Wednesday, April 1, 2020


On my walk yesterday, thankfully still permitted in our "stay at home" city, I admired violets in a median strip.  I'm quite sure they were voluntary, but the homeowner happily hadn't "weeded" them out.  There are lots of violets in lawns throughout our neighborhood, too.  Lovely.

It's much nicer to see violets than the emerald green weed and feed lawns in one of our nearby (upscale) neighborhoods, where I also walk. 

Although one of them had trillium, mayapple, bloodroot, and trout lilies in a front bed, nestled together with variegated hostas.  Remarkable.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Gifts at home

Our native columbines are now in full flower. Remarkable. They seem to be on steroids after our warm winter. It's a short-lived perennial, so these must be towards the last of their resources?  We've never seen such tall flowering stalks before.  Last year's flowers suffered from aphid infestations, so it's a gift to have lovely plants now.

We had brought seeds from our Clemson garden, sprinkled them around, and now have lots of columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) in various parts of the garden, especially this side front area, which is planted with a variety of natives.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Nature and the garden

It was a gift and a privilege to walk along the Bent Creek pedestrian path in the NC Arboretum this morning.  All of our city parks are temporarily closed, as are the recreation areas in the National Forest nearby, but the Arboretum is still open, for now, for passholders and drive-in parking fee folks.

An unexpected sighting of two patches of planted Oconee Bells had me gasp this morning -- how lovely to happen upon them unexpectedly.

This photo was my hubbie's from a visit to Botanical Gardens of Asheville, now closed for visiting.

Oconee Bells

This was my sighting at the Arboretum.

They have a venerable and iconic story, which I won't retell now.  I shared it with a couple of other of the few fellow walkers that I was encountering as the morning progressed. Thankfully,  it was easy to climb up the slope to practice social distancing, but later in the morning or afternoon, I'm not sure how easy it was.

It was so soothing to hear the sounds of Bent Creek.  Frankly, I was in tears listening to the stream.

I'm again, thankful for the access to nature that I have.  Sending all good wishes for connections to nature that you have, or virtual connections, too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Neighborhood tulips

Walking in the bright sunshine of late afternoon, my spirits lifted. Spring in full swing was totally a help.

This patch of tulips was a welcome sight.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Walking in local neighborhoods

We walked by this lovely gate and garden combination again this evening.  It's not in our neighborhood, but an adjacent one.

A lovely garden vignette

This pot of Virginia bluebells, with the barn wood entrance, has made me happy for two days now.  And this was the same walk I took this afternoon, when the rain stopped -- it's one of my favorite ones, looping up around the Grove Park Inn, back down, and back.

It was eerie to see how empty the Grove Park Inn was.  The front door was open but there were virtually no cars in the parking areas.  I totally get why coming to Asheville in practically shut-down mode wouldn't be attractive, but... it was a dramatic reminder of what's happening in our tourist town.

I was happy to be out, regardless, hardly seeing anyone out walking, and the few folks I saw -- well, we passed 6 feet apart.  It's a different world.

I'm including another photo of me with my Inspired Gardener hat.  It makes me happy, too.  Thanks, Botanical Interests.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A wonderful afternoon in the garden

I woke up worried (I’m an anxious sort, which served me well in my previous work life,  being translated into a very good sense of process and time),

Happily, though, it was an absolutely beautiful day in Western North Carolina and first a walk and then an afternoon spent gardening totally turned around my state of mind, and I felt totally happy sowing beet and spinach seeds, cleaning up the pocket meadow beds of leaves covering their crowns.

The flowering Asian cherries are lovely and the Asian magnolias are unscathed with frost, so far.  A warm spring, so far.  This was on  a walk in a nearby neighborhood.                                            

This afternoon’s gardening was so encouraging. 

Coming in, in late afternoon, I saw my image in the upstairs bathroom.  I was wearing my Inspired Gardener hat, from late year’s Garden Blogger Fling, thanks to Botanical Interests.  It’s my favorite hat in windy weather, that’s for sure, and it made me happy today, to see this reflection in the mirror.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Sorting seeds

Talking with a potential summer renter, who's a keen gardener, I mentioned that I'd look at what vegetable seeds that I had on hand, as she'd be here from June 1- Sept. 30.  Just like last summer's renter, I'll be delighted to have her start planting warm-season vegetables in my front beds, well in advance of when we're planning to leave.

A winter spinach harvest a few years back, in January

Back when I taught vegetable gardening programs much more than I do now, at the botanical garden where I worked,  I used my programs as a wonderful excuse to buy more seeds (so I could distribute them to the participants, while trying new varieties myself.

Alas, most of my seeds are getting pretty "past date" -- although since I now have plenty of time on my hands (most all of my classes and presentations have now been canceled), I'm planning to test viability of some of the older seeds.

In a previous research life, I worked with seed germination, so I thought it might be fun to test viability of 7-8 year old vegetable seed.  Of course, I've eliminated the obvious ones: onions, leeks, and spinach, which are decidedly short-lived. 

Interestingly, I didn't have any mesclun mix or lettuce, which I must have taken to Quebec either last summer or the year before, or maybe didn't have any.

But I'm going to try sprouting argula, broccoli, kale, collards, pea, and squash just for fun.  All of them are edible as sprouts.

The stay-at-home time ahead may be a welcome time to revisit posts like this one:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Year-round vegetable gardening

Doing a program on year-round vegetable gardening at a local nursery (Reems Creek in Weaverville) has given me a welcome opportunity to add vegetables to my own raised beds as well as review and talk about a favorite topic.

There were 37 people signed up (for a free program) as of Monday afternoon.  Delightful to see that much interest!

As this talk will be done more as a presentation with props (plants, seeds, etc.), I've moved my presentation images and handout links up to the top of the blog side bar for people to view after the program if they like.

So nice to think about growing and harvesting vegetables in these uncertain times.

early spring beds

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A first native wildflower sighting: bloodroot

It’s always a harbinger of spring.  I’ve written many posts about bloodroot over the years.

Our small plant here in Asheville has been flowering over the last few days.  Delightful to see it, along with all the other signs of spring on the way.

It’s a small plant with small flowers compared to the others that I’ve posted about in the past, but it’s perfectly lovely,  nevertheless.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Veggies to transplant

I really meant to post this first on Natural Gardening, it’s about vegetable gardening, after all. But Blogger requires me to choose which blog site each time, regardless of the Firefox link I click to access each blog.

So, here are some thoughts about early spring vegetables, posted on Places of the Spirit.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Veggies to plant

Deciding whether to write about a reflection about corona virus to come or veggies to plant, I’m opting for veggies.

I was fortunate to have kale, collards, and spinach overwinter, so that was great.  But the older Tuscan kale was starting to bolt, and I already harvested it.  We returned last fall at the end of September, so I was hard pressed to find any transplants at all — I think I got the one I planted at the local Ace Hardware or possibly Jesse Israel.  They were definitely the last of the transplants.

I sowed spinach seeds right away, though, and have been delighted to have them overwinter without cover.  The spinach plants look great.

But, there’s lots of room for more cool season spring veggies, so I bought kale, collards, and chard at my favorite local purveyor this afternoon.

I’m planning to sow sugar snap peas and mesclun mix soon, too. I opted for now not to add lettuce transplants — lettuce did SO much better last summer in Quebec, I’m not sure it’s worth the space in my spring raised beds.

The greens may well come in handy as a source of fresh veggies, if our grocery trips become limited.  

Who knows?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Spring is almost here

The Ozark witch hazel in our front garden is in full bloom.

It's lovely, and I'm glad we pruned the stem sprouts before we left for our winter sojourn in Quebec.  It looks much better.  And interestingly, I'm thinking, at some point, the leaves (that had been retained late), finally dropped, so the structure of this small tree can be enjoyed.

It's a focal point in front of the house, so nice to see it!

Around town, there are signs of spring everywhere:  Asian cherries with buds about to burst, Asian yellow jasmine already in flower, daffodils in flower, etc.

The sassafras tree out our upstairs window has decidedly swollen flower buds.   Revisting past posts about Sassafras confirmed flowering dates in mid-March.   Amazing that I've had so many posts about Sassafras over the years.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Vegetables back in Asheville

Another post that I meant to make here, but was posted on Places of the Spirit.  It’s a post about vegetables and heading back to spring.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Mountain ash fruits

We’ve been admiring the mountain ash trees, in full fruit, outside our living room window and elsewhere.

I think we’ll be heading south before the various birds that eat the fruits arrive, from robins to cedar waxwings, to many others, according to Wikepedia’s account.

They’re tannic-rich fruit, like hollies, so are much more palatable after winter and freeze-thaw cycles, apparently.  Interesting.

Friday, February 14, 2020

A follow-up from yesterday.

My gardening companion shared two great photos that are excellent follow-ups to my post yesterday.

Here’s a photo of me, about to enjoy crepes.

And a close-up photo of the ice fishing village.  He skied closer to it than I did.

Thinking about gardening and creativity

My first volunteer program in March is a 10 am-4 pm workshop about Tapping into the Creative Side of Gardening at the North Carolina Arboretum.

Inspired many years ago by Fran Sorin’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing your Creative Roots through Gardening, I’ve enjoyed encouraging folks using her approach.  It’s a brilliant one and really brought me back to realizing my own creativity, with gardening and beyond.

A search on creativity in previous posts brought up a number of them, well worth revisiting as I prepare my workshop to come.  It’s a workshop/class that I’ve done before, but here in a snowy winter, it’s been fun to think about gardening to come and what creativity in the garden looks like.

I highly recommend her book; gardening is a creative activity, after all.  She has wonderful suggestions for ways to inspire others (as well as yourself).

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Gardening zones in Canada

Having fun looking at Canadian seed catalogs (based online), I was bemused by the revised map of Canada’s zones posted by Vesey Seed Company.

That dark green area on the lower left third of the sweep towards the Gaspe Peninsula is Rimouski, our nearby big city.  Much to my surprise, supposedly the last frost dates are Oct. 11-20.

That’s just weird.  As a scientist, I’m just figuring that it’s a bit of an anomaly of weather data that created this odd result.

Obviously, the weather is warming here, as it is everywhere, as I’m quite sure Oct. 1-10 weren’t historic last frost dates, for the surrounding region, just like our older USDA temperature predictions are similar.

In the mountains of Western North Carolina, we went from USDA Zone 6a to 6b, probably pushing upwards at lower elevations.

We met a lovely woman out skiing this morning who was so happy to meet us and practice her English.  She grew up in the Eastern Townships, and had moved to Rimouski 6-7 years ago.  She commented that one reason she moved (in addition to having her son and his family in Rimouski), was that the snow simply hadn’t been reliable over the last 15 years in the Sutton area, where she had lived. And she loves skiing.  She was chugging along faster than me on her cross-country skies, even though clearly older than I am.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Foodways in Quebec

I just posted this in Places of the Spirit, but perhaps it really belonged here, as it had to do with foodways and vegetables.

I’m writing about parsnips and fingerling potatoes grown in Quebec.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Thinking about vegetables (and baby butternut squash musings)

One of the new staff members at the English library where I volunteer here in the winter in Quebec is a keen (relatively new) vegetable gardener.  A young mom, in Rimouski since 2012, coming here as a post-doc in microbiology, I think, she has a community garden plot near where we sometimes start skiing (in the winter) or biking (in the summer) along the Sentier le Littoral.

I don't know that community garden, so I'm glad to learn about it and will look forward to seeing it next summer.  She reports that there are about 40 small community garden plots there (with a waiting list) and they have a nice community feel.  Lovely.

She described some pests that I'd never heard of -- a leek moth that attacks garlic, for example.  In my experience, I've never had any trouble with garlic.  But, there are a LOT more leeks in the markets here than back in North Carolina, so that may be the explanation. She described what sounded like cutworms taking out sugar snap pea and spinach seedlings, too.

I'm going to share some of my baby Honeynut Squash seeds with her -- she starts seeds in April and hopefully, she'll share a couple of the transplants with me when I return to Quebec in late May. 

We're not here in spring, of course, to start transplants, and even though I can bring seeds across the border from the U.S. to Canada (not vice versa), transplants in potting mix, well, I'm quite sure that wouldn't happen.

What I mentioned to her is how delicious immature baby butternut squash are, in addition to their delightfully small size.

a green baby honeynut squash (YUM!)
I started growing them as they were great on trellises and resistant to squash vine borers.  Dan Barber, who encouraged their development via a Cornell vegetable breeder, was looking for taste and small size.  They have both.

But basically they're delicious as a young green squash, much better than Tromboncino squash, which is also resistant.  They have a delightful mild butternut squash flavor as a young squash.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Skiing again

It was a lovely day for x-c skiing in Parc National du Bic.

Sunny, no wind, and I was actually feeling quite robust, as my technique has improved and my muscles are stronger.  Yikes, x-c skiing is good (and challenging) exercise, even as I thought very long walks and going to the gym would suffice as preparation.  Ha!  Next year, I’ll be doing a lot more.

Obviously, I need to step up my workouts back in NC as well as keep it up here, but adding recovery days, too.

The snow is lovely at the moment, and as long as I can stay in good x-c technique mode, I glide and kick quite decently, without the slipping and shoulder strains from suddenly having to grasp my ski poles.

My hubby heading down the trail

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Summer fruits

I cooked up my last bag of unpitted cherries this evening. After trying to fish out all the pits (I’m definitely pitting them all before freezing next summer,  if we have a good crop), I added some frozen apples from one of our trees or perhaps they were from the feral (but delicious) apples from our neighbor (also cooked and frozen).

I then added some rhubarb-strawberry jam from last summer, too, so it’s quite the summer memory now concentrating in the microwave.  Yum.

A bowl of concentrated summer fruits. A summer treat in winter

I just wish I could easily take some back with me to North Carolina, but the regulations about home-cooked jams are rather nebulous, and in some cases rather strictly prohibit home-canned jams and fruits.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Greenhouse-grown strawberries

It’s not unusual to see grapes, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries off-season at the supermarket.  What were once seasonal favorites (in the parts of the world that they were grown) are now frequently encountered in supermarkets around the world almost year-found, shipped from their points of production.  (Of course, vegetables are shipped across and between continents, too, but it was the fruits that I noticed today.)

In North America, patterns vary, but seasonal fruits (and ones that can be stored) are available both in and out of season (for example, citrus fruits, apples, and pears)  Strawberries grown in Florida and Southern California start appearing in early February, in our markets in the Southeastern U.S.  In the meantime, shipments of warm-season fruits come from South America.  Some more tolerant of cooler temperatures (blackberries and raspberries) come from Mexico. 

This is true in our part of Quebec, too, as I bought some organic berries from Mexico today.  I don't normally buy out-of-season fresh berries (opting for frozen instead), but this was a special treat.  (Hmm, and I also have a freezer full of cherries and apples from last summer to use!)

But, I was surprised to see greenhouse-grown strawberries from Canada at a large market in our nearby city this afternoon.  Greenhouse-grown strawberries?  Really?  Strawberries, as a perennial crop, seemed an unlikely, but potentially extremely profitable crop, so I was intrigued.  These certainly looked attractive compared to their imported counterparts.

Photo from Mucci Farms, a greenhouse grower
Returning home, I was fascinated to learn via Google that this is a successful, relatively new enterprise, taken up by long-standing greenhouse growers in the Kingston, Ontario region, adding strawberries to their tomato, pepper, and cucumber production rotations.  Strawberries are a light-demanding crop, so conversion of these greenhouses to be more energy-efficient, using natural gas to produce electricity with heat as a by-product was part of one grower's strategy.

Remarkable to have ripe (and apparently) delicious strawberries (much sweeter than imported) in mid-winter.

Special greenhouse varieties of strawberries (day-length neutral), bred for taste, rather than shipping hardiness, is also part of the story. 

These long-term Canadian nursery growers now grow greenhouse varieties of strawberry nursery plants to support this growing industry.  Fascinating.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Lettuce grown in Canada

I like to grow greens.  Lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, creasy greens - well, whatever I can grow in my now shorter seasons of growing in Western North Carolina in spring and fall.

In Quebec, well, I could grow greens down in the basement under lights, but I hate to introduce moisture and extra fungal spores to the basement.  Beside, there’s skiing to do!

My summer garden here in Quebec is just fine.

So I was interested to see in my favorite small market in Rimouski (our nearby city), these hydroponically grown Boston butterhead lettuces grown in Quebec.

lettuce grown hydroponically in Quebec

They're lovely heads of lettuce and the company, based on their website, seems like an excellent one.  They don't say where the energy for their hydroponic production is coming from, but otherwise seem quite transparent about their production technique.

It struck me as better than buying lettuce grown in Mexico, although this is also the first time I've bought lettuce here in quite a while (last summer, my lettuce, in the cool summers here, just went on and on).

Monday, January 6, 2020

Greens and spinach

I cooked a last harvest of mustard greens, Swiss chard, and a bit of Tuscan kale this evening -- the rest of my hardy greens will be on their own this winter.  Perhaps our nice neighbors and HomeExchange folks here while we're gone, will be able to harvest more as the days lengthen, and they start growing again in earnest.

The mild winter so far hasn't presented much of a stress, aside from an unusual mid-October plummet into the teens.  There are signs of "early spring" all over here in our mountain town -- quite unusual, although my hubbie claims that we regularly have temperatures in the 50° F range as highs this time of year.  Maybe so, but there are plants that are starting to flower now that shouldn't:  camellias, yellow jasmine, Ozark witch hazel, etc.

I won't be covering up my delightful spinach seedlings (we'll be gone too long for that), but perhaps the mild winter will continue and they'll welcome us back.  Whatever.  They're delightful now, as we head north to a MUCH colder place.

young spinach in early January

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Seed ordering time

I'm juggling two vegetable garden seasons now, not all that compatible, although I'll be leaving lovely winter greens and developing spinach for our neighbors (and perhaps for us, when we return from our snowy adventure).

Catching up on old magazines, to recycle, preparing for the folks who will be staying in our house while we're gone, I came across a mention to a seed company that I didn't know -- a new one, founded by a collaboration between Dan Barber, a Cornell University vegetable breeder, and a seedsman.

Well, I was familiar with the wonderful baby honeynut squash that was the genesis of this;   it IS wonderful, eaten young or mature.

So I was delighted to visit Row 7 Seed Company and check out their offerings.  I love their focus on tastier version of some favorite vegetables (and they're just starting out!)

I ordered their beet, mixed pea shoot, and experimental squash offering, but am particularly keen on their tromboncino squash, which I also ordered. 

It's been a favorite of mine for many years, as it's resistant to squash vine borers, but the flavor (eaten as a green squash) has been quite bland.  So an improved version -tastier- will be welcome.

A robust tromboncino squash
I don't know if I'll have enough growing days in Quebec to fully try it out, but people successfully grow zucchini and yellow squash in our part of Quebec (all based on what the temperatures are in that particular summer) so why not give it a try.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Snowy times

I’m thinking about snow.  I just wrote a post on my sister blog to this one about it.   I’m really looking forward to our time there now, after revisiting photos from last January and February.

Not much gardening to do, aside from pruning elderberries, which want to take after the solarium/porch side of the house.

Snow is a special thing. Neither of us had experienced snowy winters before, but embracing the cold, x-c skiing, and the winter light — that was magic.

We’re heading back up to Quebec late next week.  It will be fun.

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