Several years ago my friend Annie was as excited as I’ve ever seen her. It was over a birthday present from her husband. No, not jewelry or dinner at a fancy restaurant. It was a truckload of prime-quality manure for her garden.
Most gardeners can relate.
Not long ago I was in a second-hand shop and thought I spotted the signature red handles of Felco pruners. Sure enough, #8s and they were only $3.00! After I took this photo, I cleaned and sharpened them and put on a new spring. They work beautifully, which spurred me to clean and sharpen all my garden tools. (Ok, most garden chores have been ignored, but my tools are very sharp).
Last week-end, looking for an early morning biscuit fix, I took the Biltmore Village exit on my way from east Asheville to Knoxville. To my left, I saw a grouping of what seemed a shorter, more stocky cultivar of the native Canadian redbud, Cercis canadensis.
The effect was striking in the morning light. But this mass planting didn’t evoke the same emotional response as the native redbuds that appear on hillsides this time of year.
Back on the interstate, I saw miles and miles of the graceful branches and downy, lavender-pink flowers of species Canadian redbud, randomly interspersed among native pines and hardwoods. It was an uplifting sight. I just wish the flowers weren’t quite so fleeting.
Easter, Spring, childhood memories: these wispy redbuds evoke them all.
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.
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!
A sweet family. A dog. Colorful Plants. Homegrown (and homemade) food. A beautiful day. What more could you want?
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. 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. 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. For years, Rick brought home some of his leftovers from stonework commissions. Always another project…. 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. Some people have an angel sculpture and some people have one enfolded by a lovely stone surround. 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! 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. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.