Celebrating Thanksgiving

pumpkin in snow!It’s so accepted these days to have all your Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving but it’s hard for me to join the holiday rush.

I want to savor Thanksgiving with all the orange pumpkins and colorful gourds and our family. Our Thanksgiving table centerpiece is built from shades of fall with some dried seed heads from the garden I gathered in warmer weather.

This year I’m sticking to the Thanksgiving theme indoors but the overripe pumpkins had to go. We have cold weather and snow and more of it as the days pass. It’s nonstop snow today. The landscape and roads are snow covered and it looks more like Christmas than Thanksgiving outdoors.

So I broke with tradition this year, pulled out my pumpkins, gourds, and fall decor that filled the urn at our entry and replaced all that with a small pine tree. I’ll notIMG_7782 add any holiday adornment to the tree until after Thanksgiving. The big metal turkey still stands guard out in the snow.

Today we have family arriving by cars and plane. Until we shuttle everyone to their destinations later today, the kitchen is being used to make pies and a number of other snacks, deserts, and sides that can be made early and refrigerated or frozen.

Cranberry sauce, chess pies, stuffing, salad dressing recipes all come from family sources… siblings, parents, grandparents… a few recipes that have been used for generations. Several years ago, with much help and input from six siblings, I collected our family favorites and printed them in a little book for any family member who wanted one. Of course they all did and so did a few neighbors and friends. Recipes have become much more healthy online today but somehow we love to go back and use the recipes from the old South with too much butter, bacon, mayonnaise, sugar, and salt. Memories…

OIMG_7788n the cover of the cookbook, I chose a photo of my parents as I remember them back when I was a youngster. Sorry that my dad was not living when I completed the project but my mother loved the book with lots of memories and photos of her, our dad, and their brood.

At the back, I added pages of childhood photos of all seven siblings growing up in a much simpler time. It’s my children and grandchildren who love the recipes and the snippets of fun and humorous memories from each each of their aunts and uncles that accompany every recipe they remembered best. It is fun how the youngest sister remembered chewing on the flavorful strings after our mother cut them from around the Sunday roast, or a brother remembered selling soft shelled crabs he caught at our summer cabin just off the Chesapeake Bay to the highest adult bidder… after letting our mother have first choice, of course.

I’d like to think those years were golden years when children were given much more freedom to venture forth and discover the world on foot, on bikes, or even in the rowboat at our summer cottage. As long as we were home when the dinner bell rang, it was all good.  If you watch the PBS Masterpiece program, The Durrells in Corfu, you’ll get a sense of our lives and the freedom we had growing up. Controlled chaos with lots of animals! It was a very good thing!

Witches Broom

It was a chilly day back in January, 2015, when my siblings and I received an email from our sister, the Curator of Collections at Historic Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. On this historic stretch of land, she spied a dense mass hanging from a loblolly pine tree (Pinus taeda) on the edge of the James River.

“Can someone please tell me what that almost round ball of living needles in the tree is?” she wrote.

A brother answered, “Mistletoe?”  A sister answered, “Do you think a squirrel is living in there?”

I was fairly certain what it was…. “It’s a witches broom!” And I was excited to see it. A witches broom is an abnormal growth in a tree and can occur on a number of conifers and deciduous trees but seems to be most often spotted in pines. It is caused by numerous stress factors…. fungi, bacteria, viruses, mites, genetic mutations and several other factors and they can originate on different sections of a tree. This one developed on a terminal bud of a lower limb of the pine.

Loblolly

Most people just prune out the infected branches in their landscape but there are a number of folks who search for these genetic mutations in pines to propagate dwarf conifers. These witches broom hunters will harvest the growth by climbing a tree and cutting it out, using a shotgun to snap the limb, or by cutting down the entire tree. With a little luck and expertise, the broom can produce slow-growing and dense dwarf trees either by grafting to rootstock or from seeds.

At the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh North Carolina, dwarf loblolly pines have been successfully grown from seeds in cones from witches brooms. Planted from 1964 to 1967, the dense, slow-growing dwarf loblolly pines have ornamental value. Hard to find, but the ‘Nana’ seedlings are available.

“Can you reach it?” I asked my sister.

“No, it’s too high up and over the river.”

“Well, keep an eye on it…” I said. “If it falls, let me know.”

And so she watched the mass for 3 years and sent me pictorial updates through all the seasons and all weather conditions.

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In this sunny day photo below, I could see the presence of pine cones in the mass… a good sign as seeds from the cones have a better chance of developing into dwarf plants.

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Last week the witches broom finally fell. A colleague at work, also keeping an eye on the growth, discovered it and reported it to my sister… who called the local cooperative extension agent…. who put the word out.

The broom was happily collected by Bradley Roberts, Curator of Herbaceous Plants at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and a member of the American Conifer Society. He will try to propagate it.

Another fun horticulture adventure ends for us. Now we wish all the best to Bradley as he begins his adventure in propagating Historic Jamestown dwarf loblolly pines!

 

Just south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Oh boy, was it fun to connect with my “roots” in Virginia for several days. My adorable niece was married last Saturday in Richmond.  mister gardener and I flew down for the lovely event and extended our stay to catch up with family (and plant life) just below the Mason-Dixon Line in the Piedmont area of Virginia.

The horizon was totally green under hazy skies as we descended for landing, trees fully leafed out, green, green, green, way ahead of the landscape in New Hampshire. That always amazes me. It’s just an hour and 20 minutes by plane.

Richmond VirginiaWe generally drop our luggage at the home of one of my brothers and wife in Richmond…. a couple who always make us feel right at home in their beautiful 19th century home that they have lovingly restored… all by themselves for the most part!

Richmond VA

Richmond

Edwards Virginia Ham

And first things first…. the most gracious Virginia hospitality includes what we have been craving…. Edwards Virginia Ham on warm buttered biscuits!

Edwards Ham is the salty type, a country ham that perhaps will seem too salty if one hasn’t grown up with it as a staple in the home. As for me, this wonderful ham has spoiled me for any ham I’ve tasted since.

Sadly, this unique Surry, Virginia ham company burned to the ground a year ago. While the insurance is being settled, the ham is being prepared and aged at other ham facilities across the country. Lucky for us!

Another priority in the south before you are unpacked and settled is a garden tour. This is a brother and wife who love and live just to be in the garden. I blogged about their gardens a few years ago. This is also the brother who saved the crow and that was quite an exciting story! Those blogs are two of my most read blogs and most ‘lifted’ photos from my blog… (that I willingly share if given credit for them).

The garden house my brother built from his own design (and where he hid from the attacking crow) always receives a lot of interest. For sure, he missed his calling as an architect. He is amazing and that’s no exaggeration from this sister!

The garden house looks great from any angle, even our bedroom window.

It’s fun on each visit to see what’s new in this fabulous garden. I told a blogging friend who photographed a door in another garden, that I knew a person with a garden door and this is the place! The fence and an old door were added to stop the deer from nibbling the azaleas. What a great garden accent! I love the RED.

Garden Door, Richmond VA

Everywhere you look there is nature looking back. I loved this sweet scene beneath the pergola he built last summer. It is covered with a lovely purple wisteria where wrens live in the house and robins are raising young practically on top of the wren house…. sort of condo style.

Wrens and Robins!

What will we look forward to on the next garden tour? They are planning another outhouse in the garden. This small one will be for the mower, weed eater, and blower. He’s already begun the foundation using discarded lumber from a neighbors deck. “What will it look like?” I asked. It will be a chip off the other garden house and he sketched it for me in a flash. The roof will be tin and atop the weathervane will be a copper bird dog, our family’s favorite pooch.

I can hardly wait for my next visit….

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Daffodil Mania!

Today, it was 70° back home in Gloucester Virginia and that means daffodils of all shades and shapes must be blooming profusely across the countryside there. Once called “The Daffodil Capital of America,” it all began when Gloucester’s early settlers brought the bulbs to across the sea in the 1600s. The climate and soil agreed with daffodils and the flowers eventually spread like melted butter across the fields of Gloucester. The flower is celebrated to this day.

Since 1938, my garden club, The Garden Club of Gloucester, has held an annual daffodil show where growers are encouraged to enter a competition for the best bloom in 13 different divisions. The American Daffodil Society sanctioned event, the oldest event in Gloucester, not only fills a gymnasium with a dazzle of daffodils for the Horticulture Division, it offers an Artistic Division where entrants compete interpreting themes in flower arranging, and two popular Artistic Divisions for children.  Click pictures to enlarge.

Parallel Arrangement: Line Dancing by Sarah HyltonInterpretive Design: The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh by Shannah CooperFor the last couple of days, I’ve read emails flying between club members in Virginia as they rush into a frenzy of action for the show this weekend. Today, husbands of garden club members gathered at a storage barn to transport several truckloads of staging supplies to the show site. A long day was in store for folks as supplies are assembled. I’m not there in person, but in spirit, as they transform an empty space into a daffodil wonderland by the time the show opens on Saturday, March 29. Following the two day show, it 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 and packed away.

HorticultureGood luck this weekend, friends!

Independence Day, my way….

Happy Fourth of July!

Old Glory is flying here under sunny skies… perfect for an Independence Day family gathering as we celebrate the birthday of our country.

flagI’m busy with preparations in the kitchen for our picnic featuring pulled pork sandwiches with cole slaw, baked beans, salads….. and always for our grand finale….. homemade peach ice cream.

What recipe do you use for BBQ pork sandwiches? I was raised in the South so that can mean many regional varieties of sauces for pulled pork. In the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, they often add a little smoke. Other recipes are heavy on tomatoes. I’m from the coast of Virginia closer to the North Carolina border and was raised on a vinegar based sauce. No Worcestershire sauce, no Coca-Cola, no Tabasco, no steak sauce, no tomato sauce or mustard. I could get a bit of a backlash from pulled pork sandwich lovers from other locations but this works for my family.

The sauce is vinegary, sweet, spicy hot. Tender pork piled high on a soft bun topped with a kick of coleslaw and I hear music with the first bite. Close my eyes and I’m 10 years old again, barefoot and in my bathing suit, sitting at a picnic table at our summer home on the Chesapeake. In the background I can see my father hand cranking the ice cream we’ll soon enjoy…. always peach, his favorite. Maybe I’ll get to lick the dasher this time… but maybe not. With 7 kids in the family, I’m lucky to get a finger in there for a taste.

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Today I hope to create some of those memories for the youngest of my family.

Hope y’all have a fabulous Fourth of July wherever you are!

Sandy ain’t so dandy….

I walked the dog tonight in the light of an almost full moon. No breezes were stirring. Stars twinkled in the skies and the temperature hovered in the high 50’s…. sweater weather. It’s hard to imagine that astronomical high tides due to this beautiful full moon will align with Hurricane Sandy, a wintry weather system from the west, plus a frigid jet stream from Canada to send tropical force winds great distances inland, with significant rainfall and tidal storm surges along the east coast. We are thinking about our friends in Virginia and we are bracing ourselves for what may come to New Hampshire.

Local lobstermen are moving their traps to deeper waters where they fare better in rough seas and others are taking traps out of the waters. Communities have moved Trick or Treat night and schools will be soon closed. Today I jostled grocery carts with other shoppers stocking up on batteries, water, and some non-perishable goods. We will batten down the hatches, fill the bathtubs and pots with water and download a few iBooks to read in case we lose power. We’ve been through enough of these to know what to do. This will a serious storm but weather forecasting is not a perfect science. Perhaps Sandy’s ferocity will wane. We can keep our fingers crossed. Stay safe, friends….

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

When is a bumblebee not a bumblebee?

Bumblebee on Bluebeard shrub

The answer: When it is a moth.

True bumblebees are all over my bluebeard shrub (Caryopteris ‘Blue Mist’) and all over any late blooming flower in the garden, honeysuckle, lantana, butterfly bush, wild ginger, asters, etc. If you’re weeding nearby or just admiring the insects, you might spot one ‘bee’ that is not like the others. The black and yellow colors seem right but this odd bumblebee will hover over the flower while it feeds unlike the other bumblebees that bump and collide and crawl over blooms to feed.

This odd-looking bee is not a bee at all. It’s a Bumblebee Moth, a Snowberry Clearwing Moth, Hemaris diffinis, and it is a pretty darn good bumblebee mimic. You’ll see it flitting around the garden feeding during the day just like the bees. Any predators should recognize the familiar yellow and black warning pattern and steer clear of the potential sting.  Except this little yellow and black moth is completely harmless. It’s simply a moth.

Snowberry clearwing bumblebee moth

The caterpillar of the moth is pale green on the back with darker green along the sides. There are numerous flecks on the body and a horn of bright yellow at the base with a black tip on the top. Although related to the tobacco hornworm, this bumblebee moth caterpillar will eat the snowberry,  honeysuckle,  and cranberry viburnum…. NOT your tomato plants! Be kind to these caterpillars.

Snowberry clearwing moth caterpillar

Interestingly, the snowberry plant, Symphoricarpus albus, that gave the insect its name is a hardy deciduous plant in the honeysuckle family that was brought back to the east with the Lewis & Clark expedition. When it reached Thomas Jefferson, he was enthusiastic about the plant with the lovely pink blooms followed by large pure white fruit, and penned “some of the most beautiful berries I have ever seen.” It’s deer resistant, great for cut flowers, likes shade and these little bumblebee moths like it. That’s all the persuasion I need. I think I must have a few snowberry plants in this garden next spring…. perhaps in the shade of the new secret garden!

Ann Hohenberger, the Garden Club of Gloucester

Garden Tools

One of my required master gardener classes was a lecture on garden tools. Instructors were scheduled to instruct the class on the tools available for gardeners and the purpose of each. They were bringing examples of spades, shovels, trowels, rakes, saws, shears, weeders, pruners, loppers, hoes, garden forks and pitchforks. Whew! In the world of gardening there are as many tools as there are jobs and we were going to learn all about working in the soil with some and working with plants with others. I felt a little smug going in to this class. I was already a gardener and I had my basic arsenal of garden tools. I knew I’d be yawning, drawing doodles in my book, and looking at my watch a lot during class time.

No rust on these tools!

Boy, was I wrong! I began the class elbows on the desk and head in my hands. Several hours later, I was sitting up straight and had taken copious notes with small sketches in the margins. I found I did not know all the names of the tools I already owned. And I learned a few new names of other handy garden tools. A Winged Weeder? A Garden Bandit?  A Swoe?  A dibber? I learned when to use bypass pruners and when to use anvil pruners. I discovered I knew nothing about choosing a tool to fit my grip, did not understand the benefits of short-handled tools and long-handled tools, styles, weights, and materials. I learned, like proper shoes, garden tools need to be fitted to the gardener.

That was then....

This is now.....

And I learned valuable knowledge on sharpening my own tools (I tossed the dull and bought new ones) and the proper care of tools (I tossed the old and bought new ones).  I took my tools for granted and left them where I last worked in the garden. I’m much better now about wiping tools clean of any dirt or grass before storing them in the garden shed. I sharpen tools regularly and coat the metals with a mixture of petroleum jelly and light oil or a rust blocker spray like Bull Frog Rust Blocker (environmentally safe) to prevent rust. Another master gardener tip for treating metals is to fill a pail with sand and mix in used oil. Any oil will do… cooking, motor… but I do wonder about the environmental impact of eventual disposal.

I still have my favorite tools in the garden shed and it’s nice to know their names, to know how to use them, to know they are better cared for and that they might last a lifetime.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Hot and Dry Weather: Survivors in the Garden

Hot, dry, windy summer weather can be extremely stressful for plants in the garden. Temperatures in Gloucester have hovered near 100º for the last several days, topping out at 102 yesterday. Life seems to be fading from much of the garden. I am usually found hiding inside during intolerably hot weather, however in the late afternoon, I’ll take a stroll to check out heat tolerant plants that shine through the high temps. Several shrubs and perennials are doing well. Here are two that stand out:

The ‘Becky‘ Shasta Daisies, Leucanthemum superbum, that I planted en masse in early spring for our June ‘wedding garden’ are still going strong. I have been rewarded a hundred times over with waves of showy pure white blooms… great for admiring and great for cutting. They’re the 2003 Perennial Plant of the Year and are proving to be heat and drought tolerant. All they ask for is sunshine and a little deadheading.

Becky Shasta Daisy

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9

Light: Full sun

Soil: Growth is optimum in moist, but well-drained soil

Bloom: June to September.

Another favorite that I’ve blogged about a couple of years ago is the Blackberry Lily or the Leopard Lily, a plant that is three plants in one.

1. In the spring, we are rewarded with blue green leaves than fan out in an attractive pattern much like an iris. Indeed it is a member of the iris family.  Familiarly known as Belamcanda chinensis, after a DNA analysis, the new classification is Iris domestica.

Iris-like leaves of the blackberry lily

2. In mid-July we are blessed with a multitude of small orange and red lily-like flowers, each blooming for a day then twisting like tiny wrung out rags before dropping from the plant. I’ve not read anything about the nectar of this flower but have observed a variety of insects actually competing over the sweet fluids.

Blackberry Lily and Sweat Bee

Blackberry Lily and red ants

3. In the late summer and fall and winter, the 3-lobed pods that are green and swelling now, split open to reveal the glossy fruit that resemble blackberries. These will fall from the plant and self seed or stems can be used for flower arrangements. I adore all three phases of this colorful summer perennial.

Belamcanda chinensis

Image via Wikipedia

It will reproduce by seed and by rhizomes which may be divided and shared. Plant rhizomes under 1″ of soil and allow to dry between waterings.

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-10

Light: Full sun, partial sun, partial shade (I moved my plants from full sun to partial sun and they seem less stressed)

Soil: Well-drained; grows taller in fertile soil.

Bloom: July and August

Zones: 5-10.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Bride and Blooms…

When friends and family got involved in the plans for my daughter’s wedding this weekend, I could breathe a sigh of relief. The bride and groom wanted a small church wedding with a home reception in the gardens. My duties were very clear…. to make sure the gardens were healthy, weed free, edged and well-mulched. With the help of Jerry, my new yard helper, and mister gardener, and the garden hose, that feat was accomplished.

And with the generosity from friends from my garden club who shared the bounty of their gardens and those who generously shared their talents and arranged bouquets, boutonnières and table decorations and those who arranged the church flowers, the weekend was an enchanted garden of blooms. The bride’s preference for natural collections of flowers with hydrangeas, roses and herbs in a light and loose presentation gave friends the opportunity to share what was in bloom from their gardens. Queen Anne’s Lace gathered from fields added a touch of delicate lightness.

From the Crab Crack in a rainstorm beneath the big tent on Friday eve, all witnessed the rainbow that followed and brightened the evening skies giving the couple a positive sign that their wedding day would be a good one.

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And thanks to all those who helped, it certainly was!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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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

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

They Did it Their Way

Through the garden gate

From the street in this west side Richmond neighborhood, you would never know that behind the dense growth of winter jasmine, tall bayberries, plump boxwood and red-tip photinia is a garden gate that opens to a compact, well-designed landscape. Soothing greens with varied textures and shapes entice you to enter through the gate and explore.  I always enjoy an invitation to this charming garden. There’s something magic and restorative about the cool spaces in the dappled light of tall trees.

The couple who lives on this lovely property designed the garden layout themselves and every bed was developed and planted by them. The space has been embellished through the years to become a lush tapestry of foliage punctuated by colorful treasures of flowering trees and perennials. It’s obvious that this garden is their retreat, a place to enjoy the outdoors and fulfill their passion for gardening. It’s great fun to stroll through the grounds with them for he showers her with credit for aspects of the garden and she returns the praise.

The rear of the home opens onto a terrace that flows into a small grassy lawn. Steps away are several garden paths that beckon. Birdbaths, benches, sculpture, bridges and lighted pagodas are focal points along the woodland journey. A clear stream winds through the shade providing interest and a home for many small visitors. Native plants and new cultivar discoveries pepper the landscape.

Following the brick walk along a natural rise, a border of  boxwood, variegated hostas and liriope edging become the nucleus of this garden. A hand crafted martin house beneath a golden rain tree is a reminder of the birding paradise the couple has created.

Exiting through the garden gate, we are not disappointed by what we encounter. A colonial garden house, designed and built by the owner, greets us in this space.  I’ll say no more. A photograph of this structure is worth a thousand words.

The newest feature in the landscape, the Charleston Garden, bids a welcome to enter and rest on one of the benches. High stucco walls, beautifully designed brick walks, statuary, a pool with splashing water and colorful fish, and cool green groundcover, invite you to linger. With a daughter living in Charleston, the couple made numerous visits, falling in love with the courtyard garden designs.

I’m sure readers will agree that the owners have created an Eden…. but I might be a bit biased. On an earlier blog entry, I whisked you away to California to visit my sister’s whimsical garden in San Diego. This time you left your stresses at the gate and toured the garden retreat of my brother and his wife who live in Richmond.

For another view of his garden house, click HERE.

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

Just Passing Through…

Cedar Waxwings dining on fosters holly

I heard their high pitched whistles before I saw them on Sunday morning. The sound was piercing enough to serve as my early morning wake up call.  I hopped out of bed and dashed to the window to search for these traveling gifts from nature.  In the pre-dawn light, I could only see the dark silhouettes dotting the limbs at the very top of the sycamore tree but there was no mistaking the unique calls of this bird. The whistling bzeeee bzeeee, a little like a high pitched dog whistle, was coming from cedar waxwings, about 80 of them, dark against the sky.  They’ve finally arrived. They never made a stop on their fall migration but this small ‘aristocracy’ or flock of waxwings was making its way to their northern breeding grounds.

Acrobatic waxwings often eat upended!

I was so honored to welcome these well-dressed birds to dine at the foster hollies again. The three trees were full of red juicy berries waiting for their arrival. Cedar waxwings are frugivores, meaning they eat small fruit during the fall, winter and spring, but they are also invertivores, or insect eaters, during the summer months.  They are acrobatic in flight and are excellent insect catchers in mid air. I must alert my daughter in Maine that the birds are on their pilgrimage back to their nesting grounds near her. They breed around the lake near her home and entertain her as much as they do me. She once ‘saved’ a moth inside her home by tossing it from the back door… only to have a cedar waxwing snatch it in midair.

Click to enlarge photos

The fosters hollies are practically cleaned of berries today. They are nibbling on the seed balls of the sycamore and may linger for another day before they are off on their arduous northward journey. If you’d like to invite these well-dressed birds to dine with you, consider planting native fruit trees or maybe their favorite, fosters holly.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Walk In The Winter Woods

Running Cedar

Stepping off our sandy lane onto a thick cushion of fallen leaves, we don’t have to walk far to find an oasis of green beneath the young oaks, maples, pines and poplars.  In the frigid temperatures and wet weather of January, tiny evergreen plants blanket this zone 7b woodland floor.  These are clubmosses, plants whose ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  Along with massive tree ferns, the club mosses grew well over 100’ tall with trunk diameters of 5’.  These ancient forests of giants lived in swamps during the age of coal, the Carboniferous era and their decay led to the coal fields of today.

click each photo to enlarge

The first club moss that we encounter in our woods, with its flat branches and the cedar-like appearance, is Running Cedar (Lycopodium digitatum).  At this time of year, the tiny candles or clubs are full of spores and just brushing the plants will generate miniature yellow clouds.  The plants also expand by rhizomes along the ground, thus the name Running Cedar.  In this way, they can cover extensive areas of the forest floor if conditions are ideal. Our woods must provide what they need for the ground is covered with this variety.

Princess Pine

Nearby, we recognize our other clubmoss that looks remarkably like a tiny pine tree (Lycopodium obscurum) or what I call Princess Pine.  It grows about 6 – 8 inches off the ground in our woods but can grow larger. The Princess Pine reproduces by a rhizome as well so I suppose it could be called Running Pine.

The common name, clubmoss, describes the appendage at the tip of the plant, which produces spores for reproduction.  The spores have a high oil content and have been used to coat pills and is still used in powders to sooth the skin. Native Americans used the spores for various medicinal purposes and early Americans and Europeans used them for a wide range of healing.  Interesting, the plant is poisonous but not the spores.  The spores are highly flammable and they were used in early photography to provide the needed flash.

A request was once made for some of our Princess Pine to be used as a church decoration.  I gave my consent.  But in learning more about the plant and how difficult it is to transplant or cultivate, I now protect our miniature evergreen forest, a mere shadow of its ancient relatives.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

When the Going Gets Tough…

Click to enlarge

… the tough definitely get going. Yesterday, as temperatures hovered around 19 or 20 degrees and winds gusts of 15 MPH lashed down narrow beaches, a light crew braved frostbite at dawn for the Christmas Bird Count.  The weather was harsh and inhospitable for man and beast, even dangerous, yet it was an amazing count of birds under these conditions.

Hundreds and hundreds of ducks and geese and swans were counted on the water. Angry white caps on the open water made it time consuming to identify water birds far from shore but the more experienced birders prevailed.  On the shoreline, ice flows like plate tectonics heaved to and fro in the first 50 feet of the rivers.

Inside our 15-mile diameter circle, we found most inland birds hunkered down in protection from the wind.  But eventually they must feed and during those times we counted amazing numbers and varieties of woodpeckers, cedar waxwings, vulture, sparrows, hawks, warblers, robins, cardinals,  bluebirds, blackbirds and so forth.

Although the waxwings have not visited our foster holly, we found them stripping clean Bradford Pears lining a driveway allée.  The homeowner said he would like to replace his many Bradfords that have split time and time again in storms, but the sight of birds feasting on the tiny fruit each winter holds him back.  Seeing the birds feed, I agree with him.  Eventually, he plans to replace the trees with Chanticleer ornamental pear trees that are less likely to split.

Most unusual bird spotted: a rooster.  We did not count him.  What we did not see: our eagles.  Bummer News: My camera froze after 15 photos. Best news: We managed to count all day without frostbite.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Fog…

Weather conditions have been unusually wet this winter. We’ve had rain, snow, sleet, freezing temperatures and now we are having unusually warm days. Fog often greets us on these mild mornings. It’s a bit of an eerie feeling to stand on the pier that virtually disappears into a blue abyss.  Sounds on the river are sharper. Geese and ducks are out there somewhere communicating with one another.  Although they can’t discern shapes or movement, the labs know very well that someone or some dog stands on a neighboring pier.

On land, wooded scenes that we hardly notice as we pass on a regular basis take on a ghostly and unnatural appearance in the blue haze. However, the story changes as we view each tree separately.

In the seas of fog that we have been experiencing, the most interesting features are always the individual trees. Details that we miss on any given day are embellished in the most humble of trees. We notice the form, the shape, the separate trees in a copse, the angles, and the splendor that we may have overlooked yesterday.

I keep a library of photographs I have taken of trees in the fog.  Although photos are an imperfect reproduction of what the eye experiences, they are reminders of the grandeur of a tree and of the benefits to the natural world.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Cedar Waxwings in the Garden

cedar waxwing in foster hollyThere is a quiet lull in the garden right now.  Fall maintenance chores are complete, tools have been cleaned and put away, hoses have been drained, and the first frost has arrived in Tidewater.  For me, this time of year signals a new excitement as I view the landscape from my windows, binoculars in hand, camera ready, and Sibley’s bird guide at my side for it’s all about birds and migration now.  Much of what I have chosen for garden flora has been for the birds, their nesting, their food, and their winter protection.

One bird that I am eagerly awaiting is the cedar waxwing. My daughter in Maine delights in the arrival of cedar waxwings each spring that remain and breed in Maine, dining voraciously on her blueberries and honeysuckle berries and insects all summer.  Before migration, she watches as they begin to flock in August over a fast running stream near her community, diving and swooping over the rapids chasing insects.  It is such a spectacle that she makes the pilgrimage back to the rapids to watch the incredible show each August.

Now she has alerted me that she no longer sees her resident waxwings. Have they left Maine? For me that can mean only one thing; they’re migrating my way.  And I am ready, checking the trees, listening for their high pitched calls, looking for movement around the cleaned and filled birdbaths.  They could be here any day from now till March but I know they will come for the waxwings and I both favor one variety of our trees: the foster holly.  I love it for its beauty and the food it brings my feathered friends. The waxwings love a variety of berries but this holly is their ‘caviar’ of berries on our property.

The slender, 20 – 30′ tall foster holly is a hybrid, the The arrival of cedar waxwingsoffpring of the female Dahoon Holly and the male American Holly.  I planted 3 of them massed together off the corner of the house as a vertical accent.  They produce tons of berries that are bright red against the glossy, dark leaves that are less spiny and softer than other holly leaves. These hollies are beautiful during the summer but they seem to save themselves for their brilliant berry display in the fall and winter.  I check the trees each day, looking for movement or the high pitched call of the cedar waxwings.  They could come today or they could come in January for they wander widely as they move south.

When the flock of birds do arrive, the scene is reminiscent of a piranha feed on the Amazon River.  The hollies are under attack for 24 hours until nary a berry is left. The gluttonous feeding habits of the bird are a far One waxwing with a red tail from consuming honeysuckle berries.cry from the image of the proper looking bird with its elegant silky feathers in shades of browns and yellow. The adults sport a distinctive black mask outlined in white that extends broadly over the face.  The adult wings end in secondary feathers with red waxy tips and the tails of most end in yellow tips.  However, since the 1960’s, there have been sightings of orange tipped tails due to eating the pigments of berry from a newly introduced variety of honeysuckle while the feathers are still growing.

After two days of feasting on foster hollies, cedars, cotoneasters, and wild cherries, my fascinating friends are off for a feeding frenzy at another location.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Sawfly Larvae Invasion

sawflyThese acrobatic insects that are consuming the leaves of my Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick might resemble caterpillars but they are not.  These are sawfly larvae, the larvae of not a fly at all but one of 4,000 varieties of a primitive stingless wasp.  Look closely.  The larvae of moths and butterflies have 1 to 4 sets of abdominal prolegs (false legs), whereas sawfly larvae have 6 sets of prolegs.

Mouthparts are for chewing and in great numbers they can defoliate a tree or shrub or flower. Most of them are somewhat host-specific and feed on foliage of specific trees and flowers.  Some larvae work together on the leaf edges like these, some skeletonize leaves, some eat holes in leaves, some roll leaves, and some varieties create galls.  The most common varieties here feed together and some hold their abdomen in the air like these.  A defensive mechanism in many larvae is a row of glands on the abdomen that can expel an irritating fluid.

The benign winged sawfly adults are small and generally dark in color. They do not have the constricted waist of many stinging wasps and the females have a saw-toothed ovipositor, which is used to ‘saw’ into plant material and deposit eggs.   There is only one generation per year but the larvae can be destructive if they are numerous enough.  Ten years ago we were inundated with the Loblolly Pine Sawfly that destroyed a number of our young trees.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Having Fun With The Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed nuthatchSunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet bring the gregarious brown-headed nuthatch to our garden feeders in the winter.  Like other nuthatches, they eat seeds at the feeder during the winter months, but during warm weather, the bird will forage for bark-dwelling insects.

In the summer, we are alerted to their arrival by their familiar rubber-ducky squeaks.  We watch them climb up and down the pine trunks in characteristic nuthatch fashion inspecting the bark, the cones and pine bracts in their search for spiders, cockroaches, egg cases, etc., as well as pine nuts.  To have a little fun with them, we hide peanuts under the bark that they love to discover, sometimes with the male feeding his mate.

Sadly, due to the loss of their mature pine forest habitat, it is reported that these 4.5″ birds are declining at a rate of 2% a year, down close to 45% in the last 30 years.  One possible way to help the brown-headed nuthatch is to build a birdhouse.  Make sure the entrance hole is 1 1/4″ in diameter with a 4″ x 4″ floor and 9″ ceiling.  Hinge one side for cleaning, make ventilation holes and attach about 7′ or 8′ above the ground. Next, invite them to your feeder.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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Be Still My Foolish Heart

Strolling through my gardens with a friend recently, searching for appropriate greens for flower arrangements, I led her down a path toward one of my all time arranging favorites, cleyera, with its glossy bronze and green leaves.  As I leaned in toward the shrub to point out some of its lovely properties, I realized my friend was not at my side.  She had stopped in her tracks looking elsewhere.  In fact she had her back to me, quite besotted by my Sciadopitys verticillate.  “What IS this?” she asked.  “That’s my Japanese Umbrella Pine,” I answered.  I could see that she was as hopelessly smitten with Sciadopitys verticillate as I was when I first spotted this exotic youngster 10 years earlier.  This 3-ft. tree was literally the first plant I put into the ground when we bought the property.  It now stands over 8-ft. tall.

The umbrella pine is unlike any other tree, the sole-surviving species that was once widespread throughout the northern hemisphere. The leaves form on the stem’s end in a whorl of 20-30 dark green needles looking much like the ribs of an umbrella.. thus the name. The bark is quite attractively reddish-brown. Grown in zones 5-9, it seems to thrive in my Tidewater garden with high humidity and moisture.  Other than water during dry spells and a bit of shade when the sun is highest, this lush tree is pest free and low-maintenance.  If you come across an umbrella pine at your local nursery, beware, for you will be dazzled by its beauty and will have difficulty resisting the urge to take it home.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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