From Sea to Shining Sea

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It’s Memorial Day weekend and I am enjoying the holiday in traditional ways: remembering those who lost their lives while serving in the military, enjoying cookouts with friends, beautiful weather and a lovely river view where we are watching osprey parents take turns feeding their 3 chicks just off the beach.

Beauty surrounds us on the coast of Virginia however it’s been hard to fully appreciate it when the shadow of the oil rig catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico over a month ago looms so large. From the failed attempts to stop the leak, to the thousands of birds and other animals that are dead or dying, to the economic impact, to human illness, this domino effect disaster is beyond anyone’s imagination. The worst is yet to come.

The oil spill may not be the number one thing on everyone’s mind as it’s doesn’t affect most of us directly… right away, that is. We go about our business, then we turn on the radio or television or computer only to be jolted back into reality with coverage and images of birds and turtles and beaches and marshes coated in the black goo. It is too painful to watch or hear. We see NASA satellite images of the growing plume gushing upward from a mile below the Gulf surface. We see shocking underwater video footage of oil gushing from the sea floor. We know the damage is in the air, on the water, beneath the water, and on land.  And it is a helpless feeling.

Sadly, spills are more common around the world but thankfully rare in the US.  Stopping the worst spill in US history has ended in failure so far. Cleanup goes on. Burning the oil was ineffective, the chemical dispersants proved toxic, containment is difficult with the currents on open seas, straw proved a threat to sea turtles and officials are pleading with folks to stop sending hair as the ‘hair booms’ are said to be impractical. Last week, PBS NewsHour asked viewers to submit suggestions and more than 7,000 people responded.

Many of us who love this earth just want to help, want a solution and want to make sure it doesn’t happen again….. anywhere in the world and especially to the gorgeous coastal waters of Virginia.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Snake Attack!

No, no, not me but my newly hatched Carolina Wrens in the Williamsburg bird bottle. I was edging the borders near the garden shed when I heard the adult wrens raising a commotion. I just figured old Jack, our cat, must be sunning near the daylilies. I kept the shovel moving along the edge. But after a few minutes I turned and glanced over my shoulder, following the escalating noise. What I saw was a shocker. To my horror a 3′ snake was hanging from the shingles of the shed roof with his head at the nest entrance. The adult Carolina wrens were in turmoil with other birds joining in the pandemonium.

Dropping my shovel and running, I reached up and knocked the snake from the roof. It tried to scurry away but I stopped it. It turned direction and tried to escape over the grass but I stopped it again. It then curled into a vent of the shed, vibrating its tail in the dead leaves like a rattler to frighten me. I was not intimidated. You see…. I like snakes.

I was wearing garden gloves so I gently reached down and captured the snake behind the head and supporting its body, I picked it up.  I was holding an adolescent Eastern Rat Snake (Scotophis alleghaniensis) that was as terrified of me as the birds were of it.  As adults, these snakes are solid black with cream colored bellies but the young are hatched with a distinct black and gray pattern along the back. My snake’s pattern was still visible beneath the black.  Many people come across the juveniles with their clear markings and mistakenly believe they found a copperhead.

Rat snakes are plentiful in Virginia and their numbers seem to be growing due to our fragmented forests. Snakes prefer the edge of woods to be able to sun themselves. Their average adult size is about 6′ but they can grow one or two feet longer.  They are non-venomous and usually quite docile. Believe it or not, young ones like mine can make good pets (if you want to stash a supply of dead mice in the freezer or watch them constrict live mice or lizards). They will eat a wide variety of animals from rats (duh!), mice, lizards, moles, rabbits, squirrels and…. birds. One of their easiest prey is in the bird nest, either eggs or baby birds, for this is the snake well-known for climbing. If you ever see a dark snake in a tree or in a bird house, it’s probably the rat snake. Last summer, one scaled the smooth side of my neighbor’s garage refrigerator and dined on her baby birds in a nest. Unfortunately, that was its last meal.

After letting mister gardener photograph the snake (he used zoom so he wouldn’t have to come too close), I walked it about a half mile down the road, released it and watched it slither away and find shelter beneath a downed tree. “Don’t come back,” I warned. “I know you must eat but my little wrens can’t be on your menu.”  Returning home, I watched the traumatized wrens fuss around the nest for over two hours, checking every shingle for a possible hidden predator. Eventually they resumed feeding their young and resumed singing 24 hours later.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

I NEED A New Garden Shed

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After a Garden Club of Virginia trip to the Eastern Shore for a two-day visit through spectacular private gardens, I returned home with ideas and brainstorms and plans and visions for what my gardens could be. My mind was swirling with mental images of new designs, new plants I must have, and dreams of doing it all by myself.

First of all, I want to redesign my garden shed. Mine is a working shed. It smells a little too much like Holly Tone, tools line an entire wall, mud must be swept out regularly, and spooky spiders like to hang out in corners. The interior of the garden house I saw on the Eastern Shore is what I must have. It was a bit eclectic with an array of natural collections and yet it was peaceful and serene with the soft painted interior… walls, ceiling and floors… that provided the perfect background to showcase the garden collections. On the wall were penned thoughtful garden or natural world sayings by well-known people in history.

I looked around for a chair. There was no chair but if there had been a chair, a bit of soft music and a glass of wine, I might still be in that garden house. I think the owners left the chair out on purpose!  They knew visitors would fight over it.

Did I mention there was a chandelier?  Sigh.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Fresh From the Garden

Mister gardener complied when I asked him for the recipe for a especially delicious salad he prepared recently. Since his lettuces are so wonderful right now, we are enjoying a variety of salads.  And, of course, my sweet tooth was satisfied when I tasted this one:

Romaine with Oranges and Avocados

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp juice of an orange

3 tsp honey

1/2  tsp Dijon Mustard

3  tsp chopped chives

1 tsp orange zest

salt/pepper to taste

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch  romaine lettuce

1 avocado, sliced

1 small red onion, sliced

1 navel orange, sectioned

1/4  cup pecan pieces, toasted

Add first 8 ingredients to a jar and shake well.  Arrange the rest of the salad ingredients on a salad plate.  Shake dressing again and drizzle over the salad and serve.  This recipe can serve 4 but we (or I) had no trouble finishing it off at one sitting.  Enjoy.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Gardens, Gardens, Gardens in Virginia

After returning home from my trip, I hit the ground running trying to catch up with life. My gardens are a big priority and you can picture how any gardens will look after two weeks without care and attention. In addition to borders filled with weeds, the grounds were extremely parched. I decided this was the ideal time to assemble my new drip irrigation system.  Tedious, labor intensive and somewhat daunting, I spent hours and hours uncoiling 1/2″ tubing and attaching couplings and tees and plugs and 1/4″ tubing, elbows and micro-sprayers. Just learning the language was trouble enough. Mister gardener strolled out to watch me and seeing my water drenched and dirt covered body punching holes and attaching tubing, he suggested, “It might be better if you turned the water off until you’ve punched all the holes.”  “I’m testing the system….” I almost hissed in frustration. On a later visit, he suggested, “Don’t you think a soaker hose would be a lot easier?”  “No, I really don’t,” I snipped.  After 24 hours, the new drip system was finished. It is invisible to the eye and I expect that plants in that area will be much, much happier than their drier neighbors. I was beaming with pride and satisfaction.

Later mister gardener appeared in the kitchen with the most beautiful romaine lettuce I’ve seen in any grocery. “Is this from the garden?”

“Yep. Have you been down to see it since you’ve gotten home?”

“Well, I’ve glanced that way but didn’t get a good look inside,” I answered, stretching the truth a tiny bit. “Is it doing well?”

“Yep,” he answered. “I’m using a soaker hose this year.”


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I know that since I’ve been home we have enjoyed the most succulent spinach and the most mouthwatering lettuce, sweet radishes, and tender onions in a variety of salads he has made. So the next morning, I grabbed my camera and walked down to the garden to get a good look. There among the lettuces, the tomatoes, the onions, the cabbage, the potatoes, etc. was the soaker hose that has fed and nourished plants through dry conditions the last two weeks.  I saw that the hose was carefully snaked around the vegetables and it was slowly squeezing out tiny beads of water like sweat accross a forehead.  The ground wasn’t puddled with moisture. It seemed to be absorbed slowly into the soil around the plants and it is working well. The plants are green, large and healthy. Well, well, well….  little did I realize that the soaker hose is also a very effective form of drip irrigation. There must be a tiny bit more evaporation with mister gardener’s soaker system but it’s a heck of a lot more efficient than the sprinklers we used last summer in every garden. Must I tell him he is right?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Gardens, Gardens, Gardens in the Cotswolds!

The Cotswolds has some of the most beautiful gardens and landscapes anywhere and we were lucky enough to see four of them in a very short time. Our first stop was the nineteenth century landscape at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Over two thousand acres of park-like landscape with sweeping lawns surround the eighteenth century palace with lakes and bridges, a secret garden, a lovely rose garden and even a maze. ‘Capability’ Brown is credited with redesigning earlier formal landscaping into the more natural setting with clumps of trees, the 150-acre lake and meandering walkways.

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Nearby, the great Arts and Crafts style gardens of Hidcote Manor are the first to be fashioned as garden rooms. Designed by an American, Maj. Lawrence Johnston who eventually became a naturalized British citizen, the property was developed on high ground with planned vistas overlooking the Vale of Evesham. Johnston used strong separations with box hedges, yew, hornbeam, holly, beech, and stone walls to divide the garden rooms. The 10.5 acres of gardens include topiaries, a wonderful garden gazebo, numerous archways through a variety of materials both living and man-made, water gardens, herbaceous gardens and endless paths through formal and informal gardens.

Located very close to Hidcote Manor Gardens, the delightful gardens of Kiftsgate Court are built close to the edge of a deep embankment with commanding panoramic views of the half moon swimming pool below and beyond to the village of Mickleton.  An assortment of gentle paths lead down the Lower Gardens then back up through a woodland walk with fields of bluebells that are lovely beyond description. Other gardens fan out on high ground east of the manor house, separated by yew and copper beech hedges in colorful borders, a rose garden featuring the large Kiftsgate Rose (July blooming) and ending with the Water Garden.  Once containing the tennis courts, this pool is ornamented with a row of two dozen tall gilded metal stems and leaves that move in the wind and drip water every few minutes, a wonderful surprise garden for visitors and a perfect ending for our tour.

Our final garden visit was to the unique Arts and Crafts Rodmarton Manor Gardens. We were greeted by the owner who traveled with us through the Courtyard Garden, the Alpine Trough Garden, the Rockery Garden, beautiful herbaceous gardens and vegetable gardens, and the Topiary Garden, as well as beneath lime, birch, hornbeam, and numerous trees that were pollarded and pleached nearly a hundred years ago.

It’s been a dream trip through some of the loveliest gardens anywhere but now it’s time to get back to my own small garden and the Japanese Snowbell (Styrax japonica) trees that were loaded with flower buds at the time I left.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


While journeying through London, a quick stopover at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was a welcome delight. Located on 300 acres, Kew Gardens sit beside the river Thames near Richmond. The gardens are a World Heritage Site with six magnificent glasshouses and are home to a remarkable collection of plants from all over the world including over 14,000 trees. Our group divided up with mine visiting the 19th-century Palm House, the woodland walk, and the tropical Princess of Wales Conservatory among other gardens. We had a wonderful volunteer guide who offered much insight into plant and garden history, science, and highlights of the season.

High points of the visit included the oldest potted plant in the world located in the Palm House. Less than a year ago, the South African cycad was carefully repotted and seems to be thriving in its larger pot. This cycad was just a seedling when it was brought to Kew from the Eastern Cape before our Declaration of Independence. It was moved into the Palm House in 1848 and has grown about 2.5 cm a year.

The Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), a native of the Philippines, is rapidly disappearing due to forest clearing.  The long hanging stems produce turquoise-colored wisteria-like flowers that are showstoppers. It has been growing at Kew for many years but until 1995 had not produced seeds until scientists leaned how to pollinate the flowers.

Continuing on our walk through the Woodland Garden, we traveled through velvety fields of Queen Anne’s Lace or Horse Parsley.

We strolled through lovely fields of azure blue woodland bluebells, native to the British Isles. Interesting, the woodland English bluebell is being slowly replace by the more dominate Spanish bluebell, the variety that we see in Virginia.

We stopped to admire the Dove tree (Davida involucrata) or Handkerchief tree as we call it. Known for its flower heads with a pair of white bracts at the base that function as petals on each bloom and hang beneath the level branches. The flowers are at their best in late May. They flutter in the wind like white doves, giving the tree its English name.

Finally, we ended with the tulip (tulipa batalinii), only 6-8 inches tall, native to Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkestan. It is named for Russian botanist Alexander Batalin (1847-1896), who provided the Kew Gardens with the first bulb in 1888.  It is available through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs .

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Keukenhof Gardens

It was cold, blustery and rainy when we visited the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam but we were quite warmed by the breathtaking colors in the bulbs, the shrubs and perennials in the over 80-acre garden.  Open only from March to May, the garden receives approximately 800,000 visitors from all over the world during these few short weeks. Approximately 7,000,000 bulbs have been planted by hand each year since 1949 by growers all over the Netherlands to exhibit their hybrids.

We spent the entire day here with Brent and Becky exploring the ten miles of paths and seven inspirational gardens, indoor exhibits, art exhibits, gift shops, flower arrangements, lakes, fountains and so much more. Despite inclement weather, the garden was quite crowded.  We saw people of all ages braving cold temperatures and drenching rain from babes in strollers to the elderly.  We shared their enthusiasm.

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The Netherlands

Today I am tiptoeing through the tulips in and around the historic village of Alkmaar, the Netherlands with Brent and Becky Heath of daffodil fame and with members of the Garden Club of Gloucester and friends. The brilliant fields of bulbs were visible from the air when landing in Amsterdam, then through the windows of our bus as we traversed villages to Alkmaar about 50 miles north.

muscari fields

The Heaths are well-known in this area and have used the grounds around here for raising and developing varieties of bulbs.  We are learning first hand knowledge of the manic tulip culture of 17th century Europe, the bloom that dominated culture for generations.

As we travel over the next few days, I will attempt to share photographs of beautiful gardens… although internet access is not readily available.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester