New Caladium Plants From Older Leaves

A Caladium leaf, rooted earlier in the summer, grows on in a small pot.  Each new leaf the plant produces is a bit larger and more colorful.

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When transplanting newly sprouted Caladium tubers from the boxes where I started them, into their permanent spots, a few leaves broke away.  Back in May, I showed you how these leaves, still with a bit of the tuber attached, rooted in water.  I was able to pot these rooted leaves, and they have continued growing all summer as independent Caladium plants.

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This leaf has been living in water for better than six weeks. I finally noticed a root growing from the stem early last week.

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As the summer has gone on, I’ve tried rooting a few more leaves that broke away.  Some have rooted and others have not.  Rooting definitely depends on having a few cells from the tuber at the bottom of the petiole.   I wondered, too, what effect the age of the leaf might have on its ability to strike roots.

I’ve had this particular leaf in a small jar of water on my kitchen windowsill for better than six weeks.  I’ve seriously considered composting it several times over the last month because I wasn’t seeing progress and the leaf grew increasingly dull.

But where there is life there is hope.  It took up no more space in my window than a quarter, and I left it alone, only changing out the water from time to time to keep it fresh.

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It was early last week when I noticed the first tiny root tip protruding from the stem.  Oddly, it wasn’t growing from the base of the stem.  It was growing out of the stem itself, where it grows concave and folded over on itself near the base.

It has been a busy week and I’ve not had time to do more than simply watch it.  But yesterday afternoon, I took a closer look.  And imagine my absolute delight to find not only roots, but an entire new little plant growing from the stem!

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When I examined it again this morning, I saw that fragile root is actually a couple of inches long now and branched.  There is a tiny new leaf fully formed, and the beginnings of more.  It was clearly time to pot this up in soil and give it room to grow.

This particular leaf was a month or two old before it broke away.  It wasn’t a newly sprouted leaf like those I rooted so successfully this spring.  That means that leaves of various ages may be rooted, so long as one has the entire petiole, right down to where it grows out of its tuber.  Having a bit of root attached already makes the propagation even more successful, and certainly faster.

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I’m not sure what the implications of this might be for the home gardener.  Already, we increase our stock of tubers as we dig and save the plants in fall.  What was planted as a single tuber in spring has grown over the season, and often it has divided itself into several new pieces.

When we dry these and keep them over winter, we have more tubers to plant the following spring.  Even tiny tubers the size of a blueberry will sprout and grow on, producing leaves and increasing through the season.

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Remember to mulch the soil with perlite, vermiculate or fine pea gravel to conserve moisture and reduce soil borne disease. I like to keep small, newly rooted plants like this in a reservoir for the first few weeks. You don’t have to leave the plant in standing water. But this plant was growing in water before it was potted up. Never allow the pot to completely dry out.

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It might be worth the effort to try rooting Caladium leaves in autumn, as we dig our tubers.  I often dig plants that are still in full beautiful leaf.  Sometimes I cut the leaves and enjoy them in a vase for several more weeks.  The alternative is to let them wither and fade, finally pulling them off and composting them when we gather our dried tubers for storage.

If you decide to try rooting a leaf or two this fall, remember to keep each leaf in its own small container of water, and keep that water clean so bacteria doesn’t grow.  I use the syrup bottles from a popular chain restaurant with great success.

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Caladium ‘Chinook’ and C. ‘Highlighter’ have put on a beautiful, ever changing display, all summer.  Soon, I’ll dig the tubers out of this pot to dry them and store them for next year.

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The Caladium always needs warmth and bright, filtered light.  Windowsill propagation works during the spring and summer because the windowsill maintains a comfortable temperature.

I’m not sure how the Caladium might do once nights drop below freezing, and the windowsill temperatures dip lower, too.  But for a gardener who has a light set up to propagate seeds in late winter and spring, it might be worth the effort to root leaves in the autumn and grow these on indoors as potted plants through the winter.

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Caladium ‘Moonlight’ is planted in the pot with a large cane Begonia. It has grown happily here, peeping out of the pot.

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Please keep in mind that these plants could only be used in one’s own garden.  Many, but not all Caladium cultivars are patented.  But there are many situations where a rooted leaf may be included in potted arrangements, where a tuber and full-sized plant may not fit.  Rooted leaves are especially nice in small, decorative ceramic pots and in hanging baskets.

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Here C. ‘Moonlight’ grows in its own pot, without competition. This is a single medium sized (#2) tuber after a summer’s growth.

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As you grow and enjoy Caladiums, please keep in mind the other  ‘elephant ear’ plants.  These plants share the virtues of large, colorful leaves and simple needs.

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Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ shares a pot with Begonia ‘Flamingo.’  Black Magic is known for producing many runners and spreading itself out generously.  It needs shade, evenly moist soil, and can’t freeze.

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They are low maintenance plants.  Their leaves all contain compounds which make them unpleasant to eat for the browsers in the neighborhood.  They cause burning in the mouth and upset stomach.  Even if you loose a leaf or two, rogue deer will quickly learn to leave your elephant ears alone.

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Here, a runner is pegged into a new pot to root.

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Colocasias have the added benefit of spreading themselves around by runners.  These special stems creep around the ground for a ways, and then strike roots and grow new leaves.  When you see runners form, you can peg them down where you want an additional plant, or you can set a prepared pot under the runner and allow it to root into the pot.

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Peg the runner into an empty spot in the parent’s pot to create a fuller display.

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Cut the runner once the new plant has a few leaves and is well rooted.  Once you have a plant going, you can continue producing new plants indefinitely, and create your own tropical plant filled paradise each summer.

Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias are all easy to grow and easy to propagate.  If you enjoy playing with your plants, and not just admiring them, see what you can easily do yourself to increase your collection.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Growing Hardy Cyclamen

Naturalized Cyclamen hederifolium at the Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, OR are already in bloom in mid-October.

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Cyclamen are just one of those delicate, special plants that we delight in growing.  Their intricately patterned leaves and sculpted, sometimes fragrant, flowers are some of the most novel and beautiful among common potted florist plants.  I generally buy a florist Cyclamen in early December and enjoy it on my kitchen window sill through late spring, when it begins to die back for its summer period of dormancy.

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Discarded from the kitchen windowsill in June, this Cyclamen re-bloomed  out on the deck in the fall of 2013.

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As much as we enjoy the tender florist’s Cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, I have been seeking out other, more hardy species, too

Cyclamen persicum is native to the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and some Mediterranean Islands.  Although it is frost tender, it still prefers cool growing conditions and thrives when kept in medium, indirect light in a spot where night time temperatures drop down into the 50s F.  It wants to go dormant once night time temperatures rise into the upper 60s and 70sF.  I grow it in a windowsill to give it the coolness it needs to keep blooming.

I first began growing Cyclamen hederifolium, which blooms in late autumn into early winter, and Cyclamen coum, which blooms in late winter to early spring, a few years ago.   I was inspired by the Cyclamen I found growing at the Connie Hansen Garden along the Oregon Coast, and then discovered that they are readily available from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, and other bulb dealers.

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Hardy Cyclamen and bulb foliage shine through the leaf litter of a perennial bed at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, Virginia in February, 2018.

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Cyclamen grow from tubers.  Like other geophytes, they go dormant each year and will live on in a dry state with neither roots nor leaves.  If you want to buy Cyclamen , you may purchase seeds, tubers or living plants.  While seeds are relatively inexpensive, it will take a few years to grow your plants on to a good size.  There are more flowers with each passing year as the tubers grow larger.

Many experts recommend buying your hardy Cyclamen plants in leaf, so that you can see the color pattern on the leaves and the color of the flowers.  Others just say they have experienced more success in getting plants established in that way.

Once you have a plant or two, they will produce viable seed.  You can collect and sow the seed, or trust insects to spread it around for you.  New Cyclamen plants will emerge  in following years from seed, even as the original plants continue to grow and expand.

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I order tubers for hardy Cyclamen , which is also an easy way to start a patch of your own.  I have planted directly into the ground in years past, and I’ve planted tubers into our large ceramic pots outdoors, as part of my autumn planted winter arrangements.

Although I’ve had some success, I’ve had disappointments, too.  These are very small plants, and can easily get lost under leaves and under other, larger plants.  They tend to show up best when planted among the exposed roots of mature trees.  I didn’t know that when I planted the first batch out into the garden.  The area where I first planted them has since filled in, and so our patch is less than spectacular.

I’ve sited later plantings in better spots.  But again, one needs to clear away fallen leaves and other, faded plants to really see and enjoy Cyclamen planted in the ground.  The Connie Hansen garden has their patch under a pine tree, in the middle of a concrete bordered traffic island in their parking lot, where little else grows.

Many successful gardeners suggest planting hardy Cyclamen among the roots of established trees because they thrive in the lean soil,  they prefer drier soil in summer, and they are shown off to good advantage.  There is room for seedlings to sprout and the effect in autumn and early spring can be spectacular.

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Last year, I planted most of the precious tubers I bought in large pots outdoors.  To make a sad story shorter, there was obvious digging in the pots in the week after planting, and I never did see any Cyclamen emerge.    I’ve since read advice to lay a sheet of 1/2″ chicken wire over the soil in pots, and cover it with some mulch to protect Cyclamen and other tempting tubers and bulbs.

So this year, I am trying a different approach.  I’ve bought a bag of both C. hederifolium and C. Coum.  C. hederifolium generally gives its best showing in its second and subsequent years from a tuber, because the season of bloom begins in autumn.  But I am planting five of each, just to see what I can do with them.

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Plant the tubers concave side up. If you can’t tell, plant the tuber on its side and let the plant sort itself out as stems and roots begin to grow.

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And rather than planting them where I want them to grow, I’m going to try to foil the squirrels by planting them in little plastic nursery pots, indoors, and keep them inside until they have roots and leaves.  Then, I’ll transplant to where I want them.

The challenge in planting tubers is that they want to be planted very shallow; with only an inch or so of soil and mulch above the surface of the tuber.   That is a screaming invitation for rodents to grab a snack, especially if they’ve watched you plant or see the disturbed earth!  Once the tuber is rooted and attached, they have a fighting chance to survive!

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Fill small pots to within an inch or so of the rim with new, commercial potting soil.  Dust the soil with a little Bulb Tone or bone meal to get the Cyclamen off to a good start.  Cyclamen don’t require a lot of fertilizer.

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I’ve planted ours in regular potting soil under about 1/2″ of soil and another 1/4″ or so of perlite.  I ran out of perlite and finished off the last few pots with vermiculite, which works equally as well.  You’ll notice that some of the C. Coum tubers already show evidence of the first few flower stems emerging from the crown. I hope that these will plump up and continue to grow as the tuber re-hydrates over the coming days.

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C. Coum tubers came packed in wood shavings.

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This was even more pronounced on the tubers I bought last year, as I didn’t get them until early December.  I made a point of arranging to pick up my tubers this year within just a couple of weeks of when they came in to the warehouse to get the freshest tubers possible, and get them growing as early in the season as possible.

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Our new tubers are resting tonight in my basement work area.  I’ll keep an eye on them, and move them up to a protected spot on the deck as soon as new growth appears.

Once the plants are growing well, and some of our summer plants have died back, I’ll plant them out where they can grow on through the winter.  This year I expect success with all 10 of our new little Cyclamen plants.

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Water the pots well after planting, and then let them rest. They won’t need light until they begin to grow. Keep the plants evenly moist when they are in growth, but never let them sit in water.

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To maintain your plants, dust with a little bone meal in the fall, and keep them evenly moist when growing.  Once they die back and go dormant, they prefer to spend the summer on the dry side.  Growth is triggered in autumn when temperatures drop and the weather turns a bit wetter.

It is such a pleasing surprise to see their first flowers and leaves emerge each year.  Hardy Cyclamen are a simple and inexpensive pleasure and well worth the small effort to grow them.  If you’ve not tried them before, this is the time to order a few tubers and try something new.

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Our hardy Cyclamen were a welcome sight last February.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Moss: Let It Grow

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I love plush, moist green moss.  And I am always interested in reading about how other gardeners grow their moss.  Imagine my delight to come across a beautifully photographed feature on Dale Sievert’s gorgeous Wisconsin moss garden in the Fall 2018 Country Gardens magazine.  If you love moss, please treat yourself to this issue.

“The color green engenders a great sense of tranquility,

peace and serenity.” 

Dale Sievert

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I am always looking for simple and effective ways to get moss to grow both in shady spots in the garden and also in pots.  The keys to good moss growth remain steady moisture and reliable shade.   Wonderfully, moss spores are often carried on the wind, ready to grow when they land in a place that offers the moisture and shade that allow them to grow.

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A moss garden I constructed in February of 2012 using stones picked up on the beach in Oregon.

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The first stage of moss growth looks more like algae than like typical moss.  It is low, smooth and moist looking.  From this, the buds and rhizoids will form, soon growing into recognizable moss plants.

If you live in a wet area, you likely see this early growth of moss on brick and stone and clay pots quite often.  If you love mosses as I do, you might also be looking for ways to assist this process to get moss established exactly where you want it to grow.

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And I think I just discovered a new way to encourage moss growth that doesn’t involve organic milkshakes made with beer, buttermilk or yogurt.  Some writers swear by the efficacy of whirring up moss with one of these in a blender and painting it onto stones and walls.  Others say they’ve only ended up with a smelly mess.  I’ve put that experiment off to another day!

But I noticed recently, that the perlite topping off the soil mix of some newly potted up little trees, has turned green.

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I potted up these rooted Acer cuttings within the last month, and moved them out to a shady spot on the deck to grow on.  You can imagine my delight at seeing a fresh green sheen on the perlite!  Is this an early growth of moss from airborne spores?

Think of perlite as ‘popcorn rock.’  It is volcanic rock that has been super heated to more than 1500F, where it puffs up and expands, now riddled with airways.   Perlite is light, soft and fine grained, making a valuable addition to improve texture and drainage in potting soil.

It is also very good for rooting cuttings because it holds moisture so well, while also allowing air to permeate the soil.  This helps to prevent rot in the stem and new roots of the cutting.

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So it makes sense that moist perlite is a great medium for growing moss.  It isn’t a smooth base, like so many gardeners recommend for getting transplanted mosses established.  But it is a wonderful material for the moss rhizoids (not roots) to anchor onto as the plant develops.

Remember that mosses don’t have any roots.  They absorb moisture directly through their cell walls into the structure of the plant.

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That is why rain, fog and mist encourage moss to grow.  If you are trying to encourage moss to grow, remember to keep the plants and their growing medium misted and moist.

I’ve been wanting to grow a sheet of moss for a while now, and picked up a terra cotta tray recently for that purpose.  Once I saw Dale’s gorgeous moss covered stones in the CG article, I’ve been thinking about how I can replicate the effect for my own pots.  Once I saw the moss growing on perlite last week, an idea began to form to make it happen.

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A layer of perlite covers a thin layer of peat based potting soil in this terracotta tray. Terracotta also helps to hold moisture.

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I’ve poured a thin layer of regular potting soil into the terra cotta tray, and topped off the soil with a layer of perlite.  I moistened the medium well, and then went out into the garden hunting for a few clumps of moss.  Some moss gardeners recommend breaking found moss up into tiny bits to sow into a new medium.

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You don’t have to worry about having roots as you would with a vascular perennial.  Moss just wants to grow!  So I broke my hunks up into very small bits, and pushed them firmly down into the perlite before watering it all in.  I’ve set some stones among the bits of moss, hoping that by keeping it all damp I can encourage moss to grow on these small rocks.  I’d count that as a major victory in my moss growing efforts!

It is still damp and rainy today as the remnants of Hurricane Florence bring us a bit more rain even as they blow northwards and out to sea.  It is a good day for moss, and our garden is still very damp from days and days of rain.

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I have this terra cotta tray set in the shade on the deck this afternoon.  When the weather turns dry again, I may tuck it into a plastic bag or cover it with a clear plastic box while the moss establishes.  But the moss in the Acer pots didn’t get any special treatment; this may not need covering, either, as our weather cools.

I want moss to grow on these stones so I can use them as decorative accents in our winter pots.  I haven’t decided whether to simply keep the tray of moss growing for its own sake, or whether to use sheets of the moss in pots.  Either way, I’ll show you what this experiment does in the weeks ahead.

If you love moss as I do, then you may want to try this simple method for growing it, too.

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Woodland Gnome

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The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden, Lincoln City, Oregon

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“There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks
poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.
This is what has been called the “dialect of moss on stone –
an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present,
softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.”
.
Robin Wall Kimmerer

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
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“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.”
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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

 

Sunday Dinner: Evolution

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“Life belongs to the living,
and he who lives must be prepared for changes.”
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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Keep your best wishes,
close to your heart and watch what happens”
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Tony DeLiso

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“All men make mistakes,
but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong,
and repairs the evil.
The only crime is pride.”
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Sophocles

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“Change is the end result of all true learning.”
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Leo F. Buscaglia

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“The only way to make sense out of change
is to plunge into it,
move with it,
and join the dance.”
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Alan W. Watts

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“When you come out of the storm,
you won’t be the same person who walked in.
That’s what this storm’s all about.”
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Haruki Murakami

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“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was.
If you know this, you can
begin again,
with pure joy in the uprooting.”
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Judith Minty

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“When she transformed into a butterfly,
the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty,
but of her weirdness.
They wanted her to change back into what she always had been.
But she had wings.”
.
Dean Jackson
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Happy Birthday? Eastern Black Swallowtail

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What a treat to discover a newly emerged Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly while working in our garden today.   I was a little surprised to notice that this butterfly was clinging to a stem and not a flower, and didn’t move as I trimmed the grass nearby.  It took a moment to register that it was still clinging beside its now empty chrysalis and just beginning to stretch and dry its wings.

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Our newly emerged butterfly clung to a stalk of chives, a ready food source once he or she is able to climb up to the flowers.  Right across the path, lots more cats were still happily munching the bronze fennel!

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We plant the fennel hoping to witness this beautiful display each year.  A perennial, it will put out some new growth within a few weeks.

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Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae

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I’m not sure whether this butterfly is a male or female, as I didn’t get a photo of its wings spread from its dorsal side.  It was still seeing the world anew and adjusting to life with wings!  I’ll hope to spot and photograph is individual again in the coming days.

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If you intend to attract butterflies to your own garden, please remember to abstain from using any insecticides and follow organic gardening principles.  Provide host plants for the species you hope to attract, and offer plentiful nectar plants, wet earth where the butterflies can ‘puddle’ to drink, and trees where they can seek shelter.

Many folks these days want to plant lots of milkweed to attract butterflies.  Please keep in mind that the only common butterfly species in our area to use milkweed, Asclepias species, as a larval host is the Monarch.  Other popular host plants, especially for swallowtails, include dill, parsley, fennel, spicebush, rue, Queen Ann’s lace, wild cherry, poplar, apple, ash, and Dutchman’s pipe.

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Happy butterfly gardening!

Woodland Gnome 2018

Wild Life Wednesday: A Feast for Butterflies

A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.

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This time of year I spend a lot of time hanging out with butterflies.  Once I spot one, I want to get as close as I dare, camera in hand, and just watch what it does and where it goes.  It’s funny how they are clearly aware of me, too.  Some are camera shy and fly up and off as soon as I begin to focus my lens on them.

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A Zebra Swallowtail takes flight as the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys her Agastache nectar at the Heath’s Bulb Shop garden in Gloucester today.

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I have more than a few empty frames where a butterfly has flown away right as I click the photo.  Other butterflies appear to enjoy their modeling session, or at least tolerate my presence with the clicking, chiming camera.

I get almost giddy in a garden where a cloud of butterflies is busily feeding.  These lovely creatures seem quite content to share their nectar wealth, and light near one another companionably.

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My partner and I were visiting the display gardens at the Heath family’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester this morning.  We went outside and had just begun to look around when my partner called me over to the butterflies.  Perhaps six individuals were all feeding around the clear blue flowering spires of one large Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’  We were spellbound.

We counted three different types of swallowtails, a Monarch and a sweet little hummingbird moth.

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A hummingbird moth shares the nectar with the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.

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Now, in a place as nectar rich as a multi-acre display garden filled with perennials and flowering bulbs, wouldn’t you expect that the butterflies would be all spread out across the garden?  Would you really expect to see six individuals on a single plant, with lots of other flowering plants neglected?

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.

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Eventually, we wandered a bit further into the garden to see what we could see on this sunshiny August morning.  The next butterfly activity was around the water feature which just happened to be ringed on one side with pots brimming with more Agastache.  This time I believe it was A. ‘Rosey Posey.’ 

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A water feature at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester, VA.

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And yes, I spotted another little hummingbird moth and an assortment of swallowtails. The many beds and pots and meadows and borders nearby didn’t have nearly the winged traffic as these pots of anise hyssop.  If you’ve grown it yourself, you know this is a tough perennial mint relative with fragrant leaves and non-stop flowers.  The nice thing about this perennial herb is its polite manners.  Even though it clumps and grows larger each year, it doesn’t run like most mints will do.

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We had a lovely clump, started from a plug, that perished sometime between November and April.  I was so disappointed that it didn’t return this summer and we have missed it.  I likely cut it back too early in the spring and it got zapped by a cold spell.  I waited too long this spring, giving it a chance to return, and didn’t admit until May that it was a goner.  And we have missed it!

If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you likely spend a good bit of time watching to see which plants the butterflies prefer.  Given a garden filled with flowers, where do they prefer to feed?

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This female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on Buddleia in our garden.

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What will attract the most butterflies?  If you are hoping to attract a good variety of butterflies, as we do, you likely want to plant lots of butterfly magnet plants to feed them over the longest season possible.

Another clear butterfly favorite is Lantana.  A friend and I were plant shopping together last month and headed for the gallon pots of Lantana.  We needed a number of them for a special event, and were astounded to see the entire display covered in beautiful butterflies.  We actually had to chase the bumblebees and butterflies off of the plants, once they were loaded into her car, so that we could close the back hatch.

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The female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is dimorphic.  It can be either yellow or black. Watch when the sun shines through the wings of the black form. She can be identified because the tiger stripes are still visible with the wing illuminated from behind.  Females always have blue on their hindwings, and the males are solidly yellow with black markings.  This female feeds on Lantana in our garden.

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Buddleia, known as butterfly bush, earns its name, too.  Its panicles of richly colored sweet flowers are irresistible.  A bit rangy in its growth, it more than makes up for its habit with its spectacular flowers that keep blooming until frost.

The surprise butterfly magnet is perennial Verbena.  You likely have lots of butterflies on your annual Verbena in pots and baskets.  But the V. bonariensis in our garden attracts them even more than the Buddleia! 

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeds on V. bonariensis in our garden.  Do you see the darker stripes on her upper wings?

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It is great fun to watch huge swallowtails land on these fragile looking little flowers seemingly floating in space, bobbing in the wind as they feed.  I expect the V. hastata that I planted last month will attract many butterflies, too, as it establishes and produces more blooms.

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It is a given that butterflies love herbs.  Beyond the Agastache, they seem to enjoy other mints, Monardas, basils, fennel, dill,  Salvias, and even chives!  I am delighted to see how happy the butterflies are to feed on the chives, blooming now, because they make for beautiful photos.  There are many, many plants where butterflies will feed:  Hibiscus and Echinacea, Aralia and crape myrtles, petunias and zinnias, cosmos and Rudbeckia.

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Chives

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We never tire of watching them.  We make a point to have pots and baskets of their favorites around the house where we can observe them from inside, and often pause near the windows to enjoy them for a few moments.  Butterflies speak to wild beauty and the inevitable cycles of nature.

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It is one of those koans of nature to realize both their fragility and their enormous strength.  They travel on incredibly long annual migrations and  survive in the face of perilous odds.

I appreciate them as a manifestation of living wabi-sabi– a fragile, fleeting beauty that we must appreciate in the eternal now, knowing full well that in an instant, they will fly away.

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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 W. Watts

Wildlife Wednesday: A Feast For a Swallowtail

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You may count gluttony among those seven deadly sins, but our little Swallowtail didn’t get the memo.

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She was covered in so much wonderful sticky pollen by the time we spotted her, that we aren’t quite sure whether she is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or an Eastern Black Swallowtail.  Since no white spots are visible on her body, we suspect that she is the black form of the female Tiger Swallowtail.

From my perspective a bit under her, while she enjoyed this rose of Sharon flower, it looked as though she was lying on the flower’s pistol, straddling it with legs akimbo.  You can see the pollen on her body, legs and even wings.

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These rose of Sharon flowers, Hibiscus syriacus, must be enticingly delicious.  We watch the hummingbirds stop by these shrub several times a day.  Other, smaller butterflies and bees flew in and out and around while our Swallowtail feasted.

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These beautiful trees are easy to grow in full to partial sun and reasonably moist, but well-drained soil.  They self-seed readily and grow with little attention from a gardener.  We let them grow in several places around the garden because they are so beloved by our pollinators.

You will find many different rose of Sharon cultivars on the market.  We’ve found many different ones growing around our garden, with new seedlings showing up every summer.  Rose of Sharon trees begin to bloom when they are just a few years old.

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We may lose a tree or two a year, as they aren’t very long lived and grow on fairly shallow roots.  The largest one in our garden tops out at less than 20′ tall.  This is a good landscaping tree that won’t endanger foundation or roof if planted close to the house.  Growing it near a window provides hours of summer entertainment as the pollinators come and go.

Although it’s not native to Virginia, Hibiscus syriacus has naturalized here, and fills an important niche in our summer garden.

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It is both beautiful and generous, and we enjoy watching the many winged and wonderful creatures that it attracts throughout the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

. . .

“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings,

and soared!”

 .

Dana Arcuri

Sunday Dinner: Imagination

Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”
.
Jonathan Swift

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Begonia

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“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.
That myth is more potent than history.
That dreams are more powerful than facts.
That hope always triumphs over experience.
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
.
Robert Fulghum

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Begonias with Caladium ‘Moonlight’

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“Imagination does not become great
until human beings, given the courage and the strength,
use it to create.”
.
Maria Montessori

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Caladium ‘Berries and Burgundy’

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“Logic will get you from A to Z;
imagination will get you everywhere.”
.
Albert Einstein

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Begonia ‘Flamingo’

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“Consciousness, unprovable by scientific standards,
is forever, then, the impossible phantom
in the predictable biologic machine,
and your every thought a genuine supernatural event.
Your every thought is a ghost, dancing.”
.
Alan Moore

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Caladium ‘Sangria’

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018  
*  *  *
“Everything you can imagine is real.”
.
Pablo Picasso

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“An idea is salvation by imagination”
.
Frank Lloyd Wright

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Caladium ‘Summer Breeze’

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“When I start a new seminar
I tell my students that I will undoubtedly contradict myself,
and that I will mean both things.
But an acceptance of contradiction is no excuse for fuzzy thinking.
We do have to use our minds as far as they will take us,
yet acknowledge that they cannot take us
all the way.”
.
Madeleine L’Engle

~

Begonia

 

Pot Shots: Bird’s Nest Fern

A young bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus, in a vase by potter Denis Orton.

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The bird’s nest fern takes its name from it rosette structure, with new fronds arising from its center.  In its native African or Asian jungle homes, these ferns most commonly grow high up in the canopy, anchored to trees or onto other large plants.  They enjoy high humidity and diffused, indirect light.  They catch rainwater in their central basin, or nest.

Most varieties will grow a bit larger with each passing year, with each frond of a mature plant unrolling to 2′ or more long.  Bird’s nest ferns may be grown in pots or may be mounted on a wooden base, with their roots wrapped in moist sphagnum moss, as you would mount a staghorn fern.

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These ferns may fool you at first sight, and may not even be recognized as a fern.  Their fronds are usually undivided, wide and shiny, often with ripped edges.  Many beautiful varieties may be found where houseplants are sold.

Bird’s nest ferns thrive in the warm, low light conditions most homes offer.  They naturally grow in tropical jungles, and so require minimum temperatures over 50F.  They like humidity and evenly moist soil.  They can take occasionally dry soil, however, especially if the surrounding air is humid and if they get water accumulating in their center from time to time.

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This bird’s nest fern is several years old and has been re-potted at least once.

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Bird’s nest ferns  look like a living sculpture.  They  add a naturally beautiful touch to most any room that gets some natural light.  But they also help maintain cleaner, healthier indoor air for their gardener.  You won’t see it, but tiny holes in each leaf draw air in from their environment, purify it, and then exhale cleansed, oxygenated air.  Each frond can filter and trap many pollutants, making the air you breathe indoors much cleaner and fresher.  All houseplants serve this function, even as they release water vapor back into the air each day.

If you have a loved one in your life heading off to a dorm room or apartment this fall, a small potted bird’s nest fern makes a great housewarming gift.  Small potted ferns like this are also good office plants, making a work space healthier and more beautiful, while taking up little space.  You might give a tiny mister with the fern along with instructions to mist the fern a few times each day.

I honestly rarely pause long enough to mist a fern.  But I do check on them every day or so and offer small sips of water.

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Water collects in the well at the center of a bird’s nest fern.  All new fronds arise from this central point.

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A bird’s nest or staghorn fern will grow happily in a closed container, without drainage holes, so long as you keep the soil at a moist but not soggy ‘sweet spot.’  Growing in the jungle canopy, these ferns evolved to get sporadic watering in a very humid environment.  Their roots are fairly small relative to the size of their leaves, and in nature burrow into bark or organic matter caught in the branches of trees.

You can grow these ferns in a mix blended for orchids, or in a more traditional peat based potting mix with perlite mixed in to retain moister.  If you’re growing your fern in a closed container with no drainage hole, put an inch or so of perlite or aquarium gravel in the bottom of the container to serve as a water reservoir.  Excess water will drain down to the reservoir when you water.  Perlite will absorb and hold that water, slowly releasing it back into the soil as the soil begins to dry.

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This fern has fronds similar to a bird’s nest fern, but each frond arises from a furry rhizome which creeps along the surface of the soil. These can be grown with roots wrapped in sphagnum moss, mounted with fishing twine to a board or a piece of driftwood.  I like them best in a hanging basket, where the rhizomes grow along the outside of the basket.

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Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic rock.  The perlite you buy at the hardware store or nursery has been superheated at over 1500F until it expands.  (Think about popcorn, and how it expands when heated.)  Once processed, it looks like little Styrofoam pellets, and can absorb a great deal of water.  Perlite is used in potting soil to improve drainage, to keep it from compacting and to absorb and release water as needed.

You may be able to find a good source for ferns in little 1″-2″ pots, where they are grown in nearly pure peat.  Simply take the root ball out of its nursery pot, and tuck it into a prepared container that is at least a little larger than the original pot.  Give a tiny drink of water to settle the plant and to hydrate the potting mix, and then mulch with fine gravel.

If you are potting up a little fern for a gift, you will probably find some fun but inexpensive containers at a thrift store.  Think about little Asian bowls or other little ceramic containers.  You can also pot into a plastic cup or bowl, and then tuck that into a pretty basket or other container made of wood.

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Vase with prismatic  glaze by Denis Orton

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I was inspired to use this pretty little vase, crafted by our potter friend Denis Orton.  Denis is a chemist who is always working to create beautiful new glazes.  His prismatic glazes on porcelain fascinate me, and I’m always keen to collect a new piece or two when he exhibits in our area.

You may need to pot up a fern like this to a larger pot every few years.  But since the fern’s roots remain small, any re-potting will probably be to keep the container in scale with the expanding leaves.

Fertilize the fern with half strength liquid fertilizer a few times between April and September.  This improves leaf color and keeps the plant growing steadily.  Too much fertilizer may cause brown spots on the fronds.  Direct sun may also cause browning of the fronds.  Keep a bird’s nest fern where it will get natural light, but not direct mid-day sunlight, through your window.  The more light it receives, the faster it will grow and the more water it will require.

Consider a little fern like this a ‘green pet.’  Give it a little daily attention, and it will grow happily in your home or office for many years.

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Woodland Gnome 2018


 

 

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