Summer’s on the fly

Invariably, the summer solstice seems to come too soon (tomorrow, as I write this). One has the helpless sense that the season has barely begun to wiggle its bare toes in dawn’s dewy grass or settle into a long, delicious twilight on the front porch with a tall glass of ice tea when, wham, the days are getting shorter, kids are buying school supplies, and retail behemoths are setting up cardboard witches and pumpkins.

In other words, it’s time to start clutching at what vestiges of clement weather remain, fashioning a dried wreath of balmy memories to carry us through the incipient darkness. In that spirit, here are some high-summer suggestions to stave off the coming chill.

Maybe you need a lotus

An ancient metaphor for achieving enlightenment, the opening of a lotus blossom is said to resemble the unfolding of the inner self. (It was Pink Floyd’s multigigawatt lotus, reflected through a driving rain in the Orange Bowl, that most profoundly unfolded me — but that’s another story.) Western North Carolina is graced with what is said to be a world-class lotus garden, and it’s open for public enjoyment two weekends each summer.

Jack Jarvis has converted his family’s tobacco farm into a Japanese garden with a sizable collection of bonsai, koi and a profusion of lotus. Jarvis will host tours on Saturday, July 2, and Sunday, July 3, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $5. And for lunch, there’ll be Thai food, with items priced from $2 to $10.

From Asheville, take U.S. 19-23 north to exit 9 (Burnsville). Turn right on U.S. 19, go 1.5 miles, turn right on Old Mill Road. For more information or group reservations, phone 255-8833 or 215-1855.

The smallest herb which thou beholdest

Actually, Will Shakespeare was talking orbs, not herbs, when he had Lorenzo tell Jessica about the “floor of heaven … inlaid with patines of bright gold” (The Merchant of Venice), but it could just as well have been dandelions. Right?

You probably know less about herbs than you should, and certainly less than you could, so here’s your big break. The North Carolina Herb Association is hosting its 18th annual Wild Herb Weekend, July 22-24. The deadline for registration is July 8.

The event will bring together herb hobbyists, gardeners, commercial herb growers, producers of herbal products, researchers and herb enthusiasts from across the Southeast. (Expect heated debate about the fine distinction between an “erb obbyist” and a “herb henthusiast.”)

The program includes more than 20 classes aimed at everyone from beginners to expert growers. The star performer will be the Herb Society of America’s 2005 Herb of the Year: oregano. (Some sources claim its name comes from Greek and means “joy of the mountain,” though dictionaries say its source is uncertain. Killjoys.) Don Haynie, co-owner of Buffalo Springs Herb Farm in Raphine, Va., will present the keynote address Saturday evening.

The North Carolina Herb Association is a nonprofit that promotes the production, marketing and use of herbs and herb-related products through education and research.

The event will be held at the Valle Crucis Conference Center. Registration fees start at $80 for daily admission. Weekend packages ($150 for NCHA members) include all educational programs, six meals and two nights’ lodging. The registration form is available online (www.ncherbs.net/ncha/). Phone (336) 854-4365 for more info.

Playing by the book

If sitting on the front porch with a tall glass of something icy is more your style, two new books about native plants may be just your cup of tea.

The first, written by Mountain Xpress contributor Peter Loewer (aka The Wild Gardener), is a splendid guide to cultivating endemic plants. Native Perennials for the Southeast (Cool Springs Press, 2005) offers the reader Loewer’s encyclopedic knowledge and deep understanding of plants, gardeners and catalog writers — all leavened by his pointed wit.

Loewer, who’s written more than 30 gardening books, provides expert advice on how to plan and invest in a perennial garden, as well clear explanations of both botanical and common names and amusing stories about their origins. As for Latin names, he helpfully defuses amateur anxiety, writing: “If you are concerned about pronunciation, don’t be. Very few people can pronounce these names with impunity. … Besides you will probably only use the Latin names in written form.”

Loewer’s plant selections in this volume are eclectic (his word) — ah, but splendidly so! To round out his reporting, he included a section, titled “Advice From Other Gardeners,” wherein experts from every state in the region offer useful, localized wisdom. The book is beautifully illustrated with more than 100 full-color photos plus detailed illustrations by the author. It is handsome enough for a coffee table, but I expect most copies will soon be smudged with thumbprints and thick with seed packets and plant tags stuck in as markers. The only fault I find with this effort is that I am unable to find a promised list of nursery suppliers in the back of the book? (Peter?)

If Loewer’s book is eclectic and juicy, my other book recommendation leans more toward the exhaustive and dry. But, gosh, it is a wonder.

Wild Flowers of North Carolina (The University of North Carolina Press, 2005) is a scholarly update of the highly regarded 1968 handbook, regarded as a classic botanical work. The original was authored by the late William S. Justice and C. Ritchie Bell; the second edition is the creation of Bell and his wife, Anne H. Lindsey. Justice, an Asheville physician, was a well-known photographer and field botanist. Bell, professor emeritus of botany at UNC-Chapel Hill and founder of the the North Carolina Botanical Garden, is co-author of Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas and Florida Wild Flowers and Roadside Plants. Together with Lindsey, he co-owns Laurel Hill Press, which produces natural-history guides, videos and DVDs.

Experts, in other words, in both rigorous botany and explaining the natural world.

With its concise keys to identification, succinct glossary, explication of plant structure and description of both character and habit, this book could easily be used as a college-level text. In addition, it discusses environmental threats and preservation programs, the positive effect of the 1973 Endangered Species Act and the work done by the Nature Conservancy and various state agencies to protect habitat. The book also lists state and national organizations working to protect plants.

Each species is illustrated with a definitive color photo of a single flower, a spike or a whole plant (depending on which view provides the most useful visual information), with additional pictures of nuts or berries for those plants that have notable fruit. This is not a field guide. Although you can use it that way, it is cumbersome for identification purposes, being arranged by genus and species. (Wildflower field guides are generally organized by color, a far handier sorting method for hikers on the go.) But as a companion to a field manual, it’s superb — a masterwork of enormous utility for anyone wishing to learn more about the lovely and fascinating blooms that call North Carolina home.

So get off your duff — or get on your duff — and get going. Autumn is almost nigh.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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