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 27, 2011

Winter Walk Off - A Challenge With Prizes

We seem to be thankfully turning some sort of sort of weather corner here in Tidewater.  Winter's steady cold appears to be waning, and we are being treated to warmer, though more unsettled weather.  It has made some great opportunities for me to get out of the house and walk off the winter (and perhaps a few pounds as well).  Yesterday the dogs and I took a nice long stroll around the neighborhood, camera in hand.  Between avoiding goose poop, frequent stops to sniff and photo ops, I came up with what I hope will be a fun challenge for my fellow bloggers.  Here's how I would like it to work:
  1. On your own two feet, leave the house and share what can be seen within walking (or biking) distance of your home.  Your post does not have to be a picture-heavy travelogue like mine, unless you want it to be.  Maybe instead you will find some unusual patterns, interesting shadows, signs of spring, a favorite restaurant or shop, questionable landscaping or local eyesores.  Whatever, just keep your eyes and mind open, be creative and have fun, but don't show anything from your own yard.
  2. Post your own Winter Walk Off on your blog, and link it back to this post.  Please also leave me a comment when your post is up.  If you have recently written a similar post, you are welcome to use it.
  3. I will keep the challenge open until March 19th, the last day of winter (or summer for those of you below the equator).
  4. Everyone who participates will have their name put in a hat for a chance to win one of two prizes, with a totally disinterested teenager randomly drawing the names.  One person will win a collection of packaged Dahlia bulbs, and another will win some of my wife's handcrafted note cards.  I will contact the two winners and mail the prizes.  If the bulb winner lives overseas, they will get note cards instead.
I hope these guidelines are simple enough and that you will participate. 

Now here is what I saw yesterday.  Right around the corner from my house, I found one of my favorite signs that winter is nearing its end.  Camellia japonica seems to have suddenly opened throughout the neighborhood.

Red Camellia on Colonial

White Camellia on a Brown Fence

Red Camellia on a Brown Fence (3)

This sign is sort of at the entrance to our neighborhood and below it, coming up through the pansies are some Narcissus.  I donated these to the neighborhood several years ago when we came into a bulb bonanza at work and could get bags of 200 assorted for only $25.  The sign says we are a historic district, which I am guessing is mainly from its age and architecture, and not from any significant events, though John McCain and Leon Uris lived here once, and F. Scott Fitzgerald frequently visited his cousin here.


The dogs couldn't care less about historic districts and were only focused on getting to the dog park.

Dog Park

The dog park is adjacent to Haven Creek and our relatively new boat ramp and canoe/kayak launch making it a busy place during boating weather, though the skateboarders use it year-round.

Haven Creek

One thing I am very excited about is the commencement of work on Haven Creek to restore the bank with a very environmentally friendly, living shoreline.  Work just started this week.

Haven Creek (2)

Haven Creek empties into the Layfayette River where on Saturday a local crew was practicing on the frigid water.

The Layfayette (2)

The Layfayette

This house faces the river and is one of my favorite landscapes.  Confronted with regular flooding, a berm was built around the house, and in order to avoid creating a moat, heavy rain and seepage is pumped out to the street side.  The whole thing is very well planted.

House With New Age Moat

Right down the street could be our neighborhood's version of Gray Gardens.  Funny they spent money on two new trees, but not any to keep the front porch from eventually falling down.  This could be me.

Gray Garden

Lady Anna is one of many mermaids that can be seen around Norfolk, but I prefer to call her Lefty.


There are some great trees in Colonial Place, including many Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana)...

Live Oak Framed House

as well as this less leafy, but more massive Oak...

Tall Oak

some substantial Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora)...

Magnolia on New Jersey

and a few examples of zone denial.

Zone Denial

On the western side of Colonial Place is Knitting Mill Creek, and all three waterways make our neighborhood a sometimes flood-prone peninsula. 

Knitting Mill Creek (2)

These geese have a nice view of the Tidewater Yacht Club, which is a place where people with boats can drink.

Knitting Mill Creek

Near Knitting Mill Creek was our first house.  This little 2 bedroom bungalow, was perfect for two soon-to-be newlyweds.  We bought it in 1991 for 70K and lived in it four years before moving to a more child friendly house.  At some point a flipper bought it, painted over its smart red and brown color scheme, divided the largest bedroom in two, put a half bath in the laundry room and resold it for 250K at the height of the boom.  My only regret is giving up that low mortgage and planting a Red Tip (Photinia x fraseri) Golden Euonymus (Euonymus japonica 'Aureo-marginatus) combo.


The area's salty and usually breezy air was once thought to be good for tuberculosis, so a hospital was built here with lots of porches for its treatment, which is now an apartment building.  I am not sure how effective the air was for TB, but I know living in this very walkable neighborhood makes me feel better.

Tuberculosis Hospital

Again, please participate and have fun!

(you can view all of my pictures from Winter Walk Off here)

February 21, 2011

Savage Neck Dunes

Though I was born on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore, and visit frequently, I had never heard of Savage Neck Dunes until I read an article about it in the local paper this past fall.  I filed the information in the back of my brain under the heading "must try to check this place out".  So last Saturday when the opportunity presented, I payed a visit.  Savage Neck Dunes in a preserved natural area and a unique ecosystem managed by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The uniqueness lies in the fact that there are 10,000 year old, 50' tall dunes (unusual on the Chesapeake Bay), which make them some of the highest points of land in two counties barely above sea level. These ancient dunes are home to a diverse number of plants and animals and is one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle.

It was a chilly day when I visited, too cool for the beetles, but skies were clear and the sun bright - uplifting for February.  There were still patches of snow on the ground from the latest (and hopefully final) storm of the season just days previous.  In order to get to the dunes and beach you must first walk through a thicket of young Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) so thick you can barely see more than 20' in.  Soon after you enter a more diverse forest with a mix of Oaks, Maples and American Hollies, but the most dominant tree species is the Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda).  Where the dunes begin the forest thins and eventually you reach the beach where Mother Chesapeake comes into view.

Liquidambar Thicket

Top of the Dune

Through the Dunes

Dune Pair

Promontory (2)

At one end of the beach is a drowned forest, where among the exposed roots discarded ropes and netting are trapped and barnacle gardens grow.  All of this is perhaps best viewed from what appears to me to be the perfectly sized and perfectly located beach cottage, just outside the refuge bounds.

 Drowned Forest (2)

Drowned Forest (4)

Rope Play (9)

Hair Net (2)

Barnacles 3

Ripple (2)


At the other end of the beach I found my throne, which was not that easy to get into, nor that comfortable....


... but what a commanding view.

Throne View

Though this was my first visit, I know I will be back.  It is the kind of place where you are not likely to see many other people, and it will be great place to gather thoughts and to study water and sky.  I know that the sunsets here must be glorious as the beach faces west, unusually for people on this coast.

If you would like to learn more about Savage Neck Dunes, here is a link to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and if you would like to see more of the day's photos, here is a link to my Flickr set.

February 18, 2011

Jasminum nudiflorum: A Yellow Signal of Change

Yesterday on the way home from work, I passed by Waterside in downtown Norfolk.  In front of the parking garage is a huge swath of Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) doing its best to make an ugly building less so.  This time of year I look for its flowers as my signal that the end of winter is near.  Though late in blooming, they are a welcome sight nonetheless.

Jasminum nudiflorum (3)

The city of Norfolk uses this plant in many municipal plantings, and I am thankful for it.  Just when you need a bolt of bright yellow change in the landscape, Winter Jasmine steps up.  Can Daffodils and Forsythia be far behind?

Jasminum nudiflorum (2)

Winter Jasmine is a low sprawling shrub with green-in-any-season, long arching branches.  It gets about 3-4' tall by 5-6' wide, and can be pruned immediately after flowering if needed.  It prefers full sun, but will grow in some shade, only with fewer flowers.  It is hardy from zones 6-10 and appreciates good drainage, and in fact is quite drought tolerant once established. 

Jasminum nudiflorum

Native to China, this plant was first brought to Western gardens by Robert Fortune, one of history's most interesting plant explores.  At a time when much of China was closed to Westerners, Fortune disguised himself as a Mandarin merchant and would travel into forbidden areas in search of new finds.  We can thank Mr. Fortune for scores of our most cherished garden plants; Wikipedia has a detailed list of all the species he introduced.

Jasminum nudiflorum (4)

It seems my favorite patch of Winter Jasmine was correct in predicting the eventual demise of winter, for today the temperature actually climbed into the seventies.  Since I was off today, I was able to spend the whole day outside doing my best to clear, clean and prune away this long cold winter.

February 15, 2011

Bloom Day: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

If you enjoyed last month's Bloom Day at A Tidewater Gardener, you will not be disappointed with this post, because with only one exception, the same things are still blooming.  There have been changes to the garden in 30 day's time, but they are just not that colorful.  My Narcissus are pushing up, and the Hellebores, Edgeworthia and Camellia japonicas are budded, though none is showing color.  At this point my garden is more expectant promise than anything else.

Narcissus Emerging

It's bordering on overkill to show my Yuletide Camellia for three Bloom Day's in a row, but I have to work with what I've got.  Though I have bitched about the early and sustained cold weather, one benefit has been the fact that this plant has been doling out parcels of red for nearly three months.

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (2)

Across the bridge from the Yuletide is an Ilex vomitoria 'Will Flemming' bowing down for a drink from the pond.  The snows have not been kind to this plant, which already needed no excuse to flop.

Snow Bent Yaupon

Despite all the bad weather, these Radiance Red Pansies have performed very well.  Some people in the business might refer to them as "good doers", an expression I find awkward, but appropriate in this case.

Viola x 'Radiance Red' (2)

Viola x 'Radiance Red' (3)

Viola x 'Radiance Red'

Finally, here is a photo of the only new player on the stage, a bedraggled Snowdrop weak from last Thursday's snow.


These photos were all taken Saturday, and since then the snow has melted.  Yesterday the temperature actually reached 70, but today it's not supposed to get out of the 40's.  Later this week it is predicted to return to the 50's, 60's and perhaps higher, so maybe a corner has been turned.  I certainly hope so.

Thanks once again to the determined Carol of May Dreams Garden for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, held on the fifteenth of each month.

February 3, 2011

The Seaside Road

On Tuesday of this week I headed over to Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore for the day.  Often I vary the trip a bit getting off the main road, Route 13, primarily because it shows the ugliest sides of a lovely place. However, it's also usually thick with tractor trailers, towed boats, farm vehicles and drivers of questionable ability or sobriety.  In the summer it gets worse as people from points north further crowd the road speeding through, minds dialed to vacation mode.  This diversity of vehicles and drivers, few medium strips, several railroad crossings and an unlimited number of intersections all combine to make 13 one of the state's deadliest roads.  It is regularly the scene of horrendous accidents, which never fail to touch members of this close-knit community. 

Though it takes a little longer, my preferred way to travel on the Shore is by the Seaside Road, which runs close to the ocean side of the peninsula.  Its lacks the commercial blight and traffic of Route 13.  Between the fields, forests and marshes are a few small towns clustered around harbors facing the barrier islands and the Atlantic beyond.  The first few photos were taken in the little town of Quinby, Va.

Quinby Harbor 4

Quinby Harbor Red Cedar

Quinby Harbor 6

Just outside of Quinby is one of my favorite spots on the Shore overlooking the Machipongo River.

Machipongo River

Machipongo River (4)

Machipongo River BW

The town of Oyster seems to be pulled in several directions.  There is decaying evidence from a once thriving seafood hub, an outpost of the Virginia Institutee of Marine Science, a high tech clam farm and second homes on stilts.


Oyster (2)

Oyster (4)

As I was heading home on Tuesday the sky suddenly shifted near Seaview as a bank of fog rolled over the land from the ocean. (Might this pass for Kansas?)

Near Seaview

The Seaside Road ends (or begins) at The Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, and by the time I got there the fog was seriously thick, and cold as well.  However, I knew it might behove the photographer to get out of the car.

Refuge 1

Refuge 2

Refuge 3
Refuge 7
Update: I have chosen the picture below as my entry into Gardening Gone Wild's, Picture This photo contest. February's theme is "genius loci" or sense of place, and this shot does a good job of portraying what the refuge is like.
Refuge 6

I am the child of a mixed marriage.  My father's family were Seasiders and my mother's were Baysiders.  So to maintain familial harmony, at some point I will have to show you some scenes from the other alternative to 13, the Bayside Road.