Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Loudoun Fall Farm Tour

On Saturday I was up early and out the door to work my way around the Loudoun Farm Tour. I wasn't expecting to be particularly astounded as after all it was just farms, and there was only one brewery on the tour, which I'd visited previously and not been particularly amazed at, so I wouldn't be stopping there.
But this was pretty cool to see just before I arrived at my first stop, which was Blooming Hill in Philomont. And here my lackadaisical attitude was stilled because as soon as I pulled into the driveway I knew I was going to be enthralled. A tiny old lathe and plaster building was at the bottom of a hill, the gift shop, its steps and porch laden with all things garden and lavender, because after all, this was a lavender farm. But I'd look there later and carried on winding up the hill and parked my car, then slowly walked to a stone patio area where I could see two ladies drinking tea at a small table.
Beyond the patio was a field with rows of labelled lavender plants, little ornaments or small chairs or birdhouses placed among them in every shade of lilac, purple or lavender. The longer you looked in any direction, the more attention to detail you spotted. I nearly bumped into a wooden chair as I was so busy looking about me, and looked down to see a wicker basket with scissors, rubber bands and a small notice inviting guests to pick a posy of lavender for free.
I wandered up and down the rows noting the lovely names, French Perfume, Elizabeth, Essence Purple, there were 97 varieties. The owner, a gentleman called Tony, walked me around, encouraging me to poke around in every corner to enjoy all the sights. I had only been here about 10 minutes but told him I was amazed at how calming and peaceful this little haven was, maybe because of the lavender aroma, the scent of a wood pit burning, the classical music playing quietly in the background or just a combination of all, including the invitation to roam anywhere and enjoy the gardens he and his wife had so skilfully planted. There were also refreshments offered, including scones with tea, or lemonade. I was intrigued with the hot lavender, ginger, apple cider and it was delicious. After learning from Tony that the farm is open year round with a festival in June, he smiled and left me, knowing I was anxious to explore his little paradise further.
Even the butterflies were friendly here!
 I couldn't leave without visiting the gift shop, which also sold handmade ice cream, flavored, of course, with lavender, but I shall save that delight for my next visit. The farm has a website which I have bookmarked. This place will definitely stay on my radar.
Next on my map was Apple Valley Farm, which was disappointing. Comprising of just a small barn with some gourds and squash for sale, an apple press, and a German dude selling sausages, which because of restrictions told us we had to cook them ourselves on the grill he'd provided. I wasn't up for that but wished I'd thought to bring a cooler so I could have taken goods home. But I was still on a high from Blooming Hill so I strolled back to the car and drove through Bluemont, stopping at their fabulous old country store where I grabbed a top notch, homemade egg sandwich. I love this delightful historic and scenic little town but it's unfortunately blighted with heavy traffic.
So onto Abernethy and Spencer in Lincoln, which has some of the oldest greenhouses on the east coast, which was a draw for me. For some reason I hadn't expected it to be a garden nursery so was initially a little disappointed when I first pulled up. But my dismay rapidly evaporated as I got out of the car and looked around. The buildings were obviously old, and big. I noticed one, which wasn't open to the public, was completely filled with Boston Ferns. I strolled into the main greenhouse and was immediately greeted with bird shrieks and a loud' 'Hi!", from a sulphur crested cockatoo and an Amazon parrot. They were loose so I walked over to greet them.
What a lovely pair. The cockatoo who had spoken her friendly greeting came down and promptly hopped on to my arm, letting me rub her back and scratch behind her ears as she held her wings out. The Amazon was equally curious but a little too robust for me, pinching my skin in his beak. Apparently, he's just a tease and was vying for attention, very keen to pose for my camera.
I really took a liking to this nursery, loving the way nearly all the plants were sold in terracotta pots rather than plastic. The shelving was lined with old tiles, one area even holding water in which pond plants sat, along with a few insect eating plants.
I strolled around the outside beds and peered into other greenhouses,one which was stocked with very healthy poinsettias for the Christmas season. I had no reason to buy any plants but will likely return next spring to see what they offer, and to chat with the parrots again.
My next stop was Donkey Meadows, a farm that raises Mammoth Jacks, the largest donkey breeds. But I had a slight diversion when first, I stopped to pick up an armful of osage oranges for the house, and then I spotted a free glider rocking chair in a driveway, that was in excellent condition. Not able to pass it by I stopped Stuart and lifted the chair through the back door, but it wouldn't fit. Undaunted I lowered it to the ground and then pushed back the front passenger seat. I heaved the chair into the car, and with some wiggling and grunting, it slid in fully. Woo Hoo! I walked around to get in the car and spotted the owners at their front door, who had seemingly been watching my determined efforts. I waved and yelled out, Thanks!', and they waved back. And just down the road was the farm.
There were a couple of tents with donkey information and raffle prizes, plus a line of saddled donkeys waiting to give rides. I petted and fussed them but the star of the show for me was this cow, who as I watched, plopped down, stretched out on the hay and promptly fell asleep. What a life! There wasn't much here to keep me any longer so I hopped back into the car and continued on my route.
I rumbled down unpaved narrow lanes, stopping as photo ops caught my eye, an interesting house name, pumpkins, and a Mazda RX7 graveyard. My next stop was an orchid greenhouse in Leesburg, which I nearly missed as it appeared to just be a regular house with a small sign on the driveway. I read a notice held by a huge furry bear,telling me not to block the side of the house, and then stepped inside. Immediately I was reminded of the old fuschia greenhouses that I worked in as a teenager, the humidity, the smell of plants, and baskets hanging down from the roof.
Al's Orchid Greenhouse has been in existence since 1999, the full story with photos is here. I walked down the narrow aisle, noting how healthy each and every plant was. I was also intrigued to see many of the plants growing on a slab of cork bark, a visually pleasing wall hanging.
There was also an interesting collection of insect eating plants, which I was surprised to discover don't rely on insects to survive. They are given water and plant food just like any other plant.
I was especially taken with some of the orchid buds. They looked so delicate yet somehow intimidating as they stood arched over, holding their suspended unopened flower reminding me of the evil flowers in John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, or Star Trek's episode, This side of Paradise. The owner told me that orchids are these days regarded the same as poinsettias, as a gift or holiday flower which are only expected to survive a short while. This saddened me as I was not prepared to try and keep a plant alive in an AC or wood stove controlled environment knowing that it would perish without the humidity. I'm always upset when a plant dies. But I wouldn't buy one so I left for my next destination.
A few miles later on more unpaved roads I realized that I wouldn't make the Equestrian Center which was the last place to visit on my map. I accidentally ended up at the Leesburg Center instead of the Academy further down the road. But as I pulled in to the parking lot at Leesburg to get directions the hugest, chubbiest groundhog I'd ever seen scuttled across in front of me, his sides rippling and shining as he pushed himself across the road as fast as possible. I burst out laughing and made sure he was safe in the tall grasses before I parked the car. I spoke to the Loudoun Master Gardeners who were proudly showing their immaculate lots and they howled gleefully as they informed me that they had just shooed him from their plots. No wonder he looked so well fed!
I got home and unloaded my new rocking chair, placing it by the fireplace in readiness for relaxing and for my mug of tea which I set to making. but no sooner was my back turned than His Lordship acquired the new throne immediately and by his expression was resolved never to move. I haven't sat in it yet...

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