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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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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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.

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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.

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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…

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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

Six on Saturday: Always Another Surprise

This old redbud tree fell over in a storm last year, yet is covered in new growth this spring. Its roots are strongly planted in the earth even as its trunk lies nearly horizontal along the slope of the garden.

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We weren’t expecting to get between 3 and 5 inches of rain yesterday afternoon.  Sure, we knew it might rain; there might even be a little thunder.  It’s nearly June, the start of Hurricane Season.  Storms come and go in coastal Virginia, and we’ve had a lot of that wet traffic lately.

But the storms seemed to be going around us for much of the day.  And even when the wispy little edge of a system brushed over us on radar, we expected only a passing shower.  But no.  It lingered, grew, intensified, roiled around a while.  It filled the ditch by our street and turned the creek in the ravine into a rushing river of run-off as a flash-flood warning pinged on my phone.  We began to hear about local roads flooding as heavy rain pounded on the roof and patio, our trees bending and swaying under such an unexpected watery attack.

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Some parts of the garden love the rain.

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Does it make sense to say that you’re surprised, while not being really surprised at all?  We’ve had so many fast, unexpected storms roll over our area in recent years that nothing from the sky should surprise us anymore.  And yet when they sneak up in mid-afternoon, without proper warning from the weather-guessers, and then leave a changed landscape behind, it does leave a scuff-mark on one’s psyche.

Of course we are in these already surreal and surprising months of 2020, so nothing should surprise us too much at this point.  Weather seems the least of it, honestly.

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Athyrium ‘Ghost’

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But when I went out early this morning, camera in hand, to spy on the rabbits munching the front ‘lawn’ and to see what I could see in the garden, I was greeted with more little surprises in the garden.

Maybe what I really love most about gardening is the novelty of tending a living system and all of the surprises, both pleasant and not, which greet one each day.  What’s changed?  What’s in bloom?  What’s grown?  What’s been eaten overnight by the deer?  What young tree has just fallen over after the voles ate its roots?  You get my drift….

The very back of our garden is sheltered by a small ‘bamboo forest’ which shields it from the ravine.  Now, you likely know that bamboo, even when it’s 40′ tall and as big around as a large grapefruit, is a grass.  And grass grows from underground rhizomes, which spread as far as they possibly can.  We love the bamboo and the cool privacy it gives us.

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That said, every May we must police its new shoots daily to keep it in bounds.  You see, it really, really would like to claim more of the garden and so marches right up the hill towards our home every spring.  It sends up new shoots hourly over several weeks, and then it gives up until next year.  Sometimes the shoots are chopstick thin and actually look like a respectable grass.  They’re rather artistic and I’d be tempted to leave them, emerging in the midst of a flower border or my fernery, if I didn’t know their intent.

Other shoots come up thick and strong, like fast growing baseball bats claiming their right to seek the sun above the garden.  It’s a good thing that the squirrels love fresh bamboo shoots so much, because they quickly clean up the stray shoots we must knock over each day.

Well, when I wandered into the back garden this morning, I was greeted with unexpectedly prodigious new bamboo shoots thrusting up through shrubs, ferns, perennials and grass.  How can they grow that fast?  I wasn’t in my boots yet, so I made their portraits and left them to grow another few hours until my partner could deal with them.

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The ground was soft and squishy, still completely saturated from another early morning rain.  Fig branches were bent and touching the ground.  The lamb’s ears flower stalks I’d been allowing to grow for the bees lay flat in the mulch.  Only the ferns looked truly happy this morning.  The ferns, pushing out abundant new fronds, and a lone Japanese Iris that just bloomed for the first time in our garden.

A fresh Iris blossom always elicits a smile from me.  Like a deep breath of fresh spring air, it fills me with unreasonable happiness.  What is this magic some flowers work in our gnarly, jaded hearts?  I can turn away from two score bamboo shoots invading the garden to admire a single Iris blossom, and let that beautiful surprise buoy me back inside to pour my morning coffee.

Yes, we garden as much for the surprises as for the known rhythms of our gardening year.  There’s always something new to enjoy and always some new chore to do.  What more could one hope for?

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Iris ensata, ‘Temple Bells,’ blooming for the first time in our garden this morning.  It was a gift from a friend last summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a daily photo from our garden.

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

Sunday Dinner: Living With Courage

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“You never know what’s around the corner.

It could be everything. Or it could be nothing.

You keep putting one foot in front of the other,

and then one day you look back

and you’ve climbed a mountain.”

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Tom Hiddleston

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“Courage doesn’t always roar.

Sometimes courage is the little voice

at the end of the day that says

I’ll try again tomorrow.”

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Mary Anne Radmacher

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“Continuous effort –

not strength or intelligence –

is the key to unlocking our potential.”

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Winston S. Churchill

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“Real courage

is when you know you’re licked before you begin,

but you begin anyway

and see it through no matter what.”

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Harper Lee

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“Courage is not having the strength to go on;

it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”

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Teddy Roosevelt

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“Most of the important things in the world

have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying

when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

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Dale Carnegie

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“My own heroes are the dreamers,

those men and women who tried to make the world a better place

than when they found it,

whether in small ways or great ones.

Some succeeded, some failed,

most had mixed results…

but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it.

Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”

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George R.R. Martin

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“It’s probably my job to tell you life isn’t fair,

but I figure you already know that.

So instead, I’ll tell you that hope is precious,

and you’re right not to give up.”

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C.J. Redwine

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

Six on Saturday: Flowers for Mother’s Day

Rosa ‘Crown Princess Margareta’

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Many years ago now, when my daughter was still at home, I was asked one May what I would like for Mother’s Day.  My wish that year was for a rose bush to plant beside the front porch.  I knew that a rose bush would give me roses each and every year in May; the Mother’s Day gift that returns year after year.  We went together as a family to my favorite garden center and I came home with a beautiful rose covered with  large, red flowers.

And my Mother’s Day rose grew into a beautiful, tall shrub that bloomed extravagantly every year after.   It was a climber, and I got these special, soft little metal attachers that I could hammer into the mortar between the bricks to permanently anchor it to the front of the house.

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I left that garden and that Mother’s Day rose behind more than a decade ago, to move to this Forest Garden.  But our first year here, once again  I was seeking out roses.  I love roses.  I particularly love heirloom roses, climbing roses, and deliciously scented roses.  The English Shrub Roses bred by David Austin’s team are among my all-time favorites.

Roses have been a real challenge to grow in this garden, between the weather, the surrounding forest and the deer.  I’ve lost more than I’ve kept alive, which makes every blossom on every surviving rose shrub that much more special to me.

Rosa ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ is a climber bred by the Austin family.  Its rich apricot color and warm fruity fragrance remind me every spring why I love roses so much.  This one has grown up through a rose of Sharon shrub and it has blessed me this Mother’s Day weekend with more than two dozen blossoms.

The climbers are able to scramble up tall enough that the deer can’t munch the blossoms and prune all of the new growth.  Those that stay smaller have little chance to survive, but one I thought was a gonner last summer has come back from its roots and has already given us several flowers.  Every spring I read the new David Austin catalog wistfully, admiring the new introductions and old friends I’ve grown in the past.

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An heirloom peony planted by an earlier gardener in this space.

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I don’t give much time to such nostalgia, though.  And I certainly won’t even try to establish any new rose shrubs in this very wild garden.  This garden has ‘allowed’ me to expand my gardening tastes to include beautiful plants the deer will leave alone.  Some, like our Iris, are long-time favorites I’ve grown everywhere I’ve lived.  But I’ve learned to appreciate lots of other plants that I might not have tried, if necessity hadn’t inspired me to try new species.

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Iris pseudacorus, the yellow flag Iris, also left here by a previous gardener.  Deer leave our Iris alone.

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Mother’s Day is a moment to pause and remember the long line of strong women who have loved us and made our lives possible.  Some of these women might be special aunts and grandmothers, others family friends, teachers, neighbors, and others who have helped us along the way.  This year many of us are connecting with our mothers through phone calls and video chats.  Our greeting cards may be digital and our gifts delayed.

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Siberian Iris, a gift from a friend.

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But it is the remembering and expressions of love that matter, not the form they take.

Just as a rose shrub will give us a special Mother’s Day gift year after year, into an uncertain and often transformed future; so a garden helps us put down our own roots and grow into something new.  Each of us is growing and transforming, too.  Let us grow stronger each year; more generous and more appreciative of all life gives us.

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Iris ‘Rosalie Figge’

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Happy Mother’s Day to all of those who mother others

 

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

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

Six On Saturday: When Wood Breaks Into Bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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

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

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

Sunday Dinner: Cycles

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“Every good thing comes to some kind of end,
and then the really good things
come to a beginning again.”
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Cory Doctorow

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“Time has a way of eternally looping us
in the same configurations.
Like fruit flies, we are unable to register the patterns.
Just because we are the crest of the wave
does not mean the ocean does not exist.
What has been before will be again.”
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Tanya Tagaq

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“It’s all a series of serendipities
with no beginnings and no ends.
Such infinitesimal possibilities
Through which love transcends.”
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Ana Claudia Antunes

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“What was scattered
gathers.
What was gathered
blows away.”
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Heraclitus

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“I think that to one in sympathy with nature,
each season, in turn,
seems the loveliest.”
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Mark Twain

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“People can’t live with change
if there’s not a changeless core
inside them.”
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Stephen R. Covey

 

Another Chance at ‘Spring’

A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly enjoys nectar from garlic chives.

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Just in case you didn’t get to everything you had planned this spring, before the heat and humidity set in, we are stepping into a beautiful gardening window that I like to call, ‘second spring.’  This is perhaps the very best time of year for planting in our region.

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As days grow shorter we feel tremendous relief.  Daytime temperatures don’t go quite so high, and nights grow deliciously cooler again.  Our plants are showing signs of relief:  new growth and improved color.  Even trees around town indicate that autumn is near, as a few leaves here and there begin to fade out to yellow, orange and red.

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Now is a good time to plant because we’ll have many weeks of cooler, moist weather for new roots to establish before the first freeze arrives in November or December.  Yes, there will likely be a few hot days ahead.  But they will give way to cool evenings.  Our gardens, and our bodies, will have a break.

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This is a great time to take cuttings from perennials like Tradescantia. Break (or cut) the stem at a node, and set it an inch or two deep in moist soil to root.

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If you still want to take cuttings and grow a few plants on to either add clones to your garden, or start plants for spring 2020, now is the time.  Plants still want to grow and you’ll have time to get a good root system going before frost.  It is humid enough here that softwood cuttings simply stuck into a pot of moist earth will likely root with no special attention.

I’ve been doing a little pruning on woodies this week, and have just stuck some of those trimmed down stems into pots.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have a new plant.  If it doesn’t take, what have I lost?

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New woody growth, like on this rose of Sharon, will strike roots in moist soil. Remove all flowers and flower buds to send the cutting’s energy to root production.  Leave the leaves, as they are still powering the new plant.

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I’m going to dig a few hardy Colocasia later this afternoon to share with a friend.  They can be transplanted most any time from when growth begins until frost.  Even dug in November, they can live on in a pot through the winter in a basement.  Since these Colocasias spread each year, I’m always so appreciative of friends who will accept a few plants, so I can thin the elephant ears!

But this is a really good time to plant any perennials out into the garden.  If there is any question as to hardiness, a few handfuls of mulch over the roots should help those new roots survive the first winter.

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Colocasia, ‘Pink China’ have grow up around these Lycoris bulbs. The flowers continue to bloom despite the crowding.

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Garden centers want to clear out old stock to make way for their fall offerings.  I shopped two this morning, picking up tremendous deals at both.  Lowe’s had some plants marked down to $1.00 or $0.50, just to save them the trouble of throwing them away.  Now, you have to be reasonable, of course.  But a still living perennial, even a raggedy one, has its roots.  Remember, you are really buying the roots, which will shoot up new leaves and live for many years to come.

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Sedums I picked up on clearance today at a local big box store will establish before winter sets in and start growing again in earliest spring.

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I was searching for holly ferns today, to plant in some areas where erosion is still a problem.  Those ferns will strike deep roots and grow into emerald beauties by next summer.  The most I paid for any of them was $3.00.  I also scored a blue Hosta, a Jasmine vine, three blooming Salvias and a beautiful tray of Sedums that I’m donating to a special project.

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This is the time to start seeds for fall veggie crops.  Little plugs have begun to show up in some of our shops.  Planting collards, kale, or other veggies now gives them time to grow good roots.  We have time in Williamsburg to get another crop of any leafy green that will grow in 90 days, or less.

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Black Swallowtail cats enjoy the parsley.  Find end of season parsley on sale now. A biennial, it will return next spring.

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The only thing I won’t plant now is bulbs.  They’ll be turning up in shops soon, but it is too early to plant most bulbs in coastal Virginia.  It is better to wait until at least late October, so they don’t start growing too soon.  Our ground is much to warm still to plant spring blooming bulbs.  In fact, some of our grape hyacinths, planted in previous years, have begun to grow new leaves.

That said, go ahead and buy bulbs as you find them, then store them in a cool, dark place with good air circulation until time to plant.

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Hardy Begonia and fern will overwinter just fine and return next spring.  These have grown in pots since May, but I’ll plant them into the garden one day soon.

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We’ve learned that fall is the perfect time to plant new woodies.  In fact, they tend to grow faster planted in fall than spring, because their roots will grow into the surrounding soil all winter long, giving them a much better foundation for next summer’s weather.  While some nurseries are running sales and trying to clear out remaining trees and shrubs, some of the big box stores are stocking up.  They have figured out that there is a market this time of year for trees and are willing to take the risk that there may be stock left in December.

September and October feel like the best part of the summer to me.  There’s a sense of relief that July is past and August nearly over.  The air feels good again, fresh and encouraging.  Cooler days mean that I’m feeling more ambitious to pick up my shovel again.  I’ve kept a potted Hydrangea alive all summer, and will finally commit to a spot and plant it one day soon.

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The garden is filled with bees, birds and butterflies, with new butterflies emerging all the time from their chrysalides.  New flowers open each day, and flowers we’ve waited for all summer, like pineapple sage, will open their first blossoms any day now.

Spring is filled with optimism and hope.   So is September, our ‘second spring.’

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“That’s what is was to be young —
to be enthusiastic rather than envious
about the good work
other people could do.”
.
Kurt Vonnegut

Six on Saturday: Taking Some Heat!

Lantana thrives in full sun to partial shade and blooms from late May until frost, attracting butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.  This tough woody shrub tolerates many types of soil and is drought tolerant once established.  You may need to prune to control size on vigorous plants.  Choose from many colors and forms.  I use a trailing purple or white Lantana in hanging baskets, too.  Newer cultivars are winter hardy in Zone 7.

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The dash thermometer clicked up from 90 to 91F as we entered the shade of our neighborhood, returning home from some quick errands.  It was only 10:30 in the morning.

Our overnight low was in the 80s, with a high dew point and humidity.  Not surprisingly, many plants suffer in the heat, even when growing in the shade, just as much as our pets and ourselves.

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Rudbeckia species grow exuberantly in our summer heat and bloom from July through October, continuously producing new flower buds.  Grow in average soil in full sun to partial shade.  These natives will reseed and spread annually.  This is Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan, growing with Salvia.  Most Salvias also shrug off heat and humidity to bloom throughout the summer.  Choose carefully, as some prefer a drier climate and won’t like wet soil.

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When you read a plant tag, you’ll notice a range of zones where a plant will thrive.  It is smart to select plants that will still grow in a zone or two higher than where you garden. (I live in Zone 7b, so I want a plant rated at least to Zone 8, if not to Zone 9.)

Yes, summer heat can kill a plant just as surely as winter’s chill.  Even if the heat doesn’t kill a plant, it can weaken it to the point where disease, especially bacterial blights that thrive on humidity and wet plant tissue, will quickly finish it off.

This is the third summer in a row where an otherwise healthy looking potted Hellebore suddenly turned brown and expired.  I just moved the pot into deeper shade and crossed my fingers that the roots might survive, even as the leaves shrivel.   I believe that long stretches of intense heat and humidity may be too much for some Hellebore cultivars, especially when left in a pot through the summer.

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Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ is one of many cultivars of this ornamental herb that thrive in humidity and heat, blooming continuously all summer.  Many bright colors are available in shades of blue, purple, white, pink and orange.  Grow in full sun to partial shade.  Keep your camera handy to capture the many butterflies drawn to Agastache.

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A gardener’s challenge is always to choose the right plant for the right place.  Just as we consider which plants will overwinter in our garden, it is smart to also notice which plants thrive in July and August.

Just because we ‘think’ a plant will survive all summer; just because a particular plant has done well in previous summers, doesn’t mean that we can expect great performance as our climate warms.  It is smart to choose varieties which aren’t susceptible to mildews and rots, whose foliage can withstand plenty of heat and humidity, and that can weather wet summer storms.

Those living closer to the coast may also need to consider salt tolerance, as storm surge, flooding and windblown sea spray bring more salt into our gardens.

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Native Hibiscus or naturalized tree hibiscus provide bright pops of color in July and August.  Tree hibiscus blooms for months, but herbaceous Hibiscus may bloom for only a few weeks.  Tropical Hibiscus grown in pots and brought in during the winter will also provide lots of summer color in sun to partial shade.

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What a disappointment when we buy lots of pretty flowering plants in April and May, only to watch them waste away by mid-July.  No amount of optimism and TLC can counteract the realities of how the weather affects different plants.

So the smart gardener chooses resilient, heat tolerant plants from the beginning.  Here are a few that grow well for us.  Your list may be different depending on where you live.  But as we all experience warmer and wetter summers than we have had in past years, we may need to discover some new plants to keep our gardens healthy and beautiful.

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Verbena bonariensis is a South American species that performs extremely well in coastal Virginia.  There is also a tall native Verbena hastata, as well as trailing Verbenas for pots, hanging baskets and ground covers.  All produce flowers that attract pollinators and hold their intense color for a long time, regularly sending up new flowers until frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ in one of hundreds of varieties that thrive in heat and humidity.  Each leaf lasts for many weeks, and plants continue to produce new leaves until November.  Flowers are insignificant, but the leaves offer bright pops of color in partial shade.  Newer varieties will grow in full sun, some older ones want full shade.   All are heat lovers, rated for Zones 9-11, and want constant moisture and rich soil.  Dig tubers before frost to save for next summer.

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“Resilience is accepting your new reality,
even if it’s less good than the one you had before.
You can fight it,
you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost,
or you can accept that
and try to put together something that’s good.”
.
Elizabeth Edwards

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

Sunday Dinner: Seeing What There Is to See

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“Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book
which ever is before our eyes –
– I mean the universe –
– but we cannot understand it
if we do not first learn the language
and grasp the symbols in which it is written.
The book is written in mathematical language,
and the symbols are triangles,
circles and other geometrical figures,
without whose help it is impossible to comprehend
a single word of it;
without which one wanders in vain
through a dark labyrinth.”
.
Galileo Galilei

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“In the various arts,
and above all in that of writing,
the shortest distance between two points,
even if close to each other,
has never been and never will be,
nor is it now, what is known as a straight line,
never, never, to put it strongly
and emphatically in response to any doubts,
to silence them once and for all.”
.
Jose Saramago

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“His way had therefore come full circle,
or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral,
following as ever no straight unbroken line,
for the rectilinear belongs only to Geometry
and not to Nature and Life.”
.
Hermann Hesse,
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“The brain does not own any direct copies
of stuff in the world.
There is no library of forms and ideas
against which to compare the images of perception.
Information is stored in a plastic way,
allowing fantastic juxtapositions and leaps of imagination.
Some chaos exists out there,
and the brain seems to have more flexibility
than classical physics
in finding the order in it.”
.
James Gleick

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“Give me a place to stand,
a lever long enough and a fulcrum.
and I can move the Earth”
.
Archimedes

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“The pits and tangles are more
than blemishes distorting the classic shapes
of Euclidian geometry.
They are often the keys
to the essence of a thing”
.
James Gleick

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“Maths is at only one remove from magic.”
.
Neel Burton

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“That’s the thing about magic;
you’ve got to know it’s still here,
all around us,
or it just stays invisible for you.”
.
Charles de Lint

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