Eclectic Max

31 08 2008

This afternoon Gina and I stopped by one of our favorite little shops, Eclectic Nature. Their address is 1503 Mt. Vernon Avenue, in the Del Ray area of Alexandria. They were having an “end of season” sale with all plants 50% off. There wasn’t much left, of course, so we left empty-handed (which doesn’t happen very often!).

Eclectic Nature sells plants, unusual containers, and garden art outside. Inside the gift shop, you’ll find original paintings, jewelry, gardening supplies, home decor, knick-knacks, and other eclectic stuff. And you’ll most likely run into Max the cat. He’ll probably be right smack in the middle of the checkout desk, vying for your attention. He had just come in from the nursery when I got this shot of him. He is the sweetest thing and very affectionate. He looks like a gargoyle, doesn’t he?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Honorine Jobert

31 08 2008

…otherwise known as a “Japanese anemone.” The common name for this plant is “windflower,” and if you have ever tried to photograph this plant when there is a breeze, you’ll find windflower an appropriate name! Another common name is thimbleweed. I photographed these at Green Spring Gardens this morning.

‘Honorine Jobert’ is a vigorous, mounding, compact Japanese anemone hybrid best grown in zones 4-8. It was discovered in Verdun, France in 1858. This herbaceous perennial from the Ranunculaceae family reaches 3-4 feet high and spreads 1.5 to 2 feet. The beautiful 2″ snow white flowers bloom from August through September and the plant likes full sun to part shade. Low maintenance and easily grown in average, well-drained soil, ‘Honorine Jobert’ does best in part shade to protect it from wind. Once established, the suckering shoots will spread, so plant it where it has room to grow. Divide in early spring or autumn or take root cuttings in the spring.

Summer for thee, grant I may be

Summer for thee, grant I may be
When Summer days are flown!
Thy music still, when Whipporwill
And Oriole—are done!

For thee to bloom, I’ll skip the tomb
And row my blossoms o’er!
Pray gather me—
Thy flower—forevermore!

—Emily Dickinson

Photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Introducing Ashley Jocelyn

31 08 2008

On Tuesday, August 26, at 4:14 p.m., Ashley Jocelyn graced the world with her presence, weighing 7 lbs. 6.4 oz, and measuring 21 inches long. (See her very first portrait in the collage below). Her father, Mike, asked me if I would consider photographing it since he had never seen a childbirth in still photographs and thought I could capture it beautifully. (Thanks for considering me for the project, Mike and Alicia! I hope I did the event justice with these images.)

Believe it or not, this is not the first time I’ve photographed a baby being born. About 13 or 14 years ago, I photographed a friend’s sister having her second child. This was pre-digital photography days, so I shot print film the couple had provided and then handed the rolls over for them to process. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen the images, even though I was told that they turned out well. It’s the first and only time I haven’t seen the results of a shoot, and as you can see, I still remember that fact!

Suddenly, here was a chance to shoot digitally and be able to get immediate feedback—so I jumped at the chance. It was a privilege to witness Ashley’s birth and to photograph her entrance into the world for Alicia and Michael. Below are some of the images of this amazing event.

I photographed Alicia in early June in my studio with Mike and their two children. You’ll see those photos in my posting titled, “And baby girl makes five…” I also got some great shots of the kids here. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to photograph Ashley and her family again.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Out came the rain and….

30 08 2008

didn’t wash the spider out! Pat’s web was gone early this morning. Then a little while later, despite the rain, she was spinning another one. The little white dots you see are water droplets. Today’s soggy, rainy day explains the somber gray background, of course. I shot the first photo right before I went out to lunch with a friend. The second photo was shot after I returned, and if you look closely, you’ll see Pat is wrapping up her freshly-caught lunch (a fly, I believe). Yum!

The backlighting makes her orange stripes just glow in these photos.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


29 08 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Boy of a million faces

28 08 2008

I photographed three month old baby Jonathan and his parents in early August. He’s one of the most expressive babies I’ve ever photographed. Amy says, “we call him the boy of a million faces, because he’s made so many faces—even in the very early days when they say they don’t really smile.” Jonathan was born May 18. Welcome to the world, Jonathan!

These are some of photos I got that morning. I hope to photograph him again so I can get some closeups!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

…and proof that he has rightfully earned his title, “boy of a million faces.”

Pat, extended

27 08 2008

Now that looks like a spider, doesn’t it? After I shot the through-the-window images, I went outside to photograph Pat and she skidaddled. A bit past dusk she was back to web-central, legs extended, waiting for dinner. To give you a sense of scale, with her legs extended, she’s about an inch long (yes, I held a ruler up to the window…just for you). I must admit she looks a bit more spider-y-ish with her legs extended. She looks tick-ish in the previous posting, doesn’t she?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

How to frame a spider

27 08 2008

This window was to the left of a computer in my studio. I was sitting here, designing away, and glanced up to see this little spider (okay, not that little—about 1/2 inch, I’m guessing) smack dab in the middle of its web. Behind the spider is the wood shed with its asphalt shingle roof. I grabbed my camera and got this image right from my chair to show you exactly what I saw and to test the exposure.

Not exactly the best background for my lovely subject, that’s plain to see, so I needed to “reframe” the shot to add a green background. I climbed onto the desk on my knees and reframed the spider against the pine tree to the right of the shed.

By isolating it against a background with a pop of green, I got a nicer shot. I also shot this through the window, so I’m a little surprised it came out as well as it did!

I believe this is a Barn spider (Araneus cavaticus)—just like Charlotte, from Charlotte’s Web. Check this link here for a comparison.

In my quest to identify him (her?), I stumbled upon Frank Starmer’s site. Starmer is the Associate Dean for Learning Technologies at Duke University. He introduces us to Sasha, a garden orb spider. It’s a fun and fascinating read with a lot of information about spiders and some great photos of spiders doing what spiders are inclined to do! He also lists references and I found this one interesting—Why a garden spider does not get stuck in its own web, written by Ben Prins. I pondered that very same question a few days ago.

If you like spiders (and you should), spend some time on Frank’s site. He’s a font of information on spiders and clearly loves his subject.

Now, if I could figure out whether my spider is male or female, I could name it like Frank named Sasha. Or, I could go the Saturday Night Live route and just name it “Pat.”

Pat the spider. Then again, you better not. 😉

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

UPDATE: Thanks for the details on male vs. female in spiders, David. Read David’s comment on spider identification and habits. I figured it was an orb spider, but that other site had a spider on it that was very similar, which is why I thought it might be a barn spider. I just looked up “garden spider,” and it could be that as well. This Garden Orb Spider looks like mine and has the touch of reddish-orange on the legs, too. Then again, it might be the Neoscona crucifera. It could match several in the links you sent. Thanks for your help, David!

Tiny bubbles…in the air

27 08 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Welcome to the world, Ashley Jocelyn!

27 08 2008

Born 8/26/2008 — 21 inches long — 7 lbs. 6.4 ounces

More photos to come!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

A very fine day, indeed!

26 08 2008


1) I finished a project for a client and they were on time and on deadline so I was able to upload to the printer by noon, which means I was able to….

2) then drive out to Loudon to photograph Mike and Alicia’s baby girl, Ashley Jocelyn, coming into the world. I got there less than a half hour before the real excitement started, then…

3) when I got back, the Walking Stick insect that was on my studio window right before I left was actually still there, five hours later, waiting for her closeup! I saw her as I was packing up my photo gear, made a mental note to remember to photograph her, then promptly forgot about it as I ran out the door. I thought it was a dried twig stuck to the window but then I noticed the uniform appendages sticking out of the sides. This is the first Walking Stick I have seen since I was a kid! I came down to my studio when I got home from the hospital, and when I saw she was still on the window, I ran out to photograph her. She disappeared about five minutes later. See there? She was waiting for me.

Below is a shot of my Northern Walking Stick (Diapheromera femorata). The Northern Walking Stick is the most common one in the U.S. I think this one is a female because several online sources mentioned that mature females have a glossy, hard appearance like polished wood and many are yellowish green (like this one). This one is more yellow that the one I found here. Research revealed the following tidbits:

—This species sprays a defensive odor that is offensive and irritating. I can’t vouch for that because this gal didn’t seem bothered by me.
—They feed on the the leaves of many deciduous trees, including oak, hazelnut, sassafras, black cherry, and black locust. They also eat clover.
—Males grow to 3 inches long; females to 3-3/4 inches long. Their antenna can be an additional 2/3 of their body length.
—They have the ability to regenerate lost legs (pretty cool).
—They live just one year, laying a single egg dropped into leaf litter. Nymphs hatch in spring and become adults by late summer.
—They are one of the few non-tropical species that can be collected (legally) in the wild to be kept as pets, and they’re hardy insects.
—It has been reported that Northern Walking Sticks can reproduce without a mate. (Even cooler)

I call this a “record shot,” although it didn’t turn out bad considering it was almost dark, I used a bounce flash, and the window ended up looking like a black velvet background. Of course I would have preferred this nestled on dark colored foliage in overcast light, but I’m just thrilled she was still there so I could immortalize her on film…er, pixels.

See? It was a very fine day, indeed. A rush job finished on time…the honor of witnessing (and photographing) a baby coming into the world…and an unusual insect in my garden waiting for me to record her. Never a dull moment!

I’ll be posting photos of baby Ashley and her family shortly.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

It’s about time….

26 08 2008

Finally! At long last, one of my newer Passion Flower plants has bloomed. I planted it on the side of the gazebo that gets the less sun exposure, which forced this plant to reach high up into the canopy to get the sunlight it needed. I spotted unopened blooms yesterday when I was watering the garden and knew they would be bursting soon. I noticed one fully opened this morning—three feet above my head, out of photographic reach. So, for you, dear friends and fellow bloggers, I dragged out the big ladder, set it half on the patio/half in the soil (for just the right angle), and perched precariously—risking life and limb—just to get this shot. I’m surprised I was even able to focus with the contraption I set up! This is the same type of Passion Flower I photographed in my friend Gina’s garden—Passiflora Incense.

Below are links to other passion flowers I’ve photographed in the garden this season:

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.


25 08 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Upon further inspection…

25 08 2008

After I took the photo in the previous posting, I started watering the backyard garden. In the area that I call “The Scary Tomato Jungle,” there is a free-for-all fight for space among:

— now-defunct lettuce plant remnants (Can you do some weeding, Cindy? Seriously.)
— several don’t-produce-enough-to-warrant-keeping strawberry plants we hauled back from Sequim, Washington on vacation a few years ago
— a very complacent hollyhock plant that just won’t put out
— an ill-placed butterfly bush (but it was only $5). When the books tell you to leave 8 feet x 8 feet of space for a butterfly bush, don’t question their authority. Learn from my (four—count ’em) experiences.
— a thumbergia vine

And…gasp! Pole bean plants I forgot I had planted (refer to photo for proof). When I went to water The Scary Tomato Jungle, I came across one lone bean. And then another. And so on and so on. Beneath these forgotten beans were more grape tomatoes. (Oooh, I get to use another pretty plate for this photo!)

Sigh. So much for the posting below on today’s “meager harvest.”

What did we learn in class today? We learned that maybe a butterfly bush, two vines, two pole bean plants, two red tomato plants, two grape tomato plants, one yellow tomato plant, two strawberry plants, one hollyhock and eight different kinds of lettuce might be a tad too much for a 3 foot x 20 foot bed. Ya think?

© Cindy Dyer. All right reserved.

Tomatoes, nasturtiums, herbs and Alzheimer’s

25 08 2008

Hey, I finally found a use for all those plates I’ve collected throughout the years. Photo props!

This is my meager—but no less lovely—edible harvest from this morning. And yes, the Nasturtium flowers are edible, too. These rapidly growing annuals are easy to grow from seed, like full sun to partial shade, come in an array of colors (yellow, orange, pink, red, butter yellow, cream, and mahogany), and have a peppery taste. There are climbing and trailing types available. Nasturtiums are also called Scottish flamethrower or Indian cress. Both the lotus-leaf-like leaves and flowers are edible.

Read this funny and informative post titled, “Nasturtium: The Flower Growing Under False Pretenses,” on Hanna’s This Garden is Illegal blog.

You’ll find growing tips and recipes for Nasturtiums here and here. I cheated this year and bought my tiny seedlings from DeBaggio’s Herb Farm and Nursery in Chantilly, VA. Yes, sometimes I am not a patient gardener! My also-gardening-crazy friend, Karen, introduced me to this family-owned nursery several years ago. We buy most of our herbs and heirloom tomato plants there. (They sell 100 varieties of tomatoes!)

Time for the serious stuff…
In 1975 Tom and Joyce DeBaggio started their family business selling home-propagated herb and vegetables from their backyard in Arlington. Author of several herb books (all of which I own—duh, no big surprise), Tom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 1999 at the age of 57. NPR interviewed DeBaggio on their All Things Considered program in May 2005 here and April 2007 here. The Alzheimer’s Research Forum wrote about the NPR Audio Interviews in May 2007.

I read his first book, Losing My Mind, published in 2003 by The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, Inc., after my father shared his observations about conversations with one of my uncles, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My father said most of my uncle’s waking hours were spent in the past…in his early years…as a teenager….as a young man…repeating the same story over and over. My uncle passed away a few years ago.

DeBaggio’s follow-up book, When It Gets Dark: An Enlightened Reflection on Life with Alzheimer’s, was also published in 2003. Both of these books, as well as his excellent herb books, are available online here. His son, Francesco, now runs the family business.

A review of Losing My Mind from Publishers Weekly:
“I have a clear sense of history, I just don’t know whether it is mine,” writes DeBaggio in this moving and unusual memoir. The author, who has previously written about his gardening business (Growing Herbs from Seed, Cutting and Root), documents his mental deterioration from Alzheimer’s. Diagnosed with the disease in 1999 at the age of 57, DeBaggio undertook this project in order to increase awareness of this devastating illness from a patient’s point of view. He describes how his gradual loss of memory has impacted his life. For example, after he became confused about how to get to his niece’s house, he realized he had to give up driving a car. The increased loss of language has been extremely difficult for a man who once worked as a journalist and a freelance writer. Interspersed throughout the narrative are DeBaggio’s recollections of his childhood events that may soon be lost to him. He also describes the disease’s negative effect on his wife and grown son. Although DeBaggio provides information on the medical advances that are being made to treat this disease, it is clear that a breakthrough will come too late for him. With this rare first-person account, DeBaggio has made a significant contribution to literature on an illness that currently affects four million Americans.

Photo © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Scott Kelby’s first-ever Worldwide Photowalk

24 08 2008

Yesterday Michael and I joined about 50 photographers in Founder’s Park in Alexandria, Virginia for Scott Kelby‘s first-ever “Worldwide Photowalk.” I met Scott over a decade ago when he was just starting the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP), and the regular Photoshop (and other Adobe programs) seminars. At the time, he was operating a design studio in Dunedin, Florida. My friend Bret and I attended one of his first one-day seminars in Richmond (his other business is Kelby Training). Cost: $99. We were amazed and thought, “what could you possibly learn for just $99?” Most software seminars are two-day events and run upwards of $800-1200! We figured if we just learned a couple of tips, it would be worth it. We were blown away by Scott’s knowledge, humor, and his all around good-guy-ness. If you get a chance to go to a seminar, you will not be disappointed. Along with fellow instructors Dave Cross, Bert Monroy, and Ben Willmore, he teaches seminars across the U.S. throughout the year.

Membership in NAPP is $99 per year. As a member, you get the Photoshop User Magazine, which without membership is $9.99 an issue on newsstands. That alone is worth the price of membership. Membership also gets you great discounts on Scott Kelby’s numerous books, videos, and great products from other vendors. Members get a discount and pay just $79 for the one-day seminars.

Cammie and Paula and I attended the first-ever Photoshop World Conference and Expo, which was held in Orlando, Florida. This year’s event (now in its tenth year) will be held September 4-6, at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sure wish I could go…but work beckons.

Scott is President of NAPP, and editor and publisher of both Photoshop User Magazine and Layers magazine (the how-to magazine for everything Adobe). Layers was formerly Mac Design Magazine. He is also now an accomplished photographer, as evidenced by his portfolio. I just read here that he was named the top-selling computer book author three years in a row. Since 2001, he has sold over 1,000,000 units! Two of my invaluable favorites are The Digital Photography Book and The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2. He dedicates one page per topic and they are great quick reference guides for photographers. I own enough of his books that I can claim that I’ve put at least a couple of meals on his table. 🙂

Is there anything this man cannot do? He does all of this, plus has a wife and two kids. Good on ya, Scott!

Our group was led by Manassas photographer Jeff Revell. Learn more about the Alexandria walk on Jeff’s blog, PhotoWalkPro. We were blessed with beautiful weather, a nice spring-like breeze, blue skies, and puffy white clouds all morning long.

I finally got to meet Maryland photographers Patty Hankins and her husband, Bill Lawrence, of Hankins-Lawrence Images, LLC. Patty and I have been corresponding for a few months and visit each other’s blogs regularly. Visit Patty’s blog to see her latest postings. On her blog, you can subscribe to her “Photo Notes,” where she directs you to new products, reviews, shooting locations, workshops, seminars, articles and more. It’s worth subscribing to because you get some great links such as the ones she found this week.

Bill was the only photographer on the walk not shooting with a 35mm SLR. He was shooting with Polaroid and Fuji Instant Film (color and b&w) on a vintage Graflex RB Series B SLR camera.

Below are some of the images I shot during the walk through Old Towne yesterday. (I think I did more talking than shooting, but wasn’t that the point of gathering anyway?) I talked to a few photographers (names to come later when I remember them!) and picked up some very handy tips on shooting with flash and ways to trigger off-camera flashes. Thanks, guys!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

…and then, halfway through the walk, someone remembered there was a Saturday Farmer’s Market! Jeff remarked that had he known this, we would have started out at the market. I went a little crazy and photographed virtually everything edible!


22 08 2008

From today’s harvest….we can’t keep up with these tomatoes!

This afternoon, while ponder I was pondering on what to do with this overload of tomatoes ripening daily, and remembered the character Bubba Blue, from the 1994 movie, Forrest Gump. Director Robert Zemeckis won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film, which was based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom.

Remember the scene where Bubba lists all the things you can make with shrimp? …”dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried, there’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp….”

Pretty soon I’ll be saying, “dey’s uh…tomato salad, tomato sauce, tomato relish, tomato chutney, tomato paste, stuffed tomatoes, tomato soup, roasted tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato salsa….” HELP!

(While we’re on the subject of Forrest Gump—the title track, “Feather Theme,” is one of my absolute favorites. Click here for a video on with the music set to stills from the movie. The song was composed by Alan Silvestri. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a really (bitter)sweet film with an excellent soundtrack.

And, from my personal Grumpy Grammar Guru—see comments from “Hershel Dyer”…

Check out this site for a truncated history of the tomato:

Apparently at one time in the tomato’s history it paid to be po’ folks (since the poor were the only ones eating tomatoes). Who (whom?) would have thunk it?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Glories of the morning

22 08 2008

In my opinion, a garden without ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glories is incomplete. Their (fleeting) beauty will take your breath away! It was serendipitous that this morning’s blooms happened to fall right next to my new slate “bloom” sign. After I shot this one, I turned and saw my first pink morning glory bloom on the gazebo.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

My morning harvest

21 08 2008

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Truly a sad day in the publishing world…

20 08 2008

Michael and I just got back from browsing our local Borders. There was a four-book series in the discount cookbook section and I caught the error immediately. If you don’t see it, then you, my dear friend, need to visit the Grammar Girl‘s site. Real quick like.

I flipped each book over and the title is correct (losing the “are” in the title). No, I didn’t buy it—for many, many reasons: 1) we already have a gazillion cookbooks, 2) I’m still doing the vegetarian thing (gave up chicken and turkey two months ago; beef almost 20 years ago), and 3) even though it was only $2.99 (a bargain for a hard cover cookbook), I simply can’t bring myself to put something like that on my bookshelves. I think it was a British publication—the price printed on the back was in pounds.

I just noticed the type in the circle at the top left—“This book just makes you wanna cook.”

No. This book just makes me wanna weep.

As my father, the Grammar Guru, says….so many errors, so little time to correct them all.

Oh. One more thing. This book cover photo is courtesy of Michael’s camera in his new iPhone 3G. What an marvel that thing is! He e-mailed the photo to me while we were in line to check out. How’s that for service?

Class is in session

17 08 2008

My friend Karen and I spent the morning in Old Towne, Alexandria, teaching her two daughters, Margot and Hannah, the basics of digital photography. A few weeks ago I saw images Margot shot with just her digital point-n-shoot on her band trip to Europe and was impressed with her composition and subject selection. I offered to teach her and Hannah the basics and told them they would get to use the “big girl” cameras during the sessions. Put away the point-n-shoots, the serious equipment is here! Karen and I pointed out some of the things that we were drawn to, but the girls ventured out on their own many times. They showed me previews of most of the shots and I made suggestions on better framing, shooting positions, and exposure troubleshooting. I’m impressed with the results of their first-time-ever-SLR experience. Mom, Dad, get ready to purchase a D40 for the girls!

The budding photographers, Hannah and Margot (now that’s a yellow wall):

The results:

Now that’s more like it!

11 08 2008

Over the past three days, I have picked 47 grape tomatoes from my garden. Now that is a harvest by townhouse garden standards! I photographed them in this beautiful ceramic bowl my friend Carmen gave me a few years ago. I also picked five more of the yellow tomatoes shown in this posting (a very meager harvest that day) and this posting.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

You Decide(d) 2008: the votes are in!

9 08 2008

Drum roll, please. Cover #1 wins by a landslide! Via e-mail, blog comments, telephone calls, in person votes, and man/woman/complete stranger on the street polls, Cover #1 received 34 votes, beating Cover 2 (with three votes) and Cover 3 (with five votes). Don’t ever say your vote doesn’t count!

Cover #1 will grace the September/October 2008 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which is in production now. I must confess that this is my favorite as well. (Did you notice it was the first one I prepared? I always go with my first instinct when I’m reviewing images from a session.) Why? In this photograph—“the eyes have it.” By the way, Patrick was a joy to photograph because he took direction well and heeded my advice on posing, facial expressions, etc. And to think he has never modeled!

Thank you to everyone who voted (and for taking the time to comment on why you chose which one you did).

Yes, I will post the “best of the best” photos from my next photo session with Patrick. 😉

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

9 08 2008

Hey, if you like bugs (and who doesn’t?), check out Dan David Brady’s “Insect Picture of the Day” site. Dan David is a software engineer and amateur photographer. I checked out his site and it’s really fun to read. He definitely is “someone who thinks bugs are neat.” Just like moi.

Oh, and check out the addendum to my recent posting titled, “Photographic smorgasbord.” I’ve gone to the trouble (yes, folks, just for you) of researching and trying to identify most of the critters I photographed that morning. Go on, revisit that posting. I promise you’ll learn something you can spout about and impress your friends with at your next bbq!

Coco & Mimi

8 08 2008

I had a lovely lunch this afternoon with my friend Karen and her two daughters. I got to photograph their two 2-year old kitties, Coco and Mimi. I told Karen she should call Mimi “Yin & yang” Yin-yang. Doncha just love these extreme closeups?

Click here for the definition and history of Yin-yang. (Thanks, Dad).

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Photographic smorgasbord

8 08 2008

I photographed this series of photos at Green Spring Gardens yesterday morning. The plant is Euphorbia Marginata. A member of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), it is also known as ‘Snow-on-the-Mountain’ and ‘Summer Icicle.’

According to the U.S. Geological Society, there are about 7,000 species of Euphorbiaceae worldwide, including rubber trees, cassava, and tapioca (one of my favorite desserts!).

The name ‘marginata’ was used because of the showy borders of the upper leaves and tracts. I also learned that it is a self-sowing annual and the USGS site qualifies it as an herb. The milky sap is toxic if eaten, and can cause contact dermatitis for people with sensitive skin. It is grown from seed in the spring and has a long vase life. Thompson & Morgan sells seeds for this half-hardy annual.

This plant attracted a vast array of insects—bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies. I stayed at this site for at least 20 (very intense) minutes and was overwhelmed by the number of (fast-moving) subjects to photograph. If I had room in my garden, this plant would definitely be included!

ADDENDUM: I started doing some research to try to label the insects below.

PHOTO #1: I’m pretty confident this is a Honey Bee (my very first photograph of one—and I hope not the last, given the issue of colony collapse disorder that is threatening honey bees worldwide). On one site I read that a honey bee’s wings stroke over 11,000 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz. (No wonder I had a hard time photographing these critters!)

PHOTO #2: Your guess is as good as mine—some kind of fly, I’m betting. Care to do the research for me?

PHOTO #3 is either a Paper Wasp—there are twenty-two species of paper wasps identified in North America, and although the Wikipedia site shows the Polistes dominula species predominately (yellow and black in color), this one could be a Polistes carolina. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension site details the life cycle and habitat of the paper wasp. OR, it could be a Spider Wasp, Tachypompilus ferrugineus. Now, I’m really confused.

As scary (and feared) as wasps can be, they are crucial to ecosystems. They can be either parasitic or predaceous and play a vital role in limiting populations of insects such as caterpillars and other larvae that destroy crops. Both yellow jackets and paper wasps are beneficial in this way. Wasps feed on flower nectar and play a role in pollination, too.

PHOTO #4: This one could be a type of Spider Wasp (Episyron biguttatus), too. Check out this video to see why they’re called “Spider wasps.”

PHOTO #5 (and #7): I’m 99.9% sure this is an Eastern Yellow Jacket. Learn more about them here.

PHOTO #6: This could be a Greenbottle Blow Fly (Lucilia). And for all you CSI fans out there, did you know that this species of fly is often used by forensic entomologists to determine time and place of death? Visit Wikipedia to learn more about this fly. (FYI: The original CSI beats Miami CSI and New York CSI anytime. David Caruso should really retire…and soon). Hey, since you’re already researching #2 for me, it shouldn’t be too much trouble for you to verify this identification, should it?

AND….THE ONE(S) THAT GOT AWAY—I saw digger wasps just like these (from a distance too far to shoot) and wasn’t sure exactly what I was seeing until I did some research. The bottom one was feeding on the flowers and the other was…ahem…let’s just say this was one multi-tasking pair!

Now that I’ve had time to think about it—I sure was up close and personal with a plethora of “could-really-sting-me” insects that morning, wasn’t I?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Matt and Cody

8 08 2008

I photographed Matt this afternoon with his 12-week old Golden Retriever puppy, Cody Hunter. Cody was born on Mother’s Day this year, May 11. Do they make ’em any cuter than these two? I don’t think so!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

In bloom at Green Spring Gardens

7 08 2008

Photographs from my latest field trip to Green Spring Gardens with Michael and Jeff

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Hyacinth Bean Vine

7 08 2008

Learn how to grow and care for this fast growing flowering vine here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

From my library: The Flower Farmer

7 08 2008

I just finished reading The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers, by Lynn Byczynski. It was first published in 1997. This revised and expanded book was published this year by Chelsea Green Publishing. If you want to know everything about growing and selling flowers, this is the book for you!

As you may have guessed by many of my postings, I do not live on any substantial acreage (much to my chagrin). I live in a townhouse with pretty good-sized front and back yard—but certainly not a place where I could (successfully) start a cut flower business. Nonetheless, the idea fascinates me and I read everything I can on the subject. Should some mysterious (and wealthy) stranger hand over some land, I want to be prepared and armed with knowledge on what to do with it! I found this book at Borders, flipped through it, put it back. Next visit, took it to the table, ordered a hot chocolate (with the works), flipped through it some more, then put it back again. The next time I put it back, it was on my bookshelf, now part of my massive garden book library.

Although it definitely qualifies as a reference book, I actually read this one cover to cover (it makes for great bedtime reading). Not only is the book well organized (with informative sidebars and cut flower farmer profiles to break up the text), it should qualify as the definitive guide to growing cut flowers, whether for sale or as a hobby. As a graphic designer with many book design projects under my belt, I can appreciate a well-designed book. It’s well written, nicely illustrated, and chock full of beautiful photographs. The profiles are especially interesting—it’s inspiring to read about real people living my fantasy—successfully.

Author Lynn Byczynski is publisher and editor of Growing for Market, a monthly newsletter. With her husband and two children, she operates Wild Onion Farm, a cut flower farm near Lawrence, Kansas. They owned and operated an organic vegetable farm and stumbled into flower gardening in a “happy experiment one summer.” They eventually phased out vegetable growing and went into full-scale flower production and have been doing it for over twenty years.

She begins with “Basics for Beginners,” which describes the work involved in growing flowers, covering annuals, perennial beds, annuals, bulbs, the best flowers for drying, sunflowers, herb bouquets, grasses and grains, vegetables, and foliage. This chapter also includes a brief listing of the best cutting flowers for each region. At the end, there is a profile of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers, a family-owned, Texas Hill Country cut flower farm in Blanco, Texas. It’s not far from where my family lives in San Antonio, so it’s definitely on my list of places to visit the next time I’m down that way!

In Chapter 2, we move on to site and soil, and learn what kinds of crops work for home and garden markets, how to calculate how much compost to use, and making raised beds. At the end, there is a profile of Country Garden Essences Flowers in Watsonville, California. Linda Arietta owns and operates this 10-acre flower ranch that also hosts weddings, events, and floral design classes.

Chapter 3: After the ground is ready, here come the plants! The author shares tips on plant buying, how to grow under lights, benefits of a greenhouse (and how to choose one), starting transplants, and her seed-starting system. She profiles The Fresh Herb Company in Longmont, Colorado.

Chapter 4 covers growing in the field—transplanting, mulching, flowers you can direct seed, fall planting, whether to pinch or not to pinch, weeding, drip irrigation, pest and disease control, and more. Charlotte’s Garden, a specialty cut flower farm in Louisa Country, Virginia, is profiled in this chapter.

Chapter 5 covers how to extend the season in the field with hoophouses and greenhouses. There is a flower calendar, recommended flowers for hoophouses and greenhouses, and a profile of Bear Creek Farms, 200-acre farm that doubles as a resort in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Chapter 6 covers the dried flower garden and market, tips for air drying, preserving, freeze-drying, controlling pests, selling tips, and a profile of Valencia Creek Farm in Aptos, California. Valencia Creek also produces award-winning olive oil!

Chapter 7 covers the benefits of growing woody ornamentals, choosing varieties, planting and growing advice, when to harvest, forcing flowers, and a profile of Star Valley Flowers in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. Star Valley Flowers touts itself as “probably the largest bittersweet farm in the world,” and has a neat website with a tour of the farm.

Chapter 8 is all about harvest and post-harvest, with timelines, tools, cutting tips, preserving, holding and blooming times, cooling, and a profile of family-owned Sunnydale Spring Peony Farm in Valley Center, Kansas.

Chapter 9 is my favorite—flower arranging! You’ll learn what flowers need to stay fresh longer, how to choose and prepare containers, how to use floral foam and other ways to anchor flowers, bouquet making, and arrangement basics using color, texture, size and style. She profiles Rosebank Farms, one of the last working family farms in Johns Island, South Carolina (another must for a road trip some day!).

Chapter 10 is all about growing flowers for market, with tips on diversification, developing a market, pricing, figuring out how much to plant, a list of six top-selling flowers, plant scheduling, and more. California Organic Flowers in Chico, California is profiled.

And finally, in Chapter 11, the author covers the flower market: trends, retail florists, servicing local florists, building relationships, wholesale selling, shipping, selling to supermarkets, invoicing and payment, farmer’s markets, subscription programs, pick-your-own scenarios, and growing for the wedding market.

If, after reading this book, you decide to buy some land, put on overalls and gloves, and throw your heart (and blood, sweat, and tears) into this lifestyle, you’ll be aided by a comprehensive list of recommended cut flowers, as well as sources for buying seeds, plants, and all the accoutrements of farming life.

The best thing about the book, aside from her revealing all her trade secrets, is the fact that she doesn’t downplay the fact that it really is hard work (as I suspected). This book so thoroughly covers every single facet of growing and selling cut flowers. I still fantasize about that one day…the executor of a total stranger’s estate tracks me down…and tells me I’m an acreage heir! Highly doubtful, but just in case….I’ll be ready!