Early March Stories

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“Once you start recognizing the truth of your story,
finish the story.
It happened but you’re still here,
you’re still capable, powerful,
you’re not your circumstance.
It happened and you made it through.
You’re still fully equipped with every single tool you need
to fulfill your purpose.”

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Steve Maraboli
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“Do you wait for things to happen,
or do you make them happen yourself?
I believe in writing your own story.”
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Charlotte Eriksson

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“Most of us have only one story to tell.
I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives:
there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories.
But there’s only one that matters,
only one finally worth telling.”
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Julian Barnes

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“The significance –
and ultimately the quality –
of the work we do
is determined by our understanding
of the story in which we are taking part.”
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Wendell Berry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Story

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“Embrace the path your loved one’s story has taken,
and be part of the culture shift
that acknowledges dying
as part of living.”
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Carrie Chavez Hansen
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Fabulous Friday: Evergreen

Hardy Cyclamen and bulb foliage shine through the leaf litter of a perennial bed at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, Virginia.

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I’m appreciative today for every little scrap of green shining in our winter garden.  So much of the world is brown or grey or beige here this week.

Although I’ve spotted a few early snow drops, Galanthus, in public gardens; we haven’t seen more than the first tentative tips of green leaves from our own spring bulbs.  And yet they are utterly fascinating as they push up through the wet, nearly frozen Earth; and we celebrate every tiny tip of green.

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Early February comes, some years, gilded with early Forsythia, the first golden Crocus, and a few brave daffodils splashed across the landscape.

Other years, winter still reigns supreme. Tiny Forsythia buds shiver along the branches, swollen but wisely closed.  Bulbs wait for the sun’s warm embrace to trigger their unfolding.

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Italian Arum keeps sending up leaves despite the frosty weather.  Our first daffodils have begun to show themselves in recent days.

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This winter feels unusually determined and harsh.  It has been so cold that many of our evergreen shrubs, like the wax myrtle and Camellias, have cold-burned leaves.  Worse, many of their leaves have fallen this year, lying browned and forlorn beneath the shrubs’ bare twigs.

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Every bit of evergreen moss and leaf and blade and needle catches my grateful eye with its promise of better gardening days ahead.  I feel glad for all of those winter hardy Cyclamen and Arum blithely shining against the leaf litter and mud below them.  The effort of finding them and planting them feels like a very wise investment in horticultural happiness today.

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Ilex aquifolium argentea marginata grows in several pots in our winter garden. Generally cold hardy, even this English holly has shown damage from our frigid nights in January.

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Garden designers always admonish us to plan for all seasons in the garden.  But one season isn’t like the last, and this year isn’t like the next.  We gardeners are always improvising and experimenting, our planting often extemporaneous; the results surprisingly serendipitous.  It is through these odd cracks of chance that magic happens in our gardens.

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Hellebore leaves and hardy ferns fill the bed beneath a fall blooming Camellia shrub.

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I know it has been a harsh winter when deer even strip the Hellebore leaves and nibble the flowers from a thorny Mahonia shrub.  I caught a large herd of 20 or more gazing longingly into our garden, through the fence, from our neighbor’s yard this afternoon.  Individuals find their way in from time to time.  Hoof prints in the moist soil tell their never-sorry tale.

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Deer have even nibbled leaves from new English ivy plants in our garden this winter.

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What’s left behind and living feels all the more precious today.  I’m glad for the stray Vinca vine shining through the leaf litter.  The stray wild strawberry plant looks oddly elegant air planted in a rotting stump.  I feel that every evergreen shrub was planted as insurance against a frigid February like this one.

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Mountain Laurel will resume growth and bloom by mid-May.

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I’m happy to pause today to celebrate every ever-green and growing thing I see in the garden.

We’ll ignore the usual labels of ‘weed’ or ‘native,’ ‘exotic’ or ‘invasive.’  We’ll pay no mind to how large or unusual its eventual blooms might  be, or even consider whether or not we will still want to befriend it in June.

We’ll just let it warm our gardener’s hearts on this cold and windy February day, and follow its brave example of endurance through challenging times.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, let’s infect one another!

 

Sunday Dinner: Promise

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“Know who you are,
what your potential is
and press towards it with all
that you have within you”
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Sunday Adelaja

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“There is that gnawing feeling
that we are far more than what we believe ourselves to be.
Maybe it’s time to believe the gnawing.”
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Craig D. Lounsbrough

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“A potential is a hidden greatness.
It is the success to be realized.
It is an accomplishment yet to be uncovered.”
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Israelmore Ayivor

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“The unlike is joined together,
and from differences
results the most beautiful harmony.”

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Heraclitus

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“Dreams become regrets when left in the mind,
never planted in the soil of action.”
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Auliq-Ice

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“To be ordinary is a choice,
for everyone has it in them
to become extraordinary.”
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Lauren Lola

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“This is the miracle of all miracles—
when life sacrifices itself to become something greater.
When it awakens to its potential
and rises in power.
That is true magic.”
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Seth Adam Smith
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Never become impatient with the process,
bored with the pace, frustrated at the meager results,
just keep trying.”
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Auliq-Ice

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“All of those things – rock and men and river – resisted change,
resisted the coming as they did the going.
(Mt.) Hood warmed and rose slowly,
breaking open the plain, and cooled slowly
over the plain it buried.
The nature of things is resistance to change,
while the nature of process is resistance to stasis,
yet things and process are one,
and the line from inorganic to organic and back
is uninterrupted and unbroken.”
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William Least Heat-Moon

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“Everything is an experiment.”
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Tibor Kalman

 

An Infinite Variety of Ferns

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Mosses and ferns populated the Earth long before any flower bloomed or fish swam through the vast oceans of our earliest years.  Soothing green mosses still fascinate and entertain many of us obsessive gardeners.

I lift mine from spots where they grow in our garden, and also do my bit to help them spread a bit more each year.  Non-vascular, they have no roots, true stems or true leaves.  Moisture simply seeps from cell to cell as they welcome the rain.

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Ferns rose up from the moist and mossy surface of the Earth as the first plants to develop true roots, stems and leaves.  Tiny tubes that carry water from root to leaf allowed these novel plants to reach ever higher to catch the sunlight.

From that humble beginning, eons ago, ferns have carried on their simple lives and developed into countless different shapes, forms and sizes.

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These ancient plants still reproduce themselves with spores, as the mosses do.  Never will you find a flower or seed from a fern.

Their spores must fall and grow on the moist Earth before first forming a gametophyte, which most of us never even notice.  Eventually that simple structure will grow into a new fern.  Their ways of reproducing are mysterious and hidden from the casual observer.

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The small dots that grow on the back of some mature fern leaves hold the spores.  They will be released as a fine powder when the spores are ripe.  Blown on the wind, some eventually some will settle where they can grow. This frond is the evergreen hardy fern Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ .

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Although ferns often look delicate and fragile, they are tougher than you might expect.  So long as their basic needs are met, they thrive.  They don’t need as much light as flowering plants, and so often grow under the canopy of trees, in dense and shady places.

Like mosses, they enjoy humidity and regular rain.  Some ferns begin to get a little brown ‘burned’ edge on their leaves if the air grows too dry.

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The Victorians collected interesting ferns from around the world.  They traveled far and wide to discover new species of ferns, often in the tropics.  They developed the glass house, fern cabinet, and terrarium as ways to keep their ferns warm and humid on board ship and through cold British winters.

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Gardeners today have uncounted choices of interesting ferns to grow.  We have a wide array of species ferns, plus many, many cultivars.  Hardy ferns grow on every continent.

Our garden features many varieties of hardy evergreen and deciduous ferns.  Some, like our Christmas ferns and favorite Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ remain green through the winter.  Others, like our many Japanese painted ferns, drop their leaves as days grow shorter in autumn, and remain dormant until early spring.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ remains green and beautiful year round.  Its new fronds emerge a beautiful shade of bronze.

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We also enjoy many ferns that aren’t hardy in our climate.  These must come indoors before frost, but will return to the garden in late April.

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I have been fascinated by ferns for many, many years now.  When I see a new one we don’t yet grow, I want it.

I won’t even try to explain; I’m too busy watering and potting up fern babies to grow on into good sized plants by late spring.

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When most of us think of fern fronds, we think of long fronds clothed on both sides of their stipe with small, fringed leaves known as pinna.  Sometimes these are very finely divided into tinier and tinier parts.  We watch for their unfurling fiddleheads in spring, and see them in our imagination waving in the breeze as they carpet a forest glade.

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But ferns take other forms, too.  While some are lacy, others grow like broad tongues of green, or even like the long branched horns of a deer.  Usually ferns send up leaves from a stem most often found at, or just below, the ground.

But some even grow tall, like trees, where each year new fronds grow from the uppermost crown, leaving a scaly brown ‘stem’ trunk beneath.

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The long hairy stem of a ‘footed fern’ creeps along the ground in nature.  On this one, tongue-like leaves appear at intervals along its length.

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The different forms, colors, and growth habits of these beautiful plants intrigue me.  I love to watch them grow, and I enjoy trying to grow them in different ways.

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It isn’t always easy to find a good source for ferns.  Some mail-order nurseries will charge huge amounts of money for a fairly simple fern.  Go to your local big-box store, and you may find only a couple of common varieties.

I always drool over the Plant Delights catalog, because they carry such a wide selection of different ferns, and offer ferns you won’t find anywhere else.  They travel the world to collect new species and varieties of beautiful ferns, and also carry new cultivars from breeders.

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Maidenhair fern growing in our fern garden last May.

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Most of their ferns are hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  If we can keep them hydrated through the hottest part of summer, they will perform for many years to come.

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Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Apple Court’

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Yet, winter is a special time when I enjoy small potted ferns indoors.  And I’ve found an excellent source for ferns at The Great Big Greenhouse in the Richmond area.  They carry the widest selection of both hardy and tender ferns that I’ve found anywhere in our region.

It will be a few weeks yet before their spring shipment of hardy ferns arrives, but no matter.  Right now, they have a gargantuan selection of tropical ferns to tempt the most winter weary gardener.  They come in all sizes from tiny to huge, too.  February is a very special month at this favorite gardening haunt, because they have several events planned for gardeners devoted to growing plants indoors.

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I always explore their collection of tropical plants for terrariums and fairy gardens, which come in 1″ pots.  I have found so many wonderful ferns, like the fern growing on my windowsill in the photo above.  I bought this in a 1″ pot in the spring of 2016 and grew it outdoors on the porch that summer.  It came indoors that fall, and has grown in our windowsill ever since.

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Those tiny ferns in 1″ pots very quickly grow up into full size beauties that will fill a pot or basket.

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After spending the remaining winter months inside, I quickly move them out into larger containers as the weather allows.  This is an easy and economical way to have ferns ready for summer hanging baskets and pots.

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Ferns offer endless variations on a simple theme.  Elegant and easy to grow, we find something new and beautiful to do with ferns in each season of the year.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern in April

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme

WPC: Growth

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“We are not trapped or locked up in these bones.
No, no. We are free to change.
And love changes us.
And if we can love one another,
we can break open the sky.”
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Walter Mosley
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“In this first week of the year, many people anticipate beginnings, changes, and opportunities for growth.

Share with us an image that evokes this spirit of change and newness …”  The Daily Post

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“Growth” is a wonderful topic for a garden blogger.  Except it is January, and we had a half a foot of snow fall on our garden overnight.

In fact, it was still snowing here into the early afternoon.  Without taking a deep dive back into my photo archives, I’ve been thinking about how to share good photos of “growth.”

Maybe I could respond to the challenge with growing piles of snow, or even icicles growing ever longer from the eaves?

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Yet, as I ventured out into the newly shoveled paths my partner made for us, I realized that even during this ‘dormant’ time of year, our garden is still very much in growth.

Buds are swelling.  Ivy keeps creeping along with new leaves, and the catkins on our hazelnut trees grow visibly longer each week.

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Mistletoe grows bold and green in the tree tops, and so do the leaves of our Italian Arum, still appearing through the soil.

Our new holly shrubs grow bravely on in their pots, and the tender new leaves of bulbs poke up through the soil, announcing their promises for a beautiful spring.

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Growth isn’t so much about what is ‘new’ as it is about continuation.  Just as we keep growing and changing year to year and decade to decade, so too does our garden.

Growth may slow now and again, but its dynamic demand for expansion and change pays heed only to its own design.

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“Change may not always bring growth,
but there is no growth without change.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Mahonia is ready to bloom one day soon.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Growth

Allow for Success

Alyssum maritimum

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Truth be told, I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in fragile little annuals like sweet Alyssum these days.  They come in such tiny cell packs each spring, bright and full of promise, but oh so tender looking.  Once summer’s heat sets in, it is anyone’s guess which annuals planted with such hope in early spring will survive through until the heat fades again in September.

I’ve lost quite a few to summer drought and distracted neglect over the years.  This spring, I didn’t even buy any sweet Alyssum until they went on sale in late May.  I’m partial to this purple variety, and planted four to dress this pot holding a Clematis vine.  The pot sits by our kitchen door and was looked after all summer.  When the first frosts came last month, I made no move to either save these little plants, or pull them out.  And look at them now!

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Here we are in the second half of December, and the sweet Alyssum still blooms in its pot by the door.  You have to smile at that, and admire this hardy little plant that not only survived our Virginia summer, but also hung on through a few nights that have  dipped down into the 20s.

These tiny purple flowers blooming this morning inspire me beyond what words can convey.

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How often do we let our low expectations snuff out the possibility of success?  How often do we choose not to make the effort, or allow for someone else’s effort, when stunning success is within easy reach?

I will try to always remember these tiny, fragile purple blossoms greeting us this December morning.  We must allow for success before we can savor the pleasure it brings.

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June, when the Clematis vine first bloomed, and the Alyssum was in its prime

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Fabulous Friday: Ivy Shining in the Waning Sun

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Evergreen treasurers, often overlooked during the warmer months, grow in importance as summer’s foliage blows away on autumn breezes.

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We notice that nearby forests are filled with a small army of shining holly trees, covered in bright red berries.  Clumps of mistletoe hover in the bare branches of nearby trees.

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And, we are grateful for the beautiful green and cream leaves of our stalwart ivies growing in pots and garden beds.

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A grapevine fills this pot all summer, but ivy anchors it on our deck during the winter months.   Newly planted Violas will bloom sometime in the next few weeks.

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There are many varieties of ivy available.  Find leaves large and small, wide or very narrow, green, yellow,  cream and variegated.

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The smallest leafed ivy I’ve ever found, this lovely little cultivar was sold for terrariums and fairy gardens. It is growing indoors this winter with a little Begonia.

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Now, native plant purists positively scowl at any kind word uttered about ivy.  It is not native by any stretch of the imagination, though it has naturalized throughout much of the United States.  Worse, ivy can escape cultivation and grow invasive.  This is a problem when ivy completely enshrouds a tree.

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Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

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This vigorous vine can shade out the tree, eventually killing it, and break it apart with the strength and weight of its growth.

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Ivy was already growing on this mature beech tree when we came to the garden. The vine grows root-like anchors, but doesn’t suck sap from the tree. Ivy keeps its roots firmly in the ground and makes its own food from photosynthesis. These aerial roots may absorb dew and rainwater, but they don’t take anything from the tree.

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The ivy you or I plant this fall likely wouldn’t kill a tree in our own lifetimes.  This takes decades.  However, our ivy may escape into the wild when we are no longer tending it for whatever reason, or, the ivy may eventually form berries, and those ivy seeds may germinate elsewhere.

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Ivy makes a popular low maintenance ground cover. Keep it trimmed back, and away from your tree trunks.

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You can puzzle out the relative morality of ivy on your own terms and in your own garden.  But I will tell you that I admire it for its tenacity and toughness.

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Ivy offers some benefits for wildlife.  It shelters many sorts of insects, and so helps attract birds to the garden.  It can produce berries, once the vine is mature.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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It tolerates dry soil, sun, shade, heat and cold.  It can be cut back hard and still re-grow into a lush plant in a season.

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Newly planted Hellebore and ivy will soon fill this pot with evergreen beauty. The Hellebore will begin blooming early in the new year.

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It will fill a hanging basket beautifully, and remain lovely all winter long through the worst weather we might face here in Zone 7.

Ivy is very useful as the ‘spiller’ in potted arrangements.  I especially enjoy using it in pots where the main plants are perennials, and the pot won’t be re-worked year to year.  After several years, the ivy can take the pot without worthy competition, however.

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New Year’s Day 2017, and this basket of ivy looks fabulous.

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Let it trail, or train it on a trellis or other wire form.  Ivy can be groomed into many interesting shapes, grown on wire mesh orbs as a ‘kissing ball,’ or even grown on a  privacy screen or a fence.

If you place a rooted cutting in a vial of water or plant its roots into damp moss and a little peat, you can even grow it on a living wreath enjoyed on a shaded porch.  Just keep the wreath hydrated and out of direct sun.

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Violas and ivy make a beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate.

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Just remember the Ivy rule:  The first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third, it leaps!  This is a lovely vine that takes some time to work its magic.

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In the best of possible worlds, deer generally leave ivy alone.  But we don’t live in that world, and find our ivy grazed from time to time.  Generally, it isn’t even noticeable. 

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But deer did seriously dine on a beautiful new ivy in a pot this fall.  Like with most new plants, spray it or otherwise protect it if deer frequent your garden.

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We are admiring our ivy on this Fabulous Friday.  If your green thumb is itching to grow something easy and rewarding during the cool months ahead, you might search out a beautiful ivy for your winter pots or baskets.

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Now that our stump is losing its bark, I’ve planted ivy in the pot.   Beautiful ivy will soon cover it all in a curtain of green.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious…

Let’s infect one another!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Fabulous Friday: Winterizing Pots

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Arum with Violas and Galanthus last March.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Muscari armeniacum ‘Venus,’ blooming last March.

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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!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Rescuing Our Caladiums

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As the season changes, our Caladiums have grown a little droopy and woebegone.

Tropical, heat loving Caladiums don’t care much for cold winds and autumn’s chill at night.  It is time to rescue them from their pots, and help them grow dormant for the coming winter.

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Caladium ‘White Delight’ still looked pretty good on October 3.   I rescued this one on Friday, and its tuber is in the garage preparing for winter storage.

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Many gardeners treat their Caladiums like annuals, letting them freeze alongside the petunias and impatiens.    There is no harm in that, so long as you have deep pockets to buy all the Caladiums you want come spring.  But if you are a thrifty gardener, or have just grown attached to your Caladiums and would like to enjoy them for another year, saving them takes very little effort.

As Caladiums prepare to go dormant, their leaves first droop, and then just sort of fade away.  I was disappointed to discover that process well underway with some of my potted Caladiums, making it nearly impossible to find their buried tubers without vigorous digging through the entire pot.

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I’ll bring this basket of Begonia, tender lady fern and Caladium into the garage before our first freeze.

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If you have Caladiums planted alongside ferns or other plants you want to save, that vigorous digging might not be possible without doing a lot of damage.  In that case, you can simply bring the pot indoors for the winter, with the Caladium tubers left in the soil.  Water sparingly, and try to keep the pot at 50F or above and the Caladiums will survive and begin sending out new leaves next spring.

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These Caladium tubers can be dug up for storage. I’ll fill their space in this basket with some Violas.

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My brilliant gardening friend has even overwintered her Caladiums (accidentally she says) under several inches of fallen leaves left on their bed as mulch.  Some of the newer varieties have been bred to be more cold tolerant, and how do you argue with success?

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A flat filled with Caladiums I have already rescued for storage

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The most reliable way to save your favorite Caladium tubers for next season is to simply dig them, dry them, and store them indoors.   Dig several inches to the side of where the remaining leaves emerge from the soil, and work your way around to loosen the tuber.

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Most Caladiums have extensive roots by now, and you will need to work gently to avoid cutting or breaking the tubers, which may have grown much larger than what you planted last spring.   Sometimes, the tubers calve over summer, and you may be digging up a clump of little tubers growing together.

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Once you lift the Caladium and shake off as much dirt as possible, simply lay the whole plant, leaves and roots and all, into a flat or box where it can dry in a sheltered place.  Remember to gently dig or comb through the soil with your fingers in search of any little stray bits of  tuber. Even bits as small as a dime may be saved, and will grow next spring.

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I’ve been planting a tuber of Arum itallicum in many of the spots where I’m lifting Caladiums this month.   The evergreen Arum will look great growing over winter, keeping pots and beds green through the cold season.  Pair Arum with spring flowering bulbs, Violas, Heucheras, Hellebores, hardy ferns, ivy, snapdragons, Saxifraga, or even just with a mulch of living moss  to fill pots or beds with winter interest.

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These Arum italicum, already a few years old, are emerging now for the cold months ahead.  They are similar enough to Caladiums to make a good winter substitute, and grow near where I lifted some Caladiums from the bed last week.

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Once you’ve dug all of your Caladiums, spread the plants out in a single layer in an empty flat or box, in a protected shady area where they may dry over the next few weeks.  During this time the leaves and roots will wither, the remaining soil around the root will dry, and any nicks to the tubers from digging should heal.  I allow ours to dry in our garage where they are out of the weather, and protected from freezing as nights grow colder.

After several weeks, you should be able to shake away any remaining soil and easily pull of the withered stems and roots.  Any damaged tubers may be dusted or dipped into a fungicide for extra protection.  Otherwise, simply pack them loosely into mesh bags with some wood shavings, rice hulls, sawdust, or dry peat moss.

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We can begin to move newly sprouted Caladiums outside by late May.

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I normally save the rice hulls my Caladiums arrive in from the grower each spring, and reuse them for storage over winter.  Individual bags of Caladiums may be kept together in a larger box or paper grocery bag until time to plant next spring.  Store them in a closet or other out of the way spot in a heated room.

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Caladium tubers, ready for spring planting

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I start our stored Caladium in late March each year, usually several weeks earlier than the grower will ship new Caladium tubers to Virginia.  We have fresh Caladiums ready to plant out in pots and beds again as soon as it grows warm enough for them to take off for the new season ahead. Since the tubers grow a little bit each year, saved tubers may be larger and more lush than the new ones you buy.

All in all, a good deal for those of us who truly love our Caladiums.

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This is the Caladium I rooted from a leaf over the summer. It finally produced a second leaf, seen here, before the rooted leaf faded away. I plan to bring this pot indoors before frost, and hope the tiny new tuber will keep over winter to continue growing next year.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

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Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

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Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

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The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

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Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

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Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

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When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

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Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

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Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

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I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

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