Saturday, September 22, 2018

Anne's Exuberant Garden

 It might look like plants have a free-for-all in this garden, but not really.  Yes, there is a lot of self-sowing going on, I'm a little bit envious of how much, but Anne edits them when they show up in unwanted spots.

Hibiscus coccineus

I love the exuberance.  While editing happens, plants are also allowed to seek their own equilibrium.

self-sowing Salvia coccinea

I think even some of the Acorn squash may have self-sown themselves.  How nice!

Cleome, Spider Flower

Helenium amarum (?), Dwarf helenium

Iris domestica, Blackberry Lily

Salvia 'Black & Blue'
This beautiful Salvia usually comes back for Anne.  It's in a fairly protected site in front of her house with lots of sun. 

And she is a seed collector.  Lucky me, I got some poppy seeds.  She has some beautiful colors, though I think the seed heads are quite attractive themselves.

Anne's Asters were just starting to come on when I took these photos about 3 weeks ago.  They are probably glorious now and I'll have to go back for the show as she has quite a collection.

water collection -- can waste the rain! 
Another handsome Helenium

Helianthus tuberosus is a prolific yellow composite and, of course, you can eat the tubers, though I don't really know what to do with them.  Anne says "One of my books says it 'may be difficult to eradicate.'  There's no 'maybe' about it.  After they bloom I yank them out.  I have two -- the wild one and one that grew out of a Jerusalem artichoke from the grocery store.  The difference is in the root.  The grocery store one has nice bulbous roots, like knobbly potatoes, the wild one has thick fleshy roots --like thick fingers--that break off when you yank them."

Yes, the plants are even allowed the cracks in the driveway.  The tall plant (below) is an Artemisia, which to me smells like Santolina.  The appealing, pungent aroma is released each time Anne backs out of the driveway and over the plant.   Now that's  a tough plant and a gardener who knows how to appreciate them!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Surfing with Sharks on Cape Cod

Here's Newcomb Hollow Beach this past Thursday evening.  We were on this lovely Welfleet, Massachusetts, beach for a friend's neighborhood pot luck and bonfire.  Sadly, a young man died as a result of injuries from a Great White shark attack in the middle of the following day on this same beach.

Newcomb Hollow Beach looking north

Arriving around 5:30 pm, we scratched our heads, watching dozens of surfers in the water at shark 'feeding' time.  The invincibility of youth?  The pictures don't show it, but a group of  a dozen or more surfers and a few paddle boarders were clustered together.  Supposedly there is some safety in numbers, or so I've read.  

Generally, sharks tend to hunt in the late afternoon, evening and early morning.  Yet this most recent shark-related fatality -- the first in 80 some years-- happened in the middle of the day.   

I imagine local officials are reeling from the news and the varying reactions from tourists and locals.  The sharks have always been present, but as the seal population has exploded -- they remain on the endangered list -- shark sightings are increasing.  I suspect there is also more tracking going on than ever before.  It's not uncommon to see planes circling overhead at an ocean side beach as pilots try and spot Great whites from above.  And the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's "Sharktivity" app  has enabled thousands to follow shark sightings.   

Fisherman push to to cull the seal population (some scientists say it will have little or no effect) as they resent the competition, where as tourists resist any negative impact on the seals.   Meanwhile, sharks are benefiting from the resurgence of blubbery seal meat.  
Surfing at around 6pm.

I think this young woman came out and stayed out of the water while others carried on in the waning light.   

It was an absolutely beautiful evening.  

A NOAA scientist who spent twenty years on the Pacific in California before moving to the east coast offers this perspective: 

[In California] “There’s kind of a piece to it where people have come to accept, this is the reality of living in my environment, like a tornado or earthquake or hurricane,” he said. “I totally respect people’s fears about it, but I wonder whether, just because it’s novel here and Jaws is the bogeyman of Cape Cod, that this creates a particularly heightened awareness and cultural sensitivity.”

Can Cape Codders come to accept Great Whites and learn to co-exist?  It is a tough question when the loss of life is so fresh.  Time will tell.  

Monday, July 30, 2018

On the Water at Mattawoman Creek

The wild rice and American lotus were blooming on my first paddle along Mattawoman Creek, a freshwater tributary of the Potomac that winds through Prince George's and Charles County, Maryland.  I put in about mid-way up the creek at Mattingly Park boat ramp in Indian Head, MD,  and headed upstream away from the Potomac.

It's a beautiful creek that was a model of pristine conditions up until the early 1990s when  development started picking up in Charles County.  From what I can glean from reading various reports online, several groups, from local environmentalists to the Sierra Club, pushed the the county to implement a plan to protect the Mattawoman and its surrounding watershed from development and in 2016 the county board finally did. Meanwhile, in June of this year millions of gallons of raw waste flowed into the creek when sewage pumps failed during heavy rains.  So it is a somewhat familiar scenario of several steps forward and then a step back.  Those pumps need a backup! 

The combination of the lotus, pickerel weed, and wild rice creates beautiful layers.

I saw dozens of fishermen and women who say they catch bass, snakeheads, perch and other fish.  Mattawoman is also known for its anadromous shad and herring, which migrate back to the creek to spawn each year.

The wild rice is an annual grass, bearing wispy female flowers at the very top of the stem with chunkier male flowers appearing just below.  The male flowers develop rice grains.  

Mattawoman has several fingers that stretch out from the main channel and are perfect for exploring in a kayak even with the tide going out, which is was on Saturday morning.  Two of the fingers at the very north end wind their way until the tree canopy closes in above; at that point I finally had to turn around as the water became only a few inches deep.   It was a pleasant round trip of about 6 to 7 miles.  

I know the image below is a water scene, but it makes me think of the prairie -- or what I imagine the prairie must look like-- the tall wild rice like giant prairie grasses waving against a deep blue sky. 

Some white hibiscus appeared here and there like the ones below.  

No pictures, but egrets, blue herons, kingfishers and killdeer were abundant.

The remains of an old industrial site sits about a mile up the creek on the right hand side.  Surprisingly, I could find no information about its origins.  Perhaps it was connected to the Naval Support Facility downstream, which claims to be the Navy's oldest continuously running  ordinance station.  Did they make munitions here?  I would love to hear if anyone knows.

Try Mattawoman Creek if you're looking for a leisurely paddle with wildlife and beautiful scenery.  You won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Still Life

I'm straying from my usual focus, but I wanted to show these to someone, and posting them was an easy way to do so.  These were inspired by still-life paintings posted here

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rhododendrons in the Mist: Hiking Roan Highlands

Finally, I made it to the southern Appalachians to see the native rhododendrons and azaleas blooming in the wild.  Don Hyatt of the Potomac Valley chapter of the American Rhododendron Society (ARS) is largely responsible for luring me to this visual feast.  Also a member of our local rock garden  chapter (again  a 'Potomac Valley' chapter, but of the North American Rock Garden Society, NARGS), Don has been visiting the native azaleas and rhododendrons (all are botanically classified as rhododendrons) for a couple of decades.  He has shared his travels in presentations for our rock garden chapter, including tantalizing images of expansive views and big swaths of rhododenrons and azaleas in awe inspiring hues. I wanted to see them for myself. 

Don's hiking companion, George Mclellan, unbelievably almost 80-years-old, ( I hope I have his endurance when I am his age), has been coming even longer.  They know the plants so intimately they have named several with exceptional characteristics -- 'Big Bird', a big yellow R. calendulaceum, Flame azalea; 'Molten Lava', a glowing yellow-orange one.  There are others I can't remember.  

Rhododendron catawbiense, Catawba rhododendron -- in the mist 

The infamous Don Hyatt

The rest of our motley crew (l to r) Joe, Halit, Mike, Charlie, and George, who has been visiting for
something like  25 years.
By the time we hiked Roan our group had grown to seven (five of us began the trip in southwestern VA several days earlier), including Charlie Andrews, president of the Azalea chapter of ARS (Georgia), a passionate native azalea expert, and Mike Bamford, also from that chapter and a newbie like me, as neither of us had walked this way before.  For Joe or Halit it was a repeat visit.

Starting at Carver's Gap, 5512 foot elevation, the hike takes you over three balds -- Round Bald, Jane Bald and, finally, Grassy Ridge Bald at 6,165 feet.  Beginning in North Carolina, the trail crisscrosses the North Carolina-Tennessee border and follows the Appalachian Trail until it veers off to the right towards Grassy Ridge Bald.

From a distance, the Catawba rhododendrons appear pruned as they are compact, their lower leaves mostly gone, exposing lichen-covered trunks and their rounded tops are relatively a uniform height. "So patterned is their arrangement that one might think this is a portion of some great estate, a detached portion, perhaps of the fabled Vanderbilt holdings near Asheville," wrote Maurice Brooks about the Roan Highlands in 1965 in The Appalachians

It is somehow comforting to know that Brooks, a Professor of Wildlife Management at West Virginia University for more than 30 years, retiring in 1969, and an authority on the ecology of the whole Appalachian range, saw more than 50 years ago what I saw.  Charlie says the deer are grazing on them, but the altitude and winds have shaped them too, as has the grazing of livestock by local farmers and the Catawba Indians before them.

The trail dips before rising over the next bald.  Clouds rolled in and out. 
Views appeared and disappeared as clouds floated in and out, over and around us.  The sun dodged about, suddenly shining on a stretch of landscape set off by darker terrain in the distance still under overcast skies.  The changeable light was dramatic. 

Dare I say some of the R. calendulaceum were more beautiful in bud than in flower?  The striations of color can be exquisite.  These plants typically produce flowers ranging from deep orange-red to pale yellow and everything in between.  They bloom for about a four tsix weeks, usually beginning in mid-June.  The Flame azalea is the only species on Roan, according to Charlie's excellent article in The Azalean, Spring 2018 issue. 

Balsam and Fraser fir grow on the slopes of the balds.  Mike and I began trading stories of hiking on Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as we are both originally from New England, perhaps sparked by seeing vegetation reminiscent of Mt. Washington?  As Brooks points out, the "Southern peaks [of the Appalachians] in the 6,ooo-foot range, all of them in North Carolina and neighboring Tennessee, are clothed in spruce and fir forest, in appearance almost identical with the one on Mount Washington just below the 5000-foot contour."   The tallest of the southern Appalachians, Roan among them, are as tall or taller than Mt. Washington.  However, the southern mountains never reach above the treeline, unlike their northern cousins, yet they share some similar plants and habitat but at slightly different elevations.  

Mike looks back at  the view behind.  

George leads the way over the bald with Charlie behind.  They look as if they might leap into the clouds. 

Below you can see the range of color in R. calendulaceum, yellow to orange, growing together.  Azaleas tend to grow in protected areas like this southern slope and are sometimes confused with R. cumberlandense, which can have vivid red to orange flowers, rarely yellow.  The Cumberlands bloom later, however, generally have smaller flowers, and the undersides of the leaves can have a whitish or blueish cast.

Stone, conifer, and rhododendron beautifully arranged along the slope.

The veteran members of the group told us the bloom on Roan this year was not at its most spectacular.  Some of the Flame azaleas were still in bud -- how nice that they take their time -- and the Catawbas simply did not have as many blossoms as  they can during a banner year.   I will take their word for it, but can't complain as the scenery was fabulous.   The bloom was plentiful if not its most robust.  
A plant with tight congested flowers

Charlie leaves the trail to check on old friends

The bright green in the lower left mayld be Bracken fern 

Big patches of vaccinium like the ones below are also here and provide brilliant red fall color, a reason to return later in the season, if not for the blueberries!

Not a bad view for a cloudy day! 
Those "pruned" rhododendrons again.  

 As you begin and end the hike, the trail passes through a forest of conifers, which is quite a contrast going from cloistered woodland to open meadows.  


Alas, this was my last day with the group. They continued on the following day to Robbinsville, NC, and then into the Smokies.   Our adventure began in Grayson Highlands State Park in southwestern VA, and also included visits along the upper Blue Ridge Parkway south of Fancy Gap (the Linville Falls was a highlight) and to Elk Knob, where more flora and fauna dazzled.  (A post on that to come.)  The Roan Highlands were exceptional, however.  My appetite is whetted for a return to the south mountains next year when I hope to get into the Smokies.  Go if you can; it is a wonderland!