Portent of Spring

Portent of Spring

Just in—from Rachel and Devin of the Center for Urban Habitats: A design for the Demonstration Garden that will greet visitors to the Quarry Gardens. The plan view below shows the main entrance to the Visitor Center, with paths branching to east and west.

While based on the same ecosystem modeling principles as plant galleries throughout the QGs, this garden has a different mission: To show property owners how local native plants can be employed to create beauty in more formal settings.

Conditions on the sloped terrain range widely. The soil is mostly clay and rocks with areas of dry shade, dry sunny meadow, rock walls in both shade and sun, and a rain garden that alternates between wet and dry. Plants have been chosen to prosper in these conditions without improved soil. More than a hundred native species are being ordered for early spring planting. Visitors near the April opening may see this garden being installed and in its infancy.

The process of actually installing the garden is substantially messier than indicated by Devin’s beautiful (highlighted) sketch, as you can see, below. At the time this picture was taken, there were 11 different tradesmen, mechanics, and workmen toiling on the site, some doing garden layout, some doing electrical installations, some working on the entrance pavilion roof, some doing general woods cleanup.

But the interior is progressing. Here’s a shot of the classroom that’s already behind times, as doors are in and bags of insulation have been distributed.


In recent days, a contract has been let for an electric lift gate to control access at the entrance, the first of the train garden backdrops was installed (picture next time), and Bernice has designed a bunch of directional and explanatory signs. You also may notice that a revised website is under construction. All told, although it may be close, we may well be ready in time for our April opening.


Winter Birds

Winter Birds

February 1, 2017

As we approach completion of the basic structures and plantings of the Quarry Gardens in anticipation of our opening in April, there may be more and more emphasis in our “Progress” blog related to happenings rather than developments. This is one of those, relating to a visit Monday morning, January 30, by volunteers Ezra and Theo Staengl, aged 13 and 10—new to CUH surveying—who walked two miles of Quarry Garden trails and identified 92 birds of 23 species. They gave us a list of what they saw on that one morning.

Their list:

American Crow, Bald Eagle, Black Vulture, Blue Jay, Brown Creeper, Canada Goose, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Common Raven, Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored), Downy Woodpecker (Eastern), Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, Tufted Titmouse, Turkey Vulture, White-breasted Nuthatch (Eastern), White-throated Sparrow, Winter Wren. (Their list included the Latin names.)

The home-schooled brothers live in Nelson County and have been exploring habitats with Devin for years. Ezra propagated the Lobelia Cardinalis installed in the QGs fern gully wetland last summer from plants found in a seepage swamp on their parents’ property. So happy to have them on the team.

Caption: Tiny and quick, the Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper are hard to photograph—but Theo got them. The brown Creeper is the highlighted photo. Here is the Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Cold and Wet

Cold and Wet


January 17, 2016


The lead photo shows the new wall abuilding in front of the entrance to the Visitors’ Center a bit farther along than in the last post. It’s about all we have to show for the month of December –January other than some more sheet rock and the start of installing the beadboard ceilings in the Center.

Here Devin and Luke are playing in the mud while wall building.

And here are a couple of pictures of in progress inside.


Catriona Tudor Erler has written an article about the project for the April issue of Virginia Living magazine. We’re scrambling to find seasonal photos to accompany it, since last April when the flowers were out we weren’t very far along. Work on a newly designed website that will enable users to sign up for scheduled tours is underway. And we have agreed to have the Quarry Gardens open for the Nelson County Historical Society’s Historic Home tour in May. Other than that, the garden sleeps.


Cold-Weather Progress

Cold-Weather Progress

December 17, 2016

It was something like 3 degrees above zero last night, and the last few days have been below freezing. This has, of course, slowed the progress on the Visitors’ Center exterior, but you can see from the lead photo that solar panels are up and that the entrance is progressing. The interior is heated, so wall-boarding has been going on and the final structural aspects of the building are under way.

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Devin and Luke have been erecting the last needed exterior wall near the front entrance, which should be completed by year’s end.


Always there are invasives—in the winter mostly greenbriar—to remove.


On the management side, we have added five directors to the board of the Quarry Gardens Foundation, augmenting Bernice and I. These are: Harold Ashby, Bernice’s brother and former partner in Coopers and Lybrand, from Siesta Key, Florida; Mark Chase, railroad and soapstone buff, developer of our model of the Nelson and Albemarle Railroad, of Richmond, Virginia; Devin Floyd, plant and garden guru, from Charlottesville, Virginia; Robert Gilwee, CPA and partner in a Baltimore accounting firm, of Towson, Maryland; and AJ Thieblot, son, of Austin, Texas. All have agreed to serve, and we welcome their participation.


Artifacts, New Info About Quarrying Operations, and Visitor Center Advances

Artifacts, New Info About Quarrying Operations, and Visitor Center Advances

December 1, 2016.

One recent morning, we walked the main trail with Mark McQuarry and his grandson Cole, age 8. Mark was manager of the Alberene Soapstone plant 2008-12, and was able to help us with a few mysteries.

He identified the cable running along the steep south quarry trail as likely a safety requirement, even in the absence of a trail; pointed out several “deadmen” used to anchor cranes (earlier ones soapstone blocks, two later ones concrete slabs), confirmed that during the period these quarries were active overburden rocks would have been gang-drilled, undercut with more drills or chain saws, then prized off; surmised the iron-girded wooden mystery box resting on a rock pile next to the south quarry was likely used to ferry drill bits by crane; and confirmed the existence of a third quarry on the north side, making six in all—three in the north pit, two in the south pit, and one now filled in with large blocks from 90 feet below grade to 60 feet above. (Also, offered to be a soapstone guide after we open!) The featured photo is testament to the fact that trees can eat almost anything–here a barrel left from the quarrying operation. Here’s a photo of the cable mentioned, and also of the mystery box.

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(Incidentally, if any readers are aware of available artifacts left over from the active times in Schuyler, please drop us a note about them to athieblot@me.com )

The reorganization of the visitors’ center is proceeding apace. Plumbing, HVAC, electrical service, and internet wiring have all been completed and solar panels have been installed. The entire underside of the building has been sprayed with insulation, much of the wallboard is up, and many lighting and access problems have been worked out for the installation of the railroad garden. The main entrance on the south side has been designed and the trusses for the arched roof have been manufactured and delivered. Getting that closed up is the current priority, since it will be expensive to heat the interior with that open and winter is coming. After that, the only remaining work will be for the skylight (delivered but not yet installed), interior wainscoting, the porch-board ceilings, store front closures, and painting and decorating. Probably won’t get it done before the end of the year, but I think we’re still on for the April opening.

Visitor center interior, before and recently (before wallboard).

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Spaying on the insulation. (The video is huge, but I can’t seem to be able to make it smaller. WordPress does not handle pictures well.)



Here are a couple of pictures of the exterior and the main entrance in its current state. Should look different by next week.

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Next time there will perhaps be some exciting information about the governing board of the Quarry Gardens Foundation.


Gardening on a Larger Scale

Gardening on a Larger Scale

November 12, 2016.

Silky dogwoods, flowering dogwoods, black gums, hop hornbeams, arrow-woods, smooth alters, fringetrees, black haw viburnums—78 in all—gorgeous field-grown specimens have taken up residence at the Quarry Gardens. The featured photo shows some of them in place along the east edge of the parking lot.

They arrived by stake-sided tractor-trailer from White House Natives in Luray on Friday, November 4—many having root balls in the range of 200-400 lbs. Here are Ryan, Devin, and Armand unloading the trailer, and Jesse keeping one of the root balls moist,

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With muscle from Devin’s elite team to unload, Armand ferried them by tractor bucket to designated locations, matching tags on trees to flags in the ground. Armand delivering viburnums to Luke.


To dig so many large holes in our rocky soil, hand shoveling was out of the question. We started with a backhoe (pictured), but soon called in Frankie Graves’ 30-ton track hoe. It made short work of making holes twice as wide and a little less than the depth of each root ball.


The planting technique involved positioning each specimen in its hole, freeing it of all wrapping around the top, bending back the wire basket enclosing the burlap, soaking the hole, and finally shoveling in and tamping the covering soil. (This contrasts with the method for planting containerized plants, which must have their roots unwound and spread. Here’s a report on the research.

http://www.marshalltrees.com/education/wire-baskets-why-leave-them-intact/ )

This photo shows Rachel and Luke positioning one of the fringe trees.


Fortunately, there were only a few cases in which unearthed rocks exceeded a root ball’s volume, so we needed little additional soil—and the larger leftover rocks make nice accents in the landscape. The whole operation took the better part of the week. While we had the track hoe available, we had Frankie set a large rock into place where trees will go by Salem Road gate.


The result: mature specimens of plants that grow here naturally—sited to best advantage. We’re wishing these beauties a good, moist winter.