Sunday Dinner: Shining

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“The world is indeed full of peril,
and in it there are many dark places;
but still there is much that is fair,
and though in all lands love
is now mingled with grief,
it grows perhaps the greater.”
.
J.R.R. Tolkien

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“In a time of destruction,
create something.”
.
Maxine Hong Kingston

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“Life’s under no obligation
to give us what we expect.”
.
Margaret Mitchell

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“Hope can be a powerful force.
Maybe there’s no actual magic in it,
but when you know what you hope
for most and hold it like a light within you,
you can make things happen, almost like magic.”
.
Laini Taylor

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“There is some good in this world,
and it’s worth fighting for.”
.
J.R.R. Tolkien
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.
Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

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G.K. Chesterton

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“The best way to not feel hopeless
is to get up and do something.
Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.
If you go out and make some good things happen,
you will fill the world with hope,
you will fill yourself with hope.”
.
Barack Obama

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Wildlife Wednesday: A Feast For a Swallowtail

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You may count gluttony among those seven deadly sins, but our little Swallowtail didn’t get the memo.

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She was covered in so much wonderful sticky pollen by the time we spotted her, that we aren’t quite sure whether she is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or an Eastern Black Swallowtail.  Since no white spots are visible on her body, we suspect that she is the black form of the female Tiger Swallowtail.

From my perspective a bit under her, while she enjoyed this rose of Sharon flower, it looked as though she was lying on the flower’s pistol, straddling it with legs akimbo.  You can see the pollen on her body, legs and even wings.

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These rose of Sharon flowers, Hibiscus syriacus, must be enticingly delicious.  We watch the hummingbirds stop by these shrub several times a day.  Other, smaller butterflies and bees flew in and out and around while our Swallowtail feasted.

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These beautiful trees are easy to grow in full to partial sun and reasonably moist, but well-drained soil.  They self-seed readily and grow with little attention from a gardener.  We let them grow in several places around the garden because they are so beloved by our pollinators.

You will find many different rose of Sharon cultivars on the market.  We’ve found many different ones growing around our garden, with new seedlings showing up every summer.  Rose of Sharon trees begin to bloom when they are just a few years old.

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We may lose a tree or two a year, as they aren’t very long lived and grow on fairly shallow roots.  The largest one in our garden tops out at less than 20′ tall.  This is a good landscaping tree that won’t endanger foundation or roof if planted close to the house.  Growing it near a window provides hours of summer entertainment as the pollinators come and go.

Although it’s not native to Virginia, Hibiscus syriacus has naturalized here, and fills an important niche in our summer garden.

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It is both beautiful and generous, and we enjoy watching the many winged and wonderful creatures that it attracts throughout the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

. . .

“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings,

and soared!”

 .

Dana Arcuri

Wildlife Wednesday: Eastern Black Swallowtail Cats

Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae feast on our bronze fennel.

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Hummingbirds are much smarter than we want to consider.  They would have to be.  How else would they know to buzz in for a sip of nectar when my camera is out of reach?

The first of the morning zoomed by to visit a basket Verbena and Lantana flowers warmed by early morning sunshine on our deck.  I’d gone out with the cat to water first thing, before the day’s heat had a chance to build.

Even had I brought the camera out with me, the little guys would have likely buzzed away again before I could even turn it on.  They are independent minded like that!

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I heard their comings and goings a bit later in the garden.  My attention was focused on some late season planting and mixing up snacks of fish emulsion for the pots, and I was too busy to fumble off my gloves and pull the camera from my pocket.

The hummers could care less; they were systematically sampling the morning’s offerings of nectar.

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It was early afternoon when I realized they weren’t as innocent as I’d assumed.  My partner and I were headed out on errands.  Two hummers lingered at the top of the drive, as though to wave us ‘Good-bye.’

One lit on a branch to watch the car pull away while the other made a dash for the Lantana patch that grows by the street.  Their message was clear: they would watch over the place while we were away.

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A female Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly enjoyed nectar from Lantana last Sunday afternoon.

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A new friend asked me over the weekend whether I photograph many birds.  Questions like this leave me a bit on the defensive.  I’m not much good with birds, especially with hummingbirds.

I’ve taken maybe five good photos of hummingbirds over the past several years.  They always seem to take off before I can get my camera out and on and focused on them.  They seem to have a sixth sense about when I’m paying attention to them, and quickly lift up and away.

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A tiny blue dragonfly paused long enough for a capture

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Maybe I should set an intention to capture more bird photos in the weeks ahead.  The big ones, like eagles and herons are slow and patient enough for me.  I’m always happy to snap their portraits.  It’s the fast little ones that I’ve not yet learned to charm into posing.

So now you know the real reason why I’m thinking and writing about hummingbirds, while sharing photographs today of caterpillars.

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Caterpillars make easy targets for a novice wildlife photographer.  They are so entirely focused on stripping the vegetation from the fennel that they pay me and my curious camera no mind.

These beauties are Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae, and they enjoy a variety of host plants related to herbs in the carrot family.  They love parsley and dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and wild parsnip.  I counted four individuals on a single fennel plant this afternoon, after finding only a single cat munching away yesterday.

Eastern Black Swallowtails may produce three generations over our long summer.  Depending on the weather and the host plants, an individual may develop from egg to adult in 40-60 days.  The final generation of the summer may overwinter here as a pupae.  This beautiful butterfly may be found in Eastern and Central North America from Southern Canada south to Northern Mexico.

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We don’t mind them munching the herbs.  We plant the herbs in hopes of attracting them and keeping them returning to our garden.  Besides, the herbs are tough, and will send out new growth so long as we keep them hydrated.

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How many cats can you spot on the fennel?  They blend in very well.

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That may sound like a strange thing for a gardener to say.  But as much as I admire the beautiful plants in our garden, it feels very lonely and empty without the hum and buzz and movement of the many animals who share it with us.   The garden is like a living stage; and it’s the animals, even the insects, who bring the drama to life.

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“The future of wildlife and the habitat
that they depend on is being destroyed.
It is time to make nature and all the beauty living within it
our priority
.
Paul Oxton

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Our hummers love this Salvia ‘Black and Blue.’  Goldfinches love the black eyed Susans.

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We’re willing to sacrifice the herbs in hopes of enjoying the butterfly adults!  We plant lots of nectar plants to occupy the butterflies (and hummingbirds) while we enjoy them.

That said, I couldn’t find a single butterfly when I was out with the camera in late afternoon.  My partner said he saw a big yellow Tiger Swallowtail, that I missed.

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed last week.

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The best I could capture on this Wild Life Wednesday was a tiny dragonfly, a large bumblebee, some unknown bugs on an Iris seedpod, and this family of swallowtail cats.

That’s OK.  I know they’re out there, and that means the garden is a refuge and delight for many amazing species.

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Native Hibiscus will open to welcome all hungry pollinators tomorrow morning!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

*

“If you are not filled with overflowing love,
compassion and goodwill for all creatures living wild in nature,
You will never know true happiness.”
 .
Paul Oxton

Fabulous Friday: Our Garden Is Full

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

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It was just a little goldfinch.  Yet I was so delighted to notice it gracefully balanced on a yellow black-eyed Susan flower near the drive, when we returned from our morning errands.  He concentrated his full attention on pecking at the flower’s center.  Though the seeds aren’t yet ripe, he was clearly hoping for a morsel to eat.

Once I took a step too close, he lifted into the air on outstretched wings, disappearing behind a stand of goldenrod.

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‘Green Envy’ Echinacea mixes with basil and more Rudbeckia, a feast for goldfinches and butterflies.

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Goldfinches and cardinals catch our eye with their bright feathers, but there are all of the other grey and brown and occasionally blue birds flitting from grass to shrub and flowering mass from before dawn until their final songs long past dusk.  And then we listen for the owls’ conversations through the night.

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I heard a wonderful speaker yesterday morning, who pulled back the curtain a bit on the world of insects in our gardens.  He is a former student of Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , and is now an assistant professor of Biology at nearby Hampton University.  Dr. Shawn Dash is a gifted teacher, keeping us all laughing and learning as he shared his insights into the importance of the insects of the planet in maintaining the web of life.

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Joe Pye Weed attracts more insects than any other flower in the garden this month.

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I am a total novice in this mysterious world of insects.  But I will say that I am learning to look at them with admiration and respect… so long as they remain out of doors in the garden!

Joe Pye Weed is the best wildlife attractor blooming in our garden at the moment.  It is simply covered with every sort of wasp and bee and butterfly and moth and sci-fi ready insect you can imagine.  The ‘buzz’ around it mesmerizes.

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Our garden hums and buzzes and clicks with life as July finally melts into August.  Dr. Dash talked about the musical chorus of insects as one of the wonderful benefits of a full garden; a diverse garden that includes some percentage of native plants to support them.

Creating a layered garden with an abundance of plant life from the hardwood canopy all the way down through smaller trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines and ground cover offers many niches to harbor a huge array of insects.  All of those juicy insects attract song birds and small mammals, turtles, frogs, lizards and yes, maybe also a snake or two.

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A fairly sterile suburban lawn may be transformed into a wild life oasis, a rich ecosystem filled with color, movement and song.  And the whole process begins with planting more native trees and shrubs to offer food and shelter to scores of species.

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But even more fundamentally, the process begins when we value the entire web of life in our particular ecosystem and allow it to unfold.

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Hardy blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows wild in our garden.  I stopped weeding it out after a few plants survived deep enough into the summer to bloom with these gorgeous blue flowers.

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I quickly learned that I don’t really need to go out and buy a lot of native plants.  I only have to allow them to grow when they sprout from the seeds already in our soil.  I have to allow the seeds that wildlife drop in our garden to have a bit of real-estate to take hold.  And nature magically fills the space.

We guide, nurture, and yes edit.  But as soon as we allow it and offer the least encouragement, nature becomes our partner and our guide.

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The goldenrod want to claim this entire area as their own… time to give some to friends!

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If you’ve already read Bringing Nature Home, let me invite you to also read, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, co-authored by Dr. Tallamy and landscape designer and photographer, Rick Darke.

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by [Darke, Rick, Tallamy, Douglas W.]

This translates the science into the practical planning of an ecologically balanced home landscape, and is richly illustrated and laced with wonderful stories.  It inspires one to go plant something and make one’s garden even more diverse.

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Our little Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar is growing fast, happily munching on the Daucus carota.

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Our garden is filled to overflowing, this Fabulous Friday.  It is filled with flowers and foliage, birds, squirrels, butterflies and scampering lizards.  Our garden is filled with tweets and twitters of the natural kind, the sounds of wind blowing through the trees and rain dripping on the pavement.

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fennel

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Our world is wet this week, as storm after storm trains up the East Coast.  I’m grateful for the rain even as I’m swatting at the mosquitoes biting any exposed bit of skin, while I focus my camera on the butterflies.

I hope that your summer is unfolding rich in happiness and beautiful experiences.  I hope you are getting enough rain, but not too much; that your garden is doing well and that you are, too.

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Wild Thing Wednesday

A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana.

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The beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail shares our garden through much of the year.  It is frequently the first butterfly we spot each spring and can be seen deep into autumn, enjoying our warm and sunny Indian summer days while seeking every last drop of nectar our flowers can produce.

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This is the first butterfly recorded by an English explorer on this coast of North America.  John White drew an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in 1587, while he was exploring Virginia with Sir Walter Raleigh’s third expedition.  John White called his drawing “Mamankanois,” which is believed to be the native word for ‘butterfly.’  This beautiful butterfly received its official Latin name, Papillio glaucus, from Carl Linnaeus in 1758.

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You’ll find this butterfly across the eastern half of North America.  The species once included butterflies in Eastern Canada, too.  But Eastern Tiger Swallowtails living in Canada were given their own species designation in 1991: ‘Papilio glaucus canadensis.’

An adult female may lay two or three broods of eggs over the summer.  Host plants include wild black cherry, sweetbay Magnolia, tulip poplar, cottonwood, common lilac and willow.  You may notice that these are all common trees or shrubs.

You can easily spot the females by the beautiful blue markings on their wings.  Females may have mostly yellow wings or mostly black wings; but they always have blue markings on their hindwings .

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Lantana at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in mid-July.

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Males have yellow wings with the distinctive black striping that earns them the name, ‘Tiger Swallowtail.’

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies remain fairly solitary, and are often found high up in the canopy of host trees.  They live mostly on nectar, though they may be seen ‘puddling’ on damp ground to drink water.

These are common butterflies that have adapted to a wide range of habitats, nectar sources and host plants.  They aren’t officially considered endangered, though shrinking habitats and use of insecticides has certainly affected their populations, too.

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The quickest, easiest way to attract swallowtail butterflies to your garden is to plant Lantana.  Butterflies love Lantana, though its not a native plant in our area.  They don’t care.  It must have lots of sweet nectar, because it is common to see several species of butterfly gathering around the Lantana in our garden.

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You’ll see swallowtail butterflies on other flowering plants, too.  They especially enjoy clusters of many small flowers, where they can stand and drink at their leisure.  Purple coneflowers, Rudbeckias, Monarda, Verbena, dill and fennel flowers also attract their attention.

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If you love watching butterflies, you’ll love the Butterfly Festival at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this weekend.  Come into the tents and enjoy hand-feeding these lovely creatures and observing them up close.  There will be several species of butterfly on display, including Monarchs, several different swallowtails and painted ladies.

There is no charge to enjoy the garden or the butterflies, and there will be lots of fellow butterfly enthusiasts on hand to share the excitement.  Butterfly host and nectar plants will be available for sale, and there are crafts for the little ones.

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Native butterflies are an important part of our history and our heritage.   As we watch them float around the garden, we are simply the latest generation in an unbroken chain of naturalists, smitten by their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“Butterflies are nature’s tragic heroes.
They live most of their lives being completely ordinary.
And then, one day, the unexpected happens.
They burst from their cocoons in a blaze of colors
and become utterly extraordinary.
It is the shortest phase of their lives,
but it holds the greatest importance.
It shows us how empowering change can be.”
.
Kelseyleigh Reber

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The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species.  Here, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys its nectar.  2017

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Generosity

Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold’

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“We need to spread more seeds
and fill this Planet with love
to be surrounded by flowers just everywhere!
It starts by simply opening up
our hearts and hands to one another.
It’s in simple things
where true Happiness may flourish.”
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Ana Claudia Antunes
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“Generosity is the most natural outward expression
of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”
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Dalai Lama XIV
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Pearl Crescent butterfly on Zinnia

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“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
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Kahlil Gibran
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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

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“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures.
The more he gives to others,
the more he has for his own.”
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Lao Tzu
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“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying
to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives.
In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender
before the miraculous scope of human generosity
and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely,
for as long as we have voices.”
.
Elizabeth Gilbert
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Photos by Woodland Gnome
at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

Enjoy the 4th Annual Butterfly Festival and Plant Sale 

August 4 & 5  free admission
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“Silence the angry man with love.
Silence the ill-natured man with kindness.
Silence the miser with generosity.
Silence the liar with truth.”
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Gautama Buddha
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Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on Lantana

Strange Magics In the Garden

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I kept hearing the refrain to a favorite ELO tune running through my brain as I moved through the garden this morning.  I was watering, trimming, pulling weeds, and very occasionally pausing to pull off my glove and snap a photo, but everywhere I saw wonder and beauty; ‘Strange magics.’

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There was the large green insect that popped up out of the stilt grass I was pulling, the same color as the weeds and with enormously long legs.  He casually hopped away in search of a better place to hide.

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There was the huge black butterfly returning again and again to an enormous panicle of deep purple Buddliea.  I was intently watering a clump of drooping perennials and so missed the shot, but still hold tightly to the memory of such fleeting beauty.

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Our garden is indeed a magical place in July.  Inches of growth happens overnight.  New plants crop up in unexpected places, and we are surrounded by an ever changing cast of lizards and bugs, swooping birds and invisible songsters.

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The sad and bedraggled Begonias we pulled out of the garage in mid-May have sprung back to life, re-clothed in fresh vibrant leaves and new flowers.  Their resurrection always delights as these fragile looking plants prove their strength and resilience.

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I move slowly during these extended watering sessions, pot to pot, plant to plant.  I’m always observing, tweaking, and nudging things along as the season unfolds.

One must be as ready to subtract and divide as one is to multiply or add something new.  How else does one keep order in such a wild kingdom?

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And then there is the choice surprise, the beauty one has waited to enjoy for an entire year, since it last appeared.

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Perhaps there is the low burrr of a hummingbird’s wings, its movement barely seen on the periphery before it swoops up and over and away.

There is a new blossom just opening, or the flash of a goldfinch flying across the garden, or a blue lizard’s tail disappearing under vines or behind a pot.

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One must concentrate with quiet attention to see even a fraction of the action.

“… I get a strange magic
Oh, what a strange magic
Oh, it’s a strange magic
Got a strange magic
Got a strange magic … ” 
.
Jeff Lynne

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It is the jaded eye that we must open wide, to fully appreciate all that is happening in the garden.  “Seek and you will find.” 

But without the search, the knocking that opens doors of discovery, the ask for something unique and special from our time in the garden; we might miss the magic and lose the ripe opportunities this moment offers.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes
the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden
in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic
will never find it.”
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Roald Dahl

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Sunday Dinner: From Your Point of View

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“The cosmos is within us.
We are made of star-stuff.
We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
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Carl Sagan

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“When you have once
seen the glow of happiness
on the face of a beloved person,
you know that a man can have no vocation
but to awaken that light
on the faces surrounding him.
In the depth of winter,
I finally learned that within me
there lay an invincible summer.”
.
Albert Camus

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“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
.
Tim Burton

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“What we do see
depends mainly on what we look for.
… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop,
the geologists the fossils,
botanists the flowers, a
rtists the colouring,
sportmen the cover for the game.
Though we may all look at the same things,
it does not all follow that we should see them.”
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John Lubbock

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“Nothing is really work
unless you would rather be doing something else.”
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J.M. Barrie

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“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then
to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted.”
.
Bertrand Russell

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“It is a narrow mind
which cannot look at a subject
from various points of view.”
.
George Eliot

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“If we are always arriving and departing,
it is also true that we are eternally anchored.
One’s destination is never a place
but rather a new way of looking at things.”
.
Henry Miller
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Fabulous Friday: The Delight’s In the Details

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Sometimes looking at the whole garden can feel a bit overwhelming; especially in mid-July when there has been a dry spell and the heat is clicked on ‘high.’  Leaf tips have browned, things may look a bit wilted.  There are weeds to pull and spent flowers to clip.

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This is where casual gardeners may get a little discouraged.  It is easy enough to retreat back into the air conditioning, pour a cool glass of tea, and determine to work on the garden when the weather improves.  I say that from first personal experience on seriously hot and muggy Virginia summer days.

Sometimes we retreat to garden another day, don’t we?

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And yet, July and August in the garden bring some of the most exquisite delights of the entire year.  This is when we’re most likely to spot a hummingbird casually visiting the Canna lilies, or spot butterflies happily feeding on the coneflowers.

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Our most audacious flowers bloom, and most of our plants have plumped up their volume to ‘Wow!‘  We can’t enjoy these special pleasures if we’re indoors waiting for September, or loading the car for some time on the beach.

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As in all things, we find the balance.  I like to go out to the garden in the early morning or just before sunset when there is a breeze, and the light is slanted at a more hospitable angle.  That is when it’s easiest for me to water and keep up with garden chores.

But often, if I just stick my nose out of the door in the middle of the day to do one simple thing, something flits by, grabs my attention, and I’m off to the garden.   A small bit of effort here and there to water or clip something back really does go a long way in the grand scheme of things.

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The pleasure we take from spotting a turtle burrowed into a shady spot, or a tiny toad resting behind (or maybe even tucked into) a pot is what makes the day memorable.  We plant those flowers to enjoy, after all, and warm days bring out the wonderful fragrances of summer. This is the season when nature sings to us from morning until night, if we only stop and listen.

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It is important to focus on the details, sometimes, and let our delight in their beauty distract us from larger worries.  It is happiness that fuels us, after all.  We are energized, enthused, when we are engaged with something that gives us joy.

 

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Let’s all make a point of moving our focus from the big picture, that can sometimes feel overwhelming, and find opportunities to delight in the details we notice in our garden, and in our lives.  The big picture will still be there; trust me.  But we can make more progress when we have built up enough joyful energy to make a dent in whatever obstacles might lie before us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another.

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“Chaos is peaceful when you stand quietly & watch –
we are eternal observers,
reflecting both tiny & vast,
singing infinitely within.”
.
Jay Woodman

Garden Gold

Fennel flowers allow for easy access to their nectar.

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The hotter it gets, the more gold in the garden glitters and shines.  As the mercury goes up, yellow and gold feel almost cooling.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Yellow,’ a fairly new perennial Lantana introduction. WBG

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I don’t understand the alchemy of that, but I do understand the clear attraction of gold for all of our nectar seeking pollinators.

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Gold flowers may just taste sweeter.  They certainly draw in the bees, wasps and butterflies who draw sustenance from their sugary depths.

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Lantana ‘Chapel Hill Gold’ is also a perennial in Zone 7. WBG

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All the while, these prolific flowers are also ripening seeds to delight goldfinches and other small birds who will feast on their ripe seeds well into the barren months of winter.

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Flocks of goldfinches took wing from the wildflowers where they were feeding, as I walked through the Williamburg Botanical Garden yesterday afternoon.

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Golden and yellow flowers often prove among the easiest for a gardener to grow.  Turn to dill, fennel and parsley for their distinctive round umbel inflorescence, all flat and easy to access;  Rudbeckias and Helianthus for their many petaled sunburst flowers.

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The first black eyed Susans, our native Rudbecki hirta, have begun to open in our garden.

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Coreopsis, Lantana, marigolds and Zinnias all bloom in shades of yellow, orange and gold.

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The season ends on a wild and native note as Solidagos burst into bloom in September and October, towering over the black eyed Susans in our garden like great feathery plumes of living gold.

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Solidago blooms alongside Rudbeckia in our garden, October 2017.

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If the entire garden were nothing but green and gold, animated with swallowtail butterflies and goldfinches, what a beautiful display we would still enjoy.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Any patch of sunlight in a wood

will show you something about the sun

which you could never get

from reading books on astronomy.

These pure and spontaneous pleasures

are ‘patches of Godlight’

in the woods of our experience.”


.

C.S. Lewis

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