Frog Footprints (Or Not)


A spot by any other name …

Galls and other leaf oddities have intrigued me lately. On an early evening walk with my mother a few weeks ago, I picked a bright-colored leaf from the lower limb of a nearby oak tree. I wondered out loud about the light green spots on the surface.  My brother’s sweet and observant four-year-old grandson, who had just presented me with some tiny yellow, roadside flowers, said, “I’m pretty sure it’s frog footprints.”

Those of us in the grown-up world might think those spots are actually a kind of leaf blister called Taphrina caerulescens. But, for now, we’ll keep that information to ourselves.

For a four-year-old, there’s plenty of time to learn about botany and plant diseases and factual reasons for green spots. Frogs and their footprints are the reality for now.

A House in the Woods: Oh the Joys


Getting ready to fill the coffee pot this morning, I lifted a dishrag left overnight in the kitchen sink. This spider — very much alive beneath the damp rag — is what I saw. This spider is what made me all quavery inside as I corralled it into a glass and carried it outside to dump out on the deck.

Either sated by milk or just as shaken as I was, the spider sat motionless for a long, long time.

There was a cardinal lingering in a branch just above the spider. The next time I looked, the spider was gone. Escaped to the nearby rock wall or food for a hungry bird? I’ll never know. I do know I won’t leave a dishrag in the sink anymore.

Water Meditation

 For Meryl, on a very special occasion:

                                                     Ocean. Rain. Candle Ice.

Wordless Wednesday: Oak Buffet for Pileated Woodpecker

pileated woodpecker on oak stump

Sprouting oak, full of grubs

Antics Near the Buckeye


Aesculus parviflora, the imposing bottlebrush buckeye at the bottom of the hill, has been magnificent this year. Every summer, this plant outdoes itself, making a strong statement in the garden and attracting all kinds of insects that feed on the flowers’ nectar. Dense branches provide a place for birds to find shelter and rest. Squirrels love to hide the buckeyes and knock the extras to the ground, which makes the chipmunks happy. If the humans are vigilant, they get a few of the inedible nuts, as well. Hard to believe, but this sprawling, flowering beauty is not a mass planting. It started here as a lone, somewhat scraggly, 4′ specimen. Over the past 7-8 years, it has spread by low, lateral branches that have rooted deeply into the fertile woodland soil. When the buckeye was in full bloom a few weeks ago, I put a chair beside it to show size perspective for a photo.


The next morning, I looked out from the deck and the chair was missing. I thought maybe my husband had moved it to mow the small patch of adjacent lawn, but no, it turned up under the full moon maple, on its side, right in the middle of a bed of hardy begonia. Though lots of different critters move through our property — many of them in the evening hours — it would have taken a pretty large animal to move a metal chair that far. Since neighborhood deer bed down under the row of hemlocks behind the buckeye, I’m thinking they were probably responsible.  Don’t know, but it must have been a wild night in the garden!

Mazus Takes Over the Yard, Fooling the Rabbits

azaleaandmazus_mmtn The backyard is lush and cool now in advance of the wilting heat that’s sure to come. Everything looks fresh: colors, the changing patterns of light, the tender seedlings that push up through the soil every hour (or so it seems).

I wish I could send along the delicate fragrance from hundreds of pinkish-lavender azalea blooms at their peak now. You would swoon if you smelled them. The azaleas were maybe half this size when we moved here. Over the years, they’ve merged into one glorius swath that is actually more pastel than this straight-out-of-the-camera color indicates.

The big white patch in the lawn is Mazus reptans ‘Alba’, which takes more sun than purple mazus. This semi-evergreen perennial spreads rapidly in moist soil and can sometimes be a nuisance, but I like the way it contrasts with the bright green grass in spring. Maybe an entire lawn of mazus? Would that be so bad?

Bait and switch in the backyard

Bait and switch in the backyard

Rabbits seem confused by the mazus blooms. Every morning, at least one eastern cottontail comes and stands in the patch, smells a white flower, then pauses and looks puzzled — at least that’s the way it looks to me. After that, it smells more white flowers, then noses around to find some grass or something else to nibble on before hopping off. I wonder if it thinks it sees clover, then discovers it’s really mazus. It certainly looks like clover from a distance.

I saw a little pile of white downy fur in the grass last week. I wondered if it was the remnants of a rabbit that had let its guard down, trying to figure out why the clover wasn’t really clover at all.

Hellebores: They Can Stay a Little Longer


None of my lenten roses are special cultivars. They’re just seedlings of half a dozen plants I bought years ago. Over time, they’ve cross-pollinated and spread all over the garden. They’ve loved the rich soil here and have become so plentiful they’re verging on being intrusive and unwelcome. Last fall, I decided to select the white ones and those that were extraordinary or bright-hued, then give the rest away.

After the rough winter we’ve had, with camellia buds and other flowers stunted, I’m wavering on my plan. Hellebores are one of the few things in bloom now. From a distance, they play a subdued, but welcome, role in the landscape.

Up close, the flowers of lenten rose are anything but low-key. Variations in color and reproductive parts make me marvel at nature’s complexity. Still…. I need to make room for other things. Maybe things that won’t deposit hundreds of seedlings on the paths leading through the woods.

Craving Color


It’s been a long winter.

When you live in the woods, you get used to subtlety. You learn to appreciate delicate shades of blue, and the muted yellows and pinks of wildflowers. You’re amazed at the nuances of white in blooms of trillium and fothergilla and sweetbay magnolia. You love the giant oak trees and the dark, humusy soil, and the way the light filters through the canopy at different times of the day.

But wait!  You’re forgetting about the vivid colors of red buckeye and native columbine, and the bright blue of the ajuga, and the fuschia camellias, not to mention the wonderfully-fragrant, lemon-colored witchhazels. And that’s just Spring. What were you thinking?

Color in a shade garden

Still, there are February days when the garden looks woefully brown. You fantasize about farmer’s markets, cut flower farms, and daylily nurseries — all that bright-hued goodness a gardener takes for granted in warmer months. It would be hard to incorporate all those colors in a garden.You know that. But, today, you’re dreaming…. just waiting for Spring.

Blessings of Light in the New Year


All good wishes for 2014, starting with the Irish toast below!

*     *     *

May the blessings of light be within you,

Light without and light within.

And in all your comings and goings,

May you ever have a kindly greeting

From them you meet along the road.

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) .