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.

January 26, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Earlier in the month I was lamenting the lack of winter, mainly because the plants were too far along, and the bug population around here could use some thinning. Well, real winter arrived this week, and it has been miserable outside, at least by local standards.  I realize there are colder places to live, but I am at my northerly limit. We had our first snow last night, and I must admit it was pretty outside this morning, the silver lining (or should that be white) to winter weather.

Iris unguicularis
Iris in Snow

Lagerstroemia in Snow

Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury'
Camellia in Snow

Poncirus trifoliata
Poncirus in Snow

Camellia japonica 'Crimson Candles'
Camellia in Snow (2)

A neighbor's fence is nearly choked by wisteria.
Wisteria in Snow

Chaenomeles x 'Hime'
Chaenomeles in Snow (2)

Chaenomeles in Snow

Knitting Mill Creek
Knitting Mill Creek in Snow


January 18, 2013

Apricots and Egrets

For nearly two months now, I am treated each morning to the sight of a gathering of great egrets waiting for breakfast.  They jostle each other for the best spot along the botanical garden's canal so they can fill their bellies with gizzard shad, a little fish that swims in big crowds.  The great egrets are not the only bird with a taste for shad.  The great blue heron is also there, but always in solitaire.  The cormorants get along with each other better than the egrets do and typically cling together waiting for their opportunity dive in.  Hooded mergansers take their share from a floating vantage point.  Despite all the potential competition, there seems to be enough shad to go around.

Breakfast Buffet


Japanese Garden

Breakfast Buffet (3)

Prunus mume 'Bridal Veil' 

Aspidistra elatior

Morning Gate

Prunus mume 'Kobai'

Prunus mume 'Kobai' (2)

Breakfast Buffet (2)

January 15, 2013

Bloom Day - Decembuary

Though I am a charter member of the I Hate Winter Club, we could use a good dose of cold weather.  I still have hydrangeas and lantanas that have yet to defoliate, crinums with new growth, lush full acanthus, bulbs popping up, and my japonica camellias are a month ahead of schedule.  Let's not even talk about all the bugs, fleas especially, that are going to sail through this winter to feast another day.  In looking back at last year's January GBBD, I am making a very similar complaint and showing some of the same blooms, so sorry if I might be repeating myself.

Let's start Bloom Day with something that I was not expecting, good foliage color from a plant that has never given me any before.  This is Stachyurus praecox 'Mitsuzaki' and usually it turns an ugly yellow-brown in late November or early December before falling.  The brown tassles are the flower buds, which normally open in April, though the way things are going it could show up for February's GBBD.
Stachyurus praecox 'Mitsuzaki' 

Another plant that has failed to lose all of its foliage and is also giving me nice color is Spiraea thunberii 'Ogon'.  Its flowers are only a few weeks early.
Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' 

Blooming right below the Spiraea are some pansies.  I thought this mix might be Viola x 'Persian Medley', but something tells my memory is flawed.  Whatever the name, they just glow.
Viola x 'Persian Medley' (2)

Viola x 'Persian Medley' 

Chaenomeles x 'Hime' is on schedule, but this variety is usually showing flowers by early December and lasts sometimes until May. It is remarkable for that long bloom period.
Chaenomeles x 'Hime' (2)

Chaenomeles x 'Hime' 

Helleborus foetidus is also on schedule. Last year it opted not to bloom at all, so I was glad to see these.
Helleborus foetidus 

Helleborus orientalis are budding up all around the garden, but this is the first one to fully open.
Helleborus orientalis 

The lack of any real cold weather has kept me in the garden, which is a good thing. My garden will be part of a tour this  coming spring, so I have been cutting back, mulching, pruning, and saying good bye to plants whose time has come.  My constant companion during all this work has been the ├╝ber-sweet fragrance of paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus). 
Narcissus papyraceus 

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' is still full of blooms.
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' 

The japonica camellias are all heavily budded and have started blooming this week, though I would wish to see them later.  I just worry that their buds are all going to swell and open, only to be nipped by the cold.  This is Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury'.
Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury' 

I'll end with what might be my favorite white flower, Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem'.  It nears perfection.
Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem' (2) 

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem' 

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem' (3) 

You can see if other gardeners from around the globe are having unusual weather by paying Carol of May Dreams Gardens a visit.  She is the hostess of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.

January 13, 2013

Little Fish and Big Whales

This morning a friend and I ventured onto the foggy cold Atlantic for a whale watching excursion. During the winter months several species of whales can be seen off the coast of Virginia, and reasonably priced trips are sponsored by the Virginia Aquarium.  The most common whales here are humpbacks and fin whales, and what draws them is food in the form of a small oily fish called menhaden.

Atlantic menhaden travel in large, slow moving schools with their mouths open wide, and along the way filter a remarkable amount of microscopic plants and animals, including algae, from the water as their food. People no longer eat menhaden, at least not in any recognizable form. However, this little fish is big business here in Virginia where 80% of the total Atlantic catch is brought ashore. In sheer tonnage, more menhaden are caught then all other Atlantic and Gulf fish combined. They are harvested on an industrial scale using a combination of spotter plains, refrigerated ships, huge nets and vacuum pumps. They are then processed into pet food, livestock feed, fish oil supplements and bait for crabs and other fish. They are also reduced into pellets as a primary food source for farm raised fish and shrimp. In the past 25 years, the menhaden population has declined by nearly 90%.

Here in Virginia the management of all fishery stocks is controlled by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, with one exception. Menhaden are controlled by our General Assembly. Some members of the assembly, as well as our current governor, have been the recipient of campaign contributions from Omega Protein, the country's largest processor of menhaden.

Three Ships

Rudee Inlet Bridge

Rudee Jetty


Buoy (2)


Sun Over Sea


Blue and Gray

Humpback (2)


If the menhaden population was to become unsustainable, it would not just affect the whales we had come to see.  A wide variety of birds and fish eat menhaden, including the popular rockfish, or striped bass, which has recently stabilized from its own brush with overfishing. Another result of menhaden overfishing may already be in evidence.  As I mentioned earlier, the menhaden filter great quantities of water for their food, so much so their decline might be one of the reasons for excessive algae growth in the Chesapeake Bay. Fortunately the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted last month to institute the first quota system for menhaden and are starting by agreeing to reduce the harvest by 20%.  Omega Proteins would prefer a 10% reduction.  It remains to be seen how Virginia's General Assembly will react.

January 3, 2013

U.S. Botanic Garden

The first stop on our D.C. day trip was the United States Botanic Garden.  I think this was my fourth time there, and it has always been one of my favorite places in the city to visit, even before I knew much about plants.  Sitting in the shadow of Capitol Hill, it has always seemed pleasantly out of place with what surrounds it.  As we were walking towards the front entrance, I noticed one of the gardeners grooming the brown foliage from some yucca plants, apparently not bothered by the rain and wet snow. As soon as we entered I knew why she was out in the cold, because there simply would have been no room for her to work inside.  Though it was not as crowded as some of the other places we were to visit, it was still thick with people.

United States Botanic Garden

Christmas Capitol

Christmas Monument

Christmas Reflecting Pool

Christmas Obelisk

Abies seasonalensis 'Tannenbaum'

Golden Climber


Clerodendron splendens (Flaming Glorybower)
Clerodendron splendens

Aphelandra aurantiaca ( Fiery Spike) 
Aphelandra aurantiaca

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora (Blue Ginger)
  Dichorisandra thyrsiflora

Aloe and Pachypodium
Aloe and Pachypodium

Cleistocactus winteri (Golden Rat Tail)
  Cleistocactus winteri

The Hawaii Room

Zamia fairchildiana
Zamia fairchildiana

Encephalarlos longifolius
Encephalarlos longifolius

If you ever find yourself in Washington, and need suggestions on what to see, I highly recommend the U.S. Botanic Gardens.  It is very easy to find, you can see all of it before your non-gardening companions lose interest, and it offers a breath of sanity sorely needed just a few hundred yards away and up The Hill.