The Biltmore’s Fifth Season

conservatory decked out 11-13-18

A Taste of A Biltmore Christmas

By Debra Knapke

While I have visited the incredible Biltmore House and gardens in all four seasons, this year I had a chance to tour it in its “fifth season” (to borrow the phrase from Adelma Grenier Simmons in Herb Gardening in Five Seasons).

At the Biltmore House, Christmas could easily be called the fifth season. The lavish Christmas decorating traditions started when George and Edith Vanderbilt moved into their newly finished, 175,000-square-foot mansion and officially opened it on Christmas Eve 1895. Visitors who travel to Asheville, NC from early November to early January can view the opulent house lavishly adorned with lights, ornaments, garland, poinsettias and presents.

In November, my husband and I visited during the Christmas season display. This was the only season we have missed in our previous five visits. We have been in the gardens, on the roof, in the cellars and in the servants’ quarters, but this visit was not about understanding the house and the owners, but to see a grand display of holiday décor.

Approaching the house is always an exciting moment for me. This is time turning back. I imagine I’m in a gently swaying coach with clip-clopping horses prancing along the cobblestone pavement. In the capacious porte-cochere, I descend from the shiny black coach and am escorted by members of the gracious staff to a guestroom. My trunk is carefully unpacked by a quiet and efficient maid. There’s time to rest before dressing for dinner in something silken and flowing. There’s a king’s ransom in jewels around my neck and glittering at my ears.

A foggy day at the Biltmore

Guests might gather in the Winter Garden (conservatory) which is in the center of the home. Here, you can see the impressive greenhouse dome that offered some of the best light for taking pictures. Note the stacks of presents on the floor. We speculated if they were real and might be for the staff.

The Winter Garden

The day was overcast and most of the interior light levels were low. I mentioned that it seemed darker than usual to a docent. His response was that this is one of compromises that must be made in a home that has been restored to much of its past glory. The textiles, furnishings, wallcoverings can all be degraded by too much light. It is expensive to replace flocked satin wall coverings that are only made by one firm in France; at great cost.

To protect this wall covering from being touched, it is “under glass.”

One of the most impressive spaces in the Biltmore is the Banquet Hall. Some of the trees, garlands and wreathes that adorn the house are artificial due to the length of the Biltmore Christmas season, but in this room with a seven-story high ceiling, the three two-story trees are freshly cut.  

The opulence of the decorations of today is an exaggeration of what you might have seen if you were a guest of George and Edith Vanderbilt. I was told that there would have been one large tree in the Banquet Hall; not three.

The Salon was another gathering place for guests. There were amaryllis and poinsettias scattered throughout along with a humble, yet detailed, nativity scene.

When you visit the Biltmore be prepared to climb somestairs. There are elevators, but the wait is long. If you take the stairs you will be rewarded with a birds-eye view of the Banquet Hall. If you were Cornelia, daughter of George and Edith Vanderbilt, or a young guest, this is where you would have watched a party that you could not attend.

Below is an intimate dining set-up in George Vanderbilt’s bedroom, complete with another tree, candles and plants. Edith’s golden boudoir is close by, separated by a sitting room. This private part of the house would not normally be visited by quests.

Back down on the first floor there is the gallery off the Main Hall; another gathering area for guests. There were at least five large trees and several smaller ones. But what caught my eye was a vignette of family pictures and Santa on his sleigh. Like the nativity scene in the Salon, this captured the time of the Vanderbilts for me.

I wish I could give you a glimpse of the decorations in the library, but my pictures are truly dismal. The library holds George Vanderbilt’s personal collection of 22,000 volumes that span art, history, philosophy, travel, architecture, novels and more. Each book that he collected was sent to be rebound in leather before being added to the library. It is no surprise that the Biltmore curators keep the light levels quite low to protect the books and the opulent furnishings.

The wreathed twin lions, which flank the front steps, are a last glimpse of a Biltmore Christmas. There were moments when I was frustrated by the crowds, but there were also moments to get lost in the story of this home, and of a time gone by.

Silent Summer

selective photography of flying black falcon

Photo by Nigam Machchhar on Pexels.com

Hawks spoil the garden party

By Michael Leach

When I told people, “Hawks are nesting in my garden this year,” they seemed awed and a bit envious.

But if you’ve had hawks in the backyard, you know it’s lonely at the top of the food chain. With hawks around, there’s almost no fauna to go with the flora. Some furry and feathered creatures played their roles in the food chain, but countless others fled in terror to safer territories.

Gone were the usual flocks of robins hopping back and forth across the lawn doing their own food chain duty of culling the earthworm population. Until late June, their predawn songs filled the air from the relative security of the small bamboo grove. (Where they spent the day, I never knew.) Goldfinch, jays, song sparrows, wrens, chickadees and other favorites made rare public appearances. From the distant neighbor’s yard, they could be heard sometimes. A cardinal managed splendid morning songs, but otherwise stayed so well concealed, there were only occasional  glimpses of his flashy red suit. I never had the pleasure of watching the parent cardinals teaching their fledglings proper behavior.

In spite of the menace, a cheeky pair of cat birds nested near the brick-paved patio in the tall hedge where the cardinal occasionally skittered about.

An outdoorsman neighbor identified the problematic newcomers as red tail hawks, but I referred to them as squawks, for that is their primary mode of communicating. They were especially loud and squawky when talons clutched freshly caught food. That racket roughly translated into, “Come and get it while it’s still warm. Bon appetite!”

white and brown bird

Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

Having resident hawks had upsides. The plague of English sparrows that once roosted in the bamboo grove disappeared long before I became aware of the hawks. Instead of their screechy 20- to 30-minute gab fests, as the flock took to the air in the morning or came home to roost at night, there was only silence.

Fortunately I found far more small, furry bits than feathered ones on the lawn and in flower beds. This was a great relief for a bird-loving gardener, who holds much less affection for field mice, voles, chipmunks and their pestiferous ilk. Due to the incredible appetites of the two young hawks reared in the garden, I’m hoping there will be fewer field mice invading my small Victorian farm house this winter.

Life with hawks had other advantages.

Maintenance was easier, especially during mulberry season. When the fruits ripen, robins gorge and leave purple polka dots on lawn furniture, pavements and occasionally this gardener. Daily rinsing (flushing?) of the bird bath is de rigueur; so, too, pulling mulberry seedlings that sprout wherever one of those well-fertilized seeds lands.

Squirrel issues decreased markedly. Initially the quartet of plump, brazen squirrels seemed to coexist peacefully with the hawks. Granted the bushy-tail tree rats didn’t cavort on the lawn with their usual abandon, nor did they perform their Cirque du Soleil acrobatics from sycamore to cedar to apple and back. As August wore on, I saw only one thin, nervous squirrel each morning.

Because the advantages of hawks are few, I’ll take high-maintenance robins and a handful of miscreant squirrels any day to spring and summer days of silence punctuated by occasional squawks.

Garlic: The Indispensable Condiment

garlic-harvest3-6-21-17crop_res.jpgBy Debra Knapke

Here’s the latest podcast on “Garlic: The Indispensable Condiment.”

https://anchor.fm/teresa40/embed/episodes/Garlic-The-Indispensable-Condiment-e1vkvr

Previously published in Edible Columbus (Winter 2016, p. 8-9), you can find the printed article here.

“My final, considered judgment is that the hardy bulb [garlic] blesses and ennobles everything it touches – with the possible exception of ice cream and pie.”  The Unprejudiced Palate (1948)

For recipes, see Good Eats: Garlic Scape Pesto.

Late-Season Garden Maintenance

hosta virus x close Louisville GWA Connect mtg 6-3-16Check out Debra’s last podcast on Late-Season Garden Maintenance Tips

https://anchor.fm/teresa40/embed/episodes/Late-Season-Garden-Maintenance-e20857

Plant Preview from Cultivate 2018

ce074da4-9e0d-49f9-9527-088379363307By Teresa Woodard

Last week, the green industry met in Columbus, Ohio for Cultivate 2018 – a massive trade show in which 10,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors from 18 countries converged for a four-day event! Here, bulb companies from the Netherlands, seed companies from Japan and plant breeders, marketers and growers across the United States showcased their new plants and products.

Across the tradeshow floor, it was evident excitement is building in the horticulture industry as more and more people value the power of plants in our backyards, workplaces, health care institutions, schools, universities and downtown communities.

img_3649According to National Institute of Consumer Horticulture, the industry contributes $196 billion to the U.S. economy and creates more than 2 million jobs. The industry is fueling consumers’ hunger for more plants with many new varieties.  Here’s a sneak peak at 10 up-and-comers:

  1. Edibles: Two show winners include Amazel™ basil, a game-changing, mildew-resistant Italian sweet basil by Proven Winners, and Hort Couture’s Edibliss kales which combine sweet, soft edible leaves with the more flamboyant colors of ornamental kale. All-American Selections mini bell peppers (Pepper Chili Pie and Sweetie Pie) also grabbed attention for their snackable size.  

  2. Mangaves: Talk about a statement plant for containers! This succulent cross between an agave and manfreda was turning heads at the Walters Gardens booth.
  3. Perennial power: Watch for Proven Winners’ new PRIMO® series of heucheras with their big flouncy leaves in black, peach, pistachio green, rose and mahogany. They’re perfect for impatient gardeners that want quick results. For showy blooms, look for the new ‘Pop Star’ balloon flowers (Platycodon grandifloras ‘Pop Star’ white) by Benary, Poquito™ dwarf hummingbird mints (Agastache) by Terra Nova with profuse blooms in orange, blue, yellow and lavender; and Summer Spice Crème de la Creme hardy hibiscus.

     

  4. Double blooms: When a single bloom isn’t enough, breeders are introducing new double hybrids like Fall in Love™ ‘Sweetly’ Japanese anemone, MiniFamous® Uno Double PinkTastic calibrachoa and Superbells® Doublette ‘Love Swept’ calibrachoa
  5. Expanded fall plant palette: Tiring of mums for your fall displays?  Look for ornamental Corn Pink Zebra (a dwarf corn for containers) and new Sneezeweed hybrids (Helenium autumnale ‘Salud Embers’).
  6. Black-eyed vincas: In the Vinca Tatoo™ series, each vinca bloom is inked with a dark center. Colors include papaya, black cherry, tangerine and raspberry.
  7. Must-have gomphrena: ‘Truffula Pink’ was a Proven Winners standout with its heavy flower coverage, pollinator appeal and toughness in extreme heat and humidity. Plant it in mass in flower borders or containers.
  8. More mandevillas: Suntory is introducing two new giant Sun Parasol® mandevillas: 1) Giant Dark Pink with changing shades of coral pink and white blooms and 2) Giant Marbled Crimson with variegated foliage and red blooms. Columbus, Ohio gardener Paul Schrader trials many varieties in his eye-catching garden on City Park Ave. in German Village. 
  9. Canary wing begonia: Jared Hughes, 30-year-old plant breeder from central Ohio, is overwhelmed with the response to his first nationally released plant introduction with Ball Ingenuity. It’s a standout in shade gardens with its chartreuse angel-wing leaves and non-stop red blooms. The plant won the 2018 Retailers’ Choice Award at the trade show.
  10. Scented modern rose: Suntory has reintroduced perfume to disease-resistant shrub roses with its line of repeat-blooming Brindabella™ roses in red, pink, apricot, salmon, blush, white and purple.Brindarella rose

Eternal summer memories

By Michael Leach

Magic lanterns hover then zig-zag over the lawn. Giggles and whispers and cricket serenades fill the night air. The yellow flashes of pinpoint lights inside the lanterns are too dim to illumine the smiles and looks of wonder.

Flashes of light are everywhere. Miniature hands reach out, gently enclose a blinking star that flew down from the sky so far above.

The star hunters are barefoot and step lightly in the cool, grass. Baths await, but for now the tiny green soles rejoice in the sensation of walking on silk, watered by the dew of heaven. They don’t know it, but bare feet on dewy, soft grass will bring them back here in an instant, back to collecting flying stars on a warm, velvet night.

Old mayonnaise jars, with a layer of clover, grass and leaves on the bottom, are sealed with lids. A dozen air holes were punched into the lids with a nail before the hunt began. This gives the little stars breath and food for the night. They will be released come morning. Perhaps the little hands will catch some of the same stars again.

The children don’t want to believe the lights are insects. They can’t picture lightening bugs emerging from the lawn, the flowers in the tidy, colorful borders, or the hay field beyond the fence. They will believe this in only a year or so. For now, these are winged stars making an ever-changing constellation called Summer Memory.

Near the rented vacation farm house runs a little creek; its cold water, so welcome after playing in the hot sun, then wading knee deep. Toes squishing in the muddy area of the bank.

There’s squealing, splashing, squealing. Delight fills the languid, humid air.

A rope swing dangles temptingly from the fat, black tree branch overhanging the wide part of the creek. The water here is deep enough for a comfortable landing when dropping from the swing, but not too deep. Besides the children are good swimmers, and the adults are as close and cautious as a cardinal’s parents when it’s just out of the nest.

Squeal!

Splash!

Memories will return at the sight of a massive tree limb overhanging a slow-poke creek. The best summer memories last a lifetime. They return now and then, even in winter. Magic lanterns never lose their glow.

The Back Story — I wrote this as an assignment for the Grove City (OH) Writers Group: “Describe the best summer of your childhood.” Almost the same day the assignment came, I heard an account from my sister of the “adventures” my great-nieces and great-nephew, ages 7, 5 and 3, savored at rented farm house near Asheville, NC. Hearing about hunting lightening bugs and playing in a creek brought back memories of similar summer escapades. Perhaps you, too, have summer memories to share with us.

Take heart! Natural enemies stalk weeds

Canada thistleBy Michael Leach

Weeds are villains in the garden story. They combine the reproductive prowess of a locust plague, kill resistance of a mad-slasher and relentlessness of sci-fi storm troopers. 

“Resistance is futile,” they are telling me. Looking in horror at the Amazon jungle growth threatening to take over the house, I’m inclined to agree.

But not just yet. Besides the inevitable late-summer slow down in growth, there’s news that offers a degree of moral support in the meantime. 

Weeds get sick. Take Canada thistle — puh-leeze (but wear heavy gloves when handling). Some are victims of a bacteria that makes them look bleached and so reduces their food making ability. According to The Ohio State University Extension, the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae pv. tagetis, “cuts down on their seed head production and occasionally kills the plant. Laboratory-made extracts applied to thistles reduces seed production … by 87 percent. But this isn’t enough to overcome seeding by surviving plants.” No silver bullet.

Bugs eat weeds.  The mis-named tree of heaven, Ailanthus altissima, is the primary host  of ailanthus webworms. These little darlings can defoliate one of those odious and highly invasive trees. But so far, they are failing to stop the pest’s spread.

Another insect, a Southeast Asian import, also relies on tree of heaven as its main food source. But the spotted lantern fly, Lycoma delicatula, also dines on 70 other plants. Woodies are preferred but grapes, soy beans and other food crops are on its menu. 

It was discovered in eastern Pennsylvania in 2014 and is being monitored.

monarch and milkweedGood weeds face problems. Common milkweed, which can be weedy due to its underground assault, force roots and wins our hearts. It’s a food source for Monarch butterfly larvae. It’s garden-worthy flowers have an enticing fragrance and attract a wide range of pollinators, not just Monarchs.

Turns out it, too, has enemies, such as milkweed yellows, spread by leaf hoppers. The bugs suck juices from infected plants and spread them to healthy ones. Leaves curl and turn somewhat yellow, according to the Nature Scoop newsletter from Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District here in central Ohio. 

Obviously spraying to kill hoppers is problematic. 

The best management approach is removing infected plants to help stop the spread. That’s what I do with victims suffering aster yellows and garden phlox that dares to mildew. Out to the curb in a brown bag. 

The newsletter also carried encouraging news: Monarch Watch predicts the eastern Monarch population will increase this year due to favorable weather conditions. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,  Monarchs migrating up the Atlantic coast appear to be from Florida not Mexico.

 

 

Heartland Bloggers to Wine Fest

 

The Heartland Gardening bloggers are heading to the Grove City Wine and Arts Festival, this Friday and Saturday.  Look for us at the Writer’s Table where we will be answering garden questions and selling/signing our book “Heartland Gardening: Celebrating the Seasons.”

The festival, now in its seventh year, draws 30,000 wine and art enthusiasts from all over Ohio and beyond. Sample wines from 20 wineries including Grove City’s own Plum Run Winery. Admission is free; and wine sampling tickets are 3 for $5 or 8 for $20, including a sampling glass.

To learn more, visit the Grove City Town Center website

Heartland goes to the library

heartland gardening FINALCOVER1 

Debra and Michael will be promoting our new book Heartland Gardening Celebrating the Seasons as part of the Local Authors Expo, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Southwest Public Libraries Grove City (OH) location. The event highlights the creative efforts of writers from Grove City and the surrounding area. Along with book sales, several authors, including Michael, will read from their works

Teresa, meanwhile, will be supervising the installation of landscape border then volunteering with the Master Gardeners Volunteers at a fairy gardening workshop at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library in West Jeffferson (OH).

For more info on the expo please visit www.swpl.org.

Grow, Muddle and Stir

Allsides Ann Fisher 2 8-28-17 crop

Debra will be discussing how to Grow, Muddle and Cook with herbs with Ann Fisher on WOSU 89.7 NPR-All Sides on Friday, May 11th at 11:00am

The Art of Fashioning Liquid Refreshment

By Debra Knapke

My first mojito… a warm summer evening and a cool drink made of spearmint, lime, sugar and rum. Not having a lot of experience with cocktails, this drink was a revelation: a way to get rid of an overabundance of mint from one’s garden and relax at the same time.

The art of creating drinks with herbs is not a new craft. In the past, herbs and alcohol were used to make water safe to drink. One drink – a shrub – was made with vinegar, fruit and herbs. This preserved fruit drink added Vitamin C to the diet in a time when fresh fruit was dear. The below shrub combines lavender and blueberries which are usually in flower and fruit at the same time.

Vaccinium corymbosum Jelly Bean R fruit

Photo by Jennifer Martin

Recipe: Blueberry-Lavender Shrub

1 pint blueberries, lightly crushed

1 c. sugar

1 c. apple-cider vinegar

8-10 lavender sprigs with flower buds only, no leaves

Combine slightly smashed blueberries with sugar in bowl and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator to macerate – fruit releases its juices in the presence of sugar  – for 1 day. Place lavender sprigs in the vinegar and infuse in a dark place for 1 day. Use a fine mesh strainer: pour blueberry mixture through and press lightly to squeeze out any remaining juice. Strain vinegar over the blueberries in the same strainer. Scrape any remaining sugar into juice.  You may need to pour the juice back through the fruit to capture all the sugar. Pour through funnel into clean bottle. Cap and shake vigorously, and mark date on bottle. Store in refrigerator for a week before using. Can be refrigerated up to six months.

Lav ang flws Pepsico crop2

In the 18th and 19th centuries, herbs muddled and drowned in alcohol became the infamous patent medicines which were said to cure all that ails you. And if they didn’t, at least you didn’t care after tippling several small glasses of Dr. Pierce’s Family Medicine.

A more refined use of herbs and alcohol is the making of liqueurs and aperitifs. But beware: many of these are high in alcohol and are sometimes better used as a flavoring for a cocktail or diluted with seltzer or club soda. A note about water:  Tonic has quinine, Mineral Waters – Perrier, Pellegrino – are naturally carbonated, Seltzer is plain water that has been carbonated, Club Soda is carbonated water with added minerals

For the temperate drinker herbs can be muddled with hot water to create tisanes (herbal teas) or infused with cool water and stored in the fridge for when you need a pick-me-up. This summer, experiment with different flavors. Try combining cucumber and spearmint or strawberry and basil.

Bon aperitif!

Debra will be discussing how to Grow, Muddle and Cook with herbs with Ann Fisher on WOSU 89.7 NPR-All Sides on Friday, May 11th at 11:00am

 

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