Camellia

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“Nothing in the world is permanent,

and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last,

but surely we’re still more foolish

not to take delight in it

while we have it.”

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W. Somerset Maugham

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“There is no “the way things are.”

Every day is different,

and you live it differently.”

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Marty Rubin

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“If a beautiful thing were to remain beautiful for all eternity,
I’d be glad, but all the same I’d look at it with a colder eye.
I’d say to myself: You can look at it any time,
it doesn’t have to be today.”

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Hermann Hesse

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Camellia Season

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The first Camellias opening in mid-October signal autumn as certainly as do the falling leaves.

It is time to load the porch with pumpkins, buy some local apples, pull sweaters out of storage, and bring in tender plants for the winter.

It seems the white flowering Camellias always open first.  The pink soon follow.  Red Camellias will begin to open by early December in our garden.

I am especially happy to see the white flowers on our newest and youngest shrubs.

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This one in particular has been nibbled brutally over the years.  But it is a survivor.  I’ve had it surrounded by herbs and perennials all summer, and now I feel completely rewarded by these plump buds.

Camellia sasanqua bloom each autumn and winter here in Zone 7.  Camellia japonica will take  over and begin blooming in early spring.

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October 9, 2015 First Camellias 004

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These are evergreen shrubs and maintain their presence all year round.  But they are an especially magical presence in the garden as they send out delicate blooms, just when our days grow shorter and cooler each fall.  Autumn blooming Camellias reassure us that our garden will bloom each and every day of the year, even as we feel the approach of another winter.

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The trees in our back garden are beginning to show some color. Purple Beautyberries are in their prime.

The trees in our back garden are beginning to show some color. Purple Beautyberries are in their prime.  This little Camellia grows at the bottom of this hill.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Camellias

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The beautiful Camellia sasanqua has chosen this stretch of wet, cool grey days to burst into bloom.  I was taken by surprise this morning to see the shrub by the drive beginning to show its delicate white blossoms.  These spring like blossoms look almost out of place beside the falling leaves.

Camellia sasanqua begins its season of bloom in autumn.  It likes cool weather and appreciates a spot of protection from wind and heavy weather.  When freezes come, all open blooms may turn brown, but in a few weeks, new ones generally follow.   Various cultivars will come into bloom over a long season between now and early January in Zones 7-9.  Several species, like C. “Yuletide” and C. “Jingelbells” are enjoyed for their red blossoms in late December.

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These evergreen shrubs are grown for their leaves as well as their blossoms in their native China and Japan.  Extremely common in Japan, tea is made from the leaves, and oil is rendered from the seed pods.  In the United States we grow them as ornamentals.   Camellia sasanqua grow to various heights from fairly small plants topping out at only 4″ to small trees, growing to 15′, depending on the cultivar.

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Older Camellias, limbed up to show their trunks, are especially lovely when in bloom.  This is another plant where it is important to read the  label carefully when selecting a cultivar. Be mindful that the plant you select will have enough room in the spot you’ve chosen.  Some cultivars will also branch out into wide canopies over the years.  They are much more beautiful when allowed to grow into their potential with pruning to shape, but not to stunt their growth.

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Our latest Camellia to bloom is a lovely shade of deep pink.

Our latest Camellia to bloom in early November is a lovely shade of deep pink.

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Camellia sasanqua have slightly smaller blossoms and leaves than the Camellia japonica.  They are also more likely to have single or semi-double flowers, but all of the many Camelllia flower forms and colors are available.  In addition to white and red flowers, there are many shades of pink, and  some cultivars with mixed shades within the same flower.

 

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Newly planted C. "Yuletide" will bloom in this pot near the front of the house in December. It can grow on here for a year or two, and then go out into the garden in partial shade.

Newly planted C. “Yuletide” will bloom in this pot near the front of the house in December. It can grow on here for a year or two, and then go out into the garden in partial shade.

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Plant new shrubs now.   They are easy to find in the garden centers, and are not particularly expensive.  I prefer small shrubs in a small 1 gallon pot, and can generally find them for between nine and fifteen dollars, depending on the cultivar and the nursery.  These shrubs prefer to be planted slightly high; an inch or two above the surrounding soil line in acidic soil.

Camellias are a wonderful understory shrub, and  grow especially well under pines.  I plant with plenty of compost, mounding the compost around the exposed top of the root ball.  Daffodils can be planted around the shrub to protect its roots from voles.

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I also plant Violas in the mounded compost for a lovely winter time “skirt” of protective flowers.  Camellias do well in partial sun to partial shade.  They can tolerate far more sun than the spring blooming Camellia japonica.  Fertilize in late summer with Espona’s Holly Tone, which is an organic fertilizer formulated for acid loving shrubs.

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A newly planted Camellia in 2011 has extra protection against the squirrels from large shells over the mounded compost.

A newly planted Camellia in  October of 2011 has extra protection against the squirrels from large shells over the mounded compost.

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Older Camellias, especially taller ones, tend to be deer resistant.  Newly planted shrubs, especially when covered in buds, can become deer candy if left unprotected.  We learned that the hard way during our first autumn on this property.  We planted a line of  Camellias along the front edge of the property, all covered in buds.  Within a week the deer discovered them, ate all of the buds, and many of the leaves.  The shrubs eventually  set bloom again.

I’ve fertilized them and mulched with compost every spring, keep them watered during dry spells, and have enjoyed seeing them recover, grow, and bloom.  The high nitrogen content in shrubs fresh from the grower makes the plant taste salty to deer.  Newly purchased and planted shrubs need special protection from hungry herds of deer for the first year or so in the garden.  We’ve learned that applying Milorganite, also a fertilizer, helps protect tasty shrubs from grazing deer.

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Camellia sasanqua blooming in late December of 2011.

Camellia sasanqua blooming in late December of 2011.

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If you enjoy 365 days of flowers in your garden, the Camellias fill an important niche.  Beautiful in the landscape, and cut for the vase; Camellias are healthy, hardy, easy to grow, and a beautiful addition to a forest garden.

All photos by Woodland Gnome

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January 29 Cotton candy describes these lovely Camellias, blooming in late December before snow found our garden.

January 29 Cotton candy describes these lovely Camellias, blooming in late December before snow found our garden.

A Cool Fern for Shady Spots: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

Anthyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

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There’s a new Japanese painted fern available to light up a dark corner in your garden.  I read about it this spring, and was very pleased to find it at a local nursery.

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Metallicum’ in a mixed planting with Caladiums. This photo was taken just after planting.  I expect everything will fill in for a lush effect by later in the season.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’ sports a pale green frond with silver highlights.  It is bi-pinnate, with the center of each pinnule light and silvery, fading to a more medium green along its edges.  Like many related cultivars, ‘Metallicum’ has a beautiful red rib down the middle of each deeply divided frond.  New fronds emerge in a rosette, and several of these small clumps may fill a pot.

Each clump will eventually grow to around 18″ tall, growing a bit wider and fuller each year.   Expect this fern to die back after frost, to return larger and stronger in mid-spring.

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‘Metallicum’ with Caladium.  Both are very small divisions yet, nowhere near their mature size.

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Hardy in zones 4-9, this very hardy fern may be left in a pot through the winter in our Zone 7 garden, with high confidence that it will return in spring.  It will benefit from shade and shelter on our sweltering summer afternoons.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in a mixed planting

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Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum,  are very hardy, deciduous perennials that clump and spread.   They can be grown in rich moist soil in a garden bed, below shrubs, or in pots and baskets.

They make a nice ground cover under small trees, and I especially like them under a Japanese Maple.  Grow them in deep shade if you need to, but they will take partial sun.  Native to Asia, they will hybridize with other lady fern species.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern. Vinca and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and deciduous trees.

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In fact, a very similar fern is the hybrid Athyrium ‘Ghost,’ which is a cross between our North American native  Athyrium felix-femina and Athyrium niponicum var. pictumA. ‘Ghost‘ can grow to 30″ after it is established and is hardy in Zones 4-8b.  Lady ferns tend to spread over time, and so this will form an expanding clump in moist soil in partial shade.  Easy to grow, the main rule is to never let the roots dry out completely.

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This is ‘Ghost’ in its second year in this bed, growing with Ajuga, Lamium and an autumn fern.

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I like the pale silvery glow of A. ‘Ghost,’ and have planted several of them over the years.  I always look for this particular fern at end of season clearance sales, and was very happy to find two in a flat of mixed potted ferns at our friends’ Homestead Garden Center a few weeks ago.  They sat in my holding area for the better part of two weeks, which accounts for the slight browning on some of the fronds.  Nursery pots generally need daily watering, especially with ferns.

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Here I am dividing a new acquisition of ‘Ghost’ into two parts before planting the smaller division into this hypertufa pot.  Notice the stems of each frond are a lovely burgundy, which contrasts so well with the fronds.

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Now that I’m able to plant them out, I am dividing the clumps growing in each nursery pot and spreading them about in larger pots with mixed plantings.  As each clump grows, I’ll eventually re-pot it or plant it out in the garden.

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This newly divided little Athyrium ‘Ghost’ is ready to grow in an old, hypertufa pot with a division of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’

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The entire collection of Japanese painted fern cultivars, native to Asia, perform extremely well in our garden.  I have collected a variety of them over the years.  They differ a little in color and size.  They vary from perhaps 12″ tall to about 36″ tall.  Some have more burgundy coloration; there is one I’ve not grown, A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ that is almost a creamy yellow.  The color of each frond shifts and changes as it ages, but all have a slightly silvery sheen.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Branford Beauty’

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I was very excited to find Athyrium naponicum var. pictum ‘Godzilla’ at a shop last summer.  As you might guess from its name, this is a large cultivar that  introduced by Plant Delights Nursery about 10 years ago.  Their catalog claims it spread into a clump 36″ tall and nearly 7′ wide.  I can only wonder how long growth of this vigor takes; it hasn’t yet happened in our garden.

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The difference in coloration and form between ‘Ghost’ on the right and ‘Metallicum’ on the left is subtle, but noticeable.  “Ghost’ will grow a bit taller (2′) than will ‘Metallicum’ (12″-18”).

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The most interesting differences among the various Japanese pained ferns come in how their fronds are shaped and further divided.  Some have forked tips to their fronds, and the axis of each frond may twist and curl.  Some cultivars spread a little more aggressively than others, but all of them send up new clumps from their rhizomes and will continue to multiply and renew themselves as the years go by.

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Athyrium niponicum “Apple Court”

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Not only do the painted ferns grow well for us, but they can grow and prosper without getting grazed by rabbits and deer.  Ferns are generally safe from grazing, though I miss a frond of other varieties from time to time when deer have gotten into our garden.  But not from our Japanese painted fern cultivars.  They just keep growing and getting better throughout the season and better from year to year.  It may take a year or two for them to begin to bulk up and establish, but once they do, they are very persistent.

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I am looking forward to growing ‘Metallicum’ and seeing how it performs compared to our other varieties.  I am in a bit of a gardening lull at the moment as I wait for a recently discovered case of Lyme’s disease to clear up.  It took a few weeks from bite to rash before I realized that the slow to heal bite was causing my health concerns, and slowing down my progress on the usual early summer gardening tasks.  Our early and intense summer heat played their part too.

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I appreciate the doc who prescribed aggressively for me and expect to be back up to speed sometime soon.   But until then, I find myself giving plants away, or simply planting them into larger pots, until I can return to normal gardening.  I’m sure these hardy ferns will soon be growing in glowing good health and give a long season of enjoyment.

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Japanese painted ferns are a good choice for gardeners who want to enjoy their plants year after year without having to fuss with them.  Mulch them, water them, and let them grow…. 

I am sure that this newest cultivar in the collection, ‘Metallicum,’ will prove a beautiful highlight in our forest garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Here is another division of ‘Metallicum,’ ready to grow on in the shade of the larger autumn fern.

 

Plants Want to Live

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis

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The snow fell so fast and wet, that it was already bending the branches of our large dogwood tree so low they nearly touched the deck.   By the time I realized what was happening, I could hear cracks and crashes where trees all around us were having branches ripped off under the weight of such a heavy snow, in mid-December, before the trees had a chance to harden up for winter.

I grabbed a coat, hat and broom and went to work, knocking globs of snow off the dogwood’s branches, allowing them to spring back to a more normal posture.  After knocking off all the snow I could reach from the deck, I headed out into the yard to do the same on trees and shrubs all around the garden.

I could hear sirens in the distance that afternoon, and took a call from a neighbor telling me our neighborhood entrance was blocked by fallen trees. We listened to the groans and snaps of trees into the night, and the following day, under the weight of that unusual snow.

We lost three trees that day and our tall bamboo was bent to the ground, where it froze in place and remained for more than a week.  Bamboo stalks fell across our fig tree and across the fern garden, like an icy roof.  It took a few weeks, after the thaw, to clean up enough to truly assess the damage.

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December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even get to them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

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Our great old redbud tree was bent even further by the weight of the snow-laden bamboo.  Already  leaning towards the sun, the tree leaned at a precipitous angle up hill, its roots nearly in the ravine at the bottom of the yard, and its major branches now resting in the fern garden.  Many branches broke, others needed drastic pruning.  But the roots held, and we cleaned up the tree as well as we could and determined to wait for spring to see how it responded.

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New growth emerges from our broken redbud tree.

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Well, plants want to live.  And this tree is determined to make the best of an awkward situation.  We have been amazed to see how much new growth the tree has produced since March.

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There is a rhythm to tending a garden.  We plant, we tend, we prune, and we stand in awe as our plants become established and take off to grow according to their own patterns.  Like watching a young adult child find their way in the world, our woodies and perennials often have a mind of their own as they claim their space in the garden, reproduce, and grow into their potential.

Sometimes that is a wonderful thing and we admire the maturing plant’s beauty.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Sometimes that is a terrifying thing as we see a plant rapidly claim the garden’s real estate, shading and crowding out the many other (more?) desirable plants we want to grow.

Kindness can turn against us, sometimes, when we welcome a little gift plant from a well meaning friend, finding a spot for it in our garden and tending it through its first year or two.

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Rudbeckia laciniata, a native that feeds wildlife, and an unapologetic thug that has taken over our ‘butterfly garden.’  This came as an uninvited guest with a gift of Monarda from a gardening friend.

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Sometimes the plant gifts itself to us as a windblown or bird-sown seed.  It grows, and we give it a chance to show us what it can become.  And then, Wham!  Suddenly, it has become an outsized monster and we do battle with it to keep it in bounds, or sometimes eradicate it entirely.

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Mid-September 2018, and the Solidago, goldenrod, had just begun to bloom.

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I am way too kind when it comes to such plants.  My curiosity gets the better of my good sense.  I let that little plant grow out just to watch it, and then it has seeded all over the place and I’m spending time trying to get it back under control, and rescue plants about to be completely strangled and starved by this newcomer.

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The Devil’s Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, in full bloom and covered by bees in late summer.  This native tree will grow tall, with it trunk covered in sharp thorns.

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The first of the Solidago showed up two summers ago.  It was a novelty.  I had just joined the Virginia Native Plant Society and I was trying to reform my natural preference for pretty imported hybrids and welcome more natives to the garden.  I let it grow.

Then last summer, I was amazed at how many very tall goldenrods grew up.  But I was busy.  I didn’t have much time in my own garden, and I let them grow.

My partner grumbled as they topped 6′ high, but I felt smugly virtuous for giving space to these native plants and supporting the pollinators.  We enjoyed the butterflies and they were pretty once they bloomed golden and lush.  I cut them down in December, but not soon enough.  By then there were seeds, everywhere.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Edgeworthia, Camellia, Rudbeckia, Solidago and the surrounding trees create layers of texture in early September 2018.

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And just in the last two weeks, those little goldenrods have grown inches a day, it seems.  My partner came to me on Monday with that look of determination I know so well.  They were growing out into our ever narrowing paths.  A deer had gotten into the front garden, and we couldn’t even see where it was hiding for the lush growth.  I had to do something….

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The new stand of Solidago, cut back to allow black eyed Susans and other perennials space to grow….

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And that is how it came to be that I was taking the string trimmer to my perennial beds Monday evening, under observation, cutting down as many of those Solidago plants as I could until the battery gave out.  Our neighbors paused on the street, wondering if I’d lost my mind, cutting down every plant in sight.

We were back at it early Tuesday morning, and the day I’d planned to spend planting pots went to cutting, pulling, pruning, and generally editing our front garden to remove not only the Solidago, but also the small forest of devil’s walking stick trees growing up from a frighteningly wide network of roots.

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Another little Aralia, looking for space to grow…

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That was another volunteer that I let grow ‘to see what it would do.’  The summer flowers attract clouds of butterflies and bees.  The lovely purple berries are favorites of our song birds.  The huge, palm frond like leaves grow quickly as the tree shoots up, several feet per year.  Its trunk is covered in long, sharp spines.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looked rather tropical as its first leaves emerged in April of 2017.

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This Virginia native is a great tree for wildlife.  But our neighbor warned me, when I offered him one, about its roots.  He told of having to hack it back each summer at his family home when he was a teen.  I listened politely, and let our Aralia spinosa grow on, a novelty in the front garden.

But it fell in our October hurricane and my partner took that opportunity, which I was away, to cut away the main tree entirely.  And I’ve been cutting out a dozen or more sprouts every week since mid-March.

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Yet another goldenrod or obedient plant, growing up under one of our Hydrangea shrubs.  It takes a sharp eye to spot them all, and a bit of balance and agility to reach them all!

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Some were hiding in the goldenrod forest, nestled between other shrubs and cozying up to our emerging Cannas.  What the weed eater couldn’t reach, I managed to cut with my secateurs.  Like a weird game of twister, I found footing among the Cannas and goldenrod stubble and cut those thorny stalks back as close to the ground as I could reach.

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A part of our fern garden, where ferns are filling in as a complete ground cover on a steep bank. 

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Plants just want to live.  Their business is to reproduce, grow, and make as many seeds as possible.  This is a basic principle that every gardener has to face.

The wilder the plant, usually the more determined it will be.  Like the Japanese stilt grass I pull out by the handfuls every year from April to December.  Like the bamboo that tries to march up the hill from the ravine every spring, and that we find growing feet in a day sometimes, until we discover it and break it back to the ground.  We’ve learned the squirrels love gnoshing on fresh bamboo shoots.

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The march of the bamboo up the hill back in early May of 2014.  We have to control the growth up towards the garden each spring.

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To make a garden is to offer a weird sort of universal hospitality.  Whatever you think you might want to grow, nature has its own ideas.   Weeds happen. 

I chuckle to myself at native plant sales to see plants I pulled as ‘weeds’ the first few years we lived here, sold as desirable ‘native plants’ at a respectable price.  There is wild Ageratum, and Indian strawberry, wax myrtle and golden ragwort.  Our front yard hosts a growing patch of fleabane, Erigeron annus, each spring.  It crowds out the ‘grass’ and blooms for a solid month, around the time the daffodils are fading.

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Native fleabane, probably Erigeron pulchellus, grow in our front lawn. A short lived perennial, this patch grows a bit larger each year. After it finishes flowering, we mow this part of the ‘lawn’ once again.

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Each of us has to make our own peace with the native plants our area supports.  Last year, I decided the pokeweed had to go.  I pulled and cut for months, but I prevented that from going to seed.  I’ve found one huge plant so far this year and a few small seedlings.  They will soon be eradicated, too.

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Pokeweed has overgrown the Salvia, Colocasia and Hibiscus that have grown here for the last several summers. They are just holding on beneath its shade in August 2017.  We lost the Salvia that year, but the Colocasias remain.

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I walk among the growing oaks that I ‘allowed’ to grow when they were only inches tall.  Every seedling demands a decision from the gardener.  Can it grow here?  How will this change the rest of the garden?

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are also native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and the seeds they drop.  They are great for pollinators, last many weeks, and make nice cut flowers.  By cutting back the Solidago this week, I hope these will fill in this part of the garden once again.

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Those are the sorts of questions one must ask every month of every year, to keep a garden in balance.  Those are the questions to keep in mind when shopping at the nursery, or the plant sale, too.

Curiosity is a good thing.  But wisdom and a bit of self-discipline are even better.

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The ferns I planted in the hollow stump of this peach tree, lost to the December storm, are growing well.  And, the stump itself is sending up new growth. from its living roots.  Plants just want to live

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Seedling redbud trees continue to grow at the base of the stump.

Cult Flowers: Narcissus

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‘Cult flowers’ appeal to us so persistently that we respond to them in ways that don’t quite make sense.  Their grip on our imagination, our affections, and yes, our resources defy reason.

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Is it possible to fall in love with a genus of plant?  Absolutely. 

Across horticultural history you’ll find characters who left home continents behind to collect them.  You’ll find those who quit their day jobs to breed and raise them full-time.  And, sadly, you’ll find those who ignored their spouse’s better judgement to collect them…. year after beautiful golden year.

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To gain a deeper understanding of the many ways in which daffodils have been ‘cult flowers’ for the last few centuries, treat yourself to Noel Kingsbury’s beautiful and very useful book Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower.  

Kingsbury, a beloved British landscape designer and horticulturalist, takes us on a journey of all things daffodil that actually begins in pharonic Egypt.  Yes, the Egyptian royals were talented gardeners, collecting many of the same plants that we do today:  Narcissus, Iris, lilies, Alliums, and many sorts of fruit bearing trees.  Kingsbury tells us that Ramses II’s  mummy was found with a Narcissus bulb covering each eye.  Now that goes a bit beyond what even we moderns do to enjoy our spring daffodils!

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Because Narcissi return so reliably as winter transforms into spring, they’ve earned a mythic association with time and eternal life. They’re often planted around cemeteries in areas where they perennialize, where they return year after year in ever greater numbers.

Extremely poisonous, Narcissi have a narcotic quality when used medicinally.  They were used, in measured, carefully prepared potions, to sedate and treat pain.   Never mistake a Narcissus bulb for an onion; this has been done from time to time with disastrous results.

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I appreciate the poisonous qualities of daffodils and plant them with confidence where deer shred non-lethal flowers and shrubs.  And I plant a ring of daffodil bulbs around newly planted shrubs and trees, to protect their roots from voles.  In fact, we’ve learned to stop vole traffic to parts of our garden by planting rows of daffodils across their former paths.  Unlike chemicals that must be reapplied every few weeks, the daffodil solution proves permanent, growing denser and more effective with each passing year.

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Kingsbury gave me a good, basic understanding of the various species daffodils known and loved since at least the dark ages.  He quotes medieval manuscripts which describe the daffodils growing in certain royal or monastic gardens, often with small paintings to illustrate the flowers.  He then builds on that knowledge of the species, their characteristics and countries of origin to help explain the work of modern day daffodil breeders.

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There were already nearly 80 distinct types of daffodils recorded in British horticultural records by 1607, when British colonization began here in Virginia.  And yes, those early settlers brought their daffodil bubs with them, sometimes sewn into the clothing they wore on the voyage.

Daffodils were planted early on all over coastal Virginia, and they thrived here.  As European/American settlers moved ever further west, they took their daffodils with them.  So much so, that Kingsbury describes how Native Americans carried daffodil bulbs with them along the Trail of Tears.

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By the early 19th Century, there were 150 distinct types of daffodils cultivated in England.  A Yorkshire vicar dissected all 150 varieties to develop a classification system and discovered that many of the flowers were sterile.  This was in the early days of enthusiasts and scientists understanding the principles of hybridization, and at this time all of the known daffodils were species or natural hybrids.

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Daffodils had perennialized across Virginia’s Gloucester Peninsula when Brent Heath’s grandfather, Charles, visited in search of the farmer who grew a terrific cantaloupe.  It seems his grandfather wanted to arrange personal deliveries of the especially tasty melon.  He found the farmer, and  he also found fields of daffodils, ripe for the picking.  Residents in those days picked the wild daffodils to sell as cut flowers in cities up and down the coast.  As late as the 1980s, daffodils were sold on street corners in Richmond by vendors who purchased daffodils from Gloucester, as soon as they bloomed each spring.

Charles Heath ended up buying the family’s current properties in Gloucester where Brent and Becky’s Bulbs still does business today, and went into the cut flower business.

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That is how the Heath family first entered the wonderful world of growing daffodils.  Charles Heath had connections in Europe, and soon introduced many new European varieties of daffodils to his Gloucester fields, where the flowers were picked, bundled, shipped and sold each spring to ports along our East Coast.  His son, George, continued in the business and had one of the largest collections of Narcissi varieties in North America when his son, Brent was born.

Brent tells stories of how he was instructed at a very early age in how to properly pick and bundle daffodils for sale, and he earned his pocket money by picking daffodils each spring; and later by raising bulbs from small divisions on the family farm, and selling his bulbs.

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Eventually, Brent Heath decided that he wanted to also develop new hybrids.  He was mentored by skilled breeders, and had the knowledge, patience, and attention to detail to develop and bring to market many beautiful new hybrids.  The Heaths are known and respected internationally for their tremendous selection of daffodil and other bulbs, and for the health and vigor of the bulbs they sell.

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Narcissus ‘Katie Heath’ named for Brent Heath’s mother.

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Some might wonder why certain people passionately devote their lives to breeding new varieties of a single type of plant.  Once there are already many thousands of named and recognized varieties, why would the world want more?

Consider that it may take a Narcissus seedling up to five years to flower, and once selected, it may take another 10 to build up a large enough stock of bulbs to market commercially.

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Mary Gay Lirette, a Heath hybrid.

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Only someone passionately devoted to their art would persist so long in the pursuit of offering a new variety of daffodil to the world.  But there are many breeders willing to make the commitment, and who have the resources to generate new hybrids.

On the one hand, there is a desire to perfect the plant, generating stronger stems, more disease resistance, hardiness, and a willingness to grow well and perennialize under a wide variety of growing conditions.  On the other hand, there is the desire to produce certain combinations of form and color.

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Miniature daffodils appeal to many hobbyists with limited growing space, and many breeders are working now to develop ever more combinations of flower form and color on a miniature plant.

Kingsbury opens his chapter on daffodil breeders with a photo of a delicate white miniature daffodil, with a tiny green cup and recurved petals, which stole my heart.  I skimmed ahead for its name so I might order it.

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Sadly, it was an ‘unnamed seedling’ produced by California breeder Harold Koopowitz, and not yet on the market when Daffodil was published in 2013.  The ability to create such variety within the relatively limited scope of the Narcissi characteristics defines both the breeders’ passion and the collector’s lust for new plants.

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Most of us think about the classic yellow trumpet daffodil as our ideal.  It is sunshiny yellow, has six nearly identical petals surrounding a long, wide trumpet, or corona, of the same color.  It stand about 16″ tall on a soft hollow green stem, and has narrow green leaves surrounding it.

~

Pure white N. ‘Thalia,’ two flowers per stem, blooms beside double N. ‘Cheerfullness’

~

Now, imagine this same flower in white, and you have N. ‘Mount Hood.’ Daffodils may have white, yellow, yellow-green, golden, peach, or pink petals.  The corona may be long or very short, wide or narrow, frilly, doubled, or split into sections, and splayed back against the petals. It may appear in white, green, orange, gold, red, peach, yellow or pink.  Some doubles look like Camellias, their coronas are so full.

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N. ‘Obdam, a sport of N. ‘Ice Follies’

~

The petals themselves may be wide or narrow, rounded or pointed, twisted, long or very, very short.  Flowers may be scented or not, one to a stem or many, and the stems themselves may be anywhere from 4″ to 24″ tall.

Finding the variations and interesting new combinations makes the work endlessly fascinating.

~

N. ‘Erlicheer’, 1934

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Daffodils bloom over a long season here in coastal Virginia, some as early as late December and some as late as May.  They arise from the wintery earth to grow and bloom when little else is in season, and then once the leaves have re-fueled the bulbs for another year, they die back and disappear.  If naturalized in grass, the grass can be mown again a little more than a month after the flowers finish.

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Many of us enjoy growing daffodils around shrubs and under trees.  They make their spectacular spring show, and then are gone as the trees begin to fill in the canopy of their summer leaves.  We don’t have them around for long enough to grow tired of them.  In our garden, by mid-spring, a new variety or two opens each week.  As the first ones fade, the late daffodils are just blooming.

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N. ‘Delnashaugh’

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I’ve ordered lots of 250 or 300 bulbs of the same daffodil variety from the Heaths each summer for the last several years.  Gardening friends and I divide up the order, each of us growing some number of the same variety in our own yards.  This is a great way to purchase enough bulbs to make a good patch of a variety, without breaking the budget.  Generally, the larger the quantity you can order, the better the price per bulb.

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This year, I’m undecided which variety to order.  I’ve asked some friends for their opinions on my short list of ten varieties, heavily weighted towards the Heath’s own introductions.  I happen to like the more unusual flower forms, like the doubles and split coronas.

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N. ‘Madison’

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I also like those with white petals and color in their corona.  I believe we are leaning towards a beauty called N. ‘Gentle Giant,’ which has white petals and a frilly, bright orange cup.  Whichever one we choose, we will be happy growing it.

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Daffodils are happiness inducing flowers, greeting us each spring with cheerful faces and easy demeanor.

No wonder they have remained ‘cult flowers’ over many centuries of human history, growing perhaps more popular with each passing year.  A gardener knows that the bulbs planted this fall will bloom again and again, long past the time when another gardener has taken over the work.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Six on Saturday: Flowers from Wood

Dogwood, Cornus florida, as its buds begin opening to mark another spring.

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Flowers are such soft, fragile, ephemeral things.  We wait for them for months and months, enjoy them as they bloom, and then watch them drop their petals all too quickly.

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Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata

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Flowers that emerge from wood amaze me.  Hard, woody branches magically bud and blossom, opening their bark to allow such soft perfection to manifest.

What a beautiful miracle!

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Camellia japonica

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Thousands of flowers may open all at once, completely covering the bare, woody skeleton of a tree.  Their perfume drifts on the slightest breeze.

What a celebration of life and living to walk under a blooming cherry tree, watching stray petals floating through the air to carpet the path beneath.

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Here in coastal Virginia, we celebrate the dogwoods and Azaleas as they bloom each April.  But we have already enjoyed Magnolias and hybrid pears, and we’re watching the redbuds and all of the fruit trees come into bloom this week, too.  Our roads are lined with budding and flowering trees, welcome signs of spring.

As the years go by, I appreciate woody flowers ever more.  So little effort, so much beauty…

The annual extravaganza of flowering trees is something to anticipate, reliable and always satisfying.

~

Dogwood

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I came home this evening to discover buds opening on our dogwood trees.  The warmth these last few days awakened them.  The flowers will stretch and grow, each petal turning pure, glossy white as they reach their fullness.

Flowers bursting into bloom from woody wisteria vines, trees and many shrubs transform the drab winter landscape into a fantasy of flowers.  Everything is new again; soft, bright and buzzing with life.

~

Magnolia liliflora

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Woodland Gnome 2019
*
“There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
.
Albert Einstein
*

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

*

Pieris

Fabulous Friday: Savoring Spring

A newly planted Japanese Pieris blooms in our garden.

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We stood together near a display of Japanese Pieris this afternoon, at the Homestead Garden Center, listening to to the melodies of spring as huge bumblebees feasted on their banquet of plump, sweet flowers.  There were perhaps a half dozen shrubs there in five gallon pots, each laden with ivory flowers and surrounded with happily humming bees.  There were more bees than we could count, zipping from flower to flower, shrub to shrub; each nearly the size of a young hummingbird.

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Tulips bloom in the morning sunlight at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Moments  of such pure beauty reassure us of better times ahead.

We savor the sounds and colors of spring, deeply inhale the sweet fragrance around us, and enjoy the renewed warmth seeping back into our lives.

We treasure this transition, even as we will treasure the transition to cooler, crisper days a half-year on.  But happiness comes from staying in the moment, and this beautiful, golden Friday has been a string of such moments infused with spring’s promises.

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My hands pushed and prodded and planted in fragrant moist earth for much of the day.  I tend to wake up with a list of garden chores pushing and shoving one another for their place in line as I plan the day ahead.  I worked out in the sunshine, losing all sense of time, until my layers became too steamy and I realized it was well past time for lunch.

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But I’d also visited with old friends and new by then, watched a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly float past, taken a few dozen photos, watered in my work and tidied up.

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I found Homestead’s email as I was fixing our lunch, and their promises of early annuals, herbs, shrubs and a growing inventory of perennials proved irresistible.

A friend gave me three fat Hymenocallis bulbs this week.  These beautiful white spider lilies, or Peruvian daffodils, have always intrigued me.  But it is a summer bulb I’ve not yet grown.   The bulbs sit on a table in our sitting room taunting me, challenging me to do something interesting with them in a pot.

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I like growing new plants first in pots where I can control their growing conditions, moving them, giving more or less water as I learn their ways.  Pots set special plants apart, elevate them literally and figuratively and help me not lose track of them as the garden fills in!

So I’ve been reading about how to grow these huge bulbs, big as Amaryllis and just as special, and also exploring what might grow well in a pot with them.  And when I read that Homestead has their first Verbena plants in stock, my plans fell into place.

Verbena grows vigorously here, blooms until Christmas, makes a sturdy ground cover and spills beautifully from a pot.  It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies like a magnet.  I’ll pot up the white spider lily bulbs with a soft peachy Verbena, and observe them as they grow.

~

Verbena with Caladium, 2017

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Do you work jigsaw puzzles?  I enjoyed them once upon a time on family vacations.

There is that  moment when you turn the pieces out of the box, and begin to sort them by their color and their shape.  Little bits of the puzzle start to come together as you find pieces that match, and at some point those bits fit together, and then you have the frame complete.    The rest may come swiftly or slowly,  but your sense of teamwork and accomplishment grows along with the completed parts of the puzzle until the last piece goes in, and you’re finally done.

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That is a good metaphor for spring in the garden.  At first, there are bags of bulbs, flats of plants, and perhaps a potted shrub or two all waiting for me to fit them together into their pots and beds and borders.  A few more things get started or potted or planted each day, each making their way outside as the weather warms enough to sustain them.

And the weather is no steady, settled thing!

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White Camellia japonica blooms in our garden today.

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We see much of the country still dealing with snow and ice, flood and cold.  And a day like today makes us a bit smug, maybe; but certainly very grateful, too!  But it won’t last…

We know that wintery cold and winter storms return here by Sunday evening.  And knowing that, every moment of warmth and sunshine today felt that much sweeter.  We wanted each moment to count, used to its fullest and deeply savored.

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Forsythia still blazes golden yellow in our garden and around town.  It has been cool enough this March that we’ve had a very long season to enjoy it.

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This March has roared quite a bit.  We’ve had wind and rain, storms and cold.  It came in that way, and it looks as though April will dawn stormy, too.  But today we enjoyed the gentle aspect of March;  garden filled with flowers, and leaves appearing as a colorful haze around most of the trees and woodies.

This spring has proven a slow tease.  And when its unfolding is this beautiful, what’s the rush?

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Woodland Gnome 2019
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious,
Let’s Infect One Another!
.

 

Fabulous Friday: Timing is Everything

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A common topic of conversation among gardeners this time of year resolves to timing.   We try to gauge where we are in the annual rite of spring, and guess what the weather might still do in the weeks ahead.  Of course, we’re eager to get a jump on the new season.  We want to clean up the beds and begin planting.  We want to get the season off to a good start and enjoy the fruits of our efforts as early as possible.

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Yet, we have all experienced the disappointments that come with beginning too early…

Many favorite plants won’t grow until the soil has warmed enough, and until night time temperatures remain reasonably warm, too.  It’s not just the rare late freeze that worries us, either.

A long list of plants, from tomatoes to Caladiums want night time temperatures above 50F.   Begin too early, and a plant’s growth may be stunted for the entire season.

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I just shake my head when I see tomatoes shivering on grocery and big-box store plant racks in March or early April.  The soil is still too cold here, for summer vegetables, and we can still have a freeze or late snow deep into April.

And every year unfolds differently.  We ride a metaphorical meteorological roller coaster through this most changeable of seasons.  Today, we had warm southwest winds ahead of a line of thunderstorms and it was nearly 80F by 2 PM.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha blooms abundantly in late winter, filling the garden with sweet fragrance.

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We have several nights of freezing temperatures forecast for the coming week.  There was mention of the ‘S’ word for Tuesday, and I am hoping that is rubbed from the forecast before frosty flakes can touch our Magnolia blossoms.

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We were just amazed to notice our neighbor’s tulip Magnolia tree in full, glorious bloom yesterday afternoon.  When did that happen? It only takes a few hours of warmth to wake up the garden, when the dormant time is nearly done.

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I believe that most of us are as interested in phenology as we are in the actual weather forecast.  Especially in this time when our climate patterns seem to be shifting, we need  a better compass to navigate the seasons.

Phenology, literally, is the study of appearance.  In other words, studying when things in the natural world appear or disappear; when various things happen in relation to other things.  Phenology is the study of how biological changes in plants and animals correspond with changes in climate and seasons.

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Magnolia stellata buds are opening this week, in our garden.

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“You may delay,
but time will not.”
.
Benjamin Franklin

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This is very old wisdom, dating to long before most folks had computers, watches, or even reliable calendars.  How do you know when to plant corn?  When oak leaves are as big as a mouse’s ears.

Noticing the arrival of the first robins is a sign of spring.  Watching geese gather and fly overhead in large flocks is a sign of approaching winter.

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As our climate warms, spring continues to arrive a bit earlier, and fall lingers a bit later each year.  But we still look for indicators of these changes in real time, and try to adjust our gardening schedules to make the most of the growing season.

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An approaching storm darkened our skies, even as temperatures soared here this afternoon.

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I’m feeling pretty confident about spring, finally.  Confident enough to do a bit of shopping for perennials yesterday.  Our friends at The Homestead Garden Center got in their annual shipment of 2″ perennials this week, and we went for a visit to celebrate the opening of another spring season with them.  Sweetness filled the air from rows of blooming bulbs, shelves of primroses, , flats of bright pansies and an impromptu alle’ of Camellia shrubs covered in huge pink flowers.

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I went straight for the shelves of plump green perennials, fresh out of their greenhouse, to match up my wish-list with the bounty of the offerings.

It may be a little premature to plant them… After a conversation with a Master Gardener friend, yesterday morning, about whether or not the soil has warmed enough to plant; I disciplined my urge to plant yesterday afternoon.  It certainly was warm enough to enjoy every moment out of doors.

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N. ‘Katie Heath,’ one of Brent Heath’s most beautiful introductions, and named for his mother.

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But I recalled the forecast for next week, and left the little perennials snug in their flat, in the shade and shelter of a hedge.  Better to bring them indoors should cold come calling once again, than to let them get frost kissed outside.  Oh, I chafe against the indecision of it all!

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But I did buy carrots today.  No, not for roasting or soup… for flowers It has become an annual tradition to seek out the most beautiful organic carrots I can find to plant in the garden.

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I experimented with planting carrots for the first time in late winter of 2017.  We enjoyed them so much, that I planted carrots again last spring.  For only pennies per plant, we enjoy months of flowers.  More importantly, Daucus carota, or common carrot, proves a useful host plant for our Black Swallowtail butterflies.

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Daucus carota subsp. sativus attracts many beneficial insects to the garden.

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I sorted through the bag of colorful carrots from Trader Joe’s today to find the best ones for planting.  I was looking for a reasonable length of healthy root with the promise of fresh leaves from an intact crown.  I have those resting on the counter in a shallow pan of water, and will plant them out in the coming days.

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

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It is simple:  open the earth with a spade and slip the carrot, vertically, into the opening.  Leave the crown just at ground level, and mulch lightly.

I know we lost a fair amount of the carrots I planted last year, probably to rabbits or voles.  I plan to give these a good squirt with Repels All before I plant them, just as I protected some of our bulbs last fall,  as a bit of insurance.  I expect that it is warm enough now that these carrots will send out new feeder roots in short order, and we’ll see new growth by mid-April.

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The garden is moist and ready for planting….

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Have you started any seeds yet?  It’s that time of year. 

Puzzling out the best time for each step towards our summer garden takes a bit of planning, a fair bit of remembering past years, and also a bit of trust that our efforts will flourish.

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 Woodland Gnome 2019

~

~

“It’s being here now that’s important.
There’s no past and there’s no future.
Time is a very misleading thing.
All there is ever, is the now.
We can gain experience from the past,
but we can’t relive it;
and we can hope for the future,
but we don’t know if there is one.”

.

George Harrison

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~

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

Six on Saturday: In Transition

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Some days, the most interesting topic of conversation turns out to be the weather.  Today we noted the pros and cons of what it wasn’t: it wasn’t the least bit warm, wasn’t ever sunny, and it wasn’t at all spring-like.  But we also noted our gratitude that at least it wasn’t snowy or stormy in our little corner of Virginia.  It was a day for shivering in the wind while searching the landscape for any and every sign of spring.

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A few bulbs have appeared beside my mother’s driveway.

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I ventured a hundred odd miles northwest today, and a week or more back in meteorological time.

Open faces on daffodils were scarce, though we spotted buds here and there.   Japanese quince shone a muted red through the misty gloom.

But I was cheered to see potted Camellia shrubs and the first of the early perennials have arrived at my favorite Richmond greenhouse and nursery.  They were stocking the seed packet racks and unpacking Aroid tubers, while a cheerful group of Master Gardeners conferred with customers and handed out  fact sheets to those ready to start the season better prepared with good advice.

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The daffodils are much further along in my Williamsburg garden, than any I saw around Richmond today.

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Today we could feel the gears clicking together a little roughly in this reluctant transition from winter to spring.   Winter still has a very firm grip on the situation, and we’re feeling a bit rebellious.  We’re ready to relax a little into a sunny day, sow some seeds, and maybe plant out a pot or two.  Why fight the inevitable, especially now that we can see the trees are preparing to cooperate as their buds swell and color?

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Magnolia stellata

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My self-control was weak; and you couldn’t blame me.  The jazzy blooming lilies and flamingo pink Hydrangeas nearly pushed me over the edge, and that was before we circled the orchid display at least three times.

Spring was in the air, if only inside the glass house packed with blooms.   And of course I filled a little basket with fresh flower pots and a blooming Begonia, a few cute little ferns and a bag of summer bulbs.  It was a small extravagance and did more to lift my mood than I care to admit.

The girls at the register were all smiles and happy talk as people streamed through with carts piled high.  We all needed to take a piece of spring home with us, some little bright something to distract us from the day’s winter gloom, a living promise of brighter days just ahead.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

That myth is more potent than history.

That dreams are more powerful than facts.

That hope always triumphs over experience.

That laughter is the only cure for grief.

And I believe that love

is stronger than death.”
.

Robert Fulghum

~

~

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

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