Green Grows Everything

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We slipped out to the Parkway yesterday evening just a little more than an hour before sunset.  We knew a system of thunderstorms were marching towards us from the Northwest, and wanted to see their progress.

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We also wanted to enjoy the green beauty of the evening.  Something may also have been mentioned about ice cream…..

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And as we drove east towards Jamestown, we were struck by the peaceful quiet of the Parkway.  Red winged blackbirds and swallows were our company, and a few late evening bicyclists our only other traffic.

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What luxury to stop on the bridges long enough to take photos up the creeks!

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Sky on moving water, broken only with the concentric rings made by fish striking insects on the surface, held our gaze.  Marsh plants have grown tall over these months of summer, topped now with seedheads.  The push-ups of winter magically disappeared.

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Baby deer grazed along the roadsides and in the broad, mowed fields near the river.

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It was a hazy, grey green we found last night; but no less vibrant than the clear sun-kissed green of earlier hours.  And no less beautiful, especially as the moon rose bright in the evening sky between the gathering clouds.

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The storm missed us.  Although it seemed to be moving in, it stayed to our north and then headed out across the Eastern Shore.  We smelled the rain, but never felt it, and made it home just as darkness settled over the garden.

By then, the lightening bugs had risen from their resting places to fill the air with bright flashes of golden light.  Bats swooped across the road, gathering their dinner.  Lights shone in neighbors’ windows.  Frog song and insect chirping greeted us as we parked and made our way back inside; the living music of a summer evening.

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Halfway Creek

Halfway Creek

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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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

Blog Tour

Eliza Waters, author, gardener, and naturalist, invited me to participate in a blog tour of writers reflecting on their own writing process. You will find Eliza’s blog wonderfully illustrated with photos of her Massachusetts garden and peppered with her wit and wisdom. Eliza has become a treasured friend and correspondent over the last several months, and I hope you will take a moment to read her reflections on writing and life.

 

A spider makes its beautiful web in my garden,; a reminder of the beauty and complexity of life.

A spider works its intricate web in our garden; a reminder of the beauty and complexity of life, and the necessity of dinner.

 

I would suggest that writers are obsessed, not trained. For some of us, an idea or turn of phrase lodges itself into our mind and repeats itself, like a squeaky hinge, until we begin to write it.

Once we write down those initial words, more begin to flow in a trickling stream of consciousness. One image elicits the next, and ideas fit together into some sort of structure.

I’m often surprised at how these thoughts develop and transform; linking to something I’ve recently read or seen or heard; and a message takes shape which was unseen at the beginning.

On a good day….

 

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This need to write started when I was very young.  I was often writing in the margins of a composition book while an oblivious teacher conducted class on some very different topic. They must have assumed I was taking copious notes. But I was writing verse, and the whole process of composition and editing carried over in spare moments through the course of a day or two until I knew it was completed.

The pile of finished work accumulated and by junior high a sympathetic teacher made a friend and me editors of a school literary magazine. Writing, and writing friends, carried me through grade school and into college.   I continued to edit various publications over the years.  Finally I had the opportunity to work  with young writers during my own teaching career.

A summer spent with the Tidewater Writing Project at ODU offered the opportunity to share my writing with other  teachers; and to hear, and comment on,  theirs.   Writers actively working on their own material make more sympathetic and helpful teachers. We learned how to write with our students and how to work with them as mentors and partners in the process.

A volunteer Viola sprouted from a stray seed.

A volunteer Viola sprouted from a stray seed.

 

And writing is a process. Its roots lie in reflection. Its roots lie in soaking in ideas expressed by others in their music, poetry, fiction, prose, art, and photography. From this rich brew of ideas and close observation of one’s own life, ideas bubble up which need expression.

 

Autumn has appeared down by College Creek.

Autumn has appeared down by College Creek.

It is good to encourage ideas to flow freely in the beginning.

I still keep a legal pad and colored pens on my desk, between me and the computer screen, to capture ideas as they first form. Phrases are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which must be tried and turned and finally fitted together into a smooth whole.

But once those ideas have been caught into words and captured on paper, one must get down to the business of developing the ideas into something another might want to read.

This is where the art and craft of writing takes over from visionary rambling.

Virginia Creeper on the pine tree has already begun going scarlet in this cool August weather.

Virginia Creeper on the pine tree has already begun going scarlet in this cool August weather.

Frequent visitors to Forest Garden find many different sorts of writing here.

There are essays and poems, how-to posts and quotations.  And there are many photographs of life in our garden and community.

While I sometimes go looking for photos to illustrate an idea, more frequently an idea is sparked by the day’s cache of photos.

I began writing this blog to help other gardeners struggling in similiar  deer-ridden vole-infested, squirrel- bitten shady bits of forest.

I had lists to post and resources to share.  That information remains in the archives.

But the discipline of daily writing brought me back to my own roots as a poet.  And some days now poetry seeps out, other days hard prose.  On a very good day there might be a hint of poetry buried within some useful prose.

 

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Whether one is writing poetry or prose, good composition is based on research, structure, and refinement.

Questions arise as I’m writing. There is always more to learn about whatever topic, whether the name of a particular plant or the various opinions on how best to prepare a planting bed.

Most of my composition occurs at the computer  with a search engine window open. I look for what others have to say, fact check, spell check, and look up words. I search for quotations on particular topics, examine photographs, check maps, and always research the cultural requirements for plants I might mention. Since much of the writing I publish now is fact based, I try to confirm information from multiple sources as I write.

I found this beautiful wild Hibiscus down by the Creek today, but have not yet identified its species.

I found this beautiful wild Hibiscus down by the Creek today, but have not yet identified its species.

 

“Revising” nearly always begins before the first draft is complete.   I walk away from the work and come back to it later with ‘fresh eyes,” re-reading from the beginning. I want to know that I’m on track to express my thoughts  logically and clearly. I look for “jumps” where more information or a reasonable transition is needed.   I look for tangential wanderings which need deleting.

Deleting is almost as important as writing. I usually  put down too many words, whether it is prose or poetry.   One searches for a simpler, clearer way to put an idea into words  through revision.

This process of revision takes time. The words need to get “cold” sometimes before we can hear our own awkward passages to fix them.   And this is just for the sense and structure of what is written.

The whole process of “editing” is another matter entirely.

 

This exuberant arrangement grows wild on the bank of the James River at Jamestown Island.

A wild garden on the bank of the James River at Jamestown Island.

 

I shiver to think how many students’ papers I’ve read and “edited” over the years.  That critical part of my brain which looks for commas and common misspellings is definitely overactive; and yet I often miss my own errors.

Sometimes I find them on a sixth or seventh reading. Sometimes my partner reads behind me, and finds things I’ve missed.

Yet it remains important to me to make a piece of writing as clean as possible before sharing it. I want my writing “clean” of any distraction which might snag a reader’s attention away from my message, whether that is a factual error, an awkward phrase, or a “typo.”

 

Hibiscus syriacus

Hibiscus syriacus

 

The point of writing is communication: mind to mind, heart to heart, and soul to soul.    It is a way to connect with others across unlimited space and time.

In reading a sutra, I hear the wisdom of a Bodhisattva who lived centuries ago as though we were sitting together over a cup of tea.

 

Replicas of the original Seventeenth Century ships moored at Jamestown.

Replicas of the original Seventeenth Century ships moored at Jamestown.

 

I love the community on WordPress because it allows me to converse in real time with acquaintances in Massachusettes, Malaysia, Australia, Georgia, Brussels and Great Britain, all while sitting here at my desk.

And through these conversations I’ve met talented, fascinating people. I’ve found companions along the way who share my passions and concerns. And I’ve discovered artists and poets, activists and environmentalists, mystics and mothers.

Everyone I’ve encountered is reflecting on their own journey through the words and images they publish.

 

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One friend and fellow traveler, artist, mystic, and writer is Sue Vincent.  Sue, like Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling; writes about a special world which transcends time. Her journeys through the countryside of England, as recorded in her novels, are an epic quest for lost wisdom and deeper understanding.

Her delightful characters share their experiences and reflections in the sort of archetypes which takes the reader along on a journey of self- discovery.

 

Sue Vincent

Sue shares her own journeys on her blog, and gives us a glimpse of her writer’s world of research, deadlines, and the satisfaction of publication.  She also shares the joys and sorrows of children, friends, and a small dog.

Her exquisite photographs become a meditation beyond words. I hope you will visit Sue’s The Daily Echo, which is the next stop on this blog tour.

 

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The Butterfly Net: World Blog Hop by Sue Vincent

Tried and True Approaches For the Time-strapped Writer by Ellen Shriner

Blog Touring by Cynthia Kraak

World Blog Tour by Carolyn K. Boehlke

Subsequent stops on the Blog Tour:

Inner Dreaming- World Blog Hop  by G. Michael Vasey

River Beach, July Morning

Beach along the James River

Beach along the James River

We awoke to a morning cool and bright, with a steady breeze energizing the garden, and us.

Every leaf and vine sparkled with raindrops left from the storms which blew through all day yesterday, and late into the evening.

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With the garden already rain soaked, we felt free to take off this morning for a rare visit to the beach.

We wanted to enjoy the early morning quiet, bury our feet in the sand, and enjoy the cool winds  blowing in across the river.

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Most Virginia beaches are  river beaches. 

 

A Bald Cypress grows here along the beach.

A Bald Cypress grows here along the beach.

 

The Chesapeake Bay begins just north of Virginia Beach, and is fed with a succession of rivers which drain thousands of miles of land from the Allegheny mountains to the coast.

The Eastern Shore, as we call it in Virginia, forms a narrow, sandy buffer between the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the beautiful Chesapeake Bay.

 

Osprey eagles have claimed this hunting blind in the middle of the James River.

Osprey eagles have claimed this hunting blind in the middle of the James River.

Our James River begins far to our west across the mountains, at the confluence of the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers.

It meanders across the state, accepting water brought to it from many other small rivers along the way, through Richmond, until it empties into the Atlantic just to the south of the mouth of the Bay.

 

A Great Blue Heron lands on the opposite shore, at the mouth of College Creek.  The Spanish landed here in 1570, and traveled northwards towards the York River, where they attempted to plant a colony.  It was attacked by the Native American nation living here at the time.

A Great Blue Heron lands on the opposite shore, at the mouth of College Creek. The Spanish landed here in 1570, and traveled northwards towards the York River, where they attempted to plant a colony.  It was attacked by the Native American nation living here at the time, and the Spanish focused their energy elsewhere.

 

The York River, a few miles to our north, is the southernmost Virginia river to empty into the Chesapeake Bay.

Working northwards, there is the Piankatank River, the Rappahannock River,  the Wicomoco River, and finally the Potomac River; whose bank forms Virginia’s northern boundary near the coast.

If these names sound a bit strange to your tongue, it is because they reflect the language of the Native Americans who loved this land before the English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Polish, German, and Africans came to claim it from them.

Looking across the James towards Surry County..  New contruction will begin soon on the point of land to the left.

Looking across the James towards Surry County.   New residential  construction will begin soon on the point of land to the left.

Many of my friends, when I was growing up, spent weekends and summers “at The River.”

Only they spoke it, “At The Rivah.”

Since I grew up near the James and the Dan rivers, this was always a bit of a mystery to me.

The Marina of a large neighboring community

The Marina of a large neighboring community

 

Years later, living along the Rappahannock,  in that secretive and enchanted part of the state known to us as, “The Northern Neck;”  I finally understood them.

Miles and miles of sandy beaches line these narrow fingers of land outstretched into the salty Bay.

 

Beaches just like this one line miles and miles of Virginia's rivers as they near the Chesapeake Bay.

Beaches just like this one line miles and miles of Virginia’s rivers as they near the Chesapeake Bay.

 

This once was the land of oysters and Blue Crabs, fishing boats, thousands of wild shore birds, camp grounds, artists’ colonies, and tiny coastal towns.

It is a slow, clannish, rural way of life lived along country roads lined with wildflowers and farms.

Life has changed, even there, as pollution washing into the Bay kills the sea life which once fueled the local economies.

 

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Still, it is a different world from the land of “Virginia Beach,” tucked into the southeastern most corner of Virginia.

Gateway to the Outer Banks  of North Carolina, and the miles of sandy Atlantic Ocean beaches to our south, the “resort strip” of hotel lined, manufactured beaches and beach cottage rental neighborhoods; the resort city is a place apart from the rest of the state.

It has taken on an urban feel.  Bulldozers rake the beaches each night, and dredges re-build them periodically with sand from the shipping channels.

Container ships and Naval vessels pass just offshore.

 

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While our Atlantic beaches are mostly dead now, with little sea life left for miles offshore; our river beaches teem with life.

Grasses and trees grow right down to the water, sinking their roots into sand, soil, and stone.

Fish jump and birds swim.

Bald eagles converse during their morning hunt.

Bald eagles converse during their morning hunt.

 

Eagles and herons converse during the morning hunt; while cardinals, goldfinches, and red winged blackbirds glide from tree to tree in the thickets.

Dragonflies form thick clouds over the grasslands and marshes.

Empty shells wash up on the beach, evidence that clams and other shellfish can still live here.

 

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The pollution washing into the James from every farm and town it touches along the way has not completely overwhelmed it yet.

This is one of the most “alive” areas along the Virginia coast now.

We never fail to find nesting eagles along the banks of the James.  They are a harbinger of the river’s health and vitality.

 

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While we can never restore a natural environment to its state at some arbitrary point in the past; we can preserve, and sometimes even improve, the environment as we find it.

This has happened here. 

The early colonists clear cut much of this area; overpopulated it;  polluted it;  and planted crops, such as tobacco, which depleted the soil.

 

Native Black Locust trees, full of seedpods, grow along the beach.

Native Black Locust trees, full of seedpods, grow along the beach.

 

Since this strip of land was converted to a National Park early in the 20th Century, and since Federal law limited the most harmful chemicals which destroy bird populations, there has been a resurgence of life along this stretch of the river.

Native species of trees have grown back, grasses have covered the fields, marshes have evolved into their current state of beauty.

 

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Deer populations are stronger now than they were in the 17th century, largely because they are unchallenged by predators and are rarely hunted.

Nature never finds itself completely in balance.  Things are always shifting.

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James City County recently approved construction of a new section of a  neighborhood which fronts this river.  It  will have its own devastating impact on the beaches and wildlife  for years to come.

But for this moment, this morning, the James River beach near us was mostly a place of beauty. 

We hope it will remain a cradle for wildlife, loved and protected, for all those generations yet to come.

Bald Eagle, resting along the river's bank this morning.

Osprey  Eagle, resting along the river’s bank this morning.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

The Geese

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia humifusa, growing along the Colonial Parkway

Native Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia humifusa, growing along the Colonial Parkway

There is a spot along the Colonial Parkway, on the way back from Jamestown Island, where I’ve wanted to stop and take photos for several weeks now.

There is no designated parking area along this long stretch of open fields beside the James River, but there is a privately owned dairy farm on the opposite side of the road.

We always enjoy watching the herd of cows who pasture there.  The family also maintains a small herd of goats, who love to escape, and a few Llamas.

My interest in the field beside the river is, of course,  botanical.

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There is a large colony of Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia humifusa; native to hot, sunny, well drained areas along the East coast; growing in this field beside the river.

I mentioned to my partner how much I’d like to photograph these cactus in bloom.

With very light traffic so early in the morning, we pulled over  into a driveway by the dairy farm’s gate.

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Now the pasture is home not only to the cows, but also to a huge flock of Canada Geese.

They enjoy the low areas of the pasture which fill with water and the abundant supply of food.

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Yesterday morning the geese were feeding in the rich, wet grass beside the road.

When we stopped and I got out, and started walking back towards the field of cactus; the geese were not amused.

 

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In fact, the leader gave the signal to the flock, and they all turned and began the long journey from pasture to river…. on webbed foot.

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Every goose in the flock obeyed the command- in single file.

They reminded me of the Penguins who paraded around the London Zoo when I was a child.

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The geese  were visibly unhappy at my approach.

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But they were between me and the cactus we had stopped to photograph. 

One or two stood up to full height and spoke honks of caution, warning me to keep a safe distance as they passed.

A lone car approached along the Parkway, and stopped to watch the spectacle.

 

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Every goose in the flock eventually plodded along the long route from pasture  to beach.

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They milled about on the sand, watching out for one another, and finally launched into a flotilla paddling out into the current.

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As the last of the geese marched across the field, I followed.

I went all the way to the beach, following their progress,  taking photos of this  not yet explored area along the river’s bank.

 

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And yes, I managed a photo or two of the cactus along the way.

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But mostly, I was intrigued by this “up close and personal” visit with the deliberate and dignified community of geese.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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One Word Photo Challenge: Gold II

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Golden dragonflies surrounded me as I walked down the path to the shore, looking for another angle to photograph the Eagle’s nest we had spotted from the bridge.

 

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At least a dozen flew spirals around me, deciding whether to trust that I meant them no harm.

One by one they perched on twiggy growth nearby, watching me watch them.

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Peaceful for a moment, at rest; holding on against the breeze blowing in from the marsh.

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I counted as they came to rest, like living ornaments on a summer parched tree.

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Wings sparkling, silent gilded sentinels of summer, they waited as I took their portraits,

then lifted back into the air as I turned away.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

With appreciation  to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her One World Photo Challenge: Gold

One World Photo Challenge: Gold   Golden Turtle

 

Nature’s Way

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Nature’s way brings elements of the natural world together into relationship.

Rarely will you find just one of anything-

Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.

Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.

It is our human sensibility which wants to bring order from the “chaos” of nature by sorting, classifying, isolating, and perhaps eliminating elements of our environment.

Pickerel weed growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.

Pickerel weed, cattails, and grasses  growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.

Nature teaches the wisdom of strength through  unity and relationship.

Gardens in medieval Europe were often composed primarily of lawns, shrubs, and trees.

A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.

A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.

This is still fashionable in American gardens today.  But it is a high maintenance and sterile way to garden.

I won’t bore you with a re-hash of the arguments for and against lawns… but will only say that wildflowers of all sorts find a home in ours.

White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers and grasses on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

And I’m not an advocate of allowing every wild plant to grow where it sprouts, either.  There are some plants which definitely are not welcome in our garden, or are welcome in only certain zones of it.

Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek.  Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing?  Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.

Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek.   Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing? Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.

But in general, I prefer allowing plants to grow together in communities, weaving together above and below the soil, and over the expanse of time throughout a gardening year.

Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses.

Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses.  Young ginger lily, white sage, dusty miller, Ageratum, and a Lavender, “Goodwin Creek” share the bed.

A simple example would be interplanting peonies with daffodils.  As the daffodils fade, the peonies are taking center stage.

Another example is allowing Clematis vines to grow through roses; or to plant ivy beneath ferns.

Japanese painted fern

Japanese Painted Fern emerges around spend daffodils.  Columbine, Vinca, apple mint and German Iris complete the bed beneath some large shrubs.

Like little children hugging one another as they play, plants enjoy having company close by.

When you observe nature you will see related plants growing together in some sort of balance.

Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.

Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.

And you’ll find wild life of all descriptions interacting with the plants as part of the mix.

The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area.  All provide shelter to birds.  The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.

The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area. All provide shelter to birds. The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.

When planning your plantings, why not increase the diversity and the complexity of your pot or bed and see what beautiful associations develop?

Herbs filling in our new "stump garden."

Herbs filling in our new “stump garden.”  Alyssum is the lowest growing flower.  Tricolor Sage, Rose Scented Geranium, Violas, White Sage, Iris, and Catmint all blend in this densely planted garden.

Now please don’t think that Woodland Gnome is suggesting that you leave the poison ivy growing in your shrub border.

Although poison ivy is a beautiful vine and valuable to wildlife, our gardens are created for our own health and pleasure.  So we will continue to snip these poisonous vines at the base whenever we find them.

Another view of the "stump garden" planting.  Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot.

Another view of the “stump garden” planting. Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot in front of Iris and Dusty Miller.

But what about honeysuckle?  Is there a “wild” area where you can allow it to grow through some shrubs?  Can you tolerate wild violets in the lawn?

Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.

Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.

The fairly well known planting scheme for pots of “thriller, filler, spiller” is based in the idea that plants growing together form a beautiful composition, a community which becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun.  Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot.  A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.

Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun. Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot. A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.

I like planting several plants in a relatively big pot; allowing room for all to grow, but for them to grow together.

Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot.  This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted.  It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.

Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot. This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted. It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.

This is a better way to keep the plants hydrated and the temperature of the soil moderated from extremes of hot and cold, anyway.

But this also works in beds.

Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb's Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John's Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub.

Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb’s Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub.  The Vinca is ubiquitous in our garden, and serves an important function as a ground cover which also blooms from time to time.  The grasses growing along the edge get pulled every few weeks to keep them in control.  

Choose a palette of plants, and then work out a scheme for combining a repetitive pattern of these six or ten plants over and again as you plant the bed.  Include plants of different heights, growth habits, seasons of bloom, colors and textures.

So long as you choose plants with similiar needs for light, moisture, and food this can work in countless variations.

A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek.  Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree.  Trees are nature's trellis.  Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone.  Beautiful yellow Iris and pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.

A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek. Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree. Trees are nature’s trellis. Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone. Beautiful yellow Iris, Staghorn Sumac,  pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.

This is Nature’s way, and it can add a new depth of beauty to your garden.

It can also make your gardening easier and more productive.

It is important to observe as the plants grow. 

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If one is getting too aggressive and its neighbors are suffering, then you must separate, prune, or sacrifice one or another of them.

Planting flowers near vegetables brings more pollinating insects, increasing yields.

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Planting garlic or onions among flowers has proven effective in keeping deer and rabbits away from my tasty flowering plants.

Planting deep rooted herbs such as Comfrey, Angelica, and Parsley near other plants brings minerals from deep in the soil to the surface for use by other plants.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Use the leaves from these plants in mulch or compost to get the full benefit.

Planting peas and members of the pea family in flower or vegetable beds increases the nitrogen content of the soil where they grow, because their roots fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.

Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.

Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.

Planting Clematis vines among perennials or roses helps the Clematis grow by shading and cooling their roots.

The Clematis will bloom and add interest when the roses or perennials are “taking a rest” later in the season.

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, "Empress Wu" in the Wubbel's garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, “Empress Wu” in the Wubbel’s garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Just as our human relationships are often based in helping one another, so plants form these relationships, too.

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The more you understand how plants interact with one another, the more productive your garden can become.

It is Nature’s way…

A "volunteer" Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.

A “volunteer” Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Forest Lane Botanicals

Forest Lane Botanicals display garden.

May Evening

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“When despair for the world grows in me,

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be —

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron feeds.

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“I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.

I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Wendell Berry

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We came out of the coolness of the house this evening as the clouds were gathering, sun setting, and temperatures dropping.

We first went to visit and photograph a friend’s garden, and then drove right past the road towards home heading for an evening drive along the Colonial Parkway.

Our friends' forest garden, full of Mountain Laurel and lush with trees and ivy.

Our friends’ forest garden, full of Mountain Laurel and lush with trees and ivy.

The water, marshes, wildflowers and great trees make this a soothing place.

Such a treasure of mostly undisturbed eco-system where the great birds find safe havens and abundant food for their young.

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After the first mile we spotted a Great Blue Heron wading in the marsh near where fishermen park and wander down to the bank of the creek with their coolers and poles.

No one was fishing tonight, so we pulled in , and I hiked back to where I could get a clear view of the heron through the trees .

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A peaceful and soothing evening, but you must know that the air was thick with Mayflies and heavy with the approaching rain.

Definitely not a place I wanted to linger, with flies landing on hand and camera as I searched for that angle with a clear view through the dense branches.

Flies still hovering, I slipped back into the cool safety of our car for a short ride to the parking lot

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We had already spotted two more herons on the opposite bank, and a Bald Eagle watching from a pine.

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Another hike down the path to the beach, but the breeze off the James River smelled fresh and kept the flies at a distance.

The beach was nearly deserted; the best time to find birds.

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After yesterday’s crowded lots and full beaches, we enjoyed the silence and emptiness of the park this evening.

Fellow photographers leap-frogged with us from spot to spot along the way to Jamestown Beach.

My partner has a good eye for spotting wild life, and often mentions turtles and ground hogs, rabbits and lizards- only a few of which I see.

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He spotted this next heron, and made a wide U-turn to head back to share it with me.

He simply said, “Have your camera ready.”

What a beautiful surprise when we pulled up, alone on the road, and close enough to take photos from the car’s open window!

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We watched the clouds grow heavier and closer against the water.  We could smell the coming rain.

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The geese were gathering into flocks for the night, the solitary herons looking for one more fish before their sharp eyes could no longer penetrate the shallows were they waited.

Ospreys, deep in meditation on the abundant beauty of it all, sat still as sculptures on their nests.

This early summer evening offered its gift of peacefulness, wrapped in thick, fragrant May ethers.

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The Mayflies gradually faded away; and as evening turned to shadows, we allowed ourselves another moment to contemplate the abundant beauty of it all.

“To stand at the edge of the sea,

to sense the ebb and flow of the tides,

to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh,

To watch the flight of shore birds

that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents

for untold thousands of years,

to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea,

is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal

as any Earthly life can be.”

Rachel Carson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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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.

Wisteria

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One of the most beautiful spectacles of springtime in Virginia is Wisteria  in full bloom.

These huge, showy vines climb through trees along the roadside, blanket pergolas, and ornament old gardens throughout the state.  The long, pendulous racemes of orchid like flowers taunt from the tops of pine trees, so delicately beautiful, and yet so tough!

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There are actually three different types of Wisteria found growing throughout the Southeastern United states.

The native North American Wisteria frutescens is the latest variety to bloom.  It is also the best behaved.

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This woody deciduous perennial climbing vine twists itself in a clockwise direction around any support it can find.  It grows to over 50′, getting longer and thicker with each passing year.

A member of the pea family, the flowers are delicate, and in form much like any other pea flowers.  Wisteria Frutescens’s flowers are soft shades of blue-purple. The vines of the North American native Wisteria are only two-thirds as long as Asian Wisteria varieties, and the flower racemes are only half as long.  The flowers aren’t fragrant.  The long bean-like pods which follow the flowers are poisonous.

Wisteria grows through through a stand of bamboo and pines near Jamestown on the Colonial Parkway.

Wisteria grows through through a stand of bamboo and pines near Jamestown on the Colonial Parkway.

The most common Wisteria varieties in the garden trade are Asian.  Chinese Wisteria, Wisteria Sinensis, produces fragrant  flowers in shades of white, lilac, and blue.  It twists around its supports in a counter-clockwise direction.

It can grow over a variety of supports, but can also be pruned and trained into a standard, or free-standing tree like shape.   It was introduced to Europe and the United States in 1816, and is much loved for its beautiful flowers.

Wisteria growing on a pergola near the library in Williamsburg.

Wisteria growing on a pergola at the municipal center, near the library, in Williamsburg.  This structure was dedicated in May of 1999 for the 300th anniversary of the City of Williamsburg.

Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, has the longest racemes of beautiful and fragrant flowers.   The white, pink, violet, or blue racemes of delicate flowers may reach over 2 feet in length.

Introduced to the United States in the 1830s,  this exceptionally showy spring blooming vine became hugely popular growing on walls and pergolas in nineteenth century American and European gardens.  The woody, clockwise turning stems, wrap tightly around any support.

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All Wisteria varieties enjoy full sun to partial shade.  They like moderately fertile, moist soil, and require strong support.

Long lived, these vines will eventually grow into enormous plants.  They require regular pruning to keep them in bounds.

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All parts of the Wisteria plants are poisonous.  Even so, their flowers are popular with nectar loving insects.  Wisteria is an important host plant for many species of butterflies and moths.

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Wisteria, which grows in Zones 5-9, is considered an invasive species in some areas.  When grown in the wild, its long, heavy vines will choke out nearby trees and shrubs.

Wisteria vines are notorious for taking a long time to mature enough to produce blooms.  A gardener may wait ten years for a vine to bloom.  Although most bloom  in mid-spring to early summer, sometimes a late frost will destroy the flowers for that year.

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Vines grown from cuttings bloom much sooner than vines grown from seed.  With many named cultivars available, it is possible to select  a Wisteria with the color, form, and size required for a particular garden.

Wisteria vines require careful training and pruning, but are hardy and easy plants to grow once established.  As a member of the pea family, the roots fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.  Any fertilizer used should be higher in potassium and phosphorus than in nitrogen, since the plant provides for itself whatever nitrogen is needed for growth.

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I once planted a Chinese Wistera vine along the wooden railing of a deck.  I love the Wisteria’s flowers, and thought it would be pretty there.  When I planted it, I didn’t give much thought to the size of the mature vine.  Once established, this is a rampant grower and requires large and strong support.  It also requires unapologetic pruning when it begins to take over a house and deck with its long tendrils!

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That said, my advice to any gardener yearning for a Wisteria vine in their garden is to give careful thought to where it will grow before planting it.  Provide the sturdy support it needs, choose the cultivar carefully, and then patiently wait for your vine to mature into its magnificent spring beauty!

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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