Creating A Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden

We delight in our butterflies and hummingbirds all summer here in our forest garden, but especially in July when they visit in abundance. I have finally updated one of the earliest posts from the early days of Forest Garden in 2013 to include an expanded list of plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden, and more recent photos from our garden.   We hope you are inspired to attract more of these beautiful winged creatures to your own garden.

-WG

Forest Garden

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

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Even before buying this home, we were  enchanted by the many butterflies and songbirds darting around from tree to tree  behind the house.  There were trees I couldn’t even name covered in sweet smelling flowers growing in the edge of the ravine, Rose of Sharon bushes behind the house, and a great Mimosa tree covered in silky pink flowers.  Butterflies flew a circuit from one to the next, and bright hummingbirds flew unbelievably close to our windows to get to the huge Rose of Sharon flowers.

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July 20, 2014 butterflies 014~

Over that first long winter, I planned for a butterfly and hummingbird garden to bring these bright creatures even closer.  We have been rewarded many times over by the beauty of both the flowers and the birds and insects drawn to them.

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October 1, 2010 044Sages, zinnias, Lantana and roses provide a constant variety…

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Things Change: Butterfly Garden

Pineapple Sage fills the butterfly garden last October.

Pineapple Sage fills the butterfly garden last October.

 

The butterfly garden was built four springs ago during our first year on the property.

Finding the garden full of butterflies and hummingbirds when we first settled in, I wanted to plant even more nectar rich flowers  on the sunny west facing slope between our house and the ravine.

We constructed a raised bed, roughly 8′ deep, which stretched the full length of a fairly flat area between walkways.

 

March of 2010, our newly built bed is ready to plant.

March of 2010, our newly built bed is ready to plant.

By then we had discovered the voles.  So we laid down landscaping fabric and filled the bed in with purchased garden soil and compost, hoping to create a bed the voles couldn’t reach.

And that first season we planted three butterfly bushes, three rose bushes, white and purple coneflowers, several different Salvias, lots of Basil, Cleome, Monarda, giant Zinnias, and probably a half dozen other things I’m not remembering.

Late June of 2010, the newly planted garden is taking off.

Late June of 2010, the newly planted garden is taking off.

It was gorgeous, especially in late summer and early autumn, when all of the Salvias came into bloom.

Back then, the Rose of Sharon shrubs weren’t quite so tall on the bank above the garden.

There were a few spindly little deer nibbled Rose of Sharon shrubs below the bed, too;  but they were too short to make significant shade.

The garden in 2011

The garden in 2011

The bed has changed a little each season.  I’ve added several new rose bushes and some Iris.  Two of the Buddleia davidii  died over winter.

But perhaps the most significant change has been a change in the light reaching the garden from full sun to partial shade.

June of 2011 with full sun, the herbs and perennials grow happily.

June of 2011 with full sun, the herbs and perennials grow happily.

And I was inspired to keep planting in tiers down the slope, setting out shrubs as they outgrew their pots, more iris, and lots of little Rosemary and Lavender plants on the sun drenched slope.

Like with any growing family, over time, things change.

By mid-August of 2014 surrounding shrubs shade the actual raised bed..

By mid-August of 2014 surrounding shrubs shade the actual raised bed..

The Rose of Sharon in front of the bed, given a little love in the form of careful pruning and Plant Tone have just taken off!  They’ve grown from knee high to “out of reach” in just these last few years.

The little re-blooming lilacs moved from pots into the ground quickly quadrupled in size, casting their shade back onto the original raised bed.

Plants along the edges of the bed have gotten enough sun to grow.  The Pineapple Sage made it through the winter, and has grown high again this year.  It will burst into bloom late next month.

Plants along the edges of the bed have gotten enough sun to grow. The Pineapple Sage made it through the winter, and has grown high again this year. It will burst into bloom late next month.

I started work in the butterfly garden in early spring, cutting back last year’s woody growth and weeding.

Our long cold winter delayed appearance of the perennials.

But I kept puttering out there, transplanting bulbs “in the green” from pots into the ground, pruning and feeding the roses, and finally as the weather warmed, planting Basil, Zinnias, and scented geraniums.

April 2014, Comfrey and Parsley

April 2014, Comfrey and Parsley

But the butterfly garden never quite came together this summer as it has in past years.

We had a nice crop of roses in May, but the Monarda, Echinacea, and Cleome just didn’t appear as I had expected.

And while I waited for them to appear, weeds sprouted in their place.

Late May 2014

Late May 2014

But I was busy elsewhere and let them get away from me.  Life happens, doesn’t it?

And, as you surely know, I’ve invested a lot of my “gardening hours” in other parts of the garden this season.

So last week, when I finally had a stretch of days at home, it came time to face the sad state of our once stunning butterfly garden and see what could be done to fix it.

The roses are already shaded by over arching Rose of Sharon shrubs here in mid-May.

The roses are already shaded by over arching Rose of Sharon shrubs here in mid-May.

With  encouragement from the weather, we used the cool August morning to our advantage, and waded in.

I pulled out weedy growth by the handful, and my partner gathered it all and carted it off to return to the Earth in the ravine.

The main offender, Mulberry weed, or Fatoua villosa, has leaves enough like our herby perennials that it can easily hide out near other plants.

It grows thickly from seeds left the season before, and easily shades out more desirable plants returning from seed.

It was the featured weed of the month in a gardening magazine I happened to read last week.  When I learned that it can shoot its little seeds up to four feet away from the mother plant, I realized it could be tolerated no longer!

Mulberry weed is growing among the perennial Ageratum, at the base of the Echinacea here.  This is on the opposite side of the pathway from the raised bed.

Mulberry weed is growing among the perennial Ageratum, at the base of the Echinacea here.   This is on the opposite side of the pathway from the raised bed.

The ground was soft and moist enough to allow us to pull the weeds, roots intact, with minimal effort.

I was happy to find a few of the Salvias and Monarda we’d been watch for struggling on among the weeds.

Zinnias and Penta, on the front edge of the bed, got a bit dirt covered during the great weeding....

Zinnias and Penta, on the front edge of the bed, got a bit dirt covered during the great weeding….

But the main problem with the bed wasn’t really the weeds…. it was the shade.  Leggy growth on perennials can only be explained away in so many ways….

Although I thinned out some of the over-arching Rose of Sharon branches, that won’t be enough to restore this bed to its original sunny exposure.

Rose of Sharon, which has grown from knee high to "out of reach" in such a short time.  Butterflies and hummingbirds just love these flowers.

Rose of Sharon, which has grown from knee high to “out of reach” in such a short time. Butterflies and hummingbirds just love these flowers.

 

It is time to acknowledge that the growing conditions here have shifted, and adjust with new plants.

 

Leggy growth is a sure sign of too much shade.

Leggy growth is a sure sign of too much shade.  This poor rose was recently grazed by deer, in spite of the scented geranium planted in front of it.

The roses will stay, of course, and the herbs and Lantana planted along the very front edge will just have to manage for the remainder of this season.

We also have one good stand of Pineapple Sage on the  end of the garden.  But once the weeds were pulled, there was a lot of bare real estate to replant.

Early August, before I got busy working on the butterfly garden.

Early August, before I got busy working on the butterfly garden.

Visiting deer remain a  complicating factor for this garden, which limits plant choices.  All of the Heuchera I moved out of pots to this garden in the spring have been grazed.

The scented Pelargoniums, onion sets, Basil, and Comphrey were supposed to help keep the deer away… But the roses and missing Heuchera bear witness to the deer and their hunger.

So what nectar rich, deer resistant, shade loving plants might survive in this garden?

Hardy Begonia, before I dividided it and replanted portions in the butterfly garden.

Hardy Begonia, before I divided it and replanted portions in the butterfly garden.

Most of the obvious selections, like Impatiens, Hosta,  or Solomon’s Seal have already proven too tasty in summers past.

Even Coleus, which produces flowers in the sun, tempts our deer from time to time.

But  hardy Begonias have survived  on a shady bank, in another part of the garden, since we planted them there in 2009.

Hardy Begonia begins its season of bloom in August, and blooms until frost. Here, on a shady bank.

Hardy Begonia begins its season of bloom in August, and blooms until frost. Here, on a shady bank.

 

These beautiful plants bloom in the shade, attract butterflies, spread, and return year after year.  Luckily, we have a large pot of them started from cuttings last summer, which survived the winter, too.

Ferns will also fill the space beautifully, hold no interest for deer, and spread a little each year.

We had a large clump of Japanese Pained Fern, Athyrium niponicum in a pot on the deck which needed dividing anyway.

So I began the rehabilitation of this once lovely garden with divisions of fern, Begonia, and two hardy ferns picked up at Lowes.

 

Divisions of Japanese Painted Fern and Hardy Begonia will spread to fill the shadiest portions of the butterfly garden.

Divisions of Japanese Painted Fern and Hardy Begonia will spread to fill the shadiest portions of the butterfly garden.

Once plants fill the space, weedy growth will not be much of a problem.  And once the Begonias establish, they will bloom here reliably season after season.

A bag of compost is always a good investment when re-working a garden space, and I added it generously to this bed as I planted.

I grew this particular Begonia for more than a decade in my last garden before moving it here, and I have no idea what its cultivar name might be.

 

August 16, 2014 garden 036

Plant Delights Nursery offers a dozen different hardy Begonias which I’m looking forward to trying here.

Begonia grandis, ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ is growing nicely in a pot on the deck.  I’ll take cuttings and have more plants to add to the now shady butterfly garden by next season.

Begonia, ‘Pewterware’ should arrive in the mail later this week.  A new plant in the catalog, I’m looking forward to watching it grow.

We also have Saxifraga stolonifera, or Strawberry Begonia, spreading like crazy in a large pot in the front garden.   I’ll move a few of these around to the front edge of this garden for spring blooms.  We saw them in full bloom at Forest Lane Botanicals this year, and they make an impressive display for a few weeks each spring.  They provide a pleasing ground cover during the rest of the season.

There is space left to add a few more ferns to the garden around the Begonias.

Autumn 'Brilliance' fern remains evergreen in our garden.  I'll add a few of these to the bed as they come available.

Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern remains evergreen in our garden. I’ll add a few of these to the bed as they come available, and will also add some evergreen, winter blooming Hellebores.

The Patton’s have promised that a shipment of ferns will be in at the Homestead Garden Center later this week, and I’ll hope for an interesting selection.

We have plenty more Japanese Painted Ferns in pots to divide, but they are deciduous ferns.  I’d like at least a few evergreen ferns to fill the bed over the winter.

One thing I’ve learned over the years:  good gardeners experiment continuously. 

August 16, 2014 garden 045

We continue to experiment and to observe; to try new plants and methods, and to learn more than we currently know.

We change and grow with our gardens.  And we find ways to transform disappointments into opportunities.

That is our philosophy in our Forest Garden, and thus far we’ve been rewarded richly  for our efforts.

August 16, 2014 garden 041

 

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Creating A Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

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Even before buying this home, we were  enchanted by the many butterflies and songbirds darting around from tree to tree  behind the house.  There were trees I couldn’t even name covered in sweet smelling flowers growing in the edge of the ravine, Rose of Sharon bushes behind the house, and a great Mimosa tree covered in silky pink flowers.  Butterflies flew a circuit from one to the next, and bright hummingbirds flew unbelievably close to our windows to get to the huge Rose of Sharon flowers.

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July 20, 2014 butterflies 014~

Over that first long winter, I planned for a butterfly and hummingbird garden to bring these bright creatures even closer.  We have been rewarded many times over by the beauty of both the flowers and the birds and insects drawn to them.

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October 1, 2010 044

Sages, zinnias, Lantana and roses provide a constant variety of sweet nectar in the butterfly garden.

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By nature, these animals like to stay on the move, and appreciate a variety of different locations where they can feed.  We provide several beds of nectar rich flowers, and also grow pots and baskets of flowers on the deck and patio to attract them close to our windows.  This keeps them well fed and attracts a huge variety of bees, dragonflies, and other insects in addition to the butterflies.

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Buddliea, or Butterfly Bush, attracts lots of attention in the garden and is a generous supplier of nectar.  New compact hybrids are available, but the species can grow quite large and benefits from hard pruning in February.

Buddliea, or Butterfly Bush, attracts lots of attention in the garden and is a generous supplier of nectar. New compact hybrids are available, but the species can grow quite large and benefits from hard pruning in February.

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In addition to food, butterflies and hummingbirds need safe areas to rest and sun themselves and a source of water.  A shallow dish full of sand, gravel, and fresh water serves the butterflies.  Hummingbirds enjoy flying through a gentle spray of water, whether from a fountain or a garden hose.

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Butterfly tree attracts many butterflies and hummingbird moths to the garden.  These grow wild in our neighborhood.

Butterfly tree attracts many butterflies and hummingbird moths to the garden. These grow wild in our neighborhood.

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It is important to use organic products, and avoid poisons, in areas bees, butterflies, and birds frequent. 

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August 26, 2014 garden 044

Chives

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There are high quality and affordable products widely available to fertilize and control fungal infections for the plants.  Attracting a wide variety of insects and birds keeps any insect infestations in check.

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Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

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A huge variety of song birds will show up to feast on the many insects attracted to this garden.  Hummingbirds also eat insects.  I frequently find toads, turtles and small lizards in our butterfly gardens feasting on whatever insects crawl or fly past.   Bats visit our garden at dusk, leaving their shelters in the ravine to fly loops over our garden, devouring insects as they fly.  Using poisons of any kind will defeat the purpose of a garden planted to attract wildlife.

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Dill in our garden last July

Dill with Lantana offer an irresistible attraction for butterflies and other small pollinating insects.

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Our butterfly gardens have evolved and grown over our six summers now in this garden.  We have added a greater variety of native perennials like Joe Pye Weed, Milkweed, and hardy native Hibiscus.  We have also planted more herbs and other fragrant plants distasteful to the deer.  We always include herbs which double as host plants, such as fennel, dill and parsley.

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Baskets of Fuschia near the house keep hummingbirds happy.

Baskets of Fuchsia keep hummingbirds happy and frequent visitors.

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We have opened up new gardens in every part of the yard, leaving some natural areas for habitat.  From Crepe Myrtle and Lantana growing at the top of our garden along the street to gardens terraced down the back slope towards the ravine, there are abundant food sources to attract a variety of nectar loving creatures.

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Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

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The garden always grows more exciting after the first hummingbird and first butterfly is sighted in the springtime.  It feels very empty when they depart in the autumn.  But for those wonderful months in between, we enjoy exploring the garden each day, watching for these fascinating visitors.

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Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

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Here is a list of some annuals, perennials, herbs, vines, and shrubs I grow to feed and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and song birds.

Achillea (perennial flower)

A hummingbird moth feeds from our Lantana.

A hummingbird moth feeds from our Lantana.

Basil (annual edible herb)

Buddleia (also, “Butterfly Bush” perennial shrub)

Canna (perennial flower)

Clary Sage (annual herb)

Cleome (annual flower)

Coleus– (annual)

Comfrey (perennial medicinal herb with lavender flowers)

Crepe Myrtle (flowering tree)

This is one of the many Crepe Myrtle trees growing around our garden.

This is one of the many Crepe Myrtle trees growing around our garden.

Echinacea  (perennials flower which attracts butterflies.  The seeds attract goldfinches)

Fuchsias (tender perennial)

Jasmine (flowering vine)

Lavender (perennial edible herb)

Lilac (flowering shrub)

Heliotrope (annual herb)

Hibiscus (perennial or tender perennial shrub, depending on the variety)

Hollyhocks (biennials or perennials)

Coleus

Coleus

Honeysuckle (perennial vine)

Hyacinth Bean (annual vine)

Jasmine (perennial vine, evergreen)

Lantana (annual or tender perennial, depending on the variety, in Zone 7 B)

Marigolds (annual flower)

Mexican Blue Sage (perennial herb)

Milkweed (perennial flower which is also a host plant for Monarch butterflies)

Mimosa (flowering tree)

Monarda (also called Bergamot or Bee Balm.  This is an edible herb)

Moonflower (flowering vine)

Oregano (perennial edible herb)

Parsley (biennial herb, host for caterpillars)

Hardy Hibiscus

Hardy Hibiscus

Pelargonium (any of several types of perennial geraniums)

Pentas (annual flowers)

Petunias (tender perennial flower)

Pineapple Sage (perennial edible herb whose red flowers attract hummingbirds)

Roses (perennial shrub)

Rose of Sharon (flowering shrub)

Rudbeckia (perennial flower)

Salvia (perennial herbs, some are edible)

Yarrow (perennial flower)

Zinnias (annual flower which attracts butterflies.  The seeds attract goldfinches)

Woodland Gnome 2013-2015

 

Mexican Blue Sage and Pineapple sage are the main attraction in the butterfly garden at the end of October.

Mexican Blue Sage and Pineapple sage are the main attraction in the butterfly garden at the end of October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabulous Friday: White Butterfly Ginger Lily

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The very first blossoms on our white butterfly ginger lilies opened yesterday morning.

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Their fragrance is indescribably sweet.  With pure white flowers over a long season,  they are one of the flowers we love most as summer slowly melts into fall.

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Our patch of ginger lily has grown a bit shaded over the years, and I see them leaning out for the sun.  By October they will be at least a foot taller, and covered in white flowers.

The hummingbirds love ginger lily flowers, too, and we’ve even seen hummingbirds feeding on them at dusk.

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These elegant perennials are one of the few ginger plants hardy this far north.  Hedychium coronarium grows in zones 11-7b, so we are right on the northern edge of their range.  Last winter was hard on them, and they were slow to return this summer.  In a good year, and in good sun, they can grow to 7′ high.

We are happy to see them coming into bloom now, and look forward to weeks of their beauty.

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Also blooming for  the  first  time  today is the red spider lily, Lycoris radiata.  After last night’s heavy rains, we expect to find many more stems emerging over the next few days.  These  bulbs  wait  for  a  good  soaking  to  finally  bloom in  late  August  or  September, often  after  a spell of  hot, dry weather.  Which  is  how  they  earn  their  other  common  name, hurricane  lily, when  they  suddenly  appear  after  a  big  storm .

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It is always interesting to watch the garden unfold day by day and week by week.  It is always changing, and there is always something to look forward to as the seasons come and go.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Fabulous Friday: 
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another

Butterfly’s Choice: Aralia spinosa

Aralia blooms mingle with wild Clematis along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

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We stopped to admire the Clematis.  It was only once we pulled in to the parking area that we noticed the butterfly.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Aralia spinosa.

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And what a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail he was, contentedly feeding on the Aralia flowers.

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Aralia spinosa is one of those wild trees we notice growing along the roadsides that appear, to our eye, rather weedy.  They grow tall and thin, eventually forming dense thickets, and sport wicked sharp thorns along their trunks and branches.  A native in our area, most sane folk would never allow them to take root in their garden.

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But their thorns can be overlooked in late summer, when the Aralia produce huge, thick clusters of tiny flowers.  The flowers bloom, and after the blossoms drop dense purple berries take their place.  Butterflies love their flowers and all sorts of song birds love the berries.  These small trees produce abundant food for wild life each summer, before their leaves drop in late autumn.

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“The Devil’s Walking Stick”, Aralia spinosa, with berries forming.  This stand grows along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

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We got to know Aralia when our neighbor’s fell over under its own weight one year, and leaned its huge flowery head into our back garden.  Perhaps it was merely reaching for the sun; I was intrigued.  Within another few years, we had one sprouting in the upper garden.  I decided to give it a chance and let it grow.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge each spring.

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It lost its top in a storm in early spring this year, and just as I hoped, more branches and flower heads sprouted lower along its trunk.  Where last year we had one large flower cluster at the very top, this year we have several.  We often find our Tiger Swallowtails winging their way up to enjoy its nectar.

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But here along the Colonial Parkway on Sunday afternoon, I was still surprised to see the swallowtail feasting only on the Aralia, and completely ignoring the Clematis.  To my eye, the Clematis flowers are far more appealing.  They fairly shimmer in the sunlight, and they are a bit larger and perhaps easier to access.

But butterflies perceive the garden differently than do we.  Something about the Aralia intrigued this butterfly and kept it satisfied.  The Aralia is a Virginia native, and this particular Clematis is a naturalized variety from Asia.

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Clematis terniflora was introduced from Asia, and has naturalized in many parts of the country, including here along the Colonial Parkway.  Its fragrance is strong and sweet.  This variety is on the invasive list in several states.

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As we garden, we have to come to terms with our purposes.   What do we intend to accomplish by planting and tending our garden?  Who is the consumer?  Who is to be pleased by it?  Are we growing food for ourselves, enjoying the latest brightest flowers, creating a peaceful green sanctuary of shrubs and trees, or are we gardening to nurture wildlife?

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We can find compromises, but we can’t do it all.

What appeals to wildlife may not be our idea of horticultural beauty.  Maintaining a garden that is immaculately beautiful won’t serve the needs of the butterflies, birds, toads and other creatures we may hope to attract.

Wildlife will impact any food crop we cultivate, for good or ill, and we need to come to terms early on with whether we will use the many chemicals that promise garden perfection.

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Native Asclepias incarnata grows wild in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

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It helps to know what wildlife need and prefer if we want to contribute to conservation efforts to protect them.  But that doesn’t mean we want all of those plants surrounding our home.  Many have a short season of beauty, or are rampant, or simply prefer to grow in wide open spaces.

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Native Pickerel weed, Pontederia cordata, may be used in water features in our garden.  Here is grows in one of the marshes on Jamestown Island, along with Phragmites.

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Maybe our homeowners association has strict standards for how our yards must be maintained.  Growing vigorous native plants may be discouraged, in favor of more traditional landscaping.

There is a tension, sometimes, in how we resolve these apparent conflicts of purpose, intent and personal needs.  But there can be creative, and beautiful compromises possible, when we stop and observe closely enough, and plan with clarity and wisdom.

Our love of the wild and beautiful world around us helps us discover those compromises, and find joy in the result.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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A wildlife friendly border, with mixed natives and exotics, in our upper garden.

Fabulous Friday: Our Garden Is Full

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

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It was just a little goldfinch.  Yet I was so delighted to notice it gracefully balanced on a yellow black-eyed Susan flower near the drive, when we returned from our morning errands.  He concentrated his full attention on pecking at the flower’s center.  Though the seeds aren’t yet ripe, he was clearly hoping for a morsel to eat.

Once I took a step too close, he lifted into the air on outstretched wings, disappearing behind a stand of goldenrod.

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‘Green Envy’ Echinacea mixes with basil and more Rudbeckia, a feast for goldfinches and butterflies.

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Goldfinches and cardinals catch our eye with their bright feathers, but there are all of the other grey and brown and occasionally blue birds flitting from grass to shrub and flowering mass from before dawn until their final songs long past dusk.  And then we listen for the owls’ conversations through the night.

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I heard a wonderful speaker yesterday morning, who pulled back the curtain a bit on the world of insects in our gardens.  He is a former student of Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , and is now an assistant professor of Biology at nearby Hampton University.  Dr. Shawn Dash is a gifted teacher, keeping us all laughing and learning as he shared his insights into the importance of the insects of the planet in maintaining the web of life.

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Joe Pye Weed attracts more insects than any other flower in the garden this month.

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I am a total novice in this mysterious world of insects.  But I will say that I am learning to look at them with admiration and respect… so long as they remain out of doors in the garden!

Joe Pye Weed is the best wildlife attractor blooming in our garden at the moment.  It is simply covered with every sort of wasp and bee and butterfly and moth and sci-fi ready insect you can imagine.  The ‘buzz’ around it mesmerizes.

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Our garden hums and buzzes and clicks with life as July finally melts into August.  Dr. Dash talked about the musical chorus of insects as one of the wonderful benefits of a full garden; a diverse garden that includes some percentage of native plants to support them.

Creating a layered garden with an abundance of plant life from the hardwood canopy all the way down through smaller trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines and ground cover offers many niches to harbor a huge array of insects.  All of those juicy insects attract song birds and small mammals, turtles, frogs, lizards and yes, maybe also a snake or two.

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A fairly sterile suburban lawn may be transformed into a wild life oasis, a rich ecosystem filled with color, movement and song.  And the whole process begins with planting more native trees and shrubs to offer food and shelter to scores of species.

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But even more fundamentally, the process begins when we value the entire web of life in our particular ecosystem and allow it to unfold.

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Hardy blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows wild in our garden.  I stopped weeding it out after a few plants survived deep enough into the summer to bloom with these gorgeous blue flowers.

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I quickly learned that I don’t really need to go out and buy a lot of native plants.  I only have to allow them to grow when they sprout from the seeds already in our soil.  I have to allow the seeds that wildlife drop in our garden to have a bit of real-estate to take hold.  And nature magically fills the space.

We guide, nurture, and yes edit.  But as soon as we allow it and offer the least encouragement, nature becomes our partner and our guide.

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The goldenrod want to claim this entire area as their own… time to give some to friends!

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If you’ve already read Bringing Nature Home, let me invite you to also read, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, co-authored by Dr. Tallamy and landscape designer and photographer, Rick Darke.

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by [Darke, Rick, Tallamy, Douglas W.]

This translates the science into the practical planning of an ecologically balanced home landscape, and is richly illustrated and laced with wonderful stories.  It inspires one to go plant something and make one’s garden even more diverse.

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Our little Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar is growing fast, happily munching on the Daucus carota.

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Our garden is filled to overflowing, this Fabulous Friday.  It is filled with flowers and foliage, birds, squirrels, butterflies and scampering lizards.  Our garden is filled with tweets and twitters of the natural kind, the sounds of wind blowing through the trees and rain dripping on the pavement.

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fennel

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Our world is wet this week, as storm after storm trains up the East Coast.  I’m grateful for the rain even as I’m swatting at the mosquitoes biting any exposed bit of skin, while I focus my camera on the butterflies.

I hope that your summer is unfolding rich in happiness and beautiful experiences.  I hope you are getting enough rain, but not too much; that your garden is doing well and that you are, too.

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Strange Magics In the Garden

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I kept hearing the refrain to a favorite ELO tune running through my brain as I moved through the garden this morning.  I was watering, trimming, pulling weeds, and very occasionally pausing to pull off my glove and snap a photo, but everywhere I saw wonder and beauty; ‘Strange magics.’

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There was the large green insect that popped up out of the stilt grass I was pulling, the same color as the weeds and with enormously long legs.  He casually hopped away in search of a better place to hide.

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There was the huge black butterfly returning again and again to an enormous panicle of deep purple Buddliea.  I was intently watering a clump of drooping perennials and so missed the shot, but still hold tightly to the memory of such fleeting beauty.

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Our garden is indeed a magical place in July.  Inches of growth happens overnight.  New plants crop up in unexpected places, and we are surrounded by an ever changing cast of lizards and bugs, swooping birds and invisible songsters.

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The sad and bedraggled Begonias we pulled out of the garage in mid-May have sprung back to life, re-clothed in fresh vibrant leaves and new flowers.  Their resurrection always delights as these fragile looking plants prove their strength and resilience.

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I move slowly during these extended watering sessions, pot to pot, plant to plant.  I’m always observing, tweaking, and nudging things along as the season unfolds.

One must be as ready to subtract and divide as one is to multiply or add something new.  How else does one keep order in such a wild kingdom?

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And then there is the choice surprise, the beauty one has waited to enjoy for an entire year, since it last appeared.

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Perhaps there is the low burrr of a hummingbird’s wings, its movement barely seen on the periphery before it swoops up and over and away.

There is a new blossom just opening, or the flash of a goldfinch flying across the garden, or a blue lizard’s tail disappearing under vines or behind a pot.

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One must concentrate with quiet attention to see even a fraction of the action.

“… I get a strange magic
Oh, what a strange magic
Oh, it’s a strange magic
Got a strange magic
Got a strange magic … ” 
.
Jeff Lynne

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It is the jaded eye that we must open wide, to fully appreciate all that is happening in the garden.  “Seek and you will find.” 

But without the search, the knocking that opens doors of discovery, the ask for something unique and special from our time in the garden; we might miss the magic and lose the ripe opportunities this moment offers.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes
the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden
in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic
will never find it.”
.
Roald Dahl

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Garden Gold

Fennel flowers allow for easy access to their nectar.

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The hotter it gets, the more gold in the garden glitters and shines.  As the mercury goes up, yellow and gold feel almost cooling.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Yellow,’ a fairly new perennial Lantana introduction. WBG

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I don’t understand the alchemy of that, but I do understand the clear attraction of gold for all of our nectar seeking pollinators.

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Gold flowers may just taste sweeter.  They certainly draw in the bees, wasps and butterflies who draw sustenance from their sugary depths.

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Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold’ is also a perennial in Zone 7. WBG

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All the while, these prolific flowers are also ripening seeds to delight goldfinches and other small birds who will feast on their ripe seeds well into the barren months of winter.

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Flocks of goldfinches took wing from the wildflowers where they were feeding, as I walked through the Williamburg Botanical Garden yesterday afternoon.

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Golden and yellow flowers often prove among the easiest for a gardener to grow.  Turn to dill, fennel and parsley for their distinctive round umbel inflorescence, all flat and easy to access;  Rudbeckias and Helianthus for their many petaled sunburst flowers.

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The first black eyed Susans, our native Rudbecki hirta, have begun to open in our garden.

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Coreopsis, Lantana, marigolds and Zinnias all bloom in shades of yellow, orange and gold.

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The season ends on a wild and native note as Solidagos burst into bloom in September and October, towering over the black eyed Susans in our garden like great feathery plumes of living gold.

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Solidago blooms alongside Rudbeckia in our garden, October 2017.

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If the entire garden were nothing but green and gold, animated with swallowtail butterflies and goldfinches, what a beautiful display we would still enjoy.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Any patch of sunlight in a wood

will show you something about the sun

which you could never get

from reading books on astronomy.

These pure and spontaneous pleasures

are ‘patches of Godlight’

in the woods of our experience.”


.

C.S. Lewis

The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

The Butterfly Garden at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is beautiful, if still dormant, in early February.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a great destination for picking up ideas and observing many different sorts of plants growing here in James City County, Virginia.

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Whether you go for a quiet walk, or to participate in a class, there is always more to learn, experience and enjoy.

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The garden is a true community effort.  It brings together volunteers from many different organizations, including the Williamsburg Master Gardeners Association.

The garden is subdivided into  specialty gardens planned and maintained by different groups, and serving different purposes.  In addition to the butterfly garden, there are areas devoted to heirloom plants, native plants, wetland and woodland plants, perennials and flowering shrubs, a fernery, and an area of raised beds for therapeutic gardening.

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The Pollinator Palace

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Best practices are modeled, and new gardeners are both trained and inspired in this special space.  Even though the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is fenced to exclude deer; songbirds, pollinators and other small wildlife are welcomed and fed.

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The first stirrings of spring were evident today under bright skies.  It was only a few degrees above freezing when some gardening friends and I ventured out, tools in hand, for a pruning workshop.

Despite numb fingers and toes, we discussed proper pruning for several species of flowering woody shrubs.  Experts demonstrated the proper use of a variety of nifty pruning tools, too.

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A few of the earliest shrubs, like Spirea, showed tiny bits of green. Its buds are just tentatively opening this week.  But most of the herbs, perennials, and deciduous woodies were still slumbering through their last few weeks of dormancy.

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Daffodils have just begun to emerge, their bright blooms now only days away.

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Today served as a call to action to get out and get after the woodies in our own Forest Garden, before the season gets ahead of me this year.  I was a bit slack last year on the pruning. This year, there is a great deal of cutting and thinning and just plain lopping back waiting for us.  But it won’t wait for long; warmer, longer days will coax those buds to open all too soon.

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It is too early in the season to prune wood from early spring bloomers like Spirea and Viburnum.  However, one may always prune out wood that is Dead, Diseased, Deformed, or Damaged.

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Some gardeners grow a bit confused about what pruning to do, and when.  In general, February is a great month for pruning roses, crape myrtle, butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, and other trees and shrubs which won’t bloom before June.  If a shrub blooms on new growth only, it is safe to prune it back now.

If your shrub blooms on old wood from last year’s growth, and already has its flower buds ready to go now, then “wait to prune until after bloom.”  

All of our favorite spring shrubs like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Forsythias, and Spireas have flower buds set and ready to open on schedule, over the next several weeks.   Any pruning done now will reduce our spring blooms.

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There are great Botanical gardens all over the country, and we are very fortunate to have such a nice one here in Williamsburg.  One can’t help but feel either inspired or overwhelmed after an hour’s walk among such a beautiful collection of plants.  This is a great destination for a walking tour, even on a frosty February morning.

Once I had a cup of coffee and could feel my fingertips again, I was ready to head over to Lowes.   I wanted to have a look at some of the new nifty gadgets for pruning that I’d seen demonstrated today, while my enthusiasm was still warm.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Tour Guide

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Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: August

August 13, 2016 morning garden 075
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“Where flowers bloom so does hope.”
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Lady Bird Johnson

Butterflies drift on the summer breeze from flower to flower in search of nectar; I find an earthbound path of my own, camera in hand, to drink in their beauty.

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 044

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August finds our garden filled with flowers.  Some, like the roses, struggle with this late summer heat to pump out a few small flowers here and there.  But others, like our spider lily are just getting started with their annual show.  Our fall flowers have begun to fill the garden with fierce, stubborn color.

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Lycoris radiata, or Red Spider Lily, blooms in late summer.

Lycoris radiata, or Red Spider Lily, blooms in late summer.

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“I must have flowers, always, and always.”

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Claude Monet

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Basil attracts many pollinators

Basil attracts many pollinators

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Butterflies have their favorites, just as I have mine.  Lantana flowers always draw butterflies, and hummingbirds sometimes, too.  Many of the flowers in our garden are selected especially for their appeal to butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and interesting nectar-loving insects.

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Our Cannas and Salvias delight the hummingbirds.  But I plant many herbs, and let them flower, for the nectar they provide.  They may not be the showiest of flowers, but they are good for the wildlife we hope to attract.

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When allowed to bloom, Coleus provides abundant nectar and attracts many pollinators.

When allowed to bloom, Coleus provides abundant nectar and attracts many pollinators.

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“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it,

it’s your world for a moment.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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Begonia 'Flamingo'

Begonia ‘Flamingo’

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Some of the Begonias, too, have finally covered themselves in flowers.  Simple and delicate, Begonia flowers come only when the mother plant is happy.  Ours have finally recovered from their winter indoors with vigorous new growth.

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 077

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We grow several different sorts of Begonias, each with its own unique leaf and flower.

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 059

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They all grow in pots or baskets so we can keep them from one year to the next, and most root very easily from stem cuttings.

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 060

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It is good to cut back the cane Begonias, especially, as the stems will grow many feet long.  Prunings go into a vase of water to soon begin life again in a new pot either in our garden, or as a gift to a friend.

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Also a Begonia, this grows from a tuber and produces flowers like tiny roses.

Also a Begonia, this one grows from a tuber and produces flowers like tiny roses. Oxalis blooms beside it.

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“It is only by selection, by elimination,

and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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Begonia 'Richmondensis' with Caladium

Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ with Caladium

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Late summer brings its own ‘woody’ flowers, too.  Rose of Sharon, butterfly bush, Crepe Myrtle, and Hydrangea all cover themselves in flowers each August.

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So does a very odd plant, Aralia spinosa, also known as ‘The Devil’s Walking Stick’ for its exceptionally thorny stem.

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Aralia spinosa in bloom

Aralia spinosa in bloom

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This small tree crowns itself with a cloud of tiny, greenish-yellow flowers which soon swell into a cloud of dark inky purple berries.  Another plant to delight wildlife, this one is not so delightful in the garden.  It spreads by seeds and underground runners.

But my gardening philosophy tends towards, ‘The more, the merrier!’  It is a very laissez-faire approach, admittedly.  But it serves us well, in this forest garden.

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Echinacea 'Green Jewel'

Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’

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“A flower blossoms for its own joy.”

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Oscar Wilde

Many thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.  When last I looked, Carol had nearly 50 other gardeners sharing links to their posts this August.  Just looking through these virtual garden tours is a fun way to see what others are doing and to find fresh inspiration.

I hope you will visit Carol’s post, and as many of the other links as time allows.

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 073

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If  ‘A flower blossoms for its own joy,’ we photograph and admire them for our own. 

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 078

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I have created a series of flower portraits this summer, simply called ‘Blossom.’  This simple posting format has brought me a great deal of joy and comfort over the last few weeks.  It has allowed me to post when no words would come.

Flowers, no matter their size or color,  delight.  Perhaps it is their very fragility which begs us to appreciate them in the moment.  If we procrastinate, they may be gone.

Certainly, they each have their season, as do we.

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August 13, 2016 morning garden 002

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Two dear members of our family have passed from this Earthly life over the past few weeks.  We still miss them keenly.  Their passing has reminded each of us who loved them to share our love, our joy, and our appreciation with those we care for, as often as we can.

We can not afford to put off to tomorrow that which we may enjoy today.  Our lives prove as ephemeral as the flowers which fascinate us.

We are all creatures in time, and so must make the time to share the beauty and wonders of this life; and to share it with those we love.

Woodland Gnome 2016
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August 13, 2016 morning garden 007

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In Loving Memory of

Rachel Mae Downs-Lewis  1975-2016

In Loving Memory of

Patty Jo “Tinker’  Rishworth  1961-2016

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