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Flower carpet inspired by stained-glass art is set to open at Biltmore

This year's flower carpet at Biltmore was inspired by stained-glass windows created by artist John La Farge in the 1880s.
This year's flower carpet at Biltmore was inspired by stained-glass windows created by artist John La Farge in the 1880s.

Gem-colored blossoms of 155,000 plants in deep shades of red, orange, blue, yellow and gray will soon appear within garden walls on the South Terrace of the palatial Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C., set against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Placed as a living carpet, a design based on stained-glass windows created for the Vanderbilt family by artist John La Farge in the 1880s is being assembled by crew leader Travis Murray and his team of gardeners for a show running Aug. 20 to Sept. 12. The sparkle of purple lady iresine, Janie tangerine and bright-yellow marigold, dark star coleus, profusion white zinnia, diamond frost euphorbia and prelude rose begonia highlight this living mosaic.

Biltmore had a flower carpet in 2009.

Biltmore's horticulture director, Parker Andes, said the carpet was inspired by an installation at the Grand-Place at Audenaarde in Brussels, Belgium, to celebrate its floral industry.

"We knew we could do it right if we could make it large enough," Parker said. "The South Terrace was the perfect venue in terms of size (the carpet is about 14,400 square feet). Plus the carpet event fits the original design intent for the Terrace as an outdoor living and entertaining space."

Asheville is about a five-hour drive from Lexington. Tickets for day ($55) and evening ($65) programs include tour admission. The evening program features live jazz performances and optional light meals. For more information, go to www.biltmore.com.

New at Floracliff

The newly built Winifred Haggart Nature Center at Floracliff Nature Sanctuary is set for a grand opening Oct. 23. The open house also will celebrate the 400th anniversary of Kentucky's oldest documented tree, a chinkapin oak, growing on the grounds, with hikes and activities through the day. Founded in 1958 by Mary Wharton as a resource for environmental education and research, the 287-acre preserve lies along towering limestone palisades and a fragile ecosystem lining the Kentucky River in southeastern Fayette County, at 8000 Elk Lick Falls Road.

You can lend a hand and volunteer to help at the open house, or you can join work sessions at other times to remove exotic invasive species. Call director Beverly James at (859) 351-7770.

Visits to Floracliff are by appointment only, but James welcomes program suggestions. "We are hoping to expand on our programming over time by having more in-depth workshops, seminars and indoor presentations," she said.

Some scheduled events include:

■ Macroinvertebrates and Water Quality, 10 a.m. Aug. 20, which offers a chance to explore the creek looking for crayfish.

■ Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, 1 p.m. Sept. 4, which shows how some popular garden plants have become invasive.

■ Aromatic Plants of Floracliff, 1 p.m. Sept. 25.

Registration is required; call (859) 351-7770 or go to www.floracliff.org. The cost is $4 a person or $10 a family.

Insect percussion section

This time of year, the sounds of summer nights (beyond the hum of air conditioners) include insect mating songs: cricket chirps, katydid rattles and cicada rasps. With percussive precision, these small insects rub legs or wings together to produce strident mating calls.

There are a couple of easy-to-use reference sites on the Web to help you figure out which chirpers are in your yard. The sites have illustrations of the insects and audio recordings of their sounds:

■ Thomas J. Walker and Thomas E. Moore collaborate on Singing Insects of North America at www.entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/buzz.

■ Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger have audio clips linked to color close-up photographs from their book Songs of Insects at www.musicofnature.com/songsofinsects.

■ The University of Kentucky Entomology Department's site, www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/casefile.htm, has photographs and descriptions to help sort out Kentucky's critters.

Book review

Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses By Adrian Bloom.Timber Press. 208 pp. $34.95.

A nurseryman in charge of the famous Blooms of Bressingham nursery in Norfolk, England, and a gardener for more than 50 years, Adrian Bloom has a talent for choosing mix-and-match perennials.

In showing how to create his signature "river of plants," a sustainable, naturalistic arrangement that flows through the year displaying color and soft textural combinations, he manages to describe about 400 plants, but he also narrows down choices for beginners to 12 basics, including black mondo grass, Francee hosta, Rozanne geranium, Lucifer crocosmia, and Goldsturm black-eyed Susan.

Well-captioned photos show stunning close-up combinations, while others step back to show large-scale landscape designs in which evergreens and grasses provide height, and perennials are planted in swaths of color. This book is an inspiration from a man whose life work has been in the garden.