Royal Star Magnolia Makes Its Pre-frost Show

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‘Royal Star’ is one of my favorite small magnolias. Its smooth, gray branches are laden with complex, sensuous blossoms and fuzzy-gray buds. The rounded shape adapts well to both small and expansive landscapes.

I planted this specimen at the Asheville homeplace in the early ’90’s, then my son and I thinned out its shrubby branches a decade later. Without any other attention, it has grown into a beautifully-shaped little tree about 15′ tall.

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‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata) is an early-bloomer, an especially challenging trait this winter. Soon after I took these photos, every blossom was tinged with brown — definitely forlorn-looking compared to a few days before. There was no way to withstand the wildly-fluctuating temperatures that, for days, had risen to the ’80s, then dived to below freezing.

There are other good deciduous magnolias, ones with later bloom cycles, but my family and I have grown fond of this one. Every season, I look out from the kitchen window and see its dense, familiar branches. Gracefully, they occupy the space between the former garden and an old shed that shelters a family of groundhogs.

Late Summer Sunset: Back Home

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I lift up my eyes …

Hamlin Ceramics: Vibrant Art, Inspired by Gardens

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Wordless Wednesday: Unfurling

Ferns unfurling - BGA

Transitions: Botanical Gardens Asheville

Signs of Summer: The Farmers’ Market

Farmers Market near UNC-Asheville

Farmers Market near UNC-Asheville

A sweet family. A dog. Colorful Plants. Homegrown (and homemade) food. A beautiful day. What more could you want?

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.

Sweetpea Sunday

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This meadow at the Carolina home place is chaotic, yet beautiful in its own way. Last week, the dewy blossoms of sweet peas and Queen Anne’s lace engaged me and several groups of early morning walkers.

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Unlike other fields on the property, this one gets mowed sporadically. Weedy thugs have taken over. I see an occasional butterfly weed or milkweed (unfortunate terminology since these are desirable natives and wonderful for pollinators). They struggle for a toehold and find it hard to compete with the more aggressive plants. My hope is that, someday, the field can be mowed regularly to keep weeds from going to seed. Then we can look at encouraging a transition to more native plants.

It’s hard to argue against sweet peas, though. They have such appealing blooms — and a nice name to boot!

On Turkeys (and Blogging)

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Wild turkeys on a late, Carolina morning

Mom looked out the window last week and saw a flock of wild turkeys picking at the dormant grass in the front yard. The birds were oblivious to the humans standing behind the glass just a few feet away. By the time we’d stopped fiddling with cameras and technical mishaps (dead batteries,etc.), the flock had proceeded to the end of the driveway, just beyond the rough-scaled ‘Heritage’ river birch on their left.

The birds headed across the road to the field (it becomes full of Queen Anne’s lace and sweet peas in summer), then veered toward a dilapidated old barn with a metal roof that threatens to fly off into the sky every time the wind blows hard. As a child, I helped the neighbor boys set up a general store in that little barn. We had old glass bottles, clunky tin cans, and small boxes with lettering muted by dampness from the building’s dirt floor.  I always wanted to be the shopkeeper. The boys bought some of my make-believe groceries and goods to humor me.

*       *       *       *       *

I’ve been a bit of a turkey with my blogging recently — wandering, picking at things, keeping my head low to the ground. Blogging requires commitment and time, and the ante gets upped pretty often, I think. An example is how many photos to provide for a posting. When I write about gardening, I feel compelled to include a lot of images, following the trend.  But it takes a lot of time to sort, re-size, and prepare photos for the web, then write a story, and do the behind-the-scenes work that makes the blog come together technically. Then, every few weeks a new app or social media platform surfaces, compelling bloggers to join in order to be relevant, or searchable, or whatever. So far, I’ve resisted, though I admire those who use those resources well.

For now, I need to be relevant to the social circle that’s in the flesh, needs my help, and doesn’t care if I’m search-engine optimized. In other words, blogging needs to take a back seat to parental and other responsibilities in the coming months.

When Meander Mountain first started, my goal was to have a very simple blog. For each posting, I wanted to show one or two photos that were nature-or-garden-related or that illustrated something  compelling or offbeat about traveling or life in Southern Appalachia (mostly east Tennessee and western North Carolina).  I want to re-commit to that approach, and also post more frequently — just without too many shoulds in my brain.

Too, I want to reach out more, to readers/other bloggers, who have made the past three M. Mountain years so enjoyable and worthwhile. For you, and for those who have made it to the end of this epistle, I am grateful. I look forward to staying in touch!

Cheers — to blogging and to wild turkeys,

DJ