Saturday, July 23, 2016

Annual Virginia Master Naturalists North American Butterfly Count

Butterfly Count in the forest at Kemper Park
It was an privilege for me to be able to participate in the North American Butterfly Count for Albemarle County. Today 2 teams of Virginia Master Naturalists (for the exception of a few of us) headed out at 9 am to count butterflies. I was assigned to the team that went to the amazing Kemper Park nature trail that traverses up to Monticello. When I left the house it was 77 degrees, when I returned after noon, it was 97! Needless to say, it was a hot day. We were very fortunate to be able to walk deep in the forest to escape the oppressing heat. The other group was dispatched to Crozet, another area in the county.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Thistle, parking lot Kemper Park
The official numbers have not been tabulated but it was obvious that the numbers were lower this year. The most commonly spotted butterfly, and one of the largest, was the yellow with black stripes Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Of all the butterflies in Virginia, it probably is the most recognized.

I found this photo amusing given our addiction to cell phones. This little American Snout is trying to grab the attention of one of our young nature lovers that was on the count. Almost to say, hey you, get off that thing and pay attention to me! Check out the unusually long snout on that guy.

The small Silvery Checkerspot
There are many reasons for a species to decline. One of the best ways to encourage butterflies in your yard is to plant natives and other trees, shrubs, and flowers that caterpillars like to eat or that butterflies prefer for egg laying. I finally have a little patch of three Paw Paw trees that are coming along nicely in my yard. This attracts the stunning Zebra Swallowtail, one of which we saw today but it was so high in the tree I could not photograph it.

Cardinal Flower and Joe Pye Weed
Not only do we see wonderful Butterflies but also interesting plants and little critters. We were lucky to have a budding entomologist along that magically spotted unusual insects that I had never seen before. It's a thrill to see something new. Of course being on the trail with Master Naturalists, most plants are also identified.

My first sighting of the Hackberry Emperor
It was a hot day but when your mission is to "spot the butterfly" it some how takes a backseat to your quest to find the next elusive beauty. Especially when you find a species that you have never seen. I was happy to see a Hackberry Emperor complete with a crazy pattern and many "eyes". All designed to confuse predators and make it blend into the environment.

The Kemper Park group
Training prior to the event was prepared by Nancy Weiss and Terri Keffert of the Rivanna Master Naturalists. Many thanks to both of them for their dedication to this effort and to our team leader, Laura Seale.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Historic Garden Week 2016 in Petersburg, Virginia

 Petersburg 1838 Courthouse Clock Tower & Roses
This year as part of Historic Garden Week in Virginia, we selected Petersburg as our annual tour destination. I wanted to spend some time in the amazing Old Towne area and get a closer look of what could be described as a congenial southern historic town. 
YUMMY Sweets provided by The Petersburg Garden Club

I'm always impressed with the effort extended by the host Garden Club and Petersburg did not disappoint. The Petersburg Garden Club members at each stop were so welcoming and personable. We absolutely fell in LOVE with the house on the hill, Centre Hill, as the museum staff was superb. We can certainly understand why movie crews rush to Petersburg to set up camp to film.

All interior photos of Floral Arrangements were graciously provided by Molly Sammler, Petersburg Garden Club photographer for Historic Garden Week. 

Stone accents at the Kramer House on the Lake
Driving 2 hours from Charlottesville, we began our tour by visiting three homes located on the lake in Chesterfield Virginia. These relatively new large homes all offered lovely views of Lake Chesdin. We especially liked what we referred to as the pink and green house (my favorite color combination). Upon entry into the Kramer House, one looks beyond the open entryway through huge windows straight onto the lake. A light and airy home decorated by owner and designer Glenna Jean who makes beautiful bedding, pillows and accessories.

Rose Arrangement at Centre Hill by Molly
We were so touched by the history of her mother who died at 105 years of age. Being that her favorite flower was the rose, there were many small items in the home that she had beautifully painted. She also was a blue ribbon cookie maker and her winning Sugar Cookie recipe was handed out to every visitor. Several rooms were decorated in a garden theme featuring walls perfectly painted by an artist that had Alzheimer's. We very much loved getting to know this home on a more personal level and relaxing lake side on the multi-leveled deck chatting with garden club members.

Meeting a few furry friends @ Strachan-Harrison
Next we headed to Old Towne to race through Petersburg to get to the next set of three homes on tour. After a break at Demolition Coffee (a really cool shop in of course an amazing historic building) we were off to the Strachan-Harrison House. A boxwood garden complete with majestic trees surrounds the front entry. Inside there are beautiful period portraits. The owners have gone to great lengths to make the interior represent the homes age dated in the late 1700's. There was also a barn outside with a sweet Donkey that protects the dear Lambs from predators.

Massive Kramer H. Peacock Arrangm.
Next we were off to Centre Hill. I really do enjoy an element of surprise when I plan a tour and don't like to know too much about a property before I visit. We were walking around what appeared to be an amazing Civil War period mansion, lolly gagging along taking pictures of the roses at neighboring homes, who, by the way, have a great view off all that goes on at Centre Hill, when we read a little sign outside of the building that said for us to please forgive the length of the grass as the PBS series, Mercy Street, wants it that way! 

Centre Hill Mansion
I thought Mercy Street was filmed in Alexandria Virginia. Mercy Street is actually filmed in Richmond and Petersburg and in the series, it was chosen to list as being portrayed in the town of Alexandria Virginia. Centre Hill Mansion is the central family's home in the series. Centre Hill has been used by many movies and is a known for paranormal activity. Do not miss this beautiful mansion when you go to Petersburg.

Iris in Ginger Jar @ Strachan by Molly
At the end of our tour we dashed through - oh I wish we had more time - the historic McIlwaine House which was featured in the film, Lincoln. Amazingly, this 3-story shell of a building was moved from its original location 8 blocks away. The original ornate hand carved interior woodwork was missing but eventually found in storage and restored back on the walls. This ca. 1794 high-style federal building is now in fine condition complete with beautiful period pieces supplied by the current owner who has done an amazing job restoring this structure back to it's original condition.

Marie Bowen Gardens in Walnut Hill
Our last stop was to the natural gardens named after the Raleigh Parish Garden Club member, Marie Bowen who spent, up until her death in 1979, countless hours tending and planting the Fairfax side of a ravine. A sweet and tranquil garden that can freely be visited from dusk to dawn. It was the perfect end to a beautiful day in Petersburg, a nice mix of the new and old. 

Goodies provided: Laptop Case, Recipe, Seeds, Magazine
A nice briefcase bag was given to each participant, which now holds my laptop, along with a packet of Forget Me Not seeds. I last planted this dear plant many years ago on the grave of my dear Schnauzer, Tator. If I can get it to grow, it will be a sweet reminder of my trip to Petersburg and my pooch.

Little meditative spot at 
After hitting several Thrift Stores (another reason to visit Petersburg) and buying 2 cute purses for $2.50, we headed to Cary Street in Richmond for dinner. Home at 11 pm - pooped. My only wish was that we had another day to really delve into the history in Petersburg but I can't wait to return!


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Grand View Nursery, a Charlottesville Hidden Gem

Yesterday I decided to take my dead lawn mower battery to the annual Hazardous Waste drop off at the Ivy Material Utilization Center, along with my household trash. I recycle practically everything we consume so I make a trek across the mountain three times a year to drop off trash for $2.50 a bag (this is in lieu of paying for monthly curbside pickup). I always look forward to driving past Grand View Nursery located at 648 Dry Bridge Road. I typically link to a business page to provide more details but this nursery is so popular it doesn't even need advertising and there is no online listing.

Tucked off the beaten path on top of Gilliams Mountain is a gardeners paradise. You won't have access to all the landscaped property which has been purchased over the years by the owners of Grand View Nursery but you can drive by in the Spring and see the thousands of Daffodils, Azalea, and Rhododendron. Stop by the nursery and be blown away by the diverse selection of annuals and perennials that are propagated each Spring. They also have slow growing Confer's, Azalea, and Rhododendron for sale. The nursery is only open for a short period in the Spring and on select days, so call before you head up. The plants sell out quickly due to the popularity of this hidden gem.

There is a lovely area across the street from the nursery that is gated and if you are lucky to find the gates open, you can stroll through the stream and perennial beds. Blooming this time of year are unusual varieties of tulips and daffodils artfully arranged with other Spring bulbs cascading over banks and streams. Soapstone boulders have been crafted into art throughout the landscape.

I was fortunate to walk through the other gated areas of the property during Historic Garden Week in 2010. Located on approximately 50 acres (property has been added gradually over the years), Grand View sits on top of the mountain with majestic views among massive trees dotted with an enormous collection of Azalea and Rhododendron. When the property was originally purchased, four hundred Rhododendron were obtained from a nursery in Germany. Many other pocket gardens were designed, mainly with an oriental flair.

Looking for a weekend drive? This is it! Don't miss the beautiful Spring show and visit the nursery if you are looking for unique plants.

Please be mindful that this is a private residence as well as Nursery so if gates are closed, there is no access to these areas but you can still catch quite a show just driving by!

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