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.

July 18, 2009

Low Tide On Folly Creek (Variation on a Theme)

Friday found me once again on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore, and my father took my son and myself out in his boat. He needed our help marking one of the small channels in Metompkin Bay that he and others use to get to the island or out to Metompkin Inlet. Basically we were just driving some stout, straight tree saplings (minus the branches) into the mud. To the top of the sapling markers we tied bright empty detergent bottles so they could be seen easily. Not that pretty, but they are effective, and it is good to reuse. This task is one that needs to be done at low tide, and as I mentioned previously, the mouth of Parker's Creek where he keeps his boat is impassable at low tide. So we trailered the boat to the ramp at Folly Creek, which is the next deep water creek south.

Folly Creek is close to the courthouse town of Accomac and has had an active history, but now things are relatively quiet. On either side of the shoreline are historic homes, woodlands, farms and marshes. Over 1700 acres of land surrounding the creek have been placed in some form of conservation easement, hopefully ensuring that the environmental quality and the views will remain relatively unchanged.

One of the houses on the north side of the creek is Bowman's Folly. The "new" house was built in 1816 by John Cropper who served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War. During the War of 1812 he was appointed a Brigadier General, which might be why the British came up the creek and burned down the old Bowman's Folly. Before Cropper began rebuilding, he had his slaves haul up tons of earth from the shore to form a mound, raising the elevation of the house. This not only kept it above flooding storm tides, but gave it a more prominent place near the mouth of the creek.

After our channel marking duties were complete, we got to go clamming, which is also best done at low tide. Dad took us to a spot at the southern end of the bay, with clean firm sand where he has had good luck in the past finding clams. If you have never had the pleasure of clamming, it is fairly easy. Sometimes you can use your bare feet to find them, but we used clamming rakes, which are like garden rakes, only with longer tines and with a small wire frame on the back. All you do is pull the rake through the sand until you hit a clam, making your rake "sing". A little effort pulls the clam to the surface.

These clams must be happy, for they have grown really large here. There size will make them tough to eat steamed or whole, so they will likely be chopped for chowder, fried clam strips or for fritters.

For most of its history, change has come gradually to the Eastern Shore, but the modern world exerts great pressures, and changes on land impact marine life. While it can't or shouldn't be frozen in time, I applaud any effort that aims at the preservation of its history, culture and especially the quality of its land and waters. Recently the current owners of Bowman's Folly added their 601 acres to the conservation easement, so at least part of this special place (and maybe some clams) will be around for others to enjoy.

July 15, 2009

Second Annual City Wide Bloom Day

Ask a gardener to name their favorite tree, flower, or any other plant, and you are likely to hear something vague like "whatever is in bloom today", or " maybe I can give you my top 5". In honor of this month's bloom day, I am going out on a limb (so to speak) and declare that the Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is without question my favorite tree. I have also decided that from now on, July's Bloom Day post at A Tidewater Gardener will be all about Crape Myrtles. You can learn more about these trees (and how integrated they are in nearly every streetscape and landscape in Norfolk) at the the First Annual City Wide Bloom Day.

Let's start this year's tour at home. Some Crapes across the street make a nice backdrop for my garden and in other shots you can see what we see from our second floor in July (click to enlarge any photo, I'm sorry you can't click to smell the blossoms).

These are growing at Larchmont Elementary School...

... and at nearby Maury High School.
Earlier this year, Maury High School lost one of its students. Charles Humphrey was captain of the football team and co-captain of the basketball team. He was fatally shot by another teen, in the early morning hours next to Park Place Methodist Church. A Crape Myrtle across from the church became an impromptu memorial.

Norfolk is a diverse city where in some areas the struggle to reach adulthood is full of obstacles, and mere blocks away are neighborhoods of private school and privilege. But don't get the wrong impression, this city is not one way of life or the other, there is a lot in between as well. The thing I have always found so peculiar with the city is how quickly you go in and out and back in again through differing pockets of life.

Please allow me to digress for a moment - yet again. The last shot was taken at a very humble shopping center near my house with some intensely colored Crape Myrtles. Other than the trees, the only reason I go there is because it is home to the nearest Alphabet store. In Virginia you have to buy your liquor from the state and at locations spread far apart, where only recently they have started to behave and resemble actual retail stores. This ABC store is special because it is right next to the railroad tracks leading to the coal piers. When the trains go buy, thousands of bottles on shelves start quivering against one another making magical music.

If you would like to see what is blooming around other people's homes and in other cities, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens as she hosts another Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

July 10, 2009

A Morning at the Beach

I was able to get over to the Eastern Shore last week, and on Friday my father took us to the beach. We had to leave around 6:00 a.m. because of the tides. The Army Corp of Engineers will no longer dredge the mouth of Parker's Creek where Dad keeps his boat. The creek itself is deep enough, but if you go out or come in on the wrong tide you run a real risk of getting stuck. This is only one of the indignities Parker's Creek has suffered. A Perdue chicken processing plant is at its headwaters, and for years the poultry effluvia found its way into the waters, and it had to be closed to shellfish harvesting. In the past few years, the plant has been cleaning up its act (voluntary or otherwise) to the point where the water quality is the best it has been in years.

The early morning light on the creek was great for photography, and the cool-for-July weather lacked humidity and was uncharacteristically free of biting insects. It made for a perfect morning to take the boat to Metompkin Island.
One of us chose to a different way to get to the beach.
As always, the island was covered with treasures.

The beach is also where the Atlantic gives up her dead.

Although they were having a better day then the Turtle and Terrapin, these Blue Crabs seemed to have been lured into some kind of trap back at the dock.
By lunch, their day did not appear to be improving, but mine could not have been any better.

July 1, 2009

Hampton Roads AREC

I went to a meeting today in Virginia Beach at the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) for more information on the fire ant quarantine. There were state and federal representatives there to clarify what the quarantine entails (I kept wanting to hear them use the cliche "We're from the government, and we are here to help"). I will not bore you with the details, but things at the garden center will not be terribly different than they were before the quarantine. The same can not be said for other interests, especially for the wholesale growers we buy from.

After the meeting I was able to wander around the grounds and through the gardens. Hampton Roads AREC is a little piece of Virginia Tech in the flatlands, and I think its original function was mostly agricultural, but now as this area has paved over and built houses on its farmland, the focus is more on horticulture. There are several themed demonstration gardens, a great arboretum with many unusual trees, an All American Selection test garden for annuals, rain gardens, buffer zone gardens and others. One of the coolest things they have, especially for a tree hugger, is a utility line arboretum where they show just how many trees can be grown below the typical power line.

Here are a couple of the annuals being trialed in the All American Selections display gardens. The first is Zinnia 'Zowie Yellow Flame'...
... next is Rudbeckia 'Denver Daisy'
... and Dahlia 'Goldalia Scarlet'.
The next shots are from the demonstration gardens and the arboretum. I am not sure what lily this is, but I have noticed that it has been a good year for Oriental and Asiatic Lilies in area gardens, and I know I need to have some next year.
The Crape Myrtles are still a week or two away from peak bloom. This is Lagerstroemia x 'Choctaw'.
Gordonia or Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lisianthus) is one of our most unusual native trees.
This Crinum was full of blooms with many buds still rising waiting to open.
They had several clumps of Canna x 'Bengal Tiger'.Echinacea was also everywhere, but I was not complaining.
This is either Milletia reticulata or M. taiwanensis. It was one of the few tags I did not see. Does anyone know what the difference is? Its common name is Evergreen Wisteria, but it is not a Wisteria and for us it is hardy, but not evergreen. I saw a catalog call it Summer Wisteria, which is a little better.
Here is Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) an Artichoke cousin.
I have always wanted to try Sea Holly (Eryngium amethystinum). I like the stems as much as the flower heads.
More blue with the Blue Lyme Grass (Elymus arenarius).
Finally, the arboretum is home to some truly exotic species that do well in this area. This is Yucca rostrata and this particular specimen must have been 12' tall.
The Research Station is open to the public and welcomes visitors. It is in a very busy part of Virginia Beach and millions of people drive by it every year without knowing what a great treasure it is.