Sunday Dinner: Grateful

~
“I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.
It is surprising how contented one can be
with nothing definite –
only a sense of existence.
… I am ready to try this 
for the next ten thousand years,
and exhaust it …
 My breath is sweet to me.
O how I laugh when I think
of my vague indefinite riches.
No run on my bank can drain it,
for my wealth is not possession
but enjoyment.”
.
Henry David Thoreau
~
~
“Be thankful for your allotment in an imperfect world.  
Though better circumstances can be imagined,
far worse are nearer misses
than you probably care to realize.”
.
Richelle E. Goodrich
~
~
“You have to be able to slow down enough
to switch your focus away from
all the ways things could be better,
to know how good they already are.”
.
Katherine Ellison
~
~
“One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness
has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”

.
David Steindl-Rast
~
~
“It’s a funny thing about life,
once you begin to take note
of the things you are grateful for,
you begin to lose sight
of the things that you lack.”
.
Germany Kent
~
~
“Behind every creative act is a statement of love.
Every artistic creation is a statement of gratitude.”
.
Kilroy J. Oldster
~
~
“The single greatest cause of happiness is gratitude.”
.
Auliq-Ice
~
~
Photos By Woodland Gnome 2017
~
~
“Don’t ever stop believing in your own transformation.
It is still happening
even on days you may not realize it
or feel like it.”
.
Lalah Delia
Advertisements

Fabulous Friday: Winterizing Pots

~

Variegated foliage really pops in the winter landscape.  On a dull chilly day, anything that reflects light catches my eye and brightens my mood!  I seek out pretty plants with variegated foliage as I re-plant our pots for the winter months.

Last year I discovered Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever and fell in love with its beautiful leaves, creamy flowers, and deep pink edges on both new leaves and flowers.  I used this beautiful perennial in several pots and we thoroughly enjoyed watching it grow between November and April.

I found a few new plants at the Great Big Greenhouse in Chesterfield, VA earlier this month, on sale no less, and have them planted in pots flanking our front door.  Its shiny, dark green leaves look like they are covered in creamy lace.

~

H. ‘Snow Fever’ newly planted, and ready for the coming winter season.

~

This year I’ve had my eye out for a variegated holly to fill additional pots on our patio.  I won’t bore you with how many shops I’ve checked.  I finally spotted Osmanthus, ‘Goshiki,’ (also called ‘false holly) in a 4″ pot last weekend.  When I saw the double digit price for a tiny plant, I reluctantly left it behind and continued the search.

The December issue of the UK’s Gardens Illustrated only made my longing for a lovely variegated holly more intense.  Their article, 26 Hollies For Year Round Interest, details many beautiful holly cultivars, most of which aren’t available anywhere around Williamsburg, VA.  I’ve read and re-read the article several times, trying to absorb the names and descriptions should I ever be lucky enough to come across one.

~

Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’ is safely tucked in to its new pot on our patio.

~

And then we made a trip to Lowes yesterday to pick up something for my partner.  And of course, I just had to take a turn through the garden department while we were there.  And, to my delight, there sat three lovely little pots of variegated holly.  I scooped them into my cart before you could utter the syllables, “Ilex aquifolium” three times fast.

So I happily brought home three beautiful Ilex aquifolium “Argenteo marginata” for our winter pots.  Those pots so recently emptied when I brought plants in ahead of our first frost, have lovely tenants again.   Underplanted with ivy, miniature daffodils and grape hyacinths,  and mulched with fresh moss and gravel, they are properly dressed ahead of the holidays.

~

~

These beautiful little variegated holly shrubs will happily grow in a pot for a season or two.  They grow fairly slowly, so given a large enough pot and sufficient water, you can keep them growing year round with a little afternoon shade.

For a while…. most of these ‘little hollies’ will eventually grow into good sized trees.  I use them in winter pots, with the understanding that they will need a spot in the garden before long.

The largest pot, beside our walk, had already sprouted beautiful variegated leaves of Arum italicum.  I had planted tiny starts from seeds last autumn, and let them grow on until they faded away in mid-summer.  I was happy to see them emerge this year bigger and better than ever.

~

~

Arum has proven its worth as a stalwart winter companion in beds, borders and pots in our garden.  It stays bright and shiny through all sorts of winter weather, and the deer never dare touch it.  I’ve planted quite a few tubers in pots this fall, to fill the pot with beautiful leaves while we wait for the spring bulbs to emerge and bloom.

~

Arum with Violas and Galanthus last March.

~

This is the season for ‘winterizing’ our favorite pots.  Summer’s annuals are done, and any perennials we’re saving have already been moved to beds or inside for the winter.  I enjoy puttering around with bulbs, pretty little shrubs, Violas, ivy starts, moss and winter blooming perennials in this lull before the holidays are upon us.

~

Newly planted pots might still look a little rough now, but the plants will take off and fill them soon enough.  If using moss for mulch, remember to keep it well watered as it establishes itself on the soil.

~

To make this Friday even more Fabulous, we drove off into the sunshine to admire the changing trees, and somehow ended up in Gloucester at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop.  We came away with a few little packs of white Muscari bulbs to add a little more sparkle to our winter pots.  A tiny investment, they look magical when they emerge in early spring.

~

Muscari armeniacum ‘Venus,’ blooming last March.

~

Real winter remains a few weeks away from Williamsburg, yet this is the time to prepare for the coming season.

I sincerely hope that you are enjoying your ‘winterizing’ preparations, and that you are creating something beautiful to enjoy while you wait for spring.

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious, Let’s infect one another!

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Experimental: Sculpted Trees

~

Living in a forest, trees surround us.  We wake to the rising sun gilding the trees, and end the day watching the setting sun paint the sky behind a living lattice work of neighborhood forest.  We plant them, prune them, sweep up their leaves and measure the passing years by their growth.

~

~

Autumn’s approach brings our attention back to our garden’s trees as their leaves brighten and fall.  We watch for acorns; admire newly set buds and reddening berries.

~

~

This autumn, I’ve been inspired to explore trees in a fresh way:  by sculpting them. 

I’ve been working on a collection of trees for the past several weeks which will serve as table center decorations for a Christmas luncheon in our community.

~

~

A friend is sculpting a companion collection of small birds and other woodland animals which we will place in and around the trees to create little woodland scenes.  What you see here is an in-between stage of completed trees waiting for their bases to be blanketed in ‘snow’ and their branches to be filled with tiny birds.

~

~

Since I am a gardener, and not a trained artist, I began experimenting a few months ago with various types of wire to learn to make these trees.   I’ve learned a bit more with every tree that I sculpt.

My textbook has been a collection of images found on the internet, illustrating how others construct their wire trees.

~

My second attempt: ‘Oak in autumn.’

~

Late summer’s trees had chips of green quartz worked into their branches.  Lately, I’ve incorporated more copper wire, and have been experimenting with bundles of wires composed of different colors, weights and composition.  Each wire has its own properties; its uses and limitations.

~

~

Using only my hands and simple tools, I’m learning to transform coils of wire into an illusion of life and growth.

~

~

The trees are mounted on stones I’ve found either in rock shops, or picked up along the beach.  Each stone has a story,  just as each tree tells a story of endurance and perseverance.

Trees are our longest lived plants, living (when allowed) for centuries.  An oak may grow to live for 1000 years, and redwoods longer.  In this age when developers casually sheer forests and truck them off to paper mills, and desperate farmers burn acres of rain forest to grow a cash crop, we need to pause and take a moment to treasure our trees.

~

~

That is why I’ve been drawn to the trees, to live, to garden and now to sculpt.   I hope these little trees bring joy to those who see them, even as they remind us all that trees are one of our planet’s greatest treasures. 

Trees are Mother Earth’s lungs.   We depend on the trees for the air we breathe, some of the food we eat, and for their part in moderating our climate and our weather.  They capture carbon from the air even as they draw up moisture from the ground and release it to the clouds.  They shade us from summer’s broiling sun, and their burning wood warms us on cold winter nights. 

Trees remain an integral part of our lives.

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

~

For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Experimental

~

This is one of my early experimental ‘practice’ trees, sculpted while I was traveling in Oregon last month.

Transformation

~

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”

.

Lao Tzu

~

~

There is sadness in wandering along our familiar garden paths in these first few days after frost touched our garden.    Withered leaves litter the ground.  Herbaceous stems droop, their once rigid cells irreparably broken when they froze.

What was once growing a bit more beautiful each day, is now clearly in decline.  Papery brown seedheads replace vibrant flowers.    Our trees grow more naked each day.

~

~

“Do you have the patience

to wait until your mud settles

and the water is clear?”

.

Lao Tzu

~

~

But as the graceful structure of our trees stands stark against the sky, we see that next spring’s buds are already forming.    When dried leaves drift away on the breeze, the magic is revealed:  new flowers and leaves have already begun to grow along every branch.

The buds will grow more plump and full through the wintery weeks ahead, waiting for conditions to signal them to unfold into new growth.

~

~

“The reason why the universe is eternal

is that it does not live for itself;

it gives life to others

as it transforms.”

.

Lao Tzu

~

~

Our sadness in watching the garden decay touches our hearts, even as we understand the familiar process of renewal and re-growth.

Like waves on the beach, things are always coming in, and flowing out.  Like our breath, we receive and we give continually.

Trees draw their life from the soil beneath their roots and the air surrounding their leaves.  And then, after a period of growth, they willingly drop their leaves to decay and feed the life of the soil.  There is balance.

Every root absorbs moisture, and every leaf allows those precious drops of water to evaporate back into the sky.

~

~

 

“If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try to hold on to.

If you are not afraid of dying,

there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

.

Lao Tzu

~

~

Nothing is ever truly gained or lost; everything transforms.  The garden helps us see this truth, and another:  Life goes on. 

No matter the appearance in the moment, life continues; and we are a part of this beautiful flickering, flaming, raging dance of life.

Our sadness springs from our clinging to one beautiful form or another.  And even that sadness can transform to joy, when we see beyond the loss of one thing to welcome what comes back to us in its wake

~

~

Let’s dance the dance of life with joy in our hearts, and embrace the magic of each season of our lives.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

WPC: Temporary

~

Thus shall you think of all this fleeting world:

as a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;

a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,

a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

 

.

Buddha Shakyamuni, The Diamond Sutra

~

~

“Letting go gives us freedom,
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
anger, anxiety, or possessions –
we cannot be free.”

.
Thich Nhat Hanh

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

~

“…for you know that soft is stronger than hard,
water stronger than rock,
love stronger than force.”

.
Hermann Hesse
~
For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Temporary

Change Is in the Air

This morning dawned balmy, damp and oh, so bright across our garden!

~

Brilliant autumn color finally appeared on our trees this past week, and we are loving this annual spectacle when trees appear as blazing torches in shades of yellow, gold, orange and scarlet.   We have been watching and waiting for this pleasure since the first scarlet leaves appeared on Virginia creeper vines and the rare Sumac in early September.  But summer’s living green cloaked our trees longer than ever before in our memories,  this fall.

~

~

I remember a particularly beautiful autumn in the late 1980s, the year my daughter was born.  I went to the hospital in the second week of October to deliver, with the still summery trees barely showing a hint or shadow of their autumn finery.  When we drove back home with her a couple of days later, I was amazed at the transformation in the landscape.  The trees were bright and gorgeous, as if to celebrate her homecoming.

Once upon a time, I believed that first frost brought color to deciduous leaves.  Our first frost date here in zone 7 is October 15.  We haven’t always had a frost by then, but there is definitely a frosty chill in the evening air by late October here.

But not this year, or last….

~

Bees remain busy in our garden, gathering nectar and pollen for the winter months ahead.

~

The annual Begonias are still covered with blossoms in my parents’ garden, and our Begonia plants still sit outside in their pots, blooming with enthusiasm, waiting for us to decide to bring them back indoors.  Our days are still balmy and soft; our evenings barely drop below the 50s or 60s.  There is no frost in our forecast through Thanksgiving, at least.

~

Our geraniums keep getting bigger and brighter in this gentle, fall weather.

~

It is lovely, really.  We are taking pleasure in these days where we need neither heat nor air conditioning.  We are happily procrastinating on the fall round-up of tender potted plants, gleefully calculating how long we can let them remain in the garden and on the deck.  I’m still harvesting herbs and admiring flowers in our fall garden.

~

~

Of course, there are two sides to every coin, as well as its rim.  You may be interested in a fascinating description of just how much our weather patterns have changed since 1980, published by the Associated Press just last week.  Its title, “Climate Change is Shrinking Winter in the US, Scientists Say,”  immediately makes me wonder why less winter is a bad thing.  I am not a fan of winter, personally.  Its saving grace is it lets me wear turtleneck sweaters and jeans nearly every day.

Just why is winter important, unless you are a fan of snowy sports?  Well, anyone who has grown apple, pear or peach trees knows that these trees need a certain number of “chilling hours,” below freezing, to set good fruit.

Certain insects also multiply out of control when there aren’t enough freezing days to reduce their population over winter.    Winter gives agricultural fields a chance to rest, knocks down weeds and helps clear the garden for a fresh beginning every spring.

~

~

But there are other, more important benefits of winter, too.  Slowly melting snow and ice replenish our water tables in a way summer rains, which rapidly run off, never can.  Snow and ice reflect solar energy back into space.  Bodies of water tend to absorb the sun’s energy, further warming the climate.

Methane locked into permafrost is released into the warming atmosphere when permafrost thaws.  And too much warmth during the  winter months coaxes shrubs and perennials into growth too early.  Like our poor Hydrangeas last March, those leaves will freeze and die off on the occasional below-freezing night, often killing the entire shrub.

~

By March 5, 2017, our Hydrangeas had leaves and our garden had awakened for spring.  Freezes later in the month killed some of the newer shrubs, and killed most of the flower buds on older ones.

~

The article states, ” The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

” The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.

“This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.”

Not only has the first freeze of the season grown later and later with each passing year, but the last freeze of the season comes ever earlier.  According to Meteorologist Ken Kunkel, winter 2016 was a full two months shorter than normal in the Pacific Northwest.

~

Coastal Oregon, in mid-October 2017, had seen no frost yet. We enjoyed time playing on the beach and visiting the Connie Hansen garden while I was there.  Very few leaves had begun to turn bright for fall, though many were already falling from the trees.

~

I’ve noticed something similar with our daffodils and other spring flowers.  Because I photograph them obsessively each year, I have a good record of what should bloom when.  This past spring, the first daffodils opened around February 8 in our garden.  In 2015, we had a February snow, and the first daffodil didn’t begin to open until February 17.  In 2014, the first daffodils opened in our garden in the second week of March.  Most years, we never saw daffodils opening until early to mid- March.  We ran a little more than two weeks early on all of the spring flowers last spring, with roses in full bloom by mid-April.

~

March 8, 2014

~

Is this ‘shorter winter phenomena’ something we should care about?  What do you think?  Do you mind a shorter winter, an earlier spring?

As you’ve likely noticed, when we contemplate cause and effects, we rarely perceive all of the causes for something, or all of its effects.  Our planet is an intricate and complex system of interactions, striving to keep itself in balance.  We may simplistically celebrate the personal benefits we reap from a long, balmy fall like this one, without fully realizing its implications for our planet as a whole.

~

February 9, 2017

~

I’m guessing the folks in Ohio who had a tornado blow through their town this past weekend have an opinion.  Ordinarily, they would already be enjoying winter weather by now.

We are just beginning to feel the unusual weather patterns predicted decades ago to come along with a warming planet.  The seas are rising much faster than they were predicted to rise, and we are already seeing the extreme storms bringing catastrophic rain to communities all across our nation, and the world.  The economic losses are staggering, to say nothing of how peoples’ lives have been effected when they live in the path of these monster storms.

~

Magnolia stellata blooming in late February, 2016

~

Yes, change is in the air.  I’m not sure that there is anything any of us can do individually to change or ‘fix’ this unusual weather, but we certainly need to remain aware of what is happening, and have a plan for how to live with it.

My immediate plan is simple:  Plant more plants!  I reason that every plant we grow helps filter carbon and other pollutants from the air, trapping them in its leaves and stems.  Every little bit helps, right?  And if not, at least their roots are holding the soil on rainy days, and their beauty brings us joy.

~

Newly planted Dianthus blooms in our autumn garden.

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

Another Peek: Autumn Sunset

~
Colors in the sky,

~

~

Colors spreading across once green leaves,

~

~

And colors saturating the still waters of the pond.

~

~

Drink it all in deeply; every glorious red and gold, green, orange, russet and blue.

~

~

Soon enough November will close in around us. 
Bare branches will reach up towards heavy, white skies. 
Our gardens will fade to browns and greys.

~

~

Celebrate color while we still can!

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2017

~

For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Peek
 

There and Back Again: The (After)Glow

~

“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.”
.
Terry Pratchet

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

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

~

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…)

~

~

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.

~

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

~

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.

~

~

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

~

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

“The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.”
.
Marcel Proust
~

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.

~

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

~
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

~
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious….
Let’s infect one another!
~

~

For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Glow

Autumn Imperfection

~

Autumn often brings a bit of imperfection to the garden. 

The foliage around us is a little tired and droopy.  Greens are fading to brown.  Bright colors may appear, highlights on our trees for a few days; but we know it will fade all too soon.

~

Mexican blue sage

~

“Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…
but merely to be LIVED.
Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly,
imperfectly, magically LIVED.”
.
Mandy Hale

~

Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Ete’

~

Every autumn flower feels precious.  We stop to enjoy the sweet, fleeting fragrance of ginger lily and roses.

~

~

We stop to admire the ever deepening colors of the berries and Lantana.  We find beauty in the seed heads of the Rudbeckia, and the beauty berries so plump now they look like they might pop.

~

~

“The eye always fills in the imperfections.”
.
Rabih Alameddine

~

Hibiscus

~

Birds fill the garden, gorging themselves on the ripening berries, drying seeds and abundant insects.   They appear suddenly from their hiding places, shooting through the air from shrub to tree as we move about.  We see living flashes of yellow, red, black, white, grey and brown as they celebrate the moment and fill the air with life.

We hear their exuberant song from first light until they click and chirp softly to themselves, as they settle in the bamboo at dusk.

~

~

Even as the garden fades into its autumn disarray, we find it beautiful.

Its ‘perfect imperfection’ reminds us to find the beauty in each day, and to savor its sweetness.

~

~

“A scar is not always a flaw.
Sometimes a scar may be redemption inscribed in the flesh,
a memorial to something endured,
to something lost.”
.
Dean Koontz
~

Caladium ‘White Delight’ at sunset

~
Woodland Gnome 2017
~

 

Native Virginia Trees

~

Early spring, as the buds swell and glow red or orange or softest green around the crown of every tree on the horizon; directs our attention back towards our majestic, elegant hardwood trees which fill the landscape here in coastal Virginia.  We’ve largely ignored them since autumn, when their bright leaves blew away in November’s storms. 

The many native trees discovered by our early colonists still grow wild here.  They form the backdrop to our everyday lives.  Some of us love them and choose to live in forested communities.  Others fear them.  Perhaps for good reason, after seeing these gentle giants toppled by the storms which blow through our area several times a year. 

~

~

Yet, the great North American trees define our landscape and our lifestyle.  They shade us and offer relief from our summer heat and humidity.  Their flowers announce spring and make early summer sweetly fragrant. 

The ready supply of good strong trees for lumber allowed early settlers to build homes and churches and businesses in the wilderness.  Although it is unusual to find a fully grown, mature hardwood tree anymore, we still can find them in parks and on preserved estates.

~

Cypress Trees grow large here along the Colonial Parkway at the mouth of Powhatan Creek.

~

I love trees.  And I love to plant trees. I count and visit the Dogwoods, Oaks, Redbuds, Crepe Myrtles and Poplars on our property pretty regularly to monitor their growth.  In fact, I spent an hour today with a shipment of bare root trees we just received from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I get angry when neighbors cut healthy trees, changing the landscape for our entire community.  And I really hate to see stands of trees cut for new development ,  mourning the ever increasing loss of the naturally forested acres left in our area. 

~

~

We often fail to consider how much oxygen each tree produces each year, or how many pollutants each can filter from the air we breathe.  Trees absorb greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide in their respiration, locking that carbon into their woody flesh. 

They help moderate the temperature through all of our seasons, and fertilize the Earth and build new soil with their fallen leaves.  Each tree supports and houses countless animals, feeding and sheltering birds, small insects, butterflies and their larvae, and  small mammals.

~

Native Redbud, Cercis canadensis, blooms in April.

~

Since trees are on my mind today, I am republishing an essay I wrote in August, 2013, about how prized our American trees became to the Europeans who financed and supported colonization in North America.  I hope you find some useful bit here you didn’t know before.   And I also hope that perhaps this essay invites you to pay a bit more attention to the trees in your landscape and your life.

-Woodland Gnome

~

 

View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

~

Did you know there was a time, not too long ago, when the most prized plants growing on regal British estates were trees imported from, “The Colonies”?  I had no idea how much 17th and 18th Century British gardeners coveted North American plants- particularly our trees.

~

American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

~

Isn’t it interesting how things are forgotten over the years, and we assume that how things are in our own experience is how things have always been?

I grew up on the East coast of North America, making annual trips to view the colorful forests cloaking the Blue Ridge Mountains each autumn.  I’ve always had brilliant autumn foliage to enjoy in my own yard, and lining the streets of whatever town I happened to visit.

We in Virginia accept these things as part of the normal progression of the seasons.  We savor them, but don’t take notice of what a rare treat we enjoy.

~

An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

~

It was the book, Brother Gardeners:  Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession, by Andrea Wulf, which opened my eyes and my mind to the treasures growing here, as weeds in the woods.

Prior to the 17th century, European, and specifically British gardens, had a limited palette of plants.  The formal geometric schemes of lawn, hedge, topiary evergreen shrubs, roses, and very few summer flowers were the norm.  Green and brown were the main colors found in the garden for most of the year.  Hardscape paths, stairs, fountains, arbors, and structures were the relief from all of this green lawn and green hedge.  Gardeners overcame and reshaped nature when creating a garden.

~

Dogwood tree in early November

~

The notion of working with nature was born in the colonies, and exported back to England in some measure toward the second half of the 18th century.

As European ships sailed abroad to explore and claim the world, they took as treasure not only gold and silver, but also botanical treasures from all of the lands explored.

Very little of the plant material collected actually made it back alive to a gardener in Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, or the Netherlands.  When a voyage lasts many months, things happen.  Things like hungry mice and storms; gnawing insects, pirates, salt spray; and unmitigated heat and cold on the deck of a sailing ship.

~

~

But whatever seeds, bulbs, cuttings, roots, and even live plants did miraculously make it home and into the hands of a skilled gardener, were loving tended and coaxed into growing in specially built hot houses and garden plots.

Plants were grown out for seed, sold, traded, and propagated in great botanical gardens across Europe.  Botanists befriended ships’ captains and crews in hopes of bribing them to bring home new specimens.  And, as colonies were established, relationships sprang up between the colonists and avid collectors “back home” in Europe.

~

Red Cedar growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

~

The fledgling scientists of the Enlightenment realized that every new species of plant contains tremendous gifts.  Aside from their beauty and use in an ornamental garden, plants contain useful chemical compounds to heal, create new products, nourish, and enlighten.  Some of this research continues today in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil and other inaccessible and remote corners of the world

~

Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.  Enlarge the photo and you’ll see the long seed pods growing in early August.

~

The colonial era was an exciting time for discovering countless new species of plants. The gardens of Great Britain and Europe reflected the explosion of diversity by welcoming previously unknown flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables into their evolving and increasingly naturalistic garden schemes.

Remember, the great forests of Britain were decimated long before this era.  When Maple, Tulip Poplar, Pine, Sycamore, Cedar, Dogwood, Sassafras, Magnolia and other colorful tress and shrubs from America grew in the first garden plots of importers, they were a novelty.  The aristocracy quickly fell in love with these new plants, and clamored for a seed or a cutting to grow on their home estates.

~

Oak and pine grow in abundance on Jamestown Island.

~

Benjamin Franklin helped build the relationships that enabled this trade between his amateur botanist friends in the American colonies and his contacts in Britain.  The story told in Andrea Wulf’s book unfolds with the drama and personality of a good novel, and I recommend it to every like minded gardener, no matter which side of the pond you call your present home.

~

Native holly

~

For the purposes of this post, I will  mention a few of the trees growing wild right here around Jamestown, which were collected in the Colonial era and sent back to England.  These trees, common to us, opened up a whole new way to design and enjoy gardens for those still in Europe.  They were grown for their beautiful form, fall color, interesting bark, and some for their flowers.

~

An old oak tree’s exposed roots. This tree holds the bank of the James River along the Parkway.

~

Eventually, gardening became a passionate pursuit not only of the aristocracy, but for many Britons.  As we admire their beautifully tended gardens of trees, shrubs, and flowers today, so they admired the wild and beautiful plants we sent back to them from, “The Colonies”.

~

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

~

Here is a partial list of trees and shrubs introduced to Britain from the American colonies:

Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple, 1725

Aesculus pavia, Red Buckeye, 1711

Colorful fall leaves were almost unknown in Britain before American species of trees were introduced n the 17th and 18th centuries.

Betula nigra, River Birch, 1736

Callicarpa americana, Beauty Berry, 1724

Catalpa bignonioides, Southern Catalpa, 1722

Chamaecyparis thyoides, White Cedar, 1736

Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe Tree, 1736

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood, 1722

Diospyros virginiana, Persimmon, 1629

Euonymus atropurpurea, Burning Bush, 1744-6

Fraxinus americana, White Ash, 1724

Hydrangea arborescens, Wild Hydrangea, 1736

Juglans nigra, Black Walnut, 1629

Juniperus virginiana, Red Cedar, 1664

Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, 1734

Liriodendron tulipifera, Tulip Poplar, 1638

Magnolia grandiflora, Southern Magnolia, 1734

Dogwood, our Virginia state tree, blooms in April.

Magnolia virginiana, Sweet Bay, 1688

Pinus strobus, White Pine, 1705

Platanus occidentalis, American Sycamore, 1638

Sassafras albidum, Sassafrass, 1630

~

Dogwood, Cornus florida

~

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2017

The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

Brother Gardeners at Barnes and Nobles

Brother Gardeners at Amazon

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 554 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest