Ferns are Fabulous in a Forest Garden

 

 

July 9 2013 garden 011

Autumn Brilliance fern

~

Several perennial ferns are native in our part of Virginia, and grow wild in the woods and ravines, unbothered by our herd of deer.  Many of us have these ferns already growing in parts of our yards.  They grow happily along year after year with exactly no effort needed by the gardener.  If they are close to our homes, we might think to remove  faded fronds in spring to spruce them up a bit.   These welcome natives can be used intentionally in our landscapes to great advantage.

~

July 9 2013 garden 014

Christmas Fern and a Southern Lady Fern

~

Several perennial ferns are native in our part of Virginia, and grow wild in the woods and ravines, unbothered by our herd of deer.  Many of us have these ferns already growing in parts of our yards.  They grow happily along year after year with exactly no effort needed by the gardener.  If they are close to our homes, we might think to remove  faded fronds in spring to spruce them up a bit.   These welcome natives can be used intentionally in our landscapes to great advantage.

~

Naturalized ferns beside the road on Jamestown Island.

Naturalized ferns beside the road on Jamestown Island.

~

Ferns are one of the most primitive of all plants.  They first appeared in the fossil record about 360 million years ago, long before any seed bearing plants like grasses, trees, or flowers appeared.  They produce no flowers or seeds.  Ferns reproduce through the spores which develop on the back of their fronds, and by spreading on underground stems called rhizomes.  Some ferns grow in clumps, others send up individual fronds from this underground stem.  Some species tend to spread, making them excellent ground cover in shady areas.  Others don’t spread quickly at all, but form handsome accent plants.

~

July 9 2013 garden 012

Southern Lady Fern

~

Ferns can be found in a variety of sizes from very low growing to very tall.  The first trees on Earth were actually tree ferns, which can grow to over 100’ tall.  Although we normally think of tree ferns as tropical plants, varieties are available which can grow in our zone 7b provided they are given partial shade and moist soil.  The majority of ferns native to our region range from 1’-4’ tall.  Ostrich ferns will grow to 5’-6’ tall once established in moist soil.

Ferns are tough plants.  Most prefer shade, although some varieties will grow in full sun if given moist soil.  Moisture and humidity, which we have in abundance most years, are the keys to success with ferns.  Ferns don’t expect fertilizer, pruning, fencing, trellising, or coddling.  Plant them, enjoy them, and leave them alone.

When purchasing ferns for your landscape consider these key issues:

1.  Is this fern hardy in zone 7b?  If the answer is yes, you have a perennial which will return reliably year after year.  If the fern needs warmer winter temperatures, grow it in a pot and bring it in each winter.

~

June 21 Lanai 017

Japanese Painted Fern with a Begonia Rex. This deciduous fern will die back in November whether kept indoors or out, but will return in April.

~

2.  Is this fern evergreen or deciduous?  Reliably evergreen ferns in our region are the Christmas Fern, Tassel Fern,  and the Autumn Brilliance Fern.  These plants might look a little tired and worn by spring, but they will stand in the garden or in outdoor pots all winter long.  Deciduous ferns will survive the winter, but like other perennials, will disintegrate above ground after a hard freeze or two.  The Japanese Painted Fern needs a winter rest, even when potted and brought inside.  Once the days get longer in spring, and warmth returns, the fern sprouts new fronds and goes back into active growth.

3.  How big will this fern get?  Pay attention to the height and width potential of the fern.  Although purchased in a tiny pot, you may be bringing home a plant which will grow quite large over the years.  Put the right fern in the right spot, and make sure there is room for the fern to grow without crowding out something nearby. Most ferns grow quickly.

4.  How much light will this fern tolerate?  Normally we think of ferns for shady spots.  They are excellent under trees and shrubs partly because they have fairly shallow roots.  Some ferns will just shrivel into a crispy brown mess in too much sun, and others will thrive.  Do your research ahead of time if you want to grow ferns in partial or full sun.  The Autumn Brilliance fern is particularly tolerant of sun.  Some lady ferns and Christmas ferns will also tolerate partial sun.

~

June 21 Lanai 021~

Ferns are good problem solving plants in a forest landscape. 

  • Many ferns will form a lush, dense groundcover in just a few years.  They halt erosion and cover bare ground very economically.
  • Ferns are a good choice to grow on a steep bank.  Because they are good groundcover plants, and require little or no maintenance, once planted, they will work for you indefinitely.
  • Ferns are good around the edges of things, especially to cover the knees of shrubs.
  • Ferns will grow well in areas with too much shade for flowers and other ground covers.  They come in a variety of textures and colors. They work well mixed with Hostas, Heucheras, Vinca, Caladiums, Impatiens, Violas, Lenten Roses, and grasses.  Plant ivy, moss, or Creeping Jenny as a ground cover around specimen ferns.

~

June 14 garden and cake 003

  • Ferns aren’t bothered by deer, squirrels, or rabbits.  I have had newly planted ferns disappear down a vole hole, but that is a rare occurrence.  Once the fern begins sending out its roots into the surrounding soil it is rarely disturbed by small mammals.  It can offer some protection to tasty plants nearby.
  • Tall ferns, like Ostrich fern, can be used to form a fence, barrier, or a backdrop for other plantings.  These ferns will not only reach 5’ tall or more, they spread by rhizomes and will make a dense planting over a year or so.
  • Ferns love wet soil.  Areas where water drains and collects are perfect for ferns.  They won’t mind having wet feet, and will help dry the area by soaking the water up and releasing it from their leaves.
  • ~

June 21 Lanai 008~

Interesting ferns are easy to purchase locally, and can be found economically online.  Ferns can be purchased at the big box hardware stores and at Homestead Garden Center in a variety of sizes.  Homestead carried six or eight varieties this spring, in 2” pots, for only $2.50 each.  They also offered ferns in 4”, 6”, and gallon pots.  MacDonald Garden Center’s satellite stores in Williamsburg carried a very limited selection of ferns, but they did have them from time to time.  When purchasing ferns in the houseplant section at big box stores, be cautious about planting the fern outside.  These are often tropical plants which won’t make it through our winter.  Rather, purchase ferns out in the garden department for landscape use.

If purchasing ferns online, be cautious of the “bare root” ferns offered in many catalogs.  These are unreliable, and I’ve wasted lots of money over the years buying these plants which never grew.  Understand that they are dormant when they arrive.  That means you get a mass of dry brown roots in a plastic bag.   If you give in to the magazine photos in the middle of winter, at least pot the ferns up, when they come, and keep a close eye on them until they show strong growth.  Better to search out “potted ferns” from online vendors which arrive alive and green in a tiny pot of soil.

~

June 16 clearing the tree and garden 022

Ferns grow well where it is moist and partially shady, along with Heucheras, Lenten Rose, and other shade loving ground covers.

~

Planting new ferns is most successful in early spring or late fall.  If you must plant between May and August, choose a stretch of cloudy wet days to give the ferns a chance to adjust to life in your garden.

Once you have chosen a moist, shady spot in your yard for your ferns, dig a hole slightly wider than the fern’s root ball.  Dig a hole of the same depth, or slightly shallower, than the fern’s pot.  Gently remove the fern from its pot, loosen the roots a little, and settle the root ball into its new hole.  If you spread the roots out a little so you have a wider, but shallower mass of roots, you can encourage the fern to begin spreading horizontally.  If you need to plant a little high because of tree or shrub roots already in the ground, use finished compost to make a little mound around the fern’s root ball to they are completely covered.  Use compost to mulch around newly planted ferns to hold in moisture, enrich the soil, and shade the roots.  Water them in with plain water or a dilute solution of Neptune’s Harvest fish emulsion fertilizer, and make sure the plants have adequate moisture, especially in hot weather, through their entire first season of growth.

~

June 14 garden and cake 009

Fern Garden

~

Recommended ferns for our neighborhood:  (Some, but not all, of these are native to Virginia.)

Virginia Chain Fern, Woodwardia virginica, is a deciduous native fern which will grow 2’-4’ high in moist soil.  Large, single, medium green leaves grow from the underground rhizomes without forming clumps. This fern prefers wet, boggy soil.  Native

~

July 11 2013 garden 025

Ferns grow in this shaded area with a hardy Begonia.

~

Southern Lady Fern, Athrium filix-femina, is a very delicate, lace like, medium green deciduous clumping fern.  Prefering moist soil, this fern is more tolerant of occasionally drier soil and can take a bit more sun.  It can grow to 3’ high after a few years.  The Southern Lady Fern has a fairly wide, feathery frond and the clumps keep getting a little larger each year.  Native

Marsh Fern, or Meadow Fern, Thelypteris palustris, grows pale green fronds up to 3’ directly from the underground rhizome.  It doesn’t clump.  This fern can grow in sun or shade, so long as the ground is moist.  Native

Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides, is an evergreen fern which can tolerate drier soil and partial soil.  It has tough, dark green leaves to 3’ high which form dense clumps.  This fern doesn’t spread by underground rhizome, and should be dug up and divided to increase its coverage.  Native

~

June 12 garden at dusk 003

Japanese Painted fern growing under an Oakleaf Hydrangea

~

Rattlesnake Fern Botrychium Virginianum, has wide, dark green glossy fronds which come up singly from the rhizome growing to 2.5’ in partial sun or shade. Native

Autumn Brilliance Fern Dryopteris erythrosora forms large clumps of broad fronds.  This evergreen fern is a yellow green, but new fronds are bronze.  It can tolerate a wide range of light from almost full sun to deep shade, and is tough enough to tolerate drier soil.  The plants will eventually grow to 2’-3’ high.

Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is a very large tropical looking fern which will grow to 5’ or more in moist soil.  The fronds form vase like clumps, and will spread, forming new clumps, but underground rhizome.  Plant in partial sun to full shade.  This fern prefers moist soil.  Native

Cinammon Fern Osmunda cinnamomea, typically grows into clumps 3’ high and 3’ wide, but has been know to eventually grow to 6’ in a favored location.  These medium green deciduous ferns are similar to Ostrich Ferns, but grow distinctive dark spikes in the center which resemble cinnamon sticks. Native

Tassel Fern Polystichum polyblepharum, has very dark green, thick, waxy evergreen fronds which grow in a vase shaped spreading clump.  This beautiful ornamental fern grows best in light shade, in moist rich soil.  It will grow to 3’ tall and wide. Native

~

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern

~

Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niponicum- pictum is a highly ornamental deciduous fern.  All of the Athyrium ferns are ornamental and include Ghost Fern, Lady in Red Fern, Branford Beauty fern, and others.  These ferns have delicate clumping fronds which grow to about 2’ in moist shade.  Many of these have grey, silver, and burgundy coloration in the fronds.  Many of these prefer a few hours of sun each day to develop the best color.

This list is only a tiny fraction of the beautiful ferns hardy in zone 7b which will grow well in our forest gardens.

~

July 6 2013 garden 012

~

Good sources for ferns: 

The Homestead Garden Center in Williamsburg, VA  http://homesteadgardencenter.com/

Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC  http://plantdelights.com/

Lowes Home Improvement Store in Williamsburg, VA

Forest Lane Botanicals in Williamsburg, VA  http://forestlanebotanicals.com/

For More information: 

Williamsburg Botanical Garden   http://www.williamsburgbotanicalgarden.org/wordpress/?page_id=322

Virginia Native Plant List:   http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/documents/natvfgv.pdf

 

Fabulous Friday: Bonus Days

~

Winter is already closing in on so many parts of the country, bringing snow to areas where the leaves haven’t even fallen.  With less than a week left in October, every soft, warm, late autumn day feels like a bonus day on the season.

~

~

It has looked like rain all day, with only an occasional glimpse of sunshine breaking through the gloom; perfect weather to putter around outside.  And ‘putter’ is a good description of the bits and pieces I’ve strung together to make a day.

I’m in process of digging Caladiums.  It is always tricky to catch them before they fade away, leaving no trace of where their plump rhizomes lie buried.  But just as they leaf out on their own varietal schedules, so they fade according to their own rhythms, too.

While many in pots still look very presentable, and I’m procrastinating on digging them, others have already slipped away.  I need to sit awhile and study photos of their plantings to dig in the right places to recover them.

~

~

A gardening friend and I were puttering together yesterday, at the Botanical Garden.  I was digging Caladiums as she was planting Violas.  I was digging Caladiums from her bed, and she gently suggested that I not waste too much energy digging until I knew I was in the ‘right’ spot.  That was good advice, and gave me a good reason to dig less and chat more.

Today hasn’t been much more productive, I’m afraid.  Until the forecast calls for colder night time temps, I won’t feel motivated to begin hauling in the pots and baskets.

And yet the signs of autumn are all around in the brown, crinkly leaves skirting the drive and softly gathering on the lawn.  Bare branches come into view all around the garden, as their leafy garments slip away for another season.

~

~

Instead, I’m watering, admiring.  I spent a while potting up Arum tubers in the basement, and planting Violas from their 6 packs into little pots, to grow them on.

These are the bonus days when I can daydream about where I’ll plant them, even as summer’s geraniums and Verbena shine again with their vivid cool weather blooms.

~

~

It is a relief, quite honestly.  The plants have perked up in the cooler, damper weather of the last two weeks.  The Alocasias are sending up new, crisp leaves.  The Mexican Petunias bloom purple as the pineapple sage proudly unfurls scarlet bloom after scarlet bloom.

~

~

Every sort of little bee and wasp covered the Salvias yesterday, reveling in warm sunshine and abundant nectar.  A brilliant yellow Sulphur butterfly lazed its way from plant to plant, bed to bed, and I found some fresh cats here and there.

The Monarchs are still here, though I’ve not seen a hummingbird since early October.  Perhaps they have already flown south.

~

~

Like a band playing one more encore, reluctant for the evening to end, and then leaving the stage to party on with friends; I’m reluctant to admit the season is nearly done.  I don’t want to rush it away, in my haste to prepare for the coming winter.

It is a calculation of how many hours, days, weeks might be left of bonus time, before the first frost destroys all of the tenderness of our autumn garden.

~

~

I’ve been content to admire it all today, and make a few efforts to prepare for the changes to come.

Flocks of goldfinches gather in the upper garden, feasting on ripe black-eyed Susan and basil seeds left standing.  Pairs of cardinals gather in the shrubs, sometimes peering in the kitchen window or searching for tasty morsels in the pots on the patio; sociable and familiar now in these shorter, cooler days.

~

~

We rarely have frost until November, here in coastal Virginia.  But colder weather is on its way.  Snow this week in Texas, and Oklahoma, and a cold front on the move promise changes ahead.   I’m hoping that we’ll have a few more sweet bonus days, before ice transforms our garden’s beauty into its bony, frost kissed shadow.

~

Begonias and ferns sparkle in today’s dim sun, enjoying another day in the garden before coming indoors for winter.

~

Woodland Gnome 2019

“The strangeness of Time.

Not in its passing, which can seem infinite,

like a tunnel whose end you can’t see,

whose beginning you’ve forgotten,

but in the sudden realization

that something finite, has passed,

and is irretrievable.”

.

Joyce Carol Oates

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious. Let’s infect one another.

Fabulous Friday: Continuous Effort

Our upper garden was bathed in sunlight this morning.

~

Wouldn’t it be nice if gardening was all about sunbeams and rose petals, happy planting times and delicious harvests?

Let’s have a good laugh together, and then get real.  Gardening is really about making a continuous effort to fashion little improvements here and there and address challenges as they arise.

~

More sunbeams and golden orbs encircle our happy Colocasia ‘Black Coral’

~

If you need a bit of inspiration, please pick up the current issue of Horticulture Magazine, which is filled this month with timely advice, gorgeous photography, and wonderful suggestions for how to have fun with fall planted bulbs.

In case you’re wondering, those suggestions include a group of friends, good things to eat, and a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

~

Narcissus ‘Art Design’  It’s that time of year to start thinking about planting spring bulbs….

~

My gardening challenge this morning involved neither friends nor wine, but my partner was there to support and assist.

You see, there are well tended beautiful parts of our garden, and then there is this sad, steep slope from the side yard down into the ravine that suffers from erosion, vole tunnels, deer traffic, deep shade and benign neglect.  While we’ve both made efforts in this area over the years; they don’t seem to amount to much.

~

This steep slope in our side yard has had erosion problems for many years. Every bit we do helps, but we’re still trying to improve it.

~

A neighbor’s fallen oak wiped out many of the ornamental trees growing here when we came.  The remaining trees, and shrubs we’ve planted, have been regularly pruned by the deer.  Let’s just say the challenges have outnumbered the successes.

But excuses don’t matter a whit when it’s raining buckets and your slope is washing down into the ravine.  Which is why we decided that another ‘intervention’ is necessary this week, as we sit here on the cusp of Atlantic Hurricane Season.

~

April 2017: Another area where we had an erosion problem has responded very well to these terraces and perennial plantings.

~

We’ve had great success with the terraces we installed a few years ago, on the other side of the yard, to control erosion.   Even though the Rhodies didn’t take off as planned, the ferns and other perennials are filling in, and the erosion is handled.

In fact, I’ve learned that ferns are a terrific plant for controlling erosion in deep to part shade.  They set deep, thirsty roots to both hold the soil and control the amount of moisture retained in the soil.  Their dense foliage absorbs some of the impact of pounding rain.  As they grow, they create their own living mulch to keep their roots cool and moist.

~

This is the planting at the top of that previously terraced slope, today.

~

So it was that I loaded up my shopping cart on Wednesday with concrete landscaping blocks, pea gravel and as many holly ferns, Cyrtomium fortunei, as I could find. 

Now, I imagine some of you are thinking:  “Why don’t you just spread a good load of pine bark mulch here?”  or “Why don’t you just build a retaining wall?” 

We’ve learned that bark mulch makes moles very, very happy.  They love the stuff, and consider it great cover for their tunnels.  We use very little wood mulch, always a blend with Cypress, and I am transitioning to gravel mulch in nearly every part of the garden.  The voles hate gravel, and it is much longer lasting.

~

This bluestone gravel is my current favorite to use in the upper garden.  A Yucca I thought had died reappeared a few weeks after I mulched this area.  I’m installing more of this, one bag at a time….

~

A retaining wall wouldn’t work here because we use this area as a walkway between parts of the yard.  It is also so steep, that we would need major construction for it to be safe.   I don’t fancy bringing all of that heavy equipment into this part of the property.  Everything we use has to be carted in by hand.

It was my partner’s idea to space the landscape blocks a few inches apart this time.  We’ll reevaluate that decision after the next heavy rain!  But we filled in some of the divets, from collapsed vole tunnels, with the root balls of our new ferns.  Voles don’t do as much damage to fern roots as to some other perennials and woodies…. and then there is the small matter of the gravel….

~

~

I planted five new ferns today and added two more bags of gravel to the 10 or so we’ve already spread here over the last several years.  Pea gravel gets worked down into the soil over time, and can even get washed further down the hill in a heavy rain.  The concrete blocks will stop the washing away.  Eventually, we may add a larger size of rock mulch in this entire area.

~

These are two of the three holly ferns I found on sale racks Wednesday morning. With perennials, you are really buying the roots and crowns. I cleaned up the browned leaves and planted these with full confidence that they will grow into beautiful ferns.  New fiddleheads were already peaking out of the crowns.

~

But this is our effort for today, and we are both satisfied.  I had two little ferns in our holding area, waiting for a permanent spot, that we added to the three new holly ferns.  I’m sure a few more will turn up over the next few weeks.

~

I have already been planting a few ferns in this area over the last several years (top center). Now, I’ll also add some Helleborus transplants to the ferns, to further hold the ground and make this area more attractive in winter and early spring.  Hellebores make excellent ground cover year round and stop voles with their poisonous roots.

~

Why holly ferns?  Cyrtomium fortunei, Fortune’s holly fern, is hardy at least to Zone 6.  Some sources say Zone 5.  It is evergreen, with large fronds of tough, waxy green pinnae.  The clump expands each year, and eventually, after a couple of year’s growth in a good spot, a single fern will cover an area a little more than 2′ across.  Once planted, little care is required.

Cut out brown fronds once a year, keep them watered the first year, and then just regularly admire them after that.  Disease and critter damage isn’t an issue.  This is a large, bold, shiny green plant that shrugs off ice and snow.  It is great for halting erosion in shady spots.

~

Fortune’s holly fern planted in the 2017 terraces has grown very well.

~

And so once the blocks were set, ferns planted and gravel spread, I was happy to go back up to the upper garden to hold a spraying hose while watching butterflies.

~

~

Actually, I also had 3 new Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ to plant to entice more hummingbirds to the garden.  But that was quick and happy work, and only a minor distraction from admiring the butterflies.

~

~

My partner and I agree that every summer day should be a lovely as today.  We enjoyed sunbeams and cool breezes here for most of the day.

And yes, did I mention all of the butterflies?

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2019

Fabuous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

~

Dryopteris erythrosora’Brilliance’ is another of our favorite ferns. It is evergreen and easy to grow.

~

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge
to test our courage and willingness to change;
at such a moment, there is no point in pretending
that nothing has happened
or in saying that we are not yet ready.
The challenge will not wait.
Life does not look back.
A week is more than enough time for us to decide
whether or not to accept our destiny.”
.
Paulo Coelho

 

Fabulous Friday: Each Magical Moment

~

The last of the daffodils have finally finished, and I’m feeling impatient for their foliage to fade.  The pansies are a bit overblown now and starting to flop in most of the pots.  I’m ready to move those out, too, in favor of summer treasures.

~

The first roses of summer….

~

We’re in that awkward transition when summer is ready to begin, but spring is still lingering here and there.  The heat hasn’t helped.  We suddenly find ourselves in ‘instant July’ with our daytime temperatures in the high 80s and nights staying humid and warm.

~

Dutch Iris are in full bloom this week. Spanish lavender blooms behind them, mingling with the foliage of spent daffodils.

~

I find myself the guardian of eight large boxes of sprouting Caladiums, and now all need the light.  I moved two more out onto the deck today and am trying to cluster the last three planted near an inside window.  There is only so much ‘bright shade’ available where they are also protected from the rain.

I moved nearly 20 Caladium plants into individual pots today and barely made a dent in a single box of sprouting bulbs.  I expect to be planting a lot of Caladiums over the next few weeks!

~

~

But I finally got to work on the hanging baskets on our deck today.  I’ve been waiting to see whether any of the Lantana, Pelargoniums or Verbena from last summer survived the winter.  There is always hope, and a few plants in the pots on the front patio have growing survivors!

It may be a bit early to write off the Lantana, but I’m tired of looking at the sad remains of last summer’s beauty.  I didn’t plant up the baskets last fall with Violas, and the baskets have been looking a bit rough.

~

~

I accomplished a gentle replanting, cleaning the baskets and removing only those remains I was sure had given up during the winter.  A few plants showed signs of life from their roots, and I left them to re-grow, tucking the roots of fresh Verbenas, Lantana and scented Pelargoniums around them.

I added some pineapple mint this year, some beautiful Dichondra, and a Cuban Oregano.  I believe in adding a few new touches, even while staying with tried and true plants for our full-sun hanging baskets.  The few that get some shade are planted in ferns, Begonia and a Caladium.

~

Siberian Iris also began to bloom this week.  Our other perennials are growing so tall so fast!

~

The sun is fierce these days, and once the heat builds it is hard to keep the hanging baskets hydrated and happy.  I toyed with the idea of planting only succulents this year.

Herbs do better than most plants.  In fact a gorgeous Spanish lavender that I planted last year grew all winter, bloomed last month and now fills its large basket in a beautiful display of deep purple flowers.  I couldn’t be more pleased with how it has performed.  Who would expect a sub-shrub like lavender to thrive in a hanging basket?

~

~

Despite the heat today, I managed to accomplish a fair amount of my home ‘to-do’ list, and I’m satisfied we made good use of the day.  I moved another of our new Alocasias into its permanent pot and took time to admire (and dead-head) all of the beautiful Iris.  I try to guard against getting so busy in May that I don’t take time to simply enjoy the beautiful flowers and fragrances of the season.  It all happens so fast!

~

Mountain Laurel is blooming in our garden this week.

~

Even as spring draws to its inevitable close, summer sights and sounds fill the garden.  The Cannas are growing  inches each day and the hardy Colocasias appeared this week.  Birds begin their conversations before dawn and we listen to the mayflies whine whenever we step outside.

Daylight lingers deep into the evening.  I remind myself to breathe in the sweetness, relax a little, and enjoy each magical moment of our garden’s unfolding.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2019

~

Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ planted last spring, survived our winter beautifully in its hanging basket.  Spanish lavender performs extremely well in our climate and is the first to bloom each spring.

~

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another

Fabulous Friday: Awakening

~

On our days off, when there’s no appointment to make or task to complete, it’s a pleasure to awaken slowly and gently.  With no urgency to stay on schedule, no insistent alarm, no pet or child in need of immediate attention, we can relax a bit more and gather our thoughts before starting the day’s routines.

~

Cercis chinensis, Chinese redbud, blooming this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

~

This springtime feels like it is awakening slowly, without haste or urgency.  Cool temperatures have slowed down the natural progression of spring’s business this year.  Each blossom and bud is relaxing and taking its time to open, and once open, lasting a few more days than more warmth would allow.

~

College Creek

~

We’ve had yet another day of cool, soaking rain in our region.  Its rained steadily enough to keep me indoors and it has remained cool enough to slow down the buds on our dogwood trees.  They are still just uncurling, tentatively, and remain more green than white.

~

~

A day like today encourages the fine art of procrastination.  There are a half dozen good reasons to delay most of the tasks on my ‘to-do’ list, especially those tasks that involve waking up more seeds, or tubers, or waking up more beds and borders by removing their blankets of leafy mulch.

~

~

I’ve already delayed many spring time tasks, out of respect for cold nights, cool days and abundant rain.  It’s unwise to work in the soil when it remains so wet.  It’s even unwise to walk around too much on soggy ground, knowing that every step compacts it.

~

Dogwood

~

But there is balance, over the long view, and I suspect that warmer days are upon us soon.  I saw one of our lizards skitter under a pot when I opened the kitchen door unexpectedly yesterday, and the yard has filled with song birds.  We hear frogs singing now on warm evenings and bees come out whenever it warms in the afternoon sunlight.

They know its time to awaken for another year, and are doing their best to get on with life despite the weather.

~

N. ‘Tahiti’

~

It is good to rest when one can, storing up energy to spring into action when the time is ripe.  The garage is filled with plants needing to get back outside into the light, to cover themselves with fresh leaves and get on with their growth.  And I need their space for sprouting Caladiums and the small plants and tubers I plan to pick up in Gloucester next week from the Heaths.

There are Zantedeschias in the basement bravely reaching out their fresh leaves towards the windows, and I’m ready to divide and pot up our stored Colocasias and let them get a jump on summer.

And then there is the small matter of packs of seed whose time has come to awaken and grow…

~

N. ‘Katie Heath’

~

All these plants are waiting for their wake-up call.  I hope the relaxed and gentle start of their new season means they will bring renewed energy and enthusiasm to their growth when the weather is finally settled and warm.

~

Japanese painted ferns re-appeared this week, and I have been weeding out early spring weeds wanting to compete with them.

~

Until then, I’m enjoying watching the slow progress of spring.

There is time to savor the opening buds, emerging perennials, and slowly expanding vines as they stake their claims for the season.  There is time to relax and gather our thoughts.

There is time to listen to the chattering birds, and to appreciate the sweet gift of unscheduled time.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2019

~

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ wakes up for its first season in our garden.

~

“Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource?

Now the hourglass had busted open,

and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand

turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.”
.

Tommy Wallach

~

~

“There is no Space or Time
Only intensity,
And tame things
Have no immensity”
.

Mina Loy

~

~

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; 

Let’s Infect One Another!

Fabulous Friday: Something Borrowed, Something New

~

Until I’d struggled with this ‘new’ garden for a couple of years, watching my familiar favorite plants disappear from the garden to feed assorted voles, rabbits, squirrels and deer, I’d never given Hellebores more than a passing thought.  They simply weren’t on my radar in those days when I was busy growing roses and Hydrangeas, berries, beans, tomatoes and every Begonia I could find.

~

~

And then a friend offered to dig a few Hellebores from her garden to share with me.  We had been consoling each other, probably over cups of coffee, as we both told our stories of plants loved and lost in this forested community.  Our houses are nearby, and each of us has a ravine and a pond beyond our back yards, favorite haunts of large herds of deer.

~

~

She’s been here a year or so longer than we; long enough to learn a trick or two.  Long enough to learn to treasure her Hellebores.

~

Our first patch of Hellebores, given to us by a friend,  as they were in April of 2012. These perennials look good in every season, thrive in dry shade, and bloom for several months in late winter and early spring.

~

Her broad front yard is carpeted with beautiful Hellebores.  Through the warmer months, Hellebores cover the ground, especially in shady spots, with a beautiful, textured deep emerald green.  And then sometime between November and January they begin to bloom.  And they keep producing flowers until things heat up again in April or May.

~

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’.

~

Hellebore flowers come in shades of white, cream, light green, pinks, purples, and reds.  Heavily hybridized, there is a huge variety of size and form available through nurseries and catalogs.

Which is fun for collectors, but almost doesn’t matter anymore once you have a plant or three.  Because Hellebores easily set seed, and those seeds easily germinate.  And a few Hellebores easily becomes an ever widening patch of them, all a bit different since they have hybridized with one another.

~

~

I’m reminded of generosity and friendship every spring as we admire our Hellebores.  Those few early plants did so well for us, some even in full sun, that I dig and re-plant seedlings in more areas of the yard each spring.  Hellebores are just the trick to solve several of the challenges we face.

~

Hellebores touched with frost

~

Because they are highly poisonous, the local wild things leave Hellebores strictly alone.  This makes them valuable for planting around newly planted trees, shrubs, ferns and perennials that need a bit of protection from hungry voles.  The voles avoid the Hellebore roots and so avoid the tasties you need to protect, as well.

Simply plant a circle of seedlings, spaced every 8″-10″, around the new plant.  Those roots very soon grow into a solid mass of protection, and the Hellebores will thrive in dry shade as the shrubs grow.

~

Hellebores and Narcissus protect the roots of this Camellia sasanqua, blooming for several months after the Camellia flowers have faded.

~

Deer don’t much like to walk through Hellebores, and certainly never nibble them.  Plant them in a mass along property lines, or disrupt deer runs through the garden with a living barrier of Hellebores.

~

Hellebore seedlings bloom for the first time on this slope, where I planted them last spring.  This area gets a lot of erosion and several other plants have failed here.  The daffodils and Hellebores may prove the solution to hold the bank.

~

Hellebores also serve as a beautiful ground cover on slopes and other areas where you don’t want grass.  They hold the soil against erosion and suppress weeds.  They can take drought and need very little care, other than removing old and damaged leaves in late winter.

I like to mix Hellebores with ferns and spring bulbs, like daffodils or early summer bloomers like Iris.  They make great companions.

~

Seedlings blooming in their first year.

~

And finally, I still want a few large pots of Hellebores each winter.  I pick out new cultivars at the nursery, looking for interesting leaves as well as striking flowers.  Maybe one day I’ll just dig a few seedlings for the pots.  But I find the new cultivars interesting enough to seek out special ones with variegated foliage or double flowers.

~

~

I was very inspired by a planting featured in a recent issue of Gardens Illustrated.  A very large round stone planter was filled with the earlier blooming Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, interplanted with Galanthus and Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum. The whole confection was white flowers against beautiful green and silver foliage.   It was elegantly simple and absolutely aglow on the dull day it was photographed.

Hellebores make wonderful companion plants for spring bulbs in winter pots, and the whole thing can be transplanted into the garden in April, when you want to re-plant the pot for summer.  You know the arrangement will come back even bigger and better next winter.

~

~

Which brings me to the main reason I’m celebrating our Hellebores on this Fabulous Friday:  they give abundant winter flowers.  Whether cut for a vase, floated in a bowl, or simply admired while walking through the garden; Hellebores defy winter with flowers of vibrant color and delicate beauty.

~

~

We have enough seedling Hellebores appearing each spring that I’m always happy to share with other gardeners.  Especially gardeners making the hard adjustment to gardening in our challenging area, who are just looking for something, anything, they can grow without having to spray it with deer repellents every time it rains.

~

~

Something borrowed, something new… a gardener’s happiness always grows when friends share their botanical treasures, and when success finally blooms from challenge.

~

~

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

Fabulous Friday: Gifts from Friends

Obedient Plant, Physotegia virginiana

~

In our neighborhood, we celebrate the plants the deer leave alone.  And many of us share with our neighborhood friends when we have the opportunity to dig and divide.  We are so happy to have found something beautiful that will grow un-grazed and un-molested, that we just naturally want to ‘spread the joy.’

I am very fortunate to have a Master Gardener friend who has been tending her acre for many years and has developed many garden rooms of trees, ferns, and perennials.  She gave me a tour of her beautiful garden a few years back, and will share a perennial with me from time to time.  Last spring, 2017, she offered me some divisions of a native commonly called ‘obedient plant.’

~

~

You may know this beautiful perennial as Physotegia virginiana, or false dragonhead.  I think it looks a little like a summer foxglove or snapdragon, don’t you?  It comes in shades of pink, lavendar and white.  I was very happy to receive this special gift, and she brought enough that I could plant quite a few divisions and still share some further with friends.

I was determined to take care of these so they would survive last summer.  And even through the excessive heat and my extended absences from the garden, somehow they pulled through and even gave a few late summer blooms.  And when they reappeared this spring, and I recognized that my few plants had not only taken hold but spread, there was real cause to celebrate.

~

~

Now, what you need to know, if you think you might want a little P. virginiana in your own garden, is that this perennial belongs to the mint family.  That’s a good thing if you want a plant that will quickly grow and fill in a large space.  That maybe isn’t such a good thing if your garden is already pretty full, and you don’t want your precious perennials crowded out by a newcomer.  In its first spring,  my new stand of obedient plant immediately required ‘the discipline of the spade.’  But no worries, that just gave me a few more clumps to share, right?

This plant quickly forms clumps as its rhizomes spread around.  The plants grow fairly tall, in sun or part sun, and can manage with average soil.  They are considered drought tolerant and are much loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators.  They make lovely cut flowers, and help the garden gracefully bridge the transition to fall.

I planted them in several spots to see what they would prefer, and most of those initial clumps are either in bud or bloom.  I am enjoying these elegant flowers as they bloom this year.  They continually remind me how the kindness of others enriches our lives so much.

~

~

Some gardeners recommend planting obedient plant in a large, bottomless pot sunk into the garden to contain the rhizomes.  This advice is often given for members of the mint family, and it may work for you.

I’m a bit more laissez-faire with our Forest Garden, and still feel very grateful to those plants who can make it through the season with their leaves, stems, and roots still intact.  What the deer don’t get around here, the voles often claim.  Please just keep in mind that the moniker ‘obedient’ refers to the flowers, who will hold a curve if you try to shape their stem, but not the roots and rhizomes of this vigorous plant.

~

~

We have enjoyed abundant rain and a short spell of cooler weather this week.  We’ve had some cool, crisp mornings to remind us that September is a breath away.  I’m always a little surprised to feel how much energy we have when the humidity and temps drop towards the end of summer!

We have used these cool mornings in the garden, and have actually done some productive tasks when not chasing butterflies!

~

~

The change of seasons always brings a bit of excitement and fresh energy.  The colors in the garden shift as new perennials come into bloom and some of the trees are beginning to blush with the first hints of fall color.

Our garden turns purple and gold as autumn approaches, and white with clumps of chives popping up in unexpected places.  Even as we prepare to welcome our long Virginia autumn, I’m already ordering bulbs to plant this fall and thinking ahead to spring.  And yes, finding spare clumps of perennials to share with our neighbors and friends.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

.

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious;
Let’s infect one another!

~

Monarch on Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

~

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge

to test our courage and willingness to change;

at such a moment, there is no point in pretending

that nothing has happened

or in saying that we are not yet ready.

The challenge will not wait.

Life does not look back.

A week is more than enough time

for us to decide whether or not

to accept our destiny.”
.

Paulo Coelho

 

Fabulous Friday: Shadows and Shade

~

When the sun is shining and the temperature is climbing, it is time to seek shadows and shade.

Our temps here have been running 10 degrees or more above our historical ‘normal’ for better than a month.  Although school is just getting out and our high school seniors in the community graduate this weekend, it already feels like mid-summer.  You feel the burn quickly when caught out in the full sun.  And so the smartest place to spend one’s time is in the shade.

~

~

The fern garden at the bottom of the yard holds the cool and shade we seek.  There is usually a nice breeze, and it is quiet, save for the calls of our resident birds and the hum of bees.  With tall bamboo making a dense wall on one side, and several good sized trees for shelter, we have a beautiful spot that is nearly always sheltered and shaded.

~

~

This is where we have been planting ferns, Hellebores,  and other shade loving perennials for the past eight or so years.  It fills in a little better each year as the plants grow and spread, and as I plant up new parts of the hillside.  In fact, I just developed a large new bed this spring and the ferns are just taking hold and beginning to show new growth.

This shady area gives a great deal of textural interest, but nearly everything here grows in shades of green.  Beyond the early season Helleborus flowers and later daffodils, our shade garden glows in many shades of green, with little touches  of silver sheen on the Japanese painted fern, and the occasional burgundy stem.

~

~

This week, the our huge voodoo lilies, Sauromatum venosum, rise over the garden so their huge, showy leaves may catch every ray of sunlight penetrating the canopy.

Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, these unique plants belong to the family of Araceae, like our own native Jack in the Pulpit.  I didn’t really intend to plant Voodoo lily in our garden.  It chose me…

On a late spring trip to Brent and Becky’s Gloucester bulb shop several years ago, the voodoo lily had already begun to grow, their elongated flower stalks breaking free of both their mesh bags and their bottom shelf bin.  A flower stalk caught my ankle as I walked by, drawing my attention.  It reminded me of past trips to the animal shelter when a kitten reaches through the bars of their cage to invite you to play with them.

~

~

A deal was struck, and I bought a large sack full of the poor lilies, straining to escape their bags and grow.  I had to cut each plant out of its mesh bag carefully with sharp scissors to avoid damaging its bloom stalk.  I planted them in many different shady spots.

Each year they catch me by surprise, either with their huge purple flowers early, or these gargantuan leaves in early summer.  The leaves last a few weeks and then fade away.  The bulbs often divide and spread a little between one season and the next.

~

~

I wonder, sometimes, why I don’t spend more time lingering in the shade of our wonderful fern garden.

It may be that I burn up my gardening hours watering the thirsty sun-drenched upper garden.  It may be that I get distracted photographing our pollinator visitors elsewhere, or tending to some much needed weeding or pruning where the growth is more rampant.

~

~

There is always a long to-do list on my mind, and I feel responsible to take care of the garden chores before allowing myself to wander down here  to relax and enjoy the cool, calm beauty of it all.

~

~

But when I finally slip down the hill to the shade, usually hose in hand, I am delighted to spend some time in the shadows, watching for turtles and enjoying the coolness and the beauty of it all.

*
Woodland Gnome 2018
*
*
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

Fabulous Friday: Summer Rain

Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ glows after a rain shower.

~

As the early summer rain continues to fall in fits, drizzles and passing storms, I am enjoying a rare quiet day at home, chased inside from any major gardening tasks by the weather.  The forays outside have been brief thus far today, and usually ended with me left feeling soggy from the humidity or a sudden shower.

~

Ferns and hardy Begonias enjoy our damp weather.

~

I woke this morning concerned about all of the little plants in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted out.  I thought of how soggy their roots must be and rushed outside to move them as needed and empty standing water that had collected overnight.

Soggy roots can mean sudden death for many plants that need a bit of air in their soil.  That set me to puttering about with pots and baskets and a few strategic transplanting jobs.

~

Rose scented Pelargonium likes room for its roots to breathe.

~

I am especially concerned for the Caladiums still growing on in their bins.  It is one of those tasks that gets more difficult the longer one procrastinates.  While I wait for the new ones, ordered this spring to emerge, the ones grown from over-wintered bulbs have gotten huge and leggy; their roots entangled.  But the wet soil and frequent showers give me reason to wait another day for more transplanting.

~

~

What won’t wait is our annual dance with the bamboo grove in the ravine.  Bamboo is considered a grass, but what a stubborn and determined force of nature it as proven to be in our garden!  Though we didn’t plant it, we admire it and appreciate its beauty.

But that beauty is expected to stay within reasonable bounds.  The bamboo disagrees, determinedly marching up the slope of our garden towards the house.  It sends out small scouting sprouts ahead of its main force.  We must stay on top of these year round, as they seek to colonize every bed and pathway.  The bamboo’s main assault begins in late April, as its new stalks emerge.

~

~

We allow a certain number of these to grow each spring, and it seems that we give up another few feet of garden to the ‘bamboo forest’ with each passing year.  What would happen if we were away in May?  Could we find the house when we returned?

Every day we seek out and remove the new bamboo stalks growing in spots we cannot allow.  The squirrels appreciate our efforts, and feast on the broken shoots we leave for them.

~

~

And so it was that we were out early this morning, me with the pots and saucers, and attacking the new bamboo that emerged over night.  This constant stream of moisture has encouraged its audacity.

As we made another tour of the garden during a break in the rain this afternoon, my partner called me over to see one of our garden visitors.

~

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~

She was hiding under a very large sage plant.  At least I hope she was hiding, and had not dug a nest to lay her eggs.

The turtles like our garden.  We find them resting in the greenness of forgotten places, and try to always give them their peace.  They repay us by eating their share of bugs each day.

~

~

But just as I settled in to re-plant another pot or two with Caladiums, the brief sunshine was blotted out by another passing, rain soaked cloud.  Large cold drops of rain splattered down much quicker than I expected, leaving me all wet once again.

~

~

And so there is nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of a rainy afternoon indoors.  The coffee is made, and I’ll soon be off to enjoy a good book with the cat curled up by my feet.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

*

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

Fabulous Friday: Evergreen

Hardy Cyclamen and bulb foliage shine through the leaf litter of a perennial bed at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, Virginia.

~

I’m appreciative today for every little scrap of green shining in our winter garden.  So much of the world is brown or grey or beige here this week.

Although I’ve spotted a few early snow drops, Galanthus, in public gardens; we haven’t seen more than the first tentative tips of green leaves from our own spring bulbs.  And yet they are utterly fascinating as they push up through the wet, nearly frozen Earth; and we celebrate every tiny tip of green.

~

~

Early February comes, some years, gilded with early Forsythia, the first golden Crocus, and a few brave daffodils splashed across the landscape.

Other years, winter still reigns supreme. Tiny Forsythia buds shiver along the branches, swollen but wisely closed.  Bulbs wait for the sun’s warm embrace to trigger their unfolding.

~

Italian Arum keeps sending up leaves despite the frosty weather.  Our first daffodils have begun to show themselves in recent days.

~

This winter feels unusually determined and harsh.  It has been so cold that many of our evergreen shrubs, like the wax myrtle and Camellias, have cold-burned leaves.  Worse, many of their leaves have fallen this year, lying browned and forlorn beneath the shrubs’ bare twigs.

~

~

Every bit of evergreen moss and leaf and blade and needle catches my grateful eye with its promise of better gardening days ahead.  I feel glad for all of those winter hardy Cyclamen and Arum blithely shining against the leaf litter and mud below them.  The effort of finding them and planting them feels like a very wise investment in horticultural happiness today.

~

Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ grows in several pots in our winter garden. Generally cold hardy, even this has shown damage from our frigid nights in January.

~

Garden designers always admonish us to plan for all seasons in the garden.  But one season isn’t like the last, and this year isn’t like the next.  We gardeners are always improvising and experimenting, our planting often extemporaneous; the results surprisingly serendipitous.  It is through these odd cracks of chance that magic happens in our gardens.

~

Hellebore leaves and hardy ferns fill the bed beneath a fall blooming Camellia shrub.

~

I know it has been a harsh winter when deer even strip the Hellebore leaves and nibble the flowers from a thorny Mahonia shrub.  I caught a large herd of 20 or more gazing longingly into our garden, through the fence, from our neighbor’s yard this afternoon.  Individuals find their way in from time to time.  Hoof prints in the moist soil tell their never-sorry tale.

~

Deer have even nibbled leaves from new English ivy plants in our garden this winter.

~

What’s left behind and living feels all the more precious today.  I’m glad for the stray Vinca vine shining through the leaf litter.  The stray wild strawberry plant looks oddly elegant air planted in a rotting stump.  I feel that every evergreen shrub was planted as insurance against a frigid February like this one.

~

Mountain Laurel will resume growth and bloom by mid-May.

~

I’m happy to pause today to celebrate every ever-green and growing thing I see in the garden.

We’ll ignore the usual labels of ‘weed’ or ‘native,’ ‘exotic’ or ‘invasive.’  We’ll pay no mind to how large or unusual its eventual blooms might  be, or even consider whether or not we will still want to befriend it in June.

We’ll just let it warm our gardener’s hearts on this cold and windy February day, and follow its brave example of endurance through challenging times.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

~

~

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, let’s infect one another!

 

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

Please visit and follow Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues to see all new posts since January 8, 2021.

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 769 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com

Topics of Interest