Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rhododendrons in the Mist: Hiking Roan Highlands

Finally, I made it to the southern Appalachians to see the native rhododendrons and azaleas blooming in the wild.  Don Hyatt of the Potomac Valley chapter of the American Rhododendron Society (ARS) is largely responsible for luring me to this visual feast.  Also a member of our local rock garden  chapter (again  a 'Potomac Valley' chapter, but of the North American Rock Garden Society, NARGS), Don has been visiting the native azaleas and rhododendrons (all are botanically classified as rhododendrons) for a couple of decades.  He has shared his travels in presentations for our rock garden chapter, including tantalizing images of expansive views and big swaths of rhododenrons and azaleas in awe inspiring hues. I wanted to see them for myself. 

Don's hiking companion, George Mclellan, unbelievably almost 80-years-old, ( I hope I have his endurance when I am his age), has been coming even longer.  They know the plants so intimately they have named several with exceptional characteristics -- 'Big Bird', a big yellow R. calendulaceum, Flame azalea; 'Molten Lava', a glowing yellow-orange one.  There are others I can't remember.  

Rhododendron catawbiense, Catawba rhododendron -- in the mist 

The infamous Don Hyatt

The rest of our motley crew (l to r) Joe, Halit, Mike, Charlie, and George, who has been visiting for
something like  25 years.
By the time we hiked Roan our group had grown to 7 (5 of us began the trip in southwestern VA several days earlier), including Charlie Andrews, president of the Azalea chapter of ARS (Georgia), a passionate native azalea expert, and Mike Bamford, also from that chapter and a newbie like me, as neither of us had walked this way before.  I don't think Joe or Halit had either.

Starting at Carver's Gap, 5512 feet of elevation, the hike takes you over 3 balds -- Round Bald, Jane Bald and, finally, Grassy Ridge Bald at 6,165 feet.  Beginning in North Carolina, the trail crisscrosses the North Carolina-Tennessee border and follows the Appalachian Trail until it veers off to the right towards Grassy Ridge Bald.

From a distance, the Catawba rhododendrons appear pruned; they are compact, their lower leaves mostly gone, exposing lichen-covered trunks and their rounded tops are relatively a uniform height. "So patterned is their arrangement that one might think this is a portion of some great estate, a detached portion, perhaps of the fabled Vanderbilt holdings near Asheville," wrote Maurice Brooks about the Roan Highlands in 1965 in The Appalachians

It is somehow comforting to know that Brooks, a Professor of Wildlife Management at West Virginia University for more than 30 years, retiring in 1969, and an authority on the ecology of the whole Appalachian range, saw more than 50 years ago what I saw.  Charlie says the deer are grazing on them, but the altitude and winds have shaped them too, as has the grazing of livestock by local farmers and the Catawba Indians before them.

The trail dips before rising over the next bald.  Clouds rolled in and out. 
Views appeared and disappeared as clouds floated in and out, over and around us.  The sun dodged about, suddenly shining on a stretch of landscape set off by darker terrain in the distance still under overcast skies.  The changeable light was dramatic. 

Dare I say some of the R. calendulaceum were more beautiful in bud than in flower?  The striations of color can be exquisite.  These plants typically produce flowers ranging from deep orange-red to pale yellow and everything in between.  They bloom for about a 4 to 6 weeks, usually beginning in mid-June.  The Flame azalea is the only species on Roan, according to Charlie's excellent article in The Azalean, Spring 2018 issue. 

Balsam and Fraser fir grow on the slopes of the balds.  Mike and I began trading stories of hiking on Mt. Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. (We are both originally from New England.)  Was this conversation sparked by seeing vegetation reminiscent of Mt. Washington?  As Brooks points out, the "Southern peaks [of the Appalachians] in the 6ooo-foot range, all of them in North Carolina and neighboring Tennessee, are clothed in spruce and fir forest, in appearance almost identical with the one on Mount Washington just below the 5000-foot contour."   The tallest of the southern Appalachians, Roan among them, are as tall and taller than Mt. Washington.  However, the southern mountains never reach above the treeline, unlike their northern cousins, yet they share some similar plants and habitat but at slightly different elevations.  

Mike looks back at  the view behind.  

George leads the way over the bald with Charlie behind.  They look as if they might leap into the clouds. 

Below you can see, again, some of the range of color in the R. calendulaceum, yellow to orange, growing adjacent. (The can vary even more from lemon yellow to deep orange, almost red.)  The view beyond is more or less south to southeast, I think.  The azaleas tend to grow in protected areas like this southern slope.  They are sometimes confused with R. cumberlandense, which can have vivid red to orange flowers, rarely yellow, though they bloom later, generally have smaller flowers, and the undersides of the leaves can have a whitish or blueish cast.

Stone, conifer, and rhododendron beautifully arranged along the slope.

The veterans of the group told us the bloom on Roan this year was not at its most spectacular.  Some of the Flame azaleas were still in bud -- how nice that they take their time -- and the Catawbas simply did not have as many blossoms as  they can during a banner year.   I will take their work for it, but can't complain.  The scenery was fabulous.   The bloom was plentiful if not its most robust.  
A plant with tight congested flowers

Charlie leaves the trail to check on old friends

The bright green in the lower left could be Bracken fern 

Big patches of vaccinium like the ones below are also here and provide brilliant red fall color, a reason to return later in the season, if not for the blueberries!

Not a bad view for a cloudy day! 
Those "pruned" rhododendrons again.  

 You pass through a forest of conifer as you begin and end the hike.  It is quite a contrast going from cloistered woodland to open meadows.  


Alas, this was my last day with the group. They continued on the following day to Robbinsville, NC, and then into the Smokies.   Our adventure began in Grayson Highlands State Park in southwestern VA, and also included visits along the upper Blue Ridge Parkway south of Fancy Gap (the Linville Falls was a highlight) and to Elk Knob, where more flora and fauna dazzled.  (A post on that to come.)  The Roan Highlands were exceptional, however.  My appetite is whetted for a return to the south mountains next year when I hope to get into the Smokies.  Go if you can; it is a wonderland!  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Chanticleer's Ruin Garden

The first weekend in May, I made a photo foray with a classmate and our instructor to Mt Cuba, Winterthur, and Chanticleer., which are outside of Wilmington, DE, and Philadelphia, PA, respectively.  I'd never seen Chanticleer in the spring.  It was overcast, but, blissfully, no rain. There was an amazing convergence of bloom at all of the gardens given the slow, cool spring we had in the mid-Atlantic.  But for us, coming from the Washington DC area, it was also like going back in time and experiencing some of spring all over again. 

Below are views of the Ruin Garden, which is a folly built by the previous director, who hoped to use an old house on the property as the basis for his ruin, but had to resort to a 'new' ruin instead.  

The face and fountain are in the back right corner below.  


The 'pool table' is modeled after a sarcaphogous.

There were a lot of tulips in purple tones throughout the garden.

Here are purple alliums, and more tulips in the gravel garden.  The touch of orange is just right; I think they are more tulips.  I think the ruin is especially effective when viewed from a distance.

Chanticleer is a magical and inventive place.  I wish I could visit every week!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) in the Garden

I've been an absent blogger, focusing more on photography (and my class's blog) than here.  But this series includes the garden, though a blurry one.  I experimented with "Intentional Camera Movement," as it's known.   Do these just make you dizzy or is there something else there?  

The direction of the pan, seems to affect my level of wooziness.  Going up or down is better than moving a long a horizontal plane. 

Some of them look a little painterly, no? 

This one makes me a bit dizzy.  I was panning from side to side.

It's interesting to see what textures come through, like the yew needles (the new foliage is very yellow, one of its features). 

And at rest, the 'Red Sentinel' Japanese maples, Baptisia, Amsonia, and Louisiana iris, with the yew just peeking through.  

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Quarry Gardens at Schuyler

On Sunday, the Potomac Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society visited the newly opened Quarry Gardens, a native plant garden developed around old soap stone quarries.  The garden is about a half hour south of Charlottesville, VA.  

Check it our if you're in the vicinity.  It's a gorgeous place.  

Like many quarries, the old pits have filled  with water that's an amazing blue green color.  

They have one of the largest expanses of Reindeer Lichen in the state. (I think I have that right.) 

This is probably an old tool box belonging to a quarry worker.

New bridges help connect paths over waterways.

Beech benches installed for taking in the dramatic views.

Elaine L. and her husband equipped with walking sticks.

Big woodpecker activity!

The ridges are formed by the drills used to cut the stone.  I thought it looked more dynamic in black  white.