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 31, 2012

The Last Sunset of 2012

A couple of years ago I began taking a picture of the last sunset of the year as a way to mark the turning of the calendar.  When I headed out tonight to get my shot, the sky was overcast and not very promising.  With great effort, I tried to not read anything into the bleak, colorless sky as a portent of things to come.  Then I thought maybe not having a clear view can be a good thing. Some people, certain of what lies ahead, are are quick to dismiss anything that does not fit into their already formed view.  Where perhaps a clouded vision keeps you on your toes, more open to whatever opportunities present themselves.

Not listening to my own advice, I took several shots and decided the scene was not going to get any better and left.  Moments later I noticed a bright slash of pink sky in the rearview mirror.  While turning the car around to get what would have been a more colorful shot, the moment quickly passed. In my head was the voice of Master Po saying "patience, grasshopper".

I wish all of you a happy new year, full of opportunities, the patience to wait for them, and sprinkled with occasional 70's TV show references.

December 30, 2012

All Aboard

Yesterday morning my son, his godmother, and I boarded a pre-dawn train in downtown Norfolk for a day trip to Washington.  This is a new route for Amtrak, and to entice local riders they were offering a $19 fare for the month of December.  That rate was too good to pass up, and if you have ever driven I-95 north of Richmond or looked for a place to park in D.C., then I don't need to tell what a bargain that was.  We spent our day at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (a separate post will follow) and at several of the great museums along the mall.

Outside Union Station, Columbus looked to be gathering his cloak against the cold rain, snow and blowing wind, or maybe he was holding it tight in case his naked companion got any felonious ideas.  We were not about to let something like miserable weather ruin our trip.

The Capitol grounds were a construction zone in preparation of the coming inaugural, and all along the mall temporary crisis response stations were being installed. I guess a necessary thing in these times, but I was able to get this shot through one of the gigantic Japanese pagoda trees (Sophora japonica) on the side Capitol Hill.
Through the Trees

After an hour or so warming ourselves in the jungle room at the gardens, we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian.  We did not have time to tour the museum, that will be on another trip, but our goal was lunch.  If you are looking for something varied to eat, their cafeteria serves good food that would not be unfamiliar to most native American groups.  I had buffalo/winter squash soup, corn bread and a wild rice and water cress salad.  It wasn't necessarily bargain friendly, but nothing is along the mall, except for the price of admission, which is usually free.  The museum's building was designed to resemble a western rock face, and it is surrounded by a distinctive landscape heavy on the water features and using naturalistic plantings of native trees and shrubs.

National Museum of the American Indian

Our next stop was the National Museum of Air and Space.  The place was so crowded it was unpleasant, especially since there were only about three things in there I had any interest in seeing.  I can appreciate the place's history and mission, but it's just not my cup of tea, especially with all the other things we could be seeing elsewhere. (If I had leaned over too far taking this picture and had fallen, I would have been uninjured, as there were more than enough people below to break my fall.  I wonder how quickly anyone can say "look out below" in Mandarin, Farsi, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic. )
National Air and Space Museum

River Birches (Betula Nigra)
Betula nigra

Lunar Bird, Juan Miro, Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden 
'Lunar Bird' Juan Miro

Graft, Roxy Paine, The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
'Graft Roxy' Paine

'Graft' Roxy Paine 2

The crowds were also epic at the National Museum of Natural History.  Pardon me for a moment, but I have to ask why people choose to congregate in the middle of corridors and doorways blocking the way for everyone else.  And why do parents let small children crawl all over marble floors where people need to walk (sorry for stepping on your fingers little girl, but I didn't see you, and your mother should have kept you closer). If you are a bored teenager and would rather listen to your music or text your friends to let them know how bored your are, go find a bench somewhere and leave the stairs for people who need to go up and down. If you wish to experience every minute of your museum visit from the other side of an iPad or laptop, than maybe you should just get out of the way and go to the gift shop and buy the DVD. 
Maurits' Stairs

Despite the crowds I found the exhibits at this museum more to my liking.  Is it telling that I am more fascinated by fossils, shiny rocks, and skeletons than I am by rockets and jet airplanes? One of the things I enjoyed the most was the exhibition of 2011's Best Nature Photography, and could have spent the day in that gallery alone, but then I might have missed Titanoboa.  This prehistoric snake was 48' long and made a living eating alligators.

With museum-fatigue setting in we made our last stop the National Gallery of Art, and it was thankfully devoid of crowds. Here I was able to enjoy some of my favorite artists, and considering the chaos of the other museums, I think we could have been happy here all day. The museum was decorated for the holidays, and around several of the indoor fountains they had groupings of poinsettias, English ivy, cyclamen, white hydrangeas and white orchids.  It was very nice.

Cascade Cafe

After a full day we headed back to Union Station for dinner and a therapeutic round of adult beverages before the long, but comfortable ride home.  I'll have my U.S. Botanic Gardens post up sometime next week.

December 27, 2012

My Ten Favorite Photos from 2012

Well actually, this is a baker's dozen of my favorite photos from 2012, and I had a very hard time narrowing the list to just 13.

Winter Sky 
This picture was taken on the way home from work one evening.  I saw that the sunset had potential and looked for a place to get a good shot of it, so I pulled into Bennett's Creek Park in Suffolk.  The photo was taken from the boat ramp, and what you can't see (or smell) is the giant rockfish carcass at my feet, left by someone who should have his fishing license revoked.
Winter Sky

Missing Bike
Not all of my pictures are pretty.  This is another on-the-way-home opportunity I came across.  Many of my photos are taken from this spot on the Elizabeth River near my house. It is where I like to watch the setting sun.  On this particular evening there was an astronomically low tide, and the normally deep water was elsewhere, exposing hidden secrets.
Missing Bike

Elizabeth 3412
Here is another shot taken from the same spot where I found the Missing Bike above, but a week later.  Any evening where I see a cloudy day is going to give way to clearing at sunset, I grab my camera and head for the water.  The cranes are an ever-present feature of the landscape here.
Elizabeth 3412

Cuauhtemoc (Mexico) (4)
In early June the Norfolk waterfront was host to OpSail 2012.  I was there early in the morning as crews and ships from all over the world were preparing for a busy day of tours and ceremonies.  The sailors below were kind enough to step out of the pages of a tourism brochure long enough for me to get a shot.
Cuauhtemoc (Mexico) (4)

Witnessed by the Oaks
We broke up a long drive south with a night in Savannah, one of this country's most beautiful cities.  My wife and I had been there before, but I wanted my son to see it.  One of our stops was Forsyth Park early in the evening on the way to dinner.  It was incredibly hot, humid and downright miserable, even by a summer in Georgia standards, but the light coming through the oaks on a wedding party was almost as lovely as the beautifully cool bride. Right place, right time.
Witnessed by the Oaks

Everglades (22)
When all of our other vacation plans fell through, my brother graciously allowed us to stay with him in Fort Lauderdale.  I quickly came up with a short list of things I wanted to see while we were in south Florida, and near the top was the Everglades.  If you look at the pictures I take, it is quickly obvious how much I love where sky, water and land merge, and the Everglades is the mother of such places.  Throw in a some local wildlife, a trip to IKEA, and it was a perfect day.
Everglades (22)

Gargatha (50)
Speaking of where sky, water and land merge, we took a second mini-vacation to Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore later in July.  I went kayaking each day and could have filled this post with the photos I took.  One of my investments this year was a water-proof case for my camera, and it has given me many more opportunities to photograph.  All of the photos I took that week remind me that while I was out paddling through my favorite part of the world, things were going to hell quickly at my old job.  That first Monday back at work was my birthday, and was probably the worst one of my adult life.  A big pile of figurative poo was left where I couldn't help but step in, and it took a huge effort to get my shoes cleaned.
Gargatha (50)

In late August my son and I had an epic bike ride from First Landing State Park to Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach.  The oceanfront was in the thick of the East Coast Surfing Championship, and we were able to catch some of the BMX competitions.  I must have taken 50-60 pictures of people doing crazy things on bikes.  I was  mesmerized.

Layfayette 9-15-12  (6)
The next three photos were all taken from the kayak. This first one was taken close to home underneath the Granby St. bridge where there is a popular fishing pier.  Not everyone can afford a boat to fish from, so this spot is popular with many local anglers.  It faces east, and I often get some nice shots here early in the morning.
Layfayette 9-15-12  (6)

Old Bridge 3
In October I had a great paddle along the Nottaway River in Southampton Co.  I got up at the butt-crack of dawn so I could get to the river while the light was still special, and it was.  This shot was taken at the landing where I put in.  The pilings of a long defunct bridge still rise from the water among all the bald cypress.
Old Bridge 3

Cypress  (2) Diascund
One of  my last paddles of the season was a trip back in time to a place where I spent many a weekend before adulthood, the Diascund Creek Reservoir in New Kent, Co. The skies were moody and I had the water to myself.  In the middle of the lake, near a spot I was familiar with, was an island of bald cypress trees.  I tried really hard to keep the kayak still while I took the photograph, as I wanted more of a mirror image of the trees in the water.  It was not to be, but the photo still speaks to me. 
Cypress  (2)

Lafayette Sunrise 2
My neighborhood is on a peninsula that juts out into the Lafayette River, and unlike most of Norfolk, the waterfront is accessible, not private. As my wife and I come and go, we often go a little out of our way just to see the river.  On this morning the river was still, the air slightly misty, and in the sky above a jet trail, was an odd formation.  A friend thought it might be a sun devil, but I thought it looked more like a falling angel.
Lafayette Sunrise 2

Cherry Light
Perhaps the biggest change in my life this year was getting a job at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.  Beside being a great place to work, it has afforded me many more photo opportunities, and I keep my camera close at hand.  The tree below is a weeping cherry, and it is just outside of the building where my office is, though I don't spend much time at the desk.  On this particular morning the rising sun made the tree even more special. 
Cherry Light

If you are perhaps interested in seeing the rest of this year's contenders, just click here for a slideshow on my Flickr page, and you can also see my Top 10 from 2011 here.
Have you taken some particularly favorite shots in 2012?
If so and you like to share, post them on your blog and let the reading public know why you like the photos (I do like a good backstory).  They don't have to be gallery-worthy, they just have to be special to you.  If you will, leave a comment here, with a link, to let me know when your post is up, but there is no need to make this detailed or complicated.  Just have fun with it.

December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

When I was in retail I only bid customers a merry Christmas if I was sure that is what they celebrated.  Purchasing a Christmas tree was a pretty good indicator.  Several years ago as I was tying a tree on to a family's roof rack, I asked the children if they were excited that Santa was coming.  Before they could answer, the mother quickly jumped in to inform me that her children knew there was no such thing as Santa and were being raised with "realistic expectations".  Realistic expectations and not a whole lot of fun was what I thinking.  After that I never asked the question again.

I think it is almost comical how indignant some people get when they are wished "happy holidays" or "season's greetings" instead of "merry Christmas".  I do understand why it upsets them, they feel as if Christ is being removed from Christmas, but this is not the only holiday, or holy day, that has become as secular as it is sacred.  Enjoy the glitter, the food, the pagan tree and the hoopla, and if you want to keep Christ in Christmas, you should know by now not to rely on the society at large.  That is up to you and what's in your heart. When someone takes the time to sincerely wish me well by saying "happy holidays" or "season's greetings", I gladly say thank you.  God knows we all need as many good wishes right now as possible, no matter how they are delivered.

So here is my Christmas card to you, or holiday greetings if you prefer.  I wish all of you peace and the best this season has to offer (and a merry Christmas too!).
Smithfield Christmas Parade 2012 (11)

(I took this picture at the Smithfield Christmas Parade a couple of weeks ago, and it turned out to be one of my favorites of the year.  I have been going through all my files pulling out my favorite photos of 2012 so that I can do another top 10, year-end post.  Get your photos organized if you'd like to play along too.)

December 15, 2012

Bloom Day: Shattered Blossoms and Fallen Fruit

It almost seems insensitive to carry on with something as trivial as Bloom Day in light of what happened yesterday in Connecticut. The senselessness of the act and the resulting grief are equally unimaginable to me. As I am sure many others have stated, these acts should make us ask some serious questions regarding how we screen and treat for mental illness, and how easy our seemingly unlimited access and fascination for all manner of firearms makes these acts of cowardice and tragedy possible. Perhaps the most important question we must ask is what is it about our society the creates people capable of such evil.  Maybe this time we can do more than just ask questions, maybe we can get some answers and act upon them.  In the meantime, hug your family, spend time with friends and tend your garden.

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Arum italicum

Weigela florida 'Red Prince'

Narcissus papyraceus

Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' (fruit) and Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

Shattered Petals

Shattered Petals (2)

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Thank you Carol.

December 5, 2012

December Has More Than Two Colors

Things catch my eye. Today it was the apricot and peachy tones of Rosa 'Honey Perfume' still blooming at the gardens. It was not just blooming a little bit, it was covered in blossoms and buds.  By itself I am not sure I would have given it a second glance, but its neighbor's brought it to my attention.  The rose is surrounded by several dusty blue agaves, a patch of still colorful Itea virginica, and an especially spectacular Spiraea thunbergii 'Fujino Pink' with awesome fall color.

Rosa 'Honey Perfume'

Spiraea thunbergii 'Fujino Pink'

'Honey Perfume' is a floribunda rose with a very strong fragrance, long bloom time, and it has good disease resistance.  It is listed as only getting 3.5' tall by 2.5' wide, but the one I am smitten with is close to twice that size. Like most Spiraea thunbergii, 'Fujino Pink' is a very early bloomer, usually in February for us here in zone 8.  The flowers cover the stems and are a pale pink, instead of the normal white of the species. Even if it never flowered, I think I would grow it just to get such intense fall foliage. The ultimate size is often listed as 3-4' tall and wide, but like the rose, it does not read plant tags either.

I had thought my new life away from retail would make me more appreciative of the red and green season, but it seems I am still appreciating what fall has to offer.

November 30, 2012

1 Freeze, 2 Frosts, 400 Posts

This past week my corner of Tidewater had its first below freezing weather, and my more tender plants and the hanging-on-to-the-bitter-end summer annuals are now showing the results. Unaffected by this brief dip below the 32 °F mark are the Camellia sasanqua in my garden. So I thought I would share a few photos I took of them today.  This post will be my 400th, and while you look at the pretty camellia pictures I will throw in a few statistics about my blog that the good people at Google have been kind enough to provide me.

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro'
Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro' (3)

At the time of this writing, I have had 207,609 individual pageviews.  My top three most viewed posts are:

#1 Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree)
This post has 5395 pageviews which is almost 4 times as many as the next most viewed post.  The vitex post was one I wrote just a few months after starting the blog, The writing was not stellar, and the pictures were not that great.  I attribute its popularity to people searching the internet for information about vitex's medicinal properties.

#2 Bloom Day - The Neglected Groaning Board
I am not sure why this post was so popular, but the pictures were good if I do say so myself.  It is one of two Bloom Days in the top ten.

#3 Jasminum nudiflorum:  A Yellow Signal of Change
This was my second post discussing winter jasmine.  I guess I am not the only who appreciates this plant's dead-of-winter bloom time.

Camellia sasanqua 'Mine-No-Yuki'
Camellia sasanqua 'Mine-No-Yuki'

Most of the people coming to my blog have come from searching Google, Google UK and Bing.  My top three search terms, in order, are "vitex agnus castus", "tidewater gardener" and appropriately enough "camellia sasanqua".

I also get a lot of traffic from other blogs like Danger Garden, Pardise Express, May Dreams Gardens, Dirt Therapy and Rock Rose.  All of which were in the top 10 list of referring URLs.  I will not name the URL that is responsible for my third greatest source of referrals. It is an adult movie site that specializes in things that most people don't consider very sexy.  I think the "water" part of my blogs title brings them here.  Perhaps you get the picture.

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Sometimes ask myself why I keep blogging.  I think it because I like to share, not so much in a material way, but like most humans I like to share (and compare) my experiences with other people.  It is one of the ways we learn. As it has been said before by other bloggers, I have met so many like-minded people through blogging I never would have met otherwise. Most of them are virtual acquantances, but several are actual. Would I blog if no one else ever looked at what I wrote or photographed?  Maybe.  Besides sharing, I also blog as an exercise in personal journaling.  Sometimes I enjoy looking back at where my head was at some point in the past.  This may really come in handy when a future me starts losing more brain cells, or maybe by then I will be wondering why I ever bothered.  However, I want thank you for bothering to visit A Tidewater Gardener, whether its regularly, occasionally or just once.

November 23, 2012

My Black (silver, green and amber) Friday

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Agapanthus 'Ellamae'

Come Through



Great Blue

I know I can't be the only one who finds the whole business of Black Friday yet another symptom that this society's priorities are out of balance - or maybe I'm just getting more curmudgeonly in my middle age. 

November 18, 2012

Another Day in Paradise

This past Saturday my son and I volunteered to help the folks from the Elizabeth River Project (ERP) at the new Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Virginia.  Paradise Creek is small tributary of the Elizabeth River, and is one of the most polluted and abused creeks flowing into one of the most polluted and abused rivers in the country.  But through the efforts of ERP, and others, things have slowly been getting better for the Elizabeth and it is a healthier river than it once was, but with a long way to go to ERP's goal of a fishable, swimmable river by 2020.

Paradise Creek lies just south of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the oldest and largest industrial facility belonging to the U. S. Navy.  The area has a long history of being the dumping place for what was not needed and eventually became a significant EPA Superfund site. The land that is becoming Paradise Creek Nature Park was once a vibrant tidal marsh, but over the years became a home for various unwanted materials, including the dredge spoils created by keeping the Elizabeth deep enough for large ships to navigate. By the time the dumping ceased, the site ended up with an unusually high elevation offering a nice view of the creek, and a forest of opportunistic species, natives and invasive exotics both, began to grow.

As part of a larger effort to restore Paradise Creek and the surrounding land, the park is being created and should open to the public by the end of the year.  We were there to plant trees, or more specifically to dig holes for other people to come in behind us and plant trees, all of them native species. After we did our digging, we took a stroll around the park before we had to go.  I think what struck me the most about the park is its juxtaposition to its industrial neighbors, many of whom have cleaned up their own properties and changed the way they conduct business next to the river.  If everyone is brought on board and works together, making changes is an easier proposition.

Paradise Creek Nature Park (2)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (26)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (25)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (6)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (7)

Phytolacca americana (Pokeweed) Paradise Creek Nature Park (9)

Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) Paradise Creek Nature Park (3)

I think this species of Ligustrum is L. lucidum. It is not as invasive as L. sinense, but close.  The park has impressive tree-like stands of it dripping with fruit.
 Paradise Creek Nature Park (8)

The two most noxious ivies were also present, the invasive Hedera helix (English Ivy) and our own native Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy), an itchy surprise awaiting anyone wanting a closer look at its beautiful fall colors.
Paradise Creek Nature Park (23)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (24)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (5)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (19)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (21)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (10)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (15)

Paradise Creek Nature Park (18)

The pink flagging tape and string were strung over the top of a recreated wetland in order to keep Canada geese from eating what is likely newly planted Spartina alterniflora.  This area was part of an agreement that allowed a company to partially atone for previous environmental sins by reverting ten acres of accumulated spoil back to marsh, the site's original environmental niche.