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.

June 27, 2015

Biking at the Beach in Three Parts

     One of my favorite weekend activities is to take my bike to nearby Virginia Beach. I usually follow the same route, more or less, and the trip can be anywhere from 15-20 miles, but it is broken into three very distinct parts. The first leg of my journey begins appropriately enough at First Landing State Park. This is Virginia's oldest state park, and probably due to its beachfront campsites, it is the state's most popular. I don't come for the camping though. I come for the Cape Henry Trail, which runs from the Chesapeake to the Atlantic. The trail is an old dirt road where there are no cars, but there are lots of joggers, hikers, birders, dog walkers, and of course cyclists. It runs through a remarkable maritime forest interspersed with freshwater cypress swamps and salt marshes. It is one of my favorite places on the whole planet.
First Landing State Park (10)

First Landing State Park (5)

First Landing State Park (1)

First Landing State Park (9)

First Landing State Park (6)

First Landing State Park (7)

     Once you exit the other end of the park you are at the north end of Virginia Beach, and the second, more residential leg of my trip. Here I cross Atlantic Ave., which until recently was lined with large plantings of oleander (Nerium oleander). Each summer they bloomed and thrived in an often harsh oceanfront climate. However, two bad winters in a row have decimated them, and on my latest trip I noticed in many areas their remains have been scraped from the soil. I did see a few smaller clumps blooming, but I am not sure if these were new, or some more hardy cultivar.
Nerium oleander (2)

Nerium oleander (1)

      I usually take the more peaceful Ocean Front Ave. where the houses are tightly packed behind the dunes, and where there is public access to the beach on each block. On busy summer weekends finding a parking spot on these streets has about the same odds as winning the lottery, unless of course you are on a bike. The real estate here is among the most expensive in the city, with some houses occupied year-round, while others are just vacation homes or summer rentals. Every now and then it is possible to catch a glimpse of some modest shingle-clad cottage holding on to another age.
Ocean Ave. (2)

Ocean Ave. (1)

Ocean Ave.

Ocean Ave. (5)

     Most of the access points are just boardwalks that take you through wind blown live oaks (Quercus virginiana) and wax myrtle thickets (Morella cerifera), and then out over the dunes to the beach. However, one has been turned into a memorial garden for Buff Koch who died at a young age due to breast cancer. When my time here is over, the thought of a garden by the beach is so much more appealing than a plot and a tombstone. Buff's Garden (1)

Buff's Garden (3)

Buff's Garden (2)

     The beginning of Virginia Beach's resort strip, and the third part of my trip, is marked by perhaps its most famous landmark, the Cavalier Hotel. This place was built in the roaring twenties, and once had its own railroad line that would bring a rich and privileged clientele to enjoy luxury on the beach. Its guest list read like a who's who of mid-century celebrities including musicians, actors, writers, and seven presidents. The old hotel is now undergoing an extensive renovation, but as part of a complicated deal, much of its former grounds will be developed into high-end homes.

Cavalier (1)

     Right on the oceanfront, the Cavalier had its Beach Club, which was built in the same Jeffersonian style as the main hotel. On my first bike ride this spring they were busy demolishing the Beach Club, as well as the "new" Cavalier built in the 70's. Plans call for yet another hotel to be built on the Beach Club site, and seeing they had not demolished the old entrance pavilion gave me hope that they planned to incorporate it in the new construction. However, three weeks later it was ready to be pushed into the grinder with all of the other rubble.
Cavalier (2)

Cavalier (3)


     Virginia Beach's boardwalk (actually made from concrete) begins just past the Cavalier site. It is designated for pedestrians only, but there is a bike path right next to it, which I usually follow for its whole length. This area has been undergoing a major makeover lately with the most of the old mid-century concrete block hotels giving way to larger and more marketable resort hotels that have national brand recognition. I don't necessarily think this change is a bad thing, as the resort area is a much more colorful and attractive place, but there was something to be said for those old independent places. I began my own hotel career here at the Windjammer Motor Lodge, bulldozed years ago to make room for a Marriott. Along with all the newer hotels has come more oceanfront restaurants and drinking places, attractive landscaping, and some fun sculptures. With or without these upgrades, the boardwalk has always been one of the best places in the area for people watching.
Last Day of May

Oceanfront Landscaping (3)

Oceanfront Landscaping (2)

Boardwalk Bikes (2)

King Neptune (1)


Oceanfront Landscaping (5)

Oceanfront Landscaping (6)

Boardwalk Bikes (1)

Oceanfront Landscaping (4)

     Don't these palms below look healthy? That's because they were recently planted. The past two winters have not only taken their toll on oleanders, but also on a good number of the palms. The hotels and the city have planted many palms along the oceanfront, mainly they are using Sabal palmetto, which is borderline cold hardy here, but handles the salt fairly well. After so many looked so bad this year, the city set out to replace them. I was contacted by a local columnist to give my thoughts on the use of palms at the oceanfront. We spoke about creating an atmosphere that would appeal to tourists in an environment that is always harsh from sand, salt, and wind, made even more difficult in an unusually cold winter. We spoke of using natives vs. exotics, annuals, perennials, and hardy plants. I jokingly mentioned that many of those palmettos were expensive annuals this year, because it is the second year in a row they have needed replacing. The columnist agenda was to take the city to task for spending taxpayer money so frivolously, and as happens in the media, my comments were cherry-picked to suit her needs. I'll know better next time.
Sabal Palmetto

     The resort strip, and the boardwalk, end at Rudee Inlet, where boats head out for dolphin watching, paragliding, fishing, or just sightseeing. This is my turnaround point and I now do the whole route in reverse, but not before stopping for a beer and something to eat, and to enjoy the sights and sounds of the oceanfront from a different seat. If I have lived right, the wind will be at my back for the ride home.
Rudee Inlet (1)

June 15, 2015

Bloom Day - Garden, Gardener, and Blogger are Still Here

     I've been a bad blogger. I missed May's Bloom Day, it's been more than a month since my last post, and there are over 500 new posts from other bloggers waiting for me to read at Feedly. The problem is that my actual life is interfering with my virtual life. It's still spring, and I come home from work drained (in a good way), both mentally and physically and want nothing more than to sit and sip. On the weekends I am either pedaling, or paddling, or in the garden. Perhaps with the arrival of the more lethargic days of summer, my status might return to blogger-in-good-standing. Until then let's see what's blooming.

     The front garden is quite colorful now, with daylilies coming into season, Salvia and Dahlia blooming, and my questionable lily mugging for the camera in the background. What I paid for was Lilium 'African Queen', a tall trumpet type with a subtle orange coloring. What I got was a much shorter lily with an in-your-face color with no hint of subtlety, but at this point I am not ready to yank them. Fortunately my Verbasucm 'Banana Custard' is still holding court, and drawing an army of native bees and friendly little flies.
Front Garden (2)

Verbascum 'Banana Custard' (2)

Verbascum 'Banana Custard' (1)

x Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

Tradescantia and Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon'

Senecio cineraria

Sedum 'Cherry Tart'

Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' and Lilium 'African Queen'

     In the side garden Hydrangea, Coreopsis, Echinacea are in bloom, as is a new-to-my-garden plant, Digitialis ferruginea 'Gigantea', which has been a real pain in the butt to keep hydrated.
Echinacea purpurea (2)

Coreopsis x 'Cosmic Eye'  (1)

SIde Garden

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' (2)

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', Musa basjoo, and Hosta

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' (1)

Hydrangea macrophylla serrata 'Bluebird'

Digitialis ferruginea 'Gigantea'

     Closer to the house, Hydrangea 'Frau Kinue' is looking good, and hopefully distracts your eye from peeling paint.
Jasminum officinale 'Aureum' and Hydrangea macrophylla 'Frau Kinue' (Angel Robe)

     I've spent a good part of yesterday potting up many of the plants that line the front steps. As usual I'm using many coleus, but this year I have also added Begonia 'Bonfire', which after seeing it perform so well at work, I had to have one of my own. At the bottom of the steps I have paired a pale yellow and orange Sunpatiens with Crossandra 'Orange Marmalade', and behind that, plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) is helping hid the winter-stressed foliage of my windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei).
Front Steps

Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire'

Impatiens hybrida 'Fusion Glow Yellow'

Macleaya cordata and Trachycarpus fortunei

     Up on the porch I still have 2 plants yet to find their final home, an Aralia 'Sun King', and a lizard's tail (Saururus cernuus) destined for the fish pond. I have three rectangular concrete planters on the edge of the porch that all get different levels of sun. Trying to find the same light-flexible annuals to grow in all three was a challenge, but I settled on common wax leaf begonias and a variegated vinca. The combo may not be too exciting, but it works, and they were cheap.
Front Porch Collection

Porch Planters (2)

Porch Planters

     In the back garden other hydrangeas are blooming, as is my Gardenia. I was afraid the winter damaged it, but it is blooming in spades and helping to mask the smell of dog.
Back Garden

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mariesii'

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Glory Blue'

     If you want to see what other bloggers might have blooming in their gardens, be they good, bad, or something in between, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens where she hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.