About Mary Gray

I am an avid gardener and have had a long fascination with landscapes, both natural and man-made. I recently acquired a fancy new dSLR camera -- which I am completely unqualified to use -- but I hope to use this blog to record my upcoming photographic adventures. Perhaps with enough practice I'll be able to produce some Ansel Adams-ish photographs, but in the meantime I'll probably be posting a lot of pictures of my own garden. With enough Photoshop manipulation, I can probably get it looking pretty good.

Corona Garden Diary 3/19/20: Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring

I read today that David Hockney (a famous British artist) unveiled a new picture to lift all of our spirits:

Now, I can’t speak to the quality of this as a work of art (I think it is digital) but I do love what he named it: ‘Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring’

Indeed!  It is such a strange paradox that with schools and businesses shut down, with all the grim predictions on the news (I am limiting my news-viewing to like, 10 min/day) with our daily lives turned upside down, all around us spring is popping out joyously at every turn!  Daffodils, crocus, hyacinths are out in full glory here in Virginia, cherry blossoms are just about to peak.  The cool-season weeds are going gangbusters!  Robins, frogs, bumblebees are out and about.  Life abounds.

I know that things are still a bit gray up in northern climes, but the bulbs and blossoms will be emerging there very soon, too.  So those of you in Minnesota, Maine, Toronto, etc., take heart, spring is on its way.

I don’t know much about David Hockney, but apparently the man is 82 years old and moved to France because he wanted to be able to eat at a restaurant and smoke at the same time.  Gotta love that.

So yeah, even though just about everything else is canceled — work, appointments, outings, vacations, etc, — spring is still on the calendar.  And that’s the thing I was looking forward to most, anyway.

Corona Diary 3/18/20: Seeds & Stuff

Yesterday, while the rest of the country was busy not celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, I was planting my peas.  Here they are, snug in their Earthbox until they begin germinating in a week or so:


A few years ago, I read that St. Patrick’s day is a traditional day to start peas in zone 7, which is just the sort of random tradition I take a fancy to.  Since then, I have planted peas every St. Patrick’s day and also every August for a fall crop.  The variety I have been planting is called Super Sugar Snap and it has been absolutely fool-proof for me.  I don’t even cook them, I just eat them raw by the handful, often plucked right off the vine with a feeling of triumph at having produced my own food.  Even though I probably burn more calories planting and tending them than they offer back as fuel, still, it’s cool to eat your own veggies.

Here is a higher calorie vegetable I am experimenting with — potatoes:


I bought a couple of these grow bags two years ago but haven’t tried them yet.  The seed potatoes go in the bottom, then as they grow you are supposed to keep adding soil.  There is a little velcro flap at the base of the bag, sort of like you would find on a union suit, where you can dig around for the potatoes when they are ripe.  It’s all very experimental.  Because I like to live on the edge, I chose a blue potato, called Adirondack Blue:


I guess I will be updating you about these potatoes in about 80 days.

Here are my indoor seeds.  Raise your hand if you can spot the problem:


Very good, you can put your hands down.  None of my research indicated what to do when the seedlings grow at vastly different rates.  I have to keep raising the grow light to accommodate the taller tomato seedlings (back left), which puts the light further away from the Joseph’s Coat (front left) and cinnamon basil (first row, right).  Plus the tomato seedlings (a variety called ‘Bumble Bee’) are shading the smaller seedlings out.  Meanwhile, only one of my Gomphrena seeds germinated (the three rows on the right are all supposed to be Gomphrena!)  I am afraid if that lone seedling looks around and realizes it is alone in the universe it may lose the will to live!  Please just one more germinate so he can have a friend.

All of the seeds germinated at about the same time, believe it or not.  I suppose I need to research the number of days it takes between germination and transplant time for each plant.  Too complex!  In second grade I aced the unit where we sprouted lima beans and drew pictures of how they progressed.  I should be nailing this!

That is all for now.  I had some tree pruning done today, too.  Big trees, so very expensive!  I took pictures of it, but in all honesty, they are not very interesting.  Imagine a man in a hard hat up in a tree with a chain saw….now imagine a pile of tree branches sitting in front of a wood chipper….there, now you have seen the pics of today’s tree trimming adventure!

Corona Garden Diary 3/17/20

I planted several handfuls of ‘Tete a Tete’ daffodils last fall and I am reaping the rewards now.  I will definitely plant more of these little guys  — perhaps hundreds more!  Plenty of space on that brown slope there, don’t you think?


Unfortunately, the dwarf iris that I planted at the same time (Iris reticulata ‘Rhapsody’) — which was also supposed to bloom at the same time  — did not get the message and is already done blooming.  Here are the iris a couple weeks ago:


So much for my blue and gold early spring extravaganza!  I can still enjoy them sequentially, I suppose, but still…I had been excited about the combo.  Moving on to one of my beloved Ackerman Camellias:

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This camellia is one of the ‘April’ series…I think it’s ‘April Remembered’ but (ironically) I can’t remember for sure.  The flowers are huge even though the plant is still young and lanky; the effect is sort of like when you see a Great Dane puppy but with gigantic paws.  So sweet.

Next, hellebore patch growing right under my black walnut.  I can’t remember this cultivar right now, but it is one of the Pine Knot farms ones.  I love the ruffly, dusty-pink blooms:


The bluebells are just starting to bloom.  Nothing better.


Little patch of daffs blooming in a far-off corner of my yard.  Planted by the previous owner.


Lindera benzoin with its soft spray of pale yellow blooms (in stark comparison to the eye-popping gold of the forsythias).  Birds planted this one a few years ago.


Daffodil with silhouette of honeybee:


Camellia ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’ planted in much too small a space:

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Clematis ‘Henryi’ working his way up the side of my porch:


Classical statuary in the Orangerie:


(Okay it’s a concrete doo-dad from an antique store on Rt. 50 and it’s sitting in a patch of daylilies, but still nice.)

Tarragon making lots of headway in the herb garden:


Bumble bee resting on the ‘Sage’ sign.  They’re still a bit lethargic in the chilly spring air:


Husband built some new beehives and brushed them with teak oil before setting them up:


Bees coming and going, looking rather….well, busy, I guess.


Like the college students down in Florida, there is very little social distancing occurring here, and little empathy for the weakest members of their community (they just shove their dead out of the hive!) Still, it is nice to see a functioning community at a time like this — full labor participation, lines of production open, etc.  Yeah, it’s a monarchy, but at least for now, the bee economy rolls on!


I Hope “Ungardening” Never Takes Root in Our Lexicon

On an internet surf earlier today, I came across this article on Yahoo called “Back to the Wild: How ‘Ungardening’ Took Root in America.” 


The article itself was fine, its content uncontroversial.  It profiled a couple of local (DC/Takoma Park) gardeners (ungardeners?) who plant natives, shun pesticides, and let their yards grow a little wilder.  It also touched on the “rewilding” of vacant urban spaces and its benefits for wildlife.

It even gave a shout-out to Sara Stein’s fascinating book Noah’s Garden, which it called a “Bible for the [rewilding] movement.”

My displeasure arose not from the content of the article but from this hideous new term “ungardening.”  Did the writers of the article invent it?  Is it a term that’s trending with Millennials that I’m only now encountering?  Whatever the case, I hope it doesn’t “take root” because it’s simply a terrible word choice for what it purports to describe.

People who strive for a more natural, “wild” look in their yards are still gardeners, and their actions still qualify as gardening.  Selecting plants from a nursery for your garden counts as gardening, even if you’re selecting natives.  Digging a hole for a plant and watering the plant in counts as gardening — doesn’t matter if the plant came from China or if you’re transplanting it from 10 feet away.  Planting flowers for bees instead of just for aesthetics is still gardening. Making a conscious decision to mow your grass at 4 inches and to mow only once a month is more an act of gardening than hiring Mow ‘n’ Blow to scalp your lawn every week.  Choosing to leave seedheads up in the winter?  Chopping up fall leaves to compost in your planting beds?  Also acts of gardening!

I get it, “ungardening” is supposed to be a cute buzzword to draw attention to more ecologically-friendly gardening practices.  I suppose what irks me is that it suggests that the word “garden” — whether as a noun or a verb — has become tainted, when in fact that word, for so many of us, represents our greatest pleasure and passion.

It reminds me of the use of the term “Unschooling”, which became popular awhile back as a “hippie” version of homeschooling.  Presumably, an unschooled child would take no tests, could spend his day doing whatever interested him, and wouldn’t have to study yucky stuff like math until he was good and ready!

Horrifying, right?  The only thing worse than an ungardened yard would be an unschooled child!

Except I’m pretty sure that’s not how it actually works (at least I hope not).  I am sure that most “unschooling” parents don’t sit around and go, “hey honey, Billy is six now. What would you think about keeping him home from school and literally not educating him in any way?  Just to see what happens.”

I suspect that most practitioners of “Unschooling” are just like these practitioners of so-called “Ungardening” — people who see serious flaws in the traditions and institutions of education/horticulture and who are ready to try something different.  Not — as the prefix implies — choosing to do nothing at all.

The “Un-” suggests passivity, whereas these folks are anything but.  There may be some on the fringe who are willing to sit back and watch their house become swallowed in saplings and vines and go, “this is called nature, people.  It’s called ungardening and I think it’s really problematic that you don’t need a machete to get to your front door.”

But creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat is not the opposite of gardening.  No, these people are not “ungardeners.”  Indeed, they are taking responsibility for something very precious, they are actively involved, making choices, and doing it all out of love.  Gardeners.


It’s February 4 and 62 Degrees

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume, second from right, holds Punxsutawney Phil on Feb. 2.

Days like this always lull me into a state of blissful delusion.  Well, that’s it. Winter is over.  The daffodils will be blooming any second now.  I can put the snow shovel back in the shed, get the salt washed off my car, resolve to clean and sharpen my garden tools but then fail to do so — all signs of spring!

Time to go out and take stock of the backyard.  I’m in shirtsleeves!

The ground that was rock hard 36 hours ago from the “Polar Vortex” is now thawing into a semi-marshland.  With each step my boot sinks into the brown ooze; I know I should stay out of the garden beds, but I can’t help myself.  Winter weeds: somehow they survived the sub zero wind chill looking fresher than ever, and I’m going after them.

Little rosettes of shot weed are popping up all over the place, and the ground is soft enough to pluck them out.  I move through the beds, remembering a blog I’d read last spring saying that shot weed is edible; there was a photo of a carefully arranged tuft of the weed on top of an open-faced roast beef sandwich on a pretzel roll with mustard.

I hold up one of the weeds.  A glob of mud clings to its roots.  I will probably stick with romaine, but it’s always good to know I can forage for food in my own yard should society unexpectedly collapse.

I continue to remove the shot weed, plus some dead nettle, wild strawberry, and creeping Charlie.  Hmmmm, should I be doing this?  I look back and see I’ve squashed a bunch of soil.  Damn.  Now I’ve gone and destroyed the soil structure and deprived the plants’ roots of oxygen.  What would my local extension agent have to say about this?  Nothing good, surely.  Here I am, always trying to teach the young people in my life about the virtues of delayed gratification, and yet at the first sign of spring I can’t keep myself from traipsing all over the delicate, exposed beds.

I tip-toe out of the garden bed back to some stepping stones.  The sky is turning a deeper blue, tinged with orange.  The hint of warmth that had settled into the garden at noon is quietly dissipating as the sun sets.  I pull off my mud-caked boots and head back inside.

Still a bit giddy from this blissful taste of spring, I decide to check the weather forecast.  66…50….68!!…64….hmmm, 38.  Well, that’s days away….the weathermen are probably just guessing.  After that, who knows?  Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring after all.  And nothing says science like a group of elderly men in top hats leaning in to hear the pronouncement of a giant rodent-oracle and then reciting it from a scroll.  I think that more scientific discoveries should be delivered to the public in this milieu.

Later that evening, I retire to the couch with a glass of wine and a gardening magazine. As garden activities go, it’s not as satisfying as doing stuff in the dirt under the sun, but it’s not half bad.

November 6, 2018

Some imagery from today in my backyard:


I have always had plenty of good fall yellows, but I am happy to be nurturing along some more reds:


This Hosta ‘Stained Glass’ looks pretty good for Nov. 6.


Autumn fern, Sarcococca, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, fish


Judd Viburnum


our shed and bee area:


Some yellows…American hazelnut, Bottlebrush buckeye, and spicebush


Fall color fail. This redbud, which I got at a native plant nursery a few years ago, has been a disappointment.  It had one flower last spring, and so far the fall color has been non-existent.


Some fading pennisetum, aster, chyrsanthemum in our old wheelbarrow:

P_20181106_160425My lone Colchicum autumnale ‘Pleniflorum’…I ordered and planted 5 from Brent & Becky’s but only this one bloomed.  Awwww…


My fall vegetable gardening attempts.  Carrots: 1/10


Broccoli: It’s not going to happen.


I can always count on my Super Sugar snap peas:


75 ‘Marit’ tulip bulbs from Brent & Becky’s