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