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 19, 2014

Redbud Time at Chippokes

     Feeling a need for sights more rural, I traveled westward along back roads last weekend to Chippokes Plantation State Park. The park is a great place to experience one my favorite times of the year in the Virginia countryside, when all of the deciduous trees start pushing out new spring growth, but not yet enough to keep light from reaching the forest floor. Though not as in your face as fall, I have come to appreciate the spring colors of various trees in their mad dash to reproduce and photosynthesize. Of course all the shades of green were unfurling, but looking carefully, other colors were revealed in the canopy. Many of the oaks are dripping with amber catkins, and though the red maples are late this year, they are colorful nonetheless. Sticking out from its taller neighbors above, our native eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) were in peak bloom last weekend and were the showiest trees in the park.
Cercis canadensis (1)

Cercis canadensis (6)

Cercis canadensis

Cercis canadensis (3)

Cercis canadensis (5)

Mansion Redbud

     Of course redbuds were not the only plant showing blossoms last weekend. There were flowers blooming in the gardens around the old mansion, along the field edges, and in the forests. Much of Chippokes is still a working farm, and the land has been used that way continuously since 1619. With nearly 400 years of soil disturbance, it is a good place to see native and non-native plants interacting. Some of the newcomers have been content to spend the decades sitting prettily in the garden, others have preferred to be a bit more mobile, and others still, will not rest until they have the whole place to themselves.

Ipheion Path (1)

Narcissus (3)

Lunaria annua (1)

Mansion Azalea


Prunus laurocerasus (3)

Veronica (persica)


   In addition to plants, Chippokes has long been a home for a few non-native animal species as well.
Chippokes Bovines (2)

Chippokes Bovines (10)

Penny and Isabel meet #1

     If they were here about 5 million years ago, the cows would have enjoyed a beachfront view from their barns, as this area was on the edge of a warm shallow sea. About half a mile away and 100' closer to sea level, the beach at Chippokes is covered in fossils from that long ago era. While I found lots of fossilized scallop and barnacle shells, the prized shark's teeth alluded me. I did find the remains of an Atlantic sturgeon, a fish who has called these waters home since the dawn of time and who has only recently returned after a human-induced absence. It's skull was comparable in size to what one of those cow's might have. I just hope what I saw had a chance to make lots of baby sturgeons before it expired.

Atlantic Sturgeon Skull

     There is a spot along the beach where one of my favorite trees, bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), grow in a watery grove. This spot is very special to me, not for any particular event or reason, it just speaks to me. Perhaps it could be the spirits of my ancestors, who sailed by this point on their way to Jamestown, waving at me from the past.
James River Beach (1)

Taxodium distichum (3)

Taxodium distichum (5)

April 15, 2014

Bloom Day - Nearly Missed It

     On the way home from work today, it suddenly dawned on me that today was Bloom Day, and I was not sure I could pull it off. A big ugly front is passing through today bringing heavy downpours and tonight much colder temperatures. Fortunately, I was able to get home during a break in the rain and was able to get some shots. Even more fortunately, we are not expected to get any freezing weather tonight, which the rest of the state has in store. While I was in the garden I came across a large fabric case with a shoulder strap tossed into one of my beds. Opening the case I determined it was a breast pump kit and that likely some ne'er-do-well chucked it there when he figured what he stole was not something more lucrative. Oh well, that's life in the big city. Now on with the show (hover over the photos if you want the plant names).


Loropetalum chinensis var. rubrum 'Pizazz'

Ipheion uniflorum

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey'

Ranunculus x 'Brazen Hussy'

Porch View with Redbud

Rhododendron x 'Red Ruffles'

Tulipa (1)

Tulipa (1)

Viola koreana 'Sylettas'


Weigela coraeensis

Acer palmatum

Ajuga reptans 'Chocolate Chip'

Corydalis heterocarpa var. japonica, Brassica oleracea 'Redbor', Euphorbia helioscopia

Euphorbia helioscopia - Mad Woman's Milk (2)

Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'  (2)

Fallopia japonica 'Variegata'

Hyacinthoides hispanica (3)

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Sun Goddess'

     On the 15th of each month Carol of May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. You should stop by and see what the cool kids are doing.

April 3, 2014

In the Moments

     Spring is not so much a season, but a sequence of moments. Last week's buds are this week's blooms and next week's fallen blossoms. This year the winter that did not want to leave pushed many early blooms later into spring, and it seems like everything is happening all at once. Blink and you might miss it.

Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula' (5)

Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula' (1)

Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula' (2)

Magnolia 'Susan' (1)

Magnolia x 'Heaven Scent' (2)

Magnolia 'Spectrum' (1)

Statuary Vista (2)

Statuary Vista (1)

Erythronium americanum

Trillium pusillium var. pusillium

Baker Hall  (3)

Baker Hall  (1)

(All of the pictures in this post were taken last Sunday at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.)

     To my fellow bloggers, I apologize for not visiting lately, but I've been tied up trying to prepare for several classes I've never taught before, writing overdue articles, and becoming reacquainted with my own garden. I'll try to make the rounds this weekend, unless of course the weather's nice.