Setting the Scene

The piedmont of the eastern USA is a plateau that separates the Atlantic coastal plain from the Appalachian mountain ranges.  Here in North Carolina, it extends almost 300 miles from the fall line  to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The piedmont is part of the Eastern Deciduous Forest ecosystem, split between the mesophytic and oak-pine regions.

In North Carolina, the piedmont falls within USDA climate zone 7 (0 to 10 F, -17 to -12 C average winter minimum).  Winter minimums only tell part of the story, though. Tromsø, Norway is also Zone 7, and most of the UK is in the warmer Zone 8.  However, our summers are considerably hotter.  In July and August, the average daily high is ~85-90 F (29-32 C) and average night time low is ~68-70 F (20-21 C).  Rainfall is reasonably well distributed across the year, but in summer it mostly falls in localized thunderstorms.  We might get a couple of inches of rain in an hour, while a site a few miles away gets nothing.

Our little patch of the piedmont consists of two acres of woodland, partially cleared in 2006 for the house and septic system.  The land slopes down from north to south and is fairly dry.  The northern 1/3 is mixed deciduous forest dominated by oaks (Quercus spp.), hickories (Carya spp.), and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) with an understory of red maple (Acer rubrum), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), and American holly (Ilex opaca).

IMG_5344 crop
looking north in June, 2016

The southern 2/3 of the property was logged more recently and has regrown as an overcrowded stand of loblolly pines (Pinus taeda), presumably planted by the previous owners but never thinned before the property was sold for development.  The pines are interspersed with young sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) and a few more interesting trees like sourwood and American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

looking south in February, 2015

The main sunny growing area south of the house is the drainfield for the septic system, which precludes planting large shrubs.  The drainfield is currently a weedy lawn, subsiding where the buried stumps of pine trees are decaying, but I am slowly replacing the grass with flowerbeds.

The other sunny area is north of the house where a few trees damaged by building were removed.  This area is very dry, and it is where we built the greenhouse.

The greenhouse today flanked by a row of leafless Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’, leafy Gardenia jasminoides, and a small vegetable patch with net trellises.

The greenhouse contains my collection of orchids and other tropical plants:

greenhouse panorama resized
panoramic view of greenhouse interior with pachypodiums and ant plants left, orchids center, and more orchids and tropical amaryllids right. The skull on the support post is from a white-tailed deer.

The majority of the property, under both the deciduous trees and the pines, is heavily shaded in summer with hard, organic-deficient clay that can only be dug with a mattock. It has been a challenge getting shade perennials to survive under the trees, but a few native orchids (Tipularia and Goodyera) and striped  wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) have established themselves naturally.  I’ll post about them in the future.

Up next:  Defences against garden pests

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