Chronicaling the lunacy of taming three acres in Tidewater Virginia, one square foot at a time!

"Gardens... should be like lovely, well-shaped girls: all curves, secret corners, unexpected deviations, seductive surprises and then still more curves. ~H.E. Bates, A Love of Flowers

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge...or another day I goofed off from gardening (bad girl!)

The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a place I have been wanting to visit, and today seemed like a great day to do it.

Located 15 miles south of Virginia Beach, and ~ 7 miles above the North Carlina border, the mission of the refuge is to to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people, provide resting and feeding areas for migrating water birds and passerines;provide and conserve a variety of habitats representing coastal Southeastern Virginia.

The Refuge contains over 9,000 acres, situated on and around a thin strip of coastline typical of barrier islands. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh. The majority of refuge marshlands are on islands contained within the waters of Back Bay.The Refuge habitats support a wide variety of plant and animal life some of which we saw today.

I recommend a stop at the visitor center, where they have maps and guides and some "preserved" animals and birds.

I definitely recommend hosing down with...
...which was also the recommended brand at the visitor center! We could see the flies, but none of the 6 of us got a bite!

We walked around the trails, keeping our eyes out for something interesting. While we didn't find anything truly exotic, it was fun just the same to shoot things that are more "common."

Hedge Bindweed, Wild Morning Glory (Calystegia sepium)was growing here and there. Considered by some to be a noxious, invasive is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. I like morning glories...even noxious ones.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a passerine bird that generally prefers wetlands, and inhabits both freshwater and saltwater marshes. It is also found in dry upland areas, where it such inhabits meadows, prairies, and fields. They defend their territory aggressively, both against other male Red-winged Blackbirds and against creatures they perceive as threatening, including crows, Ospreys, hawks, and even humans! They are omnivorous feeding on plant materials, including seeds and grains as well as insects and other small animals.

Well, I have stated clearly how I feel about snakes...ew! Mr.B actually likes them... so for the snake lovers, the Eastern Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus) is found throughout the eastern US. Ribbon snakes are semiaquatic and are frequently found at the edges of lakes, bogs, and salt marshes.They eat small fish and amphibians and often swim in water near the shoreline (exactly where we were!)They are birth to live young in the late summer.

White tailed Deer...totally non exotic, but still sort of surprised us standing in the mucky marsh.

I think this is an Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly (Perithemis tenera)but there are so many different dragonflies, I just don't know. I did read that they are the fasted flying source said they can fly 83 miles per hour!!!

Cool Spider...


Sort of cracked me up that the lower flag had a picture of a bison on it...if we would have seen a bison in southeastern virginia...that would have been SOMETHING!!!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Roadside Weeds

Ok, admittedly I am straying from "gardening" the intermission of my daughters' horse show today, I took a walk along the front road boundary of the property to look at .....

Of course, I had to take pictures!! This is what I found...

I thought this was "Queen Anne's Lace," but I was wrong! It is actually Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) flowers are white with 5 petal and no sepals, and it's biennial. One plant can produce over 30,000 seeds!!! Plants, when eaten, are poisonous to most animals. Poison hemlock is native to Europe and was introduced into North America in the 1800s as an ornamental.

This is Common mullein, a biennial forb native to Eurasia and Africa. Plants are unbranched and can grow to more than 6.6 ft. (2 m) tall. The first year plants develop as a basal rosette of felt-like leaves covered with woolly hairs. The plant bolts in the second year. The fruit is a ovoid capsule that splits releasing many seeds that germinate in water. Common mullein was introduced to North America in the mid-1700s as a fish poison.

I have no earthly idea what the heck this thing is...but I sure think it is cool looking! Do you know what it is????

On another note, it's hard to believe, but I actually had to water today! As much rain and showers we have had this week, the Virginia, almost summer sun, zaps the moisture right out of the soil. A GardenGoddess's work is never done!!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Night Garden Walk

One thing my husband and I really like doing is walking the perimeter of our three acres to see what we can find. We often take the camera with the macro lens.

Here are some things we snapped after dinner this evening...

I am an absolute freak for this plant....Plumbago auriculata
Common Names: leadwort, plumbago, skyflower. It's one of the true joys of southern gardening. The blue is clear and crisp and very attractive to butterflies. It looks great next to most any color you put near, orange or pink. It grew like crazy at the beach, loving sandy soil and full sun. We'll see how it does in my not so sandy soil...even if it doesn't survive the's worth the cost for a season in my opinion!

Every evening, as soon as the bugs come out near the porch lights, I can be sure to see...the Squirrel Treefrog (Hyla squirella.) These are the cutest little green frogs that are native to The coastal plain from southeastern Virginia (where I live!) to Florida and the Keys west along the Gulf coast to coastal Texas. They have large toes (three) and chameleon like ability to change color.It's nocturnal except for rainy days when it might be out and about aggressively foraging for insects. It's name comes from the fact that it's call is chatter like, just like (annoying) squirrels.

I first saw this bird in our yard over the weekend. Tonight it happened to be in a tree we were close to. The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), is in the same family as Mockingbirds and Catbirds. It likes thicket...we have that! This bird is omnivorous, eating insects, berries, nuts and seeds, as well as earthworms, snails and sometimes lizards. I have seen it foraging on the ground, tossing my mulch to the side with some force. The Brown Thrasher is the official state bird of Georgia, and the inspiration for the name of Atlanta's National Hockey League team, the Atlanta Thrashers. Who knew!

Then we are walking under a large Mimosa, and Mr. B spots this odd group of bugs...after some searching, he identifies them as "Tree Cattle!" (Cerastipsocus venosus) Now there is some odd imagery for you. Named because of their herding habit, no joke, Tree Cattle are beneficial insects that feed on fungus and are considered bark cleaners. They do NO harm to the trees. I have read that if you run your finger along side them...they will move like a herd...we will be trying that tomorrow if they are still there!

Hoping to get some gardening time in tomorrow...after 2 daughters in Horse Show (one for the first time!!), son's baseball game, and daughter's softball practice...I may just be an armchair gardener when all is said and done....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Perils of Clay Soil.... I had to have a title that related to gardening...and I am wrestling to dig my new perennial bed around the garden fence...the ground is so hard and compacted, I could scream!! I can look at the bright side and know that clay soil is chock full of nutrients...and some nifty butterfly and hummingbird attracting plants, that I am actually planting, don't mind the clay at all, like:
Bee Balm (Monarda)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
Gaura (Gaura spp.)
Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium)
Lantana (Lantana spp.)

So I guess it's not so bad!

Admitedly, this post is homage to Sicilian roots and the perils of clay soil.

Sicilian Tomato Garden:

An old Sicilian lived alone in New Jersey ..
He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden,
but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.

His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison.
The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year.

I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over.. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in he old days.
Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.

That same day the old man received another letter from his son.

Dear Pop,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.
Love you,

Sigh! Guess I will have to keep digging myself, as to the best of my knowledge, no bodies are buried in my yard, and I have no cousin Vinnie!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blueberry Varieties

Got 4 varieties of blueberries planted experiment as I have never grown them before!

I remember being at Girl Scout Camp in the summer in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey...we would pick blueberries and the cooks would make blueberry pancakes and muffins. They were the best and so an attempt to recreate my youth...haha

This is what I planted:

A southern highbush heat tolerant, self-pollinating variety with low winter chilling requirements (300 to 500 accumulated hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the dormant season).
Botanical Name: Vaccinium corymbosum 'O'Neal'
Growing Zones: 5-9
Sun Exposure:Full Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist, well-drained
Soil Types/Tolerance: Normal, loamy
Width: 5 ft - 6 ft
Height: 6 ft
Foliage Color: Medium Green
Bloom Color: White
Berries: Very sweet, early ripening, medium sized

Jersey Variety
A northern highbush variety requiring requiring two varieties to pollinate and a minimum of 900 chilling hours (measure of accumulated hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the dormant season.)
Botanical Name: Vaccinium corymbosum 'Jersey'
Growing Zones: 4-7
Sun Exposure:Full Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist, well-drained
Soil Types/Tolerance: Normal, loamy
Width: 5 ft - 6 ft
Height: 6-8 ft
Foliage Color: Medium Green
Bloom Color: White
Berries:sweet, late ripening, small-medium sized, good for baking

Sunshine Blue Variety
A northern lowbush variety requiring a minimum of 900 chilling hours (measure of accumulated hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the dormant season.)
Botanical Name: Vaccinium angustifolium 'Sunshine Blue'
Growing Zones: 5-10
Sun Exposure:Full Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist, well-drained
Soil Types/Tolerance: Normal, loamy
Width: 3-4 ft
Height: 3-4 ft
Foliage Color: Medium Blue Green
Bloom Color: White
Berries:sweet, mid season ripening, small-medium sized,

Biloxi Variety
A southern highbush variety requiring two varieties to pollinate and with low winter chilling requirements (300 to 500 accumulated hours of temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the dormant season).
Botanical Name: Vaccinium corymbosum 'Biloxi'
Growing Zones: 5-9
Sun Exposure:Full Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist, well-drained
Soil Types/Tolerance: Normal, loamy
Width: 5 ft - 6 ft
Height: 6-8 ft
Foliage Color: Medium Green
Berries:sweet, early ripening, medium sized

I do have an awesome blueberry pie would be cool to get enough to make the pie.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Time For Everything....

A dear friend woke this morning to find her beloved husband had passed away in the night. His death unexpected, leaves us all sad and unsettled, reminded of the fragile nature of life, the constant of change and the certainty that to every organism born comes death in it's own time.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

We Have Water!!

The same wonderful husband (GoddessSupport) and son who worked to get the garden "built," gave me the better part of their Saturday and now.... We Have Water!!!

Gone is the necessity to drag the 100 foot hose out to the garden location!

Gone is the aggravation of having to reel up that 100 foot hose after gardening (although I admit, I sometimes wouldn't)

Gone is the worry that my plants will dessicate because I don't have the time to water!

It's the coolest thing...the hose is clamped along the fence line and comes into the garden where I have TWO options...the mounted sprinkler that covers the WHOLE garden or the handheld hose.I am in Tidewater Garden Goddess heaven! (And oh so lucky to have a husband who not only tolerates, but supports my various passions.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

What the Heck is That?!?!?

Some things make you pause, and run into the house find out, "What the heck is that?"
I headed to to see if I could find it...I figured it looked more like a beetle than anything else...and I was right. It is an "Eyed Elater." It was LOUD when it flew past me before landing on the fencepost a few feet from where I was sitting. It didn't seem to annoyed that I approached it to take it's picture.
So this is what I found...

Common Name: Eyed Elater
Other Common Names:
Big-eyed Elater and Eyed Click Beetle
Genus / Species: Alaus oculatus
Size: Adults 1½ inch (Mine was closer to 2 inches);
Larva up to 2 inches long
Type of Beneficial: Insect Predator
Type of Metamorphosis: Immature stages appear different from adults
(complete metamorphosis)
Beneficial Stage(s): Larval stages are predators
Prey: Larva are ferocious meat-eaters that dines on many other noxious wood-boring larvae, including those of wood-boring beetles.
Range : Eastern and central North America--widespread. South Dakota east to Quebec, south to Texas, Florida.
Habitat: Deciduous/mixed forests and woodlands
Season: Much of year in south. Most frequently seen in spring and summer.
The "click" part of there name comes from a skill they have for righting themselves if turned on their backs. With a spring loaded hinge in there back, they are able to "click" and propel themselves 4 feet in the air to escape a predator or get right side up again. (I did not try turning it upside down)
Glad I took my camera out with me today!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Early Thursday

I've been experimenting this week with my husband's fancy camera with the macro lens. Admittedly, I know little about the function of camera, and somewhat intimidated, I just point and shoot at what looks interesting to me. I hope for the best when I download them to the computer!

It is amazing what can be seen in a 20 minute meander around the property, through the lens of this camera. Things that I walk or drive be everyday without really "seeing" them...suddenly are extraordinarily complex in their structure and appearance.

I never noticed the magenta leaf stems on the the Japanese Maple above...or just how delicate the leaves are.

I know that my Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are white....but I never really noticed how pure the white is, especially in contrast to the lush green leaf.

And I never really noticed that those Geranium buds must "pop." A little "googling" got me here...

Time Lapse Video of Geranium Blooming (over 10 days!)

Looking forward to the weekend and time to unload the 1 1/2 yards of topsoil compost blend that is riding in the back of my pick-up. The new veggie garden and perennial border should be looking mighty fine by Monday!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rain Gardens

No time for gardening yesterday...but did get to attend a cool lecture on "Rain Gardens and Buffer Plants for Tidewater" put on by the Chesapeake Backyard Gardeners at the library.
The speaker was Laurie Fox, horticulture associate with Virginia Tech and one of the authors of the book, Best Plants for Hampton Roads: A Landscape & Garden Companion, which of course I bought...can't have too many gardening or quilting books!

Laurie talked about the structure and function of this type of garden. Some things I learned:

  • A "rain garden" is a man-made depression in the ground forms a "bioretention area" by collecting water runoff and storing it, permitting it be filtered and slowly absorbed by the soil.
  • A nutrient removal or "filtering" process takes place as the water comes in contact with the soil and the roots of the trees, shrubs and other plants. This process promotes improved water quality.
  • The rain water is ponded in the lowest level of the rain garden, and gradually "percs" through to the groudwater below, cleaner that when it fell through the atmosphere.
  • It's best to plant the rain garden with more native species to minimize the need for chemical fertilizers.

The wiki site actually has some good information-

This is also a good reference, but takes awhile to load-

I will definitely think about this concept as I work around the areas that my gutters and driveway drain to...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What An Aggravated Gardener Does On ANOTHER RAINY DAY!!!

"The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind the anonymous medieval poet makes me remember, the rain that falls on a day when you'd just as soon stay in bed a little longer, write letters or read a good book by the fire, take early tea with hot scones and jam and look out the streaked window with complacency."
~Susan Allen Toth, England For All Seasons
Ok...enough already!!! I am tired of laying in bed, my letters are all written, I finished my good book, ate more than my share of scones and feel complacent about complacency!!! It is time for some sunshine!!!!
I know there are people out there that are desperate for a little rain...I would gladly send them some of mine!
Some pics snapped from my porch, as I looked out on the rain....

Maybe the sun will shine tomorrow...sigh

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lichens, Way Cool!

It would have been great if I got my butt over to the garden center to get another yard of topsoil/compost mix before the torrential it may be several days before I can do that. Bummer.

Since I couldn't move forward on the garden plan, I decided to take a walk around the front yard and see what I could find. And what I found was a whole bunch of different lichens.

I realized I didn't know much about them so I did a little searching. This is what I found:

A lichen is not a single organism. It's a combination of two organisms which live together in symbiosis. Most of the lichen is composed of fungal filaments, but living among the filaments are algae cells.

The first person to recognize the symbiotic relationship was Beatrix Potter!! She is not only famous for her children's books about Peter Rabbit, but also her study of lichens! Her illustrations of lichens are appreciated for their detail even today. Apparently when she was alive, her observations about lichens and the symbiotic discovery were snubbed by the largely male scientific community. If she had been recognized as a serious scientist at the time, Peter Rabbit may have never been created...Beatrix gave up trying to break the sexist barrier, and started writing children's books instead.

Lichens are very sensitive to air pollution...if you have lots of lichens, you probably have good air!
Three broad categories of lichen have been recognized: crustose (crusty), foliose (leafy),and; fruticose (shrubby)
Lichens are more than just something cool to look at....some are edible (some are poisonous so don't randomly chose a snack!), some are used in the making of antibiotics, some are used to dye wool.

So I guess I should be grateful for the mucky weather, otherwise I would have no knowledge of the fascinating world of lichens!!

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Mother's Day Present

I had a great Mother's Day! My husband and kids built me a raised bed veggie garden complete with fence to keep the dogs out! I can't believe they did this in one day! It was the best present I ever received.
This is the "before" ...a ~25 x 25 plot that is the perfect location for sun loving veggies.

And after...we shopped the fence from Craigslist. I have been working this week to mulch in between the boxes and start work on the perennial border that will surround the whole thing. I see hummingbirds and butterflies and my typical flower explosion. I have a heap of plants to be put in and a new fig tree for near by. Hope the weather holds, thunderstorms are predicted for the next several days.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Gardening Blog!

"In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death." ~Sam Llewelyn

As I tossed my trowel into the fray of gardening blogs, I stumbled upon this quote...and chuckled to myself. Isn't it the truth! The whole of the garden is contrast...the anticipation of the lushness of spring. Birds and bees, nests, hatchings, life bursting forth all around us. Even the most dedicated "non-gardener" can't help but feel the vibration of life when in a garden.

My own current garden is, yet again, a new creation. Not a new space, or blank...but new to me. As I look out on its expanse, I have been thinking about all the gardens leading to this journey from novice to something more than a novice. This one my 4th garden. I remember the others fondly....

My first over 20 years ago, a small plot of land behind my townhouse next to a lake. I had no idea what I was doing! But a garden seemed like place to think outside the box.I packed in as much as possible into my little slice of heaven. I had some success and some failures, but in that small little plot I discovered that I had dirt in my soul!

Then onto the second, a traditional 1/3 acre suburban tract where I bucked tradition of builders shrubs and planted a riot of flowers where others had arborvitae(s). Horrible, concrete-like clay, impossible to dig and a largely shady space challenged the things I had learned to that time. Over time, the garden evolved as I did and 15 years later, I moved on to the next adventure in my life.
A new home in a new zone 1/2 mile from the Atlantic Ocean. I'll never forget the blank sand slate that was my yard, house plopped in the middle as if set down by aliens. I bought peat moss and manure by the truckloads. Everytime I dug a hole, a heaped in amendment...that will work, I thought! I completely underestimated the effect of the brutal North Carolina heat and salt spray. Water, water, water and more water...I definitely needed to fallback and regroup. I did my homework and found that lots of things like brutal heat and salt spray...Rosemary for one grows to big beautiful fragrant shrubs with incredible blue blossoms.

And now to the present my coastal, but not seaside, home that brings me back to the gardening I know how to do...clay. Believe it or not I am kind of relieved, and back in my comfort zone!

The bones are good...mature trees spaced about so as to give sun to most of the garden for some part of the day...established azaleas, dogwood, rhododendron and hydrangeas thrive in beds under the trees...a few beds of day lilies, some butterfly bushes. The downside...a large expanse of warm season invasive pain in the butt grass...and my nemesis...
EW EW EW!!! I HATE SNAKES!!! Unfortunately, they are here to stay and I will have to rely on the dogs to let me know when they are close by....and if they eat them...well so be it.
My bloggy journey begins!