Sunday, May 22, 2016

The White House Spring Garden Tour

Every year (possibly since the 70s), in spring and fall the white house throws open its gates to the general public so they may have a glimpse of its garden. We were one of the lucky ones to visit this year, reaching at around 8:00am to join the line for tickets.

I quite liked the design of the ticket with its doodle of flowers and leaves, green and white. Very elegant!

And so we strolled in, admiring the lawns and huge trees, each of which had a signboard in front of it showing which president or first lady was the one who planted it. Quite a few were by the Bushes - senior and junior, and some by the Clintons.
We were handed a booklet during the tour, a publication that was made possible through the generosity of the White House Historical Association, a private, non- profit educational organization. Here is some information from this excellent resource:
"The White House grounds are the oldest continuously maintained landscape in the United States.
The White House's first resident, John Adams, requested that a garden be planted before his arrival in 1800. Unfortunately, he was defeated shortly thereafter by Thomas Jefferson and never enjoyed the produce from the White House Grounds. While in office, Jefferson made plans for planting trees and established winding pathways surrounded by rhododendron and other American shrubbery.
In the 1820s, John Quincy Adams formally established a White House gardening program. It is said that he liked to dig in the flower beds early in the morning and claimed to have planted over a thousand plants during his tenure. His successor, Andrew Jackson, continued to develop the gardening program, adding an orangery in which to grow fruit during the winter."
We were excited to be so up close; apparently in one of the past tours President Obama had come out and waved to the crowds. No such thrills this time though.
 This sight was familiar, thanks to the media coverage of the President's addresses.
It was nice to have the band playing while we waited in the lines

The most recent addition to the grounds is the kitchen garden, established in 2009 by First Lady Michelle Obama along with students from local schools. I read (again in the lovely booklet provided along with the ticket) that the food grown here is used to provide for the first family and State dinners. One third of it is donated to a local charitable organization that provides services around homelessness.
We thought we were done with the sights for the day as we strolled out, but there was more - horses from the National Parks service, standing outside, much to the amusement and excitement of all the kids (and some adults).

Monday, May 9, 2016

Chilli seedlings

Sometime in the middle of April, I scattered five seeds of the dried red chillies that I have been using in my cooking and have been watching the emergence of the seedlings with great interest and enthusiasm.
Im hoping the spring showers we've been having give way to sunshine as these little babies now need some light.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hiking along Difficult Run

We went on yet another hike this weekend with a local group to explore the trails of Northern Virginia and take in the beauty of spring. This time we met at historic Colvin Run Mill, a mill established in the late 18th century and walked the trail along Difficult Run - a tributary of the Potomac that flows from Fairfax county to Great Falls.
What was perhaps most enchanting to me about the mill were the bright red and pink azaleas just off the millers house and the blooming white dogwood around it. So idyllic, it reminded me of happy valley in Manderlay from the book Rebecca.
The trail was muddy and wet from the morning rains , the trees and undergrowth a beautiful spring green and wildflowers all along the way bobbing their heads heralding spring. We saw plenty of buttercups and quite a bit of ginger mustard. (some of which earlier hikers had uprooted and put on the path, knowing their invasive nature).
There were a couple of stream crossings which were a delight to traverse, the clear water running under the rocks, the cool air and lush greenery all around.

I noticed many trees fallen, some right across the water, and much root exposure along the banks.
At the end of the trail we were hit by the captivating fragrance of a honeysuckle tree in full bloom.
In all it was a great 5.6mile hike - the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016


There is a wetland area near my home that has been formed to provide a safe run off for storm water. It has a walking path that is popular with the residents of the neighborhood and a wonderful ecosystem for marshland flora and fauna. Imagine my delight, a few weeks back, when taking a walk around the water I noticed a great blue heron. It was standing still, waiting perhaps to ensnare some fish. It looked so elegant with its long pointed orangeish beak, long slender neck and graceful posture. I was struck also by the colorings on its face- almost pure white in some places and a long dark blue band stretching from the top of its eye diagonally downwards, leading to a plume like hair sticking out, almost like those sported by warriors of certain tribes - a reminder that it was from the birds and animals that mankind learnt to make himself appear dangerous while out hunting. I stood and watched it for quite some time observing the way stood still and then waded across the water in search of food.

Last weekend I went back to the same place and was pleasantly surprised to find yet another heron standing on the railing of the wooden trail this time. It was quite a sight. As I walked along I also saw several sported turtles with interesting patterns perhaps in red (it was hard to see clearly through the water) on their legs and shell. There were also ducks and the Canadian geese (which I read, have been happy to make northern Virginia their permanent residence thanks to the relative warmth compared to Canada and the abundance of wetlands and places to nest and  raise their young and plenty of grass to eat . I wonder if they will be asked to leave as well if a certain someone becomes president this November. ;) )


There were some people feeding bread to the ducks. I have read that this is dangerous for the geese as they feast on a natural diet of wild grasses and other greenery. Bread and other "human" foods can make the entire flock sick. Feeding also encourages the flock to stick together which can spread disease and cause harm to the environment. (Information from the Fairfax County Stewardship leaflet on Canada Geese) I was not sure if this was true for the ducks as well, perhaps it is-so the next time I see anyone feeding bread to the ducks perhaps I can share this information with them.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tent caterpillars

While taking my morning walk the last couple of days I have been observing web like formations on the crotches of several trees. Today I stopped to take a closer look at one of them- I'm not sure what I expected to find, but it was certainly not what seemed like a hundred crawling worms. I took a picture and now after some searching on the web believe these to be tent caterpillars. Apparently the eggs are laid in late spring / summer , the caterpillars develop within the eggs in a few weeks but lie quiescent until the following spring when they emerge out of the eggs and start making these webs together. They stay within the webs most of the time, emerging at periodic intervals to feed. During the early stages this happens before dawn, mid afternoon and after sunset. When I saw them in the morning most of them were within the tent. There were a couple that were moving around on the outside. 
I am not one to get all creeped out when I see a worm but the sight of these hundred or more caterpillars falling on top of each other and crawling all over was a bit too much for even me to stomach. Nevertheless I am going to keep a watch on these to see when they turn into moths.
Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

What are these

While waiting in line for tickets to enter the white house gardens, I poked around in the soil around the visitor ellipse. It was really interesting to realise that the ground was strewn with these little "scraps of wood/ seeds" . They were everywhere yet barely noticeable unless one squatted down and really looked. They reminded me of peacock feathers - the exquisite shape with the tiny plume like "hairs" along the sides leading to the pointed tip and the little oval at the center.