season earlier.

The perimeter of the garden is planted with flowers that would have been familiar to the colonists in the late 1600's.

May 30, 2008

Habitat for Humanity Small Garden Tour This Weekend

This Sunday (June 1, 08) the Habitat for Humanity will be having their annual garden tour on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Virginia. I have been on this tour before, and it is one I really enjoy. The featured gardens are not large estates with hired landscapers, rather, they are the result of passionate home gardeners, and the proceeds benefit a worthy organization. This year the gardens are in and around Cape Charles, so it would be a short trip across the Bridge-Tunnel and an easy day trip for people in Hampton Roads. For more information go to Habitat for Humanity and look for the PDF link titled Small Garden Tour.

Appleseed Nurseries will be participating in the tour this year. They are one of the vendors we buy plants from at work; they grow some really cool annuals for us. About ten years ago, Jeff Klingel, one of the owners of Appleseed gave me a Chinese Parasol Tree (Firmiana Simplex); it was about 18" tall in a #3 pot. I planted it on the north side of the house and it has thrived and is now up to our second story. This plant is not only a fast grower, but it can really take the heat and it thrives in our humidity. It is related to Cacao (Chocolate) and has large, deciduous tropical-looking leaves. The smooth green trunk grows ramrod straight, and I like the fact that it keeps it color all year. I have read that it is being considered as one of the new street trees to use in London, due to the realities of a changing climate. I am so glad that I have a tree that is being legitimatized by the British gardening world, otherwise it might be just a weed.

May 25, 2008

Freemason Harbor - Pt. III, Memorial Day

When Europeans first arrived here, downtown was a collection of creeks and marshes, punctuated with a few spots of high ground. Most of the wetlands and creeks were filled in a long time ago, but during times of high water, they try and reassert themselves. So a flood wall was built with pumps that keep the city dry. Next to the pump station is the battleship Wisconsin with is massive guns aimed directly at downtown.

I have been accused of many things in my life, but to my knowledge, no one has ever accused me of being overly patriotic. However, I can not put into words how I feel when I think about the men and women who left the comfort that was their life to serve in the military, and in many cases suffer injuries or die. It doesn't matter why they were fighting, who told them to go, which war it was or if it was a just cause or not -- what matters is their sacrifice. I am not so sure what my answer would be if ever I was asked to serve.

On the harbor in Town Point Park is the Armed Forces Memorial, and it is one of the most poignant monuments I have seen. It is not some grandiose slab of marble or a soaring granite spire. It is composed of letters written home by people who were asked to serve and who died doing it. The letters are of bronze and represent all of the wars since the Revolutionary up to the first Gulf War. They are made to look as if they were blowing around in the wind coming off of the harbor.

Please click on the image so you can read the letters.
As a gardener, I found this letter touching. I'd like to think that I would have noticed the same things this soldier saw.
I am glad that letters written by women were also chosen.
This letter could have been written yesterday somewhere in Iraq.While we are circling the shopping mall parking lots, looking for a space so we can take advantage of the sales, or as we are grilling or on the water -- let's keep in mind what Memorial Day really means.

Freemason Harbor - Pt., The Pagoda

In the middle of Freemason Harbor is the Pagoda and its garden. It was a gift of Norfolk's sister city in Taiwan. I think the most intriguing fact about this spot, is that the Pagoda began life as a giant molasses storage tank that held 500,000 gallons of the stuff. The Pagoda was built on top of the tank's foundations and it is now surrounded by an urban oasis in the form of a Chinese garden.

Here is the tank around 1920, ...
... the site as it looked in 1980, about the time of my first move to Norfolk.

Freemason Harbor - A Walking Tour Pt. I

The first time I came to live in Norfolk was in the late 70's to go to university. What was left of downtown was at the bottom of a long decline that started shortly after WWII. Most of the harbor activity had moved out of downtown to the new terminals that used the current container method of shipping. I use the term "what was left", because Norfolk was the first city in the nation to receive an Urban Renewal Grant. It used this grant to raze an overwhelming percentage of its downtown core, particularly parts that many citizens would like to have pretended never existed. Norfolk was a navy town (and still is), and during both world wars there were lots of bars, burlesque theaters and other "diversions" for sailors and soldiers to while away shore leave. The old families and and the established power structure were more than glad to see these parts of town leveled. So when I got here, downtown had a dying retail area, a few tall buildings and lots of open fields.

Fast forward to 2008; the downtown section of Norfolk is now one of the most vibrant sections of the whole region. Included in this mix is Freemason Harbor. It was one of the few downtown areas spared the "renewal" and is currently a mix of old and new residents. Most are on land in the form of historic townhouses, converted lofts, new construction or you can also live on the water in a converted pier or on your own boat. There are not a lot of gardens in the area, because it is really dense, but there are a few green spots among the bricks and cobblestones (brought over as ship ballast).

Old fence...

... new fence.

What's up with the house not showing colors?
This is the old city library.

A couple of mermaids; the city's mascot.