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.


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

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

A Walk in the Park

We’re lucky enough to have fabulous hiking trails at Beaverdam Park in Gloucester. Damming in 1990 created this 635-acre freshwater reservoir surrounded by hardwood trees and a multitude of flora and fauna. Well-maintained trails that circle and loop around the lake are multi-purposed. Hikers, nature walkers, joggers, bikers can be seen on any given day as well as riders atop their horses on certain trails.

mister gardener took the lead on this trip and we stuck to the 3-mile hiking nature trail that takes us across bridges, up inclines, down to the waterfront under the cool canopy of native trees.

Foot bridge over marsh

Along the way we saw many blooming natives such as the tick-trefoil or beggar’s lice, a woodland plant that most folks have had contact with at some time in their lives. The Velcro-like pods of the beggar’s lice is split into triangular legumes. When an animal, human or otherwise, brushes against the plant, the hairs on the seed pods grab onto its fur… or the clothing of a child or adult. I’ve learned from experience to make sure the seeds are peeled off socks before they are washed and dried since they survive both cycles and afterwards become almost impossible to remove.

Beggar's Lice with triangular seeds

The obedient plant or false dragonhead (Physostegia virginianais) we found growing along the banks of the lake.  These tight clusters of lavender/pink flowers grow on long spikes and are seen in moist ground along the edge of streams and marshes. The name ‘obedient’ is given because each flower of the plant can be pushed to and fro, up and down and from side to side and it will remain in that position.

Obedient Plant

Common inhabitants of the park are snakes, especially the rat snake, a constrictor of rodents and birds that is widespread in the northern hemisphere. Like the majority of snakes, it tends to be shy and will avoid being confronted. One identifying trait of the rat snake is the unusual kinks in its body when startled or confronted with danger.

Rat Snake: look for the white chin and throat for a positive ID

This is what mister gardener stepped over without seeing.  Sensing danger, it froze in place developing kinks along its body about every 2 inches. mister gardener allowed me to take the lead after the snake sighting.

Zigzag kinks in the body of a startled 5' rat snake

If you like fungus, it’s plentiful along the hiker’s trails at Beaverdam Park.

Paths are kept in good condition, the 3-mile hike is not difficult to traverse, inclines are slight, and there are plenty of benches to rest and enjoy the view across the water.  Many communities have similar parks and paths to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a rewarding way to appreciate all that nature provides for us.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Yellow Fever in Gloucester VA

We might have Yellow Fever in Gloucester at this time of year but daffodils certainly aren’t just yellow anymore. Fields of daffodils in shades of yellow, orange, red, white and pink have bloomed all across Gloucester County in preparation for the annual Daffodil Festival and the Garden Club of Gloucester’s Daffodil Show that was held last weekend. This was the Garden Club of Gloucester’s 61st Annual Daffodil Show, an American Daffodil Society accredited and judged show.

The show was a great opportunity to explore the many varieties of daffodils. If folks wanted to see antique daffodils as well as the newest varieties in all types of colors, shapes and sizes, last weekend was the perfect opportunity. Members of the club and Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs were on hand to assist novice exhibitors and answer questions about the 13 divisions of daffodils and share much enthusiasm about the show. Click the flowers for a closer view:

Daffodils will thrive just about anywhere in the garden except in deep shade. They do best with 6 – 8 hours of sunlight but can do well in light shade. They are practically maintenance free but appreciate a bit of compost when planted. A rule of thumb is to plant the bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is tall and add a little slow release fertilizer each fall after the first year’s bloom. After that, just sit back and enjoy.

At our daffodil show, not only horticulture is on display. There is an artistic flower arranging section that interprets a theme. This year, the theme revolved around colors of the rainbow with several styles of arranging from miniatures not over 5″, to Tussie-Mussies, to large Dutch-Flemish arrangements, and Landscape floral designs. There was a children’s arranging section, a photography contest, and a tabletop competition.

At the conclusion of the judging, it is exciting when the doors open and the crowds surge forward in anticipation of seeing the blue ribbon in each class as well as the best standard daffodil in the show and the best artistic arrangement in the show.

Winner of the American Daffodil Society Rose Ribbon for the best standard seedling in the show are Clay and Fran Higgins.

Winner of the Best Arrangement in the show, the Most Creative award, and the recipient of the People’s Choice Award is Cam Williams for her tabletop interpretation of ‘Whirlwind of Color’ with the table set for an intimate yet colorful dinner for Lady and the Tramp.

If you missed our Daffodil Show in Gloucester, it’s not too late to experience another in Virginia. On Wednesday April 6, 2011, 2:00 – 8 p.m. and Thursday April 7, 2011 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., visitors will be invited to be our guests at the 77th Annual Garden Club of Virginia’s Daffodil Show, sanctioned by the American Daffodil Society and located at the Holiday Inn, 601 Main Street, Lynchburg, VA.  Again, over a thousand blooms will be on display…. different varieties from those seen at our Gloucester show as there will be varieties that have not yet bloomed. The theme for the artistic flower arranging is ‘Everything Old is New Again.’ taken from the Broadway show All That Jazz. The title reflects the revitalization of old and notable properties in Lynchburg. Some of the most talented and creative members from forty-seven Garden Club of Virginia clubs will compete in an inter-club flower arranging challenge. It’s a visual experience not to miss.  Click HERE for more information.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Eat Your Flowers!

For me, it’s always around this time of year that winter seems to go on forever. I’m simply DONE with appreciating the lovely shapes and textures of a winter garden. I’ve been teased by a few warm days and I need to see flowers and I need to touch flowers and I need to plant flowers. But I had no idea I needed to taste flowers.

White chocolate mascarpone cups with rose water and candied violas

Fellow master gardener, Marion Baker of Duchess of Gloucester Flowers arranged an educational workshop on common garden flowers that are edible. I signed up early. Marion provided the flowers and the popular chef at Gloucester’s Inn at Warner Hall, Eric Garcia, prepared the mouth watering delicacies.  Just entering the room set for high tea, I was hit with a visual smorgasbord of color that cured my winter flower withdrawal at a glance.

Chocolate truffles rolled in lavender sugar

I learned that not only can your eyes appreciate the beauty of flowers in the garden, many of those same flowers can dress up and flavor the foods we eat. While Marion lectured us on flowers we can eat and those that are poisonous, how to harvest, how to keep our harvest fresh, and the dangers of pesticides, we were served tea and an array of flower-infused, garnished or tossed choice treats from the kitchen at Warner Hall.

Marion and Eric

While we sampled from the table, Marion gave us recipes, shared her abundant knowledge and Eric added great cooking tips. We asked many questions and shared stories and we ate and we learned and we sipped our tea. I was fulfilled. Now I think I can make it through the rest of the winter.

Some of the other delicacies served were:

-Cream cheese and edible flower mix on crackers

-Smoked salmon, Boursin cheese and edible flowers on crackers

-Cheese selection of smoked cheddar and paprika, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Wisconsin

-Pear, lavender and cornmeal cake topped with pears glazed in wildflower honey

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s Not Too Late for Fall Bulbs…

James Johnson, Gloucester County Buildings and Grounds

According to Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, it’s not too late to plant our leftover fall bulbs in our area. Matter of fact he told me he spent one entire day last weekend getting the last of his bulbs planted in his garden. As long as the bulbs are properly prepared, he said, it’s fine to plant them now. The blooms will try their best to bloom, maybe late the first year, but should be on schedule for the following year.

When he said bulbs need to be properly prepared, he meant that spring blooming bulbs need a period of dormancy in the cold in order to bloom in the spring.  When you plant your bulbs in the fall, Mother Nature provides the chilling for you but you have not kept your bulbs cold, you can chill them in the refrigerator for several weeks to replicate winter conditions. But never store the bulbs in the refrigerator with apples or pears, fruits that emit ethylene gases. This would adversely affect the flowering in the spring.

James carefully tends to the Katie Heath Garden

Confirmation that bulbs can be planted now was evidenced in Gloucester Courthouse this morning as I took my morning walk. Gloucester County employees were busy at work getting crates of tulips in the ground. These are a fraction of the bulbs that Brent and Becky donate each year for their community. James Johnson was busy adding hundreds of the lovely cultivar tulip, Menton, to the borders and gardens in the Courthouse area. The garden he was concentrating on this morning was begun years ago by Brent Heath to honor his mother, so James makes sure he takes the extra time to make this border one that would make Brent proud. He said the bulbs are “crying to be in the ground” and he was making that happen.

Eric pauses from planting bulbs

In borders like the one James was working on, mulch and compost were carefully pulled aside and the bulbs scattered over the ground, pointed end up. The mulch/compost was replaced and new shredded mulch was waiting to be raked over top. In other borders, holes were drilled with equipment and the bulbs were dropped into the holes, covered loosely, then topped with a nice layer of mulch. County employee, Eric takes great pride in the gardens and expressed much appreciation for Brent and Becky’s generosity. Because of them, Gloucester is known for her daffodils.

What fun it always is to stop and chat with fellow gardeners. Even though we may not know one another, gardening is a shared interest that facilitates friendship. Gardening is a universal language. Have you ever met a gardener who didn’t want to share their garden? I have not.

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

Historic Garden Week: Behind the Scenes in Gloucester VA


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

The Midas Touch

Whether the day begins overcast or not, golden sunbeams have flooded our bedroom each morning for the past week. Two male ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba) dominate the small pond garden just feet from our window and their fan-shaped leaves take on an luminous golden glow, a fall color second to none. We have watched for weeks as the bright green leaves began their fall journey turning faintly yellow at the tips, green slowly fading, and being replaced by more and more yellow. Many leaf-peepers and shutterbugs are awed by lemony ginkgo tree in fall landscapes, remarking that the color is too short-lived, the leaves all dropping within 24 hours. But we have developed a relationship with our ginkgos, watching the fall arrive slowly, reaching a crescendo of color lasting almost a week before it paints the ground, deck and pond in melted butter within a couple of days. Click photos to enlarge.

Another name for the ginkgo, this living fossil unchanged for 150 million years, is the Maidenhair tree,  some believe a name given to describe the parallel veins that fan outward like a maiden’s hair, but the resemblance to the pinnae of the Adiantum capillus-veneris or Maidenhair fern in fact gives the tree this nickname.  The species name, biloba, describes the split in the middle of the leaf, hence two-lobed.

Our two males command this area of the landscape, giving us essential shade in the summer and glorious color in the fall… but we cannot forget our smaller female ginkgo that continues to produce her pungent fleshy seeds each fall in another area of the yard. We allow these abundant seeds to germinate and the small trees we dig and share with anyone who expresses a desire to grow a living fossil, sex undetermined for 20 – 30 years. Today, cultivars like ‘Autumn Gold’  are created through grafting, splicing the cuttings from males on rootstock grown from seed.  And sadly, the tree is red-listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of Threatened Species due to the preference for the male ginkgo trees in the landscape.

If you live near me in Gloucester VA, I’d love to save a baby for your garden. Plant it away from public areas, especially sidewalks, just in case in 30 years, ‘he’ turns out to be a ‘she.’

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Woolly Bully…

Click for closeup view

I spied this autumn colored caterpillar making its way across the the pine needles and miniature thyme yesterday.  At first glance I thought it might be our most common banded woolly bear without the black bands encircling both ends, the size of which is said to predict a mild or severe winter. But it was not a banded woolly bear.

There are many species in the “woolly bear” or “woolly worm” family with the characteristic thick bristles that cover the caterpillar’s body. I am undecided which of two woolly bears our orange caterpillar is. Caterpillars can be tricky to identify because of their color variations but I believe this little visitor is either a salt marsh caterpillar, the larva of a Acrea moth (Estigmene acrea) or a yellow bear, the larva of a Virginian tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica).

Click to see a white Virginia tiger moth up close

The Yellow Bear is a fairly common Virginia tiger moth larva that is seen in the fall of the year as it crosses roads and paths seeking a spot for hibernation. The color of the yellow bear can vary from yellow to orange to almost black. The salt marsh caterpillar is common in our area and, in numbers, can be a pest in our vegetable gardens. None are invading our vegetables though. Both larvae develop into lovely and similar tiger moths. I gently picked the caterpillar up (carefully as the bristles can be irritating) and as characteristic of all woolly bears, it immediately curled into a tight ball as a protective measure. I reached down and allowed it to roll from my palm and it quickly made its way over and under the fall leaf litter.

During the summer months, I will often keep a light burning for a couple of hours at night to attract and study a wide variety of moths and insects that settle on the porch wall. The tiger moths are steady visitors, especially the Virginia Tiger Moth with its fuzzy white thorax and its fringed edges on the wings that open to reveal splashes of orange on the abdomen. Because I see so many of the moths at night, I’m leaning toward my visiting woolly bear being a yellow bear caterpillar, however, I’m hoping for a positive ID from someone out there.

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

I NEED A New Garden Shed

click to enlarge photos

After a Garden Club of Virginia trip to the Eastern Shore for a two-day visit through spectacular private gardens, I returned home with ideas and brainstorms and plans and visions for what my gardens could be. My mind was swirling with mental images of new designs, new plants I must have, and dreams of doing it all by myself.

First of all, I want to redesign my garden shed. Mine is a working shed. It smells a little too much like Holly Tone, tools line an entire wall, mud must be swept out regularly, and spooky spiders like to hang out in corners. The interior of the garden house I saw on the Eastern Shore is what I must have. It was a bit eclectic with an array of natural collections and yet it was peaceful and serene with the soft painted interior… walls, ceiling and floors… that provided the perfect background to showcase the garden collections. On the wall were penned thoughtful garden or natural world sayings by well-known people in history.

I looked around for a chair. There was no chair but if there had been a chair, a bit of soft music and a glass of wine, I might still be in that garden house. I think the owners left the chair out on purpose!  They knew visitors would fight over it.

Did I mention there was a chandelier?  Sigh.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Gardens, Gardens, Gardens in the Cotswolds!

The Cotswolds has some of the most beautiful gardens and landscapes anywhere and we were lucky enough to see four of them in a very short time. Our first stop was the nineteenth century landscape at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Over two thousand acres of park-like landscape with sweeping lawns surround the eighteenth century palace with lakes and bridges, a secret garden, a lovely rose garden and even a maze. ‘Capability’ Brown is credited with redesigning earlier formal landscaping into the more natural setting with clumps of trees, the 150-acre lake and meandering walkways.

Click photos to enlarge.

Nearby, the great Arts and Crafts style gardens of Hidcote Manor are the first to be fashioned as garden rooms. Designed by an American, Maj. Lawrence Johnston who eventually became a naturalized British citizen, the property was developed on high ground with planned vistas overlooking the Vale of Evesham. Johnston used strong separations with box hedges, yew, hornbeam, holly, beech, and stone walls to divide the garden rooms. The 10.5 acres of gardens include topiaries, a wonderful garden gazebo, numerous archways through a variety of materials both living and man-made, water gardens, herbaceous gardens and endless paths through formal and informal gardens.

Located very close to Hidcote Manor Gardens, the delightful gardens of Kiftsgate Court are built close to the edge of a deep embankment with commanding panoramic views of the half moon swimming pool below and beyond to the village of Mickleton.  An assortment of gentle paths lead down the Lower Gardens then back up through a woodland walk with fields of bluebells that are lovely beyond description. Other gardens fan out on high ground east of the manor house, separated by yew and copper beech hedges in colorful borders, a rose garden featuring the large Kiftsgate Rose (July blooming) and ending with the Water Garden.  Once containing the tennis courts, this pool is ornamented with a row of two dozen tall gilded metal stems and leaves that move in the wind and drip water every few minutes, a wonderful surprise garden for visitors and a perfect ending for our tour.

Our final garden visit was to the unique Arts and Crafts Rodmarton Manor Gardens. We were greeted by the owner who traveled with us through the Courtyard Garden, the Alpine Trough Garden, the Rockery Garden, beautiful herbaceous gardens and vegetable gardens, and the Topiary Garden, as well as beneath lime, birch, hornbeam, and numerous trees that were pollarded and pleached nearly a hundred years ago.

It’s been a dream trip through some of the loveliest gardens anywhere but now it’s time to get back to my own small garden and the Japanese Snowbell (Styrax japonica) trees that were loaded with flower buds at the time I left.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


While journeying through London, a quick stopover at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew was a welcome delight. Located on 300 acres, Kew Gardens sit beside the river Thames near Richmond. The gardens are a World Heritage Site with six magnificent glasshouses and are home to a remarkable collection of plants from all over the world including over 14,000 trees. Our group divided up with mine visiting the 19th-century Palm House, the woodland walk, and the tropical Princess of Wales Conservatory among other gardens. We had a wonderful volunteer guide who offered much insight into plant and garden history, science, and highlights of the season.

High points of the visit included the oldest potted plant in the world located in the Palm House. Less than a year ago, the South African cycad was carefully repotted and seems to be thriving in its larger pot. This cycad was just a seedling when it was brought to Kew from the Eastern Cape before our Declaration of Independence. It was moved into the Palm House in 1848 and has grown about 2.5 cm a year.

The Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), a native of the Philippines, is rapidly disappearing due to forest clearing.  The long hanging stems produce turquoise-colored wisteria-like flowers that are showstoppers. It has been growing at Kew for many years but until 1995 had not produced seeds until scientists leaned how to pollinate the flowers.

Continuing on our walk through the Woodland Garden, we traveled through velvety fields of Queen Anne’s Lace or Horse Parsley.

We strolled through lovely fields of azure blue woodland bluebells, native to the British Isles. Interesting, the woodland English bluebell is being slowly replace by the more dominate Spanish bluebell, the variety that we see in Virginia.

We stopped to admire the Dove tree (Davida involucrata) or Handkerchief tree as we call it. Known for its flower heads with a pair of white bracts at the base that function as petals on each bloom and hang beneath the level branches. The flowers are at their best in late May. They flutter in the wind like white doves, giving the tree its English name.

Finally, we ended with the tulip (tulipa batalinii), only 6-8 inches tall, native to Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkestan. It is named for Russian botanist Alexander Batalin (1847-1896), who provided the Kew Gardens with the first bulb in 1888.  It is available through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs .

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Keukenhof Gardens

It was cold, blustery and rainy when we visited the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam but we were quite warmed by the breathtaking colors in the bulbs, the shrubs and perennials in the over 80-acre garden.  Open only from March to May, the garden receives approximately 800,000 visitors from all over the world during these few short weeks. Approximately 7,000,000 bulbs have been planted by hand each year since 1949 by growers all over the Netherlands to exhibit their hybrids.

We spent the entire day here with Brent and Becky exploring the ten miles of paths and seven inspirational gardens, indoor exhibits, art exhibits, gift shops, flower arrangements, lakes, fountains and so much more. Despite inclement weather, the garden was quite crowded.  We saw people of all ages braving cold temperatures and drenching rain from babes in strollers to the elderly.  We shared their enthusiasm.

Click to enlarge photos.

The Netherlands

Today I am tiptoeing through the tulips in and around the historic village of Alkmaar, the Netherlands with Brent and Becky Heath of daffodil fame and with members of the Garden Club of Gloucester and friends. The brilliant fields of bulbs were visible from the air when landing in Amsterdam, then through the windows of our bus as we traversed villages to Alkmaar about 50 miles north.

muscari fields

The Heaths are well-known in this area and have used the grounds around here for raising and developing varieties of bulbs.  We are learning first hand knowledge of the manic tulip culture of 17th century Europe, the bloom that dominated culture for generations.

As we travel over the next few days, I will attempt to share photographs of beautiful gardens… although internet access is not readily available.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester



Brown-Headed Nuthatches have moved in….

Click to enlarge photo of nuthatch

I am overjoyed about the current residents of mister gardener’s newly constructed bluebird house. A few days before their arrival, I received a forwarded article from the Northern Neck Virginia Audubon Society on a study by Dr. Mark Stanback of Davidson College in Charlotte, NC.  The United States Golf Association Wildlife Links sponsored a two-year study of the importance of pine forests density and nesting competition between bluebirds and brown-headed nuthatches.

The study focused on golf courses where bluebird boxes were distributed. Dr. Stanback found that the density of pines had little to do with nest competition between both species yet his studies found that the small nuthatches are attracted to the bluebird boxes. Bluebirds would routinely evict resident nuthatches from boxes with the standard 1.5” bluebird openings. When the openings were reduced to 1.25”, too small for bluebirds, the nuthatches in North Carolina were regular bluebird box occupants.

I’ve had year-round brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) for the past three years and they nested somewhere in the pine forests. But just as I read about Dr. Stanback’s study, here they are going in and out of the new bluebird chapel in the azalea border.  But what’s this?  In and out were the neighborhood bluebirds, too. We needed to take immediate action. Mister gardener quickly overlaid a 1.25” opening atop the 1.5” opening. Like magic, it worked.  Mr. and Mrs. brown-headed nuthatch are nesting. The bluebirds still sit on the steeple and leave their messy calling cards but they can no longer enter the nests. UPDATE: Dr. Stanback has notified me that he is now advising 1″ openings, rather than 1.25″, to discourage sparrows. We will make a new 1″ opening as the 1.25″ can also allow titmice, the only birds we see the nuthatches chase from the area.

Dr. Stanback’s study concluded with an encouragement to golf courses in the nuthatch distribution range to make a subset of course boxes with smaller entrance holes and that 1/3 of the current bluebird boxes be provided with small holes. The brown-headed nuthatch is in decline in the Southeast.  Always thought to be caused by the loss of old grown pine, this study offers a different hypothesis: competition with the burgeoning Eastern Bluebird population is causing the decline of the brown-headed nuthatch.  Well, well, well….

USGS Patuxuent Wildlife Research Center -Brown-Headed Nuthatch Range

The Virginia Bluebird Society offered the following supportive statement on their website:  “Considering the availability of inch hole spacers, the current health of the bluebird population and the plight of the nuthatch, it seems reasonable to ask bluebirders in appropriate habitat in eastern Virginia to dedicate a subset of their nest boxes to this dull colored but charismatic cooperative breeder.”

Our bluebirds in Ware Neck are plentiful and bluebird boxes dot the landscape on our property and across the county. I am thrilled to learn of this latest study. The proof that it works is right in our own backyard and I encourage others who have an empty bluebird house and the brown-headed nuthatch in their yard to give this a try.  It worked for us. Thank you, Dr. Stanback!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Ready, Set…. SHOW!

"Geranium" - Click to enlarge photos

Daffodils are the first flowers to bloom each spring, bringing us  a sea of yellow drifts throughout Gloucester County.  Whether they are planted in a flower garden or naturalized in a field, their presence brings joy to all.  It’s a flower we can simply plant and forget for it is one of the easiest to grow.  But there are some growers who are serious about the daffodil and devote much time to growing the perfect specimen and entering their blooms in competition at daffodil shows. Growers will get that chance this weekend. The Garden Club of Gloucester is primed and ready to present their 60th Annual Daffodil Show on Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28 at Page Middle School on Rt. 17 in Gloucester. The show is sanctioned by The American Daffodil Society and is open to the public.  Green Offerings are accepted.

Putting on a flower show takes Herculean effort but the Garden Club of Gloucester is a well-oiled machine with members following a trusted time line the day before the show.  Steady streams of husbands in trucks transport equipment from storage to the cavernous gymnasium of the school where members and husbands are ready for setup.  Every member is assigned a task and in no time, they have created the staging.  In less than 24 hours, the room will be transformed into a floral wonderland of horticulture and artistic arrangements.

The chairmen have selected ‘Birds In Flight’ as the artistic theme this year. Novice and experienced arrangers will enter flower arranging competitions in several classes depicting a variety of feathered friends. There is a class for children, one just for men and a timed challenge class for adventuresome arrangers. Each of our members performs several duties from food preparation, clerks and runners for the judges, setting up supplies for the exhibitors, registering exhibitors and arrangers, tabulation and recording the judges’ choices,  assisting novice exhibitors, working with the children and much more.

After experiencing daffodils on a personal level for two days, the show closes and tear-down by members and husbands begins efficiently and swiftly.  Risers, covers, test tubes, blocks and truckloads of equipment are packed and transported by trucks for storage to await the 61st Annual Daffodil Show in 2011. For more information on the show, visit the Parks and Recreation website.

Shortly after the Gloucester show, the Garden Club of Virginia’s 76th Annual Daffodil Show takes place on Wednesday and Thursday, April 7 & 8, at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar. The complex task of putting on a state show will be performed by the Hillside Garden Club with the theme for the 2010 ADS show, ‘The James Runs Through It,’ reflecting the significance of the James River to the history of Lynchburg and Amherst.  This club will mirror our set-up and take-down and numerous jobs on a larger and more complex scale. Their space will be transformed into a seemingly endless variety of colors, shapes, sizes and fragrances of daffodils and artistic arrangements.  This will be an experience not to miss. The show is open to all daffodil growers and exhibitors but there are sections that are open only to Garden Club of Virginia members in club competitions. For more information on the Garden Club of Virginia’s Daffodil Show, visit the GCV website. The show is open to the pubic. A Green Offering will be accepted.

We invite you to stop by and experience both daffodil shows and we encourage you to think about entering your daffodil(s) in a show.  It is fun, it is easy, and we guarantee it will be painless.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Azalea Gardens of Art and Betty White, Gloucester VA

Whites' Azalea GardenThese spectacular azalea gardens were created by Art and Betty White on the North River in Gloucester.  In the dappled light of loblollies and dogwoods, the Whites have created a natural wonderland of hundreds of mature azaleas and rhododendrons in a riot of colors.  Gentle paths lead to small ‘rooms’ inside the gardens where one can linger on benches to enjoy the splash of colors and individual blossoms. The Whites have generously opened their garden to friends each spring and have twice opened for HGW.  Over the years they have delighted in using their garden as a teaching tool to pass on their special propagation techniques to a multitude of gardeners.  Betty is a member of the Garden Club of Gloucester.

Whites' azaleas Whites' azaleasWhites' AzaleasWhites' AzaleasWhites' Azaleas

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester