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.

November 25, 2008

A Different Kind of Turkey

This past Saturday we took our friend Chris to the other side of Suffolk to pick up her family's Thanksgiving turkey from Full Quiver Farms. This was no ordinary supermarket turkey, this was a humanely treated, free range, hormone and anti-biotic free bird. Besides turkeys, Full Quiver sells chicken, eggs, pork, beef and raw milk. All of the animals are treated the same way as the turkeys. They also grow organic produce and use no chemical fertilizers, preferring compost and an abundant supply of manure (I wonder where they get it?). However, their greatest efforts go into raising their full quiver of nine children. The thought of this number of children is staggering to me, raising one child is trying enough. When we were there all of the children, but the very youngest were busy either tending customers or tending animals.

Snickers' belly was swollen with kid(s).
This old RV was full of chickens. One group would clamor into the front door and another group would bolt out the backdoor to take their turn running around the yard, then tired with that they would start the whole exchange over again rushing in the front door.

Remind you of anyone?
I would have liked to have taken a picture of a turkey, but the only ones around were already "dressed" for dinner and not very photogenic.

This trip to Full Quiver and today's holiday naturally have me thinking about food. I like to eat (perhaps a little too much) and consider myself an omnivore. I think that if you are going to eat meat, you need to be mindful of where and what it comes from, and how it gets to your table. My family usually includes some kind of wild game on the holiday table, but not everyone likes to eat venison, duck, rabbit or seafood. For some it is a matter of taste, but for others they don't like the thought of hunting and eating wild animals. I ask my wife that if you have no problem eating a hamburger or a piece of ham, why would you have a problem with game? Which scenario is better, a factory raised animal destined from birth for the table, or a free and wild animal taking its chances with fate? If I was the animal, I would prefer to be served with a side order of fate. In our house we go to no regularly efforts to make sure what we eat is local or organic. Right now I am OK with that, but perhaps we can start making some changes. I have noticed that most major supermarkets in our area are now carrying a bigger selection of organics and will also identify local grown or local raised where possible. I have also been pleased to see that this largely rural state now has more and more farmers markets popping up. There are lots of changes afoot in the food world, and today is a good day to reflect on that.

I am grateful for all of the abundance that is my life, not just what's on the table today.

November 22, 2008

This Geek Loves Ginkgo

Two weeks ago I found myself in Smithfield, Va. and came across one of my favorite trees, the Ginkgo biloba. The leaves were at their seasonal peak, and knowing the habit of this tree, if I had been there a day later most of the leaves would have been carpeting the ground. This particular Ginkgo had been butchered to make room for the utility lines, which is why I did not take a larger shot. Not only is this one of my favorite trees, it was planted in front of one of my favorite houses in a town full of architectural gems. Like a lot of houses in Smithfield, the Gwaltney Mansion is built on a foundation of ham. In my part of the world, when Smithfield ham is served at wedding receptions, the marriage will be happier. The dead will rest easier if it is on the buffet after the funeral, and Christmas would be just another day off without it. That's enough talk about pork, let's look at trees.

There are several reasons that the Ginkgo is one this plant geek's favorite trees. First of all, it is a living fossil that began appearing 270 million years ago, and it is the only currently living species in the Ginkgoaceae family. Think of all the plants that would show up at a family reunion of the Rosaceae, Cupressaceae or the Magnoliaceae families, you would need to rent a ballroom. The surviving members of the Gingoaceae family could hold their reunion in a phone booth. The Ginkgo has been planted and revered in Asia for thousands of years, but there is considerable doubt that any wild ones still remain. This tree will outlive its planter, and there are specimens in China over 1000 years old. One of the reasons this tree is so long lived, is that it is tough. It can tolerate temperatures in zones 3 to 8, and even into zone 9. It can survive in urban areas with heavy pollution, and it will live where other plants fail in those awful holes in concrete sidewalks that are well-intentionally left for trees. It is also very salt tolerant. I planted one for my parents next to their marsh, within sight of the Atlantic that is covered by salt water at least once a year and it thrives.

Here are a few more shots of a specimen in a local Norfolk park. These were taken just before the leaves turned golden earlier in November.

A very poignant, but great example of the Ginkgo's durability, comes from Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb was dropped on the city near the end of WWII, most living things in the city-center were killed instantly, but four Ginkgo trees managed to survive. Their charred broken trunks re-sprouted where they were planted and thrive to this day.

I found a great website created by Cor Kwant on the Ginkgo at:

It includes pictures of the surviving Hiroshima Ginkgo trees at:

November 15, 2008

Bloom Day Hangers-on and Harbingers

The weather here has not been great with lots of rain and clouds, but fortunately we have not had any really cold temperatures yet. The crickets are still singing and we have yet to have a serious frost or freeze. As a result, my garden has quite a few summer hanger-ons still blooming and confused tropicals. Although their days are numbered, I have not pulled out my impatiens, sweet potato vines and zinnias. However, there is seasonal color as well as the beginnings of the winter garden.

Several years ago, I purchased this okra cousin, Abelmoschus manihot. I never thought it would come back since it is tropical, but it always sets enough seed to come up somewhere. I do not have a picture of it fully open, but it looks like a hibiscus (which it used to be classified as) and the moon yellow petals have a dark purple black eye.
Another more tropical plant that blooms in late fall is the Candy Corn Cuphea (Cuphea micropetala). I showed this in a previous bloom day post in the spring when it was blooming out of season.
I do not know what the name of this Iris is, but it is one of the re-blooming varieties. It ought to be called Black Hole because it is so dark. I took at least 12 pictures to get one to come close to the real color. The camera kept auto-correcting the exposure.
Dichroa febrifuga is sometimes called the Evergreen Hydrangea, and it is a Hydrangea cousin, and it does hang on to its foliage in the winter, but that foliage could not be called attractive. The flowers are dainty little blossoms that can either be pink or blue depending on soil pH and while not ugly, they will not stop traffic. The real show is in the fall when the fruit ripens.
Hardy plumbago (Ceratistigma plumbaginoides) has been blooming for several months now.
This is Fatsia japonica 'Spider Web', and while it is not the showiest flower, it is interesting. This variegated cultivar gets its name from the foliage, but it kind of looks like spider mite damage.

I showed the Green and Gold Chrysanthemum (Ajania pacificum) last bloom day when it was in bud. It is just now starting to open and the bees and flies that are still around, are enjoying it.
This is one of the latest additions to the garden, Arbutus unedo 'Compacta', it was a much appreciated gift from my co-workers. I like that it is evergreen, has great reddish bark and bears flowers and fruit at the same time.
Camellia season is just getting underway with the blooming of the sasanquas. This one is Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Rocket', which was developed locally at Bennetts Creek Nursery. Most of the Camellias in my yard came from this grower, it is one of their specialties. What is special about 'Autumn Rocket' is its size - it gets 8' tall but only 2-3' wide, great for gardeners with limited space.

Finally, my last shot is Camellia sasanqua 'Showa-No-Sake' with the dried blossom of Hydrangea macrophylla 'Sun Goddess' in the background.
Please head over to visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what other people are posting for November Bloom Day, and be sure to thank her for hosting.

November 12, 2008

There's A Story Here

Seen at at church in Rescue, Va.

November 10, 2008

Historic Jamestowne

On Saturday I accompanied my son and his fellow Cub Scouts to Jamestown Island. We have had a week of bad weather as a coastal storm hovered offshore all week, and we endured downpour driving all the way there. Fortunately the rains stopped by the time we arrived, and we were able to enjoy our visit without getting wet. There are two entities that operate and compliment each other on Jamestown Island. Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Here you can see reconstructions of a native American village, the Jamestown fort and the ships that brought the first settlers here. Historic Jamestowne, which is co-operated by the National Park Service and APVA (The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities), occupies the majority of the island including the most historic sites, and this was our destination.

Other than driving by, I have not visited Jamestown since a field trip in the third grade when we began our indoctrination into the glories of Virginia history. For the record, Jamestown was the site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World, but of course there were many native communities already here, and there were many earlier European settlements elsewhere in the hemisphere. However, this is where the society that would become the United States started, thirteen years before the Pilgrims landed further north. This place is also special to me personally as this is where my ancestors arrived from England around 1612. They did not stay in Jamestown long before they settled on the Eastern Shore where most of them stayed, content to farm, fish and hunt.

Our tour guide for Historic Jamestowne assumed the persona of John Rolfe and he was very good at it. John Rolfe was instrumental in bringing the cultivation of tobacco to Virginia which saved the colony economically (the consequences of this we are still dealing with today). Interestingly, our tour guide happened to be a direct descendant of Rolfe. He knew his audience well, and tailored his words for a group of youngsters. Despite being products of the on-demand entertainment age, the kids were interested in what he had to say, and I was proud they asked relevant questions.
When we were taught Virginia history ages ago, it was assumed that the site of the fort had long ago washed into the James River. However, in 1994 the original site was re-discovered and extensive excavations began, and millions of artifacts have since been found. This has given us a greater insight into the early years of the settlement - and many of the stories are not pretty (espionage, exploitation, murder, madness and cannibalism). The fort walls below and the adjacent building follow the footprints of the originals.All over the park are memorials given by various groups. There are statues, crosses of wood, crosses of stone, benches, fountains, plaques, etc... This one is of Pocahontas who married the above mentioned John Rolfe, not Capt. John Smith. Look at her hands where everyone touches them.

To give visitors an opportunity to see some of the artifacts, a new museum was built to showcase some of them. The Archaearium contains many interesting exhibits including some grizzly medical instruments and two recently discovered skeletons, one of whom had a violent death.
Of course, I could not keep my eyes off of the plants. Here is our state tree, the Dogwood (Cornus florida).
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
An incredibly large grove of some bamboo species covers close to an acre.
There is a five mile scenic trail that goes around the island that you can hike, drive or bike on. It takes you through the wilder part of the island where you can enjoy views of the river, woods and marshes and sights likes this 15' wide patch of American Beautyberry (Calicarpa americana).

If you would like to see another blogger's perspective on Jamestown, head on over to In the Garden to read Skeeter's recent post, or visit Racquel's two part post at Perennial Garden Lover
from earlier this summer.

November 4, 2008

Bloom Day Democracy

This morning at 6:09 a.m. I arrived at my neighborhood polling place. I could find no place to park and drove home to walk back. There was an orderly line of close to 600-800 people who endured pouring rain while waiting to get in. The line stretched around the block of the elementary school, and it took me two hours to finally cast my vote. I have been voting for 30 years and have NEVER seen lines or a turnout like this. I got the distinct impression that a good number of people in line with me had never voted before, and not all of them were recently 18. Many older people seemed new to the process as well. The people in my district come from widely varied backgrounds, ages and come in all skin tones. I found it ironic that I was voting in such a mixed crowd, for the first serious black presidential candidate - in a school named after the Confederate cavalier J.E.B. Stuart. It was as beautiful as any bloom.

I was glad to suffer the inconvenience of the wait and the weather, and just kept reminding myself that this 8 year nightmare would soon be over.

November 2, 2008

Williamsburg Day Trip

As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday's weather was spectacularly beautiful, and I took a bunch of pictures as we strolled through the historic area of Williamsburg. Many of the buildings are accurate recreations of what stood there in the 1700's, while a few are restorations of buildings that managed to survive the centuries. Most of the rebuilding was done in the 1920's and 30's with the help of Rockefeller money, but even still it is a work in progress . A lot of the gardens and plantings were done then as well, and as a result there is a great collection of varied and mature plants. In those early years of restoration, the gardens were designed as ideas of what people thought colonial gardens looked like, or what they wanted them to look like - or more simply they are gardens in the Colonial Revival style. As scholarship has changed over the years, there is now a more accurate impression of what typical home gardens may have looked like. Most gardens must have been filled with a variety of plants to supply the larder and with culinary and medicinal herbs, and not so many ornamentals. The ability to have a pleasure garden was the privilege of the wealthy. Today however, if these gardens were to be restored to a condition that was more typical of the era - they would be a lot less showy and a lot less interesting to the people who visit Colonial Williamsburg, including myself. So I am OK with seeing less historically accurate gardens in order to enjoy showier gardens that have a historical flavor.

Let's start with some trees. The Maples were at their peak and I could have spent all day staring at them.

The Oaks were also holding good color.
The street leading to the Governor's palace is lined with Catalpas (I don't know which species). Family lore has it that my grandfather's only experience at smoking was with the seed pods from this tree which is also called a Monkey Cigar tree. He apparently got very ill, and was a rabid anti-smoker the rest of his life. The flowers on these trees remind me of Orchids or Digitalis.

Crape Myrtles are really showy right now as well, and the smaller leaves add a different texture to the fall foliage show. The path is made from crushed oyster shells - shoes recommended.
Did the color of the house bleed into the Crape Myrtle, or was it the other way around?
Bruton Parish Church is one of the buildings that managed to survive into the 20th century. It has a great grave yard too, but unfortunately it was closed yesterday.

I passed one fenced garden that had rectangular plots in the middle surrounded by a riotous border of yellow Marigolds, Gomphrena and a Lantana that was pink and yellow. It was not very traditional but looked great, even though it had been hit with the season's first frost.

Here are a few shots from a kitchen garden.

These tools are for Carol of May Dreams Gardens, who is celebrating her 1000th post, and who has a thing for garden hoes.
Finally some smaller shrubs with good fall color, like this Sassafras...
...and a Viburnum.