Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An overgrown garden

Well, another month away without the gardeners, with LOTS of rain -- of course, the garden is overgrown.  But the pocket meadow is lush (hey, it could be parched) and the overall impression isn't too bad.

Aromatic aster and Verbena are in flower.

I've been averting my eyes as I squeeze my car into the much smaller driveway space and step out into the Salvia gauranitica that's flopping over.  Thankfully, the Solidago 'Fireworks' is in flower now, so I'm distracted by its attractiveness (and the hordes of flower visitors).

Solidago 'Fireworks'
 Ditto for the vegetable beds. 

The chard plants, planted the day before we left, are huge, thanks to the rain and the organic fertilizer I added while planting, I guess.  My chard is usually much smaller, but I liberally applied the Espoma, too, finishing off a containter.  I'm usually quite stingy with it.

The parsley and herbs have flourished, too.  The sage in the deep bed in the back is a monster.  Yikes! The cabbage whites have happily defoliated most of the kale and broccoli plants (of course), but so it goes.  You can see an example to the left of the large chive clump.  Sigh.  Even the ones that I put wire cloches over were munched.  The morning glory vines and the climbing rose on the trellises in back look awful.  Oh, well.

Thyme, parsley, chives, oregano. rosemary and sage: looking robust
 Thankfully, this won't be a huge job to shape up, but I have lots of other things to do in the next two weeks, too, including doing 4 presentations (as a volunteer).  It's really all good, as they're favorite presentations (about native woodland gardens, pocket meadows, and native plants).  And I've been away so much this last year, I wanted to cluster my classes and talks during times that I knew I would be here after all!

Friday, September 14, 2018

A reminder from the past: pilgrimage

I wrote about pilgrimage and coming home from Germany a little over six years ago:  the post talked about Jakobsweg and pilgrimage paths

I had a strong sense of pilgrimage then, in particular, as I was thinking about what to do next as I reduced my work hours.

So, it was interesting to spot this hiker this afternoon carrying a traditional scallop emblem on his pack (just like the one St. Jakob held in the sculpture shown in the above post).

Add caption

Monday, September 10, 2018

Common milkweed saves the day

A search this afternoon for a different topic pulled up this post.  I was able to share my (abundant) common milkweed with a friend, so she could feed the leaves to her monarch caterpillars.

It was nice to re-read today -- and reminded me, too, of online friendships now in-person ones.  A wonderful offshoot of the digital age.

Looking again for that post brought up all sorts of other milkweed posts, too, including one the following year, where I shared more milkweed with her again.  We had a HUGE patch in what used to be the meadow up front by the time we left our garden in Upstate South Carolina.

Common milkweed with monarch at Beaver Lake a few years back

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Edelweiss and alpine gentians

A visit to the highest peak in the Schwarzwald yesterday brought wonderful views and a great hike, which I posted about in Places of the Spirit, my new addition to writing blog posts.

But a plant-related reflection belongs here:  about edelweiss and alpine gentians.  We didn't see either, but on the peak, one of the interpretive signs mentioned both. They're certainly iconic alpine plants.

The text describes how Edelweiss was once much more common in its range (which is limited to a fairly limited elevation and soil type, according to this Wikipedia account) and now exists in protected areas.  (Overcollection had an impact).  I'm thinking I even have a framed pressed flower montage from Switzerland that includes an edelweiss flower.  (It was a birthday present from my mom when I was a teenager).

Gentians comprise a species-rich genus, with a cosmopolitan distribution. My gardening companion studied three alpine gentians in the White Mountains of California in graduate school;  4 summer seasons were spent comparing their pollination biology and life history strategies (at ~ 11,000 ft).  It was nice to go visit in summer;  not so fun in the beginning of the season, for fieldwork, when there was still snow on the ground. So gentians have been part of our botanical lives for a long time.  

It would have been fun to see one on the Feldburg, but probably the short-stemmed, dwarf species described in this image flowered in late spring or early summer.

Its common name is first described here as yellow gentian (?), but then the description mentions a much better one: stemless gentian (Stengelloser Enzian).  Hmm.  There is a yellow gentian native to the alps, but its flowers are yellow, as you'd think.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Salad for lunch

Thanks to the Freiburg farmer's market around the Munsterplatz, we've had delicious salads and vegetables. 
ready for lunch
 I felt confident that I'd posted everything I could already about this farmer's market, but it is truly exceptional, especially the Saturday version.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

An excursion to Colmar

What a lovely city in Alsace!  I visited over three decades ago, and then again 6 years ago.  And even though it's now full of tourist-oriented shops and restaurants, instead of "local" shops," from years ago, it's still a wonderful place within the confines of the pedestrian zone and beyond. Lots of international tourists to be heard -- not surprisingly.

Just a few images to share.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A view from our Freiburg terrace

Alas, my iPhone didn't capture the image of the Schwarzwald in the light beyond the terrace, but it was a lovely view, nevertheless.

View from the upper terrace

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Wandering around Kaiserstuhl

A daytrip to Kaiserstuhl was both an opportunity to walk along one of the many paths that lace the region as well as enjoying the remarkable managed landscapes of vineyards, benefitted by the nutrient-rich soils of a unique geologic formation between the Schwarzwald and the Rhein.

This is a well-known German wine region; it’s also a favorite destination for walkers and cyclists. In the spring, rare orchids and other species adapted to the calcium-rich soils are in flower — another reason to visit!

Monday, August 27, 2018

A visit to Staufen im Breisgau

The nearby medieval city of Staufen is a favorite of Rick Steves, an excellent traveler and guide to all things about European travel through the "back door."  He's a favorite of ours, through his podcasts primarily, but also through his travel guides.  So, when he mentions Staufen, just a short way outside of Freiburg as a destination, well, we'll join the other tourists there.  We weren't dissappointed.

It's a postcard-worthy town, from the Rathaus and Marktplatz:
The Rathaus (city hall)

 Charming streets with restored houses and businesses reflect its popularity (and prosperity).

A destination konditorei/confiserie/café, Café Decker, was mentioned in several places; in a country, where every small town seems to have several such places, it definitely was worth checking out.  We don't normally have afternoon cake, but it seemed like a good idea here.  Both were excellent!

cakes at Café Decker
We weren't hiking in the countryside today, but for folks staying in Staufen, there are myriad opportunities for walking and biking, as there are throughout the region.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Coming back to a once familiar place

View of Freiburg from the Schossberg
It's been interesting to return to a vibrant university town that I knew well decades ago.  It was great then and lovely now, but of course, the experiences are different.  Freiburg is an even more prosperous place, it seems to me, now hosting even more tourists and regional shoppers, just as university students, both German and international come back for fall classes to resume.
Munster without scaffolding -- first time in 12 years

Walking around the Altstadt on a Saturday afternoon -- well, it was bustling.  Even on a drizzily morning, the Saturday market at the Munster Platz was busy.  Delightful.

But it reminds me, too, that our HomeExchanges where we're able to walk to shop for groceries or to the farmer's market, and be close to town -- and to experience the feeling of living in this place -- are really magic.

And it reminds me that I can actually walk to grocery stores at home in Asheville that are closer than the ones here!  I came back from Stockholm over a year ago thinking "I can walk to the grocery store" - a 8-10 minute walk- after walking 6-10 miles each day in Stockholm.  But having heavy bags quickly persuaded me back to my driving habits.  Here, both grocery stores that I've frequented so far don't have easy parking, not have I driven our HomeExchange partner's car yet, so daily short visits make the most sense. And it's easy to buy milk, coffee, etc.  just a block down the street.

But, more essentially, it's wonderful to come back to a vibrant university town, which, where history has been preserved and restored, seems familiar yet unfamiliar.  I came into town, years ago, from the opposite side of the Altstadt from where our HomeExchange apartment is located.  I've just in the last couple of days walked around a bit of the university area.

Back then, I walked ten minutes and took a bus into town, then walked to where my language classes at the Goethe Institute were held.  In the afternoons, I'd poke around the old city of Freiburg (uh, and practice my German!)

My favorite place was the robust vegetable, fruit, and produce market around the Munster.  It was amazing to me as a young post-graduate student, and remarkable still.

Artichokes, with and without flowers

Cut flowers for sale

Friday, August 24, 2018

Music in the Altstadt of Freiburg

A walk for shopping (ugh) brought some lovely moments. These young people stopped shoppers along the busy Kaiser-Joseph-Strasse, a mainstream shopping street in Freiburg.

They had a big group gathering round, including me;  they were a wonderful interlude from a "shopping" excursion.

Looking toward the Munster.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Munster market in Freiburg

I was planning to post about the central market surrounding the Munster in Freiburg, a favorite place from years ago.  But, while trying to find where some community vegetable gardens might be located here, one of the results from that search turned out to be my post from 6 years ago about the daily market next to the cathedral:  https://naturalgardening.blogspot.com/2012/09/freiburg-market-at-munsterplatz.html

What I wrote then applies, today, too, with a similar array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and cheese for sale.  I'm looking forward to visiting the Saturday morning market -- the largest of the week.

The market looks similar today, although with a bit of fencing currently surrounding the cathedral, it’s not quite as picturesque.  Fortunately, the fence will be removed in early September, apparently, and the cathedral is looking great.

lots of fresh berries currently!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A first excursion in the Schwarzwald

We have the use of our HomeExchange partner's lovely Saab, obviously well-maintained over its long life.  We extracted it from its underground garage (an interesting business of moving platforms and keeping the garage door open) for an first outing into the Black Forest, both to practice our driving and navigation skills and to go out of the city a bit.

It wasn't disappointing.  The villages of St. Peter and St. Margen were both delightful, as was the drive.  I even was able to practice my German (with a Canadian!) who recognized us as English speakers, as we tried to go up (the closed) road to St. Peter, under construction, apparently;  the signs were subtle, to say the least.

I loved these signs in the herb garden next to the Kloster in St. Peter.

Flowers and herbs are the "smiles" of the earth.
The way to health is in a garden. 
And my sister, a clinical herbalist, now post her piano studio career, would have loved this walk. I'd have enjoyed it, too!
The poster describes a local walk identifying local herbs and edibles. 

There are lots of such events around -- in St. Margen and St. Peter, they were celebrating their 900 year and 925 year anniversaries of founding the religious communities there, the forerunners of the towns that are now vacation destinations for walker, bikers, and winter enthusiasts (walking, snow shoeing, skiing, etc.).

Monday, August 20, 2018

A welcoming neighborhood

In the community that is HomeExchange, we share our homes and exchange our neighborhoods.

I'm grateful that our Asheville neighborhood (and close neighbors) welcomed our latest HomeExchange visitor.  A key mishap turned into a welcoming trip to a local pub for a neighborhood gathering.  How nice is that?

We live on an urban street, with closely spaced houses, in a neighborhood close to downtown; we know who all of our neighbors are, we know some better than others, but all are familiar. That's lovely compared to our previous suburban life in a small college town, where we just knew a few of our immediate neighbors.

Similarly, here in Freiburg, we've been welcomed by the lowest floor downstairs neighbor, who assures us that she's there to ask if we have questions, etc.  And all of the folks we've talked to have been friendly, too -- that's the gift of travel, as well.

I'm grateful for the ability to travel and experience so many things -- it's expanded my world view and brought remarkable experiences as well.

Overlook trail in Parc National du Bic

There's always a road ahead, whether at home or somewhere else.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A final foreign travel leg in a traveling year

I came across a two year-old post about the familiar dance of travel, while searching for something else. It’s familiar still; in this case, our HomeExchange partner will be in our house while we’re gone.  

Everything’s tidied up, nothing is moldering in the refrigerator, and plants are watered.  I was happy to put in some fall greens in empty spaces in my raised beds up front a couple of days ago. They were looking a bit bare just full of herbs, and our gardenening neighbor who’s keeping an eye on the garden suggested it — somehow it hadn’t crossed my mind, as I was going to be “away.”

On this trip, we’re going to a once familiar place, Freiburg, Germany. I spent 2 months in language school there over three decades ago. A university town, I loved it then, and a return trip was equally delightful 6 years ago on a self-guided garden visiting trip.

They’re calling to board now. Another adventure. At least I understand the language, as least reasonably, and can speak passably, too.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A late August walk at Beaver Lake

I love walking around Beaver Lake in North Asheville as an alternative walk to many variations of neighborhood walks.  It's a bit closer than the French Broad walk at Biltmore Estate that I equally love, so it won out this morning as a last walk before being gone again for awhile.

It didn't disappoint, with this heron watchful, but placid, nearby.  Unusual heron behavior.

And lovely patches of Swamp Milkweed pocketed the lake's edge.

Neither are remarkable photos, but reflect a nice morning's walk.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ironweed (Vernonia spp.)

I don’t remember off-hand which Vernonia this is, probably the common native one ~ angustifolia, perhaps, but it’s robust, and self-sows quite readily.

It’s lovely in the garden from mid-August through September; butterflies and bees love it. It’s all over the pocket meadow in front - original plants and self-sowed ones.

They’ll definitely be edited a bit more when we return from our last foreign Home Exchange this year.

In the meantime, I hope our simultaneous Home Exchange partner for the month enjoys the Tiger Swallowtails that are visiting currently. Not to mention the hummingbirds on the Salvia guaranitica along the side of our parking space/driveway.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sustainability, climate change, and gardening

I had a lovely visit with a wise and well-read friend today.  We talked about a lot of things.

But, most telling, she asked me about how we approached the impact of our travel on climate change.  Her daughter, equally an environmentalist, I think, is concerned about whether our choices as travelers contribute one way or another to any systemic change.

This is a challenge, as every time we get on a plane, we contribute to vast amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere.  Yes, we can do carbon offsets, but is that really enough?

I went into a long explanation about how I've been a lifelong enviromentalist, conscious of trying to live lightly on the earth, not having children, taught so many children and adults about the natural world, yada yada.   But the conversation still has me thinking.

the pocket meadow yesterday
How do we bring this forward in our national and international conversation in a time when our U.S. government has on blinders?  I don't know.

I'm thinking that all I can do is help restore the habitat and land in property that we own and teach people about how to restore theirs, I think, in classes and programs. That's what I've done my entire career.

Gardening can be excellent stewardship;  we've done it now in three places, now starting on a fourth in the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. And I can continue to encourage stewardship in other special places, too, whether they're special properties up for consideration as land trusts, or encouraging folks to plant more natives in their gardens.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Coming home again

After two days in a wonderful gardening symposium (Speaking of Gardening, a benefit for Asheville GreenWorks, but sponsored generously by a number of local enterprises), I was glad to come home to what welcomes us now.

The pocket meadow is exuberant, somewhat edited now, with more editing to come before we leave for our last Home Exchange for awhile.

We'll literally be swapping space this time, with our Home Exchange partner here while we're in his space in Southern Germany.

Pocket meadow/pollinator garden up front
There's really nothing I don't like about this, pulling into the driveway, even though it does require editing (UH, isn't that was gardening is about?)

Some of the horticulturely-inclined speakers were beginning to talk in "editing" terms.  Bryce Lane, a horticulture professor, thankfully, was promoting "management, not maintenance."

Well, of course.  Gardens aren't static, whether they're naturalistic or not. Of course, we edit, not maintain gardens.  I'm glad he's now teaching that to young horticulture students!

For us, naturalistic gardening is all about editing, at least in the front borders that are my "gardens."

The "natural" woodland garden below the house, created by my gardening companion by eradicating invasives, hauling out trash, then planting appropriate woodland understory trees, shrubs and ground story species: well, it's fabulous; we've been partners in its transformation.

Friday, August 10, 2018


We've had family visiting for the last few days.  Delightful!

But, it keeps raining.  Yikes.  This time of the year in the Southeastern U.S., we're normally worrying about watering.  Not this year.  It poured for about a hour this evening. Geez, what was that about?  I was soaked on a grocery store excursion.

As gardeners, we're always worried about having enough rain in August and September in this part of the world.


Up in Bas St. Laurent, there was finally a bit of rain, after a VERY long dry spell.

There's a lavender underneath those Solidagos!
So things are looking lush here, and I'm planning to rescue a lavender that's been overtopped by Solidago "Fireworks," planted last year after the telephone pole replacement.  The lavender will go into my raised beds up front -- they're devoted to herbs until I return in late September.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Being at home

Familiar places and good walks are part of being at home.

The path along the French Broad River in the Biltmore Estate is a favorite. 

Access to the trail near the lagoon was closed because of an evening concert, but the alternative walk starting at Antler Hill Village provided expansive views of the corn and sunflowers.

A photo from my gardening companion's iPhone, as mine was at home.

Biltmore Estate near Antler Hill Village

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Returning home to Western North Carolina

A partially edited version of the front "pocket meadow"
Arriving home yesterday afternoon was a relief.  First, getting back from any kind of travel without problems is always a good thing. Second, it's been raining so much in the two months away, we figured our naturalistic garden would be fine, although we hoped it wasn't too overgrown.

But since we've had HomeExchange folks in the house, and neighbors keeping an eye on the garden, we were hopeful that things would be OK.

The good news was that everything was fine in the house and the garden was EXUBERANT.   Yikes.
There was barely room for my gardening companion's car in the driveway, much less my larger one.
And the native woodland garden behind the house -- well, it's lush and the trees are remarkably leafy and green.

The trees all over the city of Asheville seem like they've reveled in the rainy weather, looking much more robust and leafy than I remember from previous summers.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Traveling home to Asheville

We now have two homes. Our place in Quebec feels like home, too.

A couple of nights before we left, we saw a red fox along a back road in St. Fabien-sur-Mer. Delightful.
Red fox at Saint-Fabian- sur-mer
Driving back to Asheville over the last two days, we’ve traveled by grain fields, along the St. Lawrence, down through the Adirondacks of NY State, skirted the flanks of NY City, through Pennsylvania, then through the rolling hills and mountains of the edge of Maryland, West Virginia, and now Virginia, staying overnight in Winchester.

But it still feels like we’re going home. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s flowering in the pocket meadow. It’s been rainy, so things are lush. I know the Silphiums are already in flower, based on our most recent Home Exchange visitor.

They’ll be deadheaded before we leave again, that’s for sure. They’re beautiful, but I don’t need to contend with seedlings everywhere in a small front garden....

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

An improbable couple of months in Quebec

I certainly never imagined having a second house in Quebec.

Nor did I imagine that my gardening companion would find a magical house and landscape on the web, next to a national park that we've loved visiting in the past, just before we were leaving for a month away in late January with other trips abroad planned in spring and late summer/fall.

But, I fell in love with the house, too.  And we had a purchase agreement based on our late May site visit within a week.  We rather quickly decided (since we couldn't see the house much earlier because of our traveling schedule and the snow), that we'd just drive up with Woody thinking that we probably would buy it, but we thought and pondered about the place then for months, not even really knowing what we'd bought in terms of the French-Canadian pine furniture, and whatever else might be included.  This was a for-sale, by-owner purchase, almost all conducted via Google Translate, with the former owner an antique dealer.  Hmm. 

Improbable.  And we're not truly spontaneous people.   But we knew the national park across the street was delightful; we love historic houses and old pine furniture, and we know how to garden with a sense of place.  And what could be more special than being in the farthest northern tip of the Appalachians during the summer, as well as living in the Southern Appalachians.

We're leaving the garden looking much more cared for, while already moving it more towards a naturalistic landscape, adding more native plants and eliminating the less desirable "ornamentals."  Bishop's weed is out, fireweed is in, etc.

Today's views in the national park tell part of the story.  It's been just as wonderful as we could have imagined.  I've loved walking, biking, and kayaking in the park, even though biking and kayaking were not in my imagination, either, back in January. 

This morning's walk at Cap Caribou to Anse aux Bouleux-Est
Havre du Bic late this afternoon
Havre du Bic

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Heading home for a couple of weeks

As we get ready to head back to Asheville for a couple of weeks (before a month in Freiburg, Germany on HomeExchange), it's hard not to feel wistful.

We wish we could stay in Quebec through September, or even October, but with tickets purchased back in January, prior to seeing this place on the web, with a wonderful opportunity to be in Freiburg again (I was in language school there for 2 months back decades ago), and with a great place to go to -- well, we're not going to pass that up.  And visiting with our German HomeExchange partner here reminded me of all of the great places to visit around Freiburg.

We'll be back here in Le Bic, we think, in winter for a month.  Hmm.  But people seem to love it (at least the ones who love snowshoeing, skiing, and winter sports.

Looking through the French doors out the back of the house brings a view of a historic old farmhouse and barn, recently inherited by a neighbor down the road.

View out the "back" door

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sunset views

It's hard to overestimate the landscape views here in Bas St. Laurent.  Up above the river, or along the river, the expansive sky is the story.

Tonight was no different. 

Up on the ridge above our house, the pastoral landscapes of farm, field edges, and the view beyond were part of our end-of-the summer good-bye before we leave in the middle of next week.

Fields looking west on the ridge above our house

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