Monday, December 28, 2015

Helping a small corner planting spot

In my historic neighborhood, there's an old corner store.  It's a simple store, largely catering to the less affluent folks in the housing project down the street.
After mulching
But it's front row and center to one of the main streets through our neighborhood, and right next door to a thriving neighborhood restaurant, so its corner planting spot is quite visible.  And, after recent city stoplight additions, it's even more so.

I volunteered (on behalf of my garden club, but really just me) to help clean it up some months ago, just before the incident of the hands, which had my right (and dominant) hand practically useless, followed by traveling, and then a nasty virus that laid me low for 3+ weeks.

So I was glad to get over there yesterday, pick up a bit of trash, and throw pine mini-nuggets over the square, hoping that they'll break down enough by spring to create a bit of a planting bed, for something that might not be trampled....

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lovely winter hikes

Even if the unseasonably warm weather seems odd for this time of the year, it made for some lovely winter hikes.

The views along Beaver Lake were fabulous yesterday.

Sycamores at Beaver Lake (along Merrimon Ave) in late afternoon
Today, along the Blue Ridge Parkway (walking a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea trail), the views were equally nice, complete with strange balmy air, more suitable to April than December.

View from the Mountains-to-Sea trail, below the intersection of Town Mountain Road and the BRP
Fungi, moss, and lichens
Woody was happy.  He was cooling off in a muddy spot.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas fern

A piece in the NYT today reminded me how fortunate we are to have native Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides, a fern that's evergreen in a winter landscape.

Polystichum acrostichoides
Various stories about its common name exist; being green at Christmas seems like enough of an explanation for me, although stocking-shaped leaflets sound reasonable, too.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Snow and other thoughts

Five years ago, we were here in Asheville at Christmas.  There was a lot of snow.  It started early, and continued, with snow on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Quite different than today's early morning thunderstorms, with even more rain after a rainy night, and WARM temperatures.

Mocha and me -- December 12,  2010

We've almost a week more of unusually high temperatures, apparently, before they moderate to something more normal.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Remembering holidays and Christmases past

Thinking about Christmas...

A search of previous post with the label "Christmas" brings up not only travel posts of Christmases away, but remembrances of our last snowy Christmas with Mocha (our 2nd Golden) and our first with our current fellow, Woody, as well as posts that have Christmas fern in the narrative or "Christmas Eve" as a tag.  Go figure. 

A search for "holidays" was equally revealing, although it brought up some of the same posts.

My mother (and my dad, too) believed in giving back at Christmas, even though we were a secular family (my mom, a philosophy major,  took my sister and me to Unitarian fellowship for some time), but my sister (who grew up to be a music teacher and is musical in all ways) and I loved singing carols, and we made Christmas cookies and had Christmas dinner, and gathered folks to the table (foreign students who were far from home).

My sister and I learned about the philosophers of the world (and the founders of the major religions; they were wise people, my mom said).  And I don't have any reason to consider it otherwise, although I'm more or less a humanist, and not a believer of anything much beyond the basic good of people.
Christmas lights in Lecce, Italy
"Home" at Christmas for the first time (since the last ones with Mocha and Woody), after a very many away traveling, seems both welcome and disconcerting.  

What DOES Christmas mean, after all, to two secular folks who grew up with Christmas traditions, but don't practice gift-giving (to friends and relatives), but will go to a Christmas brunch, hosted by friends in the neighborhood, and share dinner with equally secular friends?

We've continued the holiday giving around food, shelter, clothing, and animals, both here and in distant places.  

We'll mark the tradition by going to a Christmas Eve celebration, as we've done in places around the world, from Mexico, Columbia, Chile, Vietnam, Italy, France, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Dominica, and Costa Rica, and other places that I'm not remembering at the moment.  There was a memorable Christmas Eve in Arusha, Tanzania, but that one wasn't celebratory!

Wishing peace for the world at this time of the year and blessings to any of you that read this.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Curious natural rhythms

The rhythms of the natural world seem a bit askew here so far this fall and early winter, even among our native plants, but especially the Asian ones, many of which are starting to flower now, some months in advance of what they "normally" would in a place far afield from their genetic home (cherries, quinces, forsythia, and Jasminium...) 

Quince buds from spring, in a another year, down in the Piedmont
I'm hearing Carolina Wrens singing loudly, perhaps not unusually, but the frequency this time of year?  And the occasional male cardinal?

Hmm, at least there haven't been any daffodils yet -- they probably need at least a bit of cold before they are triggered to flower.  We'll see what (is now calendar) winter brings.  Normally I think of winter in the Carolinas of the Southern U.S. from mid-November to late February, since we often have warmer days in February, variable weather in March, and by April, we're solidly into spring, depending on any odd vagaries.

A former colleague, at the botanical garden in the Upstate of SC, was an old-timer, now gone -- in my early years there, he wouldn't plant warm-season bedding plants in the front display gardens until after May 1st.  I think those days are probably gone, too (along with planting bedding plants, as well).

The tulips that aren't prechilled, the hours of chilling needed for apples, and peaches -- well, how they fare remains to be seen in the months ahead.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice

I'm glad that today marks the shortest day of the year. 

I'm not particularly happy when the days are shorter, even if the temperatures are mild, as they've been this year.  It's still dark when I get up, and dark before I finish cooking dinner.

Yes, I remember my days in Germany when it was even darker, and the light was for a shorter period of time, and I now imagine my friends elsewhere in Northern Europe (Ireland, the Netherlands, UK) enveloped in the dark, but...  I'm glad the days will be getting longer.

We have often been off to much brighter places by now, having traveling at winter break, as academics for decades, without family obligations around holidays.

Home this year, in the mountains, for the first time, it's interesting to mark the solstice, and the holiday season.  Neither of us are religious at all, now in midlife, but we've grown up with the secular traditions of Christmas, and my gardening companion, with the traditions of Catholic celebrations behind him -- well, we enjoy marking the transition of Christmas and New Year's wherever we've been in the world. And we'll do that here in our mountain town in Western North Carolina.

That's often included Christmas Eve masses in small parish churches in Latin American countries, or a massive one in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, or a freezing one in Rome, up on the hill, on a trip to Italy after 9/11.

Lights in Hoi An
But what I'm remembering this evening is a wonderful Full Moon celebration in Hoi An, Vietnam.

We had wonderful trips there over two travel seasons.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, December 20, 2015

An orchid in winter light

Standing at the sink, and looking left, the buds on a coral-colored orchid reflected a clear yellow in the afternoon light. 

orchid in late afternoon light
The brightness of the buds surprised me, but the late afternoon sun focused their glow, in a way not particularly captured by the iPhone, but something to remember, nevertheless.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Remembering an Irish beach

Poking back through images, actually looking for something else, I came across photos of this beach on the Dingle Peninsula.  Remarkable at the time, and compelling to come across this evening, too.

A Dingle beach, full of geological interest
Just having returned from a lovely neighborhood concert, there is something grounding about these photos. 
a stacked collection

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Winter light

The rain has blown through, bringing colder air and freezing temperatures back, at last, to the mountains.

evening light to the far side of the ravine
The combination of clear, dry air, pushing out last bits of clouds gave a luminous quality to the evening light. 

towards the ravine
 My iPhone didn't do a great job capturing what I saw (especially in the other direction, at sunset), and I'm realizing that I really need a replacement for my ancient digital Nikon D100 SLR, too, if I really want to keep getting those out-of-the-ordinary images.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fun with ceramics

My usual themes of trees and green emerged on a recent excursion with a new friend, met through a watercolor workshop.  With lots in common, we were both interested in checking out a local paint-your-own-ceramic item sort of place (we'd both walked by it for some time without ever checking it out).

So heartened by mutual interest, we set off, and had an excellent afternoon experimenting with fluid ceramic glazes on our bowls, and wondering how they'd come out, while talking about all sorts of things.

Here was my bowl, unfired.

unfired bowl
And then what it looked like, after firing, at least propping it up for a rudimentary photo.

after firing
Some of the green was darker than I thought it would be (more "kelly green" than a natural green), but the bowl is quite nice, really, and the glaze covered it completely (I wasn't sure about that).

Labels: ,

Monday, December 14, 2015

Late fall sedums

This matrona sedum struggled early on, but has been in its heyday for the last few years.

It was beautiful in the late afternoon light today.  The iPhone didn't capture it appropriately, but perhaps enough.  The dried, senesced flowering stalks were luminous, and rusty brown, in the waning light.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Leeks in December

Who knew that I'd be out harvesting young leeks and dividing up my perennial leek patch in December?

a December leek harvest
But they're flourishing in this unseasonably warm weather, and I'm finally feeling well enough (after a nasty cold-like virus) to actually enjoy it.

Lovely to be in the garden this afternoon, continuing to tidy cool season greens here and there, too. 

I transplanted (!) some red romaine lettuce seedlings that had been hanging on in flats (looking scrimped) -- hmm, who knows.

I sowed the final spinach seeds from one of this year's packets -- ridiculous, but you never know. 

One of my good gardening friends (always experimental) and one who doesn't follow the "rules" has lovely Swiss chard, spinach seedlings, hardy-looking onion relatives of all sorts, as well as young cilantro plants everywhere.  Maybe the La Nina or is it the El Nino effect that's bringing us this continuing warm weather in the Eastern U.S. will keep things warm for a bit more.  It's certainly predicted through the week ahead.

A woodchuck that crept out from the ravine ate my cilantro plants while we were traveling in October, so I have no homegrown cilantro at this point (I had to send out my gardening companion for cilantro for our dinner this evening.  Aggravating, as it would have been flourishing now!)

Labels: , , ,

Friday, December 11, 2015

An orchid in winter

We have a row of orchids along the kitchen windows, which have flourished in the light there.  This is the first year that they've re-flowered, testament to their site and evolving care (not mine).

This one is particularly lovely;  illuminated by late afternoon light, its graceful stem, elongated by the sun's changing angles over the day, frames the edge of the window looking towards the deck.

orchid in late afternoon light

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 10, 2015


For the first time in many years, we're not traveling over winter break, staying at home in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The academic schedule of decades has yielded now in "graduation" to a more flexible one, so mid-January to early February is a more appealing time to travel, and escape the relatively mild winters for a few weeks, before spring wildflower season begins, not so long afterwards.

Curiously, FB keeps reminding me of my posts last year, as we were about to head off (to far south, in Argentina and Chile), so that has me thinking about conundrums of travel.

Travel brings such a widening perspective, where ever we go.  If more Americans traveled, I think it would bring more scope to how we perceive "immigrants"and "refugees."

My great-great grandmother left Germany in 1848, with her five young sons, to escape the draft into the Kaiser's army (at least that's how the story is told).  They established the Wagner Brothers Clothing Store in Ellinwood, Kansas as adults.

"Quality has no substitute" was their motto.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Beautiful evening light

I'm grateful for the light surrounding our house in the mountains.

We have morning sunrises from the kitchen window and deck and evening light from the front door and side windows.

In winter, the light slants low, illuminating the house throughout the day, including my small ground-floor studio space.

Recovering, now, from a nasty virus, I was glad to be able to take a nice rest (not my usual mode) on the couch looking out at the evening light.  I searched out a late August view.

Here are a couple of late October versions.

Sunsets in the mountains are good.  I'm grateful.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lovely fall carrots

A harvest sample
I'd bought some carrot seeds in late summer from a "seed collector" - an eclectic fellow who had obtained these seeds from a source in India, bred traditionally by a researcher looking for heat tolerance.  The seed collector was mentioned in Organic Gardening magazine (now Organic Living). His business is called The Rare Vegetable Seed Consortium.

I had acquired purple and deep orange varieties, sowed them late, without much anticipation of anything, as we were traveling in late September and October, so not around to water.

But much to my surprise, my harvest (prompted by the late 20° F overnight temperatures) yielded a small bunch of totally delicious purple and orange carrots.  They were good both fresh and roasted.  Encouraging, to be sure.

Carrots are NOT an easy vegetable to grow in the Southern US!

The best looking one!
I see that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has picked them up from the original collector, who introduced them here.  Good news for keeping these great varieties alive.  I bought them from the collector's small company, but Baker Creek is "mainstream" now.  This is a good thing as these are a delicious and productive variety that needs wider distribution.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A mix of sedums

Sedums are wonderfully versatile plants.  They're drought-tolerant, diverse in their textures and colors, and many are hardy over winter, in our Zone 7 mountain basin.

A nearby short-term rental house has a new planting that is really quite nice.

front garden sedums
These looked luminous on a rainy morning.

Labels: , ,