Fabulous Friday: What is Beauty?

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We live surrounded by beauty.  But how do you define it?  Everyone has their own idea of what is beautiful, and what is not.

This is a conversation that has been going on for a very, very long time.  We know that people living many thousands of years ago discussed this a lot, and had their own, very definite ideas.

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Anything in any way beautiful
derives its beauty from itself
and asks nothing beyond itself.
Praise is no part of it,
for nothing is made worse or better by praise.
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Marcus Aurelius
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We gardeners generally intend to cultivate beauty through our efforts.  That isn’t to say our gardens are always beautiful, though.   Beauty happens, but there is a lot of cleaning up of the ‘not so beautiful’ too.

And that is the space which interests me: when there might be disagreement as to whether or not something is beautiful.

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Do you find this Eucomis beautiful?  Would you grow it?

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“Everything has beauty,
but not everyone sees it.”
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Confucius
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Most of us find flowers beautiful.

But what about the perfect insects which drink their nectar?  What about the beetles eating their petals?  Can you see their beauty, too?

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Perhaps my perception of beauty is a little skewed, but I find the insects, in their geometric grace and perfection, beautiful.

There is beauty in every leaf, every petal, every stem.  The longer you gaze, the more beauty one absorbs.

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I was so pleased, when I walked through the garden this afternoon, to find these beautiful wasps enjoying our Allium blossoms.  There must have been 20 or more of them, each enjoying the sweet nectar at their feet.  They were peacefully sharing the bounty with bees and other pollinators.

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There are people in my life who would have squealed and backed away at the sight of these busy insects.  But I was too fascinated to fear them, and instead took great joy in making their portraits.  They are interesting visitors, and we rarely see such large, colorful wasps.

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Our garden’s bounty this week includes golden parsley flowers and creamy white carrot flowers, in addition to the Alliums.  There are Echinaceas now, lavender, Coreopsis, Salvias, crepe myrtle, Basil, and more.  All these tiny nectar filled flowers attract plenty of attention from hungry pollinators!

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It’s a feast for our eyes, too.  Sometimes, it is hard to imagine the abundance of our June garden until it returns.

We’re celebrating the solstice this week, and we are surrounded by such beauty here, that it is a true and heartfelt celebration

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I’ve always valued beauty.  To me, beauty can cause happiness, just as food expresses love.  There is beauty in truth, though you can argue that beauty may often be based in illusion.

We could discuss this all evening, couldn’t we? 

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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Rather than ‘over-think’ it, which may be the antithesis of beauty, let’s just enjoy it.

Let’s simply celebrate this Fabulous Friday, this Beautiful high summer day; and like the bees, drink in as much sweet nectar as our eyes and hearts will hold.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter,’ a new introduction this year. Do you find it beautiful?

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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

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

The Yorktown Onion

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Locals in our area enjoy the spectacular early summer bloom of naturalized “Yorktown Onions” as they drive the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.  Thousands of brilliant magenta flowers nod and bob in the breeze from late May through mid-June.

The National Park Service leaves broad areas along the roadsides unmown each spring, so that these distinctive flowers may grow and bloom, surrounded by beautiful grasses.   By late June, these stands of wildflowers will be gone; the fields and grassy shoulders neatly mown once again.

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The battlefields at Yorktown also hold broad swathes of these beautiful Alliums in early summer, to be followed by a steady progression of wildflowers, including thistle, as the months pass.  These historic Revolutionary War battlefields, now wildflower meadows, escape the mowers until fall.  But you’ll often see herds of deer grazing here in the early morning and at dusk, and clouds of wild birds feeding as the various seeds ripen.

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If you’re visiting, please resist the urge to pick or pull the onions.  York County passed an ordinance protecting the Yorktown Onion many years ago.  They may not be picked or harvested on public land.

But these are a quintessential ‘pass along plant.’   If you’re lucky enough to know someone growing them on private property, you may be able to beg some seeds or sets to start your own patch.

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I believe we make more drives along the Colonial Parkway when the onions bloom each year.  We marvel at their wild, random beauty.  Their tiny blossoms prove magnets for bees and other pollinators.  The Yorktown Onion is one of many beautiful wildflowers visitors enjoy along the Parkway each summer.

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Native in Europe and in parts of the Near and Middle East, historians suggest that seeds were brought to Yorktown during the Colonial or Revolutionary eras.    These particular Alliums are one of many Allium species you might choose for your own garden.  The Yorktown Onion, Allium ampeloprasum, may be purchased from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs  in Gloucester, along with more than 30 other Allium cultivars.  The Yorktown Onion, like other Alliums, wants full sun.  They are drought tolerant and hardy in Zones 4-8.

Also known as ‘wild leeks’ or ‘wild garlic,’ these beautiful flowers are exceptionally easy to grow.  Basically, plant them where they’ll thrive, and then leave them alone!  They don’t like to be disturbed, and will gradually increase to a more substantial display each year.

The Heath’s grow their onion sets from seed, thus the dear price they charge for the “Yorktown” Alliums in their catalog.  If you want the general effect, without the boutique pricing, you might try the very, very similar A. ‘Summer Drummer.’  This nearly identical tall (4′ +) burgundy Allium may be purchased in groups of 5 bulbs for the same price as a single Yorktown Allium bulb.

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Allium bud as it begins to open in our own garden, June 1 of this year.

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If you want something a bit shorter and less likely to fall over with the weather, consider planting chives, garlic chives, or even just onion sets or garlic cloves bought at a farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocery.  You might be a bit surprised at what beautiful flowers show up in your garden!

Chives thrive in our garden.  The clumps expand, and their seeds readily self-sow each summer.  Use them in cooking and enjoy their edible flowers as garnishes.   Dried Allium flowers look very nice in dried arrangements or used to decorate wreathes or swags.

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Allium buds in our garden, late May

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I began planting Alliums to protect other plants from hungry deer.  I’ve learned that their strong fragrance can confuse the deer nose, and possibly deter deer from reaching across them to nibble something tasty.  Like other deer deterrents, Alliums work often, but not always, to protect the garden.

That said, why not grow Alliums for their own special beauty?  It is one of the short list of plants with a fairly iron-clad guarantee to not be nibbled.

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We stopped along our drive yesterday evening at Jone’s Millpond to enjoy the view and the wildflowers.  It is one of the few places along the Parkway where you may park and get an up-close view of the Yorktown Onions.  Even at dusk, the bumblies were busily feeding on the tiny flowers which make up each globe.

There is something about seeings hundreds, or thousands of these flowers naturalized across a wild field, that mesmerizes.  This is an effect it would be difficult to duplicate in one’s own garden.

I hope you’ll find yourself in our area when the Yorktown Onions bloom some summer soon.  At the end of your trek, in old Yorktown proper, you’ll find a sandy beach and a little gift shop called “The Yorktown Onion” nestled under the Coleman Bridge.

The journey is the destination….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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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For the Love of Iris

Iris ‘Stairway to Heaven’

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I fell in love with Iris as a child.  My parents accepted a gift of Iris rhizomes from a retired friend, who happened to hybridize and grow German bearded Iris.  Dad came home one summer evening with his trunk loaded with paper grocery bags, each containing the mud caked rhizomes his friend had dug and discarded from his working garden.  He needed to repurpose the  space for his new seedlings.

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I’ve been searching for those intensely colored and perfumed Iris cultivars I remember from childhood. This is one of the closest I’ve found.  Iris ‘Medici Prince’ available from Brecks.com

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My mother looked at the sheer volume of gifted plants. A conversation followed about what to do with them all.  And then, Dad started digging.  He dug long borders in our sunny Danville, Virginia back yard.  Full sun and good loam were just what those Iris needed.

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The first spring after that, we were all speechless at the absolute beauty of them.  And the fragrance!  I don’t know whether my parents’ friend was selecting for fragrance, but these were the most fragrant flowers my young nose had ever discovered.

The colors of these special Iris ranged from white to intense reds and nearly black shades of purple.  They bloomed orange and pink and many shades of blue.  I was smitten, and have loved Iris since the day these Iris first bloomed in our back yard.

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When we moved, a few years later, we labeled the Iris by color while they were in bloom so we could dig some of each variety.  Back into grocery bags, we carried this legacy to our new home.  The new place had a shadier yard, and yet we set to work digging a new Iris bed, even while still unpacking boxes and settling into the house.

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I. ‘Echo Location’

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That began a new ritual around our family’s moving.  Each time after, we would try to dig and move as many Iris as we could.  As each of us left home, and our parents aged, that became a little more challenging with each move.

Even though I dug divisions for each of my gardens over the years, we still lost many of the cultivars along the way.

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But I never lost my enthusiasm for growing Iris.  And when I learned about re-blooming German bearded Iris a few years back, I began collecting and digging new beds for Iris in sunny spots in our Forest Garden.  I bought several varieties from local breeder Mike Lockatelle, and have ordered others from online catalogs.  Now, it is as common for us to enjoy Iris in bloom in November or December as it is to enjoy them in May.

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‘Rosalie Figge’ remains my favorite of our re-blooming Iris.

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We now grow many types of Iris, ranging from the earliest winter blooming cultivars which grow only a few inches tall, to our beautiful Bearded Iris which may grow to 4′ if they are happy.  We plant a few more each year.  There is a shallow pool filled with bright yellow flag Iris in our front yard, inherited with the garden.

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A master gardener friend gave me divisions of an antique variety of bearded Iris grown in Colonial Williamsburg, and all over this area, from her own garden.  Other friends have also given us beautiful gifts of Iris over the years, and each remains special to me.  The blooming Iris remind me of friendships and loved ones; other times and places in my life.

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The ‘Williamsburg Iris’ is an antique variety found growing around Colonial Williamsburg, and in private gardens throughout our area.  Ours were a gift from a Williamsburg Master Gardener friend.

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Iris can be grown successfully and enjoyed even if you have deer grazing in your garden.  Deer will not bother them.  This is one of the reasons why we find Iris to be a good investment.  They grow quickly, and can be easily divided and spread around the garden.  They pay amazing dividends as they get better and better each year.

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Iris can be easy to grow, if you can give them hot, sunny space to spread. They are heavy feeders and perform best when grown in rich soil and are fed once or twice a year.  But without sun and space, many varieties will just fizzle out. Make sure bearded Iris get at least six hours of direct sun; more if possible.

Iris want soil that drains after a rain.  Most established Iris can tolerate fairly dry soil after they bloom, which makes them a good selection for hot climates, like ours.  Japanese Iris and Louisiana Iris species require moist soil year round, and are happy growing in standing water.

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Winter blooming Iris histrioides in January

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Sometimes, their foliage will die back; but the roots remain alive and ready to grow new leaves when conditions improve.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find these beautiful miniature Iris growing this spring.

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Iris cristata ‘Vein Mountain’ is available from Plantdelights.com. This is a North American native Crested Woodland Iris.

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I though we had lost them during last summer’s drought, when they disappeared.  I’m still waiting for our Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ to reappear, which struggled last summer, too.

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Dutch Iris, always fun to cut for a vase, grow each spring and then, like so many other bulbs, die back.  They come in an amazing array of colors and can be ordered for pennies a bulb.

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Dutch Iris can be planted alongside bearded Iris to extend the season.

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Showy Louisiana Iris don’t have a place in our garden.  They grow best with their roots always wet, usually at the edge of a pond.  I admire them, but don’t have the right conditions to grow them.  But I am always happy to grab a shovel and make a spot for more bearded Iris. 

I’ve been moving Iris around my parents’ garden, the last few years, to bring shaded plants out into the sun.  I hope to salvage and increase what is left of their collection. We are enjoying the fruits of that effort this week, as they have gorgeous Iris blooming here and there around their home.

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These yellow flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

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We discussed plans for a new Iris bed when I was there last weekend.  While I’m moving them, I plan to cull a few divisions for myself, too.  And, I will take them a few roots from our garden, too.

Sharing is one of the nicest things about growing Iris.  No matter how many roots you give away, more will grow.  Each division of rhizome needs at least one leaf and root.  Plant the division in amended soil, with the top of the rhizome visible.

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Siberian Iris

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Cover all roots well with good earth, and mulch lightly around the newly planted roots, without covering the exposed rhizome.  Water the plant in, and then keep the soil moist until new growth appears.  I feed our Iris Espoma Rose Tone each spring when I feed the roses.  A light application of dolomitic lime or Epsom salts makes for stronger, faster growth.

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This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ was new to the garden last year.

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Once each flower blooms and collapses, gently cut it away from the main stem.  A single stem may carry 5 or 6 buds, each opening at a slightly different time.

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I. ‘Immortality’

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Once all of the buds have finished, cut the stem back to its base.  Remove browned or withered leaves a few times each year, as needed.  With a minimal investment of effort, Iris give structure to the garden year round.

And when they bloom, oh, the fragrance and color they give…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Turning In Circles

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“Everything turns in circles and spirals

with the cosmic heart until infinity.

Everything has a vibration that spirals inward or outward —

and everything turns together in the same direction

at the same time.

This vibration keeps going: it becomes born and expands

or closes and destructs —

only to repeat the cycle again in opposite current.

Like a lotus, it opens or closes, dies and is born again.

Such is also the story of the sun and moon,

of me and you.

Nothing truly dies.

All energy simply transforms.”

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Suzy Kassem

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“The life of man is a self-evolving circle,

which, from a ring imperceptibly small,

rushes on all sides outwards

to new and larger circles, and that without end.

The extent to which this generation of circles,

wheel without wheel, will go,

depends on the force or truth of the individual soul.”


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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

With wishes for happiness at Eostre

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“If patterns exist in our seemingly patternless lives —

and they do —

then the law of harmony insists

that the most harmonious of all patterns, circles within circles,

will most often assert itself.”

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Dean Koontz

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Soil Security

Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia

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Gardens offer endless surprises and seemingly endless challenges.  One hopes to discover most of the challenges in the first year or two.  Better to address them right off and be done with it, right?  But that’s not how this business works…. things change….

Ours is a very steep property.  Our bit of James City County spreads across ridges and ravines.  We happen to live and garden on the slope of a ravine.  Water drains down across the yard to a creek running through the ravine, which flows to a pond and then out to College Creek.   Managing all of that water during a heavy rain remains a challenge for us.

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This area suffers serious erosion in heavy rain, and is frequented by voles.  It is hard to get anything much to grow here.  We have just added the stones to offer some protection and planted a dozen seedling Hellebores to help hold the bank.

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Our county’s division of  storm water management staff advise:  “Plant more plants!”  I take that advice to heart, regularly, and have struck up a working relationship with one of the staffers.  They work with the local Master Gardeners to help homeowners design rain gardens to catch some of the run-off after a heavy rain, and offer grants for those who install them.

I like that proactive, cooperative approach.  This spring, I’ve done a bit of reading about how to construct a rain garden.  And one of the first things I realized is that steeply sloping land isn’t a very good place to site one, unless you are prepared for a major project of earth moving and engineering to construct a berm on the down slope side.

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This was our steep, eroding slope before our work began this spring.

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As I thought about rain gardens, and walked our property looking for a place to catch run off and use it in a new planting bed, my partner pointed out a new erosion problem on the very shaded and inaccessible slope beside and below our driveway.

This is an area we’ve largely neglected over the years.  Towering, mature Ligustrum shrubs cast deep shade across this slope.  Their leaves drop here year round, and the ground has been covered in a tangle of Vinca vines and wild growth.  Where there is bare earth, it has been covered with fallen leaves. I planted  some Mahonia and Hydrangea in this area when we first took over the garden, and they have expanded, but never bloomed.

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Daffodils have replaced Caladiums here at the base of our driveway, where a great deal of water runs off when it rains.  An Autumn fern has thrived here for five years or more, and I decided to expand the planting last summer.

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But last summer, I began clearing some of this strip, nearer to the drive, and planted it in Caladiums, Zantedeschia, Ajuga, Oxalis, some transplanted Liriope and a few ferns.  We enjoyed it enough that when we dug the Caladiums in October I planted Daffodils and Arum in their place.

Below this planted area, we noticed a new area of erosion a few weeks ago.  Storm water had found its way into a vole tunnel, and a whole piece of the bank had collapsed.  There was a gorge, partially filled with leaves and other debris.  Finding that bit of erosion sealed the deal that we would invest our time, energy, and gardening dollars in fixing this neglected, and now crumbling, bit of the garden.

Too steep for a single ‘rain garden,’ we decided to create several terraces to catch and slow the flow of water down the slope, directing the run-off from one planted area to another.  We found several Rhododendron shrubs to anchor each terrace, and planted the first right into that nasty gorge to stabilize it.  We found some sturdy trapezoidal concrete blocks for building the terraces.  They fit together snugly to make a secure wall.  We installed the first ones below that Rhododendron to hold it in place.

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The first Rhododendron we planted to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. We planted in the hole and stabilized the area with two concrete blocks.

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We trimmed up the lowest Ligustrum branches to let in light and make the area more accessible and raked back the leaves and debris.  Then, we studied the area for several days to decide where to place our blocks to form natural terraces.

After building the terraces, and planting three more of the shrubs, I began filling each terrace with plants.   I selected a variety of perennials which will thrive in shade, tolerate a lot of moisture, hold and cover the soil by spreading, put down extensive root systems, and stop voles with their poisonous roots. Oh, and did I mention they also must repel deer?

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The terraces before today’s torrential rain.

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Remember our mantra:  “Plant more plants!”  It was going to take a lot of plants to fill these spaces.  Luckily, we have a pretty steady supply now of a few perennials which fill these criteria.  They are ours to dig, divide, and transplant as needed.

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Divisions of Strawberry Begonia transplanted from another part of our garden. Each division will send out numerous stems, with a tiny plant growing at the tip of each.  They will form a thick mat over time. 

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I was able to transplant Hellebore seedlings, Ajuga and Saxifraga stolonifera in nearly unlimited quantities from other parts of the garden.  The Hellebores have  poisonous roots, and so I planted them around each of the Rhododendrons to protect their roots from curious voles.  I also planted them below the lowest row of blocks to form an additional vegetative barrier for any run-off.

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This Rhododendron is ringed with seedling Hellebores.

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I purchased holly ferns, Japanese painted ferns and Autumn Brilliance fern.  Although the Japanese painted ferns aren’t evergreen, they spread wonderfully and give about 7 months of presence here.  I also purchased some little 2″ Columbine and Heuchera and a couple of quart sized Tiarella .

I prefer to buy the smallest pots of perennials I can find to  minimize the size of the holes we must dig.  Living on a slope, we dig as little as possible.

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Tiarella is a shade loving native perennial which runs and spreads over time. It blooms each spring, feeding hungry pollinators early in the season. It resembles Heuchera, but proves more deer resistant.

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Heuchera is the only perennial in our palette for this new bed which may be grazed from time to time.  I am willing to take the chance for its beautiful foliage.  The rest of these plants have already proven themselves in our garden and I have confidence in using them here.  They are tough and thrive in our climate and soil.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ anchor the end of this terrace. I will add Caladiums next month when the weather is settled.

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And this was surprisingly good soil!  While we have clay in other parts of the garden, this was good, rich dirt.  Although I had stocked up on compost, I was able to build these beds without adding a great deal.

The key to planting on sloping ground is a good gravel mulch.  We’ve learned over the years to minimize digging, top dress and even out the ground with compost, and then mulch heavily with gravel. Finally, we pack this all down firmly with hands and feet.

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Columbine and Tiarella anchor this terrace. Two tiny lady ferns, grown from bare root starts, will one day flourish in this moist bed.

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We discovered that the first gardener on this property often used a large stone or hunk of concrete or brick to anchor shrubs he planted on slopes.  I’ve followed his lead and often anchor a newly planted shrub or perennial with something heavy to hold it in place until it establishes.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ will eventually grow to three feet. This evergreen fern has interesting spring color on new growth. We have anchored it with stones as it sits at the top of the slope.

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We’ve been working on this new area over the past week or so.  We have been trying to fix the erosion ahead of the heavy weather forecast for this week.  The rains have shown us the weak spots, and where more work was required.  We had to go back and re-pack the area around the first Rhodie’s roots, for example.  And we also placed some stones above it to divert the flow of water around it from the slope above.

A front came through mid-day today, with torrential rain, about an hour after I finished the last of the planting and gravel mulch.  We were pleased that the terraces held.

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Additional erosion after today’s rain left roots exposed. It showed us additional engineering was needed where water pours off of the driveway.  The terra cotta pots helped anchor plastic bags to protect the Hydrangea on the right during freezing weather in March.  It is slowly recovering and finally pushing out new leaves.

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There were only a few spots of erosion, and only one Hellebore partially washed out on a terrace this time.  But the path along this slope was badly eroded.  Ligustrum roots were exposed where the path was washing away.

We studied the path the water took from driveway to ravine, noted where the gravel had washed out, and re-engineered parts of the project.  Translation: Back to Lowes for more concrete blocks, a few more bags of gravel and a bag of topsoil.

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Additional engineering should slow the run-off flowing into the path from heavy rain.  My partner placed the blocks to divert the water’s flow.  We’ve added topsoil and gravel over the Ligustrum’s exposed roots in the path.  Sadly, some daffies may be sacrificed in the process….

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We aren’t quite sure why the erosion on this bank suddenly got worse in the last year.  We must have made some small change in how the water flows, without even realizing it, when I planted the Caladiums last summer.  But whatever the cause, the problem was getting worse with each heavy rain.

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“Soil security”

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When you live on a slope, stable soil is a measure of security as heavy weather blows through.

We’ve created terraced beds throughout the garden, planted lots of shrubs and perennials, and dumped hundreds of bags of pea gravel on this property over the years.   We rarely visit our favorite garden center without adding a bag or two of gravel or compost to our order. It is an investment in holding the soil in place and keeping our home’s foundation stable.

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We trust that these new terraced beds, and the reinforced path we’ve created for water to flow down our sloping garden, will meet the challenge of heavy rain and the run-off it generates.  But more than that, we trust they will grow into beautiful additions which bring us many years of enjoyment.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Note: I don’t often like to show parts of our garden that aren’t ‘beautiful.’   We have a lot of rough edges here in our Forest Garden.  It is a work in progress. I hope the techniques we use to hold the slope and garden on uneven land will help others trying to garden in similar circumstances.

I’ll show you this bed again as the plants grow in.  We trust that it will soon be one of our most beautiful areas, filled with photo-worthy foliage and flowers.  We expect it will attract the attention of our turtles, lizards and toads as the season progresses, too.  

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

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Columbine

 

 

Expect the Best

On March 1, 2017  it hit 82F, and our Magnolias were already in full bloom.  Temperatures plummeted later that week, and frost hit them a few days after this photo.

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Our Magnolias were in full bloom when spring morphed back into winter last month.  Unusual, early warmth teased them into bloom weeks ahead of their usual awakening.  But 80 degree days in February will tease all sorts of things into early awakening, won’t they?

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Magnolia liliiflora

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As much as we enjoyed the early spring blossoms, we held our breath, wondering whether the nice weather would hold out.  And of course, it didn’t.  Quite suddenly, the temperatures plummeted back to ‘normal.’

We had a string of nights in the 20s which brightened into frosty mornings and cool grey days.  That slowed down the progression of spring in our garden, a bit; but devastated the Magnolias blossoms.

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April 3, and our Magnolia is blooming once again.

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What had been hundreds of richly purple delicate blossoms one day were reduced to these sad, drooping brown husks of their former beauty the next.  If I’m getting too personal here, forgive me, please.  It is one of the ironies of our lives here on this Earth that such things can happen, and so quickly.

We wondered what the prolonged cold would do to our Magnolias.  They are well established, but we wondered whether their frozen buds would recover.

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Our Magnolias have finally grown both leaves and new blossoms.

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When that happened last spring, to our emerging Ficus “Silver Lyre,’ most of the stems died, too.  We had to wait for new growth from the shrub’s roots.  It recovered, but very slowly; they didn’t make much new growth and remained a bit stunted all last year.

But our 2017 cold snap ended about a week ago.  Our temperatures have been moderate, near normal, and we’ve had no nights in the 30s for about 10 days.  And so we see spring progressing in our garden, despite the frosty hiccup in mid-March.

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Azaleas fill our garden this week, but the Hydrangea macrophylla also took a hit from the cold last month.  They are slowly trying again with fresh leaves.

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I’m still holding my breath a bit, quite honestly.  Our frost free date remains two weeks into the future, and I’m working to restrain my natural urge to plant and move our pots and baskets back out to their summer spots in the garden.

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Acer palmatum

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I moved the hanging baskets out of our garage early last week, and massed them against the foundation, on the backside of our home, near the spigot.  I gave them all a good drenching and left them out during the torrential rains last week.

I worry a little about the afternoon sun there, but am reluctant to rehang them in the trees until I’m sure we won’t need to move them back inside for shelter should we get a rogue snowstorm.  More likely, hail and wind, from the week’s forecast!  Tornadoes ripped through southern Virginia on Friday.

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Columbine, ready to bloom.

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I finally fed the roses their breakfast of Rose Tone and Epsom salts last week, just before the rains came.  I’ve done a little pruning, and need to do more.  Prune too early, and the new growth you encourage will die back in a hard freeze.  That happened to a few of our roses last month.

The roses are ready to grow!  All sport new red leaves, and I know that the longer I wait, the harder it will be for me to do the necessary spring shaping.  Our first roses bloomed in April last year.  It was another early spring….

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Gardening, like any good board game, leaves a lot to chance.  And we gardeners must swallow our feelings, sometimes, and just be good sports.  Whoever wrote the “Serenity Prayer” must have been a gardener.  There are always things in our control that we can change, do, not do, encourage, or ignore.

And then there are those things that we can’t change:  like the small herd of deer we found grazing in our garden when we returned home yesterday afternoon from our day at the Daffodil Festival in Gloucester.  I saw the back of one, calmly grazing our butterfly garden, as I climbed out of the car.  I was off, laden with bags and my coffee cup, in hot pursuit.  Seven brown little heads turned and magically ran right through the deer fences.

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The Oakleaf Hydrangeas made it through March just fine. The cold slowed their leaves opening, but there was no damage. Autumn Brilliance ferns emerge this week.

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And we can’t necessarily change the weather, either.  We can remain mindful of the calendar and the forecast and do our best to work with the changing of the seasons.  But storms will come and the mercury will dance when it should remain slow and steady.  Which brings us back to our frozen Magnolias….

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Which, I’m happy to tell you, recovered.  What joy to notice both green and purple emerging from their tolerant stems.  New flowers are blooming, and leaves continue to emerge.  I expect they will fully recover from their trauma this spring.

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My parents always taught me, growing up, to “Expect the best.”  That has been good advice.

Oftentimes, our attitude, our expectations, our thoughts and even our feelings will influence how things will turn out.  Yes, there are exceptions.  But in general, we can find a silver lining when we go looking for one.

And even through the inevitable disappointments and challenges we encounter along the way; a hopeful, joyful attitude makes the journey a lot more pleasant.  When we expect the best, the best inevitably comes our way.

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We discovered this beautiful Heron in a wetland near the York River yesterday. We stopped to enjoy the beach near VIMS as we left Gloucester, and he was wading nearby.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“At times what you expect and what happens don’t match.
The faster you accept and adapt to what happened
and work towards creating what you believed,
that what you expected gets created
in a whole new way..!”
.
Sujit Lalwani

Fabulous Friday: Dogwood In Bloom

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“True happiness is to enjoy the present,

without anxious dependence upon the future,

not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears

but to rest satisfied with what we have,

which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.

The greatest blessings of mankind

are within us and within our reach.

A wise man is content with his lot,

whatever it may be,

without wishing for what he has not.”

.

Seneca

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to photograph each Friday.   If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Green Thumb Tip #11: The Perennial Philosophy

Peonies emerging from the warming earth.

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Newbie gardeners so often fall for the trays of brightly flowering annuals each spring.  I know this, because I once did, too.  Who can resist the bright, harlequin colors of striped petunias, glowing marigolds, red New Guinea impatiens and perky geraniums?

In fact, we’re just home from Lowes.  It took all my will power to admire the tables laden with annual flats and keep right on going, without adopting a single one!

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Redbud, a small native tree which fills the garden with flowers in earliest spring.

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And I promise you, I will end buying a few annuals for pots and baskets before the last week of April.  But there is a better way to build a garden than bedding annual plants.

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Narcissus “Thalia” form clumps as their bulbs multiply each year.

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Back when, in another century, the fashion might have been to plant vast expanses of bright annuals in geometric figures in a large bed backed by a sedate hedge.  That works when you have a small army of gardeners on staff, a greenhouse of your own to raise those annuals, and plenty of time to work out the annual schemes.

It helps if your property is well fenced so that rogue rabbits and deer never find your tasty annual treats, too.

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Hellebores bloom each winter, filling the garden with flowers for three or four months when little else is in bloom.  Deer and rabbits won’t bother them.  This is a young plant, and will eventually grow to 18″-24″ wide.

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But we live, and garden, in a different world, don’t we?

Our reality includes limitations on our time, our energy, our purse, and maybe even on how much water we can invest in our garden during the hottest, driest months of summer.  Experienced gardeners learn to use plants which will return year after year, and largely take care of themselves.

It helps that most perennials not only grow larger each year, they also spread by some means or another.

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Lamium roots at the leaf nodes, and makes a beautiful ground cover. It will bloom in a few weeks and provides a beautiful foliage back drop almost year round.

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Perennials prove a wise investment of gardening dollars.  Purchased as small divisions or even bare root, most cost less than many annuals.  Some perennials even come as tiny starts in cell packs of 4, 6, or 8 in spring.  Once established, they can be divided again and again so your garden grows more lush and full each year.

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Lilac shrubs fill the garden with fragrance when they bloom each spring. Some newer Lilacs will re-bloom sporadically during the summer.

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Perennials include herbaceous plants, which may die back to the ground each winter; but they also include bulbs, tubers, ferns, herbs and flower producing shrubs. I take great joy in watching for favorite perennials to emerge from the earth each spring.  It is reassuring to see them return again and again; better each year.

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Perennial Columbine will begin to bloom any day now. Its foliage will fill this spot all summer long.

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I have heard from more than a few aging gardeners that they invest more in interesting trees or shrubs, and less in herbaceous perennials, with each passing year.  The upkeep year to year is easier.  You get more ‘bang’ for your ‘buck’ with a shrub producing hundreds of flowers each season.

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Iris ‘Immortality’ with Comphrey. This is a re-blooming Iris, which often blooms again in August or September.

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Some gardeners may be timid to plant perennials, because it is a little more complicated to plan for a full season of blooms.  Some perennials, like bearded Iris, may bloom only for a few weeks each year.  Once the Iris finish, what next?

I’ve actually seen charts showing the staggered bloom times of twenty or so perennials planted together in a bed.  Keeping track of color, size, habit and bloom time can seem overwhelming to a newbie gardener just getting acquainted with the world of perennials.

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Siberian Iris bloom with Artemesia and Comphrey, both perennial herbs. 

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It takes time to grow a good gardener.  We learn a little bit more with each passing season.   Our repertoire of plants increases through trial and error.  And our tastes evolve.

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Azaleas fill our garden in April.

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At some point, we realize that foliage is more important than flowers; and that the best gardens envelope us.  While annuals grow just a few inches tall, our trees, flowering shrubs and established perennials grow feet high, giving the garden a bit of drama and a lot of interesting structure.

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Many perennials, like Canna lily and Ginger lily, will grow to six or seven feet tall in just a few weeks.

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So go ahead a buy a few geraniums this spring to fill a pot by the front door.

But remember the perennial philosophy:  Buy it once, and then enjoy it for many years to come.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit 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 you grow the garden of your 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 will 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 plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Fabulous Friday: The Urgency of Spring

Narcissus ‘Cragford’

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It’s warm enough again to spend a little time in the garden again.  It didn’t freeze last night, for the first night in several, and I spent a happy hour planting a few more perennials, cleaning up around the Siberian Iris, and generally tidying up in the front garden yesterday afternoon.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’

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We feel very content as we watch the garden spring back to life.  Fiddleheads and perennials push through the soil, announcing their presence once again.  Like out of state relatives you rarely see, unless they want to vacation in your area; these beautiful bits of plant life fill our hearts with happiness at their arrival.

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A seedling Columbine, grows in the driveway.

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Of course, the spring clean up presses now with even more urgency as we try to pluck the early weeds and drying leaves out of the way.   Branches, fallen in the wind; almost forgotten perennial stems left in autumn; and a few winter casualties must all be cleared away.

And this is the time to do it, while it is comfortably cool and relatively bug free!

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Helleborus

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There is another job needing attention now which might surprise you:  deadheading.  While your garden may be still covered with snow, ours has been re-energized long enough now that the earliest daffies have faded.  And so my last several tours around the garden have included both deadheading faded blossoms, and plucking those still vibrant flowers knocked over by the wind.

There is something immensely sad about these elegant flowers lying face down on the ground, and so I rescue them to a vase.  My vase, a friend’s vase; either is good.

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Now, there is a running debate over whether to deadhead daffodils.  And so I turned to the experts, Brent and Becky Heath, of Gloucester daffodil fame, for an informed opinion.  I’ve been reading their book, Daffodils for North American Gardens, this week.

As with so many gardening questions, the answer is complicated.  First, they advise that most hybrid daffodils can’t set seed.  Therefore, there is no reason to leave the spent blossoms and they advise removing them for neatness sake.  Emerging daffies just look more beautiful if those spent ones near them aren’t crumpled and brown.

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Some of the older varieties, and certainly the species daffodils which can set seed, will pour energy into those seeds at the expense of storing energy in their bulb for next year’s blossoms.  So one must consider whether it is more important to produce seeds at the expense of bloom size or quantity next spring, or whether one can skip the chance of the daffies reseeding in the interest of neatness and next year’s crop.

With that guidance in mind, I’ve been more attentive to deadheading the spent daffies this spring than ever before.  It’s easy enough to snip them off with scissors, but I’m usually equipped with little more than a thumbnail when I notice them….

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A further bit of advice from the Heaths is to snip the fading flower, but leave the stems.  The stems will stay green, like the leaves, for many weeks to come;  making food each day and building up the bulbs for the coming season.

After the blossoms die back, each bulb calves new bulbs from its basal plate.  So the single bulb you planted last fall may have morphed into a small cluster of bulbs by early summer.

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That is why patches of daffodils grow and spread over the years.  After four or five years, you might decide to dig your clump, then divide and replant the bulbs to spread them around a bit.

Do this after the flowers fade, and as the leaves are browning in early summer.

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Even the very small bulbs, known as ‘chips,’ will grow leaves next year.  It may take a year or two of growth before they flower, but a single bulb may grow into thousands when given good care and enough time.

That is pretty fabulous, when you think about it!

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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to write about each Friday. 

Now that the Weekly Photo Challenge has moved to Wednesdays, I am starting  “Fabulous Friday” on Forest Garden. 

If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Narcissus, ‘Katie Heath’

 

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