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 mountain-press.com, 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 (https://centerforurbanhabitats.com).

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 quarrygardensatschuyler.org/gardens). They continue to foray and meet monthly at the Visitor Center, sharing discoveries with the North American Mycoflora Project (http://mycoflora.org). 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 quarrygardensatschuyler.org/gardens.) 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 (https://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/thomas-jefferson-center-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 (quarrygardensatschuyler.org/thegardens/), 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 http://mycoflora.org. 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: g.patrick.e.mitchell@gmail.com.

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.
Recent Visitors

Recent Visitors

In addition to the many individuals and families who visit for scheduled tours, we’ve hosted more than 40 groups this year.

Fifteen members of the  Madison Presbyterian Church Green Team visited the QGs in late September, and the two in the featured photo, above, made a souvenir selfie. Beyond beautifying their church, these garden and environmental  educators also maintain a meditation garden on Buford Road in Richmond.

On September 29. Will and Margaret Shaw collected seeds to propagate into plants for the Virginia Native Plant Society’s spring 2020 plant sale. Among the many seeds collected were those of three species of mountain mint, two of Asters, Carolina rose, Yellow false indigo, and Shrubby St. John’s wort.

Having recently completed a unit on geology, 17 of the 6th graders in Mrs. Sharon Cross’s class at  Central Virginia Christian School in Dillwyn came to check out rocks at the QGs in October. They completed an amazing number of sketches.

We’re honored to be the meeting home of The Blue Ridge Mycological Society, which held its first event at the QGs October 21. The group drank chaga (mushroom) tea and foraged briefly in natural areas near the Visitor Center. There wasn’t time to identify all of the great variety of specimens found, but documented findings will be shared with the Microflora Project, and many new species will be added to the QGs biota. They’ll be back November 11. If you would like to know more, contact Bernice through the QGs website.

Lorraine Momper brought a few of her plein air painting group to spend a chilly but brilliant October day. No shortage of vantage points.

Lorraine chose the overlook at the north wall of the south quarry. Julia Lesnichy chose a handy view of the road. The group will be back next week—when we hope the leaves will have turned.