Monday, November 30, 2009

Maybe a first freeze

It's quite late for a first freeze, but one is predicted for Friday night (Dec. 4). Our 'average' (prior to global climate change) is Oct. 15.

I'm not complaining, really, as we've had extended fall color, and the lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, and arugula are thriving. But it is a bit unsettling.

We left for winter travels in early December a couple of years ago without a freeze, too.

I've put flats of greens in a open cold frame (not very beneficial), but they'll need water while we're gone -- it'll be interesting to see what's survived, when we return from this year's winter travels.

The garlic that I recently planted has already started to emerge, with fresh green leaves. As I finish using the rest of last year's garlic, it's nice to look forward to the new harvest.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A mama squirrel relocating her family?

We saw something we'd never seen before this morning - a squirrel with a largish youngster held on the scruff of its neck scampering through the foliage above us. We were on the back road in the Garden, near the nature trail through the oak-hickory forest (the Heusel Nature Trail) when we spotted her.

We had our binoculars, so had a good look as she leaped from tree to tree carrying her 'cargo.' There was lots of chattering going on nearby, perhaps fussing at the disturbance.

A web search found (LOTS of) interesting information about Eastern Gray Squirrels: mama squirrels are VERY protective of their offspring and, if feeling threatened, will move their babies to another drey. Apparently, gray squirrels have (usually) at least three dreys, and maybe a cavity or bird box, in addition.

Eastern Gray Squirrels breed twice a year, in mid-winter and in early summer. We probably saw a youngster borne in September, but one that will overwinter with Mom until spring. It takes a long time for squirrels to be weaned (10-12 weeks), and almost nine months until they're full-grown.

Of course, we just had binoculars, and no camera, this morning. But the photos of nest-building last weekend in an earlier post are fun, too.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Winter gardens and gardening

More leaves seems to be the theme for preparation for winter in our garden.

My gardening companion collected more leaves this morning from neighbors near our small house in the mountains (to add to our already thick layer in front and back of the house), then we returned home to the Piedmont to a second load of delivered city leaves. He spent more time this afternoon moving some of those.

Leaves are black gold, certainly, and enrich the soil in our woodland garden areas. Leaves transform clay-rich subsoil to something resembling real topsoil quite quickly. A good thing, although our soil in the Piedmont (covered by lawn for many years) isn't as difficult as what faces gardeners in much of our region.

I spent a bit of time harvesting and freezing lemon grass (we're expecting lower temperatures tonight than we've had so far), and then checked everything else. I've got a lovely flat of mache (corn salad) and I'll try to transplant a few plants into soil tomorrow along with some of the collards. I'll probably put the mache in the cold frame with the top propped up, and see what happens. The lettuces still look great, as do the young collards and mustards. None of my fall spinach germinated, probably because of warm soil temperatures and dry soil, so more spinach will need to wait until late winter.

I cooked fresh arugula as a stir-fry green with homegrown garlic for our dinner vegetable, quite delicious, along with the leftover smoked turkey (from 12 Bones in Asheville, yum) from Thanksgiving.

And, I'm planning to harvest more arugula and cilantro tomorrow - both are still looking great.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Clear winter air

Our mountains in the Southeastern U.S. are normally hazy in the summer, part natural humidity with some additions (ozone and particulates) not so natural.

But in the winter, after a front comes through, the mountains are crystal clear, and the evening light is excellent, sharp and cool.

I don't have any images, having not brought a camera along on our late afternoon excursion. But walking back across the overpass above Highway 240 towards Montford, we experienced the expanse of Mt. Pisgah and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eastern Gray Squirrels and a winter drey

Activity in a large oak tree caught our eye this afternoon.

A clump of leaves, supported by dead English ivy vines was being visited by Eastern Gray squirrels with mouthfuls of leaves.

They dove into the drey (scientific talk for squirrel nests) repeatedly, moving around leaves.

It must still be early in the process, as the nest isn't that large, as of yet. The two-some, maybe a pair, maybe siblings, continued to scamper around the nest and up in the tree together.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An evening view

I'm grateful for our blessings on this eve of Thanksgiving.

Today was a beautiful warm fall day in the mountains of North Carolina, and the light at the end of day, reflected from the sunset, illuminated the view into the ravine behind our house in the mountains. Designed by a local architectural designer for his personal home, it's an 'ecohouse', small and spare in design, with radiant floor heat, instant-on gas hot water, Icynene insulation, and recycled materials, including using wood from the site (an empty lot overgrown with black cherry, tulip poplar and white pine).

This is a legacy house for us - our moms, now gone, are part of this place and they'll be part of our thanks tomorrow for Thanksgiving along with all of the memories that they provided for us.

My mom, a great traveler, will be remembered, too, as we travel during winter break, as will my gardening companion's (aka my husband's) dad, who was also a keen traveler. They inspired us to step up our traveling as we were reminded by their loss that life can be shorter, rather than longer, and if not now, when.

Traveling has enriched our lives, work, and understanding of what it means to live in the world and we're grateful that we have the opportunity to do that.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A fussy Carolina Wren

A Carolina Wren was fussing outside the kitchen window late yesterday afternoon in the old camellia. I don't know what set him off -- maybe the neighbor's cat or even my moving around the kitchen. The squirrels have been fussing lately too -- it's practically a chorus.

Carolina Wrens are quite vocal with a musical tea-kettle, tea-kettle call, but also have a harsh, almost hissing, sound as their warning call, and many other variations, apparently. Male Carolina Wrens are the vocal ones, with females being much quieter. They maintain pairs and defend territories all year round according to All About Birds. This post about bird songs was interesting, too -- I'm going to have to look for the books about bird songs that were mentioned!

In the mountains today, it didn't take long for the nuthatches and Carolina chickadees to return to the refilled feeders. Unusually, a group of blue jays was also visiting, bobbling the hanging feeder. And, a group of squirrels was taking advantage of the spilled seeds under the feeder.

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Monday, November 23, 2009


Because we often travel during winter break, our relatively mild winters in the Southeastern US seem even shorter. We're fortunate to be able to travel in December; without family obligations (our families are far-flung and independent at this point), it's an excellent time to visit many parts of the world as we can.

During our academic winter break from early December to early January, we've traveled to Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Costa Rica in the Americas, Thailand, Laos, Northern Vietnam, and India in Asia, and Tanzania and Zanzibar in Africa, as well as going to Italy, France and Great Britain, over the years.

All have been wonderful trips and we're grateful that we were able to take them.

But one of the non-traveling pluses has been that we leave just as winter descends (not very heavily in our part of the world), return in early January, and by February and March have quite a few periodic mild days, which are really quite spring-like, and we're back to warm weather.

So, we're fortunate to escape the 'worst' of what our Southeastern winters offer; we're totally wimpy compared to so many of you that have much more harsh winters to cope with!

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

A rainy fall day

We barely managed to take a quick walk in the Garden before the rain started. It rained all day. Pelting drops, washing away the drought of past years. The lakes nearby are already at full pool or above, happily signaling the end of droughty times (for now).

It's hard to predict future patterns of weather and climate -- experts in this differ, but my take on what they're saying is that we're likely to have much more extreme and variable weather in the future than we've had in the past, because of changes in global climate.

But we'll keep planting and gardening. My gardening companion (aka my husband) went out in the rain this afternoon to dig up some paw paws (from our large expanding patch here in the Piedmont) and a large blueberry, to transplant up to our space in the mountains. We decided early on that we're going to be natural gardeners, there, too, not being able to keep from wanting to restoring natives to places that they should be.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Getting ready for winter break

I managed to tuck the last plants that I had left in small pots into a well-mulched nursery bed this morning. It was a lovely day for it.

They included several small coral honeysuckle plants (Lonicera sempervirens) - freebies from the Garden Writers conference, a small Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrechtii), and a Salvia greggii cultivar and another red Salvia species that the Plant Delights descriptions had really talked up. And which had leaped into my box!

They'll all be a lot happier in the ground while we're traveling during winter break.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Salvia coccinea

Salvia is an excellent genus from a wildlife gardener's point of view. The flowers of most of the species that I've grown (with the exception of an annual bedding plant) provide nectar for bees and butterflies of all sorts, as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Some of them, such as S. guaranitica (Brazilian sage or Anise sage) and S. coccinea (Texas sage) flower all season long in our Zone 7 climate. What's not to like about that?

A cultivar of S. coccinea 'Coral Nymph' - selected for its coral pink flowers - was still providing sustenance for honeybees and carpenter bees on a late November afternoon.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fallen leaves

Many of the leaves in our garden have fallen now, although there are still holdouts.

The two white oaks in back still have all their leaves, and one of them, amazingly, is still almost all green although the other has leaves that are a deep maroon color.

The crape-myrtle above my potting bench is a brilliant orange-red. Spectacular.

The big-leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) is now leafless, but on the ground, they're still lovely.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking ahead

There are too many things to plan (for winter and spring programs, etc.) to be able to savor the last bits of fall in any depth, alas. A great walk before the rains of today and yesterday, and promise of clear weather to come help.

I WISH I had a lot more time to read other gardening blogs (I'm going to recommend some in a program tomorrow), but for now, I barely have time to reflect on what was most interesting (in terms of nature and gardening) in my day, and do a short post.

Thanks to all of you who do read my reflections and make comments! They're always appreciated.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A final bit of fall color

The long, protracted fall here in the Southeastern U.S. has meant that fall color has been stretched out in spits and spurts - a highlight here, and then there. Native and non-native species alike have put on a show, from Fothergilla major (a native) to Ginkgo biloba (an ancient tree from China).

With still no hard freeze (or even light frost) in sight, flowering perennials are still nice, too. The Mexican hyssop (genetically programmed from a different climate) as well as a native Aster (Symphyotrichum patens) are still in flower along with the native witch hazel.

There are still blooming Nasturtiums in the kitchen garden next to the Visitor Center (in the Garden near my office), non-hardy lettuce and arugula is still growing well, and I'm thinking about sowing (a very late) succession planting of extra-hardy lettuce varieties. Hmm.

And I still have harvesting lemon grass stems on my to-do list. It's November 17.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers

An excellent friend saw her first yellow-bellied sapsucker this weekend at the Garden.

It wasn't so long ago that I saw my first confirmation that sapsuckers actually exist (we see their evidence everywhere). I saw a pair last weekend (remarkably), but had seen several at the Garden (with my gardening companion) a couple of weeks ago. He remembered that we saw our first sighting last fall (at the Garden).

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

A luminous ginkgo

I posted about this view a few days ago, but I can't help doing so again.

The view from the kitchen caught my attention, looking towards the bedroom window.

The ginkgo under the powerline is glorious today. Totally luminous in the late afternoon light.

This view is through the bedroom window (the details are blown out because of the slow camera exposure).

The view from the outside door tells the story.

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An abundance of leaves

In the early morning light, the bags of leaves looked like an odd sculptural arrangement. We've been snagging bags to cover the hardwood mulch with a thick leaf blanket, and these were from a neighbor's evening efforts.

The city is full of fallen leaves: oak, maple, beech, and others.

A beautiful fall weekend provided a great opportunity for folks to start moving leaves to the curb or bagging them up to go to the city leaf pile. Thankfully, rakes are the tool of choice in small yards, so the afternoon had been free of the noise of the leaf blowers that mar fall weekends in rural and suburban areas.

We've picked up at least 25 bags by now, and my gardening companion is out hunting for more -- we've got plenty of space to put them so it's like getting bags of organic treasure.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

A yellow-bellied sapsucker

Not long after I saw two yellow-bellied sapsuckers hopping along a large branch of a big red oak, I spotted a strangely-bobbing shape.

With binoculars, I saw that it was another yellow-bellied sapsucker (I think), clinging to the end of a branch eating some sort of fruits (probably of a vine, but I'm not sure of what it might be).

Earlier this afternoon, I saw mockingbirds feasting on Oriental Bittersweet fruits; not a good thing, as it's invading further south, after spreading throughout the Northeastern U.S.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Late fall color

In spite of all the recent rain, there's still a good bit of fall color. The ginkgo under the powerline is golden, echoing the color of the native witch hazel, and the last few leaves of bluestar (Amsonia) in the perennial border.

The contrast with the large butterfly bush in front, and the junipers behind, make a lovely view.

The light this evening illuminated the big water oak in front of house, tinging it with red.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lots of rain

We were still behind a bit on rainfall for this year, but should be caught up now, thanks to the remnants of Ida. Our rain gauge measured 4 1/2 inches, but we probably got more, since its location is buffered by the holly hedge.

One of my colleages who lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Escarpment (a much heavier rainfall zone) said that they had 8 1/2 inches in 24 hours.

I'm doing a Nature Discovery Walk, focused on seasonal ecology tomorrow -- lots to observe and talk about.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A long fall season

It's remarkable that we haven't yet had a good frost yet, much less a freeze. There's been spotty frost, to be sure, but nothing that's affected any except the most tender tropicals, and the nasturtium in the Garden's kitchen garden is still flourishing.

My very late-sown flats of lettuce, mache (corn salad), arugula, dwarf Siberian kale, etc. are doing well. They'll just need to be tucked into the ground (in the case of kale and mache) or into the cold frame before a freeze finally comes.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Gardening inspiration

Visiting interesting gardens, reading great gardening books (the thoughtful ones), and learning first-hand digging and planting, and moving plants - that's what makes gardening fun. It's a lifelong journey, whether we're passionate about organic gardening, native plants, and wildlife gardening (like me) or have enthusiasms for specialty plants and collectible plants.

There's inspiration everywhere, if you look for it. I find natural landscapes a continuing source, of course, but that's what inspires me to plant and garden.

Bumbling across wonderful garden vignettes, created by talented gardeners, is also inspiring. I love the way my colleague's Kathy's new pathway planting looks this fall in the morning light. Wonderful.

The Hosta Garden was lovely with the fall color highlighted by the morning light.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Planting garlic

This afternoon, I planted garlic, which happily arrived yesterday. A slight ordering snafu had me receiving garlic in late November instead of late September from my favorite supplier in Oregon (Hood River Garlic).

And having been alarmed that I might not still be on their list (they're sold out for the fall season), I ordered more garlic (as a backup) last week from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (along with some French red shallots, buckwheat seeds (as a cover crop for next summer), and some Hmong sticky rice (for more experimenting).

But the rescheduled shipment from Oregon and the SESE one arrived together on Friday. Whoo-hoo! Happily, I can use all of it, and share some in our demonstration kitchen garden at work, too.
So I planted four beds of garlic and one of shallots this afternoon.

I had organized the potting bench area a bit yesterday -- it's looking nicer now....

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A new flagstone pathway

An unusually balmy fall day (it hit 75° F in mid-afternoon) was great for gardening. The low humidity made for a deep blue sky, not the usual sort in the Southeastern U.S.

My gardening companion (aka my husband) suddenly thought that we needed to place the stones 'left-over' from our front pathway project (uh, a couple of years ago) in the mulch beyond the backyard gate. He spread the gravel (the pile next to the garage has been there awhile, too), spread the stones, and said it was ready for the expert stone-placer (that's me). The front pathway has been a pleasing addition, but it WAS a huge effort, although quite rewarding.

It was a bit challenging (these were the leftovers, after all). And, a couple of months of relative inactivity has left me in need of more strengthening work, and I'm certain to be sore tomorrow! But it was a good start to the path and patio that we've got planned, after a new delivery of stone.

The gravel and stone are quite bright-looking, so I haven't taken a photo yet. But soon, rain, leaves, and bits of organic matter will soften the overall effect.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Japanese Raisin Tree

I saw a really unusual tree yesterday. It was in the Hydrangea Garden (and part of our Specialty Collection) at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. On a short and felicitous tour, with a visiting former alum (and well-known horticulture expert) and a couple of Horticulture faculty, our Garden manager (James Arnold) showed us a Japanese Raisin Tree (Hovera dulcis) that he'd obtained from renowned SC plant collector (Bob McCartney of Woodlanders, Inc. in Aiken, SC).

Maybe I'd seen this tree before, and didn't really notice it. James said that Bob had told him that it was edible. We gingerly tested it, and it WAS sweet, but what was remarkable to me was that what was edible wasn't the fruits, but a fleshy and succulent peduncle (the base of a flower and fruit).

In fall, the edible peduncles become sweet and dark, as the actual fruits have ripened and become dry and bear one or two seeds (they're the greyish capsules projecting from the fleshy peduncles).

I was curious about what animals might disperse the seeds in Hovera dulcis's natual habitat (that is, why would the peduncles be fleshy and sweet?)

I came across interesting references to Chinese ferrets, Asiatic bears, etc. dispersing seeds, but one of the most interesting hits was a study from Brazil about the food bodies that are produced as part of the fleshy peduncles.

These folks, studying it as a introduced species apparently, found that ants were taking the food bodies (both rich in lipids and sugars at different times in their development), and in return, protecting the plant from herbivores.

All of this is heady stuff for a plant ecologist; what a remarkable adaptation for a plant to have succulent and sweet peduncles as the reward for munching on the whole thing, and dispersing seeds in the process.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

A nice path planting

We're a relatively small group of folks in the Botanical Garden where I work, and we're spread pretty thin. But my colleagues are great people who love plants, gardens, and gardening, and it's nice to share some of their work in our What's Happening in the Garden blog.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gardening ideas

Thinking about problem-solving in gardens and landscapes is interesting. What we bring to the process is gardening ideas, gleaned from memories, experience, and observation melded with the practicalities of light, soil, and climate. A class today had me thinking about this again.

There's no point in dreaming of lush lilacs in Southern climates nor of productive fruit orchards of apples, peaches, nectarines, cherries, or apricots (unless you're willing to do the obligatory weekly spray maintenance, whether organic or not).

We can easily grow blueberries, muscadine and scuppernong grapes, persimmons (native and Asian), paw-paws (a native fruit), and figs (in the right site). Raspberries and strawberries can be productive, too, but require lots of attention.

But creating a garden from a 'yard' is a wonderful process, one of personalizing your landscape, and not only having it reflect what makes you happy, but also creating a garden that's giving something back, not just to you, but to the folks who will live there later, whenever that might be.

Trees are always good, and shrubs, if they're needed. Adding plants to places that need them, that's good too. And gardening, I think, should always be a joyful thing.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Front door views

I never thought about taking a picture from our front steps when we moved in 15 years ago.

This is a view (from 1994) looking down from farther right.

My gardening companion starting to plant

There wasn't much to see, except a few large old trees, lawn, and a straight row of planted trees (Magnolia, dogwood, white pine, crepe myrtle). Red tips had been planted along the front, next to the road, and they were already in decline when we came. Happily, we volunteered their removal when the City put in a bike path.

But now, it's quite nice to look out through the front door,

step out onto the front steps,

and look down towards the front path I put in a couple of years ago.

The meadow (that's being edited) doesn't look too bad, with the least attractive blackened stalks removed.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Native grasses: Little Bluestem

Our native grasses really don't get the attention they deserve. Little Bluestem and Indian grass are two of my favorites. They do reseed (that's what plants do), but they're beautiful, and support native insects and other wildlife.

Much nicer than the Miscanthus sinensis that's become invasive all over the Southeast, due to its excellent colonizing abilities (we saw this in its native habitat, in Northern Vietnam, spreading down a disturbed hillside).

Here's a lovely Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium) in a greenway planting near the The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, a gem of a native plant garden now over 50 years old.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

An almost full moon

Out the kitchen door, an almost full moon is luminous tonight.

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Witch hazel and fall color

My gardening companion planted a large native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) to the left of the meadow in front of the garage some years ago (we've been reducing the meadow's size). It's flourished in the conditions there, and is really now more of a small tree than a shrub.

This afternoon, it glowed clear yellow, with the backdrop of our neighbor's beautiful old Southern red oak.

And the view from my study window was striking, too, with the vibrant yellow of the hickory peaking through.

After a rainy Saturday, it was nice to have a sunny fall day!

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