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.

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

Six on Saturday: Evergreen

Helleborus

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By January autumn’s leaves have mostly fallen and anything evergreen dazzles in the fleeting winter sun.  I anticipate this quiet time of the year when one can see deeply into the roadside woods, admiring the stands of pines, hollies, Magnolias and myrtles normally hidden from view by the leafy, growing forest.

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American Holly surrounded by pines.

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After the year’s many colorful extravagances, the restful simplicity of bared bark, buff leaf litter and glowing evergreens stands in elegant contrast to the other seasons’ beauties.

At home, too, evergreen perennials peek through the fallen leaves, a deep emerald green.  Pointy ivy leaves scramble across the ground and spill from pots on the patio.  Fresh, wrinkled Helleborus leaves emerge from the chilled earth embracing stems of unfolding flowers.

What a delight to see these winter treasures braving the worst weather of the year, unflinching under a frosty glaze.

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Mahonia aquifolium

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Our Mahohias stand crowned with golden flowers this week.  Filled with nectar, they feed native bees and other pollinators who venture out on warmish days.  As we admired a particularly lush stand of Mahonia this morning, a brilliant red cardinal dropped out of the sky to land on its uppermost branch.  Perhaps it was looking for its breakfast, too.

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Camellia sasanqua

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Yucca and German Iris, rosemary, parsley, thyme, Arum and tiny Cyclamen leaves soak up the sun and stand resolute in the face of winter.  A well planned garden needs these touches of evergreen to carry us through until spring.

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Thyme

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No blazing summer Dahlia will ever touch me in the same way as richly green Arum, melting the snow around itself, its leaves unmarred by ice.

These loyalest of garden plants remain with us through the difficulties of winter, inspiring us with their fortitude and blessing us with their beauty.

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Arum italicum shines from late autumn into May, when it quietly fades away. This European native produces enough heat to attract insects and protect itself in freezing weather.  Here, with emerging daffodil leaves, Vinca minor and Saxifraga stolonifera.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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

Six on Saturday: Unexpected Pleasures

Scarlet oakleaf Hydrangea leaves brighten up a foggy, January garden. Edgeworthia flowers hang like tiny snowballs, opening very slowly over winter. Our Camellias remain in full bloom.

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January presents as a quiet month on all fronts.  After a good six weeks of holiday indulgences, most of us are ready to go home and rest a while.  Especially for a gardener, expectations are low.  So low that a new seed catalog in the mail presents a thrill of color and possibility.

Which is why I’m feeling exceptionally appreciative for the unexpected pleasures in our garden this week.  It is wet and almost warm out there, since Christmas.  We had some freezing weather early on, but not enough to kill the geraniums on the front porch or slow down the Verbena and Allysum blooming on the patio.

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Allysum blooms on the patio, enticing the occasional bee. Germander leaves remain deeply green all winter, finally blooming by late April.

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And the Iris!  Ohh la la!  Blooming since New Year’s Eve, we are into our fifth day now of a beautiful blue and white scented Iris.  This is why I love the re-bloomers so very much.

Our rosemary is in bloom, and some daffodils have already broken ground with the first green tips of leaves.  It can’t be spring, in the first week of the new year, and we know there will be cold days and nights ahead.  But this interlude of curious cardinals, an occasional bee, mild afternoons and fragrant flowers charms us with its promise of spring now on the horizon.

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Iris and Verbena bloom together this week on our patio.  The Verbena has remained in bloom since I bought it last April.

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In our climate, one can easily plan for year-round flowers and plenty of interest in the garden on every day of the year.  There is no true ‘down time’ anymore.  I’ve finished my first round of clearing and cleaning in the perennial beds, but am not yet ready to cut down the beautiful seedheads of our native perennials.  Besides, the birds aren’t yet finished with them.

There is still that crate of daffodil bulbs in the garage, too, waiting for me to dedicate an afternoon to finally committing them to the Earth.

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I was delighted to discover, while cutting down the Cannas and ginger lilies and generally surveying the garden,  several dozen seedling Ilex opaca shining through the fallen leaves.  I had wished for some native holly to transplant for a project a few years back.  And the multiverse clearly heard my wish and granted it in abundance.  Were I to allow them all to grow, our garden would soon become a holly forest.

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Rosemary blooms during winter here in Williamsburg. I sometimes cut it to use in Christmas wreathes or winter arrangements.

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So the task at hand is to dig and pot most of those little holly trees in the week ahead.  I’ll likely throw a daffodil bulb in each hole before I fill it with compost or bark mulch, and call it job well done.  The seemingly random daffies will remind me of this beautiful gift of native trees, sown by the birds, and filling our garden this month with vibrant green poking through the wet fallen leaves.

As the final bulbs go into the ground, the first snowdrops and Hellebores have bloomed.  There is always an unexpected pleasure waiting if one will only take a moment to see what is already there.

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Hellebores bloom in our garden from late December through early May, giving flowers during the greyest days of the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Mahonia prepares to bloom, to the delight of our native bees still foraging on warm days. The Egeworthia, covered in silvery flowers, grows more spectacular each year.  We’re so grateful to our friend who introduced it to me years ago.

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

 

Six On Saturday: Time for a Change

Geraniums bloom in the midst of scented Pelargoniums and other herbs, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and ivy.

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Color touches and excites us.  Of all the reasons for cultivating a garden, enjoying beautiful color throughout the year inspires me more than most.

Color ebbs and flows in waves through the seasons, with beautiful oranges, reds and golds reaching an autumn crescendo some time in October, most years, with colors steadily fading to browns and greys in November .

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Camellia ‘Yuletide’ bloomed this week, a bit earlier than usual.

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Cooler weather brings us renewed, intense color in late season flowers and bright autumn leaves.   Autumn’s flowers celebrate  gentler, wetter weather with a vibrancy they’ve not shown since spring.

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Oakleaf hydrangea holds its colorful leaves deep into winter.  Behind it, the Camellias bloom and flower buds have formed on the Edgeworthia.

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We noticed the first changing leaves in late August.  Maples and sycamores began to turn in late summer, followed in September by the first hits of red on the dogwoods.  Holly berries began to fade from green to orange in early October, and still aren’t fully red.

Our long, warm autumn has held off the usual brilliant autumn foliage of hardwood trees deep into the season, and many trees have dropped their leaves already, lost to wind and drought.  Those that have hung onto their branches long enough to shine, brilliant for a while before falling, are enjoyed all the more this year.

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Purple beautyberries shine against the shrub’s changing leaves.  This isn’t the native, and I don’t recall this particular shrub’s provenance.  But I like its smaller leaves.   ‘African Blue’ and ‘Thai’ basil still bloom prolifically and will continue through the first heavy frost.

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Goldenrod fills our upper garden beds.   A Virginia native, its golden yellow flowers feed the late pollinators and offer a last wash of soft color among stands of brown seedheads and withering perennials.  Our garden remains alive with every sort of little bee, a few Sulphur butterflies and a late Monarch or two.

We came home after dark this week to the rare and magical sight of a lone hummingbird feeding on the ginger lilies.  A hummingbird glows in the wash of headlights, reflecting a bright pin-point of light from its little eye and sparkling in its movement from flower to flower.  One might mistake it for a little fairy moving among the flowers after dusk.

We had thought the hummingbirds had already flown south, and sat for a long time at the top of the drive just watching its progress from flower to flower.

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Butterfly ginger lily is a favorite late nectar source for hummingbirds.

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And so we celebrate the colors of the season, even as the garden fades for another year.  This week I’ve dug Caladiums and replaced them with spring flowering bulbs, Violas, snaps and sprouting Arum lily tubers.

I’m taking up our collection of Alocasias and Colocasias, re-potting them and bringing them inside before our colder nights bite them, too.  We now have low temperatures in the 30s predicted for the next few nights, and they won’t like that.  It’s time to bring in the Begonias, as well, and I’m not looking forward to all the heavy lifting this day will require.

From an afternoon high near 80F on Thursday, we’re suddenly expecting winter-time temperatures at night.  Change is in the air this week.

But even as we turn back our clocks this weekend, so we dial back the garden, too.  Winter is a simpler, starker season, but still beautiful.  And as leaves fall and perennials die back, the Camellias shine.  Every sort of berry brightens to tempt the hungry birds, and we notice the color and texture of all of the different barks on our woodies.

A little planning and thoughtful planting now will insure color in the garden through until spring.  A gardener always has something to enjoy, and something interesting to do while enjoying the beauty surrounding us.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Six on Saturday: Endless Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The first Camellias bloomed in our garden last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

 

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.

 

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