Fabulous Friday: Bonus Days

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Winter is already closing in on so many parts of the country, bringing snow to areas where the leaves haven’t even fallen.  With less than a week left in October, every soft, warm, late autumn day feels like a bonus day on the season.

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It has looked like rain all day, with only an occasional glimpse of sunshine breaking through the gloom; perfect weather to putter around outside.  And ‘putter’ is a good description of the bits and pieces I’ve strung together to make a day.

I’m in process of digging Caladiums.  It is always tricky to catch them before they fade away, leaving no trace of where their plump rhizomes lie buried.  But just as they leaf out on their own varietal schedules, so they fade according to their own rhythms, too.

While many in pots still look very presentable, and I’m procrastinating on digging them, others have already slipped away.  I need to sit awhile and study photos of their plantings to dig in the right places to recover them.

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A gardening friend and I were puttering together yesterday, at the Botanical Garden.  I was digging Caladiums as she was planting Violas.  I was digging Caladiums from her bed, and she gently suggested that I not waste too much energy digging until I knew I was in the ‘right’ spot.  That was good advice, and gave me a good reason to dig less and chat more.

Today hasn’t been much more productive, I’m afraid.  Until the forecast calls for colder night time temps, I won’t feel motivated to begin hauling in the pots and baskets.

And yet the signs of autumn are all around in the brown, crinkly leaves skirting the drive and softly gathering on the lawn.  Bare branches come into view all around the garden, as their leafy garments slip away for another season.

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Instead, I’m watering, admiring.  I spent a while potting up Arum tubers in the basement, and planting Violas from their 6 packs into little pots, to grow them on.

These are the bonus days when I can daydream about where I’ll plant them, even as summer’s geraniums and Verbena shine again with their vivid cool weather blooms.

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It is a relief, quite honestly.  The plants have perked up in the cooler, damper weather of the last two weeks.  The Alocasias are sending up new, crisp leaves.  The Mexican Petunias bloom purple as the pineapple sage proudly unfurls scarlet bloom after scarlet bloom.

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Every sort of little bee and wasp covered the Salvias yesterday, reveling in warm sunshine and abundant nectar.  A brilliant yellow Sulphur butterfly lazed its way from plant to plant, bed to bed, and I found some fresh cats here and there.

The Monarchs are still here, though I’ve not seen a hummingbird since early October.  Perhaps they have already flown south.

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Like a band playing one more encore, reluctant for the evening to end, and then leaving the stage to party on with friends; I’m reluctant to admit the season is nearly done.  I don’t want to rush it away, in my haste to prepare for the coming winter.

It is a calculation of how many hours, days, weeks might be left of bonus time, before the first frost destroys all of the tenderness of our autumn garden.

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I’ve been content to admire it all today, and make a few efforts to prepare for the changes to come.

Flocks of goldfinches gather in the upper garden, feasting on ripe black-eyed Susan and basil seeds left standing.  Pairs of cardinals gather in the shrubs, sometimes peering in the kitchen window or searching for tasty morsels in the pots on the patio; sociable and familiar now in these shorter, cooler days.

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We rarely have frost until November, here in coastal Virginia.  But colder weather is on its way.  Snow this week in Texas, and Oklahoma, and a cold front on the move promise changes ahead.   I’m hoping that we’ll have a few more sweet bonus days, before ice transforms our garden’s beauty into its bony, frost kissed shadow.

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Begonias and ferns sparkle in today’s dim sun, enjoying another day in the garden before coming indoors for winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“The strangeness of Time.

Not in its passing, which can seem infinite,

like a tunnel whose end you can’t see,

whose beginning you’ve forgotten,

but in the sudden realization

that something finite, has passed,

and is irretrievable.”

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Joyce Carol Oates

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious. Let’s infect one another.

Blossom XLIX: Camellia sasanqua

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What a delight to see bright flowers open on our evergreen Camellia shrubs during autumn, just as the rest of the garden fades and we prepare for winter.  You may have noticed bright Camellias blooming in October through January and wondered about these beautiful rose-like flowers in shades of red, pink and white.

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A relative of the tea plant, autumn blooming Asian Camellias are hardy in Zones 6b-9.  Like the spring blooming Camellia japonica, they prefer moist, acidic soil.

When the first Camellias were brought to Europe and North America from Asia, they were cultivated in glass houses, to protect them from winter temperatures, ice and snow.  Eventually, gardeners began to experiment with growing them out of doors in the garden, and learned that we can grow Camellias successfully in Zone 7 and warmer, without any special protection.  Providing a sheltered spot, mulch, or wrapping them against winter winds allows gardeners to grow them successfully in even colder climates.

Fall blooming Camellias will tolerate full to partial sun, under the dappled shade of larger trees.  They can take more sun than the C. japonicas appreciate.  Camellias may be used as specimen plants, hedges, in mixed borders, or as large foundation shrubs.  Different cultivars will grow to different proportions, and many will grow into small trees when left unpruned.

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Proper pruning is very good for Camellias.  By carefully removing branches here and there, you can open them up to greater light and air circulation.  This helps encourage blooming and also protects from some fungal diseases that sometimes attack overgrown Camellias.  Good air circulation and care will prevent disease problems and insect damage is rare.

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Never shear Camellias like a hedge.  Prune within a few weeks after they finish blooming to avoid cutting away the next season’s flower buds.  Aim to prune only enough to enhance the shrub’s beauty, or control its size, so the pruning isn’t obvious.  It is best to cut a branch all the way back to where it grows out of another branch.  Clipping a branch in the middle will stimulate more new growth from the nodes below your cut.

Camellias keep their glossy green leaves year-round, adding structure and screening in the garden throughout the year.  Pollinators appreciate this source of nectar when little else is in bloom, and birds find shelter in their branches.  Many gardeners cut a few branches for a vase, or float Camellia blossoms in a bowl.

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Newly planted shrubs will need protection from deer for the first few years.  Deer may graze both leaves and flower buds, but the shrub will generally survive.  Use deer fencing, Milorganite, or repellant sprays to protect Camellias as they establish.  Since Milorganite is an organic nitrogen fertilizer, regular use will actually enhance the color and bloom of Camellia shrubs, while helping to keep deer away from them.

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Camellia, “Jingle Bells” December 2016

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Many Camellia varieties are available now at local nurseries.  You can choose from several different colors and flower forms,  finding a cultivar that will meet your needs for mature shape and size.

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Camellia December 2017

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Varieties like C. ‘Yuletide’  and C. ‘Jingle Bells‘ are especially prized for their red flowers each December.  Bees and late butterflies will be thrilled to find them when there is little other nectar available to them. Camellia flowers may turn brown during a cold snap, but buds will continue to open over many weeks, even during wintery weather.

Then, by very early spring, the first of the Camellia japonica varieties will begin to bloom.

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Camellia November 2017

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Plant Camellia shrubs with confidence that you are making a good investment.  They will reward you with beautiful flowers, when little else will bloom, for many decades to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Blossom XLVIII:  Verbena
Blossom XLVII:  Cornleaf Iris
Blossom XLVI: Snowdrops and Iris
Blossom XLV:  First Snowdrops
Blossom XLIV: Brilliant Hibiscus
Blossom XLIII: Verbena
Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom

 

Six On Saturday: Autumn’s Passing Beauty

The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy, Lincoln City, OR

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Autumn’s passing beauty shines for such a short time.  Like the green flash of a sunset, you must watch for it; wait for it, celebrate it.

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Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, blooms at Bear Valley Nursery, Lincoln City, OR.

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The allee of crimson maple trees lining Rt. 18 that had thrilled me as I passed McMinnville, Oregon, on my way to the coast, had already dropped many of their leaves, and were left standing in their bare, structural glory, by the time I returned by the same way, a little more than a week later.

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Rose hips ripen near Siletz Bay

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But a bit further down the road, the richly green tunnel of trees I drove through near the Salmon River had transformed into a shimmering golden stretch, where hardwoods mixed in with the ubiquitous conifers had turned from green to gold during my visit.

It was raining the morning I left.  A storm was moving in, bringing cold winds where I had enjoyed calm sunny days.  I wonder whether those golden leaves still cloak the trees?

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The Connie Hansen Garden

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I found rich color everywhere I went, from orange rose-hips to crimson viburnum offering up a final flush of blooms.  Browning ferns rose above blackberry vines, some with the last ripe berries of the season still clinging to their canes.

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The garden at Mossy Creek Pottery

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How much beauty do we pass by every day, lost in our thoughts and our routines?

When we take a moment, take a breath and see; we find our world richly colored and filled with beauty.  It feels all the sweeter in late October, in the brief moment before it is swept away by winter’s chilling winds.

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Viburnum blooms one last time for the year at the Connie Hansen Garden

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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Viburnum mariesii

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All photos from Lincoln City, OR

Sunday Dinner: Departure

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“Go.  The word is my last and most beautiful gift.”

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Anne Fall

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“Set out from any point.

They are all alike.

They all lead to a point of departure.”

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Antonio Porchia

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“Arrival in the world

is really a departure

and that,

which we call departure,

is only a return.”

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Dejan Stojanovic

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“The world is a book

and those who do not travel

read only one page.”

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St. Augustine

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“A good traveler has no fixed plans

and is not intent on arriving.”

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Lao Tzu

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“Such is life, imaginary or otherwise:

a continuous parting of ways,

a constant flux of approximation and distanciation,

lines of fate intersecting

at a point which is no-time,

a theoretical crossroads fictitiously ‘present,’

an unstable ice floe forever drifting

between was and will be.”

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Sol Luckman

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“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”

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Rumi Jalalud-Din

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“Wherever you go

becomes a part of you somehow.”

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Anita Desai

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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October beauty at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“Not all those who wander are lost.”

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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“It is good to have an end

to journey toward;

but it is the journey that matters,

in the end.”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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Butterfly Musings

Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Lantana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Black Swallowtail cats enjoy the parsley. Find end of season parsley on sale now. A biennial, it will return next spring.

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

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Monarch cats on potted Asclepias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosta ‘Halcyon’

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Maybe your soft spot is homeless dogs at the Humane Society.  My soft spot is clearance shelf rescue plants.  It is hard for me to walk past that clearance shelf without pausing to assess what is on offer.

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I went to Lowes in late August for gravel, potting soil and landscaping blocks, and happened upon hundreds of struggling plants loaded on rack after rolling rack out in the full sun.  Oh, the indignity of once beautiful plants ending up in such straits after just a few short weeks in a big-box store.

I couldn’t avert my eyes.  I couldn’t just walk past.  I had to scan the shelves to see what I might salvage.  That is where I turned up two Fortune’s holly ferns that I planted to help control erosion, a flat of mixed Sedums, and this poor little Hosta.  Marked down to only a dollar, how could I not give it another chance at life?

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The Hosta has grow several new leaves over the past three weeks. It could be divided next spring.

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The day it came home with me, it had exactly three leaves left, and those were scalded from sitting in full sun with dried up soil.  That’s not a promising start.  But I knew that if those three leaves were alive, then the roots were alive.  And you buy a perennial for its roots.

Before adopting a dog or a plant, there are a few questions one must address:  Does it have fleas, or other insect infestation?  Any signs of disease?  Will it fit in with the family?  Can it be saved?

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Two Athyrium ‘Bradford’s Rambler’ that I picked up on an August clearance in 2018 yielded several plants, after division.

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With a plant, my next question is its expected life-span.  Only the perennials are worth the effort, to me.  An annual is only expected to live a few months, anyway.  Late in the season, it usually isn’t worth it to purchase and rescue an annual plant.

Now, a marginally hardy perennial might be an exception.  I recently bought a couple of flats of stressed Salvia coccinea, a native perennial to our south.  This red hummingbird Salvia is hardy at least to Zone 8, and might make it here with a good mulch.  The plants were still in 1″ cell packs, root bound, and stunted.  I took a chance.

I freed each one’s roots, loosened the root balls, and planted them into rich potting mix in larger pots.  After a good feeding and watering, I set them into a protected spot in partial sun to recover and begin to grow.  After giving away more than half of those I bought, I still had a few Salvia plants left to use in a bed, and others left for pots.

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Salvia coccinea, Hummingbird Salvia, have prospered now that they have room to grow and reasonable care.

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The key to reviving a rescue plant is to meet its needs and give it space and time to recover.  Rescue plants have sat in a shop for too long.  They may have gotten too much or too little light, been allowed to dry out, and they are almost certainly root bound.  Most have lost a lot of their leaves and may have stopped growing due to extreme stress.

So the first thing I do with a plant, after looking it over carefully for any sign of hitch-hiking insects or disease, is to water the root ball.  First thing, before I even go in the house.  I may even water the plant before I leave the nursery, if I have some water in the car.  Water is life for a plant, and it can’t carry out any of its life functions if it doesn’t have moisture.

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I enjoy miniature Hostas, but they can be pricey. All of mine came as gifts or as clearance plants. I found this one in late July, with its own culture of moss, and simply repotted and fed it.

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Next, I usually cut away and throw away any broken or dead stems and leaves.  Pruning stimulates new growth, and the plant needs healthy new tissue to begin producing sugars and cellulose again so it can recover.

If a plant has grown way too much top growth, for the size of its roots, you might cut it back by a third to a half to stimulate new growth.  It is possible that the stems you cut away will root, given a chance, to give you even more new plants.

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After several weeks of care, it is producing new leaves and may fill the pot before frost.

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If a plant is severely root bound, with roots showing on top of the rootball and hanging out of the pot, it needs repotting or planting as soon as possible.  Gently tease out the roots, trim away any that look damaged or dried up, and give the plant a new, larger pot.  I usually pot up all rescue plants and leave them in shade to partial sun, away from other plants, until they show signs of growth.  This allows the plants a rest, a chance to convalesce, before I expect them to perform.  While they all need light, placing them in a little more shade than they would normally grow in gives them a chance to recover without the stress of full sun exposure.

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This little Alocasia was a rescue plant last summer. It has many beautiful leaves, but is still much shorter than most cultivars of this species.

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Finally, I give a good foliar feed with fish emulsion, such as Neptune’s Harvest.  Drench the plant’s remaining leaves and root ball with this gentle, mineral rich fertilizer.  Do it once every week or so, and watch the life return to the plant as it sends up new leaves.

Remember, with a perennial, you are buying the root system.  If there are some leaves or buds, that is just a bonus.  After working with bare root starts for a while, one comes to realize that the roots and crown are the main things required for a plant’s survival.  Most perennials die back to just their roots and crown during the winter, or their period of dormancy anyway.  A stressed plant may go dormant in the summer, too, and will reawaken with new growth when conditions become favorable once again.

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Late summer and early fall are prime time to find good rescue plants.  Discounts may range from 15% up to %75.  Sometimes I’m even given plants for free, where I have a relationship with the staff, especially if the plants are already destined for the compost pile.

This is a good way to acquire plants when you want to experiment with a new cultivar, when you need a large quantity of a specific plant, or when you’re on a budget.   A little TLC and a lot of patience make those horticultural dreams come true, as plants bounce back and grow in your care for many, many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Six on Saturday: Fragrant Foliage

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Have you ever bought a little ‘Citronella’ plant, sold to keep mosquitoes away from your deck and picnic table?  I’m not sure whether they work well or not.  How many mosquitoes might there be without one growing nearby?  But whatever their effectiveness with mosquitoes, I enjoy growing scented Pelargoniums for their many other benefits.

First, their textured leaves come in varied shapes and sizes, each exquisitely sculpted from the moment it begins to unfold until its eventual demise.  The variety of shapes is matched by the variety of scents these special geraniums offer.

Citrus scents come in orange, lemon and lime.  Then there are minty scents, rose perfumes, clove, apple, chocolate mint and more.  The leaves release their scent on hot summer days, and when you rub them between your fingers.

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Some leaves feel velvety, others are more roughly textured.  Some have dark maroon markings, others have lighter variegation, or even grow in shades of grey.

Dry them as they grow to use through winter.  Their strong essential oils hold a scent for years.  In a sachet or bowl of pot purri their scent recalls a summer day.

Most are edible, and may be used in teas or as garnishes.  Some people even add a few fresh, small leaves to salads.  Use scented geraniums as you might use many other herbs.

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I rarely get around to harvesting these delicious, scented leaves.  I grow them for their beauty, fragrance and their resilience.

I’ve not yet found any wild creature that will bother them.  Because deer, rabbits and insects leave them strictly alone, some gardeners plant scented Pelargoniums to shield and protect tastier garden plants.  The theory of confusing ‘the nose’ of grazing animals works some of the time.  I suppose it depends on the strength of the scented geranium’s fragrance, and how hungry a rabbit or deer may be for what is behind it.

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Most of these geraniums are hardy to Zone 8 or warmer.  I’m sometimes fortunate enough to have one return in spring from its roots, but that is a rare bonus.  They can be brought in as houseplants through winter, or they root easily from cuttings and may be overwintered as much smaller plants.  All have small, but showy flowers in shades of white, pink or red.

Scented Pelargoniums are consistently agreeable and easy to grow in full sun or bright indoor light.  They don’t easily wilt in summer sun and heat, and aren’t particularly thirsty.  I like to grow them where more tender plants might falter, and use them in full sun pots and hanging baskets, knowing they will survive through until fall.  As with most herbs, they don’t want much fertilizer.  Perhaps mine would bloom more if I fed them more often, but I grow them for their delightful foliage.

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Every spring I’m looking for the new year’s scented geraniums at every garden center and herb display I visit.  There is very little consistency in finding a given variety year to year, beyond the ubiquitous ‘Citronella’ that seems to be everywhere each spring.

It is a bit of a game, or perhaps an obsession, to find my favorites again each year.  One day perhaps I’ll perfect the art of keeping the plants going through the winter.

Until then, I’m delighted and surprised with whichever varieties appear, and I’m always tempted to try something new I’ve not grown before.  There are so many different scented Pelargoniums in cultivation, including antique varieties from the 18th Century and before, that every year’s collection can be different.

There is always a new one waiting to be grown and enjoyed.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“When nothing else subsists from the past,

after the people are dead,

after the things are broken and scattered…

the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,

like souls…bearing resiliently,

on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,

the immense edifice of memory”
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Marcel Proust

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This collection of Pelargoniums is grown among other herbs and vines. It is a deliciously scented tangle that grows better as summer progresses.

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

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Who’s Welcome to Dine?

White butterfly ginger lily produces abundant nectar loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators. It perfumes the garden, making it one of our favorites, too. Deer never touch it.

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When planning your garden and buying plants, is your first consideration who, or what, might eat them?

If you’re planting fruit trees, tomato vines, or salad greens you’re likely planning to share the fruits of your labor and investment with family and friends.  Some friends of mine garden in a community garden, where much of the produce raised is donated to our local FISH organization.

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Begonia ‘Gryphon’ sometimes gives up leaves to deer, or even squirrels. Begonia ‘Pewterware’ has holes on its leaves from nibbling insects . These are plants I grow for the beauty of their leaves, and I hope to enjoy them without wildlife feeding on them.

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But food crops aside, when planting ornamental plants, do you expect them to get nibbled down to next to nothing?

That is an interesting conundrum that many of my gardening friends grapple with each season.  We’re inconsistent in our views here, too.  I’m irritated with the deer who sneak into our garden and then nibble at our shrubs and flowers.  I’ve been struggling to keep rabbits away from ornamental sweet potato vines planted in some pots, spraying Repels All with determination on a regular basis so the vines might grow.

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And yet, many, many gardeners plant perennials and herbs specifically to feed the butterflies and their larvae.  We sold hundreds of pots of milkweed at the recent Butterfly Festival plant sale at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I can’t tell you how many gardeners happily bought plants and considered it a bonus to have a resident Monarch cat already munching away on their leaves.

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Monarch cats already munching on our milkweed plants, for sale.

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I checked in with a friend the following week.  “How is your milkweed doing?”  I asked.

“Not so well,” she replied, “All of its leaves are gone.”  She thought she had done something wrong in caring for her new plant, to make it lose its leaves.  I explained that the reason to grow milkweed is for it to feed and support Monarch larvae.  The cats had eaten her plant’s leaves, and the roots were still alive.  She should be patient and watch for new growth.

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Asclepias, milkweed left over from the Butterfly Festival plant sale at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden has been nibbled down to nubs. But the roots are alive, and new top growth will appear soon.  The fencing will help keep out bunnies, but Monarchs can still reach the plants to lay their eggs.

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How many of us are willing to buy plants, expecting their foliage to be eaten away by insects?

One of my butterfly loving friends visited yesterday afternoon, and as I was walking her back to her car, we detoured into the upper garden.  We were watching the hummers, bees and butterflies go about their always hungry business when she spotted a clearwing moth.  That was the first I’ve seen in that part of the garden in several weeks, and we were both happily watching it feed on the black-eyed Susans when I suddenly noticed a cat covered fennel plant beside us.

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Fennel plant covered in nearly two dozen cats.

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The fennel plants had been an afterthought.  I bought them on clearance in early June, and planted three or four in a sunny spot where I thought they would grow well, but not necessarily where I thought they would add much aesthetically to the garden scene.

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We could barely see the plant, most of its leaves already stripped away.  It was something like an odd-ball Christmas tree almost completely covered with crawling cats.  We counted nearly two dozen.

We were both excited to see so many Black Swallowtail larvae at once, and found more on a nearby plant.  This is my friend who released three emerging Black Swallowtail butterflies into our garden this spring, and she was clearly ready to adopt these cats.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly cats make short work of our fennel plants.

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Since the food source was nearly all gone, I was happy for her to take them.  I know she will patiently feed them parsley until they pupate, and then I know she’ll bring at least some of them back to release here, when they are ready to emerge from their chrysalis and fly. What a magical experience to watch a butterfly emerge from the husk of what was once a caterpillar!

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In mid-April, Judith released three emerging butterflies that she had collected as cats late last November; the day before a hard freeze.  She raised these on parsley for several weeks until they were ready to pupate.  I had originally spotted them at the WBG, and so she brought them to our garden when they emerged.

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We still have time this year for another generation of eggs to hatch and their larvae to mature and pupate.   Eastern Black Swallowtails don’t migrate like Monarchs, but a generation will overwinter here in their chrysalides, ready to emerge next spring.

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More and more, my plant choices aren’t so much about form and color to please myself, but rather plants to support various birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, wasps, and other pollinators.  We love watching them feed and go about their life cycles.

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A male, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana. The flowers are long lived, continually producing fresh nectar over several days.

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I used to make the distinction that pollinators suck nectar, but leave the plant intact.  That is how I shaped my thinking to support pollinators, while trying to keep the deer away.  Rabbits are always welcome to graze our front lawn, eating whatever grass or other plants may grow there, but the voles who eat the roots of things, are not.  I confuse myself sometimes making these distinctions about who is welcome to dine, and who is not.

And now my mind and heart have opened to include the caterpillars happily munching away on herbs and other host plants.  They are welcome, and I happily plan for their sustenance, too.

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Fennel and parsley support many Swallowtail butterflies. Monarchs need Asclepias. Many native trees, vines and shrubs also support particular butterfly larvae as host plants.  The darker caterpillar here is younger than its mates, but is the same species.

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I’ve spent a happy Friday observing caterpillars and asking those smarter than me to teach me about them.

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None of us have yet been able to identify these cats covering a hybrid Angelonia. There are more than a dozen on this plant, growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  It is unusual to find native butterfly larvae on non-native plants, and so we wonder whether this may be some sort of moth…?

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I’ve taken pleasure in the flight of hummingbirds and butterflies.  This afternoon, I thought I saw a yellow leaf, gently falling to the ground.  Only the leaf landed on the Lantana and fluttered there, revealing itself to be a beautiful male Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, in the midst of his feeding rounds around the garden.

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I read yesterday that researchers have determined that quietly listening to birds singing is more relaxing than most medications people take to cope with the stresses and disappointments of modern life.  I would add watching butterflies feed, and listening for hummers, as simple pleasures that bring us great happiness and contentment.

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Our upper garden, looking a little bedraggled after storms and heavy rains last night, still supports many different species of pollinators and birds, rabbits, turtles, lizards, squirrels, and who knows what else?

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As with so many other things we might do, when we open our hearts to generously provide for others beyond ourselves; I would suggest that planting a wildlife garden is a good antidote to the stresses and sorrows of life.

Perhaps we can offset some of our other environmental transgressions a bit, by creating a safe space to nurture wildlife.  A safe and beautiful place, to find joy and peace of mind for ourselves, too.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Walk in kindness toward the Earth and every living being.
Without kindness and compassion for all of Mother Nature’s creatures,
there can be no true joy; no internal peace, no happiness.
Happiness flows from caring for all sentient beings
as if they were your own family,
because in essence they are.
We are all connected to each other and to the Earth.”
.
Sylvia Dolson

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Newly emerged Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly dries its wings in our garden late last summer.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another

Sunday Dinner: Hang Tight….

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“Once you make a decision,
the universe conspires to make it happen.”
.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“You may be the only person left who believes in you,
but it’s enough.
It takes just one star
to pierce a universe of darkness.
Never give up.”
.
Richelle E. Goodrich

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“The difference between a successful person
and others
is not a lack of strength,
not a lack of knowledge,
but rather a lack in will.”
.
Vince Lombardi

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“F-E-A-R has two meanings:
‘Forget Everything And Run’ or
‘Face Everything And Rise.’
The choice is yours.”
.
Zig Ziglar

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“The thing about a hero,
is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,
he’s going to keep digging,
he’s going to keep trying to do right
and make up for what’s gone before,
just because that’s who he is.”
.
Joss Whedon

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“You can have anything you want
if you want it badly enough.
You can be anything you want to be,
do anything you set out to accomplish
if you hold to that desire
with singleness of purpose.”
.
Abraham Lincoln

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance.
The wise grows it under his feet.”
.
James Oppenheim

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
.
Dedicated to loved ones, who live this each and every day.

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“I am not anxious to be the loudest voice
or the most popular.
But I would like to think that at a crucial moment,
I was an effective voice of the voiceless,
an effective hope of the hopeless.”
.
Whitney M. Young Jr.

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Six on Saturday: Silver Lining

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Sometimes it’s a real challenge to find the ‘silver lining’ in difficult events.  I was taught, growing up, to always look for the good in people, the opportunity within a challenge, and the silver lining in whatever events may come.  This sort of thinking helps us remain optimistic and resilient, and perhaps gives us a little more happiness and peace of mind along the way.

But the slow swirling menace of Hurricane Dorian’s approach over the last few weeks has cast its long shadow across those of us living near the Atlantic coast, as we’ve watched its destructive progress.  We saw the utter devastation it caused as it chewed its way across the islands in its path.

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We watched the updates to its track, strength and speed.  We wondered just how a mighty storm was supposed to make a 90 degree turn from moving west to moving northeastwards, as it pivoted off of the Florida coast.  But it did, just in time to ‘save’ certain luxury properties along the southern Florida coast.  We live in an amazing age, don’t we?

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We watched the eye of the storm slowly skirt along the coast, just offshore, as its long rain bands and dangerous winds reached inland to rake across Georgia, South and North Carolina, and finally reach into Virginia yesterday morning.

We know so many people living in its path, and so many of those places that it touched from happy summers spent on beautiful island beaches along the coast.  We’ve taken the ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke and driven through the National Park to spend happy days in Ocracoke village.  The hospitable people who live there spent yesterday watching the tide rise and overwash their island home as they moved up into attics and out onto roofs, waiting for rescue from the mainland to arrive.

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Hurricane Dorian made a brief landfall at Cape Hatteras, a tiny sliver of sand miles off the mainland coast, before turning further out to sea and away from our home along the James River.  It is still swirling along, a monster storm, bringing wind and rain to everyone within miles of the Atlantic coast, as it heads ever further northwards towards Canada.

We’ve watched the reports in fascination and horror, as weather journalists reported along the path of the storm.  Our hearts are touched by the resilience of people who weather these monster storms year after year, rebuilding their homes and their lives to live along the coast.

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The windswept beaches of our Atlantic coast feel timeless because they survive these devastating challenges time and again.  The landscape is forever changed by the passage of such storms, but the land and sea and sky remain, and return to calm within hours of the storm’s passing.  The people focus on what is saved and their relationships with one another, rather than focus on what they have lost.

By dinner time the winds had subsided, patches of blue sky appeared, and the remaining clouds took on soft, pastel sunset colors.  The air was cool, fall-like.  We heard birds and chirping insects before dusk, and the sounds of children finally let out to play in the street.

Another storm finally passed, and life is returning to its normal rhythms.  Perhaps ‘normal’ is the silver-lining we all hope for in the passing storms of life.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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