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.

February 28, 2010

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Feeling an urge for wilderness and to enjoy a day that was not bitter cold, raining or snowing, I headed to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday. The western side of the 9,000 acre refuge abuts some of the last rural areas and farmland in the sprawling city of Virginia Beach. The eastern boundary is the Atlantic ocean and a wild strip of mostly pristine beach and dunes. In between are wide areas of open brackish water, marsh and maritime forest. The refuge is a vital habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, but especially for shore birds and migratory geese and ducks.
Back Bay Marsh

Back Bay

Near the visitor's center there are several trails that take you through the marsh and a stunted forest of Bald Cypress, Hackberry, Wax Myrtle, Black Cherry, Persimmon and Live Oak. This close to the ocean, none of the trees grow any taller than the nearby dunes - the wind and salt spray keep them pruned. Underneath is a tangled mass of Japanese Honeysuckle, Blueberry, Trumpet Vine, Poison Ivy and Smilax. With the thick growth and abundant water, you can imagine what the insects are like in summer and what prime habitat it is for snakes (venomous and otherwise), but in late February you need only worry about wet feet.
Back Bay Pond

Smilax Fruit 1

The dunes are a dynamic, ever changing system that protect the rest of the refuge from winds, storms and saltwater flooding. In between the dunes is a sparse landscape where if you couldn't hear the constant breaking waves, you might think you were in the desert southwest. This is my favorite part of the refuge. Right now it is a pleasant break from the winds on the beach, but in the summer it is a scorching cauldron, and is a difficult place for anything to grow, no matter the time of year.
Dune Grasses

Back Bay Dune 1

Driftwood Arch


Yucca Pair

Back Bay Beach Dune

For the most part, the dogs and I had the the beach to ourselves Saturday. The water was very clear, relatively calm and after this winter's temperatures, it will be a long while before it warms. The cold waters of the Atlantic and the Chesapeake will likely delay and extend spring for us, while the rest of the state has moved on.
Water Study 1

Gulls 2

Back Bay Beach 2

Eastward is Andalusia, Spain - after crossing 3700 miles of open ocean.


February 24, 2010

It's A Start


Despite the forecast for yet another snowfall tonight and tomorrow, there are signs that changes are afoot. I saw my first Daffodil blooming yesterday, the Flowering Apricots are showing color and the Snowdrops are opening. Unfortunately these signs were not seen in my yard, but perhaps soon enough. I also now have three trucks on the board for next week set to deliver the first of our spring plants, if only one of them was loaded with paying customers. I optimistically cleared and cleaned my desk today, tied up loose ends - all in anticipation of a busier schedule. I am looking forward to saying "bye bye" to the longest month of the year, this nasty winter, and most of all, the general malaise of The Great Recession.

February 18, 2010

Déjà Vu X 2

Regular viewers of this blog will have seen these two photos before. The first photo is my entry for this month's Picture This Photo Contest sponsored by Gardening Gone Wild. The theme is Winter Light, and this is a shot I took the day after Christmas near my parents house on the Eastern Shore. By this point we had several weeks of torrential rain; when it wasn't raining, it was too cold outside to be comfortable. So this day with sunny skies and temperatures above 50 was most welcome. There was a light fog that burned off quickly in the morning, but not before helping the rising winter sun cast a nice orange glow on the water and land. The rest of the pictures taken that morning are here.

Spartina Sunrise 1

The next picture was also posted previously and is of Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). I took the shot in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. This fall I was contacted by Annie's Annuals in Richmond, California where they wanted to use my picture. I was most flattered and said yes. Prompted by a recent Garden Rant post about Annie's, I looked for my photo on their site, and there it was right next to a closer shot taken by Blogdom's own Chuck B. of My Back 40 (Feet).

Heracleum lanatum - Cow parsnip 1

OK, I will not be blowing any more horns or excessively linking posts tonight.

February 15, 2010

Bloom Day - A Glass Of Whine

You can either complain about the weather, ignore it or try and do something about it, but the results are always the same.

Unlike last February, I have very little to show for this bloom day. My garden has been snowed on more in the past month then it has been in 10 years. Fortunately the snows have melted fairly quickly, and I am so thankful that we did not get the amount many in the state or further north received. In light of what they have been through, I have little to complain about.

When applied to people, Pansy is a derogatory term, but the plant is tough. I put in about a dozen this year, including the one below from the Delta Tapestry series. They have been flattened numerous times from cold and snow, but as soon as the temps rise and the white stuff has melted they pop right out again.

Viola x 'Delta Tapestry'

Last year at this time, I had a hard time picking which Hellebores to show for Bloom Day. This year the choice was easy as I only have two in bloom and, although the others are not far behind, they are not here today.

Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus foetidus

So where are the other blooms that were present a year ago?
  • Camellias - a few damaged blooms, but buds in waiting
  • Narcissus - foliage poking up through the cold soil, no sign of flowers
  • Quince - all opened flowers damaged, a few buds remain
  • Lilac Daphne - deceased June 2009, another victim of SDDS (sudden Daphne death syndrome)
  • Snowdrops - despite an abundance of snow, they are still a no-show
  • Edgeworthia - budded and holding

If you would like to see how this winter has been affecting other gardeners, visit Carol at May Dream Gardens for a chilly Garden Bloggers Bloom Day tour, better yet, participate yourself. Maybe next month I'll be drinking something else.

February 12, 2010

Olde Towne Portsmouth

I headed to Portsmouth today to pick up a Valentine's Day gift and thought I would spend some time walking through Olde Towne. This part of Portsmouth is rich in history and architecture, as well as some great shops and restaurants. Unfortunately the charms of Olde Towne are often overlooked by the rest of Hampton Roads.

There are many churches in Olde Towne, and one of my favorites is a great big confection made of pink granite. Court Street Baptist Church was built in the Richardson Romanesque style, and it looks so exotic that it could possible double as a mosque.
Court Street Baptist Church 2

I tried to get inside for a look, but the ornate door was locked. However, I did get a peek of one of the stained glass windows. The anchor is an appropriate symbol in a city whose existence owes a great debt to the sea.
Court Street Baptist Church Door

Court Street Baptist Church Stained Glass Anchor Detail

Portsmouth's Confederate memorial sits right in the middle of Court St.
Confederate Monument

Confederate Monument Sailor

Live Oaks and an iron fence frame the old Norfolk County courthouse. There is no longer a Norfolk County and now the courthouse is an art museum.
Norfolk County Courthouse

Across from the courthouse is Trinity Episcopal and the churchyard and cemetery are surrounded by a Nandina clad brick wall.
Nandina domestica

Mossy Memorial

Portsmouth has always been a little sleepier than its older sister across the river, and as a result much of the downtown area was spared from the urban renewal bulldozers. Although, there are a great many houses that survived from the colonial era, architectural styles from many other eras can be found as well. The houses are densely packed, but there are gardens and several small parks tucked between them.

Middle Street House Detail

Side Garden

This building was was built as the Macon House Hotel, but during the Civil War it housed troops and was one of the area's many hospitals. Right after I graduated college I rented an apartment in this building. I am not a superstitious man, but this was the only place I ever lived that I felt was haunted.
Macon House

The lightship Portsmouth is now permanently berthed in concrete next to Elizabeth River.
The Lightship Portsmouth 2

The Lightship Portsmouth 1

The Portsmouth Seawall offers great views of the working waterfront and downtown Norfolk.
Elizabeth River 1

Elizabeth River 2

Elizabeth River - Norfolk Skyline

One of our good friends recently moved overseas and divested himself of many possessions, including a panorama taken in 1914 of the Norfolk waterfront. I have always admired it and am grateful it is now in our house. I took the above shot today, at about the same place this photo was taken 96 years ago.

February 4, 2010

Wild Things

After my trip to the Kaplan Orchid Conservatory, I walked to the nearby Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, which is also part of Old Dominion University. The gallery has room for several exhibits, including the permanent home for the Gordon's collection of what was once referred to as primitive or outsider art, but is now called self-taught art. My taste is all over the map, but this is one genre I have always enjoyed. These artists are compelled to create because there is something in their heads that needs to come out. No one has taught them the "right" way to paint, what a "proper" sculpture is, or what acceptable mediums are. There are several hundred pieces in the collection, but only a small number are shown at any one time. The title of the current exhibit is Wild Things and it will be up until April when it will be replaced with the more religiously themed The Book of Daniel. I will be back for that one as well, since it will have several pieces created by my favorite outsider, the Reverend Howard Finster.

Fox, Minnie Adkins

Fox, Minnie Adkins

Teapot, Tom Phelps

Teapot, Tom Phelps

Brush Man-Holding Brushes, Gregory Warmack (Mr. Imagination)

Brush Man-Holding Brushes, Gregory Warmack (Mr. Imagination)

Gold Tooth Man, Sulton Rogers

Gold Tooth Man, Sulton Rogers

Big and Small Monsters, Oscar L. Spencer

Big and Small Monsters, Oscar L. Spencer

Dog-Faced Man, Sulton Rogers

Dog-Faced Man, Sulton Rogers

Snake, Leroy Archuleta (made from bottle caps)

Snake, Leroy Archuleta

Bear, Minnie Atkins

Bear, Minnie Atkins

The gallery is located in the newest part of the ODU campus which is a very pedestrian friendly mix of university buildings, restaurants, a large bookstore and student housing all adjacent to the Ted Constant Center. It has been pretty successful in connecting the campus to the the larger community and is all very sparkling and clean. When I attended ODU I lived in this area, but back then it was a rundown student slum of apartments and old houses that all carried that funky smell of stale beer - and was home to many a wild thing.


February 1, 2010

... and the Winner Is

Thanks to all of you who left a comment on my anniversary post. I had over 30 entries, most from the blog, but also a few who contacted me via email. Last night (during a commercial of the Matrix Marathon on AMC) my son randomly pulled Pam's name of Digging in Austin TX, out of the hat. I am sorry I couldn't give each of you something, other than a big "Thank You".