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.

Country Road (Take Me Home)


Hatcher Garden: A Place for Community


Hatcher Garden – Open 365 days a year

Chilling out was high on my agenda Wednesday as I drove to meet blogging friends Janet (Queen of Seaford) and Julie (Growing Days) in Spartanburg, South Carolina. We arrived from points north and south to walk through Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve, a small community garden not far from downtown.

Hatcher Garden was originally part of the private estate of Josephine and Harold Hatcher, who bought the property in 1969. Over the years, they acquired adjacent lots, gradually expanding the garden haven they created for family, and friends. In 1987 the Hatchers donated the gardens to the Spartanburg County  Foundation, ensuring an ongoing resource for nature lovers and the community. When Mr. Hatcher died in 2003, he left an endowment to provide ongoing funds for the care of the garden.


The garden varies in topography — just enough to make the landscape interesting and the transitions from light to shade areas appealing.  Usually, rock-lined streams flow through the garden, but the pumps had been turned off following a four-inch rainfall the previous week-end. I do love the sound of water in a garden, but the birds probably missed it as much as I did.

Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' - Golden Full Moon Maple

Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ – Golden Full Moon Maple

Hatcher has a nice conifer collection and a varied selection of ornamental trees, ground covers, vines and perennials. We saw lots of yellow and gold-leaved plants. A bit jarring to me, although I did like the yellow full-moon maple, Acer shirasawanum ‘ Aureum’, that we lingered over on our way to  a nearby pond.


Julie, Growing Days and Janet, Queen of Seaford

We posed in front of old trees and enjoyed the sights of children, turtles, even a small bridal party. Seeing a dawn redwood reminded me that I always forget which tree has opposite leaves or needles — dawn redwood or bald cypress. Janet passed along a tip someone had shared with her: remember Meta/Meet. Meta for Metasequoia and Meet for join together.

I was pleased (Janet too) about a feature article about Julie that appears in this month’s issue of Carolina Gardener. The article, A Garden Full of Heirlooms, is about Julie’s business — growing heirloom and organic plants. It’s a great article, written by Jennifer Horton. Check it out if you can.


For me, the day at Hatcher was as much about the overall experience as it was about plants. I’ll remember the green, the sound of birds, the subtle changes of light, and the companionship of two new friends. I’ll also remember the sense of history and pride that fairly emanated from the garden’s grounds. It was if The Hatchers were saying” We loved this place and we hope you do too.”

The Pigeon River: A Detour

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 …

A Sweet Sight Out in the Country

Birds and Customers: Turn Right

I’ve seen bird feeders in a lot of places, but never attached to the side of a business sign. This one was out in the country, on a side road, off the stretch of interstate between Asheville and Knoxville. There was no house, business, or human in sight. The small feeder was nearly full. If I lived around here and needed repairs for my car, I might just turn right at the arrow and check this place out.

Traveling the Cherohala

Morning on the Cherohala

Cherohala Skyway, part of the National Scenic Byways system, is a forty-three mile road that winds through some of the most beautiful, historic land in southern Appalachia. It connects the towns of Tellico Plains, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina and crosses both the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests — hence the name “Chero-hala”. A trip on the Cherohala is memorable and inspiring. National Geographic includes the Skyway on their website in a series called “Drives of a Lifetime“.

Driving time for the Cherohala is listed on the America’s Byways website at about two hours, one-way. This is a conservative estimate — you’d best allow a good part of the day, as there are lots of trails, enticing views, and stopovers to savor before returning to home base.

The highest point of the Skyway (at 5390′ elevation) is on the North Carolina side, but most of the best long-range views are in Tennessee. In late spring, the mountains are very quiet except for the sound of occasional motorcycles coming through. We heard their approach long before they passed us by.

Picnic on the Edge

We stopped near the crest of the Tennessee side of the mountain and saw this lone picnic table. It was very close to the edge of a lookout ( “LOOK OUT!”, in this case), above a very steep ravine. Maybe the low board enclosure around the table is supposed to create a sense of security. For me, it did not, but the lovely long-range views of blue mountains made up for any nagging sense of impending catastrophe.

Picnic Area, Looking Down

Travelling on the North Carolina section of the Skyway, we saw terrain that reminded me of the heath fields of Scotland. (Unfortunately, my camera’s memory card failed at this point and I have no photos to demonstrate). There is a diversity of plants and habitats all along the Byway and side trails. This calls for repeat visits to take it all in.

The sign to Snowbird Lodge shows that you’re nearing the end of the Skyway, which is eleven miles away in Robbinsville. If you’re returning to Knoxville or Nashville, you might consider a different route home. The Tail of the Dragon (highway 129) is a two-lane, eleven-mile road that eventually ends up near Fontana Dam.  To get there, you will navigate 318 curves. These are some serious curves — if you are prone to motion sickness, go a different way. The last time I travelled this road was in the 1980’s, on the way to the old-growth Joyce Kilmer Forest. I vowed that I would never again set tire or body on the Dragon and I have kept that promise. The Cherohala Skyway? I’ll go back anytime.

View from Snowbird Lodge


Not for Postcard Use


I was driving east on I-40, singing along to the radio, then … this. Erosion and soil degradation, loss of trees and habitat, ugliness — this view has it all.

Milemarker 10: Bring Back the Rhodies

Eastbound on I-40, I sometimes stop at the North Carolina welcome center located just beyond the Tennessee line at milemarker 10. The staff is always gracious and generous with information, maps, and brochures. The building, renovated in the 1990s, is attractive, with a design that seems compatible with it’s mountain surroundings. The grounds are a different story, in my opinion.

Before, there were lush stands of rhododendron, set in natural-looking, gently-sloping mounds around the building. Now, the gentle contours are gone and the native plants have been replaced, mostly with exotic species. The winter view in back of the building is of spindly nandinas, mulch, and the obligatory boulder or two. I miss the old landscape.

For a true sense of the North Carolina mountains, you’d best go down the steps at the edge of the parking lot to a landing that overlooks a ravine. If you look beyond the invasive empress trees (Paulownia tomentosa), you’ll see the distinctive mix of evergreens and deciduous trees that make up this lovely area of the world.

Away from the car:

To this:


Bands of Color

Vegetation near The Battery, Charleston

During a walk on a post-holiday vacation in Charleston, I saw this soothing winter canvas of water, sky, and plants. It reminded me that simple landscapes are often the most beautiful.

Study in White

Oakleaf Hydrangeas - Berea College, Kentucky