Always Evolving

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Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others?  What drives your selections?

My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season.  Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.

 

Basil, "African Blue" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums  grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

 

We garden to fill a need.  Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food.  Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.

Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.

 

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Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.

And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.

But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract  than by their usefulness as cut flowers.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

 

Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers.  We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

 

Our gardening  focus is shifting here.  It began our first month on the property.  I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.

I planned to replace them  with something more interesting… to me, that is.

And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.

 

 

Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.

The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.

And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

 

Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.

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After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb's Ears.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears.  Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.

 

What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.

And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage

 

Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.

 

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

 

If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.

There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.

 

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

 

And leaves are far more durable than flowers.  While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many  months.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with  stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.

 

"Harlequin" is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

 

While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course –  they do become food now and again.

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer.... But something ate them....

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….

 

It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.

Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them.  This pepper has survived to ripeness.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.

 

Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.

 

We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful  varieties of annuals each spring and fall.

The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.

 

Spikemoss is a plant we've just begun using as groudcover in pots and beds.

Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.

 

It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.

As I hope we are, as well.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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A “Dirty Hands” Garden Club

Colocasia, "Blue Hawaii"

Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii”

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I would love to join  a “Dirty Hands” Garden Club;
One whose members know more about fertilizers
Than they do about wines…

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A gift of Glads, from a sister gardener…

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I’d want our meetings spent wandering through nurseries,
Learning from  expert gardeners,
Or building community gardens…

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Bumblebee on Lantana

Bumblebee on Lantana

 

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Not frittered away in chit chat over hors d’oeuvres .

~

 

Bumblebee on Basil

Bumblebee on Basil

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And all of us would be at least a little expert in something,
Glad to share what we’ve learned;

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Tiger Swallowtail on Echinacea

Tiger Swallowtail on Echinacea

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And we all would love putting our hands in the dirt
To help something grow.

~

 

Eastern Redbud Tree seedpods

Eastern Redbud Tree seedpods

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My club would collect species, not dues;
Re-build ecosystems rather than plant ivy and  box.

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Blue dragonfly on Lantana

Blue dragonfly on Lantana

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We “dirty hands” gardeners can band together
In spirit, if not in four walls.
We can share plants and insights,
Instigate, propagate, and appreciate;

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Rooted Begonia cutting

Rooted Begonia cutting resting on a bowl of Pitcherplants

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Perhaps we can even help rehabilitate 
Some sterile lawn somewhere
Into something which nurtures beauty
And feeds souls….

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A gift of Siberian Iris, from Barbara, growing in a new section of the garden.

A gift of Siberian Iris, from Barbara, growing in a new section of the garden.

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Others can judge flowers,
Decorate homes at Christmas
And organize tours.
These things are needed, too.

~

Native Hibiscus

Native Hibiscus

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(But I would rather be out in the garden;
Where cardinals preside over the morning meeting,
And  hummingbirds are our special guests for the day.
The daily agenda ranges from watering to transplanting;
From pruning to watching for turtles and dragonflies.)

~

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We  wear our muddy shoes and well worn gloves with pride,
Our spades and pruners always close at hand.

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We converse with Nature,
And re-build the web strand by strand,
Plant by plant.

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If this invitation speaks to you,
Perhaps we can work together,
From wherever we might find ourselves
Around the globe.
~

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We can each put our hands in the dirt
and create a garden,

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Nurture Beauty,
And restore health and vitality to our Earth, together.

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Does a “Dirty Hands” Garden Club
Appeal to you?

~

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
~
Canna

Canna

What I Learned From Our Hummingbird

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As more and more flowers continue to bloom, hummingbirds become more frequent visitors to our garden.

They dart around so quickly from flower to flower, and are normally so shy, that I’ve had no photos to share with you; though we see them daily now.

We’ve identified at least four different hummingbirds who frequent the garden.

But one was kind enough to visit with me at the Stump Garden late on Sunday afternoon .

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Returning from a walk to a friend’s home, I stopped to take photos of the newly blooming Gladiolus.

And while I was busy snapping away from various angles, I heard the whirring buzz of a hummingbird zooming into the garden to sample the Glad’s nectar.

The hummingbird is drinking from the lowest flower on the left.

The hummingbird is drinking from the lowest flower on the left.

He was so comfortable hovering inside the huge Glad blossom, that he ignored me and my clicking, chiming camera entirely.

The Hummingbird zoomed from blossom to blossom, and then paused to rest on a leaf.

All the while I’m happily taking his portrait.

Now the hummingbird has turned to drink from the catnip on the right.  Can you see his curved beak?

Now the hummingbird has turned to drink from the catnip on the right. Can you see his curved beak?

And by observing, I learned.

Conventional wisdom holds that hummingbirds prefer red flowers.

Supposedly, that is why the plastic hummingbird kits come with gaudy red and yellow feeders and bright red Kool-Aid like mix with which to fill them.

But our little guy was sipping  first from blue Glads, then white catnip flowers, and finally from the tiny purple flowers of our Coleus, growing in the pot on the stump.

Did you know Hummingbirds would drink from Coleus flowers?  I normally break those off as a part of “grooming” the Coleus for more leaf production!

But there he was, hovering beautifully high up in the air, drinking as happily from the Coleus as from the reddest Canna, Salvia,  or Fuschia.

Hummingbirds need to consume half their weight in sugar, daily, just to survive.   They prefer flowers which offer nectar of 25%-35% sugar content.

They can starve in a matter of hours when food isn’t available. 

“Feed them and they will come.” 

Good advice, especially in the world of wildlife gardening.  And it always amazes me to see how many different species will show up for the feast, once the garden blooms each summer.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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