Native Virginia Trees

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Early spring, as the buds swell and glow red or orange or softest green around the crown of every tree on the horizon; directs our attention back towards our majestic, elegant hardwood trees which fill the landscape here in coastal Virginia.  We’ve largely ignored them since autumn, when their bright leaves blew away in November’s storms. 

The many native trees discovered by our early colonists still grow wild here.  They form the backdrop to our everyday lives.  Some of us love them and choose to live in forested communities.  Others fear them.  Perhaps for good reason, after seeing these gentle giants toppled by the storms which blow through our area several times a year. 

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Yet, the great North American trees define our landscape and our lifestyle.  They shade us and offer relief from our summer heat and humidity.  Their flowers announce spring and make early summer sweetly fragrant. 

The ready supply of good strong trees for lumber allowed early settlers to build homes and churches and businesses in the wilderness.  Although it is unusual to find a fully grown, mature hardwood tree anymore, we still can find them in parks and on preserved estates.

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Cypress Trees grow large here along the Colonial Parkway at the mouth of Powhatan Creek.

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I love trees.  And I love to plant trees. I count and visit the Dogwoods, Oaks, Redbuds, Crepe Myrtles and Poplars on our property pretty regularly to monitor their growth.  In fact, I spent an hour today with a shipment of bare root trees we just received from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I get angry when neighbors cut healthy trees, changing the landscape for our entire community.  And I really hate to see stands of trees cut for new development ,  mourning the ever increasing loss of the naturally forested acres left in our area. 

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We often fail to consider how much oxygen each tree produces each year, or how many pollutants each can filter from the air we breathe.  Trees absorb greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide in their respiration, locking that carbon into their woody flesh. 

They help moderate the temperature through all of our seasons, and fertilize the Earth and build new soil with their fallen leaves.  Each tree supports and houses countless animals, feeding and sheltering birds, small insects, butterflies and their larvae, and  small mammals.

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Native Redbud, Cercis canadensis, blooms in April.

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Since trees are on my mind today, I am republishing an essay I wrote in August, 2013, about how prized our American trees became to the Europeans who financed and supported colonization in North America.  I hope you find some useful bit here you didn’t know before.   And I also hope that perhaps this essay invites you to pay a bit more attention to the trees in your landscape and your life.

-Woodland Gnome

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View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

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Did you know there was a time, not too long ago, when the most prized plants growing on regal British estates were trees imported from, “The Colonies”?  I had no idea how much 17th and 18th Century British gardeners coveted North American plants- particularly our trees.

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American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

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Isn’t it interesting how things are forgotten over the years, and we assume that how things are in our own experience is how things have always been?

I grew up on the East coast of North America, making annual trips to view the colorful forests cloaking the Blue Ridge Mountains each autumn.  I’ve always had brilliant autumn foliage to enjoy in my own yard, and lining the streets of whatever town I happened to visit.

We in Virginia accept these things as part of the normal progression of the seasons.  We savor them, but don’t take notice of what a rare treat we enjoy.

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An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

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It was the book, Brother Gardeners:  Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession, by Andrea Wulf, which opened my eyes and my mind to the treasures growing here, as weeds in the woods.

Prior to the 17th century, European, and specifically British gardens, had a limited palette of plants.  The formal geometric schemes of lawn, hedge, topiary evergreen shrubs, roses, and very few summer flowers were the norm.  Green and brown were the main colors found in the garden for most of the year.  Hardscape paths, stairs, fountains, arbors, and structures were the relief from all of this green lawn and green hedge.  Gardeners overcame and reshaped nature when creating a garden.

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Dogwood tree in early November

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The notion of working with nature was born in the colonies, and exported back to England in some measure toward the second half of the 18th century.

As European ships sailed abroad to explore and claim the world, they took as treasure not only gold and silver, but also botanical treasures from all of the lands explored.

Very little of the plant material collected actually made it back alive to a gardener in Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, or the Netherlands.  When a voyage lasts many months, things happen.  Things like hungry mice and storms; gnawing insects, pirates, salt spray; and unmitigated heat and cold on the deck of a sailing ship.

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But whatever seeds, bulbs, cuttings, roots, and even live plants did miraculously make it home and into the hands of a skilled gardener, were loving tended and coaxed into growing in specially built hot houses and garden plots.

Plants were grown out for seed, sold, traded, and propagated in great botanical gardens across Europe.  Botanists befriended ships’ captains and crews in hopes of bribing them to bring home new specimens.  And, as colonies were established, relationships sprang up between the colonists and avid collectors “back home” in Europe.

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Red Cedar growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

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The fledgling scientists of the Enlightenment realized that every new species of plant contains tremendous gifts.  Aside from their beauty and use in an ornamental garden, plants contain useful chemical compounds to heal, create new products, nourish, and enlighten.  Some of this research continues today in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil and other inaccessible and remote corners of the world

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Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.  Enlarge the photo and you’ll see the long seed pods growing in early August.

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The colonial era was an exciting time for discovering countless new species of plants. The gardens of Great Britain and Europe reflected the explosion of diversity by welcoming previously unknown flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables into their evolving and increasingly naturalistic garden schemes.

Remember, the great forests of Britain were decimated long before this era.  When Maple, Tulip Poplar, Pine, Sycamore, Cedar, Dogwood, Sassafras, Magnolia and other colorful tress and shrubs from America grew in the first garden plots of importers, they were a novelty.  The aristocracy quickly fell in love with these new plants, and clamored for a seed or a cutting to grow on their home estates.

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Oak and pine grow in abundance on Jamestown Island.

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Benjamin Franklin helped build the relationships that enabled this trade between his amateur botanist friends in the American colonies and his contacts in Britain.  The story told in Andrea Wulf’s book unfolds with the drama and personality of a good novel, and I recommend it to every like minded gardener, no matter which side of the pond you call your present home.

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Native holly

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For the purposes of this post, I will  mention a few of the trees growing wild right here around Jamestown, which were collected in the Colonial era and sent back to England.  These trees, common to us, opened up a whole new way to design and enjoy gardens for those still in Europe.  They were grown for their beautiful form, fall color, interesting bark, and some for their flowers.

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An old oak tree’s exposed roots. This tree holds the bank of the James River along the Parkway.

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Eventually, gardening became a passionate pursuit not only of the aristocracy, but for many Britons.  As we admire their beautifully tended gardens of trees, shrubs, and flowers today, so they admired the wild and beautiful plants we sent back to them from, “The Colonies”.

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Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

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Here is a partial list of trees and shrubs introduced to Britain from the American colonies:

Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple, 1725

Aesculus pavia, Red Buckeye, 1711

Colorful fall leaves were almost unknown in Britain before American species of trees were introduced n the 17th and 18th centuries.

Betula nigra, River Birch, 1736

Callicarpa americana, Beauty Berry, 1724

Catalpa bignonioides, Southern Catalpa, 1722

Chamaecyparis thyoides, White Cedar, 1736

Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe Tree, 1736

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood, 1722

Diospyros virginiana, Persimmon, 1629

Euonymus atropurpurea, Burning Bush, 1744-6

Fraxinus americana, White Ash, 1724

Hydrangea arborescens, Wild Hydrangea, 1736

Juglans nigra, Black Walnut, 1629

Juniperus virginiana, Red Cedar, 1664

Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, 1734

Liriodendron tulipifera, Tulip Poplar, 1638

Magnolia grandiflora, Southern Magnolia, 1734

Dogwood, our Virginia state tree, blooms in April.

Magnolia virginiana, Sweet Bay, 1688

Pinus strobus, White Pine, 1705

Platanus occidentalis, American Sycamore, 1638

Sassafras albidum, Sassafrass, 1630

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Dogwood, Cornus florida

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2017

The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

Brother Gardeners at Barnes and Nobles

Brother Gardeners at Amazon

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Shelton Glass Works

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Gorgeous color always catches my attention, but especially on grey, wet December mornings.

My partner and I enjoyed the annual December crafts show at Trinkle Hall this morning, on the edge of William and Mary’s campus, near DoG St.  We return every December to enjoy beautiful hand crafted items.

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Most of the artists return year after year, but we are always excited to discover someone new.

What a treat to discover John Shelton’s gorgeous cobalt blue glass today.

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Every piece is painstakingly blown and finished by hand.  Light shining through this glass produces an absolutely luminous blue.  John had green glass and purple glass pieces as well, but we were particularly drawn to his blue.

The first glass artists came to Jamestown in 1608.  A group of Germans and Poles, they built a glass works with furnaces, and began production.  Their work was sent back to England,  but they didn’t survive “The Starving Time” of 1610.

A group of Italian artisans tried to revive glass making in Jamestown in 1621.  They kept production going for several years, but eventually had to abandon the business.  A reproduction  glass house stands today at the entrance to Jamestown Island, where visitors may watch artisans demonstrate how these first colonists produced hand blown glass.

Hand blown glass may be purchased in many shops around Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown.  In fact, we realized that a piece we purchased at the Craft House several years ago is one of John’s.  His signature is on its base.

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With my apologies to John for taking only one photo of him, and that with his eyes partially closed.

With my apologies to John for taking only one photo of him, and that with his eyes partially closed.

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John Shelton has run his own glass works in Williamsburg, VA, for more than 40 years.  He uses intensive, old world techniques to produce some of the most exquisite glass I’ve seen anywhere.  His pitchers, bowls, vases, glasses and decanters are each a work of art, blown into timeless designs; each a signed original.

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He is a true master of his craft, and is recognized in Early American Life Magazine’s Directory of Traditional American Crafts.

John is generous with his time, talking about glass with his customers at many shows throughout the year.  He will return to Trinkle Hall tomorrow for the second day of this year’s show.

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If you don’t make it to Williamsburg this weekend, you will find other opportunities to enjoy John’s work and perhaps purchase a piece for your own home.

We love glass, especially hand blown glass.  We display it where it may be illuminated by the sun and its color come to life.

We were so glad to meet John Shelton today.  He shared a little about how he creates all of the glass he uses in his work.  It is a very long process, and he never uses recycled glass.

As John is a local artist, and so we will look forward to seeing him, and his work, again soon.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Powhatan Creek

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Powhatan Creek winds its way for nine miles  through southern James City County; a narrow and twisted passage of dark brown crystal clear water which threads through neighborhoods and crosses the Colonial Parkway before reaching the marshes of Sandy Bay and the Black River,  finally emptying into The James at The Thoroughfares.

Fed by natural springs, Powhatan Creek’s water  gets its dark color from tannins released by Bald Cypress trees which line its banks and grow in the swampland it feeds.

 

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The lower portion of the creek is tidal, with salt water from the James River mixing with the creek’s fresh water as the tides shift each day.

Bald Cypress trees, abundant along Powhatan Creek,  earn their name from their appearance in winter.

 

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One of the few deciduous conifers, their needles turn rusty brown each autumn  and then blow away in autumn’s winds.  They produce new leaves each spring.

 

A Bald Cypress limb with cones, ready to drop its needles for winter.

A Bald Cypress limb with cones, ready to drop its needles for winter.

This annual shedding of needles into the  waters where they grow,  keeps the creek very acid.  It doesn’t grow stagnant, although it is often slow moving and shallow.

Bald Cypress may grow where their roots are submerged year round, in tidal swamps, along the margins of ponds, rivers and creeks, as well as on dry land.  And they harbor many species of wildlife.

 

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Powhatan Creek, rich in Cypress, pine, hardwoods, and many species of berry producing shrubs,  provides habitat for an abundance of wildlife.

Seven species of game fish; many species of birds, including bald eagles and great blue herons; snakes, turtles, frogs, deer, beaver and other small mammals call this rich ecosystem home.

James City County’s Powhatan Creek Park, just off of Jamestown Road, offers a good access point for the creek.

 

Along the path from the parking area to the boat ramp and docks.

Along the path from the parking area to the boat ramp and docks.

 

A good sized  graveled parking lot provides access to a boat ramp, trails, and several fishing platforms along the bank.  This is where we visit to take photos of this beautiful part of the Creek.

There is no charge to put a canoe or kayak into the creek here, and one may paddle upstream towards freshwater marshes at the Creek’s source, or downstream towards the Colonial Parkway, Jamestown Island, the the James River.

It is wise to check the tides before heading downstream, as the current grows stronger as you near the river.  It is always wise to come prepared for the weather and for hours out in a swamp.  You will  be surprised by the creatures you encounter along the way!

There is also a Powhatan Creek walking and biking trail , maintained by the county, which ties into other nearby trails and greenways.

 

This Bald Cypress, in the middle of the creek, is one of the tallest in James City County.

This Bald Cypress, in the middle of the creek, is one of the tallest in James City County.

Powhatan Creek has remained fairly undisturbed over the years of our county’s development.  For one thing, it has a wide flood plain.  The ground isn’t good for building, and much of it is protected by the National Park service.

As you might guess, Powhatan Creek was  named for the leader of the nation of native Americans who lived on this land for centuries before the 1607 English settlers arrived.  Native Americans  depended on this waterway for food and used it as a major route for travel.

The early colonists used the Creek to travel inland, as well, and it has remained an important part of our county’s legacy and natural resources.

And it remains important to us today as a relatively untouched natural greenspace, still teeming with beautiful plants and unusual animals.  It remains an intact ecosystem, and one open for us to visit and enjoy.

 

 

Powhatan Creek, early December 2013

Powhatan Creek, early December 2013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Lovely Lady Holly

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This venerable holly stands in a median on the Colonial Parkway where one turns to visit the Jamestown Settlement exhibits.  Not the archeological site, this is near the museum where Jamestown history is interpreted and where school groups eat their picnic lunches.

This gorgeous tree grabbed my attention during a drive down the  Colonial Parkway earlier this week, because it is one of the first we’ve seen covered in bright red berries.

 

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Here is the first sentinel of nature showing us that the winter holidays are on their way.

Holly and ivy remain iconic native plants for the winter holidays, partly because they remain green all winter long.

 

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The red berries produced by the female holly tree reminded our ancestors of the sun, fire, warmth, and renewal.  They still shine brightly  on grey wintery days, even  from underneath a blanket of snow;  reminding us that the sun, and summer, will return.

 

These berries growing on a holly right beside our home are still in the process of turning from green to red.

These berries growing on a holly right beside our home are still in the process of turning from green to red.

 

Our Virginia woods hold many native holly trees.  The birds help spread their seeds each year as they eat their berries, excreting the seeds far and wide.

We rarely notice the holly trees until late November when most of our deciduous trees stand bare.  Then, we can see through the forest to the small army of holly  shining in winter’s sunshine.

 

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Many of these trees remain stunted.  Growing at the base of oaks, maples, poplars, and pines, they rarely have a chance to fully develop.

Holly prefers full sun, which rarely reaches those growing in the forest.

Holly trees grow along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

Holly trees grow along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

 

We see these beautiful trees’ full potential when they grow on the edge of the woods, or remain, growing alone, like the venerable  lady in the median.

Holly, one of the trees counted as “holy” by the Celtic druids, grows as either a male or a female throughout its life.

 

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Only the female holly trees cover themselves in berries each year.  And  even the female trees don’t produce berries until several years into their lives.

 

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We protect a small grove of seedling holly trees in our woods.   They were only a few inches high when we came to this forest garden.

 

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We watch them add height each year, looking forward to when the females among them bear their first berries.

A small holly also grew at the corner of our house, peaking out from behind a Hydrangea when we first arrived.  It has grown now to a small tree, and we are happy to find it is a female covered in bright berries this year.

 

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This is its first year to cover itself in bright fruit; a tremendous source of pleasure as we come and go each day.

The “grand dames” of holly trees may be found along the Colonial Parkway, mostly near Jamestown Island.

Protected at least since the road was completed as a part of the National Park in the late 1950’s, these holly trees look to be much older even than that.

Those growing near the road enjoy full sun year round, and remain one of the first of nature’s messengers  that the winter holidays are close at hand.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013- 2014

 

 

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  Holiday Wreath Challenge

A Family of Deer, At Suppertime

There are three deer in this photo, buck, doe, and fawn.  Can you find them all?

There are three deer in this photo, buck, doe, and fawn. Can you find them all?

We came upon a family of deer at the approach to Jamestown Island on the Colonial Parkway last evening.  It was after hours for both the island and for the Jamestown museum, to the right of this intersection, so traffic was very light.

The large tree to the right is an oak, and the deer are grazing for acorns.

The large tree to the right is an oak, and the deer are grazing for acorns.

We spotted the two grazing males, first.  My partner slowed and stopped so we could watch them and I could take photos.

He kept saying that he saw the doe peeking out from behind the Park Service sign.  I couldn’t see her; maybe because I was focused on taking photos of the bucks.

But if you look closely, you’ll see her watchful face to the far left in some of the photos.

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One by one, the young deer of the group emerged from the tree line and joined the males as we sat there.

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The doe remained in the woods, watching. 

Cars leaving the island approached, slowed, and watched.  One or two made the turn, very slowly, past the deer and out towards Jamestown Road and the ferry to Surry.

The trees at the back of the photo, across the road where the doe waits and watches, also include oaks.  It is easiest to find the acorns on the mown grass beneath this giant oak than to find them in the undergrowth of the woods.

The trees at the back of the photo, across the road where the doe waits and watches, also include oaks. It is easier to find the acorns on the mown grass beneath this giant oak than to find them in the undergrowth of the woods.

 

The bucks grew a bit more restless with  cars passing nearby, but stood their ground beneath the great oak tree as the little ones grazed.

 

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Acorns, from oaks, feed these deer during fall and winter.

Acorns have begun to form in this photo taken 10 days ago.  The acorns will continue to grow for several more weeks and provide food for many mammals over the winter.  They fall, a few at a time, over a period of months..

Acorns have begun to form in this photo taken 10 days ago. The acorns will continue to grow for several more weeks. They provide food for many mammals over the winter,  falling, a few at a time, over a period of months..

 

Higher in protein and fats than leaves and grass, they are important to winter survival for many species.  But for some reason, oaks in our area didn’t set acorns last autumn.

Without the millions of pounds of acorns normally available, deer, squirrels, and other native mammals suffered a very tough winter.

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We’ve been watching for acorns this August, and are very happy to have found evidence of an acorn crop this year.

It should prove easier for the deer to find food in the woods and ravines,  relieving the pressure on them to feed in our gardens.

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We love finding deer along the Parkway on our evening drives.

And we encourage them to remain here in the safety of the National Park, staying well away from  the major roads and neighborhoods!

 

The foal is looking back at his mother, across the road in the woods.

The fawn is looking back at his mother, across the road in the woods.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

The Herd (Forest Garden 2014)

Our Herd of Deer (Forest Garden 2014)

Living With A Herd of Deer (Forest Garden 2013)

Joe Pye: No Weed To Me….

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Named for Jopi, a Native healer who used this beautiful  plant, Eutrochium purpureum, to  heal early colonists with fevers and other health problems; this gorgeous perennial wildflower is found throughout Eastern North America.

 

Joe Pye Weed begins its season of bloom around the end of June or beginning of July here in coastal Virginia.

Joe Pye Weed begins its season of bloom around the end of June or beginning of July here in coastal Virginia.

 

Jopi Weed, or Joe Pye Weed, reminds us of the rich botanical legacy Native Americans generously shared with early European settlers in America.  Native Americans continue to use Eutrochium for urinary tract infections, fevers, and other health conditions.

But I purchased this plant from Knott’s Creek Nursery in May not for its medicinal uses, but for its beauty.

 

July 6, before the tiny blossoms began to open

July 6, before the tiny blossoms began to open

 

I was looking for Asclepias tuberosa, or native Milkweed,  at the time.  I wanted to purchase a native perennial which would attract more butterflies to the garden, and would serve as a host for butterfly larvae.

Since Knott’s Creek was out of Asclepias that day, I purchased the Eutrochium instead, knowing it is also a butterfly magnet.

Jopi Weed, like so many native plants we purchase for the garden, is easy to grow.

 

July 24, open and ready for the business of welcoming nectar loving insects

July 24, open and ready for the business of welcoming nectar loving insects

 

It prefers moist soil and full to partial sun.  This one is planted in compost, mulched with bark, and gets regular water from both rain and irrigation.

It hasn’t grown much taller in the few months we’ve had it, but it has begun to form a clump.

Planted in the right spot, with abundant moisture, these plants can grow to 6′ or more tall and form a clump several feet wide.

Close up of new growth filling in from the bottom of the plant

Close up of new growth filling in from the bottom of the plant; every branch has blooms forming at its tip.

Deciduous, it should be cut to the ground sometime between a killing frost and early spring.

Clumps can be divided as they grow.

Although we haven’t found butterflies on the flower head yet, it is alive with clouds of bees, flies, and wasps visiting this nectar rich part of the garden.

 

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We recently heard Dr. Doug Tallamy of The University of Delaware speak on “Bringing Nature Home,” also the title of his 2009 book.

He described ways to support our populations of wild birds by designing landscapes which not only feed a large number of bird species, but also support their ability to raise the next generation.9780881929928s

Dr. Tallamy made the point that although berries and seeds are desirable; birds need a steady supply of insects in their diet more than they need the plant foods we offer.

And further, the more insects we can attract to our gardens,the more birds we can attract and sustain.

 

This Aloysia virgata, Sweet Almond Tree Verbena is native to South America.  It is also known for attracting butterflies and other nectar loving insects.

This Aloysia virgata, Sweet Almond Tree Verbena, is native to South America. It is also known for attracting butterflies and other nectar loving insects.  It eventually grows to 8′ and blooms from July through until a hard frost kills it back to the ground.

 

 

Now, that sounds counter-intuitive to a gardener, doesn’t it? Who among us wants more bugs out there eating our plants?

But Dr. Tallamy spent a long time explaining that in a balanced garden, the insect damage is insignificant and nearly unnoticeable because those bugs get eaten up by our happy bird tenants.

Which brings us back to our Joe Pye Weed, in a round about sort of way…

 

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Do you see how many insects are gorging themselves on the nectar provided by  this one gigantic bloom?  When we plant nectar rich native plants, we support a huge variety of insects, and the insects feed our birds.

And we don’t have to be native purists to achieve a rich web of life  in our gardens.

We just have to be smart enough to  select natives which support a variety of species.

 

MIlkweed, growing in the wild in the edge of a marsh on Jamestown Island.

MIlkweed, growing  wild in the edge of a marsh on Jamestown Island.

 

 

Native trees, like Oaks and Birch each support hundreds of species of animal life.

If this interests you, please take a look at Dr. Tallamy’s book, which goes into useful detail about how this all works; and how to strategically include the best native species of plants in your wildlife garden.

And this lovely Joe Pye Weed is a step in that direction for us.

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While we watch for the butterflies to find it, we’ll also appreciate the beautiful nectar loving insects it brings to our Forest Garden.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Female Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana.  Lantana is the most visited plant in our garden by both butterflies and hummingbirds.

Female Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana. Lantana, native to parts of the Americas,  is the most visited plant in our garden by both butterflies and hummingbirds.

The Marsh

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Beautiful marshes cut across much of Jamestown Island.

Connected to the mainland only by a bridge and isthmus, the low lying island is cut through with creeks, which rise and fall with the tides.

The ship replicas, housed at the museum, are on the mainland side of the isthmus.  The road here is the Colonial Parkway.

The ship replicas, housed at the museum, are on the mainland side of the isthmus. The road here is the Colonial Parkway.  The waters of Sandy Bay are visible to the right.  The James River lies to the left, where the ships are moored.

The thick grey mud of a briny marsh harbors and nurtures  a multitude of living things, allowing a rich web of life to spin itself into being in this richly abundant place.

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These same marshes which harbor crabs and turtles; dragonflies and mosquitoes; birds and small fish made Jamestown an unwholesome place for the early colonists.

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Drought in 1607 made the water of the James River even saltier than usual.

With no freshwater springs on the island, the colonists had few choices but to drink the briny mix as they suffered from biting  mosquitoes and mayflies.

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Driving through these marshes on a hot summer day gives you a taste of what they experienced.

The heavy wet air smells briny.  Despite the abundance of life, little of it looks promising as dinner.

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We enjoy this drive around the island. 

The National Park Service maintains these loop roads which originate at the Visitor Center (map).

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If you buy your ticket and walk out from the Center, across the marshes on the present day boardwalks, you’ll find yourself at the archeological site:  the area where the settlers built their original triangular stockade along the bank of the river, clinging to the farthest edge of the island.

Cattails grow along the edges of the marsh.  These are a wonderful source of food which the Colonists probably didn't recognize or know how to prepare.

Cattails grow along the edges of the marsh. These are a wonderful source of food which the Colonists probably didn’t recognize or know how to prepare.

They were often confined to their stockade, still a poor protection against attack.

Even the areas of the island we roam so freely today were inaccessible much of the time to those first English living in this New World.

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But we love this area where eagles and hawks freely nest.  We hear the deer moving through the forests and find turtles and snakes along the way.

Swallows and Red Winged Blackbirds swoop and dive in their constant hunt for flying insects.

Pinkerel Weed growing on Jamestown Island

Pinkerel Weed growing on Jamestown Island

Butterflies appear from time to time dining on the abundant flowering vines and Pinkerel Weed.

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Forests have re-grown over much of the island.  This original forest was harvested centuries ago to meet the needs of the colonists building a new life in  a strange land.

This Oak stands at the edge of the Visitor Center parking area, along the entrance to the loop road.

This Oak stands at the edge of the Visitor Center parking area, along the entrance to the loop road.

But this land is protected now, and some great old trees appear here and there among the more recent pines and smaller scrubby growth.

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Bald Cypress

A birder’s paradise, one could spend a lifetime here just observing the unfolding life and changing seasons.

An early morning low tide reveals many of inhabitants of the marsh who are normally hidden.

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Thank you for coming along on this summer drive with us. 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

WPC: Relic

Replica ships at Jamestown Festival Park

Replica ships at Jamestown Festival Park.  The largest ship, to the right, is the Susan Constant.

 

A relic is more than just some old thing. 

Relics are something of great value; something with meaning which help us to remember and better understand our history.

A relic may be only a tiny fragment of a whole.  Perhaps a sliver of “The One True Cross” or a bit of bone from a saint.

Relics often border on the mythological.

We take them as tangible evidence that a story we’ve heard is real.  That is why relics such as the Grail and Solomon’s Ring are sought in myth and legend; and perhaps in the present as well.

 

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These relics are more replica than relic.  They are reconstructions of the ships used by the 1607 settlers in Virginia for their crossing from England.

The largest, The Susan Constant, returned to England in June of 1607, about a month after depositing the settlers on Jamestown Island.  The medium ship, The Godspeed, returned with her.

The smallest ship, The Discovery was left behind for use by the settlers in exploring the coastal water.  It brought over only 21 people.

The other 123 traveled on the larger ships.  Once they returned with the crews, there was no way the 104 colonists could change their minds and return home.  They were now Virginians, for better or worse, and had to make their lives here at Jamestown.

We know that a few of the original colonists did eventually return to England.  Captain John Smith, badly injured in 1609, made the return voyage to recuperate from his injuries.

But he returned years later to explore and map the coast further to the north.  He also published the first map of Virginia in 1612.

On Jamestown Island

On Jamestown Island

Ships provided the tenuous thread between the colonists on the edge of this vast and alien continent, and all of the familiarity and security of “home.”

They also brought regular infusions of new settlers to replace those who starved, died from disease, or were killed in violent struggles with the native people of Virginia.

Ships brought food, manufactured goods, weapons, tools, and books.  Ships carried back letters, documents, histories and maps so those in Europe could learn about life in Virginia.

A Cypress stump, relic of a long decayed tree, on Jamestown Island.

A Cypress stump, relic of a long decayed tree, on Jamestown Island.

 

And replicas of these relics sit moored at the dock near Jamestown Island today.

Staffed by interpreters in Colonial costume, they are open each day for visitors to explore.

And they serve as a vivid reminder of the hardships endured by our pioneering ancestors, those first colonists who claimed this land more than 400 years ago, and made it their home.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Relic

After Arthur

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It was a long night with a Category II hurricane blowing up the coast.

From a tropical depression just a day or so ago, this storm quickly bulked up into a strong hurricane.

It came ashore across some of our favorite areas on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the dark hours of early morning.

We watched the storm’s progress until nearly midnight, and then gave up and went to bed.

 

This great Blue Heron greeted us as we entered the Colonial Parkway after the storm had passed this morning.

This Great Blue Heron greeted us as we entered the Colonial Parkway, after the storm had passed this morning.

 

It grazed my beloved Topsail Island, and was headed to our special spots on Ocracoke and Hatteras as we watched the cast of the Weather Channel struggle against the strong wind and rain describing its progress in painful detail.

This “Arthur” was touching friends and family all across the Carolinas.  We hoped its touch would be as gentle as possible.

The Jamestown ferry navigated a very choppy James River on it route across to Surry County this morning.

The Jamestown ferry navigated a very choppy James River on it route across from Surry County this morning.

We knew that Route 12, where we’ve spent many happy hours driving through the wildlife refuge and photographing the shore birds, would be wrecked by morning.

 

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We love the coast of North Carolina and Virgina. 

A hurricane on this special holiday weekend is the last thing we wanted to watch; and yet we watched the unfolding, hoping it would weaken and turn away from the coast.

 

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I awakened a little before three AM to the sound of wind in the garden and rain on the roof.

I had to know the progress of the storm and the updated forecast.  So as quietly as possible, I headed back to the TV, pillow in hand.

Our local meteorologists were broadcasting the story all night long.

Their reporters stood in the weather giving updates, alongside crews from The Weather Channel and other networks.

 

The path to the beach was wet this morning.

The path to the beach was wet this morning.

At three I heard of a possible tornado on the Lynnhaven Inlet at Virginia Beach. 

The warnings were extending northwards.  I watched and worked my counted cross stitch for the next hour, until it was clear the storm had begun to move out to sea.

Then to the couch for a little sleep.

 

Though the sky is mostly clear, the wind has been with us all day.

Though the sky is mostly clear, the wind has been with us all day.  The sky was full of Eagles over the Colonial Parkway this morning.

I checked in again at five, and saw that somehow Jim Cantore was still standing in Buxton.

We had assumed that his producers were planning a Coast Guard rescue by helicopter, once that part of the island completely over-washed in the waves.

That would make really good TV, and could be re-played by the Weather Channel cast for years to come.

But, alas, he had found a steel and concrete structure and was braced against it, barely able to stand, ankle deep in sea water; but still giving live commentary as the storm rolled past.

An Osprey Eagle greeting the morning, after the storm had passed.

An Osprey Eagle greeting the morning, after the storm had passed.

By a quarter to six, the forecast track clearly showed the storm turning out to sea.

We were getting our much needed rain, and I still could  hear the wind blowing through the trees.  But the tornado warnings were gone.

I decided to get some more sleep.

The Canada geese had come together in large flocks along the banks of the river to ride out the storm.

The Canada geese had come together in large flocks along the banks of the river to ride out the storm.

By the time I awoke again a little after seven, it was light outside. A gorgeous morning here with light rain and cool, moist breezes greeted us.

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We decided to head out to the Parkway to see what the morning held, and what the storm had left behind.

This beautiful Eastern Box Turtle was bravng the quiet morning on Jamestown Island.

This beautiful Eastern Box Turtle was braving the quiet morning on Jamestown Island.

A few branches had blown down, but we were so very fortunate to have no  real damage.

Our power was on, there was no flooding near us, and the trees in our community stood through the night.

And this snake was sunning himself along the road on the island.

And this snake was sunning himself along the road on the island.

We saw the outermost curved band of “Arthur” in the sky as we left our driveway.

The duck blind, in the shelter of Cypress trees, withstood the winds overnight.

The duck blind, in the shelter of Cypress trees, withstood the winds overnight.

It was a thin skim of clouds against the clearing morning sky.

Crabs live in our brackish marshes.  They didn't mind the storm at all.

Crabs live in our brackish marshes. They didn’t mind the storm at all.

The wind is still with us this afternoon. 

The storm continues moving north and east, towards another landfall in New England.

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I hope all touched by the storm can pick up the pieces, clean up the mess, and move on from this.

 

This golden dragonfly lives in our garden.

This golden dragonfly lives in our garden.  We are glad to see he found shelter from the wind, and was out enjoying the sunshine by the time we returned home.

It is only the first  named storm of the tropical season. 

We’ll be watching our coastal waters from now until the end of November, hoping that all of the systems which form stay well out to sea, and far away from our beautiful coasts and our loved ones.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

For A Friend

This tree in Colonial Williamsburg always captures my interest.  A beautiful tree, I haven't yet been able to identify it.  Do you know this tree?

This tree in Colonial Williamsburg always captures my interest. A beautiful tree,  with an unusual branch structure; and I haven’t yet been able to identify it.   Do you know this tree?

This post is for a special friend who moved away from Williamsburg a few years ago, to return, in retirement, to a Zone 10A garden near where she grew up.

She was kind enough to write to me today, and share some memories of times we shared together here in Virginia.

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She followed a link I sent her to Forest Garden, and has been enjoying a window into our Virginia spring through the photos she has found here.

Sheep living in a field at Colonial Williamsburg

Sheep living in a field at Colonial Williamsburg

And so these photos today are especially for Janet, although you are certainly welcome to enjoy them, also.  I am hoping to possibly lure her back for a visit….

Janet is a dedicated gardener, like most of my friends, and she  also holds the gardens of  Colonial Williamsburg in a special place in her heart.

Colonial Williamsburg allows horses to graze in fields near the historic area.

Colonial Williamsburg allows horses to graze in fields near the historic area.

My partner and I enjoyed a brief visit to Colonial Williamsburg earlier this week.

 

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You may enjoy seeing some of the sights we enjoyed.  Perhaps you will visit Williamsburg this summer, too.  If you enjoy natural beauty, history, and wonderful food, you’ll enjoy a visit here.

The flowering shrubs on the opposite shore are Mountain Laurel.

The flowering shrubs on the opposite shore are Mountain Laurel.

Our world here in Virginia looks and feels like summer now. 

A marsh on Jamestown Island.

A marsh on Jamestown Island.

We hit 90 degrees this afternoon, and some little starts still in their nursery pots wilted in the heat.  I came home from a picnic to find them sadly wilted, and gave them a little emergency watering.

Honeysuckle perfumes the air with sweetness.  It grows wild wherever it can get a foothold.  I've been pulling honeysuckle vines out of the fern garden this week.

Honeysuckle perfumes the air with sweetness. It grows wild wherever it can get a foothold. I’ve been pulling honeysuckle vines out of the fern garden this week.

I felt heartless to have been off having fun with friends with these poor little plants neglected and dry.  If tomorrow morning is cool, they will go into the ground first thing.

Wild bloackberries growing with honeysuckle.  In a few weeks, the berries will be ripe and delicious.

Wild blackberries growing with honeysuckle. In a few weeks, the berries will be ripe and delicious.

We are almost at the end of planting season now.  Our heat has arrived, and it is enough to keep everything watered and deadheaded.

Ligustrum shrubs, blooming now in our garden, add to the sweetness of the summer breezes.

Ligustrum shrubs, blooming now in our garden, add to the sweetness of the summer breezes.

Pools are open now,  school is almost over, and we’re in the lull between college commencements and high school graduations.

The air is thick with sweet scents from honeysuckle, Ligustrum, and box.  Oh, what bliss is this for all of us whose blood flows green…

These shrubs grow "like weeds" in our garden; yet their flowers are beautiful.  Our birds love these shrubs where they find food and shelter.

These shrubs grow “like weeds” in our garden; yet their flowers are beautiful. Our birds love these shrubs where they find food and shelter.

The fragrance of early summer always leaves me nostalgic.

It reminds of friends and good times we shared.  And it entices me out of the air conditioning, into the garden, to enjoy the wonder of it all.

Can you spot the bee visiting the purple milk vetch?

Can you spot the bee visiting the purple milk vetch?

Photos by  Woodland Gnome 2014

This summer's grapes have begun to form on the wild grapevines.

This summer’s grapes have begun to form on the wild grapevines.

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