Christmas in Williamsburg VA

A little nostalgia today as I am thinking about Christmas in my hometown of Colonial Williamsburg VA and re-posting some photos of the holiday decorations from 2010. It’s such a exciting time of the year with CW residents and shops participating in a decorating contest. All materials in the wreaths are found locally and would have been available to colonists. What fun it is for tourists and hometown folks to walk the ‘DOG’ (Duke of Gloucester Street) and marvel at the original, the simple, the complex, the large, and the small adornments on homes and stores. Enjoy!

Click photos for close-ups.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg. Doors, windows, gates and walls are trimmed with wreaths and swags fashioned from natural materials. Magnolia leaves, boxwood, holly, pine, dried flowers, wheat, cotton, fruit, berries, cones and more form the foundation for creative and artistic decorations that provide a treat for visitors and inspiration for making our own holiday adornments. Here are a small sampling of the 2010 holiday trimmings.

Preparations for Moving…

It’s interesting how a few words revolving around moving are the same ones used in gardening: uprooting, transplanting, pull up stakes, putting down roots. Very soon we will be doing all that as we find new homes for potted plants, dividing and sharing poets laurel from the garden.  But then, we’re also busy interviewing moving companies, talking to real estate agents in Portsmouth, finding new homes for household items, and tying off  loose ends in the community.

Ware Neck

The tying off loose ends is the most difficult task. Although I’ve resided in Florida and Ohio where work took the family, then finally coming back to Virginia, where I was born and raised, the home of my ancestors and where much family lives, felt like fitting the last piece in the puzzle. It is Home. The importance of a physical place and relationships cannot be understated because it makes us who we are. But we will be taking it all with us, not leaving anything behind.  Family, friendship and experiences.

North River

All will be making the move to New Hampshire with us. They will be there on frosty winter mornings as I sip my coffee from the mug imprinted with the Virginia Creed, ” To be a Virginian either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one’s Mother’s side, is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from Above.”—Anonymous

Coastal Color

Fall colors in our coastal Virginia landscape are fairly muted. We have splashes of oranges and yellows highlighting the woods and gardens and umpteen dogwood trees providing deep red accents under the pines. Soon the leaves will fall from these dogwood leaving a single bud standing erect at the tip of each twig containing the flower and two sets of leaves waiting to emerge in the spring.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Yellows are our prevailing fall color around these parts. The soft shades of yellow against the dark trunks repeat every year and we never tire of walking or driving beneath them.

Yellows on our road...

There are several trees around the yard that dazzle us with color and seem to glow in the sunlight like bright fluorescent bulbs. Two of our maple varieties are fall standouts:

Japanese cutleaf maple

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

…and my all time favorite trees, the ginkgoes that never fail to put on a spectacular display just for us.

Ginkgo biloba

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

There’s a Spring in my Step!

I’m always a bit melancholy when a season ends. Summer blooms in the garden have faded and died back. Borders look a little disheveled and untidy. Perennials seem to turn brown overnight.

By mid-November in Virginia, it’s a different story. It’s autumn now, my favorite season, and that always puts a spring in my step. Morning chills in the air, blustery winds swirling leaves, and low humidity give me a boost of energy and entice me out for lots of autumn walkabouts. I have engaged in walks with different groups of friends on village streets, on long country lanes, through browning meadows, and on dirt trails. When invited, I have accepted invitations with some walkers who may stop to smell the roses, others who never pause, some who are seeking the arrival of migrating birds, and those who are training for walking half marathons (whew!).  But it’s all good.

Walking by Brent & Becky's Bulbs in the fall

I think the most entertaining fall strolls I have are with my 4-legged friends simply kicking through the maple leaves together and beating the bounds on this property. The canines are invigorated by the end of heat and humidity of the Dog Days of Summer. Daylight Savings Time has ended and we have returned to a more normal time that I like so much better. All is well.

We will enjoy this glorious season of autumn, relishing the sunny days, the blue sky, colorful leaves, the feeling of harmony with nature, before we drift our way on to winter with its gray skies and freezing rain. Again I will be sad to see a season leave. Autumn has been a delight!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Bowls and Doileys in the Garden

Yesterday I awoke to a cool and foggy morning in Gloucester. Until the sun rose to burn it off, the river was shrouded in a thick cloud of moisture, a haze that left the landscape laden in a covering of morning dew. This heavy dew is a frequent occurrence in the fall in Tidewater and it’s a perfect time to check out the almost invisible world of miniature spiders.

Morning fog

There are hundreds of sheet web spiders (Linyphiidae) but one tiny sheet web spider interests me most. The Bowl and Doily Spider (Frontinella communis), found everywhere in the Eastern US, goes unnoticed on a dry day.  Just take a look at what we can see on a dew laden morning.

Bowl and Doily Spider Webs

These tiny webs are named for the unique shapes that the spider weaves. There are two levels to the web, an non-sticky upper area known as the bowl and a lower area called the doily. The spider that lives in the web is found underneath the bowl upside down. Entomologists believe the doily is to protect the spider from enemies below and the bowl may protect it from above. There are ‘trap lines’ that connect all parts of the web to the plants. Although I’ve never seen an insect trapped in the bowl, it’s been said that the Bowl and Doily Spider will bite an insect through this web, then it wraps the prey (mosquitoes, gnats, small flies, aphids) in silk.

Bowl and Doily Spider Web in Dew

I often lean close trying to spot the spider between the sheets of web. But I think I must disturb a trap line and the spider disappears before I can focus my eyes or a camera. We’re talking about a web of three or four inches and a spider about 4 mm in length.

However, I did get lucky this time and captured a fuzzy photo before the little one scampered away.

Bowl and Doily Spider (click for closer look)

In areas of Maine, the native Bowl and Doily Spider is under threat from an extremely aggressive European spider, the Palearctic spider (L. triangularis) that was accidentally introduced into the US. It is overtaking the webs of several varieties of sheet web spiders. The dominant L. triangularis is leading to a decline in spider biodiversity in areas of Arcadia National Park. No one can predict what will happen, but lets hope those aggressive invaders don’t like the climate in Virginia.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

They fibbed….

My grandfather loved roses. He grew beautiful prize-winning roses. My mother, a knowledgeable gardener, followed suit and grew roses for pleasure. But NEVER, EVER did I want a rose garden. I witnessed the time it took my mother to tend to her roses, examining leaves for fungus or insects, pruning, deadheading, picking off the Japanese beetles and plunking them into soapy water. (She never knew that when she walked away I dumped them out and rinsed them with the hose. Playing with Japanese beetles was great entertainment for a youngster with no TV, video games or smart phones in the late 50’s)

Years ago, a landscape designer friend opened the back of her car and unloaded 3 healthy red single Knock Out roses (Rosa x ‘Knock Out’) for me. “You must have these,” she said. “Disease resistant, insect resistant, no deadheading, no pruning, blooms all summer….  Carefree!”  I was grateful and appreciative but I was a little reluctant and wary. Carefree, indeed….

Carefree and continuous blooming were the two thoughts that stayed with me as I planted the three rose bushes center stage in my sunniest garden. The instructions read, “….compact plant, 3-4 feet tall and wide.”  I played it safe and planted a little further apart, two side by side and one slightly angled behind.

That was that. For two years, they were true to form. They did bloom heavily from June to Thanksgiving or until a killing frost. The shape of the shrub was naturally round. I never deadheaded. I never pruned. Japanese beetles visited occasionally but did not swarm. No black spot. No mildew. No aphids. I got compliments. I beamed. Eventually this became my new ‘Red Garden.’

Just as the directions read, they reached 3 feet tall after a year, then 4 feet tall the next summer, but they continued to grow…. 5 feet, 6 feet, 7, 8, 9, 10 feet tall. Eventually two grew together appearing as one massive bush. They have withstood hurricanes, salt water spray, Nor’easters, and an earthquake, and they’re still growing. I do not prune. I do not spray. I do not deadhead and I don’t fertilize.

They ‘fibbed’ about the 4 foot height but it’s all good: It is a favorite hangout for birds in the garden; I have lovely cut flowers from June to Thanksgiving; they provide great curb appeal as people point and ask about them before getting out of their cars; and this summer they provided a profusion of blooms as a backdrop for a wedding reception and photographs.

K.I.S.S. in the garden. What more could a gardener want?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Just in time for Halloween…

….. we bring you Jack-O-Lanterns from Keene, NH. Last week the community celebrated their 21st annual Keene Pumpkin Festival with a parade, fireworks, pumpkin bowling, food, crafts, music and the famous three-story high Jack-O-Lantern Tower. Visitors from all across North America and as far away as Japan, England, and Australia swarmed to this small city of 23,000 to have some good old fashioned fun. “Don’t come to Keene without your pumpkin,” said festival official as a friendly competition is always in the works with Boston for the world record for most lit Jack-O-Lanterns in one place. Keene held the record until 2006. But the festival is more than a competition. It’s all about community involvement, fellowship and tons of fun.

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere!

Creativity!

Real talent!

Friend Nat's Jack-O-Lantern

Punk Jack or Vampire Jack?

Our son's toothy contribution...

Tower of thousands of lit Jacks end the festivities

The fall season was in full swing last week when I received these festival iPhone photos from our son in college in NH.

That was then. This is now.

Twenty-two inches of snow was dumped on the community yesterday. A festival today would have to be named ‘Frozen Pumpkin Festival.’ Timing is everything.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Hot Spot in the Garden

It’s been just over a year since we experienced a severe heat wave in Tidewater when temperatures topped 106˚ for several days in a row.  I survived only because I could escape to the comfort of the home but the garden suffered greatly. Water wasn’t enough to help in some cases. The worst casualty was a section of a bed of juniper (Juniperus c. ‘Blue Pacific‘) that endured the baking sun from sunrise to sunset.

Since I did not want to subject more junipers to this less than ideal location in the garden, I looked around for something else to fill the hot and dry bare spots. Sedum! Of course! Most sedums love the sun and will tolerate our coastal exposure. There are about 400 different species of sedum out there to choose from but I was attracted to Sedum ‘Gold Mound’ with its bright green needle-like foliage. It’s a low growing spreading sedum that will fill spaces around rocks or garden objects with soft mounds.

Gold Mound grows to about 8-10 inches tall and is relatively pest and disease free. This summer it spread gracefully around rocks, mingled beautifully with tuffs of grasses and has integrated with the surviving juniper creating contrasting shades of green. By the end of the summer, the sedum had snuggled into almost every crevice and was a focal point in this little garden. Garden objects and large rocks brought from other borders around the yard found their way to these bright green mounds, the happiest of whom is Peter who stands tall over the sedum welcoming visitors to the garden.

Peter

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A River Runs Through it….

Yesterday, 32 members, family and friends of the Garden Club of Gloucester completed Stage II of a three year commitment to bring “A River of Blooms” to Ware Academy in Gloucester. Last year the club began the project by planting over two thousand bulbs and this year we added another two thousand bulbs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs located just a stone’s throw from the school.

Temperatures were brisk when the first trucks arrived with compost that was spread 2″ thick over the designated area. Borrowed from Brent and Becky was a metal grid that was pressed into the compost to show squares where single bulbs would be needed. Members were assigned to an area and gently eased the bulbs into the compost. More compost, then a cover of shredded pine bark mulch spread across the top finished the job.

Saint Keverne, Ice Follies, Primeur, Salome, Hillstar daffodils will continue the river of February Gold, Geranium, Pink Charm, Ice Follies, and Tripartite planted last year. We expect all to be in bloom when we invite the public to the Garden Club of Virginia’s 78th Annual Daffodil Show at Ware Academy in Gloucester on Thursday and Friday, March 29-30. We hope many will plan to stop by the show and be a witness to a room full of daffodils… all shapes, colors and sizes. Brent and Becky will also have a  display of the best of the best daffodils from their gardens. Awe and amazement are guaranteed.

Ware Academy is located on John Clayton Memorial Highway conveniently located between Gloucester Courthouse and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Baby Turtle Passing Through..

… on its way to hibernation. This juvenile Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), shell still a bit soft from a late summer hatching, was found among the lavender plants as I was weeding recently. October is when cooler weather advances and turtles begin to prepare for hibernation. They will have a reduced intake of food and become less active before moving into leaf litter and excavating a shallow hole in the earth.

Juvenile Eastern Box Turtle

Juvenile box turtles‘ diet consists mainly of insects at this stage of life. I offered this little guy a worm and a cricket but he had no interest. So I walked him away from the garden and far away from the dangerous lawn that mister gardener mows with the tractor, all the way to the big woods. The ground was thick with leaf litter and I was sure this would be a safer hibernation spot.

In the spring when the rains appear, vegetation begins to green and the gardens are abloom, he will poke his nose through the cool earth and embark on his journey of life.  I wish him well.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Douglas Tallamy visits Richmond

“Plants and animals are the rivets that hold our ecosystem together,” says Douglas Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Tallamy speak to Garden Club of Virginia horticulture chairmen and state board members in Richmond today and his message was a challenge to gardeners and homeowners in the room to evaluate our own yards and plant more native plants to sustain wildlife and promote biodiversity.

Americans seem to love lawns, yet if they would simply replace the grass in 50% of their lawns with native plants, he added, we would create a 20 million-acre park that would go far in attracting birds and other wildlife back into our gardens.

As gardeners we often choose lovely plants that are both non-native and pest free, however insects are what we want and non-natives do nothing for them. Bring back the insects with native plants and trees and we will attract the birds, the frogs and toads, the skinks, etc. to this insect food source. Bird populations are on the decline, a fact linked directly to habitat.

It’s not the berries that the birds need, it’s the insects with high protein and fats. Over 90% of birds exist on a diet of insects while winter and migratory birds eat seeds.

Tallamy stressed that we all have an important role in making a difference to sustain wildlife and biodiversity. Share your space. Plant natives, folks!

For more information on this topic or to order his book, Bringing Nature Home, visit Dr. Tallamy’s website where he offers much guidance and advice. Lists of woody and herbaceous plants that support life and the number of insects it supports are included on the site. A surprise to me was the oak tree, # 1 on the list, that supports 534 different caterpillars!  Plant oak trees, folks!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

And then there was one….

Migration is winding up for most Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in our area. As children, our mother told us that the hummers begin their journey on September 15 to Central America and Mexico for the winter months. She was always right within a day or two.

This year, the majority of our adult male hummingbirds left prematurely when Hurricane Irene roared up the coast at the end of August. We were left with 30 – 40 adult females and juvenile males. By the end of September, we had about a dozen hummingbirds. Last week we had two adult females at the feeder. Today, October 16, we have one lone female. Food is scarce in the garden but I see her hovering at blooms on honeysuckle vine, rosemary plant, and the abelia and loropetalum woody shrubs.

Every few days, I clean the feeder and give her fresh nectar. I wonder how she feels having all the nectar she wants without being attacked, challenged or having to contend with any aggressive activity around the feeder. I watch her checking the heavens every few seconds for incoming hummers but no bombardment comes. I think when she decides to leave town, she’ll be the fattest hummer of all.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s a small, small, small world…

I have a few aphids on some of my beautiful Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum ‘Becky), daisies that have flowered profusely throughout the summer. I know aphids can overtake and cause havoc in the bed of daisies but I needed to know how much of a problem I had.

Shasta daisies

Insects buzzed and circled around my head yesterday as I knelt to check out the aphids that traveled along stems beneath the blooms. These insects will suck the sap out of leaves, tender stems and the flowers, and they will transmit diseases like fungus and mold. I saw no signs of wilting leaves or buds. And I saw very few aphids. Now the question, “Should I treat these flowers with an insecticide?” That’s a question that every gardener faces when insect pests invade their gardens. Insecticides would certainly take care of the aphids, but….

… what damage would the insecticide do? The answer to that question comes by observing your garden. There is a small world of insects living there, good ones and pests. Insecticides will kill all insects, benign insects as well as insects that are the natural predators of pests such as ladybugs, praying mantis, assassin bugs, spiders and more.  Let’s take a closer look at the small world around these daisies.

Hover Fly – click photo

The hover fly is a common fly in our area. It gets its name from their ability to hover in midair, then dart here and there, sometimes backwards. The adult does not sting and feeds on pollen and nectar and they are important pollinators but their larvae are very important predators of aphids, thrips, and other caterpillars. These are excellent insects for the garden. Insecticides would eliminate them.

Green Bottle Fly – click

The green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), also called a blowfly, is a scavenger of all things decomposing and will lay eggs in carrion, thus cleaning up what other animals cannot eat. Unless this fly invades your house or garbage and causes problems, it is not a threat to humans in the garden. It’s a natural pollinator attracted to the nectar of the daisy.

miniature ants – click photo

Almost too small to be identified as ants by my eyesight, the camera zoomed in on these miniature ants who are after food, too. These are benign insects that do no harm to the daisies and are food for other insects and birds.

 Skipper Butterfly – click photo

This little butterfly could be the Yehl Skipper (Poanes yehl), a fairly uncommon skipper that is seen along the coast at this time of year, but I prefer my IDs to be confirmed by an expert. This fella would be done in by an insecticide.

Soldier Beetle – click photo

This soldier beetle or Pennsylvania leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) is a cousin to the lightning bug. They are common in the garden and beneficial as a pollinator and a predator of aphids and other small insects.

sweat bee – click photo

A variety of bees visited the daisies and we all know we need those pollinators. Although the sweat bee can be a nuisance when it seeks out the salt in our sweat, it is considered a benefit in the garden due to pollination.

mystery insect – click photo

These tiny insects were unknown to me. These winged insects were the size of pepper flakes to the naked eye. I watched them through the camera lens become the meal of a few hungry crab spiders that lived around the petals.

The answer to the original question about insecticides is IPM (Integrated Pest Management). IPM is a sustainable method of management using biological, cultural, physical and some chemicals to minimize environmental damage. Using a insecticide for the aphids indiscriminately will have a negative and damaging effect on all insects that depend on this small ecosystem for life.  Because there is no sign of damage to the plants and the insects are a part of the food chain for predator insects, I will allow the aphids to live in the daisy bed and permit the natural system to work. But I will monitor the flowers for signs of disease or damage. If I must interfere, I will learn about the life cycle of the insect, how best to control it physically, such as picking off or pinching the colonies to kill them. My next step will be to spray soapy water beneath the blooms. And if all else fails, the very last attempt would be a careful use of pesticides, preferably the newer natural pesticides derived from botanicals.

It’s better to become familiar with IPM techniques and implement a regular monitoring program before using any biological controls. Read more about IPM here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Women Are Better….

… at choosing, arranging and tending to flower gardens, that is according to a 2011 poll by Roundup (ugh!) of 2,000 Brit gardeners.  Men agreed they were better suited for cutting the grass, looking after the vegetable garden, minding the patio and decking. They also admitted they were better at fixing and painting fences, digging and preparing the ornamental gardens beds, building a garden house or a greenhouse.

mister gardener’s fence and vegetable garden

Women gardeners, on the other hand, acknowledged they were more skilled in the area of choosing plants, laying out the landscape plan and taking care of the flowers. They are more skilled at planting hanging baskets and choosing garden ornaments. Do you think the study would have the same results in the good old USA? According to ME, strengths in our gardens seem to be divided along these same lines.

Ann’s playground

Whether men are better or not at gardening is irrelevant. I don’t think we are any better. I think they are just darn smart. Although the planning, buying and planting is great fun, it’s the weeding, trimming, deadheading that takes the most time. The Roundup survey found that tending the garden is the most consuming job with the average gal Brit spending about 9 hours a month making sure the garden is weed free, watered and trimmed. By the time I’ve filled three wheelbarrows with weeds and debris, mister gardener has finished his veggie garden maintenance, showered and sitting with a glass of wine watching me work.  Smart fella.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s a Berry nice fall…

The last few mornings in Tidewater have been crisp and there’s no denying that fall has arrived. Most gardeners agree that one of the best parts of a fall garden are the colorful berries on shrubs and trees. Birds are migrating like crazy on this property and enjoying the berries as much as I am. They are filling their tummies with tons of berries and I am filling my mind with the beauty of a wide array of colors, shapes and sizes. Many plants for this landscape were selected just for the berries they produce. Here are a few in the garden today:

Poet's Laurel (Danae racemosa)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Alba')

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

Other fall berries that I admire in my gardens are clusters of tiny blue berries on our Southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), red coral honeysuckle (Lonicera semperviens) berries, bumpy red berries of the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa chinensis), several varieties of cotoneaster with masses of berries that are still green, numerous viburnums, foster’s holly that cedar waxwings adore, red plump berries of the female Aucuba japonica, showstopper berries on several winterberries (Ilex verticillata), and one of the loveliest but a weed is the pokeberry, this one already picked clean of almost all berries by hungry birds.

Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana)

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s so wet that….

….. new zinnias sprouted on top of the spent bloom in a friend’s garden! The tiny new plants can be seen in the center of the photo on the brown flower bloom. We’ve experienced an extremely wet fall. Mushrooms, mold, algae are sprouting everywhere but this is the first time I’ve seen zinnia seeds sprouting before dropping from the bloom. Mother Nature doesn’t plan for it to happen that way.


Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Singing in the rain…

Lured by insects flying around the light outside my office at night, my once evening-only visitor now lives on the window 24 hours a day. It’s been a wet fall and this bright green amphibian, the American Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea), need not seek moist crevices during the drying sunlight because we’ve not seen the sun of late. Monsoon-like rains, local flooding, and storms seem to be the daily forecast for us in Tidewater.

Click for closeup of the American Green Tree Frog

It’s been a banner year for these frogs in the garden as well.  Green tree frogs of all sizes rest contentedly during the day on dew laden leaves and vegetation while I carefully work around them. These frogs are one of the most common amphibians of the southeast and most of us are familiar with them, if not visually, we surely know them by their nightly calls during mating season. For such a tiny fellow, 1.25 to 2.25 inches, their loud ‘queenk or quonk’ can feel deafening on a humid Tidewater evening. Their diet consists of insects… crickets, flies, worms, beetles, mosquitoes, and those fat juicy moths that flutter around the outdoor lamp at night.

I have enjoyed the antics of the visitor to my office window. He’s quite accustomed to my presence.  And while slowly climbing toward hapless moths around the evening light, he is tolerant of me following inches behind with a rather large camera.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester