Six on Saturday: Endless Summer

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It’s never a good thing when odd weather makes the news.  The news here this week has noted both our high, mid-summer like temperatures and the deepening drought.  It has felt like July or early August instead of our usual gentle cooling slide into October.  I read this morning that parts of the Southeastern United States not only broke every record for daily high temperatures this past week, but some broke their record high for the entire year, over the past three days.

Clear skies and relentless heat through most of September has left our gardens, fields and roadsides crisp and thirsty.  Even some trees and shrubs look a bit limp, with leaves turning brown and falling early.  Rich autumn colors have been parched out of much of our foliage; an anti-climatic ending to this remarkable year.

But every day I still study the forecast, expecting our slim chance for rain to materialize into a sweet, moist, life-giving inundation.

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A Painted Lady butterfly feeds on Lantana in our front garden.

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Until that happens, the only life-giving water comes from a watering can or hose, and I’ve spent many hours this week delivering water to hard, parched dirt in hopes of sustaining thirsty plants through another searing day of heat.

It chased me back indoors on Wednesday.  After a relatively cool morning, where I was able to enjoy making my watering rounds at the Botanical Garden, the morning blazed into mid-day heat.  I could feel the sun burning through my hat and shirt like a cosmic broiler, as I dutifully watered the last few pots on the patio here at home.  I’ve never felt the sun so strongly in October, or felt chased back indoors so urgently to cool off and re-hydrate myself.  I sat under the ceiling fan, water in hand, and considered how this new weather reality will demand changes in how I plant in years to come.

But even as the leaves crisp and our black-eyed Susans bloom on blackened stems, bright purple berries shine on beautyberry branches, buds swell and bloom on our Camellias, pineapple sage opens its first flowers of the season and butterflies float around the garden

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The first Camellias bloomed in our garden last week.

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Our masses of Lantana support countless small butterflies, all feeding and hovering about their bulk.  I get a rush of pleasure from walking near and seeing the cloud of butterflies rise and resettle at my approach.  A Monarch fed placidly yesterday until I had it in focus.  An instant before I clicked the shutter it rose, looped around a time or two and disappeared across the crest of our roof.

Judith brought over her hamper of chrysalides on Tuesday afternoon.  About 20 butterflies were still growing inside, awaiting their day to break free, stretch their wings, and fly away.  Some of these were the same ones she rescued a few weeks ago from our fennel plants.  After handfeeding them organic parsley as they grow, she protects their chrysalides in mesh cages while they pupate.  Finally, they break out of their protective sheaths to stretch and harden their wings.

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The first Black Swallowtail to emerge from the hamper Judith loaned us was a female.  Here, she allows her wings to stretch and harden before her first flight.  She is resting directly above her now empty chrysalis.

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As we release each adult butterfly from the hamper, I wonder, ‘How do they learn to fly?’

A female flew out of the cage and rested lightly on the Lantana yesterday morning, and then floated up onto a low branch of a nearby dogwood, considering her new world.  Do butterflies remember their caterpillar lives?  Do they recognize the garden from such a different viewpoint?

Butterflies emerge from the chrysalis totally prepared for the next stage of their lives, and float off, effortlessly, to get on with the important business of sucking nectar and finding a mate.  Maybe we aren’t so different, when you really think about it.

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This long tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus, is more commonly found in South and Central America, but it has been sighted as far north as New York. It feeds on bean, Wisteria and pea leaves, so its larvae is often considered a pest.  As an adult, it is very unusual land beautiful.  Here, it feeds on Buddleia and Verbena.

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And this generation emerging from their chrysalis this week will likely mate and lay their eggs in the garden before we see frost.  Winter seems far away this week and summer, endless.

The gardening ‘to-do’ list seems longer now than it did in August, since it’s nearly time to put the garden to bed, plant a few daffodil bulbs, pull out the annuals and fill our pots with pansies.

But that will have to wait a bit while I play with the butterflies, water, and take time to appreciate the beauty of our late summer garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

 

The Shape of Things

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You may find winter’s landscape a bit stark.  Some might observe we are down to the ‘bones’ of the garden: trunks, branches, hardscape and often frozen ground.

Much of that is colored dull brown or grey, brightened here and there by our evergreens, holly berries, Nandina clusters, and rosy swelling buds.

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There’s little left that looks or feels soft.  The ground may still be littered with crumbling leaves blowing about.

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Skeletons of last May’s Hydrangeas linger here and there; an ethereal bit of Solidago shivers in the wind.  Sharp edges everywhere: sticks, thorns, spines on holly leaves and brittle branches.

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This is a sober and thoughtful turn of the seasons.  I find myself studying a crape myrtle tree as I unload groceries from the car.  Which branches need pruning next month?

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My eye wanders over to the hedge of rose of Sharon shrubs leaning at an unlikely angle towards the butterfly garden.  They’ve grown too tall and top heavy for their spot.  I’m making a mental list of things to do while the garden is sleeping.

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With the garden stripped bare and most of it slumbering, I can see the shape of things.  I can see things I like, and things that must be fixed.  I can wade into beds once filled with Canna and Hedychium, grasses and flowering stems.  Now I see the roots exposed on this leaning Camellia, and the brazen honeysuckle vines climbing up through the center of a venerable old Azalea shrub.

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I can see branches that may be damaged, diseased, already dead, or dangerous in some way.  With the leaves gone, I can finally see problems that may have been hidden before.

This is the time to fix it all.  This is the time to prune woodies, while they are dormant.  This is a good time to find and eliminate invasive vines or shrubs.  This is the time to remake the borders of the beds, study the layout, figure out where new shrubs might go and which old ones need to go.

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I learned an interesting fact this week:  Most home landscapes are only expected to grow for 20-25 years before the main shrubs must be replaced.  I’m so used to hearing about planned obsolescence in everything from cars to toasters, that the shock at hearing that statistic is mild.

You see, I happen to know that some of the Azaleas growing along our foundation were planted before 1970.  We won’t do the math there, OK? 

But a case can be made for shrubs and trees having a life span, just as a pet or any other living thing grows, ages, and eventually will die.  I look around and see a lot of things that have maybe grown too big, or grown here too long.

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Some older shrubs may be ‘fixed’ with rejuvenation pruning.  By cutting out older branches, new ones may grow.   We do this with roses, with Hydrangeas and with some holly shrubs.  I cut the beautyberry and butterfly bush back to just a couple of feet each spring, knowing it will reward me with fresh new branches.  When flowers grow from new wood, this will work.

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Other shrubs, that set their flowers in the autumn, won’t bloom if you cut their buds away by pruning now.  Azaleas, Hydrangea, Forsythia and Camellia have their buds set and ready to open once the weather warms.  After bloom, we can cut out the older, taller canes from those that send up new shoots each year.  We can head back branches grown too long, shape, direct, and guide future growth.

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This is the time to walk around with a notepad and a critical eye, making decisions about what plants may stay, which need a bit of pruning, and which must go before another spring distracts us.

I’ve been reading about ‘tidying up’ in our homes, according to Marie Kondo’s KonMari method.  I’m not yet piling all my clothes or books in the floor to sort them, but the idea of making peaceful living spaces by identifying what gives us joy- and what does not- has value.

I wonder if she has a similar method for tidying up one’s garden?

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I wonder if we wander around our own yard in January noticing what ‘brings us joy’, and what leaves us feeling anxious or annoyed, if we might be inspired to make some changes?

How often do you begin a new project to solve an old problem?  How often do you wait for a calamity to edit the structure of your garden?

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January is a good time to embrace change.  We have a fresh start by the calendar and by the wheel of the natural year, too.

Now that the garden has undressed itself and settled in for a good long rest, we can take a breath and ‘see’ what is and isn’t there.

We can see the shape of things, and dream it into any shape we choose for the many seasons yet to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Wild Life Wednesday On Thursday- Common Buckeye

This Common Buckeye looks quite uncommon to me… What colors!

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I gave my students half credit when their assignments came in a day late.  They nearly always offered a credible excuse that didn’t involve a hungry dog, too.

My credible excuse is that it was simply too hot and muggy to go around chasing butterflies or any other wild life yesterday.  We had a heat advisory in our part of Virginia, and by the time I finished watering the hanging baskets on the deck I was ready to call it a day and hide indoors.

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Today was much more promising for both working in the garden and for capturing butterfly portraits.  It meant a very early start this morning, but I joined our team at a  local garden with enthusiasm as we put in a few hours of watering, weeding, pruning, potting, and generally sprucing things up.  One of the naturalists among us was collecting seeds to package for events this fall.  And just as a few of us were standing around planning out our next task, I was blessed by a butterfly.

I’d been watching a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail visiting the Zinnias growing nearby, when it floated over and landed on my wrist.  This lovely butterfly mesmerized me because it was going about its business with most of both of its hindwings missing.  It had escaped some dire mishap with its life, and even with damaged wings had the strength and determination to fly, feed, and even visit with me.

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Lantana in our own Forest Garden this morning.  The blue on the hindwings identifies the females.

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It landed partly on my watch, and curiously uncurled its proboscis to search for something nourishing.  I was so hot and sweaty at that point that my skin was probably a bit salty, and butterflies need salts and minerals.  That is why you may notice them ‘puddling’ on the ground around a seep or puddle, drinking the moisture they find there.

We watched in amazement as it tried to ‘drink’ from between the sections of my watch band.  I gently carried this little butterfly over to one of the nearby flowers, encouraged it to drink the nectar there, and it soon walked off of my wrist and onto the waiting flower.

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We continued working another hour surrounded by butterflies and goldfinches, enjoying the breeze on a beautiful August morning.

The mercury was climbing by the time I got back home to our own Forest Garden, but there was watering to do.  On these hot days, when it hasn’t rained, we schlep around hoses and watering cans to keep the pots and new transplants hydrated.  But the watering had to wait a bit longer today, because the butterflies were out in our garden too, enjoying the morning heat and delicious warm nectar.  I snapped a few photos to share.

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Along the way this morning I also teased a toad a bit when he came to bask in the overspray of the hose.  He loved the bit of mud I left for him.  There were hummingbirds and cardinals to keep me company as I made the circuit of the garden.

It was well past noon when my partner came out to suggest that maybe it was time to come inside.  By then I’d moved down to the shade of our fern garden, and there was still a good breeze.  We knew there was rain in the forecast for this evening.

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I sat awhile admiring it all, enjoying the breeze, and noticing the purple hue creeping across the berries on our beautyberry bush.  When the beautyberries turn color, we know that autumn approaches.

Which makes these late August days all the sweeter, and every visiting butterfly more precious.  They will feel the change in the air soon enough, and one day fly out of the garden, chasing summer’s warmth on their long journeys south.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Native Beauty

Virginia thistle growing with goldenrod and beautyberry on Jamestown Island, Virginia.

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We headed out onto the Colonial Parkway yesterday afternoon, to see what we could see.   We were watching for signs of the changing season, and of course watching the sky for signs of the approaching storm.  Hurricane Jose was swirling out in the Atlantic, well away to our southeast.   Even so, the outer bands of this enormous storm were already creeping across our sky.

Once we reached  the ‘roads less traveled’ on Jamestown Island, we were delighted to see bright purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma , bright golden Solidago, yellowing marsh grasses and occasional reddening leaves.

The outer tips of branches on our native dogwoods, and some maples, have begun to change into their autumn finery.

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Yellowed Poplar leaves have been falling for weeks now.  A few inky purple berries still cling to magenta stems on the many native Aralia spinosa trees lining the road.  Their leaves will soon turn golden, too.

We stopped in a few of the pull-offs on the island to read the signs yet again, and for me to hop out to take a few photos.   As we approached one pull-off in particular, along the longer Island Drive, I was intrigued by the bright wildflowers and purple berries right beside the road.

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A pull off on the longer Island Drive on Jamestown Island.

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In addition to the vivid beautyberries  which lined the whole of the road in abundance, and the stands of goldenrod, there was something uniquely different.  This had flowers like a thistle, but on a radically different tall and lanky plant that I’d never noticed before.  What was it?

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The wild thistles we’d seen on Ocracoke Island, many miles to the south, were much stockier and shorter plants with larger blossoms.  I quickly ruled out perennial Cardoon, and every other ‘thistle-like’ plant I’ve known.

We have a passing acquaintance with most all of the native trees, ferns and perennials in the area.  And this one was new to us.

Perhaps we’d never visited the island at precisely this point in the seasonal progression before…  And so I took lots of photos, and determined to investigate the plant later, at home.

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As it turns out, the plant we found is a native of the Southeastern United States, called Cirsium virginianum, or Virginia thistle.   A biennial, it prefers moister, sandier soils along the coast.  It has a dangerously thorny stem, long thin leaves, and had grown a bit taller than I stand.  In some areas along the Gulf coast, it is considered a ‘noxious weed.’  But in Virginia, it is still relatively rare, at least in my experience.

I enjoyed the natural combination of its lavender blossoms growing against a back drop of purple beautyberry, with a skirt of bright goldenrod.    For this forested, marshy island especially, this was a rare colorful sight along the road.

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The beautyberry is rampant now in our garden, too.  In fact, so many volunteers have appeared that we often must cut them back throughout the season.  This is one of the plants I cut back hard in early spring to somewhat control its size.

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One of the larger beautyberry shrubs in our garden, which we cut hard every spring, reaches up for the lower limbs of the dogwood tree which shelters it.

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Solidago has self-seeded in sunny parts of our garden, too.   And we have a single berry-topped Aralia proudly presiding over it all.  A neighbor tipped me off to how badly the Aralia can sucker, and so I ruthlessly cut out the many small clones trying to grow up around the main stem this spring.  I suppose that will be an ongoing part of our garden routine from now on.

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Our Aralia, in its first season of bloom, surrounded by native Phytolacca americana, or pokeweed, another rampant native plant.  The birds love these berry laden natives.

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There are definite advantages and disadvantages to inviting native plants into one’s garden.  It is something to consider, especially for aging gardeners who want neat, easy maintenance landscapes around their home.

Native plants self-seed easily, and often grow and spread with enthusiasm.  It can take great effort to control them, especially if they establish on good garden soil, in areas tended and irrigated to keep them productive.  We are nearly overrun with the stunningly beautiful Rudbeckia hirta and Rudbeckia laciniata.  They both quickly claim far more real-estate than a gardener plans to give them.

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Three natives growing together in our front garden: black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum; and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  A Master Gardener friend gave us a large clump of obedient plant this spring. I divided it into several smaller clumps, and planted them in different areas to see where they perform best.  I am thrilled that this beautiful plant survived our summer drought and is blooming this first year.

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The R. laciniata wasn’t even invited; a gardening friend gave me a clump of white Monarda passed on from her friend, and some R. laciniata roots just happened to be in the clump.  But these gargantuan, flower covered plants are now filling my former ‘butterfly garden.’  I must tend to their removal this fall, when the weather cools, and weed them out ruthlessly next spring.

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Rudbeckia laciniata now fills what once was our butterfly garden, filled with various flowering shrubs and perennials.  I intend to weed most of this out over the next month, sharing it with a friend who wants it!

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The Rudbeckia hirta I shared lavishly with all gardening friends who would accept a few this spring.  I dug up clump after clump, and still have the largest, lushest stand of it, ever.  There are worse things than a sea of golden flowers come August and September, I suppose.

The rich drifts of perennials one admires in public gardens are attainable with natives, without stretching the budget, I’ve learned.

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This is the season for native plant sales, sponsored by local native plant societies.  This is a good service for communities and enables more of us to grow natives, if we choose.  While I support the effort in theory, I must admit that in general I prefer more curated, controllable cultivars.

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Self-sown Solidago in our garden, a week and a half ago, nearly ready to bloom. It has just begun to show color, and will be fully in bloom by next weekend.  This huge perennial attracts many pollinators and provides late season nectar for our bees.  But, large natives often shade and crowd out the more desirable cultivars of perennials one has purchased for the garden….

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Yes, I acknowledge the many and varied benefits native plants offer wildlife, and we absolutely grow our share of natives here.

That said, a word to the wise:  carefully research and observe any native plant you want to grow, before you invite it home to your garden.  Let  the natives you grow remain natural beauties, and may they never cross that line to become noxious weeds, overtaking your garden.

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Obedient plant with black-eyed Susans

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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A waterway through the marsh on Jamestown Island

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled.  No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.  In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.  No other place on earth feels so lush.  Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.  But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.  Truant plants will not survive.  The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do.  One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”
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Diane Ackerman

 

 

Waiting

Milkweed pods crack open to release their seeds onto the wind.

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Our lives unfold to the cadence of waiting.  We wait for the milestones of maturity; birthday candles, privileges, grades passed.  We wait for friendship and love.  Sometimes we wait for a soured relationship’s messy end.

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Garlic chives go to seed all too quickly.

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We tick off the long awaited steps of our lives at first with eagerness; later with longing.  We wait for spring.  We wait for summer’s heat to break.

We wait for the trees to bud and for the roses to finally bloom in May.

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We wait for storms to come and to pass; for children to grow independent; for dream vacations; for retirement.

Which is sweeter, the wait, or the fulfillment?

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Beautyberry ripens over a long season, to the delight of our many birds.

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“We never live;
we are always in the expectation of living.”
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Voltaire

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I await the much loved succession of our garden each year:  emergence, growth, bud, bloom, fruits and seeds.

By September, many of the season’s flowers have already gone to seeds; others are still just coming into bloom.

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Obedient plant blooms with Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susans.

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Hibiscus, Echinacea and Basil seeds bring a small cadre of bright goldfinches darting about the garden.  They have waited long months for their delicious ripening.

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Hibiscus pods split open in autumn to offer their feast of seeds to hungry birds.

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And sometimes, after the longest of winter waits, those dropped and forgotten seeds fulfill their destiny, sprouting and growing into the fullness of maturity.  Self-sown plants, appearing as if by magic, are a special gift of nature in our garden.

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Self-sown Basil going to seed again.

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No, I’m not speaking of the crabgrass or wild Oxalis sprouting in the paths and in the pots.  I’m speaking of the small army of Basil plants which appeared, right where I wanted them, this spring.   I’m speaking of the bright yellow Lantana growing now in the path, and the profusion of bright golden Rudbeckia in our front garden.

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A Black Swallowtail butterfly feeds on perennial Lantana.

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And, I’m speaking of the magnificent Aralia spinosa blooming for the first time this summer.  It’s gigantic head of ripening purple berries reminds me of why we tolerate its thorny trunk.

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Aralia spinosa’s creamy flowers have faded, leaving bright berries in their wake.

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Gardeners soon learn the art of waiting.  We wait for tiny rooted slips of life to grow into flowering plants, for bulbs to sprout, for seeds to germinate, for little spindly sticks to grow and finally bear fruit. We wait for the tomatoes to ripen and the pecans to fall.

We wait for hummingbirds to fly north each spring; for butterflies to find our nectar filled floral banquet.

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We wait year upon year for our soil to finally get ‘right.’  We wait for rains to come, and for the soggy earth to dry out enough to work in the spring.

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We are waiting for the Solidago, Goldenrod, to bloom any day now, drawing even more pollinators to the garden.

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And we wait for ourselves, sometimes, too.  We wait for our fingers to grow green enough that we can tend our garden properly, coaxing beauty from the Earth.

So much to learn, so much to do, so much to love…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”
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Fulton J. Sheen

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Waiting

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Winter Gardening

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

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Yes, it’s January, but there is still plenty to do in the garden.  When we get a fairly nice day, like today, you might feel the itch to get outside and get gardening again.  Even when the weather isn’t fine, there are still preps for the season ahead that can be done indoors, while the pace remains decidedly unhurried.

The most important winter gardening work can be accomplished from an armchair:  planning ahead.  Every year we tweak and revise; opening new ground, moving plants, refining the design.  This is a good time of year to photograph every part of the garden with an eye to its bones.  Study those photos for inspiration and instruction.  Look with fresh eyes to see new possibilities in your familiar turf.

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I also spend quite a bit of time studying plant catalogs as they come in.  I read about newly introduced cultivars of familiar plants.   I consider what perennials or shrubs I might want to add, and  plan designs for our  pots and baskets.

I try to keep notes and drawings from these winter musings.  Ideally, a binder proves helpful over time to track the evolution of one’s garden.  Include photos, receipts, tags, a site plan and notes of what is planted, and when.

January through early March prove the best months for pruning woody plants here in Williamsburg.  There is less shock when a tree is dormant, and spring growth, when it breaks, will prove more vigorous.

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Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

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Some shrubs, like Beautyberry, Callipcarpa,  respond well to very hard pruning.  Cut these back by 30% or more and they will reward you with abundant growth and heavy fruiting the following year.    I make the rounds of our Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia; Buddleia, roses, fruit trees and small ornamental trees like Japanese Maples in winter when it is easiest to see their structure.  All of these bloom on new wood.

Remove crossed or crowded branches.  Thin and direct growth.  Remove suckers growing straight up from a mostly horizontal branch, and cut back long branches to encourage bushier growth.  Thinning, to allow sunlight and air to circulate through the plant both controls diseases before they can take hold, but also produces a stronger plant.

Wait to prune shrubs like Hydrangea and Lilac, which bloom on old wood, until after they bloom each summer.  If you remove old Hydrangea blossoms before spring, carefully cut above the first dormant bud.

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Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring's growth.

Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring’s growth.  Any serious pruning can remove next season’s flowers.

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Remove any perennial stems still standing in the garden before new growth begins in early spring.  Emerging growth, especially spring  bulbs, looks neater after last year’s perennial remains have been cut and composted.

Some of us leave our Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Lantana and other late flowering seed heads to feed the birds over winter.  These will be mostly picked clean by early February and their time has passed.  Remove old leaves from Hellebores as new ones emerge to rejuvenate the plant.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 115

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Building the soil can be done year round.  Adding organic matter, especially when working with heavy clay, brings the soil, and the garden, to life.   Whether you keep a compost pile, add mulch,  or simply sheet compost fallen and shredded leaves; do something each season to improve the soil in some part of the garden.  We save our coffee grounds and spread them on beds or around shrubs every few weeks.   Feeding the soil pays dividends much longer than does spreading any chemical fertilizer.

If you are starting a new planting area, consider building a raised bed with cardboard, brown paper, newspaper, or even fallen wood as a base.  “Sheet compost” the area over the winter months by adding coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, shredded leaves, and fruit and vegetable trimmings as they come available.  Keep adding layers of materials, topping the bed with straw or even bagged compost or topsoil from the garden center.  There are many, many ways to do this.

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March 31, 2015 shamrock 015

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Earthworms, drawn to the organic matter on the soil, begin to work their way through the pile, speeding the process and enriching the ground with their castings.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly crumbled into humus before you plant in spring.  If necessary, pile a few inches of bagged soil on top of your pile and plant directly into this finished soil, confident that the composting layers will break down in the weeks ahead.

This is a better way to begin a new bed than tilling or digging because it leaves the organisms already living in the soil intact.  The roots of your newly planted garden will stretch and grow, loosening the soil as they expand.  Earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures will also loosen its structure over time.

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Chipped up wood and leaves spread over the foundation of wood will rot into good compost over time.

Chipped up wood and leaves spread over a foundation of broken limbs will rot into good compost over time.  We built this raised Hugelkulture bed in July of 2013, and it has been productive ever since.

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Winter is also a good time for building new garden structures.  Whether you are adding walls, steps, raised beds, pergolas, paths or a patio, consider beginning in late winter before the trees leaf out.  You can see the structure of things better, and your construction mess won’t detract from the beauty of your spring or summer garden.

Finally, begin planting for the coming season.  Although autumn is the best time for planting new trees and perennials in our area so they can establish during the cool and wet winter months; we find our best selection at local garden centers in the spring.  The selection of shrubs, fruiting vines, annuals, perennials trees and summer bulbs at local garden centers can feel dizzying by late March.  Ride the crest of this wave, seeking out small perennial starts and bare root nursery stock in late February or March.

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Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by may.

Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by May.

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Many garden centers will offer popular perennials in 2″-3″ pots at very low prices in early spring.  These will establish and grow to full sized plants by summer.  Planting early on will give your new plants a chance to establish and expand their root system before summer’s heat and drought.

If you’ve ordered bulbs, tubers, or bare root stock from catalogs, you can plant these up in nursery pots and keep them in a garage or basement for a few weeks until it is warm enough to set them out.   For example, many tropical tubers,  ordered in early spring, can be gotten at much lower prices than you’ll find for the leafed out plants in early summer.  Order Caladiums, Colocasia, Canna, Alocasia, Dahlias and many other beautiful plants early for the best selection of cultivars.  You can easily pot these up yourself in soil and have them ready to plant out when it warms enough for them in May.

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Caladium

Caladium

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Seedling trees from mail order nurseries may also be potted up and allowed to grow in a protected area of your garden for the summer, and then planted into their permanent spot in the garden next autumn.

As our summers grow hotter each year, I’ve come to appreciate the winter months even more.   A lot can be accomplished in relative comfort, without the distraction of biting insects or broiling sun, on warmish winter days.  It feels good to get out of doors and work in the garden.

Whether you are cleaning up, building up, planting up, or pruning; enjoy the time you spend preparing for spring’s beauty to unfold.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

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That title could say, ‘Plan ahead for your garden’s worst day’ and it would be even better advice.  I’ve been thinking about this these last few mornings as I stand outside for hours watering and watching our garden respond to weeks of dry heat.

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We gardeners are curators of a collection of living ever-changing organisms.  In the best conditions, when we get just enough rain and temperatures are mild, we have it easy.  But those days won’t last forever.  And so we must plan ahead for all of the challenges the gardening year brings; including August’s heat and drought.

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I've been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

I’ve been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

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As change is the constant in our gardens, we plan ahead for the beauties and challenges of each season.  We make sure our garden has ‘good bones’ to offer structure and interest during winter.  We plan for evergreens, architectural structure, perhaps a few interesting perennials with seed heads left standing and a few herbaceous plants which keep going through the worst weeks of winter.

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Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May.

Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May and pair well with potted shrubs and spring bulbs.

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We plant bulbs and flowering woodies to greet the warmth of spring; perennials to carry us through summer; and those special late perennials and trees with colorful foliage to give us beauty lasting through the first wintry frosts.

Good gardeners are always thinking a few  months ahead to take advantage of the season coming.

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But we also think ahead to survive the special hazards of the season coming, too.    And right now, that means having a plan in place to keep the garden hydrated until the rains come again.

It can be so discouraging to watch valued plants wither and droop from too much heat and too little water.  Mulches and drip irrigation certainly help here.  But we don’t all have extensive drip systems in place.  Some of us are carrying hoses and watering cans to the most vulnerable parts of our landscape each day.

In a few short months our weather will shift.  Winter protection for overwintering perennials will be our big concern.  We’ll begin preparing for spring with thoughtful pruning and dividing, and then watch for those late freezes which can catch a gardener unawares.

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Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

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Changing the plant palette in the garden to include tough, hardy, drought tolerant plants helps, too.  Finding plants with deep roots, thick fleshly leaves and a hardy constitution becomes more important with each passing year.  A too-delicate plant allowed to dry out or freeze for even a day may be a total loss.

I’ve been moving pots around quite a bit over these last few weeks, trying to offer more shelter and shade to plants which need it; moving those that succumbed while I was traveling out of sight….

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Lavender "Goodwin's Creek' and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

Lavender “Goodwin Creek’ and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

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A dedicated gardening friend sometimes reminds me, “There is no right place for an ugly plant.”  I tend to be sentimental and try to coax near-gonners back to health.  He is much more practical about it.  Get rid of that ugly plant and choose something better suited to the actual conditions of the spot!

And that brings us full-circle in this conversation.  Planning ahead also means deciding not to buy those plants we know won’t make it through the season.  It doesn’t matter how much we love the plant.  If the real growing conditions of our garden won’t support a plant long term, why waste the money?

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This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.

This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.  It overwintered in our garage and new plants grew quickly from cuttings.

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As we note which plants grow really well for us, we have to also note those which don’t.  I already know that the Dahlias I planted with such hope look like crap.  Several are already dead or dormant….  Most of the potted Petunias have now fried in the heat.  I cut them back hard, watered, and hope for grace. 

It doesn’t matter whether the problem is the soil, the weather, Japanese beetles, lack of time or lack of skill; let’s be honest with ourselves from the beginning.  Let’s choose more of what works for us and just stop trying to force those plants which won’t.

Let’s plan ahead for success rather than setting ourselves up for disappointment.

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Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded 'volunteers.' These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded Beautyberry in the lower right corner which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.

Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded ‘volunteers.’ These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded native Beautyberry on the right, which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.  Native and naturalized plants are dependable through all sorts of weather extremes.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:

Planning ahead also means looking for ways to do things better each season.  We should try a few new plants each year.  Let’s remain open to new possibilities both for our plant choices and for cultural practices.  Just because something doesn’t work the first time we try doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve on what we’re doing, and try again.

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These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium 'Sweet Carolina' from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction that I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for this plant in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction, which I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for new Caladium here in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Lantana has proven a winner in our garden. I never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost. It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

Lantana has proven a winner in our garden.  It never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost.  It rarely has any damage from insects and never is touched by deer or rabbits.  It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

~

Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Nature Challenge Day Four: Flowering Woodies

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Blooming shrubs fill our forest garden.  We enjoy their flowers throughout the entire year, beginning with early spring’s first Forsythia, Camellia, Magnolia and Azaleas.  Now, our garden is filled with the sweet aroma of millions of tiny white Ligustrum flowers covering towering evergreen shrubs.  It appears that some of the smaller seedling shrubs along the borders are blooming for the first time this spring.

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Towering evergreen Ligustrum bloom for weeks in early summer, filling our garden with sweet fragrance.

Towering evergreen Ligustrum bloom for several weeks in early summer, filling our garden with sweet fragrance.

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And to our deep delight, we have blossoms on some of our Oakleaf Hydrangeas.  We’ve managed to protect and sustain four, of the many planted over our years here, and they have grown into lovely shrubs this spring.

As May fades into memory, and we prepare to greet another June, we continue to enjoy a garden filled with roses.

Butterfly bush, Rose of Sharon, Lantana, Hibiscus, and many other flowering shrubs will soon open their blossoms, inviting all hummingbirds and pollinators to come share the feast in our garden.

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Blooming shrubs offer so many benefits over other types of flowering plants.  First, most offer evergreen structure throughout the year, or at least a woody silhouette through the winter months.  Our winter flowers, like Edgeworthia, Camellia and Mahonia come from flowering shrubs.  They prove hardier than any herbaceous perennial, shrugging off snow and ice.

These are ‘perma-culture’ flowers, growing larger and more floriferous each year.

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Hydrangea macrophylla have opened their first flowers this week.

Hydrangea macrophylla have opened their first flowers this week.

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Few require any significant care; most don’t even want deadheading when the flowers fade.  Many are deer resistant, although we must faithfully protect Azaleas, Hydrangeas and Roses from grazing Bambies, if they are to survive.

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Spiraea japonica

Spiraea japonica

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Like a horticultural clock, flowering shrubs mark the passing seasons.  They are dependable and predictable.  We plant a few more each year , while also watching seedlings emerge in those places we dare not dig.  Some, like Rose of Sharon and Beautyberry seed so prolifically, I pull and compost the ‘extras.’

The question comes to which seedling shrubs to prune out; which to leave and nurture.  I’m glad we’ve nurtured the Ligustrum.  They are spectacular when in bloom and provide more nectar than our pollinators could possibly forage!There is a constant hum of activity around them now.  Insects feed from the flowers, and grateful birds catch the insects.

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Flowering shrubs fill an important niche in our garden for all sorts of wildlife; including some slightly crazed gardeners!

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Blogging friend, Y. invited me to join the Seven Day Nature Challenge last Saturday from her new site, In the Zone.  I appreciate the invitation and the renewed friendship as we trade comments each day!

For this fourth day of the challenge, I’ll invite you again to join in. 

This challenge has been out there for a while, and many nature photographers have already participated.  If you would like to take up the challenge, please accept in the comments and I’ll link back to you tomorrow.

 If you decide to accept this Seven Day Nature Photo Challenge, too, I’ll look forward to seeing what surprises May has brought to your corner of the world, even as I share the beauty of ours. 

Woodland Gnome 2016

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All green is lovely, too. An autumn fern frond grows against Oakleaf Hydrangea foliage.

All green is lovely, too. An autumn fern frond grows against Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves.

Outrageous Color

Beautyberry

Beautyberry

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Fall never fails to fascinate with its outrageous color.

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 Camellia

Camellia

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Suddenly, the tired, dry world of late summer in reinvigorated by cooler nights, shorter days, and a bit of rain.  And the world transforms itself yet again.

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Each day just grows better as the colors concentrate into the brightest possible hues.  A cerulean sky floats above gold and bronze, scarlet and orange leaves of all shapes and descriptions.

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When the wind whispers even slightly, a shower of falling leaves gently let loose and dance their way to the ground.  And there they lay in moist and colorful splendor, against an emerald green mix of grass and herbs, until they fade.

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We, too, float in that magical space of Indian Summer, here in Williamsburg this year.

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After morning rain, we enjoyed warm sunshine this afternoon.  The golden late afternoon sun animated every petal and leaf in the garden.

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We had the slider to the deck open to enjoy the balmy, rain rinsed air.   The cat and I enjoyed this chance to hear the birds just outside in the trees and smell the sweetness of autumn.

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New flowers are opening daily on the Camellias.  Even our perennials still bravely pump out buds, hoping this warmth will last.

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Echinacea

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The hungry bees lap of each day’s nectar like the precious gift that it is.  And we feast on the colors of autumn, changing daily, packing in every bit of beauty to our minds’ eyes, while they last.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

NaBloPoMo_1115_298x255_badges

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“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not,

but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess,

and then thankfully remember

how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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Winter's buds have appeared on our Edgeworthia.

Winter’s buds have appeared on our Edgeworthia.

Bright and Beautiful

Forsythia

Forsythia

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The garden looks bright and beautiful today with golden October sunshine on our colorful leaves.

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Dogwood

Dogwood

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We are still on the early side of the transition here, with many trees still green.  Others have a halo of color along their silhouette, or sport leaves with mottled color.  We enjoy the beautiful transition from green to bold before they brown and blow away.

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We enjoy colorful foliage throughout the season, and select plants for the garden with interesting and colorful leaves.

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Some of these, like purple sage, will remain unchanged as winter approaches.

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This Afghan fig will grow into a small tree.

This Afghan fig will grow into a small tree.

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I’ve read several articles this week about winter gardens.  While we don’t have much man made architecture, we enjoy the living sculpture of deciduous trees, hollies, Camellias, and a few conifers.  We have added many shrubs for winter interest in the garden during our short time here, and now many of them have begun to grow into their promise.  Our Hellebores are spreading and we have added many evergreen ferns.

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Camellias growing through Dogwood

Camellias growing through Dogwood

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I catch myself imagining what the garden will look like after the frosts cut back the tender growth in a few weeks.  Some of our new Camellias are now covered with buds.  But they are hidden behind Cannas and other leaves at the moment.  It won’t be long until they come back into view, shining in the winter sunshine.

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Yesterday was Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day.  I’ve been taking photos of our beautiful leaves all week, focusing on the special beauty of our forest garden now, in late October.

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We are blessed with many interesting trees and shrubs in our garden.  Most have been here now for decades, but we have planted several dozen more.  We love their foliage, their bark, their flowers, and the shade they give.  We enjoy the variety of birds who visit to eat their berries, feed on insects living in them, and find shelter in their branches.

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A friend, who understands my love for trees, gave me an article last night written by an English gardener who has experienced the loss of Ash and other trees to various pests and diseases around  in the English countryside.  She wrote poignantly about how trees give us a sense of place.  They define our familiar landscapes.  They create our beautiful spaces which make us feel ‘at home.’

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American Holly

American Holly

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While every tree has a lifespan, most live much longer than do we humans.  We expect the trees of our lives to live on past us.  We know that most mature trees were here long before we were born.  We see them as stalwart and as a fixture of our lives we may depend upon.

It is always a bit shocking when one comes down in a storm or dies of a blight.  It is heartbreaking when wildfires claim them.

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Leyland Cypress

Leyland Cypress

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The author spoke about our rapidly changing landscapes, and how our children and grandchildren may grow accustomed to losing trees and forests; seeing meadows developed into shopping centers; and wooded areas cut for subdivisions in a way earlier generations have not.  When we lose our landscape, we lose something of our sense of place, our feeling of familiarity and ‘home.’

Our community in particular, and the east coast of the United States in general, have lost many beautiful old trees in recent years during storms.  A friend lost more than two dozen of her mature trees during a hurricane a few years back.  You could play softball in her front yard now, which once was like an arboretum.  We’ve lost so many trees to storms that many neighbors call in crews to simply cut those trees near their homes, before they can fall on a car or deck, or worse.

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While I understand their fears, I mourn for the lost trees.   And so we plant, and nurture as many of the volunteers as we can allow to grow.

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Crepe Myrtle growing back from its roots, and newly sprouted Beautyberry

Crepe Myrtle growing back from its roots, and newly sprouted Beautyberry

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And each autumn, we celebrate our beautiful trees.  If you have lost trees in recent years, I hope you have planted new ones to replace those you lost.

There are many beautiful choices available now.  Many of the newer trees have disease resistance, improved foliage, and other desirable qualities.  And this is the perfect time to plant new trees across much of the United States.  It is a gesture of love; a gesture of faith, and a gesture of hope for a beautiful future.

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Our newly planted Magnolia tree will look beautiful next spring.

Our newly planted Magnolia stellata tree will look beautiful next spring.

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You might enjoy visiting Christina to see her beautiful garden in the Hesperides in its October glory.  She has done quite a bit of renovation this year, and it is lovely now that her new plants have settled in.  You’ll find links to many other beautiful gardens from around the world.  We can draw ideas and inspiration from them all.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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