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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Grandma's UFOs (Wildflowers in Winter 5-6-7)

I'm way late for week 5 of Wildflowers in Winter, but I didn't want to let February slip away without mentioning Grandma Gordon's UFOs. UnFinished Objects. If you are involved in any kind of creative endeavor, I'll bet you have some. My great-grandmother apparently intended to make a friendship quilt and asked her relatives and friends to each stitch a block for it, but then she never quite got around to putting it together. Most of the blocks are a crazy-quilt style, but at least one is appliquéed. I picked out all the ones with any kind of floral design for this photo.



From my family history studies, I recognize some of the names as relatives but others I don't know at all. The Barfuss family is one of those I'm not familiar with, but they had at least one talented embroiderer.



For week 6 of Wildflowers in Winter, I defer to my cousin - a genuine artist. The flowers in his paintings are generally not the main subjects, but they're often present. Celestial Seasonings recently abandoned their long-established look in packaging, but you can see an illustration he did for one of their boxes here. Those daisies look like wildflowers to me.



Week 7. Childrens' art? A tough one. I may possibly have some of my niece and nephew's childhood artworks around here (put away someplace safe for posterity), but then again maybe not. I'm going to take a pass on Week 7.

Head over to Wildflower Morning and see the flowery artworks others have found.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Geographically Challenged

I don't know where I live. Oh, I can find my way back to the house and all that, but ever since we bought our retirement house I don't know which place to call home. We've been dividing our time between our northern Virginia and central Virginia houses for about a year and a half now.

So how to tell people about the place where I live and garden for bloomingwriter Jodi's Garden Bloggers Geography Project? Well, I guess I'll focus on northern Virginia (because that's where I've lived the longest) and sneak in a few words about central Virginia.

Virginia Places is an excellent website. They've done a fine job, and I refer you to them if you actually want to know something about the geography of Virginia.


View Larger Map

I live in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC in a 20-something years old housing development. Twenty years ago we were on the outer edge of the suburbs, but that edge has moved far west of us.

Focusing on gardening, and contrary to what Henry Mitchell says ("it is not nice to garden anywhere"), the Piedmont (or foothills) region of Virginia is a pretty good place for a garden. We have enough cold weather for apple trees and spring bulbs, but not so much cold weather that we can't grow magnolias. And we have many, many public gardens in the Washington DC area where you can see exactly what will grow here. Here's just a sample of some I've visited:

National Arboretum
Brookside Gardens
Smithsonian Institution
Dumbarton Oaks
Hillwood
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

You might be hungry after all that walking. We have very good restaurants in the DC area, particularly so-called ethnic restaurants. Tyler Cowen writes an online guide, which is quite useful even if I don't always agree with his opinions. All the major fast food and casual dining chains are here too, if that's your thing. Or you can eat in the grocery store - Wegman's and Whole Foods have dining-in options. You might even see a celebrity there; I did today.

We're still acquainting ourselves with central Virginia, but Monticello is a wonderful place for gardeners to visit. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was also happy to be known as a gardener. You can view his garden journal online (hey, just like us, except his is handwritten). His first entry is March 30, 1766 where he notes that the purple hyacinth has begun to bloom.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Float Your Hellebores

You know those garden catalogs showing masses of disembodied hellebore flowers? Did you ever think about how they get those photos? I never did until I noticed some of those flowers were sinking.

Did you ever notice how many photos of hellebore flowers include the hand that's holding them upright for the camera? That's how most of my hellebore photos used to be, but no more.



I ran out and snipped all the almost-open flowers because the weather service told us there was a big winter storm coming. When will I stop believing these people? Well, I have to thank them for making me act, because this is my new favorite way to look at hellebores. Especially those dark colors that I admire so much which don't show up well in the garden.

Most of the flowers in that photo are from an order of mixed hellebore hybrids from Pine Knot Farms, via Wayside Gardens. They took a year or two to bloom and now I'm a hellebore convert. I used to think they were boring, but the hybridizers have made wonderful improvements in the last 10 years or so. Pine Knot Farms Hellebore Festival is today and next weekend, and might be worth a road trip. I'm probably not going to make it this year, but I'll pencil it in for next year.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse: Yes!

The clouds cleared away as if on cue last night at the beginning of the lunar eclipse. I present to you two photos. Not because they were done well, but because they were done at all. My tripod was unavailable and these are the best I could do without it.



Not long after that the camera went into a snit and refused to do anything further, so I put it away and enjoyed the view through binoculars. At its darkest, the moon was a sort of dusty orange color, with a brighter glow on the right side that never quite disappeared. I called it a night when the shadow started to recede.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

Wish for clear skies tomorrow night because there's going to be a total lunar eclipse and we won't have another one for almost 3 years.

For times and locations, see this detailed writeup. The cloud forecast for the US is here.

And here's an interesting rumor - the Navy may be firing a missile at the falling spy satellite at about the same time as the eclipse.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?

I've been a busy citizen scientist this weekend, counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The Purple Finches are still here and I think they invited friends this weekend - I counted 10 at one time, but I know there were more. The most interesting birds I saw were 2 Red-Tailed Hawks soaring high overhead. This may or may not have been part of a mating ritual, but I like to think it was.

I spent some time walking in the woods this afternoon, hoping for better birds than I see at the feeders. Only turned up one Hermit Thrush, but while looking for birds, I found that the buds of the native azaleas have grown quite fat. Didn't have the camera with me, and it was too overcast for a good picture anyway. Last year this bloomed in April, so there should be plenty of opportunities for photography between now and then.

Speaking of buds, another citizen science project getting some publicity these days is Project BudBurst. (Note to organizers: the name sounds like an exploding beer can. I'm just sayin'.) I first learned of this about a month ago in a post by Xris, and Pam and Ki have also posted recently. This sounds like fun, and I have several of the target species growing in uncultivated areas of the property. I wish I had bothered to identify my maples last year; I assume they're red maples but I'm not certain they're red maples. They would certainly be one of the first to burst forth - I noticed the red buds today while looking for birds.

But getting back to birds and the title of this post, I didn't see a single sparrow all weekend. This strikes me as odd - I don't think I've ever submitted a GBBC checklist without a song sparrow or a white-throated sparrow or both. Strange.

My weekend bird lists are below:





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Friday, February 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Today is the first anniversary of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. A year ago, Carol asked us to tell her what's blooming in our gardens on the 15th of every month. I'm astonished to find that I had something in bloom outdoors every month.

Let's get right to it then. I'm not going to post all the photos here, but the links are to my photos on Picasa. I have the same 3 plants in bloom that I've showed you in recent weeks - Crocus sieberi 'Firefly', Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch', and Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). The crocuses were not happy about their ice bath on Wednesday, but the new flowers that have opened since then are fine.


The snowdrops just bounced right back after the ice melted.


Then I have a whole lot of "almosts". My oldest violet (unknown variety) usually has a few flowers very early in the spring. I had to look close to find one, and didn't notice until I had the photo on the computer that there were 2 more buds.


The Pine Knot Hellebores just raised their heads in the last few days, but the flowers are still not quite open.


I have several different colors of the Pine Knot Hellebores. And lastly I have a couple of narcissus close to blooming. My old reliable unknown species/variety, and 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' shown below. They sure knew how to name varieties in the old days (1943), didn't they?


Oh, and on my way out the door this afternoon, I noticed one Scilla siberica flower.

Update, Feb. 16: Forgot a couple of almosts - winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) and rosemary.

February 2007 Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Off-Topic: I'm from DeKalb

When I first started this blog almost 5 years ago, it was strictly a friends and family thing. If it was still a friends and family thing I wouldn't be writing this, because everybody reading it would already know everything I'm about to say. But now I've made the virtual acquaintance of people around the world and most of you know that I live in Virginia. I'm a transplant here though. I grew up in a small town about 10 miles from DeKalb, the scene of today's horrible shootings. I lived in Sycamore and DeKalb in the early 80s.

I'm just stunned by the killings at NIU. Last spring at Blacksburg, many of the students who died were from northern Virginia where I live now. Some of our friends' and neighbors' kids went to school there. When I first heard about that event, I was distressed and saddened, but not totally surprised. Living in the DC suburbs has somewhat numbed me to violence, although not on that scale. I considered writing something here at the time of that tragedy and decided against it.

But DeKalb, that's different. My family lives there. We know people who work at the university - everybody knows somebody who works there or attends school there. We know people who work at the hospital. We know people in law enforcement. We know paramedics. I hope we don't know any of the victims.

I felt relieved when I didn't know any of the victims at Blacksburg and that's the wrong sentiment, of course. It's always a loss to somebody whenever anybody dies, and I'm mindful of this passage now as I was then:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation 17

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Valentine Thoughts

...of a cozy little love nest?


Happy Valentine's Day!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Ice Surprise

As late as yesterday afternoon, the Weather Service assured us that the freezing rain was nothing to worry about because the temperature was soon going to get warmer.

By the time we returned home from dinner, the Weather Service had issued an Ice Storm Warning. It rained all night and the backyard looked like this until midafternoon today.

The crocuses look worse for the wear, but the snowdrops shrugged it off. They were happy and upstanding as soon as they were freed from the ice.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Purple Finches and the Other GBBC

I resisted the temptation to put up a bird feeder at the country house for about a year and a half. I didn't want to create a squirrel vermin problem where none existed, and I figured the birds had been getting along just fine without my help. But along about mid-January when I couldn't see the end of winter, my desire to watch birds while sitting by the window with a cup of tea got the best of me. My self-imposed rule was that I wouldn't buy a new feeder. Not much of a rule, considering that I had several feeders which proved not quite squirrel-proof that were taking up space in the garage. It took the birds about a week to find the feeder, but when they did, it was the same old backyard birds that frequent the northern Virginia feeders - chickadees, titmice, juncos, nuthatches. I think I was secretly hoping for something more exotic in the country. Well, last weekend I got something interesting if not exotic - purple finches!

House finches are often mistaken for purple finches (tips for distinguishing them here), and I have house finches in abundance in northern Virginia, but rarely see a purple finch there. So I wasn't expecting much when I raised the binoculars to look at the reddish bird on the feeder. Hmmm, I thought, that looks like a purple finch. And another and another and... I had trouble counting them, but I think there were about 5 adult males and 5 or 6 females or juvenile males. These two look like they just had a spat and want to get away from each other. I know, I know - don't anthropomorphize.


I hope they hang around until this weekend for the Great Backyard Bird Count (not to be confusing with the other GBBC, the Garden Bloggers' Book Club). If you have a window and a spare half-hour or so, please consider participating. Sometimes you discover birds in your yard you didn't know were there. I've been counting for several years now, but I think it was my very first count where I saw my very first ruby-crowned kinglet. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been trying very hard to see and list all the birds in the yard.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dish Flowers

Wildflowers in Winter's week 4 theme (dishes or other decorations made by you or someone else that you have in your home) left me wondering what I could show. I have lots of floral dishes, but not specifically wildflowers. So I was wondering...until I read Jodi's entry. Her teapot led me to my spring tea mug. Not wildflowers, but wild flowers.


This mug looks so springy to me that I rarely use it except in spring. Do you change the decorations in your house according to season? My great-grandmother had a large collection of pretty dishes and glassware, too many to display all at once, so she rotated them. The cup and saucer below belonged to her, and actually does have a wildflower decoration - violets. (Note to photographer: you should have focused on the back of the cup so people could see the violets.)


I have a collection of sorts, too. Early-mid 20th century Japanese lustreware. These are 2 of the wilder pieces.



My first real set of dishes also has a flower theme. They could be wildflowers, I suppose. And bringing us back to tea, on a plate from that set I've placed 2 of my favorite flower-scented teas - Jasmine Pearls and an Osmanthus-scented Oolong.


Now I'm headed off to visit Elizabeth Joy and see the flowers other Wildflowers in Winter participants have in their houses.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Next Crocus

Crocus ancyrensis (meaning of or from Ankara) 'Golden Bunch'. The flowers are on the small side, but the gold color is intense. Here's another picture of them in their native habitat, where they apparently bloom in March, or did in 2006 anyway. Those flowers look larger than mine, but it's hard to compare. There's an acorn cap in my photo (and we don't have any humongous acorns) so you can get an idea of the flower size. They may be smaller than they could be, owing to the fact they're planted right next to that oak tree in an area where the birds like to scratch and feed. Squirrels too. One of the problems I have with this crocus is that the squirrels like to chew off the flowers.

I noticed in the Turkish photo some interesting seed pod remnants, looking something like Lunaria, but much smaller. Wonder what those are....

The crocuses I showed you earlier are finally doing their bunching thing after our absurdly warm weather this week. Prior to that they were only opening one or two flowers each day.


And lastly, the Galanthus nivalis snowdrops are starting to bloom. These were newly planted a couple of years ago and they seem happy in this spot. Keeping my fingers crossed on that.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More Signs of Spring

We were invaded by robins this afternoon.


There were dozens of them in the backyard, some scratching around in the leaves, but mostly they were eating the last of the holly berries.


They brought along at least one Cedar Waxwing.


And these Northern Flickers seemed (to me) to be involved in some kind of mating display. I know this is a crummy picture, but it was crummy weather for photography. February showers bring March flowers?

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Wild Flowers Worth Knowing

Can you imagine any publisher agreeing to that title today? Field guides have changed a lot in the last hundred years.

For week 3 of Wildflowers in Winter, we were asked to find Literary Wildflowers - stories, quotations or poetry about wildflowers - or to review a field guide. But what if there was a literary field guide? Our modern guides are somewhat clinical (just the facts, ma'am) but earlier generations put some personality into it. The writers' personalities shine through and they ascribed personality to the plants. I have two such books on my shelf. One was handed down to me and one I bought for myself.


Neltje Blanchan's Wild Flowers Worth Knowing was taken up and adapted by Asa Don Dickiinson as part of The Nature Library series. I used to love to look at the pictures in these books before I could read the text, and wouldn't you know, that was exactly one of the selling points of this series.
Text not available
full page ad for an earlier edition

Now I find the pictures a bit fuzzy (color printing has improved a lot since then), but the writing is vivid. For example, this passage on Bluets (one of the first spring wildflowers here):

Millions of these dainty wee flowers, scattered through the grass of moist meadows and by the wayside, reflect the blue and the serenity of heaven in their pure, upturned faces. Where the white variety grows, one might think a light snowfall had powdered the grass, or a milky way of tiny floral stars had streaked a terrestrial path.

Through the magic of the internet and the goodwill of volunteers, you can download this book, including those fuzzy pictures, from Project Gutenberg.

Maybe a bit less sentimental and a bit more literary is How to Know the Wild Flowers by Mrs. William Starr Dana. There are no color pictures here, but the black-and-white line drawing are clear enough to be used for identification. Here's a passage from her entry on violets:

It seems as if no other flower were so suggestive of the dawning year, so associated with the days when life was full of promise. Although I believe that more than a hundred species of violets have been recorded, only about thirty are found in our country; of these perhaps twenty are native to the Northeastern States. Unfortunately, we have no strongly sweet-scented species, none "...sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, or Cytherea's breath, ..." as Shakespeare found the English blossom.

My copy is a reprint edition by Dover Publications, but I can't find it in their catalog now. This book has been around a long time - The New York Times reviewed it when it was first published in 1893.

Join Elizabeth Joy as she takes us on an internet tour of Wildflowers in Winter.
And Happy Groundhog Day! I'm sure the Groundhog saw his shadow here today. I wish it had been yesterday instead.

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