Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Atlanta Koi Club Pond Tour

At the Southeastern Flower Show this past Spring, one of the gardens that I visited was that of the Atlanta Koi Club, who had a Japanese garden with a koi pond. While chatting with the club member who was volunteering that day, I learned about their biennial koi tour that would be happening this year and resolved to attend. Usually what this means is that I find something that I really want to do, then procrastinate on buying tickets until the event is sold out, or completely forget about it until I see pictures of all of my friends having fun at said event posted on Facebook. However, this time I wised up and put it on my iCalendar as I was standing there and elected to get a notification in time to actually buy a ticket, yay for me!

The cost of the ticket was a great deal, only $25 per car, with a maximum of 4 adults per car, and really you don't want to spend an entire day in the car with much more than 3 other people, anyhow. That included admission to all of the gardens, plus a hot dog lunch and, best of all, a membership to the koi club for the rest of the year. I love being a member of groups! People who are passionate and knowledgeable about anything are my very favorite kind of people.

Did you know that koi adore watermelon? Throw a slice in a pond and watch them hoover off all that fruit in seconds flat. They also go crazy for celery, carrots and just about any other plant, you have to be careful about putting anything into the pond with them like water lilies as they will nibble them into oblivion. Most of the gardens on the tour had separate ponds for their water lilies, some with resident goldfish, as they aren't herbivores.

One of my favorite things about ponds is that they attract dragonflies, one of the few insects that don't creep me out, and I spotted dozens of different kinds on our tour.

The sheer variety of different sizes, shapes and colors was like a living picture, I took dozens of pictures at each pond as I kept choosing a different favorite fish the longer I watched. The pure white one above had these fabulous large round scales down its side creating this white on white texture that was just gorgeous!

Most of the gardens had koi themed or Asian inspired garden decor, this garden also had koi wind chimes and even a fish shaped adirondack chair! To give you an idea of scale, this fountain was nearly as tall as I am, which isn't saying much.

The hardest part about photographing water is the reflections and glare, I would love tips on avoiding this from any photo geniuses who may be reading this post, although I feel like it worked in my favor on the above shot where the koi is swimming through the cloudy sky.

I think I was most impressed by this garden where the homeowner actually digs up all of his banana trees, elephant ears and other tropicals every fall and stores them in a warehouse only to replant them again every spring. I can't even be bothered to pull weeds, so this level of commitment is awe inspiring.

This was one of the smallest ponds on the tour, just down the road from me in Norcross. I appreciated the size, which seemed more manageable to me, and the water clarity, which was like glass. Water clarity can go from clear to cloudy overnight as fish spawn, UV bulbs and filters breakdown, koi people have a lot of challenges.

This was our last stop, where faulty UV bulbs left the pond so murky you couldn't see the koi at all, luckily this dragonfly agreed to be my model by posing obligingly on this statue. I should also mention that all of the club members were so incredibly kind, at this pond the homeowner invited us to come back in a few days after the new bulbs had a chance to do their job and clean the water. I haven't had a chance to go back yet, but plan to do so the next chance I get.

If you would like to see the other 150 or so pictures I took during the tour, I have them in a set here.

Look at that face, they are so friendly and have so much personality!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Black Hills

When you tell people in Rapid City that you want to see the presidents, they will all assume that you want to see the ones above, which, don't get me wrong, are pretty impressive. But the ones I wanted to see are the ones below, the 42 bronze statues of past presidents of the United States that stand on the street corners of St. Joseph and Main between 4th and 9th Streets.

The life sized statues started to appear on street corners in 2000, each created by 6 different artists with ties to South Dakota. James Monroe doffs his top hat to visitors in front of The Presidents Info Center and Gift Shop, where you can pick up a fee guide to the statues.

My personal favorites are those sculpted by John Lopez, who gained acclaim with his western and rodeo themed work. His Calvin Coolidge is holding a Stetson, wearing cowboy boots and is standing next to a saddle made for him by Rapid City based Bud Duhamel of the Duhamel Company, the largest US supplier of saddles in the first part of the 20th century.

While you are strolling around downtown, be sure to walk through Art Alley, a constantly evolving showcase of local graffiti artists skills. Not only are the walls decorated, but so are the dumpsters, and even random pipes coming out of the back of one of the buildings have been yarn-bombed.

After you have finished with downtown, which won't take much more than a day as it's tiny, head out to Custer, where, if you're lucky, you may get to see some buffalos roaming. On the day we were there, I think most of the animals were on vacation, as this little herd was pretty much the only wildlife we saw, despite driving through the park for over an hour.

Turns out buffalo dung makes an excellent fertilizer as evidenced by these and other wildflowers blooming all over the park. The fact that they had the snowiest April on record, almost 6', also contributed to the vibrant green of the hills that reminded me of the Ring of Kerry.

If they ever finish the Crazy Horse Memorial, I think it will be a real sight to see, but since it has only made it this far in the 65 years that they have been working on it, it doesn't seem likely that it will happen in my lifetime. After a day of sight seeing, it's worth a stop at the Prairie Berry Winery, who knew they grew grapes in South Dakota? They will let you taste 5 wines for free and make sure that Red Ass Rhubarb is one of them, it may taste more like alcoholic fruit punch than wine, but it is very refreshing on a warm afternoon.