John’s Garden

John is a local celebrity for his green thumb and ability to coax numerous native plants to life. His green thumb is perhaps most evident when walking through his ample, well-situated garden on a half-acre lot in Guilford County, to the south of our farm.

He’s been a mentor of mine over the past 2.5 years, teaching me how to grow natives from seed, sharing tips and tools of the trade. One thing I’ve garnered from my time working with him is a lifelong passion for plants native to North Carolina (he leans more toward the smoky blue Appalachian Mountains, I’m more firmly rooted in our beautiful Piedmont and foothills. But both regions share a legion of trees and herbs.

111817 aromatic aster
This aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, emits a citrus-like odor when the leaves are rubbed. There were nectar-feeders frequenting these flowers all day.
111817 columbine
This is a purple-flowered columbine (probably Aquilegia vulgaris – non-native)
111817 deciduous holly
Deciduous holly, or winterberry (probably Ilex verticillata). Very easy to garden around, because the leaves are not prickly. The berries persist throughout the winter, transporting the passerby to a holly wonderland.
111817 maidenhair
Two types of maidenhair fern (Adiantum, fore and middle) and a foamflower (Tiarella, back). These are a delight to the eye, covering the ground in a blanket of greenery even as most trees and shrubs have shed their leaves.
111817 sedum ternatum
Somehow, when I was snapping a shot of this hardy succulent Sedum ternatum (wild stonecrop), next to a foamflower, I failed to notice the gladiolus foliage hogging the show. These plants are located below the winterberry.

Fall compilation – 2017

Yesterday was fall planting day. Not too much – the trees included a downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and a pawpaw (Asimina triloba) from the UNC Arboretum accession, as well as two other pawpaws from Mellow Marsh native nursery. I also planted numerous Blue Ridge buckbean (Thermopsis villosa), indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), figwort (Scrophularia marilandica), and mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora).

This relatively leisurely Saturday presented the opportunity to photographs various features of the farm, now that lots of weeds have died back.

10282017 fall 1
Habanero pepper. A prolific grower, but will not be in the garden next year.
10282017 fall 3
Marchbox. An open-pollinated variety (seed from Fedco). Parents include Hungarian Hot Wax and Hot Banana. Prolific, especially in the hot, dry late Summer. Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum) in the center right – most of it went to seed before I could get to it. I am heartened knowing that it is native, and chickens enjoy eating it.


Farmers and gardeners are best suited planning out next year’s planting and harvest during the current cycle. We must reflect early and often, and organize these reflections into plans for next season. This is especially true for market farmers who juggle a diversity of specialty crops for a small-town niche public.

I’ll not do Habaneros again, but I may stick with the Matchbox. I was not pleased with the bell peppers, even though they were nematode-resistant Carolina Wonder hybrids. I will probably continue with the Truhart sweet pepper, but I may explore the frying/stuffing peppers such as Gamba or Marconi.

Tomatoes (no pictures here) – I’ll stick with the Cherokee purple, and, since it is the popular low-acid variety here, the German Johnson. I put in numerous blue varieties, but was less-than-satisfied with their size, color (not blue!), and taste. I tried.

10282017 fall 2
The spent seedhead of khella (Ammi visnaga) – looking similar to its umbel relatives, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and others – lies amidst baby khella plants. They may or may not make the winter, but there are plenty of other seeds in dormancy. Khella, like most umbels, attracts a host of pollinators and nectar-eaters. It is not native.
10282017 fall 4
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), or licorice mint, native to the Western U.S., is a plant that continues to give. This plant has put out new growth and flowers even as the stalk and seedheads from spring persist.
10282017 fall 5
Heath aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) recumbent beside comfrey (Symphytum officinale).
10282017 fall 6
No Southern garden is complete without celosia or cockscomb (C. cristata). Seeds from my farmer friend Pat Bush. These are self-sowed. Upper left, a tiny stand of indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa).
10282017 fall 7
Foreground, smartweed. Mid-part, the tri-lobed passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata). Background, goji berry (Lycium spp., Chinese 枸杞 gǒuqǐ)
10282017 fall 8
More passiflora (the green fruit) and goji.


10282017 fall 9
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum). Left top corner, A. fruticosa. Middle, goji. Back, old growth of Sweet Annie (Artemisis annua).

The above three photos are all taken from the goji row, interplanted with various herbs and volunteers. It seems that goji berry does well in North Carolina in the latter part of summer and early fall. It is a difficult plant to figure out. It sends runners up to 5 feet. It has long, spindly growth that may or may not stand upright, and thorns. It also sells for $15 a pound. I’m not going to give up altogether on it, but I’ve got to figure out how it fits into our farm.

10282017 fall 10
Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). I do not tire of this sprightly perennial. Just brushing against it releases it’s savory garlicy aroma. It is a hardy grower, and withstood transplant during our dry summer. I’ll keep it on the edges, though.



Aster of the fall

It took me a minute to identify this one. Ubiquitous in all open spaces around the farm – it can get to 5 or 6 feet if it doesn’t topple over. These pictures don’t do it justice – from afar, it looks like a living snowdrift. And up-close, it is a pollinator magnet – particularly bees. The honeybees love it! But so too do all manner of bumblebee.

I feel fairly certain that this is Symphyotrichum pilosum, heath aster or white oldfield aster.

10182017 aster 2

Here, it’s upright growth habit may be evident. Again, this one is not flower as prolifically as a typical specimen in the area.

10182017 aster 1

This botanical illustration is what helped me conclude that this was S. pilosum. the forb-like growth on the right is indicative of young growth (about 6-8 inches) for the first few weeks or months – somewhat misleading as to how the plant will turn out.

symphyotrichum pilosum
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 430.