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.