Singing in the Rain…

The aftermath of a drenching rain that ends a long period of extreme heat and dry weather is dramatic. One day we can be surrounded by crunchy brown grass and wilted leaves and little movement by animals, then wake the morning following a storm to exuberant changes in nature.  Plants perk up and animals perk up.  It is a healthy reminder how much all life on earth depends on H2O for its very existance.

Our rains came heavy, fast and furious with much thunder and lightning and wind. Umbrellas flew like rockets, inflatable rafts became a part of  the borders, watering cans were blown across the landscape, but we were oblivious to all as we sat at a window and watched in absolute joy.

click to see my freckles...

A stroll through the revived property revealed how quickly living creatures bounce back when water returns. At the pond, fish that have lived at the bottom of the low pond became our little friends again and they introduced us to their babies.  Frogs that we have not seen in weeks made appearances again. Toads lingered in the wet mulch and filled their tummies with insects that are emerging from hiding. And the ground is alive with amphibian youngsters. Watch your step!

Click all photos to enlarge

We sat at the end of the pier in the calm of the early morning today and watched the osprey young who finally learned to fly.  We observed the parents diving for fish, hitting the water, then reappearing with large croaker in talons. Babies who waited in the pines shouted with excitement and hunger. From the end of the pier we enjoyed a pod of porpoise chasing schools of fish up one shoreline, then another, coming within feet from where we watched. Yes, they also brought their babes for us to meet.

Finally, a happy birthday to Les Parks over at Smithfield Nursery. He turned a young 50 yesterday and he wished for this rain for his big day, which he generously shared with us all. What a difference it made.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Record Heat Wave!

Outside temps hovered at 106

Officially, the temperature topped 106 yesterday, hot enough to fry a whole omelet on the sidewalk! Triple digit temperatures have been the rule lately in Tidewater, giving us one of the hottest weekends in our history. For the past week or so, temperatures have settled into the mid to upper 90’s each day, chasing us from the waterfront and garden to the relief of air conditioning.

Sadly, as I make my way around the community, the sight of dead or dying landscaping, especially newer shrubs and trees, has become more common. When temperatures rise to the mid-90s, photosynthesis begins to shut down and trees begin to drop leaves. In the 100-degree range, irreparable damage can often be done to trees as cell membranes begin to dissolve.  Water can be the solution but not always.

Several of our young trees, planted less than a year ago, have succumbed to the extreme heat despite being well-watered. A young serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) turned brown and died despite trucking water on a regular basis to this remote location. We also lost a year-old golden raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) and a year-old bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).

Today we expect temperatures to drop about 16 degrees. A slow-moving cold front is pushing though and winds will drop temperatures into the upper 80s or low 90s. We’ll have sunny skies again, nary a drop of needed rain in sight, but the scorching heat should be over.

What is July like in your neck of the woods?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Garden Stitch In Time

Caterpillars of all shapes and sizes, both moths and butterflies, are invading areas of the garden at this time of year.  Some, like the black swallowtail caterpillar, I welcome; others are pests, like the Eastern tent caterpillar, and then there are a few that interest me, like the Redbud Leaffolder.

A tiny moth caterpillar, the Redbud Leaffolder (Fascista cercerisella), has turned some of the tree’s lovely heart shaped leaves into a patchwork quilt by folding or rolling the leaves. These black/white striped caterpillars pull a corner of the leaf over and ‘stitch’ the edges together with silk thread while they consume the leaf from the inside. I have opened some of the leaves to have a peek inside. I found several caterpillars in each fold and I was met with a flurry of movement.  The caterpillars twist and jump, eventually falling to the ground as an escape.

A tiny leaffolder moth visits lamps at night

The adult is a teeny black moth with white spots. I have read that that these common moths breed twice a summer. I would not describe our tree as infested and I’m not ready to use pesticides.  I’m watching and waiting. If I sense a problem, I’ll first try picking the leaf and stepping on it to squish the inhabitants.  Pesticides will be the last option and it would have to be ruinous for the redbud before I take that final step.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Potato Harvest

The potato plants have looked brown, nearly dead, for a week, a sign that the tubers were ready for harvesting. This is always a rewarding adventure for mister gardener, a time to savor after weeks of hard work in the garden.

Two days ago, he raked away the straw surrounding the plants and sunk his garden fork into the first hill of potatoes. Imagine his excitement when up came a fork full of enormous spuds! Hill after hill told the same story. Conditions this year, whatever they were, resulted in a bumper crop of potatoes…. abundant and huge!

It took a couple of days for mister gardener to finish digging all the hills of potatoes. But when the job was done, one fourth of the garden surface was covered in five different varieties of potatoes, waiting to be picked up. All have been gathered in bushel baskets and moved into a cool, dark corner of the garage.

Two of the colossal Yukon Yellow potatoes were cooked and mashed tonight, feeding six of us at dinner with leftovers to spare for potato pancakes for breakfast. I look forward to making the annual switch from pasta and rice to potatoes.  Whether boiled, baked, fried, roasted, there’s nothing that says comfort food quite like a potato.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Gulf Oil Leak Stopped?

It may be temporary but the new containment cap successfully halted the oil leak starting at 3:25 p.m. today. It’s been 87 days and 120 million gallons of oil that has spewed into the waters of the Gulf.  BP will now monitor the oil pressure to see if the containment cap is successful. If the pressure high, that’s a good sign that the cap is containing the oil.  If it is low, this could mean there are other breaks in the pipes and oil is escaping somewhere else under the sea floor. Testing will take 48 hours.

July 13: Current size of spill in comparison to areas of Virginia

If all goes well, all of the oil, 35,000 to 60,000 a day, would be captured on four collection ships beginning in the next week or two. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

I Had To Kill Her…

Have you ever left gardening items outside overnight?

Like these?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, then you perhaps will have the experience I did yesterday morning.  I stepped outside, slipped on my garden shoes, picked up my garden gloves, grabbed my trowel, all left on the ground and deck where I worked all day the day before in my new native plant border.

Two days ago I amended the soil with compost and top soil, edged the border, planted shrubs and several Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), leaving the containers scattered when darkness fell at the end of the day.  Yesterday, before any garden labor could begin, I began to tidy up the area by stacking the empty pots that littered the ground.

I did a double take and skipped a heartbeat or two when I glanced inside one of the pots:

Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. I have spent my life trying to conquer Arachnophibia and here I was inches away from a young member of one of the most feared spiders in North America. She slowly lifted her legs allowing me to view the vivid red hourglass on her abdomen.  Goosebumps. “Spiders are our friends…” I repeated several times.  “Be rational. These spiders are not overly aggressive.”

What did I do? I’m not a person who kills insects randomly but I felt I had no choice here.  I killed her with a stick… a very long stick!

Black Widows have very strong venom but only deliver minor bites due to their small jaws.  However, the toxin they inject, although usually not fatal except for the very young or elderly, can cause significant pain affecting the nervous system. If you have been bitten, go immediately to the emergency room or call 911.

For the rest of the day, I jumped when a blade of grass brushed against my ankle or the breeze tousled my hair. I glanced inside my shoes, my gloves and anything else lying about (several times) before I wore them or picked it up. After all there are 200 eggs in each egg sac laid by the mother. I want to know where the 199 others are lurking….

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The cat’s away…

… and the mouse has played all week.  For several days, I’ve had the house and kitchen and garden all to myself while mister gardener becomes mister golfer in New England with our son.  Not having the mister here takes the hands off the clock for me. He is so scheduled that I always know what time of day it is by the particular activity he is performing.  Coffee: 6:45 a.m. Mail: 10:30 a.m. Lunch: 11:30 a.m. and so forth.

This week I awoke when the sun hit my eyes. Breakfast could be a piece of cake or a bowl of Reese’s Puffs (both leftovers from grandchildren a week ago). I puttered around the yard every morning weeding, edging, and simply sitting for long periods enjoying the Zen of the pond, connecting with the gardens, the birds, the blooms, the stars, being a part of something much larger than me. I did not feel idle and unproductive. Quite the contrary. I was recharging my inner being, my essence, my thoughts and ideas, all that is easy to lose in the distractions of daily life.

When it was too dark to see, it was time for the dogs and me to come inside for the night but then again I could find myself back outside before bedtime, sitting or walking on across the dew laden grass, enjoying life in the nighttime garden.  Very late suppers could be sauteed squash and tomatoes from mister gardener’s abundant crops or cheese and crackers or it could be another bowl of Reese’s Puffs.

I cherish these few days I had with the dogs, the cats, the flora and fauna of the gardens, and the cosmos. But I do look forward to mister gardener’s return and the hands returning to the clock. We both should feel refreshed and revitalized with our batteries fully charged.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Happy Red, White & Blue!

Happy 234th birthday, America! All across the country, this date will be celebrated by family and friends with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, watermelon,  ice cream, games, and, of course, fireworks. We will observe it quietly at home with a seafood cookout, blackberry roll, homemade ice cream, horseshoes and badminton. We’ll end the day by gathering on the pier to watch fireworks that magically appear up and down the river, that is until we are ambushed by hungry no-see-ums that chase us as we madly run for cover indoors.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Blackberry Memories…

A summer never passed that we did not spend a portion of it at our Richmond grandparents’ cabin in Ware Neck. “Domar” was a real cabin and it may not have looked like much to visitors but to us it was pure bliss on the shores of the North River. As soon as we arrived, off came the shoes and on went the bathing suits, our daily gear, until it was time for our sun-drenched bodies to be herded into the outdoor shower at the end of each very long day.

Happy memories were made with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, playing cards, monopoly, swimming, boating, catching crabs and lightning bugs, plus other unforgettable rituals such as blackberry picking. How exciting it was for us to be sent out with buckets to collect ripe blackberries in anticipation of a hot blackberry roll topped with cold hard sauce that evening. We hiked far and we worked hard picking those blackberries in anticipation of that dessert.

Wild blackberries still grow plump and sweet along the shorelines, ditches and fields around our home and our new generation of barefoot kids are continuing the mid-summer delight, avoiding the dangerous thorns and reaching in deep to pick the blackest and ripest and the sweetest berries. It’s a wonderful summer tradition that ends the very same way: outdoor showers and hot blackberry roll with cold hard sauce.

Blackberry Roll

2 cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/4 cup shortening

3/4 cup milk, more or less

3 cups blackberries

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons butter

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles meal. Add enough milk to make a soft dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into a 1/4-inch thickness. Place on a cookie sheep with a deep lip and spread with blackberries. Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar over the berries then dot with butter. Roll the dough around the berries leaving berries slightly exposed in the middle. Sprinkle additional sugar over the dough.  Bake at 400° for about 30 minutes until juicy and crust is nicely browned.

Hard sauce:

1 stick softened butter

1 1/2 cup sifted granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter with sugar until fluffy. Stir in vanilla extract. Chill well.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester