Building a Fern Bed to Reduce Erosion

Rainy weather and frequent storms over the past few years have presented a particular challenge.  We are situated on a sloping bit of land on the side of a ravine.  A creek runs through the ravine below us and empties into a small lake.

Working with the continual erosion has remained a constant theme of our gardening here.  Our challenge is to slow the flow of water to increase opportunities for rain to soak into the soil for later use, while reducing the amount of flowing water that erodes the soil and runs off into the ravine.

Read more about the construction of this new series of raised beds, and see photos of some of the ferns we’ve chosen at my new site, Our Forest Garden.

If you enjoy these posts. please follow my new site, Our Forest Garden, so you remain up to date with all of the activity in our garden.

-WG 2021

Six on Saturday: Winter Flowers

Edgeworthia chrysantha in late March 2019

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Here in coastal Virginia, it is possible to have flowers blooming in the garden every day of the year.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation now, before winter settles around us.  But it is within reach for most of us with a little outdoor space to plant.

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Planning a garden is a lot like working a very large jigsaw puzzle.  Consider one of the 1200 piece puzzles you buy to work with family or close friends, where you spend hours and hours just sorting pieces and making the frame before ever beginning to fill in the body of the puzzle.  Maybe you work in small sections, completing a bit here and there, then fitting those vignettes into their proper place in the whole at the right time.

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Planning for winter color, and more specifically for winter flowers, is just one of those chunks to fit into the bigger picture.

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Hellebores blooming in mid-February

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As you begin to think about winter flowers, it is helpful to think about winter blooming shrubs, winter blooming geophytes, winter blooming perennials, and finally winter blooming ‘annuals.’  Each have their own niche in the whole picture, and their own level of expense and commitment.

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This weekend I’ve visited three garden centers and have been delighted to find plants on my own ‘winter wish list’ at all three.  In all cases, the plants I wanted were marked down on clearance.  Even looking a bit rough and scraggly, giving them the right care now guarantees flowers in a few months, when we’ll need them.

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Violas of all sorts our still widely available in our area and still sold at full price at most locations.  There are hundreds of varieties, and the hardest part about planting Violas is deciding which ones to grow.  Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.  Use Osmacote or another time-release fertilizer at planting time, and feed them again with a liquid feed in February or March for best bloom.  Cut them back with scissors to remove bad foliage or leggy stems, and they will reward you with lush growth until summer.

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This is the easiest, least expensive way to enjoy winter flowers, and carries the least commitment.  Violas thrive here until sometime in May, when it gets too hot for them.  I’m usually pulling them out of their spots by mid-May to replant for summer, anyway.  Gardeners in cooler climates can keep them going year to year, but here we treat them like annuals.  Pansies have the largest, brightest flowers.  There are both singles and doubles in a wide variety of colors and color combinations.

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Panolas are a nice compromise between Pansies and the tiny Violas like ‘Johnny Jump-Ups.’  Again, there is a variety of color combinations available, solid flowers, and both single and double blossoms.  Little Violas have flowers about the size of a penny or a nickle, but they are very sweet and saturated color.  Although the plants look tiny now, they grow and spread throughout the winter.  By spring, when they begin to bloom again in earnest, they are covered in many, many small, but bright flowers.  We have a grower near us who specializes in little Violas, and I always end up with a flat or two and put them in pots and baskets on our patio and deck.

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Since deer find these little guys very tasty (most of the flowers are edible for humans, too) I generally don’t plant out Violas in beds or borders.  But I have, and as long as they are kept sprayed with animal repellent, they grow beautifully.

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Hardy Cyclamen leaves with blue Vinca flowers and emerging Crocus in February.

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A notch up from the Violas are Snapdragons, Antirrhinum species.  These are perennials, though many people pull them out and replace them by mid-spring.  I have several plants still going strong planted more than a year ago.  They are short-lived perennials, but will bloom profusely well into early summer, and then sporadically during our hot season.  The secret to keeping these covered in flowers is to dead-head the spent blooms before they set seeds, keep them moist, and feed the plants every month or so to keep them healthy and productive.  Give snaps some shade in the summer, but they are happy in full sun through the winter months.  You will find Antirrhinum varieties in small, medium or tall plants, and in a range of beautiful colors from bold to soft pastels.

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An equally easy, but often overlooked winter blooming perennial is Dianthus chinensis.  Often sold in cell packs in early spring, Dianthus is a tough, dependable easy perennial in our area that isn’t ever grazed.  It blooms sporadically in winter and summer, but really shines in spring and fall on evergreen plants.   I often use it in potted arrangements because it is versatile, bright, and the flowers remain the size of quarters in shades of white, pink, purple or crimson.  Flowers may be solid or bi-color.  Cuttings root easily.  Deadhead this plant regularly to keep it looking neat, and to keep the flowers coming.

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Requiring a bit more time and commitment are the Hellebores.  I had never paid Hellebores any attention until I moved to Williamsburg, but they are very popular here.  Probably because they are very poisonous, and won’t be bothered by deer, rabbits, squirrels, moles, voles, or ground-hogs.  It take about three to four years from seedling to blooming plant, but blooming plants are readily available in gallon pots at our garden centers, for around $25.00 each.

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Preferring shade, some of my plants grow in full to partial sun and do fine, as long as I water them during dry spells.  Hellebores begin blooming between December and February, depending on the species and variety, and them bloom continuously for another 3 to 4 months.  They are evergreen, serve as background foliage during the warm months, and are very tough and easy plants to grow.

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I was given a few dozen seedling plants by a neighbor years ago, and they continue to bloom each year and multiply, naturally spreading to form a dense ground cover.  I also buy one or two new varieties each year.  I grow them in pots and in the ground, and delight in their beautiful flowers through the winter months when little else blooms.

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Violas and ivy make fora beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate. This photo from early January 2017.

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When most people think of winter flowers, they think about winter blooming bulbs.  Bulbs are easy and most are inexpensive.  This is prime time to find bulb sales from online dealers, who can be very good, and also to find reduced bags of bulbs at garden centers.

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Be wary, if buying bulbs locally, that the bulbs still look plump and healthy and have no discoloration.  If they look shriveled or have anything grey or green on them, pass them by.  They probably won’t bloom well, or they may not grow at all and infect your soil with bacterial rot.

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Snowdrops, Galanthus species, bloom in January or February most years.  Although they are very small and white or white and green, by the time they bloom, they are a welcome sign of spring.  Miniature Iris bloom from bulbs at just about the same time, but come in a broader range of colors with larger flowers.  Early daffodils begin to bloom most years in February, and Crocus can bloom very early, before there is much else color in the garden.  Muscari also bloom in very early spring.  All of these are called geophytes because they are bulbs, and can be stored dry during their dormant time each year.

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Other geophytes, or ‘Earth plants’ grow from corms, tubers, or rhizomes.   Some hardy Cyclamen tubers begin to bloom in autumn and bloom until early winter.  Their beautifully patterned leaves persist much longer than their delicate flowers in pinks or white.  Other Cyclamen species begin to bloom in the middle of winter, and bloom through mid-spring.  Buy tubers based on when they bloom, the color of their flowers or the color and pattern of their leaves.  Cyclamen may be grown from seeds, but it takes several years for their tubers to grow large enough to bloom.  Leave the tuber in place and it will keep growing larger, giving a wider area of bloom each year.

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Iris reticulata ‘Sunshine’ on March 2, 2019.

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Finally, shrubs can be a great source of winter flowers.  If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow Camellias.  Some Camellia varieties are hardier than others, and you may find species to grow in Zone 6 or cooler.  We grow both fall blooming and spring blooming Camellias, so we have them from October through until April, whenever the weather has a bit of a warm enough stretch to allow buds to bloom.

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Daphne can bloom very early, but is also a very difficult shrub to keep happy.  I’ve never had one for very long.

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Our favorite winter bloomer is Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese paperbush.  It is already in bud, and those flower buds keep steadily swelling and growing larger until they finally open into blossoms. There are two or three different varieties, and flowers may be white with yellow centers, or all yellow. They have a very sweet and strong fragrance, so the garden is perfumed on warmish days.

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Now, if you want to grow this gorgeous shrub, you will make a bit of an investment.  I saw one today in a 3 gal. pot for nearly $80.  Shop around, and you will likely find a much better deal.  One of our local nurseries carries them at a more reasonable price, but they never order very many.  You have to seek this one out.

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A shining star through the winter months, the shrub is rather non-descript with medium green, deciduous leaved through the summer.  The leaves turn yellow in fall, as the flowers appear on the branches.  It is a very sculptural shrub once the leaves fall, and is a real focal point.

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Mahonia, a northwest native shrub, blooms in November- January.   Japanese Pieris will also begin to bloom as winter fades into spring.  Both of these shrubs have evergreen foliage and bees and other small pollinators love them.   They support native bees when there is little else available for forage.

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Native redbud trees, Cercis Canadensis, sprout tiny flowers that break out of their bark along twigs, limbs and sometimes even the trunk!  I’ve seen them bloom here as early as mid-February, when they cover themselves in a cloud of deep magenta pink.  Some of the cultivars available now offer other color choices, but most are shades of pink/purple/red and even white.  Each tree hosts hundreds (thousands on a mature tree) of tiny flowers to the delight of every hungry pollinator in the area.  Birds follow to feed on the insects, and so redbud trees become hubs of activity when in bloom.

Heart shaped leaves follow, which turn beautiful yellow in fall.  Seed pods look like snow peas, and are edible.  Our trees are covered in seed pods, still, and they feed a variety of wildlife in winter.  Cut branches may be forced inside in early spring, in a vase of water.  Designers may also cut branches covered in seed pods now to add drama to their arrangements.

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Some Magnolia trees, like Magnolia stellata and Magnolia lilliflora may break into bloom in February.  Deciduous Magnolia trees bloom earlier than the evergreens and generally stay much smaller.  These are easy to grow in sun to part shade, and come in a variety of flower forms and colors.

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Finally, Forsythia shrubs often begin blooming for us in February with golden yellow flowers.  They are one of the earliest blooming shrubs in late winter.  You can force branches to bloom indoors several weeks earlier than they bloom outside.   And Japanese quince blooms in bright scarlet or pink soon after.

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These are just the high points of winter blooming plants that we grow, and that easily come to mind.  You may have other favorites.  We have to consider climate, available sun or shade, and what will or won’t be grazed by the animals who visit our garden.

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Many gardeners are quite happy with evergreens, a few bright berries, and maybe some variegated ivy or a variegated shrub.  We all crave a bit of color in the winter time, and it is worth planning for and making a bit of an investment to keep the garden interesting during the darkest months of the year.

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February 2017 Magnolia stellata

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Pot Shots: Out By the Road

August 2020

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Anything we want to plant at the edges of our property, out by the road, has to be tough enough to thrive in challenging conditions.  It might be too much shade or too much sun, curious passers-by, grazing deer, air pollution, road salts, or any number of other factors.  Maybe it isn’t a spot that’s easy to water, or an exposed site with too much wind.

Whatever the hazards, we can still find interesting plants to grow in these special spots.  After all, this is our public face that our neighbors see each day.  It is worth a little effort.

This pot sits at the gate to the Williamburg Botanical Garden, along one of the main roads through Freedom Park.  Since it’s outside the gate, the resident deer check it out frequently.  If I plant something they find tasty, it disappears almost overnight.  This is an unforgiving spot and plant choice must be spot on, or the plant disappears.

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June 29, 2018

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Pots or beds on display 24/7/365 require a bit of planning to minimize those awkward times between seasons.  When I planted this pot the first time, in the summer of 2018, I used several Lantana, a tall Alocasia ‘Mayan Mask’, creeping Jenny, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost,’ Artemesia ‘Powis Castle,’ oregano and a Heliotrope.   That  first planting was an experiment to see what would thrive and what would fade away in this partly sunny spot.

As summer wore on the Lantana, Euporbia, Artemesia and Alocasia performed very well.  The original creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, still grows today.  This pot remained full and attractive through the entire season.

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September 20, 2018

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As fall approached, I dug out the Artemesia to use elsewhere in the garden, potted the Alocasia to keep at home overwinter, and removed the Lantanas to make room to plant bulbs.  The Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold’ and L. ‘ Chapel Hill Yellow’ are perennials in our climate, but I wanted their space for other plantings.

In the fall of 2018 I planted a variety of bulbs to give a long season of spring bloom.  Along with Muscari and daffodils, I also planted a few Arum italicum for winter color.  These Arum send up leaves in early fall and remain glossy green all winter, blooming in April or May and making colorful berries after their leaves disappear for the summer.

Along with the bulbs, I also added a holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum.  I mulched over the bare soil with moss lifted from the area and added a few Strawberry Begonia divisions, Saxifraga stolonifera, which make an evergreen ground cover and bloom in mid-spring.  The holly fern and Saxifraga have continued on since they were first planted and are part of the arrangement today.

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Late November, 2018 Arum have begun to emerge and will unfold into long lasting glossy green leaves.

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Many spring flowering bulbs have poisonous leaves or flowers and will survive grazing deer or rabbits.  Narcissus offer weeks of color, will bloom in winter sunshine even if the area becomes more shady when hardwood trees leaf out, and every part of a Narcissus is poisonous.  Muscari and Squill will also survive around grazing wildlife.

Tulip and most Crocus bulbs smell delicious to squirrels, who may dig them up for a snack soon after you plant them.  Voles may also attack tulips planted into the ground.  You might spray these bulbs with a repellent like Repels All before planting and hope for the best.  Deer sometimes graze on tulips once they emerge.  A species of Crocus known as early Crocus or ‘Tommies,’ Crocus tommasinianus, are not so appealing and will be left alone.

It is still smart to spray a finished container planting with repellent to discourage exploration.  Squirrels have been known to keep a keen eye on gardeners in autumn, waiting for those gifts of tasty bulbs.  Mulching with pea gravel and planting deeply can also slow down the squirrels.

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April 4, 2019

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The planting looked a little sparse to me in February and early March, so I tucked a perennial Columbine into a back corner when they first came available at our local nursery.  These grow easily from seed, and I’ve found a few seedlings cropping up near the pot from time to time.

If you are designing a planting like this, remember that you might drop a few seeds into the pot in fall or early spring and expect them to germinate and begin to fill in by spring.  Alyssum is a great choice for a low, blooming ground cover from seed.

The next awkward time for container plantings comes as spring flowers fade and their leaves grow ratty.  Spring flowering bulbs need their leaves to soak up the sun for about six weeks after bloom to refuel the bulb for next year’s show.  A gardener can just work with the foliage for a few weeks, or dig out the bulbs to replant something else.  If you dig them, you can plant them elsewhere ‘in the green’ or pot in a plastic nursery pot while you let them finish their spring growth.

Again, removing the bulbs from a container allows room for the root ball of something else.  Besides, you might want to try new varieties of bulbs for the following year.

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April 12, 2019 Narcissus ‘Exotic Mystery’ bloom with blue Muscari

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When it was time to prepare this container garden for another summer, I tried to work around and leave as many of the bulbs in place as I could, adding new plants where space allowed.  Since bulbs are planted at three times their height, and frequently pull themselves even deeper into the pot, it is often easy to plant a transplant over a bulb you decide to keep, without disturbing it.

There is a new Salvia in the back corner, a new white Lantana along the front edge, a few small Columbines tucked along the back edge, and a Tradescantia pallida in the center.  I also planted a new Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost,’ which had done well the previous year.

But in 2018 the Euphorbia was in the back of the arrangement.  By planting it in the front corner I tempted fate, and the deer, who decided it is tasty.  It was grazed and replaced a time or two before I gave up on it.  By then, the Lantana had grow so much it no longer mattered, and the Tradescantia had become a showpiece.

Although I planted the Alocasia back, it never recovered its 2018 glory, and so I substituted another variety.  By now the holly fern and Saxifraga were well-established and showing active growth.

The pot filled out and looked nice throughout the summer.  In the autumn, when I cleaned the pot up around first frost, I planted a cream colored snapdragon in the front to bloom through the fall and again in early spring.

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June 9, 2019

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The snapdragon did extremely well and is still producing flowers this summer.  Through the winter we also enjoyed Arum italicum again, the Saxifraga, which bloomed beautifully in the spring with stalks of tiny white flowers filling the pot for several weeks, the holly fern, and of course soft, green moss.

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Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia, blooms with ferns.

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By the time the spring flowering bulbs died back in early summer, we were under ‘stay at home’ orders because of the virus.  I wasn’t working at the garden as much and many of the plantings were left to manage on their own for close to two months.

When I finally got back to a more normal schedule, I was thrilled to find this pot still looking good, with the Strawberry Begonia blooming and the Tradescantia returning to growth.  One always has to decide whether to leave perennials in place in a pot and trust they will return, or dig them up at the end of their season and pop something else into their place for the season ahead.

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Tradescantia also performs well in hanging baskets because it is very drought tolerant.

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Tradescantia is a great investment because it returns by late spring, grows with little care, propagates easily from stem cuttings and has delicate pink flowers in summer.  It will die back at first frost, so remember to take some cuttings in the fall to enjoy in a vase all winter, growing in water.  By spring you’ll have rooted cuttings to plant somewhere new.

The Columbine and fern returned this spring with a nice display of delicate Columbine flowers and fresh growth on the fern.  The Saxifraga had expanded so much, that I ended up removing some to another planting after their bloom.  Creeping Jenny may turn red or sometimes brown in winter’s cold, but pops back up with beautiful new growth each spring, expanding all season long to form a skirt of chartreuse vines draping gracefully over the edges of the pot.

I planted a new Lantana in May, since this has been a reliable star performer, and also added a sprouted Alocasia I’d kept over winter.  By the time I returned a few days later, no trace of the Alocasia was left.  A mystery….  I finally brought a little sprouted Caladium in June, and it has survived, if not yet grown into its potential.

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August 2020

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To keep a pot like this looking good over a long period of time, it is important to keep up the watering, grooming and fertilizing.  Especially around the change of seasons, things will die back and need to be cut out.  It is good to visit every few weeks with a critical eye and clippers in hand .  I also like to sprinkle in some time release fertilizer, like Osmocote, whenever I’m switching out plants.  In between, I try to drench the planting with an organic, liquid feed, like Neptune’s Harvest, at least once each month.

You may notice that the color scheme in this pot is subdued, and the colors remain much the same from season to season.  This scheme is built around blues, purple, yellow, white and green.  The departure comes in spring when the Columbine’s red flowers emerge.  You may also notice that much of the interest is found in contrast and texture.   Letting the foliage do most of the work makes a container easy to maintain since leaves last much longer than flowers.  Frankly, as long as there is something alive and green in the pot, I think that is all that is truly required in a spot like this.

Working with tough reliable plants, planning ahead, and regular care will allow anyone to maintain a presentable container garden ‘out by the road.’  Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.  Be willing to experiment and replace any plant that doesn’t make it.  And most of all, have fun and enjoy the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

 

Illuminations: Walking in Beauty Every Day

 

 

Playing Favorites: Saxifraga stolonifera

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Do you have favorite plants that work in many different situations in your garden?  (If you do, please share with the rest of us by mentioning them in the comments.)

There are certain tough, versatile plants that I appreciate more and more as I plant them in various situations.  Strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, ranks in the top five.

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These dainty, fairy-wing flowers appear in late spring.

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I first met strawberry begonia as a houseplant in the mid-1970s.  We grew it in a hanging basket, just like spider plants and Philodendrons, in plastic pots fitted into home made macrame hangers.  I had a collection hanging in front of a large window, from hooks anchored into the ceiling.

We loved novel plants that would make ‘babies’ hanging from little stems dripping over the sides of the pot.  Strawberry begonia’s leaves are pretty enough to grow it just for its foliage.  I don’t remember whether it ever bloomed as a houseplant; it might have needed more light to bloom than my window provided.

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When I needed to replant this basket at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, I brought in a few plants from home, including some divisions of Strawberry begonia, and ‘borrowed’ a dwarf Iris plant from our ‘Plants for Sale’ area. This arrangement had been potted for about two weeks when I photographed it in mid-April.  Daffodils planted in November are just beginning to emerge, though the original pansies didn’t make it through the winter.

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And then I fell in love with real Begonias and with ferns, and I forgot all about the strawberry begonias of my former hanging garden.  That is, until I encountered the plant again a few years ago sold in tiny 1.5″ pots at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.

I vaguely remembered liking the plant and bought one or two for winter pots inside.  They grow well in shallow dishes with mosses and ferns, and when spring came and the arrangements came apart, I moved the little plants outside as ground cover in a larger pot.

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January 2015, I began experimenting with Saxifragas in indoor pots.  This arrangement includes an Amaryllis bulb.

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And that is when they just took off and showed me their potential as great companion plants in potted arrangements outdoors.  Well, maybe overbearing companions, because these enthusiastic growers fairly quickly filled the pot with a thick mat of leaves, and babies hanging over the sides.

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May 2018: This is Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ planted in to an established planting of Saxifraga

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By this time, I’d done a little reading and learned that these ‘houseplants’ are actually hardy to Zone 6, grow well on various soils and in various light conditions.  The literature says ‘shade to partial sun.’  Well, given enough water when things get dry, this Saxifraga will tolerate afternoon sun as long as it gets intermittent shade throughout the day.  It takes heat, it takes cold, and it keeps on growing.

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Now the Saxifraga planting has expanded to groundcover below the pot, which is waiting for me to replant a Colocasia any time now.

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Saxifraga is a very large genus with over 400 species.  Its name, translated from the Latin, means ‘rock breaker.’  There is some debate whether this describes how it grows, or describes a use in herbal medicine.  The members of this genus are low growing rosettes with roundish leaves that spread by producing stolons, just like a strawberry plant, where new plants grow from the ends of the stolon.  Flowers appear in late spring at the top of long, wand-like stalks.

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June 2018:  I planted Saxifraga with Caladiums one summer, and discovered it persisted all winter and into the following year.  Now, I have to thin the Saxifraga each spring to replant the Caladiums.  This is C. ‘Moonlight’.

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Various species appear in the temperate zones or in the mountains in the northern hemisphere.  Members of this genus are very popular in rock gardens, and will grow in the cracks between rocks with very little soil.  Imagine how well they do in good garden soil!

There are many different common names for these little plants, including ‘strawberry geranium,’ ‘rockfoil,’ and ‘mother of thousands.’  The leaf is perhaps more like a geranium leaf than a Begonia leaf, but the common name I learned first, stuck….

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This pot of strawberry begonia needs to be divided again as it has gotten very crowded. Notice the runners crowding each other under the pot!  Can you tell these pots are under a large holly shrub?

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With an abundance of plants filling my pot, I began spreading these fragile looking little plants around.  Wherever I wanted a dainty but tough ground cover in a pot or bed, I began to establish a few pioneer individuals, learning that it doesn’t take very long for them to bulk up and multiply.

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May 2016:  Are they fairies dancing at dusk? No, the strawberry begonias, Saxifraga stolonifera, have finally bloomed.

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Strawberry Begonia has shallow roots, and so it is easy to simply ‘lift’ a clump, break it apart, and replant the individuals.  You can do this entirely by hand if you are planting into potting soil or loose earth.  Water in the new plants and leave them to work their magic.

The first winter that I left strawberry Begonias outside through the winter, I was delighted that they looked fresh and withstood the cold.  Like our Italian Arum, they can survive snow and ice without damage to their leaf tissue.  Unlike Arum, our Saxifraga persist all year, showing a burst of fresh growth as they bloom each spring, but growing all year round.

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May 2018:  Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry begonia in bloom with ferns, the first spring after planting the previous summer in the fern garden.

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Plant Saxifraga stolonifera as the ‘spiller’ in pots and hanging baskets, and as a groundcover under tall plants.  Use it under potted trees or tall tropical plants like Colocasias, Cannas, or Alocasias.  Plant it under large ferns, or under shrubs where you want a year-round living ground cover.  Plants like this form a living mulch and eliminate the need to buy fresh mulch each year.

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April 25, 2019, and the strawberry begonia has filled in and is sending down runners. The runners will emerge through the cocoa liner of a hanging basket.  I’ll trade out the Iris for a Caladium in this basket next week.  WBG

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Pair Saxifraga with other contrasting ground cover plants, like Ajuga, ivy, Vinca minor, or Lysimachia, and let them ‘fight it out.’  You will end up with some beautiful combinations as the plants claim their own real-estate.  If you have rock work or a rock garden, this is a perfect plant to grow in small crevices.

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A neighbor visited recently to bring me a gift of peonies from his garden.  I countered with an offer of some of this magical and versatile plant.  He left with a clump in the palm of his hand and a promise to return in a few weeks for more.  I hope he does, as I now have plenty to share, as I thin out those pots this spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Enthusiasm spells the difference

between mediocrity and accomplishment.”
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Norman Vincent Peale

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“Love springs from the inside.

It is the immortal surge of passion,

excitement, energy, power, strength,

prosperity, recognition, respect, desire, determination,

enthusiasm, confidence, courage, and vitality,

that nourishes, extends and protects.

It possesses an external objective

– life.”
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Ogwo David Emenike

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Fabulous Friday: Savoring Spring

A newly planted Japanese Pieris blooms in our garden.

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We stood together near a display of Japanese Pieris this afternoon, at the Homestead Garden Center, listening to to the melodies of spring as huge bumblebees feasted on their banquet of plump, sweet flowers.  There were perhaps a half dozen shrubs there in five gallon pots, each laden with ivory flowers and surrounded with happily humming bees.  There were more bees than we could count, zipping from flower to flower, shrub to shrub; each nearly the size of a young hummingbird.

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Tulips bloom in the morning sunlight at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Moments  of such pure beauty reassure us of better times ahead.

We savor the sounds and colors of spring, deeply inhale the sweet fragrance around us, and enjoy the renewed warmth seeping back into our lives.

We treasure this transition, even as we will treasure the transition to cooler, crisper days a half-year on.  But happiness comes from staying in the moment, and this beautiful, golden Friday has been a string of such moments infused with spring’s promises.

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My hands pushed and prodded and planted in fragrant moist earth for much of the day.  I tend to wake up with a list of garden chores pushing and shoving one another for their place in line as I plan the day ahead.  I worked out in the sunshine, losing all sense of time, until my layers became too steamy and I realized it was well past time for lunch.

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But I’d also visited with old friends and new by then, watched a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly float past, taken a few dozen photos, watered in my work and tidied up.

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I found Homestead’s email as I was fixing our lunch, and their promises of early annuals, herbs, shrubs and a growing inventory of perennials proved irresistible.

A friend gave me three fat Hymenocallis bulbs this week.  These beautiful white spider lilies, or Peruvian daffodils, have always intrigued me.  But it is a summer bulb I’ve not yet grown.   The bulbs sit on a table in our sitting room taunting me, challenging me to do something interesting with them in a pot.

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I like growing new plants first in pots where I can control their growing conditions, moving them, giving more or less water as I learn their ways.  Pots set special plants apart, elevate them literally and figuratively and help me not lose track of them as the garden fills in!

So I’ve been reading about how to grow these huge bulbs, big as Amaryllis and just as special, and also exploring what might grow well in a pot with them.  And when I read that Homestead has their first Verbena plants in stock, my plans fell into place.

Verbena grows vigorously here, blooms until Christmas, makes a sturdy ground cover and spills beautifully from a pot.  It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies like a magnet.  I’ll pot up the white spider lily bulbs with a soft peachy Verbena, and observe them as they grow.

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Verbena with Caladium, 2017

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Do you work jigsaw puzzles?  I enjoyed them once upon a time on family vacations.

There is that  moment when you turn the pieces out of the box, and begin to sort them by their color and their shape.  Little bits of the puzzle start to come together as you find pieces that match, and at some point those bits fit together, and then you have the frame complete.    The rest may come swiftly or slowly,  but your sense of teamwork and accomplishment grows along with the completed parts of the puzzle until the last piece goes in, and you’re finally done.

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That is a good metaphor for spring in the garden.  At first, there are bags of bulbs, flats of plants, and perhaps a potted shrub or two all waiting for me to fit them together into their pots and beds and borders.  A few more things get started or potted or planted each day, each making their way outside as the weather warms enough to sustain them.

And the weather is no steady, settled thing!

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White Camellia japonica blooms in our garden today.

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We see much of the country still dealing with snow and ice, flood and cold.  And a day like today makes us a bit smug, maybe; but certainly very grateful, too!  But it won’t last…

We know that wintery cold and winter storms return here by Sunday evening.  And knowing that, every moment of warmth and sunshine today felt that much sweeter.  We wanted each moment to count, used to its fullest and deeply savored.

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Forsythia still blazes golden yellow in our garden and around town.  It has been cool enough this March that we’ve had a very long season to enjoy it.

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This March has roared quite a bit.  We’ve had wind and rain, storms and cold.  It came in that way, and it looks as though April will dawn stormy, too.  But today we enjoyed the gentle aspect of March;  garden filled with flowers, and leaves appearing as a colorful haze around most of the trees and woodies.

This spring has proven a slow tease.  And when its unfolding is this beautiful, what’s the rush?

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Woodland Gnome 2019
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious,
Let’s Infect One Another!
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Blossom XLVII : Corn Leaf Iris

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Iris bucharica, the ‘corn leaf Iris,’ brings fragrance, beauty and forage for pollinators to the early spring garden.  It was first collected near the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, in the late 19th Century, in the mountains just north of the border with Afghanistan.  Bulbs were shipped to the English bulb merchant Van Tubergen, who introduced it into the nursery trade.  Some gardeners call these ‘Bukhara Iris’ after their place of origin, high in the mountains of Central Asia.

As with so many small Asian Iris grown from bulbs, the bulbs like cold, snowy winters and hot, dry summers.  In their native environment, they grow in gravely soil on the slopes of mountains above 5000 feet.   These conditions are nearly impossible to provide in coastal Virginia without giving a bit of thought to how and where to plant the bulbs.

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These Iris want excellent drainage, rocky, slightly alkaline soil, and full to partial sun.  They are hardy in Zones 5-9.   I have planted my bag of bulbs brought home last December from the Heath’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester in several different situations to observe how they perform in each.

I planted some in the ground, under a dogwood tree, covered in some course gravel mulch, one or two in pots in partial shade, and another couple in full sun, directly into the ground around some other bulbs.

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Iris bucharica bloom this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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I noticed the first beautiful yellow and white flower blooming in full sun at home on Sunday, in the upper garden near other bulbs.  The bulbs planted under gravel mulch in partial shade had buds and leaves but no open flowers.  The bulbs planted in pots were showing leaves but not buds.

These Iris are called ‘corn leaf Iris’ because the plant itself resembles a corn plant.  The leaves are shiny and soft, growing from opposite sides of the main stalk and resemble corn leaves in their shape and drape.

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Our Iris were in bud on Sunday, and sport three flowers today.

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The first flower opens at the top of the stem, but later flowers emerge from where leaves join  the main stem, much likes ears of corn grow from the main cornstalk above a leaf.  The stem continues growing and more flowers bloom as the stem gets taller, for a total of around five to seven  blooms per plant.

Brent and Becky’s have offered Iris bucharica in their catalog for a number of years, but this is the first year I have given it a try.  It is fun to try a few new plants each year, don’t you think?

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Iris bucharica bulbs have fleshy roots, unlike most other Iris bulbs.

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I like the delicate, almost translucent quality of the flower’s standards and falls.  Their colors blend so well with the many daffodils blooming now in our garden that my partner hardly noticed these little Iris until I pointed them out.  As with most other Iris, deer and rabbits leave these flowers strictly alone.

I’ve read about Iris bucharica offered in shades of purple and blue, but the yellow and white are all I’ve yet seen available.  They are very pretty and cheerful on these early spring days when we still have nights a bit below freezing and cold winds blowing all day.  The flowers are said to be fragrant, but I’ve not noticed a fragrance.  Others, who don’t live with a cat, may be better able to smell subtle fragrances…..

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March 21, 2019.  These plants develop very quickly once they wake up for spring.

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I am told that the secret of keeping these Irises going year to year is to make sure their bulbs don’t get waterlogged in heavy, wet soil in summer.  Raised beds, rock gardens, or soil that drains well would best suit these Iris.  Alternatively, one can wait until their leaves fade in mid-summer and then dig them up and dry them out in a garage for a few months before replanting them when one plants daffodils in autumn.

I am still experimenting with gravel mulch, and have so far experienced great success.  I intend to add more gravel to our Forest Garden in the coming weeks, and will make sure that all the areas with the Iris Bucharica have gravel mulch and just leave them be as their leaves die back.

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It’s looking more likely that we’ll add another bag of these unusual Iris to our fall bulb shopping list, and plant a few more around the garden.  The bulbs increase, year to year, when they are happy, eventually forming beautiful clumps of early Iris.

Bulbs are usually a great investment, and if sited properly, take care of themselves.  Spring ephemerals such as these finish fueling their bulbs for next year and die back, just as you need their garden space for summer perennials.

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These corn leaf Iris came into bloom right as the reticulatas were finishing.  I expect the Iris x hollandica to come into bloom, and maybe even some of the German bearded hybrids to begin blooming, as these little yellow corn leaf Iris finish.

If you love Iris, as we do, and want to lengthen your season of enjoyment, these Iris Bucharica are a good choice.  Whether you add them to a pot of spring flowering bulbs or find a great spot in one of your own borders or beds, this is an unusual spring bulb that you’ll certainly enjoy growing.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

Six On Saturday: Six Beautiful Things

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path,

I walk in peace.

With each step, the wind blows.

With each step,

a flower blooms.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh

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“Strangeness

is a necessary ingredient

in beauty.”
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Charles Baudelaire

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“Beauty is no quality in things themselves:

It exists merely in the mind

which contemplates them;

and each mind perceives a different beauty.”
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David Hume

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“Live quietly in the moment

and see the beauty of all before you.

The future will take care of itself……”
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Yogananda

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“All the diversity, all the charm,

and all the beauty of life

are made up of light and shade.”
.

Leo Tolstoy

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“Though we travel the world over

to find the beautiful,

we must carry it with us,

or we find it not.”
.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Color My World

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“Let me,
O let me bathe my soul in colours;
let me swallow the sunset
and drink the rainbow.”
.
Khalil Gibran

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“The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse
– neon green with so much yellow in it.
It is an explosive green that,
if one could watch it
moment by moment throughout the day,
would grow in every dimension.”
.
Amy Seidl

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“Why do two colors,
put one next to the other, sing?
Can one really explain this? no.
Just as one can never
learn how to paint.”
.
Pablo Picasso

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“Red was ruby,
green was fluorescent,
yellow was simply incandescent.
Color was life. Color was everything.
Color, you see, was the universal sign of magic.”
.
Tahereh Mafi

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“Each day has a color, a smell.”
.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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“Color directly influences the soul.
Color is the keyboard,
the eyes are the hammers,
the soul is the piano with many strings.
The artist is the hand that plays,
touching one key or another purposefully,
to cause vibrations in the soul.”
.
Wassily Kandinsky

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“Love was a feeling completely bound up with color,
like thousands of rainbows
superimposed one on top of the other.”
.
Paulo Coelho
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“Life is a sea of vibrant color.
Jump in.”
.
A.D. Posey

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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Narcissus: Variations

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A Narcissus is among the simplest of flowers, yet the genus is populated with thousands of cultivars and hybrids.  There are even a few ‘species’ available for gardeners to buy and grow, for those of us who enjoy seeing the purity of what nature gave us before a human hand got creative with it!

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Narcissus ‘Cragford,’ a pre-1930 heirloom Narcissus.

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Amazing creativity has allowed all of these fascinating variations, once we figured out how to go about hybridizing new varieties from old.  This was a very passionate topic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Enthusiasts wanted to apply the new understanding of plant genetics to create beautiful and useful new plants.  Others believed that it is wrong to tamper in this way with the natural world.  In the end, there was enough of a market for all of the new varieties of grains, fruit, vegetables and flowers that hobbyists breeding new plants realized there was a great deal of money to make from plant breeding.

Most of the plant breeding was done in small, family businesses or on estates.  The market for these new and unusual plants drove the industry to keep providing new plants for enthusiastic gardeners and collectors.

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Double Van Scion, or Guernsey Double Daffodil c. 1620 England

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Today, The American Daffodil Society has divided the genus into 13 divisions, based on the shape of each part of the blossom, and its heritage. 

If this interests you, please find a copy of Noel Kingsbury’s beautiful book, Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower.  You will learn about the fascinating history of daffodils, their collection, breeding, mythology and the many beautiful variations in their flowers.

I am particularly fond of daffodils from Division 11- Split Corona.  The corona, or cup, in the center of the flower is split into sections, often frilly, and curved back against the flower’s petals.

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Mary Gay Lirette, a Heath hybrid.

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The corona is often a contrasting color from the petals, and the stamens are yet another shade.  This makes for a flower that looks double, though it truly isn’t, and shows a beautiful, open face to the world.

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Many of the split corona daffodils come along a little later in the spring.  The first daffodils to open in our garden are generally the ‘normal’ looking ones, with a long, tubular corona, or trumpet,  and six simple petals:  Division 1- Trumpet.

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These are followed closely by some of our miniatures of similar form.  Miniature may be classed in various divisions, but are called miniatures because they are only about 6″ tall.

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Tete-a-Tete

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We buy nearly all of our daffodils now from Brent and Becky Heath.  The Heath’s are internationally famous for their beautiful daffodils and sell many of their own hybrids.  I am endlessly fascinated with growing daffodils, and love seeing how the slight variations of color and form recombine in so many beautiful ways.

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Right: Ice Follies, a popular 1953 hybrid that multiplies extremely well.  Division 2-Large Cup.  This is their second spring in our garden.

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Daffodils, grown from bulbs, are true perennials.  These are tough and persistent plants that increase each year.

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Each bulb sets off new bulblets each spring, so a single daffodil bulb becomes a sturdy clump of daffodils within just a few years.  Many of these flowers also set seed.  If you don’t deadhead the flowers, the seeds will ripen and spread in early summer.  New plants will grow from these seeds, and crop up in unexpected places.  This is how areas around old homes often come to be carpeted in stands of daffodils each spring.

The daffodils you plant will very likely outlive the gardener, bringing spring time beauty to many, many others in the years ahead.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Celebrating Spring Indoors: Mosses and Ferns

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Greeness re-emerges each March from February’s shades of brown and grey.  We notice exquisite shades of fresh green wherever there is new growth; even if only weeds emerging in the lawn, new grass, and buds breaking open on early shrubs.

Green is alive with possibility, giving us fresh energy and enthusiasm.  Green is the color by which energy from the sun is captured and transformed into the sort of chemical food energy that fuels us all.  Whether we access it directly from a kiwi or avocado, or allow the green to be munched first by a cow before it is transformed into milk or meat; we depend on green chlorophyll to produce every calorie of energy which fuels our lives.

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Green attracts like a powerful, life-affirming magnet, especially in the spring when we are ready to move on from winter’s rest.  And in these last chilly weeks of unpredictable weather, I enjoy making a green arrangement with ferns and mosses to enjoy indoors until spring is firmly established outside in the garden.

I have been experimenting with keeping moss inside for several years.  While all goes well for a while, the moss often ends up turning brown and sometimes disappearing entirely.  Moss is the simplest of plants, yet its nurture as a ‘houseplant’ proves fickle and complex.

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Moss pairs well with ferns, as their needs are nearly the same. Lichens may also be incorporated in the design.  2014

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For all of the vibrant green kokedama covered in moss I’ve seen in books and on other’s websites, I have not yet figured out how to reliably keep moss alive for long inside.  But I keep trying…..

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There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.  January 2015

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Japanese guides suggest taking one’s potted moss outside for some portion of each day to give it fresh air and bright light.  This sounds suspiciously like walking a pet dog to me, and I’m not yet prepared to treat my moss gardens like a barking or purring pet.

I’ve also learned that closing moss up into a terrarium can be the ‘kiss of death’ because it gets too wet in the high humidity, and doesn’t get the free exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen that it requires.

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February 2015

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Let’s recall that moss has no vascular system.  There are no water carrying tubes through ‘leaves’ or ‘stems’.  Moss is so simple, structurally, that every cell absorbs water.  That means that too much water for too long will kill the cell, because it isn’t going to move the excess water on, elsewhere.

We must find balance in tending moss: the balance between light and shade, moisture and dryness, heat and cold.

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January 2018

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That is why I have chosen a tall, clear vase for this arrangement, but one without a lid.  I’ve constructed this like a terrarium, but have not enclosed it.

And for the time it stays indoors I will do my best to faithfully mist it several times a week, but will resist the temptation to pour water into it.  And, if I notice the moss struggling, I’m prepared to remove it, ‘plant’ it back outside, and start again with some fresh moss.

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This is my favorite sort of moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which is called fern moss because it looks like fine, low growing fern fronds.  This perennial moss prefers a moist, acid soil, can stand a fair amount of light, and grows prolifically in several spots in our garden.

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This is fern moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which looks like it is made of tiny, low growing ferns.

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I’ve created a base in this vase with fine aquarium gravel mixed with some fine charcoal, recycled from a water filter.  I mixed a little more of the charcoal in with the coarse potting soil mix I used for the ferns.  This is soil I’ve used earlier this winter for starting tubers and bare root plants in the basement, and it was already perfectly moist when I scooped some into the pot.  Charcoal is often used in terrariums to help purify the soil and water, keeping the plants healthier.  Without any drainage, it helps prevent water in the soil from growing stagnant.

Moss doesn’t have roots, but needs firm, continuous contact with the soil.  After planting the two tiny ferns, I simply pressed sheets of moss, with its own soil from outside still attached, on top of the potting mix.

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The taller fern is a popular houseplant called a brake fern or ribbon fern, genus Pteris.  This one is tender, though it will grow very well outside from late April through November.  The shorter one is also a tender fern, probably one of the footed ferns.

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Then I misted it well, using the mister to also clean the inside of the glass.  The pot sits a few feet away from large windows and under a lamp.  It is a bright location, and I’ll hope that both ferns and mosses grow here happily.

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March, 2018

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Plants indoors are good for us in many ways.  Plants filter the air and fill it with fresh oxygen.  Plants calm us, and bring tremendous beauty into our homes.  Plants inside in early spring also inspire us and keep that promise of spring alive, even when the weather turns cold and wintery once again.

March is a fickle month, but the overall trajectory is towards more daylight and milder weather.  As the sun returns, our garden responds with fresh growth.

But we respond, as well.  And bringing a bit of that spring time magic indoors helps us celebrate the change of seasons… in comfort.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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