Sunday, July 15, 2012


My famous brother-in-law,
Preston Jones
            Sorry about the hiatus. The Fitzes hit the road on July 5 to visit relatives in Maryland and Virginia, having grand times with my Boonsboro cousins, and mom, sister Donna and her husband Preston in Williamsburg. Preston’s the number two craftsman at the silver shop in the restored area, by the way; if you’re planning a visit to the vicinity, stop by and say hey. He’s waiting patiently for the big job as master silversmith. My brother-in-law’s also famous as the cover-guy for National Geographic’s 1776: A New Look at Revolutionary Williamsburg by K.M. Kostyal. He wears colonial garb well, doesn't he?

            Anyway. Surviving the trip back down always-harrowing I-95, Tim and I got home the middle of last week, kissed the cats and the carpet (after a quick pass with the vacuum cleaner), hugged our pillows, and settled onto the world’s most comfortable mattress for an extended lie-in. Since then, we’ve only moved to go to the kitchen for periodic infusions of Tim’s really good coffee. I’ve ventured outside three or four times to perform absolutely mandatory gardening chores. (Hooray for irrigation systems!) I harvested another phase of our bumper crop of ripe tomatoes, trellised the pole beans, and spot-watered any particularly wilted specimens, but that's all. I can’t even imagine having to get up and go to work for the foreseeable future. (Hooray for self-employment!)   

             Yup, it’s official. Needing two weeks to recover from a six-day vacation makes it impossible to deny: Tim and I are Old Farts.

While motoring around in the stultifying July heat, I couldn’t help noticing the number and variety of wildflowers edging our route, especially along the back roads. Thanks to Tim’s infinite good humor and situational awareness, we didn’t get killed any of the times I screeched, “Back up! Back up! Isn’t that purple fleabane?” (It wasn’t.) He also handled traffic control and first aid as I scrambled barefoot up hillsides and down into ditches, or crouched in the breakdown lane or on the verges of medians to capture the perfect shot.

And here’s what we got for all our (actually Tim's, if I'm completely honest) pains. I call your attention to the high-summer denizens of Mother Nature’s hell-strips in the country surrounding Boonsboro, Hagerstown, Funkstown and Sharpsburg, MD and Martinsburg, WV.

Hedge bindweed

Our first photo is of hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium). It’s a morning-glory-like wildflower of cultivation, only living where people do. We found this particular specimen in the hedge of Carissa hollies bordering a McDonald’s just east of Hagerstown.

Maryland's state flower

The wild black-eyed Susan, plain ol’ species Rudbeckia hirta, is Maryland’s state flower for good reason: it grows everywhere. This particular batch adorned the byway above Burnside’s Bridge on Antietam National Battlefield Park.

Cerulean blue chicory

One of the things I miss about upstate New York is chicory (the flower, not the poor-man’s coffee substitute), probably because of my thing for blue blooms. I tried growing it from seeds I brought to North Carolina with me, but they wouldn't grow. I think Chicorium intybus is more of an upland plant.

Queen Anne's lace
Wherever there’s chicory, there’s Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), blooming at the same time and nearby. The flowers are frequently confused with those of bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podogrania), but Queen Anne’s foliage looks like ferny carrot tops where the bishop has trifoliate broad leaves.

Blue & white border,
au naturel

Looking for garden design help? Take a page from Mother Nature’s book of companion plantings, like this one of white Queen Anne's lace punctuated by blue, blue chicory.

Adding a touch of yellow to the blue and white composition, common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) blends right in in its shorter incarnations, or towers above the crowd.

...& statuesque mullein
Stubby mullein...

The scent of clover (Trifolium spp.) revives childhood summers for me. I grew up next door to an old dairy farm, and my dad didn’t suffer from the epidemic of perfect-lawn-itis many of his generation of new-to-the-suburbs men did. Killing stands of clover in the yard is a mistake, as it turns out:  clovers are leguminous, fixing nitrogen in the soil to the benefit of everything else growing in it.

White clover (Trifolium repens)
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

Wild spearmint
Another blast-from-the-past field flower is spicy-smelling and –tasting wild spearmint (Mentha spicata), or horsemint, as we called it back in the day. Chewing a leaf refreshed the palate after a lengthy foray into the blackberry bramble patch. Dontcha feel sorry for kids today, whose memories will feature cold, textureless, scentless electronica and summer days spent inside pecking at tiny keyboards below LCD displays?


Never did find the purple variety, but white Eastern daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) abounded on roadsides and in wildflower meadows, there as here.

I've always loved thistle flowers—if not their prickly stems and leaves—probably another legacy of being a kid playing in cow pastures. There are at least three genera and about a gazillion species of them (thistles, not kids in cow pastures) out there. This particular one is a bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), photographed behind a couple of the monuments scattered over the killing fields of Antietam.

...but, ooh, those prickers
Lovely thistle flowers...

Cool-looking teasel

A resident of low places, teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) resembles thistles on steroids; but teasel leaves are kinder and gentler, even if their stems and calyxes are not.

Common milkweed

Got milkweed? Host plant to monarch butterfly larvae, it’s another wildflower that grows, well, wild in uplands but gives coastal North Carolina a pass. We can grow lots of the other butterfly weeds—Asclepias (pronounced as-CLEE-pee-us) incarnata, A. tuberosa, A. curassavica—but not Asclepias syriaca.

You wouldn’t guess it from the war I used wage on the common vetch that invaded our lawn (back when we had a lawn), but I adore the sight of the banks of Interstate drainage ditches covered with blooming crown vetch (Coronilla varia), sown to prevent erosion of said banks. Great stretches of large (for vetches) globose flowers atop dainty compound foliage make for a welcome distraction from the blinkered idiot vehicle operators who seem to set the tone on our nation’s highways.

A swath of crown vetch
Crown vetch, close up

It’s good to be home. Thanks for dropping by.