Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Seals are Back! Who Loves them, Who Doesn't?

I've been spending time on Cape Cod in the summer since the mid-1980s and my husband started going there as a kid in the mid 50's.  Neither of us remembers seeing gray seals in the water or on the beaches until about six or seven years ago.  (Well, my husband claims he saw them on rare occasions, sailing in Provincetown Harbor when he was very young.)

It's quite a different story now.  We see them every summer, almost every day we are there.

At first, it was just a head popping up in the surf off of  the Atlantic-side beaches of  Wellfleet and Truro. Was that really a seal?  It was thrilling to see them. Not surprisingly, Cape fisherman were aware of the seals' return for far longer.

Then we started reading in the local (and national) news about the large colonies that would congregate on sandbars at low-tide , places like the Chatham sandbar, and at Truro's Head of the Meadow beach.  Here they are last September on Wellfleet's Coast Guard Beach -- hundreds of them lounging on the sand and swimming in the shallow water between the bar and the beach.

They have drawn fans who, like us, were cheered to see that the species has rebounded since the killing of seals was outlawed in the early 1970's.

This was a blustery day and no longer peak tourist season, so a relatively small crowd is trekking down the beach to get a closer look.

Along with the seals have come greater numbers of  Great White sharks, which prey on the seal's fatty meat.  Beaches have been closed due to shark sightings.  Swimmers are advised to stay out of the water if seals are present (common sense, no?)  as well as in the late afternoon when sharks tend to feed.  But some Cape Codders have tried to embrace the sharks; Chatham launched a campaign too attract visitors with shark tourism.   The resurgence of seals and sharks has also provided new opportunities for research by scientists at places such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast Fisheries Services Center (NEFSC)

Cape Cod's fishermen are not so excited to see the seals returning by the thousands, as this news report explains.  They view the seals as competitors, consuming ever greater numbers of the fish they depend on for their livelihood.

The situation is a bit reminiscent of the return of wolves to western states, where ranchers complain that their livestock are being preyed upon by wolves.  Since wolves have been removed from the endangered list, ranchers, scientists and animal rights activists often struggle to find ways to satisfy each others interests.  Some advocate for culling the herds, others fight for better livestock management practices.

For now, the seals of Cape Cod remain a protected species.  But, as the populations increase so will the pressure to deal with similar competing interests.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Late Summer in Fern Valley (And the Capitol Columns)

As a distraction from the current frigid weather in the Washington D.C. metro area, I'm returning to photographs I took of Fern Valley, the U.S. National Arboretum's native plant collection, in August of last year.

In late summer, the shady forest that comprises the largest part of this garden is a peaceful reprieve from the heat.  August may not be as popular among visitors as the spring, when ephemeral wildflowers are blooming, but the woods are lush and verdant, offering a wide array of shades of green and leafy textures. There are some late summer flowers under the canopy too.

Lacy Maiden Hair Fern 
The waxy leaves of Nyssa sylvatica turn early to a brilliant red

The distinctive, rustic benches, bridges, and other structures in Fern Valley were designed and built by David Robinson, whose work also appears in Manhattan's Central Park and at Wave Hill, a public garden in the Bronx.

A branch of a Nyssa coloring before the rest of the tree 

Phlox blooming

Most of the plants grown in Fern Valley are straight species, but there is a newer section that includes cultivars like this Lobelia, which might be 'Fried Green Tomatoes,' a variety that has deep burgundy foliage.

The amazingly intricate passion flower.  Yes, it's hardy in Washington D.C. 

At the edge of the woods, a path leads to the meadow, a tangle of tall grasses and blooms on display from about the middle of summer until late fall.

The columns, which once stood at the east portico of the U.S. Capitol building, only a few miles away, offer a dramatic backdrop to many views within the Arboretum, including this one.  They have become an Arboretum icon and probably are one of the most photographed features. But how could they not be? They are the quintessential temple on a hill, like an ancient relic from an earlier civilization.

British landscape designer, Russel Page, sited the columns on a rise at the edge of the Ellipse, a 20-acre open field, and this prominent position makes them a nexus between several important Arboretum collections at the perimeter of the Ellipse -- the Herb Garden, Fern Valley, the Bonsai Museum, the Azalea Collection, and the Grove of State Trees.  And you will see the columns, at some point, as you visit each of these areas.  Here's a map of the grounds.

It is wonderful to be immersed in the wildness of the  meadow and then look up to find this immense classical structure in the distance.

I think this is the seed head of Adropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem.

There are big swaths of yellow composites in the meadow, which may include several species of Silphium, such as laciniata, mollis, and perfoliatum, as well as some Rudbeckia.  They are a show-stopping sea of yellow, which is usually alive with insects, and, if there's any breeze, it can be mesmerizing to watch the tall stems sway to and fro, and to listen to the soft rustling of their movement.

Then, if you need a rest from all that intense color and heat, you can slip back into the shade of tall Tulip poplars, Beech, and Hickories

Monday, December 1, 2014

Becoming a Public Garden

High Glen is a newly-developed 64-acre estate in Frederick, MD,  about 45 miles northwest of Washington, DC.  The family who owns and lives on the property intends to open it to the public in 10 to 15 years.   Meanwhile, even though it's technically not open yet, garden clubs and groups can visit by appointment, which I did in late September.

I took these photographs in the middle of the day under bright sunshine, so they are not the best, and I'm not a stellar photographer to begin with, but you'll get the idea of what's there.  More and better photos are available on the High Glen Facebook Page

It's an ambitious project and one I've never seen at this stage -- i.e.,a public estate garden in its infancy.  A good deal has been achieved in a relatively short period of time. (According to the Facebook Page, the garden was "founded" in 2005.)  And, it's a generous act by the family, who wish to remain as anonymous as possible,  to create a display garden for public enjoyment.  Needless to say, having the resources is one hurdle, but having the motivation and interest is another, and they seem to have plenty of both.

There are 3 permanent horticulturists working at High Glen -- the head gardener was previously at the New York Botanical Garden -- and 2 seasonal gardeners.  That's pretty ample staffing for 10 acres of cultivated area, and it shows -- the gardens were immaculate.

Lots of seasonal color on display in the Cottage Garden

According to our guide, the owners hired a landscape architecture firm used by many of the big, established public gardens, such as Longwood Gardens, which helped them develop a master plan that will guide gradual expansion beyond the current iteration.  Establishing a tree canopy is one component.

High Glen has broad vistas all around as it appears to be sitting in the middle of former and existing farmland, so there are no large established trees, such as oaks, tulip poplar, or hickory.  It does feel a bit exposed, though the views help remind you of where you are.  That's a good thing because some aspects of the garden are reminiscent enough of other public estate gardens that you could be, well, not anywhere, but a lot of places.  Or, have I just seen too many gardens..... ?  (Here's an aerial view from the HG Facebook page.)

A view of the Catoctin Mountains 

Little Bluestem 'Standing Ovation' (?), the bluish-red grass, and
Popcorn Senna (Tall, yellow legume-like flower in the back corner) are interesting choices,
not often seen in a formal border  

The Summer House

Looking toward the rose garden and small greenhouse
As you can see, High Glen aspires to be a grand garden with many of the requisite components of the best, most admired east coast public estate gardens.   There's the grand house (photographing it is discouraged, though you can catch it on HG's FB page), formal axial centerpiece, a native garden, a horn beam ellipse (perhaps inspired by Dumbarton Oaks), a rose, herb, vegetable, Japanese, and Mediterranean garden with a rustic summer house, a long perennial border, and hawthorn orchard.  I'm sure I've probably left out something.  
A section of Hornbeam Ellipse  

The native plant garden 
One of the "Four Seasons" statues in the rose garden 


I'm not sure what else is coming at High Glen, although our guide mentioned renovating some existing areas.  (I was so preoccupied with taking photographs, I think I missed some of the 'future plans' portion of the talk and probably more), but I imagine the gardens will spread out towards the outer reaches of the property, perhaps developing more naturalistic areas.   I hope so.  Some wildness could help the garden feel more anchored, less stark.  Of course, it's just a youngster.    

Shady seating around the pool. 
Hawthorn Orchard

You can barely glimpse the turquoise pool through the palm frond 
Admiring the Purple Hyacinth Beans at the back of the vegetable garden? 

"Bedding out " in front of the house

I was encouraged to learn from their Facebook page that HG has a restored wetland and upland meadow  on the edge of the property, a seeming sign of land stewardship, whether required as part of the property development or voluntary, I don't know.  As a new garden, High Glen has an opportunity to experiment and try something different, influence attitudes about what garden-making could be -- beautiful, well-tended, but, among other things, less reliant on supplemental water, chemicals, and high levels of maintenance.   There are many ways to cultivate a garden.    Examples are out there, and perhaps High Glen's master plan will incorporate areas that are more environmentally sensitive as it comes to fruition.   It will be interesting to see how things develop.     

One of the neighboring farms seen in the distance

The barn where our tour began and ended. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Views along the Pamet: Truro's Tidal River and a Hopper Painting

For more than 10 years we soaked up the views of the Pamet River and its beautiful marshy shoulders every September until the house we rented was sold to people who planned to live there year round. We decamped to neighboring Wellfleet for a few years. Then I found a "new" house,  a little farther up the river.  So, happily, this September we were back watching the tide ebb and flow in the Pamet, which winds its way for about 4 miles between Cape Cod Bay to the west and Ballston Beach on the Atlantic to the east.  The section west of  Route 6 is the most picturesque and navigable, a kayak is perfect, but small motor and sail boats use it too, as long as it's about two hours on either side of high tide; otherwise, there's the risk of running aground on muddy flats, which appear at dead low.

Some views of high tide, then low.

Somewhere in between tides

There's a trail along the edge of the marsh.  

Follow the trail toward the Bay and you come to a slightly elevated path running along an old railroad bed.  You can walk this towards Pamet Harbor until it ends where an old trestle, now gone, used to take the trains across the river.  Just to the left of the Juniper you can barely make out the shadow of the path along the railroad bed; it runs more or less perpendicular to the river. That's Pamet Harbor to the right.  (photo below)

The house in the distance, to the left of the tree, can be seen close up below.  It belongs to a family that's been in Truro for several generations and ran a cold storage business in Truro.  These early freezer businesses were crucial to the fishing industry for processing and refrigerating the catch. Proximity to the railroad made for easy transportation of ice and seafood.  

Next door is a house owned by the same family, which Edward Hopper painted in 1936.  The painting is titled " The House with the Rain Barrel."  If you stood on the right side of the house and slightly behind it, you'd get a similar perspective as the one in the painting. (Just the side of the porch is visible in the painting.)   

The landscape is virtually treeless in the painting as it was, I think, by the early to mid 19th century. Trees had been felled for nearly three centuries by the 1930's for fuel, building of houses, ships, fences, you name it, and to make way for farming.   

 Hopper and his wife lived in Truro during the depression;  his house still stands near Fisher Beach.  

People talk about "Cape Light," the ethereal light that plays on the Cape Cod landscape. Photographer Joel Meyerowitz produced a famous series of Cape images in the 1970's with that title, which may have launched the term.   The Pamet at sunset is one of those times when the light and landscape seem especially attuned--the grasses glow and the water shimmers silver.  

This view is looking away from the Bay in the direction of Rte 6 to the east.

Looking west into the Bay.  The breakwater, the dark horizontal line at the top left,  marks one side of the gut, a channel leading out of Pamet Harbor.  The areas on either side of the channel are shallow enough that you can walk across at low tide to reach the Bay-side beach without getting  wet much above your knees.