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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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...

Labels: , , , ,

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....

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: ,

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


Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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).

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tulips, revisited

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

the following weekend

Labels: ,

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 ( 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

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The beauty of apricot-colored tulips

Sometimes, my screen around "plants that work for a living" includes plants that bring joy.

Tulips are in that category. 

They're totally "useless" in their cultivated form for anything beyond that (not producing nectar, feeding insects, etc.), unless you count feeding deer.  In nature, species tulips undoubtedly had many ecological roles, but cultivated tulips, not many, except being pretty.

Nonetheless, I've loved them since I first saw the tulip displays near the Jefferson Memorial, in the Washington, DC tidal basin area, many years ago. 

And they were among the first plants I planted as a newbie gardener over three decades ago, not long after that.  I planted red tulips in a triangular block next to our gate to the backyard. 

And potted tulips have long been a Valentine's Day staple, although cyclamens have supplanted them in recent years.

So these lovely apricot-colored tulips, grown in Virginia (which count as regional, I guess), appealed to me and my gardening companion yesterday.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Late afternoon snow melt

As the snow melted from the leaves of trees this afternoon, under a still lead-grey sky and intermittent flurries, the trunks and branches of the trees in the ravine glistened with remnants of the overnight snow.

As I was putting dinner together, the view was striking.  Now, as the oven hums, the wind howls, and with mid-30° F temperatures, the snow echoes are almost gone.

view from the kitchen window

the big red oak through the deck door

Labels: , ,

An unusual early snow

Overnight snow on November 1 is highly unusual, much less the soft fluffy snow that fell, clinging to leaves still on the trees and furrowed bark.

The contrast between the glimpses of fall color cloaked in snow with the vibrancy of a couple of days ago in clear light -- remarkable.
November 1 snow
scarlet oak, red oak, and ginkgo with snow
snow out the window

Labels: , ,