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Alan Pulley lives in SE Virginia with his wife and two children. In his spare time, he enjoys birdwatching, gardening, photography, painting and blogging. He is a Virginia Master Naturalist and the author of Birds 'n Such blog (birdsnsuch.com), where he writes about birds, gardening and the natural world.


Passing Through – Monarch Butterflies
by Alan Pulley - posted 09/20/14

September is one of my favorite months as a gardener. The days are cooling down, fall blooming flowers are about to show off, and the fall veggie crops are in the ground and growing. It is also a great time to survey the garden and catch up on those task that were put off during the hot weather.

As I was surveying my own garden recently, I happened to notice several odd cocoon-like thingamajigs hanging in and around the garden; especially concentrated along the edges of my house. I knew right away what they were and where they came from. The little green thingies were the chrysalis (pupa) of the monarch butterfly. They are always a welcome site in my yard.

After 10-14 days it will emerge from the chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly. Once out, there’s no time to waste. After a brief rest and fueling up on some nectar, it will continue its leg of the journey southward to Mexico, where monarchs spend the winter months. In the spring the journey will start all over again.

Unfortunately, monarch butterflies have been declining in numbers over the last few years so it’s exciting to have them around this summer. Like other butterflies, monarchs can be attracted to the garden with a variety of flowers; however, milkweed (Asclepias) is the one plant that they need to keep the cycle alive. They love its nectar, but more importantly it serves as the only host plant for their larva. There are lots of varieties of milkweed available, but my favorite is tropical milkweed, aka blood flower (Asclepias curassavica).

I plant a patch of tropical milkweed every spring in my garden. Their seed can be sown directly in the spring or started indoors and transplanted after frost. Once established, tropical milkweed will often re-seed in the garden year after year. My milkweed plants may look a little ragged by the end of the summer after the monarch caterpillars have feasted on them, but it’s well worth it the effort…and the butterflies will be grateful as well!



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Bluebird Fledgling’s First Bath
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 06/03/13

Yesterday I was treated to a mother and father bluebird bringing their young fledglings to my birdbath to test out the waters! The first couple of photos are the disheveled parents...their feathers are all ruffled and they are probably exhausted from taking care of these babies!


Mother and father bluebird, mom watching while dad takes a bath


The juveniles don't have the same thickness of feathers and are not as brightly colored as the adults. There is one fledgling that sat on the deck and wouldn't go near the water for the longest time...but

then he finally flew over to check it out. But he didn't end up going in, ever! His sibling and he were cute as they appeared to see me taking their photos! I thought it was funny that the one was being totally stubborn and just would have nothing to do with that water!


Juvenile (left)  looks on while dad demonstrates taking a bath


Mom joins dad while juvenile watches.


The 2nd fledgling isn't too sure he wants to join the others


Dad is really enjoying his bath, and the youngster (far left) looks like he want to join in


Mom appears to be chewing dad out, not sure what he did but she doesn't look happy with him!!


Meanwhile, this youngster isn't having any part of it!


The baby (splashing, behind mom) has joined in and dad has gotten out


Hmm, still not wanting any part of this!


"What are you looking at?"


Mom and dad have flown away, while the 2 youngsters remain


Finally, the 2nd juvenile flies to the birdbath to join his sibling


Two bluebird babies at the birdbath


It's almost as if they saw me taking their photo! (I was inside the house looking through the kitchen window).




The one baby would not go in the water...


What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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17-Year Cicadas…Enough Already!
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 05/23/13




About a week ago, when the Brood II Cicadas began showing up around here, it was exciting to see their transformations from nymph to adult.I was snapping photos and was actually hoping I'd be able to find one in the process of 'being born' (aka 'exiting it's exoskeleton). I had captured holes in the ground with nymphs crawling out and up trees.





A couple of days later, I was able to capture a 'birth', and I marveled at the whole process--using adjectives like fascinating, marvelous, miraculous.

















Skip ahead a few days until today. I've had it! They are everywhere, literally everywhere in my yard and gardens! Their decomposing exoskeletons line the base of the trees and many still cling to the bark, still in the position they were in prior to the nymphs emerging.





(unmowed weeds in adjacent yard)

And they're LOUD! The males all scream at the same time (day and night, ongoing) and it literally sounds like a spaceship is coming in for a landing. You can hear them when you walk outside. You can even hear them through the walls of the house if it's really quiet inside.The actual bugs themselves are all over every plant and tree and blade of grass around here...and as I was snapping photos I felt something crawling on the back of my leg: yep, a cicada had crawled up under my pants. Yuk!










Live adults line the inside basin of the portable basketball hoop...they cannot seem to find their way out.



I've simply had my fill and would like to request that they return to their holes in the ground from whence they came. But that isn't about to happen...so, I'll have to keep putting up with this slight interruption from 'regular gardening' for a few more weeks, I guess. The idea of hundreds, more like thousands, of these things lying around dead and rotting does not appeal to me! Enough is enough is enough!


Hanging from bottom of bird house...








On my front porch steps in the middle of the day!




On the wall of the front porch




Hanging from the overhang/roof of the front porch, right over the front door! No thank you...I don't want any!



All over the Alliums...











I caught this one swimming in the stream with this frog looking on, apparently unphased. I watched as it finally escaped from the water and climbed out on the rocks.




I've also seen a high number of deformed cicadas. Some only emerge half way from their exoskeleton and just die there. Others have only half-sized, tiny, bent wings and cannot fly, like this one:



Whatever. I'm over 'em. Now, if only they'd go away! I guess it could be another few weeks to a month before that will happen? Gardening is a little different, to say the least. When you come to visit, you will be welcomed...



...but watch your step and look over your shoulder, at least for now smile

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Cercis canadensis - Eastern Redbud
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 04/24/13


I had seen the colors often in earlier springs...driving along, every now and then, a brilliant pop of purple would catch my attention. What is that tree, I would find myself thinking?



I have drooled over the Eastern Redbud for years. Every spring, it makes itself known by brilliant purple buds, highlighted by reddish heart-shaped leaves, left over from the preceding fall and winter.


Below, it is nothing but a bare stick-like twig.  On the lower right (below) is my smallest Redbud. I planted it in March (before the snow made the landscape white). I got it at a native plant nursery, and was happy that it was reasonably priced and that I could 'handle' digging a hole for this smaller size seedling.



This little twig-like seedling gave a couple of blooms this spring...not much to look at, really--but, I'm just happy it had any blooms at all. Pinkish purple is such a cheery color:



Anyway...back to my dreaming. I wanted more of a 'splash of color'. I wanted to wake up and see it in my own yard...not just on a walk or a drive.



So, I added a 'just a little larger one', after the small seedling. Nothing so big I couldn't dig a hole for it. It wasn't blooming and it still wasn't 'much', but it was a Redbud, so I was happy. Here's the 2nd of my Redbuds in bloom, recently:



And again, below:



Anyway, despite seeing the lovely purple blooms of my two small redbuds, I couldn't help myself last week and I just decided to 'bite the bullet', so to speak, at a local privately owned nursery. I had been 'spying on' their larger Redbuds and plotting where I would put one in my front yard--for at least two months.



I had just the spot. I ordered the tree, paid, and was told it could be up to two weeks before they could deliver and plant it. But before I got home that afternoon, the guys were in my front yard digging a hole in the area I had marked!




It might look small in the photo, but when you compare it to the seedlings I planted in the backyard, you can understand why it had to be put on a truck and delivered...and planted, by some strong burly guys wink


Remember the seedling in the backyard (below)?



This newest addition is quite a few years older and there really is no comparison when it comes to bud development. I needed to see the color and I needed to see a lot of it! And I got what I was looking for smile



I love how it hangs on to its leaves from the previous season...so beautiful!



The new, spring heart-shaped leaves are almost just as lovely, in their green attire: 






So now, my front yard has a little highlight, from this newest tree. Even though it isn't huge, it's got something interesting to offer. I am sure each spring it will be more and more exciting to wait for the pops of purple it will offer up!




Between March and April I went from no Redbuds to three Redbuds! Of course, my 'favorite' one is the biggest one because it offers the most buds and therefore the most color.





 But I have high hopes for my two backyard seedlings/trees. In a few years, they will also add a big splash of spring color to the backyard garden. I just didn't want to have to wait wink





Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) can grow up to 30 feet tall. It is generally an 'understory' tree, however, and will fit in well with all of the oaks, tulip poplars, and other much taller trees in my front and back yards. Its green, heartshaped leaves turn red in fall and since it is considered deciduous, the red leaves that do stay on add a little color through the winter.  After 2 or 3 weeks of flowering, leaves appear and the flowers drop. It produces flat reddish-brown pods that will remain on the tree until after leaf fall and some will even persist throughout winter. *I have not experienced the complete leafing-out phase or the fruiting phase. I'll show more photos when that happens! The pods will look like beans hanging down from the tree!


Apparently, the flowers of the tree can be put into salads or fried and eaten! I have been way too busy enjoying them to bother with harvesting and eating them. But perhaps when all three trees are blooming, I'll become more willing to experiment!


As for the wildlife value of native Redbud, I read that cardinals, ring-necked pheasants, bob-whites and rose-breasted grosbeaks enjoy feeding on the seeds. (White-tailed deer and gray squirrels have also been observed feeding on the seeds--I have plenty of both and that's no surprise. What DON'T they eat?!?!). Also, the Redbud flowers can help and contribute to the production of honey by bees. Overall, I love this tree.


I've joined Clay and Limestone's "Wildflower Wednesday" with other bloggers who are sharing natives and wildflowers that they love. Be sure to visit!


What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.




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More New Natives For My Gardens
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 03/04/13


I drove up to Alexandria on Saturday to visit a native plant nursery. Since they weren't just yet open for the season, I had made an appointment in advance. I was the only customer and had the undivided attention of Randee, the manager of Nature-By-Design. I had spoken with him a few days earlier asking if he had any Spigelia. I have just one plant that I got from Carolyn's Shade Gardens during a visit a couple of years ago. I liked it so much that I wanted to add a few more. When Randee said he had what I was looking for, I asked about Claytonia. He said yes. Then I asked about Cercis...I've wanted a nice Eastern Redbud for a while. He had that, too. So it was a no-brainer--off I went with money in hand!


2 Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel)


It's often been my experience that native's are not 'cheap'! They can put a 'dent' in your pocketbook because they aren't always readily available on the market. But I've been working on creating a native backyard habitat for some time now and there a few shrubs, small trees and plants that I've been hoping to get--sooner, rather than later--so I just 'bit the bullet', so to speak.


 2 Ilex verticillata, 1 male & 1 female (American Winterberry)

 Although nothing is really 'beautiful' when not in bloom, I'm happy with my purchases.


Rhododendron calendulaceum (Flame Azalea) 

You'll notice, from the photos, that I came back with much more than I originally went up for. Isn't that always the case? Whether it's the grocery store or the garden center...who leaves with just a couple of items?!  I'll admit I've done it on occasion--but not usually.



Rhododendron periclymenoides (Pink Azalea)

You might look at some of these photos and wonder why I'm so excited. It's because I know they are native to my area of Virginia. And, because I know that when they are in bloom they are going to be gorgeous!!


2 Dryopteris marginalis (Woodfern)

They will provide the native birds, bees and butterflies with the pollen, nectar and/or berries that they crave, and they will generally adapt to the soil conditions and climate of my yard, because they are naturally meant to be here.


8 Spigelia marilandica (Woodland Pinkroot), 2 Eupatorium purpureum (Sweet Joe Pye Weed),

3 Erythronium albidum (White Trout Lily)

That's not to say that they are 'guaranteed' to grow. Oh, if only that were the case, my yard would be a native jungle by now!



The Trout Lily has some above-ground foliage

No, it's not any 'simpler' to start natives in a suburban backyard than to start any other plant. But it's a wise choice because once they are embedded in the soil and landscape, they will require less water and generally less effort than many non-natives.


2 Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud)

They will put up with the ups-and-downs that this climate throws at them, unlike, say, a plant that thrives in mainly tropical climates or one that likes the desert conditions only. Yes, sometimes it feels like the tropics here--and sometimes it feels like the desert, deep in July. But it's zone 7A...and the natives I'm spending my money on are comfortable here. It's their home.


Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass)

I mentioned earlier that there were no blooms just yet...but the Green and Gold (below) has blooms already because Randee had been growing them in the greenhouse and then put them out in the sun. In our current and (expected to continue) blast of cold weather, the flowers and perhaps even the foliage, will die--but that won't kill the plants themselves. I have other Green and Gold's that haven't yet emerged from the ground so these are just a little ahead of schedule but I'm sure they'll be okay.


Viola canadensis (White Violet), Viola sororia (Blue Violet), Viola striata (Striped Violet),

Chrysogonum virginianum (Green and Gold)


Sadly (!) I have to make another trip to the nursery to exchange 3 Spigelia for 3 Claytonia. During the visit, we forgot to put the Spring Beauties aside!! I have never had those in my garden and I really want them...so sometime this week or next weekend I'll make a visit to swap out the plants. I will try to fight the temptation to buy more natives while I'm there. I've done enough damage for this month!


Since today is Tuesday, I am almost a week late to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday (held on the 4th Wednesday of each month at Clay and Limestone) but I'm going to link to her meme because I'm trying to participate every month this year and don't want 'a little week' to interfere with my good intentions! Thanks for having this every month, Gail!


What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Garden Blogger Bloom Day, February 2013
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 02/15/13





Every month on the 15th I shake my head and say 'already?' Yes, it's already time, once again, for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over at May Dreams Gardens. *(In fact, it's past time, now, as I'm getting this post published a day late). While I don't have tons of flowers in bloom, I have to say there are quite a few more than were available for January's bloom day post.




Hellebores are still in bud and bloom. Some still look very similar to photos from last month, while others have opened and continue to do so. I will probably have Hellebores in my blog posts in March and April, perhaps even beyond that.


H. x ballardiae "Pink Frost", a little less direct sunlight in this photo


Helleborus x nigercors (Winter Rose)

HCG "Green Corsican"



H. hybridus





Helleborus niger 'Jacob' (blooming since November and still producing buds and blooms)



H. hybridus "Red Lady"


Several varieties of Galanthus are scattered throughout the yard, all opening at various times through the winter and early spring--so they will continue to pop up when I least expect it. There are 'Giant Snowdrops', 'Common Snowdrops' and some that truly look like miniatures that are only now beginning to show the teensiest sign of a bud.


Galanthus nivalis (Common Snowdrop)



G. nivalis (Common Snowdrop)



G. elwesii (Giant Snowdrop)


Here is the only Scilla that began to pop out a tiny blue blossom a couple of days ago--so it shouldn't be too long until the whole flower begins to unfold. I planted a few more of them last year...



...also known as Squill



Crocus 'Romance' surprised me yesterday afternoon in one area of the garden, although like the Scilla, there is only one that showed its pretty head. The rest are all still in hiding.



And this one particular Hyacinth has been pushing out a bud for over a week and there is the faintest hint of blue.


Hyacinth (blue)

Golden Groundsel has evergreen foliage, generally in the heart-shaped leaf form. However, when it gets ready to form buds, they develop in longer, toothier-edged leaves. The buds start out reddish-purple, as they are right now (below):


Senecio aureus aka Packera aureus (Golden Groundsel, a native groundcover)

Last year, Golden Groundsel's buds looked like this in mid-March:



Golden Groundsel March, 2012


Later in the spring, they will turn bright yellow and look like an entirely different plant. Pretty cool! Here is a photo from last spring, the end of April:


Native Packera aureas (Golden Groundsel), April 28, 2012

Lastly...I found this mushroom/fungi growing on the edge of a small treestump in the yard. I thought it could be considered a 'bloom' so I'm including it smile




Narcissus have yet to flower in my yard, but foliage has been up for some time. I seem to have some late blooming daffodils...I guess I need to add some earlier bloomers.


I've been noticing all the Monarda foliage spreading throughout an area of the side garden. Maybe it will put on a good show this year, as I don't remember having so much of it in past years.  See all the squirrel holes (or deer tracks?)...they are all over the gardens.


Native Monarda didyma (Beebalm) foliage

Be sure to stop over at Carol's May Dream's Gardens to see what other gardeners around the world have blooming in mid-February.


What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Hellebores Beginning to Show Their Colors
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 01/30/13


Wow! So we went from the 20's last week to a high today of 72°, with temps dropping tomorrow to the 30's by Friday. So glad I could be in the garden this afternoon! Look what I found?! Helleborus 'Phoenix' was opened!


Helleborus 'Phoenix'


I cut back the old, tattered foliage on all the hellebores so I could see the new buds and flowers more closely. Some are already opening, others are looking very ready--


Helleborus x ballardiae 'Pink Frost'


Helleborus nigercors 'Green Corsican'



Still others, just starting to form buds.


Hellebore 'Gold Finch' (will have pinkish spots when fully opened!)


The H. niger has been blooming since November and buds and flowers from all stages continue to hang on...a very interesting hellebore.


Hellebore 'Niger' (flowers from November, December and January are still hanging on)


Even now, this same hellebore variety continues to form new buds


Opening bud of H. niger


Now that I've cut off the old foliage the buds will be more exposed to the cold weather that is headed here again in the next few days...but hellebores are tough plants and will withstand just about whatever comes there way. (Except overly soggy, wet conditions--with lack of drainage. In those cases, they might begin to rot and not do well). Hellebores are native to Europe...so no, they are NOT native to North America. However, they are wonderful shade tolerant plants and who could complain about buds and blooms in winter and early spring? They are definitely not invasive thugs so they are going to stay in my garden!



Helleborus 'Ashwood Doubles'


Helleborus 'Red Lady'


Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'


H. 'Ivory Prince'


I have quite a few of the H. hybridus. They are in various stages of development, with some being prolific bloomers and others just tiny seedlings. H. hybridus (also called H. orientalis) self-seeds pretty well and I've been able to transplant the seedlings to various areas of the gardens over the past couple of years.



Helleborus orientalis or H. hybridus


And for the finale, Galanthus elwesii, AKA 'Giant Snowdrop'. Isn't it cute?


Galanthus elwesii


For being 'giant', it is still really a small plant. This year, it's 3rd year in the garden, it has 3 flowers. In a few years, it should produce many more blooms. Galanthus are not native to North America, either. They are native to Europe. But they are in no danger of invading my garden so they get to stay, too.




What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Preparing for Spring – January Heat Wave
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/16/13


This is the time of year most gardeners begin to browse seed catalogs and dream of warmer days ahead. Typically, January is the month that winter really settles in and delivers its coldest, nastiest weather. However, this past weekend was anything but. Temperatures reaching into the mid-70s provided all the motivation I needed to get outside in the garden.

My garden to-do list is always long and one quick look around the yard confirmed that. Regardless, I decided to focus my attention on the spring vegetable garden. While planting is still a ways away, there are things that can be done now to get the soil conditioned for the spring planting season. This is the time to put all those shredded leaves I’ve collected this fall to good use. Leaves are packed with trace minerals and when added to the garden, leaves feed earthworms and beneficial microbes. They lighten heavy soils and help sandy soils retain moisture. And best of all, they’re free!

Once piled on the garden, I lightly work them into the soil. This will help them break-down even faster.

In addition to adding organic matter to the soil, turning the soil this time of year helps to keep winter weeds from becoming established and unearths burrowing pest that will hopefully be lapped up by the birds.

And speaking of birds – be sure to keep those feeders cleaned and stocked with fresh birdseed. Birds are more dependent on seed this time of year and can really benefit from our feeders, not to mention the satisfaction that we get from watching them!

Carolina Chickadee



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January 2013, Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 01/15/13


It's a chilly, rainy day here in northern Virginia, and there isn't much blooming in the garden on this January 15th. But since it is, after all, Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I made a short trek around the garden with my camera to see what's in bloom. Although none of my native plants are in bloom just yet, there are a few lovely blooms, nonetheless.


Snowdrops (Galanthus) are in bloom.  They are so very tiny and delicate, I had to bend way down to get these shots.  If I didn't make a special effort to look for them, I would almost certainly miss them.






Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) has been in bloom since November. If you look at the photos, you can see the blooms that are faded and look more tattered than the newer, whiter ones.




 A few other Hellebores have buds that are pretty far along and will be in full bloom soon.






Sweet Allysum has been flowering since I put it in a container arrangement last summer. It isn't something I plant often, but I was happy to see it continuing to bloom. For an annual, that's pretty cool, I think.





While not blooms, per se, the bright red berries on the Dwarf Nandina add a cheeriness to the garden.




Indoors, the Amaryllis (below) is holding on to the last stalk of 3, each stalk having had 3 blooms each.





To view more photos of blooms around the world on this day in January, visit Carol's blog, May Dreams Gardens.




What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Late Season Hummingbirds
by Alan Pulley - posted 09/04/12


It won’t be long before the rest of the Ruby-throated hummingbirds will be leaving my yard and traveling south to warmer regions for the winter. Many of the adults, especially males, have already left for the summer. They have been very active in the garden and around my feeders this summer, but I never get tired of watching them.

Many think that hummingbird feeders should be removed this time of year because it will interfere with their fall migration. For those unaware, that’s a myth. Hummingbirds will still migrate even if you don’t take down the feeders on Labor Day. It’s not the availability of food; it’s in response to hormonal changes, which are triggered by decreasing length of daylight.

Unless we get an early freeze, I’ll keep my hummingbird feeders up until Thanksgiving. It’s not uncommon to see migrating hummingbirds here in SE Virginia in late fall on warm days. They welcome the extra nourishment to help fuel their long flights.

In fact, hummingbirds will often return to the same feeder on the next trip north or south, just to see if it’s still there. Studies indicate that hummingbirds have great memories.

The recipe for hummingbird nectar is 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (no substitutes). I heat mine in a pot on the stovetop until the sugar is dissolved, and store any extra in a pitcher placed in the refrigerator. And don’t add red dye to the mixture. Most feeders are already red. If it’s not, tie a red ribbon or place a red bow on the feeder until they find it. Once they find it, they will keep coming back as long as it’s kept clean. Also, be sure to replace the sugar water in the feeder every few days.

An alternative to feeders is the use of flowers to attract hummingbirds – especially flowers that continue to bloom until frost. Check out some of their favorites in my garden right now.

Cardinal climber, also referred to as cypress vine, can twine 20 feet or more, but the little red tube like flowers are pretty small. The hummers are thankful that the flowers are still in bloom.

Nearby the cardinal climber is another favorite, Salvia guaranitica, ‘Black & Blue’ salvia.

Another salvia that’s on the menu is Salvia microphylla, 'Hot Lips' salvia.

And probably their favorite in my garden at the moment is Lonicera sempervirens, Coral honeysuckle.

Whether you provide a feeder or flowers to attract hummingbirds, take time to enjoy them in your own yard!




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Fall is for Planting
by Alan Pulley - posted 08/29/12

If you haven’t started yet, now is the time! I’m talking about fall gardening. It’s actually my favorite time to garden. After being shut-up in the AC during the dog days of late July and half of August, it’s time to venture back out in the garden to clean-up and make space for the second half of the gardening season.

Late summer is the best time to start a fall garden, especially when planting from seed. Getting an early start allows the plants to establish before the days grow short and cool. However, when possible, I prefer to start with seedlings when it comes to fall gardening. Look for seedlings of cool weather crops, including kale, collards, Asian greens, Swiss chard, lettuce, mustard, broccoli and cabbage at your local nursery or farmers market. Seedlings give you about a six-week jumpstart on seeds and require less work, since you don’t have to thin them. You can stick seedlings in around larger summer vegetables that are still producing or clear an entire bed for fall crops—either way, be sure to dig in an inch or two of compost before planting for the best results.

Seedlings, Fall Gardening

Once you have your fall garden established, consider extending the seasonAll of the vegetables I mentioned above thrive in cooler weather. You can leave the plants exposed, but mulching around them with a thick layer of straw and building a simple hoop house over your bed and covering it with plastic or a heavy row cover will help to extend the growing season and protect the plants from frost. (Click here to get plans for building a simple hoop house).

Hoop House, Fall Gardening

As our autumn days grow shorter and cooler, the plants slow down and by mid-winter they’ll just sit tight and wait for better growing conditions. At this point, patience is called for on your part. Arugula, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard often survive the winter and put on a big surge of growth in early March, which means you can start harvesting homegrown salads before most people plant their peas!



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Sunflowers in the Garden
by Alan Pulley - posted 08/11/12


One of my favorite summertime annuals is the sunflower. Sunflowers come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. They begin blooming in late summer and provide lots of color at a time when lots of other blooms begin to fade. However, the main reason I enjoy growing them in my own garden is for their wildlife value.

Sunflowers are great companion plants planted near a vegetable garden. They attract lots of pollinators as well as other beneficial insects that help contribute to the overall health of the garden. They also attract lots of butterflies and would make a great selection for the butterfly garden as well. As sunflowers mature, birds, especially finches, love to feed on their protein-rich seeds. It’s an all-around great summer annual for the attracting wildlife to the garden.

Many varieties nowadays come in various colors and have more than one bloom on the stalk, like these ‘Sunny Babe’ Sunflowers.

A new sunflower I added to my own garden this year is Tithonia, aka Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora). While it is related, it’s not a sunflower in the conventionally known sense. It’s slightly shorter in height and has larger, bushier leaves coming out of its stem. The center part of the flower is yellow as opposed to the regular sunflower's brownish color. Many compare the flower to the looks of a dahlia, but the color ranges in different varieties are only found in the red-yellow-orange portion of the spectrum. It’s native to Mexico and Central America.

This flower is an excellent attractant for butterflies, hummingbirds and lots of other pollinators.

These guys grow to a height of 5 to 7 feet! I’ll definitely be saving seeds from these for next year.

This was a volunteer sunflower that came up near my birdfeeder filled with sunflower seeds. Notice the large shaped disk.

This sunflower was definitely bred for seed production. This variety (unknown) would make an excellent choice for attracting birds to the backyard. I’ll try to save some of these seeds for next year if the birds don’t beat me to it first.

Sunflowers are an all-time garden favorite that provide that feel-good cheery aspect to the garden. They are remarkably tough and easy to grow. Give them a try in your own garden.



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Color Combinations in the Garden
by Alan Pulley - posted 07/11/12


I hope everyone is having a great summer and a fantastic gardening season. Hopefully your garden is in full bloom and bursting with color. One of my favorite aspects of gardening is working with various color combinations. Understanding a few basic principles can help explain why certain combinations work, and others don’t.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to color in the garden. It’s all a matter of personal taste. For some, a riot of color is just the ticket, while others prefer to work with a softer palette. Colors such as red and oranges are referred to as warm or hot colors, while colors such as blue and green can offer a feeling of coolness. Combinations of pastels create a softer, peaceful mood in the garden. It’s all up to you.

Some of my favorite combinations in my own garden just happened by chance, so don’t be afraid to experiment with colors in your own garden.


Consider combining flower color with foliage of other plants, like the blooms of verbena ‘Purple Homestead’ with the chartreuse color of Spirea ‘Goldmound’ shown above. Bark, fruit and other plant features add to the palette as well.

When planning your own color scheme, keep in mind that most garden designers agree that color combinations are more effective when large masses of color are used versus just using single plants in a scheme. Group your plants together for maximum impact.



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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Coming To Terms With Aster Yellows Disease
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 07/05/12


Darling you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

If you say that you are mine

I'll be here til the end of time

So you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?--The Clash, 1981


I really didn't want to have to talk about this. It's not something I've been looking forward to. But I had to reach out for help before it's too late and I'm 'taken out'. Literally.



*If my Echinacea could talk, this is what it would be saying right now!


I am a Coneflower. Echinacea purpurea, to be exact. I am a magnet for pollinators!





Over the last several years the head master gardener here, Jan, has come to realize the importance of native plants and began adding me and my pals to the gardens.




Here in Just-Be Gardens, I am mostly true-to-the-native-form (but a couple of my friends are cultivars, such as E. 'Pink Double Delight', above.)




Along the way, my head master gardener was intrigued by some of the new cultivars and brought home several, such as E. 'Pixie Meadowbright', E. 'Kim's Knee High', E. 'Magnus', E. 'Cocunut Lime'--but many of them did not return the following year.



That has been 'OK' with Jan, because she learned that pollinators have a lot of difficulty entering those fluffy, frilly cultivars and that in many cases, they are sterile and don't produce much pollen to begin with. And being sterile means they produce no seeds to reproduce themselves or most especially, to feed the birds such as goldfinches, that are looking to snack on their seedheads...such as these Rudbeckia--Black Eyed Susan's--provide in a different area of Jan's garden:




But I will say, strictly speaking as a coneflower, E. 'Pink Double Delight' has been a highlight of my time in Just-Be Gardens. She has come back year after year and even though she's got 'frills', she's always covered with my insect friends.



It's not that it isn't okay to have some of the cultivars of Echinacea, if you like them...just be sure you also provide some natives so my pollinator friends can actually get some substantial sustenance like pollen and seeds!



At any rate, there's a big problem lately here in Just-Be Gardens, and the head master gardener seems to think the only way to solve it is to rip us out.



We all seem to be plagued by a new 'oddity' that has never entered these gardens before. Jan has tried to ignore it, claiming to 'accept' us with our flaws and not judge only by outward appearances.



After talking to some other gardeners and doing some research, however, my Echinacea friends and I are afraid she has come to the haltingly grim conclusion that we have got to go!  (We wondered what she's been doing this past year in her Master Gardener classes...and now we're not so sure we're happy with some of her new-found knowledge)!



We really don't look THAT ugly, do we? What harm can come from letting us stay, I ask you?



It seems that we've got something called Aster Yellows. It's a disease caused by an organism called a phytoplasma--similar to a virus or bacteria.



The phytoplasma is sucked up by leafhoppers, which feed on us and then pass it from plant to plant.




Perhaps you've seen something like the white substance on the hosta shoot, below? Ever wonder what that was? It's not a disease...it's leafhoppers! Leafhoppers don't really hurt the hosta...so they can just be hosed off, wiped off, or allowed to stay, if you're ok with their visiting.



But leafhoppers carry the phytoplasma organism from this damaging Aster Yellows disease to many other plants, particularly Echinacea...but also to Rudbeckia, along with hundred of other kinds of plants in a variety of families.



I have to agree with the head master gardener here, it would be sad if our disease was transmitted to her other plants, which would not only make them look deformed, but continue the cycle even further.



If we aren't yanked pulled up out of the ground and thrown in the garbage disposed of, we won't necessarily die this year, but next year when we produce our flowers they will likely still have the disease, and it might even be worse than what we have now.



So, I guess this is goodbye from all most of us Echinacea at Just-Be Gardens:( The head master gardener has said she won't rip out any of us that aren't showing signs of the disease, but will be keeping a close eye on us and the first time she spots it again, out the next ones will go, too. This isn't something to fool around with and Jan is right to throw us out bury us. But she has said she is going to continue to grow us, because she loves us.


Sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love, I guess. Such is life in the real world, and in the gardening world.


Since native plants are important to me and included in the subject of this post, I've added it to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday meme at her Clay and Limestone blog.


Until next time,


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.




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Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: June, 2012
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 06/16/12


Color is everywhere in my gardens. Here's a sampling of 'what's blooming' for June's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day:


Front Gardens:


Top Left to Right, clockwise: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), Blazing Star (Liatris)--with Butterfly Weed, and BeeBalm (Monarda)




L-R, clockwise: Indian Blanket Flower 'Mesa Yellow' (Gaillardia) with Dianthus, Hydrangea, Veronica 'Royal Candles', pink Guara



There are at least 6 huge patches of Balloon Flower in the garden this year



Russian Sage with Butterfly Weed interspersed with the red blooms of Salvia greggi

Veronica 'Icicle' and 'Red Fox'




More Coneflowers getting ready to bloom





Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) *Just brought this home from a plant sale at our Master Gardener's Teaching Garden












This Coneflower looks diseased or damaged; not sure what is wrong with it!


Front Porch:


Geraniums that I over-wintered from last year...in a cardboard box in the garage. They have come back nicely!



Back Gardens:


Asiatic Lilies:






Woodland Pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica)


Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)

Hydrangeas with insect visitors:







Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)


Side Garden near garage:


Blackeyed Susan, Beebalm and the red bloom (center) of Coral Bells (Heuchera) 'Rave On'



Daylilies and Carpet Roses



Other Plants Blooming in Various Areas of the Gardens:


Japanese Aster going strong *from my friend Janet 'The Queen of Seaford'...

Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) 'Major Wheeler'

Spiderwort (Tradescantia) 'Sweet Kate'


Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) 'John Clayton'


Celandine Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) are still producing blooms!


Rosa Rugosa


Agastache 'Blue Boa' (new this year).

 Carpet Roses red, and pink:







Spurge (Euphorbia) 'Ascot Rainbow'


False Spirea




Aaron's Beard (St John's Wort)



Green and Gold




Many of the Hostas are now blooming (I would like to feature them in a future post).

Brazillian Verbena, Phlox, Catmint and even a Brunnera is blooming. Several water garden plants in my stream are also blooming. I have various containers with flowers such as petunias and impatience. And I want to show you what I did with some Succulents in containers and 'Watering Cans' that I punched holes in the bottoms and planted:














We are off to Maine to visit relatives all next week. I hope my garden survives while I'm gone;-)



If you'd like to see more blooms from around the globe, stop by Carol's May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.


What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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March Blooms Way Ahead of Schedule
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 03/15/12


As others in various parts of the country have been noticing, this was the winter that wasn't. At least where I live it wasn't was;~}  Many of my plants are at least 2 weeks ahead this year. Others seem more like months ahead...



Dicentra, Brunnera and Pulmonaria did not bloom until April last year...but not this year! 


Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart)

Dicentra spectabilis 'alba'


Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Buglose)

Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash' (Lungwort)

I have barely been able to keep up with the blooms that pop daily out of the ground and begin to show off their colors. Every day I walk through the garden and take photos--and without fail, the very next day, there is something new. Sometimes it all happens within the same day: I'll go for a garden walk in the morning, and again in the afternoon--and there is frequently something new that has emerged or opened up within a span of a few hours. It's overwhelming at times, very surprising, and wonderful!



Mertensia surprised me about a week ago...


Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)


...and Hepatica has been blooming for at least a week and a half--again, weeks before last year as shown in my March 23, 2011 post.







Hepatica acutiloba 'f. rosea'


Hepatica nobilis 'v. acuta' (white)


Hepatica nobilis (Liverwort) pink

This has been the best March I can ever remember! (Of course, February was pretty good, too. Plants were surprising me then, as well). It's just that this month, some of the plants that have opened don't usually bloom until later on in the spring. So it sometimes feels as if I've hit the jackpot when I do a walk-through! Look at my Bloom Day post from mid-March, 2011. There wasn't much blooming last year! This year things are definitely different.



The Kerria opened on the 15th--my post on Kerria from a year ago showed it opening the last week of the month (about the 27th).






Kerria japonica


Helleborus niger (Christmas Rose) started blooming in January, which is normal...but many Helleborus hybrids were blooming in February, and by early March, all were blooming. (Except for those gnawed off by squirrels. Luckily I have found a way to keep them at bay and have been spraying with Bobbex regularly. It seems to be working!).



Decided to beat the squirrels and pick off a few blooms before they could get to them!


Buds are ready to pop on the native Rue Anemone:



Anemonella thalictroides (Rue anemone)

In fact, on one of them, they already have:




Just planted Fritillaria bulbs (in January--very late!) so this is the first I've had one coming into bloom in my garden. I don't know if it's early or not, but I'm happy I 'Bobbexed' it before the critters could get to it:


Fritillaria meleagris  (Checkered Daffodil, aka Snakes Head)


Lots of Heuchera are up and have small blooms already (such as Heuchera 'Georgia Peach', and others). Heucherella is also blooming in my garden:



Heucherella 'Day Glow Pink' (Coral Bells and Tiarella combo)


As are the Tiarella...many are leafing out and sending out blooms:


Tiarella cordifolia (Foam Flower)


The Arabis has taken off, as has the Creeping Phlox (both lining the driveway):


Left: Arabis 'Snow Cap' (Rock Cress) and Right: Phlox subulata (Creeping Phlox)


Iberis sempervirens 'Purity' (Candytuft)

Euphoria 'Blackbird' with blooms opening:


Euphorbia 'Blackbird'


Blooming for a couple of weeks, with plants opening at various times, are Hyacinth:


Hyacinths...Blue and Pink  (Surprisingly few of the pink varieties have bloomed at this point...

but that's ok, since the blues are my faves)


...and of course, Narcissus.  While some daffodils bloomed early and are finished, others are still in full bloom, with yet my newest varieties just now popping their foliage through the soil. I'll upload the newer ones when they start to bloom, but those that have been in bloom and are currently blooming are:


2 unidentified Narcissus varieties, with Hyancith 



Narcissus--unidentified smaller bloom, many have still not flowered yet.



Narcissus 'Jetfire'

 Pieris 'Valley Valentine' has really increased her blossoms since my last post:





Hydrangea is really budding out...


Hydrangea is really filling out

The Trillium haven't bloomed yet but are above ground, fairly early;  I just hope I can stay ahead of the squirrels with the 'Bobbex'.  So far, so good:



Trillium recurvatum (Bloody Butchar)


Trillium luteum (Yellow Wakerobin)


More T. recurvatum 'Red Trillium'


Trillium pusillum (Dwarf Wakerobin)


I was surprised over a week ago when Polemonium began to bloom...


Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob's Ladder)

It just gets more lovely each day:



I just planted light blue Muscari (in January, when I planted other bulbs) and they are coming up nicely:



Muscari 'Valerie finnis' (light blue)



3 crocus varieties have been blooming for a couple of weeks:


Crocus 'Blue/White Striped'


Crocus 'Romance'


Crocus 'Ruby Giant'


Many Iris reticulata are still blooming--but I think they are about finished:




I was really surprised to see Golden Groundsel already in bud...it was not this early last year (I got it last year at Carolyn's Shade Gardens in April and didn't bloom until late April)!



Native Senecio aureus (Golden Groundsel, aka Squaw Weed) *The blooms will be bright yellow.

With several Forsythia varieties, 2 have been in bloom for about a week, with one type a much later bloomer. It's funny to see in person, as they are planted right next to each other:




A 3rd variety is planted in a different location, with about half of the branches in bloom:




Creeping Speedwell and Lamium are really pretty on one side of the house:



Veronica (Creeping Speedwell)


Lamium maculatum (spotted dead nettle)

Bloodroot was another plant that I posted for Bloom Day last year in mid-April...this year, it bloomed  before mid-March!



Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)


Another batch of Bloodroot, in bloom



I am linking this with Garden Bloggers Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens. GBBD is on the 15th of each month, and features garden bloggers around the world who show us what is blooming in their part of the planet.  Even though I am a few days late, my photos show a pretty good 'mid month view' of my Virginia garden. After I publish this, I can guarantee something will have changed in the garden. Another bud will have opened up, another plant sprouted. I'll walk outside and hosta leaves will have shot up a quarter of an inch from where they were this morning. It is truly a season of change!


Well, that's all for now. I hope you are discovering gifts every day in your garden of life, too:-)


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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What’s Blooming Now
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 03/08/12


It's March 8th and I've decided to show 'what's blooming right now' in my garden. The last time I blogged was in January and I had 'vowed' to blog at least twice a month. Somehow, February completely slipped away without a single post. Did anyone notice?! Probably not!



Crocus 'Romance' (Just planted bulbs in January!)







I took photos daily, or at least several times a week, throughout the month of February, so it's all 'on record' if I want to share anything. I'm not sure what the reason for lack of blogging was, but it could have been the fact that most of my blooming plants were being completely destroyed by squirrels. It was kind of depressing, to say the least!


Anyway, I just noticed today that the Candytuft is blooming...it seems early to me:


Iberis sempervirins (Candytuft)

The Pulmonaria started blooming in late February...I could hardly believe it. Much earlier than last year!:


Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash' (Lungwort)


 Here are some of the Hellebore's that are and have been blooming. Some since January, most of the others were blooming the whole month of February. I couldn't show them in February, however, because they were gnawed and eaten, with blooms cut off and looking scraggly! I finally got some good 'critter spray' (Bobbex) and have had good luck with it so these photos show 'intact' plants. (Wait until my next post when I show all the ugliness that the squirrels created here...!):


Helleborus hybridus








Helleborus hybridus (Pine Knot Strain)






A couple of different Hellebores...both 'hybrids'.

(The one below had part of the flower eaten by

squirrels but you can still see the pretty interior as

it opened up).




Helleborus hybridus 'Phoenix'

H. 'Phoenix' (above) was totally chewed off so I had to wait for a new flower to form...





Corsican Hellebore was the only plant that wasn't touched by the squirrels:

Helleborus x nigercors 'Green Corsican'





I have a lot more Hellobores but couldn't show any blooms because either they bloomed and were destroyed, or they haven't bloomed yet. As I said earlier, I have another post 'brewing' about that issue.


I think it's early for Hepatica, compared to last year:

H. nobilis:

Hepatica nobilis (Liverwort)


H. acutiloba:

Hepatica acutiloba (Sharp-lobed Hepatica) - pink



Same with Jacob's Ladder...it is much earlier than last year!:


Polymonium reptans 'Jacob's Ladder'



I just planted these Iris reticulata bulbs in January...so not sure if they are 'early' or not. They began blooming over a week ago:


Iris reticulata (Just planted bulbs in January!)




Daffodils have been blooming for a few weeks, on and off...but I still have several varieties that haven't even broken ground yet. Here are some I've had for years...nothing 'special', really. I planted a bunch of new ones in January and will photograph them when they bloom...






I had to show this guy...usually I'd pull him out but in February, he was welcome!


Dandelion (so-called 'weed' but adds color!)


Veronica repens (ground creeper)


Pieris japonica (Andromeda) 'Valley Valentine'


Vinca Minor (*An 'invasive' vine but I keep it contained, although I wouldn't mind getting rid of

it entirely! I do admire the blue flowers, though)


Ilex Berries (Holly Tree) -- just because it's pretty against the blue sky

If you noticed a white 'film' on any of the plants, it is spray to keep away the squirrels and deer. You might wonder why it would be on things like daffodils, hellebore and pieris. If I didn't know better, I would wonder myself. However, it is necessary, believe me! I have a whole series of photos showing the damage and destruction caused by squirrels alone. I have never had so much hellebore damage. It's a crime, it really is! I'll explain in my next post...


Until then, did you remember to say

Thanks for Today! Unwrap the present; discover the gifts! ?


What gifts did you discover today?



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Collecting Compost
by Alan Pulley - posted 02/20/12

There’s not much out there that can improve garden soil better than good old fashion compost. Compost can be purchased at most garden centers, but what’s the fun in that, especially when it can be made for FREE!

Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus which stimulates plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It's also easy to make and good for the environment. A compost heap can be as simple as a pile of garden debris in the corner of the backyard, or as elaborate as the classic 3-bay system.

My compost bin is a simple single bin structure consisting of four metal corner posts.

This is just one of many ideas that can be used to collect yard waste.

All that’s needed in this setup is to attach the 1” X 6” boards (sold separately) to form the square bin.

The location of a compost bin is an important aspect to consider as well. A convenient sunny spot, somewhere between the house and garden works well. If possible, try to locate the compost area away from nearby trees or shrubs, where their roots will eventually invade the rich soil and suck out the nutrients. Also, placing the bin near a water source is a good idea as well, because periodically it will need to be watered during dry spells. Keeping the pile damp and stirred-up on a regular basis will help speed up the compost making process.

And don’t just limit composting to outside materials. There’s lots of stuff inside that can be composted as well, especially in the kitchen. To make it convenient, I use a small indoor compost bucket to collect things like egg shells, vegetable clippings and left over fruit peels and parts.

Most of these come equipped with an activated charcoal filter in the lid to help absorb odors. However, keeping it emptied often will keep the odors from developing. Or, keeping the kitchen scraps in the refrigerator until ready to dump in the outdoor bin is another option I’ve heard that works well against odors.

And to make it all even simpler, I use the bio trash bags to line the inside of the container. These bags keep the pail clean inside, and when ready to empty, the bag and all can be dumped in the outdoor compost bin where it all breaks down together.

If you’re not already composting, give it a try this spring - the soil will benefit and your plants will reward you in return.

For more information on composting check out the following link: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-703/426-703.html



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The 15th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count
by Alan Pulley - posted 02/03/12


Are you ready? The 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming up February 17-20, 2012.

Anyone can participate in this 4-day event. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun and easy—and it helps the birds too. I look forward to participating a few hours every year.

Make sure your local birds are represented in the count—they won’t count unless YOU do! Everything you need to know to participate is on the website at www.birdcount.org, including downloadable instructions, FAQs, and a how-to video. Get a regional list of the birds you might see in your area this time of year so you can brush up on your identification skills ahead of time.

Feel free to share your 2012 GBBC experience, results, etc. in the comments below. I would love to hear how you did. Good luck!



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Backyard Birds—We’ve Got ‘Em Here!
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 01/23/12


Every year we look forward to an influx of colorful birds in our yard. The numbers generally pick up in January, and usually coincide with colder temperatures. While birds are here at any given time throughout the year, there is more obvious activity at the feeders during the winter months:


Finches and a Bluebird at one of the feeding stations


What do we do to attract the birds?  One thing we do is provide a variety of seeds, nuts and berries in several different bird feeders.  Black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower nuts, peanut pieces, safflower seed, nijer seed, and suet is available and enjoyed by many different birds.  Here are some birds on the suet feeders:


Downy Woodpecker (female) on suet feeder



Downy Woodpecker (male) on suet feeder


Starling on suet feeder


Carolina Chickadee on suet feeder


Eastern Bluebirds on suet feeder




Here are others on the seed feeders:


Eastern Bluebird



Eastern Bluebirds (Male and Female)



Eastern Bluebirds and House Finch




Red Winged Blackbird




Female Cardinal



Northern Cardinal (male)


Downy Woodpecker (female)


Carolina Wren


Downy Woodpecker and Starling





American Goldfinch

  Nijer (Thistle Seed) feeder:


American Goldfinch




Eastern Bluebird (male)


House Finch (female)



Despite the food offerings, probably the most important thing we do is offer water. Birds love bird seed, but they need water. We started out with a heated birdbath which the birds really love because it prevents the water from freezing over:


Eastern Bluebird (male)


Bluebird (female)


Male House Finch and Female Bluebird


Female (L) and Male (R) Bluebirds


Female Goldfinch

Last summer we also installed a meandering stream. It has proven to be an attractive addition and/or alternative to the birdbath and I've immensely enjoyed watching the birds get to know it:


American Robin


Mourning Dove


House Finch (male) and Goldfinch (male)


Goldfinch (female)


Dark Eyed Juncos


Eastern Bluebird (male) and Junco (male)


Bluebird (female) and Junco (female)


Something else that helps to make the birds feel safe is having some shelter, such as evergreens or bushes/shrubs that don't lose their leaves in the winter. We planted Leyland Cypress on either side of the house, and birds can frequently be seen resting on the bows of the trees, seemingly hidden from sight (except for mine!):


Male (L) and Female (R) Northern Cardinals


We also have holly trees in the front yard, and on either side of the house. This morning I spotted this colorful guy up in the icy-covered branches:


Northern Cardinal (male)


Many birds don't even go to the feeders, but enjoy the food that drops to the ground:


Dark Eyed Junco



Tree White Throated Sparrow (I had my short lens on and had to enlarge this photo to see it. Not the clearest photo...)


Even when birds aren't eating, they are simply fun to watch, as they hop on railings, bird feeder poles or tree branches:


House Finch (male)


House Finch (female)


Northern Cardinal (male)



Mourning Dove



American Goldfinch



House Finch and Eastern Bluebird


Eastern Bluebird (male)


Eastern Bluebird (female)



Downy Woodpeckers


White Breasted Nuthatch


Brown Creeper


I hope you've enjoyed these photos--I have captured them all within the past couple of weeks. Our weather has finally gotten cold and we've had a little snow a couple of times and even a minor 'icing'. I've said it before, but I do believe it: Winter is for the birds!


What do you do to attract birds?



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Time to Plan
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/16/12


By now many of you have received your favorite gardening catalog(s) in the mail – and that’s a good thing because January is National Mail Order Gardening Month. It’s not just about seeds anymore; purchasing plants by mail has come a long way since the early days. Often, it’s the only way to get the unusual, hard to find plants. Remember though, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whether you’re looking to buy or just daydreaming, garden catalogs are a great resource and can help bring a little springtime indoors during the winter months.

While we’re still a ways away from planting most things, garden vegetables like peas and potatoes are two of the earliest crops that can be planted in the garden. Both are highly productive and easy to grow. According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension vegetable planting guide and recommended planting dates, garden peas (sugar snap and snow peas) can be planted as early as February, and potatoes soon after that. Dates vary a little depending on where you garden in Virginia. Refer to the planting guide to see when the recommended planting times are in your area.

Whether its vegetables or flowers, take a little time this winter and plan out your spring garden, it’ll be here before you know it.



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Fire, Ice, Snow and Bulbs
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 01/12/12


Last Thursday found the edges and still sections of our stream glazed over with ice crystals. It was a pretty sight to view up close:









The next day, I awoke extra-early and glanced outside to see an unusually fiery, spectacular sunrise:






There's an old saying that goes, 'Red sky in the morning, sailor's take warning'...but that did not end up applying. As it turned out, last Friday was a pretty day and no 'warnings' were necessary.


The dogs spent more time than usual romping around in the back yard. It was not at all cold--quite mild, as I remember--although I don't recall the exact temperature:


James, our Standard Poodle



Ginny, our Miniature Dachshund



Later that afternoon, I remembered the boxes that had been sitting in the garage since mid-November. Their contents were not 'inexpensive' yet I had lazily set them aside, seemingly willing to forget them. The two shipments of spring bulbs had arrived in the mail well into the fall planting season and I had promptly placed them in the garage, where they sat, as one excuse led to another and I (almost) made peace with the fact that they would rot and I'd just throw them all out. Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Years Day passed by until, finally, this uncommonly beautiful Friday in January jump-started me into taking a look at them. Out of 433 bulbs, only the Erythronium 'Pagoda' had gotten soft and begun to rot. Suddenly I was excited that the remaining bulbs (all 428 of them!) were fine.


When I proclaimed that I would tackle the bulbs on Saturday, I had no idea that I would wake up to what could have passed as spring--maybe even summer in some climates--but that's exactly what happened! It turned out to be a 70 degree day! So in jeans and just a t-shirt, I planted about half of them in the backyard gardens and along the fence in the side yard:






Sunday turned out to be slightly cooler, but 50 degrees was still great bulb-planting weather and jeans and a light jacket were all that were needed. The ground was still workable, so I got everything else in except for 40 Narcissi, the 3 Allium and a few Crocus and Anemone--which I saved for the following day.


What I didn't foresee was that Monday would bring 30 degree temps and snow--and with it, my ski-jacket and wool hat! Nonetheless, I finished the job, planting the remaining bulbs in pots on the deck:



It felt good to have planted hope! I am looking forward to the color they will bring in mid to late winter and early to mid spring!




Additional views of Muscari plantings:

Muscari 'Valerie Finnis' was planted along the top and sides which surround the waterfall

...Iris reticulata plantings along stream edges:

Iris reticulata was planted along the edges of the stream

Since our brief snow on Monday, the weather has remained moderately temperate. Last night we had a long, soaking rain. Today was up into the 60's. I am wondering if all of the bulbs I planted are going to rot in the ground. When will winter arrive? Here in northern Virginia, it's keeping us guessing. Has it arrived where you live?


*List of Bulbs planted include: 10 Fritillaria meleagris; 3 Allium 'Globemaster'; 30 Anemone blanda 'White Splendour'; 90 Iris reticulata; 30 Scilla siberica; 30 Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'; 30 Dutch Crocus (Blue/White Striped); 100 Species Crocus--50 'Ruby Giant' and 50 'Romance'; and 105 Narcissus--25 'Jetfire', 20 Dutch Master, 20 'Orangery', 20 'Professor Einstein' and 20 'Tahiti'.


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Winter Garden Chores – It’s for the Birds
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/02/12


Happy New Year! As the excitement of the holidays and the new year begin to dwindle, other things begin to pre-occupy our time. As a gardener, one of the things that come to mind is cleaning up last year’s garden. I’m talking about all those dirty chores that involve deadheading, pruning, pulling and whatever other tidying up the garden needs prior to spring. For most of us it’s a yearly ritual once everything has died back; however, I think I’m going to skip this garden chore for now. Whatta ya think? Who’s with me?

If you enjoy attracting and watching birds in your garden like I do, try leaving a few areas of the garden “untidy” this winter. All those standing stems, leaves and seedheads provide food, shelter and nesting materials for birds and other little creatures, and removing them all now removes important food and shelter for wildlife. In addition, frost and snow add character to a winter garden that has standing grasses and steams still intact.

Stands of dead plants also help the soil retain moisture and stabilize ground temperature, as well as helping prevent soil compacting and erosion from rain and snow. Small birds scratch in this soft leaf litter, feeding on worms, grubs and seeds.

In my landscape, debris from those areas that do require a little cleanup in the fall and winter get piled up in the corner of the back yard, where they serve as shelter and roosting places for small song birds. Brush piles add instant shelter and safety to your backyard bird habitat and are also a great way to practice habitat conservation by reusing the yard waste rather than filling up the landfill.

My current backyard brush pile:

Consider these ideas in your own garden this winter. The birds will thank you for it and you’ll save yourself a little work, guilt free!



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Mistletoe: Not Just for Kissing
by Alan Pulley - posted 12/21/11


Tis the season for mistletoe! Most would agree that the Christmas season and mistletoe go hand in hand. I remember my dad shooting it out of the trees when I was a youngster.  According to folklore, after every kiss under the mistletoe one of the berries was plucked, and once all the berries where gone, there was no more kissing.

American mistletoe can be found all throughout eastern and southern forest of the US, and is especially fond of maple trees. It’s unveiled each year when the last of the leaves fall from the trees and reveal their clumps of green, ball-shaped foliage growing among the tree branches.

There’s more to mistletoe than just holiday tradition. Believe it or not, it plays an important part in our ecosystem. Mistletoe is a host plant for the great purple hairstreak butterfly, and is the only plant that its larva will eat.

Mistletoe is also a good winter food source for birds. Birds feast on the female mistletoe’s white berries, which are toxic to humans, and then spread the sticky seeds to other trees through their droppings. From there it takes root into the tree. It’s considered a hemiparasite because it doesn’t live entirely off the tree. Mistletoe generates its own photosynthesis; however, it does depend on the tree for its food and water, enough so that the tree could die from a heavy infestation – but in most cases, that’s not the case.

For the most part, this unique native is harmless and its benefits to wildlife and our holiday enjoyment outweigh its potential invasiveness.

I want to personally wish everyone a happy and safe holiday!!




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A Tribute to Berries
by Alan Pulley - posted 11/24/11

As trees and other garden blooms begin fade this time of year, other plants begin to peak in color. I try to be creative in my own garden by adding color throughout the year. One of my favorite ways to do this in the winter months is with berries. Berries add an extra dimension to the garden and enhance the backdrop for the cold and dreary months ahead – and as a bonus, attract and provide food for many birds.

Winter holly has to top the list in my landscape. This time of year they drop their leaves and leave a massive amount of red berries. This particular variety is 'Sparkleberry'.

Another winter deciduous holly in my garden is 'Winter Gold'. These berries start out bright orange and slowly turn to yellow as the season progresses.

Nandina 'compacta' is another heavy berry producer. These berries will be bright red by Thanksgiving. They're great to use in holiday arrangements.

One of my favorite berry producing trees in the landscape is the 'Winter King Hawthorne' (Crataegus viridis). Winter king is a small deciduous tree that features white flowers in spring. In the fall small, crabapple-like fruits mature to a bright red and persist throughout the winter, or until the birds get to them.

Consider incorporating berries in your own garden to brighten up the landscape on those cold winter days.


I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!



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Wordless Wednesday: Garden Blogger Bloom Day
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 11/16/11

Today I'm thankful for the flowers that continue to bloom in my mid-November garden:


                                                                                                                                                                   (*click on photos to enlarge)





...and in the containers, a few colorful blooms also remain:




Yesterday was Garden Bloggers Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens. Despite a yard full of leaves covering just about every inch of garden space, I wanted to share the few colorful blooms that managed to survive our recent bizarre temperature fluctuations and unusual precipitation in the form of frost, snow and rain, interspersed with temps between the 30's and 70's on any given day.


Now, here is what my gardens REALLY look like right now:








It isn't much to look at, is it?! The leaves continue to fall--and the trees are still mostly full(!) The oaks won't lose their leaves much later...so I will probably not clean up the yard until mid-to-late winter.  The leaves serve as a protective cover for the perennials and I like the way the landscape looks when the snow falls on my perennials, so I probably won't cut them back until later, as well. There are a few winter bloomers, such as Hellebore, that I will uncover a bit later, to be sure not to miss those pretty blooms. Everything else can just wait.


Oops, this turned out to be a more 'Wordy' Wednesday than I'd planned...oh well...wink


Here's wishing you a wonderful week!

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Osage Orange
by Les Parks - posted 10/29/11

     Osage oranges (Maclura pomifera) are fairly common in Virginia, and according to National Register of Big Trees,the state is home to one of the two co-champions as well as the previous champion. The trees are common enough that one might be tempted to think they have always grown here.  In fact, they are originally native to a small area of the southern plains, but now this very hardy tree grows over much of the United States.  The first Virginians to encounter this tree were Lewis and Clark, who sent cuttings back to Thomas Jefferson. 


     I have liked this tree from childhood, long before I knew what it was or cared about anything horticultural.  What attracted me was the fruit, which was used effectively as painful projectiles lobbed at my brother. More adult members of my family would put the oddly attractive fruit into bowls as something pretty to look at, but would also enjoy the fruit's fragrance, which is reminiscent of oranges, hence the tree's common name.  The fruit is also said to repel a number of insects, including cockroaches and crickets, and compounds in the fruit are being studied as a natural alternative to  DEET in the mosquito fight.


     The wood of the tree is pound for pound some of the densest of any species and has some remarkable properties.  It was the preferred source of bow wood for several native tribes and later as tool handles.  The close grained wood is very rot resistant and was used as long-lasting fence posts.  As firewood it provides more BTU's than any other native tree.  The tree itself was widely planted before the invention of barbed wire as a hedge row, and if kept pruned stays very thick and dense, while its thorns keep large animals in bounds.  perfectly suited for the environment, it was also widely planted as a wind break on the prairies.


     Osage Oranges will grow anywhere from 25 to 50' tall and wide and prefer full sun to light shade.  They are capable of withstanding heavily acidic or alkaline soils, are drought tolerant once established, are long-lived and are hardy from zones 4 to 9.  If you would like to grow one in your own garden, you will likely have to take a cutting or grow one from seed, as they are almost non-existent in the nursery trade.  This tree is dioecious, meaning male and females are on seperate trees, so if you want the fruit get a female, which will still bear without a male nearby.   


Les Parks 




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A Different Kind of Mum: ‘Sheffield Pink’
by Alan Pulley - posted 10/22/11


While there may be fewer blooming flowers now than in the spring, the fall bloomers do their best to make up the difference. Check out this gorgeous mum named ‘Sheffield Pink’ (or just plain ‘Sheffield,’ as it’s also called). It’s quickly become one of my fall-time favorites.

I’ll have to admit that I’m not a mum guy. I’m customarily one of those who buy a couple potted mums each fall, place them on the steps with a pumpkin, and toss it all in the compost after Thanksgiving. But the Sheffield’s not your typical box store mum. These look more natural in the landscape than florist mums, and require little or no pinch back. ‘Sheffield Pink’ has 2 to 3-inch wide, pastel-pink blooms in October, lasting a month or more. As with any garden mum, ‘Sheffield’ will spread quickly and behaves best if divided regularly, but not necessary if you have the room for it. The other good thing I’ve learned about this plant is that it can tolerate drought. What more could you ask for?


What are your favorite fall bloomers?



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Frogs and Toads of Virginia
by Alan Pulley - posted 10/13/11


As a new Virginia Master Naturalist, I’m always on the lookout for new guides and publications relating to nature for our region. One such book I recently purchased is A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia. This new guide, put out by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), covers all 27 species of frogs and toads that inhabit Virginia. It’s a guide meant to help with identifying the frogs and toads of our state, and provide insights into their ecology, distribution and behavior. Included with this guide is an audio CD of frog calls to help identify frogs and toads by sound.

As a child, I loved frogs. There was nothing more I enjoyed than catching a big bull frog along the edge of a nearby farm pond. I spent many a Saturday and Sunday knee deep in the mud doing just that. Now, as a gardener, I like them for different reasons. Frogs and toads eat lots of insects and are a sure sign of a healthy ecosystem.

If you’re into frogs like myself, be sure to get a copy of this new Virginia guide, and by next spring you’ll be impressing all your gardening friends by identifying, via sight and sound, all of the frogs and toads in your area.

Copies of this publication can be obtained at the Department’s Richmond Headquarters or online here – https://www3.dgif.virginia.gov/estore/proddetail.asp?prod=VW256

With land development and pollution, frogs and toads have been on decline in recent years. Check out the homeowners guide to protecting frogs published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/documents/Homeowners_Guide_Frogs.pdf


If you enjoy citizen science projects, the following offers further information and opportunities to help.

> Frog Watch USA is a nation-wide program managed by the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey: www.nwf.org/frogwatchUSA

> The North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP) is a collaborative effort among regional partners to monitor populations of vocal amphibians. The Wildlife Diversity Division of the VDGIF has participated in the NAAMP since 1999: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/WILDLIFE/frogsurvey/










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Salvia leucantha:  One of My Favorite Fall Plants
by Les Parks - posted 10/11/11

     It is the time of year one of my favorite fall plants is blooming, Salvia leucantha or Mexican Bush Sage.  I really like purple, and I really like tall upright perennials.  However, I am somewhat hesitant in calling S. leucantha a perennial, as it isn't always so.  Some years it's an annual, even here in zone 8.  From what I have read, and from my personal experience, it is not our cold winters that do them in, but wet ones.  If S. leucantha is not given good drainage, it can easily rot during a wet winter.  As to sunlight, it prefers as much as you can give it, and even though it is drought tolerant, during its summer growth spurt, make sure it has adequate moisture.

Salvia leucantha

     S. luecantha starts blooming in late September and will continue to produce flowers until we get freezing weather.  Like many tender perennials, it is best to leave the cold-damaged stems and foliage in place until late March, and then cut them down to the ground.  Because of it's less than perennial nature, I always buy new ones on spring.  However, if you look in the herb section of the nursery, S. leucantha can often be found among the culinary sages and at a fraction of the price you would pay in the perennial section.  I am not the only one who appreciates this plant, our native bumblebees are quite fond of it as well.



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Toad Lily
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 10/11/11

This is the first year that I've grown Toad Lily in my garden. Toad Lily is also known by its Botanical name, Tricyrtis.  This particular hybrid is 'Sinonome'...a cross between T. hirta and T. formosana. They say it was named because of its spots. It is not native to the US, but grows wild in parts of Asia. Although I love native plants, I also love shade-loving plants--and this fits in well with other perennials in a shady area of my garden. I love it!





Do you grow Toad Lily in your garden?


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Still Blooming in September…
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 09/21/11


The weather is cooling down and it's been comfortable, in the 60's and 70's, lately. A few days we've even woken up to 45 degrees here in northern VA. The plants are much happier than they were this summer, and I haven't added any additional water in weeks. It has rained on and off, which is just what my garden needed to lose that 'crispy' look.


Aster novae angliae (New England Aster) -- with a friendly fly visitor

Since I didn't get around to posting a 'Bloom-day' post on the 15th, I thought I would do it now because it helps me to keep a record of what's happening in my garden from year to year.  I don't have much to write about--so you can just scroll down and view the photos.


Clockwise, from top L: Rudbeckia hirta (the last Black-Eyed Susan bloom), Gaura, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides,

Phlox paniculata 'Andre', Echinacea purpurea 'Pink Double Delight', Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles',

and center: Perovskia (Russian Sage) with Verbena bonariensis (Purpletop Verbane)


Liriope muscari 'variegata' (Variegated Liriope)


Clockwise, from top L: Coreopsis 'Limerick Ruby' (overwintered well here in zone 7-A), Caryopteris (Blue Mist Shrub), Agastache cana 'purple pygmy' (Hummingbird Mint), Rudbeckia laciniata (Tall Yellow Coneflower),

Coreopsis 'Sienna Sunset', and center: Veronica spicata 'icicle' (Spike Speedwell) -- with friend



Agastache 'Purple Pygmy' with a lighter, orangy-yellow Agastache variety that I planted last year,

which I seem to have forgotten the name of.


Carpet Rose (red and pink varieties) and hips from Rosa rugosa 



Buddleia davidii 'Adonis Blue' (L) & a lighter blue variety -- with a spider friend



Clockwise, from top:  Chelone (Pink Turtlehead), Sedum 'Autumn Joy',

Salvia greggii 'Flame', Salvia greggii 'Wild Thing', Commonelina communis (Common Dayflower -

a 'weed' to some), and center: Kalimeris pinnatafida (Japanese Aster)

(Another photo/collage of Turtlehead with Bluebeard...makes me want to dig them up and plant them closer together!):




In various areas around the front, side and back yards, I have annuals both in the ground, and in pots:





Clockwise, from top L:  Salvia (a variety I planted from seed several years ago, reappears every year in the pot);

Lantana camara (Lantana 'Ham & Eggs' -- NOT a perennial here in zone 7a); Heliotrope; Geranium;

False Heather; Bacoba 'Giant Snowflake'; and center: Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'

There are a few plants I haven't featured (such as Agastache 'Blue Fortune') but that's because it is looking scraggly now so I didn't bother to include it. This time last year, it looked quite a lot better and was loaded with butterflies. Unfortunately, the butterflies were far and few between this year. I do have photos of a few, however, which I'll include in a later post.



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Straight from the Crayon Box - American Beautyberry
by Les Parks - posted 09/19/11

   Right now one of my favorite native plants is in full color, however the color comes not from flowers, but from the fruit of American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).  The color of the berries can be anywhere from magenta to a vivid purple.  American Beautyberry normally grows on the fringes, on the edge of the woods, near ditches and in places with moist soil.  Though it can easily be found in the wild, it can also have a place in the home garden.  Just give it some room as it can get 6' tall and wide, or more, but there is a great deal of variation in size.  It will grow in full sun to a fair amount of shade, and is not particular about soil type as long as it stays moist.  Beautyberry is not very drought tolerant.  In early summer the plant flowers, but while not ugly, the small pale pinkish purple flowers are not very showy.  Ripening in September, the fruit more than makes up for the bloom's lack of color.  The foliage will turn a pale yellow before dropping in the fall and is not very remarkable, but is a nice foil to the colorful fruit.  The berries will remain on the shrub for several months, unless the mockingbirds or robins discover it first. 

     One trick to growing Beautyberry is to cut it back hard every year or two in late winter.  The reason for this is to encourage lots of new growth in the spring, which will in turn encourage lots of flowers and consequently berries.  Other than to enjoy the beauty of the fruit, there is another reason to grow Beautyberry.  There have been numerous studies that have confirmed that Callicarpa americanais a natural mosquito repellent.  So plant several and never buy another Citronella Geranium again!



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Hummingbirds’ Last Hurrah!
by Alan Pulley - posted 09/18/11

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds? Even people who don’t care much for birds like hummingbirds. How many birds can fly backwards, upside down, stop on a dime, and hover in place? Yep, you guessed it, just one – the hummingbird.

Unfortunately, this is the time of year that hummingbirds begin to leave us for the warmer weather of Central and South America. Must be nice, right? Although they’re leaving us now, don’t bring in those hummingbird feeders just yet. This is the time that hummingbirds could use the extra nourishment for their long journey. Hummingbirds that have spent the summer in our backyards have most likely begun to move on, while others that spent their summer further north are moving through the area now, and those are the ones thankful for those feeders. There's a myth that hummingbird feeders should be taken down after Labor Day, believing that the feeders would delay their migration. The truth is birds migrate when their natural internal clocks urge them to do so. Migration is driven by instinct and external factors such as hours of sunlight and weather, not by the availability of food at our feeders. If anything, keep your feeders out and filled to help re-energize the hungry little birds as they pass through, especially since many of their favorite summer blooms are now gone.

I put my hummingbird feeders up in early spring to provide food for the early arrivals until the weather warms and our flower beds burst into bloom. Once there are plenty of blooms I take the feeders down, only to bring them back out in late summer. During the summer I like to draw hummingbirds up close to my back deck using a variety of potted containers and climbing vines.

When setting up your hummingbird feeder, a sugar-water solution of 1 part white table sugar to 4 parts water most closely represents the content of naturally occurring flower nectar. Refrigerate any extra and refill feeders with fresh mixture every 3 – 5 days. Also, it’s recommended not to add red food coloring to the mixture. If your feeder is red, and most are, they will find it just fine. If it’s not red, just put something red close to it or just tie a red ribbon to the feeder to help them find it faster.

I’ve actually seen hummingbirds pass through my area as late as mid-November, so go ahead and keep those feeders out a little longer and help those little migrating wonders as they venture towards their winter vacation grounds.



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Garter Snake Ingests Toad (*Not for the faint of heart!)
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 08/31/11


I've been trying to think of a way to share this post without 'grossing' anyone out...but I don't think that's possible. So if you choose to read this, be forewarned there will be some photos of blood and guts. The garden is always full of surprises, and this afternoon, no one was more surprised than my son and me when we watched a garter snake completely ingest a fairly large toad! We had just taken our two dogs out when my son saw the dog jump back; then he saw the snake. We both walked closer and saw that it had part of a frog in it's mouth. I have to admit, my first thought was to try and save the frog. But it already had a pretty good injury, which was bleeding, so it was probably too late to do anything even if I'd wanted to. I didn't quite know, at first, what type of snake it was--even though I have seen garter snakes before. It was light green with a black checkerboard pattern. I went in and grabbed my camera and had my son check online for an ID on the snake. If it had been venomous, I contemplated getting an axe! I don't like to kill anything but a poisonous snake in my yard could test my outer limits...


Anyway, I took a series of photos of the whole event and despite the blood and gore, want to share them here. Even though I like both frogs and (most) snakes and really don't like to see them injured or killed, it was quite fascinating and educational--and honestly, just a natural part of life.  It was weird, standing there watching this helpless frog suffer, but I knew there was really nothing I could do but leave the scene, or watch and take some photos. So, for your viewing pleasure--or displeasure--I offer the following--a movie made with a string of clips, using Picasa. You can stop the movie at any point to view individual photos (if you dare!):


Garter snakes are beneficial snakes to have in your garden. They are not harmful and eat a lot of pests like mice and voles. Unfortunately, every now and then, a small bird or frog falls prey. But that's life. Thanks for today!




Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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A Rosy Surprise in My Garden
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 08/09/11


While walking around the garden Sunday afternoon, I glanced down to see this yellow creature with pink legs (and what looked like pink ears and a cute little face) crawling along the ground.



Having no idea what I was looking at, I picked up a stick and held it close to the critter--hoping it would grab hold so I could pick it up and get a better look. When it began crawling up the stick, I called for my son to come out and hold the stick so I could snap a few photos.




After taking a few shots, I set it down in an empty birdbath which was lying on the deck. I ran inside and began to upload the photos, simultaneously doing a Google search for 'pink and yellow caterpillar'.  I'm pretty sure at some point I put in terms like 'with ears', as well!



I was inside for less than five minutes--but when I went back out, this little creature looked nothing like when I left her minutes earlier:



She had attached herself to the side of the birdbath, and those little 'ears' were actually wings! She was a moth. A Rosy Maple Moth, to be exact. It all started to make sense when I looked up and realized I had found her underneath a Maple tree!



I began to realize that she must have recently emerged from her cocoon and, having fallen to the ground, had been in the process of trying to find a place to attach and pump up her wings. I just happened to intercept her as the process was happening.



A few articles I read mentioned this moth could be destructive to trees, but I simply ignored that information and instead, remained in awe by the lemon and raspberry sherbet that looked more sweet than sinister.  I placed her back in the garden, where she attached herself to a Hellebore stem:



She remained there as nightfall came and I went to bed. When I checked for her the next morning, she had flown. I hope Rosy has a good life. I feel blessed to have seen part of the process of changing from 'fat cat' to beautiful moth. It's funny how you can live in a place for 15 years and still find something new, nearly every day. You just never know what surprises await you on any given day!


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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Wildflowers Along the Blue Ridge
by Les Parks - posted 08/08/11

A few weeks ago my son and I were able to leave the flatland and head up to the mountains.  While we were there we did some traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkwayand were able to stop at one of my favorite pullovers, Big Spy Mountain Overlook.  I do not stop for the view, but for a chance to wander through the small meadow.  

On this trip the meadow was full of wildflowers and full of insect  activity.  Probably the most popular plant, as far as the insects were concerned, was the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), but the Beebalm (Asclepias syriaca) and Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) were not being ignored.  What surprised me was the presence of three European flowers that have naturalized along the Blue Ridge, and some would say are a bit invasive.  There was the little thistle-like flower Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), a giant Dandelion of a plant called Western Salsify (Tragopogon dubius) and the very common Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota). 

Even with the pushy Europeans, it was a lovely spot to spend some time on a warm July day in the Blue Ridge.

 Common Milkweed




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Beat the Heat with Container Plants
by Alan Pulley - posted 08/02/11

For many of us in the south, this is the time of year when the heat, humidity and summer droughts begin to take its toll on our favorite annuals and perennials, resulting in plants looking a bit ragged and untidy. It’s not just the plants, we as gardeners get a little tired as well. As for me, when the outdoor temps hit 95 with heat indices even higher, there’s not much you’ll find me doing in the garden.

Fortunately, there’s one area in my garden that’s still going strong; and that’s my container gardens. When everything else is looking needy, my containers are still looking great. Keeping them watered with the occasional shot of fertilizer, containers can look great throughout the entire growing season.

It’s easier for many plants to survive in containers than in the ground, which makes container gardening ideal for beginning gardeners or those looking for instant success. For one, you don’t have to worry about your native soil if you use a good quality potting mix. You also have more control where the plants in containers are located; for example, during an extreme hot spell, you can temporarily move the container in partial shade. Container plants do require more water than the average plant in the ground, but other than that anyone can have success with container gardening.

Group your containers together to make a more dynamic statement. Grouping them also makes it simpler when it’s time for watering.

Add a few plants in your containers for wildlife so you can experience an up-close view of butterflies and hummingbirds.

 And speaking of hummingbirds, one of my favorite container plants this summer is the Mexican Fire Bush (Hamelia patens). The flower clusters are bright orange and the foliage has an orange cast as well. It’s very attractive to hummingbirds. The plant blooms all summer and thrives in heat and humidity, but must be brought in for the winter.

Locate planted containers in an area that you can get the most enjoyment from them. Mine are located where they can be seen entering and exiting my home, and are the first plants I see when walking out onto my back deck. The gardens in the background my not look all that fresh this time of year, but the containers are thriving.



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Hummingbird Clearwing on Phlox paniculata
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 07/27/11


Hummingbird Clearwing on Phlox paniculata




Happy Wordless Wednesday!


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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Colorful Perennials in June
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 06/30/11


Colorful perennials have been showing their beauty in my front gardens this month. As you can see, there are a lot of native plants in bloom, and of course, the bees just love them all. My collages can help you see what's happening right now:


Asclepias tuberosa, Echinacea purpurea, and Coreopsis grandiflora


Monarda didyma


Clematis (ID unknown)


Veronica spicata: 'Icicle', 'Royal Candles' and 'Red Fox'


Front gardens on either side of the driveway contain a variety of perennials


Day Lilies at the top of the driveway


Asiac Lilies, originally planted in my back gardens, were moved to pots and used for cutting


The back gardens are 'busy' too...but I'll share those in another post. What's been blooming in your gardens?


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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Bee Good to Pollinators
by Alan Pulley - posted 06/22/11

As gardeners, we all understand the importance of pollinators. Without pollinators many of our favorite fruits and vegetables would no longer be available. It’s kind of a scary to think about! That’s why it’s so important to be responsible gardeners and do what we can to protect our pollinators, so what better time to start than this week.

In conjunction with The Pollinator Partnership and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Governor McDonnell recently signed a proclamation declaring this week (June 20-26, 2011) as Virginia Pollinator Week. Pollinator Week has grown to be an international celebration to promote the valuable services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other insects. Pollinators are vital to our delicate ecosystem and all life would be impacted without them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that close to 80 percent of insect crop pollination is accomplished by honey bees. In Virginia alone, beekeepers have suffered terrible losses in their honey bee populations over the past decade. As a result, the number of honey bees available for pollination has been reduced to a third the number available just 30 years ago.

The silver lining in all this is that it’s now getting national attention and many other states and organizations are beginning to work together to help pollinators. In addition, there are many things we can do to attract and make our yards and gardens friendlier for pollinators. In return, they will reward us with abundant fruits, vegetables and overall healthier plants.

One way to help is to select plants that are known to attract pollinators.To determine which plants are best for attracting pollinators in your region, check the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) and the Pollinator Partnership for pollinator friendly plants in your area. Click here and enter your zip code for an area-specific guide.

Another idea is to provide (or build) nesting structures for our native pollinators. In my own yard I’ve added a mason bee house.

And not far from that is my bat house…

These are just a few of the ideas that you can do in your own backyard to help pollinators out. A more complete list and additional information on attracting pollinators can be found on the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services site here: http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/news/releases-b/060811attractbees.shtml

 Also, to learn what celebrations are taking place in your area during National Pollinator Week visit the Pollinator Partnership website at http://pollinator.org/npw_events.htm



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Natives in the May Garden
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 05/26/11


Among the spring and summer blooming plants in my garden, many are North American natives. Last spring I added Poke Milkweed (Aslepias exaltata), also called Tall Milkweed.





Since Monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on Milkweed, and their developing larva depend on Milkweed as the only staple in their diet, I planted it with the hopes of having them visit later this summer.







I've also got lots of Swamp Milkweed (Aslepias incarnata)--and although that is growing tall right now, it isn't yet in bloom.  It will form lovely pink blooms later in the summer.






When I planted the milkweed I also included Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)--another milkweed variety.  When that didn't come back this year, I added two plants a couple of weeks ago and they are beginning to bud out now. They will be orange/yellow in color.






The native Windflower (Anemone multifida) 'Annabella Deep Rose' is in full bloom now.







As is native Coral Red Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) "Major Wheeler".







Native Primrose (Oenothora) "Cold Crick", also known as Sundrops, has just started to bloom.  I planted a couple of plants last year but over the winter the markers were moved by squirrels and I wasn't really sure where the plants were, until recently!






Earlier this spring, I added two native Sweetspire (Itea virginica) "Little Henry" bushes to the garden. They are blooming now.







While Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) has just recently begun to bloom, many of the plants still don't have buds.  This plant has been very 'tame' in my garden, although it has a reputation for being a runner.






Along with the basic Spiderwort, Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' was given to me last year by gardening friend. I liked it so much that I added more of this variety just a few weeks ago. 'Sweet Kate' tends to stay in manageable clumps--at least that's what I'm hoping.





Blue Star (Amsonia) "Blue Ice" is finally in bloom.  I planted this earlier in the spring, just this year.  This plant may actually be a hybrid cultivar taken from the native A. montana.






A completely new-to-me native plant is this Woodland Pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica), also known as Indian Pink.






Planted earlier this spring, it's put out just two blooms so far...but aren't they interesting and different?!






While I featured Phlox divaricata, Woodland Phlox, in my last post on native plants, Phlox stolonifera, Creeping Phlox "Sherwood Purple" blooms much later.  Unlike Phlox divaricata's spiky, pointed leaves, the leaves on this shade-tolerant phlox are more oval. (Another form of Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) is planted in my sunny front garden, and that is also still putting out blooms).





Native Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is still going strong in the garden.






This year I added a new variety of Foamflower to the garden: Tiarella cordifolia "Elizabeth Oliver". She didn't develop more than a few flowerheads--and they weren't as full as my originals, so I'm hoping she will produce more next year.








Sweet Woodruff (Galium oderata) is planted in clumps throughout my back gardens. It was full of little white blooms earlier, but is now holding on to just a few and may be coming to the end of it's bloom period.





I added quite a few Hepatica to the shade garden this spring. Some H. nobilis varieties are finished, but H. americana (Round Lobed Hepatica) "Alba" still has some blooms.





While the Arisaema triphyllum, native Jack-in-the-Pulpit, has already finished blooming, I haven't yet shown it in a post as I just added it to the garden in April.





Below is a photo of Jack unfolding, with native Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) in the background (also new in April, and now finished blooming, as well).





At a local native plant sale last spring, I acquired Podophyllum peltatum (May Apple). So far this year, two very small leaves have emerged. There have been no flowers but I'm hoping by next year it will start to fill out, enlarge, and produce blooms.





Lastly, another native, new to my garden this year, is Scarlett Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea).  She had a few small blooms but I think she is getting too much shade in the current woodland garden setting, so I'll be moving her out front to my sunnier perennial garden areas.





As you can see, I've been trying to add a variety of native plants to the garden over the last couple of years. Most of them are well-suited for my climate so I'm hoping they will continue to get larger over the next few years. They are all great wildlife and pollinator attractors and that is the primary reason I've added them...along with the fact that I really like the looks of each of them.


I'd love to hear what native plants you grow in your garden!



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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Vegetable Gardening and Birds
by Alan Pulley - posted 05/10/11

I watched one day as a male Northern Cardinal hopped from one tomato cage to the other, each time peeking into the tomato plants as if he were looking for something. This continued for a few minutes until he finally came out from under one of the plants with his prize – a big, fat, juicy hornworm. Those familiar with growing tomatoes know the type of damage that these worms can cause if left to run free on your tomato plants. Once the cardinal knew where the food source was, he continued to return throughout the summer, keeping my tomato plants worm free.


Many gardeners have a love/hate relationship with birds. On one hand, birds eat the bugs that prey on plants; while on the other hand, they will often target valued fruits and seeds. For me though, the benefits out-weigh the negatives. I’m always willing to share a little of my goods in exchange for pest free vegetables.

Birds are willing assistants that help maintain a natural balance between plants and pests, and fortunately, they go to work for us at just the right time. In order to feed their young the protein they need, birds that eat seeds and berries in the fall and winter will switch to a more protein based diet consisting of worms, caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, aphids, and grubs just to name a few. Many, including myself, have had a run-in with one or more of these creatures in the garden, usually after the damage is done.

If you want to attract birds to your yard it’s important to provide them with a desirable environment. Birds prefer a multi-layered canopy of plants, shrubs and trees of various sizes that offer food, shelter and a place for nesting. The more diversity you have, the better. Pay special attention to native plants and trees that already grow in your area. Native species are quicker to establish and are more recognizable to birds and other wildlife.

For a quick start, consider adding a basic birdfeeder filled with black-oil sunflower seeds. A birdfeeder will attract a variety of birds to your backyard in no time. In addition, a water source can bring in even more birds. Not only will this attract the birds already coming to your feeder, but it will also lure a variety of birds to your yard that don’t normally eat from feeders. The water source doesn’t have to be elaborate, an upside-down garbage can lid placed on the ground or on a table top will do. Add a stone in the center of it for the smaller birds to perch on and keep the water clean, and you’ll have an instant, portable birdbath.

Once their basic needs are met, just sit back and let them do what they do best. When you let the birds control the bug populations in your landscape, you may find (as I have) that you won’t need any chemical pesticide controls, whether organic or synthetic. 



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Azaleas in the Garden
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 05/10/11


Ginny, our miniature dachshund (in the April garden with Ajuga and Azalea), photographed by my daughter


It's been difficult to write lately. It's not that I've been uninspired; I've just been outside working in the garden for hours every day and completely immersing myself in my surroundings.





The Azaleas have just been exploding with color!





When we moved to our home in 1996, there was very little color in my garden.





We gradually added perennials and shrubs, many of them multi-colored Azaleas, and over the years they've grown larger.




At the time of planting, I wasn't sure how well the various colors would blend together or if they would look too gaudy.






But I've been pleased with the results. They definitely make a 'splash' in my front yard!






I did not keep track of the varieties when I planted them. I've gotten better about that as I've become a more experienced gardener--but when we moved here, I just wanted to get plants into the ground!





While these are not North American native azaleas, they do bring pollinators to the garden, such as this bee.






Watching the wildlife and pollinators is one of my favorite things to do in my garden.






I love to watch and take photographs of the bees and butterflies that have stopped by. It's always such a treat to see them--especially when they first start visiting in the spring!






The photo below includes a lilac bush I added a couple of summers ago.  It smells heavenly.




Lilac blooming with the azaleas



Azalea time in my garden runs about 3 to 4 weeks...from about mid-April to mid-May. My blooms opened a bit later this year than they did last.






Do you grow azaleas in your garden? What are the color combinations you most enjoy?



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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Upcoming Event
by Alan Pulley - posted 04/30/11

I want to remind everyone that’s local or going to be in the South East VA / North East NC area during the 2nd week of May to stop over and visit the Great Dismal Swamp NWR for its 5th Annual Birding Festival. The event starts on Thursday the 12th of May thru Saturday the 14th. There will be guided bird and nature walks, bird banding demonstrations and various workshops. Saturday (14th) will be family fun day that will include children activities, live music, food and more. I’ve had a great time at this event in the past and looking forward to it again next month. Check out their website for more details.

The Dismal Swamp is a great place to bird this time of year. During the spring migration, thousands of warblers pass through the swamp on their way to their summer breeding grounds. Many, like the prothonotary warbler and American Redstart, stay and nest on the refuge. Although not that great, here’s a photo I took of a redstart located in the Dismal Swamp:

I got a sneak preview last weekend, along with my Master Naturalist group, when we all went birding there with local birding expert Bob Ake. We had a nice encounter with two Barred Owls that responded to Bobs call, and some good looks at Prothonotary Warblers, American Redstarts and a Belted Kingfisher just to name a few.

Lake Drummond, which sits in the center of the Great Dismal Swamp, is one of only two natural freshwater lakes in Virginia, the other being Mountain Lake in Giles County.

The Dismal Swamp is also a great place to see a wide variety of native flora.

…as well as butterflies

And the best part about this festival – it’s all free!

Hope to see you there!



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Spring Natives In My Woodland Gardens
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 04/28/11


Native plants are blooming at every turn in my gardens. One of my newest natives is Senecio aureaus (below), commonly known as Golden Groundsel or Squaw Weed.



North American native Golden Groundsel, Squaw Weed (Senecio aureaus)


Below is beautiful Sweet William (Phlox divaricata), with two bumblebees drinking nectar on the bottom right photo in the collage.



North American native Woodland Phlox, Sweet William (Phlox divaricata) *see the bees on the bottom right?!


Last year I added a few varieties of native Columbine (below), including Rocky Mountain Blue, Wild Red, a dwarf variety--'Little Lanterns'--and a cream colored variety, 'Corbett'.



North American native Columbine varieties - Top/Bottom Left:  Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea);

Top Right: Wild Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadense); Bottom Right: Aquilegia canadense 'Corbett';

Bottom Middle: 'Corbett' with Aquilegia canadense 'Little Lanterns'.


I've been admiring my lone Celandine Poppy and watching as it has put out bloom after bloom this spring. I added this native last year, as well.



North American native Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)



Wild Ginger was planted both last year and I added another plant this year. The blooms are hidden underneath the leaves. The one on the upper right of the collage is just about ready to open.



North American native Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)


Epimediums were added to my garden two years ago but didn't bloom much last year, so this is actually their first year with decent-looking blooms. I have several E. rubrums, sometimes called Red Barronwort, while the E.niveum's (white) have not yet bloomed. I recently added two more, E. x. warleyense (below) and E. Pinnatum colchicum (yellow) (not pictured).



North American native Epimediums:  Top - E. rubrum "Red Barronwort";

Bottom -  x. warleyense "Orange Queen"


My Wild Geranium plant was given to me last year by a gardening friend--one of several plants she shared from her garden. I love seeing it this year as it not only reminds me of her (along with the Spiderwort that is beginning to bud), but also because it's beautiful in bloom! (We'll see about the Spiderwort...there's an inside joke going on about this one! Perhaps I will share it with you later!



North American native Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)



The Variegated Solomon's Seal was planted two springs ago. I don't recall that it did anything much last year, but this year there are some cute little white bells and it looks pretty good and is a nice addition to my shade garden.  The Jacob's Ladder was planted last year, as well...but I couldn't help myself, and added a second plant to the garden last week.



North American natives - Top:  Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum')

Bottom: Jacob's Ladder (Polymonium reptans)


...And there are more natives, but those will need to wait for another post! This is a busy time in the garden, as things are blooming continuously and it's hard to keep up with posting photos! I really would like to keep a record and post things as they bloom but I often have to lump them all together in one larger post. My eventual 'goal' is to try to write individual posts about each of my plants, particularly the native plants, and list pertinent information along with photos. I would consider my blogging a success if I could get that detailed about each plant...but it's hard for me to find the time to do that. The good thing about blogging, for me, is that it isn't a job and I can do it as I find the time, with no pressure.  (Truth be told, though, I still do feel a great deal of self-imposed pressure to do these posts in a somewhat 'decent' manner and it sometimes feels like a little more 'work' than I'd started out thinking it would be). But, I do hope you enjoyed this one:-) 



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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LOW Growing – HIGH Performance Early Season Perennials
by Alan Pulley - posted 04/12/11

I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited about spring, especially after the long, cold winter we’ve had. It’s always exciting to venture through the garden and see green at the base of my favorite perennials. It ensures they’ve survived another winter. While I wait patiently for their return I’m already enjoying the colors of some early bloomers. One of my favorites this time of year is creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). This low growing native perennial forms a dense mat of needle-like foliage that stays mostly green year around. It’s claim to fame comes in early spring when its star-shaped blooms open up covering the entire plant so thick that you can barely see the foliage underneath.

I remember this plant in my grandmother’s garden growing wild along the edge of her house. Back then most of the creeping phlox was some sort of pink coloration but now there are numerous cultivars available that come in a large variety of colors, from white to lavender and various pastels in-between. I especially like them mixed in with spring flowering bulbs like crocuses and daffodils. Creeping phlox makes a great ground cover for a sunny border and butterflies appreciate the early blooms.

Another early season favorite, also a low-growing perennial, is Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). Native to Southern Europe, it has adapted to all regions of the United States. This low, bushy plant produces mounds of blinding white flowers that last throughout the spring.

In addition to white, the annual candytufts (Iberis umbellate and I. amara) flowers come in a variety of colors like pink, red and lilac. Like creeping phlox, candytuft foliage remains evergreen throughout the year, adding a little greenery to the winter garden. Both plants can also be used to cascade down walls or over banks and flower pots. Both do best in full sun and in well-drained soils.

Give both of these early season low-growing perennials a try. They’re spring color and green foliage in winter offer year-round interests that make them tough to beat.



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Spring Ephemerals in the Woodland Gardens
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 04/12/11

The gardens are alive with spring plants popping up everywhere, splashes of color in every hue jump out at every turn.

The Mertensia, Dicentra, Anenome, Trillium, Pulmonaria and Brunnera are real knock-outs right now!

*Click on the photos to enlarge
Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginia)

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabalis)

Snowdrop Anenome (Anenome sylvestris)

Siberion Buglose (Brunnera macrophylla)

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) 

Granted, these may not all technically be 'ephemeral's' but most will completely die back at some point during the summer.  Brunnera may be the only plant I've listed here that may hang on to it's foliage, and therefore is not considered ephemeral. I included it here because it blooms at the same time and is such a great companion plant!  When the temperatures warm and/or they get a lot of sun, Dicentra, Pulmonaria, and Anenome will disappear under ground.  Mertensia and Trillium are true ephemerals. I have some other 'true ephemerals' that I haven't shown here. For the most part, these are short-lived beauties and to-die for!

On that note, I lost Little Sweet Betsy yesterday.  My newest addition, Trillium cuneatum, came face to face with a critter who did her in before she even had the chance to completely open up. I was sad for a few moments but realize those are just part of the ups and downs of the backyard gardener.

Wake Robin (Trillium cuneatum)  'Little Sweet Betsy'

It's almost mid April! How did that happen so fast? There are so many goings-on in my garden that I can hardly keep up with them all! I hope you are having some excitement in your garden, too;-)

*Have you stopped over to participate in the Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project? It will be 'open' until April 15th so you have plenty of time. I am giving away over 20 garden gifts including a Rain Barrel and a Composter. Be sure to check it out!


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

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Stauntonia hexaphylla
by Les Parks - posted 04/05/11

In the blur of color that is spring, it is easy to be blinded by pink, yellow and white.  If a gardener can see beyond these distractions, then spring's other charms become more apparent.  Stauntonia hexaphylla has interesting evergreen foliage no matter what time of year and reminds me of tropical Schefflera, or of something else that will not grow here.  However, when the new growth emerges in March it is a distinct amber color before it darkens to a cool blue-green.  Stauntonia is listed as growing 20-30', but I saw one at Taylor's Nursery in Raleigh that had nearly reached the top of a very tall radio antenna tower.  It is also listed as preferring full sun to light shade, but mine only gets winter sun being shaded by a large oak the rest of the year, and it has apparently not been slowed.  I regularly have to unwrap or trim the vine from patio furniture.  It is listed as hardy in USDA zones 7 to 8, and it has shown a remarkable degree of drought tolerance as well.

Though I grow it for it's foliage, it also has a flower, but mine has never bloomed.  I think this may have more to do with the age of mine than the shade, because I have seen a specimen in the display garden at work flower in almost total shade.  Flowers normally occur later in the spring and their delicate appearance and white pastel-purple color seem in contrast to the the vine's vigorous, near thug-like nature.  I have never seen fruit on any local plant, but it is listed as having a red-purple fruit that resembles a sausage.  Pictures remind me of Akebia quinata fruit, which is in the same family (Lardizabalaceae) as Stauntonia.  In Japan, where this plant is native, the fruit is a prized delicacy.

If you would like to have a Stauntonia vine of your very own, good luck.  I have not been able to find any to sell at the garden center in nearly 10 years, which is a real shame.  I do know the seeds take years to germinate, but considering its vigor, it should be easy to propagate from cuttings.  Perhaps its narrow hardiness range and lack of a catchy common name limit its appeal to wholesale growers.  Maybe a marketing campaign is called for.



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Bringing Nature Home - A Lecture by Doug Tallamy
by Alan Pulley - posted 03/31/11

I recently had the opportunity to hear Douglas Tallamy speak at a local event sponsored by the South Hampton Roads Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society and hosted by Virginia Wesleyan College. You may know of Tallamy from his popular book titled Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Tallamy is also a science professor, gardener and naturalist on an awareness campaign to spread the word about the benefits of native plants and preserving our biodiversities.

Tallamy, speaking to a full audience, brought to light many issues that face modern suburbia landscapes today, and presented a convincing case for protecting our current “wild” places, as well as adding new ones right within our own properties. He raised some thought-provoking questions and challenges, along with detailed facts and statistics to back up his message.  His message challenged each of us to evaluate our own backyards and ask ourselves if we’re doing enough to sustain wildlife, preserve biodiversity, and making the most of local native plants within the garden.

Sustainable, in natures sense, is defined as an area capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting its natural resources or causing severe ecological damage. Tallamy explained that an area is either sustainable or its not, nothing in-between. Throughout the country we have cleared land to build our homes, but have failed to replenish the surrounding landscapes, leaving only small habitat patches for our wildlife to sustain itself. As a result, biodiversity needed to run our ecosystems cannot survive long term being sustained by these small “habitat patches”. “It’s not about humans disappearing” Tallamy said, “It’s about sharing the Earth”.

We all enjoy nature, but tend to pick and choose what we like about it. Even as gardeners, we often favor plants that are so called ‘pest free’. Many go as far as believing that we’ll still be alright if the things we don’t like about nature ever disappeared, never to return. Tallamy strongly disagrees, and believes that all aspects of nature are needed. The benefits of plants and animals go far beyond what we could ever imagine. A staggering statistic Tallamy shared showed that we have already removed approximately one-half of the plants on this planet. That’s pretty scary considering all that plants do for us. And as plants decline so do the animals that depend on those plants for food. Plants depend on animals as well. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that up to 80% of all plant pollination is done by animals, and many of those pollinators are slowly disappearing as well – habitat loss being the major factor. Beginning to get the picture? It’s a balancing act. If one end is affected, so is the other. Tallamy said to think of plants and animals around you as “rivets” that hold your environment together.

Biodiversity, simply put, is the diversity of plant and animal life in a particular habitat. A healthy biodiversity is set up with its own checks and balances known in nature as redundancies among species. That is several species doing the same job to benefit nature. It sounds strange, but it’s a good thing. It’s like natures own backup system. If one species disappears another one steps up to fill in. The problem comes into play when all of a sudden there’s only one or two species available to do a specific job, and if one or both disappeared, that job doesn’t get done, leading to “ecosystem failure”. For instance, just think about what would happen if all our pollinators disappeared and the effect it would have on the food we eat, among other things. “Always remember that biodiversity is an essential non-renewable natural resource”, said Tallamy.

We have sacrificed biodiversity for our own needs by creating large, fancy lawns to fit in with our neighbors. We have cleared our native landscapes and replaced them with turf lawns and other non-native exotic species that don’t support the insects, caterpillars, and butterflies, causing birds and other creatures to work harder in search of food. This trend sounds concerning and not something that the everyday gardener would necessarily think about. However, Tallamy believes that we can reverse most of the damage thus far by creating natural areas and returning native plants back into our landscapes.

Plant diversity is the key to attracting birds and other wildlife back into our gardens, but unfortunately not all plants are created equal in their ability to provide food. Statistics show that native plants appeal more to our native insects and other animals more so than non-native (alien) plants. These are the plants that attract the native insects and caterpillars that in turn attract the birds and frogs that eat the caterpillars and insects; and so on.

Even among natives, plants aren’t equal in their ability to support food for wildlife; so why not plant the ones that are the best since, according to Tallamy, we’re playing catch-up. Tallamy offers several lists on his website that he recommends based on the plants ability to support various insect species. He offers lists for both woody and herbaceous plants; or download the complete Excel Spreadsheet that separates the list even further within the various tabs of the workbook. Did you know that the oak tree alone supports 534 butterfly/moth species? Who knew?

So, go ahead and begin to turn your landscape into “bird food factories”, as Tallamy put it, if you want birds in your yard that will feed and reproduce. Remember it is insects, not berries or seeds that most birds prefer, especially in the spring and summer months of the year.

I’m not judging anyone for having a nice lawn, or recommending anyone to pull out all their non-native plants. I just wanted to communicate Tallamy’s message and give gardeners something to think about moving forward. Maybe we can all evaluate our landscapes and make small adjustments here and there that would benefit the local wildlife and the environment.

Like it or not, gardeners have become important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife. It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to make a difference. In this case the “difference” will be the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them (Tallamy, 2007).

To learn more, pick up a copy Doug Tallamy’s Book: Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Also consider joining the Virginia Native Plant Society to learn more about the flora of Virginia and other advantages for using native plants.



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Early Spring Natives
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 03/25/11

Popping up in my garden right now is one of my favorite native plants, Hepatica nobilis. I planted this little girl last spring, while she was in her dormant period--so I feel especially excited to see her flowering for the first time here in her new home!


Anemone Hepatica or Hepatica nobilis -- the jury is still out on the 'true' taxonomy and classification. Also known as Liverwort, the pink variety is called 'obtusa'.  Personally, Liverwort doesn't seem very fitting for this dainty charmer, and I certainly can't go with 'obtusa'...so I just like to call her Hepatica.  I've been hoping to catch her with more of her 'babies' opened up, but it's still just a little early. This is how she looked today, all pink and 'girly', and perhaps just a little shy. I would like to add more like her, eventually, so she won't have to be an 'only child' in my garden;-) (On the other hand, purchasing natives can end up costing quite a lot of money, so I've been ordering individually to see how a particular plant does in my garden, with the idea that I'll order more later if things seem to work out. In many cases, it's my hope that they might eventually spread out and I can divide).


(Click on the photos to enlarge. My SLR is in the Nikon repair shop so these are with my Cannon point and shoot. I think it does pretty well and have enjoyed using it more now while the other one is out of commission.)





And then, there is Mertensia virginica. Virginia Bluebells is another favorite native plant and this is one of 4  that I planted about 3 years ago. This little beauty is also known as Virginia Cowslip and Boraginaceae...but I am not crazy about either of those names so I call her Mertensia or Virginia Bluebells. She has only just popped out and is showing off her pretty blue buds which will soon open up to form bell-shaped flowers.






Visit this USDA link to find some interesting facts about Hepatica nobilis as well as this link where you can read about Mertensia virginica.


*Have you stopped over to participate in the Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project? It will be 'open' until April 15th so you have plenty of time. I am giving away over 15 garden gifts including a Rain Barrel and a Composter. Be sure to check it out! 

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Blooms and Buds -  Mid-March, 2011
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 03/15/11

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at Carol's May Dreams Gardens.  Blooms are still far and few between, with the only plants in bloom being some of the Hellebore. No complaints here...in fact, I'd have none if it weren't for the trusty Hellebore. I have ordered more Hellebore (and other early blooming perennials) and am waiting for the shipment. I'm excited to get them planted.


The only shrubs in bloom are the Forsythia and Pieris. Again, it's not much, but it's more than in many places, so you don't hear me complaining. I am anxious, however, for some LUSH greenery and color. I know I need to be patient, though;-) It seems every year I get this way...impatient!  I am thankful for the pinks, blues, yellows and whites that I've found so far in my gardens and look forward to watching the show unfold.



There are buds on a few of the Narcissus and Hyacinth. As I was photographing the daffodil buds I also noticed one open flower on the Vinca...so that means there must be more on the way. I love the shade of purple. My neighbors daffodils are already in bloom. Mine are just a little slow to get going. I finally ordered more Narcissus (and other) bulbs online--although they won't be delivered until it's time for fall planting. I always forget to order, so it's probably just as well I've gotten it out of the way now, even if it does seem 'early'. Maybe next spring I'll have more variety to share.






Pieris Japonica 'Valley Valentine'

Buds that will soon burst forth:





These next few weeks will prove to be the 'turning point' in my garden, and new life will be popping up all over. There is bound to be quite a bit more 'excitement' here in April;-)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Have you stopped over to participate in the Gardeners' Sustainable Living Project? It will be 'open' until April 15th so you have plenty of time. I am giving away over 15 garden gifts including a Rain Barrel and a Composter. Be sure to check it out!

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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Lovely Weeds:  Lamium amplexicaule (Henbit)
by Les Parks - posted 03/10/11

In the past few weeks, I have been noticing some spectacular local fields covered in Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).  The color is what makes these acres so noteworthy - a ground level haze of purple pink,  fuchsia or even mauve depending on the light and at what stage the flowers are blooming.  I wanted to stop and take a few pictures of places on the way to work, but usually I am already running late, plus I would be taking my life into my hands pulling over during rush hour.  Yesterday, on the way back home from Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore, several photographic moments presented themselves in rural Northampton County, but without the threat of being run over.

Henbit is an Old World native occurring in Europe, western Asia and parts of North Africa.  Like other members of the mint family, this annual has square stems, and also like many of its relatives, it is extremely prolific.  The seeds germinate in the fall of the year with blooming occurring in late winter.  In many places Henbit has naturalized and is considered an invasive weed, particularly in agriculture where it prefers the same rich sandy loams farmers seek for their crops.  Judging from the state of the fields I saw, one would think Henbit was planted on purpose, and though it is indeed edible, I am sure it is an unwelcome crop.  A Google search yields many recipes and serving suggestions.  Unfortunately I recently had breakfast, so I did not indulge, but if you have eaten it, please let me know what you thought of it.




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Let’s Get Planting!
by Alan Pulley - posted 03/10/11

Well, I couldn’t hold back any longer. For the first time this year I broke ground in the vegetable garden. The recent upsurge in temperature over the last couple weeks has brought out the garden fever in me. One of my favorite early seeds to plant is spring snap peas.

Peas are easy to grow and provide that excitement for many gardeners itching to get outside and plant, as they can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in late winter or early spring, depending on your location. Besides there great taste, peas also help to improve the soil were ever they grow. They also freeze well, so no worries if you harvest more than what you can eat.

Garden, snap and snow peas taste best fresh from the garden (pods and all), as their sugars quickly degrade into starches after picking. They prefer cool, early spring-time weather and mature quickly after blooming, leaving room in the garden for summer crops to be planted in their place.

I plant my peas in a 4 x 10 foot raised garden bed. Raised beds offer many advantages like better drainage, reduced soil compaction, and soil conditions can be controlled more efficiently in a raised bed. I mix shredded leaves and compost in my raised beds every winter to ensure that the soil will have plenty of organic matter throughout the growing season.


Trellising provides support and helps peas grow more vigorously by helping expose the pods to sunlight. I built mine out of 2 x 2 inch post with reinforced wire panels in between. The wire panels come in 6 foot lengths by 4 feet high. I ended up using 1-1/2 panels. I connected the wire to the 2 x 2’s using plastic tie wraps. Later in the summer when the peas die out I use the trellis for my cucumbers.

The type of snap pea I’m growing is a trailing variety with a vine height of about 34-36 inches, but there are non-vining varieties if you don’t want to bother with constructing a trellis or stacking. ‘Sugar Ann’ and ‘Wando’ (especially recommended for Southern and coastal gardens) are a couple varieties that don’t require staking.  

For planting times in your area refer to the Virginia vegetableplanting and recommended planting dates guide online, put together by the Virginia Cooperative Extension.



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Queen of the Winter Garden
by Les Parks - posted 03/01/11

There is no question that this past winter has been a rough one, no matter what part of Virginia (or many other places for that matter) you live in.  Even here in normally temperate Norfolk we had more snow and more prolonged cold than I can remember.  Thankfully a corner seems to have been turned this past week, and local gardens are slowly waking up.  Crocus and narcissus are blooming, some of the early flowering trees are budding and the forsythia is beginning to flash yellow.  However, the Queen of local gardens and sure sign that winter's days are numbered, has shown her face in the form of Camellia japonica.


Southeastern Virginia is the furthest place north that these gems can grow and still reach their full potential.  Yes I know they will grow in Richmond or even Washington, but not without careful site and cultivar consideration, and even then they will never get to be the shed-sized giants a venerable specimen will here.  In my own neighborhood (where these pictures were taken) there are many fine old specimens, some in lovingly tended gardens and others neglected for years, but thriving nonetheless. 


Most varieties of Camellia japonica are hardy to zone 7b or higher, but there are several that can take it colder.  Their preferred location is in partial shade.  The light under high pines is ideal, as well as the acidified soil found there as well.  They will not be happy in wet soils, preferring even moisture with good drainage, and once established are surprisingly drought tolerant.  There are few serious diseases that affect them, though spider mites and scale can sometimes be a problem, but are easily treated.


One of the best collections of Camellias in the country can be found at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, which is home to the Hofheimer Camellia Garden.  It is a great place to visit, at any time of the year, but especially now while the Queen is holding court.



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A Winter Surprise
by Alan Pulley - posted 02/24/11

There’s no denying that spring is just around the corner, and I now I have proof.

This is typically a scene that you would notice in spring along with all the other blooming pear and cherry trees – but this is February and it’s definitely a welcome site in my yard. If you haven’t guessed yet, it’s a Japanese Flowering Apricot Tree (Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'). These trees give the kind of showy display in midwinter that most plants set aside for spring.

Flowering apricots are among the earliest bloomers. The blooms hold up well to winter freezing for the most part; however, I’ve seen quick, harsh cold spells affect the blooms in my own yard. For that reason it does best if planted in a sunny, warm position in the landscape. Mine begins to bloom in early February, but I’ve had it begin blooming as early as mid-January. It’s a moderate grower and will reach a height of about 20/25 feet with an equal spread. It likes well drained soil with a little balanced fertilizer in the spring.

Another benefit of having blooms this early in the year is that it provides nourishment for many pollinators that sneak out during the warm days of winter, like this honey bee below.


When blooms are scarce, what could be better than a winter blooming tree in your own yard? You will be the envy of the neighborhood.



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Green and Gold
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 02/23/11

A native plant that I added to my garden last summer is Chrysogonum virginianum, better known as Green and Gold. I purchased mine last spring at a local Virginia native plant sale. I haven't had experience with it for a second season so am eager to see if it will return and just how it will adapt to my garden.

A perennial herb (herbacious), it can grow between six and twelve inches in height and is said to be hardy from zones 5-8.  Green and Gold can be grown in full sun to partial shade, blooming from mid-spring to mid-summer. I've read some reports that it has a preference for moist soil but it does well in the clay soil here in Virginia and many native plant growers claim it isn't bothered during times of drought. The leaves of Green and Gold have a leather-like texture and will stay green all winter in mild areas, but my plant has gone dormant and is currently showing no signs of itself!

It is a clumping ground cover which can spread out to cover wide areas of ground and provide bright spring color. As the weather warms up and spring appears, it will (hopefully) start to send up runners (kind of like strawberry plants) to form new patches. I haven't read that it grows too quickly or becomes invasive so I'm not concerned about that. In fact, my one tiny plant didn't spread much at all last summer and I would really like it to! I'm hoping that by the end of this next summer it will have taken off enough that I can divide it, which can be done by separating the rootball or by dividing the rhizomes and tubers that form. I would like to plant it in more areas around the gardens but just one plant provides only a 'taste' of what I'm looking for!  This is a plant I definitely want more of and may have to purchase again at this years spring native plant sale.

I would love to hear your experiences with Chrysogonum virginianum, so please tell me about it in a comment!


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.


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A Yellow Signal of Change
by Les Parks - posted 02/18/11

Yesterday on the way home from work, I passed by Waterside in downtown Norfolk.  In front of the parking garage is a huge swath of Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) doing its best to make an ugly building less so.  This time of year I look for its flowers as my signal that the end of winter is near.  Though late in blooming, they are a welcome sight nonetheless.

The city of Norfolk uses this plant in many municipal plantings, and I am thankful for it.  Just when you need a bolt of bright yellow change in the landscape, Winter Jasmine steps up.  Can Daffodils and Forsythia be far behind?

Winter Jasmine is a low sprawling shrub with green-in-any-season, long arching branches.  It gets about 3-4' tall by 5-6' wide, and can be pruned immediately after flowering if needed.  It prefers full sun, but will grow in some shade, only with fewer flowers.  It is hardy from zones 6-10 and appreciates good drainage, and in fact is quite drought tolerant once established. 


Native to China, this plant was first brought to Western gardens by Robert Fortune, one of history's most interesting plant explores.  At a time when much of China was closed to Westerners, Fortune disguised himself as a Mandarin merchant and would travel into forbidden areas in search of new finds.  We can thank Mr. Fortune for scores of our most cherished garden plants; Wikipedia has a detailed list of all the species he introduced.

It seems my favorite patch of Winter Jasmine was correct in predicting the eventual demise of winter, for today the temperature actually climbed into the seventies.  Since I was off today, I was able to spend the whole day outside doing my best to clear, clean and prune away this long cold winter.



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National Bird-Feeding Month
by Alan Pulley - posted 02/13/11

For those unaware, February is National Bird-Feeding month. During this month, individuals are encouraged to provide food, water and shelter for the birds. As many already know, February is also one of the toughest months for our wild birds, and that’s why this month was chosen.

National Bird-Feeding month was originally introduced in 1994 by Congressman John Porter (R-IL). The goal is to provide food, water and shelter for the wild birds, and as a result, promote backyard bird feeding as an entertaining and educational experience for both children and adults.

Bird feeding also provides a much needed break from today's stressful lifestyles. Below is a Carolina Chickadee enjoying a suet snack.

Each year, a new theme for National Bird-Feeding Month is selected by the National Bird-Feeding Society (NBFS).The theme for 2011 is "Most Wanted - America's Top Ten Backyard Birds" and features ten species from the east and west that are among the most popular to attract.

Here are the top ten backyard birds east of the Rockies: American Goldfinch, Chickadee (Black-capped/Carolina), Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch. With the exception of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, who feed on nectar, the top ten birds eat bird seed.

Be sure to check out their site for more information. Throughout the month, NBFS will be providing tips and techniques to help create a successful bird feeding/watching experience.


Northern Mockingbird (above)

Whatever your reason may be for feeding birds, attracting America’s ‘Most Wanted’ backyard birds to your yard will be an enjoyable experience - it’s a pastime that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

And don’t forget about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) coming up February 18 – 21. Anyone can participate, from beginning birdwatchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on any one day, or you can count birds for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun and easy – and it helps the birds to! For details check out the GBBC website - http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/


Male Northern Cardinal (above)

 It’s a great month to educate people about the hobby of birdwatching and how much fun it is to feed the birds.



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The Winter Star
by Les Parks - posted 02/08/11

I have many shrubs on my favorite list, but Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper Bush, Rice Paper Plant) is at the top.  I think I am so attracted to it because it usually blooms in February, my least favorite and longest month of the year.  Edgeworthia is in the Daphne family whose members are notorious for their difficulty to grow.  However, this plant belies that reputation, but still has a sweet fragrance that many Daphne relations possess.  In the fall of the year Edgeworthia begins to lose its thin green leaves that have a somewhat tropical look to them, turning a buttery yellow before they drop.  In December the buds begin forming and are attractive in their own right being fuzzy and sliver, hanging upside down from the bare branches.  Usually in mid-winter, these buds begin swelling and open to reveal a cluster of golden yellow flowers that to me smell like sweet daffodils.  As the flowers mature the cluster becomes more upright and rounded making them easy to see, but your nose will find them before your eyes.


Edgeworthia is hardy in zones 7 to 8, but if protected may be able to withstand the warmer parts of zone 6.  It can get 6' tall and wide and usually has a multi-stemmed habit, but the finest specimens I have seen were trained with a single trunk.  However, they tend to sucker so occasional pruning may be necessary to keep that shape.  Like other members of the Daphne family, Edgeworthia prefers light shade or filtered sun in moist soil.  Good drainage is critical.  Plant one and just maybe you too will find something to look forward to in February.



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Cooper’s Hawk or Sharp-shinned Hawk?
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 02/04/11


It's not unusual to see one of these raptors around my yard--and near my bird feeders--especially when the weather is cold.









I mean, every body (and bird!) needs to eat.









Fortunately I've never seen a hawk actually capture a bird although there have been a few close calls.









I've tried to ID these birds in the past but may have been incorrect at times. There are markers...but to me, they all seem so similar.






Size is not a fool-proof way to tell the difference.










It is said that the Sharp-shinned hawk is more jay or dove sized, where-as the Cooper's hawk is crow sized or larger.




June 2010 (Taken through  family room window and then through 2 screens on the porch)



I've never seen one as small as a dove or jay, so I usually ID them as Cooper's hawks...but that's not to say I've been correct.




January 2011


January 2011



If you want to rack your brain and give it a shot, visit the Project Feederwatch Accipiter photo gallery and them come back and tell me what you think.




February 2011



Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble


Written by Jan @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/ Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.





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Composting – What are You Waiting For?
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/30/11

Starting a compost pile is one of the best things you can do for your garden, not to mention the environment – and it couldn’t be any easier. Compost is what you get when yard and garden waste, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials have completely broken down into a rich, dark, crumbly dirt-like material. Gardeners often referred to it as “black gold” because it’s so rich in nutrients and adds so much value when added to the soil.

As many of you already know, gardening can generate a fairly large amount of grass clippings, leaves, sticks and other plant debris. Throwing out all of this can rob key nutrients from the soil that plants need. Instead of throwing out all of this organic material into the landfill, consider transforming it into a rich organic fertilizer for your garden.

There’s a lot of information available on composting and some of it, in my opinion, make it sound a little complicated, but it’s not at all. The quickest way to make compost is to keep it somewhat balanced with green (grass clippings and kitchen scraps) and brown (leaves and sticks) matter. Be sure to keep the pile damp, allow it to receive good air circulation, and stir it up once in a while – and that’s it. In no time it will begin to break down into "black gold". To be honest, you don’t even need a bin to hold it; just a mound on the ground will work. That’s what I used to do until I found this really cool bin a couple years ago.

This compost bin idea is very simple, looks neat, and has functionality all at the same time. It's modeled after one designed by Albert Howard, a 20th-century English gardener often referred to as the "father of composting". The bin itself is a simple structure consisting of 4 metal corner posts onto which you attach 1" X 6" boards to (boards purchased separately).

Let’s not forget about inside the house. There’s a whole heap that can be composted there too. A kitchen compost pail like the one I use below will hold a lot of vegetable and fruit scraps that can later be added to the outdoor bin.

This indoor compost pail is small enough (7 qts) to sit on the counter, under the counter or hang inside a cabinet door. It includes an activated charcoal filter in the lid to absorb any odors that may be present. And to make things even more convenient, I purchased "bio" trash bags to go with it. These bags help keep the pail clean inside and when it’s ready to be emptied, the bag, scrap and all can be thrown into the compost bin. These bio-bags are made from vegetable oil and cornstarch, and begin to break down at about the same rate as other vegetable material, leaving no harmful chemicals or residues.

These are just a few ideas that can be incorporated in your own garden to help make composting more convenient. Remember, no matter what you use or how you do it, composting helps reduce landfill waste and returns valuable fertilizer to the earth and your garden. Give it a try!



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Another Dispatch from the Front Line
by Les Parks - posted 01/28/11

As is traditional for me at this time of year, I spent the past week at the Mid Atlantic Horticulture Short Course, in Virginia Beach. Regular readers and local green people may know this is where arborists, designers, retailers, wholesale growers, turf people, landscapers, grounds people and others go to hone existing skills, learn new ones, hear about new plants and in general learn the things that keep us professional. At the end of the week, the doors are opened to the general gardening public and some of the same speakers put on a day long, themed program that always sells out. This year was a little different for me in that I am now on the board of the group (The Virginia Horticulture Foundation) that sponsors the conference, so I ended up having to work a little more. However, I was still able to attend the following classes, all of which were time well-spent.

- What's New in the World of Irises
Kelly D. Norris, Rainbow Iris Farm
It may have been January outside, but inside the darkened room it was May and the wall sized screen was showing some new versions of one of my favorite perennials. Fortunately the lights were up enough for me to write down the ones I want.

- Crazy About Coral Bells
Dan Heims, Terra Nova Nurseries
If you have fallen in love with all of the new Heuchera hybrids that have been hitting the market lately, well you can thank Dan Heims for about 99% of them. And we Southerners owe him a particular debt for injecting many with Heuchera villosa genes giving them the ability to withstand high heat and humidity.

- Great Trees in Great Landscapes
Robert McDuffie, Virginia Tech
Professor McDuffie leads horticultural tour groups all over the world in search of great gardens, and I was fortunate enough to go on a one of his trips to England and Wales back in 2000. You can see some of the places he visits and his excellent photography here.

- Wondrous Water Plants
Tamara Kilbane, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Another good class, and one in which I learned, among other things, that the effort to breed hardy water lilies with tropicals to expand the color and climate range is paying off.

- Green Cities
Susan French, Virginia Cooperative Extension
Ms. French introduced us to how municipal landscaping and land management can make our cities greener, more pleasant and more sustainable. The city of Virginia Beach was used as an example and I was pleasantly surprised by what has been accomplished.

- Keeping a Pleasure Garden Pleasurable
Dan Benarcik, Chanticleer
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit the gardens at Chanticleer in Philadelphia, then I do not need to tell you how very special this place is. If you haven't been, then make plans to do so. It is one of the most fantastic gardens in the country.

- Garden Archaeology: Designs from the Past
Michelle Palmer, Cornell University & The Society for Garden Archaeology
Ms. Palmer showed us how the skills of traditional, and not so traditional archaeology are changing what we learn about historic gardens. She highlighted in particular her work at a villa near Mr. Vesuvius. This was class was fascinating.

- Deciphering the World of Hydrangeas
Vincent Simeone, The Planting Fields Arboretum Historic State Park
I am always willing to learn more about one of my favorite shrubs, and I was pleased to see that the majority of Hydrangeas he spoke of were ones I carry at work.

- Behind the Curtain
Nicholas Staddom, Monrovia Nurseries
Mr. Staddon is the Director of New Plants for Monrovia, and he showed us how the people of his company come up with all the new plants they are famous for introducing or promoting. There was no mention of their recent financial troubles, just plants and people, as it should be.

This was just a very small taste of what was available this year. If you would like to see my previous dispatches they are here.

Before I leave this link-heavy post and head back to the battlefield, I feel a need to invoke my usual disclaimer in that I have not been compensated in any way for mentioning any organization, corporation or concern. However I would not refuse a no-strings-attached Iris 'Zooboomafoo', Hosta x 'Empress Wu' or a lovely Melianthus major 'Antonow's Blue'.



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Forcing Indoor Blooms
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/18/11

 By now your holiday poinsettias have probably seen better days – I know mine has. If you’re like me, the poor thing ends up in the compost bin after the holidays. It’s just a routine that many of us have grown accustomed to. However, there are other options if you’re willing to give it a little extra attention. In other words, consider keeping your poinsettia through the winter months, and when the weather stabilizes in the spring, plant it outdoors. A poinsettia planted outdoors can turn into a wonderful tropical plant, even if it doesn’t bloom again next Christmas, you can still enjoy it for many months.

If your past that point, or just don’t feel like going through the extra hassle to save your poinsettia, replace it with something else, or why not try forcing a few indoor spring blooms, like a grouping of paperwhite narcissus. I know it’s getting a little late but many garden centers are still selling spring bulbs, and most can be purchased at a discount price this time of year. I just recently purchased some at half off from my local garden center.

Paperwhites are a member of the Narcissus family. What they lack in size, they make up for in fragrance and charm. Growing them indoors adds bright, cheery blooms, and a sweet scent, to an otherwise dreary winter’s day.



Paperwhites are among the easiest to force indoors. You can start forcing them as soon as you buy the bulbs, and continue planting every two weeks until you can no longer find the bulbs – usually late winter to spring. Get started by placing them in a shallow dish; fill the dish with small pebbles, place the bulbs in the dish nestling the bottoms into the stones (pointed side up), and add water until the stones are barely covered. Once planted, place them in a warm, lighted indoor location. Keep the stones constantly wet and they’ll bloom in about 5-6 weeks. 



Paperwhites do tend to become top-heavy and flop when they reach their full size if they’re not staked; but there’s a trick to prevent that. The secret is using dilute solutions of alcohol. Properly used, the result is paperwhites that are 1/3 to 1/2 shorter, with equal sized flowers that last just as long. If interested, you can find instructions on how to do this here.

Paperwhites aren’t the only option. All sorts of flowers that bloom in the spring can be forced to bloom early indoors. Author Georgia Raimondi provided some tips in an article she wrote for CBS a few years ago. Here’s a link to the article – http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/02/15/earlyshow/saturday/main272324.shtml

Good luck and let me know how it goes!



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The Big Cut and Clean
by Les Parks - posted 01/17/11

     This past weekend we actually had tolerable temperatures, and I was able to get outside and start the big winter clean up and cut back.  This process will take me about a month to finish and is equally dependent on my motivation as much as the weather.  A lot of pruning will get done, any remaining annuals from last year are pulled up, perennials cut back, and I give all my beds a good thorough cleaning.  I never start this too early, because my neighbor has one of the oaks that hangs on to its big leaves until January, and I don't want to rake more than I have to.  On the other hand, I like to get this done before the spring bulbs start peeking up too far so I can really get in and work the beds without fear of trampling anything.

The Big Clean Up

     I have managed to eliminate all of the lawn from my yard which is now heavily planted with a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.  Many people have commented that it sure looks like a lot of work, and yes it was when I first got started.  Now it takes significantly less time than maintaining a lawn, and to my eye it is much more interesting.  However, the big cut and clean is probably my most involved garden task.  When I am all done, I'll be able to look out at the garden with a sense of accomplishment and will know that the garden, and the gardener, are both ready for spring.



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Upcoming Opportunities for Birdwatching Enthusiasts
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 01/14/11

Carolina Wren and female Cardinal


If you enjoy watching the birds visit your feeders, now is a great time to start thinking about the Great Backyard Bird Count. A joint project between the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this annual event is open to both novice and expert bird watchers at no cost. Participants can choose to spend as little as 15 minutes per day or many hours each day, counting and recording the birds visiting their yards or even those seen while visiting a wildlife refuge. The program is designed to allow bird enthusiasts to serve as citizen scientists, sharing their counts with ornithologists "who cannot possibly document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time" on their own. It's both a fun and helpful activity so if you have an interest in joining in, you can learn more by visiting the Great Backyard Bird Count website. The program runs from February 18 to 21, 2011.




Eastern Bluebirds, Goldfinch and male Cardinal


This will be the third year that I'll participate in the event. Last year I even went a step further and joined Project Feeder Watch, a program lasting five months long. Project Feeder Watch, unlike the Great Backyard Bird Count, requires a small fee. It is more complex, requiring a more in-depth and longer-term level of commitment, from both the participants and the ornithologists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This year the program began on November 13th but since it runs through April 8, 2011, there is still plenty of time to sign up and join in. You can learn more by visiting the Project Feeder Watch website.




Goldfinch and Eastern male Bluebird


An even longer-term program, that runs throughout the length of the entire year, has been developed and has become very popular among bird enthusiasts. e-Bird is not just a national program but takes into account global counts and sightings. Also sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it provides many perks and benefits to participants. Visit the e-Bird website to learn more.




Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Flicker


If you are feeding the birds and enjoy watching them, one (or all three) of these programs could be something you might take an interest in. Be sure to check them out and find out which one works best for you.




Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble 

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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January is Green in Charm City
by Les Parks - posted 01/08/11

     This past Thursday several of us from work went to Baltimore for the day.  Our goal was the Mid Atlantic Nursery and Trade Show, or as it is more commonly known, MANTS.  This trade show is sponsored by the nursery associations in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.  MANTS is one of several such shows around the country, and although equipment, mulches, stones, software and pottery were on display, it is primarily a plant-centric event. The show is an opportunity for companies to introduce new plants and products, publicize their inventories, handout price lists and try to strike up some new business.  There was indeed a lot of glad handing, back slapping and schmoozing going on among all the plants.

 Display from Sandy's Plants

     Unfortunately for the armies of sales people, I have already booked most of my spring purchases.  I attend MANTS to see what's new and to touch base with some of my current vendors, as well as making contact with people I may want to do business with in the future.  I also go, because where else am I going to see so much green under one roof in January.  MANTS attracts close to 1000 exhibitors, so to see everything I needed to, I had to wear blinders and ignore anything not pertinent to me.

 Coleus Collection

     MANTS is also a way to check the pulse of the green industry in general, and I can honestly say that the patient is stable and guardedly optimistic about recovery from several challenging years.  There were more than a few key players missing from this year's show, victims of the economy or their own mismanagement.  Also absent this year were the bargains being offered last year as most wholesalers have shed excess inventory.  So what does this mean for the average gardener?  I think it means that for the most part there will be plenty available this year, but if there is something you really want, buy it early.  I would also expect to see stable prices at garden centers, but few deep discounts.


(You can view a gallery of my MANTS photos from this year and last, by clicking here.) 




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Gardening by Mail
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/06/11

 Winter can be a tough adjustment for many gardeners, especially after the holiday commotion has passed by. There’s only so much a gardener can do this time of year. The garden is in full rest and most plants have settled in for a long winters nap. But don’t let that get you down. Now is the perfect time to plan for the upcoming season.

By now many of you have received your favorite gardening catalog(s) in the mail – and that’s a good thing because this month is National Mail Order Gardening Month. That’s right, it’s time to sit back and spend a little time browsing and planning for the spring garden. Garden catalogs offer an overwhelming variety of seeds, bulbs, plants and all types of accessories that’s hard to resist for any gardener. I personally enjoy looking through my new catalogs each year to see what new plants are out, or what new cool gadget I can add to my wish list. Most garden catalogs also offer wonderful photos that can often spark new ideas in your own garden.

Most garden catalogs are free and can be requested through the company’s website. Many of them offer a copy of their latest catalog online so you can have instant access to it if you can’t wait for it in the mail. If you’re new to gardening and want to get on a mailing list or two one great place to start is the Mailorder Gardening Association website. They offer a variety of catalog searching features, as well as a catalog suggestion feature that’s based on what you are looking for (trees, bulbs, exotic plants, etc.). They also have phone numbers for contacting the catalog company directly. While you’re there, be sure to check out their smart shopper guide. Another site I stumbled upon was Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs. It’s a one stop shop for over 2,000 mail-order gardening catalogs.

With today’s technology and the internet providing more information than we can imagine, one would think that mail-order garden catalogs would be a thing of the past, but that’s not the case. They’re more popular than ever with new catalogs popping up every year. I think most gardeners, including myself, look forward to getting their catalogs in the mail each year. Whether you’re looking to buy or just daydreaming, garden catalogs are a great resource and can help bring a little springtime indoors during the cold winter months. Who knows, you may find that one new plant that you can’t live without.



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Winter is for the Birds
by Jan Huston Doble - posted 01/04/11

Eastern bluebird and Cardinal

Summer and Fall are long gone and now we're officially in the midst of winter. If you haven't already, now is a great time to turn your attention to the wonderful variety of birds that call Virginia their home. As a gardener, I feed the birds year-round, but the real action doesn't begin until the weather cools down. Once that first snow falls and the temperature drops to freezing, families of birds in every color move in to dine primarily on what we provide in our feeders. We offer a variety of hardy cuisine, to include black-oil sunflower nuts, hulled sunflower nuts, safflower seed, Niger seed, suet and sometimes peanuts.


Northern Flicker

What I consider to be most important in getting the birds to come--and to come on a continuous basis--is a source of water. The day we added our heated birdbath was the day I realized just how much of a difference fresh water makes in the birds' choice of winter stomping grounds. When it's snowing, because the water is prevented from freezing, they are lined up along the edges of the birdbath, merrily drinking away. Whenever I look out my window and the birds seem few, I'm alerted that the birdbath needs refilling. It never fails to amaze me how quickly they return once it's filled up again.



Eastern Bluebirds

Every year, since we added the heated birdbath, we have been thrilled to see large groups of bluebirds, woodpeckers, finches, tufted titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, bluejays, and many others. They come here to eat and drink, and because we have bushes and trees that provide protection, some even make their winter homes here. Others fly back and forth from our yard to a more sheltered area where they make their nests. Each spring they bring their young to learn to eat from the feeders and drink from the birdbath.


Red-bellied Woodpecker

I hope you will enjoy reading my posts about attracting birds and wildlife to my yard, as well as everything else plant and nature related that I will share with you. I encourage you to leave comments and share your backyard experiences, as well. Please don't hesitate to ask questions. While I'm not an expert in anything, I will make sure I find an answer or at least direct you to a helpful resource.  I look forward to our connection through this online community!




Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble 

Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.



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The Month for Something Different
by Les Parks - posted 01/03/11

     Well the holidays are finally over, which for me is a mixed blessing.  One reason for this is that I work in retail, and any of you who have that experience listed on your resume know how it colors your Christmas experience.  However, as a gardener I need the holidays to distract me with lights and glitter from the fact that it is now winter and my time outside is brief.  The winter doldrums are one of the reasons I discovered and enjoy garden blogging, and it was in January three years ago that I first started A Tidewater Gardener.   I figured if I couldn't actually be out in the garden, then I could be talking about it with other gardeners and seeing what they were up to, and now it has nearly become an obsession that knows no season.

      So in honor of the month in which people attempt new things, I have started to blog for Virginia Gardener.  I hope you will follow along as Jan and Alan and I share our thoughts on my favorite topic - gardening.  Playing in the dirt was once just something I did when I wasn't working, but now it is my work.  Over the years I have helped many of my customers with plant ID, selection, plant care and with pest issues.  So if you have a question of that nature, please ask and I will give it my best shot.  Just a word of warning though, sometimes I am opinionated, and I can't answer any off-topic questions.  My plant knowledge comes at a cost, in that on most other topics I am a complete idiot.


     For my inaugural post I would like to share the above picture with you, because for me it says something new is coming, even in the depths of winter.  This is a Hime flowering quince (Chaenomeles'Hime') given to me by a good friend.  She could not tell me exactly which species it was, but she did say it was long flowering.  For me it begins in December and has blooms on it well into April, more than long enough to help me make it through the cold months.  I took the picture last week after the third greatest snowfall Norfolk has had since records have been kept, and I have decided to take my cue from the quince and enjoy what this season has to offer.  I hope you will follow along as well, and before we know it, spring will be here.




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Welcome! Let’s Talk Gardening
by Alan Pulley - posted 01/01/11

Wow, it’s hard to believe that another year has gone by! Where does the time go? It’s been said that time is like a handful of sand - the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your hand. It only seemed like yesterday when I was following my dad out into our large vegetable garden to lay out the rows for sowing seed. The freshly tilled soil that broke the top layer of ground created wonderful dirt clogs that were too tempting not to pick up and throw at something, or someone. Many a dirt clog war broke out in the garden between me and my younger siblings in those days; and it was those early memories that helped shape me into the gardener I am today – keep it fun and don’t hold on to tight!

I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and to say how much I’m looking forward to writing about gardening here in Virginia. I was born and raised in SE Virginia and have been gardening here ever since. I work full time (non-garden related job unfortunately) and my hobbies include gardening, birdwatching, painting, photography and of course, blogging. I have no special gardening or horticultural degree, just hands on experience and knowledge that has been passed on to me, and a lot learned through my own experiences.

Like most things, my garden interests have evolved over the years.  Today, I incorporate sustainable gardening practices in my garden, not just for me, but for the local wildlife– like creating a bird friendly backyard, and attracting butterflies and bees to the garden. Those are just some of the things that I’m looking forward to sharing here. I’m sure that I will be learning a lot from you all as well – and that will help make this a great community blog!

If you have questions please ask. If I don’t have the answer I will find out. This will be a fun learning experience for all of us so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment sharing your own knowledge and gardening experiences. This is just the beginning – please join me in this online community as we talk gardening.


If interested, you can also follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/BirdsnSuch, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/birdsnsuch, and my own personal blog here - http://www.birdsnsuch.com/



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