A Garden Outbuilding in Virginia

If you wanted a colonial period dependency to store your motorized lawn equipment, would you hire a contractor, a builder, or maybe an architect to make sure everything was perfect or would you sketch it out on scrap paper and then go ahead and build it all by yourself?

Me?  I’d have to go with the experts. My brother? He is the expert. He’s the talented Richmond VA artist/architect/builder/designer/gardener/expert who can do it all.  Sigh.

When I visited my brother and his wife in Richmond VA last spring, he was just thinking about the building and wasn’t sure he’d do it. I asked a little about what he had in mind. He picked a piece of scrap paper and said, “Oh… if I do it, it’ll be something like this.”

Garden shed sketch

Several years ago, he designed and built the perfect colonial garden house, below, that I bragged blogged about years ago. His new garden outbuilding, if he decided to built it, would match the style of the existing garden house, he said.

If you’d like to check out my earlier post about his gardens and the existing garden house, just click HERE.

Billy's Garden House

Once his mind went from ‘thinking about it’ to ‘doing it,’ it didn’t take long for his plan to take shape. In the shadow of the existing garden building, he began the framework of the smaller building. It was nestled on a shaded spit of land overlooking a clear stream that runs through a thicket separating homes.

New outbuilding

Up it began and almost overnight the framing was done. Thankfully he supplied me with the updated photos that I pestered and implored him to send on a regular basis. I didn’t want to miss one step.

Garden Outbuilding in Richmond VA

And it quickly took shape with the roof and siding in place.

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

The only thing left was the door….

Garden outbuilding, Richmond VA

And the door is finished…

Garden Outbuilding, Richmond VA

And voila! The finished product… a beautiful colonial garden dependency to store the lawnmower and small garden tools. I’m sure that gives him more room in the larger garden building for other projects.

The finished Garden Outbuilding

The photo below is taken from the same vantage point as the photo at the top of the post, now with the brand new outbuilding in the foreground and the existing garden house in the distance.

Do they look like they’ve been there since the eighteenth-century? I’d say so. Is my brother gifted? I’d say so! Way to go, bro! Once again, it is another perfect project.

Two Garden Outbuildings, Richmond VA

Helena is visiting Virginia

My sister is winding up a work related speaking engagement in Ft. Worth Tx and is due to fly home to Virginia today. I haven’t heard but I’m sure her flight was cancelled. You see, Helena is in town in Tidewater VA. Across the state, she closed airports, closed major highways, caused over 100 auto crashes and 58 stalled vehicles on state roads overnight. Visibility was zero and the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Virginia. No commercial boats could enter or exit the Chesapeake Bay. Farther south, there were 18000 power outages in NC with a state of emergency called and a cancellation of some inauguration ceremonies for the new governor. South Carolina experienced their share of snow and ice…. and brrrr… it’s cold!

My three brothers who live in Richmond were very excited to awake to snow. Most people batten down the hatches, start a fire, and make hot cocoa, but these fellas run toward the great out of doors. We all love snow in my family. Not sure why… but I’m sure glad they shared a few photos from Richmond.

jims-mahonia

Snow covered Mahonia in bloom

jims-pond

Carter

University of Richmond

University of Richmond campus

Garden

Steps and boxwood cleared of snow

Helena has been quite a storm, having impacted two dozen states from coast to coast when it’s all said and done. She’s on her way out to sea late today in Virginia but she’s not finished with us. Helena is now visiting New Hampshire. Snow is falling hard and I hope we awake tomorrow to scenes like those above.

 

 

 

Going Home…

Richmond VA has always been dear to me. My mother grew up in Richmond so naturally we were there on a regular basis to visit our grandparents who lived in a suburb of the city developed in the early 1900’s.The neighborhood, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has 80-foot wide boulevards and tree-lined medians throughout. It was planned with a home setback of about 70 feet to be a garden environment with shade trees, hedges, good size lawns and the wonderful wide grassy medians. The area also had the first electric streetcar to operate successfully in an American city. Zipping into the city took minutes.

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My older bro, younger sisters, mother, and grandmother-1950’s

It was a glorious adventure when the seven siblings visited and it wasn’t hard to develop an emotional attachment to the home where we spent so much time. Both grandparents have been gone for well over 40 years but their lovely home still stands. Late in her life, I would drive my mother by the home when in Richmond. We’d stop and look and she was pleased it was kept up so nicely.

On one visit, we saw the blinds separate a little, followed by a man opening the front door. We watched as the young man walked down the long brick walkway to our car and asked if he could be of help. I can imagine how it might have been uncomfortable for him to see strangers parked and staring at his home. I explained that my mother grew up here and we just stop by occasionally to share memories and see how it’s being maintained.

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mother age 14

How excited he was to meet my 90-year-old mother and insisted that we come in and see all the upgrades and changes he was so proud of. My mother looked at her hands, thought for a minute, then respectfully declined with a gentle smile. She explained she wanted it to remain as it was in her memories.

I understood her reluctance but didn’t have the same hesitation  when my Richmond brother was brave enough to approach the newest owners for visitation on a recent Richmond sibling gathering. We all jumped at the chance! It was where we spent a large part of our childhood, the home filled with grandparental love and fabulous adventures. And how brave of this family to say, “Come on over…”

The first thing we saw upon entering was the youngest resident hiding behind a chair. This is her house now and a perfect place to develop her own memories!

new-young-resident

The basic architecture was the same… windows, doors, columns, chandeliers. The new kitchen was large and modern… thank goodness!  Some rooms were repurposed and I would do exactly the same thing if I lived there.

We all had different things we wanted to see. Here’s the one thing I longed to see… the secret stairway behind a mirror leading to the kitchen!

secret-stairway

They were nice enough to give us free rein to wander.

They asked questions. We told them stories. One thing that pleased the family was my offer to send old photos… especially the one below of my brother sampling a wedding cake in the dining room. It shows the original stained glass window, now missing. We remembered the colors and they hope to reproduce it.

Version 3

So….if you’ve been thinking of visiting a home from your past, my advice is to just do it!

PS: We also visited our family home where I spent my childhood. What an adventure that was! Perhaps someday I’ll share.

 

 

NH Drought 2016 Update

Everyone’s favorite app in these parts seems to be weather related. When will we have rain?  Last night, all of my weather apps said, ‘maybe overnight.’  It didn’t happen.  ‘Early this morning.’  The clouds dripped for a few seconds. It’s mid-morning and a light rain is falling and may be giving us moisture for 110 minutes according to my AccuWeather app. It seems to be the most accurate so I’m putting my faith in it. I have a dozen containers under the drip line of our roof to catch enough rainwater to sustain 3 newly planted trees. They are stressed. I’m following a friend’s advice of two gallons of water twice a week per tree. Gray water from the showers and the basement dehumidifier give us barely that.

accuweather

There are stages of drought:

  • Level 0: “Abnormally Dry:” This is the lightest level, which means the area is either “going into drought: short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops or pastures” or getting out of drought, which means some lingering water deficits; and pastures or crops not fully recovered,” according to the National Drought Monitor.
  • Level 1: “Moderate Drought:” This level of drought involves “some damage to crops, pastures; streams, reservoirs, or wells low, some water shortages developing or imminent; and voluntary water-use restrictions requested,” according to the monitor.
  • Level 2: “Severe Drought:” This level means that “crop or pasture losses likely; water shortages common; and water restrictions imposed,” the monitor states.
  • Level 3: “Extreme Drought:” This is the second-highest level of drought, with “major crop/pasture losses” and “widespread water shortages or restrictions.”
  • Level 4 “Exceptional Drought:” This is the most intense level of drought. This level involves “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, rivers, and wells creating water emergencies.”

My home state of Virginia is in a drought and I hear from friends and family about it. They are Level 0: “Abnormally Dry.” My adopted state of New Hampshire is worse where we live in the Seacoast area. We have progressed through the stages to Level 3: “Extreme Drought.” There are mandatory water restrictions, no watering outdoors at all from municipal water or private wells. If residents don’t comply, they run the risk of a penalty.

drought-map

The drought does not seem to be letting up anytime soon.  California’s problems are frightening with 100% of the state in drought trouble creating wildfires and water wars. Severe to exceptional drought extends over 43% of that state. Sorry to think this way, but a good soaking tropical storm may be our solution. Alas….

Planting for Nostalgia

It’s warming up in New Hampshire. We’ve been informed that this area is decidely USDA Hardiness Zone 6, not 5 as my blog title states.  But when asked by customers at the nursery, some employees say to plant for Zone 5b because we can have those atypical winters. That sounded like good advice to me and I followed it.

That was before I spotted two shrubs for sale locally that flourished in my Virginia, Zone 7b garden. I’d never seen them for sale around here. Surprisingly, one was tagged Zone 5 and the other Zone 6. Huh?? I was intrigued but hesitated for a moment because I knew they are semi-invasive or invasive in warmer climes.  Probably because of the drought and low sales, the manager approached me…the only customer… and said “For you, everything is half price today.” Hesitation over. I packed my cart.

Forever and ever these shrubs have screamed Virginia as they’re seen in practically every garden, old and new. Nandina domestica and Leatherleaf mahonia. A slice of Old Virginia in my cart. Nostalgia!

#1. Nandina domestica, imported to England from China and Japan in 1804, is a care-free showy shrub, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, that is widely used for flower arranging both for the attractive lacy leaves that vary from red to green to copper and the clumps of bright red berries that follow clusters of tiny white blooms. The berries are fabulous for holiday arrangements! A common name for nandina is Heavenly Bamboo as the multi-stem plant bears a striking resemblance to the canes of bamboo plants. We will discover whether this Zone 6 plant survives as an evergreen as it does in Virginia. I fear it will die back to the ground each winter and never grow as a 5′ tall ornamental as it was in Zone 7b. Fingers crossed…

Nandina from my Zone 6 garden: flower buds not open; new copper growth:

nandina-bloom nandina-new-red-growth#2. Leatherleaf Mahonia, labeled Zone 5, has been grown for generations in the US since brought from China in 1800’s. Members of leatherleaf are labeled noxious and planting is prohibited in Alabama, Georgia, SC, and Tennessee. A stiff leaved multi-stemmed spiny evergreen shrub resembling a holly but in Zone 7b, it redeems itself with fragrant lemony clusters of flowers appearing in late winter giving a multitude of bees some very early nectar. Those attractive flowers then develop into interesting bunches of blue-ish berries that hang like fat grapes…thus giving its other name, grape holly.

Mahonia photos from my Zone 7b garden: winter blooms; blue berry clusters:

honeybee on mahoniamahoniaI love both of these plants and will probably tent them for winter protection until I discover how they get through our winters.  Ahhhh…. How divine!

As The Crow Flies….

A couple of weeks ago on a chilly Virginia morning, my brother prepared to climb a ladder to install a security light near his trash receptacles. He’d been recently spooked by a couple of brazen raccoons on his nightly delivery of refuse and recycling and decided to throw a little light on the area.

The light in one hand, the drill in the other, he made his way to the top of the ladder concentrating on the impending task. Then without warning, a large bird attacked his back, flapping its wings, attempting to hang on, he believed with talons belonging to one of the several hawks that frequent the yard. He dropped the light and drill, fell to the ground and high-tailed it for his garden house….slamming the door. He peeked out of the windows up toward the trees. Nothing. Noticing movement on the driveway, his eyes widened at the sight of a large American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) marching slowly toward the garden house. My brother cracked opened the door to shoo him away. He didn’t budge. When the crow came too close, my bro closed the door. The crow flew up to the Virginia flag by the door and waited. Poor brother was trapped.

Garden HouseEventually he saw the crow fly toward the bamboo. He didn’t waste a minute. He jerked opened the door and sprinted to the back of the house and the protection of his basement. Whew!  A bit later, he nervously finished installing the security light while my brave sister-in-law stood watch by the ladder.

That same day, they had a home visit with their insurance representative. They opened the door to welcome her, but she was calling for help as she hurried toward the house with crow on her back, flapping and trying to bite her earrings. My brother grabbed a crab net. Another neighbor who heard the disturbance came to help but the bird was gone again.

Later, he glanced out of the window and saw two ladies hurrying down the street with umbrellas on this sunny day. He opened the door and asked if they’d been attacked by a crow. “Yes!,” they replied with gory details of the assault. He joined them as another neighbor shared that she was a witness. Yet another neighbor said that it had been pecking on her kitchen window. Someone else would not get out of their car because of the bird on the windshield. Two terrified children had locked themselves in the home and sent a message to my brother to please kill it.

At that moment, something clicked with my brother. He had a light bulb moment, a sudden realization of just what may be motivating the crow’s bizarre actions. He asked one of the neighbors for a slice of bread. She hurried it to him. Without further ado, the crow landed on his arm and my brother began to feed him. This was a young hand-raised crow that was released or escaped. Sadly, he was imprinted only to humans and could not forage for food.

BaldwinHe took the crow home until he could decide what to do. Crow roosted in the garden house that first night, then moved to the basement. They fed him well and for a few days, they and the entire neighborhood, including the children, fell in love with him. The neighbors voted to name him Baldwin after their neighborhood. Baldwin was a lucky crow to land in this neighborhood with a brother like mine who probably saved his life.

Personality, brains, playfulness, mischievous, handsome, lovable, and charming were some of the descriptions I heard. He bathed in their creek, he played fetch and tug of war. He had quite a vocabulary and got excited when he heard my brother talking on the phone. He tried to communicate, too, with murmurs, low caws, and clucks.

If they could have kept Baldwin, they would have. But it is illegal to keep a crow as a pet and they worried whenever he flew out of sight. So many dangers. Early last week, they made the long drive to Rockfish Wildlife Rescue in Schuyler VA where they had arranged for Baldwin to be acclimated to the wild. But somehow I think that Baldwin will forever live there as their Good Will Ambassador. Of course, he will have his adventures… flying through the forests and soaring over Walton’s Mountain but I’m pretty sure he will always be home for dinner.

Click on any photo to enlarge and to learn more about crows, watch PBS’s A Murder of Crows online.

Freezing Chives and Other Herbs

In Virginia’s zone 7b, milder climate allowed us harvest our herbs year round. But that is not the case in New Hampshire. Since we are now living in the land of ice and snow, we must beat old man winter to the punch by freezing our herbs indoors.

It is easy-peasy! After washing and drying, picking out the dead stems, and chopping chives, I like to freeze them flat in quart-size freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and simply break off the amount I need for garlic bread, soups, casseroles, deviled eggs… you name it.

I do the same thing with my other herbs: parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.

chiveschopped chivesquart bags/chivesThere are other methods of freezing herbs. Check out some neat ways that Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden freezes her herbs.

Lavender Blue

In the spring, one of the first plants I searched for in local nurseries was Liriope muscari,  a common perennial border plant in Virginia. I was happy to read that with a little care, it can be hardy in our zone 5. So I was surprised that it was not readily available locally and I saw puzzled looks on faces when I asked for it. The word liriope easily rolls off a southerner’s tongue as it is found practically in every garden… usually as a wonderful pass-along plant.

I was absolutely thrilled to finally find some at Rolling Green Nursery. A enlightened worker marched me right to their one flat in a far corner of the property. I bought it all. I knew how easily it divided. Each pot became two. But I wanted more and vocalized my disappointment to my brother and his wife. Imagine my surprise when a heavy box arrived soon after. I was delighted to find carefully packed pass-along Liriope muscari from their garden. The best part of this story is that the plants were passed along to them from a beloved aunt’s garden in Jacksonville FL. Better yet, she obtained her plants from my dear grandparents’ gardens in Richmond VA many years before. So I am the 4th person to benefit from these special pass-along plants! As soon as they are more established, my daughter in Portsmouth will be the 5th recipient.

liriope

There are two species of of the plant and I’ve cultivated both in the past: Liriope muscari, a plant that behaves as a mound of grass-like foliage and Liriope spicata, a variety that spreads as a wonderful groundcover.

When so many garden flowers are beginning to fade in July and August, Liriope is just beginning its show. The flowers are tiny however they are numerous along a spike. The hum of bees working the blooms is music to my ears.

It’s a terrific plant, tolerant of summer heat and lack of water. There are many species and cultivars with variegated leaves of green and white or yellow and white or pink blooms,and different sizes, however the solid green leaves feel cool and inviting to me.

This week, the mower with our landscaping service stopped his tractor and asked, ‘Can you tell me what those plants are that are blooming along your border?’ Of course I could… and if he plays his cards right he may be another pass-along donee.

No matter how you slice it…

…nothing says summer like a juicy ripe garden tomato!Oh so good!

They are the most delicious and most versatile fruit of the season. During the tomato season, either cooked or raw, tomatoes are a perfect accompaniment to any meal at our house. Whether raw in a salad or sandwich, roasted, in a sauce, on a pizza, in soups, stuffed, or in tarts, pies and even preserves, we can eat tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner and snacks. There are as many tomato recipes as there are varieties of tomatoes.

In Virginia, mister gardener grew 18 different varieties of the fruit. He depended on the tried-and-trues and experimented with the heirlooms and the unknowns. It was great fun to see and taste the differences. We had purple tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, orange tomatoes, speckled tomatoes, and some shaped like pears! There are no tomatoes in our New Hampshire garden. Instead we can select good variety from what is offered at local farmers’ markets.

Tomatoes!!!One of our favorite meals is mister gardener’s fresh gazpacho soup. With newly picked young cucumbers, onions and green peppers from farmers’ markets, mister gardener makes a large quantity of gazpacho to last us a few days and enough to share with family. Life would definitely be better if the fleeting tomato season would never end!

See a couple of mister gardener’s heirlooms in Virginia.

gazpacho

Hail to the Queen!

On our morning walks, I love seeing rich pink flowers of ‘Queen of the Meadow,’ Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (E. maculatum). It is just coming into bloom along the paths we regularly take each morning. In the midst of Queen Anne’s Lace and Grass-leaved Goldenrod, the rich pink of the blooms and the deep purple of the stem clearly mark the native Joe-Pye as royalty. Among its subjects who present themselves to polish off some royal nectar are butterflies, including the swallowtail butterflies, Monarch butterflies, the skippers, plus all sort of bees, wasps and perhaps a hummingbird or two.

Spotted Joe PyeSpotted Joe-Pye-weed, a member of the aster family, has ‘the widest geographical distribution and greatest morphological variability’ of all Joe-Pye weeds, according to the New England Wild Flower Society. A different variety grew with abandon in my mother’s Virginia garden but none of Joe-Pye grows in mine as it has a tendency to invade. I prefer to pay homage in meadows along my walk.

The ‘Queen of the Meadow’ will continue to delight into fall. The leaves will fade from green to a nice lemony yellow and the stems remain a spotted purple shade. The blooms will fade to a fluffy brown seed head attracting goldfinches and other birds to dine.

Actually, no one really knows for absolute certainty how the plant was named Joe-Pye but if you’re curious, click here to read one of the most interesting studies of who Joe Pye might be.

What is it about Virginia?

What is it about Virginia? Just like the newspaper columnist and author Guy Friddell wrote in his witty book of that title, Virginia is timeless. Some things never change. Virginians look forward to visiting with each other around a groaning board featuring foods of the season. In the spring, it’s shad, in the summer, it’s Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, and in the fall, it’s oysters pulled from local waters.

When an invitation arrived for a Richmond oyster roast with family and friends, how could I resist a quick trip south? At the airport, I stepped onto Virginia soil under sunny skies and 70° weather to meet friends who volunteered transportation… but Virginia transportation is never from point A to point B.  Good Virginia hospitality always involves stopping for nourishment and a short driving tour and a friendly catch-up on news from high school to the present. The Art of Visiting is still a strong Virginia tradition.

A few strings of lights over the driveway, a couple of fire pits, scattered chairs, grills, Rappahannock River oysters and a groaning board full of sides and desserts and you have yourself a Virginia Gathering.

However, Virginians can’t live on oysters and sides alone. Oyster roasts need to be accompanied by a soup, traditionally clam chowder or our family favorite, Brunswick Stew, Edwards Ham biscuits, cornbread and then then the complement of appetizers, sides and desserts.

The trip to the Old Dominion gave me a moment to reconnect and reflect and unwind before jetting back to our newly adopted state, New Hampshire…. a state full of adventures and discoveries and an abundance of new friends to meet.

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….

Hooked on Tree Swallows

He’s handsome. He’s friendly. He’s brave. He’s funny. He’s an entertainer. He’s an acrobat. And he helps protect me from biting insects. It’s the tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor or TRES), a swallow that breeds over most of North America… except the Southeast. Tidewater Virginia is in the ‘maybe’ zone and I’d never experienced this species of swallow.

Although their summer diet is insects, the male tree swallow, with his beautiful iridescent green-blue back, would land atop the bird feeder pole, looking left and right up and down at the seed-eating birds, never bothering them but looked simply curious.

From the break of day to the last rays of light at night, the pair of tree swallows that took up residence in one of our new bluebird houses commanded the skies in search of insects. Their aerial acrobatics and sweet warbles to each other made me think of the lyrics from Captain and Tennille’s “Muskrat Love”:

And they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed
Singin’ and jingin’ the jango
Floatin’ like the heavens above….
It looks like muskrat love

Dipping and dancing, twirling and soaring, these agile little fellas coursed over fields and water at speeds of 25 MPH consuming insects… up to 2,000 insects each and feeding 6,000 to their offspring in the 45-day nesting period according to Dick Tuttle of the Ohio Bluebird Society.

Our tree swallows have raised their one batch of young that have recently fledged. I can see the entire family flying back and forth across the small pond across the field catching insects in the air. Since they were finished with their house, I opened it yesterday and this is what I found.

Their nests are made with coarse grasses and lined with feathers that look much like water fowl feathers. The feathers, gathered by the male, are said to keep the young warm and deter mites.

In reading more about tree swallows, I should have opened the bird box regularly to check on the chicks and evict any house sparrows that may have taken up residence. The house sparrow is a European invasive and a threat to the welfare of the swallows. To learn more about the tree swallow, click here.

Hello World…

Happy Day to you, Earth! There will be the annual party for you today on the National Mall where citizens will rally for your protection to the music of numerous bands and the words of many speakers. And worldwide, over a billion people will bond with voices and commitments on this 2012 Earth Day and call upon everyone to do their part for a sustainable future. In this household as in many others, we celebrate Earth Day daily but it is important to come together once a year to recognize your gifts to all who depend on you for life.

In a small way, I’ve celebrated this time of year by giving and planting trees to schools, clubs or communities, first for Arbor Day, then after 1970, for Earth Day. In 2004, those trees were gifted to mark another occasion… Andy’s Earth Day in Williamsburg, Virginia. On Greensprings Trail in 2004, over 100 friends and family members gathered that year to recognize and honor the life of my nephew, an Eagle Scout, Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps graduate and Biology major at Christopher Newport University, who tragically lost his life in a canoe accident the previous year. We gathered to clean the trails, rake, pick up debris, and plant native trees and flowers on the trail where Andrew helped make the signage and gave nature tours to youngsters, for he loved nothing better than to pass on knowledge, the appreciation of nature and environmental awareness. At the end of the day, family and a few friends migrated to Geddy Park in Williamsburg, the site of Andrew’s Eagle Scout project, to clean and plant in that park setting.

Since that time, the annual Andy’s Earth Day has continued. A spur trail from the Greensprings Trail now spills into a clearing near Jamestown Settlement onto an archaeological site of the historic Church on the Main, a site excavated by Andrew’s father, archaeologist Alain Outlaw. The site, protected by Williamsburg Land Conservancy, is where the annual Andy’s Earth Day takes place. Boy Scout Troop 103 spends the weekend cleaning and maintaining, adding paths, planting trees, and earning merit badges…. rain or shine! There is no better way to build a deeper awareness and convert ideas into habits than starting with the young.

I’m in New England now but I still feel the energy from Andrew and Andy’s Earth Day as I kneel to plant new life in these New Hampshire gardens. Let’s hope the many who stand together today can channel that energy into action, perhaps joining with a Billion Acts of Green… or in a more personal way… today and the other 364 days of the year.

A Monocromatic World

I’m hearing from friends in Virginia who are waxing poetic about the glories of springtime in the Commonwealth. I don’t blame them. It’s easy to gush over Virginia’s blooming bulbs, flowers, flowering trees, and woody shrubs that come alive with color, but hearing about all this makes me a little homesick. Having a lifetime of Virginia springtime memories, I believe there’s no lovelier place for the season of rebirth. This weekend in Gloucester, citizens will celebrate the daffodil at The 26th Annual Daffodil Festival and visit with Brent and Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, and discover why Gloucester is thought of as the daffodil hub in America.

Brent and Becky's Bulbs

Alas, while they are basking in color, I’m still living in a monochromatic world in New England. The grass is shades of brown, the trees are bare, the horizon often blends with the overcast sky. For a quick color fix, my daughter and I visited a well-known local nursery to see what we could see and see what there was to buy.

Ahhhh…. yellow! Plenty of yellow and green.

There were plenty of yellow daffodils, some tulips, a bit of crocus, some dahlia and pansies, and indoor plants, but the greenhouse was totally empty and the outdoor shrubs area was vacant. “It’s too early for planting,” they told us. Shoppers were moseying about, buying seeds, pansies, compost so clearly gardeners are gearing up for the season.

Our little outing was the perfect remedy for me, a color starved gardener just waiting for spring. It was just the ticket for this other gardener I met.  She was enthralled with the potted Iron Cross Shamrock (Oxalis deppei) and she bought it and thought maybe I should have a shamrock, too. Looking closer at her bonnet, I spied a few more shamrocks as adornment. Definitely Irish…. and still celebrating a bit of St. Paddy’s. How fabulous!

Preparations for Moving…

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

Ware Neck

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

North River

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

We never thought it would happen this soon…

… but after some short weeks on the market, we sold our home on the North River in Ware Neck, Virginia and we’re heading out on a new adventure.  We might be crazy but we’re heading north for the winter months to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Having a newlywed daughter and a college-aged son in New Hampshire, it seemed the perfect place to try something new. We’ll be packing up and shipping out next month. I’m excited to blog as a private citizen and not for the garden club about the flora and fauna of zone 5.  Who knows what we’ll find in New Hampshire (besides snow)? Stay tuned….

Coastal Color

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

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

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

Yellows on our road...

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

Japanese cutleaf maple

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

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

Ginkgo biloba

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

There’s a Spring in my Step!

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

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

Walking by Brent & Becky's Bulbs in the fall

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

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

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Bowls and Doileys in the Garden

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

Morning fog

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

Bowl and Doily Spider Webs

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

Bowl and Doily Spider Web in Dew

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

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

Bowl and Doily Spider (click for closer look)

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

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Virginia

Mosquitoes Suck!

After our recent soaking by Irene and Lee, mosquitoes have had a resurgence in Tidewater. The dogs are suffering, the cats find hiding places, the birds must be driven mad. I’ve seen a blood-fat mosquito on a frog and many mosquitoes swarming a passing box turtle. (I prayed he soon shut his ‘box’ against them.)

Male mosquitoes really do some good things in the garden. Scientists say they consume the sticky aphid residue on our plants and they do their fair share of pollinating while consuming nectar from flowers. And they DON’T bite us. The females are the problem.  Females consume blood for protein in order to reproduce but there are one or two female species of the 2,700 worldwide species that don’t consume our blood. One feeds on nectar and another eats other mosquitoes. I’d like to import those to America. In Tidewater, we have 35 different mosquitoes species but the most prolific is the Asian tiger mosquitoes that dine only during daylight hours. Near our salt marshes we have two species that can bite during the daytime. A particularly aggressive daytime or nighttime mosquito in our area is the dark rice field mosquito.

According to Larry Weber, a Minnesota Science teacher at The Marshall School in Duluth,  “A single meal can nourish 100 eggs or more. During a typical adult lifetime of two weeks to one month (adults of some species live six months or more), a mosquito bites one to three times.” Did he say the same mosquito could bite me three times? These bloodthirsty insects make me worry about West Nile, encephalitis and even malaria has been reported in Virginia.

For the most part I simply stay inside when mosquitoes swarm but I must fill bird feeders, weed a bit, mow, cut flowers, visit a neighbor, or walk the dogs. When I must venture out, the scene is reminiscent of The Birds. I open the front door and observe numerous mosquitoes waiting on the glass storm door biding their time like the bizarre seagulls on the telephone wires in the movie. Like Tippi Hendron, I cower. I know I’ll be ravaged by these mosquitoes no matter what I do.  I hate to lather myself with sticky, smelly repellents, homemade or bought, so I plan my strategy.  I have everything in hand for the job… bucket, clippers, leash, bird food, etc. I exit the house at a fast pace and get the job done in 20 minute spurts or less.

Keeps BUZZING Bugs away

But the very best solution I have is to invest in BUZZ OFF insect repellent apparel… shirt, bandana, pants, socks, hat. Mosquitoes will not bite through it. I look like I’m ready for the savanna but it really works! They buzz but they don’t bite. I don’t fog our area because of good insects and a multitude of birds, like my nesting hummingbirds. What works for you?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Good Night Irene…

Irene, I am truly seeing you in my dreams and hoping you won’t turn into my worst nightmare. In Virginia, the hurricane should pass offshore during the wee hours of Sunday, August 28. On shore, we expect high winds and coastal flooding. Today we stayed busy around the yard securing chairs, wheelbarrows, dog bowls, porch furniture, boat, etc. We know the routine. We’ve done this before. The dogs know somethings up. The cats suspect there a change in the air.  The hummingbirds are emptying the feeders as fast as I can fill them.  The only creatures on the property without a care are the goldfish in the pond. They’re already underwater and a little wind won’t ruffle their fins. The rest of us are staying glued to the projected path of the approaching hurricane.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Fall Webworms Are Back!

Although it has been a light infestation in the walnut tree this summer, our native fall webworms began their damage in early July.  Small silken masses appeared at the terminal part of our walnut tree branches enclosing tree foliage, the larvae’s food source. As the larvae grew, so did the webs as the need for more food to support the growing insects.

Fall webworm - Hyphantria cunea (Drury)

The female fall webworm adult is a snowy white moth that emerges from pupation in leaf litter and beneath bark of trees and lays hundreds of eggs on the underside of leaves. Eggs hatch in a couple of weeks and larvae begin to spin their webs and feed and grow for several weeks.

Female fall webworm moth visits lights at night

Over a hundred species of trees in North America fall prey to fall webworms but in my yard, it’s always our lone walnut tree. Last year I raked the leaf litter beneath the tree where webworms pupate. I may have slowed the cycle but certainly didn’t stop it entirely.

In the north, there is only one infestation during the fall season but we can have two or more in Virginia. I can only hope we don’t have the heavy infestation we had last autumn where many trees were defoliated. Unsightly as it can be, fall webworms rarely threaten the life of a large healthy tree.

Insect pests in North America often originate in Europe and Asia but this is one pest that North America or Mexico accidently shared with the world. It is now a serious pest in all parts of the globe. Like insect populations everywhere, the population of fall webworms fluctuate a great deal over time. I believe conditions must be perfect for the fall webworm in Virginia at present for those unsightly nests are showing up more and more as I travel the roads and byways of Tidewater.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Beware Friends Bearing Gifts….

What began as a few sprigs of tiny pine-like greenery in a pass-along plant several years ago has become an aggressive colonizer in an area of our yard. The culprit is cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias), a European plant imported in the latter 1800’s to adorn graveyards. It soon outgrew its burial ground boundaries and has spread across North America, becoming more of a problem the further west it grew. It reproduces by seed and by a successful underground root system.

Euphorbia cyparissias

I must admit the plant is lovely to see in early spring with bright clusters of yellow blooms and contrasting bright green foliage. By June, the blooms have been replaced by a sea of green needles that stay fresh during droughts and extreme heats. Although the plant can really be attractive in mass, it is outgrowing the contained area along the gravel driveway. I deeply regret that I neglected to aggressively dig up the plants as soon as I noticed they were proliferating. Now it might be too late for an easy fix.

Like all Euphorbias, the cypress spurge emits a milky sap when cut or broken which can cause irritation on the skin or toxicity if ingested. Caution should be taken to avoid contact with bare skin or eyes. The plant is toxic to both humans and animals with sheep being the only animal that is not affected by the toxins.

I realize now that I should have not let the first few plants go to seed.  Having missed that early opportunity, I must start digging each plant, trying to get as much of the root clump as I can…. making sure I am wearing protective gloves and long sleeves to avoid the drips of sap. I’m also aware that generations of seeds lie on or under the soil just waiting to sprout for years to come.

Somehow I think the spurge will win the war.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s not the Heat in Virginia….

…it’s the Tidewater humidity that gets you. It can be sweltering and uncomfortable. Tidewater is classified as a subtropical zone which includes parts of Texas, most of Florida, up through Georgia, North Carolina all the way to Washington, DC.  Our winters are basically mild and dry and summers in Virginia are more often hot, humid, muggy, sultry, sticky, damp, rainy, steamy. Groan….. Moan….  Grumble…. Complain….

We are experiencing that high humidity of our dog day summer right now. Receiving 3-1/2″ of rain (joy, joy!) in the last 24 hours (7″ for the month) has turned our world into a sauna. I am venturing out daily to work for short periods in the yard but find myself dashing for the coolness of the porch beneath the big fan or escaping to the house where the air conditioner hums consistently even when set to 80º.

Watching the rain from the porch

Watching the rain from the window

The heat, humidity and recent gully-washer rainfalls have turned our area into a kudzo-like lush landscape. The greens of leaves on trees, shrubs, vines, grass seem to be closing in on roads and pathways. Steam rises over pavement, grass and soil. It’s more tropical than subtropical right now.Flowers in the garden bloom and die too fast and are taking a back seat to green chaotic growth everywhere. Weeds are finding a new foothold. mister gardeners tomatoes are ripening too fast to pick, his potatoes are trapped in the wet ground… too wet to harvest, the corn in the fields has bolted to 7′ tall (8′, says mister gardener). Grass needs to be mowed too often. Frogs, toads, birds and insects form a daily symphony of sounds, noisy sounds, screeches, squawks and bellows that continue day and night.

Corn towers

Delighted ferns... looking a little Jurassic in this humidity!

This is the Tidewater I have always known and loved. I may grumble but I wouldn’t trade one sultry day for life elsewhere.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester