Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pileated woodpeckers

Just before I started cooking dinner, we noticed a pair of pileated woodpeckers in the ravine forest below the house.  A welcome rain had started to fall, and they were both seemingly hunkered down.

The male was in an old snag, tucked in among its top.

The female was hanging on to the side of another tree trunk to the left, appressed to the trunk to avoid the rain as much as she could, I guess.

They stayed through dinner, but then flew off.   Wouldn't it be nice if a pair made the ravine home?

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Violets and giant chickweed

Spring wildflower season is progressing nicely.

These violets and giant chickweed (a native: Stellaria pubera) made a wonderful combination, here in a photo sent from my gardening companion's iPhone late this afternoon.

Giant chickweed and long-spurred violet
He was in the mountains near Bryson City, North Carolina, in the heart of the Smokies (the Southern Appalachians.)

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Hepatica in spring

I've only seen a small patch of flowering Hepatica in a local native plant garden nearby (Botanical Gardens at Asheville) so far this spring.

But my gardening companion, on a wildflower excursion to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, saw carpets of them, on one of the popular trails.

Hepatica (Anemone) in flower
I've loved tracking the first Hepaticas of spring for many years.  Such fun... And my first journey, in the snow, to look for Hepatica nobilis with my lab group:  that was the start of my Hepatica following.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Plant (nursery) stumps and other thoughts

 A hike from the Pisgah Wildlife Center brought both enjoyment of the transition from winter to spring, but also these gems: a nursery stump full of mosses, but more significantly, rhododendron seedlings and young rattlesnake plaintain rosettes.
rattlesnake orchid and rhododendron seedlings on mossy stump

a nursery stump
I started paying attention, after we saw quite a large rhododendron that had colonized an old stump. 

As a former germination/population biology plant researcher (in a long ago former life), this is the sort of thing that I studied. 

Such fun, to notice now, and see how the mosses have provided germination establishment opportunities on decaying stumps.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Biltmore view

With spring here, the transitions from winter gray to spring green are proceeding rapidly.

A lovely benefit of now being in the mountains full-time is being able to appreciate those transitions here first hand.  I saw them, of course, in the Piedmont, too, but here, with mountain views, luminous morning light, and the winds and clouds that seem to be part of the weather here, it's been a joy to be able to visit the exceptional Biltmore landscape views over multiple visits the last week or so.

Spring has been popping out everywhere there, especially in the walled garden, with tulips and the espaliered fruit trees in flower.

But this view, toward Mt. Pisgah, is one I especially enjoy.  Right now, the contrast between winter and spring is evident.

This morning, it was a treat.

view from terrace, Biltmore Estate

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)

Golden ragwort is a great native -- in the right place.

In the wrong place (rich soil, plenty of moisture, etc.), it's a thug. 

In the right place (dry, nutrient-poor, dappled-light), it's perfect.

Here, below our deck, and adjacent to the parking area for the apartment next door, it's been lovely this spring.  Patches (transplanted down in the woodland ravine) are equally nice.

We'll see.  Rooting it out of its former rich soil spots isn't easy!  It's a tough customer and resprouts readily from any rhizome/root fragments left behind.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Wait till the moon is full

The full moon isn't actually for a couple of days yet: March 23 is the actual full moon.

It was rising again high in the sky this evening, just as the darkness made it visible.

A search of "full moon" brought up so many previous posts -- I had just wanted to find something that I'd written before about a classic children's book that I loved growing up: Wait Till the Moon is Full.

Of course, I'd labelled that post with a grammatically corrected title: Wait Until the Moon is Full.

I've kept a tattered old copy of this book since childhood.  I kept it during our downsizing last year. 

It's a special book (and always reminds me of my mom.  I loved the book, but I think she must have loved it too).

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

An almost full moon at dusk

Walking in the neighborhood after dinner this evening, the almost full moon was rising, at about the same time as the sunset light was waning.


an almost full moon at dusk
And equally amazing that it was a iPhone photo (6 Plus version).

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Flowering cherries, Bradford pears, and redbuds

The warm weather of the last week has encouraged the cherries (of various ornamental origins) into flowering.  They're lovely, and almost at their peak; hopefully, the predicted frost/light freeze of the next two nights won't phase them.

Our native redbuds are now in full flower, too, both "wild" and planted.

But on a walking loop through downtown Asheville this evening, I admired the Bradford pears in full flower along Biltmore Ave. and this one, on Church Street, was especially lovely. 

An obnoxious species, of course, as they've gone feral and troublesome, but it was hard not to like this one, especially with its setting.

Bradford Pear on Church St.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016


I loved our sassafras trees down in the Piedmont.  They were beautiful in the spring.

I'd made more posts than I realized referencing sassafras;  spring was a time to celebrate their flowers and then fall leaf color was equally wonderful.

Sassafras from the upstairs window
Their progeny are now about to flower, next to our neighbor's house here in the mountains, planted with the owner's permission.

I see them from the upstairs window.  They're luminous in mid-day light.

Sassafras against our neighbor's house

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Carrots, peas, arugula, spinach, and kale

Finally, my carrot seeds have popped up cotyledons today (not surprisingly, with our exceptionally warm March weather this last week).  I'd planted them early, being hopeful - and ready to plant.  So I've been waiting.  (And my late test seeds indoors had just germinated, so I knew they were viable!) 

They're the same varieties that I had grown last fall, and was surprised by.

last December's unexpected harvest of Pusa Purple and Pusa Red carrots
Arugula and kale were quick to come up, as was the spinach, sown in flats, satisfying for a "hoping it's spring" gardener, and I do think we're in the home stretch.

I poked around the peas a couple of days ago (thinking, hmm, maybe they froze/rotted/etc.,), but no, thankfully, they're now germinating, too, as the soil in my raised beds has warmed.  February was so darn cold that it slowed things down, but March is flirting with record high temperatures here in Asheville, so spring seems fully sprung.

The early spring wildflowers (bloodroot, spring beauty, hepatica) are all flowering, as are red maples, etc.

This is the third winter that I'll be needing to replace rosemary, as well as not having any "hardy" greens overwintering (I haven't had extra protection), aside from creasy greens, which can freeze solid and still come back.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Cooking, gardening, sewing, and other useful skills

My mom wasn't a natural "homemaker"-- she was extremely smart, a wonderful writer, and full of talents, but as the very youngest of three daughters, apparently needed to teach herself much about how to cook, in spite of having a working mom who managed ranch kitchens, gardened, canned, etc.

But she did pass on to me (from her mom), how to cut up a chicken and make broth from the bones. 

We made pumpkin pies from scratch for Thanksgiving, and ate meat loaf on weeknights.  She taught me how to sew on a button, and my sister and I went to sewing lessons (at the Singer store in downtown Austin), and learned how to sew there using a machine (not a skill that I've carried on).

I loved cooking, and cooked my first meal for our family at ~ 12.  It was chicken curry.  I remember vividly the small kitchen in the duplex where we lived then.  I was proud of the results.

My mom had gone back to school to finish her degree and had started studying for her MS in Educational Psychology.

She didn't teach me how to garden -- I think she'd had enough growing up picking the rows of beans, etc. for her mother to can, so it wasn't appealing.  And she and my dad were totally bemused, I think, with my interest in plants at an early age (I tried to plant some onions, etc. in a totally unsuitable site above our house and they "tricked" me by putting in a sprouting grocery store onion, probably to encourage me, now that I look back).

She's now been gone for 14 years as of today. So I'm remembering her.  She was special.

Thanks, Mom.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Thinking about trees

I'm writing a short piece for our neighborhood newsletter (thinking about promoting natural neighborhoods for our historic one), so trying to think of how best to approach it.

Trees seem to be the best entry point.  The established tree canopy reflects the hundred+ year cycle of tree planting in a urban mountain town. Our neighborhood is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and as a planned development, had street trees (now mature) as well as prosperous homeowners, who planted a variety of native and non-native trees, many of which now form the urban forest in our neighborhood.

Surprisingly, even in a small-plotted historic urban development, front lawns continue to be popular, as they were a century ago.  I guess that's not really surprising, now that I think about it.  (But, I also think about imaginative front yard gardens in places like Buffalo, Portland, Washington, DC and Seattle, etc....)

We were SO glad to be rid of the riding lawn mower when we moved here; there's no lawn in our front landscape, that's for sure.

So my initial message will be about tree choice, tree replacement (as the mature trees die), and at least, putting in the screen about re-knitting the fabric of life in our urban community. 

We do have a lot of trees in our neighborhood, but need to keep replacing them as they mature, not just with small ornamentals, but also with native oaks, maples, hemlocks, and hickories, as space permits, along with wonderful (and resilient) story trees like gingkos.

There's always a place for a gingko (in one's lifetime), in my opinion.  A wonderful venerable gingko in our historic neighborhood, fortunately planted with room, is enjoyed by me and many others.  This one won't have as long, but will be enjoyed for many years to come.

last fall (in front of the house)

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