Archive for ‘field trips’

August 10, 2011

A Peek Over the Garden Gate: Buffalo

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I escaped the heat and went to hockey camp in Canada.  Spending time in Canada playing hockey with friends during the hottest months of the summer is the best way I know how to cool off and have some fun.  Instead of flying, we drove, and so on our way home we stopped in my husband’s hometown, Buffalo, NY. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect as the area was wrapping up its annual five-week National Garden Festival, giving us the opportunity to go on the popular Garden Walk Buffalo.  Imagine my luck to have two of my favorite things collide so fortuitously on one trip!

Garden Walk Buffalo is composed of many neighborhoods throughout the downtown area where residents graciously open their garden gates to allow the public a glimpse into the havens they’ve created in their front, side and back gardens.  The walk is self-guided and free, but we were limited in our time, so we decided on one neighborhood to tour, the Cottage District, a neighborhood with Victorian homes and cottages built during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  There were maps available, but we didn’t have one so we just drove through the general vicinity until we saw the first colorful cottages and groups of people strolling along the street.  We parked on the street and made our way down the block, visiting the cottage gardens that were marked by a tour sign in the front yard.  I was overwhelmed not only by the gorgeous gardens we visited but the number of participating gardens.  There were so many gardens on the walk, I know we didn’t get to see them all.  What can be said about the Cottage District in Buffalo is that it is beyond charming; it is enchanting.  Take a look for yourself; I made a meager attempt to capture some of the spectacular gardens we visited:

Garden Walk Buffalo



With long winters, there is little wonder why most people think only of snow and ice when they think of Buffalo.  However, it is exactly because of the long winters that I think the people of Buffalo really know how to celebrate summer.  From my view over the garden gate, I can see Buffalonians take full advantage of milder summer temperatures and embrace all that the warmer months have to offer, and do so with such creativity and heart.  Who knew a hockey town like Buffalo is also a warm, friendly, colorful garden town as well?  I can’t wait to go back…

Let’s go Buffalo!

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July 4, 2011

Virginia Natives, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part series that I began in May.  Part 2 is also meant as a springtime post and since we are already well into summer, I gave half a thought about saving this for next spring, but really, I don’t want to wait.  This post has been swirling around in the back of my mind for months, if not, years.  You can catch up on Part 1 here.

Upon my return home from the State Arboretum of Virginia, the first thing I did was change out of my suit and heels and into my comfy outside work clothes and flip-flops, and headed out into the yard.  I took a long slow walk along the treeline of the woods and examined what was growing there.  My husband and I built our house 8 years ago, and one of the first things we noticed after living here a couple of years, is what sprouted up along the treeline.  Tiny, new branches began to appear along the leafless trucks of the tall maples, wild blackberry and blueberry bushes flourished and curious little wildflowers popped up all over the place.  Lots of nature’s drama all in response to, what we suspect, the increased sunlight gained from the clearing for our house.

On my turn around the yard, the first thing I found was this Mapleleaf Viburnum.  I wouldn’t have known the name or that it has been identified as a plant native to Virginia dating back to the 1600s, had I not seen it on the arboretum’s Native Plant Trail.  As such, I was really excited to find it growing several yards from the garage and in the surrounding woods.

Viburnum acerifolium

Viburnum acerifolium

Every spring my friend and neighbor, D always talks about the Mountain Laurel growing rampantly in the woods surrounding her house. In years past, I have scoured the woods around our house and never found any.  I could never understand why since it seems to grow everywhere else in the area! Having given up finding any, I was all set to pay D a visit with camera in hand this year.  Mountain Laurel comes and goes very quickly every spring so I made plans to visit D as soon as she said it was in bloom. A couple of days before my visit while I was walking down our driveway to the mailbox, I looked up and caught a glimpse of white pom-poms in the woods. Had the sun been at a different angle, I probably would have never spotted it. To my surprise and delight, I had at last, finally discovered the only Mountain Laurel specimen in our woods! I wonder where it’s been hiding all these years?

Kalmia latifolia

Now, I have no idea if the following plants are “Virginia natives” or not.  These are a bit of a mystery and I can only make guesses as to what they actually are.  I am including them in this post because they are a part of nature’s drama that goes on here year in and year out, and are perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

Sitting on the back porch one April morning years ago, I spotted something very pink just past the treeline.  What I found was a rhododendron-azalea-y looking little bush.  I have heard of wild Rhododendron but have never seen it in this area. We have since put in a vegetable patch just beyond this “wild Rhodie”, and I like to keep the area cleared so I can always see it from the house.  This year, while we were doing the winter clean up and preparing the veggie bed, I noticed more of these little shrubs have sprung up.  I would love it if it continued to spread.

Wild Rhodie?

Another surprise appeared soon after we moved in.  I actually spotted it one day looking out the window.  I always called it my “wild Rose” and have gone to great lengths to protect it.  We once hired someone to take out a dead tree close by, and I made sure the tree-guy knew he was going to have to negotiate his and the dead tree’s way carefully around this shrub. When I checked on it in early June as it began to bloom, it appeared to be spreading from all the new specimens I could see.  It looks like some kind of Rosa rugosa, from research I’ve done but I don’t know, and I am not sure why it is growing in the woods.

Rosa rugosa? It's a mystery!

Well, that’s it until I can discover more.  Let’s call this a preview of what’s to come in Spring 2012!  In the meantime, I will be waiting for the wild blackberries and blueberries to ripen, and try to get them before the squirrels do.

June 7, 2011

Virginia Natives, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago I had to travel to another state to attend a special event for work. The day was bright and sunny, and the drive, inspiring as it brought me through a part of the state I had never been to before, where I got to see beautiful mountain views, miles of rambling wildflowers and main streets of quiet, unspoilt small towns. I did some mental note-taking on the way, but had to maintain my focus on not getting lost and getting to the event on time. My own rambling would have to wait.

At the end of the day, I was able to take a more leisurely pace and notice more on the ride home. It was then I saw a sign that made me stop: Arboretum. A mile later, I found myself pulling into the drive of the State Arboretum of Virginia. My curiosity was peaked since I had never heard of it, so I thought I would just make a quick stop for a brochure so I could plan for a visit at another time. A kiosk in the parking lot explained the Arboretum is apart of the University of Virginia Blandy Experimental Farm. The 700 acre farm serves as a research center and home to a large collection of trees, shrubs, herbs and perennials. From the parking lot, I could see a building with lots of historic appeal situated at the end of a walkway. The attractive facade warranted a closer inspection, so I decided to go and take a look. As I approached, I was welcomed by an archway that ran from the front of the building straight through to the back. I walked through and was met with this view on the other side:

This photo doesn't do the actual view any justice.

I immediately decided I needed to grab a map and go for a little ramble. Not a long one and not too far; I wasn’t exactly dressed for it. I started out in the Pollination Garden. As I made my way around the flowering borders, I saw a clearing a short distance away that led to a wooded area with a marked trail. I decided to investigate and found the Native Plant Trail, home to woodland species native to Virginia before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1600s. As I walked under the canopy of trees, the array of wildflowers, groundcover and shade-loving plants along the path held my attention, and enticed me to keep going further, to see what was next. The moment I decided it was time to turn back and head home, I would catch a glimpse of something interesting further down the trail, and off I’d go. The plant names displayed on the nameplates were just as intriguing. Exotic, but familiar names like,

  • Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata
  • Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla
  • Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum
  • Mist Flower, Eupatorium coelestinum
  • Wild Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens radiata
  • Nettleleaf Sage, Salvia urticifolia
  • Wild Bleeding Heart, Dicentra eximia
  • Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana

I used my camera phone to take pictures along with the nameplates as a record. There was so much to see, and I knew I didn’t want to forget any of my favorites.

Geranium robertianum

Viburnum dentatum

Virginia Spiderwort

Pollination Garden

An hour later, sweating in my suit with my high-heels sinking into the mud, I heard distant thunder and thought, maybe now…it is time to go.

Part 2: What the arboretum taught me about my own yard.

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