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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/