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.

March 20, 2009

Killing Time

I start working a 6 day schedule next week, so nagging little mundane tasks that I have been putting off must be attended to. One of which was to get the slow leak fixed in one of my tires. The unusually pleasant people at Firestone said it would take about an hour. So to kill time and to get some exercise I took a power walk downtown. Heading down Granby I stopped at the Federal Building. They had these concrete planters out front that went up within a year of the Oklahoma bombing to prevent a repeat performance in Norfolk. You would never know they were there for security, you would think they were just planters. Each was planted with several Magnolias whose cultivar I did not immediately recognize underplanted with Vinca minor. I would have liked to have spent more time here but there was a very loud man trying to get me to heed his warning of the impending Apocalypse about to befall all of us.

Today the Federal Building is a sedate off-white and blue green, but when I first came to Norfolk the building was red-orange brick with lots of bright orange glossy trim. It really stuck out from the surrounding buildings, and I kind of liked it, but I think I was in the minority. I remember that there was once a plaque that said it was the Jimmy Carter Federal Building, (not the James Earl, but Jimmy). In the 90's the bold red brick starting peeling off of the face and the entire exterior had to be rebuilt, even thought it was less than 20 years old. When it was rebuilt the look was completely changed.

This afternoon on the back side of the building were three brave souls protesting the detainment of prisoners at Guantanamo. When I was making my return trip they were replaced by a man wearing a sandwich board advertising the final close out sale for a nearby jewelery store. I thought that this was such a timely transition from mucking up overseas to economic meltdown.

The farthest point of my walk found me in the churchyard at St. Paul's. Built in 1739, this church is the oldest building in Norfolk, and today is a green oasis in the middle of the city. It was the only building to survive the bombardment and torching of Norfolk during the Revolutionary War. There is a cannonball fired by Lord Dunmore in 1776 embedded in the brickwork. This is considered precious metal around here. The entrance also happened to be marked by the same Magnolias.

Here is a postcard photo showing what St. Paul's looked like at the turn of the last century.
This leather postcard was sent by great grandfather in 1907 when he was courting my great grandmother. He was one of the only relatives I had who was not from the Eastern Shore and I have about 4 more of these postcards showing the beach and harbor. Apparently his efforts worked.
Next on the mundane task list, laundry and get the Liriope cut back. I'll spare you the photos.


  1. Great post Les. I love the leather postcard, with family history to boot. The magnolias downtown are really striking. I appreciate you sharing a little history of the area. St. Paul's it a grand church.

  2. Ah yes, thanks for sparing us the photos of the laundry. That leather postcard is really cool. Great that you posted it right next to the actual building. And as you said, you sure can't tell those planters are for security. Norfolk is a lovely town.

  3. Wow that was some powerwalk Les. Looks like you got to meet interesting people not just check out the great historical sites in the process. ;) I love the postcard, what a interesting thing to have been handed down to you. Hope you got all your mundane chores done.

  4. I love those ivy-covered walls - is the ivy still there?

  5. Janet,
    Thanks for stopping by. I remember going on a Norfolk Tour in a bus with my grandparents when I was about 8. The cannonball and the bus driver's warning about what a dangerous city Norfolk was, are all that I remember.

    Norfolk can be lovely, but it is not always apparent. It took me years to resolve living here and adopt "bloom where you are planted".

    One of the great things about living in the city are all of the interesting people. The evangelist appeared to be quite intoxicated. Fortunately he was moving slow and was easy to avoid.

    Alas, the ivy is gone. I love that look too, but it can be so bad for old mortar especially if it is English Ivy.


  6. I love the leather postcard too - how fun to have that, and with such a nice story to go along with it!

    It's funny how so many federal buildings now have similar planters around them - and such nice trees, etc. And to think of what the motivation was for them.

  7. What a cool post! It had everything I like--crazy people, politics (not much difference with these first two huh?), spring blooms, and history avec cannonball. The personal and larger history is a nice interweaving, a good story. I used to really be in to bullets and stuff from the civil war, but now I'm in to clay soil--just as hard.

  8. I agree with everyone about the leather postcard - it looks cool. What a pleasant walk! Norfolk seems a great place.

  9. Thanks for this wonderful photo story. I remember when the old Monticello Hotel was at the location of the Federal Building, and enjoyed the modern vibe of the original iteration. Like you, I was disappointed to see the red brick and international orange replaced with the current bland facade. (I finished trimming back liriope this afternoon - just in time. Lots of new growth ready to take over.)

  10. The tulip magnolias were pretty as they stood guard in front of the building. . We have a ton of stuff blomming down my way. I'm loving it. Now when I say Spring people actually believe me.

    What kinds of new stuff did you grow?

  11. Nice photos of Magnolias :)

    (Magnolia soulangeana, maybe?)

  12. Pam,
    They could have just put up concrete barriers and have been done with it. At least someone had the forsight to work security into the landscape and streetscape.

    Yes, Friday was a day when several of my interests converged, it seems to be happening more frequently.

    It was a pleasant walk, even in the cool temperatures. I was just thankful for the sunny skies. They have been rare lately.

    Michael W.,
    I had a nice picture of the Monticello picked out to show what was there prior to the Fed. bldg., but the format was not compatible with Blogger. I wish they had never torn that down, it looked quite the edifice.

    So far the only thing new that I have planted have been some bulbs that I got a sweet deal on. I have some plants-in-waiting that I will put in when time permits. One is an Aucuba that looks more like a Croton and I also have a test Rose from J&P called Monkey Business.

    I think they may be 'Jane' but I am not positive. So many of the Magnolia cultivars looks similar.