Opening Day of 2019 Season!

Opening Day of 2019 Season!

Today was the opening day of the 2019 season of the Quarry Gardens—our third. It rained, of course, but eight of the seventeen souls who had signed up for the tour came with their umbrellas and rain gear, and seemed to have a good, if soggy, time walking the trails newly covered with fresh wood chips, gawking at the early risers of the spring ephemerals. 

A bright spot for the new season is that a couple of important modifications to the Visitor’s Center were completed in time for the opening. Visitors during the first two years were introduced to an unfinished  model of the Nelson and Albemarle Railroad that had to be explained as a “work in progress,” which they would have to return to see completed. This winter we decided we had to modify and compress the display anyhow to provide  some much needed additional bathroom space, so we reduced it from four bays to two and, mirable dictu, got those two bays furnished and completed in time. The layout now comprises one bay depicting the New Alberene Stone plant along with a representative quarry, and a second bay depicting the village of Esmont, through which the N&A ran on its way to the B&O junction at Warren.

In the first picture are (from left to right) the steam powerplant, several auxiliary buildings, a great hoisting crane lifting blocks of soapstone from a quarry to place on a flatcar, and the plant, itself, where the blocks were slabbed and fashioned into laundry tubs or laboratory countertops, or whatever. 

The second picture shows the same scene from a lower eye level, emphasizing the track layout.

The third picture shows the village of Esmont in the other bay, depicting the B&O-standard train station (now gone) with the bank in the background (now the post office and apartments) and the general store to the right (now vacant) .

The last picture is of the siding system used to get the engine from one end of the train to the other so that it would always be pulling the cars, although the engine itself would be running backwards in one direction. (The N&A had no roundhouse.)

Apologies that there is no actual train shown in these pictures. That’s because it is off being weathered for authenticity.  

Go to the visit page to sign up for a tour to see these new displays and what nature has to offer along the trails. If previous visitors are to be believed, it’s worth it.

Quarry  Gardens Rocks!

Quarry Gardens Rocks!

A new book has joined Mountain Press Publishing’s series of state-by-state guides to the best geologic sites to visit—and we’re in it!

Virginia Rocks! A Guide to Geologic Sites in the Old Dominion, by Albert B. Dickas, introduces readers to 50 of the state’s most compelling and accessible geologic sites and to the great variety of rocks, minerals, and landforms created over the course of its more than one billion years of geologic history.

From the Eastern Shore to Cumberland Gap, Virginia stretches across five distinct regions, each home to unique and amazing geology. The book is organized by region. In the Piedmont section, The Quarry Gardens (#10) entry describes the soapstone associated with the 900-550-million-year-old metamorphic rocks of the Lynchburg Formation.  In the Blue Ridge Section are two nearby sites: Crabtree Falls (#21) and Humpback Rocks (#22).

Virginia Rocks! may be purchased directly from the publisher, via Amazon and other sellers—or, from April on, found at the Quarry Gardens Visitor Center. 

2018 Report, 2019 Outlook

2018 Report, 2019 Outlook

[Cover photo: View of the North Quarry by Steve Edgar]

During a busy second season, we guided more than 1,100 visitors, grew our roster of volunteers and official Friends of the Quarry Gardens, mounted educational exhibits in the Visitor Center, adopted advanced sound technology for the trails, added many species of locally native plants, shared seeds with propagators, became a research site for mycologists, continued adding to the biota—and saw 17 young bluebirds take flight from houses monitored by Bluebird Society volunteers.

Visitors: Despite tour-canceling heavy rains, visitors came from throughout Virginia and scattered states from coast to coast. They included gardening educators, naturalists, native plant enthusiasts, school groups, garden clubs, professional landscapers, birders, history buffs, geologists, lifelong learners, hikers, rock gardeners, photographers, and plein air painters—among others.

Rachel Floyd (left) with Rivanna Master Naturalist volunteers Ruth Douglas and Victoria Dye

Volunteers: Our corps of volunteers—which includes Rivanna and Central Blue Ridge Master Naturalists–was joined by Nelson County Master Gardeners. As guides, they help us make visitors’ experiences more rewarding; as land stewards, they stretch our maintenance dollars by assisting the Center for Urban Habitats staff (

Exhibits: The Visitor Center experience now includes exhibits on the site’s history of quarrying, its remarkable soil types, and principles of landscaping with native plant communities. This year, we’ll add exhibits of geology and dendrology. We’ll also add to the much-loved Blue Ridge Young Birders’ show of QGs birds a series of changing digital displays of plants in bloom and resident fungi.

Trail technology: We now have a digital sound system that allows visitors to wander a bit on the trails—and still hear the guide. Because of its popularity, we will experiment this year with increasing the maximum number of visitors per guide to 20. 

Younger members of the CUH research team, Theo and Ezra Staengl and Drew Chaney stalking a butterfly. 

Research: Ten research beds have been placed near the South Quarry and will be planted this spring for a native lawn grass study. The Blue Ridge Mycological Society’s forays have added 14 fungi species to the biota (which may be found at They continue to foray and meet monthly at the Visitor Center, sharing discoveries with the North American Mycoflora Project ( This year, they will offer workshops on growing and dyeing with mushrooms. A summer survey by the CUH team of the abandoned beaver impoundment area southwest of the quarries added 31 species of plants and animals to the biota, including two Nelson County firsts. CUH studies of upland areas and old forests are continuing. (The total of QGs species now exceeds 700, of which 40 are county records.)

More plants: The planted galleries now include 198 species—97 of which are native to the immediate area but new to the site. (See the list at This year, as plants become available, we will continue building out the demonstration gardens at the Visitor Center and the Quarry Overlook platform. Fields around the grass research beds and along the entrance road will be seeded as prairie. 

Margaret and Will Shaw collecting seeds in the Demonstration Garden in September

Propagating afield: Last fall, members of the Virginia Native Plant Society collected seeds to propagate for their annual spring plant sale. This year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants ( will begin test-propagating QGs’ genotypes toward discovering distinctive local plants that might be offered at Monticello.

Amenities: Since most of our visitors come from a distance, we’ve  added two restrooms to the Visitor Center—making three—and this year, the former dynamite shed will be converted to make an outdoor one.

. . . and on that note, our update ends. 

The 2019 season of regularly scheduled tours begins the first week of April, and 14 groups have already scheduled spring visits. 

We hope you will  join us and be part of the fun of discovery.

Tasting an Orchid  in Winter

Tasting an Orchid in Winter

January views at The Quarry Gardens are open, revealing much that cannot be seen in the verdant months. In the gray-brown landscape, green is now an accent color contributed by pines and junipers, hollies, the unwelcome Japanese honeysuckle, some evergreen ferns, and emerging points of skunk cabbages in the wetlands—and some orchids.

One green presence is the Cranefly orchid, Tipularia unifolia. Cranefly orchids are easily recognized in winter, as their single 2-4″ leaves are deep green on the front and brilliant purple on the back.

Now, they may be seen all along—even within—the trails, where they are subject to being trod upon. Why there? Cranefly orchids depend on mycorrhizae generated by decaying wood—and what decays better or faster than wood chip trails?

The leaves persist into spring before senescing. Then, sometime in late July, after we’ve forgotten about them, the orchids will bloom. On spikes 8-12″ tall, they will produce small, pale beigey-green flowers that appear to swarm around the stems—hence the name “cranefly.”

Common in forests throughout the southeastern U.S., Cranefly orchids are pollinated by night-flying owlet moths, which transfer pollen on their eyes. The roots are a connected series of edible corms. Armand and I tried the tiny corms: They’re crunchy like potatoes but taste a little sweeter, and leave a persistent, slightly astringent, unpleasant mucilage in the mouth. (Once will be enough.)

Deer commonly eat the entire leaf, leaving the plant without a means of accumulating enough carbohydrates to bloom and make seed the following summer. Fortunately, Cranefly orchids are perennial, so they persist—and, so far, our deer have mostly found other plants of interest.

Other orchid species found at The Quarry Gardens include Puttyroot, Aplectrum hyemale; Downy rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera pubescens; Lily-leaved twayblade, Liparis lilifolia; Nodding ladies’ tresses, Spiranthes cereus; and Southern slender ladies’ tresses, Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis.

Fine Fall  for Fungi

Fine Fall for Fungi

Abundant rain made for highly productive mushroom hunting this fall. Two forays of the Blue Ridge Mycological Society in October and November added 14 fungal species to the Quarry Gardens consolidated biota (, bringing the total fungi list to 38, with some specimens yet to be identified—including the featured mushroom of this post! Among October and November’s finds:

  • The famously psychoactive American yellow fly agaric, Amanita muscaria var. guessowi. 
  • The edible red-bleeding blue-gray milk cap, Lactarius paradoxus.
  • The notoriously toxic brown Deadly galerina, Galerina marginata, or Funeral Bell. 
  • Hericium erinaceus, an edible and medicinal mushroom belonging to the tooth fungus group.
  • The Bulbous honey mushroom, Armalaria gallica, whose modest fruiting bodies belie an extensive underground network of mycelia (A single specimen found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula covered 37 acres.) This one is bioluminescent, and edible with caution.
  • The fleshy, pale lavender-gray Wood blewit, Clitocybe nuda, a powerful destroyer of soil bacteria.     It’s edible—we proved it, with pasta.
  • The shelf fungus Trametes betulina, commonly Gilled polypore, which has been found to have medicinal value, with antioxidant, antimicrobial, antitumor, and immunosuppressive properties.
  • The Dyers polypore, Phaeolus schweinitzii, which causes brown rot at the bases of conifers, and  is an excellent natural source of green, yellow, gold, or brown color, depending on the material dyed and the mordant used.


Results of these forays will be shared with the North American Mycoflora Project The project is a collaboration of professional mycologists and citizen scientists to identify and map the distribution of macrofungi throughout North America. It allows the scientific community to tap into the vast amount of knowledge and data amassed by individuals and mycology clubs.

The Blue Ridge Mycological Society meets on the second Sunday afternoon of each month at the Quarry Gardens Visitor Center. For more information, contact Pat Mitchell:

A winter project for Quarry Gardens: Identify the most interesting mushroom photographs and compile a loop for the Visitor Center’s digital photo exhibit.

Some photos of the groups in action:


Mike McMahon’s daughters Claire and Emma found the tiniest mushroom (red)—and many others, perhaps advantaged by proximity to the earth.



To accurately identify a mushroom, it’s important to note the appearance of not only the top, but also the underside of any cap, the stem, and any underground bulb. Even after that, a spore print may be needed.




Exciting find!



Hunters: November’s hunters brought back specimens of thirty-some species for  loser study–and a pile of Blewits to eat.





Peak Color!

Peak Color!

Autumn color 2018 was late arriving to the Quarry Gardens, but some species—notably dogwood—were more brilliant than ever. Garden volunteer and Master Naturalist Victoria Dye brought her camera and keen eye along to join Rachel’s team on Friday. After the weeding, cutting, and seeding were done, she made this portfolio of photos.