I lift up my eyes …
I lift up my eyes …
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) .
Every time I go back to the Carolina home place, I notice subtle changes outside. The fences have held up well, but after decades of weathering, many of my dad’s well-crafted posts have either tilted or fallen. The barbed wire is loose and not a steady perch for birds. Sometimes a scraggly shrub can serve equally well, though, judging from this artistic, long-sustained, bird posing.
The pond in the background — hidden by the goldenrod and dying foliage — is low this year, even though rain has been plentiful. The crawfish have been busy carving out the dam, I suspect. My dad would not be happy and would be getting his tractor out to repair the bank about now.
A few spindly Russian sages appear every year despite some stiff competition from weeds below.
There are mountain views all around the house, but I often end up looking at quirky combinations on the ground. Old-fashioned obedient plant, iris, and bits and pieces of other plants (including weeds) make an interesting vignette. Mental note: I like this limey-green, maroon, lavender, and grey color palette and want to use it more in designing.
Concord grapes and morning glories grow side-by-side. It’s an iconic look/memory from the past. (Note: there are multiple containers of Concord grapes in my refrigerator. If I can stop eating grapes, there will be jars of Concord jelly this week).
An un-named yarrow amidst echinacea and other plants, including the very unwelcome Glechoma or ground ivy. It’s everywhere — in the grass and lots of beds. It’s impossible to eradicate.
Every year my mother’s neighbor shares either red or green apples from her trees. They’re the old-fashioned kind that don’t get pruned much or produce big, unblemished fruit. Last year, this red variety was almost bare, so my son missed out on a long-held, annual ritual at his grandmother’s.
This year, the tree was full of apples. All of us, including the woodpeckers that hovered in the upper branches, were grateful. Going to the grocery store and buying apples is just not the same, even if the specimens are big, shiny, and perfect (albeit tasteless).
The neighbor’s cat is watching something in the grass, not giving us the evil eye for being near the apple tree. His pal, Stella, disappeared several months ago, possibly the victim of one of the many hawks we’d seen flying over the house.
The rituals of nature play out and the fenceposts keep holding on.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some 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!
Driving I-40 between Asheville and Knoxville a few weeks ago, I noticed that the waters of the Pigeon River were unusually high. I took the Hartford Road exit, #447, to take a closer look.
The waters were swirling into low-lying grassy banks. I looked for a good place to wade, but the vegetation was too thick.
I got a big smile from the navigator of this float — not so many from his young charges, who seemed focused on the sensory experience at hand. Several rafting companies operate along the river at this exit. The water is higher in spring, but summer brings the biggest crowds.
This little scene brought a sigh of contentment. I tried to ignore the bamboo — you just never know where that stuff will show up.
Time to get back on the highway, head on home. It’s hard to leave …
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