One Word Photo Challenge: Turquoise in a Fairy Garden

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Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia, carries a number of dwarf hostas and other tiny plants.

Owners Wendy and Alan Wubbels have highlighted these miniature plants in a number of interesting ways.

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My favorite is their fairy garden. Fairy Gardens combine dwarf and low growing plants with all sorts of found materials to create whimsical, magical little landscape.

I think of these as horticultural dollhouses, designed to please the Fairy People.

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Turquoise is such a natural color to use in these little gardens.  Here it beautifully accents and enchants.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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With Appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Turquoise

 

 

A Fairy Moss Garden

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A gardening friend and I have been collaborating on fairy gardens for a while now.  She makes the miniatures, and I plant the container.

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She found this container some time ago, and has been wanting to get it planted.  But we are all busy, and time gets away from us with other projects. 

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This container was hand sculpted by someone, but isn’t signed.  A lovely piece, it is perfect for a small garden.

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She was kind enough to let me borrow it and plant it up for her.  She understands my need to get my hands into the dirt on a regular basis, you see.

What you see here is a “first draft” on the planting. 

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We’ll get together later this week and likely move things around a little.  She wants a path, and may decide to forgo or change the little creek, to allow space for more plants.

I wanted to create a little woodland scene, letting ferns stand in for trees.  This project allows me to recycle some of the moss and lichens I’ve brought in for other projects.

I’ve filled the bottom of the dish with a mixture of vermiculite, peat, and sphagnum moss.

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This allowed me to mold the banks of the creek to give a little topography to the scene.  The creek itself is formed from aluminum foil coated in sand, then topped with fine gravel and small stones.  It will hold water if she wants real water in her fairy garden.

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The garden is planted with divisions of lady fern, strawberry begonia offsets, divisions of a Begonia Rex, and moss.

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I will likely add some tiny Sedum cuttings and perhaps some spikemoss before this project is declared “completed.”

Since this is a collaboration, we will get together to tweak it later this week….weather permitting.

But I get to enjoy it for a few days first.  Since it is green, and not snowy, I thought you might enjoy seeing how it is coming along, too.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Winter Fairy Trees, In Miniature

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A dear friend and I have been collaborating on a series of miniature vignettes these past few weeks.  I have made the trees and mounted them, using Pacific beach stones and assorted calcite and quartz crystals.

She has brought them to life with her delicate miniatures.

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ML has been sculpting miniatures for most of her life, and she combines them in charming vignettes, which each tell a story.

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We enjoyed our miniature winter scenes as table centers for a ladies’ luncheon yesterday.  Each was a bit different, but together made up an enchanted forest of wintery scenes.  We call these our ‘fairy trees,’ because they look like hospitable places for fairies to gather.

Do you invite the fairy folk to live in your home and garden?  They always bring a bit of magic with them, wherever they may go….

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We enjoyed sharing the trees with friends, yesterday.  Now our challenge is to pass them on to loving homes.  We know that there are others who will take pleasure  from them, too.

You will recognize the one tree I’m keeping, from this series, because ML created a little ‘Woodland Gnome’ to live beneath that tree!

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You will see that ML even created a tiny fawn to eye the topiary in this vignette.  She struggles with the deer just as much as we, and many of our other neighbors do.  This one was made as  a gift for a friend who is moving soon.  Look closely, and you’ll see the clippers our friend, who is known for her gorgeous flower arrangements, always carries with her.

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December is the month for magic and enchantment; for wishes and dreams to come true.  We hope our fanciful fairy trees add a bit of whimsy and magic to the holidays, for all of us still young at heart, who choose to ‘Believe!’.

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Miniatures by ML
Trees by Woodland Gnome 
The Fairy Trees are available, should you wish to purchase one,
at The Nurtuy, 6619 Main Street, in Gloucester Court House, Virginia. 
Reach The Nurtury at 804.695.4417 for more information. 
The Nurtury ships merchandise around the world.

 

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Moss, Ferns, and a Fairy House

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This certainly has been a wonderful spring for working with mosses and ferns!   Abundant rain, muted light, humidity and cool days provide the perfect conditions for our ferns to grow and mosses to thrive.  Sometimes it feels like Oregon’s climate followed me home to Virginia!

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The various ‘moss gardens’ I started this spring continue to grow, but not as rapidly as the wild mosses taking over in more areas of the garden than ever before!   We continue to find new little ferns popping up in unexpected places even as all those we’ve planted take off in our moist, cool May.

This hypertufa trough held succulents in full sun, until a couple of weeks ago, when I re-purposed it for our newest moss garden.

We refreshed the trough with fresh potting soil, over a layer of gravel for drainage, planted out some tiny fern starts found at The Great Big Greenhouse, and moved the container to shade.

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An extensive collection of tiny 1″ plants for terrariums and Bonsai always excite me at this favorite Richmond area greenhouse, and I end up ‘collecting’ a few more with each visit.  They are fun to use indoors all winter and grow quickly to standard sizes.   We had a few brake ferns, and what are likely bird’s nest ferns, which needed more room to grow for summer.  The trough seemed the perfect container for them.

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There are also a few starts of Leptinella pusilla, Purple Brass Buttons, which look like tiny purplish ferns.  If you’ve seen a display of ‘Steppables’ at your local nursery, you have likely seen this plant for sale.  I first used it when a friend and I constructed fairy gardens in 2014.

It is a tough but beautiful ground cover for shade which spreads with horizontal stems.  I took the clump out of its nursery pot, pulled a few rooted stems loose from the mass, and tucked them in among the moss of this newest garden.  The rest of the clump went into a shallow pot of its own ready to divide again and use elsewhere…..

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And of course the soil is carpeted with several varieties of lush, beautiful moss lifted from the yard.  Although it takes a few weeks to establish, it will soon begin growing again here in the shade of our grape vines.

But what really inspired me to construct this newest little trough garden was a wonderful ‘fairy house’ made by local potter Betsy Minney.  We were thrilled to find her at a local artist’s show on Mother’s Day, with several new items added to her offerings.  Betsy’s work is always uniquely textured, whimsical, and beautifully glazed.

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We wanted to enjoy Betsy’s little fairy house in a properly ‘wild’ setting, and that meant outside amidst mosses and ferns. Knowing how our birds love to peck at moss, we now wire it in place while it establishes.  Since the fairy house now lives outside on our porch, we also want to protect it from getting knocked over by a curious bird or squirrel!  It is supported here on broken chopsticks and held in place, like the clumps of moss, with bent floral wire.

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These ferns aren’t hardy in our winters, so the entire garden, and especially the fairy house, will come inside in late autumn.  But we’ll have a good six months of enjoyment of this woodland garden by our kitchen door before the weather shifts.

You could make a similar garden using hardy ferns, especially some of the small deciduous cultivars of Athyrium niponicum and native harts tongue ferns, or Asplenium scolopendrium.

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One of our newer Ary 'Joy Ride.'

One of our newer Athyrium niponicums in another part of our garden.

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I’ve not cut flowers for a vase today.  Most of our roses and Iris have suffered from heavy rains these last few days.  But I will share this little potted garden with you, and still link to Cathy’s In A Vase on Monday post at her Rambling In The Garden.

I hope you will visit to enjoy her beautiful vase of white flowers, and follow the links she posts to other gardeners around the world, to see what is blooming in their gardens today.  There is always so much beauty to enjoy from these dedicated florists and gardeners!

Woodland Gnome 2016

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Tiny Gardens

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Tiny gardens, indoors and out, help solve any number of gardening challenges.  My earliest memory of creating a tiny garden involved a cleaned up peanut butter jar, some soil dug from the back yard, and a few grass seeds pinched from a bag my father kept in the furnace room.  The seeds sprouted and I had great fun watching them grow.  And I was hooked on gardening.

While tiny container gardeners help apartment and townhouse dwellers grow a few herbs or vegetables on a small porch or balcony, they are great fun for those of us with larger gardens around our homes, as well.  In fact, the winter months are my favorite time to build little gardens to fit on a table or a windowsill.

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Little windowsill gardens can bask in the warm sunshine by day, but have protection from bitter cold over night.  They allow one to keep one’s fingers in the dirt during the long months of winter.

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This tiny Alocasia was left over from another project.  It came potted in a tiny 1″ pot, from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  They offer a wonderful selection of little tropical plants in tiny pots for terrariums, bonsai, and containers.

After they potted up its twin and a tiny fern in a bonsai dish for me to take to a loved one in hospital; I brought this tiny pup home to grow on towards spring.  Still in its little nursery pot, it sits in this crystal wine glass filled with aquarium gravel.  What could be simpler?

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The same Alocasia cultivar, purchased last spring, continues to grow in another window in a shallow bonsai pot with a  Selaginella kraussianna.

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If you are interested in novel ideas for tiny potted gardens, you might enjoy a new book called Teeny Tiny Gardening by Emma Hardy.  51QXwRvUbZL._SX404_BO1,204,203,200_

This is a beautiful little book, filled with good color photographs of each of the thirty plus projects described. Emma gives detailed and easy to follow instructions for pulling each little garden together and good suggestions for how to display each.

Emma is British, and so has access to some plants and materials harder to find in my region of the US.   That isn’t an obstacle, however, as her ideas are very adaptable.  She demonstrates ingenious ways to re-cycle and put garage sale and charity shop finds to new uses.  Many of her projects can be displayed on a desk, narrow shelf, windowsill, or patio.

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A gardening friend and I built this, and several other fairy gardens, two summers ago.

A gardening friend and I built this, and several other fairy gardens, two summers ago.

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Emma builds many of  her gardens in containers without drainage, and demonstrates how to do so successfully.  But she also demonstrates hanging baskets, terrariums, gardens built in baskets and sturdy bags, and in other ingenious containers to use out of doors.

This is a good ‘idea’ book.  Even if you don’t build any of her projects, she will likely spark an idea for you to follow up with your own containers and plants.

She demonstrates how novel containers, shells, stones, and other little accessories can make tiny gardens very special and fun.  One of her designs, constructed as a play area for children, even includes plastic dinosaurs in a ‘swamp.’  Another demonstrates a simple way to construct a table top water garden.

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A tiny herb garden in a hypertufa pot

A tiny herb garden in a hypertufa pot

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Winter is my favorite time of year for reading  new gardening books and for keeping up with gardening magazines.  There is a good crop of newly published gardening books this year, too.

If you’ve found a good one you know others will enjoy, too, please leave a comment and tell us about it.

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Christmas centerpiece, 2013

Christmas centerpiece, 2013

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Crystalline Garden

Clouds gathered by early afternoon from the mist generated by our evaporating ice.

Clouds gathered by early afternoon from the mist generated by our evaporating ice.

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There is a tiny crystal hummingbird which hangs each year on our Christmas tree.

I’ve collected little spun glass and crystal ornaments through the years, and love how they look at night as the white twinkle lights animate them with that special glow against the dark green of the living evergreen tree.

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Although they are put away for another year, our garden was all encased in crystalline ice this morning and illuminated by the rising sun.

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Snow fell in the early hours, but by sunrise those clouds had blown away off of the coast.  A light dusting left behind lit up for a few moments by the rising sun shone like fairy dust.

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The sun’s rays brought with them the tiniest bit of warmth, and by mid-day our forest was filled with dripping water and the metallic sounds of cracking and falling ice from each twig and branch.

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Evaporating ice first gathered as mist, and then puffy clouds filled the sky, blocking out the sun.

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Everything here is wet and cold.  Our saturated ground squishes beneath our feet with every step in the lower garden.

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As Robin so beautifully observes in her post about the ice storm, we have a taste of true winter this January.

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Our normally mild, mid-Atlantic coast winter has transformed into  this frigid cold ice coated taste of  “real” winter.

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Friends from Massachusetts to Minnesota must be laughing into their thermal mittens by now.

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This is “business as usual” for them, only they enjoy ice storms on top of feet of already accumulated snow.

But this ice storm is a rare treat for us.  I haven’t seen ice like this for nearly 20 years, and may not see it again for a while.

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So I was the idiot going outside this morning with a raincoat and jeans thrown over my pajamas, camera at the ready to capture every bit of beauty we could find.  My partner and I walked together through the garden, sharing the wonder of it.

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Yes, he wandered off to cut more of the falling bamboo off of the lilac shrubs after a while.  We’ve taken a few “hits” with broken shrubs and lost branches. 

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But that is the way of things in a garden.  Every season takes its toll,  just as every season brings its wonders.

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Our crystalline world delighted us with its delicate beauty, even as the heavy ice clinging to every surface caused concern for the damage it might do.

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But it is mostly melted now.  Tomorrow’s sun will erase any ice which lingers overnight.

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We’ll be back to our mild Virginia winter by Saturday morning.

But I’ll be thinking of friends to the north, whose wintery weather “stays a spell,” and wishing them safe passage through all of the icy days ahead.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

“Love is made up of three unconditional properties in equal measure:

1. Acceptance
2. Understanding
3. Appreciation

Remove any one of the three and the triangle falls apart.
Which, by the way, is something highly inadvisable. Think about it — do you really want to live in a world of only two dimensions?

So,  for the love of a triangle, please keep love whole.”

Vera Nazarian

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Art Shows and Gnome Gardens

Our  gnome garden, a collaboration of several friends.

Our gnome garden, a collaboration of friends.

We celebrated an  arts festival in our neighborhood this weekend. 

A courageous group of friends organized  this event in our community.  We have had lots of help and encouragement.  We will now be writing thank you notes for days to come, to express our appreciation to all of the many people who lent a hand.

It has taken months of planning, many days of preparation, and countless phone calls, visits, and emails to bring this dream to life.  Even friends who were out of town for the weekend helped us prepare.

And it was worth every minute of effort.  What beautiful artwork and inspiring music we enjoyed on Saturday!   Timothy Seaman blessed us with his beautiful dulcimer and flutes throughout the day.

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If you have wondered why posts to Forest Garden (and responses to you comments)  have dried up in recent days, now you  know why.

A few minutes before opening Saturday morning; last minute preparations  in progress before the doors open.

Last minute preparations a few minutes before opening Saturday morning.

Not only did we organize the show, help cook the community dinner, and plan an arts area for the children who attended; we also had a table of our own as participating artists.  You see, ours is a community blessed with artists.  Many in the show are also neighbors, or former neighbors,  family and friends.

One of us is a photographer and calligrapher, another a sculptor of miniatures.

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I made the hypertufa pots and grew some of the plants in them.  Our sculptor friend and I collaborated on the gnome gardens.

We planted them together and then she has brought them to life with her intricate and lifelike miniatures.

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The variegated, fern-like plant is Brass Buttons, Leptinella squalida “Platt’s Black.” It likes partial sun and stays this small. Perennial, it is able to stand up to heavy foot traffic when planted around stepping stones in the garden. The background plant is a sedum. It prefers sun, but will survive in partial sun.

She created families of little gnomes; beautiful bistro sets sculpted from leaves; tiny animals to live in the gardens; fairy parasols; and magical little accessory like golden bowls, baskets and pestles for the gnomes’ use.

We made four of these little gnome gardens to exhibit on Saturday.

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Daughter of friend, who created the wonderful little wishing stones for the gardens,  ran our booth while we were managing the show and the meal.   Totally a team effort!

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And while last night I was too exhausted to string words together, after a day of recuperation, it may be safe to attempt posting a few photos to the web for you to see what we’ve been up to in our forest gardens lately.

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Peacock Spikemoss, Selaginella uncinata, prefers shade and most soil It will remain a small plant, but many varieties will drape over the sides of containers. Seen here behind the golden bowl, it is a good filler plant in pots and is hardy to Zone 6.

The true highlight of the day was the appearance of Barbara ,author of Silver in the Barn, her husband, and two of her furry little ones; who drove in from points west to visit for the day.

She, who is absolutely delightful to chat with, ventured that I look nothing like what she imagined.  Somehow we recognized each other and had a great laugh together and a short visit.

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She brought me a beautiful gift of irises from her garden, which will sink their roots into our Forest Garden tomorrow.  What a beautiful surprise, thoughtful gift, and unexpected pleasure.

And now with the show receding into the mists, it is time to return to the garden.

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I have irises to plant, a new raised bed to build, and a  family of gnomes to welcome…  treasured gifts from friends.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Planning That Happy New (Gardening) Year

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Spring gardening catalogs started showing up in my mailbox this week.  In fact, I believe the first arrived on Christmas Eve.  The new Burpee catalog features a huge; I mean pumpkin sized, beefsteak tomato lovingly cradled in the gardener’s hands.

Our Lantana bed remains full of hungry birds much of the day.

Our Lantana bed remains full of hungry birds much of the day.

It is Saturday, and I’m itching to work on my garden, even if the temperature is still hovering in the low 40s out there.  Actually, my partner just changed to mucking shoes and headed out the door.

Here we sit firmly between Christmas and the New Year.  The tree is still up, but I’m definitely feeling the fresh breeze of welcoming in a new year, and a new gardening season.

The cane Begonias, and even some Caladiums, are quite happy with their spot inside.

The cane Begonias, and even some Caladiums, are quite happy with their spot inside.

Even as I gather the last of the wrappings and packaging for the recycling bin my eye is on that little stack of catalogs.  My mind is turning to what will soon fill the pots emptied by our frosts and freezes.

This morning we took time to water all of the plants living inside and gather up the fallen leaves.  We’re happy to see the Bouganvillea, which first dropped its rose pink flowers, and then dropped most of its leaves on the living room floor, breaking out with a new crop of leaves to carry it into the spring.  As they grow out its sharp spines look extra dangerous, and it commands tremendous respect.

Jewel orchid ready to burst into bloom

Jewel orchid ready to burst into bloom

There are at least three orchids throwing out flower buds.  The Jewel Orchid, with its burgundy, silver, and striped leaves will soon cover itself in long spikes covered in creamy white flowers.

Several of moth orchids have buds swelling and will give us many weeks of their delicate lavender and pink flowers in late winter.

Moth orchid

Moth orchid

Many of our cane Begonias are in full bloom.  We are fortunate to get light from many directions, and so keep the plants happy most of the time.  Caladiums are in leaf, ferns throwing out new fronds, and the Philodendrons all have new leaves emerging.  So far so good on keeping everyone alive through the winter!

But, winter it is.  And will be, here, for many weeks to come.  Our local garden centers are enjoying a long break now, and have only the barest bit of leftover stock.  We can look forward to freezing nights for at least another 15 weeks.

Our very happy Christmas cactus, and an olive tree surviving its first winter.

Our very happy Christmas cactus, and an olive tree surviving its first winter.

So, what is a gardener to do while waiting for spring?

Here is a bit of a beginning of a list.  It isn’t all inclusive.  My mind is still in recovery from the holidays.  But here are a few reminders to carry us through January, at the least.

1.  Keep the houseplants groomed and watered.  Wipe off leaves when they get dusty and remove those old ragged looking leaves.  New ones will soon follow to replace them. Deadhead faithfully after flowering to encourage new blooms.  Give those which will bloom all winter a drink of dilute fertilizer every other week, and turn the pots from time to time to encourage even growth.

This poor geranium won't come back after our hard freezes.  It is time to cut it back, along with all other frost damaged foliage.

This poor geranium won’t come back after our hard freezes. It is time to cut it back, along with all other frost damaged foliage.

2.  Cut back and remove the remains of any frozen herbs and annuals.  It’s time now to tidy up.  Perennials destroyed by frost can be left a few more weeks to give food and shelter to the garden birds and to protect the plants’ roots.

3.  Take a good look around and plan changes to the garden.  Now that you can really see the bones, plan any new spring projects.  Will there be new raised beds?  Any changes in the lines of existing beds?  Will there be new pathways, arbors, walls, ponds, or patios to build?  January is a good time to take photos, make sketches, read gardening books, read articles online, and plan out purchases for the necessary materials.

This cane Begonia lives happily inside, just a few feet from where it summered on the deck.

This cane Begonia lives happily inside, just a few feet from where it summered on the deck.

4.  At the same time, plan what you want to grow in the year ahead.  Will you focus on vegetables, fruit, flowers, herbs, or shrubs?  Do you want to add any trees to the garden?  Will you repeat your 2013 garden, or try some new crops?  Are you growing enough of your own food?  Do you want to attract more wild life?  Do you need more areas of shrubs and perennials which look after themselves?

Now  we get to enjoy the catalogs.  There is a lot to learn about new introductions, cultivars of old favorites, and cultural requirements of unusual plants in the nursery catalogs.  I always learn useful things by reading them carefully.  I’m also inspired to try new combinations of plants, and perhaps shift to new colors in the new season.

5.  Develop shopping lists for new purchases.  This is where self-discipline is required.  I have spent dozens of winters reading gardening catalogs, making lists of what I want to grow.  This can be a very expensive hobby, and I’ve learned to let those lists sit for days, if not weeks, before ever making an order.

I waited months between wanting an Edgeworthia and finally planting this one.  After several trees fell in summer storms, I had the right spot to plant it.

I waited months between wanting an Edgeworthia and finally planting this one. After several trees fell in summer storms, we  finally had the right spot to plant it.

Truth is, there just isn’t the right spot for a lot of the plants on my “want” list.  Especially after working with a garden for a few years, there isn’t room for many new plants.  One also learns what not to plant in a particular garden because the conditions aren’t suitable.

So the wish list made in January needs serious editing before purchases are made closer to spring.  Another reason to love January, when everything seems possible.

6.  Build and improve the soil.

Although Camellias grow well in our garden, it is a constant struggle to protect new plantings from the deer.  Daffodils have begun to peak out of the soil at the base of this little shrub, and it is ready for a topdressing of fresh compost..

Although Camellias grow well in our garden, it is a constant struggle to protect new plantings from the deer. Daffodils have begun to peak out of the soil at the base of this little shrub, and it is ready for a topdressing of fresh compost.

If you’ve been gardening more than a season you know good soil makes the difference in the vitality of your plants.  Plant in poor or compacted soil and your plant will struggle and eventually die.  Plant in a well prepared bed, and the same plant will grow huge and productive.

Good gardeners feed their soil.  Spread all of those coffee grounds and tea leaves on your garden beds.  Dilute left over brewed coffee or tea and use it to water, or pour over frozen beds.  Rinse and crush egg shells to use as mulch where slugs are a problem, or where more calcium is needed.  Continue to chop up fallen leaves and spread them under shrubs or on perennial beds.  Save cardboard and newspaper to spread on the ground where you plan to create new beds this spring.  Not only will they kill the grass underneath, but they will attract earthworms, and enrich the soil as they decompose.

This crepe myrtle, which sent out lots of new growth after getting flattened by our fallen oaks, needs pruning now.  We will remove most of these new branches, sending the plant's energy into a few strong leaders which will form the new structure of the tree.

This crepe myrtle, which sent out lots of new growth after getting flattened by our fallen oaks, needs pruning now. We will remove most of these new branches, sending the plant’s energy into a few strong leaders which will form the new structure of the tree.

7.  Prune hardwood shrubs and trees.  Now that you can see the plant’s structure, remove extra branches.  Limb the plant up to reveal its trunk.  Head back laterals to encourage branching, especially on fruit bearing trees.  Remove any crossed limbs, and prune deciduous shrubs to control their size.  I’ll be working on my Rose of Sharon and Crepe Myrtle shrubs soon.  It is still a little early to work the roses, as they will try to send out new growth during warm spells; but I’ll tackle them by early February.

A final word of caution: If you are a gardening addict, as am I; the growing pile of glossy garden catalogs is heady temptation.  The photos are just exquisite, the plants so healthy and alluring.  I want to grow them all.

A favorite Begonia, which bloomed all summer, continues on into the winter indoors.  Fertilize to keep winter blooms coming.

A favorite Begonia, which bloomed all summer, continues on into the winter indoors. Fertilize to keep winter blooms coming.

But, I’ve learned, that what comes in the mail once you’ve ordered bears little resemblance to the photo.   Although some companies now send living starts, plugs as they’re called, many others still send “bare root” plants, bulbs, seeds, or tubers.

If you are patient, and skilled, you can eventually grow this pitiful beginning into a lovely plant.

Ajuga, commonly offered in winter plant catalogs, is always sold at garden centers in spring.  By waiting, you'll get a healthy clump of living plants ready to grow and bloom, at a similiar, or lower, price.

Ajuga, commonly offered in winter plant catalogs, is always sold at garden centers in spring. By waiting, you’ll get a healthy clump of living plants ready to grow and bloom, at a similiar, or lower, price.

Please notice the “if.”  I’ve done it, you may have done it.  But why go through the effort if you can buy a healthy, similarly priced plant at your local garden center later into the spring?

In fact, I’ve found better, bigger plants of the same variety, at a lower price, at the correct time for planting; by waiting to shop my garden center.

Which brings us to my last suggestion for winter gardening:

Violas are a specialty of the Homestead Garden Center here in Williamsburg.  They grow thousands of plants each autumn.

Violas are a specialty of the Homestead Garden Center here in Williamsburg. They grow thousands of plants each autumn.

8.  Shop your local garden center.  I’m not talking “big box store” here.  The locally owned, family run garden centers aren’t getting much business between Christmas and Easter.  It is a slim time for them, and your business means a lot.  Even if you just stock up on some fertilizer, a few new tools, maybe some fresh pots or baskets; buy something.

It is also a great time to shop for deals and establish a relationship.  If you take the time to chat with the folks who run your local garden center you will learn a great deal.  They are experts at gardening in your area.  Then, later, when you want to ask whether or not they will carry that particular variety you’re shopping for, you will know who to ask.  And chances are good that they know you, and will do their best to order it.

Ivy shines on winter days.  Remember to walk around and enjoy the winter garden.

Ivy shines on winter days. Remember to walk around and enjoy the winter garden.

So please pour another glass of Eggnog, if you enjoy it; or a more inspiring beverage if you don’t.  Settle into that warm and cozy chair with a stack of gardening books and catalogs as the sun sets in late afternoon for a few more frozen weeks.

It’s time to dream that New Year’s garden into reality.

December 28, 2013 garden 029My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.  H. Fred Dale

In every gardener there is a child who believes in The Seed Fairy.  Robert Brault

Gardens are a form of autobiography.  Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

December 28, 2013 garden 021

An Infinite Variety of Ferns

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Mosses and ferns populated the Earth long before any flower bloomed or fish swam through the vast oceans of our earliest years.  Soothing green mosses still fascinate and entertain many of us obsessive gardeners.

I lift mine from spots where they grow in our garden, and also do my bit to help them spread a bit more each year.  Non-vascular, they have no roots, true stems or true leaves.  Moisture simply seeps from cell to cell as they welcome the rain.

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Ferns rose up from the moist and mossy surface of the Earth as the first plants to develop true roots, stems and leaves.  Tiny tubes that carry water from root to leaf allowed these novel plants to reach ever higher to catch the sunlight.

From that humble beginning, eons ago, ferns have carried on their simple lives and developed into countless different shapes, forms and sizes.

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These ancient plants still reproduce themselves with spores, as the mosses do.  Never will you find a flower or seed from a fern.

Their spores must fall and grow on the moist Earth before first forming a gametophyte, which most of us never even notice.  Eventually that simple structure will grow into a new fern.  Their ways of reproducing are mysterious and hidden from the casual observer.

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The small dots that grow on the back of some mature fern leaves hold the spores.  They will be released as a fine powder when the spores are ripe.  Blown on the wind, some eventually some will settle where they can grow. This frond is the evergreen hardy fern Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ .

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Although ferns often look delicate and fragile, they are tougher than you might expect.  So long as their basic needs are met, they thrive.  They don’t need as much light as flowering plants, and so often grow under the canopy of trees, in dense and shady places.

Like mosses, they enjoy humidity and regular rain.  Some ferns begin to get a little brown ‘burned’ edge on their leaves if the air grows too dry.

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The Victorians collected interesting ferns from around the world.  They traveled far and wide to discover new species of ferns, often in the tropics.  They developed the glass house, fern cabinet, and terrarium as ways to keep their ferns warm and humid on board ship and through cold British winters.

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Gardeners today have uncounted choices of interesting ferns to grow.  We have a wide array of species ferns, plus many, many cultivars.  Hardy ferns grow on every continent.

Our garden features many varieties of hardy evergreen and deciduous ferns.  Some, like our Christmas ferns and favorite Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ remain green through the winter.  Others, like our many Japanese painted ferns, drop their leaves as days grow shorter in autumn, and remain dormant until early spring.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ remains green and beautiful year round.  Its new fronds emerge a beautiful shade of bronze.

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We also enjoy many ferns that aren’t hardy in our climate.  These must come indoors before frost, but will return to the garden in late April.

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I have been fascinated by ferns for many, many years now.  When I see a new one we don’t yet grow, I want it.

I won’t even try to explain; I’m too busy watering and potting up fern babies to grow on into good sized plants by late spring.

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When most of us think of fern fronds, we think of long fronds clothed on both sides of their stipe with small, fringed leaves known as pinna.  Sometimes these are very finely divided into tinier and tinier parts.  We watch for their unfurling fiddleheads in spring, and see them in our imagination waving in the breeze as they carpet a forest glade.

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But ferns take other forms, too.  While some are lacy, others grow like broad tongues of green, or even like the long branched horns of a deer.  Usually ferns send up leaves from a stem most often found at, or just below, the ground.

But some even grow tall, like trees, where each year new fronds grow from the uppermost crown, leaving a scaly brown ‘stem’ trunk beneath.

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The long hairy stem of a ‘footed fern’ creeps along the ground in nature.  On this one, tongue-like leaves appear at intervals along its length.

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The different forms, colors, and growth habits of these beautiful plants intrigue me.  I love to watch them grow, and I enjoy trying to grow them in different ways.

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It isn’t always easy to find a good source for ferns.  Some mail-order nurseries will charge huge amounts of money for a fairly simple fern.  Go to your local big-box store, and you may find only a couple of common varieties.

I always drool over the Plant Delights catalog, because they carry such a wide selection of different ferns, and offer ferns you won’t find anywhere else.  They travel the world to collect new species and varieties of beautiful ferns, and also carry new cultivars from breeders.

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Maidenhair fern growing in our fern garden last May.

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Most of their ferns are hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  If we can keep them hydrated through the hottest part of summer, they will perform for many years to come.

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Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Apple Court’

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Yet, winter is a special time when I enjoy small potted ferns indoors.  And I’ve found an excellent source for ferns at The Great Big Greenhouse in the Richmond area.  They carry the widest selection of both hardy and tender ferns that I’ve found anywhere in our region.

It will be a few weeks yet before their spring shipment of hardy ferns arrives, but no matter.  Right now, they have a gargantuan selection of tropical ferns to tempt the most winter weary gardener.  They come in all sizes from tiny to huge, too.  February is a very special month at this favorite gardening haunt, because they have several events planned for gardeners devoted to growing plants indoors.

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I always explore their collection of tropical plants for terrariums and fairy gardens, which come in 1″ pots.  I have found so many wonderful ferns, like the fern growing on my windowsill in the photo above.  I bought this in a 1″ pot in the spring of 2016 and grew it outdoors on the porch that summer.  It came indoors that fall, and has grown in our windowsill ever since.

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Those tiny ferns in 1″ pots very quickly grow up into full size beauties that will fill a pot or basket.

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After spending the remaining winter months inside, I quickly move them out into larger containers as the weather allows.  This is an easy and economical way to have ferns ready for summer hanging baskets and pots.

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Ferns offer endless variations on a simple theme.  Elegant and easy to grow, we find something new and beautiful to do with ferns in each season of the year.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern in April

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme

Fabulous Friday: Ivy Shining in the Waning Sun

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Evergreen treasurers, often overlooked during the warmer months, grow in importance as summer’s foliage blows away on autumn breezes.

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We notice that nearby forests are filled with a small army of shining holly trees, covered in bright red berries.  Clumps of mistletoe hover in the bare branches of nearby trees.

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And, we are grateful for the beautiful green and cream leaves of our stalwart ivies growing in pots and garden beds.

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A grapevine fills this pot all summer, but ivy anchors it on our deck during the winter months.   Newly planted Violas will bloom sometime in the next few weeks.

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There are many varieties of ivy available.  Find leaves large and small, wide or very narrow, green, yellow,  cream and variegated.

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The smallest leafed ivy I’ve ever found, this lovely little cultivar was sold for terrariums and fairy gardens. It is growing indoors this winter with a little Begonia.

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Now, native plant purists positively scowl at any kind word uttered about ivy.  It is not native by any stretch of the imagination, though it has naturalized throughout much of the United States.  Worse, ivy can escape cultivation and grow invasive.  This is a problem when ivy completely enshrouds a tree.

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Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

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This vigorous vine can shade out the tree, eventually killing it, and break it apart with the strength and weight of its growth.

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Ivy was already growing on this mature beech tree when we came to the garden. The vine grows root-like anchors, but doesn’t suck sap from the tree. Ivy keeps its roots firmly in the ground and makes its own food from photosynthesis. These aerial roots may absorb dew and rainwater, but they don’t take anything from the tree.

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The ivy you or I plant this fall likely wouldn’t kill a tree in our own lifetimes.  This takes decades.  However, our ivy may escape into the wild when we are no longer tending it for whatever reason, or, the ivy may eventually form berries, and those ivy seeds may germinate elsewhere.

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Ivy makes a popular low maintenance ground cover. Keep it trimmed back, and away from your tree trunks.

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You can puzzle out the relative morality of ivy on your own terms and in your own garden.  But I will tell you that I admire it for its tenacity and toughness.

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Ivy offers some benefits for wildlife.  It shelters many sorts of insects, and so helps attract birds to the garden.  It can produce berries, once the vine is mature.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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It tolerates dry soil, sun, shade, heat and cold.  It can be cut back hard and still re-grow into a lush plant in a season.

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Newly planted Hellebore and ivy will soon fill this pot with evergreen beauty. The Hellebore will begin blooming early in the new year.

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It will fill a hanging basket beautifully, and remain lovely all winter long through the worst weather we might face here in Zone 7.

Ivy is very useful as the ‘spiller’ in potted arrangements.  I especially enjoy using it in pots where the main plants are perennials, and the pot won’t be re-worked year to year.  After several years, the ivy can take the pot without worthy competition, however.

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New Year’s Day 2017, and this basket of ivy looks fabulous.

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Let it trail, or train it on a trellis or other wire form.  Ivy can be groomed into many interesting shapes, grown on wire mesh orbs as a ‘kissing ball,’ or even grown on a  privacy screen or a fence.

If you place a rooted cutting in a vial of water or plant its roots into damp moss and a little peat, you can even grow it on a living wreath enjoyed on a shaded porch.  Just keep the wreath hydrated and out of direct sun.

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Violas and ivy make a beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate.

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Just remember the Ivy rule:  The first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third, it leaps!  This is a lovely vine that takes some time to work its magic.

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In the best of possible worlds, deer generally leave ivy alone.  But we don’t live in that world, and find our ivy grazed from time to time.  Generally, it isn’t even noticeable. 

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But deer did seriously dine on a beautiful new ivy in a pot this fall.  Like with most new plants, spray it or otherwise protect it if deer frequent your garden.

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We are admiring our ivy on this Fabulous Friday.  If your green thumb is itching to grow something easy and rewarding during the cool months ahead, you might search out a beautiful ivy for your winter pots or baskets.

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Now that our stump is losing its bark, I’ve planted ivy in the pot.   Beautiful ivy will soon cover it all in a curtain of green.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious…

Let’s infect one another!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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