Wednesday, August 28, 2019

All in a Garden Green

The Botanical Art Society of the National Capital Region (BASNCR) proudly presents a showcase of the work of its members, "All in a Garden Green" at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Va.

Green Spring Gardens (31 acres) is a public park operated by Fairfax County Park Authority. It includes a historic 18th-century plantation house, "Green Spring", which is the heart of a national historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The park has a wooded stream valley with ponds, a naturalistic native plant garden, more than 20 thematic demonstration gardens, a greenhouse, a plant shop, two gift shops, the historic house, and a horticultural reference library.  The gardens and educational programs focus on practical landscaping techniques that are appropriate for the Washington metro area.  Admission to the park is free.
About our theme:

In 1828, English writer Frances Trollope (1779–1863) began a four-year journey around the then United States. Her travels took her up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, across the Allegheny Mountains, and along the east coast from Washington DC to Niagara Falls. In her book “Domestic Manners of the Americans” (1832), she frequently noted the plants she encountered. From the Spanish moss and palmettos of New Orleans, to the mountain laurels of Pennsylvania, to the redbuds, dogwoods, and azaleas around Washington DC, she found this country’s flora a constant delight. Dazzled by the number of plants new to her that she couldn’t name, her advice to her countrymen was “let no one visit America without having first studied botany.”

Given that she spent many weeks at houses near Green Spring, this venue is an ideal spot to display pictures of the kinds of plants that Frances Trollope might have encountered on her American adventure.

A small group of us hung the show this past Monday--thank you to the Exhibitions Committee and volunteers for working with us to present this beautiful show! We look forward to the opening reception next Sunday Sept. 8, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM; please come by if you get a chance. If you can't see it in person, the next best thing is the on-line exhibition of All in a Garden Green on the BASNCR website.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Dog Days of Summer

Brazilian blue salvia.

We're entering the dog days, so-called after the "dog star" Sirius, which becomes visible in the night sky at this time of the year. The summer has been quite dry; other than the occasional gully-washer, there's been very little rain. There's not much in bloom in my yard at this time--the annuals in pots are doing better than those I planted in beds, despite regular watering.

Above is a blue salvia I bought earlier this summer, a tropical variety known as Brazilian blue sage 'Black and Blue' (Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'). I bought it because the flowers are supposed to attract hummingbirds, sightings of which are increasing as my garden develops. The deep blue flowers and the velvety dark buds of the salvia are unusual, but I've yet to see a single hummingbird in its vicinity. The plant is worthy of painting, though, and I've already started working on some sketches.

Black and Blue Salvia sketch

The front porch

Many of my house plants summer outdoors on the front porch and back deck, but my collection has expanded so much that I'm having a hard time finding places for them. I tucked in the beautiful red Mandevilla I bought last year amid the greenery below front of the porch to great effect.

Red Mandevilla

The back deck is more populated this year. The Australian red lime (on the right, behind the asparagus fern) has grown a lot, I can't wait until it starts fruiting! My begonia collection is also blooming well this year. I pruned my home-grown avocado tree (back left) to re-shape it--still hoping that it might actually fruit at some point--who knows? Here's the current ensemble.

Back deck

Coleus, red impatiens and purple sweet potato

Herb's bed of sunflowers got attacked by the deer while I was away in June--I returned to find the tops of the plants chewed off and Herb ready to give up on his plot. I thought the plants might still bloom from side shoots so we fenced around them and yes, we have some flowers--smaller that what they would have been if not eaten back, but still a bright addition to the yard.

The chiggers and biting insects have been savage this year, to the point that I'm afraid to go out there unless covered in bug repellent from head to toe. Herb has been attacked by a mysterious gnat or midge while mowing, and the bites are really painful. It's really difficult to enjoy the yard under these circumstances, so we confine ourselves to the safety of our deck most of the time.

Herb's sunflower bed

This spring I planted four artichokes in the new bed on the west side and these have been growing much better than last year's plants in the raised bed. I don't know that I'll ever get any edible chokes, but the consolidated bed looks much better now. The Caryopteris' (blue mist shrub) airy blue flowers should start opening soon.

West bed with Caryopteris and artichokes

My Venus flytrap plant is also doing great outside on the deck, watered with distilled water--it seems to be catching its own meals too, judging by the one half-closed trap on the left.

Venus flytrap

I wonder when the bugs will start to die down and I can once again enjoy wandering through the yard...

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Sperryville Maple

The Sperryville Maple, watercolor, 14" x 13.5"

Last year I finally got around to visiting the Sperryville Maple, one of the trees featured in "Remarkable Trees of Virginia," a beautiful book that I found in our local library shortly after moving here. The book has proved to be such a great resource that I finally purchased a copy for myself, with the idea of trying to visit some of the trees featured in it in order to make portraits of them.

The Sperryville maple is a sugar maple that is estimated to have been growing in the front yard of a private residence since the 1890's, making it about 130 year old at present. The tree has been a local landmark in the small community of Sperryville for many years. Its massive trunk has apparently lost several major limbs since the book's publication in 2008, but it's still impressive. Here's what it looks like from the other side of Main Street.

Photo of Sperryville maple

I photographed the tree from several angles and chose my particular viewpoint to emphasize the massiveness of its trunk looking upward into the leafy canopy. Last year was not the best year for autumn color in our area, and the tree had probably not reached the peak of color when I photographed it, but I find this particular stage when the leaves are turning, when there is still a little bit of green in the lower shade leaves, to be one of the most attractive. At this point the leaves display the widest range of colors possible.

I worked from my photos, but I lost track and only took one photo of my progress along the way. I started with very watery washes of yellow, let that dry, then a wash with red and after that was dry, a last wash with blue. These first layers established the areas of light and dark overall, then the trunk and branches were gradually darkened.

Painting at an early stage

After each layer dried, I laid on more layers of pigment, with each successive layer being drier until the desired density of color was reached. The blue sky was added almost at the last minute, after which the surrounding edges were cleaned and heightened. I plan to show the painting at Art at the Mill's fall show this year. Look for the show opening on Sept. 28, 2019, and continuing for the next three weekends until Oct. 13, 2019.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Yellow Iris Painting

Yellow Iris (Iris hybrid), watercolor, 20"h x 12"w.

After an exciting trip to the Bruce and the wealth of new botanical material I encountered there, it seems anticlimactic to go back to my ordinary life, but not everything can be a highlight, either in life or in painting. This painting of a yellow bearded iris was finished from my photos, since the irises were done blooming a couple of months ago. I never seem to have enough time to work the entire painting from life, but I'm enjoying my other art activities: teaching botanical drawing and painting classes at Art in the Valley Gallery here in Front Royal, the monthly meetings of the Blandy Sketch Group and the plein air outings with the Outdoor Painters of the Shenandoah, a group associated with Blandy.

One of the things I love about this particular iris is the intricate veining at the base of the falls, the other is that it sometimes re-blooms in the fall. Last year unfortunately, the fall blossoms were cut down by frost before they had a chance to open. I'm submitting this painting for the fall Art at the Mill show.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Chilling in the Bruce, Part 8 (Final)

Carson Lake near Sauble Beach Community Center.

On our last day on the Bruce we did two short trips, the first to a pond behind the Sauble Beach Community Center, a classic wetland habitat. There were lots of horsetails (Equisetum arvense) on the trail leading to the pond, along with wild violets and strawberries. The boardwalk wasn't in the best condition, with boards missing here and there and plants growing through the slats. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), water-horehound (Lycopus americanus), tufted loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora), cattails (Typha latifolia), and bur reed (Sparganium sp.) grew along the marshy edges of the lake, and waterlily leaves (Nympahea odorata) lined the ditches at the water's edge.

Ferns growing through the boardwalk

Horsetails with wild violets and strawberries.


The days had been getting progressively warmer and today it was actually hot for these latitudes, probably in the eighties. There was very little shade by the small lake, but a bit farther on the trail led through some woods, and while the group was taking their usual time with identification and cataloguing of plants, I retreated to the shadier woods to enjoy the plants there. I saw some pink pyrola (Pyrola asarifolia) and enormous rattlesnake ferns that grew waist-high on the trail.

Pink pyrola (Pyrola asarifolia)

Rattlesnake and sensitive ferns (Botrychium lunaria and Onoclea sensibilis)

We went back to the Evergreen resort for lunch and then out again. In the afternoon we divided into two groups, one group explored the Tranquility Trail behind the resort, which I'd already seen briefly. I went with the second group to Petrel Point, just a bit north of the resort. On one side of the road was another fen, where we saw many of the same plants as at Oliphant Fen. Here the sundews and purple pitcher plants were plentiful, and the horsetails were developing their spore-bearing spikes. We saw variegated horsetails (Equisetum variegatum) and dwarf scouring rush (Equisetum scirpoides), a curious plant that feels bristly to the touch and could very well be used to scour pots and pans, hence its common name.

Slender-leaved sundews (Drosera linearis)

Purple pitcher plans (Sarracenia purpurea)

Dwarf scouring rush (Equisetum scirpoides)
The sun and heat in the open fen was hard to take after lunch, and we eventually retreated to a shadier area on the other side of the road. Here we were hoping to see some of the lovely queen lady slipper orchids, but unfortunately all that we found were a few buds emerging from the ground. How did we know these were queen lady slippers? For one, Sally remembered their location from previous trips, but the salient clue was that there was a wire fence around this small area--presumably to keep these precious orchids from unscrupulous poachers. There were a few more buds around the base of this tree, and some seed pods from the previous year's growth.

A queen lady slipper orchid (Cypripedium reginae) bud

We did come across a couple of unusual plants in bloom: naked miterwort (Mitella nuda) with tiny, lacy flowers, and three-leaved false Solomon's seal (Maiamthemum trifolia).

Naked miterwort (Mitella nuda)

Three-leaved false Solomon's seal (Maianthemum trifolia)

Marsh marigolds and false Solomon's seal.

Soon it was time to head back to the resort for our last evening there. We gathered at Emily's cottage for a recap of our adventures and some wine before dinner, and some in the group who were leaving early in the morning said their goodbyes at dinner. I had decided to try to drive back in one day, but wasn't sure exactly when I'd depart.

The following morning I decided to skip breakfast and hit the road early, so I bid farewell to our group before breakfast and departed, only to realize as I was half-way down the gravel road that I'd forgotten to leave my key at the front desk. I quickly back-tracked and dropped it off, and got on the open road at eight o'clock. I made excellent time, reaching the U.S. border crossing shortly after noon, and stopped at the nearest visitor center for a bite to eat and to call Herb (my cell phone service didn't extend to Canada). But I missed my exit south of Buffalo, and had to turn around, only to find there was no exit from the other direction. I finally found another road that would get me back on my route, but this was a much slower two-lane country road, and I lost about an hour of precious time. By the time I reached the Pennsylvania Turnpike at seven in the evening, I was starting to lose it, but was determined to go on. The last hour of driving was nerve-wracking, with fog and rain through the mountains, but I finally made it to Front Royal a little after nine in the evening, happy to be home!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Chilling in the Bruce, Part 7

The Singing Sands of Dorcas Bay

On Friday we drove north again to visit the Bruce Peninsula National Park near Tobermory. On the way there we stopped at Crane River Park, where we had lunch on Wednesday, after finding out from another visitor that there were nodding trilliums there. Naturally, we explored this area a bit and found not only the nodding trilliums, but also ostrich ferns, tall meadow rue, horsetail club mosses, a currant and a clematis vine we weren't able to identify--a botanically rich spot by a small stream.

An aside here, I thought I'd seen nodding trilliums while hiking in Natural Bridge Park in Kentucky a couple of years ago, but I must have been mistaken--these nodding trilliums didn't look anything like the ones I'd seen there, these were really "nodding," with the flowers nearly hidden under the foliage!

Nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum)
Tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens)

After this stop we drove into the Visitor Center at the park to watch a short nature video about this wonderful area and find out about parking permits at Singing Sands on Dorcas Bay. Singing Sands--what a wonderful name! The sands were silent today, but the name makes you wonder what the sands might sound like on blustery days...

It was getting to be lunchtime, so after parking, we made our way to some picnic tables by a building with restrooms. From here we could see the beach on one side, and a fen on the other side of the boardwalk--it was much chillier here with the breeze from the lake than at the Visitor Center the eastern side of the peninsula.

The fen behind the boardwalk

After lunch we made our way down the boardwalk crossing the fen and began to look for the fascinating ram's head orchids (Cypripedium areitinum) that are unique to this site. The first ones we came across were just beyond the fen, amid some low-growing junipers. This curious flower is smaller than the yellow lady slipper orchid, with a slipper that has a pointed "beard" in the front resembling a goat's beard, with white fuzz on the upper part, thence the common name. The maroon markings on the slipper add to its surreal look.

Ram's head orchid (Cypripedium arietinum)

Front view of the ram's head orchid
Ram's head orchids growing with prostrate junipers.

Ram's head orchid bud opening and a seed pod.

We found a few more clumps of the ram's head orchids, generally growing among conifers, specially prostrate junipers. The flowers of most of them were just starting to open. Dwarf lake iris was blooming here too, interspersed with blooms of gaywings.

Dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris)
Dwarf lake iris and gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)

It took me a while to get the shots of the ram's head orchid that I wanted, and by the time I looked up, the rest of the group had vanished. I continued on the trail looking for them, but despite walking at a very fast clip, I couldn't locate anyone--how could they possibly have gotten so far ahead? They must have taken a side trail, but which one? There were too many to choose from, so rather than getting lost, I went back towards the boardwalk. Here a few of the birders who had remained behind were watching some water snakes and some tiny fish swimming in a shallow creek.

Water snake in a creek with fingerlings.

Later on one lady spotted a red-headed woodpecker on a far-away snag in the middle of a stand of trees in the fen. We watched the woodpecker dive and turn, always returning to "his" snag. After a while, a scarlet tanager showed up on another tree near the snag--incredibly bright--both were too far away for me to photograph. Thus we were entertained until the rest of the group returned--they had taken a trail towards the beach, no wonder I couldn't find them.

Yellow lady slippers and Indian paintbrush
Yellow lady slippers and slender blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium mucronatum)

Lots of yellow lady slippers.

On the drive back from Singing Sands, we saw that the yellow lady slippers by the roadside were out in force among the Indian paintbrush, and stopped to get more photos of them--lovely! They do seem to grow like weeds here on the Bruce.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Chilling in the Bruce, Part 6

Flowerpot Island

Thursday was to be the best day weather-wise, according to the predictions, so we had chosen this as the day to visit Flowerpot Island, a short ride across the lake. The predictions were correct as it turned out, the morning was bright and sunny, with no wind. The hotel agreed to serve our breakfast early today, so that we could make the one-hour drive to the town of Tobermory in time for the 9:30 AM ferry.

Great Blue Heron ferries in Tobermory.

Several ferries make regular trips to Flowerpot Island and the surrounding islands during the summer season. We boarded the Blue Heron VIII at 9:15 AM and got underway at 9:30 sharp. The ferry cruised around Tub Harbor slowly to show us one of several shipwrecks that can be seen through the crystalline blue waters of the harbor. There are many other shipwrecks in the Fathom Five Marine National Park which surrounds these islands. There was a lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor, and another lighthouse on an island not far off shore.

Lighthouse on Tub Harbor
Shipwreck in Tub Harbor

A closer look at the sunken ship in Tub Harbor

After that our boat left the harbor to take us past a number of small islands. I was glad to have heeded the advice to wear every layer I had brought with me for the boat ride--the moment the boat sped out into open water, the wind chill on the deck was hair-raising--but the upper deck had the best seats in the house!

Islands near Tobermory

Approaching Flowerpot Island

The formations on Flowerpot Island

After cruising past a few other islands, Flowerpot Island appeared into view--the "flowerpot" formations are on the eastern side of the island, and our boat approached from the other side cruising past the big flowerpot and then the little flowerpot to moor in a small man-made harbor where we were dropped off.

Our return tickets were for 2:30 PM and we agreed to meet back at the dock by 2:15--about four hours to take a look around and have lunch. Fortunately, there were only a few trails, and the Calypso orchids we were hoping to see were found on the Marl trail.

Plaque at Flowerpot Island.

We started out and right off the trail, came across several plants of the western rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera menziesii) by its side, but with no flower spikes--the flowers wouldn't appear until mid-July. Along this trail we saw shining club moss, and several spikes of striped coral root orchid (Corallorhiza striata), an orchid I'd never seen before.

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyear menziensii or M. oblongifolia)

Shining club moss (Huperzia lucidula)

Striped coral root (Corallorhiza striata)
Detail of the striped coral root flower.

Several of the group split up to continue up the trail while our botanists were keying in information to identify a plant which was finally determined to be a spiny swamp currant (Ribes lacustris). Along the ground I saw emerging plants of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and twinflower (Linnaea borealis), but again with no flowers. Quite a number of snakes were sunning themselves, enjoying the warmth of the day.

Black snake
Yellow-striped garden snake

Bunchberry and twinflower on the ground.

I met others from the group walking back towards us, excited that Larry had found a couple of Calypso orchids in the woods up ahead. I went forward trying to locate the spot, and luckily found another of our group marking the precise spot. It was surprising to see how tiny the orchids were--the plants were no larger than an ordinary violet! But what they lack in size they certainly make up for in charm.

Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa)
Another view of the Calypso orchid
View of Calypso orchid next to a tree trunk.

The shot just above gives a good idea of the actual size of this tiny and rare orchid. We also saw another unusual small plant, goldthread (Coptis trifolia), with a white flower--the roots have the appearance of yellow threads, hence the common name.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)

After sighting the Calypso orchids I continued on the Marl trail to look at a large pond where I saw a number of water snakes. The trail ended at a rocky beach, where I found another lady from our group eating her lunch--it was the perfect spot for it, so I joined her and we enjoyed the view towards Tobermory. We saw a much larger ferry crossing right in front of our shingle beach and I guessed that this must be the ferry taking cars & passengers across the lake to Manitoulin Island.

The view from our lunch spot.

Time was passing much too fast, and before we knew it, it was close to two o'clock--time to hurry back to the dock to rejoin the rest of the group. We made it back just in time to board the ferry and learn that the rest of the group had backtracked to get a closer view of the flowerpots, which I would have liked to see close-up, but our lunch spot had been so peaceful and lovely, it didn't matter.

Caves carved by the waves on Flowerpot Island.

Some of the caves carved by the waves were visible as we pulled out of the harbor on the return trip. The ride back to Tobermory was more direct, faster and warmer than the trip going out, the temperature had risen to be very summer-like. It was still early afternoon, and we decided to stay for a while to explore the town.

Art gallery in Tobermory.

A quick glance revealed two art galleries across the quay, I walked over to check them out. The first one was nondescript on the outside, with some beautiful high-end Raku pottery and a lot of touristy items. The second gallery was more what I consider a real art gallery, with an appealing garden in front--the owner was obviously an artist himself, and had his easel with a half-finished painting on it by the cash register. There were many reproductions and some original paintings, much too expensive for me. I found a case with some fascinating soapstone sculptures by Inuit carvers that were reasonably priced, so I decided to buy one to bring back for Herb as a souvenir. I think the owner was pleased, it was probably his only sale for the day--it being early in the season, our group seemed to be just about the only tourists in town.

On the drive back I saw a gas station that was open (not a frequent sight here) and since my tank was getting low, I stopped to fill up. The owner was quite surprised when he saw my Virginia license plates--he probably didn't get drivers from this far away very often. When I paid, I told him it had been many years since I'd seen a full-serve gas station.