The Misunderstood Bradford Pear

In the 1960’s, urban landscapers were searching for the perfect tree to plant in parks, along highways, and along residential streets that would be fast growing, with showy flowers in the Spring, and vibrant color in the Autumn. They found their tree in China, Japan, and Vietnam. What would eventually be named the Bradford Pear became that tree of choice. Since then, everything changed. The flowers were foul smelling, and the lifespan was short, at about twenty-five years. On top of that, the small brown fruit was a favorite of birds, who were very efficient spreaders of those seeds, and suddenly the tree joined the “invasives” club. Today the trees are no longer being planted, and many municipalities have banned them outright. The survivors, however, continue to be visually stunning, being the first to flower in the Spring, and the last to burst into dramatic displays of red, yellow, orange glossy leaves in the Fall, long after all other trees have packed it in for the season.

In the area near my home, from the latter part of November, into December, the Bradford Pear can delight even the most dedicated leaf peeper. Here are examples that I found this weekend, and they made me completely forget everything I had read about the damage uncontrolled spreading might do to these beautiful mountains.

Moonrise Over Cove Creek Valley

Cove Creek Valley stretches for six miles northeast of Lake Lure. Arriving at an overlook five hundred feet above the valley floor, the Sun was just disappearing behind the mountains to the southwest, and the valley and surrounding peaks were bathed in that soft glow that precedes twilight.

Hickory Nut Mountain
View to the North
View to the Northeast

The nearly full orb emerged from the dimming light just before the Sun disappeared

Just fifteen minutes later, as the light faded, the true colors of moonrise emerged, and the details of the Moon’s surface became very clear.

Spectacular Color from November 7th

Here are the best colors from the entire season. There is a mountain just north of the house that has the best Sugar Maples every year.

My Last Images of Autumn

This was a strange year for Fall colors here along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Heavy rains, very high winds, and a hard freeze that was delayed two weeks from normal caused the leaves to disappear overnight. Mother Nature, lucky for us, refused to call it quits, and suddenly over a three day period around November 9th, the colors burst fourth. It was remarkable.

Last Thursday, the 19th, while driving home from my gym in Marion right at sunset, I took a detour just to see what was happening in the valley below 3,100 foot Hickory Nut Mountain along the McDowell-Rutherford County boundary, and found that autumn had one last gasp of color before packing it in for the coming Winter.

Along Greasy Creek Road
Hickory Nut Mountain
Historic Ledbetter Farm

Yesterday morning just as the Sun peeked over the mountains to the east, it bathed 3,000 foot Wolf Pen Mountain in an Alpen glow. Autumn had gone, but I was reminded what had been.

The Splendor of Autumn at Biltmore

Mother Nature must have been in quarantine for the past few weeks, or she wouldn’t have waited until the middle of November to unveil her best colors at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. What I found there yesterday was such an unexpected surprise so late in this Fall season. Frederick Law Olmstead never lived to see his landscaping masterpiece in full regalia, but I’m certain he is smiling down from on high today.

The Gate House is already decked out for the holidays…
The Approach Road is a glory to behold on the drive toward the chateau…
This stand of Bald Cypress was ablaze in orange…
All the evergreens and the giant Norway Spruce have just been installed, awaiting the lights…
The entrance gate to the Gardens…
The Public Gift Shop…
All Souls Episcopal Church in adjoining Biltmore Village

A drive up Sunset Mountain above The Grove Park Inn found more breathtaking scenery…

Notice the copper “Drain Chain” coming from the roof…

This short video will show you just how narrow the single lane roads on Sunset Mountain really are…

Sudden Color around Lake Lure

After a dull October and early November because of rain, wind, and a very late hard freeze, the Sugar Maples and Hickories have finally decided to grace us with their vibrant display. These images are from the far north end of the lake.

Pink Forest in Hickory Nut Gorge

Finding any truly pink autumn leaves is a rarity, but to find an entire forest of them is the Holy Grail of Leaf Peeping. Seven years ago I discovered this rare site, and have revisited it many times since. You’ll find it along U.S. 74-A between Chimney Rock and Asheville this time of year. For over a quarter mile, the forest undergrowth was nothing but bushes covered with delicate pink and white leaves. I had never seen anything like it.

This spot is about a mile east of Gerton at 2,300 foot elevation. I’m told these are Flame bushes that never turn red because they are always shaded. You must go…

Linn Cove Viaduct at Grandfather Mountain

Linn Cove Viaduct in late September

Hugging the rocky cliffs on the eastern slope of mile high Grandfather Mountain, the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway features a series of bridges that allow the traveler unlimited panoramic views of the many mountain ranges thousands of feet below. The crowning engineering achievement along this stretch of roadway is the Linn Cove Viaduct, a winding creation of steel and concrete, perched precariously on the steep, boulder strewn mountainside, seeming to float away from the confines of traditional roadways. You sense that you are flying far above the valleys below. This Viaduct is not merely a bridge, but is a destination unto itself. Vehicles slow to a crawl, wanting to make the experience last as long as possible. No one is in a hurry to leave. The sensation is magical.

Completed in 1987, the Linn Cove Viaduct has become the most visited spot along the most visited scenic roadway in America, and the perfect time to be there is in mid-October when the Autumn colors are at their peak. These images were captured on October 15th, 2020, and the attached video was made just after high noon. If you’ve never experienced this place, it must be added to your Bucket List.

This four minute video speaks for itself…

Autumn Arrives at Otter Creek

An early morning walk with Buddy revealed the beginning of the change. A mist rising from Otter Pond made the sunrise all the more interesting.

Autumn Arrives with the Sunflowers

Ten years ago, I gathered a few Narrow Leaf Sunflowers from a pasture a few miles north of the house. I allowed the seed pods to mature and dry, and scattered them in the lowest part of the meadow in front of the house the following Spring. It took two seasons for the first plants to grow and flower, and every Autumn since then, their numbers have multiplied, and spread across both the front and the back meadows. They always seem to peak every year on the first day of Fall, and this year is no exception.

Two varieties have emerged over the years. My favorite is the one with the dark ring around the center. It’s much more rare.

This year, the highest concentration of blooms has moved to the back meadow

The stalks of each plant can grow over six feet tall, and produce hundreds of flowers over their three week blooming period.

Most of all, I just enjoy sitting on the deck, with the bright yellow Sunflowers in the meadow below.

They’re called Sunflowers because they will follow the Sun from sunrise to sunset. You can see why I don’t own a lawnmower.

Two minute video…