Discovery Center – Blog Discover gardens, nature and other nice things!

May 16, 2007

Save the Seeds

Filed under: Bird Talk — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 7:18 pm

Heirloom gardeners preserve the plants of the past. 

While driving along a country road, most people only notice the meadows filled with colorful wildflowers. It takes an heirloom gardener to distinguish a hard-to-find plant such as Dame’s-rocket from the common weeds surrounding it.

Heirloom gardeners – those who enjoy searching for and planting old-fashioned non-hybridized plants – don’t hesitate to hit the brakes and park alongside grassy embankments to get some cuttings or a few seeds.

The time they spend tramping through open fields or across cemeteries is their contribution to the preservation of seemingly rare cultivators. They also share their knowledge – and ofentimes, a few plants – with other gardening enthusiasts.

Heirloom Gardener

Betty Perry, 81, is one such gardener.

“I just love to collect plants,” said Perry, a former volunteer and garden curator at Mordecai, a historic home, garden and park site in Raleigh. “You see, they’re taking the old plants that were big and rangy and all, and making them into little [plants], for people who have little gardens. I don’t like them. I like the old plants. I didn’t like seeing plants destroyed.”


After volunteering in Mordecai’s garden, which she helped install in 1973, and having amassed several plants, some of which had been in pots for more than 20 years, Perry got to work creating her dream garden at the 1820s North Carolina home place of her husband’s family.

“I wasn’t getting any younger,” said Perry, who is assisted three days a week by her gardener Ed Sessoms. (Her husband, James, mows the lawn.) “I should have started earlier because I have so much I want to do.

What is an heirloom?

Most definitions for “heirloom plants” are highly subjective. Some believe true heirloom plants are strictly open-pollinated – plants pollinated naturally or ” in the open.” Others say an heirloom must be at least 50 years old or introduced in the United States in the 1600s to the mid-1950s. Others call an heirloom a plant that has been passed along throughout the generations or simply an old-fashioned plant. But most agree that heirlooms are not hybrids – plants bred through cross-fertilization.

Perry is not alone in her quest for preserving plants. The N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill is a founding member of the Center for Plant Conservation, which actively preserves seeds or plants of endangered species.

Old Salem, restored Moravian community in Winston-Salem has one of the best-documented gardens in the country and supports plant preservation through seed saving. It is a member of Seed Savers Exchange, founded in 1975 whose membership has grown in popularity as the interest in heirloom plants has grown, according to Keyes Williamson, Old Salem’s director of horticulture. 

“Enormous number of old varieties of plants have disappeared in the U.S. in the last 100 years,” said Williamson, who cites a USDA statistic that 97 percent of vegetables available in the 1900s were not available in 2000. “They were lost because commercial growers focused on certain plants, and the rest just disappeared.”

Individuals are also doing their part to preserve the plants of the past. Lee Calhoun of Chatham County has gained national fame as “the apple man” for his efforts to preserve old-fashioned varieties of this all-American fruit. Several are farmers provide heirloom varieties of tomatoes for the Carrboro, North Carolina’s Farmer’s Market annual tasting, selling them to customers throughout the year. And countless other unsung heirloom plant gardeners are gathering seeds and cuttings – and the stories behind them – every day, like Betty Perry.

Cut-and-come-again Flower

Sentimental journey

Perry’s “old country garden” is a little more than 5 acres that is broken into several flower beds with a colorful hodgepodge of flowers, ornamental grasses and old garden roses. One of the oldest is a 1540 musk rose (Rosa moschata). She got it from a cutting that was growing in a cemetary in Charlotte. The only other known cultivators have been spotted in Hillsborough at the Burwell School for Girls, a historic site, and at Chatwood Gardens, she said. When Perry began searching for native plantings for Mordecai’s garden, she discovered that the best specimens were only a few blocks away. During the 1970s and mid-1980s in downtown Raleigh, buildings on Blount, Hillsborough and Willimington streets were being demolished. Before grading began, Perry asked the property owners for permission to get the plants.

“I got a lot of my choice plants that way,” Perry said. “A lot of these plants [in the garden] that I saw were in yards and they were destroying them. I knew that they were not readily available and I would probably never see them again.”

Walking through the garden, Perry enthusiastically explains where she found each plant – oftentimes stopping in midsentance to pick a weed or to check on the condition of a seed pod. Perry found the mush-sought after Dame’s-rocket (Hesperis matronalis), growing in a field in Chapel Hill. This fragrant perenial with clusters of purple flowers that resemble phlox, can grow about 3 feet tall. Its seeds will self-sow, but some suggest treating it as a biennial.

One of her rarest finds is a fig tree (Ficus carica), which bears black fruit. She got a cutting from a yard in Oakwood when a home was remodeled and the tree eventually destroyed., she said. 

Perry also claimed wildflowers when I-40 was being built, in the area where Cary’s Crossroads shopping center is. In her many years of collecting plants, she has been “caught” only once.

“One time in Maryland, I was down under a bridge, and I had my four little kids in the car and a policeman stopped and he asked, ‘Are you having trouble?’ No, but there’s a plant down here that’s a weed, and I need to get a start of it because I take care of a historic garden and I need this plant. It’s called Lunaria,'” Perry recalled. “It was a yellow thing that looked like a snapdragon and he said, ‘Well, can I help you get it?’ He was so nice.'” Perry chuckles.

Trials and tribulations

Even though the largest obstacle to heirloom gardening is finding the seed or the plant, heirloom gardeners must also harvest seeds and cuttings to keep the species in existence. This task has proved challenging in the last few years because drastic weather conditions – like the current rainy spells and last year’s drought – can make collecting seeds difficult.

“In this rain, I’ve lost more plants,” Perry said. “And the weeds. The weeds!”

Unlike hybrids, which Perry describes as being high-maintenance, heirloom plants tend to be hardy and resilient. “For a plant to make it through so many years, it’s got to be tough,” said Perry, who doesn’t believe in babying plants. Perry doesn’t irrigate and only waters new plants.

She is also an organic gardener preferring to fertilize with chinchilla and rabbit manure. She enriches the soil with compost and suggests using pine straw or decayed leaves as a mulch  to retard weeds and to keep in moisture. Perry strongly advises against using pine bark mulch, which can harm plants, she said.

Perry collects seeds – “when they’re ready” – dries, sifts and places them in medicine bottles or in envelopes. She doesn’t own a greenhouse and sows the seeds in trays inside her house every March.

Future of heirlooms

In a way, through Perry’s work with Mordecai and its popular plant sale, which was the event in the gardening community back in the 1980s, she has fostered the preservation of several heirloom plants. With sun beaming down upon her blue garden hat, Perry also explained that gardening has kept her in shape despite her bouts with arthritis, cancer and two knee replacements. “I know I would have been in a wheelchair by now,” said Perry. “But I plug along.”

And though she’s not completely satisfied with her garden, Perry looks back on her plant rescues with great pride.

“I do believe that through heirloom plants we are preserving a lost history. I really do.”

May 15, 2007

Home grown & hand-painted birdhouse gourds.

Filed under: Home Stuff — Tags: , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 9:12 pm

Article from Tennessee Southern Living – July 2006

Southern Living Article - July 2006

Bird lovers would be out of their gourds to pass on these hanging habitats. The natural nests attract small birds such as wrens and chickadees. Detailed designs range from flowers to barns. Grown on a family farm and hand painted by Johnson City artists, the inexpensive gourds add both feathered friends and intrigue to yards. To order, call (866) 637-5223 or visit Backyard Birds & Discovery Center.

H & K Sculptures

Filed under: Yard Stuff — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 1:23 pm

H & K Steel Sculptures

Created by artist Guenter Scholz, each sculpture has been individually handcrafted by cutting, bending and welding recycled steel to effectively portray the subject. Guenter Scholz first demonstrated his aptitude for his craft as a mechanical engineering student. Building upon a 1930’s art form, he’s combined his technical background with a love of art to create unique and original sculptures. Made of recycled steel with copper trim, Scholz’s art is easily identified by the signature “washer” eyeglasses his subjects wear. Scholz’s unique sculptures allow you to personalize your home and office decor. His whimsical renderings of Sports, Professions, Musicians, Lifestyles and modes of Travel capture the unique essence of his subjects and add warmth and individuality to their surroundings. In addition to the sculptures are Wine Bottle Holders and recently released Stompers.

The collections are only limited by imagination, which is why new creations are forever bringing a smile to someone’s face. These original sculptures that are hand made in Germany were first brought to the United States in 1997. Since their introduction, the collection has been carefully redesigned to reflect the American lifestyle and sense of humor.

The wine bottle caddies were first introduced in the U.S. in 2000 and have grown from 2 designs to over 100 unique styles, with several more on the drawing board. The H & K design team has created a truly unique collection. Existing designs are constantly being improved, while new ideas are being developed.

H & K steel sculptures provide a very personal gift. Also because of the creative and handcrafting facilities in Europe they encourage custom designs for corporate premium and charity events.

The moment you hold an H & K Steel Sculpture, you’ll feel the weight and solidity, see the craftsmanship and appreciate its’ quality and value.

YardBirds Animals

Filed under: Blogroll — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — discoverer @ 1:20 pm

Unique Cast Iron Sculptures by YardBirds

Unique cast iron sculptures can be very entertaining and bring life to any home and garden.

Rich Kolb and his father created the first Yardbird sculpture nearly ten years ago in Jamestown, Kentucky. The first bird came about from tinkering with scrap materials. People instantly loved them! Today, Yardbirds are still hand crafted in Kentucky (now, Louisville) by a group of artisans and the flock of birds has grown from one to over sixty.

In making the unique cast iron sculptures, they use recycled materials – scrap and rejected garden tools, farm machinery, bicycle and auto parts. Buying a Yardbird reduces solid waste destined for a landfill, and they estimate that so far they have re-used over 2 million pounds of scrap.

Each bird has its own personality. While there are certain designs produced, no two birds are exactly alike. Whether it is a turn of the head, the placement of the eyes, or the variation in the hand-painted (or rusted) finish, each Yardbird has a delightful disposition all its own.

Rich Kolb says “The things that make us happiest in life when we obtain them are not always the necessities of life, but usually the things that we do not need make us the happiest.”

Bandana Yardbirds unique cast iron sculptures will liven up your home and garden! These unique cast iron sculptures include yard birds, cats, critters, dogs, kittens, puppies, wild animals, clocks, coat racks, keyholders, pet feeders, pot holders and unique wine holders. Each Yardbirds sculpture creation is unique, whimsical, and guaranteed to bring pleasure to you the owner. A Yardbirds sculpture is a great conversation piece; many people have fun identifying the parts cleverly used to make them and they marvel at the way a simple tilt of the head can give a sculpture so much personality.

Scrap metal and recycled parts are mostly used for these unique cast iron sculptures of a yard birds, cats, critters, dogs, kittens, puppies or wild animals. These creations are thought as a good way of contributing to the environment as well, saving rejected metal parts from ending up in the landfill. They do wonders for improving the looks of your homes or yards. We have recently added unique cat, dog and horse wine holders to our collection. All Yard Birds and Junkyard Dogs and Cats are proudly handcrafted in Kentucky!

The medium is metal sculpture. Some of the materials used include garden tools, car parts, farm implements, bicycle parts and mufflers.

We believe that the things that make us the happiest in life when we obtain them are not always the necessities of life, but usually the things that we do not need make us the happiest. And that’s what Yardbirds sculptures are all about – happiness!

Start now! Bring some fun and happiness into your home and garden by browsing the unique cast iron sculptures and pick one that fits your personality.

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