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.

February 27, 2009

Spring Break

We have been having, what is for us, unusually cold weather. Night time temperatures in the upper 20's and daytime highs barely making 40. Normally we are enjoying the mid 50's by now with regular trips into the 60's and possibly higher. The chilly weather has put the normal spring progression on hold for many plants. However, today it reached 70 and in the space of 24 hours, spring made an attempted break out. Many of my daffodils that have been swelling for several weeks, chose today to open up.

In spite of suffering from a cold my son brought home from school, I was able to go outside and enjoy some of the warmth. Good thing - the weather man is saying that both Saturday and Sunday will be wash outs, not good for people in the garden center business. On top of that they are calling for a potential snow storm for Monday. There is a slow moving low pressure system hovering off the coast of the Carolinas and the Jet Stream is dipping southward.

Historically this weather pattern sandwich has brought Tidewater some of its deepest snows. In 1980, also around the 1st of March we had the same weather pattern, and it dumped so much snow on the area, so quickly that the area was paralyzed. People who went to the circus at the Norfolk Scope that night ended up being stranded and had to spend the night with the elephants and clowns. I was still attending Old Dominion University then and it was the first day of our spring break. Fortunately my friends and I left town early headed to Long Island for Pink Floyd's performance of The Wall (one of only two in the States (thanks again Denise!)). People who decided to leave in the afternoon spent most of their spring break in snowy Norfolk. I feel fairly certain we will not be having any such event, if we do I'll be sure to let you know.

February 22, 2009

A Mixed Bag

Today was an odd day, particularly weather wise. It was rather mild in the morning with temperatures in the low 50's. I had a good swim at the Y and the lifeguard had the outside doors propped open to get some air. By the time I finished the temps had plummeted and the air coming through the open door was uncomfortably cold, and I did not want to get out of the warm water . It started raining as I headed into work and was pouring when I pulled into the parking lot.

We offer free classes to the public at work, and today was my first of the season. The topic was timely and was a basic pruning class. I have taught this class now for over 10 years, and I have always looked at it as the start of our spring season. Normally at the end of the class I take the participants into the display gardens where they can watch me prune a rose, a hydrangea or a buddleia. However, when the class ended it started raining again, turned to sleet, then to snow and then to a mix of all. About 20 minutes later the sun came out, but on the western horizon were nothing but angry, black clouds, and sure enough in another 20 minutes we had more rain and snow.

During the break between bouts of precipitation the light was good so I took a few pictures around the display gardens and in the nursery. A mixed bag of weather calls for a mixed bag of plants.

Chinese Winged Euonymus (Euonymus phellomanus) attracts little attention most of the year, but in the fall the foliage gets to be a good red, falls off and reveals this incredible bark.

Pulmunaria x 'Raspberry Splash' is just starting to bloom.
These are the fruits of shrub-like Sabal minor one of our hardiest palms.
Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) are the only reliably hardy, tree-like palms for our area. People grow other trunked palms, but not without extreme winter protection that I am unwilling to try.
Pinus virginiana 'Wate's Golden'
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Cyclamen hedrifolium

I do not know what species this Sotol is...... nor this Agave.
The forecast for the upcoming week - more of the same.

February 18, 2009

A Fine Gardening Moment

With too much time on my hands, I played around with a photo from my front yard taken this fall. I did one of those photo-diagrams that you see in the back of Fine Gardening magazine that labels what you see in the garden.

A. Black and Blue Salvia (Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue')
B. Rose Glow Barberry (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Rose Glow')
C. Dwarf Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis')
D. Twisted Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Torulosa')
E. Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo)
F. Gyokuryu Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Gyokuryu')
G. DeGroot's Spire Arborvitae (Thuja orientalis 'DeGroot's Spire')
H. Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
I. Forest Pansy Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy')
J. Summer Chocolate Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate')

I have had a subscription to Fine Gardening for many years. I also enjoy getting Garden Design, Carolina Gardener and Virginia Gardener. I have mentioned before that one of my favorite customers brings me back issues of the RHS magazine The Garden, and leering through this periodical always sends me into English landscape lust.

Which gardening magazines do you enjoy?

February 15, 2009

Bloom Day - Paper Anniversary

This month marks one year of my participation in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and last month marked one year since I began my blog. One of the great things about blogging and keeping digital photo records is the ability to look back and see where the garden was in previous seasons. In 2008's February GBBD post the Hellebores were at peak bloom and were the only photos I wanted to show. They are also well represented in this year's post, but have only just started blooming. In fact, things seem to be about 2 weeks behind last year, but last year's mild winter was unusual. We have had several days here this week in the 60's and low 70's, which was a great relief from the cold temperatures we have had. We are also fortunate to have missed most of the violent and damaging weather that has been the story in other parts of the country (but winter has not left yet).

These are Hellborus orientalis, and my population now produces lots of seedlings, some of which are old enough to bloom.

Below are Helleborus foetidus which showed up during the last month's feast and are still going strong.

Also still going strong, but still unidentified is my Quince (Chaenomeles).
Another unknown species or cultivar is this Galanthus. I am bad about not recording what I plant and it is particularly easy for me to forget bulbs.
All of my Camellia japonica are heavily, but tightly budded, except for one. 'Magnoliaflora' has opened herself to the world. Because of its color, it is probably my least favorite. While I was still forming my own garden voice, I got it on the recommendation of my former boss who said it was one of her favorites, plus I was intrigued by the name. I wish now that I had not planted it, but it is what it is, and it will stay. What we choose to grow is such a personal choice and if we all liked the same things it would be a poorer world. You can see how Pam feels about this variety on her recent post here.

The blooms of Edgeworthia chrysantha are still hanging their heads down in a forlorn manner. Perhaps they are still sad at how I had to prune them after the plant thief mangled the shrub. If you click to enlarge the first Edgeworthia picture, you can see the fur coat they wear to stay warm (please do not tell PETA).

The Paperwhites have already bloomed, but this is my first true Daffodil to bloom this year, and it opened on one of this week's warmest days. Quite a few others are up, showing swollen buds and will not take much to nudge them into bloom.
The Lilac Daphne (Daphne genkwa) just started this week as well.
In one year of blogging, I have gotten to know a little bit about many people through their blogs, and have learned a lot as well. I would like to thank you for so many visits to my site, your comments and your information too. It has become a delightful compulsion trying to keep up with everyone, and to come up with my own material to publish. According to my hits counter, over 11,000 views of my blog have occurred (it is really only about 10,000, the rest were me just checking). I also would like to thank Carol at May Dreams Garden who has been hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for three years now. Please pay her a visit and see what other gardeners are up to.

February 10, 2009

Check Your Teeth For Spinach

I have just enjoyably wasted an hour and a half at a web site called GigaPan. This is apparently a new photo technology that uses high definition gigapixel cameras with a robotic device that takes very rapid panoramic photos. The detail is scary good and you can move around the pictures at will zooming in and out, up and down, left and right. The technology is simialr to Google Streescape, but so much better. I would have not been able to view these on our old computer.

This is the one my father sent me, see who you can recognize, who is distracted and who is with security.

This one was taken on South Georgia Island. Do I hear penguins?

Since this is more or less a garden blog, let's go to the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC.

How about a trip to the Kremlin comrade?

If you go to the GigaPan's homepage, you can search several hundred locations all over the world and just explore.

(My disclaimer at the bottom of a previous post applies here as well.)

February 7, 2009

The Emancipation Oak

I have always admired Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), but they became one of my favorite trees years ago while I was living outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Even though their botanical name indicates they are found here in Virginia, they only grow in a limited part, the southeastern corner of the state where they are at their northern limit. In Charleston and other parts of the South these trees reach a physical stature they will never attain here, and in the Lowcountry they are as integral to the cultural and natural landscape as sky, marsh and water. There the branches are home to Resurrection Ferns (Polypodium polypodioides), and the trees are draped with Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) giving the look of unkempt, but wise old sages.
There is one local specimen (pictured in this post) of Live Oak that while not the largest or oldest in the country, is perhaps the most historically important, and it could easily be argued is one of the nations most significant living trees of any species. I am speaking of the Emancipation Oak in Hampton, Virginia. It is located perilously close to Interstate 64 where millions of people pass it yearly (more often waiting in traffic), unaware of what is on the other side of the guardrail.
Prior to the Civil War it was forbidden in Virginia to teach slaves how to read and write, but that did not stop Mary Smith Peake a free woman of color from teaching in her home. In 1861 the fleeing Confederate forces burned the city of Hampton as they left, and most buildings did not survive, including Peake's home. That same year General Benjamin Butler of nearby Union-held Fort Monroe declared that slaves were now "contraband" of war and would not be returned to their former owners. As a result slaves flooded into the area for their first taste of freedom and set up encampments beyond the fort walls. With few buildings left in the city, Peak educated children and adults sheltered by this already large Live Oak. Under the shade of this same tree in 1863 newly freed African Americans heard the first reading in the South of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and hence the tree's name.
Shortly after the Civil War a school was founded on this site whose roots began with this tree and would later grow into Hampton University. It is one of the nation's oldest historically black universities, and among many noted former students is Booker T. Washington. The Emancipation Oak still thrives on campus and its canopy now covers about 100' of ground. The trunk itself is 9-10' from side to side and many of its long branches touch the ground, some of which are cabled for support. Though not as tall as it is wide, if you were to climb to the top, you would be able to see nearby Old Point Comfort the home of Fort Monroe, jutting into Hampton Roads harbor. Ironically it was at that site in 1619 that the first Africans were brought here, against their will, to what would become the United States. They were on board a Dutch ship and were traded with the English in exchange for food and safe harbor. Although I could find no reference as to how old the Emancipation Oak is, I want to think it was a mere acorn in 1619.

My impetus for writing this post came from several sources. First of all as said earlier, Live Oaks are one of my favorite trees; I wanted to see this storied specimen for myself; it is Black History Month in the United States; and I am still delightfully trying to wrap my brain around the two words "President Obama" and all of the events that brought us to this place in time. I also wanted to create a post and submit it to the Festival of Trees, a "monthly blog carnival devoted to all things arboreal" I discovered by visiting Local Ecologist who will be hosting February's event at the end of the month.

February 3, 2009

In Darkened Rooms Looking at Plant Pictures

I spent most of last week at the 2009 Mid-Atlantic Horticulture Short Course (sponsored by the Virginia Horticultural Foundation), which as I mentioned last year is usually just referred to as the Hort Conference. Despite the efforts of Felder Rushing, last year's conference left me with a feeling of climatic dread with all of the talk of drought and dire changes in the garden due to global warning. There seemed to be no one major theme to this year's conference, unless of course you count the state of the economy. Business or the lack of it was the talk of the attendees, and as I expected attendance was down from previous years. Most people in the green industry are generally optimistic and the consensus was that we are all hoping that nesting instincts will guide people's buying habits in the next year - or perhaps it is just wishful thinking.

Two of the most interesting classes had to do with shoreline restoration along the Chesapeake. New methods involving the use of two species of Spartina grass and other native plantings are creating living shorelines instead of bulkheaded or rip-rapped no-grow zones. One of these restoration classes followed the efforts at the Hermitage Museum here in Norfolk, which has long been one of my favorite local destinations. I also got to attend classes led by horticultural celebrities like Buddy Lee, the breeder of the Encore Azalea and Dr. Robert Lyons of Longwood Gardens and formerly of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum. I was introduced to some new plants (always a good thing) by Steve Owens the owner of Bustani Plant Farm in Oklahoma. Several of us at work have been pouring over his catalog ready to place an order. Robert McDuffie of Virginia Tech took us along on an armchair tour his recent trip to Irish gardens. There were many other classes well worth attending and the event was a great way to network and meet up with old friends as well. I have already asked if they will have me back next year.

This was the second year the conference was held at the Founders Inn in Virginia Beach and overall it is a very nice facility. I do have an aversion to the architecture of the place. - high colonial on steroids. I don't think the smaller scale of traditional colonial buildings lends itself to larger scale, modern uses, but that is my uneducated opinion. I am sure it was all part of the vision Pat Robertson had when he built the adjacent and affiliated CBN. The landscaping around the inn was put in with meticulous detail, but it is not to my taste - there are too many straight lines and there is way too much pruning going on. Just look at the poor Hollies in the pictures.

(In the spirit of the new code of ethics for garden bloggers, I must disclose that I have not received any compensation for my mention or placement of any person, business or organization in the above post - but I am open to bribery.)