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Archive for August, 2010

Sunset over the Shenandoah Valley from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunset over the cloud covered Shenandoah Valley from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Spectacular!

Last week, we took a short vacation up on the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. What a wonderful adventure. It had been many years since I had been up there and I vow that it will not be that long before I drive up to the park again! It is beautiful up on the ridge with amazing views, glorious sunsets, and spectacular hiking!

Beautiful Monarch sipping from a thistle flower.

A beautiful Monarch butterfly sipping from a thistle flower.

The late summer wildflowers were beautiful, especially those that took advantage of the sunlight along the side of the road. I had to be very careful not to drive off the mountain as I was trying to look at them to see what they were! It reminded me of my mom driving through Mount McKinley National Park (back before it was called Denali NP and you could drive all the way back to Wonder Lake in your own car). She would be driving along looking at the flowers instead of the road and we all swore we were going to go over the edge!

Black Swallowtails love the thistle flowers.

Black Swallowtails love the thistle flowers.

The deer are everywhere in the park! They walk right through the campgrounds, parking lots, overlooks, and along the roadsides. They are not skittish around humans probably since there is no hunting inside the national park. On a hike to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain (the highest mountain in Shenandoah National Park at 4,050 ft), we saw an adult black bear and her cub wandering through the woods and eventually crossing the trail in front of us. They weren’t too close but we got a nice long look anyway. That was pretty cool!

The different wildflowers, ferns, and mushrooms along the trail to the summit were beautiful and fun to try and identify. Thank goodness for Eric’s copy of Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. He never goes on a trip without it! I was amazed by the great variety of mushrooms and fungi! You don’t often think of them being beautiful and colorful but many are truly spectacular! Gosh, my college advisor, Dr. Cavaliere (a mycologist), would be so pleased to hear me say that. He was always trying to get me interested in the fungi!

A garden spider patiently awaits its prey.

A garden spider patiently awaits its prey.

On our last day, we took a wonderful hike through Big Meadows, a large grassy meadow located at 3,510 ft. It was a beautiful walk full of wildflowers, butterflies, and birds – even a few spiders! It’s interesting to see how many of the beautiful wildflowers have been cultivated for the horticulture trade; columbine, asters, goldenrod, Heliopsis, Lobelia, Achillea, Baptisia, and various ferns, to name a few.

I was mesmerized by the butterflies. I could not stop snapping pictures! Monarchs, swallowtails, skippers, fritillaries, and sulfur butterflies. They were everywhere flitting from flower to flower. They were especially drawn to the thistle flowers. They were so intent on their work that they hardly paid any attention to my photo shoots! So beautiful!

Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park

Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park

A beautiful Tiger Swallowtail shares the flower with a bumblebee!

A beautiful Tiger Swallowtail shares the flower with a bumblebee!

A Black Swallowtail moves from flower to flower. The thistles were covered with many different kinds of butterflies and bees!

A Black Swallowtail moves from flower to flower. The thistles were covered with many different kinds of butterflies and bees!

Smaller fritillary butterflies also enjoy thistle nectar.

Smaller fritillary butterflies also enjoy thistle nectar.

Butterflies and flowers – what could be more beautiful!

Until next time – Happy Gardening and enjoy the butterflies!

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My vegetable garden in August.

My garden has "exploded" this season! So many cukes, beans, and squash! The corn and tomatoes are on the way!

Well, I must say that my vegetable garden has grown very well this year!

The tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans have grown to the top of the trellises, the eggplants have filled the tires, and the corn is over my head! Miraculously this year, I have been fairly diligent about keeping it weeded and thanks to the layer of mulch I put down early in the season; the weeds have been pretty easy to keep up with.

The cucumbers have reached the top of the trellis!

The cucumbers have reached the top of the trellis and have been producing like crazy!

This seems to be the year of the cucumber – at least in my garden! I planted a few extra plants this year because my vines usually succumb to downy mildew halfway through the season and I don’t get as many as I like. Remember I said everyone loves my pickles? Well, I hope they don’t get sick of them because so far this year, I have made 45 pints of bread & butter pickles and 24 pints of dill pickles! Plus, I have given away bags of cucumbers and eaten tons myself – and they’re still coming! Yum, I never get tired of them – but I am getting tired of making pickles!

The rattlesnake beans have grown to the top of the trellis.

The rattlesnake beans have grown to the top of the trellis and are prolifically producing the most delicious burgundy striped beans!

The cherry tomatoes are producing like crazy and my big tomatoes are just beginning to ripen in earnest. I think the heat has set them back because the plants don’t seem to be producing as well this year. The squash and beans on the other had are producing very well. I missed some when we were away on vacation in Vermont but there are loads more coming along. In fact, I have a huge bag in the fridge right now all fixed and ready to freeze – one of tonight’s projects!

The rattlesnake beans are as delicious as ever! They are even tender and flavorful when they are large. The only problem is that they have grown up on the trellis so high that I have a hard time reaching the ones at the top!

Kentucky Wonder beans have taken over their poles! The Brandywine tomatoes (an heirloom variety) have a blight but are still producing well.

Kentucky Wonder beans have taken over their poles! The Brandywine tomatoes (an heirloom variety) have a blight but are still producing well.

This year, thankfully, the insect pests have been relatively scarce in my vegetable garden. I have heard other gardeners say this, too. Even the destructive Japanese Beetles that can devastate pole beans, corn, and many other plants, seem to be in low numbers this year – at least in our area. Andre has been discussing this lack of Japanese beetles with listeners on his radio show and feels that the dry weather has a lot to do with it. The ground was so dry and hard that the beetle larvae and/or the emerging adult beetles may have had a difficult time burrowing through the soil to complete their development. I guess that may have been one benefit to the heat and drought!

Well I guess I’d better get home and process my beans! Oh yes and I have a big basket of tomatoes I need to can as well. It will be a busy night at our house tonight – but it always is at this time of the year! Yesterday, I canned 17 pints of applesauce from our own apples and Saturday, I made the first ever grape jam from grapes my son planted 2 years ago! Nice!

Until next time – Happy gardening and good harvesting!

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Leslie's Gardens from Above

Leslie's gardens looking down the hill towards the pagoda they built.

My sister’s gardens are amazing! They are truly among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Leslie has been living and gardening in Vermont for about 11 years. Prior to that, she lived in Alaska for 23 years. Needless to say, she didn’t garden much when she lived up there, but when she moved to Vermont, she was bitten by the gardening bug … HARD!

Annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs are beautifully combined to create each unique garden space.

Annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs are beautifully combined to create each unique garden space.

 

Their property in Vermont is on a beautiful wooded hillside. Once the house was built, she started doing a little landscaping around the yard. She had never really gardened before so she spent a lot of time reading gardening books and magazines and getting lots of ideas. She started off with several small gardens but over the years, her gardens have expanded into beautiful garden “rooms” each with their own theme.

The Alaska Garden

The "Alaska Garden" includes the beautiful, bold Hosta sieboldiana 'Aurora Borealis', Brunnera 'Jack Frost', columbine, primrose, Mugo Pine, and many other plants reminescent of her northern ties.

Baskets of beautiful tuberous begonias hang from trees in many of her gardens!

Baskets of beautiful tuberous begonias hang from trees!

I love how she has incorporated the natural features of the land so cleverly into her gardens – from beautiful rock outcroppings to the little spring-fed pond. She collects lots of different perennials, trees, and shrubs, but also divides and moves plants all around the gardens. Many of the native ferns and wildflowers remain and are included in her garden designs. So cool! Whenever she visits me in Virginia, she always returns to Vermont with her Suburban full of Viette perennials which she has planted within days of her return. Often she creates new gardens based on the plants she brings back.

Thunbergia climbs up shutters leaning against the house and an old iron chair painted white sits between.

Thunbergia climbs up old shutters leaning against the house and an antique iron chair painted white sits between - such an imaginative use of "stuff".

She even has a very prolific vegetable garden planted in the midst of her perennial beds! There is just enough sun for squash, cucumbers, beans, and many other vegetables. It’s a small space but it produces enough vegetables for the family. Space saving Topsy-turvy tomato planters and potato bags provide lots of potatoes and tomatoes during the season.

This year, all the annuals in her gardens, containers, and hanging baskets were started and grown from seed under the lights of plant stands that take over a section of  her family room. That’s garden crazy – but very cost efficient!

An old bowling ball becomes a cute ladybug to brighten the garden!

An old bowling ball is transformed into a cute ladybug to brighten the garden!

Over the years, she has collected different antique chairs, tubs, and old tools and has used them as focal points in some of her gardens. Even an old bowling ball she found at a garage sale is fair game to become a bit of garden art in Leslie’s gardens! She has even asked Dad to build some really neat things for her garden – a bright red train with square wheels for her “Island of Misfit Toys” garden and a little house for her “Fairy Garden”.

Dad built this bright red train with square wheels for Leslie's "Island of Misfit Toys" garden.

Dad built this bright red train with square wheels for Leslie's "Island of Misfit Toys" garden from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".

The "Fairy House"

The "Fairy House" my dad built for Leslie.

So creative and fun!

I am always excited to come up for our annual summer visit to see what new gardens she has created or how some of her existing beds have evolved! They are always spectacular and awe inspiring.

Leslie's gardens

Even the hose guides are decorative bits of garden art created from copper pipe and old antique door knobs to adorn the tops.

Until next time – Happy Gardening from beautiful Vermont!

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