Caroline Dorman’s homeplace

I visited Briarwood today, the Caroline Dorman Nature Preserve. I’m still walking on air.

If you haven’t been there before, I feel for you. What have you been doing with yourself, anyway?

Richard Johnson met me at the Visitor’s Center upon my arrival. Jesse Johnson, Richard’s wife, joined us shortly and we sat for some time catching up, sitting in chairs in front of a good, hot fire.

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Richard and Jesse have been curators of the CD Nature Preserve for over forty years. The fire they’d built was in a wonderful art-piece-of-a-fireplace, originally built by a local craftsman, in 1916. The chimney itself is an achievement. Richard told me the story of the original house having fallen into complete disrepair when he came onto the scene and he proceeded to separate the old building from the brick edifice all those years ago, and lovingly built a new structure geared toward guests gathered around these double sided hearths.

We caught up on conversation enough and then decided to bolt via golf cart to the woods! But before we did, we short-detoured to the garden at the edge of the building where Jesse re-introduced me my old friend Daphne. Daphne, the flowering shrub, that is, full in bloom, as usual, in the dead of winter. And I met her cousin, too.

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Daphne odora, Fragrant Daphne, is typically pink-ish in color and particularly delightful to the nose.

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the all-white cultivar of Daphne, available for our enjoyment, too. So sweet!

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…and there was this area, clearly designated by pine knots, but subtle in form, a smattering of an Ericaceaous and highly edible blueberry family member procured many years ago somewhere in Tennessee by this nurturing couple. When I crushed the leaf between my fingers, it was a strong scent of cooling-breezy-wintergreen. Then I tasted it. It tasted just like a wintergreen Lifesavers-brand candy. It was delicious! Jesse told me that Dr. Dale Thomas(the botanist) told her that he had once made a meal of these in the field. I can understand why! YumYum!

In just a few minutes in the golf cart, we were pulling up to the Bay Garden, unloading ourselves from the cart to mosey around. The Bay Garden was begun around 1930, Jesse said, when Miss Caroline decided that this seep-bog area would be a perfect place to experiment with Louisiana Iris and bog-loving native plants. A significant part of the history of Louisiana iris entering into the world of horticulture happened at this spot all those years ago. Ms. Dorman was one of the most vocal promoters of the Louisiana Iris and of Louisiana wild things and wild areas. And her Bay Garden is the central nervous system of historic horticultural prestige when it comes to wild things in this region. You aught to see it the first week April, ya’ll. Its a marvelous thing.

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hundreds of iris, well out of dormancy, many wonderful cultivars collected and grown with tender loving care. Richard created walkways from large, old belts once used on steam engines, to run mechanical equipment.

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This collection of iris has been curated for over 80 years, in this spot. …in Ms. Carrie’s Bay Garden.

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Mr. Johnson grew up near Briarwood and worked around the property as a young child for Ms. Carrie. His stories are enchanting and other-worldly.

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Smooth Phlox Phlox glabbarima, Jesse says, is kind of weedy in the garden. I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing when it comes to this plant.

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Frogbelly Pitcher Plant Sarracinia purpurea in the pitcher plant area of the Bay Garden. Jesse told me that the different species they had introduced had created many unusual hybrids

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“Little Marie” Iris virginica new growth provides a bi-color foliage show way-before flowers spikes start.

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Jesse’s wheelbarrow in the Bay Garden makes for a good glove holder. Those gloves should be bronzed one day.

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Richard kindly took time to show me what I would have missed otherwise: a really robust Black Gum with bark that resembled shingles on a house. This is a really big and beautiful gum. There is so much to see all around that its hard to brain filter.

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Dog toothed Violet pokes itself through leaves on the forest floor as it emerges from winter slumber

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We stopped at the frog pond where Mrs. Jesse looked for and found, submerged underwater, salamander eggs

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there were two different species incubating there. She reached in and pulled out a clump of the salamander “gel”. The little babies were inside, resting comfortably.

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Another species was in much smaller “containers”. This one was about an inch around and in it, the little babies were much more visible They were all wiggley. It was a good day had by all, even the reptiles, I think.

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What is so amazing about Briarwood is that a demure but very determined woman planted so many wonderful plants so many years ago. You can now, because of her hard work and persistence, see hundreds of absolutely breathtaking specimens of native and non-native plants. Most certainly the best place to gain a perspective of what plants do after eighty or more years in the ground in this neck of the woods. In 1925, Ms Carrie had the pond near the house built. Of course she planted it up! The pond was but a palette by which to paint a beautiful picture. We stopped to relax and behold her artistry. I had to step back in order to fully take in and comprehend the Cliftonias within the composition. I had not seen any in the wild as big as these. As we completed our tour, we made our way back to the Visitor’s Center, we drove past the old Grandad Long Leaf pine, the biggest one on the property. I asked how old it might be and Richard told me maybe 350 years but that Ms. Carrie would never let anyone core it to count the rings, to reveal its age. “She said it wasn’t any of our business”, he quipped.

…………….get out into the woods, ya’ll……..

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