End Of Summer Party

I love our neighborhood. On a peninsula of land surrounded by 3 different named bodies of water, our neck of land is tied closely together by space restrictions. We have one road in and out, one county store and post office where we meet and catch up on each other’s lives, good news, bad news, buy our groceries and get our mail. There isn’t much that happens that we don’t know about and get involved in.  And when it comes time to celebrate, we do that together, too. Today we will gather to celebrate the unofficial End Of Summer and send her off in grand style.

Our contribution to the edibles will feature what we can salvage from mister gardener’s vegetable patch.  Tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers, green-yellow and red peppers gave us some basic ingredients for Black Eyed Pea Salsa that screams, “I’m from the South, y’all…”

Salsa:

4 c. black-eyed peas, cooked and drained
5 T. chopped jalapeno peppers (to taste)
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, chopped and drained
3 small green peppers, chopped (yellow, red, green)
1 15-oz. can of corn
salt, pepper
Cool peas and mix ingredients. Pour the dressing over, mix, chill and serve with garlic and butter pita chips. Salsa is best made one day ahead.
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Dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (to taste)
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
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Happy Labor Day!
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 Longleaf Pine

I’ve got a thing for pine trees.  The very first trees I put in the ground in Gloucester were loblollies My longleaf pine in the Secret Gardenthat are now sixty feet tall and limbed up not to interfere with our view of the river.  Ten years ago, I found a small longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) at a local nursery and snatched it for our yard.  It now stands 25-feet tall, on its way to 100-feet, and I am infatuated with it.

I buy needles from North Carolina’s longleaf pines for garden mulch and the remarkable needles are over a foot long.  My longleaf pine stands in the middle of my new Secret Garden and I love to walk under it and be awed by its carpet of fallen needles at this time of year.

At one time, longleaf pine forests dominated the southern landscape from Virginia south through nine states and covered over 90 million acres.  It is what the first Europeans witnessed in discovering the new world. In today’s fragmented environment of developments, highways, farms and cities, it’s hard to imagine seeing these pine forests that often stood alone as the only species.  Amazingly, the tree’s survival depended on fire.  longleaf and loblolly needleFrequent fires in dryer areas moved quickly through southeast forests where longleaf pines over ten feet tall survived and thrived. Where there was fire, you could find a longleaf pine forest.

Sadly, in the last 150 years, the longleaf pine forest has been transformed from a forest that dominated the southern landscape to protected pockets of forests in most of the nine states.  Used for lumber, turpentine, pitch, tar, cleared for development or agriculture, 97% of the original longleaf pine forests have disappeared.

Today the tree is being seen for sale more often at nurseries in the Tidewater area.  I bought one last Great prices for 10' longleaf pine!year and two more this fall at great prices for 10’ trees.  My purchases won’t restore the longleaf pine forest in Virginia but perhaps we will see an effort to re-establish the forests on large tracks of private lands in Virginia. If more is not done, it is possible that we see the demise of the remaining forests and the unique habitat that depends on them.

To protect those forests and educate the public, the Longleaf Alliance (LLA) was established in 1995. The group coordinates partnerships between private landowners, forest industries, state and federal agencies, conservation groups, researchers, and other enthusiasts interested in managing and restoring longleaf pine forests for their ecological and economic benefits.  Learn more here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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The Incredible Edible Fig

Read & Eleanor's Fig PreservesTalk about Time Travel.  Yesterday I bit into my first fig of the season.  One taste and and I was whisked back to my childhood, lying on the warm grass beneath the boughs of a neighbor’s fig tree eating an endless supply of sweet succulent figs. The amazing taste and texture of a fig with all those tiny seeds is an experience like no other.  It’s positively addictive.  With the moist spring we’ve had, 2009 should be a bountiful harvest year.

The cultivation of the fig dates back 4-5 thousand years and before Biblical times, believed first in Egypt, then Crete, and on to ancient Greece, where they are still a traditional part of the daily diet.  Thought to have been brought by Spaniards to the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century and to Jamestown during the founding years, Virginians like to credit Thomas Jefferson for helping to popularize the fig.

Members of the ficus family, fig trees are easy to grow in zone 7 and higher.  They are bug and disease resistant but you must share the harvest with an occasional flock of birds or your dog (they love figs!).  Fig trees reach heights of 30 – 50 feet and can bear two or three crops a season.  In our area, we see two different kinds of figs: Brown Turkey, copper-colored with no neck, and Celeste, purplish and more fleshy.  Locate the plant against or near a south-facing wall so it can benefit from reflected heat during the winter.  If temperatures fall below 15 degrees F, insulate the roots with mulch.

Figs fall into the false-fruit category like strawberries as each fig harbors thousands of tiny fruits. When you pick, make sure the figs are ripe as they do not ripen off the tree.  The taste is fabulous on its own but marries well with a variety of foods and recipes abound.  Preserves is one of my favorite ways to enjoy figs all year and I’m lucky that friends share gifts from their trees.

figs

Read and Eleanor McGehee of Ware Neck often make preserves from their harvest for Christmas gifts but they’re not divulging their recipe and I’m not pressing them.  (Shhhhh….  I know lemon is one of their secret ingredients.)  Some recipes call for ginger, lemon or the rind of a lemon, while others list cinnamon, cloves, or allspice as ingredients.   Eleanor is a member of The Garden Club of Gloucester.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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A New Secret Garden

When I announced over dinner to mister gardener that I am developing a spot in the yard for a new secret garden, his response was, “A secret garden? Why would anyone want a secret garden?”

Surprised, I had to think a minute.  “Well, it’s the delight of planning, planting, the joy of using it, sharing it and the excitement of discovery.”

“If you ask me (nobody did), I don’t think it makes sense. It would be like me making a beautiful chair in the workshop, then bringing it up to the house and hiding it in a closet.  Maybe I’d share it.  Maybe I wouldn’t.”

I could see we were going nowhere with this.  “You’ve got a point, dear…”  And we switched to the conversation to the wonderful tomato harvest.

Like sugarplums, visions of the new secret garden are dancing in my head.  I have already spent several days hidden deep inside clearing, pruning, transplanting, and making room for what is to be. Dragging in a chair, I sometimes sit and think about the habitat I will create for the birds that I already see in this area, I imagine leading the grandchildren on anmy other bunny adventure picnic to an enchanted new wilderness, and I think of sipping my morning coffee here watching a microcosm what goes on in nature.  There are two bunnies that call this garden home.  They do not scurry when I approach.  They are stretched out on the cool earth.  Like the animals of the Galapagos they have no fear of humans.  So together we share this space, just me and the bunnies.

One fun feature is that I can peek out into the world of bright sunshine and roses and mowed grass but no one notices me hidden in the dappled sunlight in this new space.  The labs walk by searching and sniffing the air and I have seen mister gardener scratch his head and look around for me.  “Yoo hoo,” I say.  Up until my little announcement, he thought I was just weeding. Now he wonders if I’m actually going through with this notion.  I see it on his face.  I think secret gardens must appeal more to Maid Marions of the world who grew up with playhouses and sisters.  I will allow this Merry Man to join me in my secret garden for a cocktail on occasion.  I shall name it Sherwood Forest.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Rough End to the Weekend

No relief!Last night, I sat huddled on the couch until midnight with two labs and two cats and no power in the house.  Severe thunderstorms pounded Gloucester County overnight with damaging winds and numerous lightning strikes.  Our only light came from very close and frequent lightning and the only sounds we heard were from loud claps of thunder and window-rattling wind gusts or an occasional whimper from me.

The cause of the storms was hot and muggy weather stalled over the entire Atlantic Seaboard.  Cooler air from the north could not penetrate this system due to a Bermuda High firmly situated over the Atlantic Ocean.  With the High strongly in place, we will not have any relief from the muggy weather for the next several days. The storms that passed through last night could roar through each afternoon through Wednesday. Yikes!

Our water gauge registered 3 1/2″ of rain overnight. The pond is overflowing but okay.  So far mister gardener has discovered one tall Tulip Poplar that was struck by lightning but I think there could be damage on more of our trees.  I can hear chain saws on distant properties so we are not alone.  I do wonder how wide this storm front was that passed through Virginia.

As the dogs and cats and I huddled together during the storm last night, where was mister gardener you might ask?  He was asleep.  He heard nothing.  He saw nothing.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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How to Rid a Fish Pond of a Snake in One Easy Step

Yesterday I leaned over the pond to adjust the water fountain as I always do, lost my footing and in a flash I hit the water creating a pond-sized tsunami that blanketed the flower bed.  As I fought to regain my footing in the midst of lily pads, I spotted our resident water snake bolt like a rocket from the pond and quickly escape to safety across the yard.  This was a moronic way to solve the snake problem but, hey, I think I scared it enough that it won’t be back.

This harmless 16” snake took up residence about a month ago.  Very timid, it always would disappear into rocks when I approached and my glimpses were fleeting.  But I saw enough to identify it as an Eastern Garter snake, a common snake in the area that can adapt to a variety of habitats including fish ponds.  They mainly eat earthworms but will feed on amphibians and fish.  I tried a variety of ways to catch it including nets, flushing it from the rocks with a hose, but it outfoxed me every time… until now.

Wipe that smile off!

I was relieved that mister gardener did not witness my humiliating misadventure but as I climbed from the pond, I noticed Big Bullfrog just watching me.  Is that a grin on his face?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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Sunshine On A Cloudy Day

Daylilies….
Orange Clockwork: Bill DuPaulIf your idea of a perfect summer garden is drifts of colorful yet carefree flowers, then daylilies are the flower for you. They are a forgiving plant, easy to grow, long-lived, low maintenance, salt tolerant, accept soil from sand to heavy clay, and are ranked among the top five drought resistant plants.  They are perennial and can be used as ground cover, in drifts in borders or used as accents in the landscape. No green thumb is needed to enjoy summer-long blooms in a vast array of colors.

The invitation came from a neighbor, Bill DuPaul, to visit his glorious daylily gardens.  A scientist recently retired from Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Bill is now devoting more time to the science of growing and hybridizing daylilies in Martian Sunset: Registered by Bill DuPaulWare Neck.  He is a 1st class grower who has a strong desire to share his knowledge and his plants with others.

Despite inclement weather, mister gardener and I were delighted to join Bill for a drizzly excursion through his daylily gardens.  Just gazing at the vibrant colors brought us a bit of sunshine beneath the clouds. As we walked we learned more about substance, texture, colors, sizes and forms of daylilies.  We have certainly come a long way from the common orange ditch daylilies that are seen on roadsides, fields, and around mailboxes.  Today’s shades range from yellows, oranges, pinks, purples, near whites, to vibrant reds and one with a unusual touch of blue he is hybridizing.

Bill is meticulous about his methods and choosy about registering the hybrids he develops.  Only the very best of the best will heWare Yellow: Bill DuPaul register with the American Hemerocallis Society.  To date he has registered four but some of his daylilies are local favorites and hotly sought after.  To have a ‘Ware Yellow‘ in your garden gives you certain bragging rights.  Ahem.  Yes, I have two.

You can find Bill’s daylilies for sale at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, May through October.  Bill’s wife, Jaye, is a member of the Garden Club of Gloucester.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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Fireworks Every Day in the Garden

Every two and a half weeks I stand in line at Costco along with other bulk shoppers, their carts full of king-size supplies of food and my cart containing only two items….two king-size bags of sugar, 50 lbs. of sugar to be exact, just enough to fill 7 hummingbird feeders with nectar for about 18 days.  There is a formula to estimate how many hummers reside in an area by the amount of nectar they consume but we aren’t interested in knowing.  We only know we have oodles of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that are drawn here year after year by an abundance of food, water, and nesting sites. Suburban and rural gardens are ideal hummingbird habitats with trees, shrubs, open areas of grass or meadows, water and flowers.  With the addition of the right flowers, most gardens will attract these miniature thespians to entertain you in the garden.

leucistic Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Ware Neck VAThese “glittering garments of the rainbow,” as John James Audubon called them, are the most colorful and prolific bloomers in our gardens from early spring until late fall. We recognize the same individuals as they arrive each spring, not only by their familiarity with us, but by unusual markings on some of them.  Several of our hummers are leucistic, a condition of reduced pigmentation in the feathers.  As new generations are born each spring to these birds, it is interesting to see the white leucistic variations on the heads of the offspring.

We are entertained by the raging territorial battles to protect their nectar source. They battle each other, bees, birds, the dogs and people.  As the ‘king’ of one feeder chases an intruder, several others slip in to have a sip from his nectar cache. These jewel-colored birds with their explosive and ferocious territorial dances at speeds of up to 60 mph provide us with 4th of July fireworks every day of the summer.

Did you know?

  • The Ruby-Throated is the only hummer to breed east of the Mississippi yet during migration you can see other varieties passing through.
  • Hummingbirds are great pollinators, often better than bees because they feed continuously from dawn to dusk.
  • Hummingbirds do eat insects: gnats, mosquitoes, spiders, aphids, etc.  In the early spring they will look for insects trapped in sap from woodpecker holes.
  • Females do all the nest building, often attaching it with spider silk and pine resin, and camouflaging it with lichens and fungus.  The nest is walnut-sized and the 2 eggs are pea-sized.  The male continues to court other females after mating.
  • Predators include spiders, preying mantis, dragonflies and other birds. I have witnessed a bullfrog in our pond jump a foot straight up to within 1/4-inch of a hummer at a pickerel weed bloom. We have rescued them from spider webs and nursed them from collisions with each other.
  • At night, due to their small size and lack of insulation, hummers enter a state of torpor, a hibernation-like condition where the breathing and heart rate slow dramatically.

Nectar recipe:  1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts water.  According to Bill Williams of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology, it is not necessary to boil the solution, just dissolve the sugar. Male Ruby-Throated HummingbirdThe nectar solution can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. Do not use the commercial red dye solution.  Keep the feeder very clean to avoid black mold that can be harmful to the birds.

Bill Williams also states that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has recently been documented wintering over in two Tidewater locations.  Is this a new trend? It very well could be he says.

Plants to attract:  hibiscus, flowering quince, currants, weigela, azalea, mimosa, and buddleia.   Flowers to attract: morning glory, columbine, trumpet vine, fuschia, bee balm, bleeding heart, honeysuckle, virginia creeper, and salvia.  Remember, they are attracted to the color red.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Summer Solstice and Father’s Day, All Rolled Into One

Mr. Gardener's hobby Today, June 21, is the Summer Solstice, the longest day and the shortest night of the year.  Humankind has known about the relationship between the earth and the sun since the dawn of time and today, as in days of yore, it is still celebrated with bonfires all around the world. Early pagan couples leaped across the flames, believing that their crops would grow as high as they could jump.  There will be no bonfire or leaping in Gloucester today but with the bit of extra sunlight, we can take a Father’s Day peek at my mister gardener’s vegetable garden.

vegetables

We have all heard and read much about sustainable gardening becoming more mainstream in the last few years but there are plenty of gardeners who have forever followed this philosophy.  Guidelines govern what sustainable or green gardening means but in simple words, it means a garden should be part of its natural surroundings and it should exist in harmony with the environment and the rhythm of nature.  My mister gardener built his garden from the soil up by amending with his compost and nourishing it with gifts from horses, chickens and the city of  Yorktown’s compost.  Wastes from the garden are composted and recycled into the soil.  He uses as few chemical resources as possible and he is learning about and using alternatives more each year, such as the principles of integrated pest management.

There is no landscaping rule that says a vegetable garden can’t be attractive or be aGarden ripe for Father's Day part of the total landscape.  Around his vegetable garden, he designed and built a handsome picket fence complete with two gates and an arbor.  Knock Out roses in three shades grace the sunniest side and apple trees bear fruit on the far side.  Inside his garden, friendly wide paths of organic pine needles lead you to the heart of the operation where he shares residency with a family of tolerant bluebirds.

Vegetable gardening for him is reconnecting to the Earth and every swing of the hoe is a satisfying exercise. Just strolling through his well-tended oasis brings a bit of serenity to visitors, but most importantly, these delicious and varied vegetables sustain us all summer.  Is there anything like the taste of a red, ripe garden tomato, still warm from the summer sun?Digging potatoes

Mister gardener and I both agree that the most rewarding aspect of the vegetable garden is passing on the knowledge to the next generation.  Last weekend our 5 year old granddaughter visiting from Ohio was astonished to discover that potatoes grow underground.  The look on her face as she dug and gathered potatoes for our evening meal was priceless.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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A Living Fossil Goes to Seed

Ginkgo biloba seedsI saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth last month, dressed in pink with a matching pink hat, marking the 250th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens by wielding a shovelful of dirt onto the base of a newly planted Ginkgo biloba tree.  In April, I read that Governor Schwarzenegger celebrated Earth Day by helping to plant a ginkgo tree in California.  These surviving relics date from the Permian period, over 270-300 million years ago, where the great forests of fern-like plants shifted to gymnosperms with offspring enclosed in seeds. The ginkgo actually predates the Age of Dinosaurs.

Two of these majestic trees, large and sturdy, grace the edge of my pond overlooking the river and a third, the runt, underdeveloped and frail, stands apart near the drive.  All three are approaching 40 years of age, mere babies for they can can live for a millennium.   When we first occupied this property, I fussed over the runt like a frail child.  Fertilizer. Water. Compost.  No response.  I eventually left it alone to grow ever so slowly until three years ago when I noticed unusual growths on the tree.  Those formations were the beginnings of seeds.  My runt had been a female all along and was finally fertilized by my robust males by the pond.  In her prime at age 36 she began to produce and drop marble-sized seeds. Dozens fall to the ground each summer and by spring, a large number of offshoots appear beneath her boughs.

Like rotting fruit under a tree, the ripe flesh around the seeds give off a pungent odor, a smell that suggests overripe cheese in my opinion.  Sadly, for this reason, the male is the preferred tree, an unfortunate fact that may impact future survival of the tree as it has made a plant endangered list.  I love my tiny ginkgo offspring and make them available for friends and neighbors who would like to adopt a baby… sex unknown for 30-plus years.

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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