Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
There have been a lot of first-of-the-season events over the last week.
First dragonfly. Same kind as last year.
First hummingbird. It buzzed right by my head on its way to __? Somewhere else.
First singing wood thrush.
I think - think - I head the kowp-kowp-kowp of a yellow-billed cuckoo on Saturday morning, but it was hard to be sure with the flock of noisy blue jays all around.
First time I noticed the lovely scent of 'Rainbow Loveliness'. I decided to pick a tiny bouquet for the house before the rain ruined the flowers, brought it up to my nose expecting a spicy carnation-like scent, and instead got .... lilacs? That's how it smelled to me anyway. Not at all dianthus-y, but sweet and strong.
First bizarre-o insect of the year. Moth larva? I have no idea.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Too Much Wisteria?
Looking at these photos, it's easy to understand how the anti-invasive plant folks can get worked up about Wisteria, but you have to admit that it's eye-catching.
This is blooming along I-64 near Charlottesville. I don't know which species this is and I'm not inclined to scramble over the guardrail to find out. I was hoping it might be domestic (and therefore OK), but apparently that one flowers later in the spring.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Still Blogging After All These Years
April 23, 2003: First blog post.
Blogger has changed a lot since then. There was no easy way to display photos, no provision for comments, and all blogspot-hosted blogs carried advertising.
And the blogging community has grown from a tiny hamlet where everybody knows everybody into a huge metropolis where you don't necessarily even know your near neighbors. I'm finding it hard to keep up with lately. If blogging and blog-reading occupy more time than gardening, what will I write about? Does it matter what I write about if nobody else has the time to read it? Or would that be a good thing, because then I could go back to just chronicling the days' events without trying to make it interesting to others? Will people still be blogging five years from now?
But I'll tell ya one thing that hasn't changed in five years - real-life Neighbor C is still a thorn in my side. Just when my rhododendrons had grown large enough to hide most of his kids' swingset, he moved the swingset.
|Note the rhododendrons to the |
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Earth Day, ISU, and Ada Hayden
I remember the first Earth Day. I was in junior high school and a group of us students picked up roadside trash while carrying signs proclaiming Earth Day. The young and idealistic were leading the way to a better future where humans would live in harmony with nature while saving the planet in the bargain. Sound familiar? Could it really have been 38 years ago?
Be that as it may, Earth Day and the focus on environmental causes exerted great influence on me when it came time to choose a college and a field of study. I knew I wanted to do something with the outdoors, preferably with plants. I chose to study forestry at Iowa State University. Well, the forestry program turned out to be the wrong choice for me, and I soon changed my major to horticulture. Then horticulture turned out to be the wrong career choice for me, but that's a long story for another post.
This post is really about defending my alma mater against snide remarks by Michael Pollan. I planned to finish reading The Omnivore's Dilemma for the last Garden Bloggers' Book Club, but I was so flabbergasted by the following passage that I couldn't continue.
I spent a couple of days on the Ames campus, which really should be called the University of Corn. Corn is the hero of the most prominent sculptures and murals on campus, and the work of the institution is dedicated in large part to the genetics, culture, history, and uses of this plant, though the soybean, Iowa's second crop, gets its share of attention too.
Huh? I wrote and rewrote a lengthy rebuttal to this nonsense, but I'm going to whittle it down to just this. It is indisputable that Iowa State University is home to the state agricultural college in a state where corn is the largest cash crop, and you would therefore expect them to devote some resources to studying it. But to suggest that nothing else goes on there is a failure to observe, at best, or a fabrication, at worst. You only need to look at enrollment numbers to see the truth. In the current semester, undergraduate enrollment in the College of Agriculture is fifth among the six colleges that make up the university. The college with the largest number of students is Liberal Arts and Sciences with 5154 students, followed by Engineering (4056), Business (3221), Human Sciences (2657), Agriculture (2554), and Design (1726). If you're interested in seeing Iowa State's beautiful campus and learning more about the various artworks there, here are a couple websites for you to visit - Points of Pride: Art and Art on Campus. You will find little corn.
In honor of Earth Day, I'd like to draw your attention instead to an Iowa State alumna who studied the native praire and worked to preserve it. ISU has many distinguished alumni, but Ada Hayden, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. at Iowa State and a member of the Botany department from 1910 to 1950, was pondering the effects of increasing cultivation of row crops before Michael Pollan was born. A brief except from her writing:
But will this myriad-strained cultivate corn, rotated with its oriental leguminous neighbors, maintain health and productivity in an artificial environment in a manner comparable with the native grassland plants which are natural products of their climatic and edaphic environment?
The prairie itself has intrinsic merits aside from its bearing with reference to crop insurance. It presents a colorful display of flowering plants throughout the growing season; it is the potential source of economic plants whose uses have not yet been explored. It affords opportunity for the study of the life histories of animals, the knowledge of which has a practical bearing upon their integration with the agricultural environment. It serves as a standard of reference for landscaping, it constitutes type specimens of the native vegetation and soil associations, and provides living examples of the fauna and flora which are indispensable in educational work.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The Woods Awaken: Native Azaleas
Except for the tree pollen, I love this time of year in the woods. The shrubs start to leaf out, then the trees take on a green haze and the light becomes diffuse but still bright. Last year, I almost missed the native azaleas while looking for spring ephemerals on the forest floor. This year, I've been watching them for 2 months and now they've begun to bloom.
|Native azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides)|
I believe all the ones I've found are members of the same species (Rhododendron periclymenoides), but the flowers show some color variation. I just found this key, and I'm going to go double check my conclusion after I publish this. Why not before? Good question, but I'll update the post if I got it wrong the first time.
The dogwood flowers are all unfolded now. They have a lot more flowers when they're in the sun, but I like them best in a lacy swath through the woods.
|Dogwood (Cornus florida)|
Some of the moss is "flowering" too.
|Moss, unknown species|
The leaf buds are as varied and interesting as flowers, and I recently learned a bit of folk wisdom about the Beech tree. It's said that when the Beech trees finally drop last year's leaves and begin to open the new ones, there will be no more frost. Looks like we're not quite there yet.
|Leaf buds of American Beech (Fagus grandiflora)|
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The Morning Read: Sims Gardening
Browsing the newspaper this morning, I came across an article about the popularity of the Sims video games.
Then I stopped over at Kate's blog to read her charming story about the awakening of the liverlilies.
Mingling the two together in my mind, the light bulb lit up - what if there was a Sims-type gardening game?
Turns out I'm way behind on this one. Just do a Google search for "sims garden" and you'll see what I mean.
This could be an interesting winter diversion.....next winter. But I'm curious, have you ever played a video gardening game?
Labels: video games
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day seems to come around faster every month. This month I have many flowers and not much time to describe them, but here are the lists (links are to my photos).
From Tangled Branches North, we have:
- Ipheion uniflorum
- Ipheion 'Rolf Fiedler'
- Muscari sp.
- Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'
- Dicentra spectabile
- Dicentra 'Aurora'
- Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae
- Epimedium 3 unknowns (but possibly E. pubigerum, E. 'Neosulphureum', and E. 'Milky Way; the suspected Neosulphureum is the one with red foliage in easy winters')
- Epimedium 'Tambotan'
- Epimedium 'Lilafee' (or 'Purple Prince', the squirrels dug up the labels - honest!)
- Vinca minor
- Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'
- Viburnum x burkwoodii
- Anemone blanda
- Anemone apennina var. alba
- Anemone nemorosa 'Vestal'
- Narcissus 'Geranium'
- Narcissus 'Goose Green'
- Narcissus 'Salome'
- Narcissus 'Kedron'
- Narcissus 'Tropical Sunset'
- Narcissus 'Yellow Cheerfulness'
- Narcissus various unknowns
- Viola (weedy white)
- Viola (nice clump-forming purple)
- Scilla siberica (almost finished)
- Veronica 'Georgia Blue'
- Narcissus jonquilla
- Tulip (red survivor)
- Lunaria annua (variegated leaf)
- Rosemarinus officinalis
- Chionodoxa sardensis (newly planted, the older ones are finished)
- Cercis canadensis
- Mertensia virginica
- Azalea (builder's special, just a few flowers open)
- Assorted Pansies and Violas
And at Tangled Branches South:
- Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation'
- Narcissus 'Dottie's Dream' (newly planted, and oh my! - it's my kind of daffodil)
- Narcissus 'Salome'
- Tulipa clusiana 'Tinka'
- Chionodoxa sardensis
- Scilla siberica 'Spring Beauty'
- Assorted Pansies and Violas
- Wildflowers - Bluets, Blueberries, Dogwood
April 2007 list, for comparison.
Thanks again Carol for another GBBD!
Labels: in bloom
Monday, April 14, 2008
Spring Surprises - Good and Bad
Surprise! It was 86 degrees (F) on Friday. Not springlike, but I enjoyed it all the same.
|Tulipa clusiana 'Tinka'|
Salvia patens is springing back. According to Thompson & Morgan, this is only hardy to zone 8, and I'm in either zone 6b or 7 depending on which version of the hardiness map you use.
Verbena hastata 'Pink Spires' has not sprung back. Supposedly hardy to zone 3. No sign of Eupatorium purpureum yet either.
|Agastache foeniculum volunteer seedlings|
I'm learning to know the frogs by their sounds. The earliest ones were Upland Chorus Frogs. Now we have Spring Peepers and Gray Tree Frogs, as well. Did you know that frogs start singing very early in the morning, even before the birds? We slept with the windows open on Friday night, and before the dawn was perceptible to me, the frogs began calling.
The march of the branded plants continues. This isn't really a surprise, but Saturday I discovered a new (to me) brand - Hort Couture. I have to grudgingly admit that their packaging is very attractive and the plant selections were interesting. The very idea of branded plants still makes me a little queasy though. When I got out of college I worked at a wholesale/retail nursery where we dug customers' desired number of plants out of wooden flats and wrapped them in newspaper. They were just beginning to move to plastic cell packs. Geez, I feel like a garden geezer....
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Zillions of Virginia Bluebells
Yesterday afternoon the clouds lifted and I jumped in the car to go look at the Virginia Bluebells at Bull Run Park near Centreville. I fear I won't be able to adequately describe the scene, but I'll try.
As you slog along the muddy trail towards the river, the forest floor looks as if a sudden snow flurry just started to stick. The tiny white and pink Spring Beauties (Claytonia sp.) cover the ground on both sides of the trail. As you approach the Cub Run river, you see a haze of blue. For the full effect, click through the photos to Picasaweb and then click the magnifying glass at the top right of the photo for a larger view.
From the time you reach the river until the time you leave it, there are huge drifts of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) all around you.
They crowd in at the sides of the trail and the dense stands continue far into the woods.
The flowers are lovely individually, but the sheer numbers of plants make an impression. There are thousands upon thousands of flowers here. I took 101 pictures, edited that down to 30 for posting on Picasaweb, and to 5 for showing here.
The stars of the show are the Bluebells, but in addition to them and the Spring Beauties, there are a few other wildflowers to be found. I didn't have to hunt to find Toothwort, Purple Violets, Yellow Violets, and a personal favorite - Trout Lilies aka Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium americanum, I assume).
Midweek, midafternoon, I had the place practically to myself, although there were three intrepid women pushing two toddlers in strollers. Considering the mud, this was a real accomplishment. Depending on weather, the Bluebells should be in good form for another week. I last visited the park exactly two years ago and posted a very similar review. I think my photos from that trip show that the flowers were blooming a bit ahead of this year's. If you go, just be prepared for a very muddy trail.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Catching Up, Part 2
Is this a lame excuse for a blog post?
I dodged the raindrops today and took these photos. I posted them on Picasaweb, but haven't gotten around to writing anything about them except the captions. I'm not sure what I think of embedded slideshows - comments welcome!
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Ya know what happens when you take a week off from blogging and blog reading? You get well over 300 unread blog posts in your Garden Folder in Google Reader. Oh, and the daffodils and other bulbs continue to bloom, completely unphotographed (by me). Happily, this blogging backlog is coinciding with a rainy weekend. This morning I only have 127 unread garden blog posts.
Though I was mostly away from the computer, there were a few blog-worthy items in the past week. In reverse chronological order:
- The wisteria is starting to bloom along I-64.
- Yesterday, while driving through a residential neighborhood in Richmond, we spotted totally-leafed-out Japanese maples. That was a surprise - the flowering trees aren't even finished here.
- We visited a HUGE garden center in the Short Pump area of the Richmond burbs. I didn't look at everything - they appeared to have a good selection of plants at reasonable prices, although nothing too out of the ordinary. They were very well stocked with tools, pricey tchotchkes, garden furniture, bird feeders, pond kits, etc.
- The coriander/cilantro and radishes from seed sowed in the cold frame in late January are now are at a usable size, so yesterday's lunch was an Indian-style Omelet Sandwich with a Indianish Radish Relish.
- Mid-week we visited Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe (the 5th US President). During the visit I learned many things I should have learned in school about James Monroe, but the place just doesn't have the star power (or the extensive gardens) of Monticello, its near neighbor. Still, there are huge trees and boxwood hedges; a nice flower border currently blooming with narcissus, tulips and fritillarias; a huge rosemary blooming with the largest flowers I've ever seen on a rosemary; and in a pen in back of the house live 2 pairs of gorgeous pea fowl. Also notable was that I saw my first tiger swallowtail butterfly of the season there.
- On Picasaweb, I posted several photos of a pileatead woodpecker. The first good ones I've ever taken of this cool bird.
If it ever quits raining I'll get out and take some photos of the progress of spring here at Tangled Branches, but until then I'll be catching up on my reading.