Monday, December 29, 2014 7 comments

Farewell 2014. It's been a Fab year.

In last year’s Farewell address I noted that I’d blinked, and 2013 somehow disappeared. Overall it was a pleasant year, but not one packed with unforgettable memories.

2014 has been strikingly different.

It all started with a road trip from the North Carolina mountains to Cambridge, Maryland for a dinner party thrown for members of my old book club (the Dorchester Divas.) It was a wonderful reunion, but the weather was ghastly and we swore we'd never travel during winter again. But I did manage to get out to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge which is one of the chief wintering areas along  the Atlantic Flyway. Despite the wind and cold I found a few photo ops.

February marked the 50th anniversary of my exclusive interview with the Beatles when the Lads arrived at Miami International Airport to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was a dizzying month filled with newspaper and radio interviews, and misty-eyed walks down Memory Lane.  The hero was John Lennon and our story appeared on the front page of The Miami Herald on February 13, 2014. I also wrote a remembrance for The Christian Science Monitor.

April brought the return of the hummingbirds and my invitation to judge at the Biltmore International Rose Trials.

Hummers returned on April 12th

I am honored to be a member of the permanent Biltmore judging panel
Seeing such beautiful roses and visiting with so many rose-loving friends was an unforgettable experience. A shrub called 'Miracle on the Hudson' flew off with top honors.

Rosy fun with Chris VanCleave, my Chris and Teresa Byington
The always spectacular Biltmore Rose Garden
Another important anniversary was celebrated in June – the 25th year since my first date with a certain officer in the Royal Navy.

Later that month we set off on another road trip visiting friends in Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Maryland and DC on the way to judge one of my favorite rose shows at Longwood Gardens.
The wild onions of Yorktown
American Pillar (a hybrid wichurana) at Longwood

In August I wrote my second posting about the historic trees at High Hampton in Cashiers, North Carolina, including the world's largest Fraser Fir.

National Champion Bottlebrush Buckeye

The trees at High Hampton are magnificent. The gardens aren't too shabby either.

Labor Day ended with a nasty surprise as Chris was rushed to Asheville for emergency bowel surgery. He was in Mission Hospital 11 days and we wondered  if we would have to cancel our big trip in October we'd been planning for almost a year.

Did we make it? What other special anniversary was on the calender?

Watch this space...

Sunday, December 7, 2014 12 comments

No room for a traditional Christmas tree? Try a Norfolk Island pine.

Kiama, Australia

 Dear Readers,

While we were in Australia and New Zealand I discovered what turned out to be Norfolk Island  pines growing in the wild.  I always think of these attractive trees as indoor ornamentals, but of course they do thrive outdoors, and can grow to impressive heights in their native habitats. They are considered tough trees that make excellent specimen plants.

Planted in Paihia, Bay of Islands, NZ in 1880.
In America, Norfolk pines (they actually aren't pines at all) can grow up to 80 feet in USDA Hardiness zones 10A through 11, although they are easily damaged by high winds. 

Here is the original story I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor about using these graceful plants as holiday trees:


The day we set off to find “the” Christmas tree is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s usually the day after Thanksgiving when we’re still stuffed from the holiday feast and in need of an outdoor adventure. I say adventure because the search for my perfect tree can last an entire day.

Before leaving home, I bring down the boxes of holiday decorations and set each ornament out on the dining room table. There’s everything from Woody Woodpecker (who does his famous laugh when you press a button) to pipe cleaner Santas that belonged to my grandmother.

My rocking horses, glass turtles and miniature carved birds are lined up, waiting to be placed on the bushy, beautifully symmetrical Frasier fir soon after it comes through the front door.
There was no room for a big tree before our big move
Four years ago when we put our Maryland house on the market, we decided not to get our traditional tree.

I discovered I really missed looking through the ornaments – it’s rather like visiting with old friends.

And I missed the festive lights in the corner where the tree usually stood. So I bought a little Norfolk Island pine, added a string of 20 lights, a few bows, and voila -- Christmas tree!

It wasn’t our usual statuesque 7-footer, but it did just fine for that unusual holiday season.

A winter ornamental from the tropics.

Araucaria heterophylla is native to a small island in the South Pacific that was sighted in 1774 during Captain James Cook’s second voyage of exploration. The island was named in honor of the Duchess of Norfolk and the trees seen growing there were estimated to be over 200 feet tall.

Barney the Barn Owl glides effortlessly through the tree branches
Here at home, the Norfolk Island pine is almost always grown indoors as a compact houseplant since it is far too tender for most areas of the country.   

The popularity spikes during the holiday season for obvious reasons. But these charming little trees need not be thrown out with the dried-up Poinsettias once January arrives. With proper care they will last for many Christmases to come.

Indoor climate is the key.

Norfolk Island pines are relatively easy to grow and make appealing accent plants all year-round thanks to their graceful branches and soft, touchable needles. They can tolerate low lighting for a brief time (such as during the holidays) but do best when exposed bright light.

I've managed to collect every bird from this series

An hour or so of direct sunlight won’t hurt, but be sure to rotate the tree a quarter turn every two weeks to keep it from becoming lopsided.

Despite their tropical homeland, these trees prefer an environment on the cool side.  Ideally, temperatures should range from 50 and 70 degrees  -- anything in the 80’s will likely cause needle drop.

My vintage 40's Santa
Norfolk Island pines don’t require as much water as other houseplants. In fact, they won’t tolerate saturated soil. Give them a drink only when the top inch or so of soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. Allow some water to run out of the bottom of the container, then discard any excess in an hour or so.

In addition they don’t like to be pruned – in fact pruning can deform these plants. The only trimming required is removing any dead lower branches. If you prune a tip or healthy branch, the tree will not grow at that spot again.

Gator ornaments are a must

Feed your tree lightly every other month during spring and summer with a fertilizer specifically formulated for indoor foliage plants. Some experts suggest repotting every three years; others say the practice disturbs the roots and isn’t necessary.

I didn’t have my Norfolk Island pine long enough to worry about fertilizing or repotting  – I gave it to a neighbor before we moved to the mountains.

But I must confess even though I missed my heirloom ornaments that Christmas, the little tree made our holidays merry and bright.