Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Greens and clear mountains

A quick trip "up the hill" for a meeting found me admiring the clear view of the mountains and a lovely sunset.

late winter greens from a previous year
A bonus from this trip was collecting greens (arugula, mustards, kale and turnip greens) from my unprotected raised beds. It's rather remarkable how they've bounced back from sudden low temperatures in the low 20°s a couple of times already -- low temperatures are predicted again for tonight.  The kale isn't surprising, but the arugula and mustards?

The mache and creasy greens look great and I've left them for harvest later in the winter! They're quite OK freezing solid, amazingly.

The remnants of the broccoli stems (totally frosted)make me feel better about the woodchuck muching earlier in fall - I probably wouldn't have had a harvest anyway.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Back to normal?

Finally, our curiously warm and wet days for early December are trending back to normal, after being punctuated (on both ends) by severe freezes.

It was 71° yesterday.  Very odd. It's triggering some early flowering, but not like last year oddities, that's for sure.  But I remember a Christmas Day (in Austin, while growing up) that was 80°F and in coastal GA, we had very mild winter days, too.

There have been plenty of falls over the last two decades, too, where we haven't experienced a hard frost (much less freeze) by the time we leave for winter break.

The Japanese cherries keep flushing out!   At this rate, it'll be interesting to see how many flower buds are left for spring.

At the Garden (where I work), our director spotted a Hepatica acutiloba in flower (it's normally one of the first flowers in spring, but December?)

Here's a post from several years ago, remarking on late February flowers.

Hepatica acutiloba

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

A lovely hike

A gift of an unexpected Sunday afternoon in the mountains (thanks to a plumbing issue requiring Monday attention) was a lovely hike along a short segment of the Mountains-to-Sea trail, along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Remnant snow made the trail slippery in spots, but the views were lovely.

Galax and mosses were nice, as were the abundant Christmas ferns.

Woody's pawprints on the road (Blue Ridge Parkway, closed currently at this point because of the pre-Thanksgiving snow), pointed the way home.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Another pileated woodpecker

The red oak tree directly seen from our deck has (a relatively recent) old dead branch poking out to the right of the main trunk.

It's a magnet for woodpeckers, not surprisingly,

-- we've seen downies and red-bellied woodpeckers visiting our feeder frequently,

Since the dead branch has occurred, we've been delighted to see pileated woodpeckers foraging, too.

The tree is relatively close, but not so close that good photographic shots are easy (at least with my long "normal" lens - 18-200 and older digital camera, a venerable Nikon D100)!

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fall sunsets

There have been glorious fall sunsets the last few days.  And the full moon just added to that.

This evening,  there was a remarkable sunset below the clouds, with orange illuminating the mountains beyond. Unbelievable.  Of course, I didn't have my camera with me. Nor a phone with a decent camera.  I was walking to where my car was parked (due to street/sewer work) here in the mountains.

I'm here to manage some renovation work in our small mountain house, but am grateful to have these beautiful views.  They're amazing.
Here's a view from a couple of years ago.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

A pileated woodpecker

A Sunday morning excursion at the Garden (where I work) found us noticing a pileated woodpecker.

Its loud call is distinctive; no, that's not a hawk, I said, and then we spotted the vocalizer, a beautiful and striking bird.

Pileated woodpeckers are LARGE, the size of crows. 

And striking. 

I didn't have a camera along, but here's a link to the Cornell Lab of Lab to learn more about them.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

A remarkable window box

It's such fun to be inspired by a wonderful window box that I saw in Rothenburg ob der Tauber just over a year ago.  Rothenburg is a wonderfully preserved medieval city, but these window boxes, above a cafe on the historic Marktplatz were both current and creative, filled with dried and live plants (there were five window boxes like this, I'm remembering).

Here's the photo that I choose as my inspiration for tonight's drop-in art class.

And my drawing with watercolor pencils inspired by it.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

You can never have too many leaves!

I enjoyed sharing some thoughts about creating a native woodland garden with a class this morning;  this was one of the "slides" that was part of my presentation, showing leaf collections from years past.

I love the leaf depot image -- bagged leaves on the old coal road, ready for spreading!
Here was today's haul, probably just the first of many for this fall  - my gardening companion can't pass up the bagged leaves in our neighborhood ready for pickup.  Fall has come later this year than usual, in an odd way -- with glorious fall color now in the first weekend of November, with leaves falling on a delayed schedule.
They have already been spread down the slope in the ravine forest!

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bee habitats

I've been thinking about doing some interpretive work around native bees and other pollinators.

I was reminded of this wonderful "bee habitat" exhibit that I saw last year in the University of Osnabruck Botanical Garden just over a year ago.  I was a post-doc there (three decades ago) and it was a joy to see how the garden (just beginning then) had developed.

Bee habitat at Universitat Osnabruck Botanical Garden

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Biltmore walled garden (2)

I've loved seeing how the Biltmore Estate has expanded and experimented with their horticulture over the last few years.  Hooray!

It's always been a great place to enjoy the expansive grounds, the wonderful landscape, and preserved viewscapes of the surrounding mountains, thanks to the stewardship of George Vanderbilt, and his descendants.

Here were two views of the same interesting border in the Walled Garden, taken on an overcast day  -- lovely!

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

A sedum wall planting

A lovely display outside the Biltmore Garden Shop -- I love sedums and it's always great to see how they can be used.

Although, they can get around -- they can get established very easily in mulch from fragments -- I just scooped up some last weekend in that category.  Hmm.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Biltmore walled garden

I never would have thought I'd be blown away by mums, but Biltmore's horticultural staff created an over-the-top design for their walled garden fall display.

This photo doesn't really do justice to the extraordinary colors and textures that they've created, and the color patterns, too. (Click to get a larger view).

Close-up, the contrasting combinations of color in the mums were brilliant, in addition to using violas as a low accent.

I'd never visited in the fall before, I guess, but I'm glad we were able to drop by last weekend.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vase with dried flowers

I had refreshed this arrangement recently -- it looked so pleasing in this light, I couldn't pass on a photo.  (The flash version washed out the color, so this is the hand-held, non-flash, blurry one!)

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

View towards the forest (ravine)

We love this view, converted from weedy overgrown ivy-ridden trees to developing native woodland garden.

The view from this window convinced us to buy our small house in the mountains, within walking distance of downtown Asheville (and it wasn't even cleared of invasives, then).  We'll eventually relocate there -- it wasn't our original intent, but makes sense now.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Still hummingbird visits!

There was still lots of hummingbird activity today on the feeder and the Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) outside of my study window.  Apparently, I'm not alone, based on this Journey North e-newsletter.

The migration is winding down, though, and it won't be long.

I enjoyed thinking about plants & container design this evening with a drawing inspired by a Sarah Price design in Gardens Illustrated (Issue 183 from last spring, I think).  Brilliant.  Her work, not necessarily my rendition!  Her container plantings are amazing.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Final hummingbird visits

A young female hummingbird visited the feeder today. It always feels a bit wistful to say goodbye to them for the year.

This is the time, though, that we "normally" see last hummingbirds.  They're cued to photoperiod, apparently, not so much temperatures, in their journey south, so pretty much on schedule.

A search for "last hummingbird" posts brought up dates of Oct. 12, 16, 14, and a sighting at the botanical garden on Oct. 24, over the years I've been blogging (now over 6 years).

Amazing and fun to keep track.

It's so much fun to watch them visit the feeder on the porch rail.  Here are some images from a post on Sept. 17, 2011.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Salvia x 'Anthony Parker' and other Salvias

Flowers of Salvia x 'Anthony Parker'
Pathway to HCC
Salvia elegans & Salvia x 'Anthony Parker'
Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage)

It's time for wonderful fall-flowering sages, and all the rain over the summer has resulted in dramatic growth.  Pineapple sage (S. elegans) and a wonderful sage that was new to me (Salvia x 'Anthony Parker') - a hybrid between S. elegans and S. leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage) were in full flower yesterday along the path to the Hayden Conference Center.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Amaranth, celosia, and musings about greens

Winter break in the Caribbean last year introduced me to leafy amaranth, a totally delicious cooked green. 

Red amaranth (from Evergreen Seeds)
The woman I bought it from (she had a small garden near our cottage in Dominica) called it spinach, but it's actually Amaranthus viridis, a leafy vegetable that's grown throughout the Caribbean and called callalo. It's a popular Asian vegetable, too.

I posted about it after returning -- it was such a remarkably tasty warm season spinach-like vegetable, I couldn't believe it wasn't more popular here in the Southeastern U.S.  I tried to grow it this summer, but was thwarted by hungry critters, who yummed up the young seedlings. Presumably woodchucks or squirrels.

Celosia argentea
But I was noticing the volunteer plants in the Children's Garden that looked remarkably similar.  They're Celosia, a large-plumed variety that's self-seeded abundantly for the last couple of years.

And sure enough, they're a relative of amaranth (in the same family), and have been used in a similar way in parts of Africa, and elsewhere, too. 

Interesting!  I'll have to harvest some young plants tomorrow for a second trial. 

The older larger leaves that I cooked as a trial for lunch today were good, but it was hard to evaluate their taste, as I'd stir-fried them in sesame oil!  They were quite tender, though, so promising.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Garden views

I'm so fortunate to enjoy wonderful views from both of our gardens.  It's a blessing for now, until we decamp to the mountains in the future.

Coming home to the Piedmont, we've got exuberance, to be sure, but a lovely view, too. 

Here's a view from a couple of years ago -- it's similar now.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Lobelia and pollen-collecting bumblebee
It's so much fun to watch bumblebees (of various sizes) visiting flowers, whether they're collecting nectar or pollen.

Aster and bumblebee
This is the time of year that asters, lobelias, goldenrod, snakeroot, and other fall-flowering species are covered with flower visitors.

They're tremendous fun to watch as they forage.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Morning light

Morning light across the ravine

View through one of the kitchen windows

Fall is around the corner; the light reflects the changes in the sun's angle.


Monday, September 2, 2013

A late-flowering native azalea

I was surprised to see that the Rhododendron prunifolium next to the garage was still in flower a month ago.

Curious, I thought.

And, I was even more surprised to see flowers when we came back "down the hill" a couple of weeks ago, and they're continuing to open.

Rhododendron prunifolium in June
And sure enough, this photo was posted in 2010 in June! Hmm, definitely a difference there. 

It's still covered with flowers today, after a cool, wet summer.

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cleaning up for fall

I'm almost done "excavating" the main vegetable garden and the satellite garden in the Piedmont of their cloak of over-summering crabgrass.  It was thick, and more abundant than I'd ever experienced before, thanks to the exceptionally high rainfall this summer.

Evidence of deer and spotting of woodchucks (one has taken up residence under the garden shed) means that defensive measures need to be taken before greens are planted. Hrmph.

I'm fine planting recently received garlic, shipped from a West Coast farm, and dividing and moving around the perennial leeks, dividing

But with greens -- hmm, I might as well just say welcome, woodchucks -- I have something tasty for you -- help yourself!

I may try to use a row cover/hoop house barrier to see if that deters them short-term.   Or, I may just rely on my mountain beds for greens.  They're less susceptible to woodchucks because of the city location, although not immune.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ruby-throated hummingbirds

I just set up the hummingbird feeder late this morning after its summer hiatus.

We've had lots of hummers in the mountains over summer, visiting the masses of Lobelia cardinalis, Salvia guaranitica, Lonicera sempervirens, and Impatiens capensis, but didn't have a feeder set up (the one I bought early in the summer dripped and I thought I'd just rely on flowers).

The feeder in the Piedmont hangs from the edge of the porch and has been a favorite of hummingbirds over the years. There's a large oak nearby, perfect for perching and snagging insects.

So I was delighted to see a female hummingbird discover the feeder within half an hour--we were eating lunch on the porch, and although she was initially concerned by our presence (not to mention Woody, who was snoozing by the porch table), she proceeded to visit over a number of minutes.

Hopefully, we'll have more visitors, too.  A post from September of last year reflected on several whizzing around.

What fun!

A female visiting the same feeder several years ago
It was fun to re-read some of the posts that I've made in the past about ruby-throated hummingbirds -- they're such a great part of summer and fall.

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Monday, August 26, 2013


Wamboldtopia is a special private garden in West Asheville.

It's a collaboration between two artists, working with different media: stone, ceramic and plants.  I first visited a year ago in May, when it was part of the Garden Bloggers Fling.

My eclectic garden club group visited a couple of weeks ago.  It was still remarkable.

The artistic elements were what stood out. The rainy summer and a shady garden were reflected in a subdued plant palette. The structural and artistic elements took the stage.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Evening light

The view out the front door was wonderful yesterday evening.  We've had so much rain and cloudy weather this summer that it seemed like an exceptional treat, combined with the much cooler drier air that's pushed through. 

The air feels like fall this morning, in spite of the date at the end of August.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Fall is coming

It was a lovely evening here in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

MORE rain during the day, but the evening was nice -- cool for this time of year and the crescent moon was evident - beautiful (but no Perseid meteors to be seen).  An evening to be appreciated, too, as we're back "down the hill" later in the week to start fall semester.

Two of the largest raised beds are ready to plant with fall greens, cleansed of the final tomatoes -- harvested before late blight ravaged their vines.  I'll be planting beets, turnips (red and white), creasy greens, lettuce mix, mache, mustard greens, kale of all sorts, mixed greens, etc. and maybe I'll try some broccoli raab, too. 

I'm imagining the woodchucks would sneak out of the ravine for any cole transplants, so I don't think I'll bother to plant any of those for them (been there, done that).

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Friday, August 9, 2013

A gardening reflection

This has been a pretty difficult year for summer vegetables, except for the beans, even as the Mexican bean beetles (and their larvae) have decimated the leaves.

I've harvested (and we've eaten) more beans than I'd like -- OK, I shouldn't be complaining as they're the essence of local veggies, after all.  I've harvested some squash, and amazingly, the Black Tula tomatoes have been the backbone of what I've roasted and frozen.  They've been decent fresh (similar to Cherokee Purple), but without heat, sweetness hasn't rounded out their flavor profiles, so roasting for sauce is the best use.

The hybrid tomato varieties that I received "free" have languished, too, and are succumbing to late blight now as well.  They look like supermarket tomatoes -- and maybe would have been tasty given sun and warmth (which they didn't receive).

They're "ripening" on the counter as I'm harvesting ahead of late blight fruit damage -- the question is always about whether "green" tomatoes or those that are counter ripe are tasty enough to roast and freeze (my favorite way to preserve tomatoes).

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Morning glories and Liatris

I know morning glories are "weedy" - but they're also beautiful.
I'm enjoying how the volunteers from last year are colonizing the telephone pole outside our deck. 

It makes for a lovely view as we're eating meals out there - the contrast with the blazing star in full flower is wonderful.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Garden clogs

I've been distracted with other concerns, outside of my garden, but just looked at a series of photos from a wonderful East Bay/Berkeley artist's garden. More to come to be sure.

But I matched this garden.  How fun.

My garden clogs and SoulMate socks!

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Sunday, July 14, 2013


It was a hot and bright afternoon on the day we visited Filoli Gardens during the Garden Bloggers Fling. I'd never visited Filoli, a historic garden some thirty minutes south of San Francisco, before.

The light blew out any normal photo-taking efforts, but it was fun to visit the gardens.  I loved the heritage orchards, in particular.

Dramatic focal points,

historic trees,

and an impressively informal knot garden were highlights.

knot garden "waves" at Filoli

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