Thursday, September 29, 2016

Eggplants in containers

This has been a great eggplant year. I like to grow them in containers, as  they're beautiful plants. They're not always lovely, however, because of flea beetles. But this year was a happy exception.

I'm continuing to harvest lots of Ping Tung eggplants, along with more of the two Italian-types, which had slowed flowering and fruiting in the heat and drought of late summer.






Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Montford Bridge sunset

Walking downtown tonight to the library, for a program around waterfalls and photography, the sunset was stunning.

Sunset from the Montford Ave. bridge
Coming home, the view of the Basilica was equally lovely, although the iPhone photo doesn't do it justice!

Basilica at dusk



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fall color to come

Nudged by a email back and forth from our neighborhood newsletter editor - she'd complimented me on a previous article, after an unrelated wreath image ask -- I poked around some fall gardening and fall color posts.

Here's a revised version of an older post -- updated to our warm and dry fall so far.



We live in a region of fall color. 

 Reddening leaves of dogwood (Cornus florida) and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) often lead the way, although droughty conditions (not uncommon) may also encourage early leaf color in maples, probably as leaves have shut down production of chlorophyll early this year. My sister (then living in Central Texas) sent me an e-mail a number of years ago, asking about what really triggered the change in color in leaves - temperature, day length, moisture, or a combination. Her dog park group wanted to know!

Well, what are sisters for, after all, especially if she's a botanist and garden educator (I’m now a volunteer one)?  I had some fun reviewing the details and look forward to seeing how it will play out this season, with the warm and dry conditions forecast for this fall.

Basically, our fall colors in the Eastern U.S. are revealed as chlorophyll production slows down, cued by the shortening days and lengthening nights. The interplay of pigments in leaves determines the fall colors of different species, with the temperature and moisture determining color intensities. As the chlorophyll (which provides the overriding green color of leaves) breaks down, the other pigments in the leaves become evident. The carotenoids produce the yellow and oranges and anthocyanins produce the purple and reds. Anthocyanins are actively produced as a reaction between sugars and proteins - in the watery vacuoles of leaf cells, and their colors are influenced by acidity. They start showing up as the chlorophyll breaks down, and corky deposits start blocking the downward flow of sugars between leaves and stems.

Different trees have different combinations of the basic pigments, and here in Eastern North America, we have the largest diversity of species of trees that exhibit fall color, so many of our natives are prized in Europe for fall color -- our sweet gums and tulip poplars for example.

Some of the trees that are shades of oranges, reds, and purples include the red, white, and scarlet oaks, persimmon, sassafras, dogwood, sweet gum, as well as the maples. Hickories, river birch, redbud, tulip poplar, and sycamore turn yellow and gold, although the last two frequently turn brown and drop leaves early in droughty years like this one.

Beech leaves also accumulate tannin, adding a bronze color to the underlying yellows. The fall weather plays a key factor in whether it's a particularly good year for color, especially in the reds and purples. Day and night temperature and general moisture levels are important. Warm sunny days (with lots of sugar production) with cool crisp nights produce the best reddish and purple colors – from the anthocyanin pigments - at the same time chlorophyll production is declining. These are the “best” fall color years for bright red and orange hues.

Yellows are fairly consistent from year to year, since the carotenoids aren’t so affected by weather variations. Overly dry weather will produce more brownish leaves and early leaf drop, with washed-out colors in general.

But, some of our non-natives (this ginkgo, for example) have beautiful fall color, too.
This one was at the botanical garden (South Carolina Botanical Garden) where I used to work.

So no two falls are alike!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Year-round vegetable gardening

I've done many programs over the years about vegetable gardening. My early ones focused on creative and attractive kitchen gardens.  Then, a bit more about productive vegetable gardens in the recession years.

But I've moved from three-season to year-round vegetable gardening in some of my programs, as I just think it's so compelling, even for small-scale vegetable gardeners like myself.

Wire cloches (ready for plastic, when needed)
I'm not truly interested in feeding our 2-person household from our veggie garden throughout the year, but it really comes pretty darn close, when I freeze tomatoes, tomatillos, squash, kale and beans from the summer garden to eat in winter, not to mention all of the greens we eat from the fall and spring garden.

So, tomorrow's program is about year-round vegetable gardening.  It's SO possible here where I live in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

I live in the Asheville basin, near to downtown Asheville, so we're at 2000 ft., now USDA zone 7a.  My raised beds are stone and we're next to a brick apartment;  there's a heat-reflecting effect right there.  We have almost 10 hours of sunlight year-round, except for the few weeks around the winter solstice.  So, we can grow a lot of cold-hardy vegetables, depending on the year and the circumstances of freezes and frosts, and whether there's a bit of winter protection from cloches or hoops, covered by plastic or row covers.

We've had hard freezes the last few winters. Two years ago was the coldest winter for over 20 years.  Not good for overwintering hardy veggies, at least unprotected ones.

This year, I'll be working with wire cloches and hoops, which I'll cover with perforated plastic as a minimal cover.  They'll be attractive, I hope (my veggie beds are front row and center in our landscape).  We'll see!


Hoops ready for plastic, too!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A lovely conifer assortment

A transformed lower bed is now full of dwarf conifers.


These and a number of others are now gracing a bed that's been problematic.  Full hot sun in the afternoon.  Shady in the morning. Hot in summer, cool in winter.  Etc.

But, we think the conifers and their companions (not the kale -- it went into my veggie beds) will do well.

We'll see.  More photos to come.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A pollen-collecting bee

Taking a photo of a collection of dwarf conifers, snagged for a new planting (in a very difficult spot), I saw these bees visiting the Vernonia.  

I've seen them before, but they're definitely unusual, with their striking pollen baskets.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

More gardening inspiration at Monticello

The Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello was an amazing event--well-planned and nicely-executed.  It was an impressive array of tasting events (for the fresh fruits and veggies) from one of the major sponsors, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange-- I've been a fan of for years.

Lots of great speakers, the vendors and tasting events were amazing, and no, I'm not being paid for comments. I've had a great time, even as I'm looking forward to heading home tomorrow.

I had an absolutely great time during my two days, immersed in Jefferson's gardening as interpreted through past and present horticulturist , and then surrounded by the local food scene with the vendors, and then all of the programs. 

If I lived in Charlottesville, I'd be a passholder, for sure, just to visit the gardens frequently, as a MG volunteer said that she did.

A wonderful excursion, to be sure.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Inspiration at Monticello

Nothing NOT to like about a day spent at Monticello. 


I visited the vegetable garden in the company of former Director of Grounds Peter Hatch (in a morning session) and current head vegetable gardener Pat Brodowski (in the late afternoon session), with a walk through the flower gardens with its manager Debbie Donley and a tour of the house in mid-day.

It's remarkable to think about how truly experimental Thomas Jefferson was, as a gardener and horticulturist (not to mention all of his other contributions).

His record-keeping abilities are legendary.


A very brief visit to the visitor exhibits after lunch had me equally inspired; Jefferson believed in liberty, justice, and the merits of a well-educated population, as a means to a free society.

This was accompanied by very sophisticated multi-media interpretive visuals, complete with touch-screen vignettes. Very nice, and effective -- much of my career was spent (trying) to create interpretation that worked (not just that told you or wrote stuff that you read), so I appreciated that! 

It was well-done.

Back for another day tomorrow -- the public day of the Heritage Harvest Festival. I'll be bringing more water, as it's been HOT.  I'm a southern gardener, so I'm used to it, but geez, 93°F+ in September?


Thursday, September 8, 2016

At Monticello

I'm in Charlottesville, ready for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello tomorrow and Saturday.

I've signed up for workshops all day tomorrow, along with more on the public day on Saturday, so I'm psyched. 

A couple staying at my B&B had visited Monticello today -- and noticed the tents going up, etc. Oh, the festival is here, my fellow guests and I said, over an rather nice social hour promoted by our B&B (Dinsmore House). The wife of the couple mentioned above shared that she'd never seen melons growing before -- hooray, I thought.  Another person who might be actually thinking about where their foods come from!
A web photo, snatched from the ether, thanks to whomever took it!
Thomas Jefferson is a gardening icon, I think, at least in the vegetable gardening world of the Eastern U.S. 

He pushed the envelope in the 18th century, trying new vegetables and experimenting.

So I'm so excited to be visiting his restored vegetable and fruit gardens, again, in the company of experts, in the programs that I've signed up for.  He appreciated our native plants, too -- that should be an interesting program as well.

Jefferson loved vegetables, which I totally understand.

No, I don't want to eat green beans every day for weeks on end, but fresh green beans and eggplant from the garden (well, I'm happy to have left more for my hubby to eat with pasta and fresh tomato sauce while I'm away).

Monday, September 5, 2016

Another sunset at the Grove Park Inn

We're so fortunate to be close to the Grove Park Inn. About 2 miles away, it's a favorite walking loop of mine, starting at Charlotte St. Park, walking up and around.


This evening, we drove a short jaunt farther, and walked up to the Inn and back, enjoying the sunset views.

Woody, as usual, passed quite handily as being within the "40 lb" category that was permitted under the last "rules" that I read! Hmm...


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