Fiskars, Hydrangeas, And Two Determined People

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Under the thick canopy of trees, several hundred hydrangeas held out hope that light would come. They knew the days of being tended and loved by all who lived and visited the grounds on which they grew. They were part of the Moses H. Cone gardens in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

Moses Cone and his wife moved to the high altitude of Blowing Rock, North Carolina to live in the clean air and beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. In the early 1920’s, Moses planted hundreds of hydrangeas on his property. These hydrangeas were shared with so many at that time. Sharing hydrangeas was part of being a Blowing Rock resident.

After years of neglect a canopy of trees grew up and married with the land until the hydrangeas were choked of sun and life. They became a mere sight of what they once were. They no longer bloomed and became a lankly knotted mass of tree trunks and hydrangea branches. They were being choked out of their home. They had all but given up being a part of the Blowing Rock atmosphere.

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Lowell and Ineke Thomas are a gifted couple with great accomplishments. Professionally they have conquered much that attributes to their success. A considerable amount could be written on the years that Lowell was a professional banker as the Vice President to Bank of America for the eastern region. He is a graduate of Elon College with a degree in history and political science. He met Ineke while in his senior year.

Ineke was a sophomore at Elon when Lowell worked his charm and way with words right in to her heart. They married in Ineke’s home country of Holland. She had come to the United States through an invite from her life long pen pal in the USA. She was only 18 but much accomplished for someone so young. Her father was an accountant with a company who sold the rubber tree sap to tire companies. At the time she left for the United States to see her pen pal, the family was living in Indonesia.

She would go on to live with that family until she went off to college and met Lowell. After their marriage she would graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a teaching and German language degree. Later she would obtain a master’s degree in French from Appalachian State University. She substitute teaches and has a vast amount of hobbies just as accomplished as her degrees.

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Ineke has made hundreds of quilts one by one and hand stitched them stitch my stitch. These are intricate patterns with complicated designs of both traditional and those she has created to honor the nature around their home. There is a view from every room and plenty to give her inspiration. She concentrates on the details of leaves, branches, and the abstract of it all.

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Her store room of fabric goodies are exotic and diverse. There are the copper pieces she uses to weave in to the design of the piece. There are expensive silks and simple cottons. She makes them complement each other and blends the colors to perfection.  Her creations are stored in every spot something else is not occupying. She is a person of great care to detail and even thinks of placing  fragrant bars of soap in each folded quilt so it will smell fresh during its stored moments.

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Not facing the camera is a trait that sticks with me during this interview. I do not pose people but rather allow them to be themselves so we can see who is behind the picture. Shot after shot they are posed gracefully in their own comfort. I did not disturb their quiet space for it was their strength. They seem at home with being humble. It certainly added to their charming personalities.

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It is so fitting that when Ineke greeted me with warmth in to her home that there would be the most amazing display of God’s light streaming through their garden room window. You enter their home on the 3rd level and are greeted with the view above through the many windows on the second level. It was if to say, welcome to a home filled with love and grandness beyond compare. Being in the presence of Ineke is like being on those same clouds where life is always streaming in through its challenges.

A life riding on the rays of sun penetrating every amazing nook and cranny and pushing away the obstacles. Their 1920’s mountain home  was purchased for the view and not the condition which they both laugh about now. I don’t think the renovation was as pleasing a journey. But that view was worth the renovation woes.

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Grandfather Mountain is seen in the distance with its snowy peak reaching up through the clouds. I arrived in Blowing Rock on a day  both sunny and snowy. It was perhaps the best time to do this interview with two people I found just as vastly versatile as the day was grand. As I sat speaking with them, I looked out at this glorious view. It was almost a bit distracting as my love of it almost burst me in to tears.

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When Lowell entered the room to greet me, I was taken by his clarity of wisdom and confidence. A good and successful man will carry a character of self assurance that complements the moment. I felt it instantly. Good instincts realized a dynamic pair who had more of a story to tell than I could write in a life time.

My instinct almost always proves me to be correct, we started on a journey to the renewed blooms of the hydrangeas of the Moses H. Cone property. He first wanted to know how I become interested in this project to bring back the hydrangeas. Simply stated, I was a tourist with a good deal of gardening background who knew there was more magnificent hydrangeas than I had ever noticed in my past visits. I knew there was a person behind the beauty. It didn’t just happen without a well orchestrated set of plans.

Lowell answered my first question as to how he had become involved in the vision to restore that beauty that once was. How did he awaken the beauty that had graced that land for several decades? To understand that answer, we have to travel a bit back in time.

It would be easier for me to write what Lowell did not accomplish in his life, than what he has shared with me. He has been or is a volunteer and project leader on a scale of which I had never measured. He was on countless committees for beautification projects including being  on the Blue Rige Parkway Board, has had many civic positions, been on a few planning boards ….is currently on the Watauga county planning board, an officer of NC’s State Board of Education, active in the United Way Foundation, and is a leader for the Hunger and Health organization. The Hunger and Health organization feeds and helps those struggling  in the county.

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This giving couple is seen here receiving a gift from the Fiskars company. I wrote Fiskars and ask if they would give to this cause. Fiskars generously gave and I delivered the gift a couple of days ago. Above shows the two very appreciative of the loppers and pruners that were given. It’s my favorite picture of the two. They are reading  the letter that came along with the gift. The letter thanks Lowell and Ineke for their efforts at preserving the hydrangeas.

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They were given quite a few of these PowerGear® Large Bypass Pruners approved by the Arthritis Foundation for ease of use. I know I have a pair and I can prune and dead head twice as long without  getting hand cramps or fatigue.

Also given were the       PowerGear® Loppers  to handle the larger branches.

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The Fiskars company had sent these two a gracious gift of  many loppers and pruners that would make trimming those hydrangeas an easier task. Lowell and Ineke say they wear out about 2 pair of each every year as they take on the pruning of the hundreds of hydrangeas. I told them that I bet these Fiskars would take the wear and tear.  Ineke will use them for her volunteer work around the town. She helps to maintain the many flower beds that are full of perennials and annuals that draw the tourist to Blowing Rock.

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They were out walking in their neighborhood one day when Lowell turned to Ineke with the look of another new volunteer project. They unselfishly decided to take on several overgrown areas in Blowing Rock. They have done a great deal of the work themselves doing what most people would have given up on. It was a task that almost seemed impossible and was met with numerous obstacles.

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5 years ago, you could not see these hydrangeas. If you look beyond to the back of this photo you will also see a good bit of cleared land by these two and later joined by many volunteers and some town participation. But mostly…these two kept at it until the hydrangeas were free.

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The healthy hydrangeas stand just about everywhere you look. A much improved view than existed 5 years ago. The foundations which govern these gardens would not allow chain saws to be brought in because Lowell was not a certified employee. This he says did not stop him or Ineke but made them determined to do it under whatever circumstances were necessary. Those circumstances required Lowell to work little by little with a small saw and a determination to free the canvas that almost destroyed them all. He sometimes work for many hours trimming tree by tree and slowly inching forward so the plants would get the light they needed to bloom again.

During this project , he also moved on to an area along the main road leading out of town. This is called the Legacy Garden in honor of the many who have donated plants for the project. It will be their legacy. A legacy they leave to you, me, and our grandchildren. This is an ongoing project as well. They still need to clear much of the over grown shrubs and trees along with adding more blooming variety of plants. Many of the businesses and citizens have contributed in the form of donations and plants.

The work is not complete as all gardeners know. A good garden is tended often.

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Lowell and Ineke also belong to the Blowing Rock Historical Society which just recently renovated the Edgewood Cottage seen above.  At the rear of the property where Edgewood Cottage is located—– will be the new location for the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum. http://www.blowingrockmuseum.org/about.php

The Blowing Rock Historical Society and Blowing Rock Gardening Club will be working with volunteers to beautify the grounds of these two projects. They use as many native plants as possible and greatly limit the use of any non-organic substance to maintain the gardens.

As you can see, Edgewood Cottage is still in need of more plants and flowering shrubs for this project. Lowell and Ineke are working daily to plan and prepare for the Spring planting. They will have a group of volunteers to help. This Edgewood Cottage and the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum will be a living history of the area from recent to the first settlers. Many hands on and educational programs will be offered to the public. It will be a destination for people around the world who wish to learn and understand what Western North Carolina is all about.

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Above is one of the large hydrangeas that was moved to Edgewood Cottage.

The Blowing Rock Historical Society took  down Edgewood Cottage board by board. Some boards were planned to remove ages of disfigurement. The boards were turned around and reinstalled to show the good side for many more years of enjoyment.  It was all reconstructed and restored to its former self. I found it interesting that there is a 4 sided fireplace inside. This was the first home of  Elliott Daingerfield who became a famous painter.

His second home reflects his success as a painter and the home is a Greek Revival mansion which has been restored to the very finest of standards. Much care was taken to replace or condition the home exactly as it was when Elliott Daingerfield lived there. It is still owned by the family and is a bed and breakfast today. It is called WESTGLOW  Resort and Spa.

There will be more on Westglow in another post. http://www.westglowresortandspa.com/

High Country News article about the museum http://www.highcountrypress.com/weekly/2007/07-05-07/brahm.htm

Please visit Blowing rock at http://blowingrock.com/

and Fiskars at  http://fiskars.com/

The first article in this series on the Blowing Rock hydranges is here. http://flowergardengirl.wordpress.com/2008/08/26/a-hydrangea-project-like-none-other/

15 comments on “Fiskars, Hydrangeas, And Two Determined People

  1. Anna, you are way too kind and complimentary with your remarks although we appreciate them very much. It is great to review your pictures of a prettier time as we sit here socked in with the clouds, fog and rain. spring will be here before too long with all of the energy that new growth and blossoms bring. I suspect that this spring will be a better one than many we have had over the last few years with the lack of rain that we have often had. Sure hope so. Look forward to seeing you soon.
    Thank you so much for leaving a message. Those who are following the story will love it when they see you commented. I do look forward to coming back and I’ll bring the good weather with me. I look forward to seeing that green of Spring—come across the valley. I can’t imagine a better place to see it happen. Hugs to you and Ineke. See ya soon.

  2. Hi Anna, you have done Blowing Rock proud. It is a jewel in the mountains, we have been there many times for we used to live not far away in Northeast TN. The Cones are a fine example of lives well lived. Your writing was personal and the narrative riveting. We all cheer for the hydrangeas and the people who have rescued them.

    Frances
    Thank you. I’ll go back when they bloom and tell more. Yes this couple is doing and outstanding job for several areas in town. Ineke is in charge of the perennial beds around town. That is a lot of work on and off season.

  3. Anna, your life stories are always so interesting and wonderful, sometimes I come and re-read them over again, what wonderful people you know. I too love Fiskars :) Is that really snow I see? Have a wonderful evening!

    Hugs,
    Kathi :)
    I have to admit, I do know a lot of interesting people. It’s cause I find people interesting. I don’t care what they are doing…I want to know how they got there. Mr.D says I could carry on a conversation with a light bulb and know more than Edison. I didn’t know you re-read my post. That is a true honor as I do yours as well. And yes, that is snow you see but it’s in our mountains and not here in the piedmont. The piedmont is the lower foothills. It takes me an hour to get to the mountains but about two and a half to get to Blowing Rock. I’m glad to see you!

  4. Anna, that was so interesting. Thank you so much for introducing us to these fine people. I just love it when folks get behind a cause and isn’t Fiskars wonderful for helping them achieve their goals. Good for you to ask them for help.~~Dee
    I’m hoping that maybe Fiskars will pitch in and help them with the flowers for Edgewood Cottage. Lowell and Ineke are a lot of fun to talk to as they have done about everything in the world. I would love to pick their brain over just about anything and I want to go up and spend more time with them. I’m glad you could stop by and read their story. When you meet folks like this, you want to tell everyone.

  5. Thank you so much for your comment on my post. You are a beautiful writer about beautiful things and people. I’d really like others to learn from you and would like to nominate you as a role model for girls and women. Congratulations on your great work. http://url2it.com/kgo
    That is so nice of you. I am honored that you would do that for me. I will see what that is all about right away. And certainly you may nominate me. I feel like I’ve been living life a lot longer than 50 years. I seem to have cram packed it full of experiences.

    I really do commend you on your site. I think women supporting women is so necessary. But your info is good for everyone not just women. I wanted to read all your articles and will go back and do so. Congrats on your success. It just gets better and better.

  6. Anna–What a wonderful story and wonderful photos. That view from their window is unbelievable–I was surprised when I read that was from a window and not a mountaintop!
    Lowell and Ineke deserve to have a pretty view like this. It’s kind of like nature is giving back to them. To get to their house…..you have to travel down a narrow road with a very steep drop off. The first you see of their home is the third floor entry which is amazing. When you walk in the front door the cathedral ceiling towers above you and opens up the front windows to that magestic view. I was in a bit of a shock with both them and that view. I’ve never met a more beautiful couple.

    Your blog is beautiful and the things you’ve done with your yard are just amazing. I’m glad I stopped by to check it out.

  7. I would love to see Ineke’s fabrics room :) What an interesting story. Do you have any photos of the hydrangeas in bloom? I would love to see them!
    I do have pictures of them. They are somwhere in the Blowing Rock pictures. I’ll find one for you. I think they are mostly Annabelles…but not sure. I ask Lowell and he wasn’t sure either. Ineke’s fabric room is organized. Everything she does is organized. Her quilts are perfect. I might just do a article on her and her quilts. They really are a reflection of her life and how she sees so much beauty in the world.

  8. Beautiful story and what an amazing location. I especially like the image of the rows of mountains stepping into the distance, becoming more and more blue, until they begin to merge with the sky–
    It was powerful and added to the importance of their story. It was like the interview of the year as far as their information and location for telling their story. We talked for 4 hours but I could have stayed a week. They are very articulate and drew me in. I want to follow them through the building of the museum and the finishing ladscape touches. I want to see how it impacts the region and changes the city.

  9. Anna,

    Captivating! This is a story (with intertwining stories) that should be widely distributed and read by many. You should write a book.

    Cameron
    It would make a good book as you are correct, there are many stories in this story. It thrilled me that you recognized it. I guess I’m hoping a publisher will come along and thinks so too. I decided a year ago that I was going to pay attention to the gardening world not for the flowers, but for the stories. Glad you ejoyed it.

  10. What a phenonmenal couple Anna, and wonderful story you relayed to us about them. Anyone who gives so selflessly has my admiration and respect. What a gorgeous view from their home too. My, I could sit and look out those windows for hours (and I always thought I was a water person).
    I use to be a beach person but the older I get, the more I like the mountains. Lowell and Ineke have invited me back which I will certainly do.

  11. What a fascinating, wonderful story. It is so inspiring to read about their dedication.
    They have been dedicated for a very long time with all of us enjoying their efforts but not knowing who was behind the beauty. The Blowing Rock Garden Club and Historical Society are the hardest working group of folks. When the northern visitor take up residence in their summer homes, Ineke said the Garden Club doubles in numbers. So even those who have summer houses in the town will volunteer also. Many of the members of both are out of towners. Makes me feel like people aren’t just taking but they are also giving back to NC as they visit.

  12. I love it when you write about Blowing Rock. These two wonderful, dedicated people are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing their story.

    Jan
    Always Growing
    I like writing about that little town. I hope everybody will go visit. I want everyone to see what they have accomplished.

  13. Anna,

    What a treat to interview these two dedicated community volunteers. I loved the Moses Cone home and grounds…Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway are wonderful!

    I also use the power pruners…they are very easy on the hands!

    gail
    I’ve always been in love with the area. You know, I didn’t have one clue who they were till I showed up at their amazing home on the side of a mountain. Then their story was told and I almost couldn’t imagine anybody so dedicated to volunteering. Kudos to them!

  14. I could just read and re-read this post — can you even imagine how gorgeous all those hydrangeas must be? Sweet! And I fell in love with their home. And all those quilts. Heaving a huge sigh at the loveliness of this post, Anna!
    Thank you so much. I enjoyed the look on their faces when they saw what Fiskars had given them. This interview was probably my favorite so far. The reason is that they are so genuine. You hardly ever meet someone who has their gift of giving.

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