The Creators

Man of the Earth

According to acclaimed plantsman Tony Avent,
the universe has plans for you — and your garden

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

For someone who has spent much of his life hunched over the earth, his fingers threading through soil, rocks and roots, Triangle plantsman and nursery proprietor Tony Avent spends an awful lot of time talking about invisible energy and the unseen hand of the universe. Listen closely and you will hear him say things like: The universe has plans for you, and you can’t fight them; The plants tell me where they want to go; and The energy of the world speaks to us all.

This kind of talk may sound hokey until you visit Avent’s Juniper Level Garden in Raleigh, a place so magical and mysterious that it is not hard to believe that a divine force once struck this ground and caused all manner of flora and fauna to spring forth. But, in reality, that is not what happened. The truth is less supernatural and much more natural. Avent’s 28-acre garden was once a sprawling tobacco field, and when he set out to tame this land 30 years ago he did so with nothing but a shovel and a suspicion that something otherworldly could happen here. He was right.

Avent’s Juniper Level Garden and the on-site Plant Delights Nursery, where the garden’s specimens are grown and propagated, have become the nation’s standard bearer for garden horticulture. Avent has forged a career as a well-known and charismatic spokesperson for a movement dedicated to growing and developing gardens instead of simply planting them. His formal career began after graduating from NC State University with a degree in horticultural science before working his way toward the position of landscape director at the North Carolina Fairgrounds. Soon, he found himself on plant expeditions across the United States and in countries like South Africa, Mexico, China, Croatia, and Thailand. Along the way, he has given nearly 1,000 lectures, published dozens and dozens of articles, been featured in national media, and appeared on television alongside Martha Stewart on channels like HGTV and NBC.

With all that travel and so much glitz and glamour, what has kept Avent’s hands dirtied by his native soil in Raleigh? Perhaps it is the fact that the region’s climate and geography are so amenable to his work.

This garden can grow the best diversity of plants anywhere in the country outside the Pacific Northwest,” Avent says. He is standing on a pathway in the middle of the garden on an early afternoon in February. Spring may be a few weeks away, but the garden feels surprisingly dramatic and alive. “We designed the garden so that something is always blooming, always green, always living,” he says. “The garden is always in transition. It’s always changing.”

The we he mentions refers to himself and Michelle, his first wife and high school sweetheart, who passed away in 2012 after a long battle with cancer. The two of them had known one another since they were children, and their families had been in the area for centuries. As a matter of fact, one of Avent’s ancestors began operating the ferry that crossed the Cape Fear River in 1775, thus the name of Raleigh’s Avent Ferry Road. Avent and his late wife purchased the house that is now used for the garden’s offices in 1988, along with 2 acres of surrounding land. They had hoped for peace and tranquillity, but that was not quite what they found.

“When we first moved here, nobody in this part of the county knew what a muffler was,” Avent says. To counteract the noise from the road in front of their home, Avent spent his evenings after dinner digging out a place for a huge grotto with a waterfall, an area of the garden so elegant and alive with plant life that it appears to have been here forever. The sound of falling water does not just shut out the noise of traffic; it shuts out the noise of the world. Perhaps that makes it easier for Avent to listen to what the universe is telling him.

Michelle’s death had him reeling, but, according to Avent, “sometimes the universe has other plans.” His late wife had urged him to remarry after her passing, so nearly two years after her death, Avent found his way to online dating, where he eventually began chatting with a local woman. She turned out to be much more local than he could have ever imagined. He and his current wife, Anita, have known one another since they were in Sunday school as children. Her grandfather worked a farm only a few miles away from Avent’s garden enterprise. Even their parents had known each other for decades.

It is also the tutelage, tragic death, and legacy of Avent’s mentor J.C. Raulston that keep him tied to this place. Raulston was an acclaimed horticulturist and the first director of the North Carolina Arboreteum. Avent was one of Raulston’s students at NC State, and he studied Raulston and his work closely.

“Working with him was the first time I had somebody who thought like I did,” he says. Avent designed Juniper Level Gardens as an homage to Raulston’s arboretum, and the two gardens seem to be in conversation with one another. Although Raulston perished in an automobile accident in 1996, to Avent, he never seems out of reach. “I can feel his energy in his garden at the arboretum,” Avent says. “And I can feel it here. It made sense for me to stay here.”

The roots of this world traveler and plant adventurer run too deep to be moved, or transplanted.

None of this really seems to surprise Avent. He possessed a passion for plants from a very early age, and his life’s first major disappointment set him on a course that would find him nurturing a single plot of land into something steady and permanent.

Avent was fascinated with plants and greenhouses as a young child, and in his early teens, he begged his father to take him to visit what he believed was the premiere garden in the world: Wayside Gardens in Greenwood, South Carolina. He was certain of the garden’s beauty because he had been receiving their mail-order catalog and would spend hours studying it. But when he and his father arrived after their journey south, Avent found nothing but a brick warehouse to which plants were shipped and from where they would be shipped again once they were sold.

“I was so devastated,” he says, “and I remember thinking, When I grow up I will build a place that no one is ever disappointed in when they come visit.

With the recent announcement that Avent and his wife have gifted Juniper Level Gardens to NC State University, Avent has assured that not only will people never be disappointed in his garden, he has assured that they will be able to visit it in perpetuity, a plan that perhaps the universe saw coming. That is important to Avent because he wants the energy of this place to be felt by others.

“I get energy from everything out here,” he says. “I never wear gloves, and now it has been discovered that the electrical energy in the soil is touching you, you’re feeling it. This energy can’t be created, and it can’t be destroyed. It’s always going to be here.”

No matter where he goes, the universe has decided that Tony Avent will always be here too.  OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

April Poem 2020

From Our House Behind the Churchyard, After a Storm


An hour after the storm, tree

limbs still sway, their green-leafed

twigs moving like the limbs

of swimmers in a sapphire sea.

Thunder booms in the distance

but they go on waving,

as if the lightning and the rain

are dear friends, departing. Beams

of brilliant light make gold

the ground and polish the branches

as puddles glitter beneath blades

of grass, silently sipping.

And high above the skittering

clouds, a red-tailed hawk circles

the churchyard, its wings

cupping the sodden, cerulean air

like a parishioner reaching

for a communal cup of wine.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

Life of Jane

What it Was, Was Golf

A space alien tries to explain golf to its leader after visiting the course at the Greensboro Country Club during the summer, sometime in the 1980s


By Jane Borden

“I’ve discovered a most interesting human pastime.”

“Another ‘sport’”?

“Not at all. One need not be physically strong to play.”

“Ah, so a game?”

“Perhaps. Although I can discern no prize.”

“What is it, then?”

“A business meeting.”

“But it happens outdoors?”

“Yes. While discussing business matters, the humans move around in vehicles between little yellow flags. When they reach a flag, they pick it up and then put it back down.”

Sounds like what you witnessed them doing a few hundred years ago. What was it called? Colonialism?”

“Similar, yes. But the flags exist before they arrive.”


“And complicated. They can’t just approach a flag. They must send balls ahead of them. Then they replace the flag with the balls.”

So the goal is to replace a flag with a ball?”

“No, the goal is to land your ball in a giant sand pit.”

“I don’t understand.”

“When your ball lands in the flag hole, the other players become angry, whereas when it lands in the sand pit, they laugh.”

“I see. Yes, the sand pit must be the goal. And then is the business meeting over?”

“Not at all. The humans go to great effort to make these meetings as long as possible, sometimes an entire day.”

Really? How long can it take to throw a ball into some sandboxes?”

“Well, first of all, they don’t throw it. They propel the ball with large sticks.”

That seems like a waste of energy.”

“Especially since the stick doesn’t always make contact with the ball. However, again, I think this must be intentional, since whiffing, as they call it, always makes others laugh.”

“I still don’t understand why it takes all day.”

“Magic takes time.”

“Magic? Humans stopped performing public magic long ago.”

“I was surprised too. But their interactions with these sticks strongly suggest they believe the instruments have magical powers. First, they carry the sticks together in a large protective bag, which is closely guarded. Further, the most potent sticks wear little hats to contain their power. Also, players wear gloves so as not to injure themselves while touching the magical sticks.”

“Interesting. Go on.”

“To conjure the right stick, they stand over the bag, wave their hands, and mumble incoherently.”

“Surely this is also intended to make the others laugh.”

“To the contrary. The group is deadly serious about conjuring. Especially in regards to the ceremonial dancing.”


“Yes, after conjuring a stick, but before striking a ball, they stamp their feet a few times, jiggle their elbows, shift their hips, and perform a variety of strange motions as if in a trance. The other players respect this ritual by ignoring it.”

“What happens if the stick does not provide the magic requested of it?”

“The human tries to send it back to the spirit world by throwing it into the sky.”

“Hmm. I still don’t understand why the business meeting takes so long.”

“Throughout the course are obstacles they call hazards. They must avoid these with their vehicles and their balls.”

For example?”

“Small bodies of water. Collections of trees. Children.”

Children live on the course?”

“No, but they roam about it freely, wearing flip-flops and carrying towels.”

“To antagonize the players?”

“Certainly the players become agitated. But the children themselves appear unaware.”

“How do the players avoid this obstacle?”

“They shout at them.”

“And how do the children respond?”

“They don’t. They are oblivious to the players and the course. I believe the point of this hazard is to anger the players, as only the most patient and calm players prevail.”

“If the children are oblivious, are they ever struck by balls?”

“Certainly. I witnessed a child named Claiborne take a direct hit to his temple.”

“And then what happened?”

“He shouted an expletive and his friends laughed at him.”

“Interesting. So is this why the children participate, this laughter?”

“Perhaps. Except, whenever they are hit or nearly hit the children continue on their path, without investigating the origin of the projectiles, or questioning their own course or behavior.”

“Hmm. Why are the children motivated to play such a role?”

“They receive payment. During their return crossings over the course, they carry food and drink items called Push Pops and Slushies, in which they appear to place much value.”

“OK. So how does the striking of balls with magical sticks in order to remove and replace flags aid in conducting a business meeting?”

“The etiquette of the game requires them to be silent during most of it, so they can’t ruin potential business deals by opening their big dumb human mouths.”

“Yes, humans are always ruining things with their big dumb mouths. Good work, Scout. I only have two more questions. What is the name of this business meeting?”


“And what is the point of it?”

“To drink beer.”  OH

Jane Borden narrowly avoided screaming golf balls during many flip-flopped treks across Greensboro Country Club’s back nine.

The Accidental Astrologer

Straight Talk

Finding fault in the stars is for April Fools


By Astrid Stellanova

Excuse me, Star Children, but not everyone has been behaving. Allow me to draw you a map of your thoughts, which are more confusing than Rand McNally ought to allow:  bat@#!t — as in going off road and heading straight for the state of chaos.

Yes, you have crossed that line.

Yes, you have used March madness for more than 30 days as your excuse. Nobody’s buying it. Besides, it’s April.

Don’t be a fool. Get. A. Grip.



Aries (March 21–April 19)

You have been sprinkling a little sarcasm on evah-thang. Sugar, it seems to be the main spice in your life. Since you’ve ignored my advice, maybe I can interest you in some freshly ground sarcasm: Just for kicks, play it straight. There’s a lot of serious drama to resolve, and you have got to get down to business.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

There’s a Fred Mertz for every Ricky Ricardo, and a Thelma for every Louise. Seems you have figured out the friendship shtick that keeps some (including you) laughing, but you will have to find your true center.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Always hug your enemies, so you know how big to dig the hole in the backyard! In this case, you have got a conflict that doesn’t have to end in tragedy. But you knew that, and you just postponed the inevitable. Shovel not required.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Too glam to give a sweet patootie. You are that, and also secretly up against the realization that you do give a patootie. Your cool and contained image is very different from what you are feeling. Sync it up.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

They love you like biscuits love gravy. You love them back. But you feel taken for granted. Air this, get it out, get it over, and enjoy time with your inner circle. Make somebody else wash the dishes, Darlin.’

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Criminal intent. That is what you have been nurturing since you found out that someone close to you hasn’t owned up to something. Don’t let this keep simmering. Vent, discuss, resolve.

Libra (September 23-October 22)

Everything may happen for a reason, but WTF? Did you actually intend for others to view you as a total jackass? No, you thought that nobody but you knew what had gone down. They know. And they are waiting for apologies.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21

The dramatic lie you tell yourself goes like this: Goodbye, Cruel World!  But you aren’t going anywhere. And nothing is really so bad that you cannot sort it out. When you stop kvetching, Sweat Pea, you’ll see.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Run like your children are looking for you. A conniving acquaintance thinks they have got you in their control. If you cannot face them, then save yourself, Darlin’, because they always talk you into mistakes.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Alexa, open the bottle of pinot. Alexa, take out the trash. When Alexa truly starts being useful, you can relax your control on the control panel. But until then, practice makes perfect. Maybe practice waiting this one out, Sweet Thing.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Acting like a bunch of skeeters on crystal meth? Or minnows about to meet Jaws’ open mouth? But you didn’t see it, Honey Bun, and nobody did. Calm down, and consider that sometimes the biggest virtue is to wait.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Mama needs her juice, Honey. I take one look at your star chart and realize you just wanted to slurp down a little happiness and get some rest. Worship at the temple of the plump pillow, and let life settle.  OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.

April 2020 Almanac

In the spring, at the end of the day,
you should smell like dirt.
— Margaret Atwood, Unearthing Suite, 1983


April doesn’t make a grand announcement.

She’s subtle. Sort of hums to let you know she’s close. Flutters in the periphery. And when she lands — like the ruby-throated hummingbird at the garden feeder — the world sings out.

April is a month of sweet transition. Purple martins replace purple finches. Yellow jessamine twists, climbs, dances across the landscape. Silver maple is flowering, and on the ground beneath it, you find the first of hundreds of brilliant green samaras (seed pods) that will spiral to the earth in the coming weeks. You pick up the fruit, spin it between your thumb and forefinger, hold it in your palm as if you are holding the wings of some tiny, mythical creature.

A ragtag choir of a dozen songbirds blurts out their threats and primal longings, and just beyond the flowering maple, a skinny tabby all but grins while brushing past the garden path.

The mornings are knit scarf- and corduroy-cool, but in the afternoon, your feet are bare, and you are sunning in a patch of tender young grass.

April is the last frost, dahlias in the garden, spring rain and fresh asparagus.

And as the first seeds of summer crops are sown (green beans, melons, cukes and squashes) you realize this: April is your answered prayer. Here and now. Late winter’s wish, come true.

Gloriosa Superba isolated on white

Rain and Glory

Cows lie down this month same as any. But if you’re curious to know when the April showers are coming, observe a pine cone (they close when rain is on its way).

Of course, you don’t have to wait until May for the flower show. This month, fragrant jessamine and blooming azalea would be enough to satisfy any flower-loving gardener. But look and see hummingbird candy everywhere: coral honeysuckle, iris, buckeye, wild columbine.

Now is time to plant dahlias, petunias, angelonia, heliotrope, lantanas and begonias. And in late April, color your midsummer garden electric with glory lily tubers. This tropical vine grows fast, climbing upward of 7 feet with its curling, grasping tendrils. Its flaming red and brilliant yellow flowers make it an absolute showstopper, and with its long, bright green stamen dangling beneath its down-facing petals, this deer-resistant “Flame of the Woods” resembles, to this nature-lover, some kind of exotic jellyfish.

Oh, lovely April: Bring on the rain, bring on the glory.


April is a promise that May is bound to keep. — Hal Borland

Green Tree and Roots. Vector Illustration. Plant and Garden.

  Hug a Tree

April is a month of celebration. Easter Sunday, of course, on April 12. Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22. And on Friday, April 24, Arbor Day.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, “One large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.”

Let that land for just a moment. Breathe it in, if you will. And if you’re interested in learning about the foundation’s bold “Time for Trees” initiative and how you can get involved, visit

Watercolor illustration. Set of purple irises on a white background.

April Sky Watch

According to, two of the 10 “Must-See Skywatching Events to look for in 2020” occur this month.

First: the “Glory Nights” of Venus. April 2 and 3, Venus will appear high in the sky and as close to the Pleiades star cluster as it can get, lighting up the blue-white stars in such a way you’re sure to go all dreamy. Venus hasn’t been this close to the Pleiades since April 2012, and it won’t again for another eight years. Catch it if you can.

Next, on April 7, get ready for the supermoon — the biggest full moon of the year and, because of its closeness to Earth, “a dramatically large range of high and low ocean tides.”

Turmeric golden milk latte with cinnamon sticks and honey. Detox liver fat burner, immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory healthy cozy drink

Warm Your Bones

Spring is here, yes. But if you can’t seem to shake the final chill of winter, here’s one for you: golden milk. Warm and delicious and, according to Ayurvedic medicine, a powerful healing tonic for inflammation and digestive issues, this holistic, dairy-free beverage gets its golden color from its star ingredient: turmeric.

There are dozens of recipes available online. Most call for coconut or almond milk. Here’s one borrowed from that serves four. Golden milk in five glorious minutes. But if you’re worried about the possibility of staining your blender and/or countertops, this may be risky business.


2 cups milk of choice, such as almond pecan, coconut or dairy

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground pepper

Tiny piece of fresh peeled ginger root or 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder

Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon raw honey or maple syrup or to taste (optional)


Blend all ingredients, except cayenne pepper and honey, in a high-speed blender until smooth.

Pour mixture into small saucepan and heat for 3-5 minutes over medium heat until hot, but not boiling.

Add cayenne pepper and honey, if desired; stir to combine. Drink immediately.

Featured Artist


Barbara Ellis: Working Order

When an idea pecks at Barbara Ellis’ mind — whether it’s during her daily chores, her meditation time, or moments of insomnia — she pays attention.

Then she picks up a brush and gives form to the feeling.

“Layer upon layer, by adding and subtracting, composition emerges. The challenge is turning chaos into relative order and knowing when to stop,” says Ellis, who lives in Concord.

You can see her oil-over-acrylic Reentry 2 (pictured above) and more of Ellis’ work — along with that of four other female artists — in North Carolina Women Abstract Painters, an exhibit ongoing through April 11 at Greensboro’s GreenHill Center for North Carolina Art (

On April 3, Katy Mixon, featured in last month’s issue of O.Henry, will do a walk-and-talk about her carved oil paintings. The stroll begins at 6 p.m. That night’s open house, coinciding with downtown Greensboro’s First Friday event, will include a cash bar and live music by The Brown Mountain Lightning Bugs of Winston-Salem.

On April 8, Valerie Hillings, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, will talk about initiatives to boost female artists, including her museum’s Matrons of the Arts program.

Matrons — and, of course, patrons — are welcome to attend the 5:30–7 p.m. talk.

The exhibit and related programs are sponsored by GreenHill’s own Women’s Gateway Circle. — Maria Johnson OH

See disclaimer page 25. For more information:,


Quail Trail

In search of the elusive northern bobwhite


By Susan Campbell
For some of those fortunate enough to have lived near open piney woods or adjacent to large farm fields, the iconic call of a bobwhite quail was once a familiar sound. But, as with so many of our bird species, this once prolific songster has diminished across the Piedmont and Sandhills of North Carolina.
Bobwhites measure between 8 to 11 inches beak to tail and have very cryptic brown, black and white markings that make them almost impossible to see on the ground in the grassy habitats they call home. The male has a bright, white eye stripe and throat. It is he who constantly announces his territory through a repeated “bob-white” call. The female is smaller and a bit drab, with a buff eye throat and no crest. This stout bird is well equipped with a short sharp bill, strong legs and sharp claws that make it an ideal avian for foraging at ground level for insects, berries and soft vegetation.
Bobwhite males can be heard trying to attract a mate using their loud repetitive calls in the spring. The female will reply with a four-syllable whistle of her own. Following breeding, the pair creates a domed nest concealed in tall grasses, and the hen lays up to 20 pure white eggs. There is a period of approximately 25 days of incubation before the young hatch. Hens will renest if the eggs are eaten or destroyed. Upon hatching, the chicks will immediately follow their parents; learning how to hunt bugs and determine which shoots are the most nutritious. As a group they are referred to as a covey. The family will stay together through the winter and may join with other families to form coveys of 30 or more birds. When alarmed at an early age, the young will scatter and freeze to avoid predators. Once they can fly, they explode into flight in a blur of wings, startling anyone or anything who comes upon them.
Quail were a very popular game bird throughout North Carolina until not that long ago. Since the 1980s, when their numbers began to decline, they have become very challenging to find, especially in the Piedmont, except on game preserves where they are stocked. A combination of factors is believed to be responsible. Not only have open woodlands and agricultural fields with hedgerows become scarcer but ground predators such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons and free roaming domestic and feral cats have increased. Also, the timing of rainfall can significantly affect breeding productivity. Too much rain too early may inundate nests and dry conditions when chicks hatch may result in insufficient food.
These days, hunters still occasionally find coveys in the wild in the forests and fields of the Sandhills Game Land or the vast acreage of longleaf pine on Fort Bragg. It requires a well-trained bird dog and a good deal of patience. However active quail management is occurring locally. Opening up forested habitat using prescribed burning as well as removing undesirable vegetation and replacing it with quality cover plants are two of the best strategies to help boost the population. Recent efforts by biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and at Fort Bragg along with assistance from local Quail Unlimited chapters are resulting in gradual increases in northern bobwhite in limited areas. We certainly hope this trend continues so that before much longer the springtime calls of the bobwhite will once again be heard throughout the region. OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at

The Omnivorous Reader

Mountain Men

One exceptional life in politics, another in music


By D.G. Martin

In 1958-59, two North Carolina mountain boys graduated from local high schools, made their ways to college, and then went on to very different high-profile careers.

Rufus Edmisten moved from Watauga High School in Boone to UNC-Chapel Hill, headed for a career in politics. Joseph Robinson left Lenoir High School for Davidson College on his way to musical performances at the highest level.

Coincidentally, both men recently published memoirs that show how the combination of hard work, high ambition, audacity and luck can lead to success.

Edmisten’s That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life describes how he grew up on a farm near Boone, tending cows and pigs, and working fields of cabbages and tobacco. After Chapel Hill and a round of teaching high school in Washington, Edmisten entered law school at George Washington and secured a low-level job on Sen. Sam Ervin’s staff. He soon became one of the senator’s full-time trusted assistants in the Watergate-Nixon impeachment matter.

His book’s opening pages take readers to July 23, 1973, when he served President Nixon with a demand for Watergate-related records. This key moment ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation under the threat of impeachment and was a launch pad for Edmisten’s political career.

Edmisten returned to North Carolina in 1974 and mounted a successful campaign for attorney general. His triumph over a host of prominent Democrats gave notice he would run for governor someday.

That day came in 1984, when Gov. Jim Hunt ran for the U.S. Senate, and a host of Democrats lined up to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Edmisten won in a brutal primary runoff against former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox and then lost the general election to the then-Congressman Jim Martin.

Some believe he lost, in part at least, because he made disparaging remarks about barbecue. His version of that incident is, by itself, worth the price of the book. But Edmisten says it was Ronald Reagan’s “sticky coattails” that “swept both me and Jim Hunt away from our dreams. We were not alone, either. The sweep was broad and far reaching.”

After the loss, Edmisten felt crestfallen and abandoned. “The ache in the bottom of my stomach was so great nothing appealed to me except finding some dark place to crawl away and hide,” he writes. “I swear I saw people cross the street so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.”

However, he came back from that defeat and won election as secretary of state. How he then lost that position in disgrace and the lessons learned from that sad story make for the most poignant part of the book.

His situation came to a head in 1995. A report by the state auditor and articles in the Raleigh News & Observer alleged the misuse of employees and a state car, abuses by subordinates, and improper hiring practices.

In this deluge of criticism, Edmisten announced he would not run for re-election and, he writes, “I actually thanked God my daddy had died before this mess started.”

Why did it happen?

In a chapter titled “Hubris,” he confesses, “It was nobody’s fault but my own.”

Edmisten writes that it was the excessive pride that arose from his long years at the center of public attention that led to his troubles. He warns, “Once hubris gets a foothold it grows incrementally and accelerates until it is expanding exponentially, and in leaps and bounds takes over.”

This lesson about the dangers of hubris is not the end of the story. In inspiring chapters, Edmisten chronicles how his wife and friends led him back into the practice of law and other areas of service. His wife told him, “We are not going to whine.”

“At the age of fifty-five,” he writes, “I put aside all petty things and began a new life.”

In his new life, Edmisten lives in Raleigh practicing law and giving gardening advice on a weekly radio show. He gives us another lesson: It is never too late to turn an old life into a new one.

Robinson’s memoir, Long Winded: An Oboist’s Incredible Journey to the New York Philharmonic, asks: How did a small-town boy who never attended conservatory persuade one of the world’s greatest conductors, Zubin Mehta, to give him a chance at one of the world’s most coveted positions in the New York Philharmonic, one of the world’s greatest orchestras?

Growing up in a small North Carolina town like Lenoir might not seem to be the best background for an aspiring classical musician. But the mountain furniture community had the best high school band in the state. When Robinson was drafted to fill an empty oboe slot, his course was set.

He loved the oboe so much that his Davidson College classmates called him “Oboe Joe.” However, Davidson’s musical program lacked the professional music training that Robinson craved. Nevertheless, he stayed at Davidson, majoring in English, economics and the liberal arts. His focus on writing and expression gave him tools to win a music position at the highest level.

His success at Davidson led to a Fulbright grant to study in Europe and the opportunity to meet Marcel Tabuteau, who, Robinson says, was the greatest player and oboe pedagogue of the 20th century. When Tabuteau learned that Robinson was an English major and a good writer who could help write his book on oboe theory, he agreed to give him oboe instruction. Those five weeks with Tabuteau, Robinson says, “more than compensated for the conservatory training I did not receive.”

Years later, however, after moving through a series of journeyman teaching and performing positions at the Atlanta Symphony, the North Carolina School of the Arts, and the University of Maryland, Robinson still had not achieved his aspiration to land a first oboe chair in a major orchestra, but he did not give up.

When Harold Gomberg, the acclaimed lead oboe of the New York Philharmonic, retired, Robinson audaciously applied. When finally granted an audition, he prepared endlessly. He was ready for the hour and 20 minutes of paces the audition committee demanded. Afterward, he was confident that he had done very well.

But the Philharmonic’s personnel manager, James Chambers, after saying how well the audition went, reported that music director Zubin Mehta judged Robinson’s tone “too strong” for the Philharmonic. Robinson was not to be one of the two players who were finalists.

That should have been the end of it, but Robinson writes, “I knew that winning a once-in-a lifetime position like principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic was like winning the lottery.”

At 3 a.m. the next morning, using all his liberal arts writing and persuasive talents, he wrote Chambers explaining why his tone might have seemed too strong and, “You will not make a mistake by choosing Eric or Joe, but you might by excluding me if tone is really the issue.”

When Chambers read the letter to Mehta, they agreed that it could not have been “more persuasive or fortuitous.” Chambers reported that Mehta said, “If you believe in yourself that much, he will hear you again.”

Robinson’s final audition was successful. His “winning lottery ticket,” he writes, “had Davidson College written all over it.”

From 1978 until his retirement in 2005, he served as principle oboe for the New York Philharmonic. Living in Chapel Hill, he can still bring an audience to tears when he plays the beloved solo “Gabriel’s Oboe.”  OH

D.G. Martin hosts North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. and other times. To view prior programs:

Life’s Funny

Fevered Pitch

Tripping out on the coronavirus


By Maria Johnson

DAY ONE, EARLY MARCH: 12 confirmed cases in NYC

Yippee! Today’s the day we meet our sons for a long weekend in upstate New York, where the younger lad lives.

Earlier in the week, my husband and I discussed whether we should make the trip, given that the China-born coronavirus Covid-19 has gusted into the East Coast of this country.

We consider that we will pass through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the country’s busiest, going both ways, and that our older boy will be traveling from New York City, where the virus is blossoming.

One way or another, we figure, we’ll probably encounter the germ. But we’re hearty folk, and we’ll follow public health advice.

First, the hand sanitizer. The stores are sold out here, so we ransack the house in the name of good hygiene. My husband clips a small bottle of cloudy gel — purchased God-knows-when — to his belt loop.

Here it is. My first corona crisis. Would I rather die of embarrassment or contaminated hands? I split the difference and urge him to pull his sweater down.

At the airport, I gloat because I see no travelers wearing masks. What a healthy lot we are here in Greensboro. Then I see a masked airport worker. My eyes narrow. Is she sick? Or trying to keep from getting sick? Do I ask her? What if she pulls down her mask and says, “Sick.”

We hustle aboard the flight, which is a rollercoaster ride because of thunderstorms. I heave all the way to New York.

Staggering through the airport on the other end, weak and wan, with a can of airline ginger ale in my hand, people give me wide berth and eye me like I’m Corona Mary.

Never gloat about good health.

DAY TWO: 33 confirmed cases across New York state

Our sons look healthy. I kiss their bearded faces and pull their foreheads down to my cheek. Fever free, too.

We ask about jobs, loves, friends, adventures and, you know, whether their employers have contingency plans in case of a viral pandemic.

They shrug, mention working from home, and seem shocked when we ask if we should postpone a family trip this summer. We bring up transportation, supply chains and throngs of tourists doing touristy things. Like breathing.

They study us for long seconds.

I look to my husband for support.

He’s rubbing his face.

I widen my eyes.

“What?” he says.

“Face,” I mouth.

All hands drop to laps.

After lunch we walk, at least 6 feet apart, to the Eastman Museum in the former home of George Eastman, who founded Kodak and who — we soon learn in a group tour — nearly died in the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. He was so thrilled to rise from his deathbed that he went on a 10-year spending spree.

Someone in the tour group coughs.

Later, we drop extra money in the plate at a jazz vespers service. We order appetizers with dinner.

DAY THREE: 76 confirmed cases

It snowed overnight, so there’s enough fluff to go cross-country skiing. I extend my hand to the woman who’s going to give us a lesson. She offers a fist bump. We tap elbows and laugh. New York’s governor has just declared a state of emergency, but there are no cases in the chilly woods around the Finger Lakes. As far as we know.

You can see the plumes of people’s breath out here, so that’s helpful.

For the next several hours, we’re flushed, sweaty and struggling for air, but it’s all good as we glide through the wilderness, our minds fixed on paths not pathogens . . .

Until that night when a Lyft driver mentions she’s been ferrying students to the airport for spring break. Where are they headed?

“Anywhere there’s no virus,” she says.

DAY FOUR: 105 confirmed cases

There’s nary a mask to be seen on the streets.

We duck into a used bookstore where the towering stacks lean toward avalanche. It’s easily the most life-threatening situation we’ve faced the whole trip.

And yet we stay, flipping through fiction, cracking open history, ruffling biography. I present three volumes to the proprietor. He snuffles, and I, who have just handled acres of used book covers, take a step back and hand him cash — cash! — with a straight arm.

I hold my breath, exhaling only when an Uber car arrives to take us to the airport hours later.

The driver’s name is Sun. I catch another breath.

“I scare!” he says after we’re underway.

Has he read my thoughts?

“You mean people are scared of you?” I venture.

“NOOO! I Vietnamese, not Chinese! I pick up Chinese girl. I say, ‘No kill me!’ No kill me!’”

He picks up a small aerosol can and clouds the air.

“What’s that?” I squeak. He hands me the can.

It’s Black Ice, a musky sweet air freshener that smells vaguely of a disco I frequented in 1980.

From the speaker behind my head, Bruce Springsteen grinds out “Born to Run.”

Everybody’s out on the run tonight

But there’s no place left to hide

“Good idea,” I say, handing the can back to Sun and breathing deeply.  OH

Maria Johnson can be reached only at, while she self-quarantines.

Bloom of the Day

Bill Hurt and Marshall Morrow’s homegrown passion for daylilies

By Ross Howell Jr.

Retired school administrator Bill Hurt of Browns Summit has a Tennessee lilt in his voice and a bright, wide smile. If you want to see that smile really light up, just ask him a question about daylilies.

“Oh, I love them,” Hurt says. He explains his attitude about the flower is anything but rational, and he’s been growing them seriously since 2006.

“The moment you see a favorite plant bloom,” he continues, “it’s a feeling of overwhelming joy, seeing something so beautiful.”

These days there’s plenty of joy in Hurt’s home and garden, which he owns with his husband, Marshall Morrow. Their garden is a National Display Garden, authorized by the American Daylily Society (also known as the American Hemerocallis Society), and features more than 300 hybrid varieties. It is one of only 250 or so authorized display gardens in all of the United States, Canada and Europe.

How about another number?

The humble Hemerocallis, wearing hues of orange and yellow, made its way from Asia to the New World by way of Europe and the British Isles. In colonial North Carolina, there were two types: Hemerocallis fulva and Hemerocallis kwanso, a double-blossom variety. Often called “road lily,” or worse, “ditch lily,” over the last century the daylily has been developed by “hybridizers” into more than 90,000 registered varieties!

Hurt nods at me. “Old as I am, I may run out of time,” he says. “I may run out of money, I may run out of land, but I’ll never run out of daylilies.”

And these many varieties are cloaked in the colors of the rainbow. Well, except for true blue and true white, though the hybridizers are far from giving up on breeding those colors, along with other characteristics, too.

“You know, I was talking with a hybridizer up in Kentucky who’s a friend of mine,” Hurt says, “because deer really like to eat daylilies.” Such damage can be a big problem. While Hurt and Morrow are careful to keep their plants treated with repellant, deer sometimes destroy so many plants set out by neophyte growers that they get discouraged and give up the endeavor altogether.
According to the American Daylily Society, a new grower can spend from as little as $3 to as much as $500 for a small hybrid starter plant. Since Hurt and Morrow like to add a new variety or two each garden year, he figures they’ve spent an average of $175 for each hybrid in their collection.

That’s expensive, especially to a newcomer who sees his garden wiped out in a night.   

“Anyway, I said to the hybridizer,” Hurt says, “‘you want to get really creative You ought to figure out a way to make your hybrids deer-repellent.’

My friend doesn’t miss a beat,” Hurt smiles. “‘It’s not impossible!’ he says. ‘Right now it’s just not feasible economically.’”

Hurt explains that the hybridizer has been experimenting with injecting the tastes of garlic, rosemary and thyme — flavors abhorrent to the deer palate — into his varieties.

Hurt grew up in Tennessee in a family of flower-growers. His grandfather, grandmother and mother all grew flowers.

“I still grow feather hyacinths and peonies my grandmother gave me that date back to the ’50s,” he says. “They’re in a bed at the front of the house,” he continues. “Every spring when they bloom, I think of Momma Hurt.”

After his education, Hurt taught school for many years and served as a school administrator in Franklin, Tennessee. Later he moved to Greensboro, where he served Guilford County Schools for seven years.

In Franklin he left behind a substantial garden.

“Back then I was really interested in Japanese iris,” Hurt says. “I had quite a few varieties. And I’d gotten interested in daylilies, too, which are a great companion flower to the iris.”

When he sold his home in Franklin, the new owners assured him they would take good care of the flowers in his garden. So he left them.

“You know how that goes,” Hurt says. “Their intentions were good, but they really let the plants go.”

Hurt’s first home in Greensboro was at Lake Jeanette. The lot was small, and in no time Hurt and Morrow had it filled with daylily varieties.

“We just ran out of space,” Hurt says. “But during the winter two years ago we found this house with this big lot in Summit Lakes and bought it, so here we are.”

Hurt and Morrow moved the entire Lake Jeanette garden inventory in February. “Fortunately that year we had a dry January,” Hurt says. “So it wasn’t too muddy and we were able to till new beds. We dug the plants, loaded them in garbage bags and drove them out here to get them in the ground.”

Morrow came up with the design of the garden. It’s laid out in curved beds, with ample grassy lanes between, so the gardeners can tend to their daylilies easily, and visitors can roam the beds, savoring the beauty close at hand, without trampling any plants.

“Marshall’s idea was to create something like an orchestra pit,” Hurt says. The effect is both attractive and functional.

Hurt and Morrow have a special method for preparing their plants for spring.

“We’re older now, so we’ll just do a row at a time,” Hurt says. “We don’t want to wear out our knees, you know.”

First, Hurt and Morrow carefully pull back the pine straw mulch from the crowns of the plants.

“See?” Hurt asks. “Some daylilies are evergreen through the winter. Others are dormant. Those stand a better chance in colder winters.”

Then Hurt and Morrow groom each plant, pruning out dead leaves and other organic matter. Some plants are large enough to divide, others will need another growing season. Excess plant matter and mulch are saved for composting. Once plant grooming is complete, they prepare a special spring fertilizer cocktail for the daylilies.

It consists of blood meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa pellets, powdered molasses, Milorganite and 3 inches composted cow manure.

I ask Hurt if he minds me giving away the secret ingredients of his fertilizer mix.

“Oh, no,” he replies. “It’s all about spreading the love. We want to get as many people growing daylilies successfully as we can.”

After fertilizing, the plants are mulched with new pine straw, and are ready for spring.

“You know, there’s something people forget,” Hurt says. “A daylily bloom is just that. It lasts for a day.” In fact, the word Hemerocallis derives from the Greek words for “beauty” and “day.” The flowering period for an established plant is usually weeks long, however, because of the many buds developed on the “scape,” the leafless stem of a daylily.

During summer, Hurt and Morrow deadhead the spent blooms every evening, so the beds present a pure display the next morning.

“When the plants are really going,” Hurt says, “especially when we have the garden open for viewing, it might take us as much as three hours each night to groom them all.”

Hurt tells me when he was growing Japanese iris, he learned about a Zen practice of meditating on the unfolding of an individual flower.

“That would be a good thing to do with daylilies,” he says. “But you better have some time on your hands.” He reckons the opening of a daylily blossom takes a good hour or so.

Neat, legible labels are set by each hybrid. As required by the American Daylily Society for a display garden, the labels include the registered name of the hybrid, the year the hybrid was introduced and the name of the hybridizer.

Some of Hurt’s favorites include Tony the Tiger, “an exquisite pattern introduced in 2019, with that elusive blue color and blue/yellow contrast in blooms 7 to 8 inches across,” he says.

There’s Mayor of Munchkinland, “a miniature,” Hurt explains, “meaning the bloom measures under 3 inches across, and it always, always has multiples.”

Another is Rainbow Reef, a pattern designated “small,” meaning its blossoms are 3 to 4 inches across, “and the blue is there, contrasting with pink,” Hurt adds.

Irish Mayhem is a variety with remarkable green colors and big blossoms 9 inches across. “The texture of the blooms is amazing,” Hurt says. “They feel just like porcelain.”

Then there’s Dorothy and Toto. “This variety features beautiful double blooms,” Hurt says. “When it was introduced in 2003, it won the Stout Silver Medal, the highest award the American Daylily Society gives to a hybridizer.”

And last, categorized as an “unusual form daylily,” there’s Garden Fairy. “It has this wonderful, open form, ruffles, and grows to be 46 inches tall,” Hurt says.

Clever marketers, those hybridizers. They’re constantly coming up with tantalizing names for their creations. We didn’t mention Heavenly United We Stand, Fluttering Beauty, Boss Hogg, Bloody Marys at Windy Hill, Sips of Sin or Ice Cream Sundae.

And the hybridizers are located all over the country. Hurt likes to support regional hybridizers in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia. But he also has purchased cultivars from Minnesota and Kansas.

Want to learn more about daylilies?

There’s a fount of knowledge at the American Daylily Society website, The society also publishes the Daylily Journal, along with books and other resources and sponsors a national convention, which in 2020 will be held in Savannah, Georgia.

In addition to regular monthly meetings, a local peak season opportunity will be presented by Triad Daylily Fans on June 27, 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., at Fellowship Presbyterian Church, 2005 New Garden Road, Greensboro.

And whatever you do, don’t miss Bill Hurt and Marshall Morrow’s Open Garden at 3631 Summit Lakes Road, Browns Summit, on June 13, 9 a.m. to noon. The garden should be at its blooming peak then, and you’ll probably bump into a number of our area’s master gardeners.

“It’s all about spreading the love of daylilies,” Hurt concludes.  OH

Working on this article prompted farm boy Ross Howell Jr. to recall one of his mother’s favorite passages of scripture: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Matthew 6:28-29 (KJV)