Knowing Winter

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“One can follow the sun, of course,
but I have always thought that it is best
to know some winter, too,
so that the summer, when it arrives,
is the more gratefully received.”
Beatriz Williams

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Much of North America lies frozen this week beneath a layer of icy whiteness.  Weather maps on TV are clothed in shades of blue, purple and white.  It is a respite from this year’s heat, perhaps, and a novelty for those who enjoy winter.

Here in Williamsburg, in coastal Virginia, we see temperatures drop below the mid-twenties only occasionally, and not every year.  But we are also in the midst of this Arctic cold snap at the moment.  There is a chance for snow tomorrow evening.

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The garden, and the larger world are frozen tight and hard this week.  Those winter faring plants I potted up so carefully last month sit brittle, a bit limp and desiccated in their pots today despite the brilliant sun shining on them.  I gave each pot a bit of tap water yesterday afternoon, hoping to thaw the soil long enough for roots to draw a bit of moisture in to the thirsty plants.

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We’ve wrapped our olive trees in clear plastic bags and set them in the warmest corner of our front patio, where they capture the mid-day sun.  They’ve grown too large now to bring indoors each winter.  We hope they make it through to warmer days ahead.

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But there is only so much anyone can do when such bitter cold blows in to one’s neighborhood.  The lowest temperature we’ve seen here since Christmas was 12F.  It feels a bit odd to cheer on the mercury to climb through the 20s, hoping it might actually make it up to 32F before the evening chill returns.

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But such is our life at the moment, and so we have decided to enjoy the novelty of it.  It is the season to trot out one’s heavy sweaters and gloves, and possibly even a jacket.  I had forgotten which drawer our gloves got put away in last spring, and needed a reminder.  A pair now live in my bag, ready to pull on whenever I step outside into this frosty world.

But clad in hat and gloves, wool and pashmina and jeans, I set off to capture photos of ice today.  My partner kept the car warm and idling while I scampered about on the banks of Mill Creek and the James River in search of ice sculptures.

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The wind was almost quiet, and the sun blazing bright and glinting off the frozen marshes.  It was nearly 24F as I captured these photos today.

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We were delighted to find eagles flying in lazy circles above us and large congregations of geese gathered along the roadsides.  I could hear waterfowl splashing into the creek in search of lunch as I picked my way down the frozen trail to the water’s edge.

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A heron clung to a branch along the bank, watching as gulls dove into the creek and ducks cavorted along its glassy surface.

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Halves of minnows, cut up by some intrepid fisher-person for bait, lay scattered about on the sandy beach.  Frozen hard, they held no appeal for the foraging birds around us.

I marvel at the sight of spray cloaked grasses and ice glazed stones.  The river and creeks here are tidal, and the rising and falling water and windblown spray make for ever-changing textures along their banks.

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Sheets of ice get pushed up in the marshes on the incoming tide, and slushy brackish water takes on odd hues in the wintery light.

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Our oddly frozen world dreams this week in weirdly grotesque forms.  Frozen soil pushes up in the garden, heaving fragile root balls not properly mulched and insulated against the cold.  Ice crystals sprout from stems and leaves in the first light of morning.

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Only the birds appear impervious to the cold.  Small flocks of blackbirds gather on the frozen grass.  Songbirds hop about in the trees as we pass.  I wonder at the mysteries of nature which allow them to survive such frigid weather.

Whether sitting on the ground, swimming in the frozen creeks or gliding on a current of air, they appear almost comfortable.  This is a great gift they enjoy, and that we do not.

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We are mostly watching through the window panes to see how the rest of this month unfolds.  Our cat spends long hours dozing, curled up in a blanket on the couch.  He shows no interest in exploration beyond his food bowl at the moment.

Surely the world will soon be slick and white if the forecast is to be believed, and our garden will slumber on under a bit more insulation as we dream of spring.

Yet, in this moment, we know winter; and see its beauties all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation,
a closure that assumes the order of completion.
Winter is a season unto itself.”
.
Haruki Murakami

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2017 Favorites

Japanese Maple, found in our front border in 2010 when it was a seedling, and nurtured ever since.  April 2017

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November finds me sifting through the year’s photos in search of our favorites for the coming year’s calendar.

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Out of the thousands of photos I capture each year, sixty-one may come to be selected, re-cropped, and published in our limited edition ‘A Forest Garden’ calendar.

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We set parameters.  First, I use only photos taken here in our own Forest Garden.  All of those photos taken while visiting and traveling never have a chance to make it to the calendar.

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Next, I decide on certain types of photos each year.  One year, I wanted a photo of a bird for every month.

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I always want to use photos of butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and the other interesting creatures who have visited our garden during the year.  We love watching them, and plant to attract and feed them.

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Our 2018 calendar’s theme is ‘Flowers Every Day of the Year.’  I focused more on photos of flowers,  and a little less on  beautiful foliage.  Selecting the year’s favorite photos requires a major investment of time and thinking.

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It is instructive, as it illustrates the garden’s annual progression of growth.  I watch the colors of our garden shift from month to month and season to season.

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I learn so much about our garden by reviewing the year’s photos. This discipline of studying the photos also helps spark fresh ideas, and clearly shows where a little extra effort may be required!

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Now that my holiday efforts are complete, there is time to look one more time through the photo file I compiled while working on our 2018 calendar.

I hope you enjoy this retrospective of the past year in our Forest Garden.

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If you would like to have a copy of our 2018 “A Forest Garden” calendar, they are available through The Nurtury in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia.  As in past years, this is a working gardener’s calendar.  Moons, solstices, equinoxes, and first and last frost dates in Zones 5-9 are noted.  Each month features gardening tips and reminders.

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This week between Christmas and New Year, this longest night of the year, remains one of my favorite weeks of the year.  It is a time for looking back at fond memories, and also for looking ahead to those plans and projects on our personal horizon.

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It is a time for favorite friends, favorite activities, favorite keepsakes, and favorite memories.

 

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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April 3, 2017, and our Magnolias have put out both leaves and new blossoms after a late frost in March.

 

 

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  2017 Favorites

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“A Forest Garden 2018” calendar is available,
should you wish to have one,
at The Nurtury, 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.

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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Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

Blossom XXXIII: October Blues

Can you help me identify this perennial? It is lovely, and I don’t know its name.

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Blue-violet lends a snazzy counter weight to the warm yellows, oranges and reds of our October garden.  Blue flowers and foliage shine and draw my eye with their cool elegance.

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Mexican sage, Salvia Leucantha

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After weeks of Indian summer, cool colors help us forget how hot and muggy the garden still feels many afternoons.  They promise that  cooler weather will soon blow our way.

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Agastache

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Blue-violet flowers also promise a good meal of nectar to the pollinators still buzzing about the garden.

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Salvias and Agastaches produce abundant nectar over a very long season.  Their generous natures support many creatures as the days grow shorter and nights grow cool.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Blossom XXXII: Apple Scented Pelargonium

Sunday Dinner: The Beauty of Tenacity

Siletz Bay, Oregon

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“Most of the things worth doing in the world
had been declared impossible
before they were done.”

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Louis D. Brandeis

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“There are times in life
when people must know when not to let go.
Balloons are designed to teach small children this.”

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Terry Pratchett

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“People can be at their most vulnerable,
but still tenacious at the same time.”

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Toni Bernhard
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Rhododendron re-blooms in October at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy.

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“The qualities of a successful man
are tenacity, perseverance, courage
and the will to win”

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Sunday Adelaja

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Mussels grow amid barnacles on rocks jutting up through a sandy beach on Oregon’s central coast.

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“Tenacity is the dance

within the art of opportunity”

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Rasheed Ogunlaru

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Aging Rhododendrons regenerate with new growth at the Connie Hansen Garden.

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“NEVER GIVE UP.
No matter what is going on,
Never give up.
Develop the heart.
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart.
Be compassionate,
Not just to your friends,
But to everyone.
Be compassionate,
Work for peace.
In your heart and in the world,
Work for peace.
And I say again,
Never give up,
No matter what is going on around you.
Never give up.”
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Tenzin Gyatso, Dalai Lama XIV
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Ferns cover the exposed rock work at Cape Foulweather along Highway 101 in the coastal mountains of Oregon.

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“Beauty is seen in repetition;
keep repeating your beauty
even if your beauty is not all that beautiful,
you shall still leave a mark
and there shall come a moment
when the beauty will be seen”

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Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

There and Back Again: The (After)Glow

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“Why do you go away?
So that you can come back.
So that you can see the place you came from
with new eyes and extra colors.
And the people there see you differently, too.
Coming back to where you started
is not the same as never leaving.”
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Terry Pratchet

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Travel invites us to break our routines, sharpen our senses, and open ourselves to seeing our world from a novel point of view.

Back now from a week on the West Coast with daughter and her family, I am enjoying the warm after-glow of our time together as I edit the hundreds of photos which came home with me.

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The weather was fine during most of my visit, and so we spent as much time as we could playing on the many beautiful nearby beaches, or letting little one run and explore at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy.  I was very pleased to see the upgrades and improvements to the garden there, all accomplished by devoted volunteer gardeners.

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A sunset walk at the Connie Hansen garden revealed this beautiful glade beneath old Rhododendrons.

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Now nearly four years old, my granddaughter has grown and matured a great deal since I last saw her.  She bubbles with happiness and personality; her fearless energy driving her to explore and transcend the limitations of the very young (and sometimes the very old…)

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I watched as my daughter tended her own garden, and as she tended this beautiful child.  It takes great vision, patience and understanding to nurture both children and gardens.  

We wandered together through a local nursery while little one was away at her pre-school class; I indulged in buying herbs, flowers and ferns to grow in my daughter’s garden and in her care.

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Beautiful native and exotic ferns fill the shady spots at the Connie Hansen Garden.

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There was so much to enjoy and to feel glad about on this visit to the Oregon Coast.  I was delighted to find abundant life in the tidal pools and around the rocks which line the coast.

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“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
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Anita Desai

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I have come home energized and inspired.  Even as I unpack, re-organize and readjust to Eastern time; my mind is teeming with ideas to tend and improve my own garden.  I’ve photos to share, trees to sculpt, bulbs to plant and plans to make with friends.

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I made this for a friend one evening, after little one and her mom went home.  Now I am filled with ideas for incorporating sculpted trees with slices of geode to make unique pendants.

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There will be a new line of note cards with photos taken in Oregon.  And, I came home with heavy suitcases because I picked up so many beautiful rocks from the beach!

I’ll soon use them as bases for the trees I plan to make over the next few weeks.

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What an unusual view of Siletz Bay, with the tide completely gone out.  These trees remain an inspiration to me as I combine organic and mineral forms.

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“The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.”
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Marcel Proust
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So fair warning:  I have many photos  left from my trip to share here at Forest Garden during the coming weeks.  I hope you won’t mind too much..

I remain intrigued by how the same plant grown in Virginia and grown in Oregon can come to look so different. Climate and soil make all the difference.

And I am endlessly fascinated by the magic that always greets me in Oregon.

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Gorgeous Fuchsia grows at Mossy Creek Pottery near Gleneden Beach, Oregon.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious….
Let’s infect one another!
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Glow

Signs of Autumn

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There are signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Never mind that it went over 90F here today.  As the days grow shorter, plants have a sense of the change of season and respond.  This is one of the great mysteries entertained by those of us who live in gardens.

Of course, leaves began to turn and drop in early August from our searing drought.  But now, even plants I’ve kept well-watered have joined in. Most of our Japanese painted ferns have dropped fronds now, modestly disappearing from the bed as leaves of Italian Arum begin to emerge.

Why is that?  How do they know it is time to rest?

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Some dogwoods and maple trees sport reddish leaves now.  It makes for pretty sightseeing on a drive.  The Aralia seed heads have been purple for weeks.  Even perennials, like our milkweed, have turned yellow and dropped most of their leaves.

As spring unfolds over many months here in Williamsburg, so too, does autumn.  And autumn leaves me feeling a bit melancholy and nostalgic.

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Although my birthday comes each spring, I never really feel that year older until fall creeps across the garden.   My steps slow a bit;  my enthusiasm wanes a little, too.  I’m ready to settle and just ‘let things be’ for awhile.

I look around and see that our garden is entering its final acts of the year, preparing for a few months of rest .  I suppose that like naps, a few months of rest allows the garden, and us, to store up the vibrant energy we need to greet another spring.

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Aralia spinosa with pokeweed

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Even so, there are still a few perennials and herbs just coming into bloom.  The Mexican sage is in bud, and goldenrods are just opening.  The pineapple sage is covering itself in scarlet flowers now, and tender fresh leaves have emerged on some of our spring bulbs.

I could try to fool myself that this is a ‘second spring;’ the preponderance of the evidence says otherwise.

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Pineapple Sage

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We are swiftly entering back into restful darkness, now that the autumn equinox has passed.  I feel it most in the evenings, when it’s noticeably dark earlier each evening.

I go for a walk, and darkness has gathered before I return.  A thin sliver of moon mocks me, nestled in its soft, moist cloudy cloak.

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Mexican bush sage

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I’m beginning to catalog the autumn chores ahead, and doing the math to decide how much time I have to procrastinate before lifting tubers, carrying pots indoors, and starting the round of fall planting.    I have flats of little shrubs stashed behind the house, waiting for autumn’s cool and damp.  I’ve ordered daffodils and more Arum, and will soon buy Violas for winter pots.

I expect at least another month of frost-free days and nights; maybe another six or seven weeks, if we’re lucky.  Today it felt like summer.  The sun was intense, the air humid and dense.

Hurricane Maria still swirls off of our coast, though far enough away that we had no rain and only a little wind.  We were glad it stayed away.

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Goldenrod coming into bloom

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And yet, I see the signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Huge spiders spin their webs on the deck.   Monarchs as large as birds visit our baskets of Lantana, floating above the garden in their vivid orange finery.

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  Goldfinches swoop and dive, stopping to snack on ripe seeds on the Rose of Sharon shrubs.    Their bare branches and yellow leaves make the message clear:  “Get ready.  Change is in the air.”

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Crape Myrtle with its last flowers of the year, just as its leaves begin to turn orange and red.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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WPC: Layered

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Our lifetime, like our environment, is built of uncountable layers. 

Ben Huberman reminds us of this in his weekly photo challenge today, and asks us to explore the various meanings of layers through our images.

While some of us may already be reaching for an extra layer of warmth when we head outside; there are also many of us still discarding as many layers as we safely can, when we muck through the humid heavy air of hurricane season to capture our images.

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I found these images on Sunday afternoon, as Hurricane Jose swirled off the coast,  all at a single stop along the marshes of Jamestown Island.  I was wearing far too many layers for comfort that afternoon, yet wished for an extra layer or two after the first few mosquitoes had their way with me.  Invisible predators sipped from hand and ear as I worked.

Just as I crept towards the last dry edge of the marsh, a Great Blue Heron startled, taking off from his hidden sanctuary beyond the reeds.  It reminded me that there are always layers upon layers of life more than we may every perceive.

Senses tuned, listening, watching, smelling the brackish air;  his presence still escaped me until he burst into the air in a massive explosion of determined wings, only a few feet ahead.

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Yet once he took flight, it wasn’t his presence which intrigued me, so much as the tiny crabs scuttling along on the muddy shore as the tide pushed back in.  These tiny crustaceans, each with one giant claw, make their lives and livings in our brackish marshes from south of Virginia Beach north throughout the rivers and estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. Masses of them appear from the reeds as the tide recedes.

I have fond memories of watching them with my daughter when she was small enough that I held her in my arms, pointing and laughing with her at their antics.  We have changed so much; they, not at all. 

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Maybe that is one of the comforts nature offers to us.  We can watch the same tree grow over our lifetime.  We can see the same birds and butterflies and even tiny crabs again and again through the decades of our lives.

We watch each season melt into the next; sunsets fade to reveal the star filled firmament above us.

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And yet, for all of that lifetime of seeing and hearing and smelling and tasting; we never quite discover all of the intricate layers of our world.  There is always a little bit more out there to discover and to love.

What a wonderful challenge this life presents to us, to know and to feel and to grow.  Not that all of it is beautiful.  Not that all of it makes us happy.  Not that all of it is even pleasant.

But it is incredible in its complexity, its balance, its depth and its ability to still surprise us.

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Yet to know it, we must be out there in the midst of it all, peeling back layer after layer of ourselves in our search for experience.

What lies beneath all of these layers?  What will we find if we can only watch long enough?

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Layered

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Sunday Dinner: Solitude

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“Solitude is independence.
It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it.
It was cold. Oh, cold enough!
But it was also still, wonderfully still
and vast like the cold stillness of space
in which the stars revolve.”
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Hermann Hesse

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“We live, in fact, in a world starved
for solitude, silence, and private:
and therefore starved for meditation
and true friendship.”
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C.S. Lewis

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Jamestown Island, Virginia

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“But your solitude will be a support
and a home for you,
even in the midst
of very unfamiliar circumstances,
and from it you will find all your paths.”
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Rainer Maria Rilke

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Crabs at low tide in the marsh

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“If you’re lonely when you’re alone,
you’re in bad company.”
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Jean-Paul Sartre

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