Blossom XLIX: Camellia sasanqua

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What a delight to see bright flowers open on our evergreen Camellia shrubs during autumn, just as the rest of the garden fades and we prepare for winter.  You may have noticed bright Camellias blooming in October through January and wondered about these beautiful rose-like flowers in shades of red, pink and white.

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A relative of the tea plant, autumn blooming Asian Camellias are hardy in Zones 6b-9.  Like the spring blooming Camellia japonica, they prefer moist, acidic soil.

When the first Camellias were brought to Europe and North America from Asia, they were cultivated in glass houses, to protect them from winter temperatures, ice and snow.  Eventually, gardeners began to experiment with growing them out of doors in the garden, and learned that we can grow Camellias successfully in Zone 7 and warmer, without any special protection.  Providing a sheltered spot, mulch, or wrapping them against winter winds allows gardeners to grow them successfully in even colder climates.

Fall blooming Camellias will tolerate full to partial sun, under the dappled shade of larger trees.  They can take more sun than the C. japonicas appreciate.  Camellias may be used as specimen plants, hedges, in mixed borders, or as large foundation shrubs.  Different cultivars will grow to different proportions, and many will grow into small trees when left unpruned.

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Proper pruning is very good for Camellias.  By carefully removing branches here and there, you can open them up to greater light and air circulation.  This helps encourage blooming and also protects from some fungal diseases that sometimes attack overgrown Camellias.  Good air circulation and care will prevent disease problems and insect damage is rare.

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Never shear Camellias like a hedge.  Prune within a few weeks after they finish blooming to avoid cutting away the next season’s flower buds.  Aim to prune only enough to enhance the shrub’s beauty, or control its size, so the pruning isn’t obvious.  It is best to cut a branch all the way back to where it grows out of another branch.  Clipping a branch in the middle will stimulate more new growth from the nodes below your cut.

Camellias keep their glossy green leaves year-round, adding structure and screening in the garden throughout the year.  Pollinators appreciate this source of nectar when little else is in bloom, and birds find shelter in their branches.  Many gardeners cut a few branches for a vase, or float Camellia blossoms in a bowl.

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Newly planted shrubs will need protection from deer for the first few years.  Deer may graze both leaves and flower buds, but the shrub will generally survive.  Use deer fencing, Milorganite, or repellant sprays to protect Camellias as they establish.  Since Milorganite is an organic nitrogen fertilizer, regular use will actually enhance the color and bloom of Camellia shrubs, while helping to keep deer away from them.

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Camellia, “Jingle Bells” December 2016

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Many Camellia varieties are available now at local nurseries.  You can choose from several different colors and flower forms,  finding a cultivar that will meet your needs for mature shape and size.

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Camellia December 2017

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Varieties like C. ‘Yuletide’  and C. ‘Jingle Bells‘ are especially prized for their red flowers each December.  Bees and late butterflies will be thrilled to find them when there is little other nectar available to them. Camellia flowers may turn brown during a cold snap, but buds will continue to open over many weeks, even during wintery weather.

Then, by very early spring, the first of the Camellia japonica varieties will begin to bloom.

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Camellia November 2017

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Plant Camellia shrubs with confidence that you are making a good investment.  They will reward you with beautiful flowers, when little else will bloom, for many decades to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Blossom XLVIII:  Verbena
Blossom XLVII:  Cornleaf Iris
Blossom XLVI: Snowdrops and Iris
Blossom XLV:  First Snowdrops
Blossom XLIV: Brilliant Hibiscus
Blossom XLIII: Verbena
Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom

 

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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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Temporary

Camellia Season

October 13 fall flowers 014

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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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October 13 fall flowers 015

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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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October 13 fall flowers 031

 

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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December  11, 2014 cold 011

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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.

Fresh Start 2021: Carbon Garden

October blooming Camellia sasanqua

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Only recently have I come across the term ‘Carbon Garden’ in the current issue of Horticulture Magazine.  You may be ahead of me on this one, but the picture that came to mind when I first saw the term wasn’t very pretty.  The reality of it is much more attractive, and this garden style proves easier to maintain than many other garden styles.

Like other elements, carbon is an atom that can manifest as a solid, in a liquid, or as a gas.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) remain in the news because they contribute so much to our warming environment.  Gasses like carbon dioxide and methane (CH4) trap heat from the sun near the surface of the earth, causing warmer weather and heavier rainfalls.  Conversations around reversing the current warming trends usually focus on reducing carbon emissions and finding ways to scrub carbon out of the air.

Magically, we have living tools for removing carbon from the air right outside our windows.  You see, every green plant cell uses carbon dioxide in its daily efforts to feed itself and sustain the entire plant.  In the presence of sunlight, carbon dioxide and water transform into glucose, used to power plant growth, and the waste product oxygen, which of course we need in every breath.

When you contemplate a leafy tree, imagine each leaf inhaling polluted air and transforming that air into pure food and oxygen.

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Japanese Maple

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Glucose is further transformed into cellulose, which structures the cell wall of every plant cell.  Now, imagine a tree’s roots growing deeper and wider into the earth with each passing year.  What are those roots made from?  Cellulose:  largely, carbon.

A tree, and most any other plant, can stash carbon deep underground where it will remain for many years in solid form.  Many plants also store nitrogen, filtered out of the air, on their roots.  In fact, any plant in the pea family stores little nodules of solid nitrogen along their roots.  Knowing that nitrogen is a major component of fertilizers, you understand how this stored nitrogen increases the fertility of the soil in the area where these plants grow.

Plant leaves are also made primarily of carbon.  When the leaves fall each autumn, they hold stored, solid carbon.  If returned to the soil as compost or mulch, the carbon remains stored, or sequestered, in solid form in the soil.  This is how ordinary garden soil may be transformed into a ‘carbon sink.’

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Turkey tail mushrooms help decompose the stump of a fallen peach tree. Leaving the stump in place and allowing vegetation to cover it conserves its carbon in the soil.

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A log is made largely of stored carbon.  When you burn it in the fireplace, those chemical bonds break down, and much of the carbon rises back into the air as smoke.  If the same log is made into a cutting board or other wooden object, then the carbon remains in sold form.

Just as burning can break chemical bonds to release carbon back into the air, so will decomposition.  We’ve come to understand that bare dirt, including tilled fields and gardens, releases carbon back into the air.  But ground covered by mulch or living plants doesn’t allow that carbon to move back into the air.

All of this helps explain the science behind the principles of Carbon Gardening, whose goal is to scrub as much carbon as possible out of the air and sequester it in the earth.  Forests have done this very efficiently for untold ages.

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Only in recent times, with so much natural forest cleared and land exposed, has our planet begun its dramatic warming.  Think of all the carbon stored over the centuries as coal, petroleum, peat, and held close under a forest canopy that has been released into our atmosphere over the past century.

So, the point of Carbon Gardening is to use one’s own garden to sequester as much carbon as possible, using gardening methods that hold the carbon in the soil, without burning or releasing any more carbon than possible in the process.

Every breath we exhale contains carbon dioxide.  Our cells produce it as they produce energy.  We live in harmony with the plants we grow, taking in the oxygen they exhale while giving them back our own carbon rich breath.  That said, please don’t try to hold your breath as you make your Carbon Garden.

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Camellia sasanqua

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Here are a few principles of Carbon Gardening that may help point you in the right direction. 

The Audubon Society has a series of articles that go into far more detail.

  1. Plant intensely in layers:  The more plants in growth the more carbon will be scrubbed from the air each day.  Trees are most efficient because they support a huge volume of leaves.  Include evergreen trees that continue respiration through the winter months, and plant a shrub layer, perennial layer, and ground covers under the trees to maximize the amount of carbon absorbed by your garden.  Evergreen perennials and ground covers continue absorbing and storing carbon through the winter months.

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  1. Feed carbon (and nitrogen) back into your soil with plant materials. Use wood chips, bark, and shredded leaves as mulch to minimize bare ground.  Remember that roots sequester a large amount of carbon and nitrogen, so leave those roots in the ground.  Cut weeds or spent annuals at ground level instead of pulling them up.  Compost trimmings and leaves, kitchen waste, and unneeded cardboard, newsprint or brown paper.

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This is a very thin layer of compost covering collected branches, bark and leaves from our fallen tree.  We added additional layers of organic material to build the new planting bed.

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  1. Instead of tilling soil and exposing stored carbon, sheet compost in the winter to prepare for spring planting. Cover the garden area with cardboard or paper to protect the soil and smother any weeds.  Build up layers of composable materials, or even bagged municipal compost, and allow it to decompose in place so that planting seeds or transplants in the spring is possible without tilling or excessive digging.  Coffee grounds, tea bags, rinsed eggshells and other kitchen scraps can be ‘buried’ in the layers of a sheet compost pile, but be careful not to discard of seeds in this way unless you want them to sprout in the spring.

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Paper grocery bags covered with several inches of compost smother weeds and soften the ground for this new planting bed, eliminating the need to dig the area up first.  Pea gravel helps hold this area, which is on a slope.

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  1. Remain mindful of garden ‘inputs’ that burn carbon. This includes garden equipment that burns gas, commercial fertilizers, and maybe even those fun trips to the garden center….?

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This bin of new Caladium bulbs was ready to be planted out in mid-May.  Ordering bare root perennials, bulbs, tubers and seeds and starting them at home reduces the carbon footprint of a garden.  The red leaf is C. ‘Burning Heart,’ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, FL.

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  1. If you normally buy flats of annual plants each spring for pots or borders, consider how to plant those areas more sustainably. Consider all of the carbon releasing ‘inputs’ required to produce those plants, including the plastic containers they are grown in, the transportation to move them, and the chemical fertilizers and peat based potting soil used in growing them.  While all plants sequester carbon from the air, commercial nursery production of short-lived plants releases carbon into the atmosphere throughout the process and should be considered by conscientious gardeners.  What can you raise from seeds, cuttings or divisions, or obtain through trade with gardening friends?

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Saxifraga stolonifera is an evergreen ground cover that is easy to divide and share.  It grows here with Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ Hellebores and ferns.

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  1. Choose native perennials or ones that will naturalize in your climate, so your plants spread and reproduce, reducing the number of plants you need to buy each year to fill your garden. Design a sustainable garden that grows lushly with minimal ‘inputs’ and intervention from the gardener.  Native and naturalizing perennials won’t need much watering during dry spells, will make do with nutrients in the soil, and will expand and self-seed.

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  1. Woody plants sequester carbon in their roots and branches and live for many years. These are the most efficient Carbon Garden plants.   A garden made mostly from trees, shrubs, perennial ferns and groundcovers, will work most efficiently.  Some more arid areas have great success with long-lived succulents.  Consider replacing turf grass with plants that don’t require such intense maintenance.

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Mountain Laurel blooms each May, is native to our region and forms dense clumps over time.

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  1. Use the I-Tree Tool to educate yourself about the power of trees in your landscape to sequester and store carbon, reduce run-off and scrub other pollutants out of the air. Use this tool when selecting new trees to plant in your own yard.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle, small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer, red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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‘Carbon Gardening’ can make a significant contribution to scrubbing carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it in the earth, and the total contribution multiplies as the plants grow and the garden develops year to year.  A fully grown native tree can removed fifty or more pounds of carbon from the air annually.  While the amount varies by tree species and size, every year of growth increases the tree’s effectiveness.

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Each gardener who adopts sustainable practices makes a sizeable contribution to off-set and mitigate carbon production in their area.  Planting more plants and allowing them to grow densely also helps manage rainfall so it is stored onsite, rather than running off so rapidly.  The plants sustain wildlife and build a richly integrated ecosystem.

We reduce our own annual costs for new plants, fertilizers, other chemicals and fuel, while also reducing our time invested in garden maintenance.  It is a good approach for any of us who enjoy watching nature weave her tapestry each year, sustainably, while knowing that our gardens are part of the solution to climate warming and climate change.

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Woodland Gnome 2021

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful and a positive thought.

Six on Saturday: Winter Flowers

Edgeworthia chrysantha in late March 2019

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Here in coastal Virginia, it is possible to have flowers blooming in the garden every day of the year.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation now, before winter settles around us.  But it is within reach for most of us with a little outdoor space to plant.

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Planning a garden is a lot like working a very large jigsaw puzzle.  Consider one of the 1200 piece puzzles you buy to work with family or close friends, where you spend hours and hours just sorting pieces and making the frame before ever beginning to fill in the body of the puzzle.  Maybe you work in small sections, completing a bit here and there, then fitting those vignettes into their proper place in the whole at the right time.

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Planning for winter color, and more specifically for winter flowers, is just one of those chunks to fit into the bigger picture.

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Hellebores blooming in mid-February

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As you begin to think about winter flowers, it is helpful to think about winter blooming shrubs, winter blooming geophytes, winter blooming perennials, and finally winter blooming ‘annuals.’  Each have their own niche in the whole picture, and their own level of expense and commitment.

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This weekend I’ve visited three garden centers and have been delighted to find plants on my own ‘winter wish list’ at all three.  In all cases, the plants I wanted were marked down on clearance.  Even looking a bit rough and scraggly, giving them the right care now guarantees flowers in a few months, when we’ll need them.

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Violas of all sorts our still widely available in our area and still sold at full price at most locations.  There are hundreds of varieties, and the hardest part about planting Violas is deciding which ones to grow.  Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.  Use Osmacote or another time-release fertilizer at planting time, and feed them again with a liquid feed in February or March for best bloom.  Cut them back with scissors to remove bad foliage or leggy stems, and they will reward you with lush growth until summer.

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This is the easiest, least expensive way to enjoy winter flowers, and carries the least commitment.  Violas thrive here until sometime in May, when it gets too hot for them.  I’m usually pulling them out of their spots by mid-May to replant for summer, anyway.  Gardeners in cooler climates can keep them going year to year, but here we treat them like annuals.  Pansies have the largest, brightest flowers.  There are both singles and doubles in a wide variety of colors and color combinations.

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Panolas are a nice compromise between Pansies and the tiny Violas like ‘Johnny Jump-Ups.’  Again, there is a variety of color combinations available, solid flowers, and both single and double blossoms.  Little Violas have flowers about the size of a penny or a nickle, but they are very sweet and saturated color.  Although the plants look tiny now, they grow and spread throughout the winter.  By spring, when they begin to bloom again in earnest, they are covered in many, many small, but bright flowers.  We have a grower near us who specializes in little Violas, and I always end up with a flat or two and put them in pots and baskets on our patio and deck.

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Since deer find these little guys very tasty (most of the flowers are edible for humans, too) I generally don’t plant out Violas in beds or borders.  But I have, and as long as they are kept sprayed with animal repellent, they grow beautifully.

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Hardy Cyclamen leaves with blue Vinca flowers and emerging Crocus in February.

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A notch up from the Violas are Snapdragons, Antirrhinum species.  These are perennials, though many people pull them out and replace them by mid-spring.  I have several plants still going strong planted more than a year ago.  They are short-lived perennials, but will bloom profusely well into early summer, and then sporadically during our hot season.  The secret to keeping these covered in flowers is to dead-head the spent blooms before they set seeds, keep them moist, and feed the plants every month or so to keep them healthy and productive.  Give snaps some shade in the summer, but they are happy in full sun through the winter months.  You will find Antirrhinum varieties in small, medium or tall plants, and in a range of beautiful colors from bold to soft pastels.

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An equally easy, but often overlooked winter blooming perennial is Dianthus chinensis.  Often sold in cell packs in early spring, Dianthus is a tough, dependable easy perennial in our area that isn’t ever grazed.  It blooms sporadically in winter and summer, but really shines in spring and fall on evergreen plants.   I often use it in potted arrangements because it is versatile, bright, and the flowers remain the size of quarters in shades of white, pink, purple or crimson.  Flowers may be solid or bi-color.  Cuttings root easily.  Deadhead this plant regularly to keep it looking neat, and to keep the flowers coming.

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Requiring a bit more time and commitment are the Hellebores.  I had never paid Hellebores any attention until I moved to Williamsburg, but they are very popular here.  Probably because they are very poisonous, and won’t be bothered by deer, rabbits, squirrels, moles, voles, or ground-hogs.  It take about three to four years from seedling to blooming plant, but blooming plants are readily available in gallon pots at our garden centers, for around $25.00 each.

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Preferring shade, some of my plants grow in full to partial sun and do fine, as long as I water them during dry spells.  Hellebores begin blooming between December and February, depending on the species and variety, and them bloom continuously for another 3 to 4 months.  They are evergreen, serve as background foliage during the warm months, and are very tough and easy plants to grow.

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I was given a few dozen seedling plants by a neighbor years ago, and they continue to bloom each year and multiply, naturally spreading to form a dense ground cover.  I also buy one or two new varieties each year.  I grow them in pots and in the ground, and delight in their beautiful flowers through the winter months when little else blooms.

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Violas and ivy make fora beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate. This photo from early January 2017.

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When most people think of winter flowers, they think about winter blooming bulbs.  Bulbs are easy and most are inexpensive.  This is prime time to find bulb sales from online dealers, who can be very good, and also to find reduced bags of bulbs at garden centers.

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Be wary, if buying bulbs locally, that the bulbs still look plump and healthy and have no discoloration.  If they look shriveled or have anything grey or green on them, pass them by.  They probably won’t bloom well, or they may not grow at all and infect your soil with bacterial rot.

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Snowdrops, Galanthus species, bloom in January or February most years.  Although they are very small and white or white and green, by the time they bloom, they are a welcome sign of spring.  Miniature Iris bloom from bulbs at just about the same time, but come in a broader range of colors with larger flowers.  Early daffodils begin to bloom most years in February, and Crocus can bloom very early, before there is much else color in the garden.  Muscari also bloom in very early spring.  All of these are called geophytes because they are bulbs, and can be stored dry during their dormant time each year.

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Other geophytes, or ‘Earth plants’ grow from corms, tubers, or rhizomes.   Some hardy Cyclamen tubers begin to bloom in autumn and bloom until early winter.  Their beautifully patterned leaves persist much longer than their delicate flowers in pinks or white.  Other Cyclamen species begin to bloom in the middle of winter, and bloom through mid-spring.  Buy tubers based on when they bloom, the color of their flowers or the color and pattern of their leaves.  Cyclamen may be grown from seeds, but it takes several years for their tubers to grow large enough to bloom.  Leave the tuber in place and it will keep growing larger, giving a wider area of bloom each year.

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Iris reticulata ‘Sunshine’ on March 2, 2019.

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Finally, shrubs can be a great source of winter flowers.  If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow Camellias.  Some Camellia varieties are hardier than others, and you may find species to grow in Zone 6 or cooler.  We grow both fall blooming and spring blooming Camellias, so we have them from October through until April, whenever the weather has a bit of a warm enough stretch to allow buds to bloom.

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Daphne can bloom very early, but is also a very difficult shrub to keep happy.  I’ve never had one for very long.

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Our favorite winter bloomer is Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese paperbush.  It is already in bud, and those flower buds keep steadily swelling and growing larger until they finally open into blossoms. There are two or three different varieties, and flowers may be white with yellow centers, or all yellow. They have a very sweet and strong fragrance, so the garden is perfumed on warmish days.

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Now, if you want to grow this gorgeous shrub, you will make a bit of an investment.  I saw one today in a 3 gal. pot for nearly $80.  Shop around, and you will likely find a much better deal.  One of our local nurseries carries them at a more reasonable price, but they never order very many.  You have to seek this one out.

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A shining star through the winter months, the shrub is rather non-descript with medium green, deciduous leaved through the summer.  The leaves turn yellow in fall, as the flowers appear on the branches.  It is a very sculptural shrub once the leaves fall, and is a real focal point.

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Mahonia, a northwest native shrub, blooms in November- January.   Japanese Pieris will also begin to bloom as winter fades into spring.  Both of these shrubs have evergreen foliage and bees and other small pollinators love them.   They support native bees when there is little else available for forage.

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Native redbud trees, Cercis Canadensis, sprout tiny flowers that break out of their bark along twigs, limbs and sometimes even the trunk!  I’ve seen them bloom here as early as mid-February, when they cover themselves in a cloud of deep magenta pink.  Some of the cultivars available now offer other color choices, but most are shades of pink/purple/red and even white.  Each tree hosts hundreds (thousands on a mature tree) of tiny flowers to the delight of every hungry pollinator in the area.  Birds follow to feed on the insects, and so redbud trees become hubs of activity when in bloom.

Heart shaped leaves follow, which turn beautiful yellow in fall.  Seed pods look like snow peas, and are edible.  Our trees are covered in seed pods, still, and they feed a variety of wildlife in winter.  Cut branches may be forced inside in early spring, in a vase of water.  Designers may also cut branches covered in seed pods now to add drama to their arrangements.

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Some Magnolia trees, like Magnolia stellata and Magnolia lilliflora may break into bloom in February.  Deciduous Magnolia trees bloom earlier than the evergreens and generally stay much smaller.  These are easy to grow in sun to part shade, and come in a variety of flower forms and colors.

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Finally, Forsythia shrubs often begin blooming for us in February with golden yellow flowers.  They are one of the earliest blooming shrubs in late winter.  You can force branches to bloom indoors several weeks earlier than they bloom outside.   And Japanese quince blooms in bright scarlet or pink soon after.

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These are just the high points of winter blooming plants that we grow, and that easily come to mind.  You may have other favorites.  We have to consider climate, available sun or shade, and what will or won’t be grazed by the animals who visit our garden.

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Many gardeners are quite happy with evergreens, a few bright berries, and maybe some variegated ivy or a variegated shrub.  We all crave a bit of color in the winter time, and it is worth planning for and making a bit of an investment to keep the garden interesting during the darkest months of the year.

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February 2017 Magnolia stellata

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Secrets of Appreciation

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“Remember to give thanks

for unknown blessings

already on their way”

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Valentina Giambanco

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Camellia sasanqua and autumn leaves

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“Living in thanksgiving daily is a habit;

we must open our hearts to love more,

we must open our arms to hug more,

we must open our eyes to see more and finally,

we must live our lives to serve more.”

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Farshad Asl

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Camellia sasanqua

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“Gratitude is the seed of gladness.”

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Lailah Gifty Akita

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“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”

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W.J. Cameron

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Japanese Maple

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May the beauty of this day find you,

May joy bubble up in your heart,

May you know everyone near you as family,

May you feel the love  which surrounds you,

and may you enjoy the blessings of peace,

always.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

 

Six on Saturday: Going and Coming

Camellia sasanqua opened its first flowers this week.

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The wind swung around to blow from the north overnight as the rain finally moved off the coast. The cold front came on a wave of rain that moved in before my eyes opened at 5 Friday morning and hung around deep into the evening.

Today dawned clear and bright, crisp and chill. How rare to have a night in the 40s here, so early in October. But all that cleansing rain left a deep, sapphire sky to greet the sunrise.

The cold front caught me distracted this time. I didn’t plan ahead enough to start moving plants indoors last week. And so every Caladium and Begonia and Alocasia was left out in the soggy cold night to manage as best as possible.

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Caladium ‘A Touch of Wine’ has been particularly cold tolerant this autumn.

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Trying to make amends this morning, I began gathering our Caladiums, starting in the coolest part of the garden on the downhill slope behind the house. Pulling Caladium tubers out of heavy, waterlogged soil presents its own challenges. The only thing worse is leaving them in the cold wet soil to rot.

Timing out when to lift Caldiums can be as puzzling as when to plant them out in the spring. Some varieties signaled weeks ago that they were finishing for the season, by letting their stems go limp with their leaves fall to the ground. When that happens, you need to dig the tubers while the leaves remain to mark the spot. I’ve lost more than a few tubers by waiting too long to dig them, and forgetting where they were buried.

At the same time, other plants still look quite perky with new leaves coming on. It feels wrong to end their growth too soon, with those lovely leaves wilting in the crate. This is a time to prioritize which need immediate attention and which can grow on a while, yet. After tonight, we expect another warm spell, so I have an excuse.

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Arum italicum remains dormant all summer, emerging again sometime in October.

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Everywhere in our garden we see new plants coming out and blooming even as summer’s stars fade. If it weren’t for fall blooming Camellias, Arums, emerging bulbs and late blooming perennials, I couldn’t be so content in October. But in our garden there are always comings and goings, so I try to take autumn in stride.

The pot I planted last fall with Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, and spring flowering bulbs has burst into new growth. Retrieving the few Caladiums I plopped in there in June was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t do too much damage, I hope, in pulling them up from between the Cyclamen that now are in full leaf. Cyclamen tubers are fun because they just grow broader and broader year to year, spreading into larger and larger patches of beautifully marked leaves and delicate flowers.

I’m finding seedpods on our Camellia shrubs even as the first fall flowers bloom. I’m working with Camellia seeds for the first time this year, after receiving a gift of Camellia sinensis seeds, the tea Camellia, from a gardening friend. Now that I know what to look for, I’m saving seeds from my own shrubs, too.

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Pineapple Sage opened its first flowers this week beside a patch of goldenrod.

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In fact, the garden is filled with seeds this week. I’ve harvested seeds from our red buckeye tree, acorns from the swamp chestnut oak, and Hibiscus seeds. I’m busily squirreling away the seeds in hopes many will germinate and grow into new plants that I can share.

Our birds are flocking in to enjoy the bright red dogwood seeds, along with beautyberry seeds and nuts from the beech tree. The drive is littered with beechnut husks and there are always birds and squirrels about. They are busy gathering all they can with birds swooping about the garden as I work. Even the tiny seeds I overlook, on the Buddleia shrubs and fading Black-eyed Susans entice the birds.

All the rapid changes feel dizzying sometimes. There is an excellent piece in today’s WaPo about the different autumn displays caused by climate change. Not only are species moving north and other new species moving in to replace them, but the very patterns of heat and cold and moisture are changing how the trees respond each fall. You may have noticed some trees whose leaves turned brown and fell weeks ago. Other trees still stand fully clothed in green.  Forests once golden with chestnut leaves now show more scarlet and purple because of new species replacing the chestnuts last century.

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Grapes ripen on the vines running through the dogwood tree. Color is slow to come this fall, with some trees dropping their leaves before they brighten.

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Our red buckeye tree is native further to the south. But it is naturalizing now in coastal Virginia, and is growing very happily in our yard. Trees are very particular about how much heat or cold they can take, and how many chilling days they require in winter to set the next season’s buds. Most also dislike saturated soils. Our abundant rainfall, these last few years, has sent some trees into decline when the roots can’t ‘breathe.’

Trees are coming and going, too, just on a much grander scale. For every tree that falls, dozens of seedlings emerge to compete for its space.

I’m planting seeds this fall, starting woody cuttings, and starting a few cold weather bulbs and tubers. I have flats of Cyclamen and Arum started, and spent some happy hours this week tucking tiny bulbs into the earth, dreaming of spring flowers.

Changing seasons takes a span of many weeks in our garden. The day will soon be here when I start carrying pots indoors for winter. Other pots stay outside, replanted with flowers and foliage to fill them winter into spring. I need to stay focused on all of the comings and going- not let myself get distracted with the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Hibiscus seeds are ripe for sowing.

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

Visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Six on Saturday: Color Winter Beautiful

Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum in early March.

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Autumn colors our world with vivid hues of scarlet, orange, yellow and purple for a few short weeks as deep green summer fades into the browns and greys of late autumn and winter.  We distract ourselves for a while with bright and colorful holiday decorations.  But once past Boxing Day in late December, we wake up to the bare bones of our winter gardens.

Of all the year, this may be the stretch when we most keenly wish we had planned ahead for some color and interest in the garden.  Once the trees stand as skeletons against wintery skies, we look with fresh appreciation at every evergreen shrub and colorful berry left behind.

Many of our lawns lose their luster after first frost.  Most herbaceous plants die back and weather to shades of duff and brown, if they haven’t already turned to mush as Cannas and Hedychium so quickly do.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.  This photo was taken in late December 2016.

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Winter beauty relies on a subtler, more sophisticated sense of color and form.  We are called on to appreciate the wabi-sabi aesthetic of well-worn objects past their prime, like the weathered stalks and seed pods of perennials left standing in the borders and twigs etched against a cloudy sky.

Even woody vines add interest snaking through the trees or over rocks with delicately curled tendrils, or a few stalwarts, like our native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, still blooming late into January.  Native Carolina jessamine keeps its green leaves as it scrambles through roadside trees and over fences.

When planning for a beautiful winter garden, woody plants give us that consistent structure to bridge the seasons.  Interesting bark, beautiful form and early buds and bloom can turn an ordinary summer shrub into something spectacular and entertaining in a winter garden.

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Hellebores bloom reliably throughout winter. Here buds are already visible in early January of 2018.

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Evergreen shrubs like Camellias will bloom profusely both late into the season, and again in earliest early spring.  Camellia sasanqua bloom into January in our area, while Camellia japonicas will begin blooming in late February or March.   Mahonia offers yellow flowers for hungry bees in late autumn and  winter, and then plump purple berries for the birds in late spring.

Other early bloomers, like Forsythia and some Magnolias take our breath away before most other woody plants awaken.  Trees like alder and hazel ornament themselves with catkins that grow longer and more dramatic from October, before the leaves even fall, through until March.

There are also cold-loving herbaceous perennials and geophytes.  Arum italicum is already sending up its first beautiful leaves in our garden.  It will continue sending up new leaves throughout the winter filling otherwise empty borders with fresh and vibrant green.  These aroids produce their own chemical heat, melting any snow and ice that fall on them without turning crisp or brown.  They will bloom in April and May, then fade away again by June for a summer-time rest.

Hellebores are already sending up new leaves, too.  Their first flower buds will appear in December, and they will bloom prolifically until May.  Epimediums, sometimes called fairy wings, prove evergreen in our garden, with their often holly or heart shaped leaves.   Then they  burst into growth with new leaves and delicate flowers in earliest spring.

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Galanthus, snowdrops. often bloom through mid-winter snows.

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By February, the early Crocus, Galanthus and early dwarf Iris will break ground with delicate leaves and vivid flowers.  Plant Crocus tommasinianus, or Tommies, for earliest bloom.  The bulbs of this Crocus species have a taste unpleasant to rodents, and so won’t be dug up as squirrel or vole snacks.  It is always smart to spray new bulbs with an animal repellent as you plant them, anyway, and maybe to spray the bed or pot after planting, too, to discourage squirrels from digging.

Iris reticulata or Iris histrioides sometimes emerge in late January to bloom in February through March.  Plant them in a pot in a sunny spot on the patio for earliest bloom.  You might also plant clumps in a border for winter interest, and they thrive in a rock garden.  Like many other spring blooming geophytes, dwarf Iris bulbs appreciate hot dry conditions through the summer months. They usually bloom with the early snowdrops, Galanthus, and as the leaves of early Cyclamen coum emerge.  Plant them against a back drop of Cyclamen, Arum or Hellebore to make them pop.

Hardy Cyclamen form a beautiful and spreading groundcover during the winter months.  C. hederifolium emerge in October and persist past frost.  C. Coum emerge in February and persist until May.  They are very small, but their finely marked evergreen leaves and tiny pink or white flowers are exquisite.   Plant them in patio pots or under trees and shrubs.  Placement below trees is especially good as the ground will stay drier there during their summer dormancy.

Evergreen ferns, like the Christmas fern, autumn ferns and holly fern give winter color, too.  They may get a bit beaten down after a heavy snow, but their texture remains beautiful throughout the winter months.  When their new fronds appear in early spring, they add interest and drama when little else is going on in the garden.  Cut back older fronds as the new ones emerge.

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Evergreen mistletoe lives anchored to the branches of the trees, adding color to our garden once the leaves fall each autumn.

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Finally, even a tree’s bark becomes a thing of beauty in the winter landscape.  Exfoliating barks like those of crape myrtles and birch trees provide interesting texture as well as color.  Many Cornus species boast bright red or yellow winter stems, especially on new growth.  Red maples have red stems when young.  Some gum trees boast ‘wings’ in their smaller branches and twigs, and poplar and sycamore trees both have beautiful, light colored often mottled bark that shines on a bright winter day.  Oakleaf Hydrangeas hold onto their flowers and scarlet leaves, on beautifully shaped woody stems with peeling bark, until new buds emerge.

When we notice these small details, we find beauty in unlikely places.  The sparseness and subtlety of a winter landscape balances the exuberance of summer.  We go back to bare bones.  There is much less competition for our attention and much less to do in the garden.  We can breathe.  We can enjoy a few months of peace and quiet before we greet another spring.

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Camellia sasanqua blooms from November through January in our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

 

Visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Six On Saturday: When Wood Breaks Into Bloom

Redbud is the earliest tree in our garden to bloom, followed within another week or two by the dogwoods.

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When stark woody limbs suddenly burst open to liberate soft, fragrant flowers, we live, once again, the mystery play of spring.

We witness sudden and transformative change initiated by some small fluctuation in the status quo.  Days grow a few minutes longer; temperatures rise.  The Earth tilts a bit more in this direction or that, and the winds bring a new season as every branch, bulb, seed and root respond.

It is natural magic, and needs no assistance.  Every tree responds to its own cue of light and warmth while the gardener sits back with a cup of tea to appreciate the spectacle.

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Redbud flowers emerge directly from woody stems.  A member of the pea family, redbud, Cercis, trees store nitrogen on their roots, directly fertilizing the soil where they grow.  The nitrogen is filtered out of the air by their leaves, along with carbon.  Other plants can draw on this nitrogen in the soil for their own growth.

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I’m becoming more aware, with each passing season, of the silent cues leading me on my own journey as a gardener.  I’m looking for value when I invest in planting some new thing in the garden.  How many seasons will it grow?  How much return will it yield for my investment in planting?

A potted geranium will give six or eight months of interest, perhaps another season or two if you are both lucky and skilled.  A potted Camellia will outlive the gardener, assuming it survives its first seasons of hungry deer and unexpected drought.  The Camellia can produce hundreds of flowers in a single season, and more with each passing year.  A dogwood or Magnolia tree fills the garden with even more flowers, then feeds the birds months later as their seeds mature.

Gardening, like all transcendent pursuits, may be neatly reduced to mathematics when choices must be made.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle; small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer; red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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Yesterday afternoon I planted the Hydrangea paniculata I bought one Saturday afternoon almost two years ago, while taking my mother shopping.  A dozen potted shrubs were piled in front of her Wal-Mart store that late summer afternoon, reduced by half to move them.  They were clearing out the nursery area in preparation for holiday stock and impulsively, I grabbed a nice one and piled it in my cart.

“What are you going to do with that?”  she asked, cautiously, maybe wondering whether I intended to plant it in her yard somewhere.  She is housebound now, and can’t get out to garden as she once did.

“I don’t know yet,”  I responded, “but I’m sure I’ll find a spot for it at home.”  And the place I found was in a sheltered spot behind the house while I figured out where to plant it.  And it seemed quite content there, though it didn’t bloom last summer.  And it lived through two winters in its nursery pot while I dithered about where to plant it.

And finally, with a twinge of guilt for not letting its roots spread into good earth and its limbs reach into the sunlight, I chose a spot this week on our back slope, near other Hydrangeas, where we lost some lilac shrubs and their absence left an empty space to fill.  The Hydrangea will appreciate our acidic soil and the partial shade that has grown in there, where the lilac shrubs did not.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea also produces panicles of flowers in May, and the flowers persist into early winter. Many Hydrangeas bloom on new wood, while others set their buds in autumn. It pays to know your shrub.

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And as I plant, I can see its spindly little branches growing stout and long, reaching up and out for light and air.  Since it blooms on new wood, not old, every summer it will have the opportunity to stretch, and grow, and fill its corner of the garden with large pale panicles of flowers for months at a time.  Its roots will hold the bank against erosion and its woody body will welcome birds and support heavy flowers.  Each branch has the power to root and grow into a new shrub, even as each flower will support a cloud of humming insects on summer days.

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On March 1, 2017 our Magnolia liliflora trees were already in full bloom.

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There is tremendous potential in every woody plant.  They weave the fabric of the garden as days become weeks and weeks knit themselves into years.  Knowing them closely allows one to choose wisely, creating a flowering patchwork of trees and shrubs that shine each in their own season, and ornament the garden, each in its own way, every day of each passing year.

When leaves turn bright, then brown, and begin to swirl on autumn’s chilling winds, leaving stark woody skeletons where our soft green trees swayed so shortly ago; we watch with confidence that spring is but another breath away.

The only constant is change, as they say.  And knowing that, we know how to plan and plant to enjoy every moment.

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Mountain Laurel grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  Its buds are already swelling to bloom by early May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Fabulous Friday:  Flowers From Wood, Forest Garden, March 2017

Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

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

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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