My Big, Fat Ugly Weed

It began slowly.  I saw a bit here and there in the lawn after Hurricane Isabel but had no idea what it was. It looked fairly benign, just small plants growing beneath the grass. I’d easily pull one out, ignore 4 more, paint a tiny amount of weed killer on a small patch, but for the most part, I simply ignored it. Big mistake. After our wet winter this year, we know we have a problem with this difficult to control broadleaf lawn plague named Virginia buttonweed (Diodia virginiana L.).

This spring I armed myself with information about buttonweed and I realize how monstrous my troubles could be. This is a very aggressive weed that forms dense mats in the lawn. Deep-rooted, this perennial can return each spring from its root system and it can spread by seeds and from any living portion of the plant. One remarkable characteristic of this weed is that it has self-pollinating flowers both above and below the soil. The tiny, star-shaped, 4-petaled white flowers can help identify the plant in the grass.  Interestingly, another identifying feature is a mottled mosaic yellow-green leaf in some buttonweed due to a virus.

Virginia Tech calls this weed “a very troublesome weed of lawns and turfgrass throughout the southeastern United States.” All I know is it likes moisture (we had plenty this winter) and it successfully adapts to mowing. Pulling it up is a temporary solution since root fragments will regenerate. I read that proper management of turf is a good preventative. Too late for that. Recommended is repeated applications of a postemergence herbicide every 4 – 6 weeks but I hesitate.

It is a native.   It is a survivor.   On some level I can’t help but admire it and wonder how it would look, dark green and mottled mosaic yellow-green, instead of grass.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Summer Solstice 2010


The summer solstice (‘sol + stice’ from Latin, meaning ‘sun’ + ‘stand still’) arrives in the northern hemisphere this morning, June 21, at 7:28 am.  It is the longest day of the year and a day was held in reverence by ancient people as a season of rebirth and renewal, the start of the summer growing season.

Around the world, the day is celebrated with bonfires, parades, maypole dances, parties and more. At Stonehenge, thousands gathered at sunset last night at the ancient pillars of stones as they awaited daybreak. Last year over 36,000 converged to keep vigil from sunset until they celebrate the rising sun aligning with the Heel Stone, following the rituals that many believe ancient pagans celebrated.

Annual New York Times summer solstice yoga

At New York City’s annual Solstice in Times Square, hundreds of celebrants will greet the summer solstice with tranquility and transcendence in perhaps the world’s largest yoga class. Amidst the city’s noises and activity, a sense of community in this gathering brings unanimity in honoring the season of growing.

This morning I will watch the sunrise, then join a community of neighborhood friends for breakfast and the first of our summer art activities.  For me, the act of artistic creation is the beginning of another growing season where ideas and skills germinate and grow.

How will you spend the longest day of the year?  Happy summer solstice!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Early Morning Cycle

Today is a great day for anything… as long as it takes place outside in this glorious weather. The high humidity of last week has disappeared, leaving us with sunny skies, a low 51% humidity and gentle southeasterly breezes of 10 mph. This afternoon I will dive into neglected sections of the gardens but this perfect morning was meant for biking.

Waking at dawn, the morning still in shadows, I could not pass up a few photographs of a fiery sunrise over the North River.






Next, a little breakfast for Jack and Maggie who were obviously more interested in catnapping than food at this early hour.

Then it was bike time.

Water, check. Binoculars, check. Six of us met while the dew was still on the grass to bike & bird through Ware Neck.  And we were off, taking to the paved roads and the side roads and the private lanes and shortcuts and long cuts where we knew the birds may be. Our birding aficionado, Read McGehee, led the way, pointing left and right and stopping the group to hear distant calls. A few of the special birds identified this morning, were:

ovenbird (New World warbler)

kingbird (a flycatcher)

red headed woodpecker

white-eyed vireo

red-eyed vireo

wood thrush

red-tailed hawk

brown-headed nuthatch…..   plus all the regular birds we see every day.

I arrived home close to the lunch hour and opened the front door to bacon aromas wafting from the kitchen. There I found mister gardener preparing a mouthwatering déjeuner to welcome me home, a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with the first juicy red tomato from the garden. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Box Turtles in Our Garden

It is on wet, misty mornings like the ones we’ve had this week that Eastern box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) are encountered lumbering across roads in search of worms and other insects. If I’m on foot, I’ll simply help the turtle across the road. If I’m driving and it’s safe, I’ll pull over, activate my flashers and move the turtle to the berm, if possible in the direction it was heading.

The Eastern box turtle is most likely the best known turtle in Virginia, named for its ability to tuck in its head and legs and close up like a box, a defense action that causes thousands to be crushed beneath the wheels of automobiles each year. Deforestation for development is rapidly consuming the habitat of these gentle creatures that have survived for 250 million years. They have not been declared an endangered species although they are protected in some states. Once so numerous in my childhood, it’s apparent to me that the box turtles are disappearing from our landscape.

We do encounter these beautiful reptiles in our gardens and lawns in our rural area. Their diet consists of insects, fruits, mushrooms, berries and vegetables. Our dogs ignore them in the grass, the cats take a wide berth but I tell mister gardener that the greatest threat in crossing lawns is the tractor or lawn mower. It’s a good habit to always mow when the grass is dry and turtles have found cool shelter under mulch or leaf litter in the borders.

This male box turtle does not have the usual red eyes but does have bright orange legs.

Recently, while a passenger in my neighbor’s car, I said, “Stop the car! There’s a turtle.”  We were the only car on the road so I jumped out and helped a big male box turtle to the edge of the road. Upon returning, she said, “I’d never do that. How’d you know it wasn’t a snapping turtle?”  Had I known she didn’t know the difference, I would have brought it back to the car to show her.

Concave plastron is best indicator of male box turtle

A box turtle’s carapace, or top shell, is domed and each turtle is colored in a varied pattern of yellow or orange on brown.  The hinged lower shell, the plastron, is an indicator of the sex of the animal. Males have a concave shell and the female’s lower shell is flat. Males will often have bright red eyes, but not always! Females have brown or yellowish eyes.  The male carapace is brighter and their legs can have

This box turtle is approximately 20 years old

bright orange or red scales. The tail is longer on the male and their claws on the rear legs are thicker and more curved. The turtles you encounter could be 50 years old or more as their life span is over a hundred years. The approximate age of a turtle can be gauged by counting the growth rings on the bony plates of the carapace.

Although we have other species of turtles in the Commonwealth, the box turtle is our only terrestrial turtle. Others, such as snapping, musk, painted, spotted, so forth, are aquatic. Welcome these good-natured and ancient animals if you see them in your garden but avoid the temptation to pick one up elsewhere and bring it home. It’s now thought that they are territorial and will try to return to the original site.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

Lily Fever

On Wednesday, June 16 and Thursday June 17, the historic Union Train Station, 103 River Street, Old Towne, Petersburg, Virginia will be transformed into a wonderland of color at the 68th Annual Garden Club of Virginia Lily Show. The Petersburg Garden Club with assistance from the North American Lily Society will present the show entitled “All Aboard,” featuring both horticultural specimens and intricate interpretative arrangements on the train theme.

This is the second year for the Lily Show at the Union Train Station site.  Last year, I made a pilgrimage to Petersburg to see for myself the diverse and colorful displays. I was unprepared for the enormous riot of color and the limitless variety of blooms that greeted me. During the last hundred years, a multitude of lily hybrids have been developed by hybridizers, especially by Dutch hybridizers, resulting in varieties with deeper colors and sturdier stems and bulbs that grow quite well in our local gardens.  The variety was impressive at last year’s show and it was fun to wander through the forest of blooms that filled the the old train station and choose a few that I’d like to have in my own garden.

But whether you garden or not, it is still enjoyable to visit to the Lily Show. It is an amazing display of horticulture and artistic floral arrangements. There is no charge for the event but a green offering will be accepted to offset costs.  The hours are: Wednesday, June 16, 2:30 to 8:00 p.m. and Thursday, June 17, 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

They Did it Their Way

Through the garden gate

From the street in this west side Richmond neighborhood, you would never know that behind the dense growth of winter jasmine, tall bayberries, plump boxwood and red-tip photinia is a garden gate that opens to a compact, well-designed landscape. Soothing greens with varied textures and shapes entice you to enter through the gate and explore.  I always enjoy an invitation to this charming garden. There’s something magic and restorative about the cool spaces in the dappled light of tall trees.

The couple who lives on this lovely property designed the garden layout themselves and every bed was developed and planted by them. The space has been embellished through the years to become a lush tapestry of foliage punctuated by colorful treasures of flowering trees and perennials. It’s obvious that this garden is their retreat, a place to enjoy the outdoors and fulfill their passion for gardening. It’s great fun to stroll through the grounds with them for he showers her with credit for aspects of the garden and she returns the praise.

The rear of the home opens onto a terrace that flows into a small grassy lawn. Steps away are several garden paths that beckon. Birdbaths, benches, sculpture, bridges and lighted pagodas are focal points along the woodland journey. A clear stream winds through the shade providing interest and a home for many small visitors. Native plants and new cultivar discoveries pepper the landscape.

Following the brick walk along a natural rise, a border of  boxwood, variegated hostas and liriope edging become the nucleus of this garden. A hand crafted martin house beneath a golden rain tree is a reminder of the birding paradise the couple has created.

Exiting through the garden gate, we are not disappointed by what we encounter. A colonial garden house, designed and built by the owner, greets us in this space.  I’ll say no more. A photograph of this structure is worth a thousand words.

The newest feature in the landscape, the Charleston Garden, bids a welcome to enter and rest on one of the benches. High stucco walls, beautifully designed brick walks, statuary, a pool with splashing water and colorful fish, and cool green groundcover, invite you to linger. With a daughter living in Charleston, the couple made numerous visits, falling in love with the courtyard garden designs.

I’m sure readers will agree that the owners have created an Eden…. but I might be a bit biased. On an earlier blog entry, I whisked you away to California to visit my sister’s whimsical garden in San Diego. This time you left your stresses at the gate and toured the garden retreat of my brother and his wife who live in Richmond.

For another view of his garden house, click HERE.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester