Sunday, April 12, 2009

24 Tonight

   This is a slightly better picture of one of my heaths.

Hmm.  It's Easter, so of course it's freezing and windy.  Yes, the daffs are blooming...Lots of hellebores, the bloodroot is coming along, there's Hepatica here and there.  I've noticed that our Japanese primroses have seeded in further down the stream...We'll probably be cited for starting a non-native invasion.   Don't care, they're gorgeous.  As long as the deer don't get to them before they bloom.    I will arm myself with a sprayer bottle full of Deer-Off when they are fully budded, and go do my best to protect them.

This is a Helleborus niger hybrid, possibly my favorite Hellebore and one of my favorite plants.  It blooms in early March, which in itself is a miracle.  And its beauty is miraculous as well.  It is more purely white than most strains of Helleborus orientalis, and I like the relationship of flower size to stem better as well.

Yesterday we watched as a Fisher wailed on an old birdhouse until he managed to rip off part of the roof, and extract the (hopefully already dead from fright) chipmunk within.  Quite a sight, clearly so much energy, strength and determination in that long furry body.  

Lots of remains of winter nests:                                  

The voles get pretty cozy.  P. says that they don't tend to nest as much if you clean up more in the fall.   I am a lazy gardener...

Monday, March 30, 2009


I don't think I saw a speck of snow until I drove up our driveway.  We have several piles, remnants of our plower's work.   One of them is quite enormous, but as I recall, there was still a fairly good supply of compost under there.  I shall be optimistic and believe that it's mostly soil.
Meanwhile, there is the usual mess:                         
I will tend to this soon.  When it's not so damn cold.  And wet.  In oh, about a month.

A few notes to brighten an otherwise very grey and damp homecoming:

Various heaths, the white one in brave full bloom, and the red one...just plain joyfully outrageous, surrounded as it is by bleakness and woe.  Sorry the picture of the red one (Winter Chocolate?) is so poor, I'll try to do better.

I grow them here, where it goes below -10 from time to time, without reliable snow cover and in a very exposed southwestern exposure.  They survived the worst winter ever, a few years ago ('06? I am not a journal keeper.  No, this blog does not qualify).   What is the secret?  I have no idea.  Heath-loving gremlins.  I have also lost some.

Customers will ask why one of a particular plant has died, when the other(s) has not.  They seem to imagine that gardening is a precise science.    

Another plant that I find gratifying at this time of year is the Sedum Angelique: 
                            This photograph doesn't come close to doing it justice.  In the cold days ahead it will become a brilliant rosey red, and as the weather warms, the succulent foliage becomes a brilliant chartreuse.   And it's a groundcover, growing contentedly and rapidly in any soil that isn't overly wet.  If it spreads to much, it's very easy to pull up.  Definitely one of my favorites.

As is this fine specimen:                         Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'.  Looks like total yuck at the moment, but soon it will regain its bronzy tones and burst forth with cobalt blue blooms.  I'd grow it even if it didn't flower; in fact, I'd probably prefer it that way.  I use it between stepping stones and it takes plenty of abuse - foot traffic (human and large bouncy dogs) and occasional dog pee (our dogs are generally very well behaved but they have their moments).  Another groundcover - I find groundcovering plants more and more useful (not to mention cost-effective).  My favorite favorite book on groundcover plants is Perennial Groundcovers by David MacKenzie.  This book will help move you beyond your vinca/pachysandra phase, if you're still stuck back there.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring on I-95

Of course it has been nicer to spend three months of winter instead of two in Florida.  And as a result, I am driving north a month later and seeing Spring at various stages (spring, sprang, sprung?) along the way.  My brother-in-law asked me to notice where there were no longer new leaves bursting forth, and still just winter-grey twigs:  A born New Englander like me, he has decided to head south for the next portion of his life.  He is focusing on Charleston, South Carolina and southward, which I think is wise.  Charleston is a delightful small city but he might be happier a little further south, and where swimming beaches are a bit more close-by.  Somewhere perhaps like St. Augustine, Florida, America's oldest city - established in 1565.  That of course is nothing to folks from much of the rest of the world, but for us New Worlders, it's downright ancient.

At any rate, I think it was somewhere in North Carolina where things began to look less vernal.  Yes, there are forsythia and daffodils in bloom here in Woodbridge, Virginia - but the deciduous trees are still very grey; there is barely a hint of the green surge that is soon to come.
The lovely view from my hotel room.

Seeking something botanical in this evening's room is a challenge, the following is the best I could do:
Those two reddish things are leaves.  The artwork is of a type very popular these days in hotel/motel rooms and at inexpensive art emporiums.  When I was an art school student there was a "movement" involving the collaging of various elements, usually including photographs from the artist's childhood, with a nostalgic effect though of course it was "high art" so nostalgia was certainly impermissible.    In these motel pieces it has all been highly sanitized and everything has become a mush of beige that will blend inoffensively with any decor.  At any rate it does not interfere with one's sleep.

On the other hand, there is the wallpaper:  It makes me think of the short novel  (or is it a long story?), The Yellow Wallpaper, not really the sort of story one wants to be reminded of when alone in a strange room.

Unless you are me, who has packed for her reading material M.R. James's Collected Ghost Stories.  They are not all wonderful, but a few have definitely crept into the dark untended corners of my brain.  I have always enjoyed a good (usually English) ghost story, but I had not read any for years until recently, when I saw that my husband had bought this book.  He had set it down after reading only one or two stories and not having been remotely disturbed.   But then, he doesn't comprehend my visceral fear of spiders, either (large ones only, and yes, I know they're wonderful.  They are messengers of Death, though, so keep that in mind.).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

On the Road Again

Canned Heat?  Willie Nelson?  Both.

Made it to Hardeeville, South Carolina today.  Which is an accomplishment, since as I first started my journey this morning, I checked to make sure my wallet was in its usual spot.  It wasn't.  Lost or stolen, and knowing me the former is far more likely.  I should tie anything of importance to my body.

Said goodbye again to our doorfrogs, who seem to be getting much livelier as the weather warms up.  They leap around and hurl themselves about with what seems like abandon, landing on one's leg or for example this morning, on Sally's bottom.  The frog moved on immediately and Sally looked puzzled until the next thing distracted her.
Sally is our 2 1/2 year old Miniature Australian Shepherd.  Here is a photograph of her beautifying herself on the beach.

Tried to take some nice pictures of the emerging seagrape leaves, which are amazing olive green pinkish colors, maybe the color of alien baby flesh. 

And to end the day on a gardenish note, here is the bit of botany from my lovely room at Holiday Inn, where I was treated very sympathetically by the woman at the reception desk.  I thought the reflection of the lampshade was a nice touch...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Natives, Frogs, and Farewells

Philip and I are on a very big learning curve, since there are so many genuses and species we've never heard of here.  I refuse to attribute it to my advancing age, but I seem to have more difficulty remembering the Latin names these days.  In the past it was a snap,  though it may have helped that I had a few years of Latin in school.  But the plant names here...Coccoloba uvifera, Rapanea guineensis, Xanthozylum fagara...!  Since I'm a snobbish northeasterner, I have a theory that the more south you get, the sloppier they were with their Latin.  Those names just don't seem right to me!

Our house is shaded by several Jamaican dogwoods (Piscidia erythrina or piscipula).  The word "dogwood", by the way, has nothing to do with dogs but refers to the fact that the wood is hard enough to make "dags" or daggers.  At least, that's the derivation for the common name of those dogwoods from the genus Cornus; I'm not so sure how the Jamaican dogwood came to be called that.  It's other common name is fishpoison tree.  The leaves and branches were used in the past to stun fish which were then easily caught.  It's a traditional herbal remedy for neuralgia, migraine, insomnia and other nerve disorders.  But at our house, it's just a useful shade tree, and a bit of a weed - a typical member of the Legume family, seeding around so that if we didn't pay attention, we might have a dogwood forest.

I am leaving here tomorrow, and sad to go.   Still, it's spring up north and there is much to look forward to; including messy gardens in need of serious cleanup...I am a lazy fall gardener:  I like Kathy Purdy's description at her blog, Cold Climate Gardening, of one's energy shifting toward indoor instead of outdoor cleanup as the cooler weather sets in.

I will miss our door frogs who snooze the day away above the window next to our front door:

And I will miss all of the exotic textures that I see here, such as these:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Scruffy and Unkempt

A friend and solidly experienced gardener (English, no less - so obviously particularly knowledgable!) who has vacationed near our Florida home, commented that she didn't care for the landscape here - Referring I suspect to the great messiness that surrounds us, the lack of large shade trees perhaps, and nothing in sight resembling a more traditional perennial garden.  

I will grant you that Gertrude Jekyll would mostly likely not enjoy the scenery here.  The sun, heat, and wind are harsh; and many areas are flooded during summer rains and then subjected to merciless drought during other seasons.   Plants along the road take on a silvery cast from the dust during the long dry spells.  Trees fall or lean over during high winds, and continue to grow, misshapen by our standards of upright neatly pruned perfection.  Nature here is a lunatic bonsai master.

There are plenty of tidy gardens, don't get me wrong.  There are rows of Royal Palms , Coccolobas and Hibiscus pruned within an inch of their lives, to be seen around many corners...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Under Foot and Over Head

Here's a lovely idea I linked to from The Inelegant Gardener's blog:

Pair that with a lovely green roof such as this,

 and you're all set, inhabiting a truly green world. At least until you step beyond your front door.