In A Vase Today: Wildflowers

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Some might say that I cut a bouquet of weeds for today’s vase.  Others, kinder perhaps, would admire these as wildflowers.  I passed by the roses and Zinnias today to cut these deep golden orange Black Eyed Susans, some wild Ageratum, Poke Weed, a few stems of Basil and Sage, and some Muscadine grape vines grown from seeds.

We found the Black Eyed Susans growing in the edge of the lawn during our first full summer in the garden.  I dug up clumps the following spring and began spreading them around.  We transplant a few clumps each spring now because we love how they shine from mid-August through until frost.

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That first summer I noticed the distinctive periwinkle blue fluffy flowers of Ageratum appearing on what I had thought were unchecked weeds in some of our beds.  We were delighted to discover these perennial flowers blooming, unplanned and unplanted, around the garden.  Soon, we discovered these are perennial Conoclinium coelestinum, related to, but different from the annual Ageratum we find as bedding plants each spring.  Also known as ‘Blue Mist Flower,’ this is a native American wildflower.  It self-seeds and can become invasive.  Once you recognize its foliage each spring, it is easy to move, pull, or allow it to grow on through the summer to bloom in the autumn.

Poke Weed, Phytolacca americana, is another native plant which magically appears in the garden.  I first noticed it growing up through the ginger lilies last summer.  Although highly poisonous, its prolific purple black berries, which appear later in the season, attract many songbirds.

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Poke Weed flowering above the ginger lilies, and in front of a Magnolia blooming out of season. So pretty....

Poke Weed flowering above the ginger lilies, and in front of a Magnolia blooming out of season. So pretty….

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We’ve pulled more than we’ve left this year, but we rather like the effect of the flowers and berries poking out above the ginger lily foliage.  This plant commonly appears along the edges of woods, fields, and roads. The birds spread the seeds far and wide, and it can become invasive.  Somehow it called out to me today as I was cutting the golden Susans. And so I added a few stems to the vase.

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What is the difference between a flower and a weed?  I believe that is an entirely subjective judgement of the gardener.  It has a lot to do with where a plant happens to be growing, and whether or not you like it there.

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I just finished a wonderful article in the current issue of Horticulture magazine about lawn gardens, which explores this very topic.  If you haven’t read Horticulture this month, I recommend it.  There is also a very instructive article on native American fruits like Muscadine grapes, Paw Paws and American Persimmons alongside an excellent article on fig culture.  Needless to say, I was hungry by the end of this issue and just had to bake a little treat with some Muscadine grapes we found today at our local farm stand.

The vines in today’s vase grew from the seeds of grapes we ate two summers ago.  I made jam that year, and planted a handful of the seeds in various pots and beds.  The seeds came up and we are enjoying the beautiful grape foliage this summer.  I suspect fruit may still be another year or two away.

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You may recognize today’s vase as one of our treasures from local Shelton Glass Works.  We have a long tradition of glass around Jamestown.  You can easily recognize John Shelton’s stunning cobalt blue glass in shops and at art shows around the Williamsburg area.  I’ve paired this little pitcher with a cluster of Aqua Aura quartz and a small statue of Kuan Yin, Buddha of Compassion.  I found both on the West coast this spring.  This dark Kuan Yin reminds me of the black Madonna statues well known in France and Egypt.

I appreciate Cathy’s weekly challenge to fill a vase with beautiful flowers and foliage cut from the garden.  It always interests me to explore what may be available each week and then pull an arrangement together.  It has been a busy stretch here with travel, gardening, and friends.  I was away yesterday and so found time this afternoon. to construct a vase.  I hope you will visit her at Rambling In the Garden to see her gloriously bright vases today.  There is a collection, all in a vintage mood.

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And what of your garden?  Have you explored, clippers in hand, lately?  Surely there is something beautiful out there ready to come inside to delight you with its fragrance and beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2015  

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These Black Eyed Susans were  growing in the garden when we came here, but we spread the plants around when they emerge each spring.  The clumps spread and also self-seed.

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Sweet October

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We are living through the sweetest days of a Virginia autumn:

 

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leaves changing, fruit ripening, flowers still blooming, and warm sunny days followed by cool clear nights.

Freshly picked Virginia apples sit on our kitchen counter.  Our slider stands open all day letting fresh air blow through the house; all traces of summer’s humidity gone.

The air is fragrant and golden; sunwashed  and noticeably cool early in the morning and after sunset.

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Most of the plants brought in ahead of last weekend’s cold nights have found their way back outside to enjoy a few more days of bright light and warm breezes.

A huge Begonia, covered in hundreds of tiny pink blossoms, protested its spot inside by dropping those blossoms like confetti.  I carried it out to the deck this morning to re-join its summer companions for a few more days .

 

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The Staghorn fern, tripled in size over the summer, is returned to its shady spot in the Dogwood tree.

As sweet as these days may seem, we know they are numbered. 

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Yesterday morning I finally dug the first of the Caladiums and tucked them snugly into a pot where they will winter in the garage.  Their summer pots now sport tiny rose colored Viola starts, and a spindly little ornamental Kale seedling.

Oh, and did I mention the garlic?  I am  planting little garlic cloves, tucked into the soil between the Violas.  We learned last winter that garlic cloves  offers pretty good protection from those hungry creatures who might otherwise dig them up, or gnosh on our tasty Violas.

 

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Today I dug up a tender Lady fern to bring inside.  Closer inspection found it already spreading, and there were four tiny starts to dig and tuck into other pots to overwinter indoors.

There are as many flowers blooming now as there were in May. 

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Now that the summer’s heat has broken, and it has rained deeply, our roses have covered themselves in buds once again.

Fall blooming perennials, full of huge, vivid flowers, light up the garden.

 

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Pots and baskets have recovered from the late summer drought with tender new growth.

October offers many sweet pleasures for all who will venture out of doors to enjoy it.

 

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The landscape is lit with bright berries and changing leaves.

Flocks of birds sing to one another as they gather and gorge on the berried feast, ahead of their long flight south.

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Butterflies stop by to sample the nectar, and clear night skies shine brightly with stars.

It is all, maybe a little sweeter, since November lurks in the next turn of the calendar page.

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And we are blessed with a bit more time  to  drink full measure of these last, lovely days of Indian summer.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Fantasy and Reality

This old Rosemary has fully recovered now from last winter's cold.  It grows here with volunteer Black Eyed Susans.

This old Rosemary has fully recovered now from last winter’s cold. It grows in the front border with volunteer Black Eyed Susans.

 

Autumn is a time to come to terms with both the fantasy and the reality of gardening.

We fantasize about the beautiful garden we can create.  We intend to grow delicious fruits and healthy vegetables.  We see visions of beauty in areas of bareness, and imagine the great shrub which can grow from our tiny potted start.

I’ve come to understand that gardeners, like me, are buoyed on season to season and year to year by our fantasies of beauty.

Surprise lilies poke up through the fading foliage of peonies and St. John's Wort.

Surprise lilies poke up through the fading foliage of peonies and St. John’s Wort.

 

I spend many hours pouring through plant catalogs and gardening books; especially in February.

And I spend days, sometimes, making lists of plants to acquire, shopping for them, and making sketches of where they will grow.

As far as fantasies go, I suppose that dreaming up gardens rates as a fairly harmless one.  Expensive sometimes, but harmless in the grand scheme of things.

 

One of our few remaining  Coleus plants not yet destroyed by the squirrels, growing here with perennial Ageratum.

One of our few remaining Coleus plants not yet destroyed by the squirrels, growing here with perennial Ageratum and Lantana.

 

But there are times for planning and imagining; and there are times for dealing with the realities a growing garden presents.

I spent time bumping up against the realities, this morning, as I worked around the property; preparing for the cold front blowing in from the west.

 

Lantana, the toughest of the tough in our garden, grows more intense as nights grow colder.  This one is not about 7' high.

Lantana, the toughest of the tough in our garden, grows more intense as nights grow colder. This one is now about 7′ high.

 

I spent the first hour walking around with a pack of Double Mint chewing gum dealing with the vole tunnels.  This is our new favorite way to limit the damage the ever-present voles can do.

Recent rain left the ground soft.  My partner spent several hours and three packs of gum feeding the little fellas on Tuesday.  So the damage I found today was much reduced, and I only used a pack and a  half.  Much of the tunneling was in the lawns, but I also found it around some of the roses.

 

Colocasia have grown wonderfully this season.  This one has sent out many runners and new plants.  I need to dig some of these soon to bring them in, since they aren't rooted deeply like the adults.

Colocasia have grown wonderfully this season. This one has sent out many runners and new plants. I need to dig some of these soon to bring them in, since they aren’t rooted deeply like the adults.

 

Another hour was invested in deadheading, cutting away insect damage on the Cannas, pulling grasses out of beds and digging up weeds.

I wandered about noticing which plants have grown extremely well this year, and which never really fulfilled my expectations.

As well as our Colocasias and Cannas have done, the little “Silver Lyre”  figs planted a year ago remain a disappointment.

 

Ficus, "Silver Lyre" has grown barely taller than the neighboring Sage.  Maybe it will take off next year....

Ficus, “Silver Lyre” has grown barely taller than the neighboring Sage. Maybe it will take off next year….

 

Sold as a fast growing variety, these barely reach my knees.   Between heavy clay soil which obviously needed more amendment and effort on my part at planting, and our very cold winter; they have gotten off to a very slow start.

I hope that they will catch up next year and eventually fulfill their potential as large, beautiful shrubs.

 

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I admired the beautiful Caladiums, and procrastinated yet again on digging them to bring them inside.  Maybe tomorrow….

Even knowing the weather forecast, I don’t want to accept that cold weather is so close at hand.  I am reluctant to disturb plantings which are still beautiful.

Begonia, "Sophie" came in today, and will likely stay inside now.  Started from a small cutting, this lovely plant has grown all in one season.

Begonia, “Sophie” came in today, and will likely stay inside now. Started from a small cutting, this lovely plant has grown all in one season.

 

I did begin bringing in Begonias today.  And, I’m starting to make decisions about which plants can’t be brought inside.

Space is limited, and my collection of tender plants expands each year.

 

Another of the re-blooming iris decided to give us a last stalk of flowers this week.

Another of the re-blooming Iris decided to give us a last stalk of flowers this week.  Their fragrance is simply intoxicating.

 

Each season brings its own challenges.  There are the difficult conditions brought by heat and cold, too much rain and drought.

Then there are the challenges brought on by the rhythms of our lives.

 

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I’ve been away from the garden a great deal this spring and summer.  And when I’ve been home, I’ve often been too tired to do the tasks which have other years become routine.

 

This series of borders has gotten "hit or miss" attention this summer.  These sturdy daisies have kept going in spite of my neglect.

This series of borders has gotten “hit or miss” attention this summer. These sturdy daisies have kept going in spite of my neglect.

 

What I was doing with loved ones was far more important than trimming, weeding and fertilizing in the garden.

And my partner has helped a great deal with the watering this year.  But the neglect shows. 

I am surveying the reality of which plants were strong and soldiered on without much coddling; and which didn’t make it.

I pulled the dead skeletons of some of them today.

 

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season.  Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season. Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

 

This is a garden which forces one to face the facts of life… and death.  It is probably a good garden for me to work during this decade of my life.

At times effort brings its own rewards.  Other times, effort gets rewarded with naked stems and the stubble of chewed leaves.

 

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It forces one to push past the fantasies which can’t make room for disappointment and difficulties; for evolution and hard-won success.

 

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is.  These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer.  Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is. These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer. Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

 

The wise tell us that all of the suffering in our lives results from our attachments.

That may be true.  And yet, I find joy even in this autumnal mood of putting the garden to bed for the season.

Autumn "Brilliance" fern remains throughout the winter.  Tough and dependable, they fill areas where little else can survive.

Autumn “Brilliance” fern remains throughout the winter. Tough and dependable, they fill areas where little else can survive.

 

Even as I plan for the coming frost, and accept that plants blooming today soon will wither in the cold; I find joy in the beauty which still fills the garden.

I am deeply contented with how I have grown in understanding and skill, while gardening here,  even as my garden has grown in leaf and stalk.

 

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And I am filled with anticipation for how the garden will grow and evolve in the year to come.

It is a work in progress, as are we all. 

 

Fuchsia "Marinka"

Fuchsia “Marinka”

 

While fantasies may lead us onwards and motivate us to make fresh efforts each day; so reality is a true teacher and guide.

Our challenge remains to see things just as they are.  To be honest with ourselves, learn from our experience, and find strength to make fresh beginnings as often as necessary as we cultivate the garden of our lives.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Opening

The first every buds opening on a "volunteer" Crepe Myrtle which has finally grown large enough to bloom this season.

The first ever buds opening on a “volunteer” Crepe Myrtle which has finally grown large enough to bloom this season.

Hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into seasons;  as we drift through the unfolding year something new  always opens up for us, even as something spent is crumpling and falling away.

Gardenia

Gardenia

The first week of July, well into the summer, hosts a fresh round of openings and beginnings here in our forest garden.

Buddleia, "Harlequin" has come into bloom.

Buddleia, “Harlequin” has come into bloom this weekend.

Hibiscus and Buddleia, Dill and Crepe Myrtle are all opening and unfolding the first of their flowers at the moment.

The first bud of the season ready to open on our hardy Hibiscus, H. moscheutos moscheutos

The first bud of the season ready to open on our hardy Hibiscus, H. moscheutosJapanese beetles have been active eating its leaves this summer.

I love to find a plant covered in buds; full of potential and beauty, ready to open itself to the garden.

Tiny grapevines have sprouted from the Muscadine seeds I planted last fall.

Tiny grapevines have sprouted from the Muscadine seeds I planted last fall.

 

July, as flower-filled as May in our garden, also offers up an incalculable array of shades and hues of green.

 

Canna, gift from a friend's garden, survived our harsh winter.

Canna, gift from a friend’s garden, survived our harsh winter.

 

When rain has been plentiful, as it is this year, greens are fresh and vibrant.

 

Redbud "volunteer" has grown well this season.  Perhaps next spring it will bloom.

Redbud “volunteer” has grown well this season. Perhaps next spring it will bloom.

Greenness generates the energy needed for growth; and one may almost hear the whispers of unfolding leaves and lengthening stems on a warm summer evening.

 

Joe Pye Weed planted about a month ago is growing well now.

Joe Pye Weed planted about a month ago is growing well now.

Change comes minute upon minute in the garden during deep summer.

Abundant moisture and  constant heat provide the hothouse for outrageous growth.

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

Vines stretch and new seeds germinate.

Shrubs magically expand and ferns fill in the open spaces.

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Buds constantly opening fill every breeze with sweetness.

First Crepe Myrtle blooms of the season open on this favorite tree>

First Crepe Myrtle blooms of the season open on this favorite tree>

 

Every part of the garden glows with color.

 

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A garden serves as a reliable text book for life.

 

Fungus are key to opening the fertility of soil to plants.

Fungi  are key to opening the fertility of soil to plants.

 

Lessons trivial and profound are written daily in the sky and soil.

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Pruned hard exactly a year ago, this beautiful old oak shows strong new growth.

 

Every creature and plant is a willing tutor to those who engage with them with mind and heart open to their wisdom.

 

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The changing light weaves a new story each day; a faithful Scheherazade for those who will listen and take pleasure in the tale.

 

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In July, the garden’s theme is abundance and profound love.

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Source is generous with its gifts, nourishing through its fruits, and rich in its beauty.

 

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Nature is ever at work building and pulling down,

creating and destroying,

keeping everything whirling and flowing,

allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion,

chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

John Muir

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

The Red, White, and Blue

Bee Balm, Monarda, blooming in our garden today.

Bee Balm, Monarda, blooming in our garden today.

Red for valor, hardiness, and sacrifice.

It reminds us our freedoms were won, and are maintained, through blood shed for our ideals.

Magnolia

Magnolia

White for purity of intent and a fresh beginning.

Eagles flying in the clearing sky this morning.

Eagles flying in the clearing sky this morning.

 

White is also the color of radiant light from heaven; the brilliant stars shining in the night sky.

 

Morning Glory on a pruned rose cane.

Morning Glory on a pruned rose cane.

 

Blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

 

Ripening blackberries grow all along the Colonial Parkway in early July.

Ripening blackberries grow all along the Colonial Parkway in early July.

 

It is interesting to consider that the colors chosen for the Colonial flags during the American Revolution,  and for the flags of our new country; are the same red, white and blue of Great Britain’s Union Jack.

 

Wildflowers in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

Wildflowers in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

 

The  French also chose red, white and blue as the colors for their flag at the time of the French Revolution in 1790.

 

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Blue is for liberty, White for equality, and Red for fraternity.   There are many other meanings to these colors in French society, which do not necessarily have meaning in the United States.

 

Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus.

Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus.

 

We find these same symbolic colors again and again around us every day.

Ageratum and Lavender with Dusty Miller.

Ageratum and Lavender with Dusty Miller.

In the United States, many of us regularly wear blue denim clothing.

Blue Salvia growing with Comphrey

Blue Salvia growing with Comphrey

Denim, originally a sturdy fabric for work clothing; has become a symbol of our relaxed, egalitarian, and informal way of life here.

It has been adopted by people around the world since the social revolutions of the 1960s.

Canna

Canna and scarlet sage

White, the color of purity and cleanliness, is also a part of our daily lives.  

Many of us prefer white shirts, white china, white walls, white painted wood in our gardens, white cars, and white linens.  We  grow white flowers in our gardens because they glow in the moonlight.

 

Cedar with berries

Cedar with berries

Red is the color of boldness and energy. 

We admire red sports cars.

Red product logos and red street signs demand our attention.  We wear shiny red shoes, bright red lipstick, and give red roses as symbols of our passion for life and living.

Caladium and Begonias

Caladium and Begonias  Can you spot the bumblebee?

 

Color speaks a language of its own. 

Every layer of meaning we uncover teaches us more about this world we’ve inherited, and what it means to participate in the stream of history.

Happy Independence Day!

May the Red, White, and Blue have meaning for you today, and every day.

 

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Rosa, “John Paul II”

Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

Flower or Weed?

Queen Anne's Lace,

Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, growing in the wild

Would you consider this to be a flower or a weed?

This is a distinction I have always had trouble making.

I will often let volunteer plants  grow in the garden in order to discover what they will do.

Perennial Ageratum in our garden late last September.

Perennial Ageratum in our garden late last September, growing with Rudbeckia, another “volunteer” native flower.

That is how I discovered the perennial Ageratum which grows in our garden.  It is now an important part of our late autumn flower show.

But this year, I found some Ageratum seedlings growing in a pot used last year for tomatoes.  And I’ve left them alone to grow.

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Self-sown perennial Ageratum growing in a pot where I grew a tomato vine last year.

I’ve added a tomato plant to the pot, but will leave one or two of the Ageratum in the pot when I thin them one day soon; expecting the bees visiting its flowers to pollinate the tomato, also.

Honeysuckle vine twining around an ancient native Yucca, Adam's Needle, in our garden.

Honeysuckle vine twining around an ancient native Yucca, Adam’s Needle, in our garden.

When Europeans began exploring North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries, they were delighted with the rich variety of new plants they were able to collect and ship back to Europe for cultivation.

European botanists had a keen interest in discovering new species  in the “new world” which would add to their collection of useful plants.

They hoped to find new foods, such as Pecan trees; new flowers, like Hydrangea arborescens; new medicinal herbs, like Echinacea; and new ornamental trees and shrubs for their gardens.

An Echinacea purpurea in our garden.  This is the species, which is native in our region.

An Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower,  in our garden.  This is the species, which is native in our region.

They collected and exported hundreds of species to Europe, which were highly valued and entered the nursery trade there.

Of course, these voyages of exploration were sent out to all the newly colonized areas of the world.  And many of our favorite contemporary  plants came into cultivation in European and American gardens as a result.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

They did not ask, “Is it a flower or a weed?”  Each newly discovered herb, tree, shrub, and flower was evaluated based on its usefulness, hardiness, and beauty.

Over the years, we have all been influenced by the nursery trade to fill our gardens and pots with popularly cultivated selections.

Hybrid Echinacea cultivar.  This flower was offered for sale last weekend by Knott's Creek Nursery at our local Farmer's Market.

Hybrid Echinacea cultivar.  This flower was offered for sale last weekend by Knott’s Creek Nursery at our local Farmer’s Market.

Many of these are hybrids, or improvements to the original species.  Plants are hybridized to make them bigger, smaller, brighter, or more productive than the original.

Plants for sale at our Farmer's Market.  Hybrids are bred to be brighter, more disease resistant, and to have desirable qualities the native species may lack.

Plants for sale at our Farmer’s Market.  Hybrids are bred to be brighter, more disease resistant, and to have desirable qualities the native species may lack.  We also have been conditioned to choose exotics over native species in many instances.

We want day lilies which bloom all season, vegetables more resistant to disease, and dwarf fruit trees and butterfly bushes which fit into our gardens.

We are conditioned to purchase the “Proven Winners” plants we see advertised in magazines.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea, is native to the Southeastern United States.  This is H. "Snow Queen," a cultivar which has improved on the species.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea, is native to the Southeastern United States. This is H. “Snow Queen,” an improved cultivar.

And we sometimes forget the native “proven winners” which have grown beautifully and productively for centuries without intervention from man.

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I’m happy to see the new interest many gardeners are taking in native plants.  Many of us have come to understand the important role these natives play in the life cycles of species of animals we hope to protect.

As we see the dwindling numbers of Monarchs, for example, we realize that we need to plant their favored host plant:  Asclepias, or milk weed.

Asclepias incarnata, or Milkweed is the host plant needed by larval Monarch butterflies.

Asclepias syriaca, or Milkweed,  is the host plant needed by larval Monarch butterflies.

In fact, I’ve run into a bit of an Asclepias shortage this spring.  It has grown fashionable to plant these one time “weeds.”

For weeds they were, growing in the hedgerows when I was a child.  I have fond memories of playing with milkweed pods in autumn, freeing the downy little seeds to float away on the wind.

But no one I knew would even consider planting such a “weedy” plant in their garden.

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This was at the very beginning of the environmental movement, before naturalized gardening had become fashionable.

So every plant dealer I’ve approached this season has been out of Asclepias when I was there to purchase one.

This is a good thing, and I am happy to know that so many plants are going into the ground in our area.

A perennial, these will feed generations of Monarch larvae for many years to come, and should go a long way towards helping to restore the population.

Achillea

But what of other native plants?

Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, a wild carrot,  has been a favorite of mine forever.  I love the airy effect of its blossoms in cut flower bouquets, and it is a beautiful plant growing in the bed.

Similiar to Achillea,  these drought tolerant and hardy plants attract many beneficial insects which can boost production of flowering vegetable crops planted nearby.

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The long tap root breaks up the soil to aid other more shallow rooted plants growing nearby.  This is a biennial plant, and has a variety of uses.  Yet, the USDA  lists it as a noxious and invasive weed.

I’ve been reading a fascinating book this season,  Native Plants of the Southeast, by Dr. Larry Mellichamp.  Dr. Mellichamp is a professor of Botany at UNC Charlotte and is also director of the Botanical Gardens there.

book

His book shares his love  and appreciation for  our native plants in the Southeastern United States.   It provides detailed descriptions, lush photographs, and useful cultural information for 460 different species of trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, wildflowers, and vines.

Timber Press, of Portland, Oregon, has published this beautiful guide to the very best native plants for cultivation in our gardens.    Plants are rated for desirability and usefulness.

I’ve spent many hours studying this lovely book, and it has guided a number of the selections I’ve made for additions to our garden this season.

I recommend it to all serious gardeners in our region; especially those concerned with preservation of the many species of birds, butterflies, bees, and other small creatures who struggle to survive in this era of environmental change.

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Wild Allium growing in the historic district of Yorktown, Virginia.

So, flower or weed?

It depends on your perspective and the depth of your understanding.

It also depends on your goals as a gardener.  Each individual must make these judgements for himself.

There is beauty in every living creature.  As we look deeply enough to see the beauty of each creature in our gardens, our answers, and our questions, continue to evolve.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Nature’s Way

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Nature’s way brings elements of the natural world together into relationship.

Rarely will you find just one of anything-

Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.

Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.

It is our human sensibility which wants to bring order from the “chaos” of nature by sorting, classifying, isolating, and perhaps eliminating elements of our environment.

Pickerel weed growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.

Pickerel weed, cattails, and grasses  growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.

Nature teaches the wisdom of strength through  unity and relationship.

Gardens in medieval Europe were often composed primarily of lawns, shrubs, and trees.

A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.

A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.

This is still fashionable in American gardens today.  But it is a high maintenance and sterile way to garden.

I won’t bore you with a re-hash of the arguments for and against lawns… but will only say that wildflowers of all sorts find a home in ours.

White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers and grasses on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

And I’m not an advocate of allowing every wild plant to grow where it sprouts, either.  There are some plants which definitely are not welcome in our garden, or are welcome in only certain zones of it.

Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek.  Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing?  Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.

Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek.   Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing? Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.

But in general, I prefer allowing plants to grow together in communities, weaving together above and below the soil, and over the expanse of time throughout a gardening year.

Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses.

Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses.  Young ginger lily, white sage, dusty miller, Ageratum, and a Lavender, “Goodwin Creek” share the bed.

A simple example would be interplanting peonies with daffodils.  As the daffodils fade, the peonies are taking center stage.

Another example is allowing Clematis vines to grow through roses; or to plant ivy beneath ferns.

Japanese painted fern

Japanese Painted Fern emerges around spend daffodils.  Columbine, Vinca, apple mint and German Iris complete the bed beneath some large shrubs.

Like little children hugging one another as they play, plants enjoy having company close by.

When you observe nature you will see related plants growing together in some sort of balance.

Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.

Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.

And you’ll find wild life of all descriptions interacting with the plants as part of the mix.

The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area.  All provide shelter to birds.  The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.

The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area. All provide shelter to birds. The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.

When planning your plantings, why not increase the diversity and the complexity of your pot or bed and see what beautiful associations develop?

Herbs filling in our new "stump garden."

Herbs filling in our new “stump garden.”  Alyssum is the lowest growing flower.  Tricolor Sage, Rose Scented Geranium, Violas, White Sage, Iris, and Catmint all blend in this densely planted garden.

Now please don’t think that Woodland Gnome is suggesting that you leave the poison ivy growing in your shrub border.

Although poison ivy is a beautiful vine and valuable to wildlife, our gardens are created for our own health and pleasure.  So we will continue to snip these poisonous vines at the base whenever we find them.

Another view of the "stump garden" planting.  Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot.

Another view of the “stump garden” planting. Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot in front of Iris and Dusty Miller.

But what about honeysuckle?  Is there a “wild” area where you can allow it to grow through some shrubs?  Can you tolerate wild violets in the lawn?

Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.

Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.

The fairly well known planting scheme for pots of “thriller, filler, spiller” is based in the idea that plants growing together form a beautiful composition, a community which becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun.  Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot.  A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.

Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun. Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot. A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.

I like planting several plants in a relatively big pot; allowing room for all to grow, but for them to grow together.

Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot.  This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted.  It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.

Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot. This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted. It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.

This is a better way to keep the plants hydrated and the temperature of the soil moderated from extremes of hot and cold, anyway.

But this also works in beds.

Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb's Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John's Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub.

Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb’s Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub.  The Vinca is ubiquitous in our garden, and serves an important function as a ground cover which also blooms from time to time.  The grasses growing along the edge get pulled every few weeks to keep them in control.  

Choose a palette of plants, and then work out a scheme for combining a repetitive pattern of these six or ten plants over and again as you plant the bed.  Include plants of different heights, growth habits, seasons of bloom, colors and textures.

So long as you choose plants with similiar needs for light, moisture, and food this can work in countless variations.

A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek.  Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree.  Trees are nature's trellis.  Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone.  Beautiful yellow Iris and pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.

A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek. Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree. Trees are nature’s trellis. Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone. Beautiful yellow Iris, Staghorn Sumac,  pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.

This is Nature’s way, and it can add a new depth of beauty to your garden.

It can also make your gardening easier and more productive.

It is important to observe as the plants grow. 

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If one is getting too aggressive and its neighbors are suffering, then you must separate, prune, or sacrifice one or another of them.

Planting flowers near vegetables brings more pollinating insects, increasing yields.

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Planting garlic or onions among flowers has proven effective in keeping deer and rabbits away from my tasty flowering plants.

Planting deep rooted herbs such as Comfrey, Angelica, and Parsley near other plants brings minerals from deep in the soil to the surface for use by other plants.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Use the leaves from these plants in mulch or compost to get the full benefit.

Planting peas and members of the pea family in flower or vegetable beds increases the nitrogen content of the soil where they grow, because their roots fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.

Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.

Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.

Planting Clematis vines among perennials or roses helps the Clematis grow by shading and cooling their roots.

The Clematis will bloom and add interest when the roses or perennials are “taking a rest” later in the season.

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, "Empress Wu" in the Wubbel's garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, “Empress Wu” in the Wubbel’s garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Just as our human relationships are often based in helping one another, so plants form these relationships, too.

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The more you understand how plants interact with one another, the more productive your garden can become.

It is Nature’s way…

A "volunteer" Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.

A “volunteer” Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Forest Lane Botanicals

Forest Lane Botanicals display garden.

Spring Annuals

Petunia

Petunia

Now although my favorite plant catalog has as its motto, “Friends don’t let friends buy annuals;”  we have been shopping for annuals this month.

I love the little starts, already blooming themselves silly, in bright fresh colors.

Salvia and Ageratum

Salvia and Ageratum

Annuals are the “over-achievers” of the plant kingdom, living their short lives with great beauty and gusto!

annual Ageratum

annual Ageratum

Choosing annuals each year is a little like re-painting a room, or choosing a new comforter for an old bed.  It is  an easy way to “redecorate” the patio and the deck with a fresh palette of color in pots and baskets.

So long as they remain well fed and watered, they will bloom from now until frost kills them in late autumn.

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On our last two trips to our favorite Homestead Garden Center, owner Joel Patton has been there, and has most generously given me some little annuals to grow out and trial for him.  So I will definitely be showing you those little plants as the season progresses.

Petunias

Petunias and Bacopa on the right, one of the plants given to me to trial

The Patton family grow many of the herbs, annuals, and perennials they offer at their nursery in far western James City County.  Everything is organically and loving grown, and absolutely fresh and healthy.

The selection is just mind-boggling at this time of the year, and the Pattons stock cultivars you can not find anywhere else in the area.

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And so my great fun at the moment is to construct fresh arrangements of annuals and hang them out onto the empty hooks on the deck, celebrating a new season of growth.

Such amazing colors surrounding us now that the weather has warmed!  I have a  tired back, but a happy heart!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

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