Always Evolving

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Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others?  What drives your selections?

My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season.  Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.

 

Basil, "African Blue" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums  grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

 

We garden to fill a need.  Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food.  Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.

Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.

 

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Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.

And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.

But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract  than by their usefulness as cut flowers.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

 

Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers.  We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

 

Our gardening  focus is shifting here.  It began our first month on the property.  I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.

I planned to replace them  with something more interesting… to me, that is.

And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.

 

 

Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.

The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.

And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

 

Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.

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After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb's Ears.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears.  Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.

 

What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.

And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage

 

Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.

 

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

 

If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.

There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.

 

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

 

And leaves are far more durable than flowers.  While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many  months.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with  stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.

 

"Harlequin" is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

 

While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course –  they do become food now and again.

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer.... But something ate them....

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….

 

It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.

Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them.  This pepper has survived to ripeness.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.

 

Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.

 

We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful  varieties of annuals each spring and fall.

The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.

 

Spikemoss is a plant we've just begun using as groudcover in pots and beds.

Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.

 

It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.

As I hope we are, as well.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

14 responses to “Always Evolving

  1. I am in the process of rethinking most of my garden right now. I’m striving towards a more low-maintenance garden and one filled with things that deer do not devour immediately. Funny how many of those things also attract butterflies and hummers. Lovely tour of your garden, thanks.

    • Thank you, Barbara. So hard to break old paradigms of what one “should” grow in a proper garden, and how much one should be able to “use” in some way. I still look longingly at raised beds full of beautiful veggies. But that is not to be here! But there is still a lot of pleasure to be found after “deer proofing,” and a lot less frustration! Hope you’re well. Thank you for coming along for the stroll 😉 Best wishes, WG

  2. farseems

    As always it is such a pleasure to “roam” your garden.
    Every season, every year evolving, bringing about changes, as you so rightly mentioned.
    This August has been amazingly delightful. The rains have kept “thirsty” squirrels away from the tomatoes!
    Each year brings new discoveries, laying to rest old assumptions.
    Best wishes
    Farrokh

    • Perfectly said 😉 So glad your tomatoes have been spared this season, and the squirrels will stay away from your garden. It has been way too long since I’ve roamed YOUR garden. I hope it has been wonderfully productive this year. Hope to see you soon- I’ll be in town for a day or two. Much love, E

      • farseems

        Was so glad to have you “roam” my garden after sooo long and then to get the wonderful tips. I went and deadheaded after you left. Would not have been able to sleep. Looking soooo much better. Thanks a million.

        • A pure pleasure to wander your garden. Cutting back now brings us more flowers for autumn. Thank you for the delicious tea, dear Farrokh. Your wonderful dish was savored as soon as I arrived home. Much love, WG

  3. Thanks for the lovely and ever-evolving
    greatest show on Earth, E! 🙂
    Happy Monday! Cheerz, UT

  4. Great topic – yes, endless change and evolution as we grow along with our gardens. Love your peach roses and those gloriosa lilies are stunning. I remember we used to get them occasionally when I was a florist.

    • Hi Eliza,

      Thank you for the kind words- These lilies are growing on vine-like stems. Did you wire them? I ordered several tubers, and have had mixed results with the plants. First time to grow them and I agree they are stunning 😉 Now I need to learn the fine points to get dependable results. What are you growing new this year? Best wishes, WG

      • I think the g.lilies were on their own stems. I remember having to treat them delicately and were put in a special vase, top shelf of cooler. Sooo long ago 😉
        Not much new this year, my garden is stuffed (plants are usually being discarded or given away) but WG influenced me to buy some begonias 😉 which are doing fairly well. I started a bunch of Viola cornuta from seed and got the idea from another blog to grow petunias, both of which are LOVED by slugs and snails, so the battle has been fierce to keep them from being totally consumed. The buggers have found my tomatoes and even though they are still green, have been attacking them – makes me crazy.

        • That is enough to make anyone crazy! Glad the Begonias are doing well.:-) Bet your friends love it when you’re sorting out plants you no longer need in the garden. Have not had an issue here with slugs on the Petunias or Violas (at least not to the extent its registered as slug and snail damage.) The deer got to our huge and until then beautiful Oakleaf Hydrangea last night, stripping it entirely of leaves. Not as bad as losing ones tomatoes, but unmannerly wildlife does take the blush off the rose… Best, WG

          • Oh, boy, it is challenging living with wild critters. Native American symbolism for deer is ‘unconditional love’ and in light of your situation, I can see that they test you to see if you can truly embody that! 🙂

            • Good one, Eliza 😉 Thank you for putting it in perspective for me. I will always think of that now as I survey the damage they’ve left behind. Found one of our little skinks crawling on the screen of my kitchen window tonight- a second story window! He was certainly determined to visit 😉 They are endlessly entertaining….

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