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 29, 2009

London Calling

I have been a bit of an anglophile since I was in the second grade. That was when one of my favorite teachers, Miss Schafer, fresh from her world travels introduced us to other countries. Although she superficially covered several nations, it was the U.K. that stuck with me. As I grew as a gardener, I came to appreciate the many contributions that the English gardening tradition made to the world of horticulture. In fact, my 40th birthday present to myself was a gardening tour of the Mother Country. Our first few days in England were centered in London, with most of our time spent at either the Hampton Court Flower Show, Kew Gardens or Wisely. Mind you I was thoroughly having a marvelous time, but regret that we did not get to see more of the city itself. It is a great hope of mine that one day when time, and particularly money permit, I will return.


According to an urgent email sent to everyone in my company's address book, I apparently went to London over the holidays, but am in a bit of a situation there. To solve this little problem, the message instructs people where to send $2000 dollars. Here, read a part of the note for yourselves:


Complement of the season. I am in London for an emergency trip but having little problem now. Please can you assist me with two thousand US dollars ($2.000) to enable me complete my activities here. I will pay you back as soon as I come back home. Send it through western union with this information:

(next the writer listed an address where to wire the money, but I will not post it here - in case any of you feel compelled to help out and are generous to a fault)


Despite a recently installed security system on the computer at work, someone was able to get our password and hijacked our mailing lists, and not only did they send the above note, they also erased the address book. Several of our vendors and customers called to alert us about the scam, and from the awkward way this note was written, I seriously doubt that anyone would fall victim to it.


Since the New Year is upon us, I suggest that we all celebrate with a full round of new passwords, for all of our accounts, especially if they have not been changed in some time. Please don't use your home addresses, phone numbers, pet's and children's names, the word "password" or anything else easily figured out by a determined no-goodnik. Make it a long mix of numbers and letters (both upper and lower case). It is also a good idea to make a list of your new passwords and conceal it someplace safe. Now if I can only remember where I hid that list.

(These non-restricted pictures were taken from the Library of Congress site which is a great resource for old photos and documents. These images of London were taken at the turn of the last century and used the photochrom process, which was an early way to turn black and white negatives into color photos.)

December 24, 2009

Tommorow Will Be Christmas

Not all Christmas songs are cheerful, and this was one particularly not. No matter the season, its a punch to the gut every time I hear it, yet it still manages to contain a few threads of hope. The song is "Family Life" from the album Peace at Last by The Blue Nile. The video quality is poor, but it is more about voice and music - so you should form your own images.

Starlight do you know me
Please, don’t look at me now I’m falling apart
Silver on the window
Like the bike I once had at home in the yard
Jesus love let me down and I know where you are
Is it safe, is it right

Cover me in snowfall
And the cars going by the north and the south
Flowers on the table
And the coffee gets cold like the milk in my mouth
There will be no honeymoon
Just separate chairs in separate rooms
Jesus, please make us happy sometimes
No more shout, no more fight
Family life

Tomorrow will be Christmas
We’ll be singing old songs and light up the tree
God and all the mercy
Please don't say any prayers for little old me
Jesus, you wipe the tears from her face
And the sound of his voice
Family life

Jesus, I go to sleep and I pray
For my kids
For my wife
Family life

December 19, 2009

$500 Million and Worth Every Penny

My son and I have been intrigued by the much-hyped new movie from James Cameron, Avatar. Today we were able to escape the rain and yet another round of flooding to see it. I was so very glad we did, and look forward to going again. Although the plot line was basically a western in which the Indians are the heroes, not the cowboys, it is still well worth the price of admission. We saw the film in 3D and the special effects are beyond bar-raising, but to me the most stunning thing about the movie was the attention to detail used in creating the life on an alien world. Much of the film takes place in an amazing forest with an incredible array of plants and animals. I did not want these scenes to end, and several were so visually beautiful they made my eyes water. Though not a perfect film; gardeners, nature lovers and tree huggers will not be disappointed either with the scenery, nor with the ultimate message.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not received any compensation for this mini-review and paid the full $11 x 2 plus a $2 convience fee for an on-line purchase. However, as I stated before I would be open to paid endorsements - hint, hint, nudge, nudge)

Christmas Cards

Christmas Bowl 1

Old Bulbs 4

Old Bulbs 3

Old Bulbs 2

Christmas Cards 1

I hope all of you who find your self house bound today, due to the weather, did not have plans to get last minute shopping or errands run. So far here in this part of Tidewater, we just have cold rain and wind while the rest of the state is getting snow, and I am more than OK with that.

Happy holidays everyone!

December 15, 2009

Bloom Day - The Well Watered Garden

On the news yesterday, I heard that the Hampton Roads area is having the 6th rainiest year since records have been kept, and that we are nearly 18" above average. As we are less than half an inch away from the number 5 spot, we will likely end up there according to the meteorologists. A new fixture for many of the homes in my neighborhood is a garden hose, pvc pipe or some other tube trailing from the basement window or out of the crawl space. These are all draining into the street excess water from under the house, and you need to mind when you walk by them as sump pumps kick on without notice, giving you wet shoes. There are also several spots around the neighborhood where water is spontaneously bubbling out of the ground. Of course for gardeners this rain is a blessing and a curse: not a thing needs watering and the reservoirs will be full for next summer's needs, but if you step into the garden you will sink up to your ankle in soggy, unworkable soil.

On my own piece of wet earth the garden still has blooms and our basement is dry and holding. Although we have gotten as low as 28, and most of the annuals are gone, there are still some hardier blooms persisting, including the godsend for southern gardeners - the Camellias.

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro'

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro'

Camellia sasanqua 'Showa-No-Sake'

Camellia sasanqua 'Show-No-Sake'

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' 1

The Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury' is blooming very early this year.

Camellia jaonica 'Les Marbury'

Here it is again with the dark blue fruit of Evergreen Hydrangea (Dichroa febrifuga).

Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury' and Dichroa febrifuga

Another plant blooming early is my unknown Quince (Chaenomeles sp.). Though I am not sure - it could be 'Ore-hime', which I was told would be a long bloomer. We will see.


I still have several Roses blooming, which have all been shown recently, except for this 'Red Cascade'. I moved it this summer so it would get more sun, and it has responded well.

Rosa 'Res Cascade'

The Mahonia x 'Winter Sun' was seen two posts back, but it is so colorful it will be shown again.

Mahonia x 'Winter Sun' 1.1

Mahonia x 'Winter Sun' 1

Not all annuals have been killed by the cold, and I planted Pansies this year after taking last year off. Back then I was not sure if my crazed neighbor had reformed, and I was not willing to take the risk. She seems to be in a much better place now, so this year I put in a few. These pictured are 'Delta Tapestry'.

Viola × wittrockiana 'Delta Tapestry' 2

Finally a gratuitous pet picture in the garden. Miss Patsy's advanced age keeps her from going on adventures like she once did, so she has missed out on photo ops the other two dogs enjoyed. Patsy celebrated her 15th birthday last week with lunch meat and extra lovies.

Patsy 2

A special thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Please visit her if you are interested in seeing what's blooming in other blogger's gardens.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

December 13, 2009

What's On Your Tree?

Backlit Window 1

On the surface you would think our Christmas tree is fairly conventional, no overriding theme, just a nice collection of ornaments. However when you peer through the foliage there are some less traditional ornaments and a few stories that go with them. Part of this is due to the fact that Christmas trees are not part of my wife's Jewish heritage, so she was never held back by convention. Her Nana made quite a fuss when a little artificial tree was put up in the house by her granddaughter. This protest did not stop Nana from being the first person downstairs Christmas morning to see if anything was under it with her name on it.

We have several pairs of shoes on the tree, including Dorothy's red slippers. However, my favorite are the gold booties, a gift from one of my wife's students. They were handmade by the child's uncle while he was in prison.

Ornament - Dorothy's Ruby Slippers

Ornament - Gold Booties

In a nod to Norfolk's rich burlesque heritage, the other notable article of clothing on the tree are a pair of sequined pasties.

Ornament - Pasties

Also in deference to where we live, marine life is well represented. There are lots of fish, some seashells, a jelly fish and this crab shell Santa made by a friend's dad, who is no longer with us, so it is very special.

Ornament - Joe's Santa Crab

Ornament - Jelly Fish

In a blurring of the holidays, we have a whole set of Dia de los Muertos tin ornaments I found for my wife in New Orleans.

Ornament - Dia de los Muertos

We also have some tin religious prayer tokens purchased at the Greek Orthodox festival. Apparently you pay for the blessed token to help with whatever cause you need help with, and they are hung around an alter or shrine at the church. You could buy tokens with crutches, eye glasses, various body parts etc... We bought a baby, a mom and a dad. We should have taken it as an omen that the baby is freakishly larger than the mom and dad.

Ornament - Greek Mother

Ornament - Greek Father

Ornament - Greek Child

There are as many varied and individual Christmas trees as there are homes that have one. Maybe you could show the blogging world what's on your tree.

December 7, 2009

Delayed Expectations and Pleasant Surprises

This past Saturday we finally got our first taste of overdue winter weather, however it was only a light appetizer and not a filling entree. The day was cold, miserable and rainy - not conducive to shopping or stringing lights through shrubbery, so we spent the day inside getting a little housework done and the Christmas tree decorated. During a break in the domesticity and the rain, I was able to spend a little time in the back yard. I was surprised to find that the Climbing Hydrangea foliage had taken on a pleasant yellow color, when in most years it simply falls off unnoticed. The leaf color is good match to the blooms of Winter Sun Mahonia.

Rain drop on Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Fatsia japonica blossom encircled by the Jasmine

Fatsia japonica

The Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris)

Backyard Early Dec. 2009 1

Mahonia x 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x 'Winter Sun' 2

When I woke the next morning and checked the thermometer, it said that we had finally kissed the 32 degree mark for the first time this season - about two to three weeks later than usual. There was little apparent sign in the garden of this brush with winter, but later when I got home from work I noticed that the exhausted Impatiens and the Coleus had definitively been hit. Monday morning frost had to be scraped from the windshield. I realize that many people out there have had far worse and though I am not happy about it, I expect that it should be time for winter.

December 3, 2009

Clearing The Air

On Tuesday of this week, a recently enacted smoking ban began in restaurants and bars across the entire state of Virginia. As both a rabid opponent of smoking and as an ex-smoker, I could not be happier. Here in Norfolk, most of the restaurants have been no-smoking for quite some time, but there are still a few that allow it, at least until this week. This move is quite a big step for Virginia - a place whose existence owes a great debt to tobacco. For years any anti-smoking legislation was held hostage by a small but powerful group of lawmakers who represented areas of the state where the tobacco crop was an important part of the economy, or where major cigarette manufacturers had their factories. Thankfully times are now different.

Cutting Burley

My hometown of Richmond was once one of the major tobacco cities of the world, and is still home to Philip Morris and its Marlboro brand. In parts of the city, the aroma coming from warehouses full of tobacco waiting to be made into cigarettes is surprisingly pleasant. There was once a Tobacco Parade that ran down Broad St. every fall that even had its own Tobacco Queen. The only mom on my street who worked full time, worked at American Tobacco's Lucky Strike factory. For the era the pay was considered excellent, and she had great benefits including full medical coverage. This coverage was needed as the company facilitated smoking among its employees by giving them a free carton of cigarettes for each vacation and long weekend.

Tobacco Harvesting 1

My own resume includes working in the tobacco business. My first real job was with a company that manufactured tobacco processing machinery. I started out as a janitor after school and then later worked as a welder's helper. It was good experience, but I determined it was not the kind of work I wanted to do the rest of my life. The company made all sorts of thrashers, cutters and choppers. One of the largest things they made was a house-trailer sized vacuum chamber used to fumigate tobacco. Many of these machines were sold locally, but quite a few were shipped to Africa for its nascent cigarette industry. The factory had maybe 60 employees, and I think less than 5 of them were non-smokers.

Cut Burley

It has been nearly 25 years since I quit smoking and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. For the first few years of my not smoking I had recurring dreams in which I lit up. I would wake up angry at myself until I realized it had only been a dream. These days the very thought of smoking makes my throat tighten and after all the available information, I am amazed anyone still smokes. Then I remember how hard it was and how many attempts it took for me to finally quit.

Tonight we plan on celebrating my wife's birthday at one of our favorite restaurants, and will not have to ask for a table well away from the smoking section.

(These images are works of an employee of the United States Farm Security Administration or Office of War Information domestic photographic units, created during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the images are in the public domain)

November 29, 2009

An Early Morning Walk

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

- Henry David Thoreau

Like many Americans, we were away for the Thanksgiving holiday. Fortunately our road is not long to Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore where my parents live, as well as many other members of my family. Seeing fog out the window when I woke up on Thursday, I grabbed my camera and 2 of 3 hounds and headed out for a walk. It was a good thing I went on Thursday, for Friday was wet, windy and stormy - while Saturday morning was just plain cold with our second dip into the 30's this season.

Most of my walk took me to the shores of Metompkin Bay where a few of the Spartina grasses were hanging onto to their summer greens, but most had on their fall golds waiting for their winter color. The air was still, the bay dead calm, and the crashing waves on the distant islands could easily be heard, even over the din of the geese. The morning was similar to the day after last Christmas that resulted in one of my favorite blog postings.

From the Dam (3.1)

From the Dam (5)

From the Dam (6)

From the Dock  (1)

From the Dock  (2)

From the Dock  (4)

Lang Farm Rd. Wetland 2.2

The dogs mostly had a great time. Penny stays busy and has a full agenda, and it did her a world of good to be able to run at top speed, off-leash and without fence.

Penny and the Geese

Loretta and Penny (5)

Near the end of the walk Loretta was anxious to return home as the sound of gunfire was echoing through the woods. It is prime hunting season for deer and geese, and to her phobic self it all sounds like thunder.

(I have decided to come back and use this photo for the June 2010 Picture This contest sponsored by Gardening Gone Wild.)

Loretta 1.1

You are welcome to view the rest of my morning walk pictures here.

November 22, 2009

My Blue Heaven

Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue'

The picture above is of Heavenly Blue Morning Glories (Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue') and is my entry for Garden Gone Wild's Picture This Photo Contest for the month of November, whose theme is "The End of the Line". These were the last of the flowers to bloom on this plant, as shortly after this picture was taken we dipped into lower, but not freezing temperatures that were enough to stunt this plant's vigor. This cold spell was shortly followed by almost 8" of swamping rain during last week's Nor'easter, effectively relegating the plant to just a pleasant fall memory. I like this picture for more than the obviously beautiful flowers, I also like the contrast between the supple vine and the the rigid line of barbwire (with all its connotations). Since today is the last day to submit photos for the contest, my procrastination fits with the theme as well.

November 20, 2009

Coming To A Living Room Near You

Christmas Tree Truck

Yesterday at work we got in our Christmas tree truck. These are all Fraser Firs grown deep in the mountains of North Carolina. It took us about 2 hours to unload the truck (by hand) and the rest of the day to get them set up, and I'll be back at today and tomorrow. We re-cut each tree, drill a hole in the bottom, put them in water filled stands and spray them with Wilt-Pruf. Even though I had excellent young, and not so young help, my body is feeling every day of its age this morning.

November 17, 2009

Be Careful Where You Park The Car

The former owner of the company I work for forbade us to ever sell two plants - Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia cordata) and Porcelain Vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata - now that's a Latin name). He was well founded in his prejudice, as he had seen more than one landscape overrun with these plants. I myself have the Houttuynia, but have not found it invasive and enjoy the colorful foliage and citrusy scent in my garden.

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 4

Porcelain Vine has been placed onto many invasive plant lists, primarily in the New England and the Mid-Atlantic areas. The plant is native to the more temperate parts of eastern Asia and was first brought to this country in the 1870's. It was used for quick cover on arbors and trellises and as a groundcover. Quick it is - where the plant is happy, it will grow up to 15' in one season. Porcelain vine grows almost anywhere in zones 4-8, as long as the site is not too shady or stays too wet. The foliage resembles that of grapes, and in fact it is in the same family - Vitaceae. The green flowers are not that showy and bloom in mid to late summer. The fruits are very attractive and do little to shake the family resemblance. The berries ripen in early fall and go through a color change as they mature from pale yellow to lilac and finally to a fine Delft porcelain blue. It is these beautiful berries that are primarily responsible for Porcelain Vine's original popularity, and their high fertility rate is responsible for the plant's invasivness. However, the plant will also spread vegetatively, and has a strong tap root that allows the plant to quickly regrow if cut to the ground.

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 3

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 1

If you would like to learn more about this plant, it is listed on the National Park Service's Plant Conservation Alliance website of Least Wanted plants. While you are at the site you may want to see if anything planted near your driveway is on the list.