Just Passing Through…

Cedar Waxwings dining on fosters holly

I heard their high pitched whistles before I saw them on Sunday morning. The sound was piercing enough to serve as my early morning wake up call.  I hopped out of bed and dashed to the window to search for these traveling gifts from nature.  In the pre-dawn light, I could only see the dark silhouettes dotting the limbs at the very top of the sycamore tree but there was no mistaking the unique calls of this bird. The whistling bzeeee bzeeee, a little like a high pitched dog whistle, was coming from cedar waxwings, about 80 of them, dark against the sky.  They’ve finally arrived. They never made a stop on their fall migration but this small ‘aristocracy’ or flock of waxwings was making its way to their northern breeding grounds.

Acrobatic waxwings often eat upended!

I was so honored to welcome these well-dressed birds to dine at the foster hollies again. The three trees were full of red juicy berries waiting for their arrival. Cedar waxwings are frugivores, meaning they eat small fruit during the fall, winter and spring, but they are also invertivores, or insect eaters, during the summer months.  They are acrobatic in flight and are excellent insect catchers in mid air. I must alert my daughter in Maine that the birds are on their pilgrimage back to their nesting grounds near her. They breed around the lake near her home and entertain her as much as they do me. She once ‘saved’ a moth inside her home by tossing it from the back door… only to have a cedar waxwing snatch it in midair.

Click to enlarge photos

The fosters hollies are practically cleaned of berries today. They are nibbling on the seed balls of the sycamore and may linger for another day before they are off on their arduous northward journey. If you’d like to invite these well-dressed birds to dine with you, consider planting native fruit trees or maybe their favorite, fosters holly.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Ready, Set…. SHOW!

"Geranium" - Click to enlarge photos

Daffodils are the first flowers to bloom each spring, bringing us  a sea of yellow drifts throughout Gloucester County.  Whether they are planted in a flower garden or naturalized in a field, their presence brings joy to all.  It’s a flower we can simply plant and forget for it is one of the easiest to grow.  But there are some growers who are serious about the daffodil and devote much time to growing the perfect specimen and entering their blooms in competition at daffodil shows. Growers will get that chance this weekend. The Garden Club of Gloucester is primed and ready to present their 60th Annual Daffodil Show on Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28 at Page Middle School on Rt. 17 in Gloucester. The show is sanctioned by The American Daffodil Society and is open to the public.  Green Offerings are accepted.

Putting on a flower show takes Herculean effort but the Garden Club of Gloucester is a well-oiled machine with members following a trusted time line the day before the show.  Steady streams of husbands in trucks transport equipment from storage to the cavernous gymnasium of the school where members and husbands are ready for setup.  Every member is assigned a task and in no time, they have created the staging.  In less than 24 hours, the room will be transformed into a floral wonderland of horticulture and artistic arrangements.

The chairmen have selected ‘Birds In Flight’ as the artistic theme this year. Novice and experienced arrangers will enter flower arranging competitions in several classes depicting a variety of feathered friends. There is a class for children, one just for men and a timed challenge class for adventuresome arrangers. Each of our members performs several duties from food preparation, clerks and runners for the judges, setting up supplies for the exhibitors, registering exhibitors and arrangers, tabulation and recording the judges’ choices,  assisting novice exhibitors, working with the children and much more.

After experiencing daffodils on a personal level for two days, the show closes and tear-down by members and husbands begins efficiently and swiftly.  Risers, covers, test tubes, blocks and truckloads of equipment are packed and transported by trucks for storage to await the 61st Annual Daffodil Show in 2011. For more information on the show, visit the Parks and Recreation website.

Shortly after the Gloucester show, the Garden Club of Virginia’s 76th Annual Daffodil Show takes place on Wednesday and Thursday, April 7 & 8, at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar. The complex task of putting on a state show will be performed by the Hillside Garden Club with the theme for the 2010 ADS show, ‘The James Runs Through It,’ reflecting the significance of the James River to the history of Lynchburg and Amherst.  This club will mirror our set-up and take-down and numerous jobs on a larger and more complex scale. Their space will be transformed into a seemingly endless variety of colors, shapes, sizes and fragrances of daffodils and artistic arrangements.  This will be an experience not to miss. The show is open to all daffodil growers and exhibitors but there are sections that are open only to Garden Club of Virginia members in club competitions. For more information on the Garden Club of Virginia’s Daffodil Show, visit the GCV website. The show is open to the pubic. A Green Offering will be accepted.

We invite you to stop by and experience both daffodil shows and we encourage you to think about entering your daffodil(s) in a show.  It is fun, it is easy, and we guarantee it will be painless.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Pond Party

Wake up, boys, it’s Spring!

With weather in the upper 70’s on Sunday, it was time to clean the pond. The bullfrogs chose the day for me.  Their mass emergence from the pond on Sunday allowed me to disturb the bottom without injuring a hibernating frog. The bullfrogs appeared within minutes of one another as if there was an underwater alarm clock. As they dragged their inky bodies from the pond, they were practically unrecognizable as bullfrogs. Lethargic and muck-colored, they settled down on the sun-warmed rocks.

This was truly my window of opportunity. Soon these boys will begin their irresistible chorus of bullfrog bellows followed by a pond overloaded with nighttime frog orgies. Shortly thereafter I will be watching over my rather large tadpole nursery. On Sunday, my frog friends plopped themselves silently in the sun, eyes watching me as I dipped my crab net again and again.  I brought up sycamore leaves covered with muck and stirred up ginkgo leaves with their tiny air pockets that cause them to pop to the surface to be skimmed. All this good stuff from the bottom of the pond is worked in as a rich compost around lucky plants.

Click to see pond life complete with Jack, the cat

You could call me a lazy water gardener since I don’t remove the fish, I don’t drain the pond and I don’t remove all the muck in the bottom of the pond. I leave the gravel that has fallen from potted plants to provide a habitat for good bacteria that breaks down ammonia wastes.  I clean the bio-filter that provides a bubbly fountain that aerates the water.

Since the pond is not in full sun, string-algae is not a real problem.  Algae might appear before the ginkgo leafs out, but not to worry. It’s the tadpoles’ fav food and it soon disappears.  My methods are not for everyone but they have worked for me for many years.  The lilies, the iris, the grasses, the insects and the animals thrive.


This is our simplified little pond where the healthy fish and frogs eat the insects and plants, and an occasional great blue heron, snake or raccoon will eat the frogs and fish. It is our water garden full of life meant to be studied, appreciated and enjoyed.  Add two chairs and two glasses of wine and it’s a perfect setting at the end of the day.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Happy Vernal Equinox

At approximately 1:32 p.m. Eastern time, we will experience the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a time when the sun appears vertically above a point over the equator and is considered the first day of spring and celebrated worldwide by dancing, fire, music and feasts.  It is a holiday in Japan, the beginning of the Baha’i calendar, and the day Christians use to calculate the date of Easter, the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. To view photographs of vernal equinox celebrations in other countries, visit National Geographic’s website.

Because of the tilt of the Earth’s axis we in the Northern Hemisphere, begin to receive the sun’s rays more directly. The growing season officially begins and food supplies from agriculture and nature will soon be restored to our tables. Mister gardener has tested his soil and plowed his garden. Today the potatoes go in the ground.

Happy Spring! Happy Vernal Equinox! Happy Gardening!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Spring!

Today I was drawn to the pond by a symphony of music. I stood there for minutes searching for members of the orchestra but not one was visible. Yet I’m sure I was being watched by hundreds of tiny eyes, the eyes of spring peepers (Pseudarcris cruicer), the first species to begin calling each spring. Hidden well in the vegetation and silenced by my approach, the music began again after I took a quiet stance.

For weeks, all in Virginia have heard the shrill whistles from distant woods and ditches but the sound in our frog pond has reached a fever pitch. This all-male chorus of tiny frogs has an amazingly loud and high ‘peeping,’ all directed toward the fairer sex. The higher and faster a male can sound, the better his chances are of attracting a female of the species.

Peepers are good climbers but they prefer to be on the edge of ponds and marshy woodlands full of grasses, twigs, and shrubs.  From just above the water, trios of males form a chorus to compete for mating rights. These little frogs vary in size but on average they are just over an inch long and  are found in shades from brown, tan, olive, gray or a tinge of red. The belly is cream and the back is marked by the most distinguishing feature, a dark cross.

Most folks have a great affection for the spring peeper for they mark the awakening of spring and the renewal of life.  Winter is finally over.  Hallelujah!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

My New BFF in the Garden… Maybe.

On Sunday, I knew the forecast for today must be favorable when mister gardener announced his plans for golfing.  As he backed from the driveway this morning, I waved a quick goodbye from the front door and exited the back door before he was out of sight. The sun was shinning, the sky was blue, and the air was warm. All I needed was a light sweatshirt in this 63 degree weather. I looked forward to a full day in the garden without interruptions or breaks. I rolled up my sleeves and checked the list I jotted the night before.

Gloves? Check. Shovels? Check. Pitchfork? Check. Hose? Check. Clippers? Camera? Check. The first project on my list was the transplanting of a dogwood. This was not any common dogwood, but a Cornus officinalis, a Japanese cornel dogwood.  Three years ago, my Ohio son gave me a sapling that sprouted beneath his glorious 35-foot Japanese cornel dogwood.  I planted the foot tall baby in my plant nursery and protected it through several seasons until today. It’s time for this tree to become a specimen.

The Cornus officinalis is lesser know than its close relative, Cornus mas, the cornelian cherry dogwood.  They both sport delicious large yellow early blooms before the leaves appear, around the time the forsythia blooms. I’ve been told that it is very difficult to tell the two species apart unless species nearby one another can be compared. The Japanese variety has larger flowers and blooms earlier than the cornelian.

Japanese cornel dogwood exfoliating bark

The bark of the tree is showy and exfoliates in small curls, even on my tiny four-foot Japanese variety.  It produces bright red oblong drupes in the summer, edible but tart.  With the wonderful bark, blooms, berries and easy care, what more could you want?

Late in the day, mister gardener dragged in the front door, very sunburned and tired, as I dragged in the back door, very dirty and exhausted.  We each professed to having optimal adventures as we collapsed in pure contentment at the end of our extremely long day.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Celebration of Moss

Click photos to enlarge

There is one area of our property that is thriving. With the moisture and cool temperatures we’ve been experiencing, plants in this habitat are at their peak of health under the canopy of large tulip poplar trees on the banks of our frog pond.  Here we find our healthy carpet of mosses that spread over the ground, clinging to exposed tree roots, fallen limbs, rocks and stones in a mass of textures. It is a soft and soothing garden to visit, one that entices you to stretch out on a warm summer day to watch the frogs in the pond or simply take a cool break out of the summer sun. Just studying the mosses, it’s easy to envision a tiny fairy village in a parallel universe around mounds of moss and lichen, beneath small ferns, where salamanders provide public transportation.

Norie Burnet’s Richmond moss gardens

With Garden Club of Virginia members last fall, I visited the Richmond home of Norie Burnet, the ‘Moss Lady,’ whose lovely 4-acre moss lawn is a moss masterpiece and quite well-known to gardeners. Norie struggled to eradicate the moss in her yard for years but the yard absolutely defied any grass. She gave up and the end result is a totally awesome clean sweep of velvet. Norie keeps it free of leaves and she makes sure it is watered during dry periods or it languishes, she says. Unlike Norie, we don’t do a thing to maintain our moss. We don’t mow there. We don’t rake there. We don’t fertilize there and we don’t weed there. Mother Nature is in charge. But I do protect it from digging dogs, from a son using pin cushion moss as tees for chipping golf balls, from mister gardener whose brush pile creeps closer and closer each year.

Mosses have no true roots to conduct water and their ‘leaves’ are one cell thick. Water and nutrients are absorbed externally so our moss garden is basking in the cool, wet weather of early spring. We have several varieties sharing this space beneath the tulip poplars. Some of them, I am familiar with as they are common in this area but others I have never bothered to identify. I believe we have feather moss (Thuidium delicatulum), pin cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) and juniper hair cap moss (Polytrichum commune). Someday, perhaps, I’ll buy a book to put names to the rest of them but right now it doesn’t seem that important.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester