Morels and other fungi

Morels and other fungi

Last week, we had hard rains on Monday and again on Thursday, and on trips around the quarries on the days following the rains, we discovered morels (and other fungi—see below). Here are three nice ones:

We collected about two dozen from along the trails, and then our friends Nina and Forrest expanded the search to our property adjacent to the Quarry Gardens. One of the ones they found was next to a showy orchid in bud:

They amassed quite a pile of large morels. Here are some of them with Nina’s  hand for scale:

About an hour later we put our two piles together and used some for a really nice meal of morels with homemade ricotta gnocchi, peas and asparagus. The rest, separately frozen on trays, are bagged in the freezer for future delights.

Apparently the mycological community can’t agree on the number of species of morels (properly “morchella”). They are “subject to intense phylogenetic, biogeographical, toxonomical, and nomenclatural studies,” and according to Wilipedia the consensus of experts is that there are as few as 3 to as many as 30 species, but also that there are perhaps really 70 distinct species with several new ones reported from countries around the world. (And you thought that keeping up with the changing Latin names of wildflowers was tough.) Fortunately, all of them taste good, but you are cautioned to not eat them raw. If you want to know more about them, there is a website,, which keeps track of where and when morels appear and seems to have thousands of active followers.

In addition to the morels, we also found some less appetizing fungi like the three below:

We did not collect or try to eat any of these.


Spring’s Here; Looking for Benefactors

Spring’s Here; Looking for Benefactors


It’s getting towards the end of April, but the earliest spring ephemerals are just now blooming.  We’re seeing Spring beauties, Virginia bluebells, Toadshade trilliums, Hepaticas, Rue anemones, Solomon’s seal, Bluets, several species of Violets, Golden ragwort, Spicebush, and Marsh marigolds. The featured photo is of some of the lovely Moss phlox near the starting trail.

Around the gardens, 35 “locator disks” have been installed, such as the one below at the Quercus Circle, to help visitors orient themselves to the trail map they can pick up at the Visitors Center. There are also two new exhibits up on the walls, but you’ll have to visit to see them.

Under the portico at the Visitors Center are two nice benches (of the now 13 around the quarries). A number of folks have found them a nice spot to have their bag lunch before or after a tour. The one on the right, of red maple, has been sponsored by the Piedmont Master Gardeners Association to honor Bernice, who was their president for a couple of years.

It now bears a plaque recognizing their gift.

In the lobby of the Visitors Center is an interesting artifact of quarrying times, a large cast-iron pulley wheel that once powered some large piece of belt-driven machinery, made into a coffee table.

This was given to us by neighbors and long-time friends Charles and Mary Roy Edwards, and a plaque now notes their gift.

And down near the second bridge, where the picnic grounds are found, is a beautiful octagonal table. (Sorry for the background: it’s still mostly winter around it.)

This was made by Forrest McGuire, lead contractor on the Visitors Center, and given to us, so there is now a plaque noting his gift.

The reason for pointing out these things is that many naming opportunities exist—everything from benches to trails to overlook sites to the Visitors Center, itself—for anyone who might be interested in becoming a benefactor at a level above that of “Friend of the Quarry Gardens.” Contact us, and we will cheerfully provide details.

Repelling ticks!

Repelling ticks!

Removing from our persons the first ticks of the season reminds us of the hazards they present—and our strategies for dealing with them.

(The featured photo of an adult deer tick is by Griffin Dill via University of Maine Extension.)

Both The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Rodale Institute agree that ticks dislike woodchips—one reason we encourage Quarry Gardens visitors to stay on the trails. And, indeed, when we stay on the trails, we aren’t troubled by ticks. There are  fresh chips on all the trails, here along the Bern’s Run trail.

But we who must work in the woods and garden beds can’t  stay on the trails, so we’ve taken Henry Domke’s advice. Henry and his wife Lorna run another mom-and-pop, private-for-the-public botanical garden: The Prairie Garden Trust in Bloomfield MO. Here’s the link to his blog post, which describes his method of tick-proofing garden clothing with Permethrin.

Permethrin is a synthetic version of a chemical produced naturally by the chrysanthemum flower. It is not safe to apply directly to skin. The U.S. military has used permethrin-treated uniforms since the 1990s, and civilian clothing based on the technology has been available since 2003.

It’s helpful to know that ticks don’t fly, hop, run, or even move all that quickly. Depending on the life stage and species, they quest for hosts anywhere from ground level in leaf litter to about knee-high on vegetation, and then tend to crawl up to find a place to bite. I’ve adapted Henry’s method to be a bit easier for me. I mix a .5% solution of permethrin (Sawyer is a brand that comes both pre-mixed in spray bottles or as concentrate), gather our work pants and socks outside, don long rubber gloves, and go to work, saturating pant legs and sock tops with the solution.


(Caption: Pants on the porch rail, socks on the chair arms. Note that  pant leg bottoms and socks are in the shade—something about sunlight breaking down the Permethrin.]

Last year, I applied the solution as a spray; this year, I mixed a gallon of it in a small bucket and dipped the pant legs and sock tops—much easier. Then I drape the clothes over the outdoor furniture and porch railings and let them dry in the breeze. If I were more concerned about mosquitos and other insects, I would dip the whole garments, as well as spray our hats. I’ll need to repeat the treatment after six weeks or six washings—in late May, and again in July.

It seems to work. In 2015 and 2016, during the prime tick season of May and June, we would sometimes have between us as many as a dozen tick bites at one time. In 2017, after adopting Henry’s method, we had maybe three tick bites between us for the whole season. (When in the woods, we still tuck pant legs into socks.) Judging from its start (half-a-dozen pre-treatment tick bites already in early April), this may be a big year for ticks, so let’s hope it works.

In less frightening news, the official 2018 opening of the Quarry Gardens for individual tours is Friday, April 13. You can skip that one if you are a Triskaidekaphobe, but be warned that over 20 groups have already signed up for tours and many of the individual tour dates are filling up for April and May, so don’t delay if you want to schedule a visit.




Up Against the Walls!

Up Against the Walls!

We have long anticipated a time when Quarry Gardens visitors would have something to look at in the Visitor Center besides bare walls—and now, it’s happening.

Greeting visitors in the main entrance hallway is a large map of The Quarry Gardens with a key to the 42 plant galleries.


Facing it across the hall will be this panel—in production—mapping  the history of soapstone mining in the Schuyler area.


A mural on the big wall outside the classroom  looks down into an operating  quarry in about 1925. At eye level, a group of four panels describes soapstone, it’s uses, and the industry that made Schuyler the world’s dimensional soapstone capital.


Facing it, scenic models of Rockfish Junction, the soapstone plant, a quarry, and the village of Esmont are taking shape along the tracks—and the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad should be running soon (if not quite on schedule).


Coming up: In the long hallway leading outside to the main trail, rock samples and other natural objects will anchor an exhibit on Plant Community Modeling, the principle on which the Quarry Gardens’ design is based. Here’s a sketch of that exhibit (with designer Devin’s Floyd’s  daughter Norah providing scale).


A few steps away we’ll have panels showing the role of geology in four of our distinctive plant communities.


And finally, we’ll have a digital flat screen to share changing seasonal and topical images with visitors. The first show will feature photographs of birds spotted at The Quarry Gardens and researched by Ezra and Theo Staengl and their friends in the Blue Ridge Young Birders Club. (Apparently, you have t click on it to view it.)

Digital screen pdf

. . . all of which should be reason enough for you to plan a visit—and save some time to spend in the Visitor Center. To sign up, go to Pick a weekend morning or afternoon guided walk on the calendar—starting April 13—and RSVP with the number who are coming. We’ll look forward to showing you around.


We’re in Virginia Gardener!

We’re in Virginia Gardener!

Cynthia Wood wrote a nice article about the Quarry Gardens that covers four pages of the March issue of Virginia Gardener []. Such media exposure over the past few years has helped bring visitors and groups to find enjoyment, learning, and inspiration at the Quarry Gardens—so we are grateful to both writer and magazine. Virginia Gardener‘s website doesn’t include articles, so here are a few quotes and photos from it.

“…a new kind of botanical garden that would showcase the unique ecosystems and plants that have evolved around the old soapstone quarries on the property.”

This view from the trail across the old access road into the South Quarry pool includesa group of locally native Arrow-wood viburnums that are among the nearly 100 species that have been added to the 450 legacy plant species found here.]

“…a botanical garden that could serve as a resource for individuals interested in learning about native plants and how to use them in their home gardens.”

These masses of goldenrods, planted near the Visitor Center and quarry viewing platform, are among 14 species of goldenrod here to tempt gardeners.

“The visitor center is a repurposed Quonset hut with an added entrance that gives the building a sense of purpose and ties it to the environment.”

Cynthia took this photo last fall, soon after the Center for Urban Habitats team finished planting in the Visitor Center’s demonstration garden. This season, we expect visitors will be greeted by a much more vivid expression of flora.

“Many of the plants in the Quarry Gardens attract pollinators, such as this Eastern tiger swallowtail.”

This native Moss phlox will be creeping over the rock walls and luring swallowtails again in just a matter of weeks.

“Massive Giant’s Stairs lead down to a lush gallery of spring ephemerals and ferns in a Piedmont basic oak-hickory forest.”

And here we are—Armand, Bernice (with trail guide badges), and Skyla—all wearing goofy smiles, standing by the stairs.

If you are interested in seeing the whole article, we posted this blog entry a few days early to give you a chance to get the Virginia Gardener March issue, which will remain on sale until about the third week of March.