Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 14: Gray’s sedge

Gray’s sedge is a native grass I planted two falls ago in the sloped corner of the front-most bed. I needed something that would take the rain run-off there and secure the corner of the bed against erosion, and I also wanted to add something that would spread out and give a diverse visual element to the bed which is full of big blooming things. This stays about a foot tall and it has spread from 6 plants to a solid cover on this corner. It’s got beautiful prickly blooms that I didn’t capture well here. It’s also a pollinator. 

This fall I’ll likely transplant any new babies to other areas of the front gardens that need finishing off. It’s a terrific plant that has done well very easily and it overwinters beautifully to provide forage for birds through the winter season. 

More info:

Carex grayi 

Phonetic Spelling
KAIR-eks GRAY-eye
A low maintenance rush or sedge in the Cyperaceae family.  Works well on sites prone to erosion when using bioswales,  also tolerates wet soils such as floodplains, swamps and bottomland forests..  Grows best in full sun but will tolerate light shade.  The plant propagates by seeds in the fall or root division in the spring. It makes an excellent addition to a rain garden and is impactful in the landscape when planted in large groups. It can also be grown in containers. The Carex grayi seed heads are a wonderful unexpected pale-green with earmarks of being spiked clubs that have a long bloom time from spring to fall being attractive in both fresh and dried flower arrangements.  If the dried fruits remain on the plant they add winter interest to the garden.  
Seasons of Interest:
    Bloom: Spring-Fall, May-October  Fruit: Summer-Winter
Wildilfe Value: Tolerates damage by deer.
Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No insect or disease problems.  It does not preform well in dry soils.

Monday, March 30, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 13: inkberry holly

Two autumns ago I planted 10 inkberry hollies behind Poplar Folly’s fence, to get a start on some evergreen screening down there that was also native to NC, not popular with deer, and a pollinator plant. 9 survived and while they are slow-growing plants, they have more than doubled in size and the black berries they produce are good for wildlife and also very striking.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden has several mature inkberries and they’re taller than me and quite beautiful. I’m hoping these grow to the upper end of the height range in the next several years.

Here’s one from yesterday’s time down in Arcadia:

Many of the hollies are native and pollinators, and I still have a plant to plant winterberry hollies up front on the outside of our front fencing, as well as the more usual American holly trees along the side fence - where I’d like to limb them up so they provide screening up high but leave the fence area clear. Because the hollies in general are slow growers, I’ve wanted to purchase more mature plants for these two projects - which means more $ and also bigger holes needing to be dug, so it’s gotten pushed to the bottom of my list each fall. Maybe this fall I can tackle this. For now, though, I’m enjoying seeing the little inkberry hollies gain some height each season.

More info:

Ilex glabra (Inkberry)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy 

Ilex glabra

Ilex glabra (L.) A. Gray

Inkberry, Gallberry

Aquifoliaceae (Holly Family)


USDA Symbol: ilgl

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A mound-shaped, colony-forming shrub, somewhat open with age, 6-12 ft. tall and wide. Lance-shaped, sparingly-toothed, glossy, leathery foliage varies in color from dark- to light-green both in summer and fall. Inconspicuous flowers are followed by black berries which persist well into winter. This species differs from all other evergreen hollies by lacking spines on the leaves, only having teeth toward the tip of the leaves.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Arcadia gearing up for a honey bee spring!

One of our new nucs is arriving today and I ran down to Arcadia to make sure the Artemis hive was clean and ready to go. Here it is!

I’m really happy we managed to get one nuc right as we move into the tulip poplar nectar flow. This is the big flow in our region and all the nectar gives the bees the ability to build comb and numbers to carry on into summer. We have a dearth in July and so this early start is key to a good start to the season.

Our two nucs coming in May will likely miss this flow and we’ll have to feed them to help them make up for what they missed. If this new hive gets a booming start we will be able to feed their excess honey frames to the “younger” nucs instead of sugar water.

My goal this year is to end up with at least three very healthy hives going into next winter. If we’re lucky we will need to split Artemis and end up with four.

Friday, March 27, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 12: elderberry

In December we purchased 30 live stake elderberry plants and put them in along the areas of the farm where we get a lot of rainwater run-off during storms. This was one of the recommendations made by a consult I got from our local native plant nursery. Elderberry was something I’ve wanted to put in on the farm for years, and this was a great, and inexpensive, way to do it.

The live stakes were bare sticks bundled together. We tapped them in the ground with a mallet. There they stood all winter long, an experiment in faith. The idea being that they quickly grow vast root systems, securing and stabilizing the soil around them in the process.

We weren’t able to get them as deeply into the ground as I wanted, but we did our best.

This is what they look like today:

These bushes will be wonderful for wildlife, pollinators, and us, and they will also thrive in the areas we put them. They love getting lots of water at various times and can easily tolerate drought in between.

Plant Details

Sambucus canadensis

Common Elderberry

Scientific Name:

Sambucus canadensis



Species Epithet:


Common Name:

Common Elderberry

Plant Type


Life Cycle


Plant Family

Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family)


NC Native


6-12 ft.

Bloom Color(s):



Sun - 6 or more hours of sun per day, Part Shade - 2 to 6 hours of sun per day

Soil Moisture:


Bloom Time:

April, May, June, July

Growing Area:

Mountains, Piedmont, Sandhills, Coastal Plain

Habitat Description:

Streambanks, thickets, marshes, moist forests, disturbed areas. Common throughout NC.

Leaf Arrangement:


Leaf Retention:


Leaf Type:

Leaves veined, not needle-like or scale-like

Leaf Form:


Life Cycle:


Wildlife Value:

Important for Wildlife

Landscape Value:

Suitable for home landscapes


Plants can be vigorous growers and may need more management to control. Attract butterflies and birds.
Blooming Plants 
They are very attractive shrubs.
along the highway and railroad right-of-way, Black Mountain
© MB Baumeister

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 11: narrow leaf mountain mint

I give you the most popular pollinator plant in my gardens, narrow leaf mountain mint:

This becomes quite large as it matures and drapes beautifully over the edges of my terraced bed. The tiny white/pinkish flowers are abuzz with activity for months. Every kind of bee there is gravitates to this plant. If you’re aiming to provide bee forage, plant lots of this. I aim to put it down by the bee hives so they can get to it even more easily.

It’s a delicate, subtle plant but when you see how popular it is, it becomes quite dramatic in the garden, a real show stopper.

More info:

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Narrowleaf mountain mint)
Cressler, Alan 

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium Schrad.

Narrowleaf Mountain Mint, Slender Mountain Mint, Common Horsemint

Lamiaceae (Mint Family)

Synonym(s): Koellia flexuosaPycnanthemum flexuosum

USDA Symbol: pyte

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

This stiff, erect, compact, clump-forming mint has narrow leaves subtending the flower clusters. The minty-smelling plants are 20-30 in. tall and have terminal flower clusters composed of numerous, small, two-lipped corollas varying from whitish to lavender, with purple spots.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 10: spotted horsemint

This is my absolute favorite plant in the pollinator beds. I fell in love with it in a pollinator plant class I took with our local extension agent Debbie Roos, and managed to get three plants at the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s annual plant sale that fall. It has spread and done beautifully in my garden. Pollinators of all kinds love it.

Here it is today, coming up in the foreground. The tulips were there when we bought the farm and while they are of course not native, I have let them remain. They bloom early and I can remove the stems before the spotted horsemint comes all the way in.

Below is a nearly mature flower from last year’s horsemint, in the same part of the garden bed. I cannot tell you how much I love these - they take my breath away when in full bloom. A friend who lives on Hatteras says they grow everywhere there, and recommended I manipulate the seed pods in late fall to encourage more growth. I did it the first year and now have many, many more than the three I originally planted. They encompass an entire swath of one pollinator bed now. This may be the year to transplant some of them. For now I’m just enjoying the anticipation.

Here’s more info:

Monarda punctata (Spotted beebalm)
Flaigg, Norman G. 

Monarda punctata

Monarda punctata L.

Spotted Beebalm, Spotted Horsemint, Horsemint

Lamiaceae (Mint Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

An aromatic, erect perennial ranging from only 6 in. to almost 3 ft. tall. Rosettes of yellowish, purple-spotted, tubular flowers occur in whorls, forming a dense, elongated spike at the end of the stem or from leaf axils. Each whorl is subtended by large, conspicuous, whitish, purple-tinged, leaf-like bracts. 
Linnaeus named the genus Monarda in honor of a 16th century Spanish physician and botanist, Nicolas Bautista Monardes (1493-1588). Monardes never went to the Americas but was able to study medicinal plants in Spain.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 9: wild bergamot

This is a favorite in my pollinator garden, both mine and the bees. I planted three small plants two years ago and it’s nicely bunched and spread now, and is a delight once it blooms. It lasts a long time, too. Although it’s not blooming yet, it has leafed out nicely this spring and I look forward to see it in another month or so.

I planted it at the front of the bed, just under the huge butterfly bush that has been here since we bought the farm, and while I do have to trim the butterfly bush back to keep it from taking over, the bergamot grows right up into the bush’s lower hanging branches and later in the season the blooms intermingle. It’s very pretty. 

More info:

Monarda fistulosa 

Phonetic Spelling
mo-NAR-da fist-yoo-LOW-suh
Monarda fistulosa, commonly called wild bergamot, is a native perennial that occurs in dryish soils on prairies, dry rocky woods and glade margins, unplanted fields and along roads and railroads. It is a clump-forming, mint family member that grows typically to 2-4' tall.   

Monday, March 23, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 95

It’s a rainy day here so I’m going to update on the farm stuff instead of doing a what’s coming up post. I’ll get back to that tomorrow.

Over the weekend I finished off several terrace beds in Poplar Folly and planted them with native to NC pollinator seed mix. We’re fortunate to have a local farm that does nothing but grow and sell native plants, and these seed mixes are affordable ways to do larger pollinator areas. I still have some shade and sun mix left so will be sowing those in various spots around the farm where I want bee forage and roots in the ground, which help with run-off.

I also walked the entire back pasture, the big barnyard, and half of the little barnyard, spreading red clover seed in advance of the rain. Hoping to see that come up this spring.

I added to the terraced bed in the front pasture - more brush, more leaves, more stall waste. I have a bit more to do and then I can put compost on top and figure out what to plant there. Of course as I was out there working, I concocted another plan to create one more of these beds along that same steep slope using the other tree trunk in the front field. This will require the truck and tow strap and would be a bit trickier, but if we could do it, it would really take care of this eroded path along the edge of the front field. We’ll have to wait for dry ground, but I think we’ll give it a go.

There always exists a bit of a dichotomy between life on November Hill and the larger world, but it’s even more stark right now. I do the chores. Mucking is mucking, right? It has a zen-like quality to it if one allows for that, and it’s a daily thing. You feed the equines, they digest, they drop manure. You get it up and move it where you can use it best.

The world right now feels spiky and full of change. New updates, sudden change, information both reliable and not. Answers, no answers. I hope all reading this are staying home unless you are in a position essential to your communities. To all those on the front lines, and I mean not only doctors and nurses but caregivers and grocery staff and pet/livestock staff, and utility staff, THANK YOU. May we all come out of this smarter and more compassionate.

I posted about the golden girl passing her Canine Good Citizen test, but I didn’t share a photo of her. She’s very big and she is, we think, beautiful!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 8: dogwoods

One of our favorite things each year is seeing the dogwoods come into bloom. Ours have popped out in the past two days and while not yet peaking, are already very lovely. A welcome sight given all that is going on.

I especially love seeing them in concert with the redbuds.

Two falls ago I planted two young dogwoods on either side of the driveway. One unfortunately dried out and died and the other one succumbed to something eating it down. These were small saplings and I hope to replace them with larger ones this fall. The existing dogwoods are mostly very old and we lost a couple in the past two years. There are many young ones volunteering along our property line on two sides, but we’re leaving those where they are. 

These trees offer beautiful spring blooms, berries in late fall and into winter that are favorites among birds and opossums alike, and the greenery in later spring and summer creates a lush landscape on our farm. 

The dogwood is our state tree here in North Carolina.

Here’s a bit more info:

Cornus florida 

Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
KOR-nus FLOR-ih-dah
Flowering Dogwood is a deciduous tree that may grow 15 to 25 feet tall. The leaves are alternate, acutely veined, with a smooth to wavy margin. The bark is smooth when young. As the tree ages, the bark becomes very scaly to finely blocky. A very small and inconspicuous, tight cluster of green flowers surrounded by 4 very showy, large, white (occasionally pink) bracts mature in early spring. The small tree produces a cluster of red drupes that mature in the fall.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 7: highbush blueberry

Last fall I put in 8 native NC highbush blueberries along the fence going down the path to Poplar Folly, partly to get some roots in the soil, partly to help pollinators and wildlife, partly to add some screening along that side of the farm, and partly to give us some blueberries to harvest.

These had been originally planned for the strip of land we own along our gravel lane up to the paved road, but when neighbors voted to hire the road repair with someone who cleared every living thing along the right of way coming down the hill, I decided I wasn’t willing to put my own time/effort/money into planting that strip, even though we own it, and even though it’s outside the right of way. Hard call, but life is too short to waste effort.

I’m glad to have these on the path to Poplar Folly, and it is exciting to see them leafing out:

I took a photo of the bottom area so you can see a bit of Poplar Folly:

The darkish strip just beyond the green is one of the terraced beds I made using brush and then stall waste and autumn leaves. It’s mostly mulched down now and today after the rain I sowed a mix of shade and part-shade pollinator mix in hopes of roots and forage for bees and other pollinators.

More info on the blueberries:

Plant Details

Vaccinium corymbosum [several other species have been split from this]

Highbush Blueberry, Smooth Highbush Blueberry

Scientific Name:

Vaccinium corymbosum [several other species have been split from this]



Species Epithet:


Common Name:

Highbush Blueberry, Smooth Highbush Blueberry

Plant Type


Life Cycle


Plant Family

Ericaceae (Heath Family)


NC Native

Friday, March 20, 2020

Happy Birthday, Cody!

Riskless Asset, more commonly known to his friends and family as Cody, far right, hosted a party today to celebrate his 17th birthday. It was a VIP affair, adhering to the small gathering recommendations as well as proper social distancing out of respect for his human family members.

Despite 85-degree temps, a lovely time was, and continues to be, had by all.

Only one attendee was willing to have a party portrait that didn’t involve nose to the ground posture, and that was the handsome Redford Donkey.

A surprise visitor from the RFF (Royal Feline Family) was spotted. HRH Pixilina Pie, aka Pixie, aka Merry, watched the party from her royal perch.

Note from the reporter:
Cody has been with us since he was TWO years old and it was a very happy day indeed when he arrived on November Hill. Thank you, Cody, for your sweet demeanor in all ways. We love you!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 6: tall goldenrod

I planted this in the original pollinator bed two years ago and it has taken over! It’s beautiful in the early fall but I planted it in the wrong place - it’s very tall and it ends up blocking the shorter plants behind it.

It’s spread to an entire area of the bed it’s currently planted in:

Look how many there are! I planted 6. I’m in the process of digging these up and moving them to the fence that is directly behind the upper level of this bed, so they’ll be in the back and can not only get as tall as they like, but can lean on the fence if they get *too* tall.

They’re wonderful pollinators and have health uses as well.

More info here:

Tall goldenrod with New England Aster. Photo © 2012 David D. Taylor.
Tall goldenrod with rosette gall.Tall goldenrod with rosette gall. Photo © 2012 David D. Taylor. 
Soldier beetles, mating pair (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus) on tall goldenrod.Soldier beetles, mating pair (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus) on tall goldenrod. Photo © 2012 David D. Taylor.
Close up of goldenrod flowers.Close up flowers. Photo © 2012 David D. Taylor. 

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima L.)

By David Taylor
Tall goldenrod is a member of the Asteraceae, the Sunflower family. In older manuals and guides, this family is called the Compositae because the 'flowers' are a composite of many flowers, often of different types. The many species of plants in this family are grouped based on the arrangement and type of flowers. All members of the family produce one or more heads (capitulum, the term used in technical keys) of flowers. This and other goldenrods have two different types of flowers, ray flowers and disk flowers and in turn, these can have male and female parts, or either one or the other. The ray flowers look like petals, but each is actually an individual flower. The disk flowers are at the center of the head, inside the ring of ray flowers. The disk flowers are usually small. With a hand lens one can see the distinct tips of five petals in each flower. The disk flowers closest to the ray flowers open first.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

November Hill farm journal, 94

Life on November Hill is proceeding much as usual except that we’re all here, all the time, with a very few exceptions: brief trips to feed store, pet food store, grocery store, pharmacy. Thankfully the all are offering drive up service and we’ve all been able to maintain safe distances and minimal exposures.

One big congratulations is due. My daughter and her 13.5 month old golden retriever Clementine passed their AKC Canine Good Test on Friday. That was the last scheduled activity that happened for us, and since there were only 3 people testing, it was easy to stay very far apart.

Otherwise, most things have gone online. 

Today our hoof trimmer came and that too was able to be done with no issues. I’m relieved the herd have their trims in place and we can all shepherd in springtime together. 

Sending light and love to everyone. Stay safe, stay healthy, check in via the comments if you can. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 5: pitcher plant

The year I planted the first pollinator bed here on November Hill, my daughter talked me into buying several pitcher plants. I was skeptical they would grow in our clay soil, but we planted them and they have done well. It’s always a treat to see them in the garden.

What you see here are the flowers coming up among the winter remnants from last year. I’ll have to take more photos as the season progresses. The marker says they are yellow pitcher plants but I believe these may be a different variety. They’re NC natives though, and do attract pollinators.

More info:
Yellow pitcher plant


Sarracenia flava, the yellow pitcherplant, is a carnivorous plant in the family Sarraceniaceae. Like all the Sarraceniaceae, it is native to the New World. Its range extends from southern Alabama, through Florida and Georgia, to the coastal plains of southern Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Wikipedia

Monday, March 16, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 4: Eastern red columbine

This is something I picked up for the end of one pollinator bed that is shaded for over half the day by a sweet gum tree. I planted it in the fall and it’s come out beautifully this spring. It’s good for bees and also for finches, hummingbirds, and it hosts at least one butterfly larva.

Once those blooms open, there will be a nice splash of red in the garden, but I really love the pale, muted color seen now. Read on for special uses as love charm.

More info:

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)
Makin, Julie 

Aquilegia canadensis

Aquilegia canadensis L.

Eastern Red Columbine, Wild Red Columbine

Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Synonym(s): Aquilegia australisAquilegia canadensis var. australisAquilegia canadensis var. coccineaAquilegia canadensis var. eminensAquilegia canadensis var. hybridaAquilegia canadensis var. latiusculaAquilegia coccineaAquilegia latiusculaAquilegia phoenicantha

USDA Symbol: aqca

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

This is an erect, branching perennial, up to 2 ft. tall, well-known for its showy flowers. A nodding, red and yellow flower with upward spurred petals alternating with spreading, colored sepals and numerous yellow stamens hanging below the petals. The compoundleaves, divided into round-lobed threes, are attractive in their own right. 
This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. European Columbine (A. vulgaris), with blue, violet, pink, or white short-spurred flowers, was introduced from Europe and has now become well established in many parts of the East. Aquilegia canadensis readily hybridizes with the popular Southwestern yellow columbines (A. chrysantha, etc.), yielding some striking yellow-and-red color combinations in the flowers. This genus has been referred to as the flower for the masses. Once started, Columbine propagates for years and, although perennial, increases rapidly by self seeding. (Andy Fyon)
The genus name Aquilegia comes from the Latin aquila which means eagle and refers to the spurred petals that many believe resemble an eagles talons.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

What’s Coming Up In The Garden, 3: Golden Alexanders

This is a very early blooming pollinator, which means it gives the bees something to forage when they’re just starting to build up for the spring nectar flow. It’s really pretty and although short-lived in terms of bloom time, the seed heads stay interesting and I leave them unless we get a lot of rain and they get moldy.

Here’s the first bloom - the plant will get much larger than this with many of these petite blooms before maturity.

Here’s a bit more info. I’m posting the photo that comes from the native plant site but it seems they aren’t showing up once the blog post goes live. Apologies. If you see a plant that catches your eye, look it up online and see it in all its glory through all its seasons!
Zizia aurea (Golden zizia)
Flaigg, Norman G. 

Zizia aurea

Zizia aurea (L.) W.D.J. Koch

Golden Zizia, Golden Alexanders

Apiaceae (Carrot Family)


USDA Symbol: ziau

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

Golden alexanders is a short-lived perennial with branching, erect, reddish stems. The lower leaves are divided into threes twice while the upper leaves are divided once. The yellow flowers less than 1/8 inch long. Each tiny flower has 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 5 stamens. Separate clusters of tiny, yellow flowers gather into a large, flat-topped flower head, the middle flower of each umbel being stalkless. Dry seedheads turn purple, adding summer interest. The plant is 1-3 ft. tall.