Hamlin Ceramics: Vibrant Art, Inspired by Gardens


In August of each year, the New Morning Gallery in Asheville sponsors a popular art and craft show on the grounds of the Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village. The show is known for its high quality crafts representing artists throughout the U.S.

This year, I had time for a quick tour of booths on Sunday afternoon, just before the show ended. One display stopped me short: the colorful, textured vessels of ceramics artist Mike Hamlin. Some pieces were cratered, very organic-looking, as  shown above.


Others were more elegant, with smooth finishes and a more intense spectrum of colors.

The creator of this varied work is Mike Hamlin of Hamlin Ceramics. He is influenced by gardening (“I combine my passion for gardening with my passion for ceramics and design forms…”), as well as by Scandanavian and mid-century design and other influences.



Mike’s creations are almost surreal, especially contrasted against a white background. These gorgeous colors and textures made me daydream: I would redecorate my house, using hues of blue and green, with several of these vessels as focal points. I would fill them with wispy native flowers or, in winter, arching sprays of dry grasses. But since redecorating is out, I’m content with one of Mike’s smaller pieces, a perfect complement to my rotating collection of seedpods, tiny shells, dried petals, and other objects.


I had never met Mike before the craft show, but I enjoyed talking to him about his work and his gardens. You can reach him at  http://www.hamlin-smith.com.

Change Ahead: Wampoldtopia Home and Garden

wambold9 On a garden bloggers tour of Asheville a few years ago, I spent a sensory-rich morning at the home of two artists, Damaris Pierce and Ricki Pierce. Somehow, I never got around to writing much about this intriguing place, named Wampoldtopia after the street that runs by the property. Then, this week-end, I read a recent article about Damaris and Ricki’s plans to give up the house and its lovingly-crafted gardens.  I figured it was time to look back at my photos and re-visit Wampoldtopia. When Ricki came to build a pond at the house in 2002 or so, Damaris lived there alone. It wasn’t long before Ricki moved in. The couple married and undertook one outdoor project after another, turning their hillside site into a fantasy of whimsical art, stonework, gardens, and pathways. wambold1 One look at the hillside and you can see why neighbors and passers-by have been curious about the fairyland web of artwork and plants. For the past few years, the couple has opened the gardens for special tours and visits by community groups. Still, they’ve tried to retain some privacy — not always easy with such enticing visions within the boundaries of fences and walls. wampold2 Damaris’s art and Rick’s stonework blend seamlessly throughout the outdoor space. With every step, there’s a treasure to see — each tangible evidence of a whole lot of talent and just plain hard work. wampold7 For years, Rick brought home some of his leftovers from stonework commissions. Always another project…. wambold8 Most of the bricks in this pathway were salvaged from road demolition projects, then placed, one by one, to create textural interest and access alongside the house. wampold10 Some people have an angel sculpture and some people have one enfolded by a lovely stone surround. wampold3 There was a bench near this straight little shallow stream, or rill, as the English might say. Despite quite a few gardeners milling about the hillside, you could still hear the soft trickling of water and the chatter of birds looking down at all the crazy humans ooh-ing and ah-ing over every little botanical/creative treasure! wampold5 Would you think this is a fairy house or a full-size shed? Actually, it’s about the size of a dog house. Very charming and unexpected as you walk along one of the paths criss-crossing the hillside. wampold9 The owners found this innovative way to disguise a chain link fence on the back of their property. The arches are made of cement and stucco, I believe, and the petals of mesh with some type of material on the surface. To me, it’s always sad to leave a garden, especially one that represents as much planning, labor, creativity and love as this one. Will the new owners take care of the garden? Will they keep things the way they are, maybe overlaying their own touches onto the space, or will they change much of it? Either way,  I wish Demarius and Ricki the best as they explore new and separate paths. I also thank them for that fine spring morning I spent at Wampoldtopia.

Palmetto Valentine, Crafted by the River




On a snowy Valentine’s week, I’m remembering some sweet bouquets, made by a young man working in a park beside the Cooper River in Charleston. He’s using leaves from the palmetto palm (Sabal palmetto), South Carolina’s state tree. Along the coast, it’s a tradition in some families for children to learn this craft at an early age. Here’s an article and video about one *budding* business, along with directions on how to make your own palmetto rose (in case it’s a skill you’d like to add to your repertory).

Winter Walk: Charleston’s Leafy Appeal


Outstanding architecture, restaurants, gardens, and a rich cultural history — Charleston offers it all in abundance. On the rare occasions we get to visit there, we head downtown, park the car, and walk the Battery and side streets until feet and backs say “no more”.


Even on a cold, winter day, Charleston is a feast for the senses. Always tuned into plants and gardens, I gravitate toward the private courtyard spaces, peeking through delicately-filigreed gates and fences wherever I can.


I’m fascinated by the toughness of street trees, crammed within sidewalks into tiny rectangles of soil. Crape myrtles are prevalent here, but there are plenty of live oaks, as well. They’ve all survived decades of car emissions, extremes in weather, and foot traffic across their roots.


It’s hard to imagine a tree with more site adaptability than these tree-form crape myrtles. Many of the ones downtown appear to be ‘Natchez’, an excellent cross of two species that was developed by the U.S. Arboretum. ‘Natchez’ is more mildew-resistant and cold hardy than most older, shrub-form varieties. Fortunately, those in charge of downtown pruning have rejected the increasingly-common practice of topping crape myrtles and turning them into summer-blooming lollipops.


Of course, there’s always an exception.


The cemeteries of Charleston are rich in plant variety and texture. Camellias (C. sasanqua, most likely) were in bloom a few weeks ago, but may now have succumbed to the ice and record low temperatures of the past few days.  It felt a little intrusive to walk the paths threading between weather-worn tombstones of people who died so many years — even centuries — ago.


Palmettos (Sabal palmetto) are an iconic tree in Charleston and the state tree of South Carolina.The fronds are used by local crafters to make baskets and “rose” bouquets. At this park beside the Cooper River, palmettos form a backdrop to a sign that amuses tourists, advising them there is no lifeguard stationed at the pineapple-topped fountain.


We saw plenty of evergreen plants, including creeping fig vine (Ficupumila) and Podocarpus, a conifer called yew pine. Here, these plants nearly obscure walls surrounding this secluded entryway and garden.


Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) is an evergreen shrub that grows in many gardens here. It’s not hardy in my area, so I took time to enjoy the gorgeous white flowers, glowing in front of a richly-patterned, textured wall.


Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) are a cherished part of the history and charm of Charleston. They, too, seem to thrive in narrow strips of soil along the street. Such a regal,beautiful tree.


The massive, splendid specimens of southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, look happy and completely at home in the Charleston landscape.


One courtyard had the native eastern dogwood, Cornus florida . It’s very common in southern Appalachia — not so much in the deep south.


Many gardens visible from side streets had dwarf boxwood hedges — Buxus x ‘ Suffruticosa’, I would imagine. These boxwoods work well in small gardens where the constraints of straight-lined driveways, iron fences, and houses call for more geometric, formal design. The appearance of perennials and flowering shrubs would enhance these boxwoods come springtime. Yes…. springtime… I think I must (have to) go back and see the transformation!

Fall Colors of a Different Kind

Colors of Fall: Museum of Appalachia

Quilts on Display: Museum of Appalachia Homecoming 

A Garden at Clem’s Cabin

statueclems_mmtnClem’s Cabin is a quaint historic structure located within an urban mix of houses and apartments along one of Asheville’s busiest streets. The cabin and its little compound are the site for garden club functions and community plant sales.

Whenever possible, I’ve gone to the garden club’s annual Christmas greenery sale here. On those occasions, the parking lot has always been full. Today, there was not a soul to be seen– except for St. Francis of Assisi (or whichever patron saint was keeping watch that day).

I had a leisurely visit watching spiders and birds and exploring interesting little nooks throughout the site. The garden areas are small. Overall, the design is formal, with some elements of a kitchen garden. Boxwood hedges and herbs are the dominant plantings. It’s obvious the place is well-cared for, and there a definite sense of permanence, created by stone walls and paths.

I liked the detail on the railing leading up to the front door of the cabin. Notice the spider webs on top of the boxwoods, which looked like mature specimens of ‘Suffruticosa’.


Isn’t this a graceful, artistic complement to Clem’s stone porch?  Wish I knew who created it.


Here’s what the herb garden looks like in winter. (2011). Nice design, with good structural elements, don’t you think?


Mother Nature’s design: complex, artistic, captivating.


This visit, I saw dill, Russian sage, and the orange berries of a viburnum (possibly tea viburnum, V. setigerum?). The branches were spilling to the ground.


herbsclems_mmtnI arrived at this garden after leaving the dentist’s office, still thinking about work to be done, schedules to arrange. Funny how being outside, watching a spider scurrying into its funnel-shaped web, can put such mortal concerns to rest. Well… at least for a while.

Reminds me of a verse in a 1936 poem by Edward Thomas:

It is enough 

To smell, to crumble the dark earth,

While the robin sings over again

Sad songs of Autumn mirth.


Garden Art at Grovewood


Rain threatened to derail my recent, spur-of-the-moment visit to Grovewood Gallery, located on the grounds of the venerable Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC.  The gallery holds an annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibit, featuring bronze, glass, iron, and ceramic works of nationally-known artists. I really wanted to see this year’s sculptures, even if I had to leave my camera in the car. Fortunately, the rain subsided. The sculptures were sparkly clean and ready for viewing.

The architecture and grounds of Grovewood and Grove Park Inn mesh seamlessly, if you’re using original inn buildings — not additions — for comparison. The gardens outside the Gallery are lush, and a good setting for art. The terrain is hilly, though, and may present challenges to staff when installing or removing sculptures.

Some of the pieces had already been sold, but there were still plenty left to ponder and photograph. Prices were high, as you’d expect for work of this quality and size.


“Steadfast” by Roger Martin

This bronze and wax casting “Steadfast”, would be an imposing presence in a large garden or public setting. It’s nearly three feet tall, excluding the base.  Mr. Martin is known for his bronzes of wildlife, including one featured at last year’s sculpture exhibit and shown in a blog post here.


“Diana” by Carl Powell

I could picture this piece by Carl Powell in a courtyard outside a contemporary house or office building. It’s made of glass, concrete and steel and sells for $2100. It would be beautiful at certain times of the day with light refracting through the glass. I was a little distracted by all that English ivy taking over the beds and climbing the nearby tree, but I like the idea of a uniform expanse of groundcover surrounding the concrete column.


“Great Flaming Lotus” by John T. Unger

Mr. Unger uses recycled and industrial materials in his work. This would be a nice on a stone patio. It’s not your basic firepit.


“Journey North” by Stephanie Dwyer and Donna Davis

The giant flower in the background is not a feat of Photoshop. It’s made of metal, and part of the temporary sculpture exhibit in the garden.


“Tan Horse Light” by Susannah Zucker

Horses are such iconic, mysterious, and powerful creatures to me. Although this one is not real, I had a very visceral response to it, as well as to the other example of Suzannah Zucker’s work, shown below.


“Rise” by Susannah Zucker

The themes of trauma and human frailty and resilience are common in Ms. Zucker’s sculptures.


The 2013 Sculpture in the Garden exhibit at Grovewood ends December 31. If you don’t make it on time, mosey on over at your own pace. There are permanently-installed works of art at Grovewood, which I’ll cover in another post. ‘Til next time….!

Hen and Chicks: Protecting Memories

Protection from critters

Protection from critters

I have a yardful of squirrels and chipmunks. They love digging anything remotely herbaceous or planted in a container. Aware of the problem, my son sent this photo of a potful of hen and chicks (Sempervivum sp.) on display at Quail Botanical Gardens in San Diego. Someone had covered the plants with snugly-attached chicken wire — presumably to thwart determined, destructive creatures like my chipmunks.

The chicken wire strategy would have helped when I brought some hen and chicks from the NC home place several years ago. They were originally planted in my grandmother’s garden and were at least thirty years old back then. They weren’t exciting — just the old-fashioned, green variety — but I associated them with my grandparents, and with happy memories of a garden full of iris and roses and phlox. I put my chicks in the ground and, before long, saw evidence of squirrels uprooting them.

Since sempervivum are alpine plants and dislike wet, cold conditions, I  might have lost part of mine because of the characteristics of our soil. It retains moisture and is full of leaf litter and nutrients — usually a good problem to have, but not if you like to grow succulents.

Sempervivum 'Black'

Sempervivum ‘Black’

If anyone in the family still has part of my grandmother’s hen and chicks, maybe they’ll share a piece or two with me.  I’ll plant them in a pot with wire on top and add some purple and silver succulents to make a nice, simple design like the one from Quail Gardens. I’ve already got a head start: this  cultivar called ‘Black’ that I bought a few weeks ago. I sure do wish I could share it with my grandmother.

Wordless Wednesday: Brush Pile Art

Garden Clean-up. The Rabbits Approve.


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.