Archives for June 2013

Afternoon Light

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy

Cercis canadensis – Redbud

Imperfectly beautiful leaves, shredded by a hailstorm.

BGA: Microcosm of Southern Appalachia

Sunday was one of those unrushed, perfect days that began in a setting dear to my heart. It was the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, where garden manager and naturalist Jay Kranyik led a group of outdoorsy-types eager to learn about natural plant communites and ways to model aspects of them in our own gardens and landscapes.


Carex grayii – Gray’s Sedge

As Jay transitioned our group from sunny, dry (xeric) areas of the garden to more shady, moist (mesic) ones, he pointed out characteristics of each site and discussed design concepts used over time to ensure aesthetic and ecological compatibility in the Garden. When we reached the bog area, he got right out in the middle of it, reminding me of the title of Anne Raver’s book Deep in the Green. He told us about the evolution of this wetland habitat and the natural processes of a bog area. One of his favorite plants — quickly appreciated by our group — is Gray’s sedge, Carex grayii (shown above).

Jay Kranyik - Immersed in his work

Jay Kranyik – Immersed in his work

We left the bog area and crossed a small bridge that leads to the open grassy area where BGA’s spring and fall plant sales are held. We passed an outcrop of large boulders and rock garden specimens, but I got so distracted by the mountain dwarf dandelion that I forgot to get a photo.


We proceeded down the trail beside Reed Creek and looked at sassafras, American climbing fern, and a variety of other native plants until we reached the sycamore meadow. Here we saw key examples of edge areas, or places where two habitats — usually dry and moist — meet. Outstanding specimens of queen-of-the-prairie, Filipendula rubra, were in bloom and covered with insect pollinators.


Shortleaf pine – Pinus echinata

We were intrigued by the short-leaf pine, Pinus echinata, that was leaning over the creek. Its striking, plate-like bark stood out among the surrounding textures and shades of green.


Jay led the group toward the cabin, past an unusual cove-type planting. Some of us were lagging behind, reluctant to leave intriguing plant groupings or microscopic habitats. I’ve been visiting this patch of land since my days as a student at nearby UNC-Asheville. Now, I’m a volunteer at the garden, but still find infinite possibilities for exploration and wonder. With over 600 native plant species and a nearby water source, there is an abundance of bees, butterflies and other insects, not to mention birds, snakes, and larger critters. The garden changes on an hourly basis, it seems.


We spent a good bit of time near the entrance of the garden, looking at plants that border the parking lot and the nearby street. We heard the rationale and strategies for planting this sunny, normally-dry area. Trees such as sourwood, black gum, and hemlock help buffer traffic noise and visibility and create year-round beauty, plus food and cover for birds.


Eryngium yuccifolium – rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a showy complement to the little bluestem grass, butterfly milkweed, monarda, and other drought-tolerant plants that edge the gravel parking lot.


Liatris aspera – Rough Blazing Star

I was quite taken with this blazing star, Liatris aspera. It’s one of those plants that calls one to linger, wondering how such complexity and beauty exist on one plant. No showy blooms yet, no blazing color — just plant perfection.

quiltgdn_mmtnbgalight_mmtnSome people come to BGA looking for lots of blooms and formal beds like the quilt garden at Bilmore Estate. One visitor, surprised by the comparatively wild plantings at the Botanical Garden, announced that the place looked much like what he might see on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Jay replied “Thank you”, for that’s exactly what he and the BGA staff and volunteers are striving for.

BGA is a patchwork of light and shadows, teeming with plant diversity and ever-changing biological processes. It’s a place to return to — again and again — to recharge and get inspiration for your own garden. Our Sunday group would surely agree: Come visit BGA and re-discover Southern Appalachia!



Pollinators: Learn More

Help protect pollinators! They add greatly to the diversity of our gardens and are critical to the nation’s food supply and natural ecosystems.

For more information about the  importance of pollinators and ways to help their survival, visit


Blue Billow and the Bees


The graceful, waist-high Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’ is full of blooms now, despite its not-so-ideal location in the shade of tall hemlocks. I should move this little beauty, but I’m reluctant: Sometimes the deer forget it’s here (is that possible?) and I get to enjoy the blooms and bee activity  longer than if the plant had roots in a more sunny, less-isolated place. To see it now, I have to wiggle in behind the ‘Summer Snowflake’ viburnum and other foliage, but it’s always worth the risk of stepping on a snake or lizard or something to see the pollinators abuzzing.

This morning, the bees were having mid-air ballets with Blue Billow florets. Their hind legs were loaded with pollen. I swear the bees preferred the pink flowers. If that’s the case, why?

I love the lacecaps so much. Mopheads are mostly good for big, floppy arrangements, in my opinion. I’m sure most hydrangea aficionados would take me to task for saying that, but isn’t that what makes gardening fun — that we all like something different? My nightmare is that I will wake up one day and the only plants left on earth will be  ‘Stella de Oro’ daylilies, yellow arborvitaes, and leyland cypress, all surrounded with orange, rubber mulch. The nature lovers and gardeners I know won’t let that happen, but it’s still a ver..r..y scary thought!

Oak Tree Down

Stressed but still standing

Stressed but still standing

One night last week I went to sleep in my old bedroom at the Asheville home place. I woke up around four a.m. to the sound of a great energy in the air. There was a heart-stopping splitting and cracking sound, followed by the resounding sensation of a tree hitting an immovable surface. In my groggy state, I thought the house might be splintering outside my window. (Sensory signals go haywire in the middle of the night; one imagines a lot of things).

The morning light revealed the full extent of the night’s disruption. A very large tree — scarlet oak, I’m 90 % certain — had succumbed to the cumulative effect of a range of insults and maladies over the years. The oak has been struck by lightening several times, its shape was not balanced — most likely due to some tree-topping decades ago — and there was rot, both on the interior of the tree and where two limbs crossed and merged, very early on.

Now, there’s really no way to save the tree, Quercus coccinea.  There is so much damage, structurally and aesthetically, that it will have to be cut down. It’s really heartbreaking, especially since all the oaks surrounding the house are declining and under a lot of stress. They all seemed to get worse after the last and previous years’ heat and drought.

View from the window

View from the window

One of the limbs on the tree was hanging in a very precarious position. It was twisted and barely attached to the main trunk. It had a circumference of nearly six feet at it’s largest point. We were greatly concerned that the limb could twist loose and fall after a big gust of wind.



My husband and my brother had dueling chainsaws as they cleaned up the hanging limbs and the logs on the ground.


Hanging on

I would’ve been a nervous wreck, if I didn’t trust my husband’s chainsaw skills, but even so…… it was worrisome to watch the process. They had to take a section down at a time and watch for even the tiniest movement. It was definitely one of those Do not try this at home! situations.


They tied a heavy-duty nylon sling or towing strap around a limb adjacent to the main one. Then they hooked the other end to the towing bar of an SUV. The nylon strap is rated 8,600 pounds vertical capacity. In the above photo, the limb has been dislodged by pulling the strap; it’s on its way to the ground.


Finally, the limb was safely down. We all breathed easier, especially my mom.

Gingko : collateral damage

Gingko : collateral damage

Unfortunately, the Gingko biloba I gave my dad in the late 1990s was destroyed by the falling oak limbs. Nearly dormant for years, the gingko had a big growth spurt last year. It had a funky shape, but I’m sorry to see it go, partly because of the memories involved.

The only other damage was to a nearby shumard oak (Quercus shumardi) that I got from a University of Tennessee Arboretum plant sale. A few of its branches got clipped.

Next time I’m at the home place there will be a huge void in the backyard, just outside my old bedroom window. But, other trees are growing, ready to fill the oak’s spot someday. I guess the little shumard can use the extra sun.

Biscuit Festival, 2013


I’m overdue on a post about the 2013 Biscuit Festival in Knoxville. The event was several weeks ago and I’m still sorting through photos. Every image reminds me of intoxicating tastes and smells. I keep thinking I need a snack, when really I just need to get back to the blog.


The second day of the Festival was rainy, but thousands of people ignored the weather and came downtown anyway. Some spilled onto adjacent Krutch Park.


The idea was to get in line and buy a general ticket which would be shown to each of the twenty or so participating vendors. Then, you’d get a sample  of the vendor’s interpretation of biscuit goodness. We didn’t want to wait in line, then stand in the middle of the street and eat biscuits for several hours, so we ducked into Tupelo Honey Cafe for brunch. After that, we did some people-watching on the festival end of the street, and shopped for herbs and vegetables on the farmers market end.


These biscuits, from the innovative and enduring Tomato Head Restaurant, were made with smoked cheddar and onion. They made me wish I had bought a ticket after all; maybe TH will publish their recipe someday!


Tupelo Honey, which originated in my hometown of Asheville, opened a Knoxville branch in 2012.


There were plenty of things to buy (or sample) besides biscuits.  Moonshine cake was an example. Eat responsibly!


Vendors on the farmer’s market side of the mall had vibrant displays of vegetables. The grower of these luscious-looking radishes told me he likes the D’avignon variety (third from the left). He recommends slicing them thin (oblong side) and putting them on a buttered baguette. Real butter — not margarine, mind you.


Could you stop by this booth and not feel a surge of health and domesticity coming on?


I liked these t-shirts and graphics, displayed at the farmers market booth. If there was a sales/information booth dedicated to the Biscuit Festival organization, we didn’t see it.


These young women were happy to smile for a photograph and answer questions about Napping Cat Flower Farm, source for the gorgeous array of cut blossoms all around them. I bought a sweet mixed bouquet that was arranged in a simple tin can. Napping Cat has one of the prettiest Facebook sites I’ve seen. It’s full of flowers and nature photographs and, of course, cats. The owners say they’ve adopted a lot of cats over the years, but always spay or neuter them. In their words, they don’t grow kittens. Only flowers.


I think herbs are essential in a garden, even if you live in an apartment and have a tiny patio and a few pots. They’re great hosts and pollinators for butterflies and bees, they smell good, and — oh my — what they can do to jazz up a biscuit!


Dogs of every breed, mix, and size were at the festival. I loved seeing them, but don’t know how they withstood the olfactory overload from food in various stages of preparation: bacon and ham frying, cheese bubbling, biscuits baking, onions sizzling, and more — it must have set their canine mouths to frothing!


The biscuit festival has ended, and I’ve decided to try my hand at making biscuits again. I’ve never been much good at it — mine always have that hockey puck quality. You have to make them regularly to get  those light and fluffy ones, I think. At any rate, I’m dragging out my tattered recipes, with an eye to jazzing them up with some fancy, special ingredient. We’ll see how it goes. Old dogs can learn new tricks, right?