For the Love of May

Indica hybrid Azalea "Formosa"

Indica hybrid Azalea “Formosa”

~

May brings perfume to the garden and joy to the soul. 

It is the happiest month of the whole year to me.  Spring’s warmth has settled comfortably over the garden so the last of the shrubs and perennials finally stir from their winter slumber to send out their first green leaves, which let you know they have survived winter.

~

Mayapples

Mayapples

~

Taxes are completed and forgotten for another year.  The first fresh local strawberries ripen, tomatoes may be planted, songbirds are nesting, and school is nearly out.

May is for proms, graduations, Mother’s Day, births and weddings.  It is a month for successfully completing long lived goals.   Happiness is almost a tangible fragrance in the air.

~

May 7, 2015 garden 021

~

Our roses always bloom by Mother’s Day, but our first bud opened in all of its warm beauty yesterday!

Our shrubs are absolutely covered in buds this year, by the way.  The air is soft and filled with the fragrance of sweet iris and freshly cut grass.  The mint has grown tall enough to harvest, and I’m finally planting this summer’s crop of Basil.

~

May 7, 2015 garden 002

~

I spotted a hummingbird for the first time today flitting from one Columbine blossom to another.  A snapping turtle chose a quiet area to dig a nest and lay her eggs this morning.

~

May 7, 2015 garden 022

~

The closing weeks of May serve as a “soft opening” for summer. 

May is for switching over to the summer wardrobe and buying new sandals.  We greet May with Cinco de Mayo and bid it farewell with Memorial Day and the opening of community pools.

May is for the first beach trips of the season, enjoying long twilit evenings on the deck, and catching up with the farmers who run the local farm stand.  We re-arrange the deck for a new season, re-plant the pots, and remember our summer routines.

~

May 7, 2015 garden 009

~

My summer routine finds me in the garden most mornings watering, observing, trimming, and taking photos.  Listening to the chatter of birds and the whirr of hummingbird wings, I take note of what needs attention that day.  And we celebrate each new wonder as it unfolds.

Yesterday brought the Mountain Laurel opening the first of its flowers.

~

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

~

Today brought more roses opening and more Iris.  And today I finally installed that new planting bed that I’ve been contemplating since February.

~

May 7, 2015 garden 017

~

Of course May also brings Mayflies and sunburn, summer heat and higher gas prices.  Every month has its stresses, its true.

Yet May holds more happiness than most.  And I’m partial to any month which brings me iris and  roses…

~

May 5, 2015 garden 009

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

Advertisements

Nature’s Way

May 24 2014 vines 047

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. 

May 29 2014 after the rain 016

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.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 041

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.

May 24 2014 vines 019

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.

The First Rose of Summer

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 006

The first roses of summer were blooming when we came outside this morning.

I’m always happy to greet these first fragrant opening blossoms.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 029

It is a sign that we are entering the most flower filled season of the year when spring has not quite yet melted into summer.

We are still enjoying cool nights, and the occasional cool day.  We made it to 90 in Williamsburg today, according to the thermometer in the car, as we drove out on afternoon errands.

Although it feels like “instant July,” we know more wonderfully cool days lie ahead before the heat settles in for high summer in late June.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 022

Irises are in full bloom in many neighbors’ yards, and late blooming Azaleas are hitting their peak as the Rhododendron shrubs begin to bloom.

Our next door neighbors have a new Rhododendron growing near our Azaleas.   We noticed its buds opening this morning, and noticed that our shrubs match perfectly in a lovely, deep rosy pink.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 026

Roses always bloom in coastal Virginia for Mother’s Day.

Their blossoms lend an extra, fragrant,  note of celebration during this special weekend.  The College of William and Mary holds its commencement on Sunday, and our community is full of visitors.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 007

The air is sweet with the smell of flowers, and ripe with the love of families celebrating their special days together.  The aroma of freshly cut and trimmed grass wafts through our neighborhood.

But my attention is held, today, by the unfolding roses. 

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 009

One May, nearly 20 years ago now, I was asked to choose what I would like to receive for Mother’s Day that year.  I chose a climbing rose shrub to plant by the front door.

I knew that whatever else might be happening in my life, I would have a gift of fresh roses for Mother’s Day every year from then on.

That Mother’s Day gift was an “Eden” rose, still a favorite for its fragrance.  I literally filled that garden with roses over the years.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 028

Antique Bourbon roses climbed up into the nearby Crepe Myrtle tree, and pegged themselves to put down roots and grow new shrubs throughout a large border filled with herbs, Irises, and more roses.

That garden has passed on to other hands, now, and I hope they enjoy the roses (and care for them) as I did.  That garden didn’t have deer visiting from time to time to graze on tasty flower buds.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 036

This one does, and so each rose which blooms holds a special gift.  Against all odds, it survived in this Forest Garden. 

All of my partner’s work on fences to keep out the deer, and all my efforts to improve the soil, plant and prune come together in the fragrance and beauty of each opening bud.

Our shrubs are full of buds at the moment, so we may enjoy roses for many weeks to come.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 001

Or not.  I’ve learned to not count my roses before they bloom around here.  But for today, they are lovely, and I hope you enjoy sharing them with me.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who has survived the joys and trials of parenthood. 

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 023

Remember, especially if your children are still quite young:  All of the effort, pain, hard work, sacrifice, and time will find their reward in those sweet moments when you, “Smell the roses.”

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 004

Whether at a kindergarten program, a first communion, an athletic triumph, a commencement ceremony, or a special weekend spent together; the fragrance of the rose allows us to overlook the thorns.

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 008

The magic of unfolding  beauty is its own reward for the time and love invested in nurturing it.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

May 10, 2014 first roses of summer 005

 

Associations

Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern.  Vinca and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and Deciduous trees.

Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern. Vinca, English ivy, and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and deciduous trees.

Just as we  structure our lives by our associations with friends, family, and business colleagues; so plants also form useful relationships with other plants.

Azaleas prefer to grow under deciduous trees.

Azaleas prefer to grow under deciduous trees.

Our human associations are based on things we have in common with others.  We may form friendships based on shared interests, or spend time with members of our biological family.

We may enjoy the company of others in our profession, or with those who share our passion for music, for tennis, or for gardening.

Coleus, creeping Jenny, and sedum love the hot sun they enjoy in this pot near the house.

Coleus, Creeping Jenny, and Sedum love the hot sun they enjoy in this pot near the house.

When planning pots, beds, borders, and landscapes, we generally plan in terms of groups, or associations, of plants.

Something like Lego blocks, or notes in a chord; certain plants go well together.

Artemesia and Vinca can tolerate the drypoor soil and bright sunshine on this slopinge beside the house.

Artemesia and Vinca can tolerate the dry, poor soil and bright sunshine on this slope beside the house.

These associations must first take into account shared needs for a certain amount of light and  moisture.

It is wise to also consider what sort of soil is best for a grouping of plants, and what temperatures they need for best growth.

A newly enlarged bed featuring English shrub roses also hosts herbs, bulbs, annuals, and perennial geranium.

A newly enlarged bed featuring English shrub roses also hosts herbs, bulbs, annual Ageratum,  sage, Rudbeckia, and perennial Geranium.  All enjoy partial to full sun, enriched soil,  and can tolerate heat.

Beyond these basic considerations for what plants have in common, we look towards how their differences may compliment one another.

Vining plants, like Clematis, which will grow up a trellis, may share a pot with a bushy or trailing plant to shade their roots.

Clematis, "Belle of Woking" grows on a trellis suspended above a large pot.  Caladiums were just planted in the pot, along with fern, to shade the roots of the Clematis.

Clematis, “Belle of Woking” grows on a trellis suspended above a large pot. Caladiums were just planted in the pot, along with fern, to shade the roots of the Clematis.

An indeterminate tomato plant filling a tomato cage benefits from shorter basil and marigold plants at its base which shade the soil and repel certain insects and predators.

Just as a composer relies on certain chords and phrases to compose a melody, so a gardener benefits from a repertoire of plant associations to construct a garden.

German Iris grow with Lavender, a shrub rose, bulbs, and other perennials.

German Iris grow with Lavender, a shrub rose, bulbs, and other perennials.

And these associations are peculiar to the gardener and the environment of a particular garden.

The associations depend on which plants a gardener enjoys, the style and mood of the garden, and the growing conditions with which a gardener must work.

German Iris in a different bed with roses.

German Iris in a different bed with roses.

Most of us gardeners are drawn to particular plants.   I visited with a woman a few weeks ago who loves boxwood shrubs.  A fellow blogger has a garden full of day lilies, which he hybridizes.

Azaleas and Hostas in my parents' garden.  They enjoy both of these plants and plant them in abundance.

Azaleas and Hostas in my parents’ garden. They enjoy both of these plants and plant them in abundance.

Some gardeners go to great lengths to grow tomatoes or squash each year, and others want a shady garden full of Hostas and ferns.

Hosta, Lady Fern, and Mahonia shrubs in my parents' garden

Hosta, Lady Fern, and Mahonia shrubs in my parents’ garden.  A newly planted Begonia semperflorens completes the association.

Personally, I love every species and color of Iris.

Iris germanica "Rock Star" reblooms in late summer

Iris germanica “Rock Star” reblooms in late summer

And I collect English roses, and always want a summer garden full of delicious herbs. And I absolutely want something in bloom in the garden each and every day of the year.

Living in a forest, these obsessions are not always compatible with reality.

Re[blooming Iris cultivars "Rosalie Figge" and "immortality"

Re-blooming Iris cultivars “Rosalie Figge” and “Immortality”

As I plan what will grow in borders, beds, and pots throughout the gardening year, I have learned to rely on certain plants, and combinations of plants, which I know from experience will grow together successfully.

Relying on perennials as much as possible, and on plants I can keep through the winter; simplifies the process of moving from one season into the next.

Perennials, once established, gradually spread to fill a bed reliably year after year.

Perennials, once established, gradually spread to fill a bed reliably year after year.  Because their season of bloom is short lived, different plants lend interest at different points throughout the season.

But there is still shopping to be done in spring and fall.  Knowing which associations of plants one wishes to recreate each year helps organize the process.

For example, German re-blooming Iris, Iris germanica,  thrive in the sunny areas of this garden.  They are drought tolerant, don’t mind our Virginia summers, and are not bothered by deer.

Perennial Columbine, which also seeds itself, growing here with a newly planted Coleus.

Perennial Columbine, which also seeds itself, growing here with a newly planted Coleus.

They are absolutely lovely for the few weeks each year of bloom.  Whether in bloom or not, German Iris are always a presence in the garden since their signature sword like leaves persist through most of the year.

I like growing Iris near roses.  They have similiar needs for light and feeding, and they look good together.

Iris grow here with Dusty Miller, culinary Sage, Allyssum, and

Iris grow here with Dusty Miller, culinary Sage, Basil, Alyssum, and onions.  the red onions are an experiment in keeping deer away from annuals planted in the bed.

Wandering through a garden in Warm Springs, Virginia, I found  a brilliant combination of Iris,day lily, and daffodils planted together.

The growing day lily and Iris foliage hid the daffodil’s leaves when the flowers were finished.  Iris bloom soon after the daffodils, and then day lily carries the planting on into the heat of summer.

I now grow Iris and daffodils together in some sunny areas of the garden.  And I add Columbine  to the  mix, along with sun tolerant ferns.

Iris coming into bloom in a bed where daffodils have recently faded.  Columbine will bloom next.  Various ferns grow in the shadow of a Dogwood tree behind the iris.

Iris “Stairway to Heaven”  coming into bloom in a bed where daffodils have recently faded. Columbine will bloom next. Various ferns grow in the shadow of a Dogwood tree behind the iris.

By early summer, the canopy of shrubs and trees has grown in enough to shade the ferns, and the daffodils and Iris have already enjoyed many weeks of strong sun when they most needed it.

Many country gardeners, especially in the Piedmont of Virginia, grow perennial low growing Phlox around their Iris bed.

In springtime, you’ll see wide expanses of pink, white, and lavender Phlox blooming around island beds of Iris.  These plants thrive in full sun, and take very little care.

Iris with Lavender "Otto Quast"

Iris with Lavender “Otto Quast”

I also plant Lavandula stoechas “Otto Quast”  at the base of both roses and Iris.  This Spanish Lavender, with finely cut foliage, sports abundant large blooms at the same time the Iris bloom in late April to early May.  L. “Otto Quast” has a long season of bloom, over many weeks in late spring and early summer.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 010

It isn’t destroyed by rain and humidity as some other Lavenders are in our Virginia summers.  The brilliant purple blooms work well with the colors of the Iris blossoms and English roses.  This evergreen Lavender looks good at the front of a bed whether in bloom or not.

Another hardy association is Lamb’s Ears, Stachys byzantina, with roses, Dianthus, and Echinacea.  A drought tolerant full sun perennial, Lamb’s Ears are disliked by deer.

Lamb's Ears

Lamb’s Ears with Dianthus, Dusty Miller, and Violas under shrub roses.

They divide easily in spring and display stunning silvery foliage through most of the year.  Their purple blooms in early summer are quite beautiful and attract many nectar loving insects.  I’ve spread these throughout sunny areas of the garden.

One way to bring unity to a garden is to repeat plants and associations of plants from one area to the next.

Even with a tremendous variety of genus, species, and cultivars of plants throughout the garden, narrowing the selections to repeat colors and forms again and again weaves the many individuals into a patterned tapestry which feels harmonious.

Autumn Fern cover this hillside along with other ferns, Creeping Genny, Ivy and Hellebores.

Autumn Fern cover this hillside along with other ferns, Creeping Genny, Ivy and Hellebores.  Daffodil foliage is left behind from the recently faded flowers.

I have incorporated Iris into at least six different planting areas.  In all of those areas, they are paired with a silver foliage plant such as Lamb’s Ears, Lavender, Dusty Miller, or Artemesia.

In most of those areas, they are growing near an English rose shrub.   Silver foliage, with white or purple blooms nearby, also weave throughout the summer beds.

White Dianthus often grows with Dusty Miller, purple or tricolor sage,  and grey Winter Thyme.  These reliable plants look beautiful together, and help extend the season over many months.

Newly planted white Dianthus and Winter Thyme will grow into a silvery border for this bed, edged in slate.

Newly planted white Dianthus and Winter Thyme will grow into a silvery border for this bed, edged in slate.

Shade associations are built around various species of ferns, Hellebores, Heuchera, Begonias, Coleus, Caladiums, and Fuchsias.

The Fuchsias and Begonias must be grown in pots out of reach of the deer, or in hanging baskets.

Fuschia with Impatiens in a basket

Fuschia with Impatiens in a basket

After discovering that Impatiens, which I’ve always grown in abundance in shady areas, are simply deer candy; they are reserved for hanging baskets well away from where deer can reach.

June 21 Lanai 008

They always complement ferns, and grow well at the base of cane Begonias.

I also like to plant cane Begonias with Caladiums to hide their leggy stalks.

July 28 2013 third try caterpillars 008

This season I’ve added garlic cloves, chives,  and onion starts to many associations in the garden because their aroma repels deer.  There are green garlic plants growing out of potted arrangements on the front patio.

There are also a large number of scented geraniums in flowerbeds and pots for the same reason.

Scented geranium, culinary Sage, garlic

Scented Geranium, culinary Sage, garlic, Viola, and Coleus grow with the Brugmansia start. 

I’m experimenting with a mixture of scented geraniums, zonal geraniums, and ivy geraniums.  The scented geranium will the the fragrant “thriller” in the pot, growing the largest with striking foliage.

The zonal geraniums will give a punch of color as they fill out the middle of the pot.  The ivy geranium will spill down over the edges of the pot as the “spiller.”

When shopping for plants this spring, try to think about buying “associations” of plants rather than just choosing individuals for some quality which strikes you.

Coleus with Sedum

Coleus with Sedum and bulb foliage.

Remember to analyze a plant in terms of what it needs to perform well, what it will give you or do for you,  and how it will blend into the garden as a whole.

Remember to buy in multiples.  In most cases, it is better to buy several of the same plant, and then use the plant again and again to weave a sense of unity through a given space.

This past week I planted 16 Nicotania plants, in three colors, throughout three nearby beds beside the butterfly garden.

Newly planted annuals

Newly planted annuals:  Cayenne pepper, Marigold, Nicotania and Bronze Fennel grow against a back drop of Iris foliage.

A dozen Cayenne pepper plants went into the same beds, along with 16 white marigolds, a dozen cherry Zinnias, four Bronze Fennel, and three Dill plants.

This area is already planted with perennial Echinacea, Monarda, Salvias, Lavenders,  culinary Sage, Rosemary, and lots of Iris.

Geraniums

Three different types of Geraniums with Coleus, Garlic and Sedum.  Seeds for annual vines are planted at the back of the pot.

More Zinnias are sprouting and will be planted within the next few weeks, when I add multiple varieties of Basil.

These plants have similiar needs for full sun, drainage, and nutrients.  Most are distasteful to the deer, and so offer some protection to the shrub roses planted among them.

The variety works because the same plants are repeated again and again in associations throughout the space.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 071

The last consideration when planning associations of plants is color.  Within a particular genus, and even species, there is frequently a choice of color in both flowers and foliage from which to select.

Although flower color is important, I am far more interested in the form and color of foliage when choosing plants.

Foliage is far more of a presence in the garden than flowers both for its relative mass, and for its longevity throughout the season.

Newly planted Canna "Australis" with burgundy foliage will grow behind Colocasia "China Pink" with bright red stems and light green foliage.

Newly planted Canna “Australis” with burgundy foliage will grow behind Colocasia “Pink China” with bright red stems and light green foliage.

Some plants, like Coleus, Heuchera, and Hosta are grown primarily for their foliage.  The flowers are incidental for most of the season, and may even be systematically removed .

These bright plants always draw attention to themselves and set the mood of an area in the  garden.

Perennial Ajuga serves as a ground cover around Iris, Heuchera, and at the base of a tea rose.

Perennial Ajuga serves as a ground cover around Iris and other perennials.

Whether you prefer peaceful, monochromatic gardens or bold dramatic ones, the size, form, and color of foliage sets the tone.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 073

It is generally easy to select for color of both flowers and foliage within any given genus or species of plant.  Culinary sage alone may be had in golden, tricolor, purple, silver, or  green.

Popular flowering annuals like Petunias and Calabrachoas  come in an overwhelming number of stunning shades and patterns.  New hybrids of patterned leaf Heucheras and Coleus are introduced each season.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 050

All of the many choices of plants for a temperate garden, such as we have in much of the United States, makes it both endlessly interesting and almost overwhelming to select and arrange plants for each season.

Planning for repeating associations of plants, and selecting plants based on specific criteria, helps bring structure and cohesion to the planning process.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 055

I always approach the garden in the spirit of experimentation.  I want to know what works well,and what doesn’t.

Repeating associations which work well, season after season, still allows for changing things up with different cultivars of old favorites.

The more plants you come to know personally, through growing them, the more interesting and effective these associations of plants become.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 041

 

 

 

 

 

Springtime Azaleas

April 28, 2014 azaleas 008

When I was a child, we would make a point of going out to see the Azaleas each April.  When I was very little, we visited the Duke gardens.  Later, living in Richmond, we visited the Joseph Bryan Park, planted in 1952 with thousands of Azaleas.

Sometimes we would visit the Norfolk Botanical Gardens for the NATO Azalea Festival to see their breathtaking displays of flower covered shrubs.

Indica hybrid "Formosa" days before opening.

Indica hybrid Azalea, “Formosa” days before opening.

Better than Christmas lights, Azalea gardens draw millions of visitors to wander the shady lanes amid vibrant blossoms in every shade of pink, salmon, red, purple, lilac, white, and even native varieties blooming in yellows and orange.

Huge bumblebees move lazily from blossom to blossom, drunk on nectar, and completely harmless to those visitors who keep a respectful distance.

Birds swoop from branch to branch, tree to tree, enjoying the spectacle and fragrance of the flowers as they feast on the many nectar loving insects buzzing around them.

hidden cat

North America has its own native Rhododendron species, many of which have been hybridized.  But the most commonly planted Azaleas in the Southeastern United States are actually hybrids of Asian species.

The first of these Asian species were imported through Charleston, SC, in the mid-Nineteenth century, from Japan.

Originally planted at The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, near Charleston, hybrids of these original imported selections have spread throughout our region.

Azalea, "Delaware White"

Azalea, “Delaware White”

Known as the “Indica Hybrids,”  these impressive shrubs may grow to 10′-12′ tall and wide when growing in moist, rich soil in partial sun.

Azaleas species and cultivars, members of the sprawling Rhododendron genus, prefer the acidic soil found in the shade of pine and oak trees.

An understory shrub, they brighten the landscape for several weeks each spring with their bright flowers.

Azalea, "Formosa"

Azalea, “Formosa”

Extremely popular in home gardens, most Azaleas in the nursery trade are evergreen.  Our native species are deciduous, and so not so popular in residential gardens.

Azaleas, once properly planted, practically take care of themselves.  Although many people prune them to keep them in bounds as a foundation planting, they are happiest when left alone to grow into their full potential.

chimanera

They grow best when  mulched with pine needles or with bark, and don’t need fertilizer so long as the soil is rich.  The mulch is important in our southern summers, because Azaleas prefer moist soil and are very shallow rooted.

Azaleas are abundant and affordable at garden centers and big-box stores each spring.  Often times available for only $2-$3 per gallon sized pot, they are a great value because they grow quickly with decent care.

Lanai 001

Plant new Azalea shrubs a little “high.”  That is, dig the whole wider than the root ball by several inches, but no deeper.  Amend the planting hole with good compost and set the root ball so it is perhaps an inch higher than the surrounding soil.

Gently pull the roots on the surface of the side of the root ball  out from the mass, and gently break up the roots at the bottom of the root ball to encourage their growth out into the surrounding soil.

This is very important.  If you plant the azalea without pulling the surface roots away from the ball, they may continue to grow in the shape of the pot, eventually “girdling” or choking the  plant.  Unless the roots grow out into the surrounding garden soil, they may not be able to absorb adequate moisture and the plant will fail to thrive.

( How do I know this?  From digging up dying  newly planted Azaleas in mid-summer and finding their roots never grew out away from the original rootball.)

April 28, 2014 azaleas 010

Place the Azalea into the planting hole, backfill with compost mixed with the native soil.  Then mound more compost and soil to make a small rounded “hill” around the root ball, bringing the new soil flush with the top of the roots.  Finally, mulch with at least 2″ of pine straw or bark mulch.

April 21, 2014 hypertufa pot and pedastal 010

Water each bush in well, so the roots are saturated.  Continue to water new Azaleas every 3-4 days for the next several months.

They appreciate moist soil, and need help until the roots grow and the plant is established.

April 26, 2014 azaleas 050

Most people buy their Azaleas in April or May, when they are in bloom; which is absolutely the worst time of year to plant for the health of the shrub.

The best time to plant in Coastal Virginia would be October or November, if you are able to find the cultivars you wish to plant.

There are so many choices of cultivar.  Although I love the huge flowers and great stature of the Indica Hybrids, there are many beautiful shrubs with smaller flowers which stay under 4′ high at maturity.

April 28, 2014 azaleas 018

Newer hybrids, called “Encore Azaleas,” promise two or more seasons of bloom each year.

I filled a garden with Azaleas a few years ago.  Fenced, shaded by mature trees, the Azaleas grew rapidly and re-created the Norfolk Botanical gardens, in miniature, in my yard.

I loved the winding pine straw covered paths between walls of color each spring.

April 28, 2014 azaleas 007

This garden was once heavily planted in Azaleas.  The stubs remain, trying valiantly to hang onto life.  As areas around our neighborhood are developed, and the forests cut, the deer have to find somewhere to go.

And they come here.  And eat.  And eat. Azaleas are a deer delicacy.  We have blooming Azaleas, but the shrubs are misshapen and top heavy.

April 28, 2014 azaleas 021

Our neighbor started many Azaleas from cuttings taken in Norfolk years and years ago.  Her huge beautiful shrubs fill the front garden.  It remains a mystery why the deer have allowed that to happen in her garden, but not in ours….

In another week or so the flowers will fade and fall for another year.  Fresh green leaves will continue to grow, clothing the shrubs in bright green for another season.

April 28, 2014 azaleas 013

As the Azaleas fade, the larger Rhododendron shrubs, with their still larger flowers in shades of purple, pink, and white will unfold, extending the color for an additional few weeks.

Azaleas form the backdrop to many happy memories for those of us who grew up in this region of the United States.

Family trips to the park, family picnics among the Azaleas, beautiful yards around our homes, Azalea Festivals and parades have all enlivened our springtime celebrations across the years.  These easy to grow shrubs continue to bring beauty and joy to those who grow them.

April 28, 2014 azaleas 014

Photos by Woodland Gnome

April 28, 2014 azaleas 020

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 654 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest