The Glorious American Beech

There are several members of the Fagus genus of beech trees, such are Japanese, Chinese, European or Mexican beech but the only one native to America is the Fagus grandifolia, the American beech. These are fairly common and widespread trees found throughout the eastern United States from Canada to the Florida panhandle.

Our stately old beech

We have one large beech, height about 75-feet, growing near the waterfront. The canopy is rounded and full and the branches are wide spread and sturdy.  It’s always been a favorite spot for children and grandchildren to explore or swing on a rope or shimmy up into the heart of the tree.The beech tree is deciduous and our old tree loses most of its leaves, leaving a thick litter beneath where nothing else grows. It’s said that the dried leaves from beech trees made choice mattress fillers for colonists and early settlers because there was a certain spring to the mattress and a pleasant aroma.

Young beech trees in the woods surrounding our home are easy to spot at a distance as the tan colored leaves remain on the trees during the harshest of winters.

In late spring, bright green leaves emerge that turn a darker shade of green by summer. The fall season brings a golden yellow to the foliage for us to enjoy.

Beech trees are very easy to identify by the smooth bark, oval toothed leaves with straight parallel veins and long sharply pointed buds. Some say the trunk of the tree resembles a leg of an elephant, a colorful description that delights the grandchildren.

We have no idea if our beech is really old or not but I’m sure it has seen a lot of history on this little stretch of land.  Gardening near the tree, we once dug up remnants of an oyster roast held long ago on the banks of this river, with a handblown wine bottle dating around 1800 and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. Hmmmm…  Wouldn’t it be fun to think that this old tree might have provided a little shade for the participants of that meal?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Bird in the Hand

This fall I had an interesting adventure with a Carolina Wren, a common Virginia bird that many have found nesting in their flower pots, ball gloves, garages, etc. My adventure began when I was assigned to photograph the homes on our Historic Garden Week tour. I carry my digital SLR camera in an average size bag, much like a square lunch bag with interior partitions for the different lenses, flash, plus spare batteries and some odds and ends. I arrived at one site on Gwynn’s Island and went to work, grabbing the camera and flash, leaving the bag in the driveway well out-of-the-way.

Some time later, job done, I repacked the camera bag rather haphazardly and tossed the equipment in the back seat, then headed home, about a 20 minute drive.  Home is where the excitement began.  I ate lunch, then decided to clean and repack the camera hardware. All was well until I pulled open the vel-croed flap on the flash sleeve.

A young Carolina wren flew out with a flurry, almost colliding with my nose! Into one window, then another it flew. “Now you’ve done it,” said mister gardener. “You’ll never get it out.”  All I had to do was open the door to the screened porch. Out it went. From there I could pick it off the screen and release it outdoors.

The weather was cool but mild enough that it would be fine but I still worried about the little fella. This bird is unusual in that it mates for life and it remains in the same habitat where it nests! How will this new habitat affect this little bird? For weeks it sang loudly and sweetly all day long. For its mate, I figured. We’ve had our share of Carolina wrens who sing and warble, mostly while nesting but nothing like our lonely little newcomer.  There were no others of its kind. The last pair moved on to new territory after threatened by a rat snake.

Our new Carolina wren stays close to the house, flitting from flowerpot to flowerpot, from tree bark to logs, and back to the herb garden looking for beetles, moths, crickets, and then to the feeder when the weather is harsh. It still sings all the day long and it seems to really like being near the screened porch. Twice it has reentered the porch. That makes me wonder. Does it think the porch is the portal back to its home and the home of its possible mate?

It is an adorable little fella, much more friendly than usual. It allows me to reach out and almost touch it. Our habitat would be a perfect place for it should another Carolina wren be seeking a mate. But I’ve made a decision. I want to return the bird to its homeland. Should it fly inside the porch one more time, it will be returned to the sleeve of the flash equipment, vel-croed shut and driven the 20 minutes back ‘home.’  Just hope the mate has not moved on….

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Bulbs are FINALLY in the ground…

After returning from a trip to Keukenhof Gardens in Holland with Brent and Becky last May, I dreamed about seeing colorful tulips in my own gardens in 2011. Breathtaking would be an understatement to describe the Keukenhof rivers of tulips planted en masse of single colors that paralleled, twisted and merged like brilliant rainbows that had fallen to the earth.  Endless paths throughout the 80-acres of woodland park with endless variety and patterns of 7,000,000 hand planted bulbs was more than eye candy. It bedazzled.  A profusion of muscari in shades of blue coiled around and about the tulips completed the colors of the rainbow.

So I also wanted muscari… lots of muscari in shades of blues and whites and lavender planted for accent color. I wanted it around birdbaths, against the tulips, and accenting the stones around the frog pond. From Brent & Becky’s Bulbs last fall, I purchased cobalt blue muscari armeniacum and several other varieties that I had admired in Holland. And last week in a lull between snow days and icy days, I finally got the bulbs planted. It’s late in the season so I’ll let you know if they appear above ground this spring.

After muscari I planted a mass of tulip bulbs in several borders.  I massed single colors and twisted them into other colors, similar to Keukenhof’s style of planting but on a MUCH smaller scale. I have great hopes that springtime views will be gorgeous on the river in Ware Neck.  Here are some of my selections:

Come-Back

Hakuun

Most of the tulips I bought were Darwin hybrid tulips from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.  This deep red “Come-Back,” thus named because it is a reliable perennial, is a mid-spring bloomer that grows to 16″-18.” It’s great for cut flowers.

I could not pass up this Darwin hybrid “Hakuun,” pure white with a hint of green on the sepals. It hails from Japan and grows to 16″-18″ tall.

Elegant Lady

I took a chance with a few of the selections because I just could not resist them. Take a look at “Elegant Lady,” the ‘color of butter cream frosting with a pale pink overlay,’ says the wording under the picture. How could I resist such a delicious bloom even if it only blooms one season?

Daydream

Then I planted a river of “Daydream” Darwin hybrids that open yellow and mature to a soft apricot orange. I’m thinking sherbet when I see these 18″-20″ blooms in the catalog. And this tulip possesses a mildly fragrant aroma.

Marit

“Marit,” a Darwin hybrid described as ‘a glowing blend of cherry red and primrose yellow with a bit of chartreuse’ was another irresistible tulip. A mid-spring bloomer, it grows 14″-18″ tall.

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  • The Darwin hybrid tulip bulbs should be planted about 8″-10″ deep. This prevents the bulb from splitting up into new bulbs that are non-flowering and helps the flower to have thicker stems.
  • Remove the flower as soon as it is spent to allow energy to go into the bulb rather than seed production.
  • A low-nitrogen organic fertilizer in the spring is advised.
  • Allow the foliage to completely wither away before you remove it.
  • Avoid irrigating tulips. They like it dry.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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Eat Real Food

Joel Salatin holds a hen during a tour of Poly...

Joel Salatin holds a hen at Polyface Farms

Today I watched an episode in a PBS series that was educational and enjoyable: “Endless Feast.” It’s a series on sustainable farming, both crops and meat, combined with culinary talents of local chefs culminating in a lavish open air meals in picturesque settings across North America. Each episode shows the connection of local natural foods from the land to the plate with viewers visiting each of the local sustainable farms that are contributing to the feast.  We meet the farmers and growers, the wine makers and cheese makers and the chef to learn more about their farming methods, philosophies and commitment to sustainable farming.

Today’s episode took place in Virginia at Delfosse Vinyards and Winery in Faber, a 30-minute drive south of Charlottesville. A five-course meal of liver, rabbit, chicken, pork, goat cheese and fresh produce was prepared on site by local chef, Gail Hobbs-Page.  A visit to Blue Heron Farm in Nellysford showed growers, Keith Dix and Beverley Lacey harvesting organic eggplant, butternut squash, flowers and herbs, all the while sharing their passions for sustainability. We met Ramona Huff of Gryffon’s Aerie, Crozet, VA and her free-range heritage pigs and hear how her animals are humanely treated, no antibiotics, and are grass fed with a bit of corn added to the diet. We visit the owners of Polyface Farm, Swoope, VA, Joel and Daniel Salatin, providers of rabbits and chickens for the meal, whose farm was featured in Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. We were shown the portable chicken coops with chickens that share the same grass as the cattle. Chickens feed on insects in the grass and distribute their droppings to naturally fertilize the same grass the cows will later feed upon. Even the 10-year old Delfosse Vinyards and Winery is making great strides to be good stewards of the land.

During the groaning board meal, guests heard the chef and owners talk about the origins of the ingredients in each dish, the Polyface confit of rabbit on butternut risotto and Gryffon’s Aerie pork with grilled vegetable ratatouille, including how ingredients are grown or raised and prepared for the meal. Call it Real Food, Slow Farming or From Farm to Table, it is all about Sustainable Living.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Historic Garden Week: Behind the Scenes in Gloucester VA

Monticello

APRIL 2011. It’s that time of year when Garden Club of Virginia members across our great Commonwealth are connected to one another with a common purpose: Historic Garden Week in Virginia. Forty-seven garden clubs and more than 3,000 members under the umbrella of the Garden Club of Virginia issue invitations to “America’s Largest Open House,” April 16-23, 2011. More than 250 gardens, homes and historic landmarks in Virginia will be open for tours, programs, and events.

Event chairs have been working around the clock for a year or two organizing their individual tours including floral arrangements for the homes, hostesses to greet visitors in each room, parking, transportation, photography, publicity, programs, lunches and much more. The work of advance planning and logistics of each tour is staggering. It takes the cooperation of all members of the clubs and their communities at a very high level. Most of all, it takes the generosity and philanthropy of the remarkable homeowners to make all the tours possible. For a year or two, homeowners have been preparing their homes and gardens to be able to invite visitors inside some of the most lovely homes and the most beautiful gardens at the pinnacle of springtime color.

The mission of the Garden Club of Virginia is to inspire a love of gardening, conserve our natural resources and to educate our own members and the general public. These missions are accomplished through the tour and other programs throughout the year. Another important mission of the GCV is to restore historic gardens and landscapes in Virginia. The proceeds from Historic Garden Week are used to fund these restoration projects. To date over $14.5 million has been raised to restore more than 50 historic garden properties across the state.  Over the years, funds from Garden Week have restored notable historic gardens at the Pavilion Gardens of the University of Virginia, Woodlawn, Bacon’s Castle, Monticello, the Executive Mansion Capitol Square, and other historic Virginia sites. Click here for complete information on GCV historic garden restorations.

View of Millford Haven on Gywnn’s Island

The following tour took place in 2011: In the Tidewater counties of Gloucester and Mathews, the Garden Club of Gloucester is planning a most interesting tour on Saturday, April 16, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Four unique and lovely waterfront homes on four different and distinct bodies of water will roll out the red carpet for a multitude of visitors to explore two historic counties with over 350 combined miles of shoreline and where most roads lead to water. The view from each home site is unmatched. From vistas over the tranquil Severn Creek with historic Warner Hall Plantation as a backdrop, majestic cliff-side panoramic views of the Piankatank River, historic and bucolic Pepper Creek where eagles and osprey soar and nest, and white sandy beaches along Milford Haven, named by early Welsh settlers, that opens directly into the majestic Chesapeake Bay. Visitors will take note of lovely salt-tolerant gardens filled with ornamental grasses and blooming woody shrubs and colorful bulbs.

Windowsill Garden at “Sweetgrass”

You will see original garden art, a butterfly garden, a woodland walk with native plants, raised bed gardens, a rose garden and more.  With Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester to mentor our club and communities, we’re fortunate that this part of the state is known for its daffodils.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in April

Fields of yellow punctuated with vibrant tulips growing amongst vivid azaleas and beneath flowering dogwood will greet visitors in both counties.  A box lunch will be in Gloucester at Short Lane Ice Cream with a grand finale desert of the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever tasted. A sit-down lunch will take place at the White Dog Inn in Mathews County, an experience to remember. Come to visit us at the beach on April 16!  You can find all the details about our Gloucester-Mathews tour and advance discount tickets here.

Have I got your attention?  I hope so and I hope you will be persuaded be our guest in Virginia the third full week in April, 2011 and travel from community to community to visit in some of Virginia’s best homes and gardens.  Supporting the tour will give you the satisfaction that you have helped preserve historic Virginia gardens, all open to the public. For detailed schedule information on Historic Garden Week 2011, click here.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come for highlights on other HGW gardens across the state.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Signs of Spring

Even though it’s January and even though we still have ice on the pond and even though we have slushy piles of snow heaped here and there, I can see subtle signs that spring is in the air. To speed the process, I bought my first ever garden gnome which I will hide beneath some low hanging branches behind the row of daylilies.  If the legend is true, this little gnome will help me in my gardens… perhaps making sure that warmer weather is on the way.

If you pay close attention can you see the early indications of spring. Seed catalogs are arriving. Buds are swelling on trees and shrubs. Flocks of robins are plentiful. More people are walking and jogging and they’re wearing lighter jackets! We’re seeing more sunlight each day and the tiny green tips of daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and tulips are visible everywhere. Amazingly, on sunny afternoons I’ve spotted an insect or two outdoors against the window.

Yes, positive signs of spring are in the air. Fellow blogger, Les of Smithfield Gardens, blogged about his annual trip to the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show in Baltimore. His photos are a preview of the lush foliage and flowers we’ll be seeing in nurseries in the weeks to come. I can hardly wait.

So the season is changing. And if you are vigilant and attentive you will see some signs. Winter is beginning to loosen its grip on us and spring is almost within reach.  I am ready!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Eastern Redcedar

Good climbing tree...

I spent my elementary years in Newport News living just off a lane named for the cedar tree. I thought it was an awesome cedar-lined road with trees that seemed tall and majestic to my little self. My bike was parked beneath many of the cedars that had a foothold or low enough limb that I could reach by standing on the seat of my bike. High up in the trees, limbs seemed comfortable, a perfect saddle for a youngster to idle away a summer afternoon watching cars, bikers and walkers pass beneath me, unaware of the small monkey clinging to the rough branches high in the tree enjoying the sights and the the pungent aroma of the needles and cones.

So it’s natural that I would have a fondness for these common native trees in the Virginia landscape. You will see them on the horizon, growing in fields, against fences, on the waterfront, and in the middle of your flower bed. It is a rugged tree and a true survivor. The seeds of the female are spread far and wide by birds. Often it’s the first plant to sprout out of cleared land and one that I must continually weed from my borders. Not really a cedar at all, the Eastern redcedar or red cedar (juniperus virginiana) is a juniper, growing from Maine southward in the east and areas in the midwest. It’s a tree that is regularly cleared from sites as an undesirable.

Eastern Redcedar

Eastern Redcedar

But the tree is very desirable to birds. Walking past one of our tall redcedars during our last big snow two weeks ago, I startled at least 20 little brown birds that had been hunkered down in the shelter of the tight foliage. Not only does the tree provide great protection in wintry weather, the redcedar provides food for birds, squirrels, and other animals. The female produces delightful miniature frosted blue cone clusters on the evergreen branches that are used often in flower arrangements in our garden club.  Cedar closets, cedar drawers, and cedar blocks to repel moths in closets and drawers come from the aromatic red wood of the red cedar. Finally, here’s a little fact about junipers: the word gin is an English shortening of the Dutch word Genever, meaning juniper, the cone of a which is a main flavoring in the drink.

Add in a number of medicinal uses of the redcedar throughout history and this juniper tree has earned its place in the environment. So when mister gardener complains that one majestic redcedar is shading his vegetables too much, I say to him, “Move the garden.” This old tree will be here for hundreds of years!

Too much shade for mister gardener?

It’s been almost a year that I followed a live online chat at the Daily Press with Kathy Van Mullekom, Garden Editor, and Phillip Merritt, landscape architect and native plant expert. Kathy asked her guests to name 5 native plants they would choose to plant in their landscape and she answered first. I was delighted that she picked the Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)as one of her choices as a windbreak and to provide privacy from neighboring yards.  It’s a common native tree dear to my heart. This former tree climber thanks you, Kathy!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Holiday Tradition: Christmas Bird Count

If you love being in the great out-of-doors and if you love birding and being with like-minded friends, then the Christmas Bird Count is the perfect wintertime activity for you. This National Audubon Society sponsored event, begun on Christmas Day in 1900, collects data for a study of the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. Our local team of a dozen volunteers walked and drove within the 15-mile radius of our assigned area of the count circle in Mathews and Gloucester Counties on Sunday (no hunters!), January 2. The combined information is available on a CBC database on the Audubon website where you can view historical counts, track a species, check maps or make a graph.

Fog and drizzle over the Ware River

Yesterday’s weather forecast was favorable: a high of 57 degrees, morning showers predicted to end when a front pushed through in the afternoon. This seemed to be an improvement over a year ago when 19 degrees and howling winds caused my camera to freeze after the first few shots. However we were disappointed to awake in the wee hours to drizzle and heavy fog on this year’s 110th Christmas Bird Count. Most of our counting takes place over rivers and creeks and marshes where it was difficult to see much at all early in the day.

Fog rolled in the pre-dawn light, then lifted for brief moments, allowing us to count and estimate thousands of birds on the waterways of Gloucester.

Belleville Creek, normally a haven for ducks, geese, kingfisher, woodpeckers

Heavy fog on low lands obscured most of the water and shore.

We hear them. We just can't see them.

Hampered by high tides, volunteers traverse makeshift bridges

A glimmer of hope past the noon hour....

...then early afternoon clearing provided anticipation and good cheer....

..and clear counts on the water...

... only to be dashed with the arrival of the front and heavy rains.

Yet, here we counted numerous small birds seeking protection from the rain just like us!

Late afternoon on Davis Creek

Although afternoon temperatures dropped 10 degrees with gusting winds and intermittent rains all afternoon, we covered much ground in Ware Neck with good results. Drying out that evening while tallying our counts we were satisfied with the final bird census of the day. Despite not seeing some familiar birds like vultures and some songbirds, we were pleased with the variety and number of birds that we reported this season.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester