Sunday, August 30, 2009

Verrucosa arenata and her kin

Emma remarked during our Darwin week that it was really hard to identify insects in the wild, even with a good guide, so Darwin's work during the Beagle expedition was even more impressive. My voyage around the back garden turns up lots of spiders this time of year, and without Google (sorry, library databases), I don't know how I'd identify them.

This one is pretty certainly an orb spider, according to the Neararctic Spider Database, which has a pretty good picture on their site. She's quite beautiful. Notice how she posed with the golden triangle on her back clearly visible.
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Zoom in to see the little insect she has bundled up for her lunch.

It's hard to get good pictures of spider webs, since they appear and disappear depending on the slant of light, but here are a couple recent examples.


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Speaking of critters, earlier this summer some kind of cricket visited me and ended up checking out my blog (I guess).
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Late summer survivors

The wet spring turned hot and dry, with barely any rain for six weeks in July and August. Who survived? This begonia ('Bubbles'?), a bit odd-looking but with this darling hidden bloom. Planted in a clay pot but never showed any sign of drooping.

The hostas did just what they were supposed to do. As summer marched relentlessly on and the summer sun beat down, they became more golden. They're particularly beautiful in the early morning or on a cloudy day, when their ripening foliage glows.

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The volunteer morning glories did extremely well this year, I can only think because they had sufficient moisture in the early months, for once.

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Who had trouble? The new hydrangeas, of course. 'Little Lamb' has some crispy leaves, but I think it will do fine next year. 'Annabelle' was kind of a mess - big and droopy and suffering terribly from the drought. I hope these were not a mistake. The kirengeshoma kept promising to bloom, but when I looked at it yesterday, even the last few days of rain couldn't save it. It's lost most of its leaves, and the promised buds are now tight little dried-up husks. Here it is in its glory days in mid-July:
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And here's how it looks after a drought:

Sad, isn't it.

A few others that didn't make it: two of the tiarellas that I loved so much this summer. At first I thought they were drooping from lack of water, but I soon realized that the evil voles had been at work again. When you pull up the plant, you get nothing but dead leaves on the top, and no roots. Death to all voles! Here are the horrible remains.
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After all, not everything in the garden is beautiful, not by a long shot...

Monday, August 24, 2009

A trellis

Smith & Hawken is going out of business, sadly. Yes, their things were expensive, but I got my leaf trellises from them on a good sale, and they had a small collection of things at Target. Being up in Arlington today, I went to their McLean store (no web purchases any more) and ended up buying a twining leaf arbor at 30% off.

The plan is to position this at the beginning of the cutting garden and cover it with annuals next year until I'm sure it's in the right place - then grow a climbing roses and some clematis on it.

I did resist a beautiful metal and wood potting bench, partly because it is not really designed to live outdoors - I would use this in place of the picnic table if I did anything - but the store expects to be open through early November, so maybe it will call to me again before they go under.

Buying this would be part of the upgrade of the compost area. Want, want, want - want shall be my master!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Big and tall

I'm still noodling around about the sunny section of the front lawn. I'd like something big (yes, I know Mom recommended a low bed but I'm considering something else for the section closer to the house, to screen my neighbors' driveway). Maybe start with some big annuals to see if I like the look and then go from there?
Like Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) and other tall things?
In the meantime, Margaret Roach recommends these tall, easy perennials for screening.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Leftovers, Part 3

Just a bit more to report on. On Friday between lunch and my tutorial, I rushed down to Christ Church for a quick survey of the cathedral and the best-known college in Oxford. Unfortunately, the dining hall which appears in the Harry Potter movies was closed (for lunch, presumably), but I did get a few pictures of the Tom Tower and quad, the cathedral, and the ceiling (note the bowler-hatted porters, called Custodians at CC).


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I was searching for the chestnut tree which housed the Cheshire Cat, or at least the dean's cat that inspired Lewis Carroll. A friendly custodian advised me to ask the cathedral staff to open the door to the garden for me, and they did! A door marked Private was unlatched, and I was asked to remain on the stone terrace while I took my pictures. I enjoyed my view of the chestnut tree and the green door (specially noted by the guide, but I am embarrassed to admit is lost on me, I clearly need to re-read Alice).

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In the museum the day before, I had already seen the Oxford dodo which inspired Carroll.

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Our final classes took us into the 21st century with a short but lively discussion of Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate," a provocative but in parts silly discussion of nature versus nurture, among many other things. Several people were fiercely opposed to Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene," not so much for his thesis as for the bleak view of the world that they think it offers. We must agree to disagree.

On Friday afternoon several of us joined forces with Karim's "Is There A God?" group for a philosophical walk up to Wolfson College, preceded by tea at Brown's, an Oxford institution. Here are Emma, Jerry, Astrid and I at Brown's.

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Wolfson is a graduate college built in the 60s with modern buildings and a traditional lawn down to the Cherwell. Its first president was Isaiah Berlin, bringing me back to the beginning and my quoting his fox and hedgehog image in my preliminary essay.

Friday night brought a lovely dinner
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and then the Entertainment. What a talented group! We started off with some angry political poetry recited in a mild voice by the man with the golden braids, then went on to include English folk songs, piano music by Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Beethoven (the last was "Variations on God Save the Queen" performed by the Beethoven tutor with great panache), and two sketches, one a retelling of the opera "Orpheus" and the other a retelling of "The Brothers Karamazov" with three sisters instead of three brothers. Very satisfying to the performers, with the father played by the school friend of the scholar, wearing dramatic robes and a Russian hat.

The next morning was our final breakfast, and then Emma kindly gave me a ride to my hotel in Ealing, since she lives nearby.

Good-bye, Rewley House and OUSSA! I would love to return one day. Maybe next year...
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Leftovers, Part 2

Our visit to the Natural History Museum was a highlight of the week. Here is the site of the famous debate (much-debated itself) on evolution, in the Radcliffe Library, which is now closed to the public.
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But Emma arranged, by much phoning and pleading, to get us inside. Our guide, Rowan, had a rich Scottish accent and much enthusiasm. The library has since been divided into two floors, and much of the entomological collection is now housed there.


Rowan showed us a case of specimens collected by Darwin himself, with his own handwriting (notoriously terrible but he obviously tried harder here).

I can't tell you how exciting it was to see creatures Darwin himself had collected.

Here is Kumi with a copy of The Origin, which just happened to be lying around.
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The Natural History Museum is a Victorian gem which has been called a secular cathedral. Its style is all iron and glass like a railway station, thanks to designer John Ruskin. Here is Emma telling us about it before we entered.
Because of my funky camera work, you get a glimpse of her flipflops at the end.

Leftovers, Part 1

In an earlier post, I promised to report on the Russia Today sampler session by the scholar, the garden tour, the amazing visit to the Natural History Museum, the view of the Cheshire Cat's tree, the final classes, and the talent show. If only for my own interest, here's the old news.

The scholar, aka Karen Hewitt, is a most impressive person. She started visiting Russia about twenty years ago and has returned fifty times, leading small groups of OUSSA and other interested people. Her home base is Perm (of the Permian layer), a city on the eastern edge of Russia before it turns into Siberia.

It's of great interest to geologists. She answered our questions thoughtfully and politely, even my lame question about the environment when I invoked the Aral Sea and Chernobyl, neither of which is actually IN Russia.

The garden tour was to visit three college gardens, which ones to be revealed only on the day. Our guide was, as Jerry said, "dry as a stick," and was more knowledgeable about the history than the gardens. Nevertheless, we saw two good gardens before peeling off for the Natural History Museum.

St. John's College is notable for its rockery, but like all of them also features amazing green lawns striped by the mower as in every Angela Thirkell novel. Of COURSE you would never set foot on the grass.

The weeping beeches are beautiful, although there was a time when people hid under them to do illegal things. Apparently they have routed them out for now.

The rockery was mildly interesting although it's not really my cup of tea. We did see a glorious blue gentian, whose true color almost comes through in this picture.

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The second garden was at Wadham College, where the heavens opened up, though briefly.

The dahlias against this ancient wall were particularly nice.
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Wadham is notable because of Dorothy, founder of the college (with her late husband's money) who arranged for the library to be located above the kitchen, which would keep the books dry. She arrived at Wadham with her coffin, in case of sudden death. Tucked in a corner around the library/kitchen wing is this oddly charming statue of Maurice Bowra, a long-time warden here.
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