Pot Shots: Unity

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ began blooming this week.

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Repetition creates unity.  As one of the most basic principles of design, it’s one often overlooked by enthusiastic plant collectors like me!

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The dark purple leaves of the Ajuga are repeated in this Japanese painted fern.  this is one of several containers I made from hypertufa in 2014.

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I’m often tempted to grow the new and novel plant; something I’ve not grown out before.  We’re lucky to have space enough that I can indulge that interest while also repeating successful plants enough to create a sense of unity.

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Each Ajuga plant sends out multiple runners, with a new plant growing at the tip of each, often forming roots in the air. The plants are easy to break off and casually plant in a new spot. I often use Ajuga both for groundcover and in pots.  Here, Ajuga and Sedum angelina form a groundcover under a potted shrub.

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What should one repeat?  There are many design tricks based on repetition that are very subtle, but create a sense of harmony and peacefulness.

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I plant a lot of Muscari bulbs in pots each fall, waiting for just this effect the following spring. Muscari may be left in the pot or transplanted ‘in the green’ elsewhere in the garden when the pot is replanted for summer.

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The most obvious consideration is to use the same or similar plants again and again.  Repeating the same plant across several pots within a grouping creates unity.  Repeating the same plant again elsewhere in the garden ties that grouping of pots to other elements of the landscape.

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I like to choose a plant that grows well in the conditions of an area of the garden, and then use that plant in several different pots within a group.  Maybe I’ll plant a group of basil plants, or a group of lavender and rosemary, accented with sage or thyme.  Some years I plant a group of different geraniums.  The individual plants may be different cultivars with slightly different leaf or flower colors, but there are unifying elements to tie them together.

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Buying multiples of the same cultivar of Viola each autumn, and then planting them across several different pots creates a sense of unity.

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It’s helpful to use perennials that grow fairly quickly, that may be divided easily or that self-seed, and that are fairly easy to find and inexpensive to buy.  Once I find a plant that grows well in our conditions I like to repeat it again and again.

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I plant divisions of Ajuga, creeping Jenny and Sedum in various areas as ground cover.  They spread and cover more fully each year. Native strawberries occur here naturally, and quickly spread each spring.  I will eventually weed these out, even though they are good plants for wildlife.

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Because perennials often shine for a few weeks and then take a background role, or even go dormant for a few months, a gardener can eventually design a garden that changes every few weeks, but still has interest over a very long season, by using perennials thoughtfully.

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Japanese painted fern, Italian Arum and creeping Jenny repeat in this bed near the arrangement of pots.  The color scheme is basically the same (at the moment) in both this bed and the grouping of pots.

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Another way to create unity is to choose pots of the same or similar material, color and design.  Perhaps they are the same color, but varying sizes.

You may own thirty pots, but if they are all in the same limited color palette, there is unity.  Some designers will use a set of identical pots, evenly spaced, to create repetition along a porch, path, deck, or balcony.    This is a very formal approach, and would probably look best with the same rather formal planting in each pot.

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I favor blue glazed pots. This one held a lavender all winter, which is still a bit scraggly before its new growth comes on.  A native violet grows here instead of a hybrid Viola, but the color scheme remains the same.

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Combinations of colors also creates unity.  The plants themselves may be different, but if you use the same colors again and again whether in a group of pots, or throughout the garden as a whole, the eye perceives harmony and consistency:  unity.

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Annual Alyssum covers the soil beneath the Clematis.

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Whether we are making gardens, paintings, food, poetry or music, setting ourselves some parameters allows for creativity and expression within those self-imposed boundaries.  It may actually guide us into being more creative.

By removing some options prima facie, we are left to improvise with more focus among those choices we have left.  What we create will perhaps be more pleasing, more interesting, and perhaps even more beautiful than if we took a laissez-faire, scattershot approach to design.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Daffodils, In A Vase

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There are so many beautiful daffodils to grow, with more cultivars available each season.  This is such a deeply satisfying genus to collect because Narcissus prove so easy.  Once planted, they just keep going year to year, and each clump continues to expand.

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I’ve noticed a few new clumps in odd places this spring, and I wonder, “Did I plant those there?”

Narcissus provide a generous supply of nectar for early pollinators, and allowed to go to seed, those seeds spread themselves around.  As logical as I try to be when planting bulbs in the fall, or transplanting clumps ‘in the green’ from pots to the garden the following spring, I can’t always rule out an odd placement.

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A bag of bulbs and a sturdy trowel can provoke their own peculiar mania.  Once some of us begin planting, we may not be able to justify, later, all of those strange things we do with roots and bulbs.

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My neighbor suffers from the same affliction.  We brag to one another about how many new daffodils we’ve planted each fall.  He has even crafted his own special bulb planting tool, which he loans to me on occasion.  It is easier on knees and back, though it allows for only one bulb at a time.

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My habits run more to digging broad, odd shaped craters and stuffing them full of 3, 5, 7 or more plump bulbs and then covering them all back with sweet, moist earth and crunchy mulch.   This is best done on hands and knees, face close to the soil and both hands engaged.

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A more efficient gardener would surely mark the spot with a label, or at least a golf tee.  I pack the ground snugly around the bulbs, trying to erase all signs the earth was ever disturbed so as not to alert the squirrels to this newly buried treasure.  And then I often forget myself what went where.

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And that is good, because when winter turns to spring, and leaves begin to push up through the mulch, I’m left guessing which flowers will appear.

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And so there are fresh surprises nearly every day as petals open and each flower turns its face up towards the sun.  How many petals?  What color, and what shape is the corona?

Is this a new hybrid, or an heirloom species daffodil?

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Daffodils open over a very long season, from very early to very late.  Our first ones open sometime in February, and the latest are still opening in late April or early May.   Each new and different cultivar delights me with its unique beauty.

So many of our flowers we never cut; we enjoy them growing in the garden, but rarely bring them indoors for the vase.

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But daffodils are different.  Wind and rain often blow them down.

I can walk around and ‘rescue’ those blown over, tugging each flowering stem loose, bundling them loosely in a left-handed bunch.

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There is no need to explain to anyone why I’ve robbed the garden of its flowers; I’ve only saved them from the indignity of flopping on the ground.

And then we have the pleasure of their company, the pure luxury of their beauty in a vase inside, for a few precious days each spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Pot Shots: Early Spring Bulbs

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Planting up pots with spring blooming bulbs has become an autumn ritual for me.   I consider how the bloom will unfold around the perennials, ferns and woodies included in the design.   I plant with a sense of anticipation and caution.  I am excited by the potential while also mindful of the many pitfalls that can damage bulbs between autumn and spring.

I’ve lost bulbs in recent years to hungry squirrels, bacterial infection on some of the bulbs planted, extreme cold and dry soil.

Some variables we can anticipate and plant to avoid. 

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Newly planted on September 25, 2018

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I’ve learned to order and pick my bulbs up as early as possible, before they can get old or contaminated in the the shop.  This year, I learned to spray the bulbs with a repellent, like Repels All, just before I plant them to discourage rodents.  I use the largest pots possible and try to shelter them against the worst weather.

Now, I make a point to water bulb filled pots throughout the winter when the ground isn’t frozen, and to mulch each pot with rocks or moss to minimize damage and bulb loss.

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November 6, 2018 Autumn blooming Colchicum was the first bulb to bloom in this fall planted pot. Cyclamen leaves have already emerged, and moss has begun to establish. 

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This four season pot’s main occupant is a native Oakleaf Hydrangea, which doesn’t look like much at the moment in its dormancy.  The pot is filled with an assortment of bulbs, roots, corms and tubers to unfold gradually over the long months between late autumn and early summer.

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We are currently enjoying Tommies, better known as Crocus Tommasinianus, known to rarely attract rodents.  This Crocus species simply smells differently from most species and cultivars, which can actually attract squirrels and mice because they smell nut-like.  Tommies are some of the earliest Crocus to bloom each spring, multiply well and can thrive in partial shade.

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We also have another snowdrop blooming and the first bloom of our Cyclamen coum, which will open in another day.  I planted a mix of fall blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum for a longer season of delicate blooms.

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It isn’t cheating to begin adding plants in early spring.  Pots are stages, and the players come and go to keep the show lively.  I added the panola last week, to fill a small hole left by a curious squirrel.

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I love bulbs in pots precisely because I’m curious, too.  I want to watch spring unfold in miniature, up close; in a choreographed microcosm of what is writ large around us.

Moss mulch elevates the entire experience for me because it provides that splash of vivid, living green on even the coldest, dullest winter days.  It protects and insulates the bulbs while also protecting whatever is in growth from splashing soil during rains.  And, quite honestly, I’m curious to watch every tiny plant that sprouts from the moss.

Left untended, the grass would grow in little clumps through the moss until unplanned plants (read: weeds) overwhelmed the planting.  But no:  We have little snips to keep everything tidied up.  That is a lesson learned from hard experience, too.

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You never got around to planting bulbs this year?  No worries. 

You can still create a beautiful pot of blooming bulbs now.  I’ve found bulbs in growth at nurseries and the grocery store for the past few weeks.

Grab a pot or basket and fresh potting mix, plan your arrangement, and just take those bulbs already in growth and slip them out of their nursery pot as you tuck them into your arrangement.  Add a pansy or primrose, if it makes you happy.  There is no shortage of moss after all the rain these past few weeks.

All sorts of interesting things have begun to turn up at local nurseries, and your creative ideas will lead you to just the right components for your own spring pot.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.

Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”
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Hal Borland

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February 15, 2019

 

 

Unum de multis: Multiplying Succulents

Newly planted jade plant cutting, removed from an older plant after it rooted into the air.

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Succulent plants serve as living sculpture with their emphatic forms, slow growth, and unusual colors.  Most gardeners either adore them or avoid them.  They feel a little alien to most of us Virginia gardeners, as there are very few native succulents in our landscapes.

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Some gardeners find succulents a bit too prickly and spiny for comfort.  And the majority of succulents aren’t hardy through our winters.  We have to treat them as annuals or bring them indoors for months of the year.

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These succulents are hardy, and are beginning their spring growth outside in the Table Bed at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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Succulents want loose, sandy and rocky soil and bright light.  Some need full sun, others bright but indirect light and warmth.  Their needs are simple, and I’ve killed more succulents with too much water than by any stretch of neglect.

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This succulent planting grew happily on our front porch in the summer of 2013.  A gravel mulch helps keep these moisture-sensitive plants happy.

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That said, I absolutely pour over photos of succulent planting schemes in sunny California gardens.  Many gardeners in dry regions use succulents in every size from tiny to epic in their landscapes as focal points, ground covers, thrillers, fillers and spillers.  Their compositions are bright and colorful, and they absolutely intrigue me.  Once succulent plants mature, they produce oddly beautiful flowers.

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Plants that may be inexpensive and readily available in the western states are harder to find and pricier here in Virginia garden centers.  You can mail order wonderful succulents from suppliers like Plant Delights near Raleigh, NC; but please have that credit card handy.

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I just bought this little collection of succulents on the houseplant sale last weekend at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, specifically to break them apart for propagation.

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I have a project in mind for this coming summer to create a hanging basket covered in succulents.  Planting up the interior of the basket with succulents won’t be difficult.  I plan to use an assortment of hardy Sedums already on hand, with some red ‘hens and chicks’ and a single spiky Agave or Aloe for the ‘thriller.’

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Use hardy succulents as ground cover around spring bulbs. Enjoy this display at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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I want to cover the outside of the coco liner in succulents, too.  That will take a lot of individual plants.  To effectively plant the outside of the basket, it will be easier to slip each plant in through a slit in the liner if each plant has a very small root system: in other words, if I use rooted cuttings.

Some designers will suggest using succulent stem cuttings and allowing them to root in place.  This would work, but I want to give the plants a little head start and I don’t have enough stem cuttings for the project.

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Potted plants have too much root mass to slip through a slit in a coco basket liner, without damaging the roots.

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I’ve been playing around with potted arrangements of succulents for years- with mixed success.  They all look pretty good for a while.  We often get so much rain at once that it saturates the soil, even with specially mixed soil that contains lots of sand and gravel.  I try to remember to set succulent pots back under the eaves when a lot of rain is forecast.  Succulents sometimes struggle in our humidity and rainy summer weather.

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Collection of succulents, August 2014

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Without a heated greenhouse, I doubt I’ll ever achieve the horticultural succulent splendor possible for Southern California and Arizona gardeners.  Our climate will never allow for me to let our succulent arrangements live and grow outside year round long enough to really fill in and mature.  That takes years….

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Succulents with thick, waxy leaves release very little water into the air. They are built for hot, dry conditions and may rot if their soil remains saturated for too long.  This Echeveria has produced chicks that I want to grow on to mature, independent plants.

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Lately, I’ve been inspired to study succulent propagation again.  A good, practical resource is Debra Lee Baldwin’s book, Succulent Container Gardens. 

This is an ‘eye candy’ book that surveys the major genera of succulents appropriate to grow in various containers.  I like this book because it covers all of the important topics like soils and pot selection, design, plant care, and also succulent plant propagation.

The most common error in trying to root succulent cuttings is trying to rush the process.  Leaf cuttings and stem cuttings need a few days to air dry and ‘scab’ over, before any attempt to root them.  Many succulents will strike roots directly into humid air, even generating tiny new plants, without the cut end of the stem in either soil or water.

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This Jade plant spontaneously grew roots, indicating to me that this stem wants a fresh start in its own pot.

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This is counter-intuitive for many of us.  We want to stick that cut end into something moist so the plant can suck up water and survive.

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Do you see the roots that have started to grow from the stem?

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I won’t admit how many times I’ve found a dropped succulent leaf and dropped it, cut side down, into a pot hoping it would root.  Before roots can grow, a damp succulent stem will more likely rot.  Even with the pups off of an Echeveria, the stems want a few days to scab over before you secure them in some sandy soil to root and grow on.

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I took this stem cutting from the jade plant three days ago, and you can see that the stem has dried and calloused over.

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After researching several different rooting methods for succulent leaf cuttings, I have prepared a large clear plastic storage box by first cleaning it with disinfectant, and then lining the bottom of the box with a single layer of paper towel to wick any moisture evenly through the medium.  I covered that with a 1″ layer of clean horticultural sand.  That’s it…

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I bought a selection of small succulent plants on a special sale last weekend for this project, and have twisted most of the leaves off of each plant.  Twist, don’t cut, because each leaf needs a tiny bit of stem tissue still attached.  If the petiole breaks ahead of the stem, the leaf may not strike roots.

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See how the leaf cutting on the right already have begun to root and grow new plants? This had happened while the leaves were still attached to the mother plant.

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I’ve cut the top off of each plant, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ of stem attached.  I’ve kept the rooted plants in their original pots, watered them, and have set them aside in a bright place to regenerate themselves.  I expect small ‘pups’ to begin to grow along the stems where leaves were removed.  This will likely take 6 weeks to two months before the pups may be large enough to remove and grow on.

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I expect these rooted stems to also generate new plants at the leaf nodes. All of the nodes are stimulated when I removed the top of the stem.  One of the plants didn’t have enough stem to take a cutting, but it will continue to grow.

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At the moment, all of the new stem cuttings are just sitting on top of the sand, in bright but indirect light, while they callous over.  I’ll probably wait until Friday before adding just enough water to the edges of the box to slightly moisten the paper towels and the sand.  No wet sand!  Just a little moisture in the mix before I cover the box with clear plastic.  A dry cleaner bag or clear leaf bag will work for this, and I’ll leave a little vent for air exchange to discourage mold.  I expect the leaves to remain hydrated from the moisture in the air, and tiny roots to grow into the air to absorb that moisture.

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If all goes well, I should have a good selection of tiny succulent plants with sufficient root growth to construct that succulent basket in late April.  If all the leaf cuttings root and produce new plants, I’ll have plenty left for additional succulent projects this spring.

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There is a layer of fine gravel in this pot, topped by special succulent potting mix. I added additional sand to the mix, dampened it, and then planted the rooted jade plant.  The cutting will probably grow in this pot for a year or more before it needs repotting.

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The succulent pots I’ve overwintered in past years have all grown ‘leggy’ growing inside with insufficient light over winter.  Now, I understand better how to work with those leggy  plants to cut them back and stimulate growth, using the cuttings to generate fresh plants.

When our local garden centers begin to fill with plants next month I will look at the succulents on offer with a different eye.  Rather than choosing a plant to use immediately in some planting scheme, I think I’ll be more likely to look at some less desirable plants for their ‘parts.’

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Out of one, many….. 

Once you understand how plants grow and regenerate, it becomes easier to work with their natural proclivities to generate as many individuals as you need.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

Grow a Palm From a Date

Date pits soaking in water, with their guardian frogs, in preparation for planting.

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I blame Pinterest, and one of those odd “You might like these new pins” emails I received earlier this week.

You see one of those pins they shared with me showed gorgeous baby green leaves growing out of a little pot of soil- holding a date pit.

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Fresh dates

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Do you eat dates?  The people in my life either passionately love them or despise them with equal vehemence.

The true candy of the fruit world, they contain about  75% sugar, which makes them a great sugar substitute in baked goods, energy bars and bites, and smoothies.  With their sweetness comes a great deal of fiber and other nutrients.

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I bought a box of fresh dates just before Thanksgiving for my first adventure in baking a vegan, ‘plant based’ birthday cake to my brother’s specs.   It was good, well received, and the process opened my eyes to cooking with these luscious fresh dates!

Never wanting to throw useful things away, especially when I learn that they might grow, I am following the instructions I discovered on Pintrest to bring these date pits, or seeds, into growth.

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With a fresh box of dates from Trader Joes in hand, I sliced open a little more than half the dates in the box and dropped their seeds into a small jar of water yesterday afternoon.  I didn’t wash or scrub the seeds in any way, and learned this morning that some of the fruit remaining on the seeds had soaked off overnight.

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This morning, I gently shook the jar a few times before pouring off most of the cloudy water and replacing it with fresh, slightly warm water.  I’ll change the water daily for a few more days as the seeds wake up and prepare to grow.

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Every seed contains an embryo plant.  Some seeds are able to completely dry out and wait for the conditions when a new plant may grow.  Other seeds need to remain moist.  Some seeds need a period of cold stratification before they will germinate, others will germinate immediately after they ripen.

I sometimes find seeds in my grapefruits already germinating, with tiny sprouts beginning to grow within the fruit.  I will find a little pot and some soil and allow these to grow on, hating to throw them away when already in growth.

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But I’d never given much thought to date seeds before this week.  These are another grocery store treasure, from the produce department, that one can grow into a new, productive plant!

Most fruit bearing date palms are hardy from Zone 9 south.  That means that I won’t be able to leave any trees that grow from these seeds outside during a Virginia winter.  They will always grow in pots and won’t reach maturity here.

Date palms are true trees, growing to about 75″ tall.  Although palms are grown here as houseplants, they require a good deal of sun and so a sunny spot is required to keep them happy through winter.

But I’m always interested in learning how things grow, and so I’m going to give these little seeds a try.  Like our holly trees, date palms are dioecious.  Each tree has its own gender, and a male tree is required nearby to fertilize the fruit-bearing female trees.  Growers who produce dates commercially must have a mix of male and female trees.

Since there is no way to determine a tree’s gender until it produces its first flowers, it is wise to start a group of seeds and grow them on to maturity, if one wants to eventually enjoy fresh, home-grown dates.

It may take nearly 10 years from seed to maturity, so growing dates requires a bit of commitment if this project is to come to ‘fruition’.  Commercial growers tend to propagate new trees from divisions of particularly heavy producing trees already in their care.  I won’t be starting up any fruit production in this area, so I’ll grow these as long as I can, as a beautiful novelty.

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There isn’t a great deal of agreement among those who have written about growing dates, about how long to soak the seeds or how to care for them as they germinate.  Some instruct one to soak the seeds for two days, others for as much as two weeks.  I’m sure that the length of time needed is directly related to how fresh the seeds may be.

My seeds were exceedingly fresh and I can see some of the embryos beginning to stretch beyond the seed coast today, after soaking for a little more than 12 hours.

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These seeds soaked overnight before I removed them from the jar just long enough to photograph them. see how the embryo has begun to extend beyond the seed coat?

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One point all agree on is that the seeds need warmth and moisture to germinate and grow.  One writer suggests moving the seeds into damp paper towel, sealed in a zip-lock bag, kept in a warm spot after soaking.  This would be an intermediate step to encourage the embryo to further develop in optimal conditions before setting it into a pot of soil.   Other writers move the sprouting seeds directly from their jar of water into soil, planted very shallowly, and covered with damp sand.

This is a great little activity to do with kids (and the young at heart) this winter.  The large seeds allow children to see the stages of a sprouting seed clearly.  All sorts of questions will arise, and many teachable moments will come as you watch the miracle of a sprouting seed together.

When I move my seeds out of the water and into a bag or pots, I’ll try to remember to snap a few photos to share.    I believe I’ll try a few both ways, since I have about a dozen seeds already soaking.  We’ll see which way leads us to green leaves faster!

In the meantime, you may wonder what I did with those gorgeous date fruits after I harvested their seeds yesterday.  I’ll share the recipe, which is another fun thing to do with any kids in your life.

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Yes, one is missing. I’m sure you know what may have happened to it…

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Save these little treasures for yourself or share them with friends over a cup of coffee or tea.  I’ll warn you they are rich and satisfying, and at the same time might qualify as a ‘healthy snack’ if those things matter to you.  They certainly are making this wintery day a bit brighter for me!

These measures are guesses, and this recipe doesn’t require exact measures. Relax and enjoy the process…

Date-Nut Energy Bites

A dozen or so fresh dates, pits removed

A cup of dried, unsweetened flake coconut

A cup of ground almonds (I used Trader Joe’s ‘almond flour,’ which contains nothing but finely ground almonds.

1/2 cup of raw pecans

3 TB ground flax seeds

A few grinds of sea salt

1.5 TB. powdered dark cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

Combine the first five ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Process in short pulses until the dates are cut into fine pieces.  Continue to process for another 30 seconds or so as the material begins to come together in the bowl.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the salt, cocoa powder and extracts.  Continue processing for another few seconds, and scrape the bowl again.

The mixture is ready to form into balls when it begins to hold together as a chunky paste.  The extract provides enough liquid the help the mix hold together.  You could probably use water or fruit juice to replace the extracts, if you wish.

Form the paste-like mixture into balls.  I used a 1 TB measuring spoon to scoop the mix, pressing it lightly into the spoon, and then knocking it out of the spoon into my hand to round it slightly.

Place the finished date balls on waxed paper in a lidded container in a single layer.  Cover and chill for at least an hour while the mixture sets up.

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Expect about 24-30 Date-Nut Bites from this recipe, depending on how large you make each one. These were better on the second day, once the flavors had melded and the fruit and nuts had set up together.

Enjoy!

Woodland Gnome 2019
Update 1: February 4, 2019

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I moved some of the seeds showing growth from the jar of water to a damp paper towel in a zip-lock.  I have the seeds under a lamp in a warm spot, and am checking them daily for growth. 

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Of course, I could have planted these directly into pots of soil.  But it’s more interesting to keep them out where we can watch them grow a while longer!

 

 

Pot Shots: First Caladiums

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We are just beginning to have weather warm enough for the Caladiums to come outside and get some sun!  The ones basking in the warmth of our spare room have grown long and leggy, reaching for the light.  And so I’ve brought the other tubs and bins outside to our deck, up against the house and under cover of the eaves where they have enjoyed the warmth of our late spring and gotten a lot more light.

I’ve kept my eye on the new ones with their first leaves beginning to unfurl.  The first to open is C. ‘Burning Heart,‘ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums This is one of the new hybrids from Dr. Robert Hartman that can take full sun.  It is a new color for Caladiums, and I am looking forward to growing it this summer.

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Once I found that I had four of this special variety in leaf, I lifted them this morning from their bin, and brought them into the garden to the pot I have planned for them.

Already growing are two Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’.  These Zantedeschia want consistently moist soil and full sun.  This area of the garden has a high canopy of oaks, but gets a fair amount of sun during the day.  I think that it will be enough sun for them, and not too much for the Caladiums to both do very well.

Completing the pot is one of my favorite ‘spillers,’ Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’  This silvery gray vine will spill over the sides of the pot, eventually filling in to form a nearly continuous curtain of fine foliage gradually enveloping the pot and its pedestal.  If you buy a pot of Dichondra, you will notice lots of little vines all massed together in the nursery pot.  These pull apart very easily.

A single 3″-4″ pot from the garden center could easily give you a half dozen clumps, each with its own roots.  This vine roots easily from each leaf node and may be divided again and again as you spread it around.  Although a perennial, it will only overwinter here in a very mild winter.

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When we found this huge pot in February, on deep discount at one of our favorite nurseries, I hesitated over its color.  I favor blue pots.

This screaming chartreuse, in February no less, was almost too much.  It sat upside down in our nursery for several weeks while I contemplated what to do with it.  A gardening friend came by and admired it enough that she took straight off to go buy the last one like it!

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Once we actually moved it up into the garden a few weeks ago, we soon realized that the green blends right in and doesn’t look brash at all…. at least not until we added the red Caladiums today!

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I am working this week to plant out as many of our Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias as I can.  This is slow going, but will reward us with beautiful foliage plants in the garden over the next six to seven months .

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This is Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ planted into an established planting of Saxifraga stolonifera.  Although just an old nursery pot, it is large enough to support the Colocasia as it grows to its 4′-5′ potential.  This Colocasia likes moist soil and shade.

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We’re bringing the pots out gradually, and re-working the pots which held other plants through the winter to accept their summer tenants.   Now that the weather has settled, I want to get the plants we saved last fall out of storage as quickly as we can, so they can all begin a new season of growth.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is finally back outside in its blue pot. It overwintered in the garage. The soil is just warm enough to plant out these white Caladiums today. No more cold snaps, please!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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.”

.
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.”
.
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.”
.
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.”
.
Wendell Berry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
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.”
.
Carrie Chavez Hansen
~

Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

Re-Inventing A Wreath

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Making a wreath for the door is always fun.  Coming up with ideas, gathering the materials, pulling it all together, and finally hanging the finished wreath is one way I celebrate the change of seasons.  And not just at Christmas; I make wreathes throughout the year.

I remember many cold December days, when I wandered around the garden with clippers and a large bucket of water, pruning the evergreens in preparation for making Christmas wreathes.  I usually attach bundles of mixed greens to straw wreath forms with U shaped wire pins.  And oh, my hands get so cold and sticky and scratched in the process, though the evergreen branches smell wonderful!

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Holly

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Today has been sun-drenched and passably warm, after the morning’s frost burned off.  As the day wore on, I decided it was a pretty good day for the annual cutting of the greens, and went in search of my supplies.

A spur of the moment decision to make our wreathes ended up demanding yet another trip to the craft store.  I need two wreathes for our front porch, and could only find a single straw form.  This of course drew comment from my partner about the dozen or so retired wreathes hanging in the garage.

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A finished wreath from 2013

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But we headed out to the store anyway, and I searched aisle after aisle for the forms I had in mind.  Finally, in the back corner of the place I found three sizes of straw wreath:  huge, small, and tiny.  None matched the medium wreath form waiting at home.  What to do? 

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A wreath in progress…. 2013

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We walked around the store for another 10 minutes or so with two large straw wreath forms in the cart.  And all the while I was weighing the effort it would take to rehabilitate some not-so-gently-used retired grapevine wreathes resting in the basement, against the too many dollars it would require to buy these jumbo straw hoops.

A look at the long line waiting for check-out clinched the deal.  We left the new wreath forms for someone else, and headed home to see what could be done with what we had.

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Now, the grapevine wreathes waiting for us in the basement  were lovely when they were new.  And I have remade them at least once since.

But the hot glue which once held them together was pulling loose, the bright green reindeer moss had faded to grey, and they were a sad lot, to be kind.  I pulled the remaining shells away and cleaned them up a bit, before taking them out to a patch of sunshine in the front yard.  It was barely warm enough to gild them, but gild them we did.

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2014

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Gold paint makes most things a bit better, or at least a bit more interesting.   I left the wreathes to dry in the sunlight, while I set off with the clippers for a bit of green.

My first stop was the Eucalyptus.  It froze back to the ground last winter, but has come out strong again this year.  Knowing that it might be ruined again by cold weather, I didn’t hesitate to cut quite a bit of the newest growth.

Next, I pruned the lowest branches from a rogue seedling of Virginia red cedar.  The tree is about 6′ tall now and a bit of limbing up did it no harm.

Finally, I gave the large old Rosemary in our front garden a good trim.  The cold will darken this summer’s leaves soon enough.  I cut a generous portion for our wreathes.

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That was plenty of greenery for the design I had in mind, which would allow some of the grapevine and original decorations to show as well.

That said, I quickly realized that the pins I’d gotten last month for the wreathes were going to be a challenge to use on the grapevine frame.  Basically, there is nothing to grip them.  But a bit of tweaking with needle nosed pliers soon bent the ends around the strands of vine, at least enough to hold my bundles of greenery in place.

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If you are making this sort of wreath, simply combine 6 or 7 sprigs into a bundle, wrap it with a bit of wire, and secure it to the form.  Each bundle should be about 5″-7″ long, depending on the circumference of your frame.   I used the same three plants in each bundle, in the same order, for a fairly uniform appearance.  But you might also alternate the bundles for a different effect.

I covered about two-thirds of the form with greenery, leaving the original wreath to show in the open space.  I re-attached some of the gilded moss and woody flowers, and also glued the shells back to the wreath before finishing with a fresh sparkly gold ribbon bow.

I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, and even more pleased that I recycled, rather than retailed, for this project.

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Have you made your holiday wreathes yet?  If not, I hope that you draw some inspiration from this little effort, and craft your own this year.

I ended up buying our front door wreathes last year.  They were beautiful, but I also missed the DIY Christmas I’ve grown to love.

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Making a wreath is simple and satisfying.  I challenge you to DIY this year, and create something uniquely yours.   Once you’ve made your holiday wreathes, please photograph them and share their beauty with the rest of us.  Please post photos on your site, and leave a link in the comments so I can enjoy them too!

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My second wreath today

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We will enjoy a walk through Colonial Williamsburg one day soon to enjoy their beautiful seasonal wreathes.  When we do, I’ll take lots of photos to share with you again this year.  I am always delighted by the fresh takes on using fruit and greens, nuts, cones, shells and other natural (and manufactured) items in the wreathes in the historic district of Williamsburg.

Whether you love glitz and glam at the holidays, or prefer something handcrafted or inspired by nature, there are a million ways to express your holiday spirit.

I hope you will join the holiday wreath challenge this year!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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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