Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Landscapes

Woods at Pearson's Falls
The return trip from Tarpon Springs is long so I made a stop at my friends in Tryon, North Carolina where I spent the blizzard last Christmas. They wanted to meet Limo while he was a pup and this made it a nice break in the drive and a time to catch up with old friends.

The Carolina's are wooded places with wondrous wildflowers. Not far from Tryon is a very special place called Pearson's Falls. It is run by the Tryon Garden Club and is located in Saluda (yet another town). The people who run this place are a bit snooty and they give you a nice brochure when you pay your admission and a yellow paper with all the things you can't do printed for your pleasure. Stay on path, watch your step, no wading, no pets (sorry Limo), no trash, no diapers ( in case you decide to change yours!) and on an on with a $50.00 fine if you break any of these commandments.

I suspect they have reasons for fear, but of course the things you can't do have nothing to do with the impending doom to this area. Pearson's Falls is a Smithsonian Institute Archive Garden. In it are located over two hundred species of native plants in a ravine that is maybe a block or two wide and possibly a mile long. A very special place it is

Cardinal Flower along stream bank
You meander up a stream path and see a lot of garden plants in their original species variety and habitat. That is to say no cultivars. Only the real McCoys. It was fairly moist and at least ten degrees cooler in the ravine than in the neighboring exposed countryside. Ferns, walls of ferns where trickling rivulets flowed covered some of the ravine.

Native impatiens. Nothing like the tropical one we grow in our gardens.

The walk meandered on both sides of the stream exposing us to a variety of plant material and flowers. This was late in the season and it was surprising how much was still in bloom. My camera was confused and could not focus in the shade so I lost a lot of the shade loving flowers. Regardless, here are more of these great wildflowers.

Native Hydrangea less fussy than the garden variety but very elegant

There were unique flowers that you could only guess at and no labels or plant list to help you out.
A great many varieties of delicate maidenhair ferns

Eventually you made it to the falls and got to see what whole hoopla was all about. In reality the falls are nice enough, but for me the place was more exciting and certainly the plants provided an education in habitat and original species.

Road is kept clear with chemicals Kudzu is above and below road

Leaving the Pearson Falls we took another road. It provided a fascinating look at what happens when we don't do our homework: Kudzu. I have never seen it this up close and on the attack. I have seen the odd clump near home but because we have a colder climate it does not have enough time to regenerate. The Carolinas are not so lucky. Their summer is longer and as the birds keep eating the seeds and crapping them everywhere, Kudzu is omnipresent!

Up close the vine is like any other. It has a nice flower and fragrance. It was introduced from Asia in the Southern States for slope stabilization in the late 1800. Well, it has stabilized the slopes and apparently it is doing so adding about 150,000 acres a year ( if you can believe Wikipedia ) and a patch was discovered in southern Ontario, Canada. All I can tell you is that it is everywhere in the Carolinas. They spray it with herbicides and kills the leaves, but the crowns remain intact to grow again. I was told that in some places they let goats on it who eat it all up, crowns and all. Although I wonder how many goats it would take to control a plant that is spreading by 150,000 acres a year?

Sea of Kudzu

These two landscapes are not compatible. Maybe Obama's strategists should attack Kudzu on a head on assault and put those Obama bucks to work and give people jobs clearing up this mess. With what must be millions of acres around this country and the apparent anti-foreigner sentiment in the land, we may want to attack this truly menacing Asian invader. I suspect we will need Mexicans to do this work too because it will be grueling work and as Americans have certainly not done it so far. There is enough Kudzu to be removed, and if it isn't, little Pearson's Falls just over the hill, may not be a Smithsonian Garden Archive for too much longer! Happy Gardening.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tarpon Springs

Prospective new residence in Tarpon Springs
After much debate I have come to Tarpon Springs, Florida to look at a house. As much as I can stay in my beautiful house and garden, the cost of living of New Jersey just no longer makes sense. I feel sad in this admission because, I have dear friends that I will miss. I have established myself as a professional in the area and the work and projects I have done are here. I am also part of a caring religious community with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cherry Hill. It is also sad because I love my house and garden. But I have left places before. The moment seems ripe for Florida.

My unemployment situation has not changed and being 59 I am beginning to feel that what worked before needs to be abandoned and something new created. Nevertheless, the continued economic crisis seems to be affecting us all except for the greed of some politicians who continue to raise property taxes where they are the already the highest in the country in spite of new caps to control it or the necessities created by this economic crisis. At $7500.00 property per year for a small house in a normal town, I give up! I can't keep up no matter how wonderful my life has been there.
Some of the neighborhood
Old Sponge Warehouse (now artist housing)

For sometime I have watched a house that was listed for sale in a community called Tarpon Springs. Located twenty some miles north west of Tampa on the Gulf coast. Tarpon Springs was incorporated in the late 1880s by Greek immigrants who founded a community fishing and diving for sponges. The community has a wonderful foreign flavor and the language heard around town is Greek even though it is here on our shores. As Florida seems filled to capacity with Cubans it is nice to find a place where another minority is the majority. The town is located along a series of bayous along the Anclote River. Fishing boats line Dodecanese Boulevard filled with the latest catch of sponges and varieties of fish. The sun is powerful and the bright skies are "Galanolefci," blue and white like the Greek Flag.

Neighboring bayou

I have watched this house because it was built the same year mine was in 1924 (in reality it was built in 1912) and in some ways it reminds me of my house although this one has a wonderful palm and a tropical hibiscus hedge by the front porch instead of the rhododendrons and other temperate plantings of mine. The house although in the same style is bigger and the taxes are but a fraction: $615.00.

Of course this comes with strings. This wonderful house is in need of lots of work. Work that I performed on my current house when I was younger. Work that I thought that I would not need to do again, but with the current employment situation maybe this is work that is best undertaken again to regain purpose, restore a lovely house in a beautiful neighborhood and become part of a thriving cultural community. If this sounds too pie in the sky believe, me it is not. There are wonderful places around this entire country where people are picking up and doing the same.
Limo with my cousin

Limo has been enjoying all the attention he has been getting from my family. I have cousins nearby whom I visited last year when I first considered this option. Now spending time with them again I feel a sense of family that I lost living alone in California so many years ago with my parents.
We have been to a wonderful doggie beach on Honeymoon Island where all the locals bring their pooches with all kinds of doggie life vests and other floating devices. It was a hoot seeing dogs swim openly and see people interact with their animals.

I know I should not have encouraged this but he was having so much fun...

Doggie, Honeymoon Beach at Sunset

Strapped to go on the road again, he has gotten his car legs and no longer gets sick.

We are starting our trip back tomorrow. My offer was not accepted, but it is on the table as they say. We shall see what we shall see and with any luck I will start a tropical garden this winter. Happy Gardening.

PS An email announcing new members to my UUCCH community focusing on me was just sent. Many know of the troubles I have had finding work and hopefully will not be surprised by my announcement. I am saddened, as I said, by the actions I have been forced to take. I know, I am not the only one doing this exodus from high tax states as it was a feature on the PBS news hour yesterday describing people leaving California, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for their high taxes. It is a sad day when you have to leave your home because the taxes are consuming what income or pension you have.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When is a Garden a Park?

City dwellers go to the suburbs to have gardens as few in the city have much that can be considered anything more than a courtyard. Often these courtyards are 10 by 20 feet. So when you get yourself a suburban lot that measures 50 by 100 or even 50 by a 150 you really feel that you have room to garden. Imagine then a garden approximately 100 by 1800 feet with a creek running not only through it by snaking twice around the garden and flowing into an edge wetland that is canopied with towering 100 foot Tulip Poplars in every direction. On Sunday September 5, my intrepid friend Carmen and I trekked to the Second Annual Rutgers Master Gardeners of Burlington County Garden Tour to see the Silberstein Garden in Willingboro. The Rutgers offering is rather extensive allowing garden enthusiasts to purchase a booklet that provides addresses and schedules to 37 gardens that have been on display since Mid April and continues until the Mid October. It is not too late to explore some very interesting gardens. For us, we managed to visit only one garden so far of the 37, but WHAT A GARDEN!

From the street the plantings are lush and you can barely see the house for all the potted plants that have been brought out to enjoy our tropical summer. Upon close inspection you note an assemblage of plants that is unlike anything you are likely to see elsewhere in New Jersey.

We arrived and there was a sign-in sheet on a chair by the driveway and no one to greet us as the host, in typical manner, was gardening. Normally I would see this as a sign of neglect to visitors, but when I turned the corner past the house and the hosta bordered lawn, I knew we were in for a first class adventure.

Steve Silberstein is a horticulturalist for the state of New Jersey inspecting nurseries. I suspect that every moment that he is not working on his daytime job Steve is gardening. You could not have a garden like this otherwise. Even with his wife sharing this passion and working alongside this garden is beyond description in size, design, plantings collection you name it. Nothing I will show you in photographs or my writings will accurately describe this endeavor of love. The plant collection is extensive and is strongly based on native planting local to Jersey and the region but reaches with a wonderful flair into exotic tropical regions of the world.

I know plants. I have studied botany and although I am not a botanist or horticulturalist by degree I know a lot of plants from traveling to gardens around the world. Well, this garden had me stumped. Every time I guessed one thing Steve would enlighten me and Carmen. He is like most gardeners a kindred spirit who when he discovers that you share this passion there is nothing that he will not do to share in this wonderful collection he has assembled. So he spent better part of three hours walking with the two of us before I realized that I had to get myself back to deal with "The Limo".

I am not going going to even attempt to give you names as I did not take a notebook to write them down, for that I have Steve, who I know will be a friend from now on. I will tell you briefly that these above are not your typical bananas. These are Japanese and overwinter under thick mulch.

He has a major collection of Colocasias commonly referred as Elephant Ears. Among the more exotic is this one growing along the stream bank from Thailand? that he lifts every year because it cannot remain outdoors in Jersey winters. The same plant was blooming elsewhere in the garden you can see these very unusual blossoms that resemble irises as they unfurl.

There are collections of ferns and cycads in sheltered banks that remind you of the forest primeval.

There are hills and valleys as you go up and down various rises and then descend into the final wetlands at the end of roughly 1800 feet in from the road.

Even the decay was fascinating as shown above with this fungal growth on a dead stump.

Steve originally purchased two acres and about ten years or so purchased two additional landlocked acres directly behind his first two.

Steve Silberstein with my friend Carmen

He is a small man in stature, but a giant amongst gardeners and his generosity and skills are certainly beyond comparison.

At the end of the 1800 feet I trudged the furthest out to this point overlooking a wetland area and where Steve's stream flows into this marshy area that eventually flows into the Rancocas Creek.

I wondered how much room he has left for himself in his house when there are hundreds if not thousands of tender tropicals that need to move into protection during the winter. As I looked into this wonderful natural wetland I also wondered if Steve had any plans to further expand. I don't think so, NJ DEP is pretty strict about wetland encroachment. For me the challenge at this point was the return walk back to the car through this magnificent garden turned park.

Happy Gardening!