Sunday, February 23, 2014 6 comments

Tis the season when roses (and catalogues) cometh

While we were enduring the snow and ice last week I was wondering how many gardening catalogues might arrive while I was stuck at the top of our mountain road.

Sure enough, when we finally made it to the mailbox after three days, a cheery selection was waiting for me including catalogues on wildflowers, veggie seeds, garden supplies and of course, roses.
I'll buy more wildflowers to add to the sunny parts of the trail
It seems I receive new and different catalogues this time of year along with some of my old favorites.  That’s because I’m undoubtedly on a list somewhere labeled “Garden Sucker.” (Also as a member of the Garden Writers Association of America I’m fair game for every gardening business.)

I do at least thumb through every arrival before tossing them in the recycling bin. Having written for the White Flower Farm catalogue and website for a number of years I know how much work goes into each endeavor.

Over the years I’ve learned from trial and error which companies live up to their promises and which simply offer pretty pictures and tall tales.

I’ve had good luck ordering from Bluestone Perennials, Gardens of the Blue Ridge, American Meadows and Oakes Daylilies.  If I ever receive a wilted plant or one that doesn’t grow as promised from any of these companies, a fresh replacement is sent immediately, no questions asked.

Daylilies are growing on me

As I wrote last year, for seeds, it’s hard to beat Renee’s Garden. I used to love her very attractive catalogue and the tantalizing recipes sprinkled throughout the pages. Like many companies, Renee Shepherd has moved to an online catalogue. Sign up for her free E-Newsletter and you’ll receive great garden ideas and yes, recipes!

When it comes to ordering roses by mail my advice is to definitely not believe everything you read. Several years ago I was hoodwinked more than once into ordering from a company that undoubtedly employs the world’s most persuasive copywriter.

My first Climbing Cecile died
The ‘Climbing Cecile Brunner’ I sent for promised “delicate soft pink sweetheart buds and blooms on a vigorous climber... continual blooming...may be grown 20 feet plus into a tree for a gorgeous sight.” This description bore no resemblance to the 3 inch twig that arrived. It didn’t grow, much less bloom.

Now I have several mail order favorites I can depend on without reservation, plus a wonderful new source for miniature roses and minifloras.

Richard Anthony is rose exhibitor and hybridizer who really knows his stuff. As an exhibitor he has 102 Queens of Show to his credit, including three national Queens. Last year he started For Love of Roses, a mail order company that offers 135 varieties of miniflora and miniature roses from 19 different hybridizers. He will be adding 24 more varieties next month.
Fitzhugh's Diamond

One thing I love about Richard is he adds the personal touch to what can be an impersonal business. Last year I wrote to ask his advice on two roses I was considering. I explained I have a small garden and no room for a rose that is stingy with bloom. Although he was enthusiastic about the two I’d mentioned, he recommended a completely different variety. Fitzhugh’s Diamond has turned out to be a real gem for me. So I will definitely be ordering from For Love of Roses again!

Lion's Fairy Tale
Pat Henry of Roses Unlimited in Laurens, South Carolina is another wonderful source of information and inspiration. She believes there are roses for every garden, but that one size does not fit all. She has given me excellent guidance over the years, and I have taken her advice and will be adding two Lion’s Fairy Tale roses to my little patch this spring.

I also plan to visit her garden and will likely come home with more than the two Kordes plants. Take a look at the Roses Unlimited website to see the amazing selection of plants she has available.

My dear friend Cydney Wade is the owner of Rose Petals Nursery in Newberry, Florida – a wonderful source for antique, heirloom and  Earthkind roses. They also have a five-acre display garden where you will marvel at her collection of gorgeous old fashioned roses.

Pink Pet
I will be doing a complete posting on Old Garden Roses soon. With Cydney's expertise, we'll be able to identify the best OGRs on each class and the right zones for her historic beauties. In the meantime, she recommends Old Blush, Louis Philippe, Pink Pet and Perle d'Or as some of the hardiest varieties.

Of course need I mention David Austin English Roses as another of my go to faves? I have been ordering from them since the mid-90’s and have never been disappointed.

So now that the catalogues have come and the websites have been scoured, I am making my list and checking it twice. As far as roses, I am expecting Fighting Temeraire, Boscobel, The Lark Ascending and Heathcliff (among others!) in early April.

New perennials on the way include Centranthus ruber, Speedwell and a yellow nandina.

I’d love to hear about your favorite gardening catalogues, as well as your ordering success and horror stories.

 I’ll report the results in an upcoming posting. Although I can’t imagine there’s a great garden source I haven’t heard about, I’m happy to entertain the thought that one might exist.

In fact, perhaps some new goodies are waiting for me right now. I just heard the doorbell ring.

Monday, February 3, 2014 4 comments

Back to Blackwater

Last week we decided to throw caution to the winter winds and take a road trip to Cambridge, Maryland to visit with friends and attend a dinner party thrown for members of my old book club (the Dorchester Divas) and our spouses.

The snow started flying almost as soon as we arrived at the hotel in South Hill, Virginia the first day of the trip. 

Wednesday morning we inched our way to Virginia Beach and found the roads in deplorable shape. 

Thursday we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (another white-knuckle adventure) and spent the night with friends in Cape Charles. We finally made it to Cambridge Friday afternoon.

As I've written before, during the 15 years we lived in that area we were treated to an amazing parade of birds: herons, tundra swans, ospreys, egrets, woodpeckers, all manner of ducks, red-tailed hawks and "regular" birds including catbirds and hummers. 

I once photographed seven American bald eagles fighting over a dead duck stuck in the ice. We saw Great Horned Owls land on our dock. 

We watched the sky darken as thousands of Canada geese headed back to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge from the local cornfields. We listened to the haunting cries of the loons at night.

Now that we've moved to the mountains, I realize how very lucky we were to have so much wildlife on our doorstep. We took it all for granted. So knowing I would be close to Blackwater on the trip, I packed up all my cameras in hopes of finding some exciting photo ops.

Blackwater was established in 1933 as a refuge for migratory birds and today encompasses over 27,000 acres of tidal wetlands, freshwater ponds, open fields and forests. The refuge is one of the chief wintering areas along the Atlantic Flyway and can serve as home to as many as 50,000 geese, ducks and tundra swans during the fall. 
From an earlier visit on a sunny day

20 species of ducks and over 250 varieties of birds can also be seen there along with 35 species of reptiles and amphibians, all manner of mammals and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. 

You can motor through the refuge on the 4-mile Wildlife Drive, or walk and bike along the Drive and various trails. An impressive new Visitor Center opened in December where you can watch live video on the Osprey Cam or Eagle Cam. 

The Eagle Festival is held every March.

Unfortunately the day I was there, it was too windy and cold to walk or even get out of the car. Still, I managed to get a few nice pictures.

And despite the miserable conditions, it was good to be back.

The view across the creek from our old house