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 30, 2008

The Season of Brown and Gray

Right after the holidays is my least favorite time of the year. I will probably sulk through most of January, all of February (the longest month of the year) and a small part of the front end of March. I must remind myself that there are other people out there who are snow and ice-bound for most of this time, and I should be grateful that at least here this span can be punctuated by more than a few spring-like days. The older I get, the more I'm convinced I probably suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). At least for the next few days there is still time for visiting friends and family, and homes are still full of holiday color - but outside the hues and tones are different.

As we do every year, we spent Christmas with my family on the Eastern Shore (beautiful in any weather). The day after Christmas it was mild, but very foggy most of the morning, and it was well suited for some walking and some reflection.

Adjacent to my parent's property is small, marshy creek that has one of my favorite vistas. As I walked up to it, I disturbed a Great Blue Heron who squawked and fussed as it flew from one side to the other. If you enlarge the picture you can just make it out in the middle.
The pond next to the house was once used to irrigate fields, now it is a nice place for turtles and waterfowl. There is an earthen dam with a dirt road on top that separates the salt marsh pictured above from the freshwater pond, and both of these pictures were taken from the same spot, all I had to do was swivel around.
The land my parent's house sits on was once part of the Lang family farm. I remember the house that used to sit smack dab in the middle of the field. It was not that old by Eastern Shore standards, probably it was built in the late 1800's when the area was experiencing agricultural boom times as a result of the new railroad. It was a large, wood framed house, with a few ornate Victorian details. By the time I knew of it, it was in a terminal state of disrepair and made a great place to play. I did manage to get a fireplace mantle from it before the house was razed. The only remaining indication of the farm, is the name of the road and the family graveyard. Although there are plenty of traditional cemeteries on the Shore, it was not at all uncommon for families to bury their own in the same fields that gave them their sustenance and livelihood.

Judging by the dates on the graves, the house I remember was probably not the first one on the property. You will have to imagine what this lonely spot looks like in the summer amid a lush field of soybeans or completely encircled by 7' tall corn.

At the other end of field sits a tree line and another salt water marsh, and here the vegetation gets wilder. The trees are mostly Loblolly Pines, Hackberry Trees and Eastern Red Cedars.

Further east from the treeline, next to Metomkin Bay the land is lower and risky to farm, however it is a great place for a marsh to grow. Here numerous species of grass thrive, each within their own niche of the ecosystem. There were also a few remainders of last summer's blooms.

This path through the marsh takes my father and uncle to their oyster grounds.

The pavilion sits in a grove of ancient Eastern Red Cedars and it has been witness to many summer gatherings, church outings, Labor Day picnics, and even a few engagement parties. It faces due east across the bay towards Metomkin Island and the Atlantic, and accept for the birds and the distant breakers, it will be quiet here until Easter Sunrise Service. Next door to the pavilion site, one of the former adjacent property owners created a self declared wildlife refuge, primarily for birds. It had a wildflower meadow, a fresh water pond and nesting boxes scattered around the property. A later owner came, filled in the pond, mowed and seeded the meadow with turf grass and subdivided the farm. They put up a gate, paved a road, built very nice docks and offered the small lots (without houses) for several hundred thousand dollars. Their timing and or their pricing were not good. Years later all of the lots remain empty, but their docks are sometimes visited by a person who really likes the way this place looks without big McMansions on tiny waterfront parcels.

There are two things I need to remind myself when I begin to lament this time of year - everything has its season, and that brown and gray are colors too.

December 29, 2008

Bloom Day Update - Yuletide Lives Up To Its Name

During the last Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, I lamented the fact that my Camellias sasanqua 'Yuletide' has always been reluctant to bloom, and that it was covered with lots of unopened buds. We went away for Christmas, and when we got home I let the dogs out in the back yard after their vehicular confinement, and there was Yuletide in full bloom, proving Christmas wishes can come true.

I am surprised more plants were not blooming - it reached 76 degrees, tying the record high. Last night neighbors were still outside after dark, enjoying the porch weather under glowing colored Christmas lights. I am always the first person to eschew air conditioning, but yesterday on the way home I was the one to actually cut on the AC in my wife's car. We tried having the windows down which was pleasant enough temperature wise, but it was also incredibly windy, and we were headed right into it. Everything in the very full car that was not nailed down was blowing around, and it was so loud we had to shout to be heard. So up went the windows and on went the AC.

I hope all of you have had a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanzaa or a peaceful Muharram, and I hope all of us have a prosperous, stable New Year with few surprises.

December 19, 2008

When Fish Fly

(click to enlarge)

December 14, 2008

Bloom Day Yuletide

Since last month's Bloom Day, we have had our first freeze. It was not severe only about 28, but it was enough to turn anything remotely tropical black or brown. Since we are so close to the Atlantic and the Chesapeake, this area is often insulated from the more extreme temperatures of the rest of the state. It always takes the water longer to cool down then the air, so fall temperatures linger here. The reverse situation causes us to have cooler springs while we wait for the water temperature to catch up with the air. This plus the fact that my neighborhood is on a peninsula keep my garden more temperate. In light of what other gardeners around the country are having to put up with - I consider my situation a blessing.

In spite of this relatively mild climate, I have had trouble with a Camellia I had high expectations for. I purchased Yuletide (Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide') almost ten years ago, and it has always been reluctant to set any buds, although it has grown well otherwise. So this summer I put a little triple phosphate around it hoping to get more blooms. Now it is covered with more buds than ever before, lots of tight, unopened, reluctant buds. I guess I need to tell it that next week is Christmas and it was named Yuletide not only for its color, but it is supposed to bloom in December. Out of hundreds of buds, I have only one open flower and only two buds showing any color.

My other Sasanquas are in a shadier location on the north side of the house and are not as shy as Yuletide. My Show-No-Sake (Camellia sasanqua 'Showa-No-Sake) was pictured last month.
Mine-No-Yuki (Camellia sasanqua 'Mine-No-Yuki') is also sold as 'White Doves' and is a low growing, sprawling variety.My most vigorous Sasanqua is Kanjiro (Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro'), and it is very upright and a reliable bloomer each year. Right now it is the star of the side garden.

My Quince is confused with one early bloom. I am also confused as I do not know which species this is. I was told that this cultivar was 'Ore Hime' when it was given to me, but I can only find a reference to a variety named 'Hime'. My free Knockout (Rosa 'Radrazz') is still blooming and producing buds, even in a pot on the exposed front steps. I got this compliments of Jackson and Perkins and like a lot of the trial roses I get, it ended up in a pot. I have to really like a rose to commit it to the garden. In the back yard Mahonia (Mahonia x 'Winter Sun') has started blooming.

Creeping Ornamental Raspberry (Rubus calycinoides) has been evergreen for me in mild winters. During the past two summers the dry conditions have kept it in bounds, otherwise it can be a thug. The white flowers are not that showy, but the fall and winter foliage is nice and it is thick enough to choke out weeds, but not so thick that spring bulbs can't come through it.

Tetrapanax papyriferus is also known as Rice Paper Plant and is indeed used in China to make a paper from the stem. I grow it for the tropical foliage effect it gives my garden, and this particular one is a larger leaf form. I am not sure it has a cultivar name, but Plant Delights sells one they call 'Steroidal Giant' which sounds awfully similar. I put a pint sized plant in the garden this spring, and it is now over 6' tall with individual leaves 2' across. The foliage has been damaged by the cold, but it brought out some interesting colors.

Loretta seemed to be enjoying the Tetrapanax as well.
Several news outlets this week were reporting "new" findings about dogs. It seems it is now recognized that dogs have the ability to know when they were being treated differently from other dogs and will act out, sulk or generally feel bad when this occurs. This is not news to multiple dog owners, so in the spirit of equal opportunity, here is a picture of Patsy. As of last Sunday, she is now 14 years old. She can be lovingly hard headed, and is now hard of hearing as well, though just as sweet as ever.
Now matter what or how you celebrate - Happy Holidays! Please stop by Carol at May Dreams Gardens to wish her Season's Greetings and to thank her for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

December 9, 2008

A Quiet Holiday on the Shore

Like anyone else who works in retail, this time of year can be stressful for me. Added to the usual worries about the Christmas season is this year's economic pile up on a fog bound freeway. I found myself wondering if I have ordered too many Christmas trees. Owing to the fact that this year is a shorter selling season, I got the trees in the week before Thanksgiving. It is quite a laborious process we go through to get them unloaded, cut, put in water filled stands, graded, priced, tagged and treated with an anti-desiccant. So usually I can only get away for the day at Thanksgiving and have to come right home and go back to work. However, since they came in early we were able to get everything done before the holiday. So I took a long weekend at my parent's home on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore. Knowing that the greatest effort was behind me and all we now had to do was sell them enabled me to relax, and fortunatley they are selling well.

As is typical for this time of year, my parents yard had few if any blooms, but berries and fruit were abundant.

Ubiquitous Nandina (Nandina domestica)
One of my favorite natives, Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
One of my least favorite natives, American Holly (Ilex opaca)
A long ago Christmas present, Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca')
Issai Purple Beauty Berry (Calicarpa dichotoma 'Issai') or a mockingbird buffet
Wild unknown roses by the pond

The day after Thanksgiving, this is what the sunrise looked like coming up over the Atlantic through Hackberry Trees and Eastern Red Cedars.

BTW, I hate the term "Black Friday" it reminds me of the 1929 stock market crash and then I get the Steely Dan song stuck in my head. Instead of fighting the crowds, we chose to take the Open Studio and Vineyard Tour. Sponsored by the Eastern Shore Artisan's Guild, this was a completely civilized way to spend the day visiting wineries and artist's studios. It was especially nice that my wife drove, her car sipping $1.75 gas, extended family in the car, mid-morning wine buzz, beautiful scenerey. The shots below are from one of the artist's backyard.

Weekends like this make my long to move.