First Ginger Lilies

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Our first ginger lily of the year began opening a few days ago, wafting its intoxicatingly sweet fragrance across our garden.  These hardy perennials return year after year, growing to over 7 ft high in our garden.

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I remain grateful to our neighbor who offered to let me dig some of these beauties from her garden in the weeks before she moved.  I’d never grown these  before, and simply trusted that we would enjoy them.

We had space for them to spread, and spread they have in the years since.  This part of our garden grows dense and tropical and full of life.

Oh my!  What a treat we look forward to in late summer each year, when our ginger lilies bloom.

Getting reacquainted with their pure white flowers today has made this a Fabulous Friday, indeed.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Just remember to say THANK YOU sometimes,
for all of these everyday extraordinary gifts.”
.
Scott Stabile

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, so let’s infect one another!

 

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Change Is In the Air

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Our drought dissolved in inches of cool, wonderful rain last weekend.  We had a break from the heat, too, with some wonderfully cool nights and mornings.

We’ve left doors and windows open to air out the house and gotten outdoors a bit more.   Mornings, especially, have been wonderful for puttering and watering without getting roasted when one steps out of the shade.

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Our newest crape myrtle, with blooms this year, after a visit from the doe and her fawns.  I’m relieved to see lots of new growth, which is especially pretty on this cultivar.

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Yesterday evening, we ventured into the front yard on the way to collect the mail, and were amazed by a cloud of graceful dragonflies.  Neither of us could remember seeing so many dragonflies flying about the garden all at one time.  We stood in awe, admiring them.

All sorts of creatures begin to show themselves when the rain returns and temperatures dip.  Not only dragonflies, but butterflies show up, too.

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And I’ve had a tiny hummingbird gathering courage this week, flying ever closer to the fine spray from the hose as I water.  It zips up close in the blink of an eye, and hovers, jumping forward a few inches at a time to the edge of the cool mist of water.

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The magic of cropping allows us to enjoy the crape myrtle’s flower without seeing where the tree was nibbled….

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We have a family of small rabbits sharing the garden this summer, too.  They watch us from the shadows, hopping off briskly only if we get too close for their comfort.   Small lizards rustle among the pots on the front patio, sunning themselves along the windowsills and on the porch.  A tiny one, less than 2″ long skittered through the slider as I let the cat out Wednesday morning.  I shudder to think where it may be hiding, and choose to believe it found its way back outside unseen.

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Our garden’s soundtrack begins before dawn as birds call to one another, and lingers late into the evening with frog song and chirping cicadas.  Birds nesting in the yard follow us around, calling to us from nearby trees as we work.

These are reasons we love living in our forest.  You must know, though, that its not all peaches and cream, at any time of year.  We’ve put out deer repellents three times in the last week.  It remains all too common to look out of our front windows to see a certain doe and her two fawns munching the Hydrangeas on our front lawn.

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Back out into the sun, a favorite pot of Caladiums also hosts a Crinum lily preparing to bloom. This is one of the few lily blossoms deer won’t eat, and these tough perennials get better each year.

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Yesterday afternoon, it was a black snake that surprised my partner in the shrubs beside our front porch.  It was the first we’ve seen near the house this year, and we hope the last!  Now I’ll be extra careful working near the shrubs, and keep an eye out for it.  (A former gardener’s wife refused to venture into the yard at all, for fear of snakes.  She admired it all from the windows of our home.)

Yes, change is in the air as we settle in to August.  The garden has visibly revived and begun to grow again since our rain.  We watch the forecast daily, greedily waiting for the next shower and cool day.  I’ve a ‘to do’ list which begins with pruning the roses before moving on to some serious weeding; just waiting for a cool, damp morning to inspire me.

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I noticed the interesting texture eaten into these leaves above our deck yesterday evening.

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Hibiscus fill our garden this time of year.  All of our Crape Myrtle trees have begun to bloom, and the golden Rudbeckia are coming into their prime.   There is plenty of nectar for every pollinator in our corner of the county.  Butterflies hover around the Lantana, and every sort of fabulous wasp buzzes around the pot of mountain mint growing on our deck.

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Hardy Hibiscus coccineus began to bloom in the front border this week.

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August reminds us to take some pleasure and rest while we can.  It is a month of kicking back and savoring the sweetness of life.  It is a month for catching the first whiff of change in the cool morning breezes.

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Basil loves this hot, sunny weather!

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I hope you are preparing for a weekend getaway this Fabulous Friday.  Maybe you are already there, settling in for a little holiday time.

I began the day catching up with a good friend over coffee, and am looking forward to a few hours in the garden this evening.  I’ll plan to get away later in October, once the butterflies fly south again and the hummingbirds stop dancing around me as I water.

August is too full of sweetness to leave the garden now.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, so let’s infect one another!

*
Woodland Gnome 2017

Fabulous Friday: B. ‘Sofia’ Blooms

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The first blooms of the season just appeared on our most stunning cane Begonia, ‘Sophia.’  This Begonia has the largest, most dramatic leaves of all the Begonia‘s we grow.

When I originally ordered it several years ago from Garden Harvest Supply Com., it was advertised as having dark purple leaves, with splashes of silver, that can appear almost black on top. The undersides of the leaves are a beautiful maroon.  Little mention was made of its flowers.  The leaves are the main attraction on this Begonia, and they are lovely year round whether the plant is grown indoors or outside.

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What the catalog description didn’t warn me about was this plant’s size!  It grows enthusiastically, with huge leaves and towering  canes.  When I cut back the canes to prevent the plant from falling over, and put those canes in water, they quickly root.  Which means, that we have a growing collection of pots of this beautiful, but gargantuan, Begonia. 

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A potted B. ‘Sophia’ grows between an oakleaf Hydrangea and Edgeworthia, lit by the early morning sun.

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We enjoy this Begonia in our home from late October through early May.  Once it comes outside, it loses some of its winter leaves, but quickly replaces them with larger, more intense ones.  Now, after nearly three months of brighter light and moist heat, it is ready to cover itself in sprays of small, pink flowers.  Cane Begonias flower generously once they get going!

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B. ‘Sophia’ beginning to bloom.  Its canes look much like bamboo.  New side shoots can grow from each leaf node.  Pinching out the growth tip encourages new side shoots to form.

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This was the last Begonia cultivar we have been waiting for to bloom this year.  It joins our many other varieties filling pots and baskets in the shady areas of our forest garden.  These large plants use a tremendous amount of water each day.  In hot weather, they may need watering every day. Water twice a day if the plants look stressed.

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Another cane Begonia, ‘Arabian Sunset’ blooms continually from May through October.  I originally purchased this variety from a farmer’s market, and gave it to my dad for Father’s Day.  We have kept it going from cuttings for nearly 20 years.  I’ve not seen it offered for sale, since.

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They will have better color and more flowers if you feed them regularly, too, with enriched soil, timed release fertilizer such as Osmocote, and also a boost from a liquid feed from time to time.  I use Neptune’s Harvest in a watering can several times a month during summer for Begonias kept out in the garden.  Begonias kept indoors, or on our deck, get a very diluted drink of a water soluble fertilizer formulated for orchids. It certainly isn’t organic; but it doesn’t have a a strong odor and the plants respond with abundant growth.

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Large cane Begonias give our garden a rich texture.  Grow them in a large pot, and consider underplanting them with miniature Hosta, low growing ferns, ivy, Heuchera, Dichondra,  small Caladiums, or other, lower growing Begonias.  If you don’t cover the soil with a companion planting, then mulch the soil with moss or fine gravel to both conserve moisture and make a more finished presentation.

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Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.

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Just keep in mind, as summer draws to a close, that cane Begonias, like ‘Sophia’ are tropical plants and hate to be cold.  Bring them indoors before night time temperatures drop into the 40s in your garden.

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Another large cane Begonia that I’ve grown for many years, I’ve lost track of the cultivar name for this one.

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But we still have several months to enjoy these fabulous plants out in our garden.

If you’ve not yet tried growing cane Begonias, be confident that you can manage their simple needs.  These are long-lived companion plants which will grow, and multiply, for many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.”
.
Pericles
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Begonia “Sophia” blooming in March of 2014

 

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

Leaf III: Decoration

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Unusual leaves bring great energy and interest to our garden.  Caladiums, like this C. ‘Gingerland’ offer a long lasting, bold accent in sun to partial shade.  Each leaf is unique, painted in clear bright color across its graceful, undulating form.

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A pot filled with Caladiums can be stunning.  But mix Caladiums with ferns, vines or annuals for uniquely interesting arrangements.  ‘Gingerland’ was our first Caladium in leaf this year from the new batch ordered in April.

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Caladiums also mix well with other Aroids, like Alocasia ‘Stingray.’  Their cultural needs are similar.  These C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ overwintered together with the Alocasia in their pot in our garage.  Heavy feeders, the more generous you can be with water and fertilizer, the larger and more lush they will grow.

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Newer Caladium varieties can take more sun than you might imagine.  I had this pot of C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. ‘Desert Sunset’ in partial sun until our recent spell of hot, dry weather.  It is photographed here in deep shade, a temporary resting spot until the weather moderates.

We enjoy the beacon like effect of these luminous white leaves shining from a shady spot in the garden.

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Alocasia ‘Frydek’

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Alocasia have just appeared on the market in recent years.  This unusual tropical plant also grows from a tuber.  One of the first commonly available was Alocasia micholitziana.  A widely marketed cultivar is known as A. ‘Frydek’ or ‘African Mask’ or Alocasia Polly.

These ‘elephant ears’  are often sold as house plants, and do well in normal indoor conditions year round.  Sometimes they will go dormant and appear to die back.  Just be patient and keep the soil a little moist.  You will usually be rewarded with new leaves in a few weeks.

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Alocasia are long-lived plants, which grow larger each season.  They enjoy a partially sunny spot in our summer garden.  Their deep green, substantial leaves last for months at a time.   Bring them indoors in winter, if only to a garage or basement, and you will be rewarded with additional years of beauty.

There are many new types of Alocasia on the market these days.  In addition to A. ‘Frydek’ and A. ‘Stingray,’ we also grow A. ‘Plumbea’ and A. ‘Sarian.’  

I recognized some plants at our local Trader Joe’s as unnamed Alocasia back in February, and bought two.  We kept them going in the dining room until it warmed enough to move them outdoors this spring.  they have put out prodigious growth and their leaves are now about 18″ long, each.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Another genus with unusual and beautiful leaves, Begonia, also thrives in our summer garden.  Tropical, most varieties of Begonia enjoy heat and humidity.  Although they often pump out delicate flowers all summer long, we growth them mostly for their outrageous leaves.

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Cane Begonia

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Although not as large as Caladium or Alocasia leaves, some Begonia varieties have large, extravagantly marked and highly textured leaves.  B. ‘Gryphon’ appeared in local shops perhaps six years ago.  It will grow quite large by the end of summer, and the plants keep well from year to year.

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A newly unfolding leaf on B. Gryphon.  The red fades to a more even green as each leaf matures, though the stems remain red.

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B. ‘Gryphon’ can be propagated from stem or leaf petiole cuttings.  Simply stick a section of the trunk into a pot of moist soil, and wait.  I generally use a little rooting hormone on the cut end of the stem.  The stem will root in moist soil, with new growth appearing in just a few weeks in summer.  I overwintered a stem cutting in our garage last winter, and new growth appeared a few weeks after we put it outside this spring.

B. ‘Gryphon’ is grown for its beautiful leaves and tropical form.  It will eventually produce some small flowers in its second or third year.

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Begonia Rex come in hundreds of varieties.  Their leaves are beautifully patterned.  I’m seeing these offered at big box stores in spring along with annuals and other shade perennials.  Although perennial, they are tender and won’t survive freezing temperatures outdoors.  I normally grow these in pots to keep from year to year.

They grow from rhizomes, and may appear to ‘die’ at times.  Often, the plant has gone dormant due to stress, and will begin to produce leaves again if given minimal care and warmth.

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Begonias can be heavy feeders.  They like their soil to dry out a little before you water again, and thrive in bright shade.  They enjoy the humidity when placed under trees in our summer garden.

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Begonia

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Unusual and colorful leaves keep a garden fresh and fun.  Ours have the garden looking Fabulous this Friday!

Whether you have one wonderful pot of Caladiums, or a garden filled with striking foliage, you will soon be hooked.

When you realize how easy and resilient these plants can be for you to grow, and how long-lived and tough these tropical beauties become;  you may soon will find yourself collecting them, too.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Unusual

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

 

Fabulous Friday: What is Beauty?

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We live surrounded by beauty.  But how do you define it?  Everyone has their own idea of what is beautiful, and what is not.

This is a conversation that has been going on for a very, very long time.  We know that people living many thousands of years ago discussed this a lot, and had their own, very definite ideas.

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Anything in any way beautiful
derives its beauty from itself
and asks nothing beyond itself.
Praise is no part of it,
for nothing is made worse or better by praise.
.
Marcus Aurelius
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We gardeners generally intend to cultivate beauty through our efforts.  That isn’t to say our gardens are always beautiful, though.   Beauty happens, but there is a lot of cleaning up of the ‘not so beautiful’ too.

And that is the space which interests me: when there might be disagreement as to whether or not something is beautiful.

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Do you find this Eucomis beautiful?  Would you grow it?

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“Everything has beauty,
but not everyone sees it.”
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Confucius
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Most of us find flowers beautiful.

But what about the perfect insects which drink their nectar?  What about the beetles eating their petals?  Can you see their beauty, too?

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Perhaps my perception of beauty is a little skewed, but I find the insects, in their geometric grace and perfection, beautiful.

There is beauty in every leaf, every petal, every stem.  The longer you gaze, the more beauty one absorbs.

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I was so pleased, when I walked through the garden this afternoon, to find these beautiful wasps enjoying our Allium blossoms.  There must have been 20 or more of them, each enjoying the sweet nectar at their feet.  They were peacefully sharing the bounty with bees and other pollinators.

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There are people in my life who would have squealed and backed away at the sight of these busy insects.  But I was too fascinated to fear them, and instead took great joy in making their portraits.  They are interesting visitors, and we rarely see such large, colorful wasps.

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Our garden’s bounty this week includes golden parsley flowers and creamy white carrot flowers, in addition to the Alliums.  There are Echinaceas now, lavender, Coreopsis, Salvias, crepe myrtle, Basil, and more.  All these tiny nectar filled flowers attract plenty of attention from hungry pollinators!

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It’s a feast for our eyes, too.  Sometimes, it is hard to imagine the abundance of our June garden until it returns.

We’re celebrating the solstice this week, and we are surrounded by such beauty here, that it is a true and heartfelt celebration

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I’ve always valued beauty.  To me, beauty can cause happiness, just as food expresses love.  There is beauty in truth, though you can argue that beauty may often be based in illusion.

We could discuss this all evening, couldn’t we? 

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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Rather than ‘over-think’ it, which may be the antithesis of beauty, let’s just enjoy it.

Let’s simply celebrate this Fabulous Friday, this Beautiful high summer day; and like the bees, drink in as much sweet nectar as our eyes and hearts will hold.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter,’ a new introduction this year. Do you find it beautiful?

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Woodland Gnome 2017

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure
as long as life lasts.”
.
Rachel Carson
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Clematis ‘Violet Elizabeth’

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

Fabulous Friday: Caladium Leaves

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Here we are smack in the middle of June, and our Caladiums are finally taking their places in our garden.  It has been slow-growing this year, I’m afraid.  The weather here has been ‘iffy.’  As in, the Caladiums would be growing much better if the weather would just settle down with some consistency.

These tropical beauties love heat.  And we’ve had some pretty miserably hot days already.  But then we get a cool spell, and  a few dull rainy days, and they slow down again.  But the good news is that those ‘Moonlight’ tubers I planted directly into a pot in early May are finally growing.  I was holding my breath on those, but they are indeed alive and I see leaves on three of them.

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Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina,’ back for its second year in our garden.

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And the big bin of Caladiums I’ve held back in the garage for the last few weeks is emptied into the garden today, along with the odd bits and pieces of new tubers I planted a bit late.

Yes, it was another cool day here today, between waves of rain.  And I decided to make the most of it in a marathon of planting.  All the odd left-over pieces finally fit into the garden, somehow, and I’m ready to stroll about and simply admire it for the next few months!

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I like this new Caladium, ‘Highlighter.’ It is supposed to be chartreuse, but so far is a lovely ivory with pink markings.

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There has been an abundance of Caladiums this year, and I believe I’ve filled nearly every nook and niche that could support them.  There were the many tubers we dug, dried and saved through winter.  Nearly every one of those sprouted, and were the first batch I planted in late April.

The new ones came in the post about the time the first crop was ready for the garden.  I started those in several waves, and it was these new ones I was planting out today.

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C. ‘Miss Muffet’ sparkles. This one  is in its third summer in our garden.

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I was amazed:  Some of the new Caladiums, planted into my nursery boxes in potting soil in late April, were only just beginning to sprout.  I hope that now that they are outside in our summer weather, they will take off and grow.  They were nestled among the roots of the very tall Caladiums that have been growing (and stretching) in the garage.

We’ve somehow ended up with an abundance of white Caladium varieties this year.  In addition to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘White Queen’ and ‘White Christmas;’ there are a few ‘Sweet Carolina’ saved from last summer, and the new Caladium varieties, ‘White Delight’ and ‘Highlighter.’  These cool white leaves shine in the shade, and make me feel better on steamy summer days.

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C. ‘Florida Sweetheart’

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Caladiums left tucked in pots of Begonias, and other tender perennials that overwintered in our garage, have awakened now, too. They’ve all been outside for a month or more, and I”m finding their little leaves poking through the soil below the other plants.  How fabulous that they survived another winter!  Each one noticed, brings it’s own happiness.  And I am sure that more will show themselves in the weeks coming.

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Caladiums  fall in that wonderful group of ‘easy’ plants to grow.  Once started, they ask for little beyond enriched, moist soil.  No need to prune, deadhead, stake or spray; they simply keep on pumping out gorgeous leaves until autumn’s chill shuts down their performance for another season.

We’ll enjoy them here for another four or five months, and then start the cycle again by digging, drying, and tucking the tubers safely away for the winter.  As I dug their planting holes in the garden today, lacing each with a little Bulb Tone, I admired our Caladiums with the happy satisfaction of knowing that the best is yet to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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

Fabulous Friday: The Napping Bee

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I was trecking through the garden a bit earlier than usual this morning.  Thank the doe I spotted strolling in the lower garden, for that.  The cat and I were enjoying the best of early morning on our dew dampened deck when she strolled into view, gazing up at us way too innocently.

Not yet dressed for the garden, at least I had on some old jeans and a pair of deck shoes.  I took off for the back door, grabbed the long baton we keep there for such activities, and headed out to inspire her swift departure.  Since my camera was right there on the kitchen counter, I grabbed it too, and headed down the hill in pursuit.

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Mrs. Doe knows us well.  And she soon realized that since it was just me, she could lead me on a merry chase.

Across the bottom, back up hill, through the perennials in front; she thought she had found refuge by lying down under our stand of Mountain Laurel.  But I still saw her, still as she was in the shadows, and let her know it was time to go.

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Once she had leapt the fence back to the neighbor’s yard next door, I hung out for a while, taking photos and listening for her to try to sneak back in.

And that is when I spotted the napping bee.  These bumblies don’t have hives, like honeybees.  And it isn’t unusual to find them, sleeping still, in the cool of early morning, clinging to the same flowers they visited last evening.

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Breakfast at the Agastache…

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A few of its mates were lazily slurping their breakfasts nearby.  Perhaps their night time perch had already been warmed by the sun.

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Allium, Verbena bonariensis and Coreopsis all delight hungry pollinators.

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Our sunny perennial beds are planted to attract as many pollinators as we can. The Agastache, in its third year, has grown into a gigantic mass of nectar rich flowers.  It will bloom steadily now until frost.

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Agastache with white mealy cup sage, white Echinacea, purple basil, thyme, dusty miller and a calla lily offer plenty of choices for our pollinators.

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Looking around, the feast is definitely laid for the wild creatures who frequent our garden.  There are ripening berries and abundant insects for our several families of birds.  There are plenty of flowers beckoning bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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And, there are plenty of ants marching along in formation to feed the skinks who sun themselves on our porches.   A huge rabbit, maybe even bigger than our cat, was munching grass on the front lawn at dusk last night.  And we’ve found several box turtles, who eat most anything, sheltering among the perennials.

And how could the deer not look in through the fences, and use every brain cell they’ve got to find a way into the garden?  Sadly, unlike our other garden visitors, their munching harms the plants and destroys the beauty of the place.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, although native in our region, is still loved by hungry deer. This is our first year to enjoy more than a single bloom or two. I keep it sprayed with Repels-All.

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The doe who called me outside this morning was the third deer in two days, and she returned with a friend just an hour or so later, while I was brewing coffee.  By partner and I teamed up to help them both find their way back out.  That was a respectable work-out for both of us!

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The summer blooming Crinum lily is poisonous. This is one of the few lilies we dare grow, as it isn’t grazed and the bulbs won’t be disturbed by rodents. Hardy in Zone 7, this lily is long lived and the clump expands each year.

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When I went back outside, a bit later, to begin my day’s tasks in the garden; my partner took off to Lowe’s for a fresh bag of Milorganite.   Inches of rain, earlier this week, must have washed away what was left.

The Milorganite really does work.… until it doesn’t.  It’s not hard to tell when it’s time for a fresh application.  It might last as long as a couple of months, unless we have a heavy rain.

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I ended my morning’s gardening by spreading the entire bag of Milorganite, making sure to also cover that sweet spot under the Mountain Laurel where the doe believed she could hide.

By then, the sun was fully warming the front garden.  Our napping bee had awakened, and gotten on with the serious business of sipping nectar and collecting pollen.

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When I was young, I collected bumblies just like her in a glass jar with holes poked in the lid, just to observe the bees up close.  The delight in watching these creatures go about their work has never faded.

Now, it is fabulous to watch our June garden host so many wild and beautiful visitors.

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“The keeping of bees
is like the direction of sunbeams.”
.
Henry David Thoreau
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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

First of June

Bumbly on Verbena bonariensis

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The first Crepe Myrtle blossoms have opened on median strip trees near our home.  It surprised me to see their pink fluffiness in the upper reaches of these trees which so recently sported only bare branches.

It still feels like witnessing a miracle to watch the annual progression of leaf and blossom, a miracle which still thrills me.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, showing the first tint of pink in its blossoms.

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I was chasing two does out of our garden this afternoon, when I noticed a new soft blueness from the corner of my eye.  Looking more closely, freshly opened mop-head Hydrangea flowers came into focus in the depths of our shrub border.  These were well hidden, out of reach of hungry mouths scavenging for any greenery not lately coated in Repels-All.

The nearby buds of a  R. ‘John Paul II’ were gone.  We’ve had days of rain lately, so no use worrying too much over what’s been nabbed.  We’ve done our best.

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Our flowering carrots have proven very satisfying.

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But my day’s ‘to-do’ list is still not done.  I’ll head back out to the garden at dusk to spread what’s left of our bag of MilorganiteMaybe that will discourage further trespass.

It’s impossible to remain grumpy for long, when in the garden.  For every hoof print or buzzing bitey, there are a dozen newly opened flowers to enjoy.

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We stopped to enjoy this Zebra Swallowtail feeding on milkweed while in Gloucester yesterday.

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It is fabulous to watch our summer garden finally unfold.  The first Canna flowers opened today, too, and the first vibrant spikes of Liatris are showing color.  Everywhere I look, there is something new to discover and to enjoy.

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First Liatris flower from the bulbs we planted this spring.  Pollinators enjoy these, too.  The feast is spread; where are our butterflies?

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We celebrated this turning towards summer yesterday with a day trip to  Gloucester.  It is a beautiful drive, first of all, along the Colonial Parkway and over the Coleman Bridge.  The York River was alive with small craft.  There’s an active Osprey nest nestled into the bridge’s structure above the control booth, and I always watch for a glimpse of mother or chicks.

We visited at the Bulb Shop and spent a while meditating on the new season’s growth in the Heath’s display gardens.  I’m always studying how they assemble groupings of plants, looking for fresh ideas.

But I was distracted at the Heron Pond, photographing their newly opened water lily blossoms.  There is so much to see, so much to learn, and so much to enjoy.

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Now that their summer stock is marked down by half, I took advantage of the opportunity to try a few new perennials.  I’ll be planting our first ever Kniphofia.  I don’t know how to pronounce it, so we’ll just call them ‘Red Hot Pokers’ and you’ll know what I mean.  This is another perennial I admire growing in huge clumps near the Pacific beaches in Oregon.  Pollinators and butterflies love them , and so I plan to plant a clump in our front garden to see how we like them.

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Daucus carota

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Other than moving the remaining Caladiums out to the garden, our spring planting is about finished.  Now comes the joy of it all, as we sit back and enjoy watching everything grow; and enjoy, even more, sharing it with friends who stop by for a leisurely summer-time visit.

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Calla lily, or Zantedeschia, with Black eyed Susans nearly ready to bloom and starts of Obedient plant given to us by a friend. 

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Bees do have a smell, you know,
and if they don’t they should,
for their feet are dusted
with spices from a million flowers.”

.
Ray Bradbury
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Allium

Fabulous Friday: Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, really, pitcher plants grew wild in the boggy wetlands along the Atlantic coast.  They grew right around here, along the banks of the James River and the many creeks that feed it.

The yellow trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava, is native to our part of coastal Virginia.  Most species of pitchers grow from Virginia south to Florida, and west along the Gulf coast.

Only one species, Sarracenia pupurea ssp. purpurea, grows from Virginia north to Canada and west to the wetlands around the Great Lakes.  Most of these species live in bogs and wetlands at sea level, but a few species grow at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia south into Georgia.

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It’s rare now to find a pitcher plant growing wild.  Over 97% of their habitat has been drained and developed.  A few species and natural hybrids are all but extinct.  These beautiful carnivorous plants are sustained these days mostly in private collections.

And the good news, gardening friends, is that these striking plants are easy to grow!  Anyone with a sunny spot can participate in keeping these beautiful and unusual species going.

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If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow most any of the North American pitcher plants outdoors year round.  If you live in colder climes, you probably can grow the species and hybrids of Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia oreophila, or Sarracenia montana.  Even if you live a zone or two colder than your plants are rated, you can find ways to insulate them over winter.

These easy to please plants simply want wet, acidic soil and as much sun as you can give them.  Grow them in pots filled with a mix of half peat moss and half sand, or three quarters peat and 1/4 perlite or fine gravel.    Keep the soil moist by growing in a glazed ceramic pot with no drainage hole, or a glazed ceramic pot with a deep, water filled saucer beneath.  Peter d’Amato, owner of California Carnivores and author of The Savage Garden, recommends growing potted Sarracenias in glazed pots kept standing in  2″ of water at all times, so the soil stays evenly moist.

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These are definitely tough, outdoor plants and prefer full sun.  If you grow them indoors, keep them near a window with bright light for at least 6 hours a day, or in a greenhouse.

Never use commercial potting mix, compost, or commercial fertilizers with pitcher plants.  Peat is closest to the soil of their natural habitat, and provides the acidic environment they require.

The only pitcher plant that has ever failed for me came from a local grower.   He cut corners, and blended his own compost based soil mix rather than using good peat.  He admitted this to me when I returned the plant to him the following spring after I bought it, because it hadn’t begun new growth.  He replaced the plant, and I immediately re-potted it into the proper mix.  It is thriving still.

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There are several distinct features to the different species of pitcher plants.  The pitchers can be as short as 5″-6″ or as tall as 48″ depending on the species.  Each hollow pitcher is actually a leaf.  The most common pitchers, the S. purpureas, are also some of the shortest.  They are usually a beautiful red or purple and have red flowers.

S. flava, S. leucophylla and S. oreophila produce some of the tallest pitchers.  Some pitchers stand up tall, and others form recumbent rosettes of pitchers.  Pitchers may have wide mouths with fancy, frilly openings, or may have wide open mouths that catch the rain.  S. minor and S. psittacina pitchers have hooded openings.

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Some pitchers are mostly green, others are red or purple.  S. Leucophylla have white around the openings to their pitchers.  S. flava is also called the yellow pitcher plant, and they are a beautiful  chartreuse yellow.

Sarracenia flowers may be red, purple, white, peach, yellow or some combination of these colors.  There are so many interesting hybrids and cultivars that a pitcher plant enthusiast has many choices of which plants to grow.

I ordered two new pitcher plants from Sarracenia Northwest, in Portland OR, this spring.  I’m now watching S. ‘Bug Bat’ and S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ begin to grow.  Both were very carefully packaged and arrived in growth and in perfect condition.

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And then earlier today, I found an interesting carnivorous plant terrarium kit at Lowes, with a dormant Sarracenia and a dormant Dionaea, or flytrap; little bags of peat and sphagnum moss.  There were potting instructions and a clear plastic box to hold the plants until they begin to grow.  At under $10.00, this looked like a pretty good value.

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Our newest pitcher plant  came in a carnivorous plant terrarium kit found at Lowes.  I’ve planted it, and a dormant flytrap in this bowl given to us by a potter friend.

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I potted the little dormant plants in my own mix of peat and sand, in a beautiful bowl our potter friend Denis Orton gave us at the holidays.  The bowl has no drainage and is a perfect first home for both plants.  They may need potting on next year or the next, but that is the way of things, isn’t it?

It will be a surprise to see which species of pitcher plant grows from this start, but I’m guessing it is most likely the most common, S. purpurea.

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Pitcher plants have various ways of luring insects into their open mouths.  There are nectar trails that lure insects up the pitchers and into their open mouthed leaf.  Each species has ingenious ways to keep them from escaping again.  These plants catch and digest every sort of insect from crawling ants to mosquitoes and flies.

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There is no shortage of insects in our May garden!  We have come to the part of summer haunted by every sort of bug imaginable, and it’s fabulous irony that one of our most beautiful native perennials also helps control the bug problem!

Our little collection of pitcher plant is growing now, and it is fabulous to admire their fresh new pitchers on this very muggy Friday afternoon.  I am looking forward to watching the new ones grow and show their special colors and forms.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States

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If you’ve not yet tried growing pitcher plants, I hope you’ll think about giving them a try.  These endangered species need all the help adventurous gardeners will give to keep them going on into the future.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Heritage

 

Fabulous Friday: Growing Herbs

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One of the nicest things about summer is the garden filled with fresh herbs.  Most herbs prove very easy to grow.  They enjoy full sun, can stand a little dry weather, naturally repel pests, and smell delicious.

Herbs have such beautiful and interesting foliage, that I enjoy using them in containers and in the perennial garden. They also add an interesting touch in a vase.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows with parsley and fennel.

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Evergreen perennial herbs, like rosemary, often maintain a presence through the winter.  Even when frost damaged, most will begin to recover and grow again by early spring. Although many Mediterranean herbs are marginally hardy in our climate, we’ve had enough success overwintering them that it is well worth making the effort.

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Overwintered Lavender and Artemesia. Artemesia propagates easily from stem cuttings in early spring.

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Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Artemesia, culinary sage, Santolina, germander, oregano, chocolate mint and many varieties of Lavender remain evergreen in our garden.  Other herbs, like comphrey, dill and fennel, return with fresh growth once the weather warms.

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Comphrey is one of our earliest herbs to bloom each spring.

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We’ve had mixed experience in overwintering one of my favorite herbs, scented Pelargoniums.   I’m always thrilled to see tiny leaves emerge in early spring where one has survived the winter.  Perennials, they aren’t fond of winter indoors, unless you have a spot to keep them in bright light.

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Thyme provides lots of early nectar for pollinators. It grows into an attractive edging for perennial beds and borders.

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Scented Pelargoniums rank high on my spring shopping list, as I scout out choice varieties wherever herbs are sold.  P. ‘Citronella,’ sold to ward off mosquitoes, can be found in many garden centers and big box plant departments.  But I am always watching for the rose scented varieties and an especially pretty plant called P. ‘Chocolate Mint.’ 

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Pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ has the scent of roses

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Basil grows particularly well for us here in coastal Virginia.  It really takes off quickly in our late spring and summer heat.  Sometimes I begin with seeds, but most often watch for my favorite varieties at herb sales.  Some varieties, like African Blue Basil, are hybrids and can’t be grown true from seeds.

African Blue and Thai Basil quickly grow into small, fragrant shrubs.   I let them flower, and then enjoy the many pollinators they attract all summer.  Their seeds attract goldfinches and usually stand in my garden until after the holidays, when I finally pull the plants once the seeds are gone.

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Basil gone to seed, delighted our goldfinches and other small birds last September.

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Our garden is filling up again with growing herbs, now that we are into mid-May.  Taking some time to enjoy our herbs makes this rainy Friday fabulous.  The perennial herbs are into active growth now, and I’m finding and planting choice varieties of Basil, Salvia and Pelargonium.

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Newly planted Santolina and purple Basil will grow in quickly.

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We experimented with a relatively new Lavender cultivar last year:  L. ‘Phenomenal.’  This very hardy (Zones 5-9) and disease resistant cultivar was introduced by Peace Tree Farms in 2012. Hybrid ‘Phenomenal’ can take our muggy summers, so long as it has reasonably good drainage, and doesn’t die back during the winter.  It will eventually grow to a little more than 2 feet high and wide.  I was curious to see how it would grow for us, and bought a few plugs through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last spring.

I was so pleased with how fresh they looked all winter, that I ordered new plugs this spring.   The plugs are still growing on in pots, but I look forward to planting them out before the end of May.

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Culinary purple sage grows well with German Iris and other perennials.

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If you have faced challenges in past years overwintering your Lavender, or losing them during a muggy summer; you might want to give L. ‘Phenomenal’ a try.  These will work nicely in a good sized pot if your space is limited.  Add a little lime to the potting mix or garden soil, and try mulching around newly planted Lavender plants with light colored gravel to reflect the heat and protect the foliage from splattered soil.

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Spanish Lavender also proves very hardy and overwinters in our garden.  This is my favorite Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast.’

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Herbs prove such useful plants.  They nourish, they heal, they repel pests, and they thrive in challenging garden conditions.  Their unique leaves and healing scents add beauty to our lives.

Do you rely on herbs in your garden?  Wild at heart, they simply want a place to grow.  Why not try one this summer you’ve not grown before?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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August herbs in a vase

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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