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.

October 31, 2012

Still Sleeping

     Even when they no longer had to be, Sonny and Melinda were early risers.  She was always up to make sure Sonny had some breakfast before he headed to the creek to pull a meager living from the water.  What little money he did make was given over to Melinda who added it to the more considerable sum she collected in rent from the farms her daddy left her.  Finances held no interest for Sonny, and he was perfectly happy to let his wife handle them, as well as all other details of their life. 

     In the past few years, keeping track of Sonny took up most of Melinda's time, and to her friends, seemed to also be taking a toll on her health.  More than once, concerned neighbors called to say they saw him walking down the county road towards the docks, even though his boat was gone now, Melinda having sold it.  He walked because she also sold his truck after the sheriff warned her about ever seeing Sonny behind the wheel again.  In the house she found that keeping the television and radio off helped keep Sonny less agitated.  Except for the ever-present wind and Melinda's soft humming, things were kept mostly quiet now.

     The day things changed, Sonny came downstairs to no breakfast or coffee on the table, and no neatly rowed string of pills Melinda had been laying out for him.  He was able to find some cornbread from last night's dinner on the counter.  Sitting there most of the morning occasionally picking crumbs off the shirt he slept in, he listened to the wind outside and to the sounds of the house.  The phone rang about mid morning, but Melinda didn't answer it, and Sonny had stopped using the phone.  When it rang these days it was usually their daughter calling from across the bay, always at the same time, always with the same questions.  He once looked forward to her calls, but this changed as memories of her faded in his shrinking world.

     When Sonny's stomach told him it was time for lunch, but there was none, he went looking for Melinda.  He found her upstairs still in bed from the night before.  It was unlike her to nap, let alone sleep-in.  He was awfully hungry and needed her to wake up, but even calling her name she would not stir.  Sonny crawled into bed with Melinda thinking he could tickle her special spot and maybe wake her, but her arm was in the way, stiff and cold.  A disappointed, confused Sonny went back downstairs to eat the last of the cornbread, never thinking to open the pantry door or to look in the fridge.

     Early in the afternoon the phone rang again breaking the house's silence, but this time it didn't stop, and to Sonny felt as if the ringing was in his head.  Wishing the noise would stop, he finally picked up the phone, and on the other end there was a voice he thought he should know.

"Momma? Momma?  Momma are you there?"

"Hello. I'm Sonny Belote."

"Daddy?  Daddy, where's Momma?"


"Where's Momma?  Melinda, where's Melinda?"

"She's still sleeping."

You can read my other works of Halloween fiction here and here.

October 28, 2012

Before a Storm

This weekend we had planned on traveling to my parent's place on Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary and to spend time with family.  We still went, but Sandy cut our time short, as we had to come home and prepare, plus we did not necessarily want to be on the road today.  Normally we do not find ourselves on the Shore during the fall, primarily because my previous schedule prevented it, so it was a treat for me to see one of my favorite landscapes in transition.

Yesterday morning the dogs and I walked to the shore of Metompkin Bay.  I had my camera with me, because you never know what you might see, but I was not expecting anything special.  My assumption was wrong.

Metompkin Bay (12)

Metompkin Bay (14)

Metompkin Bay (18)

Metompkin Bay (11)

Metompkin Bay (13)

Metompkin Bay (7)

Metompkin Bay (4)

Metompkin Bay (5)

Most of the color and interest was coming from the the marsh grass (Spartina alternifolia and S. patens), seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia), American glasswort (Salicornia virginica)and something I could not ID.

The white flower below is Baccharis, and right now all the local marshes are rimmed by clouds of the stuff. It truly is one of our under-appreciated native shrubs, very tough and very salt-tolerant.  The plant in front of it with the pink stems and pink seeds or fruit is a mystery to me, but I think it is some variety of Rumex.  If anyone has a better guess, please tell me.  Mystery solved, thanks to Brian.  It appears to be Atriplex prostrata, commonly known as triangle orache. The stems are fleshy, not woody and the foliage is hastate.  Sorry the picture is not clearer, I was focusing on the Baccharis. Metompkin Bay (6)

The most surprising color came from the Salicornia, which is an interesting plant in that salt water does not phase it, it is edible to humans and livestock, can be processed into a biofuel, and look at the unreal fall color!
Metompkin Bay (2)

Metompkin Bay

Metompkin Bay (21)

Monday's forecast for the Atlantic side of the Eastern Shore calls for anywhere between 4-10' tides depending on who you believe, so all of this will likely be flooded over. The area is no stranger to hurricanes  and the landscape will recover in time, maybe even a little quicker than some of the people Sandy will touch. It appears it will be a life-changing event for some.

October 24, 2012

One Lucky Guy

I have been at my new job for about 5 weeks now, and after spending the first week or two in a constant state of being overwhelmed, now I get a break from that feeling every so often.  At these moments I can look around, pinch myself, and say that I am fortunate to work where I do. So I thought I would share with you a little bit of what I get to see every day.

This fountain is the centerpiece of Baker Perennial Garden, and there are a series of concentric gardens surrounding it.  The hardscape is formal, the plantings are not.

Baker Perennial Garden (2)

Baker Perennial Garden (6)

Chrysanthemum 'Cambodian Queen'
Chrysanthemum 'Cambodian Queen'

Salvia microphylla 'Wild Watermelon'
Salvia microphylla 'Wild Watermelon'

The plant below is Leonotis leonurus or lion's ear.  Despite being native to southern Africa, it is hardy for us here in zone 8.  Being crazy for orange, I am going to have to get one for my own garden, I just don't know what will be pulled out to make room for it.
Leonotis leonurus

Leonotis is also planted in the Humming Bird Garden, where it acts as a colorful background for other things.
Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender'

Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'

Delosperma 'Kelaidis'
Delosperma 'Kelaidis'

Callicarpa japonica 'Heavy Berry' (Japanese beautyberry)
Callicarpa japonica 'Heavy Berry'

Salvia involucrata, roseleaf sage
Salvia involucrata (4)

The rich back-lit foliage belongs to Colocasia esculenta 'Diamond Head', which has proven to be perennial here in the right location.
Colocasia esculenta 'Diamond Head'

Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph
Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph' (2)

We have a wonderful children's garden, which also has some unusual plants, but these in the picture are not, though I liked the way they looked together.  The yellow tree is Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) and the burgundy foliage is Loropetalum chinensis.
Ulmus parvifolia

Spitting Lion

We are in the middle of pulling out our summer annuals and popping in things that can take cool weather.  This is Lantana in the front (sorry I don't know which cultivar) and Cassia alata in the back, both of which have numbered days.
Lantana and Cassia

Cassia alata

Several areas of the garden are devoted to our local native plant communities, and some of the earliest fall color is starting there.  The color below is from a tree most gardeners consider a scourge due to its messy fruit, but sweetgum (Liquidambar straciflua) is worth putting up with for its fall color.
Liquidambar styraciflua (2)

I am sure you will continue to see more of Norfolk Botanical Garden on this blog, but if you want to see more of the photos I took this weekend, you can click here for the complete set on Flickr.

October 15, 2012

Bloom Day October 2012

This Bloom Day finds me without much to say.  The weather has been cooler than normal and drier than normal.  I have had to irrigate the garden once since last Bloom Day, but it was only the third time this year, so I didn't mind.  The new job is going well, I stay very busy, learn something new each day, enjoy my co-workers and come home with a sense of accomplishment.  It has been odd having weekends off, as I have never had a job that allowed that.

Enough chit chat, let's look at the garden.  This picture below is what you see heading up the front steps, and the following photos are close ups of the components.
Front Entrance

Hibiscus sabdariffa (Roselle Hibiscus)
Hibiscus sabdariffa (2)

Hibiscus sabdariffa

Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage)
Salvia leucantha

Dendranthemum 'Bolero'  (Bolero Chrysanthemum)
Dendranthemum 'Bolero'

On the front steps themselves, the coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) are still looking good, and I could not imagine my garden without them.  This is Big Red Judy.
Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Big Red Judy'

Solenostemon scutellarioides

This coleus is a seedling that popped up in one of my pots.  I am going to take it to work and have it propagated.
Solenostemon scutellarioides (2)

A couple of other annuals are also still going strong, in fact, the Zinnia x 'Profusion Fire' is looking better than it has all summer.  I plant these every year, but this year I got them from a different source, and I don't know what they did, but I had to baby these all summer.
Zinnia angustifolia x elegans 'Profusion Fire'

Angelonia x

Lantana (Its name is lost to poor record keeping, but I love its October appropriate colors)

Cestrum aurantiaum 'Orange Zest'
Cestrum aurantiaum 'Orange Zest'

I love toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta), they thrive on neglect, have not needed any water other than rain, they flower in the shade, and remind me of little orchids.
  Tricyrtis hirta

Also supposedly easy to grow is Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope', but mine has struggled through this summer, even before the new sidewalks went in next to it.  I am hoping to see a little more independence from it next summer.
Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope'

Here is the never struggling Ajania pacifica (Gold and Silver Chrysanthemum).
Ajania pacifica

Everything in the shadier back garden is either green or orange.  Green from foliage...
Backyard Foliage

... and orange from the falling fruit of Poncirus trifoliata.  I have never seen this much fruit on (or off) this tree, it's nearly a pedestrian hazard.
Poncirus trifoliata

So that's my garden this October.  If you would like to see what is blooming and falling in some other gardens this month, then head on over to see Carol at May Dreams Gardens, as she is the hostess for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

October 7, 2012

Along the Nottaway, part II

Last October I took the kayak up the Nottaway River, which is about an hour west of here.  At the time I did not know how close I was to a patch of virgin forest, home to and now final resting place of Big Mama, once Virginia's oldest tree. Last fall I vowed to return, so yesterday, armed with a clearer picture of where this remnant forest is actually located, I headed up the Nottaway again.  Unfortunately the river is so low right now, almost 4' below normal, that I could not get into the swamp to find Big Mama or any of her nearby relatives, and had to stick to the main river channel instead.  However, I always appreciate any opportunity to get away, and the day was not wasted. Just like last year, I had the river all to myself, except for the animals.  Fish were jumping at every turn, and I startled a few deer and some wild turkeys.  I also saw the usual crows, egrets, herons, kingfishers and as best I could tell, a flock of common mergansers, but I was most excited to see a pileated woodpecker.  All and all it was a very good morning, even if I couldn't find what I was looking for, but that will just give me an excuse to go back again.

Old Bridge


Morning Light (2)


It may not have been Big Mama, but this bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) was about 8' wide at the base and had what appeared to be a collection of smaller trees for a canopy.
Old Cypress

Morning Light (6)

There were a couple of benefits to the low water mark. One was that I found this layer of shells on the mud bank composed of mostly oysters, scallops and a few things I did not recognize. Considering this is a freshwater river and is over 60 miles inland from the Atlantic, this layer told a telling tale.
Shell Bank

The other benefit of such low water was being able to appreciate the exposed tree roots along the river bank, some of which I did not fully appreciate until I got home and flipped the photo. What do you see?
Root Mirror (6)

The complete set of my Nottaway photos can be found here.