P. Allen Smith Luncheon at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion

30 04 2009

smithbookOn April 21, Sue, her Aunt Gay and I attended a lecture and luncheon honoring outdoor living expert and gardener P. Allen Smith at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. The event was hosted by The Friends of the Mansion. He was also selling and autographing his newest book, Bringing the Garden Indoors (which, of course, I had to have!). Check out his website here—it’s nicely designed and very informative. Click here to find a plethora of short gardening videos featuring Smith on youtube.com.

Smith’s lecture started at 10:30, followed by an outdoor luncheon and leisurely tour of the gardens, which he designed. He has worked on the gardens for the past 25 years. Allen is a very engaging speaker and quite funny. We really enjoyed the presentation and although we didn’t win any of the “guess the plant and win a plant” prizes, we still had a great time.

Years ago I told Sue that I thought Arkansas was the most dreadful state in the U.S. She has been determined to prove me wrong ever since. My opinion was not unfounded. Almost every time Michael and I made the road trip from here to visit my family in Texas, we took the “shortcut” (as if a 1,600 mile one way trip can even be associated with the word “short”) through the Little Rock area, and we never really had a pleasant experience. All I saw was flat, flat, FLAT earth. Grassy fields. Wire fences with Red-tailed Hawks perched on every other post (yes, I even counted them to pass the painful time away). Red-tailed Hawks swooping in to terrorize tiny field mice. Heat. Lots of it. Even in November.

One year we decided at the last minute to surprise my parents and drive down for the holidays. We found ourselves with a week off during Christmas and hadn’t planned to do anything. I called my younger sister, who was staying with parents at the time, and told her about our plans. The last thing she said was, “you’re going to hit those predicted ice storms in Arkansas!” I dismissed her warning and we packed up the car and left that same night. Yes, in the night (young and foolish, we were). We were vagabonds. Gypsies. The blue highways were calling. Ice storm, smice storm. The next evening, we were on the outskirts of Little Rock. It was night—very cold and very dark. Michael was asleep; I was on driving duty. It was if the pavement went from bone dry to black ice with a line you could actually see. I went from 65 mph to barely 3 mph in seconds. There were freight trucks jack-knifed in the ditches on either side of us. I punched Michael awake and hollered, “if we’re going to die in this, you’re going to be awake for it!” Even with my foot off the gas pedal, we were still sliding forward. There was nothing to do but slide toward the nearest exit and find a hotel. What we hadn’t bargained for was that everyone else had the same idea. There was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. I suggested we pull over and sleep in the car. Michael nixed that idea, stating we would surely die from exposure. (He hails from Ohio; I’m a South Texas native—just imagine who knows more about cold weather).

The last hotel we went to directed us to the temporary Red Cross Shelter at a local Baptist church. After a restless night on a hard church pew, followed by cold grits (with no salt or butter in sight—hello?) and even colder biscuits (yum!), Michael and I looked at each other and silently agreed—we were leaving even if we had to skate to San Antonio. As we headed out the door, we were pummeled with, “you shouldn’t leave….it will be 3-4 days before it’s safe to leave!” Spending three more nights sleeping on a hard church pew was more than we could bear (Yes, we were grateful for the refuge, but driving 17 hours straight had rendered us both a tad grumpy). Michael and I linked arms and elbows and glided (sounds graceful, doesn’t it? Trust me, it wasn’t) our way to our car in the church parking lot. We looked over our shoulders at the group of ice storm refugees just shaking their heads in disbelief. We didn’t care if we had to drive 3 mph the entire 11 hour journey to Texas. We drove through a residential area, heading on a detour south. Not even one mile from the church, the roads were ice-free. We were jubilant! A few years ago, I started a new Virginia-to-Texas road trip tradition—as soon as we hit the Arkansas border, Michael would have to drive and I would sleep through the entire state until he could declare that we had crossed the Texas state line.

So there you have it. This was the basis for my opinion about Arkansas. I never gave Arkansas a chance. Never ventured off the interstate and into the hills, mountains, valleys and streams. Until this past week, that is. (I felt the same way about New Jersey, when all I ever saw was the Jersey Turnpike, en route to NYC. Then I got a chance to see other parts of the state—changed my opinion completely!)

Sue’s Aunt Gay lives in Little Rock and Sue was determined to show me another side of Arkansas. I told her the only way I would go is if I could meet Mike Huckabee and P. Allen Smith (two of the only celebrities I could think of from the (formerly dreaded) state—and when one has a blog, one is always looking for adventures to write and photograph about!). She pondered this request and said, “Lemme get back to you.” Not long after, she called to say her Aunt Gay had gotten us tickets to this luncheon honoring P. Allen Smith, and although Mike Huckabee wouldn’t be in town, the luncheon would be at the Governor’s Mansion, so technically I would be somewhere he had lived. Was that close enough? I conceded that it was. Little did I know that Huckabee’s wife, Janet (who is a friend of Gay’s), would be a last-minute guest and I would have the opportunity to meet, talk and photograph her. She was kind, gracious, and even co-signed an autographed copy of her husband’s seventh book, Do the Right Thing, for my mother (who is a Huckabee fan). She gave us a mini-tour of the living and dining areas of the mansion before the lecture and even served as an impromptu photographer, too, with my camera. In my searches online, I came across an article by Danielle Burton, compiled the U.S. News & World Report library staff. It’s titled, “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Janet Huckabee.” The first one mentioned she was a star basketball player at Hope High School, a fact that didn’t surprise to me—she’s quite statuesque, as you can see by the photo of her next to shorties Sue and Gay!

Gay is also an Arkansas celebrity—she’s a former First Lady of Arkansas. She was married to former Arkansas Governor Frank Durand White, who was only the second Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction. He was the 41st governor of Arkansas and served a two-year term from 1981 to 1873. He was best recognized as “the little-known Republication candidate who defeated Bill Clinton in 1980 after Clinton had served only term as governor.” Frank passed away in 2003. Click here and here to learn more about Governor White.

After the luncheon, we toured P. Allen Smith’s city home, just two blocks away from the Governor’s Mansion (photos to come). Thank you, Gay and Sue, for arranging this wonderful day as well as the opportunity to meet P. Allen, Janet and Ginger. I have solemnly promised that, after a week of wonderful weather, ample subjects to photographs, visits to gardens (photos to come), a lovely day at Gay’s lake house (photos to come), and shopping in Hot Springs, I would no longer think unfavorably about Arkansas. Gay’s hospitality and Sue’s road trip companionship has made the great ice storm adventure a distant memory. Almost.

Did you know that Arkansas grows 85% of the rice consumed in the United States?


Above: Sue, Gay and Janet Huckabee at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion

Below: Sue with her Aunt Gay in the gardens at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansionsue-gay-gov-mansion-lorez

Below: P. Allen Smith at the podiumdsc_0226-lorez

Below: P. Allen signs his newest book, Bringing the Garden Indoors, with the assistance of Cathy Crass from the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Association.book-signing-1

Below: Dining alfrescoluncheon-panoramic1

Below: Gay White with the current Arkansas First Lady, Ginger Beebe.gay-ginger

Below: Sue and Carolyn, a master gardener and Arkansas resident. I told Carolyn she reminded me so much of the actress Ellen Burstyn. Do you see the resemblance?sue-carolyn

Below: Sue, Gay and Janet before the P. Allen Smith Lecturesuegayjanet-5x71


Same time, last year

30 04 2009

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night. —Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

From the archives…Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in April 2008 and our garden in April 2007


Cotton ball clouds

30 04 2009

Photographed at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Woodland wildflower

30 04 2009

I haven’t a clue as to what type of flower this is! Any takers? I photographed it in the Nature Trail and Wildflower Garden at the Huntsville Botanical Garden last week. And if you haven’t noticed, almost all the flowers I photographed at the garden have water drops on them. Nature was ready for me. Of course, I couldn’t have gotten any of these shots if my dear friend Sue hadn’t ran over to hold an umbrella over me each time it started sprinkling!

UPDATE: Thanks to Deb (Aunt Debbi’s Garden) for identifying this beauty: “It is Spiderwort (Tradescantia) Beautiful flower with an ugly name.”

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Ox-eyed Daisy

29 04 2009

I photographed this lovely raindrop-covered ‘May Queen’ Ox-eyed Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) at the Huntsville Botanical Garden last week. Ox-eyed Daisies, also known as Marguerite Daisies, are short, bushy perennials. Prolific reseeders, these hardy plants can grow in full sun or partial shade.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Bling bling

29 04 2009

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Wild Columbine

29 04 2009

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), photographed at the Huntsville Botanical Garden—this beautiful perennial, native to the U.S., flowers in spring and is a favorite of moths and butterflies. It grows from a thin, woody rhizome and can be found on rocky ledges, slopes and low woods. The spurs of the petals contain nectaries and are attractive to insects with long proboscises.

From the website, www.rook.org:

Aquilegia, from the Latin, aquilinum, “eagle like,” because the spurs suggested the talons of an eagle to Linnaeus; OR, from the Latin word for “water collector,” alluding to the nectar in the spurs of its petals.

canadensis, from the Latin, “of Canada”

Columbine, from the Latin columba, “dove,” the spurred petals perhaps having suggested a ring of doves around a fountain.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.



29 04 2009

Yet another case of “I didn’t see that little guy when I was getting this shot.” Look in the center of this Siberian Iris—there’s a tiny green bug staring directly at you! I’m pretty sure this little bug is a Katydid nymph Scudderia. I photographed him/her at the Huntsville Botanical Garden last week.

Click here to see what one looks like up close and personal in a photograph I shot and posted on my blog last year.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Judy, Simon & Beyond the Garden Gate

28 04 2009

Sue and I met Judy and Simon while out window shopping in Little Rock last week. Judy is the proprietor of Beyond the Garden Gate, located at 5619 Kavanaugh Blvd. in The Heights section of Little Rock. The shop sells silk flowers, plants, trees, and unique decorating accessories. The one-year-old daschund serves as the unofficial store greeter and was such an energetic and sweet pup. Judy says lots of people return to see Simon but don’t always purchase anything because they get so distracted playing with him! I told her she needs to wear a t-shirt that reads, “Please buy something—Simon needs kibble!”

So if you happen to be in the area, stop by and see Judy, Simon, and all the wonderful items for sale. And for Simon’s sake, buy something!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Ruffles have ridges

28 04 2009

The leaves on this tree reminded me of Lay’s potato chips because of the pronounced veins. I photographed this not-yet-identified tree this past week at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Japanese Roof Iris

27 04 2009

The Japanese Roof Iris (Iris tectorum) is native to China. It was first discovered in the 1860s, growing in Japan on thatched roofs, hence the common name. Below is an excerpt from a newsletter article by Gerald Klingaman, former extension horticulturist for the University of Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service:

This charming little plant became known as the Japanese roof iris because that is where it was first observed by a Russian scientist, Carl Maximowicz (1827-1891). He spent three and a half years botanizing in Japan in the early 1860s and introduced numerous Japanese plants to Europe through his base in St. Petersburg.

In China, apparently the original home of the roof iris where it has been grown since at least seventh century, the plant grows on the ground like any sensible iris. But in Japan, it was found growing on the ridges of their thatched roofs.

Apparently this tradition started in Japan because of a decree by a Japanese emperor during a period of wartime when it became illegal to waste land growing flowers. All available land had to be used for rice or vegetables.

The main reason for growing the plant was not for its flowers, but for a white powder that was made by grinding the roots. The makeup used to create the white faces of the Geisha girls was made from the rhizomes. So, the plants moved from the garden to the roofs where it remained until being “discovered” by science.

This evergreen perennial is hardy to zone 5 and flowers from April to May. The 4-inch wide lavender flowers (‘Alba’ is the white cultivar) bloom for about two weeks. Growing just 12-14 inches tall, the Japanese root iris has a spreading, rhizomatous habit common to most irises. Also known as Wall Iris, the plants grow as well in partial shade as they do in full sun, but they perform best in dappled shade. Great for use in front of a border and in rock gardens, they prefer soil that is high in organic matter. Seeds can be collected in late summer and directly sown into the garden.

I photographed this beautiful flower on a shady walking trail in Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas last week. Garvan Woodland Gardens is a 210-acre wooded peninsula on Lake Hamilton. The Gardens were the vision of founder and benefactress, Verna Cook Garvan, who donated her property under a trust agreement to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture in 1985.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Afternoon glow

27 04 2009

I shot these beautiful red leaves on one of the 60 types of Japanese Maple trees at Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton, surrounded by the Ouachita Mountains, in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Upside down swan

27 04 2009

Cloudspotting in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 23, 2009.  Crazy about clouds too? Check out The Cloud Appreciation Society!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Yes, more yellow.

27 04 2009

I’m not sure (yet) what kind of flowers these are, but they’re shorter than the newly-identified Wild Turnip flowers I photographed in rural Virginia on my road trip. This photo was shot just outside of Huntsville, when Sue and I were en route to Arkansas on Monday to visit her Aunt Gay in Little Rock. The flowers could be Wild Mustard or some kind of buttercup. Help in identification would be much appreciated!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Give up?

27 04 2009

It’s a little hard to see them with screen resolution because they are so tiny, so here’s the big reveal below. Thanks to Burstmode for giving it the ‘ole college try!


Spot the bugs and win a prize!

27 04 2009

I photographed this past-its-prime-time tulip bloom at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens on April 19. It had rained off and on all morning long so everything I photographed was cover in raindrops (a bonus!). Thank you to Sue, who held an umbrella over me and my beloved camera while I captured many of these images. Gardeners and photographers—neither will let rain deter them from their passions!

I was concentrating so hard on getting the raindrops in focus that I didn’t even notice any of the tiny green bugs seeking refuge from the rain on this tulip until I opened and enlarged it in Photoshop! I counted eight total. Do you see them? Some are more visible than others—in some cases you’ll see just a few legs poking out or just a dark green or brown speck.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Fields of gold

27 04 2009

There appears to be a recurring theme of gold…I can’t help myself! On my recent road trip from Virginia to Alabama, I drove past acres of these beautiful  yellow Wild Turnip flowers in the Shenandoah Valley near Natural Bridge, Virginia. I did a u-turn to fill up with gas and ask how to get to the access road so I could photograph this jaw-dropping scenery. I’d like to thank (Name to come after I clean up the car and find my notes!), who was friendly, very helpful and sent me to Herring Hall Road to head toward the fields.

The title of this posting hails from the song, Fields of Gold, by Sting (listen to it here). I first heard this song sang by the late Eva Cassidy and I really love her slower version here. I discovered her music at Borders almost a decade ago, and was saddened to hear that she had passed away from melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33. She grew up in Bowie, Maryland, not far from where I live. And if you want to hear one of the most beautiful renditions ever of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, listen to her version here.

You can hear Katia Melua (another of my favorite singers) singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow as a duet with Eva onscreen in the UK production of Duet Impossible here. The video also contains a brief biography of Eva Cassidy. And speaking of Katie Melua’s work, I just love Nine Million Bicycles shown here and I Cried For You, shown here. Her videos are really clever.

After Katie released Nine Million Bicycles, she amended it when scientist Simon Singh corrected her “bad science” on exactly how old the universe is. Listen to her very funny amended version presented at a TED conference here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


All that’s left is a band of gold…

27 04 2009

April 18, 2009 / Highway 81 South / field of yellow flowers near the community of Natural Bridge, Virginia / Shenandoah Valley, Rockbridge County

I spoke to the proprietor of the Herring Hall B&B (in Natural Bridge) and she said the flowers, while definitely beautiful, are considered weeds and can take over a field in no time. She identified them as Wild Turnip (Brassica rapa), familiy Cruciferae.

The Plant For a Future database report states that the flowers are hermaphrodite (having both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees. The plant is self-fertile and has medicinal uses.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Halleluiah light

14 04 2009

In the North Wing of the Conservatory at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, there are hordes of Easter Lilies in full bloom. In one corner I noticed the flowers in shade. In this one flower, I noticed the water drop. As I was getting set up to photograph it, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the shaft of this one flower! I call this “Halleluiah Light,” because I can just hear the angels singing!

Did you know that 95% of the 11.5 million Easter Lilies grown and sold originate from the border of California and Oregon? The area is labeled the “Easter Lily Capital of the World.”

From http://www.about.com:

Lilium longiflorum is actually a native of the southern islands of Japan. A World War I soldier, Louis Houghton, is credited with starting U.S. Easter Lily production when he brought a suitcase full of lily bulbs with him to the southern coast of Oregon in 1919. He gave them away to friends and when the supply of bulbs from Japan was cut off as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the rising price of the bulbs suddenly made the lily business a viable industry for these hobby growers and earned the bulbs the nickname “White Gold.”

And if you have cats, please keep them away from this plant! Any part of this lily, as many of its relatives, can cause kidney failure in cats. Eating even one leaf can be fatal. There is a handy list of plants that are poisonous to cats compiled by the Cat Fanciers’ Association, Inc., here. For more information about what types of Lily plants to avoid, read the information here. I do grow Stargazers and Asiatic Lilies (in pots and out of reach), but my cats are kept indoors and when they are (very briefly) outdoors in the summer, they are under strict supervision—plus, their very own bed of catnip keeps them occupied the entire time! They never have been plant nibblers, so I’ve been fortunate that they ignore all of our house plants. I did get rid of a pencil cactus (which was out of the way anyway) as soon as I found out they are highly poisonous.

See another example of this serendipitous light here in a post I did last summer.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Spring blooms at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

14 04 2009

On Easter Sunday, Michael and I drove toward Richmond to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to see what was in bloom. It was a bit too breezy for flower photography, but I did manage to get a few images that made it worth the trip. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is celebrating spring from April 1-June 7 with their exhibit, “A Million Blooms,” a succession of blooms including Daffodils, Cherry blossoms, Tulips, Irises, Roses and Peonies. During our visit, we photographed the Daffodils, Tulips, Pansies, Euphorbias, Candytuft, Muscari and Easter Lilies that were in bloom. The Irises, Roses and Peonies should be in bloom later next month, as I recall from photographing them a few years ago. While in the Conservatory, we noticed a sign in the North Wing announcing an upcoming exhibit, Butterflies LIVE!. The exhibit will run from May 22-October 11, in honor of the Garden’s 25th Anniversary.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Blooming in my garden today…

10 04 2009

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Bonus bug(let)

10 04 2009

After seeing three sunny yellow tulips in bloom in my garden today, I grabbed my camera to go get some shots. Inside one of the blooms was this teeny little green bug, barely over 1/8″ long. I shot off several frames, painfully trying to focus and handhold the camera. I never even noticed the small blob by the bug’s back legs.

I opened several images in Photoshop and saw just an out-of-focus blob behind one of the back legs. Then I opened the last image and the blob was in sharper focus—it was her baby! —a miniature version of this already miniature insect. To give you a sense of scale, Mama bug would measure just a tad longer than the size of the baby you’re seeing onscreen now. So you can see why I overlooked Junior during the session.

While this image won’t win any awards for sharpness, technique, lighting or composition, I thought it was really sweet—all this life bundled up into the smallest packages imaginable, a tiny family out celebrating spring just like the rest of us….and this exercise shows you that no matter how observant I am (and I fancy myself to be pretty observant), some things can be overlooked regardless!

I had far too many things going against me to get more than a record shot—spring winds, how to position my body without bending and crushing the Alliums coming up nearby, branches from the butterfly bush poking me in the head, the size of microscopic Mama bug herself (much less her itty-bitty offspring), bad depth-of-field and mixed sun-and-shade lighting. Plus, I was too lazy to run back into the house, get a tripod, and set up like the pro I profess to be. Nevertheless, I’m still tickled with my discovery!

UPDATE: I just went back to study the image again. After zooming in, I could see extra legs at the end of Mama bug’s behind. Could it be? Yep, I opened up another image and it appears Mama has twins!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Trout Lily

9 04 2009

Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are a North American native perennial and can be found growing in damp, open woodlands. A member of the Lily family, this edible and medicinal plant is cultivated by seed or transplanting of the corm or bulb in fall. From seed to bloom take up four to seven years and only plants that have two leaves will flower—and then they may not bloom every year! Now that would require more patience than I think possess!

Tiny one inch flowers bloom from March to May and they grow best in a deciduous woodland environment with filtered light in the spring. It is said to get its name from the speckled leaves, which mimic the speckled skin of a trout.

According to Stanwyn G. Shetler, Curator of Botany Emeritus at the National Musem of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution:

“the species spreads not only by seeds but also by offshoot runners from their corms, forming extensive clonal colonies, carpeting the forest. In one study the colonies were found to average nearly 140 years in age and were as old as 1300 years.”

You can read Shetler’s article, first published in the Bulletin of the Virginia Native Plant Society, at this link here.

Learn more about Trout Lilies in this article by Sarah Coulber for the Canadian Wildlife Federation at this link here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Bull Run Bluebells

9 04 2009

For many years I’ve been meaning to go see the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) en masse at Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas about this time of the year. I can now cross that excursion off my list! If you live in Northern Virginia (or thereabouts), there’s an annual Bull Run Bluebell Walk at 2:00 p.m. this Sunday, April 12.

As I mentioned in my earlier posting here, I wanted to avoid the crowds and certainly did. We encountered less than a dozen hikers and photographers on our hike down the Bluebell Trail.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of plants in bloom, though, and a bit hard to work around the plethora of trees, trunks, and fallen branches to get that stellar shot. Many of the landscape-with-Bluebell shots I got were more “record” shots than stellar. Michael found a plastic bag in the car (the ground was still quite damp), and we both hunkered down on the ground to get up close and personal with a few perfect specimens. Our positioning also allowed us to discover other plants in bloom: Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) and Cutleaf Toothwarts (Dentaria laciniata, a member of the Mustard family, Brassicaceae). From a distance, Cutleaf Toothworts, whose beauty belies their nefarious-sounding name, look very similar to the ‘Spring Beauty’ wildflowers.

We also took along the Interfit 5 in 1 collapsible reflector (translucent portion only) to block the mid-day sun and get more saturated color. I’ve used the reflector in the studio and for outdoor portraits, but since I usually follow the rule of “shoot flowers in early a.m. or late p.m.,” I’ve never used it for this purpose. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before—I can now shoot flowers even in the worst light of day for flower photography—that mid-day sun!

While researching where best to photograph fields of Bluebells, I stumbled upon Chris Kayler’s posting about them here. Take a look at his Nature Photography Gallery. Chris, a student at Northern Virginia Community College, specializes in nature and wildlife photography, and lives in Manassas. Spectacular work, Chris!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


‘Spring Beauty’ wildflowers

9 04 2009

These are ‘Spring Beauty’ (Claytonia Virginica) wildflowers that I photographed at Bull Run Regional Park. This perennial herb is a member of the Portulacaceae family and related to the also-edible purslane. Learn more about about this flower’s edible and tasty tubers (who knew?) by reading Scott D. Appell’s article in Plants & Gardens News, published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden here. These tiny little flowers measure approximately 1/2 inch in diameter and are lightly fragrant. They prefer moist to slightly dry conditions and are planted as corms. These were scattered in clusters among the Bluebells in the park.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Blooming in my garden today…

9 04 2009

The ‘Lady Jane’ Tulips are blooming in the garden today. Although you can’t see it in this photo, this lovely blossom has a pink underside on each petal (see last year’s post below).

You can see more of these Tulips in a posting I did the same day (April 9) last year by clicking here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


A tribute to Debbi and the color red

8 04 2009

cementqueenlogoMy dear friend Debbi and her husband just sold their house in our neighborhood and will be leaving for their almost-finished home down south sometime later this month. Debbi is very fond of the color red (and over the past few years she has even convinced me it’s not so bad a color), so I put together this “riot of red” to honor our friendship, which I hope continues to flourish despite the distance. Debbi is my Garden Club’s resident rose expert—roses thrive under her care and many of the roses I have photographed (including all of those in the collage below) were grown in her garden. And because her cats are plant nibblers, I have been the recipient of many a fragrant bouquet through the years.

Thank you for all the wonderful girls-day-out lunches and Coldwater Creek shopping and for taking such wonderful care of our house, gardens, cats and the multitudes of fish in my studio when we were called away for business, pleasure or family stuff (and you know that I have never blamed you when a fish died on your watch, contrary to what you may think). And thank you for being a creative inspiration to me and joining in on all those pranks we pulled on Sue! I know you’re looking forward to living in your home state in that beautiful new home (with your oft-dreamed-of red front door) on the hill, but I am going to miss you dearly, Cement Queen. I can’t wait to see the new house!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Yet another Osteospermum

7 04 2009

Who knew a garden center would be a great source of photo ops? I’ve photographed plant-buying expeditions with members of my garden club, but I’ve never done the “artsy” photos at a garden center. I usually just have my little Coolpix point-n-shoot handy for snapshots.

So as not to draw too much attention to myself, I brought a notebook to make notes and play like I was a garden designer (with a camera) shopping for a prospective client. I realize shooting flowers at a nursery isn’t illegal, but they’re used to customers actually spending money in their establishments. I don’t feel too guilty, though. I’ve parted with my money on numerous occasions with this particular vendor. And I’m sure this season will be no different.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Virginia Bluebells

6 04 2009

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are also known as Virginia Cowslip, Lungwort Oysterleaf (which, as Dave Barry might say, would make a very good name for a rock bandladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Lungwort Oysterleaf!), Roanoke Bells and Languid Ladies (again, a very good name for a rock band!).

Blooming in spring from March to May, these herbaceous woodland wildflowers can be found in upland forests, floodplain forests, wetlands and bluffs. They will grow in sun but prefer slight to full shade, and are ideal plants for rock gardens. Each inch-long blossom consists of five petals that form a tubular shape. The buds begin with a pinkish hue that changes to a violet blue color as they age. Although they can be pollinated by bumblebees, butterflies are the most common pollinators.

I’ve read that Bluebells bloom in profusion at Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas about this time of the year, so guess where I’m heading soon! If you’re in this area, there’s an annual Bull Run Bluebell Walk at 2:00 p.m. this Sunday, April 12. I want to avoid the crowd, so I’ll try to break away a bit from design work later this week.

Read Joel Achenbach’s recent homage to Bluebells in a Washington Post article published last month here. I especially liked: You can buy a bluebell at a garden center, but that’s like seeing a fox in the zoo. Nothing makes me weep like the sight of a wildflower in captivity.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


You come for the photography, you stay for the grammar lesson.

6 04 2009

Sorry, I just had to post that to get it out of my head. After I posted the last essay, I realized how quickly it progressed from displaying an unknown flower and requesting help with an ID, to a full-blown grammar and punctuation lesson.

See there? It’s just like on TV. Call now and we’ll add a grammar lesson at no extra charge. But only if you call now!

Blue pinwheel thingie, redux

6 04 2009

I photographed this same type of flower a few years ago (click here), and I still haven’t been successful in identifying it. I think I’ll take a print to Green Spring Gardens and maybe they can identify it (since they’re the ones who grew it). In the link I just provided, you’ll read my father’s take on the origin of the flower. It was quite involved (he had extra time on his hands, apparently), but still didn’t really identify the flower.

FYI—in reference to my father’s note about not pronouncing the “h” in “herb”—no matter how often I tell him that it’s usually the British who pronounce the “h” in “herb,” he still thinks that’s the only way to pronounce the word. He even points out that if Martha Stewart says it like that, then it must be right. (He says that if “erb” is correct, then we should also say “umongous,” “uge,” and “erbert oover”—as in the name of our 31st President). I’ve done the research and actually—both pronunciations are correct (although he will never agree). Most Americans say it with a silent “h.” Some pronounce the “h” if it’s a person’s name, then don’t when referencing the green stuff. I’m taking a poll, here and now. How many of you pronounce “herb” with the hard h? And what is your reasoning for doing so?

An aside: While searching “pronounciation of the word herb,” I found a synopsis of one of Alexis Stewart’s (Martha’s daughter) radio shows. In it, Alexis says that her mother pronounces it incorrectly and goes on to explain her mother’s reasoning. (Martha and my dad—separated at birth—who knew?). An excerpt from that review is below. I am not responsible for the terrible practice of not capitalizing the first word of each sentence, nor the positioning of the period outside the quotation marks, nor the lower-casing of Martha’s name. I know better than that. I’m hoping the practice of lower-cased i’s and names is simply a phase bloggers are going through, although I sincerely doubt it. What can I say? Aside from the “Great (H)erb Debate,” I am my father’s daughter.

then alexis said that martha says the word “herb” incorrectly. martha pronounces the “h” and claims she pronounces the “h” because, after all, people pronounce the “h” when they say the name herbert, so why shouldn’t they then pronounce the “h” in the word “herb”.  alexis added that trying to explain to martha why her pronunciation is faulty is like playing tennis with a hopelessly bad player – there’s just nothing you can do about it.

If everyone in America was forced to buy the book(s), The Mac is Not a Typewriter or The PC is Not a Typewriter (excellent little books by Robin Williams—the author, not the actor), we would all be (grammatically and publishing-wise) better for it. I imagine Ms. Williams could retire early if that transpired. I know I could finally stop losing sleep over all those excess spaces after periods and misplaced punctuation.

FYI, contrary to the popularity of the practice, you should only put one space after the end of a sentence before beginning a new one. In covered-wagon days, there were proportional typefaces, and every letter and punctuation mark occupied the same width, so two spaces were necessary to make the sentence break clear. These days, the tap of a keyboard spacebar yields 1.5 characters; plenty for spacing before starting a new sentence. Save those extra spaces for other paragraphs—recycle! Old habits are hard to break. I came from the era of typewriters and had the “two space rule” drilled into my head. Then I entered the world of desktop publishing with my very first Mac. If I can break the habit, so can you. Really. Give it a try. Pretty please? It’s the right thing to do (although you may have been blissfully unaware until just now).

And remember, this rule includes just one space after any punctuation—quotation marks, exclamation points (which my father abhors, but that’s another posting), as well as the oft-used periods.

One comment in a forum on the subject of space after periods signed his letter, “Just say NO to Double Spacing!—brought to you by PADSAP (People Against Double Spacing After Periods).

Whaaaa? There’s a club for people like me? Where do I sign up? Hey Dad—maybe we can get a two-for-one membership.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


One more Pansy

6 04 2009

On her great blog, Digging, fellow blogger/gardener Pam posted a list of things that fall in the category of NIMG (Not In My Garden). I thought it was a great post and although I’ve internalized what I won’t/don’t have in my garden, I’ve never formed it into a list like she has.

Pansies. I’ve never grown pansies before. It’s not that I don’t like them—they were certainly tickling my muse yesterday at Green Spring Gardens. I must have spent 20 minutes just photographing the array of Pansies in bloom outside the historic house at Green Springs. Perhaps it’s the word “Pansy” that’s throwing me off?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.



6 04 2009

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Chewk chewk chewk

6 04 2009

Melodious mockingbird at Green Spring Gardens

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.



6 04 2009

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


And dances with the daffodils

6 04 2009

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

— William Wordsworth

Learn more about growing Daffodils here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


“Broken” Tulips

5 04 2009

From the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden web site:

In Holland in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the popularity of tulips steadily increased. The arrival of Carolus Clusius at Leiden University was one factor that helped to boost the popularity of the tulip. Another factor was that the allure of tulips was hard to resist. The beautiful tulips with fantastic colors seemed to magically rise from the earth after the depths of winter had passed. Dutch plant lovers and flower enthusiasts eagerly purchased any available seeds or bulbs offered for sale. Flowers with stripes or streaks were especially popular. These “broken” tulips were highly prized by bulb owners. Although the Dutch didn’t know it at the time, these striped flowers were produced when a tulip bulb became infected with the Mosaic virus. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that scientists were able to determine that the Mosaic virus was spread by aphids, and that infection with the virus caused tulip bulbs to produce the flame-like striping on the petals.

Today, you’ll find hybrids that are genetically stable and duplicate the famous bi-color, broken stripe look. Learn more about rectified or “broken” Tulips here.

And if you want to learn about “Tulipmania”—the Dutch Tulip Craze of 1636-37—read Anna Pavord’s wonderful book, The Tulip: The Story of the Flower That Has Made Men Mad, or Mike Dash’s Tulipmania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. (Don’t ask. Okay. Yes, I’ve read them both. I’m sure you’re not surprised.)

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


When the background is less than ideal…

5 04 2009

improvise! In this case, the background behind this beautiful Snowdrop Snowflake I photographed this afternoon was light brown mulch, which didn’t provide any contrast, much less any “oomph.”

I carried my Interfit 5 in 1 collapsible reflector (with the translucent base only) so I could shield my subjects from the less-than-ideal-for-shooting mid-day sun. The carrying case is solid black on one side (logo on the other), so I looped it over the plant ID sign behind my subject. Voila! Now the image becomes a “gallery shot.” A piece of black mat board or a piece of black velvet stretched over cardboard would serve the same purpose. The velvet would be more saturated black and require less darkening in Photoshop. Because I was using the translucent reflector (held between the sun and my subject), the black background registered dark enough that no Photoshop work was needed to darken it.

I propped up the translucent reflector to block the harsh sun, creating a “cloud cover.” If you don’t have the luxury of a personal photo caddy (friend, boyfriend, husband, wife, or a complete stranger), prop it up against a tree, your tripod, or lean it against your body. Beware of windy days, though, as an unfurled reflector fast becomes airborne! (I speak from experience.)

The 1/2 stop translucent reflector is easily converted by a zip-on overlay sleeve which allows for additional surfaces to be used: gold, silver, black, and white. The gold, silver and white surfaces fill in reflected light in to the shadow area by up to 1 stop while the black will take away up to 1 stop to improve contrast in the shadow areas.

Amazon also sells the Westcott version of this 5-in-1 reflector online with the case, reflector arm and stand for $96.83 (handy if you don’t have a photo caddy to help you maneuver it while you’re shooting). It’s great for both indoor and outdoor shooting, especially for portraits. If you always have a trusty assistant on your shoots, you can just buy the 5-in-1 reflector without the stand. Yes, you can buy smaller reflectors, but you get less coverage, obviously—and it’s harder to prop up a smaller one and still block (or bounce) the sunlight. Get the largest your budget will allow because it does collapse quite nicely—it will even fit in a carry-on suitcase. I own several smaller ones (2-sided versions, silver & gold, black & white), but I graduated up to this 5-in-1 and rarely use the others.

You can use other things as reflectors (foam core, poster board, etc.). The concept is the same, though. Reflect the light back on to your subject with white, warm it up with something gold, cool it and add highlights with something silver (I used to use tinfoil taped to cardboard in the “olden” days). Stretch a sheet or translucent paper over any kind of frame. They all essentially do the same thing and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference with the end result. The manufactured products just do it in a more portable, professional and convenient way.

There is a great article by Rick Sammon on controlling light with reflectors and diffusers here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


But of course…

5 04 2009

…this lovely harbinger of spring has its own fan club—the American Daffodil Society.

And speaking of clouds (I realize this photo contains no clouds, but it does have a sky—so there’s my segue into the subject of clouds), I forgot to mention in my Window in the clouds post that there is a Cloud Appreciation Society (but of course). Their current membership is comprised of 14,384 Cloudspotters. Since I’m a little obsessed with clouds, it seems the perfect club for me to join (as if I need another hobby). Their web site is quite informative—I plan to use the Cloud Photo Gallery to identify the various photos I’ve taken on the subject. And it just so happens that I purchased the Society’s first published book, The Cloudspotter’s Guide, at the Green Valley Book Fair in Harrisonburg a few weeks ago (but of course).

I leave you with The Cloud Appreciation Society’s official manifesto:

WE BELIEVE that clouds are unjustly maligned
and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.


We think that they are Nature’s poetry,
and the most egalitarian of her displays, since
everyone can have a fantastic view of them.


We pledge to fight ‘blue-sky thinking’ wherever we find it.
Life would be dull if we had to look up at
cloudless monotony day after day.


We seek to remind people that clouds are expressions of the
atmosphere’s moods, and can be read like those of
a person’s countenance.


Clouds are so commonplace that their beauty is often overlooked.
They are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul.
Indeed, all who consider the shapes they see in them will save
on psychoanalysis bills.


And so we say to all who’ll listen:
Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and live life with your head in the clouds!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Magnolia bud

2 04 2009

Magnolia bud, Green Spring Gardens

I don’t know exactly which species of Magnolia this is, but my web research revealed that there are 80 different species and they are native to the eastern United States and southeastern Asia. I assume that because the flower looks like it will be a pale yellow that it could be one of the two very popular yellow flowering cultivars—perhaps ‘Butterflies’ or ‘Gold Finch’. I did call and talk to a gardener this morning at Green Spring Gardens and she confirmed that it is a Magnolia.

I learned from the United States National Arboretum site that Magnolia flowers are typically pollinated by beetles. Magnolia flowers do not produce nectar but they do produce large quantities of pollen that is high in protein. Do check out the Arboretum’s web site—it’s well organized and very informative!

And because there is a society for virtually everything, I discovered Magnolia Society International. a worldwide organization of gardeners, nurserymen and other people who are devoted to the appreciation and study of Magnolias.

ID Update #1: I think this bud could be a Magnolia stellata — Star Magnolia or Royal Star Magnolia. The buds on this site look very similar to this one.

ID Update #2: A quick photo trip to Green Spring Gardens today (4/5)—I was able to identify the tree—Magnolia ‘Yellow Fever’—Yellow Fever Magnolia. There was just one bud halfway opened on the tree, so it may be a few more days before there’s something to photograph!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


The spider who (could have) swallowed the fly(ies)

2 04 2009

To give you a sense of scale, the out-of-focus bud at the bottom is about 1/2 inch in diameter. That means this is a pretty tiny spider, albeit quite a long-legged one! I haven’t been able to identify it yet. This spider was initially inside a bud right near the “trysting flies” I posted about earlier. Fortunately for the amorous flies, I don’t think he knew they were so close by. (Or did he?) Lots of activity going on in that bed of Hellebores!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Sunrise at Lake Land’Or

2 04 2009

Monday’s sunrise © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Cracker Barrel bird

2 04 2009

Sunset, March 26, Cracker Barrel parking lot, Harrisonburg, Virginia

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Spring Beauty

1 04 2009

Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’—also known as Spring Beauty Scilla or Siberian Squill (Liliaceae family). Showy blue flowers bloom from bulbs in April in full sun to part shade. Tough and extremely cold hardy (Zones 2-8), this low-maintenance plant naturalizes easily by bulb offshoots and through self-seeding. Learn more about this flower here. This site states that this particular Squill is great for forcing indoors. Guess what I’m growing indoors next winter!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Spring Starflowers

1 04 2009

These star-shaped, pale blue flowers with grass like foliage are Spring Starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum). This perennial is grown from bulbs and blooms in mid-spring for 3-5 weeks. Originating from Argentina and Uruguay, this plant naturalizes very swiftly, spreading by self-seeding and from bulb offsets. Often used in rock gardens and woodland gardens, they grow just 4-5 inches tall, and are perennials in Zones 6 to 7 (with mulching to protect from frost) and in Zones 8 to 9 without mulching. They can be grown in full sun to part shade, require medium watering, are low maintenance, and tolerate a wide range of soil types. They are just beginning to bloom at Green Spring Gardens this week.

I photographed these tiny blue flowers last year in mid-April at Green Spring Gardens. See how they look en masse here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.



1 04 2009

Last April I posted a photograph I shot of Snowdrops Snowflakes at Green Spring Gardens, along with some background on the plant and growing tips. See that posting here. I shot this image of a cluster of Snowdrops Snowflakes at Green Spring Gardens this afternoon. It seems they are blooming earlier this year. The pink out-of-focus areas behind the Snowdrops Snowflakes are the burgundy-colored Hellebores blooming throughout the gardens.

Thanks to both Tiny and Kerry for identifying them as Snowflakes and not Snowdrops!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


Lotsa Phlox

1 04 2009

Phlox paniculata — Garden Phlox — Green Spring Gardens. The sign near this plant identified it as the ‘Bright Eyes’ cultivar, but my research yielded only pink flowers with that particular identification. Any volunteers on identifying this one?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.