Archives for June 2012

Mama’s Flowers. Old-fashioned. Enduring In My Heart.

Blanket flower and sedum

It’s extremely hot and dry in the mountains of North Carolina. Temperatures nearing 100 degrees are expected this week-end.

As recent as four or five years ago, we thought temperatures in the  80’s were extreme. They caused us to head inside and turn on the fans! There was no air conditioning at the homeplace then — it was not an absolute requirement in our little mountain town.

Now, we all wilt after mid-morning. But Mom’s perennials — most of them the tough, old-fashioned kind — don’t seem to be suffering. They’ve adapted to the increasingly brutal temperatures, lack of water , and sandy, dry soil that is prevalent on this small acreage. Some plants are native; some are not. Yarrow, balloon and blanket flower, daylily, lamb’s ear, lavender, and tickseed co-exist and weave together without benefit of a design or color scheme — just my input over time and the loving stewardship of my parents who bought the property over sixty years ago.

American historian Derek Clifford sums up my feelings as a daughter who loves this piece of land and the plants that thrive here:

  “Gardens cannot be considered in detachment from the people who made them.” 

Lavender, hosta, black-eyed susan

Some color combinations are just happy coincidence. I’ve always liked the yellow-and-purple color palette. Mom just instinctively knew this grouping would work.

Platycodon – balloon flower

There are groups of these charming balloon flowers along the edges of several beds. I want lots and lots of them for my garden in Tennessee! The blue is so pure and works with white, yellow, orange, and some shades of pink and red.

Gladiolas by the fence

This area must thrive on neglect because that’s what it gets. The colors and plant combinations are different from one year to the next – no human intervention involved.

Daylilies, lamb’s ears, and stonework contrast nicely

The yellowish-orange daylily buds are a nice touch to this color and textural combination. The daylilies were a gift from a vendor when I was doing a student internship at a nursery long ago. Then (over twenty years ago), I knew the plant’s name, but the tag has long-since disappeared, along with my memory of what it said!

There are lots of out-of-the-ordinary plants on this property, but I have a special feeling for the old-fashioned ones that have remained because of their beauty, toughness, and non-invasive nature. They touch me, and remind me that time with my family, and with this land as it now exists, is precious indeed.

The Pigeon River: A Detour

Driving I-40 between Asheville and Knoxville a few weeks ago, I noticed that the waters of the Pigeon River were unusually high. I took the Hartford Road exit, #447, to take a closer look.

The waters were swirling into low-lying grassy banks. I looked for a good place to wade, but the vegetation was too thick.

I got a big smile from the navigator of this float — not so many from his young charges, who seemed focused on the sensory experience at hand. Several rafting companies operate along the river at this exit. The water is higher in spring, but summer brings the biggest crowds.

This little scene brought a sigh of contentment. I tried to ignore the bamboo — you just never know where that stuff will show up.

Time to get back on the highway, head on home. It’s hard to leave …

Wordless Wednesday


Gardens of the Fling: Christopher Mello

Christopher Mello: Artist and Gardener

Every stop on the Garden Bloggers’ Asheville tour was distinctive. Each garden — private, public, or business — was appealing in its own way. But it’s one of the first gardens we saw, created by Christopher Mello on a busy street in west Asheville, that keeps edging into my memories.

Christopher’s garden is an engaging blend of artistry, plantsmanship, and whimsy. He uses old-fashioned plants and out-of-the-ordinary ones, in a beautiful color palette of purples, blues, and silvers, with touches of burgundy, pink and yellow for accent.  There are playful diversions and sculptural and iron elements throughout.

Our time here flew by as we tried to see every plant and garden accessory and, at the same time, hear Christopher share his creative process. I didn’t understand the significance of everything in this garden (flying baby head sculpture is beyond me), nor did I need to. It was great fun, with beautiful plants and animated conversation interwoven. Without photos, there’s no way to adequately convey this garden’s spirit:

The poppy bed by the weathered yellow orb was a popular gathering place. Christopher is selectively removing the pink poppies, over time, in an effort to create a blue poppy, to be named ‘Blue Pearl’. I believe he said he was collaborating with Allen Bush, previous owner of the wonderful, highly-respected Holbrook Farm and Nursery that used to be just outside Asheville. (Allen is now with Jelitto Seeds. I still have plants from Holbrook visits and may someday own some ‘Blue Pearl’ poppies, if a joint effort is indeed in the works)!

Christopher re-uses industrial objects in his garden and has some exceptionally nice sedum collections in his metal “dish gardens”. I had seen his sculpture gardens at several Asheville venues over the years, but did not realize Mr. Mello was their creator.

I don’t think bloggers become speechless very often, but that’s what happened to many of us when we saw the large space allocated to a stone playground for Tonka trucks. The large circle was surrounded by a ring of upright shovels, which brought inevitable comments about “Shovel Henge”. I told someone I didn’t think I could sleep at night with that particular garden feature outside my house. (Maybe a fear of a “Toy Store” reenactment on the lawn?)

‘Cherry Bells’ campanula were a nice contrast to blue bottles and a pea gravel path.

Purplish-burgundy foliage was a strong, unifying design feature, leading the eye to yet more botanical treasures and playful vignettes.

We thank you for opening your garden to us, Christopher. May your quest for the one true ‘Blue Pearl’ poppy come to fruition very soon!

Where the Heart Is

View from the window: the homeplace

Buy This Yard

I saw this house in person, and a more-expanded, color version of my photograph in a real estate book soon after. Underneath the photo was a list of the home’s features, including a blurb about the “professional landscaping” around the house.

I try not to be critical of the ways people pretty up their property and suspect the owners of this home had nothing to do with the description in the real estate book. But this is not  landscaping. This is weeds and grass….. and spin.

Bottlebrushes and Layers of White

Aesculus parviflora - Bottlebrush Buckeye

It rained last night and everything in the garden was lush and moist this morning. The quality of light was exceptional and the birds’ sounds were coming from all directions, as is usually the case after a good rain.

I stood on the deck a long time,  absorbing the  sounds and smells, and taking in the many hues of green. Looking toward the bottlebrush buckeye through the camera lens, I saw native plants on several planes: the edges of ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud in the foreground, an oakleaf hydrangea that appeared as a small seedling last year and now reaches five feet (the middle view), then the buckeye, more hydrangea, and finally, the softly-drooping branches of Canadian hemlock.

This part of the garden is restful to me, with no jarring colors or ornaments to distract the eye. When it gets hot and steamy outside, I’ll crave this spot even more.

Doc Watson: Gentle Soul of the Mountains

Arthel ‘Doc’ Watson (b.1927, d.2012)

A human treasure is gone now, and with it, a deep reservoir of wisdom, talent, and experience.

Arthel ‘Doc’ Watson was the kind of person some of us strive to become: kindhearted, honest, witty, unassuming, and persevering in the face of loss and adversity. Doc lived a rich, full life, despite his lifelong blindness and the challenge of losing his son and road companion Merle after twenty years of touring together.

Doc’s genius as a musician and teacher is legendary. He was adept in bluegrass, folk, rockabilly, gospel, and jazz, innately understanding and interpreting these styles to scores of his followers. His resonant, expressive voice was a calming complement to his dazzling, unrivaled skills on the acoustic guitar.

The news of Doc’s death was deeply saddening to me, more than I could have expected. I didn’t know him — in fact, I’d spoken with him only once and seen just a half-dozen of his performances over the years. Still, I feel a connection to him, in part because I grew up in the region of Doc’s home in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Also, I’ve followed his journey for a long time, ever since he became known as a musician in the 1960s.

In my mind, Doc Watson embodied the spirit of the southern mountains. He represented my North Carolina heritage and the things I care about: Appalachia and old-timey music; farms, and nature, and a sense of connection to the land; the ethic of hard labor and looking out for your neighbor — all in peril as older folks like Doc Watson leave us, one-by-one. But while we have them, we celebrate, and are thankful for their lives.

We’re thankful to you, Doc. You’re one of the good ones, and we’ll miss you very much.