Pot Shots: A Pop of Color

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A grouping of simple hypertufa troughs have rested here, forming the edges of a raised bed, since 2014.  I made the troughs for this purpose, and planted them that first year almost entirely in Caladiums.  A dogwood tree grows from the center of this very shady bed planted mostly with ferns and Hellebores.

Wanting year round interest with a minimum of effort, I’ve added hardy Begonia grandis, evergreen Saxifraga stolonifera, additional seedling Hellebores and various ferns in and around the pots over the seasons since.  Vinca minor and ivy volunteered themselves as groundcovers.  I have tried establishing moss around the pots, but haven’t met as much success with that as I would like.

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There isn’t much space left to add summer Caladiums anymore, especially as the ferns have filled out and the Saxifraga and Begonias continue to spread themselves around.  But I still tuck in a Caladium tuber or two each spring.  This is easiest to do as the Caladium just begins to grow, before its roots grow too large for the hole I can dig in these shallow pots.

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This is one of my favorite spots in the garden year round, now, and we will enjoy the intense pop of color the Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ offers with its intense red leaves.  I like how it plays off of the new Begonia leaves and the stipes of these ferns.

When growing over a period of years in shallow pots, it is important to feed the soil and keep it hydrated for best plant performance.  I top off these pots with some compost with the changing seasons, sprinkle in some Osmocote ever few months, and water occasionally with fish and seaweed emulsion in the mix.

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These pots on May 3, before I groomed and topped them off for the season, and before it was warm enough to plant out any Caladiums.  Dogwood petals fell like snow after several days of wind and rain.

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This composition of leafy plants holds my interest without a lot of bright flowers.  That said, we enjoy the Hellebores from January through May.

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Saxifraga stolonifera blooms this week in another shady fern bed. These perennials send out runners, and a new plant grows at the tip of each runner. The plants root when they touch moist earth. They can fill in a large area fairly quickly and bloom by their second year.

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The Saxifraga is blooming this month, and tiny pink Begonia flowers will emerge by midsummer.

The flowers here may be subtle, but the foliage in this bed really pops!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: Summer Rain

Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ glows after a rain shower.

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As the early summer rain continues to fall in fits, drizzles and passing storms, I am enjoying a rare quiet day at home, chased inside from any major gardening tasks by the weather.  The forays outside have been brief thus far today, and usually ended with me left feeling soggy from the humidity or a sudden shower.

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Ferns and hardy Begonias enjoy our damp weather.

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I woke this morning concerned about all of the little plants in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted out.  I thought of how soggy their roots must be and rushed outside to move them as needed and empty standing water that had collected overnight.

Soggy roots can mean sudden death for many plants that need a bit of air in their soil.  That set me to puttering about with pots and baskets and a few strategic transplanting jobs.

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Rose scented Pelargonium likes room for its roots to breathe.

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I am especially concerned for the Caladiums still growing on in their bins.  It is one of those tasks that gets more difficult the longer one procrastinates.  While I wait for the new ones, ordered this spring to emerge, the ones grown from over-wintered bulbs have gotten huge and leggy; their roots entangled.  But the wet soil and frequent showers give me reason to wait another day for more transplanting.

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What won’t wait is our annual dance with the bamboo grove in the ravine.  Bamboo is considered a grass, but what a stubborn and determined force of nature it as proven to be in our garden!  Though we didn’t plant it, we admire it and appreciate its beauty.

But that beauty is expected to stay within reasonable bounds.  The bamboo disagrees, determinedly marching up the slope of our garden towards the house.  It sends out small scouting sprouts ahead of its main force.  We must stay on top of these year round, as they seek to colonize every bed and pathway.  The bamboo’s main assault begins in late April, as its new stalks emerge.

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We allow a certain number of these to grow each spring, and it seems that we give up another few feet of garden to the ‘bamboo forest’ with each passing year.  What would happen if we were away in May?  Could we find the house when we returned?

Every day we seek out and remove the new bamboo stalks growing in spots we cannot allow.  The squirrels appreciate our efforts, and feast on the broken shoots we leave for them.

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And so it was that we were out early this morning, me with the pots and saucers, and attacking the new bamboo that emerged over night.  This constant stream of moisture has encouraged its audacity.

As we made another tour of the garden during a break in the rain this afternoon, my partner called me over to see one of our garden visitors.

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She was hiding under a very large sage plant.  At least I hope she was hiding, and had not dug a nest to lay her eggs.

The turtles like our garden.  We find them resting in the greenness of forgotten places, and try to always give them their peace.  They repay us by eating their share of bugs each day.

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But just as I settled in to re-plant another pot or two with Caladiums, the brief sunshine was blotted out by another passing, rain soaked cloud.  Large cold drops of rain splattered down much quicker than I expected, leaving me all wet once again.

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And so there is nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of a rainy afternoon indoors.  The coffee is made, and I’ll soon be off to enjoy a good book with the cat curled up by my feet.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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

Blossom XXXIX: Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’

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Watching the Hydrangeas bloom can keep me entertained for a long time.  This is a slow-motion feast for the eyes as the flowers unfold and subtly change over a period of weeks each spring.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a smaller shrub, and its flowers turn a rosy dusky pink in summer.

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The flowers are barely noticeable as they begin to appear, small, tight and creamy green against the shrub’s large leaves.

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H. quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ four years on from planting.

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As the panicles lengthen and swell, the buds open, one by one,  into pure white flowers.

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Even as they open, the flowers remain subtle in early summer, allowing the shrub’s beautiful leaves to garner equal admiration.

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Texture remains more interesting than color in these early stages of the oakleaf Hydrangea’s annual show.

As the flowers mature, they will become more noticeably white before fading to shades of cream, pink, mauve, and finally caramel.  By October, the leaves will still command our attention as they turn scarlet.

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But in May, these beautiful native Hydrangeas emerge lush and green, blending into the lush, leafy enveloping green of our early summer garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally.
Make it the object of pursuit,
and it leads us a wild-goose chase,
and is never attained.”
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Nathaniel Hawthorne

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“At last came the golden month of the wild folk-
– honey-sweet May,
when the birds come back, and the flowers come out,
and the air is full of the sunrise scents and songs
of the dawning year.”
.
Samuel Scoville Jr.

Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage

New growth on Mahonia

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A garden built from woody trunks, stems, branches and beautiful leaves will last through the seasons.  Abundant foliage offers cool shade and privacy.  It screens the view, cleans the air, muffles outside sounds and protects the soil, all while offering a sense of enclosure.

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Crape Myrtle

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Flowers can be exciting, for a while.  But they fade or explode into a heap of petals all too quickly.  Their perfumes entice us, but flowers aren’t enough to create a lasting garden.

Better to focus on foliage plants for a garden’s flesh and bones, and appreciate ephemeral flowers as seasonal accents.

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Once one gets past wanting a garden filled with fragrant flowers, there is a beautiful palette of foliage waiting for the curious garden designer.  In fact, I’ve been reading an intriguing book on garden design by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz  called Gardening With Foliage First:  127 Dazzling Combinations That Pair the Beauty of Leaves With Flowers, Bark, Berries and More.

The authors have photographed and described associations of shrubs, perennials, vines, ferns and grasses that will grow well together for a variety of climate zones and locations.  The color combinations are striking, and the authors discuss how the association will change as the four seasons unfold.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in August

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One of the nicest things about designing with foliage is the wide selection of colors and textures in the plant palette.  And with woodies and perennials, the plants grow larger and more complex with each passing year.

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A native redbud tree seedling has appeared by our drive. This tree can eventually grow to 20′ or more.

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We plan and plant our gardens in at least four dimensions.  We create out door ‘rooms’ by creating ‘walls’ with large shrubs and trees, or perhaps vines growing on a pergola or trellis.  Our carpet is a selection of low-growing plants and ground covers.   Some of us cultivate a simple carpet of moss.

The leafy canopy of trees offers us a bit of shelter and shade, enclosing our garden from above.   So we are planting foliage plants of varying heights to serve different purposes.

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Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is a native, deciduous tree in coastal Virginia that will grow to about 25 feet.  It often grows as a multi-stemmed shrub, growing a bit broader with each passing year.

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Perennials tend to also spread, growing wider with each passing year.  A plant or two this year may propagate itself into two dozen plants within just a season or two.  Even within the short span of a single season, a small tropical plant purchased in a 3″ pot may grow to be 5′ tall and wide before frost.

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Our garden is also constantly changing over time, the fourth dimension.  Sculptural stems and branches cover themselves in buds, then ever expanding leaves.  The leaves grow and change colors as the season progresses, often developing intricate veins or spotted markings as they mature.

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Begonia

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Eventually, we are enclosed in leaves and woody growth before winter sweeps the season’s tender growth away.  Leaves glow with autumn color, then fall.  Perennials die back to ground level, harboring the promise of next year’s growth in their roots and crowns.

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It is this foliage framework which demands a garden designer’s attention. This is where we make our main investment of time and treasure. 

When beginning a new garden, one selects and plants the trees first to give a head start on growth.  When renovating a garden, it is wise to replace tired shrubs, or rejuvenate them with heavy pruning before the season’s new growth begins.

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Once we have good woody ‘bones’ in place, then we fill in the ground covers and herbaceous plants to occupy the mid-level spaces .

Flowers are the ephemeral elements which can come- and go- with the seasons. Whether we choose blooming shrubs, perennials with a short season of bloom like Iris, or even if we plant annuals for several months of bloom;  the flowers themselves are very short-lived.

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Japanese painted fern emerges among the Arum italicum, and is interlaced with creeping Jenny.  Bulb foliage will die back soon.  You can just see the new leaf of a hardy Begonia catching sunlight like a stained glass window to the right.  They will grow to about 18″ tall before their tiny pink flowers emerge.

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Many traditional gardens rely on foliage for all of their seasonal interest.  This is easy to do with herbaceous perennial foliage plants like ferns, Heucheras and Colocasia.  But a ‘foliage only’ garden doesn’t mean a monochromatic garden.  Beautiful contrasts and color combinations may be painted with colorful leaves.

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And stunning beauty may be created with little more than variations of texture and form.  Leafy plants swaying in the breeze bring life and movement to the garden.

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantina. is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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As you plan and plant your pots and garden borders, remember to focus first on the foliage framework.   This will last over many months or years and will grow better with time.

The flowers will come and go, but your garden’s leafy presence will make the lasting impression.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!

 

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Sunday Dinner: Strength

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“We’re built of contradictions, all of us.
It’s those opposing forces that give us strength,
like an arch, each block pressing the next.
Give me a man whose parts are all aligned in agreement
and I’ll show you madness.
We walk a narrow path, insanity to each side.
A man without contradictions to balance him
will soon veer off.”
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Mark Lawrence

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Clematis ‘Elizabeth’

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

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“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance,
and have faith that in this love
there is a strength and a blessing so large
that you can travel as far as you wish
without having to step outside it.”
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Rainer Maria Rilke

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Peony

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“With the new day
comes new strength and new thoughts.”
.
Eleanor Roosevelt

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Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’

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“It will never rain roses:
when we want to have more roses,
we must plant more roses.”
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George Eliot

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Yellow flag Iris

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance.
The wise grows it under his feet.”
.
James Oppenheim
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Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’

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Happiness to all on this beautiful Mother’s Day. 
May we all find the strength and determination
to nurture beauty, wisdom,
justice and resilience
in all we touch.
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia in bloom with ferns.

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“Mastering others is strength.
Mastering oneself makes you fearless.”
.
Lao Tzu

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Foxglove emerges from the shadows, from behind the oakleaf Hydrangea

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Pot Shots: First Caladiums

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We are just beginning to have weather warm enough for the Caladiums to come outside and get some sun!  The ones basking in the warmth of our spare room have grown long and leggy, reaching for the light.  And so I’ve brought the other tubs and bins outside to our deck, up against the house and under cover of the eaves where they have enjoyed the warmth of our late spring and gotten a lot more light.

I’ve kept my eye on the new ones with their first leaves beginning to unfurl.  The first to open is C. ‘Burning Heart,‘ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums This is one of the new hybrids from Dr. Robert Hartman that can take full sun.  It is a new color for Caladiums, and I am looking forward to growing it this summer.

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Once I found that I had four of this special variety in leaf, I lifted them this morning from their bin, and brought them into the garden to the pot I have planned for them.

Already growing are two Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’.  These Zantedeschia want consistently moist soil and full sun.  This area of the garden has a high canopy of oaks, but gets a fair amount of sun during the day.  I think that it will be enough sun for them, and not too much for the Caladiums to both do very well.

Completing the pot is one of my favorite ‘spillers,’ Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’  This silvery gray vine will spill over the sides of the pot, eventually filling in to form a nearly continuous curtain of fine foliage gradually enveloping the pot and its pedestal.  If you buy a pot of Dichondra, you will notice lots of little vines all massed together in the nursery pot.  These pull apart very easily.

A single 3″-4″ pot from the garden center could easily give you a half dozen clumps, each with its own roots.  This vine roots easily from each leaf node and may be divided again and again as you spread it around.  Although a perennial, it will only overwinter here in a very mild winter.

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When we found this huge pot in February, on deep discount at one of our favorite nurseries, I hesitated over its color.  I favor blue pots.

This screaming chartreuse, in February no less, was almost too much.  It sat upside down in our nursery for several weeks while I contemplated what to do with it.  A gardening friend came by and admired it enough that she took straight off to go buy the last one like it!

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Once we actually moved it up into the garden a few weeks ago, we soon realized that the green blends right in and doesn’t look brash at all…. at least not until we added the red Caladiums today!

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I am working this week to plant out as many of our Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias as I can.  This is slow going, but will reward us with beautiful foliage plants in the garden over the next six to seven months .

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This is Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ planted into an established planting of Saxifraga stolonifera.  Although just an old nursery pot, it is large enough to support the Colocasia as it grows to its 4′-5′ potential.  This Colocasia likes moist soil and shade.

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We’re bringing the pots out gradually, and re-working the pots which held other plants through the winter to accept their summer tenants.   Now that the weather has settled, I want to get the plants we saved last fall out of storage as quickly as we can, so they can all begin a new season of growth.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is finally back outside in its blue pot. It overwintered in the garage. The soil is just warm enough to plant out these white Caladiums today. No more cold snaps, please!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

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When you think of Hydrangeas, do you think of the blue or pink poofy flowers growing in your grandmother’s garden?  Those mop-head Hydrangeas are still popular with many, and we have a few left by a previous owner.  But there are many other sorts of Hydrangeas available that offer a bit more character and a longer season of interest.

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The oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is native to the Southeastern United States.   It is a tall, woody deciduous shrub; hardy, drought tolerant, and somewhat deer resistant.  I say ‘somewhat’ because we have had newly planted ones grazed in our garden.  But there are other, more tasty shrubs the deer prefer!  Once established, these Hydrangeas will only rarely be touched by deer.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea in early June

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The oakleaf Hydrangea was first noted by Pennsylvania botanist William Bartram as he explored the area now known as the Carolinas, south to Florida, in the 1770s.  It is one of the plants he collected and exported back to England for the nursery trade.

This is a tall, understory shrub with coarse foliage.  The flowers are white, sometimes fading to cream or pink as they age.  The flowers are good in a vase fresh or dried.

I like the oakleaf Hydrangea because once its huge, cone shaped flowers emerge in early May, they remain beautiful for many months.

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Even into winter, the flowers dry on the shrub and add interest.  Once the leaves finally fall, the remains of the flowers cling to the woody frame of the plant.

The oakleaf Hydrangea’s large, interesting leaves turn vivid scarlet and remain vibrant for many weeks before they eventually fall.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea in October

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There are several interesting cultivars of the native species, and we grow H. ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which is a dwarf variety with pinkish flowers, and H. ‘Snow Queen.’  Most Hydrangeas are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, by digging up a new shoot with roots attached, or by layering.  Oakleaf Hydrangea looks good as a specimen, a hedge, or even as an alle’e, on a large property.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea December 2017

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There are a number of beautiful species and cultivars within the Hydrangea genus, and all have great character.  I’ve grown many of them over the years, including the H. macrophylla that bloom in pretty pinks and blues and purples.  Some are quite fussy and challenging to grow, requiring plenty of moisture and shade to thrive.

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But the oakleaf Hydrangea is as tough and sturdy as its name implies.  Hardy to Zone 5, it can adapt to a variety of soils and light.  Happiest in partial shade, growing under the canopy of mature trees, it can manage with full sun, too.  You can even grow a new shrub in a pot for a year or two before moving it out into the garden, as it grows larger.

If you’ve not yet grown Hydrangea quercifolia, you might consider adding this elegant, hardy shrub to your garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Sunday Dinner: Tranquility

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“Quiet is peace. Tranquility.
Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life.
Silence is pushing the off button.
Shutting it down. All of it.”
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Khaled Hosseini

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“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire.
Perfect tranquility within
consists in the good ordering of the mind,
the realm of your own.”
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Marcus Aurelius

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“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.
If our thoughts are peaceful, calm,
meek, and kind; then that is what our life is like.
If our attention is turned
to the circumstances in which we live,
we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts
and can have neither peace
nor tranquility.”
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Thaddeus of Vitovnica
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“Sometimes you just have to find something
to keep your body grounded,
your mind flexible, and your heart open.”
.
Imania Margria
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Peace is not the absence of chaos.
It is the presence of tranquility and joy
in the midst of chaos.”
.
Debasish Mridha

Pot Shots I: Viola and Fern

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This glazed ceramic pot sits by our drive and transitions through the seasons with an ever changing array of players.

The mainstay is the Japanese painted fern, which grows a bit bigger each year.  A deciduous perennial, it emerges in early April but disappears by Halloween.  I plant the Violas in early October as the fern is fading, but they will fry in early summer’s heat.  Muscari, from fall planted bulbs, join the arrangement for a brief appearance.

The pot is surrounded by Vinca minor, English ivy and Mayapples, all here of their own accord.  I’ll pop a Caladium into the pot by mid-May to carry us through the summer.

Conditions:  partial shade, enriched potting soil, gravel mulch

Woodland Gnome 2018

Arbor Day: Planting a Beautiful Future

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If you want to create a lasting legacy of beauty, plant a tree.  If you want to heal the planet and counteract climate change, plant a tree.  If you want to improve the quality of life for yourself, your family and your immediate neighbors, plant a tree.

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Trees change the world.  They create shade, sequester carbon,  produce oxygen, humidify the air, hold and feed the soil, create habitat for wildlife, support the entire ecosystem, and give a place character.  And in their spare time, they sway in the wind; helping forecast the weather and making musical, soothing sounds.

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Trees inspire awe and wonder.  Some survive to extreme old age; experiencing centuries of life and service.  Trees feed us, shelter us, and mark the passing of the seasons with their annual changes.

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Today is Arbor Day.  First celebrated in the United States in Nebraska, when a million trees were planted in 1872, this remarkable day is observed all over the United States and around the world.  Some call it ‘Tree Planting Day.”  It is a day to reflect on the importance of trees, and to add a tree or two to our environment.

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Other than loving and teaching a child, planting and protecting trees is one of the most satisfying pursuits of a lifetime. Both require faith that our simple acts today will resonate far into the future, creating positive change, and shaping how our community transforms itself for good.

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A potted Ginko tree that I adoped in early spring, represents one of the earliest trees on the planet, still growing today.  Fossils of this tree’s leaves date to 270 million years ago. Its leaves turn vibrant golden yellow in late autumn.

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So please celebrate Arbor Day this weekend in a way that feels fitting to you.  Commit an “Act of Green” to somehow enrich your life and community.

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I have been planting Japanese Maple trees this spring.  You might say I’m collecting them at the moment. Japanese Maple trees, with their exquisite leaves, add a bit of elegance to our wild garden.

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The first two I came across were small enough to plant into interesting pots to keep on our deck this summer.  The third, as tall as I am, came to me last weekend at a community plant sale.  I have tucked its roots into a moist and sheltered spot beside the Butterfly Garden.  And so I have committed my “Act of Green” this Arbor Day, and I trust you have, as well.

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If you’ve not had a chance, there is plenty of time this weekend to get outside, visit a park or garden center, plant up a pot of something, and find your own special way to make our planet a big healthier, a bit greener, and a lot more beautiful.

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A tiny investment today can yield a lifetime of satisfaction and beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“The planting of a tree,
especially one of the long-living hardwood trees,
is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost
and with almost no trouble,
and if the tree takes root
it will far outlive the visible effect
of any of your other actions,
good or evil.”

.
George Orwell
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