Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lots more photos and reflections to come


We've had a wonderful trip around the Argentinian Lake District, across to Chile and down the Carretera Austral, returning up the Ruta 40 on the Argentina side, now back in Buenos Aires for a few days before returning home. Gravel roads, dust, isolation, fiords, mountains, Valdivian rain forests, glacial lakes, posadas, trout, and merluza - all part of the journey, along with a short trip on the "Patagonian Express" - La Trochita, which now circles through a remarkable landscape of steppe, desert-shrub, and multicolored mountains from Esquel.


Our travels took us through vast landscapes of amazing diversity - it's going to take time to sort through all of the photos -and properly write about the experiences.


Bariloche, Argentina Lake District, Patagonia

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I went on a wonderful trip a couple of years ago to visit naturalistic gardens in Germany.  (This group of posts reflects on that trip and beyond).

Traveling solo creates a different experience than traveling with others, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it, spending reflective time as well as active time. 

Of course, traveling with a like-minded companion is wonderful, too.  Garden-visiting in the company of other gardeners is in that category, too.  I'm definitely excited about going to Toronto for my sixth Garden Bloggers Fling in June.  The smiles on our faces reflected the great time we had last year in Portland.

Thanks for the great photo, Helen!

Janet, Daricia, me, and Julie (all Carolina garden bloggers)
And traveling, whether alone or with others, can be such a source of self-discovery as well as a way to connect with the commonalities and differences of lives and cultures in parts of the world very different from my own.

As I'm off for another winter break journey, I'm thinking about what it means to share time in other places and cultures, and the enriching and remarkable experiences that result.

We can journey in our own places in the world, too, of course, and I'm a believer in gardening and learning about nature as a path to creativity and sense of place.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014


This is a good time of the year, for me, as we move through the "holiday season" and pass through the Winter Solstice, in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Here in the Southeastern U.S., we have 4 distinct seasons, to be sure, but winter isn't normally too difficult, unless you're high up in the mountains (Southern Appalachians).

Many of you, who might read this, are in MUCH farther northern areas than I am, so count me a wimpy winter person;  I'm mindful of that.

I spent an academic year in Germany several decades ago, and thought the winter was pretty darn difficult and dark. Light at 8 am, twilight at 3:30- 4 pm. I was not happy, although I loved the festive season around Christmas, and the holiday markets.

Holiday lights, the Solstice to come, and longer days all beckon. 

And I'm glad to have a dose of Southern hemisphere summer for a few weeks, too. When we return in early January, it's not so long until the early flowers of Asian species pop out, and our native woodland wildflowers are not long behind.

It was fun to read my older posts tagged winter!  Perhaps you'll enjoy them, too.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

More holiday thoughts

This is really another test Blogsy post.
Here's Woody on the trail. It's hard to leave him at home, when we're traveling, but he's always in good hands.


Christmas lights

I was reminded, thinking about Christmas, and traveling to come, and various places that we've been over the holidays - of the wonderful lights in Lecce, in Southern Italy some years back.



They were magical, above the streets of the old town's (now) pedestrian walkways.

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Traveling over winter break

Holidays are interesting times. We're heading off on Friday for three weeks of traveling, and I've been making sure everything is "battened down" here at home, etc. with house-sitters, mail and newspapers held, plant care instructions, and bills paid in advance, etc. etc.

It's a familiar dance, but is always a bit stressful (an understatement) to make sure everything is taken care of! I'm blessed to be able to travel, for sure.

We're headed to mountains, forests, and streams, with long summer days this time of the year (in Argentina). We'll be in Buenos Aires for a bit, but then mostly in the Argentinian Lake District (Northern Patagonia).

It's always interesting to see how Christmas and New Year's are celebrated in wherever we are; I expect a combination of restrained celebration with over-the-top commercial stuff, too. We'll see.

But most importantly, it'll be fascinating to explore the drier side of the Andes, too.  We visited the Chilean side (the wetter side) 12 years ago on a wonderful trip, which included a much farther south trek through Torres del Paine and Punta Arenas.

Lake Pehoe refugio at Torres del Paine National Park

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Woody's perch

I thought I had some better photos of Woody's perch.  He looks so delightful when we return from dinner or an outing without him (not frequent....)

A rescue boy, with an affinity for getting into trouble (think cat poop, decomposing debris, etc., with resulting MAJOR digestive issues, and expensive vet bills), he's become an indoor fellow, in spite of his size. 

He gets very long walks several times a day, so no need to feel sorry for him.

He snoozes most of the day, but when we're away from the house, he loves his perch!


Connecting with nature through art

I've had a great time tip-toeing back into doing art that connects me with nature.  Nature has been a touchstone for me, although art (aside from photography) has been absent for a long time.

Doing watercolor classes has been great fun recently, and helping me get through some of the "art blocks" that I still have.

This exercise was one of the most recent, in a class with Elizabeth Ellison, and I liked how it turned out.

So I was delighted to see (via a good friend) that I could have the image printed, put on mugs, placed on a shower curtain, or duvet.  Wow, who knew!

I'll be ordering a mug for myself -- perfect for morning coffee.

It will be a reminder to be creative every day.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014


I'm fussing around this evening trying to make sure that I remember how Blogsy works, with its tricky interfaces with photos, Picasa, etc.

It's the best option for blog posting on an iPad, still, apparently. I first used it 2 years ago in Germany, then a bit in the Caribbean.

In Colombia last winter, Google refused to recognize that I might be traveling, without a smart phone to receive a text message to confirm that I actually was "me."
They actually did that again this evening, when I'm home, just because I accessed Picasa (which they own) from an unfamiliar device (iPad), and hadn't done so for quite awhile. Hhmrph.

Posting photos hardly seems like a high-security endeavour. And, of course, they'd like to have me switch my log-in to my Blogger account (also a Google group) to a gmail account, even though they don't allow using a gmail account as a secondary "security" email -- go figure.

In any case, a few weeks without posting anything is not the end of the world, but it's become a touchpoint and reflection for me. I may need to fall back on notebook and pencil, which isn't a bad thing.

Today, I'm thinking that the fall color is stretching on -- with the oak leaf hydrangea out my study window still vibrant and the blueberries in the front now a scarlet red.

Hmm, I'll have to add the photo for that from my desktop! I'm still blocked from logging into to Picasa, for some reason.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wonderful fall color

The fall color just continues -- it's surprising. Maybe the mild weather has held the brilliant red leaves of the oak leaf hydrangeas still?

Here's what they looked liked a couple of weeks ago, and have the upper leaves echoing this still.

And the blueberry leaves have turned a lovely scarlet color, too. (I wish I had my camera!)

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Japanese persimmons

I should have persimmons to harvest about now, but don't, thanks to some sort of voracious herbivore (the fruits would have been VERY astringent when they disappeared.

The small tree that had produced them came with us to the Piedmont over twenty years ago.  I've written about that journey and its atftermath before.

Persimmon fruits (on an old tree)
It struggled quite a bit in its early years, and has never been truly robust, but often has produced 20-30 fruits.

That's what what it looked like would happen this year.  HMM. Deer, squirrels, woodchucks?  Very puzzling.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

A wonderful witch hazel

The witch hazel in the front is in full flower now.  It's beautiful.  My camera is "in the shop" so I'm just imprinting what it looks like to memory.

The beautiful fall color of the leaves (a buttery yellow) are lovely, and now past, but what's wonderful now is the flowers --they festoon the now small tree (it's no longer a shrub) with dainty yellow -- dancing in the light.

fall witch hazel
 This image of fall leaves and flowers, from several years ago, gives you an idea of the magic that this witch hazel creates.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

French Broad views

There's a lovely trail up along the Deer Park Trail at the Biltmore Estate.  It starts at the lagoon and goes up to the Walled Garden and the "house."

We had a lovely hike there this morning, so I remembered these views from earlier in fall, on a similar hike.

There were a couple of red-headed woodpeckers working snags nearby.  Their solid red heads and white patches clearly distinguished them; they're not birds that I've seen recently, although distinctive; red-bellied woodpeckers are much more common.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Winter views and sculptural trees

The winter views have become amazing in the mountains.  The clear air, trees sculpturally outlined in the distance.  Wonderful.

I'd posted about this tree some years ago.

Happily, I'm still enjoying the view of it, along the horizon as I walk up past the visitor center and towards the bridge into downtown.  This was a close-up view; the walk view encompasses the mountains beyond.

along the horizon
 I was reminded of this tree, as we enjoyed a spectacular sunset from a nearby park.

My camera - a trusty early Nikon D100-- is being serviced, and my favorite (very versatile) lens repaired -- both dinosaurs, I'm sure, but they're what I'm used to, and I haven't yet added a smart phone with perfect optics, etc. to my digital life.

So I'll be revisiting older images for a while.

oak at Biltmore


Monday, November 24, 2014

Late fall view

 I've spent a lot of time in my study lately, proofing final book copy.  One of the joys was seeing the oak-leaf hydrangea next to the porch turn a vivid scarlet.

They don't always do that.  This one has been happy in the almost total shade, and even though slow-growing, has thrived.
view from my study
vivid fall leaves
from our bedroom door
 I feel a bit wistful about this fall, as it's our last one here.  It's been a beautiful one.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Waterfalls and wildflowers

I'm fortunate to live in a wonderful part of the world -- our ancient mountains are rich in biodiversity of all sorts.  And we're blessed with an abundance of waterfalls, too, throughout the mountains.

So I'm just thrilled to see the final copy of my gardening companion's second book, Waterfalls and Wildflowers of the Southern Appalachians: 30 Great Hikes, University of North Carolina Press before it goes to print.

We've just finished proofing the final text and layout, so it's right on schedule for spring release.

It looks great, but even more appealing is how Tim (aka my spouse) put it together.

He carefully sifted through an abundance of interesting hikes, which included one or more waterfalls, to choose some of the very best in terms of wildflower richness, finally deciding on thirty in the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.

Then over a period of two years, he visited each site at least 10 times from spring into fall over a two year period, in order to pick up most all of the interesting wildflowers (lists for each hike are provided in flowering sequence, along with species profiles for 125 plants).

The hike narratives are interpretive, pointing out interesting wildflowers that you're likely to see on each hike, as well commenting on potential birds and other animals, so they're much more lively and interesting than standard "hike descriptions," in addition to the usual trail maps and location information.

I haven't been on all of these hikes yet, but their descriptions have me ready to go.

The book is available for pre-order (currently at a 40% holiday discount through UNC Press; click for details).

What excellent encouragement to slow down, observe, and enjoy the diversity of nature along the trail...

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's been a wonderful fall

The cold and wind is pushing out the last fall leaves, but I'm reminded of what wonderful fall color that we've had in the Southeastern U.S.

The maples just went on and on and on.

view from Biltmore terrace
I was reminded about how beautiful it's been, as I looked back through some recent photographs.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Large numbers of buzzards

There's been a large flock of buzzards coming through at sundown for the last two days.  They swirl around in long, looping circles, as they slowly progress onwards.  Curious.  There are upwards of 20 in the group.

We speculate about whether they're roosting nearby?

I'm thinking that I don't know that much about vultures, aside from their keen sense of smell and carrion-eating ways, but there's clearly a lot of interesting aspects to their behavior.  I'll have to learn more about them.

But, dinner needs to be cooked....

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Watercolor workshop, Part II

The second day of the workshop was yesterday, separated in time because of a family illness, happily on the mend.

Frankly, I didn't mind having some space between two intensive days of practicing technique learning...  

Still recovering from an unaccustomed cold, I didn't really feel that well, but thoroughly enjoyed our practice exercises, not meant to be "finished" pieces, but about learning technique.

We were using photographs as our "base" -- but I was still rather amazed to see quite a normal-looking run-down barn turn into this watercolor (we were learning about perspective and using sharp edges to scrap the paper).  It's turned a bit more vivid than it really looks, but is certainly way beyond anything I'd normally "paint."

An old barn
A couple of other studies were interesting, but not as complete.

A final one from a photo of evergreens and snags, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, turned into something different, too.
evergreens, snags, and meadow


Watercolor workshop Part I

Several weeks ago, I did the first day of a two day workshop, taught by a gifted artist (Elizabeth Ellison).  Our studies that day were mountains and grassland, with learning different techniques and color theory. 

I've enjoyed tip-toeing back into art through watercolors, which I hadn't really done before until recently, although I did a good bit of pen and ink (with watercolor) drawings, largely of botanical subjects when I was younger, along with doing art in other media, too, for that matter.

I'd done a previous workshop with Elizabeth around nature journaling with watercolor, so I knew she's an encouraging teacher, and her demonstrations are remarkably helpful.

My mountains morphed (again) into more like the Rockies, rather the ancient rounded ridges of the Southern Appalachians.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

The fall colors keep coming...

Even in the mountains, there are still plenty of yellow and reds illuminating the landscapes.

In the Piedmont this morning, I felt like I was saying good-bye to fall color, but maybe not, even as the arctic cold front (and wind) descends this weekend.

oak-leaf hydrangea

gingko, sassafras, viburnum, and oaks


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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ginkgos: with and without leaves

After the coming weekend's fall blast of cold air, unusual for mid-November, we won't have much fall color left.  I'm thinking the wind will bring down all of the yellow, orange, and red maple leaves, and probably most of the oak leaves, too.

A touchstone of our seasonal lives in the Eastern US is fall color -- mainly from native trees, but also from ancient trees, with a heritage far different.

Ginkgos fall in that category. A Chinese temple tree, extinct in the wild, they've been planted widely along streets and in landscapes. Their fall color glows a luminous yellow, and their leaves fall all at once, carpeting the surrounding ground.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014


In the mountains of Western North Carolina, the late October snow brought down all of the ginkgo leaves, before they'd turned their characteristic luminous yellow.

In the piedmont of South Carolina, the leaves are starting to turn right now.  The smaller of the two trees in the garden where I used to work (and taught a class today) is a clear, wonderful yellow.

Here's an image from a couple of years ago that looks (close to) what I saw today.

In our backyard, the vivid yellow isn't quite yet there  -- hopefully, we'll see it if the arctic air that's coming our way doesn't zap those leaf abscission layers (that's what seemed to happen in the mountains).

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Monday, November 10, 2014

A look back

Amazing to search for sassafras (which is a vivid color right now) in older posts, and pick up this post from several years ago - on this date.

It's remarkable to see how much larger some of these trees are -- even just three years later (we've had a LOT of rain).



The sassafras is the deep red to the right of the yellowing ginkgo (and above the yellow-leaved viburnum) on the right side.

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Kalmias moving into the landscape

ready to plant
Mountain laurels are tricky -- they need perfect drainage and exactly the right site to be "at home" in a new spot. We've lost plenty over the years, when they weren't in the right spot!

Old mountain laurels persist for decades, of course, and are perfectly sturdy in their (natural) well-drained habitats.

a bushy, field-grown mountain laurel
Several found new homes in our mountain landscape last weekend, thanks to my gardening companion.  Hopefully, on the lower slope, they'll thrive!  It's well-drained, for sure.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tulips, revisited

I loved the fresh tulips, but their aftermath was equally beautiful.

the following weekend

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Saturday, November 8, 2014


I've been following a group that's interested in Celtic traditions and stories, and was surprised to see nettles pop up, as a touchstone plant in the first story.

It's nutritious as a pot-herb, but also valuable (historically) as a fiber plant, and as a plant with story-meaning, too.
Nettles are interesting and widespread. They're native to a good chunk of the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urtica_dioica) in North America and Europe, but they're certainly prolific in other places, too (in overgrazed areas around Masai dwellings in Tanzania, for example).

I saw a patch recently in a pasture (at Biltmore Estate). It was prolific and spreading.  It echoed an overgrazed spot, I'm thinking.
nettle patch
fall view at Biltmore

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

A full frost moon

Frost moon
Fall moons are often luminous, especially the harvest moon (in October), when the moon is low on the horizon as it rises.

I'd thought the frost moon might have been a no-show here, as rain was predicted, but rising in the back of the house, it's peaking through the shadows of the old black cherry above the shed.

The label of a November full moon reminded me that I'd made a post about November moons before:  it was a much later moon that year.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Witch hazel

We have a wonderful witch hazel in front of our garage that's now in full flower, with a few remnant yellow leaves. 

It has a wonderful shape (it's now a small well-rounded tree).

in fall 2009
Its fall color this year wasn't the equal of this image -- an early freeze hastened leaf drop.

But it was interesting to read what I'd written at that time. 

Alas, the huge red oak is now in major decline, post water line breaks and digging needed to repair.

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