A Biltmore Storm

I recently had the good fortune to visit a friend in North Carolina. While we grow many of the same plants, to look at the gardens there and look at my back yard, you wouldn’t think they were even related. Everything growing there is on steroids, I’m tellin’ ya! HUGE, glorious, green, lush, vigorous flowers, vines, shrubs, trees, everything. Oh! So THAT’S what a garden is supposed to look like? This Texas girl never realized. (You’ll notice I use the word “huge” many, many times in this post!)

The first part of our trip was in Asheville, home to the famous Biltmore Estate. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1888 and 1895, it is the largest privately owned home in the United States at 175,000 square feet and 250 rooms. And the gardens!

Oakleaf Hydrangea on Steroids!

Oakleaf Hydrangea on Steroids!

The guided castle tour, of which we saw “only” 55 rooms, was overwhelming and dramatic. It was raining (oh, glorious!) when we came back outside, so we sat and had a coke and watched the rain. It’s easy to see how the Great Smokey Mountains got named in this view from one of the main balconies after the gentle rain.


As the rains began to stop, I wanted to view the renowned gardens while we could. My friend and I started walking towards the Conservatory, 1/4 mile away, when the rain came back. There were many people out and about, so all of us jogged to to the Conservatory, which is 7500 sq ft of formal and informal greenhouses.


Inside are over 6 different rooms of plants: the Palm room, the Orchid Room, the Hot Room, the Cool room, and more that I can’t remember now. It was mind blowing, with hidden and secluded seats and benches scattered throughout, ponds, waterfalls, bird baths, you name it. Everywhere I looked, over thousands of square feet, were huge plants, everything blooming, an astounding sight.

Shrimp plant; mine doesn't look like this!

Shrimp plant; mine doesn't look like this!

While we’re in the Conservatory, protected from the rains except for a few leaks, Asheville got the storm of the century. For over half a hour, a torrential rain came down, with screeching wind, ridiculously loud, roof-shaking thunder boomers, and magnificent cracks of lightning. The final thunder boomer ended with a tremendous bang (and some screams), and the entire estate lost electricity!


There were probably over a hundred of us caught in the Conservatory. It was a breathtaking experience, with the air full of electrical charge, and floodwaters almost coming in the front door. We began to peek outside as the downpour subsided. The skies were too gray for me to get some of the flood-type pictures, but you can imagine. There were many leaves down everywhere.


The normally gracious staff apparently had never dealt with anything like this before, because they were in a bit of a tizzy. When the rain stopped, we made our way to the gift shop nearby. The staff there told us that there was 60 mph winds (which apparently was a big deal here; just a gentle breeze in west Texas. Of course, there are no trees to knock down in west Texas, either) and large trees were down all over the roads leading out of the estate. Without electricity, there was no communication between the Conservatory and the main house, as well as the shuttle buses to the parking lots. It took us over an hour to make our way back to the main house and get a shuttle back to our car.

As we picked our way back to the main house, we saw signs of the storm everywhere. Trees limbs hung low from the weight of so much water, so fast.


Even water-logged, the gardens were gorgeous.

My Yarrow doesn't look like this, either.

My Yarrow doesn't look like this, either.

I was fortunate to be in North Carolina at the peak of Daylily season. Oh My! Daylilies on the highways, daylilies at every home, daylilies of all kinds, everywhere. What a sight to see.

Daylilies ran forever. You guessed it, mine don't look like these.

Daylilies ran forever. You guessed it, mine don't look like these.

The hydrangeas and rhododendrons were peaking as well, a sight I’ve never had the opportunity to see before. The size of these blooms!

Yes, that's a normal-sized woman's hand.

Yes, that's a normal-sized woman's hand.

And what is this gorgeous flower? The black leaves and brilliant yellow flower was stunning. I want one!


As we left, on the 5 mile road exiting the 125,000 acre estate, there were huge fallen trees that they had chainsawed and hauled to the side to clear the way. The skies were bright and blue again, though we could see hail clouds in the distance. It was a fabulous experience for this drought-stricken gal that hasn’t gotten to be in a good storm in a few years.

Unfortunately, there were more than a few people whose cars were damaged from trees coming down in the parking lot. Ours was okay, thank goodness.


Everything was so peaceful as we exited! What a change. It was a great experience, one I’ll never forget.



Ah, the gentle signs of spring (isn’t this summer?)


Yes, this is a gladiolus. No, I didn’t buy it at the store. Yes, it’s a current photo. It bloomed this week in my garden. It’s early July, in the hottest, driest Summer since the dust bowl of the ’50s. (I’ve deemed this year Summer of Hell II, acknowledging that we are doing this yet AGAIN this year. I’m not good with recidivism, I prefer Change, thank you very much to Whomever might be listening Up There.)

It’s such a sweet bloom, with all its soft yellows and gently curving petals. Just like I would expect to see in May. It bloomed in dappled shade in my back garden. I decided to rescue it, and snipped it and brought it inside to more temperate climes.

On another note, this dragonfly decided to fly into the house today when I opened the back door. I’ve never seen one so huge, have you? To give you a perspective, the tile it landed on is 4″ wide at that point. I’m used to dragonflies under 2″ or so, this one shocked me. Fortunately, I was able to coax it back outside, no harm done.


Welcome home, Mom!

I recently took a lovely trip to North Carolina to visit a friend in Wake Forest. We started in Asheville, drove the scenic route along the Blue Ridge Highway, and ended up at her home. I’ll blog about that soon (oh my god that’s what plants are supposed to look like? Who knew?)

Flash the Wonder Cat always misses me when I vacation.


The day after I arrived back home, he proudly presented me with this amazing gift (in his opinion, anyway). He’s never brought me a snake before, and this one is huge. The scale seems off in this photo, but it is over 2 feet long.


Yowsa! Fortunately, when I found it, laid so beautifully as it was on the step off the deck where I always walk, it was in this non-threatening pose.


He must love me lots to have worked so hard to find a unique gift for me. And especially to share it and not keep it for himself. What a guy!


It’s time to think about moving (again)

Temps reach 107 at airport today
Thursday, June 25, 2009, 05:16 PM

Austin recorded its second-hottest June day in history today, with temperatures reaching 107 degrees Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and 106 at Camp Mabry.

LCRA meteorologist Bob Rose said temperatures have reached that high in June only once — on June 14, 1998, when the temperatures at the airport reached 109 and the high at Camp Mabry was 108.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Many Austin bloggers have mentioned that their gardens are mere shadows of their Springtime selves, given that March is their “bloomiest” month. In my garden, at least at this point in its young life, June is the bloomiest month. With extensive shade, young plants, and an inexperienced gardener, I have few blooms until the direct overhead sunshine of May begins. So my garden actually looks pretty good this month, given that everything is parched for a drink. I can only imagine what it might look like someday when we once again get consistent, plentiful rain like the olden days of my youth. (Sound like an old fogie, don’t I?).

My favorite thing in the garden right now is the combination of the Mexican Oregano and white Agapanthus.


It makes me smile every time I get into the car, as it is located right by the driveway. (My purple Agapanthus didn’t bloom this year, after five years of blooms. Why not?)


Another dramatic bloomer that just won’t stop blooming is the passalong rose, Citrus Splash. The blooms start with this appropriate splashy variegation of orange and yellow.


By the next day, they have turned into an mostly-pink rose.


One of my favorite tough plants, the BiColor Iris, is in bloom in several locations in my yard. I love the sculptural quality of the evergreen grassy leaves even when not in bloom. But these fun blooms in May and June are icing on the cake.


A few more of my daylilies have their last blooms. Some of these plants are called “rebloomers”. I’ll let you know if they bloom again in the fall.

Here’s Awash With Color:

Mango Mango, with its double bloom, is done for the season after this.


One of my favorites, Beyond Riches, has one more bud left. I wish I had planted more of this one.


In the same bed, the Rose of Sharon is completing its Spring bloom season. It will have a few more blooms again in early fall. In its second year, this deciduous shrub is one of my favorites. I want to plant another in a different color.


I’m using a photo of the Rangoon Creeper (below) that was taken about 3 days ago. It now has many more blooms. I wanted you to see how the blooms start off white, then turn dark pinkish-red, so that the plant has blooms of different colors at the same time. I fell absolutely in love with this plant when I saw the huge one growing at Great Outdoors last year. Planted during Summer of Hell I, this is the first time it has bloomed.


Because we actually had 1″+ of rain last week, amid tornadoes and hail, the rain lilies are making their first ever appearance in my garden. I love them!
These sweet pink blooms are nestled in the silver-leafed Powis Castle Artemesia, and I love the combination.


A new lantana is enjoying a spot out by the street in full sun.


Back in the shade, the Indigofera is finishing up its bloom season. I really like the delicate bloom and leaves of this deciduous plant, but after it’s about 3 years old, it can become a thug. I completely removed it once (I thought), and this is it returning. I’ll let it go for now.


Another shade plant, Clerodendrum Ugandense, or Butterfly Bush, has a few blooms. The plant has grown a lot in size, however, and hopefully next year it will bloom much more. I adore these blue blooms with the butterfly shape, in the shade no less.


Look at this. Last year, I planted a cheap budget-challenged Hosta from Home Depot (you know the rule: I never buy plants from there, except for when I do). It actually came back this year (without any winter water, or much Spring water, either, now that I think of it) and it is sprouting a bloom. The bulbs that I bought from a fancy-schmancy online Hosta nursery “guaranteed to grow even in our heat” never even sprouted. It’s a nice place filler while my natives grow.


Other plants in bloom today:
Several colors of Verbena
Purple Heart
Butterfly Iris
Several varieties of begonias
Several varieties of Geraniums
Shrimp plant
Copper Canyon Daisy (yes, now)
Plumbago (just getting started)
Lantana of other colors
Society Garlic
Salvia Greggii (red)
Salvia Coccinea Coral Nymph
Salvia Coccinea Molly Ivans (struggling)
Salvia Majestica (not much)
Double Delight Rose (prolific)

As always, thanks to Carol, May Dreams Gardens for creating and hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.