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, 2017

The Last Sunset of 2017

     I am generally a glass half full person, but this past year has me reevaluating my portions. I am not sure I have ever wanted to see a year close more than I have wanted this one to do so. Unfortunately, like many years do, it is leaving a lot of unfinished business for what follows. This was the year hospice took over the care of my mother-in-law, saying she only had weeks to live. That was in early April, and she has been proving them wrong since. Defying expectations imposed upon her has been Greta's modus operandi for most of her life. During that same week we had to have a leg removed from our dog Penny. She is fine now, but the night we brought her home is forever etched in my memory as we spent it trying to keep her from hurting herself while she thrashed around screaming. The lowest point of 2017 came with news that someone I would give my life to - someone I gave life to - had made some extremely stupid decisions. Decisions that have altered the course of his life, and decisions whose final repercussions have yet to be determined. Decisions that make loving a greater effort - but I love still. As if I didn't have enough to occupy my mind, the dire straights in which this country finds itself cloud everything.

     I am not usually one to burden others, so apologies please. Not everything is dire. I finished an overdue article today on ambrosia beetles. I am sipping really good beer in a handsome tumbler embossed with images of a kraken, both Christmas presents. The house is warm, and outside my Edgeworthia and winter daphne are both full of buds.

     Here's to glasses half full, and a happy new year for all of you!

December 29, 2017

My 10 Favorite Photos of 2017

     Despite greatly decreased activity at my blog, I did not want to let the end of the year go by without posting my favorite photos of the year meme. For a number of reasons, I spent less time behind the lens in 2017. Despite this, I was unable to narrow my choices to 10. There are 16 to consider.

Women March, Norfolk 2017
The first photo on my list was taken at the Women's March in January. After listening to the terribly disheartening American Carnage inauguration speech just the day before, the sights I saw during the march lifted my spirits, and gave me hope for our country. I was particularly impressed by this father who brought his young children to the march, while mom was either deployed or otherwise working.
Women March, Norfolk 2017  (10)

On my Winter Walk-Off bike ride, I came across this rough-looking storage building in the Chelsea neighborhood of Norfolk. The blooming Oxalis and the emerging Narcissus foliage made me smile, especially in contrast with the peeling paint.
Chelsea (8)

Oyster, Virginia
On one of several trips to Virginia's Eastern Shore, we took the scenic way home and stopped for some photos in the small seaside town of Oyster. There is a marsh adjacent to the town's harbor where hackberry trees (Celtis species) look over a collection of derelict work boats. The photo was used in my Winter Walk-Off Wrap-Up.
Oyster, Virginia (9)

Eyre Hall
Later in March, and again on the Eastern Shore, I stopped at Eyre Hall after giving a garden club talk. I have seen the gardens at Eyre Hall on several occasions, but never this early in the season. The visit turned out to be quite photo-productive. The photo below is of the the plantation's entrance lane, lined with massive eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana).
Eyre Hall (2)

Western Branch Reservoir
Bear with me, but the next 7 photos were all taken from the seat of my kayak, which for me is more like a therapist's couch. And if there was ever a year I needed therapy, 2017 was it. The photo below was taken near Suffolk, Virginia on the Western Branch Reservoir, which is one of several where my city's water comes from. The photo appealed to me because the place appealed to me. I can see retiring there at the end of a long day, adult beverage in hand.
Western Branch Reservoir (3)

Wooded Cove
This photo was taken across the reservoir from the previous photo. The lush green moss and the fallen pine parts speak of the generally wet year we had. The cove was incredibly peaceful.
Wooded Cove (3)

Blackwater River July 2017
I took this photo in the rain-swollen Blackwater River in mid-July. My trip that day was cut short by some of the most severe back pain I have ever had, and it would be two months before I felt well enough to get back out on the water.
Blackwater River July 2017

James River Piling Garden
... but get back out on the water I did. I ventured along the James near Charles City Courthouse, on what was a very beautiful September day, which was just what the doctor ordered. The plants along the river were starting to take on their fall colors, well before those further inland.
James River Piling Garden

James River
On the same trip I stopped at the site below for lunch. I can't remember what I actually ate, but the interplay of sky, water, and light fed my soul.
James River

Chris Looks Good in Green
This is my friend Chris, and she looks good in green.
Chris Looks Good in Green

Chickahominy River with Taxodium distichum
I took another very photo-productive trip along the lower Chickahominy River in early fall. My timing was good as the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) in the river were approaching peak fall color. This is one of my favorite places on the planet, and it happened to be another gorgeous day that recharged my batteries for weeks afterward.
Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (17)

NEON District Walking Houses
In mid-October a coworker and I participated in a rain garden planting in Norfolk's NEON District. Street art is promoted in the district, and on one wall was the work of Christopher Revel, part of his Walking Houses series that addresses sea level rise. I am drawn to his images, as houses on stilts above water have been recurring images in my dreams since I was a teen. 
NEON District Walking Houses (2)

Potterfield Bridge
This past year I have had to make several trips to Richmond, not all of them for pleasant reasons. However, in late October my wife, my friend Chris (of the green kayak), and I went to Richmond to celebrate my son's 20th birthday. While there we explored the new pedestrian Potterfield Bridge that crosses over the James (blog post coming later). From the top I watched a group of colorful kayakers play in the rapids. My kayaking style and abilities are a bit more Zen-like than theirs, but I judge not.
Potterfield Bridge (14)

CSX Trellis
On the same trip as above, I got this shot along the river of the sun coming through the trees, train trestle in the background.
CSX Trellis (1)

First Landing State Park Fungi
I took a nice long bike ride through First Landing State Park early in November. I enjoyed the ride and the beginnings of fall color, but I had to stop every 50 feet to admire yet another clump of mushrooms. Seeing both me and my bike on the ground, a young family stopped to see if I had crashed, calling me sir. Although I do seem lately prone to accidents, and suffer failings of varying body parts, the sir thing made me feel old. However, confusing a young family was worth it; I got some great mushroom shots.
First Landing State Park Fungi (4)

Lotus Pond
The last photo (yes, the ordeal is nearly over) was taken with my cell phone as I was crossing a stone bridge in the Japanese Garden at work. Some of those failing body parts mentioned above keep my head down to focus on where my feet are going, and looking down I noticed the perfect ephemeral arrangement of fallen pine needles, camellia blossoms, and lotus pods.

If you would like to see the rest of my favorites from 2017, you can check them out on my Flickr page.

Do you have photos from 2017 that you are particularly fond 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. I hope all of you have a happy new year - one filled with much to photograph!

November 10, 2017

Along the Cape Henry Trail

     Last Saturday I took my bike to First Landing State Park in Virginia beach for a ride on the Cape Henry Trail. The trail is an old country road cutting across Cape Henry from the Chesapeake to the Atlantic. It runs through a diverse forest growing on a series of ridges formed from ancient sand dunes. In the low spots between the ridges, cypress swamps have formed where the trees are draped with Spanish moss. This ride is one of my favorites, and I try to do at least once a month. At the end of the trail I ride through oceanfront neighborhoods, head towards the boardwalk and the touristy area, and finally turn around at Rudee Inlet. 
First Landing State Park (10)

First Landing State Park (9)

First Landing State Park (8)

First Landing State Park (11)

First Landing State Park (12)

First Landing State Park (3)

First Landing State Park (4)

First Landing State Park Fungi (6)

First Landing State Park Fungi (5)

First Landing State Park Fungi (4)

First Landing State Park Fungi (3)

First Landing State Park Fungi (9)

Kite Surfer

King Neptune

Fake Plastic Tree

Rudee Inlet (1)

Rudee Inlet (2)

Rudee Inlet (4)

     This blog has been here before, and if you want a more informative post click here.

October 29, 2017

NEON District

     Earlier in the month on a gray wet day I participated in planting a rain garden in the NEON District of Norfolk. NEON has little to do with electrified gasses, rather it stands for New Energy of Norfolk, and the powers-that-be have designated this area as the city's arts district. As clunky as the name is, I do applaud the city for promoting the arts, especially in a part of town where the nearby downtown economic boom has been slow to catch hold. A little support, and a little prodding from the city, and now there are galleries, theater spaces, a comedy club, restaurants, and a vacant lot called The Plot which has become a community gathering place. On the day we were there, we planted several pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), and a couple of grasses. Throughout the district plants have been tucked here and there, mostly through the efforts of volunteer groups, like the Master Gardeners.
NEON District (3)

NEON District (2)

NEON District (1)

NEON District with Ruellia (1)

NEON District (16)

NEON District with Gaillardia

     Along an otherwise boring chain-link fence, a colorful garden had been sown, or maybe sewn.
NEON District Fiber Garden (5)

NEON District Fiber Garden (6)

NEON District Fiber Garden (2)

NEON District Fiber Garden (1)

     Many of the walls in the NEON Distract are painted with murals and sanctioned graffiti. My favorite is by artist, Christopher Revels, whose normal medium is sidewalk chalk, which he uses to draw his Walking Houses. Revels' houses are always drawn on stilts above water, an appropriate image for a city second only to New Orleans under threat due to sea level rise. These images speak to me personally. Since I was a teen, a recurring theme in many of my dreams has been water and waves washing under stilted beach houses, taking carefree beach-goers out to sea, only to return them on the next wave unharmed, back on the beach.
NEON District Walking Houses (2)

NEON District Walking Houses (5)

NEON District Walking Houses (3)

NEON District (39)

NEON District (25)

NEON District (24)

          Thankfully downtown Norfolk is a much different place then the ghost town it was when I first lived here 40 years ago, but it would not have happened without a great deal of push and effort. Gritty has always come naturally here, but edgy and hip has taken work.