A Restorative Garden

While we are still feeling the effects of our local tornado, it is healing to move to the out-of-doors and be a witness to the contrast and beauty that nature provides. This week we gathered with friends in an a neighbor’s azalea garden, a woodland garden filled with over a thousand mature azaleas and large rhododendrons where pathways entice guests toward several garden rooms deep inside.It’s in a central area of the woodland garden that we met our friends and neighbors, the first gathering since our own Ware Neck tornado that brought wreckage to areas close by. We could offer comfort and condolence, hear stories of bravery and courage, and still we could appreciate the miracle of the garden that surrounded us. Almost every one of the azaleas in the garden was propagated by the owner, Art White, at his home in Maryland. He then transported truckloads of his plants to Ware Neck when he moved here. He allowed his azaleas to grow to their full height and he appreciated a full range of colors. The lavenders, purples, reds, pinks, and whites are like a big box of Crayola Crayons spilling across the landscape. Betty White, his wife, considers it a labor of love in the azalea garden, caring for the plants, sharing them, teaching propagation, and opening the garden for causes. The garden has opened for Historic Garden Week and this weekend, there will be  The Secret Garden Tour to benefit Rosewell Plantation in Gloucester.

Thank you for the garden visit. Gathering with friends, weathering the storm together, giving us back our feeling of well-being. We needed that.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

What a Difference a Week Makes…

Here is mister gardener’s edible garden a week ago. Potato plants galore, enough tomato plants to feed an army tomatoes for a year, lettuce, beets, asparagus… and nary a weed in sight.  You see, weeds don’t have a chance with mister gardener in charge.

On the other hand, here is a sample of my ornamental garden one week ago. Thick stands of chickweed (Stellaria media) had taken over every border. Pressing duties have kept me from weeding early in the season so this explosion of chickweed has produced enough seed to keep it in business for the next 1,000 years. Sigh.

Am I growing chickweed or dwarf gold mound spirea here?

Annual chickweed is a shallow plant and easy to weed by hand in damp soil.  For several days, I’ve worked outside from dawn till the moon rises in the night sky and I am happy to announce that I’m winning the war on weeds. Most of the borders have been weeded and piles of chickweed like this one are waiting for mister gardener’s wheelbarrow. What a difference a week makes.

Gardens have been edged. Plants are beginning to flower. Bees are buzzing. Birds are nesting. The pond is clean, frogs are singing their nightly chorus and Mr. toad finally made his presence known in the garden. The goddess Eostre has returned to Earth and brought with her the warmth and light of Spring.


Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) against Chinese fringe (Loropetalum chinense)

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Dogwood in Bloom

As the native redbuds (Cercis canadensis) blooms begin to fade, the flowering dogwood trees in my neighborhood (Cornus florida) have burst upon the scene with the best display I’ve seen in years.  Native dogwoods have taken a beating since the mid-seventies when that dreaded disease, Discula destructiva, better known to us as Dogwood Anthracnose, made an introduction into the U.S.  So it’s quite nice to see the spectacular display of dogwoods this spring.

Recently, my neighbor invited me to behold his magnificent old dogwood with its profusion of blooms bathed in the first rays of morning sun. The branches of this mighty tree have never been trimmed. The bottom limbs stretch close to the ground and the peak of the tree fills the view from the window on the second floor. A blooming lilac planted beside the dogwood provides a backdrop emphasizing the contrast of colors.

Although the sight of the tree is morning eye candy for me, it is a morning meal for a small friend in the garden, the tiger swallowtail butterfly.

To keep your dogwood trees as healthy as possible, make sure you mulch well, water during dry spells, prune dead branches and refrain from adding fertilizers that are heavy on nitrogen to promote growth. Anthracnose favors new growth.

A few days ago, I received this photo in an email of a pink dogwood, Cornus florida ‘Rubra’ that grows in Hudgins in Mathews County. It looks to be about 30′ tall but the height was not indicated in the email. It is absolutely gorgeous.  I’ll have to check this one out!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Morning After

The hum of chainsaws can be heard above the singing of the birds this morning in the Glen Roy area of Ware Neck following Saturday’s tornado that touched down in Gloucester County.  Ripping through 14 states, more than 243 twisters from a large-scale storm system moved through the Midwest ending up hitting North Carolina the hardest before tearing through areas of Virginia.

Today, main roads have been reopened in Ware Neck and power has been restored to the area for most residents. When you venture outside, you see people with chainsaws traveling out to assist their neighbors. Friends who were impacted in the Glen Roy neighborhood feel fortunate this morning that they are safe. Cleanup, rebuilding, replanting in Virginia is beginning as residents and officials come together to assist those impacted by the storms.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Early Spring Glory

It’s not a temperamental shrub. There’s no need to water, fertilize or plant it in rich soil. It blooms profusely in the shade. When the leaves turn pale yellow, then fall in winter, we are left with attractive green twigs throughout the cold months. Arrangers can snip branches for winter or summer flower arrangements.  And when you come upon a plant in the early spring garden, you cannot refrain from a gasp of delight at the showy rose-like blooms of yellow.

I planted my Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora,’ a pass-along plant from a friend, far from the house in the long shadows of a tall white pine where it rewards me all season long. It is one of the first welcomes to spring and dances in vibrant yellow among the daffodils, tulips and the contrasting reds of camellias.

Rosacea family (Japanese yellow rose)

It is named for William Kerr, a Scottish gardener at England’s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and a professional plant hunter sent to China in 1804 by the botanist St. Joseph Banks. Not only did he discover Kerria, he found other plants common to Virginia gardens: Euonymus japonicus, Pieris japonica, Nandina domestica, and the white-flowered Rosa banksiae, better known as the Lady Banks Rose, named for his patron’s wife.

I can imagine the excitement that this vivid ornamental shrub caused when it first arrived in England. It is an upright and arching shrub that eventually becomes more rounded as it ages.  It blossoms profusely in the early spring and sporadically all summer and fall. The bright green stems with their zig-zag pattern add interest to the winter landscape.

Yet it is a plant that is no longer eagerly sought out for the garden. Perhaps the ease of which it can be grown and propagated and the land needed to support the vigorous growth have caused it to fall out of favor today. I would suggest it as good choice as a landscape plant where it can be allowed to spread in magnificent drifts.

Other cultivars of Kerria include ‘Golden Guinea,’ notable for large single flowers of 2″ wide, ‘Picta,’ a variegated leaf variety, ‘Shannon,’ a more vigorous shrub, ‘Honshu,’ boasts the largest single flowers, ‘Albiflora,’ a newer cultivar with single white flowers.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

You Can Teach an Old Dog!

I grew up near fields of wildflowers, aka weeds, where siblings and friends played through endless summers. I ran through fields, made forts in tall grasses, played hide & seek, made dandelion chains to adorn our heads, necks and wrists, held buttercups under each others chins to see if we liked butter, made small projectiles from seed heads while chanting, “Mama had a baby and her head popped off,” picked burrs from my socks, blew dandelion seeds, got stung by nettles, and gathered flowers to take home that wilted before I reached the front door.

It was an on-site education and I thought I knew my weeds…but a recent educational email from Gloucester Master Gardeners set me straight on one weed.  I referred to a common pink-purple flowered weed as Henbit (lamium amplexicaule), when in fact there were two similar looking weeds that grow in the same areas. The other is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). I lumped the two together as all Henbit.  Now, looking at them together before the plants fully flower, I can clearly see the difference.  Thank you, Ellis Squires!

Purple Dead Nettle


The email from Ellis Squires follows:

“I am sure you have noticed the empty farm fields carpeted with purple this time of year.  To discover the cause, you may have to get down on your knees.  There are two plants responsible for these blazes of glory, both are of the same genus in the mint family, have opposite leaves, square stems and lipped flowers.


The first is called Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule and is a low-growing annual, growing to 4 to 10 inches tall, with hairy stems. The upper leaves are semicircular, clasping (which is what amplexus means) and opposite with a lobed margin. The pink to purple flowers are in whorls in the axils of the upper leaves. The buds are like little beads of royal purple. It is one of the earliest flowers to bloom and is an important nectar and pollen plant for bees and honeybees.  It is widely naturalized in eastern North America, where it may be considered to be an invasive weed.

The second species, which will take a dicerning eye to differentiate, is Purple Dead Nettle, Lamium purpureum, which is also native to Europe and Asia.  It grows to 3 to 10 inches in height. The leaves are finely haired, are green at the bottom of the stem, and purplish at the top. The short petiole on the pointed leaves is one way to tell it from unstalked leaves of Henbit.

Purple Dead Nettle

The bright red-purple flowers have a top hood-like petal, two lower lip petal lobes and minute fang-like lobes between. Bees also find this plant attractive for it is often the only nectar source available in the early spring.

Although it has the name nettle, and may look a little like a nettle, it is not related and does not contain the stinging hairs of the true nettle, and why it gets the name ‘dead’ nettle. The tops of young plants are edible, and can be used in salads or a stirfry, but don’t over-do it as the flavor may be a bit of an acquired taste.”

–Ellis Squires   (The Virginia Master Naturalist Program is a statewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities. Interested Virginians become Master Naturalists through training and volunteer service.)

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester