Antics Near the Buckeye

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Aesculus parviflora, the imposing bottlebrush buckeye at the bottom of the hill, has been magnificent this year. Every summer, this plant outdoes itself, making a strong statement in the garden and attracting all kinds of insects that feed on the flowers’ nectar. Dense branches provide a place for birds to find shelter and rest. Squirrels love to hide the buckeyes and knock the extras to the ground, which makes the chipmunks happy. If the humans are vigilant, they get a few of the inedible nuts, as well. Hard to believe, but this sprawling, flowering beauty is not a mass planting. It started here as a lone, somewhat scraggly, 4′ specimen. Over the past 7-8 years, it has spread by low, lateral branches that have rooted deeply into the fertile woodland soil. When the buckeye was in full bloom a few weeks ago, I put a chair beside it to show size perspective for a photo.

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The next morning, I looked out from the deck and the chair was missing. I thought maybe my husband had moved it to mow the small patch of adjacent lawn, but no, it turned up under the full moon maple, on its side, right in the middle of a bed of hardy begonia. Though lots of different critters move through our property — many of them in the evening hours — it would have taken a pretty large animal to move a metal chair that far. Since neighborhood deer bed down under the row of hemlocks behind the buckeye, I’m thinking they were probably responsible.  Don’t know, but it must have been a wild night in the garden!

Signs of Summer: The Farmers’ Market

Farmers Market near UNC-Asheville

Farmers Market near UNC-Asheville

A sweet family. A dog. Colorful Plants. Homegrown (and homemade) food. A beautiful day. What more could you want?

Change Ahead: Wampoldtopia Home and Garden

wambold9 On a garden bloggers tour of Asheville a few years ago, I spent a sensory-rich morning at the home of two artists, Damaris Pierce and Ricki Pierce. Somehow, I never got around to writing much about this intriguing place, named Wampoldtopia after the street that runs by the property. Then, this week-end, I read a recent article about Damaris and Ricki’s plans to give up the house and its lovingly-crafted gardens.  I figured it was time to look back at my photos and re-visit Wampoldtopia. When Ricki came to build a pond at the house in 2002 or so, Damaris lived there alone. It wasn’t long before Ricki moved in. The couple married and undertook one outdoor project after another, turning their hillside site into a fantasy of whimsical art, stonework, gardens, and pathways. wambold1 One look at the hillside and you can see why neighbors and passers-by have been curious about the fairyland web of artwork and plants. For the past few years, the couple has opened the gardens for special tours and visits by community groups. Still, they’ve tried to retain some privacy — not always easy with such enticing visions within the boundaries of fences and walls. wampold2 Damaris’s art and Rick’s stonework blend seamlessly throughout the outdoor space. With every step, there’s a treasure to see — each tangible evidence of a whole lot of talent and just plain hard work. wampold7 For years, Rick brought home some of his leftovers from stonework commissions. Always another project…. wambold8 Most of the bricks in this pathway were salvaged from road demolition projects, then placed, one by one, to create textural interest and access alongside the house. wampold10 Some people have an angel sculpture and some people have one enfolded by a lovely stone surround. wampold3 There was a bench near this straight little shallow stream, or rill, as the English might say. Despite quite a few gardeners milling about the hillside, you could still hear the soft trickling of water and the chatter of birds looking down at all the crazy humans ooh-ing and ah-ing over every little botanical/creative treasure! wampold5 Would you think this is a fairy house or a full-size shed? Actually, it’s about the size of a dog house. Very charming and unexpected as you walk along one of the paths criss-crossing the hillside. wampold9 The owners found this innovative way to disguise a chain link fence on the back of their property. The arches are made of cement and stucco, I believe, and the petals of mesh with some type of material on the surface. To me, it’s always sad to leave a garden, especially one that represents as much planning, labor, creativity and love as this one. Will the new owners take care of the garden? Will they keep things the way they are, maybe overlaying their own touches onto the space, or will they change much of it? Either way,  I wish Demarius and Ricki the best as they explore new and separate paths. I also thank them for that fine spring morning I spent at Wampoldtopia.

Sweetpea Sunday

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This meadow at the Carolina home place is chaotic, yet beautiful in its own way. Last week, the dewy blossoms of sweet peas and Queen Anne’s lace engaged me and several groups of early morning walkers.

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Unlike other fields on the property, this one gets mowed sporadically. Weedy thugs have taken over. I see an occasional butterfly weed or milkweed (unfortunate terminology since these are desirable natives and wonderful for pollinators). They struggle for a toehold and find it hard to compete with the more aggressive plants. My hope is that, someday, the field can be mowed regularly to keep weeds from going to seed. Then we can look at encouraging a transition to more native plants.

It’s hard to argue against sweet peas, though. They have such appealing blooms — and a nice name to boot!

Storm Center and the Tulip Poplar

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What tree?

When your house sits under a canopy of decades-old, 50′-100′ shade trees, you appreciate the benefits. You feel the drop in temperature when you leave the asphalt road and turn into the driveway. You note the ongoing parade of birds, squirrels, and insects scurrying up and down the furrowed trunks. It’s nature up close and always entertaining.

But there are downsides. It’s dark in the house. It’s hard to keep leaves and debris off the roof. The squirrels leap from tree to tree, then chew on cedar eaves when they get bored with running.

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Outside my window

And then there’s Storm Center, dispensing its warnings with increasing frequency and intensity. Approaching winds! Heavy rain! Take cover! Worry, worry.

Just this week, Storm Center scrolled its warnings across the television screen. I was busy sorting books — keep and give away –and didn’t notice. Besides, there was no wind, and the rain was steady and soft.

Then, things started to change. The trunk of the tulip magnolia/poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), growing six feet from the window, began moving from side to side. It gathered momentum, swaying in a widening circle. Alarmingly, the angle of the trunk changed from 90 degrees to nearly 70 degrees, leaning toward the house. I froze, expecting the worst. Then, as fast as the wind started, it stopped, and the tree righted itself.

The next day, news stations reported our area had seen the worst instance of circling heavy winds, damage, and uprooted tree in forty years. If our tree (one of a dozen close by) had gone down in this storm, so would’ve half our house.

In the ’70s, the homebuilders decided to keep most of the trees here, rather than cut them down to make their job easier. For that I’m grateful. But since the trees had previously grown in dense woods, reaching for the sun, most of them now have no branches on the lower 50 or so feet. The weight is all concentrated at the top of the trunk– okay for the forest, but not for inhabitants of the house.

Storm Center says there will be another Event today. I’m hoping for the best, staying away from the window until the tree specialist gets here to allay (or confirm) my fears.

Wordless Wednesday: Back in the Water

Going With the Flow

Going With the Flow

Mazus Takes Over the Yard, Fooling the Rabbits

azaleaandmazus_mmtn The backyard is lush and cool now in advance of the wilting heat that’s sure to come. Everything looks fresh: colors, the changing patterns of light, the tender seedlings that push up through the soil every hour (or so it seems).

I wish I could send along the delicate fragrance from hundreds of pinkish-lavender azalea blooms at their peak now. You would swoon if you smelled them. The azaleas were maybe half this size when we moved here. Over the years, they’ve merged into one glorius swath that is actually more pastel than this straight-out-of-the-camera color indicates.

The big white patch in the lawn is Mazus reptans ‘Alba’, which takes more sun than purple mazus. This semi-evergreen perennial spreads rapidly in moist soil and can sometimes be a nuisance, but I like the way it contrasts with the bright green grass in spring. Maybe an entire lawn of mazus? Would that be so bad?

Bait and switch in the backyard

Bait and switch in the backyard

Rabbits seem confused by the mazus blooms. Every morning, at least one eastern cottontail comes and stands in the patch, smells a white flower, then pauses and looks puzzled — at least that’s the way it looks to me. After that, it smells more white flowers, then noses around to find some grass or something else to nibble on before hopping off. I wonder if it thinks it sees clover, then discovers it’s really mazus. It certainly looks like clover from a distance.

I saw a little pile of white downy fur in the grass last week. I wondered if it was the remnants of a rabbit that had let its guard down, trying to figure out why the clover wasn’t really clover at all.

Plants: How to Woo a Woman

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When my son Greg met his soon-to-be wife, he was obviously smitten. I knew this for several reasons, but it was the energy he put into a gift for her upcoming birthday that confirmed it for me. He considered several options, then settled on a plan: he would assemble a menagerie of houseplants for her sunroom/office and keep everything secret until the Big Day arrived.

After many trips to buy greenery and other supplies, Greg spent hours mixing soil, matching plant to container, and potting each specimen up. He added some divisions from his collection and mine. To make sure the plants were kept secret and, also, watered and cared for in the interim, he brought them to my house for safe-keeping. You can see them above, in all their diversity of texture, pattern, color, and form, spread out in the driveway on delivery day.

I know I’m partial as a judge, but I think this is one of the sweetest, most from-the-heart gifts I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the thoughtfulness — not the gift — that made an impression. Either way, it’s not a bad way to impress a woman.

Hellebores: They Can Stay a Little Longer

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None of my lenten roses are special cultivars. They’re just seedlings of half a dozen plants I bought years ago. Over time, they’ve cross-pollinated and spread all over the garden. They’ve loved the rich soil here and have become so plentiful they’re verging on being intrusive and unwelcome. Last fall, I decided to select the white ones and those that were extraordinary or bright-hued, then give the rest away.

After the rough winter we’ve had, with camellia buds and other flowers stunted, I’m wavering on my plan. Hellebores are one of the few things in bloom now. From a distance, they play a subdued, but welcome, role in the landscape.

Up close, the flowers of lenten rose are anything but low-key. Variations in color and reproductive parts make me marvel at nature’s complexity. Still…. I need to make room for other things. Maybe things that won’t deposit hundreds of seedlings on the paths leading through the woods.

Looming

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Hinoki falsecyress: It’s cold out here. Let me in!

One evening recently, I was startled to see the Hinoki falsecypress pressing its branches against the window, as if to say, Let me in please! Maybe it was how the light reflected on the panes, but the tree seemed to have moved closer to the house since I looked out earlier that day.

Now, the snow is gone and the falsecypress appears to have resumed its place against the stone wall behind.

Have patience, little tree. Soon spring will be here and the birds will build nests in your soft, sheltering branches. They’re already scouting for just the right spot.