Saturday, November 18, 2017

Antler Hill Village

We’re passholders at the Biltmore Estate, so we go frequently, to walk along the French Broad River, in the gardens, and around Bass Pond. 

Every once in a while, we visit the House, usually during Christmas display times during the day. 

Deerpark Restaurant does a really nice holiday lunch buffet, so sometimes we do that, too. Their ham was amazingly good last year, and I normally would say “I don’t like ham.”

This is the first year for Antler Hill Village to be lit up for the holidays, and they’re doing it right. This grove of pines towards the stable yard was lovely.

Friday, November 17, 2017


A wonderful online (and global) class had a webinar today — with just 8 of us. Amazing to talk to folks around the world and see their faces.

Our facilitator, in Ireland, asked us, what sustains us, today.

I came back to nature and community. I celebrate what I see everyday out in my walks, hikes, or even driving around and enjoying the view in our mountain town.

But I also reflected on the community that my various online groups have meant, as have our experiences around exchanging our house with others from near and far.

It’s all about trust, building community, and reaching out.

I’ve been spending more time volunteering recently with YMCA Healthy Living Pantry distributions in my mountain town. We’re a huge tourist destination, but also an area, in Western North Carolina, that has significant food insecurity issues. It’s a good thing to help.

I had no real understanding about these issues before we bought our house in Asheville.

In the Upstate of SC, where we lived before, there were community pantries, which we gave to; here in Asheville, we have food insecurity, as well as a much more obvious homeless population. It’s impossible not to notice.

I volunteer in a community garden in a historical African-American part of Asheville. Our harvests go to a by-donation kitchen that’s in a community center next door.

Is this a good thing?  Well, of course, I feel good, although I’m a better teacher than market gardener. The connection of sharing food, grown and harvested in community, is truly a sustaining activity.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Moving towards winter

We’re fortunate in the Southeastern U.S. to have a relatively short winter.  Fall, with its colors, has been extended with climate change, it seems.  Mild winters have been punctuated by polar vortex blasts.  A blast is predicted over Thanksgiving.  Really?

But, I’ve swapped my warm season clothes for cool season ones in my closet, so I’m ready.

Beaver Lake
A recent early morning walk at Beaver Lake reminded me of how nice fall can be.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The last of fall colors

The ravine woodland forest continues to be luminous, with yellows and spots of red.  But the freeze last night, and the cold temperatures to come, will be the final push.  The ginkgo in front, again, is slowly losing its leaves (quite unusual) -- the abscission layers haven't been triggered for the leaves to drop all at once, as is normal.

I need to check again on the venerable old ginkgo in the neighborhood.  Last year, just after Thanksgiving, it was amazing. Leaves drifting down, instead of dropping all at once, is a difference with weaker abscission layers, I guess.

The view from my studio (on the ground floor) has been lovely, as has been the view out the kitchen windows.

Studio view
Early morning kitchen view

Same forest, just from below and above.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


We’ve loved our sassafras trees, so transplanted many saplings from our Clemson house to our house in the mountains.  Thankfully, we’d had both males and females, so HAD saplings to transplant.

The two planted next to our neighbor’s house (a rental) some years ago are so interesting right now (I see them out the upstairs window) — their fall color is so different.  The tree on the left is yellow; the one to the right is dark red.  How interesting!

I found no mention on previous years’ blog posts about this, only happy comments about their flowering in spring, so this must be a curious weather anomaly.  Here’s what they look like now.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fall color

It’s been a great fall color year for two of the pignut hickories in the ravine forest. They’re a beautiful clear yellow, with almost all of the leaves still on the trees.  A neighboring hickory, in contrast, has almost lost of its leaves.

The ginkgo in front is a glorious mix of yellow and green, quirky in color as it is in shape.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A luminous Japanese maple

I'm not normally a fan of Japanese maples, as they don't really "work for a living" in my normal screen of gardening for nature or growing edibles.  (Our native maples do a better job of feeding insects that feed birds, etc.)  And, I haven't been entranced by Japanese maple stories, although I know they must be interesting.  A recent garden group trip to an iconic local Japanese maple nursery (Mr. Maple) left me impressed with the number of cultivars!

An unusually yellow Japanese maple
Ginkgos have been a feature in all of our gardens because they're living fossils and have a good story, not because of their wildlife attributes (minimal), as have tulips, so maybe we do have exceptions.

However, this beautiful Japanese maple, an unusual yellow color (the iPhone and Photoshop want to see the reddish tinges), caught my attention this morning.   It was luminous in a home garden along one of my favorite neighborhood walking routes.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Electric pressure cookers

A brief aside towards the cooking connection with gardening.

A sudden interest (from my gardening companion), who isn’t a cook, in slow cooker recipes from an NPR report on Hugh Acheson (via a new cookbook) had me looking into slow cookers (I haven’t ever had one). Acheson was writing about much more flavorful takes on slow cooking than I’d read about (and I read a lot of recipes).

So I was rather amazed to stumble on all of the Instant Pot/electric pressure cookers that combine a slow cooker with what is a truly remarkable modern pressure cooker. I remembered my Mom’s stovetop pressure-cooker from decades ago. Scary.

But the Instant Pot mini that I bought (thinking I could entice my gardening companion into learning how to cook a few healthy things) — well, it’s been amazing.

I never thought that a new electric kitchen appliance would be so interesting. I’ve pressure-cooked all sorts of things, from meat to butternut squash to brown rice to beans (which I’d stopped cooking on the stove-top, because it was so time-consuming, and tedious on our gas stove.)

Whether I can get my gardening companion to pay attention about how to cook in it — well, I’ve made him pay attention a couple of times, but I think I’ll just need to put together my personal version of easy, dump in the instant pot dishes, based on the recipes that I’ve gathered online, and thanks to Hugh Acheson’s and Melissa Clark’s cookbooks.

He seems impressed by the speed and tastiness of the results so far, so maybe I can get him to be potentially self-sufficient (I worry about what might happen if he was suddenly on his own!)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Winter is coming

We’ll have a first freeze tomorrow night, if predictions hold. After an abnormally warm fall, it’s a bit of a shock, but welcome. Average first frost temperatures describe a fairly wide amplitude, but it’s clear that the timing is later than it used to be.

If you’re a gardener, and in your early 60’s, like me, you’ve been paying attention to fall and spring frost/freeze dates for a long time.

I realized that my favorite Clemson vegetable gardening fact sheet, that helped me become a better year-round vegetable gardener years ago, was extremely conservative around when to plant in spring and how late we could plant in fall (uh, it was because it was older data around frosts and freezes)...

Of course, fall vegetable gardening really depends on planting in late summer and harvesting in fall, but we can really push the envelope through season extension and overwintering hardy greens (whether with protection or not).

Traveling limited my fall planting; only the argula germinated (presumably the spinach seed was a bit too old or young seedlings succumbed to drought stress!); but transplants of kale, collards, and broccoli are doing fine, as is the Swiss chard, most of which is rebounding after a cool summer.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Late fall vegetable plantings

Fall vegetables are really planted in late summer, and harvested in fall — that is, the lettuce, chard, spinach, kale, and collards, not to mention broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

It’s all about timing, and what the fall is like.  The Southside Community Garden, where I volunteer, is filled with beautiful rows of fall greens.

I’ve just planted some very nice garlic, to be harvested next spring/early summer.  I don’t really have the good conditions for it, that I had in my Piedmont garden, but why not?  Green garlic is delicious, too.

I’m planning to sow more spinach, arugula, and turnip seeds after the rains that are forecast for tomorrow.
A view from a couple of years ago (the only one that Blogger (on iPad gives me access to)
It’s all good!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Growing food, cooking food, food waste, and other modern conundrums

I love growing vegetables, among my other gardening passions.  There's nothing not to like about harvesting delicious vegetables and herbs from your garden, then taking them straight to the kitchen.  But, you need to willing to prep and cook these vegetables to enjoy them.  It's not necessarily easy and it's often time-consuming.

I'm willing to do it for my two-person household, as long as I'm not too much over an hour prepping and cooking at a stretch.  Vegetables take prep, for sure, but they're my favorites.  I eat a small amount of cooked vegetables at breakfast, and more for lunch and dinner. And happily, my hubby will eat plenty of them, too. He's actually rather protein-averse, so it’s easy to put veggies and grains on his plate.

At a regional "Food Waste Summit" today, I've learned a lot more about our food waste problem in this country; there’s a broader continuum of issues than I ever realized.

I'm pretty keen, as a daughter of parents who grew up with Depression Era parents, on being frugal and careful around food. My mom, not a particularly devoted cook, taught me how to cut up a chicken, and we always turned our chicken bones from a roast chicken into broth.  She'd learned that from her mom.

I never throw away edible food, we eat our leftovers, anything organic is composted, yada, yada.  Our fresh-veggie based diet is oriented around what is in my garden and at the community garden where I volunteer.  Ugh, greens again, I often think, in my four-season vegetable garden.

But clearly there's a bigger picture out there, too.

Harvested greens from Southside Community Garden
Many American families throw away (edible food) worth about $1500 a year. Yikes.  The edible produce, etc. that can be diverted from the waste stream back to food banks is considerable. The prepared food that can be donated to homeless shelters and soup kitchens -- that's also huge.

I volunteer in a community garden where our harvests go to the local community.  Great.

But we clearly need to rethink our food systems in this country to reduce food waste. There are lots of opportunities.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fall light and temperatures

It's delightful to be home now, to the wonderful shift of fall light, as the sun dips to the south, bringing light in our front windows in late afternoon.

In summer, the sun moves directly over the house; in fall and winter, the sun's light is angled, so we have light throughout the day in the kitchen and main room and in the front of the house.

And this week, temperatures are actually going to be fall-like, and perhaps help me adjust to what time of the year this really is --  having traveling to Kauai and Vancouver in late September and early October has just added to my internal seasonal confusion, preceded by a cool August and September in Western North Carolina.

Of course, in the hurry to get dinner cooked, after a wonderful loop walking through downtown, I don't have a photo, and can't find one from previous posts (what could I have labelled a fall sunset view out the front window?)

Here's a beautiful winter sunset in the mountains instead.  Something to look forward to.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Writing is art

I've returned to thinking about writing as my primary creative activity. Perhaps I'll get back to watercolor. Maybe.  I'll be probably sticking with gardening and writing.

I have a natural dye-printing class on Thursday, inspired by a wonderful scarf that I acquired at one of our tailgate markets --the creator of the one I bought will be the instructor.

But I keep coming back to writing as a primary medium (as I tap this on my iPad keyboard) in a curious way of thinking.

Gardening has been a significant expression of creativity over the years - that's been a interesting evolution in its own right, but perhaps more narrative writing is yet to come.

This small snippet from the (much longer) Emily Carr University's Writing Manifesto (in Vancouver) says it right.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A lovely community garden

On our last day in Vancouver, we ventured into the 4th St. corridor, towards UBC and the Anthropology Museum.

Bumbling off 4th St., I came upon a delightful community garden, largely flowers, built along an old railway line, now turning into greenway.

It's so refreshing in a massive urban environment, to come upon gardened spaces, even in a city like Vancouver that has incredible seawall walkways/bikeways along most every inch of their shoreline.

A wonderful urban park

Stanley Park, at the edge of central Vancouver, is a venerable space, designated in the late 1800's on space that was home to First Nations people. (There were still people living in the park through the 1950's, I think I'm remembering right, but the park lands now include second-growth temperate rain forest, gardens, and a spectacular perimeter seawall around the entire peninsula).

We walked around the seawall a couple of days ago, but returned to visit some of the interior trails. A destination amid the wonderful forest was Beaver Lake.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

View from Cambie Bridge

Even though the full moon isn't until Saturday, it's luminous right now in the Vancouver sky.

Views from the Cambie Bridge this evening were spectacular.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A sponsored median strip garden

Around our "borrowed" neighborhood in Vancouver, there are a number of sponsored median strips and traffic island plantings. I've already posted about a couple of sidewalk plantings, but these, as part of a community program, are worth showing, too.

This one, in early fall exuberance (and senscence) was charming, at least to me.
There were others available, presumably due to someone moving. This one had been well-tended.
I totally love this concept -- it transforms our towns and cities as we help create gardens where there was only a scruffy patch of lawn before!

Community gardens and neighborhoods

An excursion down to Richmond, BC, for a (inaguaral) harvest festival, found lots of interesting non-profit booths, promoting agricultural preservation in what was a traditional agricultural area, now being overrun by high-rise condo developments.

The city has set aside 136 acres as part of a Garden City Parklands development, so the festival was marking the development of this area for farm/community garden space as well as wetland restoration.

A lovely community-building event.
There were excellent initiatives around developing and replacing urban forest and "rewilding" areas represented, although it was interesting that most of Richmond was originally bog and shrubland, with a margin of Western red cedar and alder forest.

I especially appreciated the local food/seed saving intiatives.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Streetside plantings

Many communities have spaces between the sidewalk and road. Sometime we describe them as hell-strips, sometimes just as sidewalk median plantings.

Some places have wide planting areas, others narrow ones -- all are lucky to have sidewalks to start with!

In the Vancouver neighborhood where we're currently staying (through HomeExchange), most of these strips are mowed grass, with the houses surrounded by rather formidable and lush hedges as a privacy screen.

These two, just down the road from our temporary house, stood out.

The first was rather extraordinary. Pruned, topiary-ish evergreens, both in the median and next to their fence.
The other was more to my liking: a mixed grass and wildflower border between the sidewalk and the street. Their neighbor, an absent investor, had nothing but river rock below and grasses above, in contrast. At least, they'd added a landscape of some sort.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Proactive big city initiatives

Those of us who live in small cities, suburbs, or elsewhere, are fortunate, I suppose, not to be worrying about what happens to food waste, etc. I already compost everything that we produce from our garden and kitchen as far as "food scraps" go, and we recycle (through curbside) mixed paper, plastic, and glass, so it's been easy for us.

In Vancouver, where we're currently staying in a lovely town home (thanks to Home Exchange), they have yard waste/food waste bins, recycling bins, and garbage pickup. All good, although I think folks are paying quite a bit for their pickup, just like we do at home.

But I was so glad to see at Granville Island (the location of a lovely and historic public market), the goal of a zero waste island. So instead of tipping our lunch boxes into the trash, they went in the compost.

How lovely is that?

I love the message, even if it's not entirely successful!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vegetable gardening thoughts

I've been away from my vegetable garden for almost two weeks, but had access to veggies with our Home Exchange partners and their neighbors' garden. The red kale was remarkably good -- apparently it's an almost perennial veggie for them in Kauai; I was surprised at how delicious it was, even with temperatures in the low to mid 80's in September. There were lots of tomatillos to enjoy, along with peppers, and herbs.

At home in Western NC, kale gets decidedly tough through summer, and more bitter with heat; chard does well if it has enough moisture, and is still quite decent.

I sowed spinach, mesclun, mustard, and kale in my beds at home before I left; perhaps I'll return to flourishing cut-and-come-again plantings, or maybe not. Ditto for the kale, lettuce, and broccoli starts! They may have just been woodchuck food. We'll see.

We've just arrived in Vancouver for a couple of weeks, again in a lovely Home Exchange house, but one that's surrounded by a small garden space, with just a few herbs in pots.

It's so interesting to be in our Home Exchange partners house -- while they're in ours. Such different experiences, I think, on a day to day basis.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Kauai sunset

A final sunset from our Home Exchange cottage -- we'll be leaving tomorrow evening. Kauai is a magical place, with beautiful mountains and beaches.

Little native vegetation is left, except for very remote areas in Waimea, but that's the case throughout Hawaii. The National Tropical Botanical Garden is doing a great job rescuing endangered plant species, restoring their gardens on Kauai with native plants, and promoting planting natives in landscapes. A good thing.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Na Pali Coast boat ride

A ridicuously expensive 4-hr boat trip turned out to be well worth it, at least at Kauai prices.

Wonderful views of what is truly a spectacular coastline.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On the trail towards Alakai Swamp, Kauai

I didn't take my iPhone on this hike, as it looked like rain was threatening, but all was well until our return ascent.
This is the only photo that I seem to be able to get my iPad to download, from the ones my gardening companion took.
A wonderful hike.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Waimea Canyon

A truly spectacular spot on Kauai, Waimea Canyon was breathtaking.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

More Kauai views

We're so fortunate that our small house in Asheville is walkable to downtown, looks into a restored forest (thanks to my gardening companion), and is surrounded by other gardens, vegetable and pollinator-friendly, native-rich, etc. It's a good place to be.

It makes for a good home exchange. Our home exchange partners here in Kauai will be in our house next April. We're enjoying their wonderful setting now.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Kauai views

From Eastern hardwood forest views to Kauai slopes.
The first two are from our home exchange cottage; the third is looking towards the Na Pali coast.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Coming into Kauai

This afternoon's view was impressive, as we approached Kauai, where we'll be for awhile on a Home Exchange. My gardening companion was here 40+ years ago and remembers it fondly; I've never been to Hawaii.

Hiking, botanizing, snorkeling, and poking around in our Home Exchange partners' garden -- it'll be a wonderful time. It's warm and humid, but hey, we're from the Southeastern US, after all. It's not unfamiliar, even though our summer has been cool this year.

A brief stopover to visit relatives in LA reminded me of why I wouldn't want to live in Southern CA. They live in a wonderful house surrounded by gardens, but, the traffic to and from the airport, even at 6 am this morning was remarkable (not in a good way!)

Now, I'm off to see what the garden might have, while we wait for AAA to charge the battery on the car! There are lots of robust looking tomato plants, recently planted, I think, along with lots of papaya and mango trees.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Gardening is about hope

Isn't gardening really about hope?  Hope for what we've planted, whether it's short-term or long.

I've sowed seeds of greens just before leaving for several weeks and created all the change-outs with kale and collards; my gardening companion has planted new native trees and perennials.  It IS about hope.

Our home exchange folks aren't going to be watering. The daughter of our very nice neighbor will be keeping an eye on whether it needs to be watered, but.., the footsteps of the resident gardeners will be absent for awhile.

All will be well, I think, as Irma will bring plenty of rain over the next week to our garden.  And, September is sometimes a cool month (and has certainly started out like that). Hmm, I wore my fleece jacket on our evening walk -- strange for Sept. 10.

We had a wonderful red sunset looping around the Grove Park Inn this evening. But I didn't have my phone (or camera).

So here's another wonderful one, from Beaver Lake, another favorite walk.

Beaver Lake sunset

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