Category Archives: Nature

Quercus Closeup

In typical spring fashion, our April weather has run the gamut. Luckily, we’ve had more than of our share of “just right” conditions for gardening, with cool temperatures warmed by sunshine. A few days ago, however, our first major thunderstorm swept through with a squall line of strong winds and heavy rain.

Thankfully, we didn’t experience any damage and in the course of picking up the small branches that always litter the garden after high winds, I found something amazing.

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Comparison of mid-April foliage of white and red oaks.

It was the branch tip of a white oak heavy with catkins (the male flowers that produce the wind-borne pollen that fertilize the female flowers) and best of all–tiny, perfectly formed baby leaves.

There are more than 600 species of oak worldwide (60 in North America) and the genus, Quercus, comprises two groups, white oaks and red oaks. White oaks, which typically have rounded lobes on their leaves, produce acorns that mature in a single year, while red oaks have pointed lobes and acorns that mature in two years.

Additionally, the groups can usually, but not always, be distinguished by their bark. In general, white oaks have bark that is a light to medium shade of gray, sometimes exhibiting a scaly appearance, while the bark of red oaks is typically darker in color and lined with deep furrows.

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Comparison of the treetops, with the white oak on the far left.

Here, in my garden, the red oaks break dormancy a week or two before the white, and if you look at the treetops now, you can clearly see the difference. There is an even greater contrast in autumn, as the white oaks cling to their leaves into early December, well after all other deciduous trees are bare.

Tuesday View–October 10, 2017

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared any news, but I haven’t had the heart. These photos, taken on Tuesday, September 12, the morning after Hurricane Irma crossed the Upstate, tell the story.

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View looking towards the carport from the front porch.

 

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Towards the house and carport from the top of the drive.
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And down the street, with our house on the left.

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The white oak from our garden that pulled down a telephone pole (seen just beyond the tree) with electric, cable, and telephone wires.

Irma, a tropical storm when it reached South Carolina, brought several inches of rain and wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour, which was a misfortune for us and our neighbor to the north. Together, we lost six towering trees, and many smaller trees, including three eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) that provided a barrier between the two properties and a beautiful Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) beside our carport.

One of the largest trees in our front garden, a white oak (Quercus alba), toppled a telephone pole as it fell. So, we were without electricity for 4 days and had neither cable nor telephone (landline) for 10 days.

When you live through a storm like this, however, you count your blessings. No one here was hurt and nothing was damaged that can’t be fixed.  And soon after the photos above were taken, good neighbors arrived and helped us clear the driveway.

Many others suffered much worse and are still suffering, especially those in the Caribbean. Not only from Irma, but also Harvey, Maria, and Nate. Today, sadly, there is news of a new tropical storm, Ophelia, which is forecast to reach hurricane strength by Thursday.

In the next weeks, we will have 3 additional trees removed, since they’ve been left in precarious position. Then, repairs will be made and a new roof put on the carport and house. All should be in good order again before Thanksgiving.

Even today, when the sun finally broke through the clouds after soaking rains, I could see a bit of the old magic.  After just four weeks, the garden is already recovering its charms.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

 

 

 

Sunflower Daze

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A small part of the 10 acres of sunflowers on the Pellett farm.

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When the plants are young and supple they rotate with the sun, but as their stems grow rigid they become fixed in the direction of the sunrise.

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The rays of this immature bloom are just beginning to color.

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One tallboy backlit by the afternoon sun.

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And all host to a multitude of pollinators, including variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia).

In A Vase and more…

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Easy-to-love sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) add an extra measure of charm to the sunporch.

Even though it’s a bit overwhelming for the small French table, I couldn’t resist putting this vase of sunflowers next to my favorite chair where I enjoy my first cup of morning coffee with Bella (seen here) and Rudy, both snuggled in my lap. It’s a great place to watch the sun come up and, in winter when the trees are bare, to observe the squirrels welcome the day, leaping from tree limb to tree limb.

Perched above a steep slope that reaches down to the Reedy River, the sunporch provides pretty views throughout the year, especially in spring when the Carolina silverbell (Helesia tetraptera) blooms. Last summer, miserably hot and dry from May through October, was cause for complaint, but we’ve had plenty of rain so far this year. The total for the first six months was just shy of 30 inches, which puts us nearly seven inches ahead. Fingers crossed our good luck holds, so nature continues to rebound from the drought of 2016.

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The native sunflower is grown as a crop in all contiguous 48 states.

Sunflowers, such as these beauties, were domesticated in the western U.S. from native plants more than 1,000 years ago and were introduced to Europe courtesy of the Spaniards in 1510. It wasn’t until the plant reached Russia in the late 1800s, however, that its value was recognized and it began to be improved as a modern crop. Today, oilseed varieties contain nearly 50% oil, more than twice the amount of native species. Vegetable oil is the plant’s primary use, but it’s also cropped as a snack food, for bird and livestock feed, and for industrial uses. The hulls, a side product, are made into poultry litter, fireplace logs, and other high-fiber products.

These sunflowers were grown for a different reason, however. They came from a friend who plants 10 acres of the flowers on his farm to attract birds. Finches, he notes, will eat immature seeds, but most others wait for the heavy heads to mature. ‘Peredovik’ is the most common variety selected for wildlife.

Did you notice the vase? It’s a salt-glazed jug I found on my recent garden tour to Flanders, plucked from a flea market in Bruges for 10 euro. I have a weakness for old pottery and this jug, with its two-tone finish, reminded me of pots in Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower series. The vendor said it dated from the 1930s and was probably used to bring beer from a barrel in the basement up to the table. Overall, I found Bruges disappointing because of its commercialism and horde of tourists, but I did manage a few pretty canal photos, including this one.

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Bruges, May 2017.

One visit on the tour that didn’t disappoint was the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands where I learned a great deal more about Van Gogh. Helene Kroller-Muller was one of the first to recognize the genius of the artist and the museum she founded has the second-largest collection of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

No print can do Van Gogh justice. Viewed in person, the colors and brushstokes of his paintings convey indescribable emotion.  I was particularly drawn to Wheatstacks in Provence (1888).

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Wheatstacks in Provence, Vincent van Gogh, June 1888.

Wheat was a frequent subject for Van Gogh, who saw sowing, plowing, and harvesting wheat as symbolic of birth, life, and death; a way to find meaning in nature and its cycles. He wrote to his sister, Wil, “What the germinating force is in a grain of wheat, love is in us.”

Any gardener, I think, will appreciate this sentiment…and perhaps question if Van Gogh was as crazy as conventional history teaches.

Back in the sunroom, I’m celebrating nature on a much smaller scale with a little collection of houseplants, including staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum), crocodile fern (Microsorum musifolium), and beefsteak begonia (B. x erythrophylla). This trio is nearly all that remains from the 30 or so potted plants I grew this past winter for a spring flower show. The begonia, cultivated from a stem cutting, received a blue ribbon, the staghorn fern a yellow, and the crocodile fern a white.

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(L to R) Staghorn fern, crocodile fern, and beefsteak begonia.

Until recently, I’ve never taken to houseplants, but the shady garden here and lack of blooms makes growing any plant more rewarding. These, of all in the bunch, were the easiest to grow and were kept simply because I enjoyed them most.

There’s another collection of sorts too. These small ginger jars are also loot from the recent trip, found in a antique store in Weesp, just after the visit to Jacqueline van der Kloet’s Tea Garden.

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More old pottery with a bit of bling.

Despite their grime (the jar in the foreground has been cleaned), I guessed they were vintage rather than antique. I don’t remember jars like this in use, but was told they were made for importing ginger from China, perhaps as recently as the 1950s and 60s.

The lamp is created from a pottery piece of unknown origin found at a flea market in Charlotte, North Carolina. The sparkling knife rests, also once covered in dirt and grime, were found in a tiny shop at Chateau de Loose on last summer’s trip to the Dordogne. They proved to be real treasure–lead crystal–when the airport x-ray machine read them as metal weapons, triggering a bag search.

Sunflowers, dogs, pottery, weather, hybridization, birds, art, travel, houseplants, souvenirs…goodness, I have rambled on, haven’t I? But it’s good to be home after a long stretch away, to relish family, friends, and the comfort of my nest, and to find, finally, the leisure to write.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday–On top of the world!

Although gardening is the usual topic here, I hope you’ll enjoy a few pics from a sightseeing tour preceding the 2017 GFWC Convention in Palm Springs, California, sharing incredible views of the Coachella Valley from Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Accessed by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which travels two-and-one-half miles up the Chino Canyon to an elevation of 8,516 feet, the park is typically 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the valley below. During the eight days our group of 800+ clubwomen were celebrating another year of community service, the daily high temperature in Palm Springs ranged from 122 to 115 degrees F.

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Palm Springs, partially hidden in this view by tall evergreens, is a desert oasis along the San Andreas Fault that collects moisture from surrounding mountains.

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Mt. San Jacinto State Park offers observation decks with stunning views, a natural history museum and documentary theaters, a gift shop and two restaurants, and 50 miles of hiking trails…but keep an eye out for rattle snakes.

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Enjoying the fun and a cool breeze with my friend and cohort, Jolie Frankfuth, GFWC Director of Junior Clubs.

 

In Living Color

I very much enjoyed hearing your advice about selection of best image for the upcoming Flower Show Photography Contest. Thank you! The deadline for entries is today, so the photograph is at J&D Photos now being printed and mounted on black foam board.

Since there were wonderful comments about each photo, I thought you might enjoy seeing them in color too.  Look how different they are!

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Beach Walk: Sunrise on Pawley’s Island

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Can you hear the waves and feel the wind on your cheek?

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Winter Reflections: Ashmore Heritage Preserve

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So quiet and barely a breeze here. The dark red you see in front of the split-rail fence is a bog filled with hundreds of mountain sweet pitcher plants (Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii).

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Solitude: Glacier Bay, Alaska

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Alone in one of the most beautiful and remote places on earth, with 3,000 other guests and a crew of 1,200. You could have heard a pin drop.

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Fresh Catch: Bald Eagle in Clover Passage, Katchikan, Alaska

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There are simply no words to describe an experience like this!

Do the images look the way you thought they would?

Does the addition of color change your favorite?

After more thought, I eliminated two photos. Beach Walk was taken with my older camera and the resolution was not quite up to par. Solitude, one of my favorite photos of all times, was too risky. One of the contest guidelines noted works should “reflect the interests of the Garden Club of America,” and I was afraid the judges would discredit the photo because of the cruise ship.

The selection came down to the final two, but both had slight problems. The first, Winter Reflections, is dramatic but not unusual.  In fact, it looks like an image you would see in a calendar or made into a puzzle. Plus, there is a class for trees, which might influence its appraisal. Fresh Catch is dramatic, but the tips of the eagle’s wing feathers are not in the frame and the focus on the subject is good, but not fabulous.

In the end, I decided to take my chances with Fresh Catch.  Why?  It is as powerful as a monochrome image as it is in color.  Plus, your comments proved it is a subject to be reckoned with. I know the photo will be admired, even if it is not the winner.

Fingers crossed!