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, 2012

Low Water Mark

On the way home from work yesterday, I was listening to a CD I didn't want to end so I decided to drive around the river while the music played out (yes I know, what a shameful waste of fuel).  Anyway, when I got to the river I quickly forgot about the music as I was distracted by the lack of water.  Boats were resting on the muddy bottom, floating docks were not, and the creeks around my house looked more like drainage ditches. The pictures below were taken on the Elizabeth River where the freakishly low tide granted me access to places where normally I would have been up to my neck in cold brine.



Norfolk Sitz

Missing Bike


So Low (3)

So Low (4)

If you tuned in for pretty plant pictures, I am sorry, but I am going to try to do that next, especially since there are so many photo ops popping up in my garden right now. Since you are here, I might as well remind you my Winter Walk-Off 2012, which is open until 3/19.

February 19, 2012

Winter Walk-Off 2012

Last year I had so much fun with my Winter Walk-Off Challenge and was delighted with the great response.  I heard from bloggers across the globe (including a couple from the Southern Hemisphere where it became a summer walk-off ), as well as from right here at home. At the end of the challenge last year I knew I wanted it to become an annual event, and now it is time.
Here is how the challenge works:
  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 about gardening or a travelogue, 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 garden.
  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 midnight on March 19th, the last day of winter (or summer for those of you below the equator).
  4. Everyone who participates will have 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 seeds to grow some of my favorite vines, and the other winner will be sent some of my wife's handcrafted note cards.  I will contact the two winners and mail the prizes. 
I hope these guidelines are simple enough and that you will participate.

Last week I had planned my own Walk-Off to show some of the many Camellias that were in bloom throughout my neighborhood. However, Mother Nature had other plans. This past Monday morning's low of 22°F (-5.5°C) has made most of them much less photogenic, but just for the time being. With those plans thwarted, I took advantage of Friday morning's foggy weather.  My first stop was the fishing pier underneath the Granby St. bridge on the Lafayette River.

Willow Wood Bridge

River Steps

Under the Bridge (2)

From the top of the bridge I had a bird's eye view of a pelican.

Pelican Posts

Despite flowing through one of Virginia's most urban areas, the Lafayette can still look a little wild along its edges.

To the River



The Lafayette was once famous for its oysters, but that was a very long time ago. Today there are several efforts going on that aim to restore the bivalve, and the blue sign below is warning you to stay away. Apparently they can be quite dangerous during the restoration process.

Danger, Oysters

My neighborhood is a peninsula with the Lafayette forming the northern boundary, and Haven Creek the eastern. The newish apartments in the picture below were built on the site of the old Lafayette Yacht Club. Long, long ago my wife's family were members so they could use the pool, and because this yacht club didn't mind having Jewish members, African Americans were probably another story. It is sometimes difficult to believe that such distinctions were ever a concern.

Haven Creek (2)

During last year's walk-off I mentioned the living shoreline being created along Haven Creek, and now it is 99% complete. I will probably do a post on it in the future once the plants fill in a bit. The string is meant to keep the Canada geese from pulling up the Spartina plugs.

Haven Creek

Speaking of geese, these were seen on the west side of my neighborhood along Knitting Mill Creek. I wish they would fly to Canada and stay.


Haven Creek is home to many boats, and with fuel prices being what they have been many of these have been idle for years.

Tidewater Yacht Club

These three derelicts all covered in tarps just need to be put out of their misery.

Three Derelicts

This boat pictured below is aptly named Problem Child, and it sank during Hurricane Irene. The dock master was not happy with the boat's owner over a previous, physical altercation, for unpaid dock fees and with the fact the boat was not re-floated in a timely manner after the storm. To the owner's credit he did pump out the oil and fuel, but that did not stop the dock master from posting a big sign for the world to see that said "polluting and no one cares", this in an effort to get the owner motivated. Several of the powers-that-be determined it was not leaking. When the sign didn't work to motivate anyone, the dock master and his assistant apparently tossed beer bottles filled with oil into the sunken boat to spur some kind of action on the part of the local authorities. The dock master's actions resulted in his own arrest.


You wouldn't know it, but the white house below is one of the oldest in this part of Norfolk and was probably built in the late 1700's. Next to it there is little indication of where the street ends and the boat ramp begins. Several inattentive or inebriated drivers have ended up in the creek over the years.

45th St.

I will end this year's walk-off with a few less dramatic pictures from Knitting Mill Creek.

Moss and Lichens

Baccharis (2)

Baccharis (3)


Again, I hope you will participate in my Winter Walk-Off Challenge, and if you do, keep in mind the guidelines are flexible, and remember to have some fun with it.

February 15, 2012

Bloom Day: Ahead of the Front

I am bending the rules for this month's Bloom Day by posting pictures that were taken last week. Knowing a cold front was going to roll through this past weekend, I got the camera out before the flowers were frozen.  We actually had a little snow with overnight temperatures into the low 20's, not bad enough for any lasting damage, but a few of the blooms from last week now look like mush, which you will be spared from viewing.

This was my first Snowdrop (Galanthus), though I don't know exactly which species. The foliage in the background comes from Asarum splendens, which is a lovely almost-thug.


Narcissus 'Ice Follies' has been the first of my larger Daffodils to bloom. The small-blossomed Paperwhites are about done. This one was shy and opened up under the cover of a Cypress whose days are likely numbered, as the gardener and the Cypress have grown apart.

Narcissus 'Ice Follies'

Also just beginning to bloom is Edgeworthia chrysantha.  If your zone will allow it, GROW THIS PLANT!

Edgeworthia chrysantha

The first flashes of blue from Veronica umbrosa 'Georgia Blue' are starting to appear. More will follow as I have added a couple more patches of this fantastic evergreen perennial.

Veronica umbrosa 'Georgia Blue'

Now blooming for over 3 months and showing no signs of quiting, Hime Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles 'Hime').

Chaenomeles 'Hime'

Because of this year's mild winter, my Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' never lost all of its leaves.  Who knew, evergreen Spirea?

Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon'

Hellebores (Helleborus orientalis) are popping up everywhere and are likely about a week away from peak bloom.

Helleborus orientalis 2

In my previous post on Brassicas, I mentioned combining Giant Red Mustard (Brassica juncea var. rugosa) with Pansies that have some of the same colors as the Mustard foliage. This is Delta Tapestry and you can see by the ragged petals that some of my garden's insects have been enjoying the mild winter too.

Viola x 'Delta Tapestry'

We will end with a flotilla of Camellia blossoms starting with Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem'.

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem'

Camellia japonica 'Magnoliaeflora'

Camellia japonica 'Magnoliaeflora'

Camellia japonica 'Crimson Candles'

Camellia japonica 'Crimson Candles'

Thanks to our gracious hostess, Carol of May Dreams Garden for another Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

(Stay tuned for my second annual Winter Walk-Off challenge.)

February 9, 2012

My Favorite Brassicas

The first time I saw cabbage used as an ornamental was about 25 years ago, and it left an impression on me, but not necessarily a good one. The landscapers at Seabrook Island, where I worked, had planted many of the pink variety (probably Brassica oleracea var. capitata 'Osaka Pink') en masse with solid yellow pansies. It seemed few beds at the resort were neglected from this combination. They were planted in a rigid grids like so many pink soccer balls lined up for practice. What I knew of horticulture then was not much, but I knew this plant looked more at home on the kitchen counter than in the landscape.

Fast forward to today, and I am still no fan of most ornamental cabbage. However, there are a couple of members of the Brassica family that regularly have a place in my winter garden. One of these is Redbor kale (Brassica oleracea 'Redbor'). I like that it grows taller than other Brassicas, has a very interesting texture, and I love the smoky purple color.  I once had another horticulturist tell me that as soon as you see the flower stalk on any Brassica then it was time to pull them out.  Last spring I let mine hang around long enough to bloom and the sulphur-yellow flowers were a nice compliment to the dark foliage, and I was very happy that sometimes I don't listen to what other horticulturists say.

Brassica oleracea 'Redbor'

Brassica oleracea 'Redbor' (2)

Brassica oleracea 'Redbor'

Perhaps my favorite ornamental Brassica is giant red mustard (Brassica juncea var. rugosa). The large puckered leaves are a shiny burgundy and the stalks and ribs can be a bright acid green. I use to always pair these with solid yellow, faceless pansies, but the past couple of years I have been using Delta Tapestry that contains some of the same colors as the mustard mixed with shades of yellow.  Giant red mustard will also bloom with the same type of flower as the kale, but I don't find it as reliable.

Brassica juncea var. rugosa

Brassica juncea var. rugosa

Brassica juncea var. rugosa

Both of these plants need full sun and put up with what kind of winters we have here in zone 8, but I know they can take colder. During the warmer days of fall you will have to keep them moist, but once they are established and temperatures cool, little supplemental water is necessary. Last year we had some heavy-for-our-area snow that temporarily mashed down the mustard, but did not seem to phase the kale. Even though Redbor kale and giant red mustard are sold as ornamentals, they can both be eaten, but I prefer another member of the family for that.

I usually find my favorite edible Brassica between two halves of a bun keeping company with some barbecue. I like my Q North Carolina style, which is usually made from slow cooked pork shoulder, finely minced, doused with a vinegar based sauce, and it must be topped with coleslaw. Anything else is just another meat sandwich.


February 6, 2012

In Good Company

(photo in the public domain from the Library of  Congress)

This past week found me at the Mid-Atlantic Horticulture Short Course (MAHSC). Long-term readers of this blog might recall I regularly attend this annual event, plus I volunteer for the sponsoring organization. Each winter for nearly 20 years I have been sitting in darkened rooms, learning so much from many varied horticultural stars. It has become one the few bright spots during my least favorite time of the year and is something I really look forward to. 

New for me this year was a big case of role reversal in which the student became the teacher. I was asked to teach a class on The Best Trees for Mid-Atlantic Landscapes for the basic arboriculture group. I have given this talk to local homeowners, but this was my first time ever speaking to professionals, and wannabe professionals. I had to tweak the topic a little and remove a few zone-8-only trees and broaden it for the larger region. I think it went well as I did not get booed, heckled or unduly interrogated about my choices.

When I wasn't teaching, I was attending other classes. The way this event is designed there are many different sessions being taught simultaneously, and it is often hard to decide where to go. These were my choices this year:

John Bartram - The King's Gardener
Kirk Brown, Lecturer, Horticulturist and Dramatist
This was the keynote event and was half theater - half lecture. I left determined to know more about this historic cornerstone of American horticulture, and to visit Bartram's garden the next time I am in Philly.

Elevated Design: New York City's High Line
Elizabeth Fain LaBombard, Associate, James Corner Field Operations
Ms. LaBombard was involved in the design of the High Line and gave us insight into how one of the most fascinating public spaces I have ever experienced, came to be.

High Level Hort: Gardening New York City's High Line
Johnny Linville, Horticulture Foreman, Friends of the High Line
There was some overlap with the previous lecture, but Mr. Linville described more of the plant considerations.

Facebook for Business
Building Your Social Media Plan
Jean Ann Van Krevelen, President, White Willow Media
Like many of us, I have my own Facebook page, but I also administer two other non-personal pages,  so I need all the help and advice I can get. These classes together were together worth the price of admission. Ms. Van Krevelen is also a blogger and can be found here and here.

New Shrubs: From the World to You
Stacey Hirvela, Marketing Specialist, Spring Meadow Nurseries
Who among us doesn't like learning about new plants? This company is responsible for the development and/or promotion of many new introductions.

Visionary Design: Color & Texture & Form
Tracy DiSabato Aust, Author
This class ended too soon, long before we could see all of her photos of some really excellent landscapes. (To my knowledge, this was the first time I ever had a class at the MAHSC taught by a champion triathlete.)

Seeing the History in the Trees

Brian Knox, President, Sustainable Resource Management, Inc.
After this class, I will now walk through the forest with a different set of eyes.

Shoot Your Own: Garden Photography, Tips to Improve Your Marketing
Macro Photography, Let's Get Close
Rich Pomerantz, Rich Pomerantz Photography
You have likely seen many of this photographer's work in both catalogs and gardening magazines. I learned so much from both of these classes, especially the second one which was a 4 hour workshop. The most important thing I learned was how much I don't know.

Formula for Success
Susan Martin, Director of Marketing Communications, Walters Gardens, Inc.

This class was a two-parter, marketing to woman and new perennials. Things I need to know in equal amounts.

Myths that Kill Trees
Douglas L. Airhart, Professor, Tennesseee Technological University

Myths are meant to be broken.

Edibles in Landscapes: Design for Success
Nan Chase, Garden Writers Association

Ms. Chase is the other of Eat Your Yard and is a resident of Asheville, NC where her garden will be open for the Garden Bloggers Fling in May.

Every Gardener Should Tell a Story: Garden Writing for Your Market
Amy Stewart, Author, Garden Writers Association

As a garden blogger, this 3 hour workshop on improving writing skills was for me probably the best part of this year's event. I was in the presence of garden writing greatness, and it was a wonderful way to end this year's course.

These were just a small few of the many classes offered at the MAHSC. The program is designed for professionals, but is open to everyone and is held each year at the end of January or in early February. If you would like to consider attending next year, like MAHSC on Facebook for updates.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not received any compensation from any person, organization or company for mentioning them in this post, but as always, I am open to consideration. It all depends on what is being offered.)