Sunday, June 25, 2017

A pollinator-friendly berm

In Peg Bier's wonderful garden on the Garden Bloggers Fling, there were shade plantings that were lovely.  I admired her container combinations, too, and bough a Laurentia today (at Merrifields Nursery) based on one I'd admired.

But what I really found compelling were the full sun perennial garden up on the berm, separating her property from the neighbor's detention drainage area (I think-- it was all mown grass).

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Garden Bloggers Fling

One of the wonderful things about the Fling is sharing gardens with new and old friends.

What do I/we like?  What resonates? Do the gardens reflect the gardeners?  What's interesting?  What's different?  Do I like this garden?  Does my opinion matter? Of course not.

Gardens are individual spaces that reflect the gardener, and it's lovely to see that.

I'm most interested in how their gardens reflect the gardener.

In early blogging days, a fellow blogger asked the question: do our gardens reflect us, or what we aspire to?

Hmm, I'm firmly in the camp of gardens reflecting us!

My garden friend Andrea and me, courtesy of Julie Adolf's photo
Thanks, Julie!

Friday, June 23, 2017

National Mall gardens

In an amazingly rich and diverse array of gardens on the National Mall, all quite striking, and mostly all in Smithsonian Museum gardens, my favorite images (of many) from today, were the new entrance plantings at the National Museum of American History.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Natural Bridge State Park

On my way to the Garden Bloggers Fling in DC, there are numerous opportunities for stops along the way. It's basically a seven-hour drive, with wonderful scenery along I-81, so not a lot of time for extra excursions, but I was planning to stay somewhere within a couple of hours of DC.  So, I enjoyed occasional forays off the interstate as a welcome break, and a refreshing visit to the Natural Bridge State Park, near Lexington.  It's one of VA's newest state parks, having long been in private ownership.  I didn't have time to hike any of the trails, but it was a wonderful respite from travel -- a brief dip into the natural world does wonders.

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson was one of its first "owners" -- and apparently a great fan, judging by the guest book he kept, during his regular visits.  My overnight destination hadn't been planned, but I think the mention of Jefferson tipped a return visit to Monticello tomorrow, and an overnight stay in Charlottesville this evening. I was at Monticello for the Harvest Festival last September and loved visiting - the Vegetable Garden is truly a wonder, not to mention the Flower Garden, natural areas, and the house and history.....

Monday, June 19, 2017

Garden Bloggers Fling

I'll be heading off on Wednesday for my 7th Garden Bloggers Fling.  Perhaps blogging seems quaint in a Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook world, but I like the format.

What's best about blogging, to me, is the ability to craft a post, include photos, and originally, I liked to format the way the post appeared, although that's disappeared in the mobile device age.  Hmm, that's what is nice about print, I'm suddenly thinking.

Nevertheless, I love the Garden Bloggers Fling -- what's not to like about visiting gardens for three days in the company of other garden lovers?  It's a volunteer labor of love -- tons of work for the host committee -- sponsored generously by many green businesses, large and small, national and local.

It's a reunion each year for those of us who have come over the years, but a welcoming place for new Flingers, too, who are often regional folks.  Everyone is welcome!

And gardening is a community-building activity, after all.

Woody (and me) on the trail

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cultivating Place

I've been enjoying listening to a wonderful podcast lately: Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Natural Impulse to Garden, a co-production of North State Public Radio and Jennifer Jewell (

On my walk this morning, a piece from June 1 (Dispatches From The Home Garden - Urban Homesteading and a Garden Journey) was especially compelling, as a young gardener (at 33) talked about her approach to urban homesteading and a garden journey.  It could have been an interview with me, I thought, although I'd not consider myself an urban homesteader and I'm in my early 60's.

She (Melissa Keyser) described so clearly how creating gardens connected her to the natural world and grounded her experience in urban landscapes.

Jennifer Jewell's conversation with her illuminated the journey that gardening truly is, and the sometimes bittersweet experiences of making (and leaving) beloved gardens.

It was a lovely accompaniment to my explorations of burgeoning front gardens in one of the neighborhoods near by:  full of pollinator-supporting flowers, edibles, and other not-lawn plantings.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa)

Apache Plume flower and fruits

We've seen Apache plume in most of the high desert landscapes we've visited in Northern New Mexico. It's apparently an excellent landscape plant;  there were a number of them at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and we've seen them planted elsewhere, too.

This one, at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument had both flowers and fruits, along with abundant flower visitors.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cuba photos

We've been back from our three-week trip to Cuba for several months now. It was an interesting trip and a bit hard to digest, particularly around food security and the myth of wild Cuba.

Google albums doesn't let me label images, as I quickly selected ones to show my sister and her husband next week.

But, this link should work, if you're interested in seeing a travel sequence.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Woodchucks and herbivory

Buttercrunch lettuces chewed by a neighborhood woodchuck

I used to like woodchucks, many years ago.  They were cute and furry. I like to promote wildlife friendly gardening and ecological restoration of landscapes in my talks and personal encouraging around gardening.

But woodchucks (like deer) have long exceeded the carrying-capacity of their habitats, and being adaptable, have spread into many less desirable spaces as new generations need to find new spaces (like the space underneath our neighbor's house).

So I was not happy to discover this morning evidence of nibbling (really chowing down) on my buttercrunch lettuces, collards, and chard (they're quite particular).  Fortunately, my wire cloches protected some of the greens (and I'm really rather tired of them at this point in the spring, having eaten greens since fall), so I'm not too concerned. Woodchucks don't like onion relatives, or tomatoes, unless it's really droughty, in my experience.

Notice the chewed up collard between the ones in the wire cloches!

Monday, May 8, 2017

A bear on our morning walk

We surprised a black bear heading up toward the Grove Park Inn on a walk yesterday morning.  S/he was wary of Woody, and hesitated, staring at all of us. 

Woody was interested, too.

They're frequently sighted on Sunset Mountain and Town Mountain, and occasionally in our downtown neighborhood.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cool-season to warm-season

It's finally time for change-outs in my raised beds.  I'm harvesting collards, chard, and leeks to make room for planted squash and bean seeds.

Transplants of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant will go in tomorrow;  it would have been sooner, but this weekend was oddly chilly for May!

We'll be traveling a good bit this summer, so I don't want to overplant.  Our home exchange partners will want to enjoy the mountains, not harvest too many vegetables.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A broccoli harvest

An abundant, although small-headed, row of broccoli was ready to harvest yesterday, in the Southside Community Garden, where I volunteer.
Broccoli ready to harvest
It was a pleasure to harvest the heads (and the leaves, as greens).

Monday, May 1, 2017

A Fraser magnolia

We have a challenging spot in our mountain garden.  My gardening companion has tried a sassafras (twice) and now a sapling Fraser magnolia. It's his favorite tree in our home landscape (and we have lots of wonderful plants).

He keeps moving things around in that spot.  The kalmias and rhododendron are currently doing fine, and the woodland garden below is flourishing, BUT, it's a tough spot:  when it pours, the gutter in the next door apartment overflows, spreading all the rooftop water (concentrated) down our side garden landscape, whooshing through great quantities of water in a short time.

And, it was shallow gravely soil, now amended with compost and mulch, but...

So we were happy to finally see this sapling, now in its second year, re-emerge with leaves, even though it seemed late, and the leaves were slow to expand.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A mockingbird sings

In the waning evening light, I was checking the veggies out front.  Hmm, a bit of slug damage there, no cabbage white caterpillars, maybe I'll get a few small broccoli heads, and what am I going to do with the huge red cabbage plants (with very tiny heads).

All the while a mockingbird was singing loudly in a tree across the street.  I'm here, he's saying.  This is my territory.

And, for the moment, things are fine in the garden.

Add caption

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Another harvest (leeks and chard)

Chard and leeks
A small vegetable garden is capable of producing a lot of veggies (what else is new?)

I've really enjoyed the spring leeks and chard and am closing in on the last of the kale (red Russian kale salad with a citrus dressing was part of dinner tonight, as were roasted leeks.). Have I mentioned that I'm a bit tired of greens?

Recent rains have pumped up leaf growth in the spring-planted chard, collards, lettuce, and broccoli, and cool weather is keeping them in good condition.  Hmm.  I've picked off some cabbage white caterpillars from the collards unprotected by the wire cloches, and slugs have made inroads, too, but...I guess I'm still wanting to have more greens?

I'll be planting pole beans, tomatoes, and squash soon, juggling plantings for harvests when we're here this summer, even though we'll have home exchange folks here for the times we're gone and the neighbors were glad to harvest last summer, too.

The sugar snap peas are only about 4 inches high, so they don't look promising this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Science, Earth Day, and gardening

Connemara, Ireland
I'm a scientist by background and have been a science educator (from college, to youngsters, back to adults) throughout my career, and now in my post-work life, I've continued that.

Although it was buoying, I found it quite depressing that I needed to "March for Science" on Earth Day in 2017.

I'm old enough to remember the first Earth Day in 1970 (I was fifteen).

The environment (at least in the US) really needed help then, not from climate change but from pollution of air and water, which was significant.  I did a 5th grade piece in class about how a young boy had died from typhoid, because he ate some watermelon that had been in the Hudson River.  And I remember the choking air as a 7th grader, visiting NYC in the summer, when my dad was on sabbatical in upstate NY. And the uranium mine that I visited in a class as a sophomore in college was alarming (this was in a class taught by one of LBJ's former
environmental folks, and then a retired president of UT Austin):  it was a good class, and he advised me to follow my interests in graduate school, which I did.

So, as I listened to the young organic farmer rail against the evils of glyphosate and Monsanto, I couldn't help think about the MUCH worse pesticides that we used to use. And the much worst pollution that we used to have.  DDT? 2-4D? And there are plenty of their offspring that are worse than glyphosate, in my opinion as a scientist, who's tried to do due diligence as a gardener and natural history/garden educator.

Science, not silence, one of the signs said.

We spoke out as scientists (and conservationists, and environmentalists, etc.) starting a long time ago.  Perhaps this is a continuation of that.

A high school senior was the organizer for the March for Science in Asheville. How cool is that?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

An updated vegetable garden

I was a bit bemused this afternoon to be "editing" my veggie beds. 

garden in front of house (late April 2017)
They're in front of the house, so we look at them every day.  Today, I was thinking it was a bit out of balance, even as I harvest Red Russian kale, perennial leeks, assorted lettuces, etc.  And the rosemaries in the corner of the front bed were looking downright scruffy.

 So they've been uprooted and replaced with new, smaller versions (with the uprooted ones to give away this weekend (or sell for $1) at my garden club's plant sale on Sunday.

And it was remarkable to see how simply editing some of the leeks and kale (for dinner tonight) shaped the look of the beds.  I was pleased.

late April raised beds

Toward our "blue house" neighbors
And the front & side garden is looking good, too, towards our neighbors.  In an urban landscape, it's all about creating shared view scapes!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Perennial leeks

Ancestral leek, Allium ampeloprasum, is a common and highly variable wild species native to Southern Europe, according to Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, in their book, Vegetables (Random House). Variants were found in Western Europe, too -- in Ireland and England, often associated with early Christian sites.

They write that numerous varieties of leeks are now grown, differing mainly in the color of their leaves, hardiness, and tendency to form bulbils at their base.

I've been growing (and sharing) perennial leeks for some years now, obtained through Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  I've been writing about them for a number of years, too.

They're really wonderful and productive.  Eaten as young leeks, they're delicious from bottom to top; as a bit older leek, they're still great for the tender parts, with tops for soup.

And productive -- well, each leek that I have now (which I didn't separate in fall) is a huge clump of young leeks, surrounding the original one. The ones I did separate and replant look like these (from last year's harvest).

I'm planning to share a number of clumps in my garden club sale this Sunday;  they're winners and productive in my garden.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A first monarch sighting

I saw a monarch flying past the porch yesterday at lunch time. That's a monarch, I said, somewhat startled, as it's unusual to see them here in the mountains in spring.

And I was even more delighted to read a post from my neighbor, Phyllis Stiles, founder of Bee City USA, this afternoon about a female monarch oviposting on her young milkweed shoots.

That must have been the monarch that I saw!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More greens

Beet green harvest
I'm hoping for some broccoli in late spring, and maybe a few sugar snap peas. Something different, please?

I really shouldn't complain, but I'm tired of my delicious spinach, beet greens, and chard.  This was a good year for all, so I had greens in fall AND overwintered greens.  In abundance, in my small raised beds.  And there are greens in the freezer from last fall, which I'm diligently trying to use, too.

Hmm, when you have greens in your garden, it's hard to justify buying anything else green at the grocery store.  Thank goodness for onions, peppers, and mushrooms!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Native wildflowers and natural gardening

We spent an lovely afternoon with old friends (from Upstate South Carolina) exploring the Botanical Gardens of Asheville.  It's still an bit early, but we saw lots of treasures (aka woodland wildflowers and shrubs) in bloom.

It's reminding me how botanical gardens, as well as our preserved natural gardens, are special places.

We need to connect with the natural world, whether it's in our backyard, in wild places, or places in between. The natural world is increasingly depauperate, outside of national parks, reserves, and "wilderness" areas. My country (the U.S.) still has the privilege of wilderness areas.

In some other parts of the world that we've visited, "wild" nature has been pushed behind the fences, protecting what's left (tigers, special grasslands, etc. ) -- I'm thinking of Southern India, in particular.  But in Laos, we had that feeling, too, although northern Vietnam still has wild and natural places to visited in their parks and reserves.

An inspirational Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, has created gardens that evoke wild Ireland; they're lovely, and totally wonderful, but I'm mindful that they evoke an Ireland that has been shaped by humans for over a thousand years, and have been totally transformed from whatever they once were, prior to logging and agriculture.

Interesting how we respond to places and landscapes, both "natural" and not.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Common milkweed

At an interesting panel discussion at the end of a workshop sponsored by Bee City USA for their regional affiliates, I participated in a discussion about planting for pollinators.

One of the most interesting threads, for me, was around common milkweed.  How do we incorporate this in our gardens, community spaces, and roadsides?

I shared my experience (summarized by my blog posts over the years:;  it's a wonderful host plant for monarchs, of course, but challenging in a home garden setting.  After a summer or two away, without editing, it pretty much took over.

But I've seen it used in small median/sidewalk plantings where it looked fine, although perhaps they were just young plants (they're quite nice-looking when diminutive).

But I have a hard time (as an experienced native plant gardener) encouraging folks to plant it, in a normal space.  I'm afraid to plant it anywhere in my mountain garden!  Perhaps I'll try Swamp Milkweed in the pocket meadow this year, and see if we might encourage planting Common Milkweed along one of the green ways nearby (it would be better than the poison hemlock and other weedy things along the upper slope there now).

Swamp milkweed 
So I'm thinking (and searching) for ways to include small-scale patches in home landscapes. A fellow panelist cuts hers back to encourage caterpillar-friendly growth. It's relatively easy to pull up shoots; our meadow became overcome over we started spending summers in the mountains, with less time to edit, etc.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Where are the native plants in our nurseries and garden centers?

I had a less than inspiring outing this afternoon to simply refresh the wooden box on our front porch.

It currently has an overgrown Carex, a Heuchera "Purple Palace," and a robust Japanese Polygonum, with a remnant patch of a sedum.

It needs total reworking, but as I told my gardening companion, it needs to have some seasonal change!

We go in and out that door every day, and although I do enjoy dwarf conifers, they don't exactly change much over time (that was his suggestion).

Aromatic aster
My visit to two of our good nurseries, and one to a local big box store, didn't provide much inspiration or any good plants. The Heuchera cultivars that the nurseries offered were quite awful (from my point of view), totally unnatural in color and form.

I bought French Tarragon at Reems Creek Nursery and a Heuchera cultivar at Lowe's (one that had the same characteristics that I'd had before -- "Purple Palace" again.  It's actually a decent-looking cultivar.

But my overall thought was were are the native plants? Where are the pollinator-supporting plants? They were slim to non-existent.

At least the local nurseries had "bee-friendly" labels, documenting the lack of neonicotinoids, but outside of the Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Salvia, and some of the Echinacea, and a few of the shrubby blueberry relatives, what was really ecologically-sustaining?  Not much, I thought.

We need to keep asking our garden centers and nurseries to add natives.

Yes, I can tell people you need to search them out, find native plant sales, etc., but surely we can support our wholesale (and retail) native plant growers such as North Creek Nurseries, American Meadows, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, etc. so we have access to them as "mass market" plants, in our local garden centers, too.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Designing with Native Plants: A Naturalistic Approach

The post title was the title of my talk this afternoon at NCBG.  It was a bit of a stretch, perhaps, for a plant ecologist and gardener to be talking about design, but my message was really about how inspiration from nature, and wonderful plant communities, can inspire our gardens and how we create them.

It was a lovely afternoon, and I'm so glad to be part of a long-term sponsored program, now endowed, by Nancy Preston in honor of her mother, Evelyn McNeill Sims.  Thanks, Nancy!

The "rules" of design are fluid, but can be constraining, and my message around gardening with native plants (as used by talented naturalistic garden designers), is one of evoking nature in our gardens.
Piet Audolf garden:  his work exemplifies naturalistic garden design
A fellow garden blogger, Tony Spencer, shared this on his blog, from another talented native plant designer, Roy Diblik, on a post awhile ago:

“Each plant is like a note of music. It may be beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t mean anything until it’s combined with other notes to form a melody.  That’s what the design process is all about using plants to create music in space and time.”  

I really love this, and it resonated with the audience this afternoon.  What naturalistic garden designers try to accomplish in their gardens is creating and evoking nature in the lovely forms that we see on hikes and visits to wonderful natural areas.  

There are fewer of these than there used to be.  I embraced gardening for nature as an antidote to my gloomy thoughts about how we were losing natural habitats all over the world.

 So, my latest version of this talk is posted on the sidebar, along with updated reference lists.

Please send me an email if you have questions  -- education and encouragement is what I'm about in my post-paid work life (hmm, that's what I did when I was paid, too, now I'm thinking).  Let me know if I can send you reference lists/handouts, etc.!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Re-knitting landscapes and gardens

I'm thinking a lot about connecting our "yards" "landscapes" and "gardens" to our larger neighborhoods and surroundings, whether they're city, suburban, or rural.

It seems to me that this is becoming more essential than ever.

Thinking about an upcoming talk, it's seeming to me that the message about gardening as stewardship as well as about restoration and healing of landscapes should be even more in the forefront of my messages to whatever audience is there.

I searched around yesterday for an old sticker that I had from many years ago -- it was from Germany, in my post-doc days. I can see it clearly, as it was taped to a file cabinet in my study in our old house in the Piedmont.  I'm quite sure I kept it in the consolidation here, along with various others, but its physical presence has eluded me so far.

It was an image of a great blue heron (or possibly a stork), with the message, loosely translated, as biodiversity reflects living space (lebensraum).  Habitat diversity = wildlife diversity.

Ravine forest below the house, under restoration
As I'm trying to take a few more photos to include in next weekend's talk, I'm thinking about this.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ecological balance in our neighborhoods

I live in a historic neighborhood near downtown Asheville.  It's Asheville's oldest neighborhood, actually.  Our house was built 10 years ago on an infill site, between a  ~1920's apartment building and an older rental house.  Many houses in our neighborhood are distinctive Victorians, others are of equally historic design.

But, most importantly, because we're a historic neighborhood, we have regulations (administered through the Historic Resources Commission) about the exterior of our houses (and changes we might want to make), as well as landscape changes, including removing trees of more than 5" in diameter and review of even dying trees.

This may seem trivial to some, but does encourage preservation of our urban canopy, but we still can do more. (A friend marveled at the canopy view from a nearby hotel's rooftop bar recently, as she couldn't even see many houses, although she thought she spotted ours, which is quite close, and a distinctive adobe color.)  She wondered why our tree regulations needed to be so stringent; well, our canopy reflects that!

I wrote a recent piece for our neighborhood newsletter, which I've pasted below, prompted by a neighborhood list-serve back and forth about decreasing bird diversity and outdoor cats, as well as my continued thinking about the canopy forest, hearing Doug Tallamy, Nigel Dunnett, and Thomas Rainier speak at the Davidson Horticultural Symposium several weeks ago, as well as preparing recent talks that I've given.

It's on my mind, as I'm thinking about shaping a talk for the weekend after next, too.

Natural Neighborhoods: Ecological balance

Many of us enjoy watching (and hearing) birds in our landscapes, as well as in our historic neighborhood.  Pollinators such as butterflies, bumblebees, flower flies, sweat bees, and honeybees are equally welcome. But we don’t always recognize the attributes in our landscapes that support these animals and insects. 

Their presence is basically a reflection of available habitat:  do our gardens and landscapes support the diversity of their needs for food, shelter, and nesting sites?

For example, it’s native trees and shrubs that largely provide food for caterpillars that feed the nestlings of many birds that live in our neighborhood.  A nesting pair of chickadees needs roughly 4,000 caterpillars to successfully raise a single group of nestlings, according to entomologist Doug Tallamy (author of Bringing Nature Home).  He points out that many adult birds eat seeds and/or fruits, but most feed their young protein and lipid-rich caterpillars.  Oaks, pines, black cherries, and willows are some of the most important host plants for these caterpillars (the larvae of butterflies and moths).  A typical oak species may harbor upwards of 550 species of insects, providing food for a lot of young birds! In contrast, the species of caterpillars found on the leaves of non-native species are much fewer; Tallamy’s research documents 8 caterpillar species occurring on flowering quince and 5 species on ginkgo as examples

In Montford, we've been lucky to have a robust canopy of native oaks, hickories, pines, and other species, planted long ago, but also persisting as volunteers in remnant patches of forest throughout the neighborhood.

Squirrels in cavity
As our older canopy trees age out, we need to continue to replace the oaks and other native trees with natives (of all sizes of trees), while we leave the snags, where possible, to provide homes for woodpeckers, owls, and other cavity nesters. Preserving (and restoring) backyard edges, ravine forests, and greenway corridors also plays a vital role.

By including more natives, we help re-knit the fabric of our altered ecosystems in cities and towns, increasing ecological balance. The vibrancy of the urban forest in Montford (and Asheville) depends on us; let’s keep planting to maintain nature in our neighborhoods.

The City of Asheville has a list of recommended tree and shrub species (native and non-native) from the Asheville Tree Commission on their website (  Look on the Urban Forestry page for a link to this list.

view of the ravine forest below our house (restoration in progress!)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A flirtation with spring warmth

Temperatures here in the mountains were in the upper 70's -- maybe reasonable in the Piedmont of the Carolinas in March, but still way above normal (historically) here.

A wasp bothered Woody on the porch this evening at dinner (he's afraid of flying insects, for some reason).  And a female carpenter bee was checking out our front porch overhand for nesting sites.

Spring is here.

But a cold front is pushing through again this evening, bringing temperatures back down to "normal."

Last year's bed --ready to plant in spring
I just planted a few more greens (collards and lettuce) this afternoon, although my chard and spinach are still hugely productive.  How many greens can we eat before I plant warm season vegetables after all?

A harvest of beet greens and chard was more than enough this evening for dinner, so there'll be plenty to eat tomorrow. Uh, and there are still greens in the freezer from fall.. Yikes!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Almost spring

It doesn't look like spring here now, after a week of hard freezes.  The Asian species that flower early (Magnolia, Prunus, Forsythia, etc.) are toast, browned with temperatures near the 20°s for three days.

The sassafras are right on target with last year's flowering! Delayed slightly.
But spring is coming for sure.  And it's welcome. The native red buckeye (from the Coastal Plain) and bottlebrush buckeye (from the Piedmont) have emerging leaves, and with the warmth to come this week, I'm sure our sassafras trees will be in flower, and the rest of the canopy forest won't be far behind in unfurling their leaves.

Spring is welcome, even after a mild winter!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Plants for pollinators

A program this evening in Johnson City, TN, for a lovely group of folks, sponsored by the Southern Appalachian Plant Society (SAPS), has me continuing to think about the importance of strengthening the ecological food webs in our urban, suburban, and rural environments.

I hope I provided inspiration and encouragement around planting for pollinators. (Both an older version of the presentation that I gave, as well as the handout, are on the sidebar).

Ultimately, I think that gardeners are going to make the difference, as we move forward in a human-influenced age on our planet, by planting native plants that help re-knit the fabric of our altered ecosystems in cities and towns.  Ditto, in "rural" landscapes.

Taking a detour towards historic Jonesborough, I drove past more small houses surrounded by nothing but lawn than I'd like to see in a rural area.  Where were the trees and shrubs?

Let's plant (or encourage volunteer) native trees that support pollinators and other insects. Oaks, yellow poplar, black gum, black cherry, sweetgum, etc.

Why not use shrubs that "work for a living"? -- that is, why not consider if they provide food for pollinators, herbivores, as well as shelter for birds?  There are lots of great choices.

pocket meadow late August 2013
And herbaceous perennials that support pollinators -- well, there are lots of them, as long as we avoid ornamentals that don't produce much or any nectar or pollen  -- these include highly modified perennials (bearded irises, gladiolus, tulips, peonies, mop-head hydrangeas, etc.)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cuba travel

We've been back for almost a month now, and I've just now batch-labelled my photos (after a lengthy importing process, and consolidating WAY too many duplicates, etc. via Lightroom.

The digital age is lovely, of course, my iPhone photos want to be merged in iCloud, synced across all of my Apple devices, swamping my iPhone's capacity syncing everything on my laptop and iPad, yada, yada.

Anyway, small steps.  I've been tempted to just send links to a fellow traveler's photo galleries -- his photos are excellent -- and send them on to friends and relatives who are waiting to see photos!

Cuba is a destination to be digested, and it's not necessarily an easy one. 

The contrasts between the travel hype around Cuba -- the "locked in time" aspect, the myth around natural Cuba, and the reality of a wonderfully vibrant country, but one that's relatively poor, with constrained availability of fresh foods (and really food of any kind), unless you have tourist income to spend, is something that I keep thinking about.

And, there aren't the organic vegetable gardens/farms everywhere that you'd think, based on the organic vegetable garden stories that I'd read.  I saw a few, but really not many.

So, I'm hoping to post (and link) to edited photo galleries to come.

There are wonderful places to be visited in Cuba, and their historic cities are totally amazing (Havana, Vinales, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Remedios, and Santa Clara are the ones we visited).

Here's a wonderful image of a cenote near Playa Larga.  My gardening companion took a swim here!

In the national park near Playa Larga

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cold to come

Oddly, we may have up to three (or more) inches of snow overnight.  And then, temperatures in the teens in mid-week for several days (hmm, not good).  This, after a mild winter.

But I'm thinking that most of my overwintering veggies are well-hardy by now, but I draped my spinach and beet bed with remay this afternoon, just in case.  My spinach has been so wonderful this winter, there's no reason NOT to protect it a bit.

This bed will be just fine, I hope, with kale, cabbage, leeks, and parsley.
I'm keeping flats of lettuce, collards, and mustards, as well as a few herbs on my deck - destined for the Southside Community Garden.  I don't really have a better place for them (except inside in mid-week), but they don't need to be out there planted, or in the unheated hoophouse either. Next weekend, hopefully, we'll be able to transplant them all.

It's an interesting time of the year.  Changeable, it's always been in spring in our part of the world.

Whether it's more changeable - hard to say -- but I guess I'd have wished for warm weather at this point!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Thinking about gardens and gardening

Early on in my garden blogging days, I remember a fellow blogger asking a question.

Do we create gardens that we aspire to?  Or, do we create gardens that reflect ourselves?

I'm firmly in the second camp, having created gardens now in two places (with my gardening companion) that thoroughly reflect our preferences and sensibilities as gardeners (and being native plant folks by background).

As I realized the connection between my own creativity and gardening, I started to encourage folks to think about their gardening styles and expressing their creativity through gardening in some of my presentations and workshops.  Fran Sorin's book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening was a catalyst, over a decade ago, in my thinking.

Hmm, I thought, that's what's been my end round back to being creative again, it's gardening.  And almost 1,850 blog posts later, I'm realizing that writing is my first creative love, although I continue to love gardening and art.

I truly enjoy reflecting on nature and gardening on a regular basis, and getting ready to do a talk tomorrow on creativity and gardening, I was rather surprised to look over the titles of blog posts over the years (looking to see if I'd written about this before).

Both the diversity and similarity of posts struck me, as did the seasonal rhythm of the topics.  It's almost spring now, so the emergence of spring empherals and early flowering native shrubs and trees are part of the vocabulary, as are the vagaries of spring temperature.

This year is remarkably early. That's part of the equation of a changing climate. But I'm also continuing to enjoy the swelling sassafras buds outside the upstairs window, harvesting the overwintering kale as it's starting to bolt, and planting sugar snap peas, with a hopeful thought that maybe I'll be able to harvest a bowlful, before summer heat sets in.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Winter greens

The collards, kale and spinach have been fantastic in this mild winter.  The collards, touched by frost, are sweet and tender; the spinach just keeps growing.  And I haven't even yet harvested much chard or beet greens, as of yet.  I hopefully put some broccoli transplants in -- it'll probably be too warm this spring for them.  But I'll also put some sugar snap peas in -- after the rain in the next couple of days.  Peas are always a crop that "hope" is a factor.
harvested collard plant
The collards and kale are starting to bolt, so I'm harvesting them, we're cooking and eating them, and some of the harvest is going to the freezer.  They're delicious.

spinach and chard

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reflecting on traveling

Returning from Cuba (where I only managed to post a few FB snippets, because of the limited internet access and small bandwidth feed), I've been spending a lot of time thinking about our trip.

I have LOTS of photos to sort through, so more to come.

I'm finding myself answering questions about traveling in Cuba, saying things like "it's interesting"  "there are lot of wonderful historic buildings" "it's still a developing country" "there's not food availability in any normal sense" " there weren't the vegetable gardens that I expected" "the people are great" "the music is wonderful" etc.

Lots of hedging, on my part, I'm thinking, as I digest a very interesting and diverse trip.

The portrait of Cuba in American travel articles, especially as travel for Americans has opened up, has focused on culture, historic cities, and natural beauty (not to mention the romance of a country closed to Americans for over 50 years... in addition to being governed by a socialist government for that same time frame.)

We're not supposed to visit beaches as Americans (as we're not supposed to be tourists), but the bit of snorkeling (hey, we're biologists) that we did was quite nice, in the vicinity of Playa Larga (aka the Bay of Pigs). We did visit some wonderful national parks and biosphere reserves, but the ones we visited were still heavily impacted by invasive plants and human disturbance.

The reality of traveling in Cuba was a bit different than I expected, and I'm still putting together the various pieces of my experience there. Frankly, it felt more like our trip to Guatemala last year or to Southern India some years ago in terms of what I'm thinking about.  But, there's also the wonderful vibrance of the historic cities (with restoration well along) of Havana, Trinidad, and Vinales, not to mention Santa Clara and Remedios.

And I had the best tuna I've ever eaten at a meal at a lovely and well-known paladare in Havana on Valentine's Day.  We also had lovely breakfasts at our casas, as well as other great meals, too.

But I guess what's poking me is the disparity between the folks who are benefiting from the tourism boom in Cuba (the reality across the Caribbean, so it's good for Cuba) and the folks who are still dependent on the socialist state that Cuba has been (the ration stores are very modest). And the control that the state still has (and profits from) internet access, cell phone access, hotels, casa and paladare taxes, regulated "taxis", which include the car/driver combos that we took from city to city, etc.

Cuba has a great future, if they can continue to expand their entrepreneurial economic opportunities for their citizens.  It's a wonderful place to visit, with remarkably restored city areas, thanks to both foreign help and Cuban government investment. With increased attention to improved air and water quality, as well as environmental protection, it can become a "I want to return" Caribbean island, not just one that's attractive because of a locked-away allure.

I truly hope that Cuba will continue to open up in the future -- we found the people we spoke with vibrant, positive, and hopeful.  And the mood in the cities and towns -- vibrant and hopeful, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Travel as pilgrimage

Traveling with a spirit of curiosity and interest in the people and places visited has always seemed to me to be the point. We haven't traveled to all of the places that we've been to for "vacation," although even the harder traveling destinations have been enjoyable, as well as illuminating, and the "hard" parts fade as the trip memories crystallize.

Traveling as pilgrimage is another way I approach different destinations, whether there's a personal connection or not.

But always I return with an invigorated sense of my place and purpose in the world. In Cuba, we'll be visiting natural area, gardens, organic farms, and centuries-old cities on this trip, as well as staying with people in their homes in most cases (in casa particulares.) No hotels on this trip. Probably most photos will wait as internet access is quite limited.

We've visited other communist countries before (Laos and Vietnam) in transitional times, and will be mindful of the impact that we, as travelers, have, especially in economic conditions where disparity of income is so high.

I'm interested, when traveling,  in what families are growing for themselves, the kinds of fresh foods that are available, the ecological conditions in the biological reserves and parks, abundance (or not) of recessed foods, and simply food security, too.

So travel is not a vacation for me, but more is a way to learn more and appreciate the diverse ways people live on our planet. I always return changed, I hope, for the better, with a renewed sense of purpose, wherever that takes me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Winter greens

Even though my spinach continues to be fabulous, I can't possibly do another post about spinach.

But, the unseasonably warm winter weather has seen nice growth in collards and kale, which are looking great. Chard and beet greens, although a bit affected, still look good and are delicious.

A harvest tonight of mixed greens was tasty!

collard plant in late January --looking good
Amazingly, even with short dips into the teens, kale, collards, leeks, etc. are doing fine.  The key was the dips have been short, I think - no prolonged extreme temperatures.
Rosemary with collards and kale
Rosemary and lavendars are still OK, although my thyme (on the left) looks wan.

red cabbage, kale, parsley, and chard
 I'm going to cover the spinach with remay while we're away, but I think everything else will be just fine.  It's lovely to have a winter vegetable garden for a change.

The last two winters had prolonged cold spells that took everything out -- and I didn't have the remay covers, either.

Signs of spring are starting, too. The Ozark witch hazel in front is in full flower -- lovely -- and post-pruning is a nice small size. Crocuses have popped up in the Mormon church house lawn, and dandelions have already gone to flower.  And the winter annuals are well-along in their growth, too!

Monday, January 23, 2017


I'm mindful this evening of traveling, as we're heading off to Cuba, for an independent educational excursion later this week. Home and pet secured, check. Traveling details, check.

It'll be a contrast to the celebration of democracy that I experienced with my friend Meg at the Women's March in Washington last weekend, I'm sure.  I posted on FB some of my thoughts and images from that.  A remarkable experience.  My letters to my Senators will be sent tomorrow.

And a contrast, too, to our conversation with a lovely young women many years ago, on our first trip to South America, who declared herself a citizen of the world.

We're in such a challenging time in our country (the US), and I was going to write interesting, too; that's the hopeful part.

We'll be traveling quite a bit in the coming year.

It's the right time for us in our early-mid 60's.  Is it escape?  Or continuing to connect as Americans of good will and friendship?  I, for one, will continue to be active speaking out, standing up, and keeping our Congress folks aware that I'm out here. I vote, I have a voice, and we ALL matter.

Here's a favorite image of the Hoi An Full Moon festival, a memory that I cherish.

a luminary ready to float down the river

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Remembering our ginkgo in fall!

I was trying to repost my Bass Pond photo, but Google and Apple don't play well together.

So here's another memorable image-- our ginkgo in fall, last year.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

City lights

Our ravine forest view is increasingly one of sparkling night views.

A new hotel, more street lights, and distant lights combine to create it.

The day view is urban nature, partially restored to natural forest (my gardening companion spent hours yesterday and today moving around native plants (shrubs and trees) to places he'd thought they'd do better.

A woodland forest in the old "coal" road is taking shape, with sassafras, tulip poplar, striped maple, spice bush, and more.  He's moved around many other natives, too, trying to get them in the optimal spots. He's created lovely native vignettes - he wouldn't call himself a gardener,  even yet, but he's a great one.

We're thinking about taking out the Ozark witch hazel to give us a more balanced view to the created natural landscape beyond.   It's probably a good thing and will give me more space for the pocket meadow.

There are already signs of spring to come (dandelions, winter jasmine in flower, etc.) -- way early, but welcome.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Spinach harvest

I'm just tickled at how well the spinach has done through temperatures in the teens.  Admittedly, they were covered with remay (and then a thick layer of snow).

What fun to uncover the beds and harvest fresh spinach!  I knew spinach was hardy, but haven't had the covers available before.

fresh spinach in mid-January

P.S.  I was also tickled at being selected as one of the Top 10 Gardening Bloggers on Toolversed.  A nice compliment and fun that the editor found my blog out of so many great ones out there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kale and collards are tough

I haven't looked at the greens under remay, yet, in my raised beds, even though the snow has now almost disappeared (as of today).

But what has impressed me so far is how robust the kale, collards, and cabbage look after the thaw -- this after temperatures in the teens.

Just a quick "distance" look at the Southside Community Garden (prior to going to a meeting), too, revealed perpetual spinach looking great.  And a fellow volunteer reported harvested great spinach underneath the remay.

If we can corral the woodchuck(s) over there, we'll be in business for early winter spinach harvests!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow thoughts and other conundrums

Among other things, I teach classes about 3 (and 4) season vegetable gardening, now as a volunteer, but have done so for a least a decade prior to this.

The last three years, my raised bed gardens in Western NC have been blasted by REALLY cold temperatures, thanks to the polar vortex, which took most winter hardy veggies out. So I was able to start fresh in late winter/spring -- not a bad thing.

Hmm, this year, I've got spinach and kale tucked under Remay, but temperatures in the teens, again?  Covered with snow.  I'm not hopeful, but we'll see.

Raised bed covered in December
This was my last spinach harvest, before covering the beds up again with Remay.

Quite tasty!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Winter at Beaver Lake

A favorite walk is around Beaver Lake, in North Asheville.  It's a community-owned lake, open to walkers and dogs (by permit) -- Woody's up to date!

This morning, the clouds were clearing, and the view were lovely.

Beaver Lake, Jan. 3, 2017
My friend and I enjoyed our walk around the lake.
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