Fabulous Friday: Changes in the Air

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Do you remember stories from your childhood about ‘Jack Frost’ turning the leaves bright colors ?  I remember stories and poems about Jack Frost, and making Crayola drawings with a wild assortment of brightly colored leaves on my brown stick trees.  It seems a ‘given’ that leaves change their colors when the nights begin to turn cool.

But neither our nights nor our days have cooled substantially, and yet the community is definitely taking on autumn’s hues.

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We noticed it as we drove across College Creek today, admiring the first hints of yellow and gold in the trees along the opposite bank.  But we also see it in our own garden, as scarlet creeps across some dogwood leaves and the crape myrtle leaves begin to turn, even as the trees still bloom.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden shows its autumn colors.

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We are running 12 to 13 degrees above our ‘normal’ temperatures most days lately, and it is a rare night that has dropped even into the 60s.  And yet the plants are responding to the change of season.   Perhaps they sense the days growing shorter; perhaps they are just getting tired.

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I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ has just come back into bloom in our garden.

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Our ‘re-blooming’ Iris have sent up their first autumn stalks.  We’ve been blessed with plenty of rain, recently, and so the Iris will have a good second season.  Some of our neighbors have Encore Azaleas covered in flowers

I was dumbfounded to see how gigantic some of the Colocasias, Alocasias and Caladiums grew in the catalog garden at the Bulb Shop in Gloucester.  I can’t remember ever seeing these plants grow so huge in Virginia.

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The catalog garden at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop is filled with some of the largest Colocasias I’ve ever seen. Do you recognize C. ‘Tea Cups’?

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But with good soil and near constant moisture, these amazing tropicals have shown us their potential for growth when they get all the warmth and moisture and nutrition they could possibly want.  I spoke with some of the staff there about how popular tropical ‘elephant ears’ have become in recent years, as coastal Virginia becomes ever more hospitable to them.

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We ventured up to Gloucester this week to pick up our order of fall bulbs.  It is admittedly too warm, still, to plant most spring bulbs.  But I retrieved our order, shared with friends, and now will simply hold most of the bulbs for another few weeks until the nights finally cool.

There are a few bulbs that need to get in the ground right away, like dog tooth violets and our Italian Arum.  Both are actually tubers, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.  Our Muscari, left in pots over the summer, are already in leaf.

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I’ve planted the first of my autumn four season pots filled with bulbs and mulched with moss.  This one will begin with autumn Crocus and Cyclamen in a few weeks, and then begin the early spring with snowdrops, Crocus, Muscari and dog tooth violet.  Finally, it will finish the season with late daffodils. The pot is anchored with an oak leaf Hydrangea and a deciduous lady fern. 

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If the daffodils and tulips get planted too early, they might grow too much before the really cold weather finds us.  We can continue planting spring bulbs here into late December, maybe even early January.  I’d much rather do it in October though, wouldn’t you?

As the weather cools down a bit, I’m wanting to get back out in the garden to do a bit of tidying up before the fall planting begins.

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Pineapple Sage is already blooming in our garden. I have several still in 4″ pots I need to plant one day soon.

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I’ve got a backlog of plants sheltering in pots, just waiting for their chance to grow.  I visited a friend today who was weeding and digging her Caladiums to store for next summer.   Some of our Caladiums are beginning to die back a little, so she was probably wise to dig them while she can see a few leaves and find their roots.

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This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room, and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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Bright orange wreathes are showing up on neighbor’s doors, and by Monday, the calendar will say ‘October.’  I suppose it is time to get on with it and embrace the changing seasons.

While I believe we will have another month, or two, of ‘Indian Summer’ before our first frost; I suppose we all just assume it is time for pumpkin lattes and chrysanthemums.  Some of my friends are already setting out huge mums and pulling their annuals.

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Hardy Begonias are at their peak, blooming and so beautiful this week.

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I’m not there, yet.  I’m still admiring our many ‘elephant ears’ and Begonias and watching for butterflies.  In fact, I came home from Gloucester with a sweet little Alocasia ‘Zebrina,‘ that  I’ve had my eye on all season.  They had just two left, and then they had one….

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Alocasia grown huge at the catalog garden

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The display plant, growing out in the catalog garden, was a bit taller than me.  Its leaves were absolutely huge!

I don’t know that my pot grown aroids will ever get quite that impressive, especially when they are forced to nap all winter in the basement.  But we enjoy them in their season, and their season will soon close.

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We found both Monarchs and a few chrysalis at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this week.

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I have been admiring our garden today, and celebrating the successes we’ve enjoyed this year.  I am intentionally procrastinating on any chores that hasten our passage into autumn.

That said, the pumpkin bagels that showed up at Trader Joes this week are truly delicious.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
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Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

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Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

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The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

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Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

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Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

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Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
.
Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
.
Isaac Asimov
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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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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

Fabulous Friday: Hide and Seek With the Butterflies

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I’ve been playing ‘Hide and Seek’ with the butterflies at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden at Freedom Park, trying to spot as many different pollinators and butterflies as I can among the lush growth of flowers.

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Silver-spotted Skipper on a Zinnia

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It feels like the entire garden is designed to welcome every beautiful winged creature that frequents our area.  Flowers grow everywhere, interspersed with those host plants butterflies need to raise their next generation.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden grows lush with summer flowers.

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There is the widest possible selection of native flowering plants, augmented with many bright nursery trade annuals and perennials filled with sweet nectar.

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Can you spot the bee, coming to share the nectar?

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There are places for caterpillars to find shelter as they gorge themselves on delicious leaves and grow towards their future as bright butterflies, spots for butterflies and other pollinators to find a drink, and lots of shelter for them to rest.

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One might expect the air to be thick with butterfly wings above this tempting wildlife banquet.  Where are they all this week?

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Common Sootywing butterfly on Basil

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I stopped by all of their favorite nectar plants, watching for the fleetest glimpse of wing.  There was the Tiger Swallowtail that flew away before I could focus the camera and the Black Swallowtail spotted by a friend.

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Pearl Crescent butterfly on Lantana

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I’ve no photo to offer you of either of these beauties, just one from a few weeks ago of a lovely Zebra Swallowtail.

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Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on Agastache June 15, 2018

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Lantana proves a butterfly magnet, and there is plenty of Lantana growing now in the garden.  If you want butterflies to visit your garden, planting Lantana, still available in local garden centers, is a reliable way to attract them.

Zinnias also prove popular, and our native purple coneflowers.  Please be careful to avoid using insecticides if you want to attract butterflies and pollinators.

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A Common Buckeye butterfly feeds in this bed of Lantana, with bronze fennel growing nearby.

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I like to plant nectar plants together with herbal host plants such as parsley, fennel, and dill.  Many gardeners also plant Asclepias, the preferred host plant of the Monarch.  Butterflies also feed on native trees or shrubs.  These may already be growing in or near your garden.

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Some gardeners might think it strange to grow plants intended as food for insects. Others recognize the beauty of participating in this magical web of life.  Asclepias incarnata grows here in our Forest Garden.

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By this time in the summer, the hunt is on for caterpillars. 

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This instructional garden stone was crafted by a Master Gardener custodian of the Botanical garden, and rests in the pollinator garden.

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You may notice ragged foliage before you see them, as they start off very tiny from their eggs.

I wonder sometimes, do butterflies remember their days spent munching leaves as caterpillars?  Do they fly back to their host plants, only to get distracted by nearby flowers, instead?

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It is fabulous to find ourselves enjoying the magical beauties of summer, once again.

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A bumblebee enjoys native Monarda fistulosa.

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I trust you will find those creatures you are hunting for, and enjoy their rare beauty as we celebrate summer together.

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Male Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on a button bush flower, June 14

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious… Let’s infect one another!
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Woodland Gnome 2018

Most photos were taken in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

at Freedom Park in James City County, VA

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“There are times to stay put,

and what you want will come to you,

and there are times to go out into the world

and find such a thing for yourself.”

.

Lemony Snicket

Fabulous Friday: Rain and Lizards

Hosta in (soggy) bloom

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Our garden is thoroughly watered, I’m happy to share!  And it’s unlikely that any of my gardening friends will be spending chunks of their weekend with a hose in their hand watering after the several inches of rain that we’ve had this week.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’

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In fact, the sound of pouring rain roused me well before sunrise this morning.  Downpours have come and gone today, interspersed with glimpses of blue sky and brilliant sunshine.

I appreciate the rain, of course; but am well aware of the flash flooding many have to deal with this week.  It has snarled the local airport with delays as the runway and access roads flooded early this morning.  Local roads flooded out again, and the chocolate milk brown James River is churning very high against its banks.  It is a good day to stay at home!

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Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ after this morning’s rain

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Plants hate too much rain, and may perish from their roots up when the soil stays saturated for very long.  I’ve emptied saucers under a few of our pots twice already today, and know I should do the tour and check them all again this evening.

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Artemisia prefers dry conditions. I have potted this one up from its nursery pot into a small ceramic pot just until I can prepare its new place in the garden. 

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All of the small creatures must cope with too much rain, as well.  While there is plenty of fresh water to drink, there is also the small matter of flooding in the nooks and crannies where they generally hide.

We came home mid-day to find our resident lizards enjoying their privacy, sunning themselves on our side porch.  One after another scampered away for cover as we approached.  They know us, and that we bring them no harm.  The boldest held her place on the step making eye contact as I greeted her.  She didn’t scamper into the vines until my shoe touched her step.

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These small lizards are known as skinks.

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Lizards crave warmth and laze about on all of the hardscapes around the house and garden.  Since they gladly eat up insects, spiders, slugs and worms wherever they can find them, I am quite happy to see them hanging around our potted plants.  We have an understanding, as these little guys are quite harmless.  Our cat is in on the bargain and watches them closely, but leaves the lizzies strictly alone.

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It is challenging to plant for the weather and our ever variable ‘climate.’  Those of us who planted drought tolerant perennials, like lavenders, Yucca, and other succulents are watching them try to cope with the saturated soil.  Sometimes herbs will get moldy or turn to mush in our steamy wet spells in summer.

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Spanish lavender wants great drainage and bright sun to thrive.

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That is why it is smart to consider drainage when planting them in the first place.  Plant a bit high, on a bit of a mound, and incorporate sharp sand or small gravel into the surrounding soil to improve drainage.  Mulch with grit, crushed oyster shells or gravel to keep soil and pathogens from splashing up onto their lower leaves in heavy rain.

Sun reflecting off of the gravel mulch will also help dry the plant’s inner foliage more quickly.

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A tiny dragonfly happily hovered around the pots on the patio during a break in the rain this afternoon.

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On the other hand, we have plenty of plants just loving the reliably moist soil.  The Caladiums and Colocasias like even moisture, though even they may rot if the soil stays too wet too long.  When the weather turns dry, these want watering most days to keep them growing happily.

They have a system:  Their large leaves, covered with tiny openings called stomata, allow water transported up from their roots to evaporate into the surrounding air.  So long as their leaves are growing and working in the sunlight, their roots can pump large amounts of water out of the soil and into the air.  Trees do this on an industrial scale!

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’ and Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ both enjoy moist soil.

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The smaller or more protected a plant’s leaves, the less water they will release from soil to atmosphere, and the better they tolerate drought.

It is smart to learn about a plant’s tolerance for wet soil and humidity just as we learn about its needs for sunlight, warmth, PH, and trace minerals in the surrounding soil.  That way, we can give them the conditions they need and keep them growing.

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Succulents with thick, waxy leaves release very little water into the air. They are built for hot, dry conditions and may rot of their soil remains saturated for too long.

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A plant with particular needs, or one that doesn’t thrive in local conditions may still be grown well in a pot.  And of course, pots can be set back under the eaves when the skies open and a downpour comes.

And believe me, our little lizards and toads find lodging in the pots sometimes.  Somehow, it seems to work out pretty well, no matter what strangeness the summer brings.

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“Breathe deep…
The rain falls but a moment,
and in a moment, gives life to another day.”
.
Laurence Overmire

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ above and right

Fabulous Friday: Shadows and Shade

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When the sun is shining and the temperature is climbing, it is time to seek shadows and shade.

Our temps here have been running 10 degrees or more above our historical ‘normal’ for better than a month.  Although school is just getting out and our high school seniors in the community graduate this weekend, it already feels like mid-summer.  You feel the burn quickly when caught out in the full sun.  And so the smartest place to spend one’s time is in the shade.

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The fern garden at the bottom of the yard holds the cool and shade we seek.  There is usually a nice breeze, and it is quiet, save for the calls of our resident birds and the hum of bees.  With tall bamboo making a dense wall on one side, and several good sized trees for shelter, we have a beautiful spot that is nearly always sheltered and shaded.

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This is where we have been planting ferns, Hellebores,  and other shade loving perennials for the past eight or so years.  It fills in a little better each year as the plants grow and spread, and as I plant up new parts of the hillside.  In fact, I just developed a large new bed this spring and the ferns are just taking hold and beginning to show new growth.

This shady area gives a great deal of textural interest, but nearly everything here grows in shades of green.  Beyond the early season Helleborus flowers and later daffodils, our shade garden glows in many shades of green, with little touches  of silver sheen on the Japanese painted fern, and the occasional burgundy stem.

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This week, the our huge voodoo lilies, Sauromatum venosum, rise over the garden so their huge, showy leaves may catch every ray of sunlight penetrating the canopy.

Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, these unique plants belong to the family of Araceae, like our own native Jack in the Pulpit.  I didn’t really intend to plant Voodoo lily in our garden.  It chose me…

On a late spring trip to Brent and Becky’s Gloucester bulb shop several years ago, the voodoo lily had already begun to grow, their elongated flower stalks breaking free of both their mesh bags and their bottom shelf bin.  A flower stalk caught my ankle as I walked by, drawing my attention.  It reminded me of past trips to the animal shelter when a kitten reaches through the bars of their cage to invite you to play with them.

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A deal was struck, and I bought a large sack full of the poor lilies, straining to escape their bags and grow.  I had to cut each plant out of its mesh bag carefully with sharp scissors to avoid damaging its bloom stalk.  I planted them in many different shady spots.

Each year they catch me by surprise, either with their huge purple flowers early, or these gargantuan leaves in early summer.  The leaves last a few weeks and then fade away.  The bulbs often divide and spread a little between one season and the next.

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I wonder, sometimes, why I don’t spend more time lingering in the shade of our wonderful fern garden.

It may be that I burn up my gardening hours watering the thirsty sun-drenched upper garden.  It may be that I get distracted photographing our pollinator visitors elsewhere, or tending to some much needed weeding or pruning where the growth is more rampant.

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There is always a long to-do list on my mind, and I feel responsible to take care of the garden chores before allowing myself to wander down here  to relax and enjoy the cool, calm beauty of it all.

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But when I finally slip down the hill to the shade, usually hose in hand, I am delighted to spend some time in the shadows, watching for turtles and enjoying the coolness and the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

Fabulous Friday: Summertime Blues

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ blooms for several weeks, beginning in early June.

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Summertime blues in the garden make us feel a little cooler on the muggiest days.  Their colors are soothing and peaceful.

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Hardy Geranium weaves itself through the airy foliage of Daucus carota.

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Blues sparkle and shine against the sea of early summer green, and enliven the many white flowers of our garden.

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Blue may not be every gardener’s first choice for summer flowers.  There are those who gravitate to bright orange and yellow daylilies,  red roses and petunias, and every other warm and vibrant shade and hue.  But as our summers heat up, I find myself turning more towards cool colors for our summer garden.

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This week our ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangeas are finally opening; a relief that they made it through this past winter.

Last summer the blooms were sparse because the season’s new growth was zapped by a late freeze.  It is good to see these very old shrubs, planted by our home’s original owner, covering themselves in flowers once again.

They want more shade than they get, but their roots are strong and bent on survival.

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The hardy Geraniums are blooming, too.  Our native Geraniums come in shades of white, pink, purples and blues, and percolate along year to year with little fuss or care.

This is probably G. ‘Johnson’s Blue,’ though G. ‘Rozanne looks very similar and is a newer, better (and more expensive) cultivar.  Perennial Geraniums are good ground cover plants, and weave themselves up and through taller perennials.

Between our voles and rabbits, only a few we have planted have actually survived, and so we are especially happy to see them in bloom!

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Of hardier stock is Verbena bonariensis.  This very tall, lean, drought tolerant perennial blooms for several months with tiny flowers seeming to float in mid-air above the garden.  You might want to observe that these flowers are more violet than blue; but I say they are close enough to have the same cooling affect on a muggy  Virginia summer day.

Lavender flowers also slide along the color wheel between blues and violets, depending on the cultivar.  I especially appreciate their grey foliage whether they happen to be in bloom, or not.

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Finally, the last of the blue-violet flowers, as we enter the second week of June, is Comphrey.  These dainty flowers attract pollinators and make for beautiful combinations with other leaves and flowers.

As coarse and floppy and annoying as their enthusiastic habits may become, my gardener’s heart softens when I watch the pollinators flock to their sweet little flowers.  I only rip out a few at a time, allowing more to crop up to keep the flowers coming throughout the summer.

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There are other blues and purples available this time of year in both foliage and flower.  From Petunias to Clematis, Columbine to Hosta and Heliotrope; you will find lots of choices when you seek them out.

The blues never scream for our attention.  Rather, they weave their color magic more subtly, waiting for us to breathe deeply and relax into their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Heliotrope

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!
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Clematis

Fabulous Friday: Reading the Leaves

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It is possible to ‘read’ a garden much as one would read a book.  A careful glance can give lots of information about what is growing, how healthy it might be, what visitors have stopped by, the recent weather and maybe even the condition of the soil.  What do you read from these photos, taken this evening in our garden?

What you might read is that the gardener has been a bit inattentive, lately.  Do you see the vine that doesn’t belong?

These are photos of our Muscadine grapes.  Did you notice the tiny grapes already beginning to grow?  But, I noticed tonight, that Virginia creeper is trying to colonize this patch of grapes.  The vine with compound leaves, five to a cluster, is our native Virginia creeper.  It is a vigorous grower and can colonize a tree, if no one notices and cuts it back.

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Early summer is a time of vigorous growth.  The warmth and frequent rain, these last few weeks, have nurtured all of the green growing things into exceptional exuberance.  I’ve been pulling Virginia creeper off the house, out of shrubs, out of beds and even out of the grapes here this week.  But, it’s obvious I missed some!

Virginia creeper is a pretty vine, provides food and shelter for wildlife, and turns brilliant scarlet in October.   Birds spread its seeds around.   But it scrambles so quickly over other plants that we are always on the lookout for it, to keep it in bounds.

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Can you ‘read the leaves’ here to see what might be pruned out? There is blackberry taking off to the bottom left, and a tendril of Japanese honeysuckle winding around a stem. Both are invasive plants that crowd out more desirable ones, like the Asclepias nearly ready to bloom.

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Of course, wild grapes are growing pretty enthusiastically this week, too.  If you have somewhere they can grow, they are a great food source for wildlife.  Your birds will love you if you give them a good patch of grapes.

But moving around the garden, I find them growing in places where they can harm other plants, too.  This week I’ve been on the lookout for these vines, and for blackberry brambles, to cut these thugs back where they aren’t wanted, before they take over!

That is why it is good to ‘read the leaves’ as we move around the garden.  We can see situations as they arise and nip them back right away… at least in theory!

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What do you read, here? How many different herbs can you count?

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I love this time of fast growth and re-appearance of favorite plants.  We are settled in to true summer now, and the plants have shown their dedication to becoming their best selves.

The lavender is blooming, finally, and all of the herbs show new growth at last.  The Basil is expanding, coming into bloom, and the butterfly bushes are covered in buds.

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I’m occupied daily now with weeding and deadheading, cutting back, and of course, lots of planting.  It is soul satisfying work. 

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ with C. ‘Chinook’

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We are  still  in  process  of  creating  the  garden .  The  choices that  we  make  now  will  determine  how  our  garden  grows for  the  season  ahead.  How  fabulous  to work  with  nature’s  creativity  day  by  day .

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious. 

Let’s infect one another!

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Fabulous Friday: Colossal Caladiums

Caladium ‘Carolyn Whorton’

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Meet Carolyn.  Carolyn has apparently become a FOTF, because this is her third or fourth summer hanging out on our deck.  Properly introduced as Ms. Carolyn Whorton, she is reliably gorgeous and fun to be around from early May through at least November, when we let her have a bit of a rest until the following spring.

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It is simply fabulous to watch our favorite Caladiums awaken and throw out their astounding leaves for another season.  Yes, thanks to Don Patterson at Classic Caladiums, we have figured out a reliable system to save our Caladiums year to year.

Some might wonder whether an older bulb makes a bigger plant.  The answer is yes, and no.  According to the Caladium gurus,  an individual Caladium’s mature height, coloration and the size of its leaves are determined by its genetics.

Some varieties grow taller, others remain much lower growing.  The leaf shape and size is also a function of genetics.  But within that genetic potential, how you grow a Caladium also determines whether it grows to its maximum size, or not.

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C. “Carolyn Whorton” grew from a tuber we overwintered. This variety can grow exceptionally large leaves on 24″ stems. Here, in September 2017

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Of course good soil, steady moisture and a bit of organic fertilizer are good for growth.  But beyond that, shade loving Caladiums tend to grow larger in the shade, and remain more compact in bright light.   All of our saved bulbs began their re-awakening in large plastic tubs in our guest room.

I planted in early March, and they were sitting up on the bed, near a window and a lamp, by the third week of March.  And that is where they stayed…. perhaps a little too long…. because April here was too cold for them to go outside into the sunshine.

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The stem in the middle holds this Caladium’s first flower. Like other aroids, the Caladium flower isn’t showy. Leaving it can drain off energy from leaf production, so many of us simply remove them.

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And so they s..t..r..e..t..c..h..e..d…, trying to catch all they light they could, and also grew enormous leaves!  I remembered Carolyn from last summer, and so gave her her own pot and root room to grow early on in the transplanting process.  She has been out on the deck, in much better light, for most of May.

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Some of her companions were still camping out in their plastic bin until early this week.  But they all have a place to grow now either in a garden bed or in a pot.

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This bin of new Caladiums is ready to be planted out this week. The red leaf is C. ‘Burning Heart,’ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums.  The white is C. ‘Florida Moonlight.’

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Not so for all of our newly purchased Caladium tubers.  I planted most of them into bins, but potted up a few into individual peat pots when they arrived from Florida in late March.  I potted up a few individually for a friend, and decided to experiment with this alternative way to get a jump on the season with about a dozen or so of our new bulbs, too.

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The results are clear:  our Caladiums in the bins are doing much better than those in individual pots.  I can think of at least three reasons why this is the case.

First, it is easier to maintain an even moisture content in the soil for the bulbs in bins.  I line the bin in paper toweling before adding soil, and that layer of paper wicks the moisture evenly throughout the bin.  The peat pots get a little dry, then when I water a little too moist, and back and forth as I remember to check on them, or not.

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More of our new Caladiums are in process… the material on the soil is rice hulls, the packing material that comes with the bulbs.

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The potted Caladiums also don’t have the advantage of soil mass to keep them warm.  Their temperatures vary, and maybe get a little cool, much more often than those growing in the bins.

And finally, I amended the potting soil used in the bins with a bit of Espoma Bulb tone before planting the Caladiums.  The pots have straight up potting soil.

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C. ‘Highlighter’ and C. ‘Chinook’ were among the first of our new Caladiums ready to plant out this spring.

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Now, it is clear to me, watching the new bulbs leaf out, that each variety takes its own time to come into leaf.  Caladiums planted the same day, into the same soil, and receiving identical treatment, take very different numbers of days to show their first leaf.

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That is a little frustrating to me, as some of our Caladiums purchased this season haven’t even shown themselves, yet.  The first ones in leaf have gotten the choice locations around the garden, and I’ll have to figure out what to do with the latecomers, when they finally grow.

And my good friend who trusted me to start her Caladiums for her is still waiting to fill her pots.  At least half of her bulbs have poked a tip above the soil to show me they are alive…

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But back to the question of bigger bulbs and bigger plants.  I planted Caladium bulbs this year the size of a potato, and I planted bulbs the size of a grape.

The main difference in the size plant they produce will be seen in how many leaves each can produce at a time.

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C. ‘Florida Sweetheart’ at Halloween, just before I brought her in for the winter.

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But as you can see, ‘Carolyn’ has only two leaves.  Why doesn’t a grand dame like herself have at least a half dozen?

The answer lies in the idea of ‘dominance.’  The first eye to develop is the dominant bud.  It can chemically signal ‘wait’ to the other buds.

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Caladium tubers ready for spring planting, with some buds already showing growth.  Remove the dominant bud, and a greater number of buds begin to grow.

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Had I performed a big of surgery on the dominant ‘eye’ before planting the Caladium tuber, I could have stimulated more eyes to produce leaves right off the bat.  Maybe one year I’ll get around to playing with that….

But in this moment, we are happily enjoying the start of Caladium season.  It has been a slow grow this spring, but I am steadily putting a few more plants out into our garden each week.

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Finally, a Caladium has replaced the fading Violas with this Japanese Painted fern.

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As our Caladiums, Colocasias, Alocasias and Zantedeschias leaf out and bulk up, our garden looks a little more tropical with each passing day.  I am still learning about the magic ‘alarm clock’ combination of warmth, light and moisture that helps each genus break dormancy and awaken to a new season of growth.

But awakening they are, on their own schedules, and to our great delight.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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

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