Archives for February 2012

Walking the Highline

'Jelena' Witchhazel on the Highline

I was transported (in my mind) to lower Manhattan, New York City a few weeks ago.  My friend Lea sent photos from her stroll through Highline Park, an angular, edgy, public garden created on an elevated railroad line built in the 1930s. The tracks, designed to avoid safety hazards of freight cars crisscrossing street-level traffic, were threatened for demolition when a group of community residents began a dedicated process of restoration. Section 1 of Highline Park was completed in 2009 and another section opened in June of 2011. The park has become a vibrant part of NYC and community life.

The ever-changing urban garden includes an array of plants (many native), including trees, shrubs, bulbs, vines and swaths of grasses and perennials. This vibrant witchhazel —Hamamelis ‘Jelena’– blazes with winter color against a backdrop of industrial buildings near the Highline boardwalk.

Milemarker 10: Bring Back the Rhodies

Eastbound on I-40, I sometimes stop at the North Carolina welcome center located just beyond the Tennessee line at milemarker 10. The staff is always gracious and generous with information, maps, and brochures. The building, renovated in the 1990s, is attractive, with a design that seems compatible with it’s mountain surroundings. The grounds are a different story, in my opinion.

Before, there were lush stands of rhododendron, set in natural-looking, gently-sloping mounds around the building. Now, the gentle contours are gone and the native plants have been replaced, mostly with exotic species. The winter view in back of the building is of spindly nandinas, mulch, and the obligatory boulder or two. I miss the old landscape.

For a true sense of the North Carolina mountains, you’d best go down the steps at the edge of the parking lot to a landing that overlooks a ravine. If you look beyond the invasive empress trees (Paulownia tomentosa), you’ll see the distinctive mix of evergreens and deciduous trees that make up this lovely area of the world.

Away from the car:

To this:


Witchhazel: Edge of the Woods

Native Witchhazel

Not as showy as its Asian counterparts, Hamamelis vernalis or vernal witchhazel brings its subtle charm and fragrance to an early February day. The blooms are a nice contrast to the brown, shriveled leaves, holding on since last fall.

Winter Sky

Off Into the Skies

                    The road at the top of the rise

           Seems to come to an end

               And take off into the skies.

                             –  from “The Middleness of the Road” by Robert Frost

Star Magnolia

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'

Every year around January, buds of this ‘Royal Star’ magnolia start opening at the NC homeplace. Evening temperatures are still below freezing and snow could fall at any time, but the buds –plentiful and slightly pink — appear nonetheless.

I planted this tree (a three-foot young’un then) years ago, behind the old greenhouse at my childhood home. It’s now mature and about twenty feet tall. Until recently, it had a rounded, shrub-like form, but we removed the lower limbs and thinned out some of the others, so now Royal Star looks more like a small tree. It’s a wonderful, reliable plant, and cheers me up every time I see it.

Life As a Turkey

Wild Turkeys: Headed for the Road

There were fifteen or so wild turkeys in my neighbor’s yard as I was driving out yesterday. When I stopped to take a picture, most of them ran across the road (bringing various”Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes to mind). It used to be rare to see turkeys around here — the flock has definitely multiplied.

Recently, I watched an engaging, beautifully-filmed special on PBS called “My Life As a Turkey”. It’s about Joe Hutto, a naturalist  in Florida, and his experience raising wild turkeys hatched from a basket of eggs left on his porch. For months, Hutto was mother to sixteen imprinted “children”, showing them the land and protecting them from predators. He marvelled at the birds’  innate intelligence, curiousity, and often playful way of interacting with nature — and with him.

The full version of “My Life As a Turkey” is here. Sit down, prop your feet up, and enjoy!