Iris, ‘Rosalie Figge’ and Friends

December 25, 2015 Christmas tree 019

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We have an Iris blooming in the garden today.  It stood up to heavy rain yesterday, and there are more buds to open over the next few days.

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December 25, 2015 Christmas tree 027~

Our Prostrate Rosemary bloomed for Christmas day, too.  It is the first time this plant has bloomed for us, and we love its soft blue blossoms.

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December 25, 2015 Christmas tree 022

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The Violas and ornamental cabbages are still vibrant,  loving these moist warm days.

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December 25, 2015 garden 018

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The Vinca must think it’s already spring.  Tiny blue flowers are opening all over the garden.

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And the first of the Hellebores buds have begun to appear.  These may be true winter flowers, but have debuted weeks earlier than last year.

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December 25, 2015 garden 019

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Things have slowed down slightly from the few bits of cool weather we’ve had in December, but our garden continues its unfolding.

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Arum italicum just beginning growth in a new bed.

Arum italicum just beginning growth in a new bed.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Figs

August 28 2013 garden 021Figs are on my mind.

This is the time of year when our fig trees ripen their fruit.

August 28 2013 garden 020

Last summer our fig trees were loaded.  A friend and I picked repeatedly, and had a steady supply of fruit for over a month.

(There is a recipe for Fig Pickles at the end of the post.)

This year I’ve picked here and there since July, but haven’t gotten more than a handful at a time.

August 28 2013 garden 031Today I got lucky.

The variety growing here when we moved in stays green right up until the moment of ripeness, when the fruit swells and turns a yellowish green.

July 24 2013 garden photos 012The inside is pink to red, depending on ripeness.  This isn’t a super sweet fig, but is delicious broiled with a little shaving of salty cheese on top. I favor a Tuscano cheese, but anything in the Parmesan family of cheeses is delicious.

This fig came home in a 1 gallon pot last summer.

This fig came home in a 1 gallon pot last summer.  Its figs are brown.  It started the season with small green figs, but lost them along the way.

I’ve read that figs which stay green when ripe have an added protection from hungry animals who might take them as they ripen.   Birds only peck at the figs I’ve left on the bush way too long so they split open.  BUT, the deer have been molesting the fig trees this year, grazing leaves and ripping stems and branches.

July 5 garden at sunset 025

This fig tree grew so much in spring that its branches toppled over, changing the shape of the entire plant. New branches have sprouted along the now horizontal fallen branches. It grew quickly with the abundant rain, and was knocked over by the windstorms in June.

I gave pieces of one of these broken branches to some gardening friends, who rooted them successfully, and now have small trees.

The tall, heavy branches, fallen over in early summer, are sprouting new vertical growth.  This beautiful tree just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The tall, heavy branches, fallen over in early summer, are sprouting new vertical growth. This beautiful tree just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Visiting a fig loving friend yesterday evening, I commented on her ripe figs.  We looked more closely.  Her small bush, covered in ripening figs only days ago, had only two little figs still attached.  We found the gaps where squirrels had gotten in through her netting.

A well protected fig in my friends garden, still was robbed by a squirrel who found an opening in the netting.

A well protected fig in my friends garden, still was robbed by a squirrel who found an opening in the netting.

We both feel  that our gardening efforts this year are chiefly for the benefit of hungry squirrels and deer.  What a disappointment after an entire season of protecting and nurturing her new fig, planted only last fall, to find the fruit stolen.  I’ve begun to wonder whether netting simply draws the squirrels attention, and signals something really good must be kept inside the enclosure…

August 28 2013 garden 034

We have just received two new “SIlver Lyre” fig trees from Plant Delights.  This is a newly offered variety of Afghan Fig.  I like the beautiful, lacy silver-toned leaves.  These are advertised to grow quickly to a 20′ shrub, and I plan to plant them in the newly sunny area of our forest where the oak trees fell this spring.

An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to pot up.

An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to pot up.

They will quickly provide a bit of privacy from the street, but will never grow tall enough to create a hazard.  In fact, they are supposed to be very sturdy in wind.  I hope to one day harvest a few figs from them… If I can manage to keep the squirrels away.

Rick Austin, in his book, Secret Garden of Survival, describes a method of planting a “guild” of plants around a new fruit tree.  Some of the plants bring up nutrients from the soil, some are good companion plants for the tree, and some plants protect the newly planted tree from critters.  Not brave enough to plant an apple or persimmon, which I KNOW our squirrels would strip, I plan to try his method when planting these figs later in the fall.

Garlic Chives

Garlic Chives

I’ll surround the new figs with daffodil bulbs to create a wall of poisonous bulbs and roots against the voles, garlic or garlic chives to slow down the deer, and perhaps some Comfrey to enrich the soil and create that extra wall of distraction for the deer.  They never touch my Comfrey or garlic chives, both of which attract bees and butterflies.

Comfrey, a perennial herb with tremendous healing properties, is an excellent herb for improving the soil.  Its long tap root brings up nutrients from deep in the Earth.  Its leaves are an excellent addition to compost to build fertility.

Comfrey, a perennial herb with tremendous healing properties, is an excellent herb for improving the soil. Its long tap root brings up nutrients from deep in the Earth. Its leaves are an excellent addition to compost to build fertility.

These little trees will go into pots tomorrow to let them grow a bit beefier before I plant them out in the garden, after the first frost, probably in December.  The growers at Plant Delights had tremendous growth in their first year with “Silver Lyre”, and I will hope for the same results so these new trees fill out quickly.  They will grow quite wide, as figs do, so the guilds will extend several feet out from their trunks.  This will be an interesting process to watch unfold in the forest garden.August 21, 2013 close up garden 010

All photos by Woodland Gnome

Here is my favorite “Pickled Fig” recipe developed last autumn.  I made several batches, tweaking the recipe each time.  I’m hoping there is a large enough harvest to make them again in a few weeks!

Pickled Figs

6 c. sugar

1 cup boiling water

¾ c. white Sangria

½ c. red wine vinegar

1 TB ground cinnamon

1 TB ground allspice

1 Tsp. ground cloves

4 medium lemons, washed

6-8 chili peppers, green or red

20-30 ripe figs

(Boil a kettle of water for preparing the figs.  Have on hand about 3/4 c. of baking soda to sprinkle on the figs before they are cooked.)

1.  Measure the sugar into a dutch oven,  add 1 c. of water, and turn on medium heat.

2.  Wash and trim the figs. Place in a large ceramic bowl.  Sprinkle them with baking soda, and cover with boiling water.  Allow to soak for 10-12 minutes.

3.  Wash and thinly slice the lemons. Halve or quarter the slices, catching the juice.  Julienne the end pieces, which are mostly peel.   Add fruit and juice to the sugar mixture, along with the spices, Sangria, vinegar, and washed peppers.

4.  Rinse the figs in cool water, peel off any discolored skin, and slice the figs in halves or quarters as they are added to the sugar, lemon, and spice mix.

5.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes; allowing the syrup to thicken and the lemons to become translucent.

6.  Allow the mixture to sit, covered, for 12 to 24 hours.

7.  Reheat to boiling and can in glass jars.

More information on figs:

http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection

http://www.spadespatula.com/2012/04/10/fig-varieties-common-fig-sounds-boring-but-isnt/

http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/08/27/6-types-figs-try-right-now

Permaculture on Forest Garden

Beautiful and Easy: The Lady Ferns

Japanese painted fern Athyrium ‘Metallicum’ grows with silvery Rex Begonias.

When you’re planning what to plant, do your eyes sometimes glaze over while reading the growing instructions?  Does it all seem too complicated, to find some success with the plants you want to grow?  No one earns points on a tally for growing complicated plants.  Maybe that is why I love growing ferns.  Most are happy enough to find a home for their roots that they just take off, making a beautiful planting with very little effort.

Ferns are such ancient plants, appearing in the fossil record millions of years ago, long before the first tree or flower, that the same species may be native to several continents.  Take the classic lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina.  It is considered native to North America, Great Britain, Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Related North American natives include the northern lady fern. Athyrium angustum (Zones 4-8), and the southern lady fern, Athyrium asplenioides (Zones 5-9).

There are nearly 200 Athyrium species, which grow throughout the northern hemisphere. Any curious gardener can fill a garden with an Athyrium collection.  There are beautiful selections more than 100 years in cultivation, and new selections regularly come on the market.

Some of the most colorful and ornamental lady ferns are native to Asia.  The most well-known, the Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum,’ has burgundy stipes and silver markings on its sometimes gray, sometimes burgundy fronds.  Another beautiful Asian fern, the eared lady fern, Athyrium otophorum, emerges greenish gold and matures to a beautiful shade of green.  All of these are hardy in our area.  

Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’

Read the rest of this post , and see more fern photos, on my new site, Our Forest Garden

Six on Saturday:  Resistance is Usually Futile

Peonies are blooming this week

It was so hot here yesterday that pots I had just watered on Thursday, and that seemed fine yesterday morning, were parched and nearly dead when I went out this morning.  It was our first day in the 90s with bright sun.  I made my best efforts first at the botanical garden where I volunteer, and then at home. 

Apparently, it wasn’t enough for some of the new plants still waiting in their nursery pots.  I found a perfectly lovely (yesterday) white Gaura dry and limp this morning.  I’ve cut back all its beautiful stems of flowers, watered it well, and set it in the shade in hopes it will recover.

Gaura is pretty tough.  It root easily from stem cuttings and blooms here until nearly frost.  I bought this white one two weeks ago and have been tardy in planting it.  If it recovers, and I expect that it will, I’ll get it into the ground right away and hope it still will grow into its potential.

Mid-summer heat hit us quickly this year.  The cool and damp of April and early May lulled me into procrastination on many fronts.  But the slow transition from spring to summer in our garden has now gotten stuck on ‘fast-forward.’  There’s not much one can do once the weather turns hot except play along as best one can.

Continue to the rest of this post on Our Forest Garden

Six on Saturday: No Mercy

Not so long ago a seedling, and now a towering oak tree giving shade and sheltering wildlife

An oak takes a long time to grow from a sprout to a tree.  Or so we think.  This morning I’m standing below oak trees that I either planted, or spared, when they were just seedlings. 

We had been here a few years.  Oaks fell in a storm, taking understory trees with them, and leaving a wide, sunny patch in the upper garden.  The character of the garden had changed entirely, and eventually I took it in hand and planted the bones of what we have today. 

Two little ‘live oaks’ arrived from the Arbor Day Foundation, and I planted them across from one another on either side of the new, gaping hole of a full sun in what had been a shade garden.  Then the deer found them and grazed what little new growth they had.  I planted deterrent plants and supports around one of them, which has stretched to at least three times my height.  The other?  Well, It is in a shadier place, without as much protection, and the deer still find it from time to time.  It isn’t quite head high. 

Oh, and those two ‘live oaks’ apparently weren’t.  The still small one has the traditional strappy leaves of a Quercus virginiana.  Live oaks are notoriously slow to grow.  The other, now tall one?  I’m still trying to figure it out.  It is a semi-evergreen red oak, but not our Virginia live oak.

The sapling sprouted within the drip line of our remaining double trunked swamp chestnut oak, Quercus michauxii.  I was curious about it, and just thrilled to have it after losing so many other trees.  I procrastinated on moving it, left it be, and now it stretches to nearly 30 feet tall in not quite 10 years.  And curiously, it’s a different oak species altogether.  It must have blown in on the wind, or come with a squirrel or a blue jay to rest among the roots of the huge mother tree that now dominates that part of our yard.

Yellow Flag Iris overtaken by Akebia vines

Read the rest of this post, and view more photos on my new website, Our Forest Garden

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

I love finding mountain laurel growing in large, lovely masses in the wild.  Its creamy pink flowers glow softly in the forest.  Wild mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, sometimes covers the undeveloped banks of creeks and rivers in Eastern Virginia.  It grows as an understory shrub in our oak and pine forests. 

These evergreen, wild looking shrubs, almost small trees, simply blend into the fabric of the woods through much of the year before bursting into bloom in late April and early May, suddenly elegant and beautiful.  Wild mountain laurel usually has white or pink flowers.  Some cultivars in the nursery trade have been selected for darker flowers of purple, red or maroon.  Ours are probably wild ones, since most of the flowers are white.

Early American botanists first recorded mountain laurel, then called “Spoonwood,” in 1624.  Carl Linnaeus named the shrub for Peter Kalm, a Swede, who explored eastern North America in search of new and useful plants in 1747-51.  Mountain laurel, one of the most ornamental native plants growing along the east coast of North America, was collected by Kalm to export to gardeners in Europe. 

Mountain laurel grows from Maine to Florida in Zones 5-9.  It even grows east along the Gulf Coast from western Florida to eastern Louisiana. But it isn’t generally found near the coast south of Virginia.  It prefers the coolness of the mountains, and its southern range moves ever further west, at elevation, following the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains.

Mountain laurel, part of the Ericacea family of plants, is related more closely to blueberries than to bay laurel, which is native to Europe.  It prefers moist, acidic soil and requires at least partial shade.  Although the shrubs flower more abundantly in bright shade than deep, Kalmia don’t like growing in full sun where summers grow hot.  These plants are best mulched, and fertilized, with shredded leaves, pine straw or pine bark mulch.

Read More on Our Forest Garden

Mountain Laurel, April 2017

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore….

Lantana attracts butterflies and birds. Deer never touch it.

When I began gardening here in a forested community in the autumn of 2009, my earliest efforts resulted in unexpected frustration as deer, rabbits, moles and voles ate much of what I planted. I still remember planting a flat of perennial Phlox plants and finding them gone the following morning, nothing left but holes where they had been planted only hours before.

Even plants that I expected to be ‘deer proof,’ like a new hedge of hybrid blue holly shrubs, died within months from the stress or repeated grazing. That frustration set me on a path to re-learn how to garden in such a ‘wildlife friendly’ environment.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’ is an heirloom Narcissus, dating to at least 1916. It grows here with lambs ears and Siberian squill, all unattractive to deer and rabbits.

Over a decade later, I’m still learning. But I’ve discovered a growing list of plants that the deer in our area leave strictly alone; plants that can be planted with confidence that they’ll be left alone for the gardener to enjoy. But ‘deer proof’ isn’t the only quality I’m looking for in plants. I also want beautiful plants that are reasonably easy to grow, persistent and that will support other wildlife. I want functional plants that serve a variety of purposes within the novel ecosystem of our community.

I began writing about these special plants for a local garden newsletter in May of 2021. The original set of nine articles has been republished here, with articles about additional plants on my ‘deer proof’ planting list added from time to time. I hope these articles will prove helpful to others who are trying to enjoy a garden where deer roam freely.

Gardening should be fun and bring joy to our lives.  That is why I am always happy to discover a new group of plants that thrive in our climate, grow beautifully without a lot of fuss, and that don’t attract the attention hungry deer looking for the salad bar.  Allow me to share another of my favorites….

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Mountain Laurel May 2022

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Scarlet Buckeye April 2022

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore:  Narcissus March 2022

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Ajuga February 2022

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Mahonia January 2022

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Hellebores December 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Italian Arum November 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Evergreen Ferns October 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Rosemary September 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Scented Geraniums August 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Verbena July 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Agastache June 2021

Plants I Love That Deer Ignore: Calla Lily May 2021

Crossing the Line: When Plants Become Invasive

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ grows with English ivy. Ivy is considered a highly invasive plant.

There is a long history of botanists and horticulturalists traveling around the world in search of new, beautiful and useful species of plants.  It is an essential part of our nation’s history to both send native American species to Europe, and to seek out and grow imported species here. 

You’ll hear wonderful stories of early colonists risking their lives and freedom to bring back some rice, or a tea shrub, or some other potentially productive and lucrative plant encountered on their travels, to put into production here in the ‘New World.’  Tony Avent of Plant Delights near Raleigh is one of many contemporary horticulturalists still importing new plants from elsewhere.

One of the trees imported from Asia was the white mulberry tree, Morus alba.  They were supposed to form the beginnings of a silk industry here in Virginia.  Sadly, the silkworm industry never took off in Virginia.  Worse, the white mulberry became an invasive species, even hybridizing with our native red mulberry.  But who knew that would happen in the Eighteenth Century?

Another Asian tree imported during the Colonial era, to potentially support silkworms, is the paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera, formerly known as Morus papyrifera.  You may have noticed these odd-looking trees lining Francis Street near the Colonial Capitol building.  They are not considered invasive, but the silkworms didn’t care for them.  In China, they were used in the production of early paper products.

It may take only a few decades for a wonderful new plant introduction to cause enough problems in its new environment to find itself reclassified as an invasive nuisance plant. The very qualities that make a new introduction exciting and marketable may also make it harmful to its new ecosystem.

Read more and see more photos of Virginia’s invasive plants on Our Forest Garden. All new posts now go to the new website. Have you followed it, yet?

See Virginia’s Invasive Plant List

Six on Saturday: With Patience and Flexibility….

Turneric in bloom with elephant ears

It’s finally raining. Cool, soft rain has been falling for several hours now with more on the way. It is such a relief, because I’ve been pulling hoses and carrying full buckets of water nearly every day for the past several weeks to keep the pots and certain parts of the gardens watered. It has been hot and muggy, which has encouraged all of the flowers and elephant ears to push out new flowers and growth and stay beautiful longer than usual; so long as they can stay hydrated. Otherwise, we have drooping stems and crispy leaves.

I’ve been doing July chores in October.  And even as we admire the lushness, my thoughts have already turned to changing out plants for the winter, planting bulbs and cutting back. 

I dug out the first Caladiums and Callas this week, laying the bulbs in a cardboard flat to dry.  I replaced the Caladiums with soft pink snapdragons to bloom on into the winter and again in earliest spring.  Trays of ferns and herbs are marshalled, ready to begin new lives in pots as soon as I lift out the summer tenants.

And here into the second week of October I’m still waiting to find that particular variety of Panola that blends pink and burgundy and softest yellow in each ruffled blossom.   My planting visions are filled with this warm palette of color to brighten winter pots. 

Climate confusion affects us all.  Butterflies linger a bit longer.  Trees remain green well into ‘autumn.’ It is still too warm to plant most of the winter ornamentals that usually fill nurseries and garden centers in October.  Gardening trains us in patience and flexibility.  And appreciation for even the smallest bit of beauty.

Read more and see four more photos on my newer website, Our Forest Garden

Four Season Container Gardens

This ‘Four-Season’ container garden grows at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. It is lush with ferns and Caladiums in late September 2021.

Do you have pots that stand empty for weeks out of the year?  In northern climates, gardeners often empty and clean their pots in winter.  Since unglazed ceramic pots absorb water and sometimes crack in freezing temperatures, this makes sense.  But how empty things must look once summer’s beautiful pots go into storage.

Fourth Dimensional Gardening

Gardeners work in four dimensions. Of course we consider how tall a plant will grow and how deep its roots will go. Every plant grows to a certain width and depth to fill the space around it. But we also work in a fourth dimension: time. Each plant appears, grows, and fades according to its own schedule. We can use this to our advantage, planning for various plants to appear in their season, dovetailing to create a series of beautiful compositions during each gardening year.

Our coastal Virginia remains mild enough to enjoy our pots throughout the year.  With a little planning, a gardener can have a beautiful display, and maybe even something in bloom, every week of the year.  Once you have the right sort of pot positioned in a sheltered spot, your horticultural imagination is free to experiment with a range of beautiful plants.

Read more of this post on Our Forest Garden, which is my new website. Please follow me there to see all new posts.

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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

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