Archives for October 2013


Outdoor walks bring surprises in autumn. Some are pleasant — others not so much.


Animal skull found in the garden. Possum? Racoon?

Last fall, I came across this skull lying on top of the stone wall in a section of the garden I rarely visit.  The bleached-out, toothy head was nestled in crispy, fallen leaves and lichen. Its hollowed-out face made my heart beat faster — I wondered what fate had befallen this little critter. Did it die a natural death, or was there some trauma that brought about its demise?

I know there’s a whole world of activity outside the house each night when it gets dark and still. I hear strange sounds — owls, deer, insects, and other wildlife that come and go through the night. It’s all mysterious, and part of the natural cycle.

Praying Mantis

Late-Season Praying Mantis

Fortunately, I don’t see many skulls on my daylight walks. I prefer surprises like this praying mantis that caught me off guard yesterday. It was giving me a big-eyed, curious, Happy Halloween kind of stare  as I got ready to hook up the garden hose.

Wordless Wednesday: Green In My Veins


Tennessee Homecoming

The leaves are just beginning to color in East Tennessee, soon to burst into those glorious, vibrant shades that make autumn so memorable here. The enduring heat and humidity are a little jarring, though — definitely not the cool, energizing weather I still associate with October in the mountains and foothills.

Despite the heat, it felt like an authentic fall day last week-end in the little town of Clinton, Tennessee as we joined hundreds of other festival-goers, stepping back in time on the grounds of  the Museum of Appalachia. This is the thirty-fourth year the museum has welcomed visitors to its annual homecoming, a beloved celebration of pioneer life and Southern Appalachian culture. Historic buildings, artifacts, animals, and crafts evoke the past and help assure the old folk ways are not lost.


There was lots to appreciate last week-end:  bluegrass music, homemade ice cream, buck dancing, antique farm equipment, women in long dresses, men with long beards and overalls, old-timey mountain crafts, the smell of food on the fire. There was a relaxed, content feeling in the air, as if people were connecting with deep memories, and yearnings for a time long past.


People brought their lawn chairs and set up in the field for a lazy afternoon with bluegrass/gospel band Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. Other bands were playing simultaneously at other places on the museum grounds. Nobody was in a hurry and there was plenty of neighborly conversation between strangers.


It’s hard to believe this dear little face started out as a new, shiny apple. Apple head dolls are classic examples of folk art in Appalachia.


Quilts and other fiber arts were on display or for sale in one of the museum’s many old cabins.


After buck dancing was over, some folks stayed around for the more sedate Tennessee Waltz.


All day,  groups of (mostly) men stood around, reminiscing, and admiring old farm implements and equipment. Tractors are such iconic symbols of working life and culture on mountain farmsteads.


Polkberry and Virginia creeper grow on an old stacked wall.


Young meets old and the circle continues.


Old barns and other buildings dot the landscape throughout the sixty or so acres entrusted to the museum.


It was an all-around good day: meeting people, being outdoors, connecting with my rural, mountain heritage.

‘Le Vasterival’ Hydrangea – A Star on Bloom Day

Except for some aster standbys, a few leftover goldenrods and composites, and some scattered, spent flowers on shrubs here and there, blooms are pretty scarce in my garden right now. Whatever would have been showy on a mid-October day has been nipped — nipped in the bud as Barney might have said — by a small herd of deer that bed down under the hemlocks every night. The deer have targeted every flower that doesn’t stink or taste bad, whether it’s in the garden or in pots on the decks right by the house.

There’s really only one shrub the deer haven’t decimated and it just happens to be a choice, new (to me) panicle hydrangea called ‘ Le Vasterival’ or ‘Great Star’. I first saw Great Star at BB Barns Garden Center last summer. They had just gotten in a new shipment and the Great Stars were lush and full of striking, odd-shaped, whitish blooms. I started to buy a plant, didn’t, and regretted it later. So, when I was back at the garden center a few weeks ago, I checked out the hydrangea section outside. No Great Stars. Then I went inside to the houseplant section and, lo and behold, there was one three-gallon, rather root-bound specimen tucked behind some tropicals. It was the only, last one in the store and just meant to be mine!


Here’s what the blooms looked like last year on a plant at the garden center.


Above, some of the blooms on my plant are starting to fade. Below, blooms on another part of the same plant resemble those of more traditional hydrangeas.


The original Le Vasterival/Great Star was found in the Sturdza garden in Normandy, France. The plant is under patent protection. It’s supposed to get 6-7 feet tall, so I’ll probably need to move mine away from the house before long. Right now, I’m just trying to protect it from those four-legged marauders and enjoy the blooms close up.

For posts on what’s blooming in other gardens, check out May Dreams Gardens. Carol’s was one of the first gardening blogs I ever read. She hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the fifteenth of each month. Lots of good gardening over there!