Friday, May 31, 2013

Queen Anne's Lace

The long cold days of late spring 
have given way to hot and sunny days here in Tidewater.
And sun and warmth are two conditions perfect 
for one of my favorite field flowers: Queen Anne's lace, daucus carota.

According to the New World Encyclopedia, Queen Anne's lace 
is the forerunner to the cultivated carrot  (daucus carota, subspecies sativus).
The Encyclopedia says the origin of the carrot species
 is  present-day Afghanistan. That wouldn't have been my guess.
 I would have more easily guessed that Queen Anne's lace
 is related  not only to carrot, but also to parsley, fennel and dill.

Yet, I don't think of any of these herbs when I see Queen Anne's lace
growing in fields and along roads. 
I just love the white lace cap and the way the wildflowers sway gracefully in the breeze.
There is a tiny dark red dot in the middle
that is said to attract bees and butterflies
and other insects which frequent the blossoms.
In this photo, the red dot looks like a small black bug:

That red dot is a feature often overlooked,
as is the pale violet tinge the blossoms have before they open fully,
or the way the umbel closes into a cup when dried,
giving Queen Anne's lace its nickname "bird's nest."
Getting up close is the only way 
to really appreciate the secrets of wildflowers.
And Queen Anne's lace is full of little mysteries.

Tomorrow, Still Waters blogs looks at the evil cousin
of Queen Anne's lace.
Don't miss it!

Thursday, May 30, 2013


The other day I was walking past a neighbor's front garden,
and I noticed the pale pink peonies that grow there had already come and gone.
I always look forward to them each May because of their fragrant, full flowers
and because they make me nostalgic for the gardens of the Midwest
where I grew up. Even more so since peonies are less common here in the Shire.
But peonies are the flower for May in the Midwest.


In the Midwest, old-fashioned peonies once grew in every garden;
many of the plants were decades old, 
 lovingly tended through generations.
My mom had a row of pink and white peonies 
growing in front of the porch on our house.
And all of my mom's friends and my aunts and grandmothers all grew peonies.
There is nothing more intoxicating than the creamy sweet fragrance of peonies.

Pink, dark pink, and white peonies often filled the church altar
or decorated kitchen tables.
Of course, this time of year, May 30, the original Decoration Day in 1868
(now Memorial Day) found many peonies placed on the graves of loved ones
lost during the Civil War era. The tradition of remembering loved ones 
with peonies and roses and flowers called "beauties" 
on Memorial Day continued through many years, but has begun to fade.

Peonies are said to be symbolic of healing
and have a history of thousands of years in China.
But to me, peonies will always be uniquely American--
because I can't imagine my cherished family traditions without them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


The end of May in the Shire is  when one sees honeysuckle vines
just about everywhere one looks.
This time of year, honeysuckle grows along the edges of woods all the way 
from Tidewater to North Carolina 
and further south until the kudzu overtakes it, 
as in this photo from 
Not even honeysuckle can out-muscle this kind of kudzu:

I fell in love with the ever-so-sweet yellow blossoms of honeysuckle a long time ago
and used to wonder why I couldn't buy it in garden centers.
Of course I know now the honeysuckle 
 I looked forward to every spring is not a native vine.
This is the native honeysuckle:

And I'm sorry, but the native variety hasn't yet captured my attention.
I still prefer Japanese honeysuckle.
It was brought to the US for erosion control in 1806,
and I'd think that after 207 years of blooming and growing,
we could accept it as one of our own.
But no. Unlikely.
This is Japanese honeysuckle, whose blossoms 
become more yellow the older they are.
Here's a photo of nonnative honeysuckle by J. R. Manhart:

Photo credit: J. R. Manhart, 

Japanese honeysuckle is the poster child for unwanted, invasive plant species;
and the internet is full of advice on how to eradicate it.
The federal and state governments
have devised and carried out elaborate plans to curtail it.
And yet, it remains firmly ensconced,
capturing the heart of everyone who loves its heady scent.

Here's a photo by Chuck Bargeron, University of Georgia,
that shows how invasive honeysuckle can be:

Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica  (Dipsacales: Caprifoliaceae) - 5302048
Photo, Chuck Bargeron, 

Since I don't have any property that is being swallowed by honeysuckle,
I am of the group that loves it. 
Regardless of its dubious habits, I will always love it.
I've tried planting it here;
but it is headstrong, growing only where it chooses--
and apparently it doesn't find my little plot of land acceptable.

I suppose it is as well that I enjoy its perfume as I'm driving by.
Sometimes it is better to appreciate something rather than to possess it,
lest one's property become possessed by it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Confederate Jasmine

Judging from  my blog posts these past few weeks,
it's clear to see beautiful flowers have been on my mind
nearly the entire month of May.
That's one reason May and June are two of my favorite months:
the return of flowers and the return of summer.

One flower both my husband and I eagerly await 
is the one that perfumes the air in a way few blooms can.
I am speaking of the confederate jasmine, trachelospermum jasminoides,
also known as Madison jasmine and the very poetic name, star jasmine,
not to be confused with Asian jasmine, trachelospermum asiaticum
which does not bloom.

Madison jasmine can easily  take over a wall, 
as this photo from Dargan Landscape Architects shows:

Madison jasmine's fragrance is so delectable, it causes passersby to ask,
"What is it that smells so sweet?"


I like the name star jasmine the best because it conjures up
a mystical, other-worldly image. 
And the star jasmine that grows around our mailbox smells so sweet,
and evokes those romantic southern nights so well,
it's easy to believe it is a gift from heaven itself.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Yesterday I finally got outside to do some more flower planting--
actually preparation for flower planting 
since I had to move the creeping jenny, also called moneywort,
which had taken over the planter boxes on our deck.
Once the water-logged impatiens drowned out of the boxes completely last year, 
the creeping jenny was unencumbered and easily filled them.
I moved them to a new bed of hosta in hopes they would cover the bare spots.
I'm sure next summer I will need to remove "jenny" from there--
perhaps a move under the ferns and adjacent hydrangea.

And speaking of hydrangeas,
I noticed that my hydrangea cutting from last year
has two large green flower heads--one of my favorite colors of late.
Here's a photo from "Petit Fleurs Events" blog by Corrina Kulhanek,
that looks as my hydrangea blossoms do right now:

The hydrangeas we have growing in the backyard, where the soil is more acidic,
always turn the most luscious color of blue,
as  this blossom from last May shows:

The hydrangeas in the front yard, always bloom in pinks and creams and violets:

And sometimes, the hydrangea in the front  blooms with all four colors
at the same time, in varying degrees:

I love my hydrangeas, but I confess a  secret longing
for the lace-cap variety I've seen in garden centers.
Here's a blue variety:

Here's a lace cap hydrangea in pink:

And there is no doubt I'd love a creamy white hydrangea, too.
This image from "Bryant Park Blog" is of an oak leaf hydrangea:

That is one of the great things about hydrangeas, 
there's one to suit everybody's preference.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Late-Blooming Azaleas

After heavy rain showers many days last week,
the skies finally cleared yesterday and the sun shone.
And without the dark mist of pounding rain, 
the cheery pink azalea blossoms in our woods were visible.

shows azaleas the same color as ours, 
but theirs are much larger and more lush than out little shrubs.
I would say they are what ours aspire to be:

Even though our azaleas aren't show stoppers,
their late blooming always take me by surprise--
partly because I think of azaleas as denizens of April, not late May.
And partly it is because I just forget they are back there
since they blend into the undergrowth so well when not in bloom.
We don't feed them or water them as we probably should.
But if they weren't so neglected, 
I like to imagine that they could one day look like this fantasy photo: 

Regardless of our azalea's more subtle show,
 they do present a lovely counterpoint to the trees.
And yesterday I was reminded that, as flowers do,
these candy pink azaleas lighten the heart.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sweetbay Magnolia

Years ago, I saw a photo of a sweetbay magnolia tree,
a magnolia virginiana to be exact,
in an issue of Southern Living Magazine.
I fell in love with the young tree's slender branches, 
green leaves, and creamy white blossoms.
And I resolved to one day have a sweetbay magnolia tree of  my own.

And now through a happy twist of fate, I have two. 
One is a bit too sheltered, so it rarely blooms, 
but the other is in our sunny front yard and blooms every May.
The perfume is very similar to the larger Southern Magnolias
that bloom in our neighbors' yards, 
except the sweetbay magnolia carries a faint touch of lemon.


And oh, what a delicious perfume permeates the air this time of year
with boxwoods, pinks and jasmine, 
and two kinds of magnolias scenting the air.

The lovely perfumes of spring are one of the best things about living in Virginia,
but scented flowers are a gift of nature anywhere they are found.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Mulberry Tree

When I was a kid, my maternal grandparents' asphalt driveway
rose up a sloping hill to a small homestead with crisp white buildings
painted with sky-blue roofs.
A long white board fence with "x' supports ran the length of the drive.
And at the bottom  of the hill, next to the fence, was an old mulberry tree
that dropped mulberries by the hundreds.

photo from

We kids always seemed to end up there
despite our elders' admonitions, 
and our disobedience was evident from stained fingers and clothes.

But there was something  hard to resist about a tree with dark berries--
probably because they looked like tiny blackberries to me
and I loved blackberries.
Playing under the mulberry tree is a pleasant memory,
even though the mulberries were seedy and a little sour.

photo from

Last spring I was delighted to see a native red mulberry tree
had sprung up at the edge of our woods here--
a tough environment for anything to grow 
because the shade is deep and the soil dry.
But there it was, bending gracefully, full of berries.

I'm not inclined to jelly-making, 
nor any longer of the mind to eat mulberries from the tree.
But I like knowing it's there, and the birds like it especially.
I read once that leaving part of our yards to nature
will yield an unexpected pleasure or two.
A mulberry tree for me, and what might come to you?
Try it and see.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moss Rose

I have a "problem" flower bed. 
It is a narrow strip between my garage and sidewalk
and it seems nothing lives there very long.
Once the site of my lavender hedge,
it now sits mostly barren save for three snapdragon plants.
So I've been thinking about filling it with some "tough guys"--
Indian Blanket Flower, coneflower, and maybe some moss roses.
I don't have a lot of time to tend to finicky, delicate annuals,
and these three or four may get along.

Moss roses or portulaca take the heat well.
And dry conditions, too, although it looks like we are going to have another wet year,
judging from the torrents of rain falling here this morning.

This link: Gardenersnet, has some interesting information about moss roses,
which I did not know. For example, the moss rose
is also called purslane or sun plant or the  mysterious appellation "Eleven o'clocks"
--although I found another site that called them "Nine o'clocks" instead.
GardenersNet says the seeds of moss roses are edible.

My husband's mom always had moss roses in her flower beds,
so he likes them a lot.
I love them when the flowers are open,
but moss roses routinely stay closed on cloudy days and at night.
Frankly, it grieves me to see them hide their magnificent colors.
On the other hand, I don't blame them for wanting to curl up and go to sleep 
when the sun doesn't shine.

If I plant them and they grow well without my assistance,
I guess I'll learn to love them for their foliage too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Indian Blanket Flower

Yesterday I saw some Indian Blanket Flowers
growing near a neighbor's house. They are such hardy flowers, 
growing in less than hospitable places.
In Florida they grow right out of the sandiest of soils.
And best of all, they come in beautiful sunset colors.

The web site State Symbols says that the Indian Blanket Flower,
the state flower of Oklahoma,
is also called "firewheel."
And says the flower is also called "sundance."
All three names conjure up the beauty of the prairie.

Indian Blanket Flower seems like a good choice
for those of us who like a flower that can fend for itself.
And here in Tidewater, those come in pretty handy 
about the time the dog days of August arrive.
Indian Blanket Flowers don't mind heat and drought and will re-seed themselves.
In some areas they fill entire meadows,
but I haven't seen that kind of proliferation here.

says the Kiowa Indians believed this flower brought them good luck.
I suppose if I do get some Indian Blanket Flower planted this spring,
it may not bring me good luck,
but I'm pretty sure it will bring butterflies and bees to my garden.
And when you think about it, 
that's pretty lucky.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Daisy, Daisy

Daisy, daisy, give me your answer true.
I'm half crazy all for the love of you... .
                     --Harry Dacre (1892)

Because of the cold spring we've had,
flowers and blooming trees are two to three weeks behind last year.
At Chippokes last  year in mid-May, 
the magnolia trees had already been in full bloom for a while.
This year they had barely started their long slender buds.

Here's a photo from the blog "A Photo A Thought" by Seema Patel.
It shows what the magnolias at Chippokes looked like 
when we were there this past weekend.
Her blog recounts her forays into nature in California and looks very interesting.

Even though there were no magnolias yet,  the daisies were in full bloom.
I can't imagine a flower more at home in its simplicity than the daisy.
They have a subtle strength that isn't readily apparent.
Some I picked along the road are still beautiful four days later.
Next is a photo I took last  year.
(Because I was determined to have a media-free weekend, 
I didn't even take my camera this year.)

We had Sunday morning breakfast at the Gourmet Bakery in Smithfield,
which afforded us a perfect view of pink and white wave petunias 
and gerbera daisies outside the flower shop across the street.
The gerbera daisy is like the field daisy's bold and ostentatious cousin--
loud and showy with a real " look at me!" attitude.

Whether humble or brash, daisies delight, don't they?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Mystery of the Beads

One of the most restful places on
 Chippokes Plantation in Surry, Virginia,
is an isolated stretch of the James River beach.
The James River becomes a tidal river after it passes through Richmond, Virginia,
so it has many oceanic sea shells and saltwater.
Not many people go to this stretch of river beach on Chippokes
 because it is only accessible after a long trek through field and forest
and then down a steep lane
which closes into a narrow path covered in plantain and fern.
But the solitude of the beach makes the journey worth it.

The beach is littered with hundreds and hundreds--even thousands--
of undisturbed sea shells: oyster, clam, and many more mollusks I can't readily identify.
Here are some shells I photographed there last spring:

Along the beach is a cypress grove
whose knobs and massive trees grow right into the water:

And it is there in the cypress grove that we discovered a peculiar occurrence: 
dozens of plastic beads, their once shiny paint stripped clean by the sand and surf.
I'd seen them last year, one or two strands half buried in the sand,
but I hadn't given it much thought.

Then this time we discovered dozens.
Some were floating in the surf, others were protruding from the sand.
Most were interwoven in the cypress roots and branches and knobs.
I picked up several, but left many, many more
that refused to be dislodged from their moorings.
This photo shows several unbroken strands that I salvaged:

I always try to remind myself to appreciate things without possessing them;
but as this small collection shows, I'm not always successful.
Yet I love looking at them and contemplating how so many
entered the water and floated to shore.
It's just one of those little mysteries.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chippokes Plantation

We returned to Chippokes Plantation this weekend
and managed to bike for several miles and beach comb for a couple of hours--
before the heavy rains set in.
The rain went on for hours and hours
so we didn't get to ride or hike again before checking out this morning. 
No barbecue either, but that's life.
Sometime you get sun, sometime you get rain.

This is the former tenant house we stayed in:

And here is an aerial photograph of Chippokes Plantation. 
The James River is in the upper third of the photo:

Even with the torrential rain,
 it was a relief to be somewhere without a phone or a computer--
or even cable television. Left us time to smell the freshly mown hay.
We saw four deer and the flattened grass where they had spent the night.
There were  lots of birds and turtles and rabbits.
And a goat that jumped up on a large rock.
He was sure-footed and didn't teeter back and forth at all.

Even though we're half-way through May, 
the only flowers blooming on the plantation
were field daisies and Queen Anne's lace and water iris.
daisy photo,

The water iris were a bright yellow color
and grew in the salt marsh on the land-side of the James River beach.
They are always a nice surprise in the deep shade.
But the water iris weren't the only surprise along the River.
We discovered another...
and I'll share it tomorrow.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Shire

Many people wonder why I refer to where I live as "the Shire."
I admit I am a fan of J. R. R Tolkien's "Hobbit" series,
but the reason I call my part of Tidewater, Virginia the shire
is because it really is a historic shire.

This map of Virginia was created in 1606:
File:Virginia map 1606.jpg

Almost 30 years after this map was drawn,
 King Charles I established the shires of the Virginia colony.
Read more here in this brief history of this Virginia Shire:

  In 1634, King Charles I of England directed the establishment of 8 shires in the colony of Virginia. One of these, the Elizabeth Cittie Shire, as well as the Elizabeth River that flows through the Cittie's southern half, were named in honor of Elizabeth of Bohemia, the eldest daughter of King James I of England and Anne of Denmark. Elizabeth Stuart of Bohemia, sometimes referred to as the Winter Queen because of her husband Frederick V of Germany's brief reign as King of Bohemia, was also known for her beautiful gardens at Heidelberg Castle.   In 1636, the Elizabeth Cittie Shire was divided into counties, including what eventually became Norfolk County. Today, the most southern part of the Shire is known as the city of Chesapeake, and it is life along the Elizabeth River in this city my blog describes.

Tomorrow's blog post will appear late in the day on Sunday, May 19th.
I'm off to explore Chippokes Plantation again.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Flowers that Bloom in May

I can't imagine a world without flowers.
They soften all the hard lines of our lives.
So in honor of the old adage, "April Showers bring May Flowers,"
here are some more flowers that bloom in May, including
deliciously blue delphinium:

"Sunset" day lilies:


And probably most reminiscent of May for me
are peony blossoms. 
They are one of those flowers that have been present
in my life ever since I can remember.
The bright pink ones, I love the best:

To everything there is a season, and I'm glad the month of May
brings out the beauty in our gardens, 
whether they are grown in a small pot on the windowsill 
or in a meadow sweeping away to the horizon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sweet Mock Orange

May seems to bring more white flowers than other months.
Lilies of the valley, gardenias, magnolia blossoms, hydrangea, 
and mountain laurel all hold white blooms 
that reflect glints of sunshine by day 
and moonbeams by night.

white hydrangea,

And May is also when the sweet mock orange blooms.
Alice M. Coats, in her book Garden Shrubs and their Histories,
says the mock orange shrub was first introduced to Europe from Turkey
in the early 1560s, the same time as the lilac.
The flowers of the mock orange have an open habit
that reminds me of wild roses.
And a bonus of the sweet mock orange is its deep perfume.

Mock orange blossoms also provide a good source of nectar
for bees and butterflies:

Coats also says the hollow wood of the mock orange stem
was sometimes used to make pipe stems,
one reason the shrub is sometimes called a white pipe tree.
Another thing the mock orange is used for: perfume, tea flavoring,
and for giving summer drinks a refreshing cucumber-like taste.

That's one of the best things about flowering shrubs,
they can be beneficial in--or out--of the garden.