Butterfly Musings

Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Lantana

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I took a break from watering the garden Sunday morning to spend some time with the butterflies happily feeding in the late September sunshine.  Their movement enlivens the space as they drift and swoop from flower to flower.

I’m always a bit surprised when one takes off and floats up into the surrounding trees, or across the roof and out of sight.  For all of their apparent fragility, they are surprisingly resilient and tough.

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Judith tells me that the 30 odd Eastern Black Swallowtail cats she adopted from our fennel plants a few weeks ago have all gone into chrysalis now.  She has been feeding them organic parsley as she fattened them up and prepared them for their magnificent metamorphosis.

What a wonderful process to observe.  I can’t wait until they begin to emerge, and at least a few of them ‘come home’ to our garden once again.

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I wonder whether this beautiful swallowtail I photographed Sunday might have been one of the little cats I found on some of our parsley in August.  I just left them be, hoping they would survive to one day fly.

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Living in such close relationship with these beautiful butterflies has transformed my idea of tending a garden.  Now, if I could plant only a single type of flowering plant in summer, I would plant Lantana.  I would plant Lantana because it is such a magnet for butterflies.  They love it, and growing it almost guarantees there will be winged visitors all summer long.

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But beyond planting the best of the nectar plants:  Lantana, Agastache, Buddleia, Hibiscus, Verbena, Zinnia. One also needs to have a selection of host plants.  Yes, butterflies want to eat.  But they really want a home where they can shelter, lay their eggs, and raise their generations.

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Planting host plants implies accepting that the butterfly larvae will eat their leaves.  They may be unsightly for a while.  But that is a reasonable trade-off when one considers that all of those cats have the opportunity to become butterflies.

Please understand that wildlife gardening requires a complete re-thinking of what traditional gardeners assume and expect.  Rather than trying to eliminate insects and their ‘damage,’ we invite and welcome them.  We look after their needs as faithfully as we put out food and water for our cat or dog.

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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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Many native trees and shrubs serve as host plants for native butterflies.  If you want to know more about what to plant to host and feed butterflies commonly seen in coastal Virginia, please see the list compiled by the Butterfly Society of Virginia.  Even if you only have space for a flower pot or two, you can enjoy the magic of caterpillars by growing host herbs like parsley, fennel and dill for swallowtails; some milkweed for Monarchs, or even a few native violets.

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Monarch cats on potted Asclepias

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Once we better understand insects, and the crucial role they play in our environment, we come to understand their interrelationships with one another, and with the plants in our garden.  We welcome the many sorts of bees and wasps, feed the butterflies, admire the beetles and listen for the music of the crickets and katydids.

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I’ve found the secret is to plant a tremendous diversity of plants, and plant abundantly, so that what damage there  may be to certain leaves can be overlooked or at least put into context and accepted.

Once one decides to welcome and nurture butterflies, bees, and the many other insects who show up for dinner, it is crucial to abstain from using insecticides and avoid herbicides.  The more one observes, the more one realizes that insects are an intricate part of the web of life.  Birds will turn up to feast on some of them, and their own food webs will develop to keep everything in balance.  Diversity leads to sustainability.

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Wildlife seek shelter, food, water, places to rest and safe places to raise their young.  The more of these our gardens provide, the more we can assist in helping diminished and endangered populations rebound.

Each of us with a bit of land to garden can help restore the web of life so often broken by over development and encroachment on wild spaces.  As if by magic, we find turtles and toads, lizards, many sorts of birds, squirrels, and butterflies sharing our garden with us.

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When the butterflies come home to our garden spaces, we know we have been blessed with their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“I love nature dearly and all creatures
that contribute to make it what it is.
I see the beauty in all expressions of life,
and I see how blind so many of us still are.
Our planet is remarkably abundant
and there’s more than enough for us all.
It is greed and shortsightedness that create the illusion
of scarcity.”
.
Yossi Ghinsberg
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Six on Saturday: Silver Highlights

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

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Silvery leaves bring a cool sparkle and shine to summer pots, baskets and borders.  Gazing at them makes me feel a little cooler and more relaxed on sultry summer days.

Whether you prefer silver highlights, or shimmery silvery leaves, there are many interesting plants from which to choose which perform well in our climate.

Some silver leaved plants are herbs, with fragrant foliage rich in essential oils.  Grow Artemesia to repel pests, curry and sage for cooking, lavender for its delicious scent.  Some cultivars of thyme also have silvery leaves.

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Siberian Iris bloom here with Artemesia and Comphrey, both perennial herbs.

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Silver and grey leaved plants have an advantage because many of them prove extremely drought tolerant and most are perennials.  Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, isn’t a Salvia, but is a closely related member of the mint family.  An Asian native, it blooms in late summer and fall with light blue flowers.

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Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ grows as both a ground cover and a beautiful ‘spiller’ in pots and baskets.  Drought tolerant, it grows in full to part sun.

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Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ may be grown as a ground cover or as an elegant vine draping a pot or hanging basket.  Winter hardy only to Zone 10 and south, we grow it as an annual here in Virginia.  It continues growing, like a living beaded curtain, until killed off by frost.

When I first saw it growing from hanging baskets in Gloucester Courthouse, some years ago, my first impression was of Spanish moss.  A closer inspection revealed a well grown planting of Dichondra.

Dichondra proves drought tolerant and I’ve never seen any difficulties with insect nibbling or disease.  Buy a nursery pot in spring, and then divide the clump to spread it around.  Dichondra also roots easily at each leaf node.

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Another perennial usually grown as an annual in our area, dusty miller, Senecio cineraria, works wonderfully as a ‘filler’ in potted arrangements.  It sometimes returns after a mild winter, but with much less vigor.  Several different cultivars of different sizes and leaf shapes fill our garden centers each spring.  Another drought tolerant plant, depend on dusty miller to make it through an entire season without any damage from deer, rabbits, or hungry insects.  Drought tolerant, many cultivars have textured leaves.

Similar in appearance, but hardy in Zones 4-8, Stachys byzantina, lamb’s ears, is another elegant perennial for bedding.  The fuzzy, textured leaves makes this Middle Eastern native perfect for children’s or sensory gardens.  Stachys shimmers in the moonlight and looks coolly elegant in full sun.  Drought tolerant, it sometimes collapses in a mushy mess when the weather grows too wet and humid.  I am beginning to wonder if our summers have grown too hot for it to thrive here.  It does return from its roots, eventually, if the plant dies back in summer

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantium is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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There are several attractive silvery cultivars of Japanese painted ferns, including A. ‘Ghost’ and A. ‘ Metallicum.’  I like these in pots and borders.  Deciduous, they die back in autumn but return stronger and larger each spring.

And finally, many varieties of Begonias have silver leaves, or silver markings on their leaves.   Find silver spotted leaves on many cane Begonias and shiny silver leaves on some Rex Begonias.  The variations seem endless.  I use these primarily in pots or baskets, where they can be enjoyed up close.

I particularly enjoy silver foliage mixed with white, blue or purple flowers.  Others may prefer silver foliage with pink flowers.  Mix in a few white leaved Caladiums as a dependable combo for a moon garden or to perk one up on a hot and humid summer day.

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Silver foliage is drought tolerant and is often fragrant with essential oils. In the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ and Artemesia ‘Silver Mound’ grow with lavender, Salvias and Iris.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

 

 

 

 

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: Purple Garden Magic

Mexican petunia, Ruellia simplex, has finally covered itself with purple flowers. Hardy only to Zone 8, it needs special care or a mild winter to survive here year to year.

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Purple has a long and regal cultural history, extending back into ‘pre-history’ when early artists sketched animals on cave walls with sticks of manganese and hematite.  Discovered in modern times at French Neolithic sites, these ancient drawings demonstrate an early human fascination with the color purple. These same minerals, combined with fat, created early purplish paints.

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Purple Buddleia davidii, butterfly bush, brings many different species of butterflies to the garden.

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The ancient Egyptians used manganese in glaze for purple pottery.  Elsewhere around the Mediterranean world, purple fabric dyes were stewed from certain mollusks.

Difficult to obtain, purple fabrics originally were reserved for royalty, rulers, and the exceptionally wealthy.  Purple is still used ceremonially by royal families and Christian bishops.

Later purple dyes were made using lichens, certain berries, stems, roots and various sea creatures.  Synthetic shades of purple dyes were first manufactured in the 1850s, when ‘mauve’ made its debut.  Creating just the right shade can be both difficult and expensive.

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Native purple mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum,  returns and spreads each year.

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Considered a ‘secondary color,’ shades of purple range between blue and red.  Artists mix various reds, blues and white to create the tint they need.   As a secondary color, purple has come to symbolize synthesis, and the successful blending of unlike things.  It is creative, flamboyant, magical, chic and ambiguous.  Lore tells us that purple was Queen Victoria’s favorite color.

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Rose of Sharon varieties offer many purple or blue flowers on long flowering shrubs.

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Violet and indigo form part of the visible spectrum of light, but not purple.  Purple glass is made with minerals, like hematite, melted in the mix to create its rich hues.

Purple flowers, leaves, stems, fruits and roots indicate the presence of certain pigments, known as anthocyanins, that block harmful wavelengths of light.   Purple leaves can photosynthesize energy from the sun.  The rich pigment attract pollinators to flowers and may offer purple parts of the plant some protection from cold weather.  These deep colors are often considered to enhance flavor and increase the nutritional value of foods.

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Tradescantia offers both purple foliage and flowers.  A tender perennial, it can be overwintered in the house or garage.  Here it shares its space with an Amythest cluster.

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I love purple flowers and foliage for their rich and interesting contrast with all shades of green.  Ranging from nearly pink to nearly black, botanical purples offer a wide variety of beautiful colors for the garden.  Add  a touch of yellow or gold, and one can create endless beautiful and unusual color schemes for pots, baskets and borders.

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Verbena bonariensis blooms in a lovely, clear shade of purple from late spring until frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

And one more:

A new Classic Caladiums introduction this season, C. ‘Va Va Violet,’ offers the most purplish violet Caladium color to date.

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

 

 

Butterfly Beauties

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“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
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Anne Frank

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“Dwell on the beauty of life.

Watch the stars,

and see yourself running with them.”
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Marcus Aurelius

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“To be creative means to be in love with life.

You can be creative only if you love life

enough that you want to enhance its beauty,

you want to bring a little more music to it,

a little more poetry to it,

a little more dance to it.”
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Osho

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Though we travel the world over

to find the beautiful,

we must carry it with us,

or we find it not.” 

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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A Touch of Gold

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Rudbeckia fills our garden in late August, blooming in a rich tapestry of gold.

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This native Rudbeckia hirta, which first seeded itself here more than five years ago, attracts golden bees, butterflies and goldfinches to its tasty nectar and abundant seeds.

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Rosettes of Rudbeckia leaves emerge in mid-March all across the garden.  They sprout wherever a seed has fallen or an underground root has spread.

There are always plenty to dig and share, especially those that emerge in the pathways.  The plants remain in the background througout spring and early summer, biding their time as they bulk up in the warming sun.

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How much is too much?” I sometimes wonder…

Native plants are enthusiastic growers, determined to survive.  They take every available advantage to thrive.  In full sun and over tree roots, clumps sometimes get wilty when days grow hot and rain is scarce.  I sometimes revive them with a drink from the hose.

But those that are well established, in deep soil and partial shade, care for themselves.  All we do is clear the paths and set the boundaries….

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Their opening comes slowly; not all at once.  Accustomed to sharing their space, they mix well with others.

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Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant

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Native obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, creeps and spreads in the same way.  It has spread even faster and more aggressively than the Rudbeckia. 

This spring, I took the string trimmer to many areas where these two grow among a growing spread of goldenrod, Solidago.  I decided last year that those huge, waving plumes of gold were a bit over the top for our little woodland garden, and I’ve been cutting back the goldenrod to give other perennials a better chance.

The Rudbeckia and Physotegia took that trimming in their stride and came back bushier and stronger than ever.

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Now native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is also growing in the mix, offering a subtle touch of periwinkle contrast.  I didn’t plan and intentionally plant this mix of native perennials to create a ‘meadow style’ planting.  I only recognize what nature is doing, and guide it a bit.

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And our rich reward is a touch of gold gilding these late summer days, delighting us as we await the rich color and welcome coolness of autumn.

Our garden remains dynamic, changing from year to year.  Some plants persist and expand while others decline.

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We plant a few new things each season and other turn up on their own.

Each new year’s unfolding remains a grand surprise, guided by nature and the seasons; a golden opportunity to learn and grow as a gardener.

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Another native Rudbeckia, cutleaf coneflower, also fills our late summer garden with pure gold.  With a much larger habit and larger flowers, it is equally attractive to many pollinators and birds.

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Woodland Gnome 2010

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.

I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
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Roman Payne

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Sunday Dinner: Resilience

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“A good half of the art of living
is resilience.”
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Alain de Botton
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“No matter how you define success,
you will need to be resilient,
empowered, authentic,
and limber to get there.”
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Joanie Connell
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“I will not be another flower,
picked for my beauty and left to die.
I will be wild,
difficult to find,
and impossible to forget.”
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Erin Van Vuren
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“Never say that you can’t do something,
or that something seems impossible,
or that something can’t be done,
no matter how discouraging
or harrowing it may be;
human beings are limited only
by what we allow ourselves to be limited by:
our own minds.
We are each the masters of our own reality;
when we become self-aware to this:
absolutely anything in the world is possible.

Master yourself,

and become king of the world around you.
Let no odds, chastisement, exile,
doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii
prevent you from accomplishing your dreams.
Never be a victim of life;
be it’s conqueror.”
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Mike Norton
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“to be successful,
you have to be out there,
you have to hit the ground running”
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Richard Branson
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“One’s doing well
if age improves even slightly
one’s capacity to hold on to that vital truism:
“This too shall pass.”
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Alain de Botton
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“In the face of adversity,
we have a choice.
We can be bitter, or we can be better.
Those words are my North Star.”
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Caryn Sullivan
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“Grief and resilience live together.”
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Michelle Obama
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“On the other side of a storm
is the strength
that comes from having navigated through it.
Raise your sail and begin.”
.
Gregory S. Williams

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Wordless Wednesday: After the Rain

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“They both listened silently to the water,

which to them was not just water,

but the voice of life, the voice of Being,

the voice of perpetual Becoming.”
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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

Six On Saturday: What Color!

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What do most people want from their summer plantings?  Color!

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Mophead Hydreangeas can produce differently colored flowers.  When the soil is more acidic, the flowers will be blue.  When the soil is sweeter, they will be pink.  Our Nikko Blue Hydrangeas are blooming prolifically in a rainbow of shades from deep blue to deep pink this week.  They look wonderfully confused.

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While many landscape designers focus on structure and texture, most of us living in the landscape crave color in our garden, however large or small that garden may grow.  But what colors?

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Every year designers choose a ‘color of the year’ as their theme. This year’s color  is a lovely peachy coral. This ‘Gallery Art Deco’ Dhalia is an intense shot of color, especially paired with a purple leafed sweet potato vine.

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We each have a very personal idea of what colors make us feel good, relax us, and excite us.  Color is all about emotion, and how those colors make us feel.

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Calla lilly

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One of the joys of gardening is that our colors change as the seasons evolve.  We don’t have to settle on just one color or color palette, as we do for our indoor spaces.

In our gardens we can experiment, we can celebrate, we can switch it up from month to month and year to year through our choices of plant materials.

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Rose of Sharon trees in our yard are opening their first flowers this week.

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Pastels?  Jewel tones?  Reach out and grab you reds?

We’ve got a plant for that….

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Canna ‘Red Futurity’ blooms for the first time in our garden this week, and should bloom all summer in its pot by the butterfly garden. I love its purple leaves as much as its scarlet flowers.  A favorite with butterflies and hummingbirds, we expect lots of activity around these blooms!

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“The beauty and mystery of this world

only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . .

open your eyes wide

and actually see this world

by attending to its colors, details and irony.”
.

Orhan Pamuk

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

 

Six on Saturday: Shimmer and Shine

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When morning brings only a slight lightening of the darkness, sky hung with low, grey clouds; and nighttime’s staccato soundtrack of raindrops on the roof plays on and on; a certain reluctance to greet the new day may be overlooked.

But the new day still dawns and clocks tick on in their steady counting.  And so with determined optimism I stepped out this morning to see what could be seen of the garden without stepping off the stone patio.

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Inches of rain poured from the sky from Friday noon until evening, from evening into the night, and all night through the melting darkness and into this reluctantly dawning Saturday.

Staying in bed, the most logical course of action, wasn’t an option.  I had plans to travel and promises to keep.  But the prospects for the day seemed dim.

And when I’m feeling unenthusiastic, the best antidote is a walk, however short, to survey the garden.

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Raindrops gilded every leafy surface, reflecting morning’s pale grey light.  Puddles collected on the stones and in the leaves.  The air smelled clean and alive.

The front garden, cloaked in cool fog and wet trees, enclosed my timid explorations.  It felt like spring again, even as the blooming Hydrangeas and Hibiscus and extravagant tropical leaves proved it is early summer.

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Water gives life and fuels growth.  The garden trembled with shimmer and shine in the slight breeze, even as misty rain filled the air and seeped into my light clothing.

I could hear our toads singing their approval of this fine wet morning.

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It is on days like this that I most appreciate the beautiful leaves that fill our garden.  Texture takes over when delicate flowers melt in a steady rain.  What might be overlooked on a brighter day reveals its beauty under the glamour of raindrops, in the thin light of a wet morning in June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“But here, the rain was just another part of the landscape.

Like it was the thing that lived here

and we were merely visitors.”
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Megan Miranda

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

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