An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

August 30, 2008

Norfolk Botanic Gardens - Late Summer

I renewed my membership in the Norfolk Botanic Garden back in April, but have only taken advantage of it once since then. So I had an afternoon free and drove over. The gardens looked great, despite the lack of rain here. Fay turned out to be a big tease. We had several days of overcast skies that would occasionally part with a few showers. We kept wondering when the real rain would start, but it never did.

There is a canal that runs through the garden and connects to Lake Whitehurst where some of the city's municipal water is stored. I remember coming here as a child with my grandparents before I lived here. We were on a bus tour and my two favorite parts were the canal boat ride through the gardens, and when the bus driver took us through a bad part of town retelling stories of being shot at. Currently the canals walls are being rebuilt so there were no rides yesterday.
The view from NATO tower.

This built in planter was by the cafe, and I although don't usually like this color combo, I thought this was very nice.

The signage is very good at the gardens, but I could not find one on this plant. The leaves were about 8-10" across and the flower is the 3-4" white spike in the middle. It was very tropical looking and had jointed canes like bamboo. At places it was over 6' tall and it looked herbaceous. Does anyone know what this is?
I had never seen this Paper Mulberry (Broussonettia papyifera 'Golden Shadow').
Also new to me was Hibiscuss sabdariffa. The flowers were not nearly as showy as the buds and stems.
A lot of the grasses were at their peak as was reliable Joe Pye.
Magnolia x 'Pink Goblet'
Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper (Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl') was developed at the National Arboretum is was an All-America Selection winner.
This summer the gardens are exhibiting "Mutambo", sculptures from Zimbabwe. They were placed all throughout the garden and seemed to fit in perfectly with their surroundings.

Finally, NBG have placed a Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) in its own cage. I guess they fear its theft or they think it would be a good gimmick. They are very scarce in the wild, but there is a huge propagation effort going on so they should be in a garden center near you, or will be available through mail order. I don't know what I think about this effort, there is something fishy about it. I am all about saving species, but does it need such a commercial marketing effort.

August 25, 2008

My $17,000,000 Photograph

Friday morning found me wide awake at 4:45 a.m. on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore fiddling with the fireworks feature on my camera. My son, my parents and I piled into the back of my dad's truck and headed to the edge of Metompkin Bay to watch an unmanned rocket launch from NASA's nearby Wallop's Island. These events are not uncommon, even pre-dawn launches. However, word on the Shore was that this rocket was doomed to failure. Alliant Techsystems, Inc. which has been working with NASA, was said to be under a deadline to get this bird in the air, and perhaps they overlooked some details necessary for success. The word on the Shore also had it that NASA would go ahead and attempt launch even thought its confidence was not high, and that a finger would be kept on the self-destruct button. The promise of an early morning light show, especially with the potential for explosions, brought aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and strangers together at the water's edge.

At 5:10 a.m. the horizon suddenly was aglow with the gold light of ignition. The rocket lifted off slowly at first, but quickly gained speed as it left the island heading up and over the Atlantic. Shortly after take off, and apparently to no one's surprise, the rocket was off course and at 27 seconds that self-destruct button was pressed. The explosion illuminated the water below and we could see rocket chunks hitting the water. A large section landed on Assawoman Island and continued to burn for some time. The show was over in just a few minutes and everyone went back to their homes, some back to bed and some up for the day. On Saturday local TV news and the newspaper warned against touching any rocket parts as they might contain hazardous chemicals. They also mentioned that there were $17,000,000 worth of experiments on board, most dealing with hypersonic flight and another unrelated experiment for the Navy. That figure does not include the cost of the rocket, and neither NASA or Alliant is telling what that number is.

I am at a point in my life that I worry about scraps of paper that can't be recycled, and I try real hard to decline every plastic bag given to me by store clerks. It is also with some reluctance that I apply herbicides throughout the nursery, because I know what it does to earthworms and frogs. I think about stuff like this, and then I get to witness such an incredible waste of money and resources, not to mention what may have fallen on the island or fouled the waters. However, what is most troubling was that this failure was expected and they continued regardless.

August 19, 2008

Metompkin Island

After climbing the Commonwealth's highest peak last month, we headed back to sea level, stopping along the way to pick up the female members of the family, and then on to Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore. My parents live there next to Metompkin Bay, and from their house you can see Metompkin Island and at times can hear the waves hitting the beachfront. Metompkin is just one of a string of barrier islands that protect the Eastern Shore from the Atlantic. This part of Virginia contains the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the east coast. Most of the islands, marshes and tidal flats are owned by the Nature Conservancy as part of their Virginia Coast Reserve. Other parts of this ecosystem are owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia, or are federally protected, including Wallops Island owned by NASA and used for launching rockets.

The public is allowed to visit most of these islands if the rules are followed, but you need a boat - only one, Assateague, is accessible by car. These restrictions are necessary to protect the habitat for a number of endangered birds, including the Piping Plover, marine mammals and sea turtles. Unless the weather prohibits it, most of our visits to the Eastern Shore include a trip to Metompkin. We visited the island several times while we were on vacation, and except for the birds (and the hungry flies), we usually had the island to ourselves.

The first morning I got the sunrise over unusually still water. Some of the other photos might benefit from clicking to enlarge for a better view.

In the photo below, my mom is the tiny figure way down the beach. She is gathering shells which she hot glues onto straw wreath forms. She only uses shells found here. If you are ever on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore, you can see her handiwork at the Barrier Island Center gift shop.
... and Metompkin is full of shells. In places they make music rolling in the surf, and for beachcombers it is difficult to decide what to keep and what to leave.

Any interruption from the wind can cause vegetation to attempt to take hold.Plant life is sparse, comprised mostly of grasses, Wax Myrtles, the occasional Red Cedar and fleshy little things that can take the salt and sand.
From Metompkin you can see the abandoned Coast Guard Station on Cedar Island.
I love it when it is hard to distinguish between water and sky.

This is a view back towards the mainland - a floating raft of Loblolly Pines, fertile farms and small towns.

August 17, 2008

The Last Rose of Summer

Mary Parks Sprague
July 12, 1913 - August 11, 2008

She grew up on Mary St. in a town named Parksley, and she had a life well lived. Music, education, her church and her family were her life. She was a strong link to the past that came before me, and in her garden I learned many things. When she could no longer play the organ every Sunday, she would sit in the colored light coming from the girl in the red dress and listen to someone else's music.

Now that she is gone, it is only just that the cloud which increasingly shrouded her mind in the final years, is gone as well. I hope she has been reunited with her memories, her music, her dear Mason, and that she can finally talk to her God again, face to face with full clarity.

August 13, 2008

Abelia chinensis - Butterfly Magnet

Each year now for the past ten, it seems like more new Abelia culitvars are put on the market. It is becoming increasingly hard for me to distinguish the difference between all of the choices. I have been impressed with one new offering, 'Kaleidoscope' (Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope'), since I first saw it, and I especially like how it looks in the winter. The original plant was developed at Panoramic Farm in North Carolina, but now every wholesale nursery is clamoring for it. One of my childhood plant memories is of old-fashioned Glossy Ablelia (Abelia x grandiflora) which as kids we called the Bumblebee Plant which is also what we called Hibiscus syriacus (the curse of common names). Both would be covered in black and yellow buzzers in summer, and it was great fun to push each other into the plants. Alas, the bees were always too busy with their work to let boy's pranks get in the way.

One of the parents of Glossy Abelia is Abelia chinensis or Chinese Abelia, and it gets very few bumble bees. It is always too covered with butterflies to leave any room for other insects. We started carrying Chinese Abelia about 10 years ago, and it is one of those plants that will sit in the nursery for months unnoticed by customers. However, when it starts blooming it sells well and usually to people who had not come in looking for it. Humans are not only drawn to it because they like butterflies, but it is also has an incredible scent. In fact it is probably the most fragrant Abelia. Unlike others, Chinese Abelia is not evergreen and its flowers bloom in clumps instead of singly. It has a gangly wild habit, forms a 5-6' tall and wide clump and is hardy in zones (6)7-9.

August 11, 2008

Bloom Day - Hot Colors for the Hottest Month

I guess anywhere in the northern hemishpere, August is going to be the hottest month. For this month's Bloom Day I thought I would feature hot colors, which are my favorite. I usually try to plant a good number of annuals to carry me through our long summers, and they have to be able to take the heat. For foliage color, I always plant Margarite Sweet Potato Vine, Sun Coleus and Purple Setcresia (which has been perennial for me lately). For flower color I usually plant a few of the same things every year, but I always try something new with varying degrees of success.

Impatiens are a given for shade, but I am getting tired of their relentless need for water, and these are just under the porch roof and get very little rain.

One annual that has made my plant-every-year list is Profusion Zinnia. Once they kick in, they bloom non stop, without deadheading, until they are pulled out in the late fall. This one is Profusion Orange and ...

... below is Profusion Fire.
I can not say enough nice things about Lantana. I wrote a small article for the company E-newsletter on the plant and read more than anyone would care to know about the topic. Even though it is highly invasive in some parts of the world, that is not a problem in areas that have a winter. The first one I bought was reliable Miss Huff, which is very hardy for us, but give her plenty of room.
New Gold is sold as an annual and last year I had three, and this one came back.
I am not sure which one this is.
Here is a whiskey barrel I planted at work with Confetti Lantana, Purple Angelonia, Chili Willi Peppers, Angelina Sedum, Creeping Jenny and a thornless Opuntia.
This is Tiki Torch Coneflower and it is the first Coneflower I have bought in years. When all of the new varieties were coming out, I tried several and all of them died. The species comes up voluntarily for me every year and they take a lot of abuse and still thrive. I told myself that I would not plant another named variety, but when I saw this color I forgot all about that. My apologies to Benjamin in The Deep Middle for showing yet another Coneflower cultivar. If you follow the link you can read what he had to say about the topic back in March. Here is a Dahlia that has come back for me twice.
Hypericum does not normally rebloom for me, but this one is putting out again.
I also rely on houseplants and tropicals to fill in the late summer gap. This is just a Crown of Thorns, but it is the only red flower that my camera could capture without excessive saturation. What is it with red flowers and digital cameras?
Not so much hot as warm is the Pat Austin rose. This was a warranty return from customers who bring back way too many plants. I told them there was nothing wrong with it and if they had given it more water it would have been happier. I took it home just to prove them wrong. I hope they read my blog.
Thanks once again to Carol at May Dream Gardens for organizing a fine mid-month party. Pay her a visit and see what other gardeners are growing.