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, 2018

The Last Sunset of 2018

     2018 has not been a good year. In fact, it has likely been one of the worst for me and my family. This was a year of great loss for us, permanent loss from death, and temporary loss from incarceration. If there can be any upshots to these losses, it would be the reminder not to wait until people are gone from your life to cherish your relationships. The other upshot was to recognize what I can control, and that I have the strength to avoid unhealthy stresses over what I cannot control. There were also enough minor events throughout the year that made me question the laws of karma, and just what I had done to tip the scales. Add to all this the big black cloud of chaotic idiocy centered over Washington, and 2018 is indeed a year I want to see behind me. However, I am not running into 2019 with open arms. I will be cautious, but taking my joys whenever, wherever I can. I hope you can do the same. 

July 20, 2018

Along the Avenue of Second Place Trophies

     While in Richmond recently, I killed time with a walk along Monument Ave. I have always enjoyed this street with its buffet of architectural styles, handsome trees and gardens, cobblestones, and the monuments themselves. It is one of Virginia's most beautiful, but increasingly controversial streets.
Mathew Fountaine Maury - Pathfinder of the Seas (2)

Along Monument Ave. (19)

Along Monument Ave. (13)

Along Monument Ave. (15)

Stonewall Jackson

Along Monument Ave. (20)

Along Monument Ave. (7)

J.E.B. Stuart (3)

Along Monument Ave. (2)

Along Monument Ave. (4)

Along Monument Ave. (21)

Metropolitan Community Church (2)

Jefferson Davis (2)

Jefferson Davis (1)

Along Monument Ave. (5)

Along Monument Ave. (18)

Along Monument Ave. (17)

Along Monument Ave. (16)

     When I was fresh out of school, and working a job where I felt unappreciated, I came home to Richmond one weekend, found a new job, and quit the one I had in Norfolk in a dramatic huff. I needed a place to live, and found an apartment in the house below on Monument Ave. It is quite the place now, but when I lived there it was an affordable dump. You could see where a previous tenant hung pictures on the wall because the site of each frame was outlined in roach droppings. There was a football-sized hole in my bathroom floor that gave you a good view down into my neighbors kitchen. It was nothing a piece of plywood and a rug couldn't hide, but my neighbors liked to cook collards, so there was always a strange smell emanating from that hole. I didn't live there long.
Along Monument Ave. (11)

Robert E. Lee (2)

Robert E. Lee (4)

Along Monument Ave. (10)

     With its large globe, hound dog, ox, swallows, and churning waves, the Mathew Fountaine Maury (Pathfinder of the Seas) monument is my favorite. 
Mathew Fountaine Maury - Pathfinder of the Seas (3)

     The last monument built on Monument Ave. was that of Arthur Ashe. I like that it was sort of a raised middle finger to all the Confederates, but I can't stand it artistically. Ashe looks like he is standing on the edge of an upturned concrete culvert from which children are pouring. To keep the kids from stealing his books, he holds them at bay with his tennis racket.
Arthur Ashe Monument (1)

Arthur Ashe Monument (3)

Branch Museum (1)

Branch Museum (2)

First Church of Christ, Scientists

     You would have to be living under a rock, or maybe a marble plinth, to not have heard about the controversy surrounding Confederate monuments. Personally I feel they should stay as part of the city's flawed, but colorful fabric, though I would like to see them somehow interpreted in a more historically accurate context. That said, if I grew up in Richmond as an African American, with these bearded bronze uncles constantly looking down on me, I know I would feel much differently.

April 22, 2018

Plant Geeks at Space Camp

     This past week three of us from the Norfolk Botanical Garden made a visit to NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. We were primarily there to see their green infrastructure, but we saw much more. The Langley campus is NASA's oldest field operation, and celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. They have made great progress over the past few years in centralizing their campus, so that it is more conducive to pedestrians, and less vehicle-dependent. They are also slowly replacing many of their older facilities with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings, all of which are built for energy efficiency, channel water run-off into BMP's (Best Management Practices), use recycled materials, have green roofs, and use both active and passive solar.

     The first BMP  we encountered was filled with Panicum, red-twigged dogwood, Amelanchier, Juncus, and other plants. Without knowing its function, you might assume it was just beautiful landscaping. This BMP and several others, combined with the use of permeable paving, allow run-off from buildings and pavement to slowly seep into the ground, recharging groundwater levels, while also keeping run-off and sediments out of the very nearby Chesapeake Bay. It has allowed Langley to reach its water quality goals years ahead of schedule.
BMP Garden (1)

BMP Garden (2)

     The lights in this lobby automatically dim or brighten depending on the amount of natural light coming through the windows.
NASA Langley

NASA Langley (1)

NASA Langley (3)

NASA Langley (4)

NASA Langley (5)

     We saw two green roofs on our tour. The first one appeared to be a bit more decorative than functional, and it seemed to have just one species of sedum. The more functional roof had several species of sedum, and included a couple of grasses as well. It was also a lot more colorful, and had great views.
Green Roof (2)

Green Roof (1)

Green Roof (6)

Green Roof (3)

Green Roof (8)

     The smaller spheres below hold various gases used in the many experiments that go on here. The larger, ribbed one is a vacuum chamber.
Green Roof (7)

     One of our hosts truly is a rocket scientist, but she has a passion for all things environmental. If I have my details correct, below is a ground-copy of one her experiments that was recently sent on-board an unmanned rocket, and attached robotically to the exterior of the International Space Station. Forgive me, I do not remember what she said the experiment was for; I was overwhelmed that day.
NASA Langley (2)

     3D printers are nearly essential on the space station, allowing parts to be made immediately, rather than waiting on the next rocket. I have no idea what this one was making, but I loved the blue color.
3D Printer

     The newest building on campus is dedicated to computational research, and it is named in honor of Katherine Johnson. The movie Hidden Figures is based on her work at Langley. I love to see justice in this world.
Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility

     We also got to see a local landmark, the gantry, up close. This structure is where the astronauts for the Apollo moon mission trained. They were suspended in such a way as to simulate lunar gravity. To get a feel for how large it is, look at the steps on the left side of the first picture.
The Gantry (1)

The Gantry (2)

     Surprisingly many acres of Langley are wooded, especially as you near the creeks and rivers that lead to the Chesapeake. There are also some impressive trees in the more developed portions of the campus. The wild and the cultivated trees, together with environmental commitment have earned Langley "Tree City USA" status.
Plantanus - Sycamore


     We saw a lot last week, and were amazed at every turn. True to our nature, however, we were  stopped in our tracks by the largest Sassafras either of us have ever seen. We are so accustomed to seeing this species as small understory trees in the forest, that we likely would have had a hard time identifying it, at least from a distance. I had to give it a hug.
Sassafras albidum (2)

Sassafras albidum (1)