Six on Saturday: Plants With a History

Yellow flag Iris psuedacorus is one of the earliest Iris species recorded in our history.  Native in parts of Europe and North Africa, it was grown in palace and  temple gardens in ancient Egypt .  Considered invasive in North America, it produces very high quantities of nectar when in bloom.

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Why does May hold such nostalgia?  All seems right with the world when early summer settles over the neighborhood; the air is sweetened by blooming hollies, roses, and honeysuckle, and something is blooming in nearly every yard.

May is a month for Mother’s Day, college graduations, weddings and family trips.  We allow ourselves a mental break from the news of the day as we reconnect with loved ones and simply enjoy the pleasures of May.

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Peonies remain some of the most popular garden plants and cut flowers. They bloom for only a few weeks each spring, but remain a favorite artistic motif in temperate climates around the world.

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Many of the shrubs and perennials that bloom each May carry with them an air of nostalgia, too.  They may remind us of our mother’s or our grandmother’s gardens.

My great grandmother had an old craftsman style house in an established Richmond neighborhood.  Her back garden was filled with luxurious climbing roses, blue spiderwort, peonies and a giant old mulberry tree.

I have vivid memories of wandering around her yard when I was a very young child, enjoying the flowers while the grown-ups talked inside.  The grass grew long and lush as she could no longer mow it herself.   I’d pick the mulberries in season and she would serve them over heaping bowls of ice cream.  She was elderly when I knew her, already an invalid.  But her garden told me all I needed to know about her loving spirit and her joie de vivre.

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Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  It grows best in the mountains, and follows the Appalachians from New England to the Gulf Coast.  Native Americans used this poisonous shrub for many purposes, including medicinally.  The wood is extremely hard and was carved into many useful household items.

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The beauty of antique, heritage flowers is their persistence.   Most are so easy to grow that once planted, they largely care for themselves.  A gardener’s skilled hand can certainly help bring out their full potential, but they generally outlive their gardeners and can fend for themselves decade after decade.

Heritage plants bring us comfort, through their beauty and fragrance, as they return us to people and places and times long passed.  They have a long and rich history themselves, even as they help us follow the threads of memory to recall our own personal history.  Yet they bloom fresh and beautiful each year, insinuating themselves into our hearts anew each time we encounter them.

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We always had Azaleas in our yard to admire each spring,  These Southern Indica hybrid Azaleas, dating back to the 1830’s, have especially large flowers and will grow to 10′ tall.  We enjoyed viewing them at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and Richmond’s Bryan Park when I was a child.  Here, ‘Formosa’ and ‘Delaware White’ were planted by a previous gardener on our property. 

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Plants carry our history more surely than any diary or text.  They form a living archive of our lives:  the flowers we grow, the foods that recall childhood pleasures.  The trees we played under and in when young, and trees planted at our homes along the way.

All are a part of our story, and we a part of theirs.  And when better to remember the joy they brought us than when the world is renewed each May.

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Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, ‘ the poet’s or pheasant’s eye daffodil, is native to the mountains of Europe.  One of the earliest cultivated species daffodils from the ancient Mediterranean world,  it is one of the latest daffodils to bloom each spring.  Here, it greets visitors at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“If you don’t know history,

then you don’t know anything.

You are a leaf that doesn’t know

it is part of a tree. ”
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Michael Crichton

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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

 

 

 

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Wild Thing Wednesday

A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana.

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The beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail shares our garden through much of the year.  It is frequently the first butterfly we spot each spring and can be seen deep into autumn, enjoying our warm and sunny Indian summer days while seeking every last drop of nectar our flowers can produce.

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This is the first butterfly recorded by an English explorer on this coast of North America.  John White drew an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in 1587, while he was exploring Virginia with Sir Walter Raleigh’s third expedition.  John White called his drawing “Mamankanois,” which is believed to be the native word for ‘butterfly.’  This beautiful butterfly received its official Latin name, Papillio glaucus, from Carl Linnaeus in 1758.

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You’ll find this butterfly across the eastern half of North America.  The species once included butterflies in Eastern Canada, too.  But Eastern Tiger Swallowtails living in Canada were given their own species designation in 1991: ‘Papilio glaucus canadensis.’

An adult female may lay two or three broods of eggs over the summer.  Host plants include wild black cherry, sweetbay Magnolia, tulip poplar, cottonwood, common lilac and willow.  You may notice that these are all common trees or shrubs.

You can easily spot the females by the beautiful blue markings on their wings.  Females may have mostly yellow wings or mostly black wings; but they always have blue markings on their hindwings .

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Lantana at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in mid-July.

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Males have yellow wings with the distinctive black striping that earns them the name, ‘Tiger Swallowtail.’

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies remain fairly solitary, and are often found high up in the canopy of host trees.  They live mostly on nectar, though they may be seen ‘puddling’ on damp ground to drink water.

These are common butterflies that have adapted to a wide range of habitats, nectar sources and host plants.  They aren’t officially considered endangered, though shrinking habitats and use of insecticides has certainly affected their populations, too.

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The quickest, easiest way to attract swallowtail butterflies to your garden is to plant Lantana.  Butterflies love Lantana, though its not a native plant in our area.  They don’t care.  It must have lots of sweet nectar, because it is common to see several species of butterfly gathering around the Lantana in our garden.

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You’ll see swallowtail butterflies on other flowering plants, too.  They especially enjoy clusters of many small flowers, where they can stand and drink at their leisure.  Purple coneflowers, Rudbeckias, Monarda, Verbena, dill and fennel flowers also attract their attention.

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If you love watching butterflies, you’ll love the Butterfly Festival at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this weekend.  Come into the tents and enjoy hand-feeding these lovely creatures and observing them up close.  There will be several species of butterfly on display, including Monarchs, several different swallowtails and painted ladies.

There is no charge to enjoy the garden or the butterflies, and there will be lots of fellow butterfly enthusiasts on hand to share the excitement.  Butterfly host and nectar plants will be available for sale, and there are crafts for the little ones.

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Native butterflies are an important part of our history and our heritage.   As we watch them float around the garden, we are simply the latest generation in an unbroken chain of naturalists, smitten by their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Butterflies are nature’s tragic heroes.
They live most of their lives being completely ordinary.
And then, one day, the unexpected happens.
They burst from their cocoons in a blaze of colors
and become utterly extraordinary.
It is the shortest phase of their lives,
but it holds the greatest importance.
It shows us how empowering change can be.”
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Kelseyleigh Reber

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The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species.  Here, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys its nectar.  2017

 

 

Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

Honoring Earth Day

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“Our Mother Earth is the source of all life, whether it be the plants, the two-legged, four-legged, winged ones or human beings.
“The Mother Earth is the greatest teacher, if we listen, observe and respect her.
“When we live in harmony with the Mother Earth, she will recycle the things we consume and make them available to our children and to their children.
“I must teach my children how to care for the Earth so it is there for the future generations.

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“So from now on:

“I realize the Earth is our mother. I will treat her with honor and respect.
“I will honor the interconnectedness of all things and all forms of life. I will realize the Earth does not belong to us, but we belong to the Earth.

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“The natural law is the ultimate authority upon the lands and water. I will learn the knowledge and wisdom of the natural laws. I will pass this knowledge on to my children.
“The mother Earth is a living entity that maintains life. I will speak out in a good way whenever I see someone abusing the Earth. Just as I would protect my own mother, so will I protect the Earth.
“I will ensure that the land, water, and air will be intact for my children and my children’s children – unborn.”
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Anonymous, reprinted from WhiteWolfPack.com

 

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Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970.  I was in grade school, and this new celebration felt like a very big deal to me.  I was happy for all of the efforts the ‘grown-ups’ were making to protect the air, water, land and wildlife.  It felt good. 

This new Earth Day celebration was a ray of hope, a spark of light in an otherwise very dark time in our country.  We were still using unspeakable weapons in Southeast Asia, destroying their forests with Napalm and their people with terror. Nixon and his cronies still controlled the White House.

The first nuclear weapons in modern times had been used against two Japanese cities only 25 years earlier, and the the arms race to develop and test more of these life-destroying weapons was exploding around the planet.

But, we also still had George Harrison and John Lennon in those days, and the millions of voices of the Woodstock Generation raised in song and protest.

So much has happened in these last 47 years.  Our lives have changed in unimaginable ways.  Our country has changed, too.  The Woodstock Generation has mostly spent their lives now in doing what they can, for good or for ill; before losing their voices and their mobility to the natural progression of things.

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And their legacy lives on, in the rest of us ‘youngsters.’  The battles still rage across our planet between the special interests of our age.  There is a basic philosophical divide, as I see it, between those focused on preservation of the environment, sharing and preserving our resources for generations yet to come; and those focused on using up every resource they can to make a profit.

The divide is between those focused on themselves and their own profit and pleasure, and those whose focus and concern expands to include the good of the millions of voiceless plant and animal species , generations yet unborn, and our beautiful planet.

That is a stark oversimplification, I know.  And I would bet that many who read these words disagree with my interpretation of things.

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Good people can disagree.  Well-intentioned people can see things differently.  We each have our own story to tell about life and our experiences, in our own way.

A neighbor said to me just the other day, “The Earth doesn’t have a problem.  The Earth has never had a problem with human beings.  It is the humans who want to continue living on this planet who have the problem.”

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And he is right.  Actually, the more information which leaks out about Mars, and what has happened to that once beautiful planet over the last half a million years, the more we understand how fragile our own planetary biosphere to be.  Perhaps that is why our government has tried to control the many photos of man-made structures on Mars, and evidence of water and the life once living there, so fiercely.

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So what can any of us do?  Each of us can choose something, or somethings, which are in our power to do that will make a positive impact on our biosphere’s, and our own, well-being.  And then, we can raise our own voice, and use the power of our own purse to influence our neighbors, and the greater human community, towards doing something constructive, too.

Here are a few ideas from the Earthday.org site to get us all started:

Create your own ‘Act of Green’

Plant a tree or donate a tree

Eat less meat

Stop using disposable plastic

Reduce your energy footprint

Educate others

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I invite you to celebrate Earth Day 2017 in your own personal way.  Do something positive for yourself, your family, our planet and our future.  It doesn’t have to be something big, fancy or expensive.

Just do something to commit your own “Act of Green,” your own radical act of beauty.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016-2017

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“I do not think the measure of a civilization

is how tall its buildings of concrete are,

but rather how well its people have learned

to relate to their environment and fellow man.”

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Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Earth

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Native Virginia Trees

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Early spring, as the buds swell and glow red or orange or softest green around the crown of every tree on the horizon; directs our attention back towards our majestic, elegant hardwood trees which fill the landscape here in coastal Virginia.  We’ve largely ignored them since autumn, when their bright leaves blew away in November’s storms. 

The many native trees discovered by our early colonists still grow wild here.  They form the backdrop to our everyday lives.  Some of us love them and choose to live in forested communities.  Others fear them.  Perhaps for good reason, after seeing these gentle giants toppled by the storms which blow through our area several times a year. 

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Yet, the great North American trees define our landscape and our lifestyle.  They shade us and offer relief from our summer heat and humidity.  Their flowers announce spring and make early summer sweetly fragrant. 

The ready supply of good strong trees for lumber allowed early settlers to build homes and churches and businesses in the wilderness.  Although it is unusual to find a fully grown, mature hardwood tree anymore, we still can find them in parks and on preserved estates.

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Cypress Trees grow large here along the Colonial Parkway at the mouth of Powhatan Creek.

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I love trees.  And I love to plant trees. I count and visit the Dogwoods, Oaks, Redbuds, Crepe Myrtles and Poplars on our property pretty regularly to monitor their growth.  In fact, I spent an hour today with a shipment of bare root trees we just received from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I get angry when neighbors cut healthy trees, changing the landscape for our entire community.  And I really hate to see stands of trees cut for new development ,  mourning the ever increasing loss of the naturally forested acres left in our area. 

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We often fail to consider how much oxygen each tree produces each year, or how many pollutants each can filter from the air we breathe.  Trees absorb greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide in their respiration, locking that carbon into their woody flesh. 

They help moderate the temperature through all of our seasons, and fertilize the Earth and build new soil with their fallen leaves.  Each tree supports and houses countless animals, feeding and sheltering birds, small insects, butterflies and their larvae, and  small mammals.

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Native Redbud, Cercis canadensis, blooms in April.

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Since trees are on my mind today, I am republishing an essay I wrote in August, 2013, about how prized our American trees became to the Europeans who financed and supported colonization in North America.  I hope you find some useful bit here you didn’t know before.   And I also hope that perhaps this essay invites you to pay a bit more attention to the trees in your landscape and your life.

-Woodland Gnome

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View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

View towards Jamestown Island from the Colonial Parkway.

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Did you know there was a time, not too long ago, when the most prized plants growing on regal British estates were trees imported from, “The Colonies”?  I had no idea how much 17th and 18th Century British gardeners coveted North American plants- particularly our trees.

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American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

American Sycamore growing along the Colonial Parkway on the bank of the James River.

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Isn’t it interesting how things are forgotten over the years, and we assume that how things are in our own experience is how things have always been?

I grew up on the East coast of North America, making annual trips to view the colorful forests cloaking the Blue Ridge Mountains each autumn.  I’ve always had brilliant autumn foliage to enjoy in my own yard, and lining the streets of whatever town I happened to visit.

We in Virginia accept these things as part of the normal progression of the seasons.  We savor them, but don’t take notice of what a rare treat we enjoy.

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An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown.

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It was the book, Brother Gardeners:  Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession, by Andrea Wulf, which opened my eyes and my mind to the treasures growing here, as weeds in the woods.

Prior to the 17th century, European, and specifically British gardens, had a limited palette of plants.  The formal geometric schemes of lawn, hedge, topiary evergreen shrubs, roses, and very few summer flowers were the norm.  Green and brown were the main colors found in the garden for most of the year.  Hardscape paths, stairs, fountains, arbors, and structures were the relief from all of this green lawn and green hedge.  Gardeners overcame and reshaped nature when creating a garden.

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Dogwood tree in early November

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The notion of working with nature was born in the colonies, and exported back to England in some measure toward the second half of the 18th century.

As European ships sailed abroad to explore and claim the world, they took as treasure not only gold and silver, but also botanical treasures from all of the lands explored.

Very little of the plant material collected actually made it back alive to a gardener in Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, or the Netherlands.  When a voyage lasts many months, things happen.  Things like hungry mice and storms; gnawing insects, pirates, salt spray; and unmitigated heat and cold on the deck of a sailing ship.

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But whatever seeds, bulbs, cuttings, roots, and even live plants did miraculously make it home and into the hands of a skilled gardener, were loving tended and coaxed into growing in specially built hot houses and garden plots.

Plants were grown out for seed, sold, traded, and propagated in great botanical gardens across Europe.  Botanists befriended ships’ captains and crews in hopes of bribing them to bring home new specimens.  And, as colonies were established, relationships sprang up between the colonists and avid collectors “back home” in Europe.

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Red Cedar growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana growing in Colonial Williamsburg.

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The fledgling scientists of the Enlightenment realized that every new species of plant contains tremendous gifts.  Aside from their beauty and use in an ornamental garden, plants contain useful chemical compounds to heal, create new products, nourish, and enlighten.  Some of this research continues today in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil and other inaccessible and remote corners of the world

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Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.  Enlarge the photo and you’ll see the long seed pods growing in early August.

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The colonial era was an exciting time for discovering countless new species of plants. The gardens of Great Britain and Europe reflected the explosion of diversity by welcoming previously unknown flowers, trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables into their evolving and increasingly naturalistic garden schemes.

Remember, the great forests of Britain were decimated long before this era.  When Maple, Tulip Poplar, Pine, Sycamore, Cedar, Dogwood, Sassafras, Magnolia and other colorful tress and shrubs from America grew in the first garden plots of importers, they were a novelty.  The aristocracy quickly fell in love with these new plants, and clamored for a seed or a cutting to grow on their home estates.

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Oak and pine grow in abundance on Jamestown Island.

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Benjamin Franklin helped build the relationships that enabled this trade between his amateur botanist friends in the American colonies and his contacts in Britain.  The story told in Andrea Wulf’s book unfolds with the drama and personality of a good novel, and I recommend it to every like minded gardener, no matter which side of the pond you call your present home.

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Native holly

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For the purposes of this post, I will  mention a few of the trees growing wild right here around Jamestown, which were collected in the Colonial era and sent back to England.  These trees, common to us, opened up a whole new way to design and enjoy gardens for those still in Europe.  They were grown for their beautiful form, fall color, interesting bark, and some for their flowers.

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An old oak tree’s exposed roots. This tree holds the bank of the James River along the Parkway.

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Eventually, gardening became a passionate pursuit not only of the aristocracy, but for many Britons.  As we admire their beautifully tended gardens of trees, shrubs, and flowers today, so they admired the wild and beautiful plants we sent back to them from, “The Colonies”.

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Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

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Here is a partial list of trees and shrubs introduced to Britain from the American colonies:

Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple, 1725

Aesculus pavia, Red Buckeye, 1711

Colorful fall leaves were almost unknown in Britain before American species of trees were introduced n the 17th and 18th centuries.

Betula nigra, River Birch, 1736

Callicarpa americana, Beauty Berry, 1724

Catalpa bignonioides, Southern Catalpa, 1722

Chamaecyparis thyoides, White Cedar, 1736

Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe Tree, 1736

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood, 1722

Diospyros virginiana, Persimmon, 1629

Euonymus atropurpurea, Burning Bush, 1744-6

Fraxinus americana, White Ash, 1724

Hydrangea arborescens, Wild Hydrangea, 1736

Juglans nigra, Black Walnut, 1629

Juniperus virginiana, Red Cedar, 1664

Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, 1734

Liriodendron tulipifera, Tulip Poplar, 1638

Magnolia grandiflora, Southern Magnolia, 1734

Dogwood, our Virginia state tree, blooms in April.

Magnolia virginiana, Sweet Bay, 1688

Pinus strobus, White Pine, 1705

Platanus occidentalis, American Sycamore, 1638

Sassafras albidum, Sassafrass, 1630

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Dogwood, Cornus florida

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2017

The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession

Brother Gardeners at Barnes and Nobles

Brother Gardeners at Amazon

Gathering Dusk and A Christmas Tree

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Light fades slowly from the winter sky, blushing, as the sun eases below the horizon.

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Late afternoon found us at Colonial Williamsburg on Christmas day.  I wanted to photograph the huge Christmas tree, ablaze with lights, that we had found the evening before.

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We were out on Christmas Eve enjoying the lights in our part of town, when we spotted a blazing tree, covered in white lights, visible from Francis Street.

And I vowed to return, camera in hand, to photograph it in all its brilliance at dusk.

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And so I lingered nearby, watching colors shift in the evening sky as lights popped on against the gathering dusk.  But the Christmas tree remained unlit.

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My partner parked and eventually joined me.  And we waited together as the minutes crept past.

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We watched a silent flock of geese glide overhead.

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Clouds glowed bright, illuminated by a sun no longer visible from where we stood, moving ever further beyond the horizon.

But the Christmas tree remained dark, melting into the shadows of the coming night.

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We began walking towards our car, shivering now in the evening chill.  Slowly, hoping for a flash of sudden brightness to draw us back, we covered the blocks of the old town still filled with visitors and costumed staff.

But the only lights greeting us flickered in windows and on lamp posts.

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And though a little disappointed to have missed the photo I hoped to take, we were glad to be a part of the community in this place and on this special night.

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It was the following evening when we found the tree lit again in all its glowing glory.  We had been away all day, and drove to the tree on our way home.  It was already long past dusk when we arrived, but the Christmas tree was lit, and I hopped out while my partner circled the block.

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One feels the weight of years and lives here most at night.  Shades of those long gone from daylight still linger in the shadows near these historic places.

The elder trees, still growing, hold memories, too; as they stretch their protective branches over the land.

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But the blazing Christmas tree drew me ever closer, and I set off alone across the field.   Others were gathering around it too, basking in the warmth and comfort of its lights.

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In this season we celebrate the power of the light.  We reaffirm our deep belief in the powers of goodness and love to push back against the gathering and ever-present darkness of our  world.

We know there is an ever shifting balance between darkness and light; greed and generosity; kindness and anger;  love and ambivalence.

And all of these forces live and shift within each one of us; none of us is beyond their power.

But it is always ours to choose; to seek the light, even when we must walk through the darkness to find it.   And as we journey ever closer to the light, we find good company sharing the walk with us; so that we are never left alone in the darkness.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“It is neither wealth nor splendor,

but tranquility and occupation which give happiness.”
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Thomas Jefferson

The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy

April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 650

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Were you a botanist, and an horticultural artist, would you choose to move to a new home and garden in a notoriously difficult environment?  Connie Hansen moved from Oakland CA, where she was a respected botanist on faculty at the University of California, to a small plot of land only blocks off of the beach in Lincoln City, Oregon, in 1973.

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She bought a small home and a little over an acre of swampy land with a creek running through, in a residential neighborhood close enough to the beach to hear the ocean, in the shade of huge evergreen trees.  What confidence and spunk this gifted gardener had! 

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 575

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Lincoln City, in Zone 8, endures near hurricane force winds from the southwest through much of the winter.  These winds off of the Pacific bring torrents of rain.  There is occasional ice and snow, but mostly cold rain and fog.  Summer days might reach into the 80’s for a few hours, but only rarely.  Salty fog settles over the area for some part of most days, and the rocky soil remains salty far inland.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 665

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Walk a few blocks down 33rd street from Connie’s garden and you find yourself at the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the ocean.  The Cascade Mountains come right up to the coast here, and many creeks and streams flow from the cliffs directly onto the beach.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 573

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But Connie loved the home, previously owned by a painter, and chose to establish her garden in this challenging spot.  She saw potential to grow the Rhododendrons, Japanese Iris, ferns and primroses she loved so much in this damp garden, now home to several small ponds.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 299

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Connie spent the next 20 years, until her passing in 1993, constructing her gardens.  And as Connie created and tended her gardens, she also built community.  She networked with other gardeners not only in her neighborhood, but all over the Pacific Northwest.  She hosted many visiting groups and opened her garden to guests of all sorts.  She ran “Orphaned Plant Sales” with divisions and extras from her garden, which continue today.

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Divisions from the garden are offered for sale by volunteers to help raise funds for the garden's support.

Divisions from the garden are offered for sale by volunteers to help raise funds for the garden’s support.

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In fact, Connie had such a loving and supportive network of gardening friends that when she passed, they kept coming to tend the garden for her.  The property was converted to a Conservancy and operates now as a free community garden staffed and tended by volunteers.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 670

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The garden still hosts visitors every day of the year.  The garden is supported wholly by donations and has no other financial support.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 281

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Connie’s former home at 1931 NW 33rd Street may be rented for special events.  It is open two days a week to visitors.  But one may simply wander in any time from dawn to dusk to enjoy the peaceful beauty of this special place.

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And this is a teaching garden.  Visitors learn what will thrive in this peculiar climate, and how to nurture it.  There are no “off-limits” areas so far as I could see.  The huge compost bins are right there for everyone to examine, and many of the plants are labeled for the curious.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 303

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Compost is most obviously the key to this garden’s vibrant abundance.  The native soil wouldn’t support a garden this densely planted.  Copious quantities of compost are added on top of the various beds, which was evident as I walked through.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 345

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While Connie has included many native plants in the design, she also established her own extensive collection of exotic and hybrid plants here.  I saw a vividly blue Azalea in bloom; Skunk Cabbage growing in a path; a giant ornamental Rhubarb; many varieties of Iris; Horsetail ferns, Equisetum, everywhere; and huge old Rhododendrons in the most wondrous and unusual colors.

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Ornamental Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

Ornamental Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum

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As the brochure states, this is truly a botanist’s paradise.

One may learn by simply sitting on one of the many benches and contemplating the surroundings.  Connie’s plant choices and associations are simply brilliant, even at the very opening of the season in April before many of the perennials have come into their own for the season.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 317

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If the climate and wet soil weren’t enough to contend with, the garden also hosts families of deer, believe it or not.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 557

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I had been told that deer remain a problem in the communities of Lincoln City, but saw them grazing on one of my late evening visits.  They appeared silently while I was wandering around capturing photos in the soft evening light, and had no fear of my presence there.  When they moved on, I couldn’t see any damage from their grazing.  What might they be eating, other than grass?

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Connie also tended a collection of geraniums. This was the only one I saw on my visits, obviously overwintered and now growing new leaves.

Connie also tended a collection of geraniums. This was the only one I saw on my visits, obviously overwintered and now growing new leaves.

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One of the many informational pamphlets offered by the volunteers is an exhaustive list of deer resistant plants suited to this peculiar coastal climate.  Other pamphlets offer suggestions for shade gardens and list plants which can grow so near the beach.  What an invaluable resource for local gardeners!

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Japanese Iris, which need boggy soil, were very special to Connie Hansen. Many were moved after her passing to create the current off-street parking area.

Japanese Iris, which need boggy soil, were very special to Connie Hansen. Many were moved after her passing to create the current off-street parking area.

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This beautiful garden remains a gift of love from Connie Hansen to her community.  She worked in it every day she was able for twenty years, and used it to connect with her neighbors and with horticulturists all over the world.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 363

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Her mission to delight and educate has been taken up by others now, but it continues.  When you visit the garden’s website you will find a rich schedule of events on offer for those who may be interested in learning more.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 645

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I appreciate volunteer Lisa Bain, who greeted me on Saturday morning, and invited me to explore the garden with my little granddaughter.   She was warm and friendly and answered every question I could think to ask.

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Horsetail ferns, a new plant I learned about by talking with Lisa. These look like pine seedlings to me, but she assured me they are naturalized ferns.

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She presided over a tantalizing offering of plants for sale, which I would have happily adopted had there not been the small matter of the jet taking me home to Virginia in a few days…    The plant sale  helps to support the operation of the garden.

If all of the volunteers are as enthusiastic and welcoming as Lisa, I know this beautiful garden will continue to thrive indefinitely in this little coastal town in Oregon.

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 638~

Woodland Gnome 2015

With special appreciation to Rickii at Sprig to Twig, who first told me about the Connie Hansen Garden.

Rickii gardens in Portland, Oregon, and suggested that I visit this beautiful garden during my visit to the coast. 

Thank you, Rickii!

 

Additional photos taken at the Connie Hansen Garden were published in “Back to My Garden.”

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in April 295

One Word Photo Challenge: 0live

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With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Olive

Photo by Woodland Gnome 2014

Is It Christmas Without A Tree?

December 20, 2014 tree 001.

 

We are chin deep in preparations for Christmas today.

The morning was devoted to writing cards and wrapping gifts. We have brought our cut tree inside, and the last hour was devoted to getting last year’s lights working. We will enjoy unpacking the ornaments and hanging them this evening.

In the meantime, you might enjoy a little post I wrote this time last year about Christmas trees. Like so much of the holiday traditions, it is hard to imagine a time when families didn’t decorate a Christmas tree each December. But Christmas trees are a fairly modern innovation in the Yuletide celebrations.

And I’m so glad Christmas trees gained acceptance in the United States, because I’ve always loved having a tree full of lights and color at Christmas! It took only a few minutes for the fresh, crisp aroma of our tree to fill the house.

This is the wonderful smell of Christmas we enjoy so much.

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December 20, 2014 tree 003.

Forest Garden

Our community Christmas treeOur community Christmas tree

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My dad used to always know someone with some property in the country where we could cut a tree for Christmas.  It was a much anticipated family outing in the week before Christmas.  He brought his old hand saw and some rope.  We would walk together around the fields, considering one cedar tree and then another, until we found the perfect Christmas tree for the year.

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Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.Cedar trees growing along the bank of College Creek in Williamsburg.

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It needed to be taller than Dad, but not too tall.  We looked for one that was full and fat and without obvious holes or defects.  Once we had all agreed on the best tree, Dad cut it, and we helped carry it to the family car, where it was carefully tied on top.  Once home, Dad brought it into the living room and set it…

View original post 2,169 more words

Alive!

December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 050

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As our solar year near’s its end, and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, at least, watch the life appear to drain out of our gardens, we also celebrate the tenacity of  life!

All “evergreen” plants shine during this passage of time.  They fade back into the landscape all summer long, barely noticed.

And then when the tree limbs are bare, and our lawns have faded to brown, “The Holly and the Ivy” glow green with vitality.

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 051

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This is another of the paperback mulberry trees found along the eastern end of Francis Street, near the Colonial Capitol building, on the edge of Colonial Williamsburg.  I always wonder how long these trees have grown here, and who originally planted them.

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 052

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It is far from politically correct these days to admit that you like ivy; or that you plant it yourself.

I’ve eavesdropped on a native plant enthusiast doing her best to dissuade a local nurseryman from even stocking the genus.  Yes, ivy can become invasive.  Yes, after many decades it can fairly well cover a mature tree.  Yes, it may crowd out other species.  But ivy has its gifts to give, too.

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 021

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Its first and most important gift, to me, is its beauty.  I love its lovely leaves and eager, delicate stems growing on through the coldest of winters.  It provides berries, when mature, enjoyed by birds.  It also provides important cover for birds and insects.

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 049

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Ivy is a useful shade tolerant ground cover which protects and holds the soil.  It is especially prized in areas which are hard to mow or too shady to support a lawn.

And it is gloriously alive and long lived.  Every little bit of it will send out roots and continue to grow.  Once established, it is there “forever.”

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 195

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Perhaps it is my own decade in life.  But my respect and love for my elders grows with each passing year.

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 181

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They have tenacity.  They have learned secrets of survival and endurance which I can only admire.

These elder trees must have some long and entertaining stories to tell, if only we could hear them.

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December 3, 2014 CW wreathes 200

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They have survived here for uncounted years.  And against all odds, they are still gloriously, vibrantly,  Alive! 

That is very comforting, somehow, in the middle of December.

 

Woodland Gnome 2014

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Native Live Oak

Native Live Oak

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