Sunday Dinner: Choosing Happiness

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“The most courageous act
is still to think for yourself.
Aloud.”
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Coco Chanel
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“Freedom is not worth having
if it does not include the freedom
to make mistakes.”
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Mahatma Gandhi
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Rudbeckia laciniata, a beautiful native plant, grows to 10′ tall and spreads each year. Here, cozy with pineapple mint.

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“Those who deny freedom to others,
deserve it not for themselves”
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Abraham Lincoln
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“Letting go gives us freedom,
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
anger, anxiety, or possessions –
we cannot be free.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.
The obedient must be slaves.”
.
Henry David Thoreau
 

Home For Some Swallowtails

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We are a lot like little kids when we head out to the garden.  We get such a kick out of watching the butterflies, and their beautiful psychedelic ‘teenaged’ caterpillar families.

The family portrait here shows you a female Black Swallowtail butterfly feeding on fennel flowers.  I believe the caterpillars are also Black Swallowtail larvae.

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While the adult butterflies float around from flower to flower, the caterpillars largely stay put as they slowly move along the branches of our fennel, eating as they go.  Not to worry… the fennel grows back very quickly, shooting out lots of new stems, leaves and flowers.

I was fortunate to find four beautiful pots of bronze fennel on a clearance sale today at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  I’ll be adding these new fennel plants to the garden in the morning, knowing they will come back even bigger and stronger in the spring.

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These caterpillars may seem a little brazen in their conspicuous gnoshing.  They love fennel, carrots, parsley and parsnips.  Whatever substances they ingest from these leaves, it leaves them tasting foul.  The birds show little interest in them.

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Black eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, attract many different butterflies.  Goldenrod, Solidago, (top right corner) will soon bloom, attracting many hungry pollinators.

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There are plenty of wildly safe places in our garden for them to withdraw when ready to form their chrysalis.  We rarely notice one, anyway.  But oh, the gorgeous butterflies which fill our garden in late summer!

“Feed them, and they will come.”  No need to run to Pet Smart for a big expensive bag of something.  No, just plant nectar rich flowers.  If you fill your garden with the flowers they love, and have a few herbs around to receive their eggs and feed their larvae, then you, too can create a haven and home for the swallowtails.

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Garlic chives and Rudbeckia have both naturalized in our garden. These clumps seeded themselves as neighbors, forming a little  ‘food court’ for pollinators.

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But if you choose to attract and support pollinators, please do so consciously and responsibly.  What do I mean?

Find a way to garden without using herbicides or insecticides which will poison these fragile, and often endangered creatures.  Yes, you will have some leaves chewed by insects.  Yes, you will have to weed by hand.

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Why is the Columbine blooming in August??? We are grateful for the blessing. The nibbled leaves hardly detract from the lovely flowers.

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Yes, you may have some unsightly foliage here and there. 

But it is well worth it to enjoy a garden filled with life.  Not only do we enjoy the spectacle of summer butterflies, but we also have many pairs of nesting birds, sustained by the rich insect life in our garden.

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Basil is a one of my favorite annuals in our garden. Not only is it beautiful and up to our muggy climate, it also attracts many pollinators. Goldfinches love its seeds. It works beautifully in flower arrangements, and can still be harvested for summer cooking.

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Every garden has a purpose.  Every gardener has to have a purpose in mind when building her garden.

Ultimately, we expect the garden to bring us pleasure as it entertains us, gives us purpose each day, helps us stay fit, and gives us another reason to go shopping.

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Echinacea and Basil have proven a stunning combination this summer.  The Echinacea’s seeds will feed lots of happy birds this autumn.

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We decided early on that this garden would do all of those things, but also provide a home for pollinators and birds.

Home means safety and food; a place to rest; a place to lay eggs and raise young; clean water to drink.  A puddle, birdbath, or even a wet dish of sand will suffice.

Little did we know that the birds would help us plant.  We never expected the lizards, turtles and birds to help control the insects.  We have bees to pollinate the fruit, and butterflies to watch on summer afternoons.

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Tiger swallowtail feasting on Aralia spinosa, a tree brought to us by the birds.  This is its first season of bloom in our garden; but oh, what a show!

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And little did we realize how much happiness flows from creating a home for some swallowtails.

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Crape myrtle

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Blossom XXIX: Buddleia

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Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, hosts many hungry pollinators on its abundant, nectar filled blossoms each summer.    I enjoy the beautiful creatures it attracts as much as I enjoy its brilliant blossoms.

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Hummingbird moths are especially drawn to Buddleia.

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These deciduous shrubs tend to be short lived.  They want plenty of sun and prefer rich, moist soil.  We lost several over the last few years, and had only one remaining last fall.

Buddleia want to be frequently pruned.  The bloom on new growth, and produce abundant blooms until frost if you faithfully dead head their spent blossoms.

They also need to be cut back very hard each winter.  If left to grow unpruned, they can soon grow too tall and gangling, falling this way and that from their own weight.  That said, I’ve never had one grazed by deer.

When I pruned our butterfly bush  in the late fall, I was inspired to stick lengths of the pruned stems into a large pot, around a winter blooming Helleborus.  I wasn’t confident that these woody stem cuttings would root, but decided to take the chance.  By early spring, we noticed new buds and leaves appearing and we could tell roots had formed.

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I transplanted most of the rooted cuttings out into the front garden when I refreshed the pot in late spring.  But we left the largest and strongest in place to grow on this summer in the pot.

All of the rooted cuttings have put on abundant growth this summer and are now well-established and blooming.  A seedling Rudbeckia has also appeared in the pot along with a Caladium  I tucked in this May, some Verbena cuttings I planted in June, and a division of Dichondra argentea. 

If this sounds like shamefully haphazard planting, well…. what can I say?

The Hellebore took a long time to die back, as did the foliage of the daffodil bulbs still nestled deep in the pot.  Spreading Colocasia plants have sprung up all around, hugging the pot with their huge leaves.  It may look a bit wild and woolly, but I can promise you that the many hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and this lovely hummingbird moth are happy with the abundance.

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Plants basically want to live.  The magic of simple propagation, whether from stem cuttings, division or saved seeds; is their will to survive against all odds.

The next time you find yourself pruning, consider whether you have space or desire for more of the plant you’re trimming back.  Green stems generally root well in water.  Woody stems will root in soil or a soil-less medium like vermiculite or sand.

There are finer points to it, depending on the time of year you take your cuttings.  But why not take a chance and give those pruning an opportunity to root?  Look at the beauty you have to gain! This is an easy and inexpensive way to give yourself impressive small shrubs for your large pots, too.

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Propagate your way into a full, lush garden filled with plants that you like, and that grow well in your conditions.  Doesn’t it seem a bit magical that a blossom this beautiful will grow from a pruned stem, that would otherwise have been tossed away?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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A blossom from the mother plant, still growing strong and covered in flowers.

 

Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 

 

Leaf V: Transmutation

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Sometime in the night, the muggy summer air hanging over our garden yesterday cooled.   We awoke this morning to cool, clear air; blue sky; and a welcome wetness everywhere.

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Every leaf, every blade of grass, and every solid surface lay cloaked in sparkly drops of precious water.  Yesterday’s wet humidity condensed into this morning’s dew.

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The elements of our world remain in constant flow, transmuting themselves from form to form.  Yesterday’s humidity may have been rolling in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico only a few days ago.  And it has already evaporated, reforming as mist in the huge clouds beginning to fill our mid-day sky.

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Every element which makes up our world, and ourselves, remains in motion.  Things are always changing, always growing or dying back in the garden.  Flowers bloom, seeds form, and then the goldfinches and other birds turn up to feast on the seeds.

The water I patiently sprayed onto the garden last week soaked into the roots of the growing plants, and is now locked into each cell of the growing leaves and stems.  Water transformed into cellulose to fuel each plant’s growth.

Water was transmuted into a living plant, and may soon fuel the life of a hungry rabbit or deer.

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Transmutation remains one of the immutable laws of life.  Every bit of energy transforms.  Every element endlessly transforms over eons of time.

Understanding this truth assures us of our own continuing transformation.  Nothing is ever truly lost, or gained; except, perhaps, wisdom.  We remain active participants in this eternal dance of life.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2017

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Elemental

 

 

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!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Sunday Dinner: Ease

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“Peace is not always easy to grasp or keep close.
In the process of attaining and protecting it,
you may find yourself tired, weary,
and uncertain on how to keep your peace safe.
While being uncertain is normal,
continue to commit yourself to peacefulness.
You are worthy of every drop
of sweetness and ease that you encounter.
Being tested is a part of the journey.
Giving up, and letting go, is not.”
.
alex elle
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“Being content is perhaps no less easy
than playing the violin well:
and requires no less practice.”
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Alain de Botton
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Being under stress
is like being stranded in a body of water.
If you panic, it will cause you to flail around
so that the water rushes into your lungs
and creates further distress.
Yet, by calmly collecting yourself
and using controlled breathing
you remain afloat with ease.”
.
Alaric Hutchinson
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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.”
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Pericles
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Begonia “Sophia” blooming in March of 2014

 

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

Leaf IV: Satisfaction

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Small things can bring great satisfaction.

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Velvety, fragrant herbs offer leaves both beautiful and delicious.  I eat them mostly with my eyes, but both the sage and scented geranium can be used for cooking or for tea.  Many fry sage leaves in a little olive oil for a savory garnish.

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Their volatile oils perfume the air on hot summer days.  Scented geraniums carry many sweet fragrances, from rose, to citrus, to mint. Their leaves may be large or small, serrated or smooth.  But all are wonderfully fragrant and hold their fragrance as they dry.

Rubbed against our skin, they protect us from mosquitoes as we work in the garden.

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Brought indoors in a vase, their scent fills the room.  These exquisite leaves fill out a bouquet with summer flowers as beautifully as they fill a pot or a border in the garden.

They love the heat and take off when many other garden plants begin to wilt.   Site these beauties in full sun, and watch your satisfaction grow.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Satisfaction

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Tri-color sage

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Leaf:  Illumination
Leaf II:  Celebration
Leaf III: Decoration

 

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!

 

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