Six on Saturday: Companions

Ferns grow with Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop,’ Vinca, Arum and Hellebores

Have you ever noticed how some gardeners want to show off their mulch? Every plant or species group is carefully set far enough apart from the next to grow neatly, like little islands, in a sea of brown mulch. These curated clumps of vegetation may be arranged into an arc or grid or another clever scheme.

If shrubs, they are neatly sheared often enough to keep them in their intended shape. And the whole scene is surrounded by a sharp bordered sea of fresh mulch to demarcate the planting space.

I see these neatly manicured beds at the entrances to shopping centers and upscale neighborhoods, always anchored by a few rounded, evergreen shrubs.  The color plants usually get switched out seasonally, with a few dozen little Begonias planted in April or May, replacing the ornamental cabbages and pansies planted last October.  Once the cabbages flower, they look weedy, and are goners. 

Of course, one must weed to keep it in shape.   Seeds blow in from everywhere, so one must weed by hand, or spray periodically with an herbicide, to keep things neat. And often the answer is simply piling on more shredded bark mulch over the old, hiding what has faded. Mulch piles creep up the trunks of any larger trees like little brown mountains, beneath their leafy canopies.

This Aristotelian garden style asks us to make a lot of choices.  First, and most importantly, what is a desirable plant, and what is a weed?  What makes one plant desirable, and another not?  The gardener always gets to choose.

Read more at Our Forest Garden

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

Sunday Dinner: Join the Dance

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“The only way to make sense out of change

is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
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Alan Wilson Watts

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“Nothing in the world is permanent,

and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last,

but surely we’re still more foolish

not to take delight in it while we have it.”
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  W. Somerset Maugham

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“Consider the sunlight.

You may see it is near,

yet if you follow it from world to world

you will never catch it in your hands.

Then you may describe it as far away and, lo,

you will see it just before your eyes.

Follow it and, behold, it escapes you;

run from it and it follows you close.

You can neither possess it nor have done with it.

From this example you can understand

how it is with the true Nature of all things and,

henceforth, there will be no need to grieve

or to worry about such things.”
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  Huang Po

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“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever,

it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting,

the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.

Generations do not cease to be born,

and we are responsible to them

because we are the only witnesses they have.”
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  James Baldwin

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“Of what is the body made?

It is made of emptiness and rhythm.

At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world,

there is no solidity… there is only the dance.”

George Leonard

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Six on Saturday: Fall Color

Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, in early November

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Do you crave rich, warm color as autumn days grow cooler and shorter?  The trees have held onto their greenness longer this fall than anytime in memory.  We’ve been looking at one another and wondering, “When will the leaves finally change?  Will they change this year, or simply blow off and away?”  It seems that fall leaf color has shifted by three to four weeks over the past 30 years in our area. Many trees have simply dropped their leaves, or faded from green, to yellowish and quickly on to brown. 

Personally, I love a good rich scarlet tree in October.  We have abundant oranges and golds in our area, too, but the scarlet ones make my pulse quicken a beat.

Do you consider autumn color when you select a new tree or shrub?  That is usually lower on my list of considerations after whether they bloom and how large they’ll grow.  Lately, I’ve planted some Japanese maples that have tint in their leaves through the summer, and a crape myrtle that starts with deep burgundy leaves in the spring.  But since fall color lasts just as long as many spring flowers, like dogwood blossoms, it makes sense to consider November pleasures as much as April ones.

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Dogwood turns rich scarlet earlier than most other trees turn each autumn.  Their drupes feed many species of song birds.

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Here are a few of my personal favorites: Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’ goes scarlet early in the season and holds onto those gorgeous leaves long past the time when most of our trees have gone bare.  This is a large shrub, with an open habit, large leaves and huge flower panicles.  It will take a space at least 8′-10′ wide and deep in your garden if you want to show it to best advantage.  But this gorgeous shrub has no ‘off’ season.  By the time the leaves finally blow away, new leaves and flower buds have begun to grow.  Its exfoliating bark adds interest through the winter.  But for big, bold scarlet leaves that last and last, it doesn’t get better than this.

Dogwood, Cornus florida, is a common native tree in our area that crops up randomly where birds drop the seeds.  There are beautiful hybrids out there, but we just grow the species, and love it year round.  In the spring, the trees cover themselves with white flowers.  These relatively small trees have a beautiful, graceful form.  By late summer, the drupes begin to turn scarlet and attract songbirds, and the dogwood’s leaves are one of the first trees to begin to turn each year.  They grow to a deep, rich scarlet before they fall by late November.  Even in winter, the trees are like living sculptures, covered in plump buds, awaiting warmer weather to begin blossoming all over again.

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Sumac sports scarlet leaves and burgundy berries.  Here, it is just beginning to turn in mid-October of 2014.

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Sumac trees, Rhus species, might be considered weedy by some, and I’m one of those apostates for much of the summer.  They have coarse foliage and an undisciplined habit.  They spread themselves around unashamedly and one tree quickly becomes a thicket.  But oh, once autumn arrives, those huge compound leaves turn a lovely shade of red and the clusters of drupes take on a warm, coffee brown color.  They are quite eye-catching when growing in groves on the side of the road. 

Grow these along the edge of a wooded area or in a meadow, or just take a drive in the country in late October or early November and admire them.  Sumacs are wonderful native plants for supporting wildlife.  They offer nectar in early summer and food for birds through fall and winter.  They sequester carbon, hold the soil against erosion, and provide great perches for birds.  I’ve learned to appreciate them, but wouldn’t choose them for a more formal garden area.

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Maple

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The Ginko tree, Ginko biloba, the oldest species of deciduous broad-leaf tree known anywhere in the world, is also one of the most stunning trees each autumn.  Each small, delicate leaf turns a clear, bright unblemished golden yellow and the tree stands tall and proud like a fiery torch for days or weeks, before a good wind comes along and sweeps that golden bling from branches to ground.  The leaves, which resemble the individual leaflets on a maidenhair fern frond, don’t travel far, and so the tree sports a golden ‘skirt’ for a while before the show is over. 

Ginko isn’t native to North America, but it is lovely.  Just please, make sure you get a male tree.  The female trees produce a fruit which is messy and odoriferous.  The ancient Chinese learned to use parts of the tree in their traditional medicine and as food, and the supplement remains popular. 

I have a Ginko in a pot on our deck that I’ll need to move into the garden after its leaves fall this year.  It makes a great pot tree for its first several years, but eventually grows into a full size tree, if you don’t train it as a bonsai.  Of course, why limit the size of such a gorgeous tree?  Ginko makes a stunning and long-lived street tree, or a lovely focal point in your garden design.

Maples of all sorts are lovely in the autumn, as well.  There are so many species available, each with its unique leaf shape and autumn color.  Maples are so widespread that there are varieties suited to most areas of the country.  Red maples are native here in coastal Virginia, and are always eye-catching when their leaves turn each fall.

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Ginko

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These are just a few of my favorite trees in autumn.  Scarlet oak trees turn a beautiful shade of clear red, and sweet gum trees sometimes have purple leaves for a brief time.  Sourwood trees turn gold and then scarlet, and Aralia spinosa may turn yellow, scarlet, or even purple.  So many factors determine the colors of leaves in fall.  It is a little bit genetics, a lot reflects the growing season just ending, and of course the temperature, as days grow shorter, determines the intensity and duration of color, as well.

The colorful weeks of autumn feel like a fitting celebration to carry us from the verdant greens of summer into the barren winter.  Only, winter doesn’t have to seem so barren with a little planning and a few evergreen trees, shrubs and perennials scattered about. Green is a glorious color, too, and we get more mileage from our garden space when we celebrate greens in all of their shades, hues, and finishes as well.  What is lovelier than a deep green holly tree dripping in scarlet berries on a December day? Every season offers its own beauties and pleasures.  We just need to plan to squeeze the most enjoyment from them all.

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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.

 

Sunday Dinner: Bittersweet

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“I searched among her crayons for a color that represented autumn and pulled out an orange-toned crayon, never used. It read “Bittersweet,” and I wondered why that particular name. Autumn was my favorite time of year… I was always ready for the change. I guess some people didn’t see it that way. Some people wanted to cling to summer… I loved both seasons, but I thought no one would ever call spring bittersweet, even though it was just another change, another new cycle, an end to one season and a beginning for another in an endless, never-ending spiral.”


Janet Rebhan

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“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”


Elizabeth Lesser

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“We have a tendency to become detached observers rather than participants.  There might also be a sense of disassembling a complex, flowing process to focus on a small part of it. If we expand our focus to include emerging, one of the first changes we may notice is the bodily sense of being in the midst of something, of constant motion, lack of clarity (in the left-hemisphere sense), and unpredictability.”


Bonnie Badenoch

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“Light precedes every transition.

Whether at the end of a tunnel, through a crack in the door

or the flash of an idea,

it is always there, heralding a new beginning.”


Teresa Tsalaky

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“The best part of your story is when it changes.”


Bella Bloom

 

Visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

 

Six on Saturday: Going and Coming

Camellia sasanqua opened its first flowers this week.

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The wind swung around to blow from the north overnight as the rain finally moved off the coast. The cold front came on a wave of rain that moved in before my eyes opened at 5 Friday morning and hung around deep into the evening.

Today dawned clear and bright, crisp and chill. How rare to have a night in the 40s here, so early in October. But all that cleansing rain left a deep, sapphire sky to greet the sunrise.

The cold front caught me distracted this time. I didn’t plan ahead enough to start moving plants indoors last week. And so every Caladium and Begonia and Alocasia was left out in the soggy cold night to manage as best as possible.

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Caladium ‘A Touch of Wine’ has been particularly cold tolerant this autumn.

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Trying to make amends this morning, I began gathering our Caladiums, starting in the coolest part of the garden on the downhill slope behind the house. Pulling Caladium tubers out of heavy, waterlogged soil presents its own challenges. The only thing worse is leaving them in the cold wet soil to rot.

Timing out when to lift Caldiums can be as puzzling as when to plant them out in the spring. Some varieties signaled weeks ago that they were finishing for the season, by letting their stems go limp with their leaves fall to the ground. When that happens, you need to dig the tubers while the leaves remain to mark the spot. I’ve lost more than a few tubers by waiting too long to dig them, and forgetting where they were buried.

At the same time, other plants still look quite perky with new leaves coming on. It feels wrong to end their growth too soon, with those lovely leaves wilting in the crate. This is a time to prioritize which need immediate attention and which can grow on a while, yet. After tonight, we expect another warm spell, so I have an excuse.

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Arum italicum remains dormant all summer, emerging again sometime in October.

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Everywhere in our garden we see new plants coming out and blooming even as summer’s stars fade. If it weren’t for fall blooming Camellias, Arums, emerging bulbs and late blooming perennials, I couldn’t be so content in October. But in our garden there are always comings and goings, so I try to take autumn in stride.

The pot I planted last fall with Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, and spring flowering bulbs has burst into new growth. Retrieving the few Caladiums I plopped in there in June was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t do too much damage, I hope, in pulling them up from between the Cyclamen that now are in full leaf. Cyclamen tubers are fun because they just grow broader and broader year to year, spreading into larger and larger patches of beautifully marked leaves and delicate flowers.

I’m finding seedpods on our Camellia shrubs even as the first fall flowers bloom. I’m working with Camellia seeds for the first time this year, after receiving a gift of Camellia sinensis seeds, the tea Camellia, from a gardening friend. Now that I know what to look for, I’m saving seeds from my own shrubs, too.

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Pineapple Sage opened its first flowers this week beside a patch of goldenrod.

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In fact, the garden is filled with seeds this week. I’ve harvested seeds from our red buckeye tree, acorns from the swamp chestnut oak, and Hibiscus seeds. I’m busily squirreling away the seeds in hopes many will germinate and grow into new plants that I can share.

Our birds are flocking in to enjoy the bright red dogwood seeds, along with beautyberry seeds and nuts from the beech tree. The drive is littered with beechnut husks and there are always birds and squirrels about. They are busy gathering all they can with birds swooping about the garden as I work. Even the tiny seeds I overlook, on the Buddleia shrubs and fading Black-eyed Susans entice the birds.

All the rapid changes feel dizzying sometimes. There is an excellent piece in today’s WaPo about the different autumn displays caused by climate change. Not only are species moving north and other new species moving in to replace them, but the very patterns of heat and cold and moisture are changing how the trees respond each fall. You may have noticed some trees whose leaves turned brown and fell weeks ago. Other trees still stand fully clothed in green.  Forests once golden with chestnut leaves now show more scarlet and purple because of new species replacing the chestnuts last century.

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Grapes ripen on the vines running through the dogwood tree. Color is slow to come this fall, with some trees dropping their leaves before they brighten.

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Our red buckeye tree is native further to the south. But it is naturalizing now in coastal Virginia, and is growing very happily in our yard. Trees are very particular about how much heat or cold they can take, and how many chilling days they require in winter to set the next season’s buds. Most also dislike saturated soils. Our abundant rainfall, these last few years, has sent some trees into decline when the roots can’t ‘breathe.’

Trees are coming and going, too, just on a much grander scale. For every tree that falls, dozens of seedlings emerge to compete for its space.

I’m planting seeds this fall, starting woody cuttings, and starting a few cold weather bulbs and tubers. I have flats of Cyclamen and Arum started, and spent some happy hours this week tucking tiny bulbs into the earth, dreaming of spring flowers.

Changing seasons takes a span of many weeks in our garden. The day will soon be here when I start carrying pots indoors for winter. Other pots stay outside, replanted with flowers and foliage to fill them winter into spring. I need to stay focused on all of the comings and going- not let myself get distracted with the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Hibiscus seeds are ripe for sowing.

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

Visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Sunday Dinner: The Known

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“Do you know that even when you look at a tree and say,

`That is an oak tree’, or `that is a banyan tree’,

the naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge,

has so conditioned your mind

that the word comes between you and actually seeing the tree?

To come in contact with the tree

you have to put your hand on it

and the word will not help you to touch it.”

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Jiddu Krishnamurti

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“Their life is mysterious,

it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity,

it can be comprehended, described,

but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow,

the density blinds one.

Within there is no form, only prodigious detail

that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight,

foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap,

insects, silence, flowers. And all of this, dependent, closely woven,

all of it is deceiving.

There are really two kinds of life.

There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living,

and there is the other.

It is this other which causes the trouble,

this other we long to see.”

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James Salter

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“I’m planting a tree

to teach me to gather strength

from my deepest roots.”

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Andrea Koehle Jones

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“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike.

And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”
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  Paulo Coelho

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Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“Trees, for example, carry the memory of rainfall.

In their rings we read ancient weather—

storms, sunlight, and temperatures,

the growing seasons of centuries.

A forest shares a history, which each tree remembers

even after it has been felled.”


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Anne Michaels

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Six on Saturday: Fruits of the Season

Figs

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Gardens teach us many things.  Like any other education, you might want to believe you’ve learned everything there is to know; but the next week, the next semester, the next season, the next garden proves how much we still have to discover.  Gardening is a slow study; more than a lifetime can master.  And it can not be rushed.

One of the first lessons one grasps, an understanding that shades and colors all others, comes when one understands the nature of passing time.  Like a precisely choreographed dance routine, a garden unfolds and ripens within the context of time.

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Begonia grandis, perennial Begonia finally blooms by late summer.

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The wisdom of all the ancient schools is written within a season in the garden.  It is all there for those who will read it.  But only those who pause, and observe, and look for it will find it.  Like a ripening grape hidden under a leaf, knowledge grows in plain sight and yet also remains cloaked to a casual glance.

This is the season of fruition and ripening.  All of the promises and hopes that built through the winter and spring are maturing, now, into reality.

The hazelnut tree dances and shakes as squirrels scamper through its branches.  The ripening nuts satisfy with loud pops and crackles as a squirrel’s strong jaws crush them and the pieces rain down to the ground.  The nuts will be gone before they ripen, crushed into green fragments, snacks lying there waiting for other small animals to find.  A single huge buckeye pod swells in the upper garden.  all the others have been carried away already, or fallen, not quite mature.

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Muscadine grapes will soon turn dark purple as they ripen. These grow near the back door, in easy reach.

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Green figs ripen high in the branches of our fig tree and swelling fox grapes hang in curtains from their vines stretching across the canopy.  It is that time of year when golden Black-eyed Susans finally open and tight buds swell atop stalks of butterfly ginger lilies.  The perennial Begonias have finally bloomed, and branches of beautyberry are thick with tiny green fruits.  In another few weeks they will ripen to brilliant purple before they, too, disappear to feed the animals who make our garden their home.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily will begin its season of bloom this week.

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For as everything ripens, so it also will fade in time.   The first hints of autumn have already brought a scarlet tinge to the dogwood leaves.  Collapsed Hibiscus flowers lie crumpled on the ground.  moonflowers bloom for a night, filling the patio with radiant white flowers and their intoxicating perfume.  By noon of the following day they have finished.   Time measures the rhythm of each growing thing in the garden, just as time measures our rhythms, too.

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Abundant rain has made this a good growing season here in Coastal Virginia.  Leaves are large and lush.  Japanese stilt grass fills in any space not cultivated, mown or mulched with its exotic, bamboo like leaves.  I was wandering through the paths today and discovered a rare surprise:  nature sown ferns.  There in the path, arising from a clump of moss, was a perfect little fern I never planted.  What a gift; what a little miracle of chance and opportunity and exuberance.  Later, camera in hand, I found some more.  I wonder now how many more little ferns may be growing in hidden, moist places, growing in their own rhythms from spore to frond.

This week the garden has grown nearly to its peak of lushness.  Paths have closed as plants reach from one side to the other to touch one another, and perhaps to soak in a bit more sunlight.  Late summer flowers come into bloom, vines stretch themselves ever further, some sprouting new leaves to replace ones lost in July.  Cuttings root, buds form and shrubs expand.  Goldfinches harvest seeds from faded flowers even as fallen leaves litter the street.

Every ending balances a beginning.  Time’s pendulum swings in a never ending cadence, marking nature’s pulse.  After long years we finally feel it and harmonize to its beat, at long last learning to see each moment as fully perfect and perfectly ripe.

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Moonflowers, Ipomoea alba

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Beautyberry, Callicarpa hybrid

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

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

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

 

 

Six on Saturday: Rain Gardens

Both Caladiums and most ferns appreciate moist soil and can survive for quite a while in saturated soil. Ferns planted in wide strips as ground cover can slow down and absorb run-off from summer storms.

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It’s still raining here.  It has been raining off and on for days, but mostly on.  We’re under a multi-day flood watch and a flash flood advisory.   A tropical storm inundated us not long ago and another formed off of our coast yesterday, and even heading out to sea it pulls historic rains behind as it moves away.

The ground is already saturated and every little plastic saucer under a ceramic container overflows.  I smile at the thought of how long it will be before I’ll need to water the garden again.  August usually is a wet month, and welcome after hot, dry stretches in July.  But the tropical storm season forecast for 2020 is unlike anything we’ve ever known before.  (That is our new catch phrase for 2020, isn’t it?  Unlike anything we’ve ever known before?)

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Scarlet cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is a classic rain garden plant. It thrives in moist soil but will survive short droughts, too.  This clump grows in the wetlands area of the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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We have a program in our county that helps homeowners install rain gardens.  A friend is known for her beautiful rain garden designs. When working with local government and the Master Gardeners, county residents can have significant portions of their costs reimbursed.

The idea is very simple and elegant:  Rain gardens are dug a few inches below grade to catch and hold run-off from heavy rains.  Water loving plants growing in the rain garden help soak up the run-off, even as it settles into the ground to replenish the water table, instead of running off into local waterways, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  Unlike ponds, they don’t hold standing water indefinitely.  Most absorb and process the run-off soon after a rain.

Rain gardens help catch pollutants that wash off of lawns and streets so those nutrients and chemicals can be recycled and trapped by vegetation.  This helps reduce the amount of pollution flowing into creeks, the rivers, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.  They also provide habitat for small animals like turtles, toads, frogs, dragonflies and many types of birds.

Even when we don’t excavate and engineer a formal rain garden, there are things we can do to help slow the flow of water across our yards and capture a portion of that rain water before it flows into the local waterways.  We’ve built a number of terraces in the steepest part of our yard and planted them with plants to help slow the flow of rain water.  We also have several ‘borders’ of shrubs and other vegetation to break the flow of run-off and absorb it.

In fact, the slogan of our county Stormwater and Resource Protection Division is, “Plant More Plants.”   Plants buffer the falling rain, help protect the soil from erosion, slow run-off and absorb large quantities of water, returning it to the atmosphere.  Just planting trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennial borders helps to manage the abundant rain we are getting in recent years.

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Zantedeschia, or calla lily, thrives in moist soil.  Some species will grow in the edge of a pond, and these work very well in rain gardens or wet spots where run-off collects.

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But when the ground is as saturated as it is today, we worry that even some of our plants might drown!  You see, most plants’ roots want air pockets in the soil.  Saturated soil is a quick way to kill a houseplant, and it can cause damage to the roots of some trees, shrubs and perennials, too.

As our climate shifts and these rain soaked days grow more common, it helps to know which plants can take a few days of saturated soil, and maybe even benefit from the extra water in the soil.  Many of these plants process a great deal of water up through their roots and vascular systems to release it back into the air.

You have heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia?  Well, that blue haze comes from moisture released by the many trees and shrubs growing on the sides of the mountains.  Some trees thrive in constantly moist soil.  Try birches, willows, swamp dogwoods, white ash trees, and beautyberry bushes.

Plants release both water vapor and oxygen back into the air as a by-product of their life processes.  Some plants, like succulents, release very little water, and that mostly at night.  They will quickly die in saturated soil.  In our region they need to be planted higher than grade on ridges and mounds, or be grow in freely draining containers.

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Colocasia and some types of  Iris grow well in saturated soil or even standing water.   Abundant water allows for lush growth.

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Plants with very large leaves, like our Caladiums, Colocasias, Hibiscus, Alocasias, Calla lilies, Canna lilies, ginger lilies, and banana trees use large amounts of water and release water vapor from their leaves throughout the day.  Some types of Iris also perform very well in saturated soil.  They can live in drier soil, but do just fine planted in the edge of a pond or in a rain garden.  Ferns are always a classic choice for moist and shady areas of the garden.  Their fibrous roots help to hold the soil against erosion and perform well as ground cover on slopes.

Those of us living in coastal areas where flooding has become more frequent can use plants to help deal with the inches and inches of extra rain.  We can build ponds and rain gardens, or even French drains and rock lined dry gullies to channel the run-off away from our homes.

We are called on in these times to wake up, pay attention, and find creative and beautiful solutions to the challenges we face.  We are a resilient people, by taking every advantage, even in the choices of plants we make, we can adapt to our changing world.

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Iris ensata, Japanese Iris,  grow with Zantedeschia in the ‘wet’ end of the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. Clumps keep their foliage most of the year, blooming over a long season in late spring and early summer.  These are excellent rain garden and pond plants.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

 

Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

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

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