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.

April 22, 2018

Plant Geeks at Space Camp

     This past week three of us from the Norfolk Botanical Garden made a visit to NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. We were primarily there to see their green infrastructure, but we saw much more. The Langley campus is NASA's oldest field operation, and celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. They have made great progress over the past few years in centralizing their campus, so that it is more conducive to pedestrians, and less vehicle-dependent. They are also slowly replacing many of their older facilities with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings, all of which are built for energy efficiency, channel water run-off into BMP's (Best Management Practices), use recycled materials, have green roofs, and use both active and passive solar.

     The first BMP  we encountered was filled with Panicum, red-twigged dogwood, Amelanchier, Juncus, and other plants. Without knowing its function, you might assume it was just beautiful landscaping. This BMP and several others, combined with the use of permeable paving, allow run-off from buildings and pavement to slowly seep into the ground, recharging groundwater levels, while also keeping run-off and sediments out of the very nearby Chesapeake Bay. It has allowed Langley to reach its water quality goals years ahead of schedule.
BMP Garden (1)

BMP Garden (2)

     The lights in this lobby automatically dim or brighten depending on the amount of natural light coming through the windows.
NASA Langley

NASA Langley (1)

NASA Langley (3)

NASA Langley (4)

NASA Langley (5)

     We saw two green roofs on our tour. The first one appeared to be a bit more decorative than functional, and it seemed to have just one species of sedum. The more functional roof had several species of sedum, and included a couple of grasses as well. It was also a lot more colorful, and had great views.
Green Roof (2)

Green Roof (1)

Green Roof (6)

Green Roof (3)

Green Roof (8)

     The smaller spheres below hold various gases used in the many experiments that go on here. The larger, ribbed one is a vacuum chamber.
Green Roof (7)

     One of our hosts truly is a rocket scientist, but she has a passion for all things environmental. If I have my details correct, below is a ground-copy of one her experiments that was recently sent on-board an unmanned rocket, and attached robotically to the exterior of the International Space Station. Forgive me, I do not remember what she said the experiment was for; I was overwhelmed that day.
NASA Langley (2)

     3D printers are nearly essential on the space station, allowing parts to be made immediately, rather than waiting on the next rocket. I have no idea what this one was making, but I loved the blue color.
3D Printer

     The newest building on campus is dedicated to computational research, and it is named in honor of Katherine Johnson. The movie Hidden Figures is based on her work at Langley. I love to see justice in this world.
Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility

     We also got to see a local landmark, the gantry, up close. This structure is where the astronauts for the Apollo moon mission trained. They were suspended in such a way as to simulate lunar gravity. To get a feel for how large it is, look at the steps on the left side of the first picture.
The Gantry (1)

The Gantry (2)

     Surprisingly many acres of Langley are wooded, especially as you near the creeks and rivers that lead to the Chesapeake. There are also some impressive trees in the more developed portions of the campus. The wild and the cultivated trees, together with environmental commitment have earned Langley "Tree City USA" status.
Plantanus - Sycamore


     We saw a lot last week, and were amazed at every turn. True to our nature, however, we were  stopped in our tracks by the largest Sassafras either of us have ever seen. We are so accustomed to seeing this species as small understory trees in the forest, that we likely would have had a hard time identifying it, at least from a distance. I had to give it a hug.
Sassafras albidum (2)

Sassafras albidum (1)

April 14, 2018

20 or More Every Day

     Next to the Larchmont Library here in Norfolk is a temporary memorial that aims to bring attention to the high rate of suicide among American vets. It is estimated that 20 or more take their own lives every day. That's 140 each week, 7280 each year. This number is likely an indication of inadequate treatment for PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The memorial was created by Mission 22, a group which aims to increase awareness of the crisis.
The War at Home 3

The War at Home 1

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The War at Home 6

The War at Home 7

The War at Home 8

The War at Home 10

The War at Home 9

April 7, 2018

Palm Sunday

     On a recent trip to Virginia's Eastern Shore to enjoy time with my family, I took an early morning walk along the edge of Metompkin Bay. Longtime blog followers will know that I have been here many times before, but it is always beautiful to me, especially at sunrise. Although both dogs joined me, it was Penny's first extended walk since arriving. Due to her tendencies towards hound dog obstinance and bolting, she had to remain leashed, while the more trustworthy Isabel could run unencumbered. Even restricted, Penny overdid it. Once back in Norfolk she could barely walk, her remaining back leg now temporarily unable to do the work of two. I had to carry her up and down the steps for a few days. She is fine now, but my guilt remains for taking her too far.
Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (6)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (1)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (3)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (26)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (15)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (16)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (20)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (12)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (22)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (24)

     While I was on my walk, a rocket was launched from nearby Wallops Island, but all I could catch was the aftermath. Despite what the crazy looking trails might lead you to believe, I understand it was successful. On board were experiments from 4 different universities.
Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (9)

     A light frost covered much of the landscape, and though the calendar said spring, there was only one sign it had begun here. At the base of dormant Phragmites, a clump of long forgotten Narcissus bloomed, outliving the gardener who brought them to this place.
Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (8)

March 29, 2018

2018 Winter Walk-Off Wrap Up

     Although, this year's Winter Walk-Off may not have been the largest, I very pleased with the diversity of the posts. My informal survey says that winter was not terribly extreme, and that it was cold where it should be, and mild where it normally is. The only exception would be my own world, where we finally had more welcome spring-like temperatures just this week. Until this point, March has been February 2.0. Below are this year's entries. Click on the links for a bit of armchair travelling.   

#1 - Sarah in Maine
     Sarah has walked with me before, and as in previous walks, she shows us the beauty that is Maine in winter. She and her son walked along the coast in Wolfe's Neck Park in Freeport, Maine. I am no fan of cold weather, but Sarah and her family enjoy it, and know how to make the most of it. Her photos almost make me change my mind.

#2 - Peter in Tacoma, Washington
     Peter is another regular walk-off walker. He knows how much I enjoy looking at interesting architecture, and his city of Tacoma is rich in diverse styles. This year he showed a wide range of residential architecture, but there is also a bit of horticulture - some good, some not so good.

#3 - Marilyn in Columbus, Georgia
     In another post full of architecture, my friend Marilyn takes us to Columbus, Georgia, where you can tell the winter has been kinder. Tulips and dogwoods were blooming, people were eating al fresco, peddling party bikes, and a kayaker was in the river.

#4 - Beth in Madison, Wisconsin
     Beth is another regular walker, and this year she took her walk-off around Lake Waubesa in Madison. Although some of the lake was thawing enough to show open water, other areas were still frozen allowing ice fishing to continue. I have a fear of falling through ice and getting trapped underneath in frigid water, so I will leave ice fishing to others.

#5 - Janet in South Carolina
     What would my Winter Walk-Off be without Janet, the Queen of Seaford? She has walked every year I have had this meme. This year she and her walking partners, two-legged and four, once again walked around the quiet roads of her Upcountry neighborhood, where spring was knocking at the door.

#6 - David in Las Cruces, New Mexico

      Now for something completely different - plant and architecture-wise. David in New Mexico shows us around the neighborhood where he will soon be living, and the local landscaping plant palette is very different from what I see here. Though many of the plants were somewhat familiar to me, others had to be googled. 

#7 - Loree in Paris, France
     If there was a prize for most far away post, Loree would win it for her walk in Paris. She usually walks in Portland, but I am very glad she chose Paris this year; it was the only international entry. Though she threw in a few well known landmarks, most of her photos are little snippets of gardens, art, and architecture, plus a well deserved glass of wine.   

#8 - Georgia in Washington Square Park, New York
     For Georgia's walk this year, she chose Washington Square Park. She was on a mission to spot birdlife, in particular a pair of red-tailed hawks, which she did indeed spy. She also saw a to-me-surprising number of other bird species. Knowing that some of the earth's other species can put up with homo sapiens makes me hopeful.

     By assigning each entry a number based on when I received it, and by utilizing the cold unbiased proficiency of a random number generator, Peter the Outlaw Gardener was selected as this year's winner. In his honor, a $50 donation has been made to the Washington Nature Conservancy Thank you to everyone who participated this year, and thank you to those who walked vicariously.