Virginia creeper-clad Fairmont Empress Hotel

30 09 2008

Located front and center in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, The Fairmont Empress is an imposing, Virginia creeper-clad thing of beauty! This year the Fairmont Empress, known for its world-famous afternoon tea, turns 100 years old. The Empress is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Over 130,000 visitors come here each year.

The Edwardian, chateau-style 477-room hotel was designed by Francis Rattenbury (whose biography rivals modern day soap operas). It was built between 1904 and 1908. Rattenbury also designed the Legislative Buildings in Victoria.

Read Robert Fulford’s column from the Globe and Mail: “Rattenbury: The Case of the Murdered Victoria Architect,” for details about Rattenbury’s rather interesting personal life. And click here for the UK census bureau information on the Rattenbury family.

From “The walls of Ivy League colleges are not covered with ivy; they’re covered with Virginia creeper. Still, the name “Creeper League” colleges wouldn’t conjure up visions of institutions for higher learning.” by Lee Reich, Telegraph-Herald, Dubuque

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Never too many flowers

30 09 2008

So much for that “give plants room to breathe” rule! They seem to be doing just fine, don’t they? This was a spectacular flower bed we saw en route from the ferry toward the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia.

The plaque reads:

The Peace Tulip Garden: A lasting commemoration in honour of the Canadian troops who liberated the Netherlands. Individually, each flower represents a memory; collectively, they represent the effort of all Canadians and the resulting friendship with the Dutch. October 14, 1995. City of Victoria, Vancouver Island

I especially liked the orange Lantana “tree” in the center. I’ve been seeing more of these available in our local garden centers (and they’re not cheap!). This border contained daisies, sweet potato vine, ageratum, salvias, dusty miller, coleus, cannas, petunias, and many other flowers.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Visit to see more images (some not garden-related) from our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Dahlias as far as the eye can see…

28 09 2008

I spent well over an hour photographing the rather long “Dahlia Border” at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I estimate the border is about a half block long. The images below are just some of my images from just this one area. Because of their overwhelming diversity, Dahlias have moved up the list to become my new favorite flower!

According to, the Dahlia is named in honor of a Swedish botanist named Anders Dahl. The Dahlia originated in Mexico and was brought to Europe during the 18th century by Spanish explorers. There are tens of thousands of different types of Dahlias. This is possible because the Dahlia has eight genes that control its appearance while most other flowers have just two. They have some of the most diverse shapes and colors of any flower in the garden! Dahlias are grown from rhizomes, although they can be grown from seed as well (though not as easily).

The top photo shows just one small section of this meandering perennial border.

Below are some online sources for Dahlias:

Corralitos Gardens

Dan’s Dahlias

The site below is a particularly good one with lots of information on growing and caring for Dahlias, as well as the “twelve official divisions” of Dahlias, which will show you just how diverse this flower is!

American Meadows

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

In the pink

26 09 2008

Here are just a few more shots of Osteospermum ecklonis I photographed at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia last Thursday. Speaking of “in the pink” —click here to learn where that phrase originated.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Calling all bug aficionados!

23 09 2008

I photographed this critter near the Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens this past Thursday. After some quick research, I’ve determined this is not a Canadian soldier (which is what we call every long legged bug we come across anywhere). He has those little antennae that stick out on his back like this Crane Fly here, but I think it it most likely is Elephantomyia westwoodi. Any bug aficionados care to enlighten us and verify or dispute my claim?

Learn about the interesting history behind the gardens here. Click here for a list of what was in bloom during our visit.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Butchart Gardens, Passel #2

23 09 2008

The parade of flowers continues…words simply cannot describe how over the moon I was to be photographing in that garden all day long…flitting from flower to flower to flower just like the insects I encountered…would someone please please please pay me to do this every day?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Butchart Gardens, Passel #1

22 09 2008

Thanks to Baker-Watson of Fish and Frog—Turtle and Blog (and a frequent visitor to this blog) I now have a name for my huge collection of vacation images….a passel of photographs! Thanks, Baker.

Here is (mini) Passel #1 with images from Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. We couldn’t believe how much was still in bloom in the Pacific Northwest. I shot almost continuously from 11:00ish a.m. until the shuttle came at 4:45 p.m. We only stopped to grab a very quick lunch at Butchart’s Blue Poppy Restaurant. The salad we shared was garnished with sunflower sprouts—baby sunflower seedlings about 2+ inches high that tasted like sunflower seeds…very tasty. I must admit I had a brief twinge of guilt eating them—that handful we consumed will never reach their full sunflower glory.

I shot over 4 gigs of photos in this one garden. Now that’s a passel of photos!

Plant Identification:

#1 is a Cleome or Spider Flower
#2 is a Japanese toad lily (Tricyrtis affinis, possibly)
#3 is the back side of a Japanese anemone, I believe
#4 is a Lace-Cap Hydrangea

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

There’s a baer in them thar woods!

22 09 2008

Mighty nice of the folks at Mt. Rainier to warn tourists about the wildlife, even if their spelling is off. (Okay, we concede that it just might have been a sign for a family reunion).

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Visual and aural overload at Pike Place

22 09 2008

Color (and how). Noise (a bit too much). Flowers (unbelievably cheap). Neon. Bustle. Shops. Cars. People, so many people. Flying fish. Fruits. Vegetables. Grains. Tea. Coffee. Trinkets. Seafood. Shouting. Singing. Music. Purses. T-shirts (bought some). Jewelry (ditto). Breads. Pastries. Antiques. Street performance. Restaurants. Chocolate. Cheese. Crafts. Jellies. Jams. Visually and aurally overwhelming. Happy 101, Pike Place!

Learn more about Pike Place Market here.

Learn about Pike Place Fish here.

Take virtual tours here.

Learn about the neighborhood here.

Ooooh…love the colors on the “Taste Pike Place Market” website here.

Check out local resident Phil’s Pike Place Market blog here.

And read Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson’s review (complete with photos and videos) here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Cabin in the woods

22 09 2008

One of our favorite treats during our recent vacation was a night’s stay at Jim and Anne’s cabin in a park near Mt. Rainier. We headed to the cabin on Friday morning, September 12, stopping along the way for huckleberry ice cream (which is delicious, by the way). Learn more about huckleberry harvesting in the Cascades here. In the first photo, Sue tries out a chair fashioned from snow skis at the ice cream store in Enumclaw. (If you have a hankering for this type of furniture, check out Snow Shack and Snow Source.)

Michael and I kept Sue quite enthralled, if somewhat frightened, with our stories of “when, not if, Rainier (an active volcano) blows…” She was pondering the possibility of it blowing that very night. We told her to relax. At least her best friends and mamma were with her and her last supper was huckleberry ice cream. How bad is that?

Some time ago, Michael and I had seen a documentary on tv hypothesizing the outcome of such an event. I did some further research and found these articles:

Vocanologists keep wary eye on Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier will blow, that’s a given. (How’s that for an opening line?)

Under the Volcano—the danger of living near Mt. Rainier

Hmmm…now that I’ve done this research, I’m rethinking how good that huckleberry ice cream was after all!


Photos, second row: Sue sits on the bed we claimed on the enclosed porch. What a view we had in the morning! The cabin was built by Anne’s father and grandfather when her father was a teenager, so it’s over 70 years old. It’s a beautifully rustic cabin with modern conveniences, of course, such as electricity, a detached bathroom and shower, and appliances. I found lots of things to photograph within the cabin itself, such as the blue bottle still life by the living room window (3rd row, right). Fifth row: Wanda climbs the ladder to check out the sleeping alcove in the cupola. Next, I photographed her “hiking” shoes by firelight. Those city girls just sure do hike in style, don’t they?

After settling in, Anne and Jim lead us on a hike up to Goat Falls, which runs down the hill past their cabin. Sue had to keep Wanda from her “mushroom tipping” tendencies because she knew I would be coming up behind them, photographing everything along the way. Apparently, Wanda has an aversion to wild mushrooms (not to mention snakes).

Later, Jim and Anne prepared a wonderful dinner. We all slept well, and the next morning, Sue and Wanda wanted their photo taken at the outhouse, which, thanks to the modern conveniences, we did not have to use. And yes, Sue is acting—not really utilizing the facilities, in that photograph toward the bottom!

The trip to the cabin, hiking to the falls, and staying overnight in that beautiful cabin was a really nice and unexpected treat, thanks to our wonderful hosts, Anne and Jim!

And in the “how away far was it” category—I am happy to report that this trip was a “one-hat” trip, since I finished a “special order” crocheted black hat as a gift for Anne en route. Learn more about my exclusive “how many hats trip measurement system” here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

If it’s Thursday, this must be Bloedel.

22 09 2008

On our first full day of vacation, Sept. 11, Jim and Anne took us to the Bloedel Reserve, formerly the private residential estate of Prentice and Virginia Bloedel, now a public access 150-acre nature preserve and garden, and home to about three hundred kinds of trees. We were blessed with perfect walking weather while we toured the second growth forest, ponds, meadows and gardens. There are several gardens in the Bloedel Reserve: Japanese Garden, Moss Garden, Reflection Garden, The Woods, The Glen, the Waterfall Overlook, and the Bird Refuge. (Do check out the Bloedel Reserve website link listed above; you’ll find breathtaking photos shot overhead throughout the park and in different seasons!)

The Visitor Center is in the French country house on a bluff overlooking Port Madison Bay near Agate Pass. The Glen, home to perennials, bulbs, and wildflowers, also hosts more than 15,000 cyclamen plants, one of the largest plantings in the world. I especially liked the Japanese Garden with the beautiful Japanese maples beginning to change into their fall colors, and the brilliant green grass stepping stones surrounding the rock and sand Zen garden.

Row 1: A shot of the first solitary tree in the reserve next to a photo of Sue for scale
Row 2: A multitude of spores on the back of a fern plant
Row 3: Sue’s mom, Wanda, and her sister-in-law, Anne; a friendly wood sprite perched atop a tree stump; leaving the Japanese Garden
Row 4: A tiny frog Michael spotted in the Moss Garden; yellow yet-to-be-identified wildflowers
Row 5: Heather border at the main entrance
Row 6: Grass stepping stones and brilliant yellow foliage in the Japanese Garden
Row 7: The rock and sand Zen garden
Row 8: The tea house in the Japanese garden; another shot of the Zen garden
Row 9: Mischevious wood sprites peep through a large uprooted tree trunk
Row 10: Jim, Anne, Wanda, and Sue pose on the bluff at the Visitor Center overlooking Port Madison Bay
Row 11: Hydrangeas in bloom; geometric-patterned patio at the Visitor Center
Row 12: Sunlit foliage near The Woods

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

UPDATE: Well, lookee here! I posted this today and just received a nice and informative comment from the Executive Director of the Bloedel Reserve. Thanks, Richard!

“The yellow flowers are Kirengeshoma palmata — a plant from Japan known as Yellow Waxbells. It’s related to Hydrangea. The last photo looks like Magnolia, possibly Magnolia dawsoniana if it was the tree adjacent to the pond above the waterfall. Thanks for the kind comments…”

Richard A Brown, Executive Director, Bloedel Reserve

Lavender, shopping, cheese, wine, a whale, and yet another sunset

21 09 2008

On Wednesday, Sept. 17, we left Bainbridge Island (again) and drove toward the city of Sequim, in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula. When Michael and I first visited Sequim a few years ago, we kept pronouncing it like it is spelled—“See-quim.” A local corrected us and informed us that it is pronounced “Squim.” On this visit, we found that Sequim has grown by leaps and bounds.

We visited the Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm, whose gift shop is open year round. We bought a few lavender gifts for our pet-sitters, Debbi and Regina. I photographed Sue and her mom, Wanda, outside the shop in one of the many purple chairs.

Many other lavender farms, like Purple Haze Lavender, Ltd., were already closed for the season. We were able to shop at Purple Haze’s shop in town, though, and I picked up one of our favorite lavender products, Purple Haze Salad Dressing (it’s really, really good stuff!).

We did some shopping in town at Over the Fence, a really neat garden and home store, and Heather Creek, a home accents shop in a shabby chic cottage setting. Heather Creek’s friendly proprietor, Mary Patricia Cain, fell in love with Sequim on a visit five years ago. She said that her husband was so drawn to the area that he told her he thought they were supposed to live there. This surprised her, since he is more left-brained than right. She agreed, and the family went back home, sold their house, and hightailed it back to Sequim. Everything fell into place as it was apparently meant to be! I can relate—Michael and I had the same thought when we visited the area three years ago.

We picked up all the trimmings for a picnic from the Dungeness Bay Wine & Cheese Shop—Oregon Blue cheese with pomegranate sauce, really yummy brie, pretzel crisps, and wine—then bought green grapes, bread, and pesto spread from Safeway. We drove to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, not far from the Dungeness Spit. After a picnic in the car, we got to see a baby gray whale swimming in the ocean. It was Sue’s first real-life whale observation! (Many thanks and hats off to Carol, the local resident who told us some details about the baby whale). I did shoot some images of the whale with my longest Nikkor lens (80-400 VR), but they’re more record shots than anything, so I apologize in advance for the less-than-stellar images!

We then headed to Port Angeles to catch a late afternoon ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. This photo was shot from the ferry just as we sailed into the harbor in Victoria.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Wildlife in Spokane

21 09 2008

Last Sunday evening I photographed this doe and her two fawns in a field not far from Barb and Dean’s home in Spokane. I shot the first photo and then the sun broke through and illuminated the family from behind. Mom was cleaning one of the fawn’s ears in the second photo and then the fawn nuzzled her in the last photo.

© Cindy Dyer. All right reserved.

Sunsets over Bainbridge Island

21 09 2008

At long last, we’re back from our 10-day vacation and I’ve just begun preparing the thousands (yes, thousands) of photos I shot in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, the Bloedel Reserve, Mt. Rainier, Pike Place Market, on the road to Spokane (city and park images, family portraits for our hosts), The Davenport Hotel, Manito Park, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), and in Victoria (including Butchart Gardens—as you can imagine, I went a little nuts shooting everything in bloom there—we’re at the end of our gardening season here in Virginia—they’re just getting up to speed with their late summer blooms!). I have tons of photos to share and road trip stories, too.

Michael, Sue, Sue’s mom Wanda, and I met at the airport on September 10, then took the 8:30 ferry over to Bainbridge Island to visit with our first set of gracious hosts, Jim and Anne (Sue’s aunt and uncle). I photographed the ferry coming from Bainbridge (top photo) on our first crossing. The bottom photo is another sunset on our trip later in the week from Spokane (to visit former neighbors and friends, Barb and Dean) back to Bainbridge Island.

Oh, and by the way…we had sunny weather up until the last day or so of vacation. September is the month to visit the Pacific Northwest. It didn’t rain one drop until the shuttle picked us up to take us to the airport (too) early this morning. And much to my delight, most of the day at Butchart Gardens was overcast just enough to make photographing flowers a slice of heaven!

Much, much, MUCH more to come…

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

After storm afterglow

7 09 2008

Remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna—I shot these from our front porch earlier this evening.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

A flash of blue

6 09 2008

As promised, here are two photos of the very elusive Blue Morpho butterfly from the Wings of Fancy exhibit at Brookside Gardens. And despite the fact that the bottom photo is just a blur of motion, it’s not as bad as I originally thought. It certainly shows how beautiful this butterfly is.

It is about a 115-day process from egg stage until it reaches adulthood. Native to the tropical rainforests of Central America, South America, and Mexico, the Blue Morpho is one of over 80 species of the genus Morpho. It is one of the largest butterflies in the world, with wings spanning from 5 to 8 inches. The iridescent blue color is a result of the microscopic scales on the backside of their wings that reflect light. The contrasting dull brown exterior and the brilliant blue interior serves as a protective measure—as the Blue Morpho flies, it confuses potential predators. (Trust me, it works. I had a hard time following them!)

As a caterpillar, it chews leaves of various trees; as an adult, it can no longer chew. It drinks its food instead, preferring the juice of rotting fruit, fluids of decomposing animals, fungi, wet mud, and tree sap. Blue Morphos are severely threatened by deforestation of tropical forests and habitat destruction, and humans are a direct threat because of their desire to collect them.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Wings of Fancy at Brookside Gardens

5 09 2008

This morning Michael and I went to photograph the “Wings of Fancy” live butterfly exhibit, in its 12th year at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland. The exhibit is at the South Conservatory and is open from 10:00 a.m. — 4:00 p.m. daily through September 21. Admission is $5.00 for adults, $4 for children ages 3-12, and free for children age 2 and under.

The website mentions that the greenhouse is usually ten degrees warmer than the outside. They weren’t kidding about that! It got pretty uncomfortable after about 20 minutes, but we were so excited about the myriad photographic opportunities that we just plugged ahead—glasses steamed, brows sweating. One of the volunteers said there are several hundred butterflies in the conservatory, representing 60 different species from Asia, Costa Rica, and North America.

These are just a few of the butterflies in the conservatory:

Atlas Moth (with a wingspan of at least 6 inches!)
Zebra Mosaic
Giant Swallowtail
Julia Heliconian
Paper Kite
Banded Purple Wing
White Peacock
Cydno Longwing
Mexican Shoemaker
Tiger Longwing
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Question Mark
Agentinean Canna Skipper
American Giant Swallowtail
Painted Lady
Red Postman
Gray Cracker
Common Morpho
Common Mormon
Gulf Fritillary

The collage below shows 29 different butterflies and moths in the exhibit. You’ll notice three of the same type (the dark brown and light blue butterfly; 5th one down). I was able to get numerous different shots of this species. The most elusive was the Common Morpho, which rarely settled in one place long enough to photograph one. Wings closed, this rather large butterfly is various shades of brown with bronze-colored “eyes” on its wings. Wings open, it is the most gorgeous shade of metallic azure blue! I was able to get one shot with wings close and just a touch of the blue showing. I’ll post that separately. I did get one shot open, but it was on the window and the image isn’t tack sharp. I’ll post it anyway just to show how beautiful this butterfly is. Two of the images in this collage show mating butterflies, which the volunteers pointed out to us so we could photograph them.

© Cindy Dyer. All right reserved.

Convention ’08

2 09 2008

These are milkweed bugs. I saw this unusual plant at Green Spring Gardens and thought it would be interesting to photograph up close. The pods look milkweed-like, so I’ll fairly certain that it’s a type of milkweed plant. It’s much more compact than the swamp milkweed that my friend Regina grows every year in her garden.

I sat down to shoot some closeups and noticed the first three bugs. Then another. And another. And then an entire convention of them! There were at least a hundred of them (yes, I did a preliminary count out of curiosity). Look at the teeny, tiny baby in the third photo. Check out this link for more information about milkweed bugs.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Red all over

1 09 2008

This is a Hibiscus flower (also known as rose mallow or swamp mallow), but I’m not sure which hybrid it is. It could be Hibiscus x ‘Pinot Noir’ or Hibiscus x ‘Lord Baltimore.’ No matter what the lineage, it was a beautiful flower in bloom (among countless others) at Green Spring Gardens yesterday.

Most hibiscus are hardy and do well in zones 4-8. Take a look at the gorgeous red hibiscus variations available at Hidden Valley Hibiscus. Sigh…if I only had the room (and the money), I’d plant one of each.

Speaking of the color red, I just finished reading Victoria Finlay’s book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette. It is a riveting book about the origin of natural colors, and I was particularly fascinated (and a bit taken aback) by the origin of one of the reddest dyes in the natural world—carmine red (or cochineal or crimson). To quote the back cover, “Since ancient times, carmine red—still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today—has come from the blood of insects.” I offer my condolences to all the red-lipstick-wearing, Cherry Coke lovers out there. You’ll just have to read the book yourself to find out what I mean.

Here’s a great overview of the book on the Random House website, as well as Mo Wu’s interview with the author, and excerpts from the book (including the origin of mascara!).


From Booklist
Journalist Finlay travels the world in search of ancient sources of natural colors, recounting along the way the surprising chemical processes by which everything from stones to insects to mummies have been transformed into precious pigments for paint, dyes, and varnish. In pursuit of art’s first color, ochre, Finlay goes to Australia, offering, as she does in each location, an agile and entertaining then-and-now look at a place, a people, and a color and its uses and acquired meaning. Explication of red made from cochineal beetles inspires a compelling tale that stretches from Central America to Scotland, and wry humor abounds in her search for a yellow allegedly once made in India from the urine of mango-leaf-eating cows and coverage of sundry poisonous pigments. Her quest for blue brought Finlay to Afghanistan in 2000, where she was the first woman ever to tour a 7,000-year-old lapis lazuli mine, and one of the last Westerners to see the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. Curious social mores, serendipitous science, and lots of skulduggery are all part of the rich spectrum Finlay so cheerfully illuminates. Donna Seaman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.


Despite the fact that most of my (costume) jewelry is from Sam Moon, Kohl’s, or various craft shows, I’ll still add another of this gifted writer’s books, Jewels: A Secret History, to my reading list. If I can’t spring for the jewels, I can at least spring for a book about them! Truth be told, I’d rather have a new camera lens than jewels, anyway. Tell us something we don’t already know, Cindy.

Photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved. There’s a new girl in the world!

Blossoms & Beans

1 09 2008

Harvesting photos from my Labor Day garden….

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.