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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Gardener's F-Words

Frost.
Freeze.
Flurry of frantic activity following frost forecast.

And then nothing much happened.

This all began on Saturday. I started cleaning up the potager because I wanted to use the space to plant garlic. I had to pull out fully functional tomato plants to make room, incurring a great deal of mental anguish in the process. But later in the afternoon when I checked the weather forecast, patchy frost was predicted for Sunday night. OK good, I thought, then it's time for the tomato plants to go anyway. I also picked all the ripe red peppers and a few green ones to put in the freezer.

The next day, Sunday, the weather forecast had changed to widespread frost. Now I had to decide what to do about the pepper plants, and whether I wanted any more green tomatoes. I ended up picking most of the green peppers and tomatoes, and covering a few pepper plants with Agribon. At that point I had to leave the potager and return to northern Virginia, and I always ignore the first frost forecast in northern Virginia.

The next morning, Monday, the weather forecast contained a Freeze Watch. Then, that afternoon a Freeze Warning was issued - the forecast wording mentioned a hard freeze. Well, I thought, maybe they're serious this time. So I brought all the potted plants into the garage and snipped some cuttings from some Cupheas which were planted in the ground.

So, imagine my surprise this morning when not even the basils showed any frost damage. This was in northern Virginia - I won't know how things fared in central Virginia until the weekend.

In the meantime, I have lots of green tomatoes to use up. We're going to end the tomato season the way we started - fried green tomato BLTs! (And green tomato chutney, and green tomato salsa, and ?)

And lastly, a nice f-word: Fritillary.

They were fluttering around as I was pulling out the tomato plants on Saturday. The Verbena bonariensis was still blooming and attracting butterflies, if you can believe that.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sorting Out Euonymus

A discussion has been going on at various blogs, and in the comments, about North American native Euonymus. I thought it might be a good idea to pull the information together here where it's more visible. Ki and Layanee posted recently about Euonymus americanus, and we began a dialog about the various North American Euonymus species and how to distinguish them.

Several years ago, while walking on the Big Rocky Run trail, I saw a Euonymus americanus with its exotic bright red fruit capsules. I had walked by the same plant all spring and summer and never noticed it at all, but I could hardly fail to notice it when the fruit capsules ripened. I had to have it for my garden after seeing the fruit, so I ordered one from Niche Gardens. This is the first year I've gotten a good display of the fruit capsules, and I think this is the third year since I planted it.

As it turns out, all the native Euonymus have attractive fruit. (And several non-native ones, but I'll get to that in a minute.) There are apparently 4 native species - E. americanus, E. atropurpureus, E. obovatus, and E. occidentalis. The last one is native to the West Coast states; I'm going to concentrate on the East Coast species here.

Euonymus americanus is a sparse, rangy shrub of moist woodlands. The leaves are opposite, as are all Euonymus, and the stems are green when the plant is young, but may become fissured with age. The spring flowers are greenish-white. The fruit capsule is 5-parted and the outer covering has a prickly appearance. The capsule splits open to reveal 5 orange-red berry-like structures known as arils.

Euonymus atropurpureus is a taller, more attractive shrub than E. americanus. The spring flowers are dark dusky purple. The fruit capsule is 4-parted and the outer covering is smooth, with 4 red arils.

Euonymus obovatus is similar to E. americanus, but is a low-growing, spreading shrub, and not as common. There appears to be confusion over the identity of this species, as this account says that the fruit is commonly a 3-parted capsule, while the photos in the previous link show a flower that is clearly 5-parted.

Further complicating matters, a non-native species has escaped cultivation in the Northeastern states. Euonymus europaeus looks very much like E. atropurpureus (at least the fruit capsules do), and is naturalized in many of the same places were E. atropurpureus occurs. There are many named cultivars of E. europaeus - 'Red Cascade' is one of the most popular - but seemingly few available here in the US.

As long as we're talking about Euonymus, I have to mention Kate's beautiful Turkestan Burning Bush. Go see it if you haven't already.

And for a look at a truly impressive collection of Euonymus, check out the web page of this collector in the Netherlands.

The fruits of E. atropurpureus and E. europaeus remind me of bittersweet, which is a member of the same family - Celastraceae.

Until I learned of E. americanus, I was only aware of E. fortunei and E. alatus, both of which are known primarily for their foliage, not their fruit. E. alatus has been getting all kinds of bad press for being a non-native thug. I've seen it growing wild in the woods around here so maybe the reputation is deserved. I still think it's pretty.

I hope this has shed some light on the various species in the genus Euonymus, especially those native to Eastern North America. Please let me know if I've overlooked something or gotten it wrong.

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posted by Entangled at 9:44 PM
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Autumnal Icon

You know those old-time Halloween illustrations showing a witch silhouetted in front of a huge full moon? You'll get a chance to see a huge full moon later this week, but if you see a witch gliding in front of it I'd like to hear about it.

I swear the full moons are bigger in the midwest, but perhaps it's just the way it looks over the flat horizon there. I've read about the moon illusion, but it's more fun to just look at it and believe it's bigger when lower in the sky. However, this month's full moon (aka the Hunter's Moon) really is going to be larger. The moon makes its closest approach to Earth this calendar year very close to the time of the full moon.

So far, our autumn has been hardly distinguishable from summer. I'm not complaining (too much) but I'm ready to start cleaning up the garden and planting bulbs, and my weather cues tell me it's too soon for those tasks. Maybe the full moon will bring a change.

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posted by Entangled at 9:49 AM
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Caterpillars and Butterflies




The Black Swallowtail caterpillars have been feasting on the rue and bronze fennel off and on all summer. So how come I never see an adult Black Swallowtail? Last weekend, I noticed three different instars of Black Swallowtail caterpillars on one rue plant. (The photo of the earliest instar was out of focus, so I didn't post it.) Up until last weekend, I believed that if you plant fennel, they'll leave your parsley alone, and if you plant rue, they'll leave your fennel alone. That theory was proved false when I found them feeding on all 3 plants. Not so much on the parsley though. Which is good, because I planned a big batch of Deborah Madison's Salsa Verde while the parsley is plentiful.


Weekend before last, I saw a flutter of black wings, and thought, aha - a Black Swallowtail. Well, no, it was a swallowtail, and it was black, but not a Black Swallowtail. A Pipevine Swallowtail instead. I wonder if we have pipevines growing nearby - I've not seen any.


I expected that the Monarchs had all gone south by now, but this one brightened up the garden last Thursday. Must have been confused by the weather. Speaking of, it finally rained yesterday and I'm looking at a wall of green in the woods as I type this. Not much fall color yet, and the rain really revived the weary plants.

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posted by Entangled at 10:16 AM
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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pepper Update and Other Stuff


Aren't these pretty? I gathered up all the red peppers I could find, and put them in the oven to dry. I just spread them out on a sheet pan and leave them in the oven with the light on, not the heating element. It works well enough on the thinner ones, but I'm skeptical whether the thick ones will dry before they rot. Time will tell.

I ransacked my kitchen to see what chile-containing products I could discover, and wrote them up over on my food blog. I don't have as many as I thought I did, but it's a fairly diverse collection. Thanks for the idea, Ki.


Did you see today's NY Times article about the giant pumpkin growers, er, I mean growers of giant pumpkins? Buried at the end of the article is a very interesting point. Miracle-Gro is out of fashion with these folks. These behemoths are grown using sea kelp, compost tea, and mycorrhizal inoculant! And another thing - the growers don't mind drought. They prefer the degree of control they get with irrigation.



Drought. How dry is it here? Well we're not in as much trouble yet as, say, Atlanta. But the official records for Washington DC are measured at National Airport, and this is what the National Weather Service had to say this morning:

...RECORD TIED OFFICIALLY AT WASHINGTON FOR CONSECUTIVE DAYS WITHOUT
MEASURABLE RAIN YESTERDAY...

THE RECORD FOR THE LONGEST CONSECUTIVE DAYS WITHOUT MEASURABLE
RAINFALL AT WASHINGTON REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT HAS BEEN TIED. THE
PREVIOUS RECORD OF 33 STRAIGHT DAYS WITHOUT MEASURABLE RAIN WAS SET
FROM AUGUST 7TH TO SEPTEMBER 8TH 1995. THE CURRENT STRETCH BEGAN ON
SEPTEMBER 15TH.

THERE IS A CHANCE THE RECORD COULD BE BROKEN TODAY...ALTHOUGH THERE
IS A SLIGHT CHANCE FOR ISOLATED RAIN SHOWERS ACROSS THE MID ATLANTIC
REGION LATER TODAY. RAIN CHANCES WILL INCREASE AS A COLD FRONT
APPROACHES THE AREA ON FRIDAY.

DAILY RAINFALL RECORDS IN WASHINGTON DATE BACK 137 YEARS TO 1871.
RAINFALL STARTS TO MEASURE AT ONE HUNDREDTH OF AN INCH.

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posted by Entangled at 8:33 AM
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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day was yesterday, and I have a surprising number of plants still in bloom, considering the worsening drought and the lateness of the season. Central Virginia seems to be faring better than Northern Virginia - maybe because we had more rain down south earlier in the season - however, it hasn't rained there since September 14. But enough whining, let's get to the lists.

Central Virginia:
Various Cupheas
Zinnia 'Park's Pastel Mix'
Various Petunias
Verbena bonariensis
Coleus
Lantana 'Dallas Red'
Salvia farinacea 'Evolution'
Salvia farinacea 'Strata'
Tagetes lucida
Various Basils
Thyme 'English Broadleaf'
Origanum 'Zaatar'
Sweet Marjoram
Dianthus 'Rainbow Loveliness'
and surprise!, a couple of seed-grown perennials blooming out of season:
Lavender 'Munstead'
Lobelia cardinalis 'Queen Victoria'




Northern Virginia:
Various Chrysanthemums
Diascia
Gazania
Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph'
Salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue'
Salvia farinacea 'Evolution'
Morning glory 'Star of Yelta'
Various Cupheas (you know that I like cupheas, right?)
Lantana
Torenia 'Duchess Mix'
Various Petunias
Eupatorium coelestinum
Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'
Various Buddleias
Rudbeckia 'Gloriosa Daisy Mix' (second flush of bloom after being cut back)
Corepsis 'Moonbean' (ditto)
Solidago 'Fireworks'
Aster 'Purple Dome'
Cyclamen hederifolium
Just noticed, October 16: Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', Peppermint, Alyssum 'Snowdrift'




Still refusing to bloom is Japanese anemone 'Honorine Jobert'. Get with the program, girl! She's holding out for real rain, I guess - not content with what comes out of the garden hose.


The dogwood tree isn't blooming either, but look what's coming next spring.

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posted by Entangled at 6:55 AM
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Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

I'm no Eco-saint. Anything I write for Blog Action Day is bound to be hypocritical, so I didn't sign up. I want to be good. I like being outdoors and observing the natural world. I began college majoring in forestry, imagining that would be a pleasant way to make a living out in the woods somewhere. But life intrudes. Things happen. Circumstances change. The paths I chose took me far from my goal, but they've enabled us to buy a house in the woods, so perhaps the path connects back to where it started.

But is that really a good thing?

This is the kind of dialogue that goes on in my head.

Me: The spouse and I bought a second house in the country.
Eco-saint: A second house? That's bad.
Me: No, that's good. We're going to grow our own food, organically of course.
Eco-saint: That's good.
Me: Well, it is and it isn't. We have to drive 25 miles to buy organic olive oil to cook it in.
Eco-saint: That's bad.
Me: But we drive a relatively fuel-efficient vehicle.
Eco-saint: That's good.
Me: But it isn't a hybrid.
Eco-saint: That's bad.

(credit to Hee Haw for the idea - I always liked Hee Haw)

Here's another one.

Me: I'm going to increase awareness of environmental issues by writing something inspirational on my blog.
Eco-saint: That's good.
Me: No, that's bad. How much electricity will be used preaching to the choir?
Eco-saint: I see your point.

So, I'll just continue chronicling my garden and nature observations here, and keep it at that.

If you want information about saving energy, and living in a way that's less injurious to the natural world, there are MANY place on the internet to do that. I'll leave you with a couple of links to sites I like.

Environmental Defense
Project Laundry List

posted by Entangled at 7:17 AM
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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tasting Notes: Chile Peppers

As much as I like tomatoes, I think chile peppers are my true calling. Trying to grow them in northern Virginia was an exercise in frustration. There was never enough sun for them there on our wooded lot, and my impression is that they don't really like clay soil. I planted hot varieties, but was always disappointed in the heat level of the fruit. Ah, but this year, in central Virginia, where the garden is sunny and sandy, I got to fulfill my chile desires. And I only put in 17 plants! What was I thinking?

Now, none of these are the very, very, very hot kinds. I like chile heat, but I want to taste the rest of the ingredients in a dish as well. And oftentimes, there are other interesting flavors lurking in the background of these peppers - the ones that intrigue me have a sort of sweet-fruity taste in addition to the heat.

So, in descending ascending (see? another example of declining brain cell count) order of heat (which is purely my own perception - no Scoville units here) here's the list. By the way, I planted 2 plants of most varieties, and 4 of the Serranos.

Jackpot - These were free seeds, so I planted them. This is a bell pepper and there's no heat to these, but I'm including them (and the next one) on the list anyway. 'Jackpot' is a long, thin-walled bell pepper. I don't love bell peppers and so never planted any before, but after many years of marriage I learned just this summer that my spouse likes them. I swear he never mentioned it before. Anyhow, these peppers are fine, if you like bell peppers, but there are thicker, blockier ones available.

Papri Sweet - This is a long pepper of the type I call "New Mexico" peppers. It has no heat, but is fairly thick walled for its shape. I don't have any strong feelings about this one either way - it's pretty good for what it is.

Aci Sivri - A long cayenne-shaped pepper, which is yellow-green before ripening. This has a bit of that fruity flavor that I admire. The heat was variable on these - some were pretty hot and some had little to no heat.

Czechoslovakian Black - A jalapeno-type pepper, purple-black before ripening, and deep Chinese-lacquer red when ripe. The second-prettiest pepper plants I grew this year - the flowers are purple, the dark fruits are attractive before they ripen and after they ripen they're even better. Unfortunately, I have no photos of a ripe one. The heat is moderate, but there's also a fruity-sweet flavor which intensifies when the peppers are ripe. This is one of my favorites.

Chile Grande - Another New Mexico type. Early in the season I thought these had no heat at all, but they surprised me later on - turning out to be one of the hotter ones I grew. I used them seeded and cut into long strips where I wanted a pepper flavor in a dish.

Serrano Tampiqueno - The Serranos I knew before this year all looked like a smaller slimmed-down version of a Jalapeno, but this one has a somewhat different shape - more blunt. It has the same great Serrano flavor, which I think is superior to Jalapeno. They really don't develop any heat until the fruits are green-mature. This can be tough to discern while the fruits are on the plant, but what I've noticed is that the color turns a deeper green when they're ready. They're also very nice when red-ripe, with a bit of that fruity flavor.

Pinocchio's Nose - Long, long, long thin peppers of the cayenne type. I measured one at 11 inches long. This was best suited for adding heat to a dish, but I didn't detect much other flavor in it. Worth growing just to see the long fruits.

Bellingrath Gardens Purple - I guess this is considered an ornamental pepper, but we eat the fruit. And it is ornamental - dark purple-black leaves with small purple flowers and tiny black fruit ripening to orange-red. I went back to this one again and again when I needed extra heat in a dish. But I think it would make a fabulous Halloween decoration, and I'm writing this down here in hopes of remembering it next year. Imagine planting these in a black container with a ghostly Artemisia or dusty miller, and maybe a salmon-colored Osteospermum, and arranging a pumpkin or two around the container. Must remember this next year, must remember this next year, must...

I'd grow all of these again. There isn't a bad one in the lot. All the plants were nibbled on to some degree by wild critters (deer? rabbits?), but I still had plenty of fruit. I didn't notice if the critters ate the fruit or not, but they definitely pruned the plants for me.

Next year, I'm going to add Poblanos and more New Mexico style chiles. Maybe, possibly, a habanero. We'll see.

I plan to update this post with pictures later, when I take my Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day photos, but I want to post this now before we head out the door to the Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival. And I'm working on a post for my food blog on all the chile condiments in my kitchen, inspired by Ki.

Updated October 14 with photos. Click through for variety names.




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Friday, October 12, 2007

Great World Wide Star Count

Have you heard about the Great World Wide Star Count? Neither had I until last evening. There are only a few more days left to participate, but if you can find Cygnus then you can help. You don't really have to count stars, just match what you see in the sky to one of the images online.

If you don't think you can find Cygnus, I say you can (unless it's cloudy). For the first 35 or so years of my life, the only constellation I could find was the Big Dipper (and that's really an asterism, not a constellation). Then one morning, standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window, I noticed a bright star in the sky and thought I'd try to look it up. To my surprise, I was able to identify it as Sirius. I downloaded a shareware program to print sky maps, and began to learn the names of even more stars and constellations. And all this from my home in the light-polluted suburbs of northern Virginia. Stargazing is now one of my favorite fall activities; the weather isn't yet frigid, the skies are generally clear, the summer stars are still visible in the evening and the winter stars in the morning.

Anyway, nowadays there are many websites that will generate a sky map for your exact location and time. This is so much easier than trying to orient yourself with star maps in a book. Some suggestions:

Another source of really nice free charts, not as precise as the ones above but in nice printable PDF format, is skymaps.com.

And I just learned this morning of a neat Google maps application which provides geographic coordinates to 14 decimal places.

Now you're all set to get out this evening, or any evening through October 16, and be a citizen scientist.

Oops, forgot that some people reading this may be in the Southern Hemisphere. If you are, you get to look for Sagittarius instead of Cygnus. Sagittarius is even more fun, because it truly does look like a teapot. We can still see it low in the sky in the evenings here in Virginia.

Update, October 13: We had mostly clear skies last night, and I learned that our limiting magnitude here in the country is 5. I'll post the suburban value later.

Update, October 21: Using Your Sky at John Walker's site, I determined that the limiting magnitude at home in the northern Virginia suburbs is between 4 and 5, although closer to 4. For the Great World Wide Star Count, I reported it as 4.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tasting Notes: Tomatoes

Tomatoes kill brain cells. How else to explain the fact that I started this post at the end of August, and now can't remember most of what I intended to write? We've been eating a lot of tomatoes - that must be it.

So then, this is an abbreviated summary of the tomatoes I grew this year, in order of size:

Ildi - A yellow pear tomato. It was definitely the most prolific tomato I grew. That's probably the nicest thing I can say about it - the skin was unpleasantly tough and the flavor was average. While I was cleaning up the garden, I tossed some of these on the ground and left them there for a few days and they were untouched by any wild critters. What does that tell you? I won't grow this one again.

Black Cherry - A round cherry tomato of middling size, it ripens to those green/red/purple colors that usually mean good flavor (see Black Russian below). That flavor was was I was after when I bought the seeds. Unfortunately, I didn't find that flavor, and I wouldn't grow this one again.

Thai Pink - A small plum tomato, rather firm when ripe, but juicy rather than meaty. I wasn't all that keen on this one until I found a recipe that suited it exactly - Tomatoes in Spicy Yogurt Sauce - which calls for whole peeled tomatoes. I'm not sure what else 'Thai Pink' is good for, but the taste and size are just perfect in that dish. I may grow it again just for that - we really liked the recipe. On the other hand, I think a tomato like 'Juliet' would work just as well. And I've never grown 'Juliet', so I may rotate that one in and 'Thai Pink' out.

Bonito Ojo - A small round tomato (> golf ball, < tennis ball). A huge quantity of fruit ripened simultaneously early in the season. The flavor was very tart, good for salsa, but I don't need/want that many small tomatoes all at once. It was also prone to cracking. I probably won't grow it again.

Eva Purple Ball - Eva is the beauty contest winner - almost no cracking or blemishes; nice sized (> baseball, < softball) with pink skin over red flesh. The flavor is only OK. If you must have perfect-looking tomatoes, this is a good choice. If you want perfect-tasting tomatoes...well, I think there are better ones.

Striped Roman - A long, thick 'Roma' type; very meaty. It has a marvelous sweet-tart flavor tending toward the tart side. This has been a favorite for several years now, and I expect I'll be growing it as long as I'm gardening.

Black Russian - A large green/purple/brown/dark red tomato. This is my favorite for flavor - a deep, dark, almost smoky, essence of tomato flavor. The downside is the disappointment at how many I lost to cracking and rotting. I'll grow this again next year, but if I could find a variety with the same flavor and less cracking, I'd evict 'Black Russian'.

Cherokee Purple - A large pink/purple beefsteak type tomato. The flavor is notably sweet; I was expecting something more like Black Russian, but it's not at all like that - much sweeter. This will probably be invited back next year, but if I end up with too long a list of new ones to try, then maybe not.

Kellogg's Breakfast - This wins the prize for size; the yellow-orange tomatoes are very large, and incidentally, this was the first of the large ones to ripen. The flavor is surprising for a yellow tomato - quite flavorful and sweet; I'm wondering how similar this is to Persimmon, which some other bloggers have written about this year. I'll grow this one again next year.

Updated 5:15 pm with link to recipe for Tomatoes in Spicy Yogurt Sauce.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness




Despite the fog, just about the only mists around here are from my sweat and tears as I haul water to thirsty plants. Thankfully, we have cool cloudiness so far today, but tomorrow and the next several days are predicted to be hot. No rain. But you already knew this if you've been reading any garden blogs from the central to eastern US.
Well, I've got something here that I bet nobody else has. Is this the world's cutest potato or what?

I dug up the last of the potatoes yesterday and this was among them.




We're not doing too badly in the mellow fruitfulness department, considering the drought, although these aren't what immediately comes to mind when you think of fruit.

Euonymus americanus

Passiflora incarnata

Viburnum prunifolium

Quercus coccinea

Ilex verticillata

Chasmanthium latifolium

And now I'm off to work on the potager, where more fruitfulness awaits...

Updated October 8 with captions on the "fruitfulness" pictures.

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Thai Chiles = Chemical Attack?

Was this in the newspapers here? How did I miss it? I was alerted by the BotanicalGardening Blog.

If I can drive myself out of the house with just a handful of peppers, imagine what nine pounds could do.

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posted by Entangled at 9:11 AM
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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ravens Roost

Last Saturday brought spectacularly clear weather - perfect for a drive in the mountains. We were hoping to see just a little fall color on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but no luck. Still, the view doesn't get much better than this.







These photos were all taken at Raven's Roost Overlook at milepost 10.7 - the location of our favorite picnic table. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Stop at the Blue Ridge Pig in Nellysford,
  2. Get a pork BBQ sandwich,
  3. Walk next door to the gas station for Route 11 potato chips,
  4. Drive up the mountain, and
  5. Drink in the view while eating the sandwich and potato chips.

Repeat when necessary.

P.S. The spouse couldn't find the Rt. 11 potato chips at the gas station last time, but they were there a couple of months ago, and have been there every other time we've stopped. I think he didn't look in the right place.

P.P.S. After seeing the bird's eye view of the mountains, how about a bug's eye view of the parking lot?


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posted by Entangled at 6:22 PM
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Monday, October 01, 2007

A Hoe Lot of Trouble and other mysteries

Today being the start of a new month, I was browsing Baer's Agricultural Almanac this morning and happend on this bit of information about my astrological sun sign: ...Marked by perserverance; enjoy mysteries...

Well, that explains it! I read one book for the August/September Garden Bloggers' Book Club, then another and another and even managed to work a video into the mix.

I began with A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber. This was a quick read, not requiring much mental effort and therefore a good choice for early August. That said, I don't plan to read any more books by this author. It was a little thin. There wasn't much horticultural content. I didn't find the plot believable. I couldn't work up any sympathy for the main character - Nina Quinn. And mysteries are escapist reading for me - I prefer a setting that carries me away from the here and now, preferably a different century and continent. But I didn't hate it either - I kept turning the pages until the end, nevertheless I was eager to move on to the next book in the stack, which was...

Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert. This I liked. It was detail-rich and well-written, so I overlooked my preference for fiction set in a different time and place. And, besides, Texas is different than the East Coast or the Midwest. There was more horticultural content in this book than A Hoe Lot of Trouble, and further, I didn't quarrel with the author over it. I immediately liked China Bayles, where I reflexively disliked Nina Quinn. I now have the second book in the series on my shelf, and I'm currently reading the first book of a different series by the same author. Haven't made up my mind whether I like that one or not, but definitely will start Witches' Bane when I've finished The Tale of Hill Top Farm.

I had intended to read another Brother Cadfael mystery after Thyme of Death, but I couldn't locate the only one I think I may not have read - The Rose Rent. I saw that one when it aired on PBS, but I can't remember whether I read the book. I loved all the Brother Cadfael books and I have read every other one in the series, even though the characters were mostly predictable. Ellis Peters portrayed Brother Cadfael's world in a way that made me wish I had been there. I particularly admired the way she evoked lives lived closer to nature than we do now. But I couldn't find the book I was looking for, so instead I read the third book in Candace Robb's Owen Archer series - The Nun's Tale. Candace Robb's Middle Ages is much more hard-edged than Ellis Peters', and there isn't much gardening content to these books, but I've enjoyed the first three books in the series. Owen Archer's wife is a master apothecary, so there's the same hook to horticulture as Brother Cadfael, but not all that much detail. Candace Robb's interest in the Middle Ages seems to be more political than horticultural.

Reversing the old-fashioned custom of writing a book first and then adapting it to the screen, we have Rosemary & Thyme. We're back in the present, but still in England for this mystery series. I only watched the first one, and found it rather implausible and a very obvious effort to attract middle-aged women viewers, but the scenery was lovely so I'll give the second show a chance before judging it too harshly.

Another set of semi-horticultural mysteries that I don't believe any of the GBBCers have mentioned is the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. I've only read the first one of these - Fer de Lance - but I intend to read the rest of them someday. These books have a double horticultural hook - while Nero Wolfe is a reclusive orchid fancier, his creator, Rex Stout, was the brother of Ruth Stout - the queen of mulch.

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posted by Entangled at 6:50 PM
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