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.

April 27, 2013

Hoffler Creek

     As I mentioned a few posts back, I am participating in the Virginia Master Naturalist training program, which includes classroom time, but also includes field trips.  One of these was a trip to Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Portsmouth, Va. This place was once a waterfront farm owned by the Ballard family. Since the mid 1800's the family made a comfortable life for themselves raising fruits and vegetables to send north by steamer to hungry cities further up the Eastern Seaboard.  This was long before the days of tomatoes from Florida, grapes from Chile or lettuce from California, and when those realities came into being, the family sold the land to the Virginia Dept. of Transportation.  Good topsoil was pushed aside so the clean sand underneath could be mined to use in building local highways, creating a deep pit in the process that soon filled with water. Once the highways were finished, VDOT put the property up for sale, and several developers salivated over its prime waterfront location, but a group of local residents thought of something better. VDOT offered the property to the city of Portsmouth for $1, but the city refused. Of all the cities that make up Hampton Roads, Portsmouth is the poorest, and much of the land within its boundaries is federally owned and generates no tax revenue. So they were not warm to idea of yet another unproductive parcel.  But never underestimate the power of a small group of determined citizens.

Leaning Loblolly

On the Trail

Hoffler Creek

     Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve is about 140 acres of forest and tidal marsh centered on Lake Ballard.  There are miles of trails through several different habitats; a couple of blinds where close to 200 different bird species can be seen; there is a visitor center and a kayak dock. This is so much better than yet another vinyl-clad village.

Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud)
Cercis canadensis

Gelsemium sempervirens (Carolina Jessamine) 
Gelsemium sempervirens

Hoffler Creek (2)

Living Shoreline

On they day we were there oaks unfolded for the season.
Oak Unfolding Over Water

Oak Unfolding Over Water 2

Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye)
  Aesculus pavia

     The old Ballard mansion is no longer there, but many of the family's plants are still around, and while some have lived a life of good behavior, others have taken far to well to their Virginia home.  Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinensis), Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), English ivy (Hedera helix) and Vinca minor are all doing their best to choke out Hoffler Creek's natives.

Camellia japonica
Homeplace Camellia

Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish Bluebells)
Hyacinthoides hispanica

Lunaria annua (Money Plant) is listed as naturalized, or invasive depending on what you source you read.
 Lunaria annua (my best guess)

Oxalis crassipes (Pink Wood Sorrel)
Oxalis crassipes

Wisteria (8)

Even given its invasiveness and python-like grip, there is no denying wisteria's beauty.

Wisteria (9)

Wisteria (4)

     When the Ballard family left Hoffler Creek, the marked graves of their ancestors were moved to a nearby church, but the unmarked graves of their slaves remain. The site of the old cemetery is covered in Vinca minor, a plant long associated with graveyards. Our tour leader said that vinca was thought to help keep the world of the living and the dead separate from each other.
  Vinca minor (3)

Vinca minor

     I say this with no basis in fact, but I feel that Portsmouth probably has the area's most disconnected-from-nature population, particularly its children.  So Hoffler Creek and its extensive education and outreach programs are an essential city service.  Quite the bargain for a buck!

(You can see the complete set of my Hoffler Creek photos here.)

April 19, 2013

Grandmother Malus

Grandmother Malus (3)

Grandmother Malus (6)

Grandmother Malus (7)

Grandmother Malus (4)

Grandmother Malus

Grandmother Malus (5)

We have an ancient crabapple (Malus sp.) at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.  To part the foliage and stand under the shelter of its branches is to enter another world.

April 15, 2013

Bloom Day - And It's a Busy One

     Even though this is the first spring in 16 years in which I am not working 6 days a week, there has been little time for blogging. When the weather is good and I have the energy, I am in my garden, and it is such a nice change to have that time in spring. I am also trying to get ready for a tour that is coming to see my garden next month, which has put much on my to-do list.  When the weather isn't nice or it's dark out, my computer time has been spent working on a new kayaking blog, which has not been formally launched yet, but you can check out the progress by clicking the link in my sidebar. I also now have a regular writing gig in Virginia Gardener magazine, and it is taking up more time than anticipated,  In late March I started the Virginia Master Naturalist training program, which I am loving, but it involves class time and field trips. We also have a new canine member of the house, Isabel the Plott Hound, and though we love her, she is not quite ready to be left unattended for long periods of time.  However, I did find time to take some photos of the garden this weekend, and to come up with a Bloom Day post.

Rhododendron x 'Red Ruffles' (Red Ruffles Azalea)
Rhododendron x 'Red Ruffle'

Corydalis heterocarpa var. japonica
Corydalis heterocarpa var. japonica

Stachyurus praecox ''Mitsuzaki'
Stachyurus praecox ''Mitsuzaki'

Viburnum x juddii (Judd Viburnum)
Viburnum x juddii (2)

Viburnum macrocephalum (Chinese Snowball Viburnum)
Viburnum macrocephalum

Euphorbia helioscopia (Madwoman's Milk) is an invasive weed that blooms late winter to early spring, but I do love the color.
Euphorbia helioscopia

Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'
Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'

Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish Bluebells)
Hyacinthoides hispanica (3)

Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox)
Phlox subulata (2)

Brassica oleracea 'Redbor' (Redbor Kale)
Brassica oleracea 'Redbor'

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl'
Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl'

My Camellia japonica 'Cherries Jubilee' has so many flowers on it right now, it is almost touching the ground from the weight of all the blooms.  It has been a remarkable year for camellias in this area.
Camellia japonica 'Cherries Jubiliee'

This is the first year I have grown Calendula officinalis (Pot Maridgold). This cultivar is 'Costa Orange' that was left over from some we grew at work.
Calendula officinalis 'Costa Orange'

I know you all are probably sick of seeing this quince (Chaenomeles x 'Hime') in each Bloom Day post, but it has bloomed each month since November of last year.
Chaenomeles x 'Hime'

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' (Forest Pansy Eastern Redbud)
Cerics canadensis 'Forest Pansy'

Under the Redbud

Tulips on the Side

Canis domesticus 'Penny' and 'Isabel'
Penny and Isabel

If you want to see what is keeping other gardeners busy this spring, then you should visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, who hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.