Six on Saturday: Textured Tapestry

Siberian Iris just began to bloom here this week.


We’ve had a wet week here in coastal Virginia.  It always rains on the Irises here.  I keep waiting to be proven wrong on that maxim, but I can’t remember a year when my beautiful tall German Iris haven’t been beaten down under heavy rain and wind.  Brave and hardy as Iris prove in our garden, those 4′ tall stalks covered in buds and bloom can only take so much before they crumple in the rain.  I’ve been cutting away those soggy, crumpled blooms between showers, and propping up fallen stems.


Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia is native to our region


I believe most all of us gardeners still feel excitement when our favorite flowers bloom.  Some years that excitement lasts a nice long while.  Other times the weather grows erratic and the blooms are cut short by too much heat or cold, rain or drought.  Flowers come in so many novel shapes and sizes that we might never grow them all.  But for me, it is the intense pop of color that I crave most.

It is hard to pick a favorite as most every color becomes my favorite in its own place and season.  When the flowers fade and drop (and they always do,) we’re left with the rest of the plant: stems and leaves.  And so that had better be somehow attractive, too.


Purple Violas bloom with a lady fern. Wild strawberries and Vinca hide their pot and  fill the bed around fading daffodil leaves.


At some point in our garden planning each of us turns our attention from the bright excitement of flowers to the textured tapestry of beautiful foliage.  And I don’t mean the ‘restful’ monotony of solid green meatball shrubs growing out of a grassy green carpet.  I’m thinking more of the extravagant textures and intricate color patterns found on many leaves.  Leaves are long-lived.  Most will grow on for many months before fading away.

Some plants we grow for their leaves alone, never expecting or wanting their flowers.  There are thousands of ferns that never bloom.  Shade gardeners also love Hosta, and generally have strong opinions on whether to allow them to bloom or not.  Other easy choices include Heuchera, coleus, Begonias, Caladiums, the many beautiful ornamental grasses, and Liriope.


Autumn fern ‘Brilliance’ grows larger and better each year. Strawberry Begonia fills the pots surrounding this bed of ferns and Hellebores.


For pure texture, without much variegation or shading, I love herbs.  But oh, the wonderful colors in the herbal palette!  There are so many silvery, shimmery greys, deep green rosemary, purple basil leaves and every color of green mint.  Most herbs are easy to grow with very little thought or care.  They can take heat and drought and are ignored by pests and pesky grazers.  Too much rain and humidity are the only things that stop their performance.

And honestly, I’m developing a new appreciation of those wild volunteer plants commonly called ‘weeds.’  Some indigenous to this garden I’ve since realized are native wildflowers.  Others were once cultivated but now run wild.  When you just look at them for their texture, shape and color, many have their own beauty.  They may be thugs and crowd out something you planted, and may need pulling and thinning at times.  But that remains true of many perennials we plant, too.



The humble strawberry begonia, that I cultivated as a hanging houseplant in the 70’s, is actually a hardy perennial here in Williamsburg.  I started a few years ago with just a few small pots.  And as they multiplied (one of the plants known as ‘mother of thousands,’ by the way) I have used them in more pots and beds.  What was innocently planted last year as an accent plant will soon enough take over the entire pot or bed.  But what a beautiful groundcover!  And now, in May, when they bloom with stalks of tiny white fairy shaped flowers, I am glad that I’ve let it run.

These are aren’t members of the ‘Begonia’ genus.  They are a Saxifraga and perform especially well in rock gardens and pots.  But the leaf is silvery and bright like some Begonias, and it runs like a strawberry with new plants growing at the ends of long stolons.  Saxifraga stolonifera is hardy in Zones 6-9 and remains evergreen if left outside here over winter.


Native muscadine grape produce good edible grapes, when allowed to bloom. Many gardeners clear these away as they quickly grow huge if left unpruned.



Once we find ourselves in May, and perennials grow again and woody’s leaves unfold, the many interesting textures of our garden weave themselves together in beautiful and novel ways.  It is a little different every year.  Once I can get past the novelty of bright flowers blooming again, I settle in to enjoy the every changing tapestry of stems and leaves that reliably furnish the garden from now until first frost.


Woodland Gnome 2020



Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a garden photo and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

6 responses to “Six on Saturday: Textured Tapestry

  1. Mountain laurel is something we grew years ago, believing that our clients would want it. However, the market for it was so limited that it was discontinued. The stock plants do well out in the arboretum. That is good enough for me. I intend to add muscadines to my own garden, where I can maintain them. There is a single big vine at the farm. No one know where it came from. Without a pollinator, it makes no fruit. When I get my muscadines, I might add one there too. Since the vine is there anyway, it may as well make fruit.

    • Tony, I was making jam one day with muscadines from our farmer’s market, and decided to save the seeds and plant a few. They are easy to raise from fresh seeds and come true. I’m growing vines near my kitchen door, and get grapes if my partner doesn’t decide to prune the vines at the wrong time…. All you need is a pint of delicious grapes, Tony, and the desire for more. Mountain Laurel isn’t commonly available back here, but more natives appear in our nurseries each year. I’m sorry it wasn’t profitable, but perhaps it was hard to establish in your climate and soil. It grows most prolifically wild on the riverbanks, or in the mountains, here. For some reason it seems to do best growing on a slope.

      • I think it was not popular because no one knew what it was. Not many people here are native, but those who are from within the native range of Mountain Laurel are not interested in horticulture. (People who migrate here are in the electronics industries, so most conform to that culture.)
        When I get my muscadine seed, I want them to be from the wild, so I do not care if they are precisely true to type. I would consider growing cultivars too, but I really do not want that many. I suspect that the fruitless vine at the farm is an old cultivar that only needs to be pollinated, but will never know. ‘Concord’ grape has been a popular cultivar among those of us of Italian descent, as well as those of African descent. I suspect is it popular among those of African descent, and more particularly those with ancestry in the South, because it had been the only locally available cultivar that is related to the muscadines. I just happened to ask my colleague in the Los Angeles region earlier this morning about it; but he really does not know for certain. It was more common in his neighborhood than it was in mine. I really do not know why it was popular among my ancestors. No one knows. I asked. Perhaps they got bored with wine grapes.

  2. Monica MacAdams

    Autumn Fern is brilliant indeed! Plant lots! Usually, I cut out the old fronds in early spring…but this year I didn’t even bother, because they survived the mild winter in such good shape. Probably a mistake I will pay for next spring, but the coronavirus crisis has made me lazy and discombobulated…and if you want to be lazy about a plant, choose Autumn (Brilliant) Fern! Just make sure it has room to put down its roots…only prob I ever had was planting it for my 90+ year-old dad on the site of a recently-removed tree…tree roots interfered with its ability to establish.

    • Monica, Thank you for sharing that you are feeling a little lazy and discombobulated since we all went into lockdown. My friends and I are feeling that, too. Getting things done is like walking through taffy some days. I try to do things in small bits and let those small bits add up to a job done. I have been using Autumn fern since soon after it was introduced, and have been wowed with how large it will grow over time. One I moved here 11 years ago in a pot is still going strong, now in the ground. The first year or two can be uninspiring, especially if it is a dry summer. But as you say, once they establish they are ‘brilliant.’ I planted one last fall IN a small tree stump. The tree fell in a storm, leaving a jagged and partly hollow stump, which I filled with compost and planted. That little fern is still alive this spring and I have high hopes for it to thrive once its roots get set. I’ve not cut back my old fronds yet, either. They still look fresh, even though some have fallen over. Glad to know I’m not alone in just letting them be. Stay well ❤ ❤ ❤

      • Monica MacAdams

        Moving through taffy is the perfect metaphor…love it! Nice to know I’m not alone (although, except for my husband and cat, I am!). Thx, Monica

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