Late Summer Sunset: Back Home


I lift up my eyes …

Prickly Pear Cactus and Other Reds: Asheville Botanical Garden

Several weeks in a row I’ve had the pleasure of strolling the grounds of the Asheville Botanical Garden. It’s a place that soothes the spirit and, at the same time, awakens all the senses. If you love nature and native plants, it’s impossible to walk the paths without being sidetracked: a terrarium-size cluster of tiny wildflowers, a wide swath of ferns, a hawk landing at the top of a stately old sycamore.

This year I missed the spectacular show of early spring bloomers like Sweet Betsy  (Trillium cuneatum). But, now — several months later — there is still plenty to admire.

I was drawn to the beauty and intricacies of many plants and habitats, but for some reason everything of red hue jumped out me. It began with the striking display of Eastern prickly pear cactus at the Peyton rock outcrop.


Opuntia humifusa – yellow flowers and red fruits

Often, folks are surprised that there is a cactus native to the southeast, expecting it only in the midwest or other, more arid parts of the U.S. But prickly pear cactus survives on rocky, well-drained areas in the mountains. The red, pear-shaped fruits, often called “tunas,” can be peeled and eaten. This plant can quickly take over space in a garden, if sited in the right environment. Maybe you like the looks of it in the landscape, or maybe you find it slightly jarring to the eye. I thought the display at BGA was striking and pleasing in its rocky setting.


Silene virginica, Firepink, is an adaptive native wildflower that just glowed along the path by Reed Creek. Firepink doesn’t seem to colonize readily — at least I haven’t seen large groupings of it– but one or two is enough to catch the eye. These plants grow in both moist and dry habitats and the long tubular flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. According to Tim Spira in his book Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont, bees sometimes bore into the bottom of the long flower tubes to rob nectar.


Heuchera or alumroot provides a beautiful contrast to stone and the silvery greys of lichen. It’s a tough, adaptable plant. I’ve seen it growing in the crevices of dry rock outcrops as well as on high-humidity river banks.


Spigelia marilandica or Indian Pink is one of the most beautiful Appalachian natives. It attracts hummingbirds (and stops meandering bloggers in their tracks). There was a grouping of these near the BGA gift shop — quite lovely. Spigelias grow in woodland environments and spread by underground rhizomes.


I could not stop looking at this exotic-looking little vignette. The red bug stayed at this spot a long time. And, reluctant to leave, so did I.

Wordless Wednesday: Unfurling

Ferns unfurling - BGA

Transitions: Botanical Gardens Asheville

Wordless Wednesday: Back in the Water

Going With the Flow

Going With the Flow

Light on Leaves. Carolina.


This time of year, I love to walk on the land that has been in my family for decades. I take in the colors, the sight of old grapevines, the smell of damp leaves … the faraway smoke.

Today’s walk was no different, except when the sun changed, making me stop short on the path. I saw a beautiful, very-focused band of light on the native trees at the edge of the pasture. A gorgeous, sight — and very brief. The sourwood (far right) was outside the glow, but held its own amidst the hickories, oaks, white pines, and maples.

Why am I such a sucker when it comes to sights like this? Is it the light … the color … the affinity with the land ? Yes, all of those, and the assurance that nature remains, through all the craziness.

Sure wish you could have walked with me!


(*Another post about sourwoods & how they seem to thrive in the NC mountains is here) .

Fall Colors of a Different Kind

Colors of Fall: Museum of Appalachia

Quilts on Display: Museum of Appalachia Homecoming 

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.

Country Road (Take Me Home)


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!



Out in the World and Blogging

Enjoying Life - Max Patch, NC

On Top of the Mountain — Max Patch, NC

Today has been a lazy, rainy, indoor Sunday and the first day for a blog entry in several weeks. You’d think with so many photos in reserve, I might muster an image or two, at the very least. But no. Procrastination has prevailed.

Like many, I’ve found it hard to process the harrowing events of the past few weeks, especially with the relentless barrage of news coverage that followed. As for blogging, every topic seemed inconsequential when people throughout the nation were experiencing such trauma and upheaval.

Also, this past week I learned there was some kind of concentrated, widespread effort by super-hackers to infect blogging software. While this was nothing compared to the level of threat in Boston, it still added to my feeling of vulnerability and concern. I kept thinking of that line in William Wordsworth’s poem that begins “The world is too much with us.”

Whatever Wordsworth’s meaning for that line (it’s up for interpretation), it did start me thinking that we need to put ourselves out in the world more — to travel, participate in community events, hear music, enjoy times with families and friends and, yes, write blog posts. I believe we can feel the suffering of others and still find pleasure and comfort in the routines of our own lives.

So, here’s wishing you joyous times out in this beautiful spring weather. I’m off to blog….