July 9, 2011

Diva Dog

My dog has a bit of an attitude.  Being a German Shepherd with alpha-female tendencies, she can be a bit territorial.  She loves to chase things whether it be her favorite ball, thrown sticks, or another dog that foolishly wandered into the yard.  I have seen her go after deer, squirrels, birds, butterflies and turtles.  Bees…I have seen her chase bees!  Diva Dog has destroyed a pair of curtain sheers on the dining room window trying to “make friends” with the UPS guy.

There has been recently something that has tamed the wild beast in Diva Dog’s heart.  A formidable opponent so strong that it has successfully been able to get into my dog’s head somehow and render her to putty.  I have caught Diva Dog on more than one occasion staring from the window at this trespasser with a sphinx-like trance, as if hypnotized. And what is this villain?  What could bring out the kitten in Diva Dog?  What I found was something quite unexpected.  I could understand if it was something bigger and stronger, but this?

This…!?

Fie, fiendish villain!

This rabbit’s new favorite place to hang out is around the vegetable patch, of course.  It hasn’t touched anything in the garden since I have netting over it,  but no doubt this rabbit is on some kind of recon exercise, looking for weaknesses in my fortress.  Diva Dog doesn’t seem to mind.  I will be jumping up and down on the deck, flapping my arms, yelling at Diva Dog to “Get the rabbit! Get the rabbit!”  But she doesn’t seem to want to move or take her eyes off it.  Sigh.  Maybe she’s thinking…“Aw, look at the cute little bunny!”

BFFs...forever!

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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 29, 2011

Wordless Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 26, 2011

Savoring the Season: Berries

Summer arrived this week, and as it does every year, reminded me that it is berry season.  I got up yesterday morning and decided it was a good day to head to a PYO for some berry picking.  Strawberry season came and went in a flash this year. It was cut short by rain last month, but I managed to pick enough for 5 1/2 pints of strawberry jam, and 4  1-gallon bags full for the freezer.  Blackberries and raspberries are ready for picking in our area, and I was eager to get both.  I still have a couple of jars of blackberry jam left over from last year, but I really wanted to try making raspberry jam this year.  My raspberry dreams were dashed as I was disappointed to learn that rain has destroyed the raspberry crop. Guess I will have to postpone my raspberry ambitions until next year.

Every year, my husband and I do some marathon berry-picking.  An afternoon of both of us picking can yield a year’s worth of berries which can be packed away in the freezer. Blackberries and blueberries freeze well.  You can freeze strawberries too; however, they don’t hold their shape well after thawing, but will still taste deliciously sweet and will be perfect on top of ice cream.  As soon as I get the berries home, I wash them, lay them out to dry and then pack them into freezer bags.  I know I am breaking the rule that you shouldn’t wash berries until you are ready to eat them, but when I am trying to rush out the door to work in the mornings, it is worth it to be able to stick a container into a bag and scoop out some frozen berries and go.  By the time I get to work, the berries have thawed and are ready to eat.  That is later in the year though. For now, we will eat fresh berries until the season ends.  There is nothing better than eating fresh-picked and locally grown fruit!

There is no science when it comes to berry picking.  Although for blackberries, if you squat down and look up into the bush, you may find the biggest, ripest berries hiding under leaves that go otherwise undetected.  I would also advise bringing a bottle of water and wearing sunscreen and a hat.  Find a row and settle in to pick for a several hours or all afternoon. You’ll thank yourself later on some cold, dreary January morning when you pull out a container of blackberries at work for a little taste of summer.

Next up, blueberries…hopefully.

June 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday, June 22, 2011 – A Welcome Resident

June 14, 2011

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – June

I am very excited to be joining Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month.  GBBD is a theme for garden bloggers to write about what is blooming in their gardens on the 15th of every month.  Since I usually like to keep a record of what is going on in my garden, this is a perfect opportunity to share.  It is also interesting to see what is in bloom in other parts of the country and world.  Take a moment and look at what’s going on this month over at the host of GBBD, May Dreams Gardens.

A huge source of pleasure this season is this little Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dooley’, and let me tell you, it is a real trooper. For a couple of years, I waged a battle against this area of the flower bed.  Perennials previously planted in this spot had been lost due to terrible soil and poor drainage, which I could not seem to remedy no matter what I tried. Someone suggested I put in a hydrangea in this spot since they are known to tolerate such deplorable conditions.  To my satisfaction (and relief), it seems to have worked! The acidic soil is evident in how the blooms change from pink to a dark blue as they mature.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Dooley'

This is the second year for the Hemerocallis ‘Black-Eyed Stella’ and Clematis ‘Jackmani’.  I love the color combination of these two.  I broke down and bought the trellises after spending a huge amount of time last year building my own out of bamboo and fishing line, only to have a Moonflower grow to mutant proportions and bring the whole thing down.  I am lucky it didn’t take out the clematis at the same time.

Daylilies and Clematis

A single purple coneflower bloom graces the front bed.  Can’t wait for the rest of his buddies to show up…

Echinacea purpurea 'Ruby Star'

A Coreopsis verticillata ‘Creme Brulee’ at the base of our mailbox is the first thing to welcome us home.

Street-side and sunny tickseed!

Last month my friend and neighbor “D”, left a bucket of primrose on my doorstep.   Having reseeded itself and spread in her garden, she dug a bunch up to share with me.  The note she left on my door instructed me just to “dump the bucket” wherever, and it would grow.  Me being me, I planted each individual stem/root, one by one.  A couple of weeks later, they were withered and pathetic-looking.  I instantly regretted not just dumping the bucket, figuring I must have somehow screwed it up in my careful approach to planting them.  Then this week, much to my surprise, I found these sweet blooms poking up from the ground.  From the little research I did, these look like they could be Oenothera speciosa.  It was a thoughtful gift, and one that will always make me think of her when I see them.  I have been trying to figure out what to get D in return, but now, I have an idea…

A friend's gift

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.

June 3, 2011

Sweet Smell of Summer

We had a few scorchers this week with daytime temperatures getting close to 100.  The early days of June felt more like August.  Everyone knows that hazy, hot and humid are a fact of life around here during the summer, so the longer the warm, pleasant days of spring can be enjoyed, the better.  Um, well…May had other ideas and burned her way out like a furnace, making way for June.  All was not so oppressive though.  After a hot day, the honeysuckle in bloom along the driveway seem twice as fragrant as the day cooled off into evening.  Coming home from work, I was welcomed with the most overwhelming, sweet smell of summer…

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May 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday, June 1, 2011 – Digitalis purpurea Foxglove

May 24, 2011

Wordless Wednesday, May 25, 2011 – Peony Sarah Bernhardt

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