Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lavender Festival - Beagle Ridge Herb Farm

A road trip with photos

On Saturday four of us, Tena, Susan, Warren and I got going early and made a 75 minute drive to Beagle Ridge Herb Farm. They were hosting their annual open house Lavender Thyme at Beagle Ridge. It is a bit of a trek to the middle of nowhere in the Blue Ridge Highlands of southwestern Virginia. The last few miles involves travel over roads that have seen logging activity, so some skill in dodging potholes is required. I fortunately served as the trusty navigator and co-pilot.

Warren Reed, Tena's dad, is a retired geologist that worked in remote corners of planet earth doing oil exploration. Susan, a yoga instructor met Warren for the first time on our journey and they shared the back seat. Eavesdropping on their conversation proved entertaining. Susan asked intriguing and insightful questions and Warren's storytelling skills clue me in to where Tena obtained her ability to spin an amusing tale.

Beagle Ridge is a 160 acre wooded retreat that is home to deer, turkey, rabbits, countless bird species and the elusive bear. They serve as an Environmental Education Center and you can find out more at this link

The weather gods were kind on this Saturday, sending mostly sunshine and at an elevation of 2700 feet summer temperatures were moderate.

Beagle Ridge has been around since 2001 and has gradually grown to 14 theme gardens and several herb collections: Lavender, Thyme, Oregano and Salvias.The operation is entirely organic.

Educational classes are offered for children and adults . There are many community programs including involvement with scouting programs and Project Learning Tree® (PLT).

Many Great Spangled Fritillaries fluttered about and several stopped to feed on the milkweed so catching two on film was easy. The caterpillars of this butterfly feed on violets, as do those of many other species of butterflies, so try to incorporate some of these wild species into your landscape if you want these flying jewels.

Gregg Reynolds cooks herb marinated chicken on the grill in preparation for a delicious lunch that was part of this open house event.

Ellen Reynolds, executive director and one suspects chief cook and bottle washer serves up mixed leaf lettuce and craisins in raspberry vinaigrette. We also had roasted, herbed potatoes, crackers with a lavender cream cheese spread and lavender lemonade. Sour cream pound cake topped with a glaze and sprinkled with lavender was served for dessert.

Here Ellen cuts some blooming lavender to demonstrate the making of lavender wands and baskets.

You must use an uneven number of stems for the weaving process to work correctly.

If making a wand, you would extend the weaving process to cover the blossoms. That way when they dry, any blossoms that come loose would be retained within the wand and stay around to perfume your drawers or wherever you have placed the wands.

For speed of demonstration, Ellen made a lavender basket. To finish this, she would wrap more ribbon along the top to from a carrying handle and weave in any stray stems. She recently made several of these for a wedding.

We also learned lavender cultural practices, how to prune and how to propagate lavender.

The next open house is in the fall when Beagle Ridge hosts

Garlic Thyme Sat. 10-5 on Oct 3

Their web site says:

Garlic Lovers Heaven!!! Join us for a full day of garlic; learn to plant it, harvest it, cook it and then taste the many types of garlic that are available. Learn how to braid your garlic, or just buy one of our braids.

If you are in the vicinity and love garlic or fear vampires may I suggest a road trip. You'll be glad you went.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Canine Makeover





Sunday, June 21, 2009

Currants - Red, White and Black

Growing up in Wisconsin, the house we moved into when I was 10 years old had an established 30 foot row of red currants. My mother prized those bushes and made a fabulous clear red jelly out of the berries. She also canned a juice concentrate that was used to make a beverage we called saft in Swedish, the language that wove in and out of my childhood along with English.

In later years she obtained some black currants and the ones that grow in my yard are cuttings started from those very plants. Currants and the other members of the ribes plant family, like gooseberries, have an interesting history that partially explains why they seldom cultivated these days.

Ribes, and black currants in particular, play a part in the transmission of white pine blister disease. White pine blister disease is the most destructive disease of 5 needle pines which includes pine varieties that have economic importance for the lumber industry. It is caused by a heteroecious, macrocyclic fungus that requires 2 different host plants and 5 different spore stages to complete it's life cycle.

Early blister rust control efforts considered the alternate host, currants and gooseberries, to be the weak link in the infection cycle and an extensive and costly eradication program was conducted in the white pine regions of the United States from 1916 to 1967. Ultimately it failed. Cultivated stands of black currants were eliminated, but wild gooseberries could not be so easily controlled and other species of wild plants were found to serve as alternate hosts. Now the focus is on developing disease resistant strains of pines.

In those years between 1916 and 1967, people lost a familiarity with the tastes and flavors of currants. My mother's European background was an advantage in knowing what to do with the bounty that her long row of currants provided.

Black currants are the nutritional superstar of the ribes family with exceptionally high levels of antioxidants, vitamin C and potassium. One statement that has always stuck with me is a description uttered by my maternal grandmother Sophia. She said that black currants tasted like bed bugs smelled. A factoid that I am very glad, at least at this time, to be unable to verify.

White currants are probably the least known and cultivated of these three. Their flavor is for me, the most subtle. There is the slightly tart skin that yields easily to your teeth, revealing a burst of sweet nectar from the flesh and a distinctive floral fragrance.

While the currant berries hold for a good interval on the plant, they ship poorly and must be harvested by hand, so if you don't grow them yourself, the only place you are likely to find them is at the Farmer's Market. They are fairly easy to grow, so if you do not live in a state that continues to restrict their cultivation, they are a very worthwhile addition to your home landscape.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

New and Improved !

Just a quick post here to give a shout out and thanks to Cassandra VanCuren for offering the free blog template I am currently using.

She has several other lovely designs and only asks that you acknowledge the source in your sidebar. You can link to the site with the e-mail address below.

I think this design suited me best. The old manual typewriter image just really spoke to me.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Elizabeth Johns at the Art Depot

On Sunday the Arts Depot in Abingdon held the opening reception for Elizabeth Johns' latest exhibition. Elizabeth has recently been experimenting with making small pieces in acrylic on board after many years of working almost exclusively in oil on canvas. In her artist statement, she indicates that she is enjoying the ability to work quickly with the fast drying time of acrylic. This frees her to capture images "before they can skitter away."

Many of the paintings in the exhibition can be accessed at the artist's website.

A friend snapped a photo of Elizabeth and myself.

The reception began at 2pm and when I arrived at 2:15 a goodly portion of the paintings already sported little red sold tags, including the one above. I think it was called Two Views and portrays the woman catching what look like pearls while the gentleman relinquishes a handful of tears.

This series is called The Wooing.

My friend Ginny purchased the two paintings on the bottom left and bottom right of this grouping. She says the depictions represent her daughter and herself.


Sunday, June 7, 2009


Over two years in the making, the bronze fountain honoring Titania the Faery Queen was dedicated last Friday. This 16 foot tall sculpture inspired by William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a collaborative work between two Abingdon-based artists, Charles Vess and David Spence.

The fountain was commissioned by the Barter Theater. Now, for readers that do not live in the area, the Barter is not a movie theater. It is a local institution founded back in 1933 during the depression and it is now the longest running equity theater in America. It produces professional plays that are performed in two venues. A link to find out more about the interesting history of the Barter is included below.

On the left side of the photo above, Puck holds up a comedy mask to mirror the tragedy mask Titania offers.

The sight of this sculpture reminds me of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture on the north side of New York Central Park's Conservatory Water. While the Alice statue is only 11 foot tall, she is also bronze and surrounded by animals and attendants. Alice sits atop a toadstool, while Titania perches upon a tree stump. Much beloved by the children that visit, many areas show a burnished metal shine created by the frequent touch of small fingers and hands. I suspect similar wear will become evident on the hare's ears and two foxes standing near Titania.

Here Charles Vess shares a few highlights and remembrances of the construction phase and celebrates an endeavor coming to completion. There are multiple photos of the construction process at his web site linked below.

Charles Vess and his wife Karen Shaffer

After the formal dedication, some folks went over to the Barter to see a production of the Wizard of Oz and others of us adjourned to the Gallery on Main for the Puck Luck celebration. I got a chance to meet David Spence and had a long entertaining chat with Anthony Dean, the welder tasked with assembling the hundred plus component cast pieces that became Titania.

The food was fabulous and many of the discussions centered on art.

Who can resist a reception that includes a faery playing the harp?


Saturday, June 6, 2009

I Sleep in My Daughter's Bed

I sleep in my daughter's bed the last night before she moves out of her college dorm. Recalling that night, I feel a sadness that is more profound now than it was then.
What exactly moves this sadness; where does it seep in from? I sense it should be explored, that it must be listened to. Using the thesaurus, I attempt to name and categorize this ache a little better.
It is only a small ache, but it carries weight. No, it is not melancholy. Melancholy is the word that had me reaching for the thesaurus. It did not describe my feelings. A better word, one that is a more precise match, is needed. The closest approximations Bartlett's/Roget's offer me are wistful and pensive.
As a university residence advisor, my daughter merited a larger unit than the standard dorm. While set in the institutional architecture that defines the Gooch dormitory, this upstairs/downstairs dorm had a certain quirky charm. It was angled into one of the corners of the building at an obtuse angle, so symmetry eluded the layout.

Her bedroom was also larger than that of the other resident advisor with whom she shared the apartment. The other RA is a year younger, so she is now entering the final year of her own undergraduate education. As such, this younger RA is next to inherit the larger bedroom. This is clearly an exciting upgrade, as noted in an email she sent to my daughter upon learning the news:

"Oh, Amy zee SR sent me an e-mail, and I now have your room. MUAHAHAHHA. *cackle cackle ... i am queen of the worlddddddddd"
As for the kitchen, while an afterthought and rather small, it was functional. In the bathroom, shower water ran off from the shower area onto the main bathroom floor, but was not overwhelming because it was shared with only one roommate. I was rather fond of the view from her bedroom window. It faced west with a sightline that looked onto a leafy, wooded hillside path. The best bedroom windows, to my taste, do not face the east. Morning daylight awakens me too easily.

Somehow, I gather that it was not the act of moving out of this particular set of rooms that caused my disquiet. My mood is more likely related to the march of time, as well as a shift in roles and alignments. Once again, I am reminded that I no longer parent a child. No, the daughter is grown and quite capable and has in fact been so for some time.

Perhaps I also anticipate the loss of Charlottesville as a destination. This city suits me and has captured a slice of my heart. Situated 4 hours and 250 miles to the east of me, traveling there will now probably require some sort of compelling reason. Charlottesville will likely be relegated to a place visited with diminishing frequency.


The Greek philosopher Heraclitus states that "One cannot step into the same river twice, for the water in which you first stepped has flowed on." Indeed, my wistfulness arises within the heart of this aphorism.