I’m all for celebrating insect life in the garden, except when it’s something like this:


My son enjoys jumping past these azalea bushes in our front yard on the way to the front door.  Luckily he spotted this behemoth before he brushed past it and angered its occupants.


Removing the hive was a scary process, but the denizens (which we surmised were Bald-faced Hornets) weren’t overly aggressive and luckily I didn’t get a single sting.

Later, we opened it up to investigate, and discovered the architecture of the hive: layers upon layers of thin walls protecting the eggs in the middle.  We felt a bit guilty at having laid waste to this tiny society.


But sometimes the humans come first.

A Private Garden Transforms into a Public Garden

I recently visited a private garden near Frederick, Maryland called High Glen.  I would link to it, but at the moment it does not have a website (though it does have a Facebook page).  Its lack of online presence is mostly due to the fact that, since its inception in the 1990’s, it has been an exclusively private, family-owned garden.  The owner of the house and gardens is a real estate developer who carved out his own bit of paradise among the rolling farmland around Frederick.

It was an interesting trip, not only because it’s a beautiful garden, but because it’s in the process of becoming public.  (Now that development has reached his own doorstep?) the owner has decided to move out, but to transform the site into a public garden that he hopes will become a “national destination” within the next 10 years.

The horticulturalist who led the tour showed us a drawing of the ambitious plans for the garden:plans

The master plan includes a Grand Allee, Wet Meadow, Woodland Garden, Asian Valley w/ Teahouse, even a large area set aside for some Earth Sculpture.

What I found fascinating was being able to witness the very beginnings of these plans.  For example, here is the future Woodland:


As you can see, it’s not very woodsy just yet.  The trees were planted just a year or so ago in what is currently a vast swath of lawn in the front of the property.

Here is the current driveway and entrance to the property, with a beautiful Silver Maple standing watch:


A new approach will be built, along with a large parking lot, horticulture center, and teaching gardens, on another side of the property.

And now for the “Grand Allee” (drumroll….)


They have planted two double rows of Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) which will (eventually) be a rather stunning grand entrance from the parking lot to the center of the property.  I can’t wait to come back in ten years or so to see how much the grandeur of this allee has increased.

Here is a shot of the main axis of the property, with nice views of the rolling Maryland hills in the distance:

main axis

Alas, here is a glimpse of what’s to come.  You can see the encroaching development in the distance:


I guess people are figuring out that Frederick, Maryland is a nice place to live.  And everybody who moves to a nice place always wants the development to stop as soon as they move in.  Unless of course you are the developer himself!

Moving along to another part of the garden….does this look familiar?


The owner is apparently a big admirer of Dumbarton Oaks, particularly the Elliptical garden there.  So he’s paid an homage to that garden by planting an identical double ellipse of Carpinus caroliniana with a fountain in the center.  This was the first year the trees were big enough to pollard.

Here are a couple of other random cool features of this garden:


The homeowners had created a rather stunning Mediterranean/dry garden.  Hopefully this will stay.

Everybody needs a dedicated Bocce Ball space in their yard:


And while we’re at it, a sparkling pool landscaped with excellent tropicals…


The owners have cultivated this perennial border for many years, but it underwent a renovation recently.  The borders were bumped out a few feet, and more shrubs and small trees were incorporated:



Right now, the gardens seem only to be open to the public for special tours like the one I took.  (My visit was organized by the awesome Green Spring Gardens.)

The master plan won’t be fully implemented for another 7-10 years, but if all the plans are realized it will be a stunning public garden.  Unfortunately, the surrounding farm country looks like it will be largely lost to development, but at least there will be this lovely patch of green preserved to remind us of what used to be.

Franciscan Monastery

A few images from last weekend’s visit to the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C.










peace sign





Parents’ House

Grapevine Christmas Tree


Family Pictures




Balloon Manwp-1453121956410.jpeg

Dog Treats


Opening Presents


Cleaning Up





Winter Outing

Testing out a new camera phone and trying to take pictures of nature with a companion who wanted to be featured in every shot.  At Green Spring Gardens. Alexandria, VA.









Annie Dillard — Suburban Pilgrim

For years I have worshipped Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her Pulitzer-prize winning meditation on nature written back in the 1970’s.  I keep a copy of it on my Kindle, and whenever the world feels too much with me, I like to retreat into a few of its pages.  Her descriptions of giant water bugs and mating wood ducks, intertwined with questions of creation and invocations of the great philosophers and scientists, are beautiful and strange and calming.


Dillard was living near Roanoke, Virginia, at the time she wrote it, and Pilgrim gives the impression that it was a solitary existence, that she was living in a secluded cabin in the woods, like Thoreau or Muir, spending her days trekking along the streams and through the fields without much human contact.

But no.

When I discovered that this was not true, when I discovered that Dillard was living in an ordinary suburban house with her husband when she wrote Pilgrim, I felt betrayed.  And part of me still feels it is a deception. To describe the wonder of the praying mantis egg cases but fail to mention that they exist in the shadow of a 1960’s brick rambler seems, at best, disingenuous.

Earlier this year The Atlantic published a piece about this revelation that the wildness in Pilgrim was really an illusion deliberately created by Dillard.  The article gives some interesting insights into Dillard’s motivations for creating this illusion.  Turns out she was afraid that her book would not make it into the the canon of wilderness literature if she didn’t portray herself as the archetypal solitary wanderer, or if she revealed that her surroundings were blemished by other human beings.  Heck, she was also worried that the American public wouldn’t accept a wilderness narrative written by a woman, but happily that turned out not to be true.

Here is an excerpt from the Atlantic article describing Dillard’s reaction to discovering how her readers perceived Pilgrim:

“Even still, [Dillard] said, before publishing Pilgrim she hadn’t realized how wild she’d made the valley seem. “I didn’t say, ‘I walked by the suburban brick houses,’” she told me. “Why would I say that to the reader? But when I saw that reviewers were acting like it was the wilderness, I said, ‘Oh, shit.’

Please.  I have a hard time believing that a writer as shrewd as Dillard wouldn’t realize exactly what she was doing when she wrote the book.

Anyway, my favorite passage from the article is this one, which reminds us that our wanderings through suburbia CAN be as awe-inspiring as Dillard’s were in Pilgrim if we take the time to look:

“But in many ways, her mundane surroundings make her achievement even more impressive. Other writers have hunted down awe-inspiring experiences in far-flung places: on the Pacific Crest Trail, in the wilds of Arches National Park, or among the glaciers of Southeast Alaska. But Dillard walked around her own neighborhood and captured a world that was buzzing with wonders and horrors.”

Yes, here in suburbia there is too much lawn, there are leaf blowers, plastic wishing wells, and basketball courts.

There are giant inflatable snowmen.

I guess forty years ago Dillard felt she had to pretend those things didn’t exist in order to write about the natural wonders among them.

Here’s hoping times have changed and that we now understand that the real illusion is the idea that all wilderness is “out there” and not (to paraphrase Thoreau) right under our feet.  Here’s hoping we can all recognize the wildness and wonder even in our suburban wanderings.

P.S.  Here is an excellent blog post by David Ryan which includes pictures of Tinker Creek and the neighborhood in which Dillard wandered.

Butterflies in Maryland

First a few species that are native to the DC area, including the larval host plant(s) for the species. 

Denaus plexippus – Monarch.  Milkweed spp.


Battus philenor – Pipevine Swallowtail.  Aristolochia species and Virginia Snakeroot.


Polygonia interrogationis – Question Mark.  Elm, Hackberry, Nettles, False Nettles.

QuestionMark (2)

Question Mark — top of wings visible while it’s nectaring.


Monarch chrysalises


Now for some exotic species:

Morpho peleides – Blue Morpho (Mexico to Colombia & Venezuela, Trinidad)

The back of the wings are electric blue, but the darn thing hardly ever opens them.


Doleschallia bisaltide – Autumn Leaf  (India, Malaysia to Phillipines, Australia)


Idea leuconoe – Paper Kite (Phillipines to Borneo, Taiwan)


Heliconius erato – Small Postman (s. USA to Paraguay)


Postman (2)

Dryas iulia – Julia Longwing (s. USA to Brazil; West Indies)


Hamadryas feronia – Grey Cracker (s. USA to Brazil)  <— I think


Papilio memnon – Great Mormon, male (Sri Lanka & India to s. China & Malaysia) below

and Heliconius hecale – Golden Helicon (Mexico to Peruvian Amazon) above


tattered Julia Longwing with Canna flower

DSC_1854 (2)

I couldn’t identify this one:

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or this one:

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Cethosia biblis – Common Lacewing (Nepal & China to Malaya, Thailand, Phillipines)


Blue Morpho


Greta oto – Costa Rica Clearwing (Mexico to Panama)


These photos were taken in August 2015 at the fantastic Brookside Gardens in Maryland, in the Wings of Fancy exhibit, which is open until October 2015.

Thanks to Corey Hilz for hosting a photography class at the site.

Hillwood Museum Gardens

One of the few DC area gardens that I had never visited were those at the Hillwood Estate, former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, daughter of the famed cereal baron.

Post bought the house in 1955 and used it to display her vast collection of Russian and French decorative art.  She had spent time in Russia when the communists were in the midst of burning churches and aristocratic homes and selling off all the bling.   Post was able to pick up all kinds of incredible sacred and decorative art on the cheap, and she was nice enough to turn her estate into a museum when she died.


If you enjoy looking at room upon room of fancy china, elegant vases, exquisite furniture and the like, you will love touring the house (suggested donations of $18 when you enter.)  But of course I was eager to get out into the 13 acres of gardens which surrounded it.  You will see that Post didn’t skimp on the outdoor spaces either.

Here’s a little tour, starting with the cutting garden:



Nice shade combo:



Lush borders:



French Parterre:


Some seductive paths:




Japanese Garden, one of the highlights:



The American flag kinda ruins the gestalt in this one but oh well:






A satisfied denizen of the Japanese garden:


Pet Cemetery:


Dacha (Russian Country House):



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