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 3/22/20: Two Views on the Ornamental Cherry

Here in northern VA, the cherry blossoms are at their splendid best.  Down at the Tidal Basin, at least some tourists are showing up to view the iconic Yoshino cherries (check the Bloom Cam to monitor the social distancing).


There are a couple of different ways to view the cherry trees:

a) that they are to be revered as symbols of ephemeral beauty, that they should be contemplated in the spirit of hanami to remind us that life is short and we should make the most of it (this view courtesy of the Japanese)


b) that they are a nuisance and “messy as hell” (this view courtesy of my dad)

The topic of spring blooming cherries came up when I visited my dad this weekend.  Since we both have mature Yoshino cherry trees growing right next to our driveways, we bonded over the pros and cons of the tree.  While I tried to tout the merits of the pale pink blossoms as a wondrous harbinger of spring, Dad was more circumspect:

“The petals fall on the cars and stick like hell,” he said.  When I pointed out that the Japanese celebrate the beauty of the delicate blossoms scattered on the ground as the flowers fade, my dad had a different take: “It looks like an army of birds has shat on everything.”

I envision families in Japan gathered to contemplate the fleeting nature of life as they gaze upon the white-pink petals fluttering to the ground.  Meanwhile, my dad scrapes the petals up with his snow shovel and dumps them into a trash can.

Dad’s getting older though.  He’s nearly 84, moving slowly these days, and I realize that one day I will miss his cranky takes on cherry trees.

Hanami.  Life is fleeting.

Corona Garden Diary 3/21/20: Wisdom From Deborah Silver

For today’s diary entry I am going to defer to an excellent blog post I read today by Deborah Silver because it’s better than anything I could come up with.

I have subscribed to Deborah’s blog, Dirt Simple, for many years now and it is one that I always take the time to read when it appears in my inbox.  Deborah is a garden designer in Detroit and also owns a store called Detroit Garden Works.  I love her blog because her writing is completely free from snark and because her belief in the power of gardening to make the world a better place is evident in every post.

Her most recent installment is about how March — in Michigan, at least — is the cruelest month for gardeners.  This surprised me.  How could March be worse than January?  With her descriptions of landscapes laid waste by months of severe weather, Deborah makes a convincing case.  Only in March is the extent of the damage revealed: dead grass, ravaged evergreens, and “stony silence.”  In my corner of the country, March is unreliable but far from bleak.  Hellebores, daffodils, crocus are in full glory.  There is mud and debris, but there are also days where the temperature tops 70 degrees.  We’ve got it easy here.

So my heroes today are the northern gardeners and their incredible resilience and optimism through dark and punishing winters.  What an inspiration to read such a message of hope today.  Thanks Deborah!


Corona Garden Diary 3/20/20: Grateful for the Outdoor Spaces

I am guessing that a lot of suburban folks who took their yards for granted — or maybe even saw them as more trouble than they were worth at times — are appreciating them right now.  The family next door has 5 kids under the age of 11, and I hear shouting and laughing and games from that direction at least half the day.  My county keeps saying they plan to start distance learning, but so far they seem unable to initiate it, so for now all the young ones have an awful lot of time on their hands.  Lucky are the parents who have an outdoor area where they can shoo the little ‘uns when the togetherness gets to be too much.


Frogs plopping around in the drainage ditches near my house.

On my recent walks, I have noticed far more people than usual out doing yard work or even just sitting out on their porches.  I love it.

A small yard or balcony might not offer the same options for restless kids, but can still uplift your spirits.  A breath of fresh air, a potted plant, a view of the wider world: again, things we all took for granted now seem like gifts.

I hope that apartment dwellers with no outdoor space at all at least have access to a park or garden.  (Public parks and gardens are on a long list of many things that I will value all the more post-Corona).


Marsh marigolds lighten the gloom at one of my local parks.

For those with limited access to the outdoors, or for outdoor lovers in general, here is an excellent virtual tour of the grounds of Mt. Cuba. Sadly, Mt. Cuba is not open to visitors at the moment, but their virtual tour will give a taste of what is out there waiting for you.



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:

DSC_2315 (2)

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:

DSC_2327 (2)

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.