Archives for August 2012

Old Urn, Rescued

This morning I met with a new client who wants an herb garden with a classic, formal design.  As we walked around outside, talking and getting to know one another, we found this large, broken urn under some hackberry trees at the back of the property. It looked forlorn and dignified at the same time. I loved its earthy colors and textures.

My client and I thought the top section of the urn should find new life in the herb garden. We figured we could partially submerge it in the ground and plant thyme or golden marjoram at the base. Then, we’d have some kind of herbal-something spilling from the top.

I like re-using old, broken-down things. Not everything has to be new and flawless.


Wordless Wednesday: Drawn to the Water

Come on in. The water’s fine.

Life’s Lazy River

Late Summer on the Nolichucky River

My mood has been as languorous as this ole river, the Nolichucky in northeast Tennessee. Events of the past week have made me wish I could just stand on the river bank and watch a fishing line float away on the slow, warm water. I don’t want to catch anything. I just want to stop. Rest. Daydream.

Blogging has gone by the wayside as other things required energy and focus. A family member in North Carolina was facing health issues. My computer’s hard drive failed, which created its own health challenge (of the mental, verging-on-insanity kind). Nothing to really whine about. Just life. All is stable now and I’m thankful for my many blessings.

This week will be better. I just know it.

Things Are Looking Up


Chicken Mushrooms, Just Feet Away

Today, I found my misplaced copy of The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, published in 1981. I thought I had given the book away, but there it was, scrunched back in the lowest section of a tall shelf in the dining room. Finding the book jogged my memory about some mushrooms I had seen a year or so ago at the North Carolina homeplace. At that time, the ground was yielding a variety of beautiful little oddities. Maybe it had rained a lot, or conditions were just right for mushrooms. I just remember wishing I knew more about the world of fungi.

There is a good bit of open pasture around the farm so the mushrooms were easy to spot from a distance. This one, a very large mass of day-glo orange, was especially prominent. It was growing under the leafless canopy of a large oak tree. It’s a chicken mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) also known as “sulphur shelf”. Chicken mushrooms are part of the fungi kingdom and are found from eastern Canada to Florida, as well as in the midwest and Pacific northwest. They grow in fleshy, often-overlapping clusters; the shelf can grow up to 30″ across. They live on wood — either live trees or decaying stumps and logs.

My Audubon guide describes chicken mushrooms like this: “A choice edible. It tastes like chicken.” (Doesn’t everything?) “It becomes somewhat indigestible as it ages and, in some, causes an allergic reaction, such as swollen lips.” Young chicken mushrooms are supposed to be good stir-fried in a little oil, with regular chicken spices. As with real chicken, you can go as gourmet as you like.

It’s hard to convey the size of a mushroom in a photo, so I took off my flip-flops and used them as a tasteless, black and fuschia, non-organic reference point. Which reminds me: have you noticed how many bloggers take pictures of things using their feet as perspective? It always startles me a bit — I feel like my head is on another person’s body, looking down at unfamiliar toes, strategically placed at the edge of something featured by the blogger:  the Grand Canyon, waves lapping on the ocean, a patch of clover, a dog on a rug, a gaggle of geese (or babies) — the subject varies.

Anyway… back to mushrooms: the one below was several yards away from the other “shelf”. So far, none of these mushrooms have returned this year. I’m not surprised, since weather cycles and conditions have been very strange. I will continue to watch for them, though, and learn more about this fascinating, often mysterious, part of our beautiful world.

Caution: If you see mushrooms like the ones above, please do not test for chicken flavor without prior, expert identification. I do not want harm to come to anyone as a result of my amateur attempts at identification!

Ginkgo Biloba, Female

Ginkgo biloba seeds

Yes, I know:  a female Ginkgo biloba tree is not something I should plant. The fleshy coverings of their seeds are malodorous after they ripen and, on windy days, I might catch wafts of the funky aroma and do something drastic like go inside.

If I unwisely bought a ginkgo that was clearly labelled female, maybe I could plant it a long way from the house. But then what’s the point of that? I wouldn’t get to enjoy the bluish-green, softly-scalloped leaves in the summer or watch them turn a luscious shade of butter-yellow in the fall. I wouldn’t get a close-up view of every leaf falling within a few days of each other, creating a thick carpet of sunshine on the ground.

I planted a ginkgo tree at my parents’ house (the home place) over ten years ago, but still don’t know what sex it it. Most ginkgos sold in the trade are males, but it’s impossible to know for sure what you’ve got since it takes several decades for them to flower. (Ginkgos are dioecious: both male and female trees have flowers, but they are different on each sex).

It’s a bit rare to see the fleshy, covered seeds of the female up close, in my experience. These are from a tree planted in the parking lot of a bagel shop in Asheville. Some unsuspecting diners might get a whiff of the fruit or seed after it turns an orangey-tan color later this summer. For now, the “fruit” is firm and jade-colored, and nicely complements the silvery underside of the leaves. Gingko, male or female:  a beautiful, rather uncommon tree with an ancient past.