Redbuds: Tame and Free on I-40

Last week-end, looking for an early morning biscuit fix, I took the Biltmore Village exit on my way from east Asheville to Knoxville. To my left, I saw a grouping of what seemed a shorter, more stocky cultivar of the native Canadian redbud, Cercis canadensis.

Roadside grouping of redbud

Roadside grouping of redbud

The effect was striking in the morning light. But this mass planting didn’t evoke the same emotional response as the native redbuds that appear on hillsides this time of year.


Canadian redbuds along I-40, WNC and East Tennessee

Back on the interstate, I saw miles and miles of the graceful branches and downy, lavender-pink flowers of species Canadian redbud, randomly interspersed among native pines and hardwoods. It was an uplifting sight. I just wish the flowers weren’t quite so fleeting.

Easter, Spring, childhood memories: these wispy redbuds evoke them all.

Winter Light! Charleston, S.C.

Despite appearances/time between posts, I am not snowed in with Gardenopoly at the home place in Asheville. Instead, I’ve been holding off a bit, waiting to write about a recent visit to my favorite southern city, Charleston, South Carolina. With so much of the U.S. immersed in extreme, snowy weather, it just didn’t seem right to ramble on about a wonderful, balmy place in another part of the country.

But now things are thawing in most places, and I figured some posts about the Charleston/Kiawah area would be appropriate — maybe remind us that spring is not so far away.

Soon I’ll write about the gardens and sights of Charleston, but for now I want to show three photos of the glorious landscapes we saw.


It’s hard to know where to look first: the sky above the Cooper River, the reflections on the water near the pier, the sparkling water in the fountain, or the gradations of light on the stone. All so beautiful at dusk.


The interplay of light on the sides of old houses, brick-lined driveways, leaves, and tree trunks is striking this time of year. There are so many courtyards like this throughout the historic parts of downtown Charleston — every one is a vignette of its own.


Yes, a sunset is a sunset and pictures of them abound. This sunset, watched from the Battery, was spectacular, I have to say.

Next time: Roses on the Pier

Fall Impressions: Trees In My Tennessee Garden


Nature’s paintbrush only. No color enhancements here or below.

Maybe it’s just me, but the trees seemed different this fall — the colors more vibrant and, at the same time, impressionistic and softly layered. Before the rains came and the leaves started swirling down, I saw hues and combinations I hadn’t noticed before.


I wouldn’t purposely pair shades of peach and red, but that’s how things ended up as leaves transitioned this month.The leaves in the foreground belong to a well-loved Japanese maple, a very dominant tree in our backyard. Behind the maple is a Stewartia koreana, which has been spectacular all year. I wish I’d planted it a little closer to the house, but it’s nice to view it from a distance, through various angles in the yard and from the windows indoors. There’s a Ginkgo biloba across from the stewartia, but it’s hard to distinguish among the other trees. It was topped several years ago when a very large tree (oak, if I recall) fell onto it from the neighbor’s property across the road.


The maple is one of my most treasured trees. I got it as a five-or-six foot specimen from a sweet man who grew unusual trees on his family farm. The tree has moved with me two times and I’m thinking *big* digging equipment (just dreaming!) if I ever move again. Somewhere, way back in the plant files, is the name of this tree. I keep thinking I’ll try to find it, and someday I will.


In this photo, the maple leaves on the west- facing side were still burgundy. Gradually, they took on the crimson hue of the ones in back . The purple/green leaves to the left are ‘Summer Snowflake’, an upright doublefile viburnum. In the distance: Acer saccharum, sugar maple, which competes with the many tulip poplars throughout the backyard.


A beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) lights up the hillside. Thankfully, I get to look at this magnificent tree every time I pull into the driveway.


Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, fullmoon maple, is the vividly-colored little tree to the right in this photo. In the middle (still green): Parrotia persica. The grayish sticks, bottom left, belong to a huge bottlebrush buckeye. Sadly missing from this year’s fall line-up is the ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud that was planted on the hill to the right of the parrotia. I believe the voles finally decimated its roots this summer. The redbud leaves a blank space that will need to be filled sometime in early winter.


An earlier view of the fullmoon maple shows the leaves looking stressed. There was some dieback on the top of the tree this summer, which is a concern. Voles have been very active this year and the root structure is becoming unstable. I know, because the voles almost got my Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) this year. It was a close call. We had to dig up the pine and put it in a huge pot until we determine a new (less vole prone) location for it.


Here’s another odd color combination — kind of interesting, I think. In the foreground, left, is the purple foliage of ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod, followed by the billowy yellow Amsonia hubrichtii, a dark green falsecypress, a blue spruce and finally the coppery-orange leaves of American beech in the distance.

Now, the color is almost gone. It’s time to rake … and rake some more, remembering that the oaks and the beeches will hold out for a long, long time.

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….!

Red Mulberry Tree: Birds Gather Round

A few weeks ago, a cacaphony of wing-fluttering and bird calls came from the direction of the creek in the back of the house. It was LOUD out there and I had to go investigate.

The cause of the commotion? The mulberries were ripening. A mature red mulberry, the native Morus rubra, was the source of big-time, early-summer bounty.  Several kinds of birds were in a fruit-picking frenzy. They darted back and forth in the treetops and in the sky, their varied shapes outlined against the clouds. They were happy, happy, happy — especially the bluejays.

The birds appreciate our 35-40′ mulberry, but sometimes I forget about the tree when the berries aren’t ripening. Its foliage is high and it’s nestled among a group of other native trees — hemlock, tulip tree, sugar maple, and sycamore — that make up the landscape canopy along the creek. Some years, I’m out of town and the birds strip all the berries while I’m gone. But when I’m here, and the fruit start to ripen,  the scraggly, unpretentious mulberry becomes the star of the garden.

The vegetation under the mulberry is thick — both at canopy and ground level — so it’s hard to see the berries when they fall. Some of the berries land on the lawn (i.e weed/moss area) in the sun, so they’re easier to spot.

Morus rubra fruit

Morus rubra fruit

Guess who else was out there getting a bellyful of berries? A squirrel (naturally) that kept jumping from one limb to another, pausing just long enough to stuff it’s mouth full. Here’s a blurry picture of him/her semi-camouflaged in the leaves.


Birds? What birds?

Not far from the “mother” mulberry, there’s a seedling — also a red mulberry — about 10′ tall. The yellow leaf in the photo below is actually from the mother mulberry, while the big green one is from the seedling. Leaf variation is common with mulberries, although I suspect the yellow leaf was under stress and assumed its fall coloration.


Morus rubra leaf variation – two trees

It pleases me to look in the direction of the big mulberry and realize there’s not an exotic tree in sight — an increasingly rare experience in the home landscape. (Note: You will see some wonderful non-native specimens trees nearby, including a Korean stewartia, fullmoon maple and Japanese umbrella pine. There’s definitely a mix in my garden).


Mulberry among the native trees by the creek

The mulberry trunk is in heavy shade. It likes the moist acidic soil above the creek. Judging from the shape of the tree, it probably started as a seedlling. I love having it in at the edge of the woods but would not want it near a patio or deck.


Red mulberry bark

If I had been more diligent I would have lingered in the shady spot under the mulberry and hemlock tree and collected some of the inch-long berries to make jam. I did pick up a few to keep in a bowl in the refrigerator, just for the pleasure of looking at something from my own yard, mixed-in with fruits and vegetables from someone else’s land.

I left the rest of the berries for the birds. Maybe next year I’ll get the squirrel’s share.


Ripening mulberries (Morus rubra) and immature wild grapes


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!



Tree Planting 101: The Reckless Approach

Nurtured Trees

Nurtured For a Long Time

Many professions have licensing requirements and uniform standards for quality and compliance. In Tennessee, there is no state certification or licensing process for someone in the landscape profession, as there is for a builder, electrician, auctioneer, or cosmetologist. A landscape company can submit a low bid, get a contract for a project, then execute it with the poorest of professional and ethical standards — all without penalty, it seems.

Everything from planting to pruning to pest control requires knowledge and judgement, yet both are often sacrificed for the quick-fix and a signature on a contract. This sub-quality work comes at a price — to consumers, the environment, and the quality of neighborhoods. I just shake my head when I see large, beautiful trees dying, simply because someone didn’t know (or care) if the most basic planting standards were met.

A few weeks ago, I was driving down a side street and saw these glaring (and jarring) examples of how NOT to plant a tree:

Plant 'Em High

Plant ‘Em High

Plant 'Em Low

Plant ‘Em Low


Plant ‘Em Crooked

And finally, we have the ultimate example of Oh. My. Goodness. How could you possibly do that many things to one tree?

A Good Tree Sacrificed

A Good Tree, Sacrificed

A lot of resources go into growing a tree from seed or a cutting: water, labor, fertilizer, and plain old worry, especially if you’re a nursery owner in charge of seeing your plants through the challenges of drought, freezing temperatures, wind, and insects. For a young, thriving tree to meet its demise through human carelessness is just plain wrong.

The Lovely, Welcome Snow


It snowed this week — one of those soft, all-encompassing, old-fashioned snows that says, There’s no need to worry. Everything is working according to nature’s plan. Come outside. Feel the joy.

The earth and trees seemed to revel in the calm and purity of form that enveloped the landscape. Every turn of the camera revealed a different hue of white.


A cluster of Canadian or eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) formed a backdrop for bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) and other deciduous shrubs. Was there ever a more beautiful evergreen tree?


The umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) became laden with snow very quickly. I knocked most of it off, for fear that the branches would break overnight.


There are five or six mature, very lush specimens of boxwoods in the garden, most of them Buxus sempervirens ‘ Suffruticosa’. Since boxwoods are very susceptible to snow and storm damage, I gave them a good shake too.


These are squirrel tracks, I’m pretty certain.


These are tracks of the very rare and reclusive  ….. ??  Actually, a pattern in the rubber mat outside the door :>)


This copper water sprinkler came home with me from a yard sale last year. I had sworn off yard sales, but this one had a definite “garden” theme. The hummingbird reminds me that spring is not far away!

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.

Gardens of the Fling: Christopher Mello

Christopher Mello: Artist and Gardener

Every stop on the Garden Bloggers’ Asheville tour was distinctive. Each garden — private, public, or business — was appealing in its own way. But it’s one of the first gardens we saw, created by Christopher Mello on a busy street in west Asheville, that keeps edging into my memories.

Christopher’s garden is an engaging blend of artistry, plantsmanship, and whimsy. He uses old-fashioned plants and out-of-the-ordinary ones, in a beautiful color palette of purples, blues, and silvers, with touches of burgundy, pink and yellow for accent.  There are playful diversions and sculptural and iron elements throughout.

Our time here flew by as we tried to see every plant and garden accessory and, at the same time, hear Christopher share his creative process. I didn’t understand the significance of everything in this garden (flying baby head sculpture is beyond me), nor did I need to. It was great fun, with beautiful plants and animated conversation interwoven. Without photos, there’s no way to adequately convey this garden’s spirit:

The poppy bed by the weathered yellow orb was a popular gathering place. Christopher is selectively removing the pink poppies, over time, in an effort to create a blue poppy, to be named ‘Blue Pearl’. I believe he said he was collaborating with Allen Bush, previous owner of the wonderful, highly-respected Holbrook Farm and Nursery that used to be just outside Asheville. (Allen is now with Jelitto Seeds. I still have plants from Holbrook visits and may someday own some ‘Blue Pearl’ poppies, if a joint effort is indeed in the works)!

Christopher re-uses industrial objects in his garden and has some exceptionally nice sedum collections in his metal “dish gardens”. I had seen his sculpture gardens at several Asheville venues over the years, but did not realize Mr. Mello was their creator.

I don’t think bloggers become speechless very often, but that’s what happened to many of us when we saw the large space allocated to a stone playground for Tonka trucks. The large circle was surrounded by a ring of upright shovels, which brought inevitable comments about “Shovel Henge”. I told someone I didn’t think I could sleep at night with that particular garden feature outside my house. (Maybe a fear of a “Toy Store” reenactment on the lawn?)

‘Cherry Bells’ campanula were a nice contrast to blue bottles and a pea gravel path.

Purplish-burgundy foliage was a strong, unifying design feature, leading the eye to yet more botanical treasures and playful vignettes.

We thank you for opening your garden to us, Christopher. May your quest for the one true ‘Blue Pearl’ poppy come to fruition very soon!