Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

The featured photo, our Christmas wreath—a species of moon lichen with an anomalous hole in the center caused, says Devin Floyd, by some event or condition at the site—was photographed on a rock at the Quarry Gardens in July by Robert Llewellyn. ​Bob has been photographing nature for more than 40 years; more than 30 books featuring his photography are in print. Among them are Remarkable Trees of VirginiaSeeing Trees, and the latest, The Living Forest: A Visual Journey into the Heart of the Woods. We thank him for this delightful image, and for being a friend of the Quarry Gardens.

During the past year, a number of other artists  have also visited and shared their work with us. Here is a sampling:

Steve Edgar caught this brooding image of the north quarries wall last summer when he visited from Northern Virginia. Steve has a special interest in abandoned America, and constantly experiments with techniques to take viewers deeper into the sites he photographs.

Rhonda Roebuck brought a group from Flower Camp to sketch in April, and returned this image of quarry walls, from which trees seem to be able to grow from even the narrowest ledge. Rhonda teaches nature journaling—how to capture both small wonders and scenic landscapes.

Melissa Dicker organized a June evening meet-up and picnic here for members of the Northern Virginia Sierra Club. She captured this image of the north quarry bridge, then had fun with it at  home using PRIMZA filters.


Lee Wood caught both a black swallowtail nectaring on butterfly weed and a great spangled fritillary on bee balm on a trip around the quarries in August.


It is a joy to see what others see when they visit the Quarry Gardens. We look forward to hosting more artists in 2018.

In the meantime, enjoy these beautiful holidays!


First Season in Review

First Season in Review

Our last visitors of the season for weekend tours have come and gone. This magnificent fall has faded at last and, as of Thanksgiving weekend, we are closed to all except Friends of the Quarry Gardens, who may visit independently.

It was a busy first year. Since April, some 1,200 visitors have walked the trails with us. Articles in Virginia LivingVirginia GardenerAbode, the Daily ProgressNelson County Times Farmville HeraldRural Virginian, other local newspapers—and an oft-repeated segment of Virginia Home Grown and Virginia Currents on PBS—brought visitors from throughout the state.

We were delighted to host chapters of the Virginia Native Plant Society, Virginia Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners, Sierra Club, Monticello history clubs, the James River Association, and many garden clubs. In the coming year, we look forward to hosting more training sessions and classes.

Planting continued well after the April opening. The demonstration garden around the Visitor Center was only started in March; now, it lacks only a few difficult-to-source species, as do a few of the other 32 galleries.

We won’t be idle over the winter. On mild days, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese lespedeza, autumn olive, and miscanthus will be the targets of our efforts to eradicate exotic invasive species. Hunters are helping us reduce the number of deer enjoying the trailside buffet

The bare walls inside the Visitor Center call out to us. Planned are exhibits on the geology under the gardens, and its expression in species in and above the soil. The south side of the building will feature the history of soapstone quarrying and manufacturing here. By spring, we expect the Nelson and Albemarle Railroad will be in operation, its engine running through dioramas between Rockfish Junction and Esmont.

We’ll open again by appointment in March for naturalists who want to see spring’s earliest phenomena, and begin weekend tours again in April. For now, the gardens sleep.

The Eric Bull family of Fluvanna County—including young Henry’s grandparents from New York—joined us for a walk on Thanksgiving Friday afternoon. Eric made the 11 massive benches placed around the quarry site from trees matching species found here.

The demonstration garden at rest.

Don’t feel guilty

Don’t feel guilty

If you have a patch of beautiful native plants that now, at season’s end, look like you planted a bunch of weeds, and you’ve been feeling guilty about getting around to the fall clean-up—don’t feel guilty. Feel enlightened!

Here’s what our garden guru Devin Floyd had to say about the messy areas at the Quarry Gardens:

“As for the dead standing stalks, seed heads, and wilting overwinter foliage, they do far more than feed winter birds. While that is fun and easy to observe, and quite important, there are hidden and critical processes taking place, and most of them are important for the fledgling birds of next spring (and other middle-food-chain predators like frogs, snakes, salamanders, lizards, toads).

“The larvae and eggs of beetles, wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, stick bugs, mantids, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, assassin bugs, and many other arthropoda overwinter on, and inside of, all parts of the plant. In fact, many colorful insects, like the brush-footed group of butterflies, overwinter as adults, in diapause, and dangle with wings closed to mimic leaves from the stems of these plants (they are nearly impossible to see). In other words, when the flora isn’t providing food, it is providing shelter.

“In winter, the dead stalks and all their parts are the genetic life-bridge between autumn and spring, for the whole bottom of the food chain and, eventually, the upper reaches of it. What’s more is that the very health and capacity of the soil relies upon the in situ wilt and decomposition of the flora that grows upon it.

“This perspective frames our approach to fall ‘cleanup,’ and it can serve as a focal point for visitors/users that are new to the subject. If the contents are a bit wild, architecture is important. We create balance and clarity by maintaining edges and defined spaces that are clean, cut, straight, sweeping and tidy. This duo, wild+tidy, communicates that we are experimenting with native plant communities and biodiversity conservation within the context of true landscaping and gardening. For the benefit of education and conservation, we are proudly wearing a new Piedmont native aesthetic on our sleeves.”

So there!

Students vs Invaders

Students vs Invaders

Six students from Tandem Friends School’s 8th and 10th grades came to The Quarry Gardens one brilliant October day, and removed an invasive grass they piled into a mountain taller than the tallest of them. The occasion was an all-school community service day when Friends’ students lend time, skills, and muscle to worthy tasks throughout the Charlottesville area.

Here, they took out two large patches of Japanese stilt grass, Microstegium vimineum, where it was running from roadside into woods—it will grow in sun or shade—and threatening native species in an area that had been undisturbed for decades. As a foreign invader, stilt grass gives nothing to local ecosystems. Because insects or animals here are not adapted to use it, its sole function is to smother the native species that other native species depend on.

Kudos and thanks to the students—Sammy Buckley, Meridith Frazee, Elliot Rossman, Joey Spaeder, Josh Warren, and Adam Zhang—and to Christine Hirsh-Putnam, who drove the van and worked along with them. At the end, we celebrated with cookies, as among them were Quarry Gardens’ 1,000th visitor of the year!

Stilt grass may be found in scattered patches throughout the QGs’ 40 acres; its seeds are viable for 3-5 years. We’re using various strategies: hand-pulling around the quarries where desirable plants may be present; grass-specific herbicide or propane-fired torch in other areas.

Some other invaders we’re battling now:

Chinese lespedezaLespedeza cuneata—pulling it works if the ground is moist enough to release this perennial’s roots; otherwise, cutting at ground level and immediately dabbing the cut stem with herbicide is (tedious but) effective.

Japanese honeysuckleLonicera japonica—offers the advantage of having red stems that are visible through the winter, so it can be pulled whenever the ground is not frozen.

Maiden grassMiscanthus sinensis (a large grass cultivated on roadsides and gardens that has escaped into woodlands)—the 8-foot-tall ones with massive roots have been all but destroyed; now we’re mostly digging and pulling smaller ones.

Autumn olive, Elaeangnus umbellata—many fewer than two years ago, but cutting and dabbing continues—to good effect.

Among other invasive we took on earlier in the year (to varying effect) were garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), carpet grass (Arthraxon hispidus), Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonica), and the native invasive greenbrier, or catbrier, (Smilax rotundiflolia or possibly Smilax bona-nox), climbing vines with nasty thorns that can reach the top of 40-ft trees. Fortunately, we have little poison ivy and no kudzu or wavy leaf grass (knock wood).

If you enjoy such work, or are willing to do it in exchange for becoming a Friend of the Quarry Gardens, please let us know via the Contact button on the website: quarrygardensatschuyler.org. We’ll tell you when we schedule volunteer workdays.

 Monarchs not safe! 

 Monarchs not safe! 

Monarch on a thistle—how beautiful! We’ve heard that the biggest threat to Monarch butterflies is loss of habitat where they overwinter in Mexico. And we’ve heard that feeding on milkweed renders Monarchs toxic to predators (which they signal with bright yellow and black stripes). In Bernice’s story, below, this week we learned Monarchs are not as safe from predators as we’d thought.

Kindly neighbor Bobi Thornhill found ten Monarch caterpillars eating the last leaves of her four milkweed plants, and asked if I had milkweed to which she could transfer them. She brought five and deposited them on two plants near our terrace. Her research said they were of a size—25-45mm long—to begin pupating (https://monarchlab.org/biology-and-research/biology-and-natural-history/breeding-life-cycle/life-cycle/#larva).

I photographed them; then, before leaving for errands in Charlottesville, checked back: Three quietly nibbling, one moving along the ground under the milkweed, one missing—and a shifty-looking Chinese (aka “praying”) mantis prowling among the leaves. Suspicious, I chased the mantid off the plant and it sprinted to the other side of the terrace. (Had I realized, definitely, that some mantids will eat Monarch butterflies in all their life stages, I would have captured and moved it to the vegetable beds.)

Late in the afternoon when I returned, only one caterpillar remained on the milkweed, and next morning it was still there, chomping away. The others? Pupating somewhere out of sight? Or eaten?

Curious, I went online to learn more about Monarch predators. Most birds avoid them, but ants, spiders and certain wasps will feast on eggs and larvae: (https://monarchlab.org/biology-and-research/biology-and-natural-history/parasites-natural-enemies/) And, I found that mantids are able to avoid the most toxic parts while eating  the caterpillars: (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/25/chinese-mantis-guts-its-toxic-caterpillar-prey/).

To give the remaining caterpillar a better chance, I wrapped the plant and adjacent rose support with the close-woven plastic shade cloth I keep for sheltering lettuce seedlings in late summer—making the metamorphosis, if not unassailable, at least inconvenient.

Next morning, we had a J-shaped caterpillar hanging from the top of the tuteur and, by late afternoon, a shiny green pupa in its place. Having learned that this generation of monarchs—the summer’s fourth—is the one that will fly to warmth for the winter, hibernate, and return in spring to restart the cycle, I was excited at the prospect of seeing this one off.

Next morning, thinking the heavy shade a bit unnatural, I partly opened the covering.

Following morning: Pupa gone!

Another friend, Master Gardener Pat Chadwick, said she had 45 monarch caterpillars disappear from her swamp milkweeds in a matter of hours last week.

Now I understand why Monarchs lay so many eggs, and why some enthusiasts cut milkweed and move them inside to pupate. For now, we’re hopeful and on the alert for any Monarchs that made it.

Thanks to Bobi Thornhill for, if not butterflies, certainly a learning opportunity.