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.

December 31, 2013

The Last Sunset of 2013

     Once again I am marking the passing of the year with a photo taken at sunset. I rode my bike to Bolling Ave. which deadends at the Elizabeth River. I frequented this spot throughout my college days to get away and clear my head, and it still works as needed. Ironically when I got there tonight an old college friend was there with his wife watching the sunset as well. It was good to see him, but it was an oddly random event. Tonight's offering was not bad, but it was not the best I have ever seen either.

     The last day of 2013 does not find me very reflective, and I can't think of anything terribly clever to say about yet another year passing, and I am neither anxious about or looking forward to 2014. Perhaps I need to take a clue from some of the graffiti on the seawall at the river, which urges all readers to "die living". However, I am not about to take up skydiving or bungee jumping. I have no plans to scale El Capitan or make a solo crossing of the Atlantic. I will, however, take whatever each day has to offer, even if the sunset is a modest one. I guarantee it will absolutely be the best sunset I'll have seen that day.

December 28, 2013

My Ten Favorite Photos from 2013

It is time once again for my end of the year photography wrap up, and last year's baker's dozen has risen to 15, and it was really hard to keep it at that.

During my 2013 Winter Walk-Off I passed Hund's ReCycle Factory, and on a cold, gray and depressing day it made me smile to see these colors.

Grandmother Malus
In April I took a series of photos from an ancient crabapple growing where I work at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. It is a very special tree at any time of the year, but standing underneath it in full bloom is to enter another world.
Grandmother Malus (3)

Budgerigar Parakeet
After talking about it for a year and half, two friends and I ventured to Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, North Carolina. Unlike other animal parks I have visited, you can get really close to the birds there, as close as the birds will let you. When I was making this list, three of the photos from my trip that day made it to the final casting call before having to be cut.
Budgerigar Parakeet (2)

It is almost impossible to take a bad photo of a blooming lotus. They are one of nature's sexiest flowers, and we have a stone bridge at work in the Japanese Garden that allows visitors to get right in there among the blossoms.
Nelumbo (7)

Fort Monroe
A trip to nearby Fort Monroe produced lots of photos for July's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I always devote that month's photos to the crape myrtle, my favorite tree. However, this photo is devoid of blooms of any sort, and I can't entirely tell you why I like it so much. Maybe its the water, the glimpse of the old fort and its moat, it could be the perspective, or it could be that it is seems un-Virginia like.
Fort Monroe (31)

Cedar Island
This summer I took a learning trip with the Tidewater Master Naturalist to Cedar Island, one of the barrier islands on Virginia's Eastern Shore. On the way over I spotted a trawler on the beach and the captain mentioned it was a wreck. Once on the beach the photographer in me made a beeline to the trawler, finger on the shutter button the whole way there.
Cedar Island (5)

Early August found me in Charlottesville for a quick trip. I spent one morning wondering the nearly empty University of Virginia campus, and it was the first time I was ever able to enter the Rotunda, the centerpiece of Mr. Jefferson's vision. At the top of the building is the school's original library with an oculus in the domed ceiling metaphorically letting light and knowledge into a dark and ignorant world.

Mrs. George H. Pring
My trip to Longwood Gardens this summer produced scads of photos. It has me wondering if I really saw the garden, or if I only saw it through my viewfinder. This shot was taken on my belly at water level outside the garden's Conservatory where water lilies are displayed. I like the way water, plants and light work together in this shot, to me they convey the exotic warmth of the tropics.
Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Nymphaea 'Mrs. George H. Pring'

Good Timing
This shot was taken soon after the one above. As I was photographing waterlilies, I saw a group of Amish ladies enter the garden, children in tow. One of Longwood's docents or volunteers was working in the garden and engaged the two children with one of the lily flowers that had recently been cut. I pretended to take flower photos while I instead focused on the group of people at just the right time. My timing and luck were perfect and produced what is perhaps my favorite photograph of the year. They could not have posed any better if I had asked them.
Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Good Timing (1)

Cellblock 7
My brother, my son, and I took another photo-productive trip to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. I love poking around places with atmosphere, especially if these places are old and in some sort of decay, and I hit the jackpot with this one.
Cellblock (7)

Rembrandt Hands
One of the things I love most about my job is that I normally get to learn or experience something different every day. In August I was present when one of the garden's statues returned from storage and was placed on its pedestal after a long absence. It involved conservators and men with cranes, one of whom had been working with his hands for many years.
Rembrandt Hands

My friend Anne is an accomplished artist, and I think everything she encounters is studied with a gifted eye. In August we encountered the carcass of an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin on a beach in North Carolina. It was one of many that died along the coast this summer.
Carcass (5)

St. Louis
After the last photo, I am glad a more positive animal shot made the list. In late September I was fortunate enough to be at First Landing State Park when a rehabilitated loggerhead turtle, named St. Louis, was returned to the sea.
St. Louis Returns (12)

Waller Mill
In another bit of good timing, I was able to go kayaking at Waller Mill Park in Williamsburg just at peak fall color. I am surprised that this was the only shot taken from my kayak that made my final 15, last year there were several. Believe it or not, but the color in this shot was not put there by me.
Waller Mill Park (11)

Sunrise Hackberry
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we headed to my parent's place on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore. On a morning walk to the shore of Metompkin Bay, I was able to capture a shot of hackberry trees at a bend in the dirt road leading to the water. While hackberries are not the most photogenic tree, I have many pictures of these, I like their shape and I like where they grow. The only thing missing from the photo is my old dog Loretta, she always waited right here for me to catch up.
Sunrise Hackberry (1)

If you would like to see all of this year's contestants, just click here for my Flickr set, and if you want to see previous year's finalists, 2012's are here, and 2011's are here.

Do you have photos from 2013 that you are particularly proud of, or that speak to you in a special way? If so, then I welcome you to share them on your own blog (or Facebook page, but only if you must). If you do, please come back and leave a comment with a link to your page. I would really appreciate it. Thanks, and I hope all of you have a happy and photo op filled new year.

December 23, 2013

Longwood Gardens in August - Pt. IV

     This is the last post in my Longwood Gardens series, and I meant to have this posted sooner, but holiday hoopla has a way of sucking time out of your life. I really look forward to the quieter time after Christmas spent with friends and family, compared to the chaos before. But that's a subject for another post.

     After I left the Conservatory I headed to the Student Exhibition Garden which is designed and maintained by students in Longwood's Professional Gardener Program. There were four gardens on display and they were all remarkable, but the first garden blew me away. Maybe it was all that red and the fact that the centerpiece was the elusive-to-me monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana), an expensive tree I've killed twice.
Student Exhibition Garden (2)

Student Exhibition Garden (5)

Student Exhibition Garden (11)

Student Exhibition Garden (8)

Student Exhibition Garden (10)

Student Exhibition Garden (12)

     After seeing the gardens above it was a nice break to walk through the more sedate vegetable garden, particularly since the next stop was another riot of color, The Idea Garden.
Vegetable Garden

Idea Garden (3)

Idea Garden (2)

Idea Garden (1)

Idea Garden (6)

     I'm not sure what one admirer of the Idea Garden thought about all the color, but they seemed to be enjoying the day regardless.
Idea Garden (7)

     I will finish my Longwood series with a shot of their Main Fountain Garden, it seems an approprate finale. If you want to see all of my photos, you can click here for my Flickr set.
Main Fountain Garden

     Speaking of photos, get your top ten together. After Christmas I will be posting my favorites of the year, which has kind of become a tradition here. Until then, merry Christmas if you celebrate, happy holidays if you don't.

December 15, 2013

Bloom Day - A Wet Mess

     I'm interrupting my Longwood Garden posts for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. This one is a little unusual in that it is the first that I actually took the photos on the same day as the post. Usually I take them a few days prior, but between work, decreased daylight, Christmas shopping and heavy rains, today was the first day I could get into the garden. Even though we have had a few punctuations in the 60's and 70's, overall it has been colder this month than normal. I am thankful that the winter storms plaguing others, have only brought us rain. Now on with the show.

     This is one of the new trailing violas, whose name escapes me now.
Viola - Trialing Yellow

     I was surprised to see my Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon') blooming so early, usually it does not start until February. The foliage is still colorful on it as well.
Spiraea thunberii 'Ogon'

     My Edgeworthia chrysantha is fat with buds, and it should be a great show this year. My nose can hardly wait.
Edgeworthia chrysantha

     Camellia sasanqua are still putting out good blooms, and there are many unopened buds waiting for the right temperatures to open. The first two below are 'Autumn Rocket' followed by 'Kanjiro', then the seasonally appropriate 'Yuletide'.
Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Rocket' (2)

Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Rocket' (1)

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro'

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

     'Yuletide' is in the back garden by the pond. Across from it is a Stachyurus praecox 'Mitsuzaki', and this is one of the few years it has had good fall color. Usually it looks more like the Tetrapanax (in the front of this shot) at this time of year.
Deck View

     The fish pond has yet to freeze this year, and its inhabitants are still active, wondering why I have not fed them recently. The orange and white koi has blue eye lids so I named him/her Sinatra, and the other one, who is black, orange and hard to see is Burning Ashes. The goldfish swim unnamed.
Water's Surface (2)

Water's Surface (3)

Water's Surface (4)

     Fish are not the only creatures in my garden, Penny and Isabel are usually out there as well, but don't usually look so serious.
Penny (2)


     Inside, my Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera) are blooming right on cue, though the pink one is not very Christmassy.
Schlumbergera (1)

Schlumbergera (3)

Schlumbergera (2)

     You can see what's blooming on other people's kitchen window sills, or in their gardens, by visiting Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Every month on the 15th she hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

     I'd like to wish all of you a merry Christmas if you celebrate, happy holidays if you don't, and a happy new year as well.

December 9, 2013

Longwood Gardens in August - Pt. III

     I was fortunate to have all the time I needed to see Longwood when I was there in August. However, if you visit and are on a tight schedule, make sure you see the Conservatory first. Imagine you had unlimited funds (like a DuPont fortune), and wanted to build one of the largest conservatories in the world, fill it with over 5000 plant species, add numerous water features, throw in a pipe organ, create an orchid collection, make part of it tall enough for a palm house, add a bonsai collection, grow a fruit garden and much, much more - then you can imagine Longwood's Conservatory.


Conservatory - Orangery (3)

Conservatory - East Conservatory (4)

Conservatory - Acacia Passage

Conservatory - East Conservatory (5)

Conservatory - Orangery (4)

Conservatory - Orangery (1)

Conservatory - Tropical Terrace - Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum 'Miss Peters'

Conservatory - Rose House - Acalypha hispida

Conservatory - Tropical Terrace (5)

Conservatory - Tropical Terrace (4)

Conservatory - Tropical Terrace (2)

Conservatory - Cattleya g. Valentine 'Coerulea'

Conservatory - Habenaria rhodocheila

Conservatory - Silver Garden (2)

     My favorite part of the conservatory, other than all the general over-the-topness, is the Waterlily Display. I was lucky enough to be there while people were working and got to poke through their refuse bin and see the underside of Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’. The chamber-like structure was fascinating and the thorns were a surprise. 
Conservatory - Waterlily Display -  (3)

Conservatory - Waterlily Display -  (7)

Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Victoria

Conservatory - Waterlily Display -  Victoria Underside

Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Nymphaea 'Mrs. George H. Pring'

Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Nymphaea 'Marmorata'

Conservatory - Waterlily Display -  Nymphaea 'Director George T. Moore'

     I laid down on my belly, legs sprawled out behind me, to take pictures of the waterlilies, unconcerned as to how I looked. When I saw this family of "plain folk", I only pretended to take pictures of waterlilies and instead took two of my favorite photos, ever. They composed themselves, without asking, as if they were posing for a Dutch painter.
Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Good Timing (2)

Conservatory - Waterlily Display - Good Timing (1)

     I have one Longwood post left, and you can see my first two are here and here.