Archives for December 2012

The Snow Lies Down


A Snowy Afternoon Last Winter


Over the local stations, one by one,

Announcers list disasters like dark poems

That always happen in the skull of winter.

But once again the storm has passed us by:

Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down

While shouting children hurry back to play,

And scarved and smiling citizens once more

Sweep down their easy paths of pride and welcome.

  – Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems


My wish for you in the New Year:

May there be lots of “smiling citizens” in your life. May the worst of the storms pass you by.


Red Leaves on Cedar. Nature’s Christmas Tree.



A few weeks ago, this twenty-foot Japanese maple in the backyard was ablaze in red. (No color adjustments have been made to photos). In fall, the leaves were a muted shade of purple-burgundy and, before that, a bright green hue that remained through spring and summer.

This tree of many colors has seen several homes — I couldn’t bear to leave it behind at two different gardens. I bought it two decades ago from a dear, gentle man named John who ran a small nursery beside the home where he lived with his elderly parents. The nursery no longer exists, but  I think about the afternoons I spent on the hillside there, wandering through rows of one exquisite maple cultivar after another.  I’ve misplaced the name of my maple, an out-of-the-ordinary one that I may not find again. No matter. The attributes of this tree stand alone. They bring pleasure to me and others, every season of every year.

There is a little eastern cedar tree —Juniperus virginiana–growing beside the maple in its current (and final) location. It came up as a volunteer a few years ago. When the red leaves rained down from the maple in late November, some of them got stuck in the cedar’s prickly, green branches, reminding me of ornaments on an outdoor Christmas tree. For my photo, I was tempted to place the star-shaped leaves in a symmetrical pattern on the cedar. But I decided not to. Exact spacing is for indoor trees. Nature’s arrangement was perfect, just as I found it.



Dear Blue Mountains

Biltmore Village. Festive Greenery, Art, Architecture.


It was a balmy sixty-five degrees on Sunday — not quite what you’d expect on a December weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains. After a few hours wandering through Biltmore Village near downtown Asheville, I began to feel festive nonetheless, somehow now caring that it felt more like the beach than the mountains outside.

The village’s old brick buildings and sidewalks are a perfect setting for Christmasy window displays, playful children, and trees in transition from fall glow to winter dormancy. There’s plenty to take in, from roof and window details above, to the herringbone-patterned walks and raised beds below — each filled with colorful tapestries of leaves and branches.

I miss the days when my family would pack into the old Willys jeep and drive through the snow for hot soup and home-made cookies at our good friends’ home in the country . Although snow and Christmas will always go hand-in-hand in my memory, I think it’s important to start new traditions and appreciate what is instead of what was. The village in Biltmore is a charming blend of the past and present to me.

A Little Garden Cabin: Pursuing the Dream

Phase II

It’s natural, I guess, to consider the impact of choices made at different points in life. I found myself doing that recently, when a landmark in my hometown was torn down.

When my son was very young, I looked into a landscape architecture program in North Carolina. The lab time would have required more time from home than I wanted to devote, so I went on to a career in philanthropy and non-profit work. Twenty years ago, I decided to become a non-traditional (older) student and take horticulture and landscape design classes in Tennessee. As I neared the end of my studies, I made plans to start a design business of my own.

Every time I returned to the home place near Asheville, I’d pass a little log cabin sitting empty on the side of the road. It had a warmth and quirky appeal I couldn’t get off my mind; it seemed like just the right place for a little nursery or garden shop. I fantasized about how I would decorate the cabin and set up the plant displays.

Ultimately, the timing (and motivation) for retail was not right for me, but it was for a local woman named Carol. She rented the cabin and established a florist and nursery business, offering garden-related gifts and a limited range of exterior plants. Over the years she expanded the nursery portion and carried a good selection of herbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees, many of them out-of-the ordinary. I liked to stop by and see the latest inventory on my way home. Despite the cabin’s aging, weather-beaten structure, I assumed it would always be there, bursting at the seams with pots and statuary and plants.

The garden shop is just a memory now. The cabin was torn down recently and the site is being prepared for a coffee shop — at least that’s the buzz in the community. The nursery owner said she was ready to go on to other things, adding that it had become a challenge to keep everything watered and cared for. She said she was never able to totally relax in the evenings or on week-ends, wondering if the plants were dried out, knocked over by the wind, or taken by a dishonest passer-by. I’ve worked at a nursery and know that overseeing an inventory of living, breathing things is a challenge. It’s never far from the owner’s mind.

Maybe I’ll stop by for a cup of coffee when the new building is finished. Most likely, the place will be landscaped with the generic hollies and junipers that are displacing plants native to the area. Maybe they’ll get Carol to come back and help them go in a different direction. Either way, I’ll try to go with an open mind. But I’ll always be nostalgic for that sweet little garden shop and the dream I once had to have it for my own.