HORTravels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.


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Plants that Rock

 

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Mystery (to me) plant growing from an old stone wall in historic Harpers Ferry West Virginia.

Succession. A short, terse word for something so fascinating and beautiful in nature. Though it sounds a bit harsh, you are clued into its ecological meaning by looking at the first part of the word – success.

Sure this word has uses outside of the natural world – some things happen in succession and businesses and boards plan for leadership succession, but the ecological definition of succession is this: the process by which a biological community evolves over time.

This may happen slowly over eons or within a lifetime or maybe even within a generation depending on the place and the community.

Two types of ecological succession occur – Primary and Secondary.

  • Primary Succession – occurs in what seem to be lifeless areas – think lava flows making brand new land or rocks deposited by glaciers so long ago – or even buildings and structures created by us.

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    Primary succession- small seedlings of Solomon’s Seal emerge from the cracks in a large diabase boulder in the Manderfield Preserve in Southeast PA.

  • Secondary Succession – occurs where there used to be a community but it was disturbed in someway and unrecognizable as it once was but there are small bits of the community left to give a head start to rebuilding – think forest fires, massive hurricanes, landslides.
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Secondary succession in action along the Perkiomen Trail in Southeast PA. Two small pine tree seedlings emerge from a larger “nurse log” in the woods.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the first of these types of succession – primary succession. I find myself most at peace near water and rocks – whether that is on a whitewater or quiet water river in my boat or hiking towards a waterfall. This combination of life giving flowing water and solid stable rock seem to ground me in the present, helps me navigate whatever’s going on in life. Being in these places reminds me I am but a small part of something greater and the most amazing things happen slowly over time and cannot be forced. I have been noticing a lot of life emerging from the seemingly lifeless, beautiful blooms adorning hard, gray, apparently inhospitable rock. Primary succession in action.

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A wall of rock covered in a quilt of flowering plants along the D & R Canal State Park in NJ.

There are three lessons I take away, or think about, each time I see a plant growing, thriving, flowering in what seems an impossible location.

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Road Trip: Bouquets with Benefits

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Pick-Your-Own Bouquet

Plants around here are just starting their slow, groggy awakening. Tiny green tips of daffodil leaves are poking through the duff. Crocus, winter aconite and snowdrops are blooming. Buds on red maples are swelling and new signs of the next season can be found each day. This has me thinking again of the trip to Holland and Belgium we took last Spring. Small colorful flowers coupled with the recent passing of Valentine’s Day has me remembering a small tulip farm having an incredible influence on the community.

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Annemiekes Pluktuin is a small tulip farm located in Hillegom, Netherlands (a town that once hosted the Beatles as they recorded a television show and features a Henry Ford Museum). Hillegom is in the western Netherlands and is part of the “Dune and Bulb Region (Duin- en Bollenstreek)” of the country. This area boasts coastal dunes and is where many of the flower bulbs the Netherlands are so famous for are cultivated.  So it makes sense that Annemieke has her bulb farm here.

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Each season the bulbs in the Pick-Your-Own fields are changed. 

She and her husband guided us through her facility and tulip fields. They began the garden in 2009 after noting a lack of picking gardens in the area once so famous for its tulip cultivation (many of the tulip fields have given way to development in the region). Pluktuins are “Picking Gardens”, places where a visitor can go and pick their own bouquets of flowers. There are many around the country, catering to the tourism industry as well as residents looking for cut flowers for their homes. While the idea of a picking garden in Holland is not unique, certainly you can find them dotting the country, Annemieke’s is special.

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Defense

“No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.”

― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

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Prickles and tendrils of our native Greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia) along the Appalachian Trail on the way to the Pinnacle.

With the many types of media that surround us, the goings-on around the world filter into the everyday, and sometimes the every moment. Heartache and heartwarming happens with stories of how humans decide to interact with the world and people around them. Rarely do stories making the news include tales of people-plant interactions, yet these stories happen every day as well. Each second plants are interacting with the world around them whether it is with animals, humans (we are animals, yes?) fungi, or other plants they are constantly on the defense. Sort of like people lately, it seems.

Unlike people, plants cannot just get up and remove themselves from a situation (makes me wonder since people CAN do that, why don’t we do that more often?). But just like people, plants have developed a variety of ways to protect themselves from harm. And other residents in nature have found ways to exploit these defenses for their own survival.

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Road Trip: Belfleurken

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Photo (c) K V Salisbury

Colorful Azaleas are the primary product at Belfleurken

Depending on where you are maybe not so much a road trip as a flight or sail. Belfleurken is an azalea grower in Belgium. Their primary market is Europe so we do not see many of their azaleas here in the US. We were there a bit early for the Mother’s Day rush on greenhouse grown potted azaleas so while there were many plants in production, not too many flowers were to be found.

Photo (c) K V Salisbury & HORTravels

Just some of the 5 acres of azaleas under glass.

This family business is known for the one-million azaleas grown each year in state-of-the-art greenhouses and their self-watering flower pots. In some way it was nice not to be distracted by 5 acres of Azalea flowers under glass giving a chance to notice the other features of this greenhouse facility. Because the greenhouses were not full, we could see the inner-workings of the facility and for a greenhouse nut like me – this was heaven.

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“Hortisculpture”

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Frog at Morris Arboretum

“American Bull” by Lorraine Vail at the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia PA

While I tend to find the fall colors of the native trees and shrubs here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region something I cannot live without and something that makes me endlessly happy and at peace, others see the changing colors as the sure sign that winter is coming. They can’t enjoy the autumn display because all of those falling leaves depressingly morph into falling snowflakes as they watch them twirl down from the canopy.

As fall proceeds into its second month some lament the end of the growing season, putting away gloves and cleaning tools. Seed catalogs and garden magazines are piled up next to the couch for winter reading. People start to prepare for winter hibernation.

When it is time to sculpt pumpkins, people tend to think less about gardens and gardening as the changing of seasons leads us to think less about watering and weeds and more about turkey stuffing and present wrapping.

Turkey at Gray Towers Milford, PA

Turkey at Grey Towers Milford, PA

But for those of us who enjoy the seasons, who want to explore wherever and whenever, I encourage fall and winter visits to gardens. Perhaps you have a friend or loved one who isn’t so much into gardening but likes to get outside. Drag them to a public garden or museum with outdoor sculptures. You as a gardener, or plant admirer, or nature admirer will find sculptures that will fill the gardening void in the fall and winter months. Some of my favorites from my horticulture travels are here.

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Fiction-ish

The demure Scarlet Pimpernel

The demure Scarlet Pimpernel

Around here it is summer and the Scarlet Pimpernels (Anagallis arvensis) are blooming. To many the Scarlet Pimpernel is a novel set in the time of the French Revolution. To me the Scarlet Pimpernel is a sweet little orange flower that occurs in lawns and some have the nerve to call a weed.

The petite scarlet pimpernel is an European native that made its way here as an ornamental. Dainty orange flowers with red centers dot the square-stemmed plant in summer. Found in disturbed sites and waste areas, this plant thrives in poor soils. First named by English Botanist Richard Salisbury (No relation that I have found…yet – but I mean there MUST be right?) this annual is also known as Poor Man’s Weatherglass because of its tendency to close its flowers at the “approach of foul weather” (Manual of Cultivated Plants, L.H.Bailey 1949). The Reader’s Digest Field Guide to Wildflowers also notes that this botanical barometer closes at dusk, fails to open in gloomy weather and responds to rising humidity by closing its flowers.

Summer is also the time of book lists for beach reading. While I don’t generally go to the beach and read, I will have to add The Scarlet Pimpernel to my “to be read pile” (why is it that that pile never shrinks?) simply because it is named after a plant, not because it has anything to do with plants. There are some books out there I have come across and found even more enjoyable than I expected because of their unanticipated horticultural content.

As you may remember from previous posts, I am a Stephen King fan. When I was much younger my face was always stuck squarely in a Stephen King novel. At some point, as I grew older and picked my head up long enough to realize there are other authors and other genres out there, and as I became more and more interested in learning about the natural world around me, I decided to vary my reading selections. I decided I would read one non-fiction book for each fiction book I read. Naturally, I began my non-fiction reading with Stephen King’s On WritingThis memoir/guide to writing drew me into the non-fiction world and I am hooked. I used to think reading non-fiction was the equivalent of reading a textbook for fun, and really…textbooks for fun?

Scarlet Pimpernel Flower

Scarlet Pimpernel Flower

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Caterpillary

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) flowers in Spring. Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College PA

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) flowers in Spring. Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College PA

Everywhere I go people are sneezing.  Spring seemed to happen all at once and the pollen from everything is coating cars, pavement and, apparently, nostrils in a dusky green film.  Funny how people lament the late start to spring wondering where all the flowers are and then almost as soon as they show their cheerful colors people are wishing the blooms banished from the face of the earth.

It is true in the earliest weeks of spring there can be a lull in blooms. It is the time when the crystal magic of winter has passed but the jewel tones of spring haven’t yet exploded onto the scene. People are desperate for something that shows life will go on. This is when it is important to get out and look for the details. Once you start looking closer you start to notice the beauty in the subtle details of leaves emerging and of flowers that don’t need any extra attention.

Of course by now that lull has passed. Virginia bluebells, violets, trilliums and marsh marigolds are all but screaming their presence in their showy way. Plants with catkins remain quiet and subtle, letting the showoffs attract the pollinators – who needs them?! And until the pollen starts blowing in the wind no one notices them.

Catkins are wind-pollinated flowers. Catkins have emerged on the oak trees around here right now and many many people experience nostril distress with all this pollen floating in the air. Just like Ragweed, these flowers aren’t showy. They don’t need to be. They can reproduce every time the wind blows (I think I know some people like that…) Showy flowers are showy because they need to attract pollinators. Catkins are strictly functional, unless you are desperately looking for signs of spring and then they become quite lovely in their unique caterpillary way.

White Oak (Quercus alba) catkins and newly emerging leaves.

White Oak (Quercus alba) catkins and newly emerging leaves.

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