WPC: Edge

Sandy Bay, which frames one end of Jamestown Island, provides a home for many species of birds in its shallow waters. Bald cypress trees grow along its banks.

Sandy Bay, which frames one end of Jamestown Island, provides a home for many species of birds in its shallow waters. Bald cypress trees grow along its banks.

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Edges and borders;

Boundaries or invitations

To enter elsewhere?

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Alight from the known,

Venture into

What is not.

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Borders frame,

But cannot contain

Curious awareness.

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Where is happiness?

What waits

Beyond the edges?

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Edge

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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WPC: Happy Place

October 6, 2015 Parkway 021

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Our National Parks give us places to go to rest, dream, rejuvenate, and appreciate the natural beauty of a place. 

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We are fortunate to live close to the scenic Colonial Parkway, which links the Jamestown Settlement along the James River with Historic Yorktown on the banks of the York River. 

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This is one of our favorite places to visit frequently enough to watch the seasons, and the sunsets, come and go. 

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We watch the eagles’ nests from when they are built early each spring until the eggs hatch and the young learn to fly in early summer.  We watch for Great Blue Herons, hawks, gulls, geese and the occasional fox. 

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There are sandy beaches along the way, ponds, open fields and beautiful trees.  Driving along the Parkway allows us to take a mini-vacation in a quiet, peaceful space protected from development and much of modern life. 

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September 30, 2015 Parkway 046

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It isn’t unusual to find friends along the way doing exactly the same thing.  I’m thinking, today, of a special friend and neighbor who loves the Parkway, too; and hasn’t gotten to enjoy his drives there for a while. 

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He’s been in hospital for a little more than a month.  I’m hoping these photos will lift his spirits a little and remind him of all the loving friends who miss him and are wishing him well. 

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And I hope he and his partner will soon be driving along the Parkway once again, enjoying this happiest of places together.

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inspired by The Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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October 6, 2015 Parkway 009

Green Grows Everything

July 27, 2015 Parkway 001

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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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July 27, 2015 Parkway 007

… To Preserve This Beautiful Planet …

Late February, 2015

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“I begin with nature today, which gives us so much, including the amazing opportunities for photography. Hence it must be our duty to preserve this beautiful  planet, in whatever small way we can in our own capacity.

This is the best gift we can give to our coming generations.”

Suyash Chopra

This morning, while looking at a series of photos Suyash recently published in black and white, I found this beautiful thought.  I resonate with Suyash’s understanding of photography as a sacred act, as a way to “preserve this beautiful planet, in whatever small way we can.”

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April, 2014

April, 2014

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Gardening allows me a very immediate and hands on opportunity to preserve the tiny bit of our planet’s ecosystem within our garden.  Planting for wildlife habitat, protecting the soil, increasing diversity, and using sustainable, organic practices all help to make this tiny garden lush, beautiful, and life sustaining for many species- including ourselves.

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

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But this is only a first effort.  Writing about it and sharing its beauty with others through photographs; nurturing friendships with other gardeners and building community, allows this harmonic to resonate around the planet. I am keenly interested in gardens from Portland Oregon and Conway Massachusetts to Queensland Australia; Greenville, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina to Brussells, England, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.  Through reading about other gardener’s efforts, and seeing photos of their gardens in progress, I absorb their ideas, their passion, and their ecology.

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October, 2014

October, 2014

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Suyash invites us to enlarge the context of how we think about our own photography.  Reflecting on his words,  I’m reminded of photos, published nearly a century ago, documenting glaciers in our national parks.  Seeing those photos again, alongside current photos of the same topography, documents the profound changes to our planet in a tiny span of geologic time.

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September, 2010

Oregon coast, September, 2010

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Comparing my own photos taken on west coast beaches in 2010 with those taken this past fall demonstrates, with sickening clarity, the terrible loss of life along our coast.  Tidal pools filled to overflowing with starfish, sea urchins, mollusks and small fish in 2010 sit nearly empty today.

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September 2014

Oregon coast, September 2014

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While mussels and barnacles still thrive along these beaches, the starfish and sea urchins are nearly gone and the sea anemones reduced.  Our planet’s ocean harbors trash and toxic chemicals, petroleum, radioactivity, and acidity which turn great expanses of living ocean into watery desert.

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September 2014

September 2014

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Preserving the beauty of our quickly changing planet through our photographs, to share with later generations, somehow elevates photography from hobby to historic trust.  I had not really thought of my own photographs in quite this way until reading Suyash’s words today.

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August 2014 Virginia

Virginia, August 2014

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These photographs I take each day, recording our own garden and the changing of seasons in our greater community, serve a larger purpose.  They not only entertain, they document.  They share not only beauty, but also an aesthetic of beauty and vibrant organic life so important to our own well being.

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College Creek, Virginia, August 2014

College Creek, Virginia, August 2014

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As more of our planet sleeps under pavement and architecture, living soil buried beneath concrete and asphalt; those areas left to grow and support life shrink with each passing day.

Even in our own community we watch trees felled and marshes filled as developers try to turn a profit with new homes and commerce.  Where do animals go once their habitats are destroyed?  Who digs and moves the native plants?  The answers are all too clear, and too poignant to frame with words.

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And so the photos we take today, the photos our parents and grandparents took decades ago; serve to document the beauty of nature which remains.

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And perhaps they will inspire someone to value and nurture organic, life filled beauty in their own tiny bit of the planet.  Perhaps they will spark a memory of when mankind truly did inhabit ‘the garden.’

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“The more clearly we can focus our attention

on the wonders and realities of the universe about us,

the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
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Rachel Carson

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“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Woodland Gnome 2015

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

Time to Remember Winter

November 18, 2014 moss 003

 

One forgets winter, sometimes, by the end of a long summer.

And so it was yesterday that we set out in the afternoon to take a drive, and some photos.

I wore a hooded pea coat over my jeans and sweater, but left the gloves behind on the counter.  It was sunny, after all!

And it had reached the lower 40s by afternoon after a long, slow climb up from night time 20s.

 

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It wasn’t until I climbed out, camera in hand, at the parking area across from the beach path that I felt the full force of the wind blowing across the river.

So I pulled up the hood, fastened an extra button, and headed towards the beach, leaving my wiser partner in the shelter of the car.

 

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The wind whipped at my hood and drove icy needles through my fingers as it rattled the grasses along the path.

The entire landscape danced to the lively jig of this frigid November wind.

 

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We knew that only a few hundred miles to the north this same wind whipped feet of snow across highways  and neighborhoods; whole cities silenced under a blanket of arctic white.

 

 

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And low, dense clouds were forming over us.  I wondered whether we might see Bay effect snow by nightfall.

I’m not sure what I was hoping to find, yesterday afternoon.

 

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Not a single bird appeared.  Not an insect buzzed; not a single squirrel scampered in search of food.

It was eerily silent except for the wind.

Waves lapped against the pale clean sand of the beach.

Summer’s litter had blown well back into the grass line.

Everything looked scrubbed clean by the wind, bleached by the cold, and faded to brown and grey and palest green.

 

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There came a point when my fingers were nearly numb, and shivering, and  the wind kept finding its way ever closer to my bones.

 

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Time to turn back to the shelter of our car.

We would continue on our way, together, on heated seats with windows rolled up tightly.

Time to remember winter, and pick up the habits of warmth once more.

Time for thick scarves, woolen socks, lined gloves, and pots of soup simmering on the stove at home.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

Survival

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Wild Ice

Ice covers the marsh at Halfway Creek where Canada Geese gather in search of food.

Ice covers the marsh at Halfway Creek where Canada Geese gather in search of food.

The incoming and outgoing tides sound a constant, slow rhythm; shaping the contours of life along our many creeks, marshes, and rivers.  We are close enough to the coast that the James, York, Black, Mattaponi,  Piankatank, Rappahannock, and  Chickahominy rivers all respond to the tides flowing in and out of the Chesapeake Bay from the ocean.

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Powhatan Creek, near Jamestown Island

In our area, we all live surrounded by water; often brackish water, as salty water from the sea mixes with fresh water flowing off of the land.

This was the slow realization of the first English colonists trying to survive in a hostile new land.  Jamestown Island is surrounded by water, but it is all too salty and filled with life for drinking.  There is no fresh water spring on Jamestown Island, as there are just a few miles inland where the settlers eventually moved.

The James River at Jamestown Beach, near the ferry dock.

The James River at Jamestown Beach, near the ferry dock.

Drought that first summer made the James even lower and saltier than usual.  Living on the banks of a mighty river, whose origins lie far to the west in the Appalachian mountains; the settlers grew ill and died from the river’s water, the only water they could reach without confronting the native people defending their land.

Jamestown Beach on Tuesday afternoon.  At 21 degrees, with a wind, wild ice gathers at the high tide line.

Jamestown Beach on Tuesday afternoon. At 21 degrees, with a wind, wild ice gathers at the high tide line.

I’ve stood on the banks of the beautiful James, called The Powhatan in honor of the native chief before the colonists renamed it for their English king,  just outside of the archeological dig and reconstruction of that original Jamestown settlement.

There is a statue there of John Smith, looking out across the water, always seeing the possibilities for a rich and good life in this wild, new land.  Smith was the one who learned to communicate and build relationships with the leadership of the Powhatan nation, a confederation of 30 tribes living here in Tsenacommacah, the densely populated lands east of the fall line at Richmond.

Salt spray frozen on the rock jetty at Jamestown Beach.

Salt spray frozen on the rock jetty at Jamestown Beach.

Our coastal rivers in Virginia are named for these original people who drew their life and living from them.  And, our rivers still respond to the rise and fall of the Chesapeake Bay.  Our Bay is the meeting place of fresh rain water and water from natural springs carried by our rivers towards the sea, and tidal water surging in twice daily from the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

Green algae and other jetsam frozen at the high tide mark on the beach.

Above:  Green algae and other jetsam frozen at the high tide mark on the beach.                              Below: Ice also collects at the base of the fence on the beach.

With the briny water comes all the life of the ocean:  oysters, crabs, scallops, shrimp, black sea bass, flounder, menhaden, shad, and even the occasional dolphin.  The colonists who stayed at the mouth of the river, where it meets the Bay, learned of these abundant sea foods and lived in plenty even as the colonists holding the fort at Jamestown starved.

January 7 ice on beach 007The saltiness of our rivers and creeks makes them slow to freeze.  It is the rare extended stretch of freezing days and nights which allows ice to form any real distance from the shoreline.

The constant rising and falling of the tides disrupts the ice even as it forms, breaking it again and again along the high tide mark as the water recedes.  Wind swept spray may freeze on our rock jetties for a time until the sun melts it away.

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Rock and sand hold the suns’s heat, making it even harder for the salt spray to freeze along our  beaches.

Canada Geese feeding along the marshes on Halfway Creek.

Canada Geese feeding along the marshes on Halfway Creek.

And it was this wild, briny ice we found along the James river yesterday, on a broad sandy beach near where the ferry docks.  It encased bits of jetsam washed up at high tide, and clung to the fence protecting the jetty.   It was 21 degrees, colder with the brisk wind, despite the bright afternoon sun.

Ducks swim in the open channel of Halfway Creek Tuesday afternoon, as the temperatures hover around 20 degrees.

Geese swim in the open channel of Halfway Creek Tuesday afternoon, as the temperatures hover around 20 degrees.

And in the more protected marshes, ice still clung to the thick mud, left behind by the retreating tide.

Kingsmill backs onto Halfway Creek and the Colonial Parkway.

Kingsmill backs onto Halfway Creek and the Colonial Parkway.

The deeper channels through the marsh were not yet frozen, allowing Canada Geese, ducks, and other sea birds open patches of water to congregate and search for food.

The geese searched for bits of grass, seed, algae or other vegetative material left in the silt of the marsh.  They will eat an insect or small fish if it happens by, but prefer to eat plants.

Large flocks gather together in our area.  Some have migrated south, and others live here year round; able to find a constant supply of food.  With few predators, the  numbers of shore birds continue to increase.

College Creek at noon today, temperatures approaching 33 degrees.

College Creek at noon today, temperatures approaching 33 degrees.

Our College Creek was frozen well away from its banks this morning, it shallow draft finally succumbing to several days of relentless cold.  Only the deeper channels in the middle of the creek remained open and flowing at midday, allowing the tides to come and go.

Our marshes were hardened with ice, high tide having come and gone in the deep cold last night.  It gets harder and harder for the wild things who rely on the Creek for food to find any.  They will move further inland; move to the cow  pastures and horse pastures; the edges of woods; the neighborhoods even in search of the next meal, until the Creek melts back to its usual muddy softness once again.

College Creek at noon today, flowing freely in the deeper channel, but frozen in the marshy shallows near the shore.

College Creek at noon today, flowing freely in the deeper channel, but frozen in the marshy shallows near the shore.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Winter Rainbow

Beauty Where You Find It

Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.

Henry David Thoreau, Nov. 8, 1858

Obsession: Botany and Empire, As Seen From Jamestown, Virginia

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 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 in late October

Dogwood in late October

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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.  Now, 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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Sapling Tulip Poplar trees growing along the Colonial Parkway.

Sapling Tulip Poplar trees growing along the Colonial Parkway.

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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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Beauty Berry shrub in my garden.

Beauty Berry shrub in my garden.  The small green berries will turn bright lilac in a few more weeks.

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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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American Holly growing in my garden.

American Holly growing in my garden.

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For the purposes of this post, let me just 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.  They were grown for their beautiful form, fall color, interesting bark, and some for their flowers.

Eventually, gardening became a passionate pursuit not only of the aristocracy, but of all 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 specieis of trees were introduced n the 17th and 18th centuries.

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

Pines along the Colonial Parkway in early October

Pines along the Colonial Parkway in early October

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

Magnolia virginiana, Sweet Bay, 1688

A mature American Holly on the Colonial Parkway.

A mature American Holly on the Colonial Parkway.  These evergreen trees shine in winter when deciduous trees are bare.

Pinus strobus, White Pine, 1705

Platanus occidentalis, American Sycamore, 1638

Sassafras albidum, Sassafrass, 1630

All photos by Woodland Gnome

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Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

Hibiscus moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

 

Hibiscus flowers are a quintessential joy of summer gardens.  One of the largest, brightest flowers we’ll find in our garden, ever, Hibiscus takes its place beside the Magnolia grandiflora for flowers the size of luncheon plates. Hibiscus flowers make us think of tropical vacations, aloha shirts, and rum drinks. They bloom during the hottest, muggiest part of our summer, taunting us out into the garden from our air conditioned shade indoors.

 

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

Loved by hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies, hardy hibiscus are always the center of activity in the garden. Not only are they an important source of nectar for hummingbirds, but they also attract small nectar loving insects which hummingbirds love to eat. Once the flowers fade in autumn, and their seed pods ripen, hardy Hibiscus  feed goldfinches, cardinals, tufted titmice, wrens, and other songbirds looking for nutritious  seeds all  winter.

 

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

Hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow

Although big box stores and garden centers offer potted tropical Hibiscus plants each summer, there are several varieties of hardy hibiscus native or naturalized right here in coastal Virginia.  In fact, you’ll see many hibiscus, or Rose Mallow, plants blooming in July along the James and York Rivers, and in the marshes along the Colonial Parkway.  Our native and naturalized varieties need no pots, no coddling, readily self-seed, and come with an agreeable price tag.  The tropical varieties must be brought in before frost or left outside to die; the natives are deciduous, but reliably return the following spring.

Hardy hibiscus comes in two forms:  herbaceous perennial and deciduous shrub.  Both leaf out quite late in the spring.

 

July 6 2013 garden 010

 

Hibiscus syriacus, also called Rose of Sharon, or Althea, is a deciduous woody shrub.  Its first leaves appear in late spring, and it begins flowering in mid June.  Flowers continue into September.  The leaves turn yellow in autumn and linger until after frost. The herbaceous perennials, which begin sending up their green stems and leaves in mid June, bloom in mid-July and August.

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon, is a favorite nectar plant for hummingbirds and bees.

Rose of Sharon is native to eastern Asia, and is the national flower of South Korea.  It is so beautiful that it was carried all over Asia and Europe by traders in the 16th century before coming to North America with the English colonists in the 18th century, where it was called Althea Frutex.  The flowers are edible, and the Koreans also use the leaves.  Growing 8’-10’ tall, and 6’-8’ wide, it is hardy to Zone 5.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

July 29, 2012 garden photos 019

Rose of Sharon is best used as a back drop for a perennial bed, as a screen, or in a border of mixed shrubs. Here several Althea shrubs form a backdrop for the butterfly garden.

This vase shaped shrub flowers from June through September in our area.  Its flowers are 2”-4” wide, with five petals forming a deep throated flower with pronounced pistol and stamens.  The throat is often a dark maroon, and the flowers come in shades of white, pink, and lavender.  Some double forms are available, but most of the flowers are single.  Each flower lasts a single day, but buds are produced prolifically throughout the season.  Flowers form on new wood so the plant can be pruned in autumn or spring.

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon shrubs tend to grow very tall and leggy, and so annual pruning helps the plant to bush out and become a more substantial shrub.  Mine are sometimes blown over in strong winds, but can be set upright, staked, and they will continue to thrive.  Although reasonably drought tolerant, Rose of Sharon doesn’t appreciate too much water or too much fertilizer.  Some of my shrubs have simply died over the winter for no apparent reason, while their sisters two feet away survived just fine.  Rose of Sharon often doesn’t even leaf out until after the Azaleas have bloomed, so patience is important.  Their flowers are worth waiting for, especially if you enjoy watching the beautiful creatures they attract.

 

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus flowers.

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon.

That being said, Rose of Sharon is not a good candidate for a “specimen shrub” in the landscape.  They are good as the backdrop for perennial borders, although tall ones will sometimes droop over from the weight of their blooms and shade the plants growing in front.  They are good planted as a mass, used for a screen, or even used as a foundation planting along a back wall where windows are quite high.  Rose of Sharon work best in a mixed shrub and perennial border.  They will carry the hottest part of mid summer when the hydrangeas have faded out but the Camellias haven’t yet come into bloom.

 

Rose of Sharon

An Althea with double flowers

 

Rose of Sharon produces millions of seeds, and these seeds self-sow wherever they can.  It is considered invasive in CT, but not in VA.  This is a benefit if you want more Rose of Sharon shrubs in your landscape, or have friends who do.  They are large enough to identify and pull up by May if you want to discard the seedlings.  New plants can also be started by layering or taking green cuttings of new wood in early summer.

 

Rose of Sharon

Japanese beetles will eat Rose of Sharon buds, but can be picked off easily.

These tough shrubs will grow in full sun to partial shade in a variety of soils.  They grow as well on slopes as on flat ground, compete well with other shrubs, and have very few pests.  I’ve seen Japanese beetles munching their flowers, and occasionally a caterpillar snacking on a leaf.  The damage done was minor and didn’t detract from the beauty of the shrub.

There are actually several herbaceous perennial Hibiscus plants which grow will in our area, although only two are considered natives.

 

July 17 hibiscus 007

Hibiscus Mutabilis, also called Confederate Rose, is native to China, and most commonly grows in the Gulf Coast states in North America.  This is a huge plant, sometimes growing to 10’ or more in a single season, especially in frost free areas.  Even if it dies back to the ground in the winter, it comes back strong the following summer.  It has white blossoms about 6” across which gradually turn pink, and in some cultivars red, over a period of several days before dropping off.  Flowers on the same plant will appear in these different colors all at the same time.  Flowers can be single or double depending on the cultivar.

Hibiscus coccineus

Hibiscus coccineus, native in the Deep South, is hardy to Zone 6b and grows with little fuss or care.  Also known as Swamp Mallow or Scarlet Mallow, it can grow in normal garden conditions.

This plant has large, coarse, deeply lobed leaves which open late in the season.  Hibiscus Mutabilis is hardy to Zone 7, and is commonly found in Zones 7-9.  It works best in a shrub border as it is inconspicuous when dormant, and quite large and showy in mid-summer.

 

July 16 2013 Hibiscus 001

Rose Mallow, or Swamp Mallow, is native to Virginia and naturalizes easily in sunny areas with moist soil.

Hibiscus grandiflora has the largest flowers at 8”-10” across.  The flowers are a delicate light pink.   It is a very large plant topping out at 8’, and prefers to grow in the wet soil of swamps and the edges of ponds.  Hardy in Zones 6-9, it sends up new stems each spring covered in fuzzy, five lobed grayish green leaves.  This plant is native to the southeastern United States and is most commonly found growing in full sun in wetlands.

July 17 hibiscus 002

 

The hardy Hibiscus growing in my garden is Hibiscus moscheutos, also called Rose Mallow or Swamp Rose Mallow.

 

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

Numerous stems appear each year in early summer, rapidly growing from the crown, which expands each year.  Leaves are heart shaped, medium green, and slightly fuzzy.  Plants grow from 2’ to over 6’ high, depending on how well their needs are met.  Plants prefer moist soil in full sun, but will grow in drier conditions and partial shade.  This shrubby perennial is native to the Eastern United States from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf Coast.

Flowers have five long petals, usually with a dark red throat, and come in shades of white and pink.  Flowers are generally 6” across and may be 5”-6” deep, with a large stamen and pistols loved by hummingbirds and bees.  Flowers open in the late afternoon, and close again in the morning.  Many hybrid cultivars are available.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos

To encourage the best performance, water this Hibiscus during dry spells, and top dress each spring with an inch or two of finished compost.  The plant does best in moist, rich soil. Collect the seeds once the seed heads open in autumn.  These plants readily self-sow in the garden.  I cut back the dried stems from the previous year in winter or early spring.

Other hardy Hibiscus plants are available, and those interested might enjoy looking at the selections available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.  http://www.plantdelights.com/searchprods.asp  They also carry a number of hybrids with beautiful colors.  Most online and mail order nurseries carry a number of selections of hardy Hibiscus.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Locally, Homestead Garden Center carries a dozen or more varieties each spring.  Several colors are still available now in mid-July, and have been reduced in price.  Homestead always has healthy, beautiful plants and a very knowledgeable  family staff to help answer questions.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

 

Hardy Hibiscus are tough and forgiving plants, easy to grow, welcoming to wildlife, beautiful in season, and good additions to sunny areas in a forest garden.

 

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

July 17 hibiscus 009

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Scarlet Mallow

 

Wild Hibiscus

 

 

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