Saturday, August 30, 2008

Norway: on the Sognefjorden

Salix's work takes him to conferences in Europe once or twice a year, and Salix takes me (I love him dearly!) This summer, his conference was in Bergen, Norway; Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, though it's still smallish--during our trip, it celebrated its population reaching 250,000 (how they knew on exactly which day to celebrate, I'm not sure . . .) It's on the west coast of Norway, toward the southern tip--though to put it in perspective, it's farther north than Aberdeen, Scotland, and close to the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska.
So I was surprised to discover that Bergen's climate is actually milder than Virginia's! The Gulf Stream keeps the southern part of Norway relatively warm--the lows in Bergen in January bottom out at about 0 degrees C., or just at freezing, which would put them in Zone 9 on the USDA hardiness map. But they have long winters with little sun, and cool temperatures in the summer (they average around 19C., or about 70 F.)--so the growing season is quite compressed. The result was quite delightful for a plant lover--it was spring, summer, and the start of fall all at once.

I took way too many pictures, and I'm still sorting through them, so I'm going to spread the better ones over at least three postings. Bergen calls itself the "gateway to the fjords," and it's just south of the Sognefjorden, the longest fjord in Norway. The Sognefjorden opens into the ocean in the west, where it looks like a large bay; but as it moves east, it narrows and branches into several smaller fjords--we toured two of these, the Aurlandsfjord and the Naeroyfjord, on our first day.

To get to the fjords, we took the Bergen Railway from Bergen (at sea level) to Myrdal, a village at 864 m (2835 ft) above sea level. The Railway, which runs all the way to Oslo, is the highest in Northern Europe. These pictures were taken just west of Voss, about halfway to Myrdal and well into the clouds.

We weren't sure about the source of this plume, but it seems to be feeding the clouds:

When we arrived in Myrdal, we switched from the highest railway in Northern Europe to the steepest--the Flamsbanan, which descends those 2835 feet in just 12 miles. The views are spectacular, especially the 305 foot Kjofossen waterfall.

The small village of Flam at the end of the line is at sea level, at the southern tip of the Aurlandsfjord. We would catch the ferry here for our trip through the fjords, but we had three hours to see the area. I decided to explore the local flora, but I didn't find much more colorful than Salix as he prepared for his Fjord Safari, a trip around Aurlandsfjord on a speedboat.

Once Salix was strapped in and on his way, I went for a short hike around the village to see what was growing. This tree was one of the first things that caught my eye, because it was growing out of a rocky hillside. As things turned out, I probably saw more of this tree than any other--it's prolific in this part of Norway It's a Sorbus aucuparia, also called Rowan tree or European mountain ash. This time of year, it's covered in red berries.

Fruit trees flourish in the villages on the edge of the fjords--this apple tree is growing in relative wild (in a field just outside the village), surrounded by Angelica.

Here's a cherry tree in a more controlled setting--the front of the Fretheim hotel (in the window, you can see the reflection of the ferry in the harbor).

We saw roses everywhere, particularly Rugosa. These are probably cultivated, but they give the appearance of a wild edge along the banks of the fjord.

We caught the Rugosas at a particularly good time--most of the bushes were forming hips, but were still in bloom.

Still, cultivation here is probably hard. The hills are very rocky--I was surprised to see large trees growing where there was no discernible soil. And in the rocks, even (Virginia) weeds become lovely wildflowers:

Salix returned in one piece and relatively dry, and we boarded the ferry for our ride through the fjords. The first half of our trip took us through the Aurlandsfjord--the villages and farms are typically lcose to sea level, with the mountains rising abruptly behind them.

The trees in these fjords are chiefly spruce and other conifers, oak, ash (including rowan), hazel, elm, and close to sea level, fruit trees. The ground is carpeted by heathers and mosses. Most of the villages started (and many continue) as farming communities.

This isn't a great picture, but it's a great story. The little white house halfway up the mountain is one of the two farms that constitute Stigen.
Back in the day, the farms could be approached only by boat and reached only with ladders. The farmers could easily see boats approaching--and assuming that the only visitors would be church officials collecting tithes, the farmers would pull up the ladders when they saw boats approaching.

This is the village of Styvi in the Naeroyfjord as our ferry turned toward Gudvangen.

And this is the Sagfossen, the highest waterfall on the Naeroyfjord.

We landed at Gudvangen, took a bus up to Voss, and then the railway back down to Bergen. It was an absolutely beautiful trip--the gardens in Bergen would be more controlled, but pretty nonetheless.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Salix saves a hummingbird!

I really am on my way to Norway--but I had to share this very short story. I walked into the garage today for a shovel, and found a panicky hummer. Both garage doors were open, but the little bird was trying to escape through the ceiling. We think maybe she (or he, not sure how to tell) mistook the white stripes on the ceiling for light or sky--she would only fly up, not down and out the way she came in. If I tried to shoo her out, she'd fly up over the door and get caught between the door and the ceiling. I carried in every plant I could find as a lure--a red geranium, some black and blue salvia, a long stemmed red rose (no kidding)--but she stayed up high, lighting when she'd get tired on a fishing pole that belonged to the previous owners (yeah, we need to clean more).

This is hardly the Grail--the hummingbird was trapped and tired and I caught her during a break--but I did get a rare opportunity for a close-up.

After about half an hour, I was worried about the bird exhausting herself, so I consulted with Salix. We wished we had a net, but we didn't. So Salix got a broom, and after a couple of proffers, the hummer lit on the broom! Salix gently took the broom down to the open door, and she was on her way. I wish I had a picture of the rescue, but I didn't want the flash to agitate her, so my 1000 words will have to suffice.

Bloom Day August 2008

I thought August would be a challenge--it's probably the fourth worst month for flowers in our area (after November-December-January). And I didn't bring in many annuals this year--my favorite plant source, a little farm about five miles from us, closed this year, and I didn't try very hard to find a substitute. And then, as I mentioned in my last posting, the rebloom that normally occurs around the beginning of August didn't happen this year--or more accurately, it didn't happen when or at the level I expected, I'm pretty sure because of the dry conditions.

But I have spent the last couple of days outside with my new camera, and although the garden is pretty green right now (so glad it's not brown!), there is some color out there for my first Bloom Day. The "Don Juan" climbing roses DID come back, though two weeks later than usual and in a somewhat sad state--you can see the effects of the beetles and the drought in the foliage.

Still, there's always something to celebrate by August 15th--the Japanese beetles are gone. Each year we have fewer--the damage was limited mostly to the climbing roses, where I couldn't reach to crush them.

There are blossoms on other roses, too--the "Knockout" rose is coming back a bit,

as is one of my favorites, Rosa moyesii "Geranium." In late spring, the bush is covered with its tiny blooms--now, I have to be content with three or four.

One of the shrub roses in the white garden is starting to bloom again, too. I lost the tags years ago--do you think it might be a pimpinellifolia? Whatever it is, it's good to know the deadheading helped a little.

The white garden is still in bloom, though the flowers are fading fast. The hanging baskets I found on sale helped--I pulled out annual vinca and what might be Nierembergia and planted it under the gaura and the shrub roses.

The bright white of the vinca belps the small, airy, but equally white flowers of the gaura stand out.

The Shasta daisies (ok, Chrysanthemum x superbum, but does anyone ever call them that?)--anyway, they're still carrying the garden, but the stalks in the back of the bed are starting to yellow--it will be time to trim them soon.

The Phlox paniculata is still in full bloom--I SO hope this one spreads--it and the white butterfly bush are the only fragrant flowers in bloom right now, but their scents fill the garden.

Other flowers are finishing for the season: there's one last tiny blossom on the Lychnis coronaria "Angel Blush"--but there are tons of seed heads, so I'm hoping for lots of babies in the spring.

The oak leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) have finished as well, but the dried flower heads are still beautiful.

Apropos of nothing but my delight and Ranunculus's dismay: it's raining! I stopped for a minute to watch the show and to comfort Ranunculus, who's gone to hide under Salix's desk (for some reason, Ranunculus finds Salix's office a haven from storms and vacuum cleaners--I guess he's figured out the vacuum doesn't go in there much, so maybe he reasons the same is true of thunder). I'm now looking at water pouring out of a section of clogged gutter and wishing I had a rain barrel underneath . . .

But to the task at hand. The bright garden isn't so bright, but there are blooms if you look for them. The butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) is a stalwart. One of ours is a volunteer, and I read that most "self-sown" bushes (though I suspect a bird) are pale purple, as this one is. The swallowtails love it.

The tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is in bloom. I love this plant--it looks like a tall fern thrugh the spring and early summer, and then produces little button-like flowers that are wonderful in bouquets. But it's a hard plant to place--it needs sun and it gets very tall. Fortunately, it doesn't mind being moved, since I keep moving it. I have an idea for a new border I'm planting this fall--I think the yellow buttons will look nice against the purple berries on the Callicarpa and interspersed with the blues of my Salvias--but more in a later posting.

Another plant in full bloom is Angelica gigas, a striking perennial that's often grown as a biennial. It's supposed to reach 4-6', so I planted it behind some Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue"--unfortunately, this year at least, the Angelica foliage topped out at about 3' and the flower at only about 2, so it's been hidden by the Salvia. I love it, so I'm going to let the seedheads develop and try to propogate more plants.

The Salvias are the other stalwarts right now. I have the "Black and Blue" everywhere--it can be thuggish, but it's easy to move, it's lovely, and the bees adore it. Mine bloomed early this year--it started in late May--and it's still going strong.

My friend Lezpedeza shared this Salvia with me--I'm pretty sure she found it at Elizabethan Gardens during one of our beach trips--as well as Salvia uliginosa, or bog sage, which is taller, more delicate looking, and a lighter blue, but also a prolific bloomer this time of year (and also a favorite of bees).

In the back of the garden, providing shade, is another favorite from Elizabethan Gardens--Clerodendrum trichotomum, or Harlequin Glorybower. This tree reaches about 20 feet--my tallest is about 10--and in late summer and fall, it's covered with tiny, star shaped, vanilla scented blossoms that develop from dark pink to white.

Nothing I've read about this tree suggests that it's thuggish, but I have about ten babies within twenty feet of this older one. Fortunately we have lots of room for small trees.

Not all of my August blooms are blooms. The Colocasia esculenta (Elephant ear) is coming into its own (here's where Latin names are important, since a lot of things including a noxious weed are called "Elephant ear"). I like the way its shape and color echo the calla lily leaf and contrast with the Japanese painted fern.

And thank goodness for Coleus--its foliage rivals a lot of flowers, and it's brilliant--even in the shade--when other plants are turning dull.

The island bed I was working on in the front yard before the bluebirds moved in is still showing a little color. The Echinacea purpurea has gone to seed--which in itself is lovely and attracts goldfinches--but the Alchillea millefolium is still threading itself through the Baptisia seedpods, and the Coreopsis verticillata will bloom into fall.

The plants around the deck contribute as well. Most of the herbs are blooming--here's Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), another bee favorite that is also a bad-bug repellant. We crush the leaves on our skin to keep away flies, and sometimes I stick strands under Ranunculus's collar.

And the flowers of marjoram and oregano spill over the deck stairs.

I know these don't count as blooms, but the figs ripening on the trees beside the deck provide color as well.

Potted plants do their part. This Crown-of-Thorns plant (Euphorbia x lomi) will probably be featured every Bloom Day--it moves inside the back windows in October or November where it continues to bloom all winter.

And the bull peppers look lovely with the purple flowers of Thai basil (I know I should trim the flowers to keep the herbs in leaf longer, but I love the flowers--so I just buy lots of little pots).

So I did have something to show for Bloom Day after all. But I'm really looking forward to September. Here's a preview--the buds are forming on my ginger lilies.

I won't be posting for a while--Salix has a conference in Bergen, Norway, so I'll be gone for ten days, exploring Scandinavian gardens. I'll miss reading about your gardens, but I hope to come back with some wonderful pictures. Adjo (goodbye) until the 26th!

Oops, posting postscript: be sure to visit May Dreams Garden for the complete list of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day contributions for August. Thanks, Carol.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Birthday Bouquets

It's been quite a week. Actually, more than a week--this will be my first posting in August, and it's already the 10th! I've done relatively little gardening this month--my friends threw a birthday party for me, and then Lisa came back from her 10-day trip and we had to catch up, and then my almost-twin Kolkwitzia had her birthday, and then my friend Helianthus got married (the event of the season--a little more on that later). And in my spare time, I'm learning to use my NEW CAMERA.

Salix and my friends gave me a Canon PowerShot S5 IS (or maybe S515? I think I'm due for an eye exam), and I love it. It's still a point and shoot--I decided my skills weren't quite up to the cost and the heft of a digital SRL yet (thanks for the advice, Sarah)--but I actually managed to get clear pictures of running horses on my first day with the camera--a feat I have to attribute to the camera, not the operator. Anyway, the camera had its first real workout at my birthday party. Here's the first birthday bouquet, from Lespedeza's garden (n.b.--many members of my posse have picked their own blog names--my Lespedeza isn't weedy at all). I love the zucchini leaves.

Jacaranda and the Garden Curmudgeon made the theme for the party "Beach Week"--we all typically rent a house in Duck, North Carolina two or three times a year (the Curmudgeon and I are writing a novel--perhaps I should say "writing" a "novel"--based on our experiences in the beach houses, and if some of our blog names seem silly, wait until I preview that literary endeavor. But as I was saying . . . ) We haven't been since Thanksgiving, so we decided to get at least a bit of a beach fix at my house--pretty far from a beach, but we do have a hot tub.
Last Thanksgiving, we needed a centerpiece for our big dinner, so we held a contest. Rules were, nothing purchased and no ransacking the neighbors' flower beds, and the content could be but didn't have to be flora. As I recall, I lost to the Curmudgeon, who I believe bribed the judge. This year, I was one of the judges, along with Lysimachia and her little boy Crocus. The teams were the Curmudgeon and Helianthus; Jacaranda and Lespedeza; and Salix and Mullein. We gave each team a pair of scissors, warned them about chiggers, and set them loose.

Here's the Curmudgeon contemplating his design philosophy, or maybe deciding whether he wants to climb a tree:

Jacaranda looks like he's getting ready to attack a stump covered in a weedy grass with his little pair of scissors. Lespedeza and Lysimachia look skeptical; Crocus is trying to reason with him.

Salix and Mullein disappeared fairly quickly--Salix spends a couple of hours every morning at the far edges of the property, and he and Mullein thought they might find better treasures off the beaten path. Mullein returns with his--those would be the ones in his right hand.

A little later, Lespedeza models a draft version, at this point featuring a lot of Artemesia absinthium.

The Curmudgeon again, now setting his sights much lower--I think he's after the Artemesia, too--or maybe the flowers on the marjoram.

Although Crocus is judging, he got into the spirit of the search and found his own flower.

Here he's seeking the advice of Lespedeza and Ranunculus--Ranunculus clearly votes "yes,"but then again Ranunculus likes just about anything involving Crocus.

And here are the birthday bouquets. Lespedeza's sunflowers weren't in the competition, but they were too pretty to move so we left them at the far end of the table. In this shot, nearest the camera is the entry by the Curmudgeon and Helianthus; in the middle, the one by Mullein and Salix.

Mullein's and Salix's sprawling contribution blocked the view of Lespedeza's and Jacaranda's work, so here's a shot from the other side of the table. They used smoke tree leaves (Cotinus coggyria), Artemesia, and ferns--the silver of the absinthe set off the crimson of the smoke tree beautifully. This shot also shows the whimsy of the Curmudgeon and Helianthus--they used dog fennel and philodendron, along with a mardi gras mask for color. I wish dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) actually looked good in anything--it's the dominant weed where the hurricane took out the trees, and I hate the stuff--the Curmudgeon misjudged one of his judges. So this is a relative of Joe-Pye Weed? Hard to believe.

One more shot of Mullein's and Salix's entry--they used a mullein stalk, wild raspberry, Callicarpa, and more Artemesia.

The decision was tough--Helianthus and the Curmudgeon received an honorable mention for "Most Unnatural," and Jacaranda and Lespedeza for their use of color, but the judges were taken by the sheer extravagance of Mullein and Salix's work. As well as their dedication to their craft--here, Mullein's already feeling the effects of his trek into the hinterlands. He's a geologist and works in the field all summer, so we figured he'd protect himself against chiggers--but I guess he was too excited about the project--turns out both he and the Curmudgeon got quite a few bites. That doesn't happen at the beach.

This next shot is appropos of nothing, except for the fact that Salix shouldn't be allowed in the garden without adult supervision. Here, he's telling the Curmudgeon and Lespedeza that the mint tastes funny. It should--he's eating oregano. At least he didn't nibble on the Artemesia or the dog fennel.

So, as I said, these pictures are from my first day with the camera, and I really like it. I thought at first I'd like an 18x or 20x zoom, but when I went to try out the cameras, I preferred the feel of this Canon, and I love the moveable screen and the image stablizer, so I settled for the 12x zoom, and so far it's been fine. I took this shot of one of our critters from the upper deck--our little visitor is 20-30 yards away from where I'm standing.

And here's a viceroy butterfly in a hanging basket outside my front door.

I'll close with a few more observations about bouquets. Here's Helianthus at her wedding last night--her blog-o-nym seems quite appropriate:

And here's the centerpiece at our table. We were "cobalt"--the tables were named for gems, and we all wore colors associated with our table. Every centerpiece was different and also color-themed--we spotted iris and salvia carrying the theme in ours.

And here we are, our own bouquet, also in blue (the ribbon in the upper right hand corner is the one on the centerpiece, to give you an idea of how tall it stood).

Only one disappointment in this otherwise wonderful week. Each year, I make my almost-twin Kolkwitzia a bouquet from my garden. She loves flowers (or as she, the French teacher, calls them, fleurs), but she isn't able to garden, so I love taking her bits of mine. Typically by our birthdays, my roses are in rebloom, I have some lilies left, the daisies are in full swing, and I can fill in with flowers from herbs or from phlox or gaura. The roses haven't come back yet this year and the lilies are long gone--we're feeling the drought. This year's bouquet wasn't worth a picture (I supplemented with stuff from a florist--I confessed immediately). And I think I'm going to have to be very creative on bloom day . . .