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, 2015

The Last Sunset of 2015

     This annual moment of personal reflection almost didn't happen. Late this afternoon I was on the couch soothing a case of the Christmas crud with a heavy dose of Netflix, when I realized I had a New Year's Eve obligation to go take a picture. I grabbed the camera, leashed the dogs, and jumped in the truck. Soon after arriving at one of my favorite spots, with minutes to spare, I got my camera out for the shot. Pressing the shutter I got an annoying beep instead of the normal click. My battery was too low to use. No problem, I had another with just enough juice. On the second try, again no click, rather, another annoying beep lets me know the SD card was unformatted. Good thing I have a couple of spares in my camera case. Second card now in and again no click. This card was full. I glance at the photos and it looks like Colorado, which is already saved elsewhere in duplicate, so I knew I could delete the photos, but can't remember how. The truck's clock says 4:56. Third SD card was put in, and yes, yet another beep. This one was apparently set to read-only, but I knew I should have been able to flip the little tab on the side of the card to change that, but the tab was broken. At 4:58 I put in the only SD left, and it is so old the label is just a smudge, but it worked, and I got the shot. Getting new SD cards is the only resolution I am making in 2016.

     After all the trouble this photo was to get, it's a shame this was the best I could do to mark the passing of another year, but the sun has been absent for several days. At least my head is in a better spot than it was last year at this time when I was coming off of several stressful months, and a medication whose side effects were worse than what it was prescribed to treat. I also learned some valuable lessons that enabled me to navigate 2015 better than I did 2014, even though the obstacles in each year were remarkably similar. I've found it is often easier to veer left or right than to approach everything head on. And when veering is not an option and circumstances are beyond my control, I know my attitude toward them is completely within my control. It's only taken 5 decades for me to realize that, but better late than never.

     I bid all of you a wonderful new year, one where any obstructions you encounter may be minor.

December 28, 2015

My 10 Favorite Photos of 2015

     I should probably rename this post. At the end of each December for the past five years, I've shared my favorite photos from that year, and the only time I've ever been able to limit the number to 10 was for the first year back in 2011. This year I decided I would just pick my favorites, and worry about the count later. However, even after some heavy pruning I could only get it down to 20. If after seeing the first 10 your eyes have grown tired, my feelings won't be hurt if you move on to other things.

Broward Main Library
The first photo was actually taken on New Year's Eve in 2014, but I didn't get a chance to look at until 2015. It is a reflection from a solar art installation at the Broward County Library in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was next door visiting the Stranahan Botanical Garden when the swirling light, water, and colors caught my eye. If you click on the photo it will take you to my Flickr page where you can click on the photo yet again to enlarge it, possibly taking some of you back to the 60's.
Broward Main Library (4)

NBG Snow Day
Like many places, Norfolk experienced its share of brutal weather last winter. The morning after a snow I was able to grab this shot of a cherry tree at the Norfolk Botanical Garden where I work. The light was incredible, and the air was still, allowing the snow to stay put making for white blossoms.
NBG Snow Day (7)

The next two photos were taken in Colonial Williamsburg. I was there to speak at a garden symposium, but my mornings were free to wander the streets photographing through wonderful light. I'm not sure why I like the first photo so much; perhaps it seems to take me back in time. I chose the second photo for the early spring light flowing through the emerging leaves of a common hackberry.
 Wellhead (1)

Celtis Light
Celtis Light

Last Day of May
I spent a lot of time on my bike this year; it's something I can still do without my knee protesting. Many of the trips were taken in Virginia Beach, where I took this photo illustrating one of my favorite themes - little people in a big landscape.
Last Day of May

Ocean Ave.
This photo was also taken on a bike trip to Virginia Beach as I rode through what's referred to as the North End. At one time this area was home to humble shingle-clad vacation cottages among the wild dunes, most of them boarded up for the winter and opened again Memorial Day weekend. Now there are only glimpses left of that former world among the tightly packed, well appointed houses in one of the areas most sought-after zip codes.
Ocean Ave. (5)

Metompkin Bay
Since picking up a camera, I have taken many hundreds of photos along the shores of Metompkin Bay near my parent's house. I love walking there in the mornings to catch the sunrise, but on this day the skies were murky, but the colors of the grass and adjacent marsh were vibrant. No matter where I take her, my dog Penny has always chosen to walk through more difficult grass and brush, even with a clear path just steps away.
Metompkin Bay (1)

Black Skimmers
I took this photo of a large flock of black skimmers on Cedar Island. As the birds were busy nesting, they were none too happy with my presence, and most took to the air as we neared them, though I did respect their space. Obviously this photo has been manipulated, but the birds and their numbers were real.
Black Skimmers

Nottoway River 8-1-15 (5)
The next two photos were taken from my kayak during a trip along the Nottoway River, which is inland from where I live. I have been here several times, as it is one of my favorite places to paddle. However, the river is different each time. On this trip the water level was more elevated as we had a fairly wet summer, and this enabled me to explore side passages and swamps that were unavailable previously. I took the photo below from a sheltered cove looking out towards the main river. I felt like I was in a my own private chapel.
Nottoway River 8-1-15 (5)

Nottoway River 8-1-15 (17)
On many of my previous trips I have seen huge banks of Hibiscus moscheutos growing on the riverbank, but I have either been too early or too late to see them in bloom. Such was not the case on this trip, and I was able to enjoy the blooms as I paddled by underneath.
Nottoway River 8-1-15 (17)

Japanese Tattoo Perseverance, Art, and Tradition
I took this photo at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. They were having a special exhibition on traditional Japanese tattooing, and I wasn't certain I would enjoy it. However, I did indeed!
Japanese Tattoo Perseverance, Art, and Tradition (8)

Here is another photo out of sequence taken in 2014. However, I did not show it until this year, as it was one of several my friend Mac Houfek used in her book, Reflections on a Coastal Garden, which was not published until this fall. I was honored that she choose me as one of the photographers, and wanted to wait until the book was out before I shared any of the photos.
Alium (2)

Virginia Beach, North End 
Early in the fall this area got stuck in a three week long pattern of weather that included tidal flooding, wind, rain, and very gloomy skies. I made several trips out to the beach to stare at the sky and the agitated Atlantic. It gave me chance to repeat that photographic theme in the picture below of little people in a big landscape. It did nothing, however, to quell my preoccupation with climate change and subsequent sea level rise, which threatens to drown the place I call home. Ironically, a repeating theme in dreams throughout my entire life (even before climate change was a thing) is of people on a beach where waves wash over them and their houses, and when the water recedes they carry on unharmed as if nothing had ever happened.
Virginia Beach, North End (5)

Three Photographers, Two Ducks
This photo is not my best artistically, but I thought it was hilarious, and no, it has not been manipulated beyond a little cropping. This was taken just a couple of blocks from my house near the river, and I love that all the photographers are wearing black and taking seemingly random shots. The flooding was part of the same system mentioned above.
Three Photographers, Two Ducks

Agave americana (Chanticleer House)
On a trip to Chanticleer in October, I took over 250 photos (not all were keepers). Despite the extraordinarily diverse and creative horticulture taking place there, this simple plant in a pot on raked gravel became one of my favorite photos.
Agave americana (Chanticleer House) (2)

Muhlenbergia capillaris and Echinacea (Gravel Garden)
Another simple planting that caught my eye at Chanticleer was past-peak purple coneflower fading through pink muhly grass at its peak.
Muhlenbergia capillaris and Echinacea (Gravel Garden) (2)

Peirce’s Woods
Two days after visiting Chanticleer, I was at Longwood Gardens before heading home to Virginia. As I am every time I visit Longwood, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and horticulture taking place there. I got this shot looking up through a frequently photographed gazebo towards the surrounding fall colors.
Peirce’s Woods (7)

Meadow Garden
While at Longwood I got to see their much anticipated and much talked about new Meadow Garden. It was the favorite part of my trip there, but I have yet to complete a blog post on the subject. So as I had last year, consider this a teaser. In the photo below I am not sure what the plant is, perhaps a wild cherry  (Prunus serotina?). I am sure I like its color.
Meadow Garden - Meadow Garden - Prunus serotina maybe

In November I was able to participate in a small and watery bloggers meet-up, when I got to explore Merchants Millpond with Marilyn who writes Adventures of a Vagabond Volunteer. The title alone should make you want to check out her blog. The conditions that day were very conducive to photography, environmental discussion and political liberalism, for a time making this pond in northeastern North Carolina the bluest part of a normally red state.

Black Friday 2015
My last photo was taken once again along the shore of Metompkin Bay, but on this day the sun made its presence known as it rose over the Atlantic with rays coming through a grove of ancient eastern red cedars. Focusing my camera towards the sun forces it to take its cues from the bright light, darkening everything else. I like the effect and use it often.
Black Friday 2015 (8)

If you would like to see all of this year's contenders, you can visit My Favorites 2015 at Flickr.

Do you have photos from 2015 that you are particularly proud of, or that speak to you in a special way? If so, then I welcome you to share them on your own blog or Facebook page. If you do, come back and leave a comment with a link please. I would really appreciate it. Thanks, and I hope all of you have a happy new year filled with many photo ops!

December 15, 2015

Bloom Day - Christmas Wish

     This month's Bloom Day finds me wishing for something I've never wished before - freezing weather. Like much of the country we are experiencing unseasonable warmth, which normally I wouldn't mind. However, we have only had one slight frost, so many plants that should be fully asleep at this point aren't quite there yet, while at the same time others are waking up too early. It's all a little confusing in the plant world, but I guess there could be worse things to deal with.

     The mild weather has meant that the paperwhites (Narcissus 'Ziva') are having a chance to bloom this year.
Narcissus 'Ziva'

     You can't see them because they wouldn't stay still for the camera, but the local honeybees were busy working my Fatsia 'Spider Web' and Mahonia x 'Winter Sun'.
Fatsia japonica 'Spider Web'

Mahonia x 'Winter Sun'

     After being buried by careless roofers under a mountain of debris, my Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis) seems to have recovered. It blooms sporadically from late November through March, unphazed by any of our seasons, nor by asphalt shingles.
Iris unguicularis

     One group of plants I am most concerned about are the local Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica). With the warm weather their buds will swell and open, and I am afraid they will at some point get zapped, turning the blossoms brown. Colder temperatures would keep them tight until the more normal time for them to open arrives.
Camellia japonica 'Les Marbury'

     Most of the fall blooming camellias (Camellia sasanqua and hybrids) are still blooming but are close to finishing. The later blooming 'Yuletide' is on schedule, and right now, is what I love the most in my garden.
Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (3)

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (1)

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' (2)

     To see what other gardeners are experiencing, just head over to May Dreams Gardens where Carol hosts a monthly party called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Be sure to send her Christmas wishes.

Once the holiday hoopla has settled down, I hope you can spend time looking back at your favorite photos from 2015. I will try to gather my favorites soon, and should be able post them in the next few weeks. I invite you to join in.

December 5, 2015

Scenes from the Office

Ginkgo biloba (3)

Ginkgo biloba (4)

Ginkgo biloba (2)

Ginkgo biloba (1)

Ilex verticillata

Lagerstroemia fauriei 'Townhouse' (1)

Lagerstroemia fauriei 'Townhouse' (2)

Kniphofia sarmentosa 'Valdosta Strain' (3)

Kniphofia sarmentosa 'Valdosta Strain' (5)

Kniphofia sarmentosa 'Valdosta Strain' (4)

Cornus kousa

Farfugium japonicum 'Gigantea' (2)

Acer palmatum 'Hogyoku'

Acer palmatum 'Christy Ann' (1)

Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'

Acer palmatum 'Yellow Bird'

     All of these photos were taken this week at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where some of us had been speculating as to why the fall seemed less colorful this year, when in fact, it was just very late. If you want to know what is what, just hover over or click on the photos for plant names.