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 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)

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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)

April 14, 2018

20 or More Every Day

     Next to the Larchmont Library here in Norfolk is a temporary memorial that aims to bring attention to the high rate of suicide among American vets. It is estimated that 20 or more take their own lives every day. That's 140 each week, 7280 each year. This number is likely an indication of inadequate treatment for PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The memorial was created by Mission 22, a group which aims to increase awareness of the crisis.
The War at Home 3

The War at Home 1

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The War at Home 6

The War at Home 7

The War at Home 8

The War at Home 10

The War at Home 9

April 7, 2018

Palm Sunday

     On a recent trip to Virginia's Eastern Shore to enjoy time with my family, I took an early morning walk along the edge of Metompkin Bay. Longtime blog followers will know that I have been here many times before, but it is always beautiful to me, especially at sunrise. Although both dogs joined me, it was Penny's first extended walk since arriving. Due to her tendencies towards hound dog obstinance and bolting, she had to remain leashed, while the more trustworthy Isabel could run unencumbered. Even restricted, Penny overdid it. Once back in Norfolk she could barely walk, her remaining back leg now temporarily unable to do the work of two. I had to carry her up and down the steps for a few days. She is fine now, but my guilt remains for taking her too far.
Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (6)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (1)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (3)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (26)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (15)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (16)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (20)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (12)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (22)

Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (24)

     While I was on my walk, a rocket was launched from nearby Wallops Island, but all I could catch was the aftermath. Despite what the crazy looking trails might lead you to believe, I understand it was successful. On board were experiments from 4 different universities.
Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (9)

     A light frost covered much of the landscape, and though the calendar said spring, there was only one sign it had begun here. At the base of dormant Phragmites, a clump of long forgotten Narcissus bloomed, outliving the gardener who brought them to this place.
Palm Sunday Metompkin Bay (8)