Tips, tricks, and tools for gardening in a forest community
Posted in animals, Autumn, Autumn Garden, Bald Eagles, butterfly photos, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Color, Dragonflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Great Blue Heron, James City Co. VA, Muscadine Grapes, Native Plants, Nature art, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which feed birds, Poetry, Summer Garden, toads, Trees, Use of Native Plants, Vines, Virginia Creeper, Weather, Zone 7B Cultural Information
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.
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.
Most Virginia beaches are river beaches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Bald Eagles, birds, College Creek, Colonial Parkway, Deer management, Development, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Great Blue Heron, Hibiscus moscheutos, History, Hydrangea, James City Co. VA, Jamestown, Native Plants, Nature art, Osprey Eagles, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract hummingbirds, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Plants which feed birds, Summer Garden, Trees, Use of Native Plants, VA, Weather, Wildflowers, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Tags: Bald Eagle, Coastal Virginia, Colonial Parkway, Colonial Williamsburg history, Environmental preservation, forest gardening, Great Blue Heron, Hibiscus moscheutos, James River, Osprey Eagles, Perma-culture, River Beaches
It was still cool and wet when we first came out into the garden this morning.
It had been raining again overnight, and drops of rain still clung to every surface.
I came out with the camera to explore the new Hibiscus flowers which had opened.
And as we padded silently around the garden, my partner drew my attention to one tiny creature after another.
It looked as though they were still asleep, resting peacefully in the spots they had chosen last night.
First a lizard, and then a butterfly slumbered on while we took their photos.
The bees were not so peaceful.
They were already busily gathering nectar and pollen from the thousands of Hibiscus blossoms open to their approach.
In fact, we laughed to watch the bees fly into the very blossoms I was photographing while I framed and focused each shot.
It was as if they were little camera hogs- like young teens who push into as many photos as possible with waggling fingers and wide grins.
Some of the bumblies were already white powder covered scavengers, greedily gathering more and more of the largesse of the garden.
Our garden was alive this morning with creatures large and small.
The only one missing was the cat. He had chosen to stake out his position in a sunny spot on the deck, aloof from the activity below.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Bald Eagles, Bees, Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Dragonflies, Bumblebee, butterfly photos, College Creek, Dragonflies, Environmental Preservation, family gardening, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Lizard, Native Plants, Nature art, Perma-culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract hummingbirds, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Plants which feed birds, Rose of Sharon, Summer Garden, Wildlife gardening, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Have you noticed that “Independence Day” has devolved into displays of shiny red, white, and blue Mylar decorations across much of our suburban landscape?
It is a time for car sales, summer vacations, huge picnics, and fireworks.
Please don’t misunderstand- it is a great holiday! I especially love watching fireworks on a summer sultry summer evening.
I’m just suggesting that it would be wise for us to contemplate the deeper meaning of “independence,” and what it means for us in 2014.
What does “Independence” mean to us today?
Just something to think about, this weekend, as we put up our red, white, and blue bunting, hang our flags, and prepare our picnic dinners.
Here are a few thoughts from Americans who devoted their lives to building our nation.
They are words worth remembering, and perhaps offer an insight into where we go from here in our national journey towards our destiny as a free people.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth
are never alone or weary of life.”
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find resources of strength
that will endure as long as life lasts”
“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself,
‘What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?’ “
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Bald Eagles, birds, Colonial Parkway, Egret, Environmental Preservation, Garden Resources, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, James City Co. VA, Native Plants, Nature art, Osprey Eagle, Plant photos, Use of Native Plants
Here in James City County, Virginia, we live “elbow to elbow” with wildlife of all sorts.
Situated between Tidewater and the Piedmont, a lot of our land remains undeveloped as forest, marsh, or swamp. Our older neighborhoods were built to blend in to the environment.
Only in recent years has our county government focused more on making money than on preserving the beautiful and rich environment we’ve inherited.
We watch the clear cutting for new shopping centers and housing tracts with great sadness.
Not five miles from here, a developer is cutting new roads through the forests, destroying creeks, ravines, hillsides, and habitat in order to create a new office and retail park near a new hospital complex.
Someone is making gazillions of dollars, but acres and acres of beautiful forest and wildlife habitat are destroyed each day as this project continues.
I can only imagine the back room negotiations which allowed this project to move forward.
James City County was known, at one time, as an area with an unusually high number of different species of birds.
Part of the path of annual migration up and down the East Coast of the United States, birds have been drawn to our area to rest and eat along the way.
Many, like these lovely eagles, make our community their home, too.
Just a few years ago, an out of town owner planned to develop this beautiful bit of land with several new homes squeezed in between College Creek and a major road.
The presence of eagle’s nests was one of the factors which helped stop the deal from progressing.
We are always glad to see the eagles. Their very presence is testament that the land and water are still clean enough to support them and their eaglets.
So long as they choose to live here, we know the environment will support us, too.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
It is such a joy to notice the landscape growing greener, day by day.
Our cold weather has lasted several weeks longer than usual. Everything has been delayed in sending out new green leaves.
Lawns, marshes, shrubs, trees, perennials, and ferns have all waited a bit longer than usual to begin growth for the season.
And this gardener has waited a lot longer than usual to work on renovating beds, bringing plants out of the garage, and planting summer pots and baskets.
But today was another long day setting out new plants, moving perennials, pulling weeds, and digging fresh compost into the soil.
The leaves and frozen stalks of ginger lilies, which have mulched their roots and the roots of roses growing nearby, are finally all swept away and composted.
I spent the afternoon moving some of the ginger lily roots to new areas where I want them to grow, and digging compost back into the bed.
I have added two new roses and some Goodwin’s Creek Lavender, some scented geraniums, and a few white sage while pulling out handfuls of Vinca which were beginning to claim the rose bed.
It was a blessedly cool day. A beautiful day to work outside. Now that new leaves are beginning to pierce the Earth around the Canna tubers a friend gave me last fall, and around the ginger lilies, I can see what is coming up where, and plant around them accordingly.
There was really no point in trying to do much of anything until the garden decided to respond to spring with new growth.
My partner saw the first hummingbirds exploring the pots on the patio this morning.
Later, I watched bluebirds scavenging for seeds in the tops of a few Rose of Sharon shrubs which I haven’t yet pruned.
A swallowtail butterfly flew circles around me as I was planting on hands and knees this afternoon. We have blue tailed skinks scuttering across the windows now, and a found a painted turtle nestled under the Rosemary shrub I was pruning back to the ground.
How I hope those Rosemary shrubs, tended and grown for three seasons now, sprout some new growth from their roots. They are still sad and brown, but I expect them to survive with a little care and a lot of patience.
There are no photos of the garden today. I was too focused and busy to stop for photos, and my hands were a bit soil covered to handle electronics, anyway.
But just before 5 PM, my partner appeared with that quiet insistence I’ve learned to respect.
Frozen yogurt was mentioned, along with a drive on the Colonial Parkway. So he lured me inside, with a new slate border around the rose bed not quite completed.
The garden cart still sits in the front yard, full of geraniums and herbs ready for action in the morning.
I cleaned up and off we went in search of birds.
We found a pair of cardinals feeding each other while perched on a bench at our ice cream shop.
And all along the Parkway we found pairs of eagles, ducks and herons.
These devoted parents and mates are keeping company all along the greening marshes and waterways here in Williamsburg.
As the Redbud trees fade, the Dogwoods still glisten in bright white against the greening woodlands and shrub lines.
The forests’ silhouette has filled out again, hiding the trees’ bare branches.
Late April is always beautiful in Virginia. This year, it is especially joyful to watch our world growing greener yet again.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Bald Eagles, birds, Colonial Parkway, daffodills, Early spring garden, Four Season Garden, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Great Blue Heron, Nature art, Osprey Eagles, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Rose of Sharon, Spring garden, Trees, Use of Native Plants, VA, Zone 7B Cultural Information
This beautiful Red Tailed Hawk patiently allowed me to take photo after photo, slowly making my way around the cedar tree where he was perched.
Finally, as I stood at the base of the tree, in his line of sight, he decided enough was enough, and off he went.
The Colonial Parkway was alive with birds today. Red Tailed Hawk, and his many avian neighbors, were out enjoying the day.
Although their patience with your photographer was a bit limited….
Canada Geese, Great Blue Herons, a large black vulture on a low branch, crows, gulls in from the coast, and even a few Bald Eagles could be found along the river.
It reached 60 degrees today while we visited with the birds. It is the first time in several weeks our temperatures have been so warm. The birds surely have enjoyed the break in the weather as much as we have today.
The clouds steadily grew thicker as the sun fell lower in the sky.
Even though the ground is puddled, soft, and muddy, more rain is on its way. We watched the clouds gathering from the west.
A little sun and warmth goes a long way towards brightening the spirit, and drawing us back out to the Parkway.
And though the landscape is still tight and wintery here along the James River, we had fine company today from our feathered neighbors.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Bald Eagles, birds, Canada Geese, Colonial Parkway, Colonial Williamsburg, Gardening in Williamsburg, Jamestown, Nature art, Plant photos, Trees, Tuesday Snapshots, VA, Zone 7B Cultural Information
The first golden dandelion blossom of spring sits blooming in an open spot on the Colonial Parkway. Here it is, in all of its exuberance, as it greeted the sun today.
So often our dandelions are overlooked at best. But today, in the midst of January, this tiny little blossom brought a smile. It is a reminder that winter is passing; spring truly is stirring around us.
My eyes were mostly directed upwards today, searching for birds. And birds we found!
The first, friend red tailed hawk, happily sat on his branch, looking out across the James River, through our entire visit.
Which is remarkable chiefly because a whole car load of serious “tri-pod toting” photographers pulled in as I was angling into position to get my photos of him. I was afraid I’d spook him and he’d fly before they got all of their equipment in place.
But he seemed to recognize us all, and know we meant him no harm. He sat stoically, turning his head this way and that, like an experienced and somewhat bored model, while we all zeroed in on the angles we wanted for our photos. The patient hawk simply sat on his high perch, watching.
I left the group to their serious photography and took off with my little camera in search of other interesting scenes. And was not disappointed.
A beautiful Great Blue Heron stood wading in the shallow marsh near a “push up,” as though hoping the resident muskrat would pop out and visit for awhile. He waited patiently, and happily allowed me to make all the photos I wished.
A warm golden day here in Williamsburg brought us all together. Everywhere we went there were photographers in search of that perfect photo, families fishing from the beach, and even runners.
The photographers were hunting for eagle photos today. They had been checking all the nesting sites they know, but hadn’t spotted a great bird until they found our friend hawk. Heading in the way from which they came, we counted ourselves fortunate to spot quite a few. A huge, old eagle serenely perched in the very tip top of a decaying pine, surveying the marsh.
We were crossing a bridge when we spotted him, and with no safe place to pull over, and cars coming up behind, we drove on without a photo to share. His large white head shone in the sunlight, silhouetted against an impossibly clear blue sky.
But there were others, riding the air currents high above forest and marsh. And flocks of gulls, families of geese, a group of black vultures. It was a busy day, a respite for human and bird alike to come out into the winter sunshine before the next bout of cold sweeps into the neighborhood tomorrow night.
And, we found the first golden dandelion blossom of the new year, face bravely turned into the winter sun, opening to the beauty of it all.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014