A Whimsical Garden in San Diego

There’s nothing like touring gardens to inspire the inner-landscaper in each of us.  Not too long ago I visited a welcoming garden developed by a creative and well-known San Diego potter named Liz.  Her garden stands alone as a beautiful small oasis but with the addition of her pottery, the garden thrives as an adventure in discovery.

The artist has maximized every square foot of her garden with whimsy and delight.  Beneath a low limb, tucked next to a tiny bench, and at the end of every path is a discovery to bring a smile. Liz’s art and her gardening design is inspired by her love of nature in all forms: insects, humans, bunnies, chicks, birds, cats and dogs.

With a studio in her home, what began as a hobby has developed into a pottery passion for this artist who has a sizable following in the San Diego area.  Liz’s art is both functional and fun whether made for the garden or for inside the home and she is ever exploring and evolving with her craft to the delight of those who follow her.

Instead of an expansive pond, she has created a tiny structure surrounded by river rocks and her spouting frog to give the sound of water in the garden. Each one of her animal creations hidden in her garden tell a tale, whether it’s the cat waiting for a bird to wander too close or the flock of birds ready to take flight.  Each has a personality and a life of its own.  Liz has also built mystical totems to watch over her garden, inviting visitors to contemplate the meaning behind the individual pieces stacked atop each other.

Art in the garden can add a rich dimension and can be a delight for visitors to chance upon in the landscape.  Liz’s whimsical vision of the flora and fauna world would not work in every garden but her sanctum is a magical and vibrant marriage of art and garden. Her artistic style is free-flowing and enchanting.  I think she is truly inspirational, however I might be just a tad bit prejudiced….  you see, Liz is my amazing little sister!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Humble Cranberry: We Can’t Have Thanksgiving Without it.

Do you know how to test a cranberry’s freshness? Bounce it.  A cranberry that bounces means the skin is taut and unbroken and it is ready to be sold fresh to consumers.  Only 5% of cranberries are sold fresh. The other 95% goes into products such as cranberry juice, sauces and dried cranberries.

Did you know the cranberry is only one of three fruits that are entirely native to North America?  The other two berries are the blueberry (a cranberry cousin), and the Concord grape.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vaccinum_oxycoccos_120604.jpgDid you know that the name is derived form the word “craneberry,” as the blossom bore a resemblance to the neck and head of a sandhill crane back in colonial times?

Did you know the cranberry is native to the swamps and bogs of northeastern America and is a member of the Heather family?  It grows in cooler climates as a low-growing, woody perennial with runners that grow along the surface of the soil to form a dense mat.  Flowers form from May to June and fruit ripens from late September to early October.

Did you know that the cranberry beds remain moist until harvest when the beds are flooded with water six to eight inches above the plants?  A harvester is driven through the bed, whipping the plants which removes the fruit.  Cranberries float and are corralled and conveyed or pumped out of the bed to processing stations.

Did you know there are distinct differences of opinion and often heated discussions among family members on the tastiest cranberry recipe that must be served on Thanksgiving Day?  Many families serve two or more recipes just to keep the peace.

Here are three of the more common ways to serve cranberries:

Cranberry Relish: 1 lb fresh cranberries, 1 seedless navel orange, 1 cored apple, 3/4 c. sugar, 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts.  Wash and pick over cranberries.  Place in food processor and process until finely chopped, not liquified.   Pour into bowl. Wash orange and quarter. Do not peel. Process until finely chopped. Pour into bowl of cranberries.  Wash, core and quarter apple.  Do not peel.  Process until finely chopped. Pour into bowl with other fruits.  Add sugar and walnuts. Stir. Add more sugar if needed.  Refrigerate overnight.  Serve cold.

Cranberry Sauce: 1 lb fresh cranberries, 1 c. water, 1 c. sugar.  Place the berries and water in a pan and cook over medium high heat until all the berries burst. Lower the heat and stir until the mixture has thickened. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat.  Taste and add more sugar if needed. Refrigerate overnight.

Jellied Cranberries: Slide it out of the can onto a silver dish, hearing the familiar suction sound.  Make sure the lovely can ridges are visible around the middle. Slice and enjoy.

My personal favorite is the Cranberry Sauce, eaten with dinner, then later as a turkey, dressing and cranberry sandwich.  Umm umm good.

Have I left out any good recipes?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

What Makes A Good Garden Design?

Landscape architect Phillip Merritt, of Hertzler & George in Williamsburg, recently posted a video on his blog, howitgrows, showing his landscape design approach. Taking a house and garage on a small city lot, he has digitally transformed the outdoor property into a functional and pleasing extension of the indoor space.  We fly around the digital video viewing the property from all angles, including peeking through windows from inside the house.

I was intrigued with Phillip’s video.  I am guilty of using little restraint in my gardens. Instead of a firm design plan, I depend on my instinct with all its shortcomings.  Lovely plants from various nurseries catch my eye and they go home with me.  Right now I have perhaps 6 shrubs waiting for me to decide their fate in the garden. It would be great fun to have a digital wand to wave over this property to correct mistakes and provide symmetry, balance, and all the elements of good landscape design.  Instead, I am mentally reviewing my landscape with Phillip’s tips in mind.  I think I can see future rooms and lines of sight that are waiting to be developed.  Thanks for the garden design tutorial, Phillip!  I know I have a long way to go.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My White-throated Sparrows Blew in with Ida

white t

White-throated sparrow rests after long migration

They’re as common as… well, a sparrow, but I do love these little birds that return from their breeding grounds up north to spend the winter in our cotoneaster.  I like to think the same family returns year after year as they seem so familiar with their surroundings and almost seem happy to see us.  As soon as they arrive, I sprinkle sunflower chips over their same feeding station on the ground and they know the routine.

cotoneaster beneath the ginkgo tree

Just outside our bedroom retreat, we dug a small fish pond and surrounded it with a dense semi-circle of cotoneaster.  It has created a thick tangle of screening around the pond and bird feeders, providing a favorite haven of protection for our returning white-throated sparrows.  The cotoneaster shrub is a mounding and spreading evergreen thicket that birds love.  A member of the rose family, it is not a showy shrub but it is perfect for our needs.  It is drought tolerant and requires only an occasional pruning to keep it’s shape.  The inconspicuous white flowers in the spring are followed by showy red berries in the fall and attracts many of our fine feathered friends, especially our white-throated sparrow.

This sparrow is a medium-sized bird with a striped breast and a large white throat.  Its head is striped black and white with distinct yellow patches above the eyes.  It loves the thicket we have provided and will move in and out all winter, dining on spilled bird seed from the feeder or on what I supply over the ground.  Other birds move in and out of the cotoneaster during the day but for the white-throated sparrows, it is home.  They will gather in numbers to roost in the cotoneaster at night and at sunrise, they begin to provide us with their sweet “chips” and their lovely clear song, “sweet, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada,”  which is quite appropriate since Canada is a major area of their breeding grounds.

As our natural habitat shrinks from over development, think about how you can supply shrubs and thickets around your yard for bird habitat.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Post Ida

Back in its bed...

maple treescreenThe river is high but it’s back within its banks where it belongs. Ida left us with plenty of clean up jobs around the yard and the gardens which will take some time to finish.

As payment for our toils and perhaps to make up for the terrible Nor’easter, Mother Nature rewarded us with an explosion of reds and yellows in the few trees left with leaves around the yard.  The color season has really come to a close in Tidewater but whether this was Mother Nature’s apology or not, it sure made us whistle while we worked on Nor’Ida’s clean up.

Japanese Maple

shedAnn Hohenberger, The garden Club of Gloucester

Ida, Go Home!

Today's rainfall....Tropical Storm Ida, we’ve had enough! The dogs, the cats, mister gardener and I, the plants, the trees, the shoreline, the pier… we’ve all had enough. You caught us by surprise.  Instead of bringing us blustery, inclement weather, you just had to merge with that low front in North Carolina to bring us The Perfect Storm, a Nor’easter.

Did we lose a huge old maple yesterday (Wed.)?  Yes. Did it take power lines with it?  Yes.  Could we then start our generator? No. Did the maple fall across our lane blocking our exit by car? Yes. Thank goodness a kindly neighbor met mister gardener at the end of the lane for a trip to Walmart for a new generator battery.  And as of 11 a.m. today, we’ve had limited power forFarewell old friend lights and refrigerator, tv and… computer.

Right now, at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, we have 41 mph wind gusts with white caps over the river and high tide in one hour. The lower section of pier is completely under water and the waves are breaking over the high pier.  Mister gardener is watching his small boat that is raised as high as it can go on the lift.  So far our property is high and dry but much of Tidewater and coastal North Carolina is badly flooded with a state of emergency declared for Virginia.

Ginkgoes against the windowsRain continues to pound us and trees are tilting precariously. Temperatures outside hover around 50 degrees.  Temperatures inside hover around 59 degrees in every room but the family room where a roaring fire keeps all of us toasty warm. By the weekend, this slow moving offspring from Ida should be moving toward the northeast.

Good riddance!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

mister gardener’s winter veggies

Mister gardener’s outdoor garden is growing but he grumbles that things are not going well.  He points out that the sun is lower in the sky and hidden behind the trees much of the day and his vegetables are ‘sun starved.’  So, while mister gardener was away for the day, I decided to take a peek at how his garden is progressing. From my point of view (the dinner table), I see nothing amiss with the vegetables that are harvested. We have eaten radishes, broccoli, arugula, curly kale, collards and we’re on hold for the cabbage, beets, and brussels sprouts. I’ll just have to see for myself if the garden is in trouble.

As one can see from these photos, I found mister gardener’s vegetables in fine shape. The radishes are numerous and very healthy.  The collards and arugula are growing vigorously and have been delicious on the dinner table.


curly kaleThe kale is thriving and lovely… but what’s this?  I see some telltale holes.  Could we be sharing our kale with visitors?  Yep, beneath the leaf are cross striped cabbage worms.  I wonder if mister gardener has noticed. I must let him know that garlic juice or red pepper powder have been shown to be effective organic controls for this little pest. Overall, except for the pokey brussels sprouts and beets, the winter veggies are flourishing.

cross striped cabbage wormsNow that he is not spending hours in the outdoor garden, mister gardener has prepared his annual hydroponic Aero herb garden right on the kitchen counter. For those who may not know about the Aero Garden, herbs or other plants are grown in water in a compact appliance with timed lighting and alerts when the plants need more water or nutrients.  This is mister gardener’s third year growing hydroponic herbs. You’d think a person who loves to work hard in the soil all summer might scoff at marjoramgrowing plants in water but he loves his fresh basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme and parsley. Plus, the handy little device does all the thinking for him. Once the herbs are depleted, he plants our favorite hydroponic vegetable: lettuce.  In no time we enjoy green leaf, red leaf, butternut and romaine on sandwiches and in salads.  In the spring, he will use the Aero Garden to start seeds for his REAL garden. Easy. Quiet. Fun. Tasty. Organic.  And it keeps him gardening for 12 months of the year.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Cedar Waxwings in the Garden

cedar waxwing in foster hollyThere is a quiet lull in the garden right now.  Fall maintenance chores are complete, tools have been cleaned and put away, hoses have been drained, and the first frost has arrived in Tidewater.  For me, this time of year signals a new excitement as I view the landscape from my windows, binoculars in hand, camera ready, and Sibley’s bird guide at my side for it’s all about birds and migration now.  Much of what I have chosen for garden flora has been for the birds, their nesting, their food, and their winter protection.

One bird that I am eagerly awaiting is the cedar waxwing. My daughter in Maine delights in the arrival of cedar waxwings each spring that remain and breed in Maine, dining voraciously on her blueberries and honeysuckle berries and insects all summer.  Before migration, she watches as they begin to flock in August over a fast running stream near her community, diving and swooping over the rapids chasing insects.  It is such a spectacle that she makes the pilgrimage back to the rapids to watch the incredible show each August.

Now she has alerted me that she no longer sees her resident waxwings. Have they left Maine? For me that can mean only one thing; they’re migrating my way.  And I am ready, checking the trees, listening for their high pitched calls, looking for movement around the cleaned and filled birdbaths.  They could be here any day from now till March but I know they will come for the waxwings and I both favor one variety of our trees: the foster holly.  I love it for its beauty and the food it brings my feathered friends. The waxwings love a variety of berries but this holly is their ‘caviar’ of berries on our property.

The slender, 20 – 30′ tall foster holly is a hybrid, the The arrival of cedar waxwingsoffpring of the female Dahoon Holly and the male American Holly.  I planted 3 of them massed together off the corner of the house as a vertical accent.  They produce tons of berries that are bright red against the glossy, dark leaves that are less spiny and softer than other holly leaves. These hollies are beautiful during the summer but they seem to save themselves for their brilliant berry display in the fall and winter.  I check the trees each day, looking for movement or the high pitched call of the cedar waxwings.  They could come today or they could come in January for they wander widely as they move south.

When the flock of birds do arrive, the scene is reminiscent of a piranha feed on the Amazon River.  The hollies are under attack for 24 hours until nary a berry is left. The gluttonous feeding habits of the bird are a far One waxwing with a red tail from consuming honeysuckle berries.cry from the image of the proper looking bird with its elegant silky feathers in shades of browns and yellow. The adults sport a distinctive black mask outlined in white that extends broadly over the face.  The adult wings end in secondary feathers with red waxy tips and the tails of most end in yellow tips.  However, since the 1960’s, there have been sightings of orange tipped tails due to eating the pigments of berry from a newly introduced variety of honeysuckle while the feathers are still growing.

After two days of feasting on foster hollies, cedars, cotoneasters, and wild cherries, my fascinating friends are off for a feeding frenzy at another location.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Oh Daddy!

You see daddy longlegs just about everywhere in the garden. Usually nocturnal, they are noticed daddy longlegsmore in the fall than any other time of year, thus the reason for their old name, Harvestmen, as they are more common at harvest time.

First of all, let’s straighten out one common misconception. The daddy longlegs is not a spider. How many times have you heard someone say that the daddy longlegs the most poisonous spider in the world but it simply cannot pierce the skin?  Talk about urban myths! You really don’t need to be afraid of this little animal because it has no venom at all. Yes, you read that right. It is non-venomous.

It may look like a spider with its eight legs but if you look closely you will see that the daddy longlegs body does not have the segment separation like spiders have. Longlegs’ head, thorax and abdomen are fused into an oval body.  Another difference, instead of spiders’ usual eight eyes, daddy longlegs have just two tiny weak eyes at the top of a small black stump atop the body.  In addition, they cannot produce silk like spiders and they have chewing mouth parts unlike a spider that ingests only liquids.

Having set all that straight, the daddy longlegs is a member of the Class Arachnida along with ticks, spiders, scorpions, mites, centipedes and other kin.  Spiders are a member of the Order Araneae and daddy longlegs are a member of the Order Opiliones, which is a closer relative to mites.

These harmless invertebrates do not damage plants. They are scavengers of dead insects, decayed matter and hunters of small insects like aphids. I often see them nibbling on spilled cat food on our deck in the evening.

up close

Notice the tiny black eyes in the center of the daddy longlegs (L.). The red dot on the Eastern Daddy Longlegs (R.) is a mite that is common to the animals.

The eyes of the longlegs are weak and cannot form images. Two of its legs contain thousands of sense organs and act as secondary eyes, ears, and nose for the longlegs. Hold your finger close to a resting animal and it will reach out and touch and explore your skin gathering information.  However, if threatened, one of more legs will fall off. These legs continue to spasm allowing the longlegs a bit of time to escape.  Another defensive mechanism for the daddy longlegs is the presence of two stink glands which release a pungent odor I experienced many times as a child!

An ancient creature, fossils have been found of the daddy longlegs that show the animal has remained unchanged for millions of years. It’s just another harmless, yet successful invertebrate in our gardens that we should take note of and learn about.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester