Queen Anne’s Summer

Queen Anne’s Lace with food coloring

One of our favorite quotes here in the hollow is Henry James’

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon,

to me those have always been the

two most beautiful words

in the English language.”

This summer I picked Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), or the wild carrot, from the meadow and put it in food coloring as I’ve always remembered from a school project around 1st or 2nd grade. A gathering of old friends down at Emory College in Glade Springs, Virginia, brought more reminiscences of this practice (everyone seems to remember a similar experience) and I was determined to replicate it.

The colors are lurid and remind me of the wonder of childhood. The flowers last and last and become more vivid with time. Just like all of us if we’re lucky.

Stumbled across a box turtle on my way to pick the Queen Anne’s Lace. The creek is running high with all the rain we’ve had and he looked healthy and happy making his way toward the water.

Box Turtle

Tomatoes are succumbing to foliar wilts, but have harvested some. ‘Gold Rush’ cherry is doing the best, but all the hybrids (‘Better Boy’, ‘Big Boy’, ‘Lemon Boy’) seem to have devolved into basic sweet orange tomatoes (not that I’m complaining). I think I harvested a ‘Mortgage Lifter’ (the tags got mixed up) which was actually red, but this seems to be a disappearing factor in tomatoes.

We are grateful for Summer.

Queen Anne’s Lace





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Hollow Harvest

Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra)

The hickories are heavy with their nuts at the edge of the meadow. Queen Anne’s Lace, Black-Eyed-Susan, Yarrow, Butterfly Weed, and Switch Grass spangle the sunny spots of our little swath.

All you need for a meadow is a properly mowed grassland and a path.  Even though we have invasives like native yellow wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) and Asian garlic mustard, a bit of Ailanthus and multiflora rose, the ecosystem seems to be holding its own ever since we started bush-hogging each spring in February/March, before the deer start making nests and after last year’s seeds have been well-scattered.

Even the bad gardener gets a handful – of blueberries, tomatoes, and flowers. We’ve been fighting the vegetable garden all summer long (that’s the “Royal We”; I merely supervise), but what with health issues, family visitations, flooding, and other vicissitudes of life, we are going into late summer somewhat weeded with compost and straw spread, and tomatoes ripening, thanks to that fellow who works in the yard.

The undeserved grace of God falls on all of us, and I think of this every time I pluck the hardy sorrel, basil, roses, and the rest that manage to grow out in the garden in our own despite.

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Daffodil and Pine

Daffodil and Pine

Daffodil and pine are one of my husband’s signature arrangements, the sharp green needles and tender yellow blooms presenting a perfect picture of late winter morphing into early spring. Along with bi-colored ‘Ice Follies’, the little yellow ‘Tete-a-tete’s’ are just poking through and I saw a sky blue starry Chionadoxa yesterday.

Hellebore hybrids are in full flower, pure white ‘Ivory Prince’ notable among the more common mauves and green. Purple and yellow crocus stud our lumpy turf and the deer have just browsed the old patches of “Tommies” (Crocus tommasinianus) whose ethereal pale lavender blossoms we get to enjoy for a few days each year. Like the Japanese with the cherries, fleeting.

It was a good year for snowdrops and I continue to resolve to plant more this fall in large masses as well as popped into surprising crevices especially in front of rocks and evergreens. You literally cannot have enough snowdrops. What would be the limit? One clump in a corner on the old north porch is the last to come out and says farewell to our season. The early ones in the sun are beginning to go to seed as their grey-green strappy leaves fatten up with nutrients to feed the bulbs.

Snowdrops/Galanthus elwesii

We may get a nip of cold temps – and historically, there’s always a chance of snow – but ever since Groundhog Day, spring has been coming on strong. We finally pruned the roses today and have the burn piles in the vegetable garden ready for a suitable day. We’re only  now calming down from the great Nor’easter that did so much damage up north. We lost electric for a couple of days but had little wind damage.

Potatoes and peas on schedule for St. Patrick’s Day. Need to cut back asparagus patch and get manure for the roses. The spring list grows. The full moon is gibbous and Orion sinks early into the western sky.



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Come Spring

Witchhazel ‘Diane’ and Japanese beautyberry

A good month away from the equinox and vibrant color wakes up the winter doldrums. Brand new ribbons of  witchhazel contrast with wrinkled amethyst berries of Callicarpa dichotoma, Japanese beautyberry. Beautyberries, like viburnums, are one of the last berries to be eaten by the birds, seeing them through the hungry days of late winter.

Spied the first robins, poking for worms below the pines on the walk past the potting shed the other day. Smelled a poor dead skunk on the road. Sure signs of spring. The forysythia, spicebush, and lonicera buds are swelling, Hellebores beginning to bloom. There will be a cold snap, which will distress the fruit growers, but spring is swelling up now.

Ruby red ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia, a cross between Japanese and Chinese varieties) has heralded spring in the hollow for many years. So glad we did not cut it to the ground after extensive storm damage a few years ago, and left a solid structure of old branches instead. Nursing along and thinning the new growth on this treasured specimen is a pleasant pruning challenge.

The rusty red of the broom-sedge in the east meadow echoes the old season with the copper color of winter-overed beech leaves. We plan to bushhog it at the end of the month, before deer or other animals start nesting for the spring. It’s always good to walk a field like this before mowing, not only to look for nestlings, but to spot rocks and other impediments.

Winter broom-sedge (Andropogon virginicus)

Rainfall is up over the last weeks, though we’re still recovering from a deficit of 11″ last fall. It’s good to hear the creek running and sop around in my boots. Mud season is welcome. We’ve been blessed with little snow or ice.

Out with the old, in with the new.

February beech and broom-sedge

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Hollow Horizon

Hollow Horizon

Holidays start here in the hollow on December 21st with the winter solstice and run through the new year. Late autumn and early winter open their arms to us as the planets turn and tilt in the winter sky.

Orion begins to rise in the south shooting his arrows upward as he sinks into the black night and one cannot help but think of Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall where

“Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,

Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the west.”

We especially love getting emails from NASA to sight the International Space Station. Winter gives the widest horizon. Watching that intrepid beam of light chugging along around 17,000 miles per hour just 254 miles above us, filled with the best of humanity working toward common knowledge never fails to inspire me. They’ve got a long way to go to catch up to Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock, but still. https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Seeds from the hollow

Harvesting random seeds this year brought back memories from Monticello, sifting and saving seeds in the long-gone greenhouse on rainy days, rubbing knees and elbows and sharing stories with old friends Bucky, Rich, Craig, Skip, Peggy, Colin, and Vejay (the “pretty boys” that summer).

Days long gone but memories like seeds live on.

Picked just a bit of running cedar for the holidays from the little patch that ekes out its existence on a north-facing slope up the road that abuts our land. It runs from the mountain laurel that flourishes under the utility line cut down the bank through yellow birch, Christmas holly and smooth hydrangea.

Although I’ve seen morel and ginseng hunters parked along the road in spring  – fall and winter bring white trash deer hunters who strew their Miller Lite cans, liquor bottles, fast food wrappers, and occasional carcasses – I’ve never noticed anyone poaching the running cedar. No one knows it’s there but me.

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Last of the Nasturtiums

November Nasturtiums with “capers”.

I love picking through the cool nasturtium leaves before the first frost – this year, the night of November 10, down to 21 degrees. Filling the house with their flowers and spicing up salads with their peppery seed heads that substitute for capers is a ritual of fall here in the hollow.

Nasturtiums, moon vines, Tom Torrance’s castor beans, jalapenos, and zinnias all fell to the freezing temperatures which used to come around mid-October when I first started paying attention to such things. Picked a nice mess of sorrel for Peter Boyer’s Carr’s Hill recipe. They’ve stood up to the cold along with lettuces, arugula, romaine, and parsley.

Roses, – climbing ‘Sombreuille’, ‘Iceberg’, and ‘Penny Lane’  – have had lovely autumn flushes. ‘Penny Lane’ already showing deep crimson hips. Now that the nasturtiums have died down, we can weed the asparagus patch and topdress with stable manure from our kind neighbors who keep horses up the road. Amended the roses last spring with a few five gallon buckets of it and they’ve done well this season. Manure – the old standby of Gertrude Jeykell, William Robinson, Henry Mitchell, and the like.

The blueberries we planted from Mike McConkey’s Edible Landscapes in Afton have settled in well. With the assistance of a knowledgeable nurserywoman, we chose 3 different Rabbit-eye types (‘Powder Blue’, ‘Sunshine Blue’, a dwarf, and ‘Ochlockonee’) which are supposedly adaptable to our increasingly hot and prolonged summers.

We picked up a scant half inch of rain over the last week, but still the creek runs quiet and Albemarle County is running a deficit of groundwater. We’ll hope for some deep snows to renew us come spring.

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Hollow Eclipse

How low-tech can you go?


The solar eclipse came to the hollow between 2 and 3 pm Monday, August 21st in lovely sunny skies with just a few poofs of cumulus clouds. We weren’t in the zone of totality, but I did see a good chunk eaten out of the sun at the peak and the air took on a cool ethereal quality. I was surprised how well the white paper at the bottom of the pinhole viewer reflects the sky and clouds as well as the sun. NASA’s DIY video was great! And I enjoy looking at the sun with it even without an eclipse. It’s fun to catch that little ray inside a box.

Eclipse Sky

It was good to have an otherworldly experience after the horror and terror of the weekend of August 12 in Charlottesville where neo-Naziis and white supremacists rioted and killed Heather Heyer, a local citizen who worked as a paralegal and was protesting against racism and religious bigotry. People were beaten in the streets during uncontrolled mayhem. Armed thugs roamed Market Street in front of the library. The Police stood down. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it and I just watched it on tv.

The wings of violence and death are brushing up against us and I feel their feathers on my face. I take comfort in the celestial dance, so remote, so beautiful, so removed from human folly. I often study the night sky and take out my National Audubon Field Guide to the Night Sky when I need to escape worries here on Earth. I recommend it. We’re lucky to have a good night sky here in the hollow even if it is like looking up into an oculus.

Back here on the ground Tom Torrance’s castor beans are creating a pink glow in the garden and combining well with the tall sunflowers sown a few months ago. Love them in the flower arrangement above, but they are messy. Just like life.

High Summer Hollow



























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Sexy Beech

It was only a few years ago that our 27 year old American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) began to display its imperfect dioecious flowers, male and female separate on the same tree, and produce beechnuts. The pendant, globose flowers at the bottom of the twig are male; the single reddish bump at the end the female, ready to receive pollen and bear her fruit. I never tire of this beautiful tree in all its seasons.

This older beech dominates the west garden between us and the road; a younger specimen, planted for my 50th birthday 17 years ago, is making her presence felt in the east meadow, gradually straightening herself on the slope where she’s planted. She’s all leaves still, yet to give forth her flowers.

This is the first year we’ve really managed this area as a natural meadow since its decline as a hay field over the years as the invasive native yellow wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) made her way in. John cut it with the Gravely in late winter and we’ve cut a path along the creek since. Have seen the lyre-cup sage blooming. I like walking along between creek and meadow.

As I age along with our landscape I pay more attention to the bones and have less time and interest in weeding and tending perennials. I like to prune the trees and shrubs and fill large spaces with Siberian iris, Aster tartaricum, and sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

As we tend the land around us we learn more about ourselves.

Milo in clover



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Early Spring

Early Spring,
Sprung wire,
Daffodils all mixed up.

The daffodils are all mixed up this year. As we staple up the fallen wire on the vegetable garden fence, I see ‘Ice Follies’ out first instead of the usual little ‘Tete-a-Tetes’ and ‘Carleton’ trumpets which usually lead the spring show.

We’ve had the warmest February on record and a very dry season since going into fall last year. Very little precip over the winter and lots of wind, but I think it’s the lack of sustained winter chill that’s confused the daffodils. Things seem to have settled down now and mid to late season cultivars like ‘Salome’, ‘Thalia’, and ‘Twin Sisters’ (always the last to bloom) are still just showing foliage. ‘Hawera’ and ‘Segovia’, out on the slope beneath the east meadow Beech just showing foliage, and seem to be late.

Limed the lilacs today on the advice of Peggy Singlemann, Director of Grounds at Maymont, who I had the good fortune to meet again at the Piedmont Landscape Assn. Seminar last February. I was bemoaning the effect of warm winters on lilacs and wondering what to replace them with, but she reminded me that all they really want is their old wood cut out and some lime to sweeten our naturally acidic clay loam.

Despite the daffodils, trees and shrubs – red maple, redbuds, dogwoods, spicebush, and viburnum – are right on schedule. The hills still bare, redbuds just swelling their buds, spicebush coming into bloom, dogwoods still tight. Birds are singing with their cries of love and home, or sex and territory, however you choose to look at it, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

It seems all is coming early, rushing on just like my life as I get older. The garden tells us what we want and I see that my fantasies of year-round greens and cover crops are just that and what I really love and want to spend my time caring for are the trees and shrubs and the creek bank. I want to keep my axial views clear and hone the bones of the garden.

Happy Spring from the Hollow!

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Bonfire Winter

After a week or so of intermittent rain we found the perfect window to burn our three-year-old brushpile. John and Milo are watching over some large old logs left from the Derecho wind damage as well as smaller twigs and woody garden debris that wasn’t suitable for the compost pile. At this time of year, many of the old leaves have blown or rotted away in the woods, making for safer conditions than earlier in the fall when it was so dry and the woodland floor was covered with flammable leaves. Mid-January is also a good time for the bonfire because no animals or birds have nested yet.  The potash left around the perimeter will go on as amendment to the vegetable garden.

A light dusting of snow heralded the waxing moon of January earlier in the month. Our winter has been very mild so far, with no ice or prolonged cold temperatures. Some people think this will encourage high insect populations this coming summer. I hope this wet month will help reduce the 6-7″ rain deficit we entered autumn with and set us up for a good spring flowering. Last year’s dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, and other flowering woody plants were spectacular so it’s possible they will take a little rest after expending all that energy. We shall see.

The concrete lions’ feet bench is a year old now. Its color suits the beech and fence and you can sit on it either way, contemplating the now nearly thirty year old tree (quite young for Fagus grandifolia) or turn around and look through the garden gates back toward the house and east meadow. It draws us out into the garden and makes a satisfying picture framed by the gates. The  buff gray bareness of winter always makes me appreciate the bones of the landscape even as I miss the verdant greens of spring.

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