Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pearson's Falls

Another lovely waterfall hike today.  This is Pearson's Falls, near Saluda, NC, owned and managed by the Tryon Garden Club.

The falls are spectacular, but even more amazing is the rich cove forest habitat full of wildflowers along the short hike to the falls.

Pearson's Falls, Saluda, NC


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wildflowers and waterfalls

It was so great to be hiking in the Smokies (Great Smoky Mountain National Park) over the last few days, as part of the annual Wildflower Pilgrimage.  Wonderful wildflowers, great streams, creeks, and rivers all make for an amazing natural experience. The Smokies are remarkable for their diversity and resilience (post-logging).  It's our most visited national park in the U.S.
Mouse Creek Falls
A hike along Big Creek (on the western edge of the park) was lovely today.  Mouse Creek Falls was delightful,
Silene virginica
as was the Silene in the seepage slope on the way.
moss sporophytes

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cades Cove

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a treasure, to be sure, for the expanse of wonderful and diverse native habitats.

But the culturally influenced areas are beautiful and interesting, too.  Early this morning, Cades Cove was spectacular.

Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Common milkweed

I had an email this morning from a participant in a garden tour last week (for the Southern Appalachian Plant Society-SAPS, for short). 

Help, she said -- I have monarch caterpillars on the way (via Monarch Watch), but not enough milkweed. She'd seen that we had plenty in an area near the Butterfly Garden (at the Botanical Garden where I work).

I have LOTS in my front meadow at home, I replied.  And I'm coming up your way in Western North Carolina tomorrow, I said.

So I dug up as many clonal plants with roots as I could and harvested shoots, too, so I hope that will be a bridge for the monarch caterpillars that she has.

I'll be handing them off tomorrow in Franklin, NC on the way to the Great Smoky Mountain Wildflower Pilgrimage -- what fun!

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Planting warm-season vegetables

It's odd to feel like I was behind this year in planting tomatoes and peppers. It's been so warm!  But calendar-wise, it's April 22, so not really early at all.

But I wanted to wait until the Garden's spring plant sale (we had lots of veggie transplants available through Garden Fest, an ed. program initiative and a small part of the overall sale).

So I was glad to get some tomatoes and peppers settled in my Piedmont vegetable beds today, along with some parsley and fennel.  And I up-potted peppers and tomatoes to take up to the mountains, too.  (They'll need to hang out a bit prior to planting).

But, maybe I will have been right on time -- a cold front has blasted through today, bringing low 40's in the Piedmont and mid-to-upper 30's to the mountains, so warm season vegetables are getting a chill, if they're exposed, regardless of the soil temperatures.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kalmia and Passiflora

There was rain all day yesterday, soaking into dry soil. 

Hooray! The plants in the front woodland border looked vibrant as I dashed off to work. It's a busy time with programs, school field trips, and our big spring plant sale this weekend.

Passiflora lutea
Coming home, the Passiflora lutea that we planted a couple of years ago, and that I've been nudging to twine around the railing was looking quite nice, especially with the backdrop of a second Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel) about to flower.

Kalmia latifolia and Passiflora lutea

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Woo, hoo! A bit of rain

Intermittent winter rains and an early lush spring masked how dry it has become. 

Lawnmowers are uncovering crispy bits and bare soil, as the over-seeded winter rye has died back with the early spring heat.

I watered my vegetable beds this afternoon (the rest of the landscape is on its own, although I may water the woodland wildflower area tomorrow, depending on how much rain falls tonight). 

The arrow marks where I observe wildlife and garden!  I hope the 'some improvement' comes to pass.
It's falling steadily now, with thunder, as a thunderstorm passes over, but it's easing off a bit.  I wished it would hang around and produce a major downpour!

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

A waterfall hike

Hickory Nut Gap Falls at Chimney Rock
Spring in the mountains of the Southern Appalachians brings a succession of spring woodland wildflowers, the diverse greens of hardwood trees unfurling their leaves, and milder days (this year, it's been MUCH milder).

close-up of lower falls
A repeat hike on the Four Seasons Trail up to Hickory Gap Falls (I posted about a previous hike a couple of weeks ago), brought changes in the vegetation, to be sure.

vegetation associated with falls (in rock crevices)
What I noticed most today was the interesting vegetation around the falls, and the remarkable patterns of the waterfall.
Iris cristata in rock crevice
 Woody had a great time, too.  Here he's cooling off in a mountain seep (the water is continuously flowing over rocks).

Woody at Chimney Rock State Park

P.S.  My (elderly) laptop gave it up last week, so my 'mobile' posts this weekend did too!  Thankfully, a replacement is on the way.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why trees matter

I just read an editorial from the New York Times about why trees matter.  It's worth reading.

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Woodland restoration

I've done programs about 'creating a native woodland garden' and 'gardening with natives' this week, so I'm thinking about how to manage converting lawns to woodland, or some sort of other interesting habitat.

I took this photo last weekend (it hasn't yet been incorporated into the native woodland presentation), but it's so heartening.  This is a view into the ravine forest behind our small house in the mountains.

ravine forest
All the hard work that my gardening companion has done removing mats of ivy, cutting the bases of vines, rooting out privet, deleting honeysuckle, etc. (and adding understory natives in their place) is now being reflected in a lovely spring view.

It's SO much nicer than the view early on -- filled with invasives and ivy running up the trees.

I've just realized that I didn't post any of these early photos (uh, why would I?)  I include them in some of my presentations, so maybe they'd be interesting to include as a blog post, too.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Natives and non-natives

Rob's comment about Kalmia latifolia (to my last post) got me wondering about whether it's used much in England. I would have thought it would have accompanied all of our native Eastern U.S. heath shrubs like Rhododendron across the pond.

But he's an excellent gardener and interested in plants in general (check out his blog at Sustainable Garden.)

The international trade in plants (which has gone on for centuries) is a fascinating tale, with results both good and bad.  Many of our Southeastern U.S. natives, such as Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), are treasured landscape plants through the world. And many aren't pesky where they're planted (I wish that were true of all of them).

So, I was interested to see that Kalmia latifolia is listed on the RHS website plant listing, but I didn't get much (in terms of good hits) on 'Kalmia latifolia in England'

I'm thinking that since it normally grows best in acidic soil habitats that maybe it's not so happy in more neutral or alkaline soils.  Ditto for Rhododendron, too, but perhaps they're not as particular?

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kalmia latifolia

Here's what our Kalmia latifolia in flower looks like, in front of our house in Clemson.  It's a lovely clear white -- my gardening companion said it was a Kalmia propagated through a Woodlanders (nursery) selection, from Aiken, South Carolina, so definitely a southern genotype.

Kalmia latifolia in flower
We've got another Kalmia nearby that's showing only buds (undoubtedly from a more northern location).

Kalmia buds

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Full moon and night sounds

Rather amazed at the Star Walk app's ability to overlap with what the iPad2's camera sees, I just checked out whether I could possibly see Saturn and Spica (along with the full moon), but no, the moon is much too bright.  But it found Mars for me, and some other constellations, and hey, I never have been much interested in stars, constellations, or planets (favoring the on-earth natural world), so it's pulling me in!

It was amazing to see the full moon rising up through the forest (in the back of the garden at the end of a spring night hike program).  It looked like a harvest moon, yellow, large, and luminous.  Driving home, the moon was huge.

At 10 pm, this is how the moon, Saturn, & Spica were aligned (if this was visible where you are).  I think with binoculars, in a dark night sky, that you could see Spica  -  I could see both (earlier) before the moon's brightness swamped them out.

April 6, 10 pm, from an internet source

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mountain laurel in flower

In front of the house today, I was cheered to see one of our mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) in full flower and looking quite robust. 

Dashing off (to check on whether frogs were calling in the Garden ponds), I didn't manage a photo, but my gardening companion's image from his book Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains & Piedmont (phooey, it's pink, not the clear white color of our plant in front), suggests its attractiveness.

Kalmia latifolia (photo by Tim Spira)
Mountain laurels aren't easy plants to grow -- they require perfect drainage and a site not too sunny and not too shaded.  Not an easy combination in most Piedmont US gardens -- and getting the right genotypes are key, too. 

We need to grow plants of Southeastern Piedmont heritage, not Kalmia latifolia from higher elevation mountain sites, or farther northern genotypes, for successful establishment.

The plant near our front steps came from a locally-grown source, and so far, looks great!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A spring night hike

I'd scheduled a spring full moon hike for April 6 (at the botanical garden where I work), not realizing that it was Good Friday (so maybe not such a good time for Christian observers), but then again, it may be a lovely evening to connect with nature and spirit.

A previous (almost) full moon
The warm season in the Southern U.S. --spring, summer, and fall-- is magical with night sounds.  Insects and frogs (of many species) are the primary players in the nocturnal symphony, with birds punctuating the transition from dusk to dark, and perhaps some of the night flying birds (such as owls) will be calling out.

The exceptionally warm winter and early spring means that the nocturnal symphony is playing earlier than normal.  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Soil and plant diversity

Rich Cove Forests are a plant community found at low to moderate elevations in deep coves and concave slopes in the Piedmont and Mountains of the Southeastern U.S.

They're characterized by fertile well-drained soil rich in calcium and magnesium (because of underlying base-rich rock types) and usually full of a diversity of woodland wildflowers.  This was certainly true of the great area that we visited yesterday in Chimney Rock State Park in NC.  Check out what the soil looked like!

soil in a rich cove forest
In contrast, Acidic Cove Forests, found in similar coves and slopes, have more acidic soils and support a variety of heath family shrubs in the understory (Rhododendron spp., Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel), for example) with a sparser array of spring wildflowers.  The trail yesterday went through several typical acidic cove forest habitats (full of Rhododendron in flower) before passing through the rich cove forest areas.

The contrast was remarkable and magical.  It's great to get out in the natural world!
Trillium cuneatum (Little Sweet Betsy)

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Chimney Rock State Park

Rich cove forest in Chimney Rock State Park
I hadn't visited Chimney Rock before - it was in private ownership until recently, and fortunately North Carolina acquired it as a state park.

The views from the unusual high rock outcrop seemed to be the attraction and it had always seemed touristy, and hadn't been enough to lure either me or my gardening companion off I-26 between Asheville and Clemson before.

But a second visit today for my gardening companion and a first for me found a wonderland of rich cove forest wildflowers along the Four Seasons Trail and an acidic cove forest full of Gorge rhododendron (R. punctatum) in full flower.  Totally fabulous.   And, of course, there's a wonderful waterfall (Hickory Knob Falls) at the end of the hike.

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

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Sunday, April 1, 2012


I have a weakness for tulips -- they're one of the first ornamental plants that I planted as a young gardener (at our first house).  I'd admired them near the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC when I spent time doing research post-graduate school nearby (I think the display was some sort of a National Tulip Library display for a couple of years -- it wasn't far from the Jefferson Memorial).

But tulips don't exactly work for a living, aside from providing beauty and story, but perhaps that's enough sometimes.

I've always enjoyed visiting Biltmore's gardens in the spring, as their Festival of Flowers always includes extensive tulip plantings in the walled garden near the Conservatory.

LW, Woody and tulips
 I wish I'd managed to get a shot while Woody was actually sniffing a tulip!
Woody resting up after many petting opportunities (lots of folks were visiting on a warm Saturday)
Entrance to the Walled Garden

We strolled around the Bass Pond after our garden visit -- quite nice.  And we remembered Mocha's mishap breaking through the ice on a winter visit several years ago (my gardening companion had to pull him out) -- no danger of that yesterday!

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