A Walk In The Snow

The blowing and drifting snowstorm arrived today bringing about 8″ of snow so far to the Tidewater area.  Virtually all of Virginia experienced snow with some areas blanketed by a foot or more.  Thankfully, mister gardener and I did not have to venture out by vehicle.  A short afternoon walk was invigorating however, especially for the dogs who love a romp in snow.  Back inside, mister gardener kept the fires burning and we could stretch out and enjoy a good book and/or browse through a stack of seed catalogs.  We have not lost power and all is well.

Tomorrow should bring sunny skies and possibly warm enough weather to begin the big melt. Here’s a snapshot of what it looked like in Gloucester VA today.  Love to know how the rest of the state fared!

And so we started out...

Take a shortcut through the porch? No such luck. The door was frozen shut.

There's nothing like snow to bring out the puppy in an old dog

Yummy, it tastes like SNOW!

Snow was shaken from boughs that hung dangerously low under the weight.

More than 50 birds fed beneath and around several feeders. Some like this Carolina Wren sought shelter among the clay pots and driftwood.

A dark-eyed junco, frosty and cold, marched slowly back to shelter beneath the cotoneaster.

This gave me a start but it's only a faux feathered friend. It's a good reminder to keep birds well supplied with food in harsh weather.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

SNOW is on the way!

Have you seen the national weather map? A major storm is knifing through the lower Mississippi Valley.  You name it, they have it: snow, ice, flooding rains, thunderstorms. And this major system is sliding eastward to the mid-Atlantic area.  They tell us it’s going to be messy, folks. By tonight snow may begin to fall in Virginia and by Saturday morning we will experience a major winter snowstorm.

Just gazing out the window, it’s hard to believe that a winter storm is on the way.  The sun is shinning. The sky is blue.  Winds are light and out of the Northeast at 5 to 10 MPH.  The eagles are soaring above the river. The labs are napping in the grass just soaking up the rays from the sun.

Little Gem magnolia today

Thank goodness for weather forecasting.  We have primed the generator.  We have stocked up on water and other goods.  A fresh cord of wood is neatly stacked and ready.  The bird feeders are filled. Events that needed to be canceled have been canceled.

Little Gem magnolia may look much like this on Saturday

The foot or more of snow in Tidewater will surely create havoc for travel on the ground and in the air.  But we, mister gardener, the dogs, the cats and I, plan on a day of hibernation.  We are prepared like little squirrels with our food and warmth in our little nest.  We will try not to think about the travel mayhem across the state.  When we venture out, it will be on foot to enjoy the splendor of a winter wonderland.

Here’s hoping that everyone will stay safe and can appreciate the beauty that the snow will bring to the landscape.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

School Gardens Take a Beating

As a gardener, when I read Caitlin Flanagan’s recent article in The Atlantic, ‘Cultivating Failure,’ I could only shake my head in disbelief. She writes of the growing interest in and the rise of school gardens in California and elsewhere, and the view that time could be better spent in the classroom improving test scores rather than the lowly task of digging in the dirt. Her article has provoked an outcry among supporters of school garden programs. Blogs like Garden Rant are buzzing.

Since my Louisville KY daughter was pivotal in planning and establishing an organic garden at her children’s school and volunteered as Parent Garden Coordinator and as garden volunteer, I was interested in her take on Caitlin Flanagan’s views.

Kate writes:

“Sadly, there are parents and teachers at our school who share Caitlin Flanagan’s views.  There is a disconnect in understanding the many benefits that these school gardens are providing. I am now seeing that schools with active gardens and a green movement are labeled as too liberal or alternative.

Groundbreaking at St. Francis School

We are listening to and striving to adjust to needs and views of parents, teachers and the students at the school and the garden program is evolving and ‘blossoming’ as many concerns fade. Children have helped raise the necessary funds for a greenhouse and the garden is established. We collaborate with teachers to intertwine the garden into their existing curriculum to make it fun and exciting and educational.

Math classes helped us calculate how much seed we should order for the size of our garden plots. The American History class planted the exact crops of the early Americans. If a crop failed, they learned what might have happened in a real life scenario for the colonists. How were Native American techniques different from the early colonists?  Asian history brought crops of Asian vegetables. Google how many times plants are referenced in Shakespeare’s works. With recommendations from art students, we planted a riot of color and texture in the Art Garden with stumps for plein-air sketching.

My favorite time to be with the children in the garden is simply Work Time. Helping the children truly engage in gardening is most rewarding. Some children have earthworms intertwined between their fingers and others want to stay on the asphalt where it is ‘clean.’ Last year, a group of little girls was adamantly opposed to working in dirt. Only after I showed them several plants used for lovely scents in perfumes, lotions and soaps, did they perk up. They were thereafter in charge of lavender, lemon balm and scented geraniums and their plants were carefully nurtured.

The school garden has not interfered with learning. It has expanded the learning experience for these children in such a positive multi-educational way.  Finally, and maybe the most important, is there a phenomenon called “nature deficiency”?  In my opinion, I can answer in one word…YES. “

Well said, Kate.  We can add nutrition education to the growing list of benefits. And how about sustainability?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Garden of Healing

As the world responds to the Haitian earthquake tragedy, graphic coverage unfolds on television burning the shocking images into our minds.  For some of us, the news can be personal as it was for our support group that comes together several times a year to package children’s vitamins for The Haiti Mission. Although our hearts and financial support go out to the Haitian people and others residing there, these devastating events can take an emotional toll on us and we must look for ways to stop and get our bearings.

For some, the act of gardening can provide a soothing, healing respite and just the simple act of potting a few plants in a planter is a bit of therapy.  Gardening is a healthy activity and can lift your spirit.  Just seeing the green of live plants and having hands in soil can help to remove tension and add welcomed therapeutic benefits.

Each winter I purchase several tiny low-light plants from Lowes or Home Depot in small containers for a centerpiece on the dinning room table.  Using aquarium gravel for the base, I add potting soil, then a variety of small plants that thrive throughout the cold months. This year the small task of indoor gardening took on a larger role for me.  Trying to weather storms of tragedy, the simple activity of indoor gardening and therapy seem to be related and, for me, both appear to be deeply rooting in the soil.

Ann Hohenberger

Another One Bit The Dust

On a calm afternoon recently, another of our maple trees fell. This gigantic tree was so tall that it fell across the yard, through the bamboo grove, with the canopy spreading across our neighbors’ lane.  A phone call from our neighbor sent mister gardener scurrying with his chain saw to help clear enough of the mangled boughs and branches to allow their invited dinner guests, due to arrive shortly, enough space to squeeze around the tree with their cars.

This fallen maple tree prompted mister gardener to have the two trees that lay on the frozen ground removed.  On the day of the removal, we were told that one other old maple was completely hollow and could fall at any time.  Oh, but I was very fond of this tree with the many pockets, a tree that I passed every day on my walk. I could visualize just taking the crown and leaving the trunk as a snag for animals of all sorts.

Because of the location, mister gardener made the decision to take the entire tree and I think his decision was the right one.  At the end of a long day, our three old friends made the journey off the property together. They have left us with a big empty space in the yard where they stood for many, many years.  Where there was once shade, there is now full sun. It is much too bare and I am already on the case, trying to decide what trees plant in place of our maples.

The site is well away from salt water in slightly acid soil.  Any suggestions?  I know one thing: whatever I choose, the new trees will have mighty big shoes to fill.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Walk In The Winter Woods

Running Cedar

Stepping off our sandy lane onto a thick cushion of fallen leaves, we don’t have to walk far to find an oasis of green beneath the young oaks, maples, pines and poplars.  In the frigid temperatures and wet weather of January, tiny evergreen plants blanket this zone 7b woodland floor.  These are clubmosses, plants whose ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  Along with massive tree ferns, the club mosses grew well over 100’ tall with trunk diameters of 5’.  These ancient forests of giants lived in swamps during the age of coal, the Carboniferous era and their decay led to the coal fields of today.

click each photo to enlarge

The first club moss that we encounter in our woods, with its flat branches and the cedar-like appearance, is Running Cedar (Lycopodium digitatum).  At this time of year, the tiny candles or clubs are full of spores and just brushing the plants will generate miniature yellow clouds.  The plants also expand by rhizomes along the ground, thus the name Running Cedar.  In this way, they can cover extensive areas of the forest floor if conditions are ideal. Our woods must provide what they need for the ground is covered with this variety.

Princess Pine

Nearby, we recognize our other clubmoss that looks remarkably like a tiny pine tree (Lycopodium obscurum) or what I call Princess Pine.  It grows about 6 – 8 inches off the ground in our woods but can grow larger. The Princess Pine reproduces by a rhizome as well so I suppose it could be called Running Pine.

The common name, clubmoss, describes the appendage at the tip of the plant, which produces spores for reproduction.  The spores have a high oil content and have been used to coat pills and is still used in powders to sooth the skin. Native Americans used the spores for various medicinal purposes and early Americans and Europeans used them for a wide range of healing.  Interesting, the plant is poisonous but not the spores.  The spores are highly flammable and they were used in early photography to provide the needed flash.

A request was once made for some of our Princess Pine to be used as a church decoration.  I gave my consent.  But in learning more about the plant and how difficult it is to transplant or cultivate, I now protect our miniature evergreen forest, a mere shadow of its ancient relatives.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

When the Going Gets Tough…

Click to enlarge

… the tough definitely get going. Yesterday, as temperatures hovered around 19 or 20 degrees and winds gusts of 15 MPH lashed down narrow beaches, a light crew braved frostbite at dawn for the Christmas Bird Count.  The weather was harsh and inhospitable for man and beast, even dangerous, yet it was an amazing count of birds under these conditions.

Hundreds and hundreds of ducks and geese and swans were counted on the water. Angry white caps on the open water made it time consuming to identify water birds far from shore but the more experienced birders prevailed.  On the shoreline, ice flows like plate tectonics heaved to and fro in the first 50 feet of the rivers.

Inside our 15-mile diameter circle, we found most inland birds hunkered down in protection from the wind.  But eventually they must feed and during those times we counted amazing numbers and varieties of woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, vulture, sparrows, hawks, warblers, robins, cardinals,  bluebirds, blackbirds and so forth.

Although the waxwings have not visited our foster holly, we found them stripping clean Bradford Pears lining a driveway allée.  The homeowner said he would like to replace his many Bradfords that have split time and time again in storms, but the sight of birds feasting on the tiny fruit each winter holds him back.  Seeing the birds feed, I agree with him.  Eventually, he plans to replace the trees with Chanticleer ornamental pear trees that are less likely to split.

Most unusual bird spotted: a rooster.  We did not count him.  What we did not see: our eagles.  Bummer News: My camera froze after 15 photos. Best news: We managed to count all day without frostbite.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Resolutions or Not?

George Carruth's Smiling Man watches over gardens.

It’s a tradition in this household on New Year’s Day to take stock of how we are living our lives and set some simple positive goals for the next year and beyond. We share our goals with each other while we dine on pork (forward feeding animal represents prosperity), sauerkraut (mister gardener is German and this is his custom), black eyed peas (apparently an ancient Jewish custom adopted by Southerners around the Civil War time) and kale (not sure why we eat this in the South on New Year’s Day but mister gardener grows it just for me).

New Year’s resolutions are tricky things. From long experience I know the same ones can end up on the list year after year after year. Sharing our goals on New Year’s Day seems to make them more attainable and realistic. Nothing is set in stone and we are supportive and encouraging. A Tidewater Gardener summed it up best when he said, “Perhaps the best use of this time of year is to reflect on what brought us to this point, changes we would like to make and where would we’d like to go.”  That statement coupled with his photos of a new dawn over the Eastern Shore seems to sum it all up.

For the garden, I added a few firm resolutions to my list: 1. Use more cultural controls and reach for pesticides as a last resort. 2. Take long overdue soil samples this year. 3.  Take better care of my tools. 4. Curb my impulsive nature to over buy. 5.  Compost, compost, compost.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester