Got crabs? Check! Got ponies? Check! Got garden bliss?Check!

The Delmarva Peninsula is well known as a destination for travelers seeking seafood feasts and beach adventures. Glorious gardens? Not so much. And that’s a shame, because there’s plenty of botanic beauty waiting to be discovered. And that’s why I started this blog, Eastern Shore Gardens.

For the last 25 years I’ve found myself calling the fertile ground of Dorchester County, Maryland home. Located on the Delmarva Peninsula, shared by Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware, it’s snugly sandwiched between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Long known as a hunter and sportsperson’s paradise, (drawing the likes of Annie Oakley) Dorchester also boasts a ton of history as the birthplace of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas.

Those preferring quirky can find a downtown house painted in full-on American flag and tag along on popular ghost walks.

Crab, oyster, and roadside barbecue chicken fans find it a down home culinary destination.

Across Delmarva there are enclaves of incredible natural beauty, from the beach homes of wild ponies on Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, to wildlife refuge areas like Blackwater, where endangered Eagles have scored a huge comeback and Eastern Neck, supplying sustenance for migrating monarchs and other butterflies, both to the delight of naturalists, photographers, and everyday visitors of all ages.

As contributing writer for a local home and garden magazine (shout out to Shore Home and Garden, an
American Farms publication, based in Easton MD) since 2015, I’ve been privileged to take the path less widely traveled to encounter pockets of gardening paradise plus talented nurturing gardeners, growers, and entrepreneurs.

Please join me on this journey through Delmarva. We’ll delight in a bounty of botanical eye candy plus tales regaling Champion trees, historic forest nurseries, lush, local l lavender fields, heirloom apple varietal cider, historic herb sanctuaries, patriotic farm mazes, dream Christmas tree destinations, and so much more.

What are we waiting for? Let’s get started!

Seasons in the Sunflowers

Old Dog Photography

Sunflowers have always held me spellbound. They grow in patches that seem to stretch on forever. When I’m out driving and spot a voluptuous sea of bright blooms billowing in the distance I scour the roadside for a safe spot to pull over. Then I get out and gaze to my hearts content.

Old Dog Photography

I don’t know how the fascination started. I only know that they beckon me with some irresistible force I find hard to explain. A few years ago driving back from Oxford with Mike Driscoll (Old Dog Photography) I spotted a field of the beauties, and cried “STOP!”

Spur of the moment “tog” that he is, he didn’t think twice. We each enjoyed in our own way, he snapping away and I wandering in blissful communion for I don’t know how long. (Another sweet sunflower attribute: their striking splendor seems to make time stand still. )

While there are no scientific studies I’m aware of proving that sunflowers possess aphrodisiac properties, I spontaneously gathered a bit of anecdotal evidence after experiencing a fairytale moment – an impromptu kiss amidst the blazing golden patch.

Emily’s Produce Sunflowers Summer 2018

Last year, Emily’s Produce (https://www.emilysproduce.com/)a now iconic garden/farm spot located between Cambridge and Church Creek currently celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, featured a sunflower maze and we made sure to visit. Returning this summer I discovered another reason to love sunflowers: Emily’s was donating the one dollar maze admission fee to benefit Patriot’s Point, a nearby outdoor recreational facility for “our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families. (https://patriotpoint.org).

Old Dog Photography

I was satisfied that our sunflower season observance was behind us. But in late September I stumbled upon a friend’s Facebook page adorned with pictures of sunflowers tinged with autumnal touches of orange and crimson. She’d gathered them at Taylor’s Produce Farm on Dover Bridge Road in Preston, and they were free for the picking!

Matthew Taylor belongs to the 5th generation of a family that has been farming on Maryland’s Eastern Shore since his grandparents, Noble and Flora, began back in 1928. Starting in 1990, Taylor and wife Debby and family have operated 6 area produce stands in Caroline and Talbot Counties, and Sussex County, Delaware. (http://www.taylorsproduce.com/)

Old Dog Photography

Five years ago Taylor decided trying to grow sunflowers on site at his Preston farm location on Dover Bridge Road. A dedicated but time limited dove hunter Taylor spread a few “rounds” of sunflower seeds, hoping to bring his winged quest within reach of his home turf. (This year, for the first time, Taylor used Sportsman’s mix Autumn Beauty seeds featuring orange and crimson shades instead of the usual yellow.)

As a bonus, the floral bounty became a hit with Taylor’s Produce customers. “The response was so great we planted them again the next year,” Taylor explained. It’s a safe bet that they’ll likely continue to do so each year in late July and August, in the spot where the sweet corn grows, once it’s growing season is done.

Old Dog Photography

The idea to let people pick the flowers for free sprouted after seeing so many folks stopping to take pictures in the patch. It didn’t seem right to charge money, Taylor added. “It’s a nice way to say thank you to the community and our customers.”

Taylor, who remembers his grandfather growing gladiolas, snapdragons, and zinnias, now also offers a free zinnia patch in the summer months. “A lady from down the road comes by and picks bouquets she takes to nursing homes, which is pretty great.” Taylor said.

Right after spotting the news about Taylor Produce sunflowers I made plans to visit. On a gorgeous Saturday following my October 9 birthday, Mike and visually feasted on our second helping of sunflower magic, and wanted to share the beauty. Enjoy!

Wabi Sabi Fall at Blackwater Pollinator Sanctuary

Old Dog Photography

Most people identify butterflies and bees as harbingers of springtime, when the flowers begin to bloom. So do I.

As a librarian at the Hurlock Branch of Dorchester County Public Library for 13 years, every May I’d scour the shelves for books to display about the pollinators buzzing and fluttering about.

But Fall, too, is a prime season for pollinators. As the flowering banquet of spring and summer recedes, these critters still need to feed. Gardening experts are now encouraging growers to leave bloom remnants behind for them instead of cutting them down.

At the Cambridge Community Garden behind historic Waugh Chapel, supervising Master Gardener Kathy Burtman advised plot holders cleaning up their dwindling summer veggie plantings:

“Feel free to leave the flowers in the beds.  The pollinators still need them and the seed heads will feed the birds this winter.”

I took a field trip to the Pollinator Sanctuary at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, MD on September 28 and found the meadows dappled with autumn hues and alive with bee activity. My companion, photographer Micheal Rhian Driscoll, “wombled” along with me (a lovely word he adopted from Facebook friends hailing from Wales).

Besides bringing his camera and iphone, Mike contributed his love of the Japanese concept known as Wabi Sabi, which he delights in photographing and curating wherever he can find it. Here is a link to his Wabi Sabi Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WabiSabi-1710784495814426/

According to the website Japanology :

“If one were to pick a phrase that aptly sums up the traditional aesthetic sensibility of the Japanese, it might well be wabi-sabi. A combination of two old words with overlapping definitions, wabi-sabi might be the Buddhist view of the facts of existence: Both life and art are beautiful not because they are perfect and eternal, but because they are imperfect and fleeting.

If you note a touch of melancholy there, you have begun to understand wabi-sabi.” http://japanology.org/2016/04/what-does-wabi-sabi-mean/

To me, this truly translates the more somber but still riveting beauty I find among fall gardenscapes.

I hoped especially to catch glimpses of monarch butterflies feeding along the route of their fall migration south to Mexico, and kept eyes peeled and phone camera ready while walking the path of the Pollinator Sanctuary area.

Old Dog Photography

In spite of due vigilance, not a single monarch was sighted alighting on the bountiful floral banquet–I was a week late. But on the path ahead, instead, darted a too quick to be photographed brown bunny rabbit. A slow and steadily crawling “wooly bear” caterpillar caught my eye and wound up as a camera capture.

Old Dog Photography

Traveling the footpath further I came to a clearing containing a very old graveyard. Tombstones with inscriptions time had long worn away appeared just beyond a large spreading tree.

The Refuge office and visitor’s center personnel could not offer specific information about the cemetery, other than noting its likelihood of dating back to the family farmstead whose site the Refuge was built upon and around in the early 1930s.

Old Dog Photography

Before turning back we traveled the length of the path greeted by cattails popping up as we grew closer to the marsh and almost incessant buzzing of tiny bees taking their pick of the meadow’s offerings.

We headed for the car with mental notes made to revisit during Spring’s hey day and to note on the calendar next fall’s Monarch migration visitation more accurately by checking this site: https://monarchjointventure.org/monarch-biology/monarch-migration

and this one: https://monarchwatch.org/tagmig/peak.html.

Winding through the Refuge’s scenic Wildlife Drive at a turtle’s pace, we eagerly stopped each time we sighted one of several elegant white egrets. The crowning moment came farther down the windy single lane roadway, with a view of two bald eagles towering on a landing high up in the air.

Photo by Old Dog Photography

Thrilled by the sight, Mike snapped away; just as he did, I spotted a sneaky, single monarch scoot by us! By the time the camera was turned, the fleeting regal beauty, original object of our visit, was gone. Though not captured on film, the cameo appearance provided a fitting wabi sabi footnote to the day’s journey.