Mountain Gardens


2012 Year in Review

1-treefall-Jan (1).jpg

January Treefall: The year started with a bang as my favorite tree, the largest of the poplars that ring the deck, snapped off in a windstorm,  It had been struck by lightening a year previously, and I was still dithering about how to drop it since there was no direction for it to fall which wouldn’t damage something.  In the event, it trashed part of the deck and destroyed the outdoor kitchen addition and cob oven (all has been rebuilt).  Could have been worse.




Solar panels. For the past 30 years, I’ve been hearing that cheap solar panels are right around the corner.  Apparently we’ve finally gotten to that corner (if not quite around it).  I found (friends found for me) a great deal on panels, and we tripled our capacity.  Then I had to buy a new voltage regulator, which nullified the savings. Well, its all been paid for, and now we can actually use the computer on a rainy day.



Hike for ramps. A spring ritual.  Ramps grow in abundance in the richest coves, mingled with early wildflowers: Trillium, squirrel corn, hepatica, wild delphinium, bloodroot and many more. Most are ‘spring ephemerals, and will be gone with the ramps when the trees leaf out.  The ephemeral moment (actually it lasts about a month). I go for tzu-jan “occurence appearing of itself…the ten thousand things unfolding spontaneously, each according to its own nature…” – Hinton*).  Of coure tzu-jan is eternal and everywhere, but the ‘doing of nothing’ (wu wei) is hard to experience, hidden as it is by the ‘doing’ of humans.  The best of all times and places I’ve found to dwell, if briefly, with tzu jan are among the boulders and rivulets near the head of the deep valleys in the mountains behind my house.
* David Hinton; the quote is from his selection Chuang Tzu the Inner Chapters, his Mountain Home: the Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China is inspiring reading in conjunction with mountain walks.



Ramps…..Our motives on that particular hike were not entirely pure.  We gather ramps – to eat, to pickle and to sell to one restaurant (the Lantern, in Chapel Hill).  Note that these are without roots – we left them in the ground to grow again.



Solomon Seal, Hosta, etc..  morels and dryad’s sadle mushrooms, a few more delicious wildfoods from our surroundings.  In Japan, wealthy gourmands make pilgrimages to the mountains for a meal like this. If you want to cater to wealthy gourmands, I’d say America is ripe for the same aesthetic.



Shiitake inoculation. Another early spring ritual.




Bees. The bees survived the winter! (sometimes they haven’t)



…and swarmed! We managed to catch one.



Herb Fair….Getting ready for the Asheville Herb Festival at the beginning of May. This is the best organized and labelled our nursery was all year. The biggest money-making event we do. There are a lot of ‘herb fairs’ in the spring, but this is the biggest and most fun.





Bare roots. The apprentices filled an order for $1000 of bare-root Chinese herb plants. Dug, divided, wrapped, packed and shipped in a two day marathon.  Their prize? $1000..



bamboo…There are some nice stands of bamboo nearby.  We use it for walls and trellises (and gather the shoots to eat)



Computer….sean….. (website…..) With so much more electricity, we got a computer for the pavillion (apprentices).  We also got reasonable internet (DSL), after 20 years of dialup.  Hopefully this will result in an increasing flow of information onto this website this year.



wasabi ….We’re setting up a kiddie pool for planting wasabi.  A layer of chunky rocks, then good woodland soil and leafmold mulch. Wasabi likes cool water on its roots; but not stagnant, so there are holes to let the water out.  We’ve made three of these now, and they’re quite successful at growing this somewhat challenging plant.



apprentices….. kitchen projects…..



Pao Zhi workshop for my students at Daoist Traditions college. This is Chinese herb processing, using heat, from mild to ‘blast-fried’, and ‘adjuvants’ such as rice, clay, honey, wine, ginger juice to alter an herb’s energetics, reduce side effects, neutralize obnoxious flavors, etc. This is always a fun workshop: the alchemical experience.


essential oils ….   mugwort, holy basil, etc.  Ryan figured out how to get the essential oil still functioning.  Another alchemical experience. No, we don’t get much E.O., a tablespoon or less, but more hydrosol, which is also useful  It’s fun to do.



Mushrooms galore…It was a big year for gathering wild mushrooms around the place.  This is a typical day’s haul.


Joseph with Ganoderma tsugae…Ganoderma lucidum is reishi in Japan, lingzhi in China: the ‘mushroom of immortality.’  G. tsugae, growing on hemlocks, probably has similar properties, maybe better.



making honey pills… (workshops…) Lots of workshops and college classes last year..  These folks are making honey pills from a powdered Chinese herb formula, an ancient Chinese technique.  Since they are students, the formula was probably bu nao wan which strengthens the brain and, in particular, memory.



herbal intensive…..We held a six-day workshop on Chinese herbology: propagating, cultivating, harvesting, processing and making medicinal preparations. It was fun but a little much. This year we’ll do a series of weekends covering the same material




seed collecting….Late summer and autumn is harvest time, and one of the main things we harvest is seeds of our many useful plants.  Geoff took on the job of collecting, cleaning, drying and cataloging, and the seed collection is now very well organized.



vegetable garden…Sean took on the vegetable garden, and it is also now more organized than it has been for years.  We moved a lot of perennials around and doubled the area for food production.


mushroom-inoculated garden beds….Experimenting with edible mushrooms which can be grown as companions to vegetables.  Hopefully we’ll see results this year.



clearing beds… digging ku shen….Here we are moving those perennials around (and harvesting).  There are five shen plants in Chinese medicine, all are very important. renshen is ginseng, kushen is Sophora flavescens, an important herb for clearing heat.



new dryer constructed..Joseph is working on a new solar herb drier, since finished and installed.  It works much, much better than the previous incarnation and we are looking forward to harvesting and drying a lot of our herbs this year for the pharmacy, tea blends, etc.



new brick & cob oven…Under Tom Trout’s direction, we built a new cob pizza (bake) oven, to replace the one detroyed by the fallen tree (back in the first picture).




pond construction…One of Will Hooker’s horticulture classes from NCSU. They’re building a rock wall for the front of what will be a large pond in the center of the garden.



Will Hooker’s class….



arborist visits….All of our hemlocks have been slowly dying due to the hemlock wooly adelgid, and it finally got time to cut them before they fall on something valuable. We were blessed to get help from some experienced arborists. Very sad to lose the hemlocks – the garden was designed around them – but it will increase the sunny area of the garden, and we’ll experiment with growing mushrooms on the stumps.




new terraces…A big project is the construction of a series of terraces on a south-facing slope at the bottom of the garden. Unlike most of the garden, there is not much rock here, so we’re using locust slabs from a nearby sawmill. This will eventually become an intensive fruit orchard, but we’re pioneering with potatoes and vegetables




snow traces new garden beds….A view of the lower part of the garden.  This was a very random mix of edible and medicinal perennials, but they were moved out, beds reconfigured, cover cropped, and now it’s ready for intensive food production.



green in the greenhouse…The best thing this garden (with limited sun and a cool mountain climate) produces is greens of all kinds and in every season. This is January in one of our unheated greenhouses

Joe Hollis