Royal Star Magnolia Makes Its Pre-frost Show


‘Royal Star’ is one of my favorite small magnolias. Its smooth, gray branches are laden with complex, sensuous blossoms and fuzzy-gray buds. The rounded shape adapts well to both small and expansive landscapes.

I planted this specimen at the Asheville homeplace in the early ’90’s, then my son and I thinned out its shrubby branches a decade later. Without any other attention, it has grown into a beautifully-shaped little tree about 15′ tall.


‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata) is an early-bloomer, an especially challenging trait this winter. Soon after I took these photos, every blossom was tinged with brown — definitely forlorn-looking compared to a few days before. There was no way to withstand the wildly-fluctuating temperatures that, for days, had risen to the ’80s, then dived to below freezing.

There are other good deciduous magnolias, ones with later bloom cycles, but my family and I have grown fond of this one. Every season, I look out from the kitchen window and see its dense, familiar branches. Gracefully, they occupy the space between the former garden and an old shed that shelters a family of groundhogs.

Puppy: What Lies Ahead (Wordless Wednesday)


Warm winter day, Charleston. Puppy time.

Laid-Back In the New Year … Maybe

Greeting Card - Penguins

Masquerading as a normal person

I’ve been level-headed and dependable all my life: a do-the-right-thing little girl, then teenager, now woman. It’s ingrained in my genes to help people and solve problems, to be reliable and act normal, for goodness sake.

Well, I’m over it. I’m in my 60’s and it’s high time to come to my senses. In 2016 I want to meander along a laid-back path, alternating wildly between serene interactions with nature and and bring-it-on pursuits of pleasure. If all goes well, I will may:

Fight the urge to be level-headed every second of every day.

Be open to silliness and frivolity.

Tone down the serious.

Surprise myself (and others) by doing the unexpected. 

Stop thinking I have to recycle every paper napkin or piece of plastic in existence.

Let someone else in the family organize my mother’s closets and finances.

Cultivate friends who are goofy, unconventional.


Okay. We’ll see how it goes.

Hope you get all you wish for in the New Year!


The Bluest Sky, the Greatest Service: Veterans Day


The gently rolling hills of East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery. A bucolic fall landscape.


Late Summer Sunset: Back Home


I lift up my eyes …

Hamlin Ceramics: Vibrant Art, Inspired by Gardens


In August of each year, the New Morning Gallery in Asheville sponsors a popular art and craft show on the grounds of the Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village. The show is known for its high quality crafts representing artists throughout the U.S.

This year, I had time for a quick tour of booths on Sunday afternoon, just before the show ended. One display stopped me short: the colorful, textured vessels of ceramics artist Mike Hamlin. Some pieces were cratered, very organic-looking, as  shown above.


Others were more elegant, with smooth finishes and a more intense spectrum of colors.

The creator of this varied work is Mike Hamlin of Hamlin Ceramics. He is influenced by gardening (“I combine my passion for gardening with my passion for ceramics and design forms…”), as well as by Scandanavian and mid-century design and other influences.



Mike’s creations are almost surreal, especially contrasted against a white background. These gorgeous colors and textures made me daydream: I would redecorate my house, using hues of blue and green, with several of these vessels as focal points. I would fill them with wispy native flowers or, in winter, arching sprays of dry grasses. But since redecorating is out, I’m content with one of Mike’s smaller pieces, a perfect complement to my rotating collection of seedpods, tiny shells, dried petals, and other objects.


I had never met Mike before the craft show, but I enjoyed talking to him about his work and his gardens. You can reach him at

Prickly Pear Cactus and Other Reds: Asheville Botanical Garden

Several weeks in a row I’ve had the pleasure of strolling the grounds of the Asheville Botanical Garden. It’s a place that soothes the spirit and, at the same time, awakens all the senses. If you love nature and native plants, it’s impossible to walk the paths without being sidetracked: a terrarium-size cluster of tiny wildflowers, a wide swath of ferns, a hawk landing at the top of a stately old sycamore.

This year I missed the spectacular show of early spring bloomers like Sweet Betsy  (Trillium cuneatum). But, now — several months later — there is still plenty to admire.

I was drawn to the beauty and intricacies of many plants and habitats, but for some reason everything of red hue jumped out me. It began with the striking display of Eastern prickly pear cactus at the Peyton rock outcrop.


Opuntia humifusa – yellow flowers and red fruits

Often, folks are surprised that there is a cactus native to the southeast, expecting it only in the midwest or other, more arid parts of the U.S. But prickly pear cactus survives on rocky, well-drained areas in the mountains. The red, pear-shaped fruits, often called “tunas,” can be peeled and eaten. This plant can quickly take over space in a garden, if sited in the right environment. Maybe you like the looks of it in the landscape, or maybe you find it slightly jarring to the eye. I thought the display at BGA was striking and pleasing in its rocky setting.


Silene virginica, Firepink, is an adaptive native wildflower that just glowed along the path by Reed Creek. Firepink doesn’t seem to colonize readily — at least I haven’t seen large groupings of it– but one or two is enough to catch the eye. These plants grow in both moist and dry habitats and the long tubular flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. According to Tim Spira in his book Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont, bees sometimes bore into the bottom of the long flower tubes to rob nectar.


Heuchera or alumroot provides a beautiful contrast to stone and the silvery greys of lichen. It’s a tough, adaptable plant. I’ve seen it growing in the crevices of dry rock outcrops as well as on high-humidity river banks.


Spigelia marilandica or Indian Pink is one of the most beautiful Appalachian natives. It attracts hummingbirds (and stops meandering bloggers in their tracks). There was a grouping of these near the BGA gift shop — quite lovely. Spigelias grow in woodland environments and spread by underground rhizomes.


I could not stop looking at this exotic-looking little vignette. The red bug stayed at this spot a long time. And, reluctant to leave, so did I.

Frog Footprints (Or Not)


A spot by any other name …

Galls and other leaf oddities have intrigued me lately. On an early evening walk with my mother a few weeks ago, I picked a bright-colored leaf from the lower limb of a nearby oak tree. I wondered out loud about the light green spots on the surface.  My brother’s sweet and observant four-year-old grandson, who had just presented me with some tiny yellow, roadside flowers, said, “I’m pretty sure it’s frog footprints.”

Those of us in the grown-up world might think those spots are actually a kind of leaf blister called Taphrina caerulescens. But, for now, we’ll keep that information to ourselves.

For a four-year-old, there’s plenty of time to learn about botany and plant diseases and factual reasons for green spots. Frogs and their footprints are the reality for now.

A House in the Woods: Oh the Joys


Getting ready to fill the coffee pot this morning, I lifted a dishrag left overnight in the kitchen sink. This spider — very much alive beneath the damp rag — is what I saw. This spider is what made me all quavery inside as I corralled it into a glass and carried it outside to dump out on the deck.

Either sated by milk or just as shaken as I was, the spider sat motionless for a long, long time.

There was a cardinal lingering in a branch just above the spider. The next time I looked, the spider was gone. Escaped to the nearby rock wall or food for a hungry bird? I’ll never know. I do know I won’t leave a dishrag in the sink anymore.

Water Meditation

 For Meryl, on a very special occasion:

                                                     Ocean. Rain. Candle Ice.