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.