Humidity – The Felt Effects – Louisville and the South

The signal difference between the places I have lived Out West and where I have recently relocated – Louisville, Kentucky – are stark and prominent. In a word – it’s the “Humidity”. When you hear people speak of ‘dry heat’ versus ‘heat and humidity’, one often wonders what they mean. But when you walk out of an airport in Louisville on a hot, muggy Summer day, following the series of plane journeys to get there, it nearly takes your breath away. Nothing really prepares someone for it.

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And of course, literally everything grows. Man, does it grow! I had a comment the other day from my good friend James at lostinthelandscape who, like my daughter, lives in San Diego. His words were essentially to the effect – “How odd that Louisville looks much more subtropical than we do here in the subtropics!” 😉  It’s true, too. Currently, summer in Louisville feels downright Equatorial. 95 degree days with high humidity ratings make those 108 degree temperatures in Reno seem nearly mild in comparison.

Here is a mid-July look at the local park. Bear in mind it is not irrigated. With that humidity brings a different sort of rainfall pattern. When it rains here, it’s a deluge on a regular basis. Electrical storms are the norm – huge, magnificent and scary, with peals of thunder and lightning strikes all around where the lights blink in near-cataclysmic disruption and the ozone is ripe. Later on the year, of course, there are tornado concerns. They are fortunately very rare and there is plenty of advance notice but they do exist.

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I do understand the science of humidity. More than anything else, humidity controls the “moisture loss” from a plant. A plant’s leaves have tiny little pores called stomata. This is where they essentially ‘breathe’. Carbon dioxide enters and water and oxygen leave in a near pulsation of Nature’s balance. A lower humidity increases the water loss as it attracts humidity almost like a magnet. It is also why I always insisted – to some dubious looks – that I could literally “change the weather” at a home by adding grass and plants. Inasmuch as the humidity in the center of a plant is 100%, it acts like a little humidifier in its small circle of influence. Imagine what grass does.

Mornings in Louisville see the humidity averaging around 82%. Afternoons, it is always 10-25% less. The Sun acts to dry things out during the course of a day and, of course, the heavy dews of Kentucky mornings increase it dramatically. Even in Winter in this 4 season climate, where the seasons are nearly absolutely separated by conditions implicit in their times, it makes for a ‘colder cold and a hotter hot’. It’s real!

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Back to how it feels  😉

The smells linger in the air. This can be good or bad, of course, but it is also the oft-referred to quality in fiction and in references to the American South. I remember how the air was redolent with the sour mash scents of bourbon-making of my youth. My home town, Owensboro, had some preposterously huge warehouses housing the whiskey barrels of fermenting sour mash, soon to become Kentucky Bourbon, a rather famous – or infamous – export. It is so accepted, of course, we took class trips to watch them make that good old whiskey. Needless to say, hours of speculation occurred involving having the job of “taster”, complete with giggles and wonder.

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But the scents can also be attractive, alluring and very sensual. A lady’s perfume will linger in the air. After shave and colognes got great play at the male side of things, not just to hide your typical male’s sloppy grooming habits but simply because it added to the overall ambiance. There are some very sophisticated scents prowling the benches and outdoor seating of the many midsummer plays and musical events of Southern summer. It is a sensual delight, among many others. Needless to say, the floral scents can be stunning too, and there are many. Roses go in for some serious plays at this level, as do the Gardenias, Magnolias, Lavenders, Sages and the raft of odoriferous flowers and plants.

Impossibly beautiful Springs and Falls are a result, combined with atrociously hot and despairingly cold Winters which cut right through one.

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I’m a big fan of “Impossibly Beautiful Springs”, myself.

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Truly one of my favorites things to do on the Spring Days in Louisville has been to wander down to the free baseball games that the local university plays. It can be great, with excellent baseball. Plus, you never know who might show up, sitting a couple seats away! (it’s cool – Ali has a son playing – and he’s a freshman. I expect to see Muhammed Ali many times over the next few years. I’m a fan.)


The Southern Magnolia & Louisville

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The Southern Magnolia – or Magnolia Grandiflora – is a literal symbolic “Tree of The American South”.  Most comfy in a habitat that stretches across the southern portion of the Southeastern-most states in the U.S., this gorgeous evergreen  prefers the muggy Summer, sub-tropical heat and humidity which mark the climate of this area. It is actually hard to determine which is its most beautiful characteristic – whether it is the deep green and extremely glossy leaves which – when turned – show a brown and green underside of velvety texture, or whether it is the uncommonly lush and gorgeous creamy white blooms which stud the tree at the height of its real glory. Late Spring and early to mid-summers, this tree is nearly unmatchable in its grandeur and striking beauty. That the flowers themselves are slightly aromatic makes it something more along the lines of a massive Gardenia in many ways, a plant which shares its native habitat comfortably.

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Once I personally discovered a few of these fancies  growing reasonably well in Vancouver, British Columbia – when I designed and worked there – I became something of a ‘Johnny Appleseed’ for the Grandiflora. Just on the merits of foliage alone, this gorgeous tree stands apart for general appealing color and texture. That hardier cultivars had been developed also helped as well, although, to be honest, it was and still is a novelty plant for the most part. But it most definitely augments garden areas wonderfully with its medium growing size and those dynamite deep green evergreen leaves.

It is an unbearably and usually fatal chore to try and transplant, unfortunately. It has a rather unusual root system – Unlike most other trees and shrubs, the roots are largely un-branched and rope-like. For this reason, magnolias tend to suffer more than many other trees if they are moved after they reach a large size. Most magnolias can safely be moved if the trunk is less than four inches in diameter. The bottom line is always dig as large a root ball as you possibly can, use Vitamin B and water frequently. If they’re big ones, good luck!

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In Louisville, Kentucky, where these pictures have recently been taken just browsing the local neighborhoods, this year’s incredibly muggy and hot weather has really pushed them to some extremes of beauty. The cup-like blooms are getting progressively more plentiful, reverting somehow to their genetic bases of heat, humidity and sun.

These pictures are all taken during my local walks here in Louisville. People are now used to seeing me trundle up by their houses, camera in hand, getting inches away from their flora. Funny enough, it’s a great way to meet people, as long as you are rude and thoughtless enough to trespass! 😉  Of course, once they find out that you actually know a thing or two about landscaping or gardening, next thing you know, you’re walking out back and advising on plants or designs. Hi Henry!!! No more Banana Plants!!

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Just as in the case of the Portland Chinese Garden, a well-cared-for Banana Plant can actually do its thing in Louisville. The biggest concern is “Will it overtake my home??” Here is a shot at an early stage of a local Banana.

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And here is a shot of it, less than a month later. You can see it grow!

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Almost as cool as the Louisville fascination with Clematis on mail boxes! (This one with a bit of red-blooming Honeysuckle on the other side.)

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One more Magnolia Bloom. These suckers are hard to get away from!

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Louisville Spring – My New Neighborhood

Spring hit here like a ton of bricks. After a long, long, long Winter the weather has finally relented, giving up a remarkably sunny and warm period where it seems every Spring blossoming tree known to man felt the urge to unite in color and extravagance and try and get it over with as soon as possible.

2 weeks ago, this was the scene along one of my normal walks:

(left click any image to enlarge. Click twice for more detail)

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Which then evolved into this:

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And then eventually this:

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The Forsythia went hog wild, as normal:

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And this is all the early stuff! Check out these Magnolia Soulangiana’s, especially well-represented here in the South (as well as their smells!! Man, who knew??):

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Talk about overkill!

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And look at this mess!!(Not that I’m complaining.)……..

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But it is the park, designed for an optimal Springtime Show, that really moved me most. Check out this brief Time Lapse series, Daff’s and all, then enjoy Chinese Pears doing their thing, with a few native Redbuds in between. This is an extremely thoughtfully-designed park:

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Note the grass has most certainly “Gone green.” 😉

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Nice Park:

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Here a native Redbud gets loose and ready for some brilliance. It is not at all unusual to see this tree studding any forest in Kentucky. Like the native Dogwoods, Redbuds are free and easy:

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I think these Weeping Cherries are just magnificent as well –

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Here is the larger version:

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I promise to keep us all posted on the progress of these Dogwood trees:

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Anything less would be uncivilized! 🙂

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Louisville’s Ancient Fossil Beds

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Fossils!!  Old Ones! These, in fact, are pretty close to the Oldest Ever. Dating from the Devonian Era, back about – ohhhhh – 386 million years ago, the Devonian Era evokes images of  warm, tropical seas and a bustling marine realm. On land, plants and a few organisms including arthropods, arachnids and paleoinsects, were proliferating into new niche space. Amphibians first evolved in the late Devonian Period, actually just a few million years after the appearance of the first forests.

The pictures below are best viewed at double magnification (click twice) to find the details of the dam itself. The Louisville skyline rests behind the iron bridge’s framework.

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My Mother and I decided to troop out one dreary afternoon, across the Ohio River into Indiana for a visit to the “Falls of The Ohio Interpretive Center” – a fascinating and informative educational and interpretive edifice which is ironically built on top of a literal profusion of some of the oldest known fossil beds on the entire planet. The “Falls” were a series of rapids which adversely affected river traffic back during the day when river traffic flowing towards the Mississippi River and thence to the Gulf Of Mexico and a wider world was highly desirable. Louisville became a city at this point and erected a dam and a set of locks for traffic to solve the ultimately impassable rapids.

I like the picture below as it shows the outline of this great modern building as well as revealing the mess a river can make that is 1,000 miles long and drains a quarter of a continent the size of North America. A mile wide in places and running at a surprisingly rapid rate, the Ohio fits every single criterion as one of the world’s great rivers. The driftwood and blanched branches and smaller debris is the accumulation of maybe one or two years. The buildup of debris which floats downriver from West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and the rest of the eastern Midsection of the United States piles up like nobody’s business as cliffs erode and deposit whole trees as well as simply simply titanic amounts of dirt and water into the mighty Ohio River.

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Here is a detritus-only view of the pretty much yearly deposits of debris from this mutably filled, oft-receding, oft-filling expanse of running water:

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The view below is of some of the fossil beds themselves, with a glance outwards onto the plains and the crevasses which hold these little ancient wonders. The river over some millions of years on its own has carved and shaped the rock into the plains seen here.

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And here is a look backwards from the rocky plains carved and eroded by the incessant onrush of such huge amounts of water. The statue is really cool – it is a depiction of the famous North American explorer George Rogers Clark and his fellow explorer, Merriweather Lewis.

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Here is a closer look at these two, from the website:


As a youngster who prowled the forests and river banks of Kentucky, in Louisville and, downriver, in Owensboro, I developed a close relationship with the Ohio River. As a high schooler, we often got away from people and adults and ventured into secret lands, hard by the river, for swimming and playing, floating out on massive logs and tree hulks and experiencing the speed of the river’s currents. We fished it and we swam it. I once lost a pair of contact lens in the Ohio – and found them! LOL, adventure was thy name for rambunctious dumb teenagers like ourselves. But that’s the river of which I promise to speak another time – this is about fossils.

As an even younger child, we ventured out around Louisville and found fossils everywhere. It was a fecund natural area for kids who stayed outdoors in those days and who filled the hours with ventures into as many natural forests, creeks and rivers as a day would allow.  Kids would also discover Indian arrowheads and develop lush fantasies about that warrior class of human beings as well as about our local heroes such as Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. All those kid’s game were wonderful, sort of Mark Twain-like in so very many ways. But I also recall thoughtful, impressive and shared moments as we kids found fossils and wondered about their provenance.

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We all had developed a very real sense of prehistory – at least my own family’s people and those of our friends at the time. The wonder at the absolute ancientness of anything which could reflect what it was when it was alive and then become a rock pretty much capped the impossible largeness and mystery of our world and Universe. We actually got good at identifying species – “Look! A fern!”  “Wow! A mollusk and an early one!” rang through the forests and creek beds of limestone where we found these little objects. “That’s not a fossil!” “Is too!” also took place as real fossils chipped off the sides of the ancient cliffs and eroded limestone of our earth in Louisville. Arguments over a fossil or arrowhead’s worthiness as a collectible became intense as we analyzed to the limited best of our scientific little minds.

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I am truly glad for those times. Living out West, my daughter got to see its own set of geological wonders. Growing up in Reno, Nevada, Alena could experience the real glories of “steam heat” – Geothermal Benefits – of an area who now relies upon just that. There is also a mountianside of pure Quartz just outside of Reno, abiove the little town of Mogul. Whole cliff faces appear suddenly which are nearly clear or a unbelievably resplendant with its startling white jewelled facade rising up sheer stories into the higher reaches, some of whose chips and rocks can be seen below on the ground as absolutely stunningly gorgeous huge quartz boulders and rocks.


I think I come by my love of rocks honestly, I guess is what I am saying. I have always somewhat specialized in boulder placements in all my landscaping projects. To me, rocks and boulders share an equal billing on Earth. Inanimate they may be but their stories are hidden inside, only waiting for the human imagination to cultivate their fullness and richness. What was the earth like 25,000,000 years ago? Ask a rock. Most of them were well past the age for legal drinking by then. 😉

I love me some fossils:

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