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.

April 25, 2009

Two's Company, Three's a Pack

About three weekends ago we offered to take care of a puppy for my friend D.M. (the hand model) while she was out of town. D. fosters a lot of dogs and cats in her work with the Isle of Wight Humane Society, and in fact, our felines came from this organiztion. The puppy we temporarily fostered was a small Walker Hound whose name at the time was Roxanne. She fit in very well with our existing canine/feline/humanoid mix. She did not try to dominate the other dogs and was respectful to Loretta's (the weather dog) quirkiness and Patsy's considerable age. She showed little interest in the cats, which suited them just fine. She was more housebroken than not, and she only barked for good reasons. Most endearingly, she was so very affectionate and just wants to be a lap dog.
As you may have guessed she is now officially ours, and we renamed her Penny (a.k.a. "Pencil Head") since one of the cats is Roscoe, and it would not do to have a Roxanne also. She continues to fit in well and knock wood, nothing has been destroyed, and we have had just one piddle in the house during the week that we have had her. So far she has been gentle to the garden, but we will keep an eye on that. I knew we would be getting another dog when Patsy goes, which I hope will not be soon, but she is 14. Getting 9 mo. old Penny now, seemed like the better choice than going through the brand new puppy process, plus she needed a home.
However, she must not like it here too well, for she has escaped twice. The first time I had her leashed incorrectly and fortunately she ran to see another dog whose owner grabbed her for me. The second time we were walking back from the dog park and she came out of her leash. She went about a block away where we were able to get her between two houses as she was visiting a good neighbor who got a hold of her. She lives to run!
I am crazy for hounds, or maybe its that I'm just plain crazy for getting another dog.

April 18, 2009

Taskinas Creek Spring Break

During the spring, the days I get to spend with my son are too few. He and my school teaching wife were both on spring break this past week. To give her a child care break, I took him to work with me Thursday where he got to get a little dirty, unload some trucks and earn a few dollars. Several weeks ago I declared that the next day would be "nature day" and that we would be having an outdoor adventure of some kind. We decided on a canoe trip at York River State Park. For an extremely reasonable $15 we got the use of a canoe for half a day. The canoes are launched on Taskinas Creek which is part of the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The creek begins as a series of freshwater wetlands that gradually turn into a deeper and saltier tidal creek, and at its mouth joins the York River. We had the whole creek to ourselves and it was easy to imagine what this place looked liked prior to the arrival of Europeans.

The woods surrounding the water and wetlands were awakening from their winter dormancy and exhibiting one of my favorite aspects of spring. I love the hazy look at the tree tops of all the little leaves just coming out in a hundred shades of green with a few other hues squeezed onto the palette. The forest is a mix of American Beech, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple, Sweetgum, Loblolly Pine, Eastern Red Cedar, Dogwood, Redbud, and various Oaks that I can never keep straight.

Another sign of spring is the return of the Osprey. There was a pair living in the middle of the marsh, and the one sitting on the nest refused to give up her/his post even with a noisy 11 year old human below in a canoe. Great Blue Herons were also in abundance, but none would pose for a good picture. The marsh itself was coming back to life as well, and I know winter is definitely over when green blades of Spartina are seen pushing up through last years dead brown stalks. One of the nice things about the canoe was being able to get right next to the marsh where it was easy to see just how alive it was. There were Fiddler Crabs, Periwinkle Snails and Mussels all living their lives. What amazed me were all the pops, whistles and gurgles coming from the little creatures, turning the mud into a living thing.

Out at the mouth of the creek, the winds were mild enough to let us paddle into the York River. Much of the river bank is made up of small beaches and cliffs that have been eroded by the water. On one of the beaches I was hoping to find some fossils, especially shark's teeth. The visitor center had a nice collection on display, including a really large tooth from a Megladon, which makes a Great White Shark look like a trout. Most of the fossils were formed 3 to 4 million years ago when this area was under water as part of the Continental Shelf. Unfortunately we found no fossils, but there were other treasures: crab pot buoys, old sea glass, pottery shards and a few Osprey feathers.

Finally my last shots are of another unmistakable sign that spring is here - pollen. There were places where the water was yellow with it.

If any of you find yourselves in Williamsburg and are tired of the crowds at the historic area or wish you were anywhere besides waiting in line at Busch Gardens - York River State Park is only 11 miles from the center of town and a world away.

April 13, 2009

Bloom Day - Betwixt and Between

I seem to be between seasons here. Winter is definitely over, but spring is reluctant to warm up - not that I am trying to rush things. As I mentioned in December's GBBD, spring is often very cool here as we are adjacent to the great weather moderators of the Chesapeake and the Atlantic. The air and land may be warm further inland, but when you live next to thousands of square miles of 50 degree water - spring starts off slow and lasts a wee bit longer, at least until the water temperature catches up with the air. Fortunately this can also keep us out of the danger zone when the rest of the state has late spring freezes.

My Hellebores (Helleborus orientalis) are between seasons. Since this plant has had more than enough blogasphere exposure I'll spare you all of the pictures save one.
Camellia japonica is good at bridging the span between late winter and early spring. Most of mine are just about through blooming except for my too latest varieties 'Cherries Jubilee' and 'Nuccio's Pearl'.

While it is still too early to consider Hydrangea blooms, it is not too early to appreciate the incredible (unaltered) foliage color for Hydrangea macrophylla 'Sun Goddess'. These are the last two Narcissus to bloom in the garden, and I am sorry that I can't tell you there name. However I can tell you they did not cost me much.

This is the time that a lot of what are lumped together as "minor spring bulbs" in the catalogs start to bloom. These Ipheion uniflorum have naturalized around the garden coming up where I did not plant them, but I'm OK with that as they will disappear underground soon.

Ditto the Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica).
Lesser Celandine (Ranunclus ficaria) occupies the space in my garden between pretty spring flower and noxious weed. It also disappears when the heat arrives, otherwise I would be less tolerant of it.
This Violet (Viola papilionacea) is certainly one of my worst weeds that just happens to have a nice flower. It is choking out things I want to spread like this Strawberry Geranium (Saxifraga stolonifera). I have not had any luck getting rid of it accept for patiently pulling their little bulblets out of the soil when the ground is soft. Here is another Violet, Confederate Violet (Viola sororia priceana), that I planted on purpose after our friend Vicky (the ex DJ, ex Latin teacher, medical message maven) gave me a couple. It is said the name comes from the color of the Rebel uniform. I can only imagine that if the forces of the South went into battle wearing lavender uniforms, the war would have been over sooner. So far this plant has not gone marching across the garden. By the large number of pups coming up underneath of it, I can tell that the Rice Paper Plant (Tetrapanax papyrifera 'Steroidal Giant') will soon occupy the world between the weedy and the wanted. The Red Ruffles Azalea in the background is always my first to bloom. This was given to me by a former co-worker who moved back to Nova Scotia to grow plants in the cold. She pulled everything out of the ground she had planted in her Norfolk yard and gave it away to keep it from her landlord. Are you out there Nancy? Viburnum x juddi smells so sweet that it almost overcomes the odor of dog.

On the front porch the battle between the vines continues with no clear victor. The Lady Banks Rose (Rosa banksiae 'Lutea') may be bigger ...
... but the Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) takes a lot of abuse, which seems to only make it stronger.
The winter was a little rough on the one of my Loropetalums (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum 'ZhuzhouFuschia'). However, it seems to be springing back and flowering profusely.
Speaking of profuse flowers, the Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) has made a fine carpet by the front steps. Don't you know 14 years ago, an hour after we closed on this house, I was in the yard pulling plants out. This is one of the few survivors from the previous owner's intentions.
If you would like to see what is going on in other people's gardens, join the party at Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Garden. While you are there please thank her for all her efforts.

April 10, 2009

Stachyurus praecox

One of the pleasures of my job is learning about new plants, doing some quick research on them and finding a source to get them into the garden center. Several years ago I came across Stachyurus praecox in a catalog from Nurseries Caroliniana in North Augusta, SC. As I have said in another post, this is one of my favorite nurseries to buy from as they always have really unusual plants. I got maybe 10 Stachyurus to see how they would sell; some were the cultivar 'Issai' and the others were 'Mitsuzaki'. Disappointedly they sat in the nursery all season - that is until they began blooming late the next winter. As they came into flower I would put one in a glazed pot on the counter by the register and every plant brought in sold; one 'Mitsuaki' found its way to my garden.

There are several species of Stachyurus native to Asia, but S. praecox is from Japan. The genus name means "spike tail" which is its common name. The buds form in late fall and hang down from the branches on long racemes. As spring nears they swell and begin to open with chartreuse bell-shaped flowers, for me it is late March and they peak in April. The new foliage is a fresh bright spring green but there is no appreciable fall color. Hardy from zones 6 to 8, it gets about 6-10' tall by slightly wider and prefers light shade in normal garden soil. The drought we had in the summer of 07 really stressed it and as a result last year's flowers were minimal. Mine at home is planted right by the pond and I have been pruning it to grow out over the water.
The following pictures were taken last March at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, and this is S. praecox 'Issai'. It seems to have longer racemes and there are more of them. I may have wished I had gotten this one (typical man, having trouble learning to be happy with what he's got).

April 3, 2009

The Hofheimer Camellia Garden

The first year I spent in Norfolk was when I was a freshman at Old Dominion University. In the spring of the year I spent a lot of time on my bike riding through the older neighborhoods that are close to campus. Even though I did not know what everything was, I was amazed at the abundant riot of spring color. Houses surrounded by blooming walls of Azalea, wooded neighborhoods cloaked in Dogwood - these plants I knew from growing up in Richmond. What was exotic and not familiar to me were the Camellias, many of them reaching toward the second story of the houses. Although I am sure I liked spring in my adolescence, it was here that I came to truly appreciate it.

Now that I am in the business of horticulture, I have nearly come to dread spring. I loose one of my days off at the end of March and don't get it back again until after Mother's Day or even Memorial Day. Not only is my time at work more frequent, it is also much more frantic and stressful. So with this in mind, I choose to spend one of my last free Saturdays roaming through the Camellias at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, instead of pursuing more practical concerns. The Gardens have over 1600 Camellias, 700 are in the Hofheimer Camellia Garden. I was able to get there while Camellia japonica was in peak bloom - it was Shangri La.

'Apple Blossom'

'Edna Campbell'


'Lady Laura'

'Mabel Bryan'

'Masterpiece Pink'


'Taylor's Perfection'

'Terrell Weaver'

'White By The Gate'

'White Nun'

Finally, this is the tallest Camellia I have ever seen with this blog's author pictured for scale.