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.”
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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

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Summer Solstice Wishes

Butterfly bush prepares to welcome a hungry bee.

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Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.  It is a good day to celebrate our wishes, especially those wishes that have finally manifested for us. 

I first wrote and published ‘A Dirty Hands Garden Club’ in the summer of 2014, and would like to share it with you, again.  I hope that you have found your own community of gardeners, naturalists, conservationists, teachers, artists, and plant nerds, as I have so happily found mine.

WG June 2018

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Asclepias incarnata

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I would love to join  a “Dirty Hands” Garden Club;
One whose members know more about fertilizers
Than they do about wines…

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I’d want our meetings spent wandering through nurseries,
Learning from  expert gardeners,
Or building community gardens…

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Echinacea and Monarda prove beautiful native perennials in our area.

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Not frittered away in chit chat over drinks and hors d’oeuvres .

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Hibiscus syriacus and bumbly

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And all of us would be at least a little expert in something, and
Glad to share what we’ve learned;

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Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

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And we all would love putting our hands in the dirt
To help something grow.

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Lavender is still recovering from the winter.

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My club would collect species, not dues;
Re-build ecosystems rather than plant ivy and  box.

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Caladium ‘Fannie Munson’ with Bergenia and ferns.

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We “dirty hands” gardeners can band together
In spirit, if not in four walls.

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We can share plants and insights,
Instigate, propagate, and appreciate;

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Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

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Perhaps we can even help rehabilitate 
Some sterile lawn somewhere
Into something which nurtures beauty
And feeds souls….

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Magnolia liliiflora is giving us a second flush of bloom in early summer.

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Others can judge flowers,
Decorate homes at Christmas
And organize tours.
These things are needed, too.

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Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, opens its first blooms of the year.

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(But I would rather be out in the garden;
Where cardinals preside over the morning meeting,
And  hummingbirds are our special guests for the day.
The daily agenda ranges from watering to transplanting;
From pruning to watching for turtles and dragonflies.)

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We  wear our muddy shoes and well worn gloves with pride,
Our spades and pruners always close at hand.

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We converse with Nature,
And re-build the web strand by strand,
Plant by plant.

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Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ with Basil

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If this invitation speaks to you,
Perhaps we can work together
From wherever we might find ourselves
Around the globe.
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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in front with C. ‘Pink China’ behind

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We can each put our hands in the dirt
and create a garden,

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Nurture Beauty,
And restore health and vitality to our Earth,
our communities, and ourselves, together.

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Native Oakleaf Hydrangea glows in the morning Solstice sun.

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Poem by Woodland Gnome 2014
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“The Holy Land is everywhere”
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Black Elk

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

Green Thumb Tip #19: Go With the Flow

Bronze fennel foliage, wet from an early morning watering, with Verbena bonariensis

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There is rhythm to life in the garden.  Much like waves of warm briny water crashing along a sandy beach; so too waves of life appear in the garden, peak, and then quietly disappear.  Part of a gardener’s education, when working in a new garden, is sensing and recognizing a garden’s ‘waves’ of life.

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Wisdom teaches us that much of our frustration and unhappiness is connected to our desires.  There are things we want that we can’t have in the moment.  There are things we love that we fear losing.  There are things we care about that we see passing away before our eyes.  All of these concerns can become causes of our suffering, to some degree, as we work with our gardens.

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Japanese beetles have found the Zantedeschia.

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But our feelings can shift when we take the broader view, acknowledge the rhythms and challenges, and plan ahead to address them.

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When we plant early spring bulbs we know that we’ll be left with their foliage for a few weeks after the flowers fade, and then even that will yellow and fall away.  What will grow up in their place?

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Daffodils and Arum italicum fade as Caladiums, hardy Begonia and ferns grow in their place.

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When we plant roses, we can expect a glorious flush of blooms in May, followed by much that needs to be pruned away.  What happens if blackspot or Japanese beetles attack the leaves?  Will our shrubs bloom again during the season?

We can plan to have other perennials or shrubs nearby to take attention away from resting rose shrubs.

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Crape myrtles have just begun to bloom in our area.

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And what happens when a tender perennial fails to appear in spring?  Is there a gap in the border, or do we have something waiting to grow in its place?

We understand the larger cycles of the seasons and how they affect the life in our garden.  First frost claims much of our garden’s growth, and the beds lie fallow through the winter.

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January in our forest garden

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But there are larger cycles still, as woodies grow and shade out nearby perennials, or a tree falls and changes the light in the garden, or plants fill in, creating dense mats of growth.

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Crinum lily comes into bloom amidst Iris, Thyme and Alliums.

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Gardening teaches us flexibility and resilience.  Resistance to the cycles and happenstance of nature tightens us up inside.  We might feel anger at the voles eating through the roots of a favorite shrub, or the Japanese beetles ruining the leaves of a favorite perennial.  How dare they!

But these things are always likely to happen.  We can’t fully prevent the damages that come along when we work with nature.

I found a small Hydrangea shrub, that I’ve been nurturing along from a rooted cutting, grazed back by deer last week.  No matter how protected it might be, or how often I’ve sprayed it with repellents, a doe came along after a rain, and chewed away most of its leaves.

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Successful gardeners learn how to ‘go with the flow.’  We do the best we can, follow best practices, and have a plan or two up our sleeves to work with the natural cycles of our space.  Even so, we learn the lessons of impermanence in the garden.

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Working to thwart the voles, I am experimenting with planting Caladiums into pots sunk into the bed. I’m also doing this in another bed with tender Hostas.

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Every plant isn’t going to survive.  But we keep planting anyway, trying new things to see what will thrive.

Some things we plant will grow too much, and we’ll have to cut them back or dig them up to keep them in bounds.  Weeds come and go.  Insects chew on leaves and voles chew on roots.

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We stand by, observing this incredible ebb and flow of life, and take our place among the waves.

Gardeners feel the ebbs and flows, too.  We may feel energized in spring and plant lots of new roots and shoots, seeds and plugs.  But then summer heats up, the grounds dries out a little, and we are left scrambling to keep it all watered and tended.

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Suddenly there is stilt grass sprouting up in our beds and pots.  The lawn is growing overnight, and the shrubs need pruning.

As our own energies come and go, we find a rhythm to keep up with maintaining our gardens while also maintaining ourselves.  We can’t stop the ebb and flow in our garden any more than we can stop the waves crashing on the beach.

But we can lighten up, enjoy the scenery, and take pleasure in the ride.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

What I’m reading this week:                            

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“Enjoying the simple beauty of plant against rocks, and cultivating the distinctive forms of alpine plants, is the heart of traditional rock gardening, ranging from gardeners who obsessively recreate the look of mountaintop, to those who carefully cultivate individual specimens of plants into breathtaking peaks of loom not to be matched by anything else in the plant world.”               

Joseph Tychonievich from Rock Gardening, Reimagining a Classic Style

(Thank you, Joseph, for your entertaining talk on Saturday morning!)

“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 # 13: Breaching Your Zone
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!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

Sunday Dinner: What We Learn From Our Fathers

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on Agastache

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“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies:

know more today about the world than I knew yesterday

and lessen the suffering of others.

You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

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“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character.

These are the qualities that define us as human beings,

and propel us, on occasion,

to greatness.”

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R.J. Palacio

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A Pearl Crescent butterfly feeds on catmint flowers.

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“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch,

a smile, a kind word, a listening ear,

an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring,

all of which have the potential

to turn a life around.”

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Leo F. Buscaglia

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on our native buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Honoring the Fathers among us,
present and absent, 
yet alive and those departed;
biological Fathers and those
who become Fathers by affection and commitment. 
Being a real father is a choice. 
How would any of us be who we are today,
without their guidance and their love?

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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!

Pot Shots: Caladiums at Last

Caladiums ‘Chinook’ and ‘Highlighter’ blend together well.

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All of the Caladiums are up and growing.  It took a while this year because of our crazy cool spring.

In fact, I still have a tray of C. ‘Moonlight’ on my deck, waiting for me to commit to where I’d most enjoy them this summer.  There are only 10 left, and so many places I’ve considered planting them.

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C. ‘Moonlight,’ overwintered from last summer’s garden.  These pure white leaves appreciate bright shade.

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Back in the day, one just assumed that Caladiums required a shady spot.  With the new hybrids, many can take full sun.  That means I am constantly checking back with the grower’s site to make sure I’m getting ‘right plant, right spot’ and not giving too much, or too little sun.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ can take full sun, so long as you keep it hydrated. This pot is finally growing into its potential!

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I fantasized about this combo of C. ‘Highlighter’ and C. ‘Chinook for better than a year; finally it is growing and looking great in the upper garden.  C “Highlighter” seems to be out of production, which is a disappointment.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ with C. ‘Chinook’

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A little strange for some tastes, but it has become one of my favorites.  I am forever grateful to the wonderful folks at Classic Caladiums for sending me a bag of beautiful C. ‘Highlighter’ with my order this year, even though it wasn’t a catalog listing.  I was happy to be able to plant a few and also share a few with friends.

C. ‘Chinook’ looks much better in person than in the catalog photos, in my opinion.  I’ve been happy with it and have mixed it with several other pink Caladiums in various pots.  It is a strong grower and generous in producing new leaves.

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A mystery Caladium on the left. We have several growing, and I’ve no idea its name. But I like it!   C. ‘Peppermint’ grows in the pot with it, on the right.

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There are lots of new and interesting Caladiums in our garden this year growing alongside old favorites.  I try to find time to get around the garden to check on their progress at some point each day.

And every day, they just keep getting better.

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C. Fannie Munson with Dryopteris x australis

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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A quick and easy wildlife gardening tip:

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Fill a shallow saucer with a bit of sand and some pea gravel, place it in your garden, and keep it moist through the summer. 
You’ve just created a place for butterflies, other insects, and small reptiles to find life-giving water on hot summer days.
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Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom

Daucus carota subsp. sativus attracts many beneficial insects to the garden.  This beautiful flower is the second year growth of a common, edible carrot.

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We don’t see as much ‘Queen Ann’s Lace’ growing along our Virginia roadsides as I remember from childhood.  It was actually my mother who commented on this last weekend, as we were out driving together.  I can remember cutting stems of this lovely wildflower as a child, bringing it home, and wanting to put it on the kitchen table in a vase.

She was usually less than enthusiastic in those days, maybe because of all of the little insects still enjoying the nectar rich flowers.  I often brought home wild flowers and grasses from my wanderings, and never quite understood her concern with the ‘bugs’ they harbored.

Wild carrot is considered invasive in some states, but not in Virginia.  It is one of those common plants that immigrated to North America with the 17th Century European colonists.  I know a place along the Colonial Parkway where the wild plant grows untamed, along with other wildflowers.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

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This is the second spring that I’ve planted plain old grocery store carrots out into our upper sunny garden in early spring, wanting these gorgeous white flowering plants for summer.

You remember that a carrot is a biennial.  The seeds planted in spring result in a carrot root, usually harvested as a vegetable.  Were you to leave the carrots unharvested over winter, this is the plant you’d have the following year.  Organic farms still do this, sometimes, to generate their own seeds.

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But I have simply bought some carrots and planted them.  I got a bag of ‘rainbow’ carrots from Trader Joes in late February.  I’m curious to learn whether the plant or the flowers will be different, depending on whether the carrot was yellow, orange or purple.  What do you think?

My planting technique was to simply open a space in the earth with my hori hori blade, as deeply as I could, and slip a carrot into the hole.  The carrot takes over, from there, and one day this spring I noticed this beautiful, fine foliage growing up through the fading daffodil leaves.

We will enjoy the show for many weeks; longer if I remember to deadhead the spent flowers.  Once the plant sets seeds, it has accomplished its life work.  As a biennial, it won’t return for another year.

But that’s OK.  We can fill the garden with flowers again next year for the price of a bag of carrots.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“It is easier to tell a person what life is not,
rather than to tell them what it is.
A child understands weeds that grow from lack of attention, in a garden.
However, it is hard to explain the wild flowers
that one gardener calls weeds,
and another considers beautiful ground cover.”
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Shannon L. Alder

 

Growing Herbs for the Beauty of It

Culinary tri-color sage grows alongside perennial Geranium and fennel.

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I grow herbs mostly for their beauty.  That, and their toughness as season-long dependable plants in our pots, beds and baskets.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows near emerging Colocasia.

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I haven’t built them their own little parterre, and I don’t grow them in cute little matching terra cotta pots, either.  I treat them like any other plant and let them earn their spot in my heart and in our garden.

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A newly planted Spanish lavender will soon fill this pot.  It is surrounded with wild violets and wild strawberries.

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Herbs may be some of the oldest plants cultivated and passed on generation to generation and from one culture to the next.  They are celebrated in story and song.  They can heal us, feed us, soothe us and delight us.  Herbs are intensely fragrant; a living, growing perfume.

But I would grow them even without their rich mythological and pharmacological mystique.  Why?  Because I can depend on them.

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The first fennel flowers of the season opend this week.

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The strong fragrance and coarse texture of many herbs makes them distasteful to the deer I want to foil.  I learned in the early years of this garden that I could plant herbs in the spring, and expect them to still be merrily growing in our garden, sans critter damage, the following October.  I like to believe that planting lots of fragrant herbs can also protect more desirable plants growing nearby.

They are a good investment.  They bring me peace of mind.

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Basil

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But the more I tried different cultivars of favorite herbs, the more I delighted in them for their own sake.  They are entertaining plants to grow.  Let me explain.

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Chocolate mint

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Most herbs draw in pollinators.  That means that on a sunny day, I’ll find bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of bright little insects that I can’t name without a field guide hovering around them and blissing out on their sweet nectar.

As I observe and photograph the visitors, I can crush and sniff their wonderfully fragrant leaves.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Many herbs, like the mints and scented geraniums, produce compounds in their leaves that repel biting insects.

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Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, is a versatile herb with strongly fragrant leaves.  The Garden Club of America  has named it their 2018 native plant of the year.

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If a buzzy or bitey is getting too up close and personal with me, I can pinch a stem and rub the fragrant leaves on whatever skin might be exposed.

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Pineapple mint with lavender

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Mountain mint, though not so beautiful, is an especially effective insect repellent with no toxicity to harm my family or me.

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Rose scented ‘Skeleton Rose’ Pelargonium repels insects with its fragrance. Growing here in a basket with Lantana, this basket makes a tough combination for full sun.

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That same fragrance makes herbs appealing as cut flowers, too.  Stems worked in with other flowers make interesting, long lasting arrangements.

My favorite herbs for the vase are Basil, Pelargoniums, Artemesia, and Salvias. The interesting colors, shapes and textures of herbal foliage pumps up any vase.  Oftentimes, a stem will root in the vase and can be planted out to grow on when the arrangement is disassembled.

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Basil with pineapple mint, Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

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Just as herbs create interesting contrasts with flowers in a vase, so they also pump up pots, baskets and perennial beds.

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White Monarda came to our garden as a gift from a gardening friend.  It is edible, can be used for tea, and looks lovely in a vase.  Also known as bee balm or Oswego tea, this plant is a useful North American native herb.

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Although herbs bloom, most have relatively small and insignificant flowers.  With a few exceptions, like some basils, dill, borage and fennel; herbs are grown more for their leaves than for their flowers.

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Now rosemary is a delight all unto itself.  Sometimes evergreen if the winter is mild, usually perennial, it delights us with its blue, winter flowers.

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Rosemary in bloom

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Rosemary often comes into bloom in late autumn, and many years I can include blooming sprigs of rosemary in our holiday wreathes in December.

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A newly planted rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ will triple in size by fall. Sedum ‘Angelina’ shares the pot.

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The pungent fragrance of rosemary exudes from a lovely little shrubby plant.  With rosemary, as with other Mediterranean herbs, the hotter the better in summer.  Growing to 4′ tall or more, a rosemary hedge by a fence or wall is possible in Zones 7b or 8 and warmer.

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An upright shrubby rosemary grows here with prostrate, creeping  rosemary.  Most of our rosemary plants died in our cold winter, and so I’ve had to replace them with new this spring.

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Many people grow herbs primarily for use in the kitchen.  And most, but not all, are edible.  Herbs generally respond well to the continual pruning that frequent use entails.

There are whole encyclopedias of information on using herbs for cooking, crafts, healing and housewifery.  I’ll leave you to read them if you want to learn more.

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Creeping Rosemary makes a good groundcover, or a good ‘spiller’ in a pot in full sun.

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I get busy and forget to cut and use them, I’ll admit to you.  My plants might be bushier if I used them more.

But I love watching my Pelargoniums grow huge and fill the gigantic pots I grow them in.  I love watching butterfly larvae growing plump as they harvest my parsley and fennel for me.  And yes, quite often the plants regenerate themselves within a few weeks once the larvae crawl off for their transformative naps.

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And so it is that I end up growing herbs much like any other garden plant; no special fuss required.

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Comphrey with Artemesia

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That said, keep in mind that herbs such as lavenders, culinary sages, thymes, rosemaries, oregano, germanders, Artemesias, Santolinas, and a few others originated in hot, mountainous areas where the soil may be a bit rocky and the rain scarce.  They aren’t used to coddling, and they don’t much appreciate our muggy damp summers in Virginia.

Our soil may be a bit too acidic and heavy with clay.  Our nights too damp and warm, our rain too intense.  There may be some rot or mildew.  Their roots may not thrive.

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There are a few simple things to do to make these Mediterranean herbs a bit more comfortable.  I tend to grow many of them in pots more successfully than in our heavy clay soil.

But culture in the soil is possible.  I like to dig some dolomitic lime and a little pea gravel into the planting hole before I plant a new transplant.  I set the crown a little high, mounding up the back-fill around the top-most roots, but not up the stem.  Then, I mulch with gravel out a few inches around the plant.  I’m told that chicken grit or broken up oyster shells work well for mulching herbs, too.

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Roots of these Mediterranean herbs want good drainage.  They can rot easily if left sitting in wet soil for very long.  That is why it is smart to amend the soil and plant them high.  If your soil is too heavy with clay, also dig in some compost before you plant, to loosen and improve it a bit.

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If planting in a pot, I mix some lime into the top few inches of the potting soil, set the plants a little high, and mulch the pot with pea gravel.

The gravel reflects sun and heat up into the plant on fine days, holds a little extra moisture during drought, and prevents soil from splashing up onto the lower leaves when it rains.  The gravel mulch helps protect those lower leaves from any disease harbored in the wet soil.

When growing an herb plant with woody stems or grey to blue leaves, take these precautions if your soil and weather is like ours.

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Artemesia with lavender and Iris

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Basil, dill and cilantro are annuals.  Parsley a biennial.  Chives and other Alliums are perennials, even when they are harvested annually for their bulbs.   All are soft stemmed and want a bit gentler treatment.  They appreciate more water and richer soil… but not too rich.  Herbs grown without much fertilizer have better flavor and aroma and grow more compactly.

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The Alliums are just beginning to bloom.

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Grow all of these in full sun, or the most sun you can manage.  The more sun, the more growth in most cases.

Also, give them space to grow.  Your little transplant fresh from its 4″ pot may look a bit small, and your new planting a bit sparse at first.  But please remember that most herbs grow quickly.  Mind the mature height and spread and allow space for your herbs to grow into their potential.

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Pineapple sage in its fall glory, still sending out new buds in late September 2017.

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Crowding, in our weather, makes it more likely for mold or rot to get a start where the branches stay too wet, and where air can’t easily circulate around their leaves.

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Thyme needs a good trim now and again. The stems get too long, with new growth only towards the tips.

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I wait each spring to see which of our perennial herbs made it through the winter, and which were finished off by the cold and damp soil.  Ironically, most will make it through until early spring.  It is those last few weeks and those last few frosts that may prove too much.

That is why I wait until I see new growth sprouting from their branches, before I cut them back.  Once they are growing and the weather is milder, I can cut with confidence.  Cut too soon, and a late freeze may be too much of a shock.  I killed a beautiful Agastache this spring by pruning it too early.

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Breakfast at the Agastache… summer 2017.

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Cut back any obviously dead wood, and trim most of the branches by at least a third to stimulate new, healthy growth.  But don’t throw all of those trimming away!  Many herbs, like Artemesia will root from these stem cuttings taken in late winter or early spring.  What will you lose by trying? 

And there is nothing complicated in my technique.  I open up a hole in the earth with my blade, insert a stem a few inches deep, and close the hole.  It roots and begins growing within a few weeks.  That is how I’ve spread Artemesia all around my garden over the years.

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Pineapple sage has beautiful leaves, but won’t bloom until late September.  It is hardy in our garden.

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Most herbs will root from stem cuttings.  You might cut several stems of basil, use most of the leaves, and root the stems in a glass of water to generate new plants over the summer.  Herbs like thyme are easy to divide.  Just take a stem on the outside of the plant, with some roots already growing, cut it off and plant it where its needed.  Do this with most Salvias, too.

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Apple mint roots easily in water. But easier still, pull a stem with some roots attached and planted it up elsewhere.

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If you’ve shied away from planting herbs in the past, I hope you’ll try a few this year.  You don’t need to be an expert gardener to succeed.  Most are very easy, and forgiving.

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An heirloom Pelargonium that I managed to root from a gifted stem cutting is now out in a basket for the summer.  This cultivar was brought to Williamsburg by the early colonists and grown here in the Colonial era.

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And this is the perfect time to begin, now that we are into the second week of June.  Garden centers in our area have just begun to mark down their herbs by 20-30%.  There are great bargains available this month as plant shops clear out their stock.

Unlike more tender plants, herbs will establish just fine in summer’s heat, so long as you don’t let them completely dry out as they grow new roots into the surrounding soil.

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Deadhead lavender, and other herbs, to keep the flowers coming all season. This is Spanish lavender, with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.

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There is always more to learn, there is always more to try, and there are always more beautiful and interesting plants to introduce in our gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Sunday Dinner: Juxtaposed

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“Because you don’t notice the light without a bit of shadow.
Everything has both dark and light.
You have to play with it
till you get it exactly right.”
.
Libba Bray

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“You couldn’t have strength without weakness,
you couldn’t have light without dark,
you couldn’t have love
without loss”
.
Jodi Picoult

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“Red was ruby, green was fluorescent,
yellow was simply incandescent.
Color was life.
Color was everything.
Color, you see,
was the universal sign of magic.”
.
Tahereh Mafi

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“Hygge is our awareness of the scale of our existence
in contrast to the immensity of life.
It is our sense of intimacy
and encounter with each other
and with the creaturely world around us.
It is the presence of nature
calling us back to the present moment,
calling us home.”
.
Louisa Thomsen Brits

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“Yes, contrast teaches us a great many things
and there is purpose for it.
Yet it is time to transcend your everyday dramas
that are but drops in an ocean.
Cease focusing on your droplets of water and look around you.
Everything you say and touch and do
sets into motion ripples
that either heal and create
or curse and destroy.
Let me repeat: Everything.”
.
Alaric Hutchinson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“…the basic stuff of the universe, at its core,
is looking like a kind of pure energy
that is malleable to human intention and expectation
in a way that defies our old mechanistic model of the universe-
-as though our expectation itself
causes our energy to flow out into the world
and affect other energy systems.”
.
James Redfield

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“A warrior has to believe,
otherwise he cannot activate his intent positively.”
.
Théun Mares
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Floral Explosions

Daucus carota with perennial Geranium in our garden

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Independence Day fireworks may still be a few weeks away, but we have beautiful floral fireworks opening in the garden this week.

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Monarda is just beginning to bloom at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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These ‘explosive’ flowers are actually clusters of many separate tiny blooms and hold special appeal for hummers and pollinating insects.

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Asclepias tuberosa is covered in pollinators at the WBG this week .

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Stand and watch the nectar loving creatures enjoy sip after sip of sweet nutrition, without having to exert too much energy of flight in between.  “One stop sipping” holds great appeal, and these flowers held in a ‘fireworks formation’ are important to include in any wildlife garden.

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Aside from their wildlife value, I love these intricate, expansive flowers, too.

They last a long time in the garden, and their developing seed heads hold their own beauty if left to mature on the plant.  Although a flower’s color may be important in your design, often it is the texture and way a plant holds its flowers that matter even more.

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Asclepias verticillata

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As the mid-summer garden explodes with perennial flowers, we especially enjoy these flowers which each look like a bursting fireworks display nearly frozen in time.

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Hydrangea quercifolia is beginning to change its color now in our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Salvia

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