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.

June 30, 2011

Expectations Exceeded

I do not normally plant mixed containers for my garden and have only had a few since I started gardening.  I really prefer to plant one thing in a pot (tree, shrub perennial, annual, whatever), but have lots of different pots.  That way I can mix everything together simply by moving the pots around creating a living collage.  At work we sell a lot of mixed containers, some we make on the spot, some are put together ahead of time on spec. and others we buy in already done.  Earlier this spring I put together a very drought tolerant combo all potted up into a large pedestaled bowl.  The centerpiece is a Cornelius Agave (Agave americana 'Cornelius') which is surrounded by three different Sedums - S. rupestre 'Angelina' , S. spurium var. coccineum (Dragon's Blood) and S. reflexum 'Blue Spruce'.  I also put in two colors of my new favorite annual, Yubi Portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora).  I like the Yubis because of their large flowers, fleshy foliage, hot colors, and for the relentless drought tolerance that all Portulacas seem to have.  My only issue with them is that the blooms close up at night and on very cloudy days.  Though we have had some rain, I have only watered this pot once since it was planted 5 weeks ago, and I am very pleased with the results.

Drought Tolerant Planter (3)

Drought Tolerant Planter (2)

Drought Tolerant Planter

Drought Tolerant Planter (4)

Drought Tolerant Planter (5)

June 24, 2011

And On a Lighter Note

Given the tone of my previous post, I think it would be good to maybe show something more life affirming, with perhaps a few colorful flowers.  After all, this is supposed to be a garden blog, even though I do stray from time to time.  This past Wednesday I was able to tag along with some co-workers and visit two of my favorite local gardeners.  This couple has spent most of their adult life creating beautiful gardens for other people, and now retired for some years, they can spend time in their own garden.  They are both passionate plantspeople, but she is especially so about daylilies and probably has close to 500 cultivars, including many that are her own crosses. Daylilies were the reason for our visit, as my companions were shopping for what we will carry next year, leaving me to roam around.  The other half of this couple has one of the best eyes for garden design of anyone I know, and he is also an accomplished ceramic artist.  There are many examples of his art throughout the garden.

Shall we head in?
Wisteria Arbor

Brick Path 2

Brick Path 1

A species of Callirhoe and a golden form of Cedrus deadara
Callirhoe and Deodar

Plumbago and Geranium Urn

Olive Jar Under Sumac

Clematis and Cob Webs
Clematis and Cob Webs 2

Front Lawn

Rock Garden 1

Rock Garden 2

Rock Garden 3

Rock Garden 4

Erythrina bidwilli
Erythrina bidwilli

I really like how the color of the fine foliage from the Japanese Maple echos the colors in the ceramic piece, but I am sure that was not accidental.
Shade Garden

A variegated Kadsura Vine (Kadsura japonica) and unusual rock formations from China
Shade Garden 2

Cannas and Daylilies 2

Daylilies are incorporated throughout, but this is the largest grouping of them in the garden.
Daylily Garden 1

Daylily Garden 2

Other stars of the garden on Wednesday were all the Echinaceas.

Down the Hill 5

Down the Hill 1

Down the Hill 4

Overlooking the Marsh

Echinacea 'Hot Papaya'
Echinacea 'Hot Papaya'

This garden sits at the end of a small peninsula and is surrounded by the native landscape.  It would be a beautiful sight even without a garden, but it is amazing what a little passion can do.
Overlooking the James

You can see my full set of photos from this garden here.

June 21, 2011

42nd Street

This past May marked a minor anniversary for me, one I did not at first remember.  It was 30 years ago that two of my friends and I signed our first lease.  I was 20 years old and no longer relying on my parents (at least not entirely) or the university's housing system for a place to live, it was one of those steps taken to reach adulthood.  The house we found was within a few minutes walk to school in what might be referred to as one of Norfolk's transitional neighborhoods, of which there are still many.  It was a small bungalow with three bedrooms, one for each of us, and the rent was very affordable, even at 1981 prices of only $300 per month for the whole place.  The house had a roomy front porch and sat on a large-for-the-area double lot where mature azaleas, camellias, dogwoods and figs grew sheltered by huge oaks and sweetgums.  It was an ideal yard for beer fueled parties.

We rented the house from an elderly woman named Loretta Zoby; she and her late husband had it built and raised two sons there.  My first conversation with her on the phone was a long one, but it was quickly clear how much she loved her house and how unhappy she was to not be living there.  She said she was anxious for us to see it, and also anxious for young men to rent it, not young women.  After seeing the house we soon signed the lease, even though the place had a few quirks.  One of which was security bars on all the windows, not uncommon in some places, but it was a first for me.  The house also had several small silver saint medallions nailed to each interior window and door frame.  On the walls hung Holy Mother icons, several chained crosses were left in the house, and an out of date calendar with a very graphic picture of Jesus parting his chest to reveal the Sacred Heart was hanging in the kitchen.  Mrs. Zoby asked me to leave all of this, and I said that I would, even though to this boy raised as a no-frills Protestant, they were as foreign to me as prayer rugs, menorahs and statues of the Buddha.

About two months after we moved in we could have used some of the portecion Mrs. Zoby thought the house needed.  We came home to find the back door knocked off its hinges and our television, stereo equipment and a moped missing.  We suspected our neighbor who we knew as a harmless drunk, but he ran with a younger, less impaired crowd who were not above a little breaking and entering.  We tried to get out of our lease after that, but Mrs. Zoby's son, who handled all the business details, would not let us.  In talking with her after the incident, Mrs. Zoby reluctantly told me that before she moved out, the men next door would pull their cars into the yard at night, headlights aiming at her bedroom window, yelling at and taunting her lewdly.  I could only imagine how frightened she must have been.  Using the break-in as leverage, we were able to persuade Mrs. Zoby's son to change the lease and let us get a guard dog.  We ended up with two young puppies and a kitten instead, not an ideal crime preventing trio, at least not at that age.

Over the Christmas holiday I had the house to myself.  Out partying with friends one night, I came home to find a very scared puppy and a house that had been robbed yet again, but at least there had been less stuff to be stolen.  This time we were allowed to break the lease without penalty.  We soon found an apartment further from campus, but in a much safer neighborhood.  A few years later I learned that Mrs. Zoby's house on 42nd Street had caught fire and had to be torn down.  I drove by later to look at the spot, and all that was left were front steps leading to nowhere.  Today the site sits under a parking garage for the university's new convocation center. 

I have lately been thinking a lot about that old house, and where I was in my life when I lived there.   What has prompted all these memories are recent local headlines.  In May of this year at another house on 42nd Street, one block east of where I once lived, a young man by the name of Chris Cummings witnessed two people brandishing a gun trying to enter his home .  He was able to startle them into fleeing.  His parents of course urged him immediately to move.  On June 10th the same house was the scene of a double shooting.  Chris and his roomate Jake Carey were shot during the early morning hours; their other roommates were not home.  Jake was seriously injured, though survived, but Chris was pronounced dead at the scene.  By the accounts I have read and from the interviews I have seen on television, 20 year old Chris Cummings was an outgoing guy, fraternity member, had a large group of friends, volunteered at a local homeless agency and was studying criminal science.  His uncle is Elijah Cummings, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, who is also active on gun control issues.  Like the death of any young person, it makes you wonder what they would have brought to the world's table if given more time.

42nd St.

Unfortunately murder is not uncommon news in this area, but it is no different here then any other large American city, some may be worse and others better.  These local stories usually catch my attention, but I don't normally respond to them the way I did with this.  It's just that this one took place a short walk away, three decades apart and too close to home.

June 15, 2011

Bloom Day Resolution

Here in southeastern Virginia, we have until just recently been suffering through a sustained heat wave and a conspicuous absence of rain, and things were getting desperate.  Mind you I am not complaining, just stating, besides this is the year I have resolved not to complain about the weather.  It is not right to worry about wilted annuals when so many people across the country are trying to rebuild their lives after losing their homes, and in some cases losing things even more precious. So I will be grateful for whatever blessings the weather brings, but especially for the two back to back evenings of rain this past weekend, prompting the garden and the gardener to both breathe a sigh of relief. 

I have a lot of things in bloom right now, and two of my favorite plants are at their peak - the Hydrangeas and the Daylilies.  So this post will be heavy on those two plants, but I have a few other things to show as well.

Here are a few Daylilies (Hemerocallis) whose identification has been lost to poor record keeping or indifference.

Hemerocallis (2)

Hemerocallis (4)


Hemerocallis (6)

Hemerocallis (3)

Here are two I remembered, 'Smoky Mountain Autumn' ...

Hemerocallis 'Smoky Mountain Autumn'

... and 'Milk Chocolate'.

Hemerocallis 'Milk Chocolate'

This is the first year I have grown Castor Bean (Ricinus communis), which some sources list as the most poisonous plant in the world.

Ricinus communis

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Echinacea purpurea

This year my Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) had more flowers on it then ever.  Unfortunately a large limb came down out of my Linden and took out 3/4 of it the day after I took this picture, but now there is more room for something else.

Gardenia jasminoides

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Penny Mac'

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Penny Mac' (2)

I am not positive, but I think this is one from the Halo Series.

Hydrangea Angel Series

H. macrophylla 'Pia'

Hydrangea macrophllya 'Pia'

H. macrophylla 'Sun Goddess'

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Sun Goddess'

The latest Hydrangea in my garden is one that I found mis-labeled at work.  The tag said 'Glory Blue', but this one was a double flowered variety whose flower stems match the color of the blossoms.  I have no clue to it's real identity, but I like it.

Hydrangea Lucky Find

If you have made any mid-year resolutions, please let me know. And if you would like to see what other garden bloggers are showing this month, then please visit Carol at May Dreams Garden who is our gracious host for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.

June 13, 2011

A Bike, a Train and Some Boats

In need of a ride, I headed downtown early Saturday morning on my bike.  It was Harborfest weekend, which over the years has more or less been a big deal.  The festival originally was designed to pull people back downtown to the waterfront, which at the time had fallen on sad times.  These days the area is a thriving, happening kind of place, but the annual party goes on just the same.  Though I like generous quantities of music, food and beer, I prefer to enjoy them on my own terms, not necessarily with throngs of sweating strangers.  So I got there before the party started, hoping to catch some good photo opportunities, and these are some of the things I saw.

Along the bike trail, one of our weediest natives, Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) was enjoying the heat.  Left unchecked, and given the right opportunity, it can become a tree.

Campsis radicans (2)

Campsis radicans (4)

Closer to downtown the waterfront was full of boats and boat-people sleeping off the previous night's festivities.

Harborfest (2)

Harborfest (5)

Harborfest (3)

Harborfest (4)

This year there were only a few tall ships visiting.  In previous years the water has been thick with them.  This one is the Kalmar Nyckel from Delaware.

Harborfest (7)

Harborfest (9)

Some of the crew from the Gazela of Philadelphia was busy in the rigging Saturday morning.

Harborfest (12)

The not so tall ship pictured below is a replica of the Godspeed, one of the ships that brought the first English settlers to Virginia in 1607.  The first of my family arrived a few years later, and I can't imagine how bad things must of been in England for anyone to risk crossing the Atlantic in such a small ship.

Harborfest (11)

Some of my more recent relatives used boats like these below.  The Chesapeake Deadrise was designed for working in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay.  It had a large open work area on the back where the business of oystering, crabbing, fishing or attending waterfront parties could take place.

Harborfest (17)


The dive boat Cromo had a pretty cool beard.

Harborfest (15)

In case anyone got out of hand, the military was on hand to maintain the peace.

Harborfest (8)

I saw many things Saturday morning, but what I enjoyed the most was watching dogs fly, dive and walk on water.

Dock Dogs (2)

Dock Dogs

Dock Dogs (3)

Dock Dogs (4)