A Touch of Gold

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Rudbeckia fills our garden in late August, blooming in a rich tapestry of gold.

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This native Rudbeckia hirta, which first seeded itself here more than five years ago, attracts golden bees, butterflies and goldfinches to its tasty nectar and abundant seeds.

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Rosettes of Rudbeckia leaves emerge in mid-March all across the garden.  They sprout wherever a seed has fallen or an underground root has spread.

There are always plenty to dig and share, especially those that emerge in the pathways.  The plants remain in the background througout spring and early summer, biding their time as they bulk up in the warming sun.

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How much is too much?” I sometimes wonder…

Native plants are enthusiastic growers, determined to survive.  They take every available advantage to thrive.  In full sun and over tree roots, clumps sometimes get wilty when days grow hot and rain is scarce.  I sometimes revive them with a drink from the hose.

But those that are well established, in deep soil and partial shade, care for themselves.  All we do is clear the paths and set the boundaries….

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Their opening comes slowly; not all at once.  Accustomed to sharing their space, they mix well with others.

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Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant

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Native obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, creeps and spreads in the same way.  It has spread even faster and more aggressively than the Rudbeckia. 

This spring, I took the string trimmer to many areas where these two grow among a growing spread of goldenrod, Solidago.  I decided last year that those huge, waving plumes of gold were a bit over the top for our little woodland garden, and I’ve been cutting back the goldenrod to give other perennials a better chance.

The Rudbeckia and Physotegia took that trimming in their stride and came back bushier and stronger than ever.

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Now native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is also growing in the mix, offering a subtle touch of periwinkle contrast.  I didn’t plan and intentionally plant this mix of native perennials to create a ‘meadow style’ planting.  I only recognize what nature is doing, and guide it a bit.

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And our rich reward is a touch of gold gilding these late summer days, delighting us as we await the rich color and welcome coolness of autumn.

Our garden remains dynamic, changing from year to year.  Some plants persist and expand while others decline.

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We plant a few new things each season and other turn up on their own.

Each new year’s unfolding remains a grand surprise, guided by nature and the seasons; a golden opportunity to learn and grow as a gardener.

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Another native Rudbeckia, cutleaf coneflower, also fills our late summer garden with pure gold.  With a much larger habit and larger flowers, it is equally attractive to many pollinators and birds.

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Woodland Gnome 2010

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.

I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
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Roman Payne

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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. ”
.

Michael Crichton

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

 

 

 

Wild Life Wednesday: All Calm Before the Storm

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It was gently raining when we awakened this morning, but the sun was breaking through along the horizon by the time we made it outside into the new day.

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An early morning bumbly enjoys the sweetness of Rudbeckia laciniata.

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We are all very conscious of the weather here in coastal Virginia this week as we watch the updates on the progress of Hurricane Florence.  We are on high ground and so flooding isn’t a concern.  But we live in a forest, and any amount of wind can change the landscape here; especially when the ground is saturated.

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The Solidago, goldenrod, has just begun to bloom.

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It looks as though the storm will make landfall far to our south, and the track no longer suggests it might travel northwards into Central Virginia.  Yet Florence remains a dangerous storm, and is absolutely huge.  We may start feeling its outer bands of rain and wind sometime tomorrow or Friday.

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Rose of Sharon

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Which made today all the sweeter.  Do you know the Japanese term, Wabi-Sabi?  The Japanese find beauty in the transience and ultimate imperfection of all phenomena.  The impermanence and changeability of the world around us heightens our appreciation of its beauty.  We can appreciate things while feeling a deep tenderness for their inherent imperfection.

I was pondering these things this morning as I wandered through our upper garden, wondering how it might appear in a day or so after wind and heavy rain have their way with it.  Already, our tall goldenrod and black-eyed Susans lean over into the paths, making them almost disappear in the abundance of growth.

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It is my first time wandering through the garden like this since I got a nasty insect bite last Friday afternoon.  It is still a mystery what bit me, as I was fully armored to work outdoors.  It was a small bite at first, but quickly blistered and swelled up to a massive angry red blotch that stretched several inches away from the original bite on my knee.  It has been a slow process of tending it, and I stayed indoors until yesterday, hoping to avoid another until this one was resolved.

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Ginger lily with orbs

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But today I was out in the early morning wetness, capturing the beauty of it, and trying to ignore the mosquitoes greeting me along the way.  I wanted to see everything and admire everything on the chance that the coming storm will shatter its early September magnificence.  It was the beautiful calm before the storm, and we have taken today to celebrate it.

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The rain was past and the day gilded with golden September sunshine when we set out along the Colonial Parkway to see the sky and watch the rising waters along the James and York Rivers.  If you’ve never seen the sky filled with enormous, rain shadowed clouds in the day or two before a hurricane approaches, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful spectacles of atmospheric art.

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Yorktown Beach, looking northwards towards Gloucester Point and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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The clouds are arrayed in regular, rhythmic patterns, punctuated here and there with towering, monstrous storm clouds.  The sky is blue and clear beyond them.  They float rapidly across the sky, these outer bands of the approaching storm.  These days of waiting are moody, morphing quickly from dull to golden and clear blue to stormy grey.

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One keeps an eye on the sky while pacing through the rituals of preparing.   There is an edge to the mood as highways fill with strangers moving northwards, inland, away from home and into an uncertain future.  We encountered one today at the next gas pump who needed to tell us he was traveling, just passing through, on his journey to somewhere safer than here.

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We found a nearby parking lot filled this morning with state police, huge generators, Klieg lights, and emergency response trailers.  The lot was filled at eight, but emptying out just a few hours later.  We’re still wondering where the equipment will ultimately end up.  We hope not here…

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Jones Mill Pond, near Yorktown on the Colonial Parkway

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I wondered whether the butterflies would move out ahead of the storm.  But we counted more than a dozen as we drove along the Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown.   We saw mostly small ones, Sulphurs, but we were glad for their happy fluttering along the roadside.  We noticed the tide is already high along the way.  Jamestown Island is closed as preparations there continue.

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The rivers lap high up into the reeds, mostly covering the narrow, sandy river beaches.  The York River is already climbing the rip rap hardened banks constructed a few summers ago to protect the shoreline.  Small Coast Guard craft patrolled the river near Yorktown, but that didn’t deter a few families here and there, determined to enjoy this bright and sultry day at the beach.

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The York River, looking eastwards towards the Bay.

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The lizards were scampering around the drive and back steps when we returned home.  They’d been basking in the mid-day sun; our return disturbed their peace.

The squirrels had been at the grapes again, and we saw a pair of hummingbirds light in a Rose of Sharon tree nearby, watching us arrive.

It was too silent, though.  We didn’t hear the usual chatter of songbirds in the trees.  It was still, too.  Though the wind was blowing off the rivers, here the air hung heavy and still.

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Our Muscadine grapes are ripening over a long season.

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I believe in luck and omens, and perhaps that is why I planted a few little pots of Baptisia seeds this morning.  I’d knicked the seed pods from a plant I’ve watched growing all summer at the Botanical garden, and carried them in my pocket for weeks.

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With the seeds tucked into little pots out on the deck, I’m already thinking of the sprouts that will soon emerge.  Life goes on.  I believe that is the wisdom of wabi-sabi.

No matter the current circumstance, change is constant.  We can’t outrun it, or stop it.  Wisdom invites us to embrace it, observe its power, and find the ever-present beauty, come what may.

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This beautiful cluster of lichens was waiting for me beneath a shrub this morning.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*  *  *
“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect
is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.”
.
Alan Watts

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“But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition?
Is the plant complete when it flowers?
When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout?
When everything turns into compost?”
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Leonard Koren

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Begonia

 

Fabulous Friday: Our Garden Is Full

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

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It was just a little goldfinch.  Yet I was so delighted to notice it gracefully balanced on a yellow black-eyed Susan flower near the drive, when we returned from our morning errands.  He concentrated his full attention on pecking at the flower’s center.  Though the seeds aren’t yet ripe, he was clearly hoping for a morsel to eat.

Once I took a step too close, he lifted into the air on outstretched wings, disappearing behind a stand of goldenrod.

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‘Green Envy’ Echinacea mixes with basil and more Rudbeckia, a feast for goldfinches and butterflies.

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Goldfinches and cardinals catch our eye with their bright feathers, but there are all of the other grey and brown and occasionally blue birds flitting from grass to shrub and flowering mass from before dawn until their final songs long past dusk.  And then we listen for the owls’ conversations through the night.

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I heard a wonderful speaker yesterday morning, who pulled back the curtain a bit on the world of insects in our gardens.  He is a former student of Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , and is now an assistant professor of Biology at nearby Hampton University.  Dr. Shawn Dash is a gifted teacher, keeping us all laughing and learning as he shared his insights into the importance of the insects of the planet in maintaining the web of life.

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Joe Pye Weed attracts more insects than any other flower in the garden this month.

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I am a total novice in this mysterious world of insects.  But I will say that I am learning to look at them with admiration and respect… so long as they remain out of doors in the garden!

Joe Pye Weed is the best wildlife attractor blooming in our garden at the moment.  It is simply covered with every sort of wasp and bee and butterfly and moth and sci-fi ready insect you can imagine.  The ‘buzz’ around it mesmerizes.

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Our garden hums and buzzes and clicks with life as July finally melts into August.  Dr. Dash talked about the musical chorus of insects as one of the wonderful benefits of a full garden; a diverse garden that includes some percentage of native plants to support them.

Creating a layered garden with an abundance of plant life from the hardwood canopy all the way down through smaller trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines and ground cover offers many niches to harbor a huge array of insects.  All of those juicy insects attract song birds and small mammals, turtles, frogs, lizards and yes, maybe also a snake or two.

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A fairly sterile suburban lawn may be transformed into a wild life oasis, a rich ecosystem filled with color, movement and song.  And the whole process begins with planting more native trees and shrubs to offer food and shelter to scores of species.

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But even more fundamentally, the process begins when we value the entire web of life in our particular ecosystem and allow it to unfold.

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Hardy blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows wild in our garden.  I stopped weeding it out after a few plants survived deep enough into the summer to bloom with these gorgeous blue flowers.

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I quickly learned that I don’t really need to go out and buy a lot of native plants.  I only have to allow them to grow when they sprout from the seeds already in our soil.  I have to allow the seeds that wildlife drop in our garden to have a bit of real-estate to take hold.  And nature magically fills the space.

We guide, nurture, and yes edit.  But as soon as we allow it and offer the least encouragement, nature becomes our partner and our guide.

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The goldenrod want to claim this entire area as their own… time to give some to friends!

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If you’ve already read Bringing Nature Home, let me invite you to also read, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, co-authored by Dr. Tallamy and landscape designer and photographer, Rick Darke.

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by [Darke, Rick, Tallamy, Douglas W.]

This translates the science into the practical planning of an ecologically balanced home landscape, and is richly illustrated and laced with wonderful stories.  It inspires one to go plant something and make one’s garden even more diverse.

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Our little Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar is growing fast, happily munching on the Daucus carota.

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Our garden is filled to overflowing, this Fabulous Friday.  It is filled with flowers and foliage, birds, squirrels, butterflies and scampering lizards.  Our garden is filled with tweets and twitters of the natural kind, the sounds of wind blowing through the trees and rain dripping on the pavement.

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fennel

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Our world is wet this week, as storm after storm trains up the East Coast.  I’m grateful for the rain even as I’m swatting at the mosquitoes biting any exposed bit of skin, while I focus my camera on the butterflies.

I hope that your summer is unfolding rich in happiness and beautiful experiences.  I hope you are getting enough rain, but not too much; that your garden is doing well and that you are, too.

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Green Thumb Tip #20: 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: 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.”
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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”
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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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Season’s Change

Daucus carota, from a grocery store carrot planted this spring, blooms alongside perennial Geranium in our garden.

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We feel the season’s change every time we open the kitchen door and step outside.

The air is soft and thick, perfumed by millions of tiny white flowers opening now on the uncounted Ligustrum shrubs surrounding the garden.  It smells of summer, stirring some nearly forgotten restlessness echoing across the years, from summers long, long passed.

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The sweetness permeates the warm breeze, full of promises and  vague intrigue.  In the early morning, the breeze holds an invitation and a dare, drawing us outside to ‘seize the day.’

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By noon it grows oppressive, rank with humidity and pulsing with summer’s heat.

The air buzzes now.  Bees mind their business, methodically working flower to flower, unless startled into a quick evasive maneuver out of range.

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Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, blooms along Jones Mill Pond on the Colonial Parkway.

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But mayflies and mosquitoes buzz in as close as they dare, waiting for a flash of skin to light and drink, waiting for a moment of distraction to attack.

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Birds call out to one another, chirping at the cat napping on the deck, warning intruders off from nests.  Ever vigilant, ever hungry; the swoosh of restless wings cuts the thick air, in pursuit of another bite of summer’s bounty.

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Our garden explodes in growth.  Warm, humid nights coax even the most reluctant perennials to pulse into life.

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Verbena bonariensis stretches towards the sky even as it spreads across the garden.

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Responding to the season’s magic, stalks rise and leaves open to the cadence of  croaked and clicked incantations wafting on the evening air.

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The air is thick with leaves, trees now fully clothed make living green walls and ceilings around our garden’s rooms.  Bamboo arises, thick and green, sealing us in from the wildness of the ravine.

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Flowers appear in every shade of purple and gold, white and ruby.  They sparkle through the sea of green, enchanting in their transience.

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Wildflowers nod along the bank of Jones Millpond on the Colonial Parkway in York County.

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Spring’s flowers have come and gone.  The last few foxglove, beaten down by the rain, limply bloom at the ends of stalks swelling with seed.

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A few Iris pods swell, too; overlooked in my pruning.  Daffodil leaves have grown limp, yellowing and fading to make room for something new to arise.

Summer’s flowers replace them, filled with nectar and bursting with pollen, a magnet for every sort and  size of pollinator.

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We feel the season’s change every time we step outside the haven of air conditioning and window screens.  When we dare leave the shade in the afternoon, a fierce sun burns down upon us.

We want the smaller shades offered by hats and sleeves; the relative safety of socks and gloves and thick jeans protecting us from ‘the bities’.

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Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown, where wild prickly-pear cactus bloom in summer.

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As the days grow longer and the nights warmer, we feel ourselves drawn to the top of the year.

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Mid-summer beckons, only days away.  Nature calls us to come out and join our own human voices in the buzzing, clicking, croaking, swooshing, chorus of life.

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This is the time of sweetness and abundance, full of promises, eternally youthful and energetic.

Summer at last.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage

New growth on Mahonia

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

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Crape Myrtle

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

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

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

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

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Begonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

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

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

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

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

 

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Sunday Dinner: “Be Fruitful”

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“Don’t sit at home and wait
for mango tree to bring mangoes to you wherever you are.
It won’t happen.
If you are truly hungry for change,
go out of your comfort zone
and change the world.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“True passion motivates the life forces
and brings forth all things good.
.
Gabriel Brunsdon

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Double Narcissus ‘Gay Tabour’

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“Try not to become a man of success.
Rather become a man of value.”
.
Albert Einstein

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“There is no season of your life
that you cannot produce something.”
.
Bidemi Mark-Mordi

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“To be fruitful
is to understand the process of growth”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“It had long since come to my attention
that people of accomplishment
rarely sat back and let things happen to them.
They went out and happened to things.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci

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“Success is not how high you have climbed,
but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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Blossom XXXV: In the Forest

 

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“Having a place means that you know what a place means…
what it means in a storied sense of myth, character and presence
but also in an ecological sense…
Integrating native consciousness with mythic consciousness”
  .
Gary Snyder

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Magnolia stellata

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“A forest ecology is a delicate one.
If the forest perishes, its fauna may go with it.
The Athshean word for world
is also the word for forest.”
.
Ursula K. Le Guin

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“For the forest, the shared purpose is life itself, existence;
everything extraneous stripped away by its necessity.
Perhaps the goal of the spiritual life
is to strip away everything frivolous as well,
to pare it all back to the necessity of connection with the other.
If we worship in the sincere presence of that power
that takes away our forever-unmet need of things superfluous,
we enter the real ecology of the meeting,
where all is web.”
.
James W. Hood

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“The most effective way to save
the threatened and decimated natural world
is to cause people to fall in love with it again,
with its beauty and its reality.”
.
Peter Scott

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Helleborus orientalis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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