Category Archives: Nature

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!

IAVOM and more…

Please don’t say, “Oh no, another Hippeastrum!”

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Hippeastrum ‘Ambiance’

Well yes, but it’s the last one. Besides, it’s so beautiful with its clear white and clear red feathered together to create a blazing star. Unfortunately, the flower has no fragrance. The bulb does, however, have two bloom stalks, so it get’s a gold star for productivity, as well as this highlight for In a Vase on Monday.

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Wow, what drama! Notice the very fine line of red outlining each petal.

Ordered just before Christmas from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, ‘Ambiance’ has taken it’s time, but I think it was worth the wait, don’t you? Even though many value these flowering bulbs as holiday embellishments only, I enjoy them best in the slower months of winter when I have time to savor their day-by-day growth and fabulous blooms.

One other note about these photos before moving on. I often complain about having too much shade (all shade really) in the garden, but you can see why my husband, Tim, and I fell for this home the minute we walked in the door. Though this sunporch was added just last year, we have similar views from the kitchen and bedroom. Since the land slopes away from the back of the house down to the river, we have the effect of living in a treehouse, with fabulous views (especially in winter) of the park-like golf course on the far side of the Reedy. It’s not only a beautiful setting, it’s also a wildlife haven. Blue herons and a variety of hawks are frequent guests.  Coyotes, deer, and raccoons are not uncommon, and we’ve even spotted owls, wild turkeys, otters, and beavers.

Here’s something else happening on the sunporch.

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‘Chantilly’ seedlings under the grow light.

Tim has fixed a clamp to the window frame for a grow light, as I’m attempting to grow ‘Chantilly’ snapdragons from seed for an early April flower show. The seedlings get a short period of early morning light (as seen here), plus about 16 hours from the grow light each day, and are fertilized with dilute fish emulsion once a week. They look awfully spindly to me, though. Any suggestions?

I’m also registered for the Photography portion of the event, Class 2, Flowing Water, “A monochrome photograph of flowing water in any form.”

I’m having trouble deciding.  Which of these images do you think is a winner?

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Beach Walk: Sunrise on Pawley’s Island

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Winter Reflections: Ashmore Heritage Preserve

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Solitude: Glacier Bay, Alaska

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

 

 

Beauty of the Beech

The winter view from the sunporch includes the colorful leaves of American beech trees.

The winter view of the woodland includes the colorful leaves of Fagus grandifolia.

When I posted this photo on Monday to highlight the flowering Hippeastrum, I couldn’t help but look beyond the windows to admire the parchment-like leaves of a group of young American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia), and the warm color they add to the mostly gray and brown winter landscape.

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Smooth gray bark makes a beech tree easy to identify.

The native beech is common in our neighborhood and easy to spot any time of year because of its smooth gray bark, which is sometimes carved by lovebirds and others who want to make their mark. In fall, the tree’s green leaves turn yellow and then russet brown, but rather than falling, many cling tightly to their branches throughout the cold season, eventually fading to pale parchment and curling into cylinders that rattle against one another in the slightest breeze.

What accounts for the winter dress of the beech tree?

Most deciduous trees shed their leaves by producing an enzyme that creates an abscission layer between the leaf petiole and the tree branch. When the cell walls of this specialized layer disintegrate, the leaf easily detaches in a gust of wind or sprinkle of rain.

Beeches, however, belong to a group of trees that are marcescent [märˈses(ə)nt], meaning they hold on to all or most of their leaves until spring. Like some oaks and hornbeams, beeches either fail to form an abscission layer or delay its development, so leaves stay on the tree long after they become lifeless and dry.

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A neighborhood oak with dull brown leaves on its lowest branches.

Marcescence is more common on younger trees and on the lower, more juvenile, portions of older trees. In my garden, this is particularly true of oaks, but these dull brown, crinkled leaves are a poor substitute for the beech’s tiers of lacy, warm-hued foliage.

No one really knows the purpose of marcescence, but there are theories. Some believe the unpalatable leaves keep tender buds and branches from being browsed by hungry herbivores like deer and moose. Others suggest the leaves provide protection from injury when conditions are especially dry or frigid.

Whatever the reason, I love the rich color the beech trees add to the winter landscape and the whispered conversations offered by their shimmering leaves when I walk among their branches. Surely they must be chatting about spring, and the many blue skies and warm days just ahead.

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Snow Days

Winter arrived in full force this weekend with temperatures dropping late Friday, changing rain to sleet and then snow.  Though newscasters claim Greenville received 5 inches, our total was about half that amount if you measured generously.

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Saturday morning, January 7, 2017.

By afternoon, the sun had appeared and most of the snow melted from the roads, thank goodness. The temperature continued its nose dive, however, and it was a very brisk 16 F (-9 C) when I took the dogs out this morning.

The birds seemed to know bad weather was headed our way. They’ve been busy at the feeders since early Friday, with some waiting in the camellia hedge for their turn. At one point yesterday, I counted a dozen Northern Cardinals. I also saw a bluebird, which is rare, as they seldom visit feeders. There have been a great number of woodpeckers here too, including two large species which I particularly enjoy watching, the Red-bellied and the Northern Flicker.

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Birds at the feeders and in the camellia hedge.

After breakfast on Saturday, Tim and I took a walk on the golf course where we can see our street from the far side of the Reedy River.  I love the winter view when the homes are more visible and you can pick out details of the terrain.

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Our street in Marshall Forest, built in the 1940s and 50s, from the golf course.

Sadly, three massive trees in our woodland garden were toppled by a March wind storm. In the photo below, you can see one is sprawled across the upper terraces…cut into lengths, but still much too heavy to move. The second was cut and piled on the riverbank by city workers when they needed access to repair a pipe on a neighboring property, and the third reaches across the river.

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The three trees toppled in a March wind storm are a fixture in the woodland garden, at least for now.

I have to admit I was disheartened by 2016’s weather, since spring storms were followed by a summer drought that extended through autumn.  Hopefully, 2017 will be a better year for the garden and I’ll shake off my apathy to move forward more productively in the coming months. We’re off to a good start with precipitation, with nearly 4-inches in the first week of the year.

Today, as you might have guessed, I’ll be taking down Christmas decorations.  I’m a stickler for the full 12 days of Christmas and with snow on the way, I couldn’t resist leaving the tree up just a little longer!

 

Window Views

The Upstate saw its first frost this week, with temperatures just below freezing on Sunday and Monday nights.  Nonetheless, sunny and mild days continue and many of the deciduous trees in the neighborhood, with the exception of tulip poplars (Liriodendron tuliperifera), are at their height of autumn color.  Typically, the last leaves are cleared away in late November or early December, but we are behind schedule this year.  Today, the views from inside are stunning.

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From my desk chair looking towards the neighbor’s house across the street.

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Golden hickory trees and russet oaks outside the sunroom.

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And from the living room, a peek at the vibrant Kousa dogwood (Cornus) beside the carport.

For those who tolerate my frequent objections to shade, these photos will give you an idea of what I’m up against.  There are no complaints just now, however.  The views are too pretty for protest.

Coming Clean

Okay, the succulent-packed pumpkin in the previous post cost just a fraction of the amount named.  It was all a bit tongue-in-cheek, because little projects like this always add up to more than expected.  The actual cost was about $60, with two-thirds ($40) going towards succulents.  Five or so years ago, the selection of succulents was limited, but they could be bought for a pittance.  Now, however, they are “in,” and the cost is two or more times what it was just a short time ago.

Also, the pumpkin is a hard-skinned French heirloom, ‘Rouge vif D’Etampes’, and can last months indoors.  Perhaps even more importantly, the fruit is not cut; green sheet moss is glued to the top of the pumpkin and then, to hold the succulents, a plastic pot liner (trimmed to 1-inch tall) is glued to the moss, as shown below.  For more tips, you can read the column in the Greenville News here.

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Cinderella pumpkin–ready for a top mop of succulents. Arrange from the outside toward the center, trailing types first, then rosettes, and finally upright forms.

In the U.S., seeds for the Cinderella pumpkin can be found online at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Moving on to something new, look at this chrysanthemum and butterfly I spied yesterday at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The mum is ‘Miss Gloria’s Thanksgiving Day’ and the butterfly is an American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).  It’s very similar to the better known Painted Lady, but can be distinguished by the small white spot on its foreweing in the orange field just below the black apical patch, as well as two large eyespots on its hindwing, best seen from the underside when the wings are closed.

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An American Lady visiting ‘Miss Gloria’s Thanksgiving Day.”

 

Oh, deer!

Can you spy the deer in this photo?

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Not so easy? Then how about this one?

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And again? Yes, now there are two!

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Tim and I have seen these two young whitetail deer intermittently on the woodland terraces near the river since early summer, when they first appeared with their mother, who had a single fawn in 2015. Born in late May, give or take a few weeks, they probably weigh about 70 or so pounds and have been recently abandoned by their mother for another cycle of reproduction.  Tim says they are little bucks.  I have to admit, they look so lost and timid just now, I can’t help but feel sorry for them.

But deer, as we all know, can do a lot of damage in a garden. Currently, they are grazing on acorns, but in spring they eat my beloved wild Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) down to a nub.

Even worse, the overpopulation of whitetail deer throughout the Eastern Seaboard is accountable for significant crop losses, forest damage, car collisions (more than 2,000 annually in South Carolina alone), and spread of Lyme disease. Just 2 deer, without predation, can produce a herd of 35 in just 7 years.  It’s a huge problem.

Even so, who could blame these little ones for simply doing the best they can? They might be trouble makers, but I get excited every time I see them.