Snakes on a road

I saw this little garter snake Thursday morning as the dogs and I came back up Fouche Gap Road from our walk.


I was happy to see this one still alive, because I had just seen one like it a few feet away that had been run over by a car. This one seemed content to stay at the side of the road, so I didn’t disturb it, if you ignore leaning down to get the picture. The snake stuck out its tongue at me.

A few days earlier as I was driving down the mountain I found a beautiful black racer lying in the middle of the road. I put on my emergency blinkers and stopped to try to get it to move off the road. It was about three feet long and very thin. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get a picture because I had stopped at a curve and couldn’t linger.

The snake reared its head as I approached. I nudged its tail, but it didn’t want to move. I kept nudging it until it finally got the message and raced off into the woods.

People around here tend to run over snakes when they see them, whether they are venomous or not. That makes cool mornings and sunlit asphalt a dangerous combination. So far I haven’t found either the garter snake or the black racer dead on the road, so maybe they’ll make it.


Friday Felines

Cats aren’t afraid of heights, but I’m afraid enough for both of us.

chloe on the high rail

Chloe climbs up on this high frame on the deck to get away from Smokey or Sylvester. Sometimes she actually runs along on top of it. I can hardly watch her. It’s more than 20 feet to the ground.

Cinderella Hibiscus*

A few years ago we had a hibiscus plant. Over the years it grew fairly large and Leah finally decided to get rid of it. I said we should just plant it outside and let it fend for itself. They aren’t cold hardy, but I figured if it survived, great, but if it didn’t, we were going to get rid of it anyway. So I planted it close to the west side of the house, and we pretty much forgot about it.

A winter passed, spring came, and what looked like a dead plant started to grow. And grow. Shoots shot. It grew more. Soon the branches were 10 feet long and brushing against the side of the house. I pruned it back, and it remained healthy. We waited for flowers but they never came. And then another winter came and all the leaves fell off.

Another winter passed, and it started growing again. Soon I had to prune more branches. I could have used them for buggy whips. We couldn’t believe how well it was doing. But still no flowers.

Eventually I decided it was too close to the house and I had to move it. By that time it was a major operation. I pruned it back severely, and ended up cutting a lot of roots just to get it out of the ground. I had to use my side-by-side four-wheeler to drag it up close to the road. I prepared a hole, rolled it in, backfilled, watered and, once again, left the hibiscus to fend for itself.

When summer came again, it lived. In fact, it thrived. It turned green and started growing those long branches again. But still no flowers. We couldn’t understand how our hibiscus could survive our far-too-cold winters and grow so well. We just shook our heads and wished it would bloom.

And then one day it turned into a mulberry tree.

It’s fruiting right now, and some of the berries are ripe. The fruit looks like stunted blackberries and, at least to me, has a flavor at least reminiscent of blackberry. Zeke, however, does not like mulberries as much as he likes blackberries.

Here is the original Cinderella hibiscus in its new life as a mulberry.

The Cinderella Hibiscus

The Cinderella Hibiscus

Here you can see some of the fruit.

mulberries on the tree

And one in my hand.

mulberry berry

I find it odd that the mulberry leaf can take different shapes. It was a diagnostic feature for me, at least until I actually saw the fruit. Here is a leaf with no lobes.

leaf1 Here is a leaf with a lobe on one side.

one side lobe leaf Here is a leaf with a lobe on both sides.

two side lobe leaf

This fact is probably not surprising or odd to someone who knows much about plant biology, but that does not include me. If I am allowed to choose the subject of my plant ramblings and am asked no questions, it might appear that I know what I’m talking about, but I don’t really.


* The name comes from something that happened back when I was in graduate school and often visited my friend Errol and his family at their home north of Atlanta. One summer we (or they, I don’t remember) sat on their front porch and ate a watermelon. As is the custom, the seeds were spit out into the front yard. After a while, a vine appeared. Then a green melon-shaped fruit appeared and started growing. Of course we thought it had to be a watermelon. But one weekend when I came to visit, the watermelon had turned into a pumpkin. After that, I called it the Cinderella watermelon.

Gardenia comeback

Between the deer and the extreme cold snap we had last winter, a lot of our shrubs were severely damaged. The bushes I expected to die, if any did, were the gardenias. The two dwarf gardenias lost most of their leaves, and the bigger variegated variety lost all of its leaves. The dwarf plants looked like they might survive, but I had real doubts about the variegated one. It looked dead for a long time, but now it’s coming back.


First a few shriveled-looking leaves showed up, and then lots of tiny leaves sprouted. The largest leaves look like butterflies from a distance.

Here you can see all the leaves from smallest to largest.


I think it’s going to make it. I’m a little surprised. Variegated plants seem generally less hardy than their normal varieties, and I know from my childhood that gardenias in general are not hardy in very cold weather. When I was a boy, the big gardenia outside our kitchen window had to be cut back to the ground several times that I can remember. I thought about pruning ours severely, but decided to wait. I’m glad I did.

This gardenia has been a good addition for years. It blooms infrequently and sparsely, but the yellow and light green leaves provide a good splash of color year-round. That’s the attraction of variegated plants.

We have some other variegated plants that survived the winter and the deer with no problems. We have four variegated yuccas out near the road, and two have bloom stalks that are not far from opening. This is several plants growing in a cluster.


I’ll take some pictures of those after they open, too.

I put three variegated yuccas in the leach field, but they gradually declined until there was virtually nothing left above ground. I dug up their remains recently and planted them around the yard. Only one seems to have survived. However, I have found one volunteer that seems to be doing well. I just noticed that a few tiny yucca leaves have shown up where I removed the old plants. I must have left some roots there.

We put a few variegated liriope in what we call the island at the edge of our driveway. They seemed to barely survive for years, but this year they look pretty good.


These are green and white. It’s not that easy to tell here, but they provide a good contrast to the dark green of the normal liriope and vinca growing here. We also have some green and yellow variegated liriope that’s nice, and maybe a little more vigorous than these.

So all in all, our variegated plants seem to have survived the winter, some better than others. Maybe next winter won’t be so bad.