Six On Saturday: Time for a Change

Geraniums bloom in the midst of scented Pelargoniums and other herbs, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and ivy.

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Color touches and excites us.  Of all the reasons for cultivating a garden, enjoying beautiful color throughout the year inspires me more than most.

Color ebbs and flows in waves through the seasons, with beautiful oranges, reds and golds reaching an autumn crescendo some time in October, most years, with colors steadily fading to browns and greys in November .

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Camellia ‘Yuletide’ bloomed this week, a bit earlier than usual.

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Cooler weather brings us renewed, intense color in late season flowers and bright autumn leaves.   Autumn’s flowers celebrate  gentler, wetter weather with a vibrancy they’ve not shown since spring.

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Oakleaf hydrangea holds its colorful leaves deep into winter.  Behind it, the Camellias bloom and flower buds have formed on the Edgeworthia.

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We noticed the first changing leaves in late August.  Maples and sycamores began to turn in late summer, followed in September by the first hits of red on the dogwoods.  Holly berries began to fade from green to orange in early October, and still aren’t fully red.

Our long, warm autumn has held off the usual brilliant autumn foliage of hardwood trees deep into the season, and many trees have dropped their leaves already, lost to wind and drought.  Those that have hung onto their branches long enough to shine, brilliant for a while before falling, are enjoyed all the more this year.

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Purple beautyberries shine against the shrub’s changing leaves.  This isn’t the native, and I don’t recall this particular shrub’s provenance.  But I like its smaller leaves.   ‘African Blue’ and ‘Thai’ basil still bloom prolifically and will continue through the first heavy frost.

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Goldenrod fills our upper garden beds.   A Virginia native, its golden yellow flowers feed the late pollinators and offer a last wash of soft color among stands of brown seedheads and withering perennials.  Our garden remains alive with every sort of little bee, a few Sulphur butterflies and a late Monarch or two.

We came home after dark this week to the rare and magical sight of a lone hummingbird feeding on the ginger lilies.  A hummingbird glows in the wash of headlights, reflecting a bright pin-point of light from its little eye and sparkling in its movement from flower to flower.  One might mistake it for a little fairy moving among the flowers after dusk.

We had thought the hummingbirds had already flown south, and sat for a long time at the top of the drive just watching its progress from flower to flower.

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Butterfly ginger lily is a favorite late nectar source for hummingbirds.

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And so we celebrate the colors of the season, even as the garden fades for another year.  This week I’ve dug Caladiums and replaced them with spring flowering bulbs, Violas, snaps and sprouting Arum lily tubers.

I’m taking up our collection of Alocasias and Colocasias, re-potting them and bringing them inside before our colder nights bite them, too.  We now have low temperatures in the 30s predicted for the next few nights, and they won’t like that.  It’s time to bring in the Begonias, as well, and I’m not looking forward to all the heavy lifting this day will require.

From an afternoon high near 80F on Thursday, we’re suddenly expecting winter-time temperatures at night.  Change is in the air this week.

But even as we turn back our clocks this weekend, so we dial back the garden, too.  Winter is a simpler, starker season, but still beautiful.  And as leaves fall and perennials die back, the Camellias shine.  Every sort of berry brightens to tempt the hungry birds, and we notice the color and texture of all of the different barks on our woodies.

A little planning and thoughtful planting now will insure color in the garden through until spring.  A gardener always has something to enjoy, and something interesting to do while enjoying the beauty surrounding us.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day

Canna

Canna

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I am joining Carol at May Dreams Gardens to celebrate what is blooming in our garden this September.  Many of us are fortunate to have something in bloom every day of the year, with a bit of planning.

September is one of our best months of the year for a wide variety of blossoms.

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The white Sage has bloomed since mid-spring when it was planted, but looks lovely set off by our fall blooming blue mist flowers.

The white Sage has bloomed since mid-spring when it was planted, and now looks even better set off by our fall blooming blue mist flowers.

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Not only have some of the spring annuals come back into bloom, but we also have those autumn perennials we wait all summer to enjoy.  Our garden is intensely fragrant this month as we enjoy both Butterfly Ginger lily and lovely white Moonflowers.

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Both offer an intensely sweet fragrance which floats across the garden, drawing one ever closer to enjoy these special flowers up close.

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Blue Mexican Sage just coming into bloom. It will bloom until frost cuts it down.

Blue Mexican Sage just coming into bloom. It will bloom until frost cuts it down.

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Our blue Mexican Sage has begun to uncurl its very first flowers of the season.  It has grown quickly from its nursery pot to give a respectable showing this year.  Assuming it can survive winter, it will be much larger next year.  Some years it returns, other years are too harsh for this marginal perennial in Zone 7.

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We continue to enjoy our Black Eyed Susans, although they are beginning to look a little spent.  Once I trim them back they will continue on through October.

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Buddleia, 'Harlequin'

Buddleia, ‘Harlequin’

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We also have drifts of our blue mist flower weaving through many areas of the garden.  Our Buddliea, ‘Harlequin’ continues to pump out flowers, as it has all summer.  It offers a small but intense purple bloom.  I enjoy it as much for its beautiful leaves as for its flowers, which attract butterflies and hummingbirds through the season.

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A rooted cutting of Coleus grows with Oxalis.

A rooted cutting of Coleus grows with Oxalis.

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The few surviving Coleus plants continue to produce tall stalks of flowers attractive to many butterlies and hummingbird.  Many of our plants have by now been shredded by squirrels.  Has this happened to you?  Systematically, one by one, squirrels have taken each plant apart.  We’ve wondered if they are drawn to the water in the plant’s stems?  They leave most of the leaves lying where they fall.

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Canna, giving its first blooms of the season.

Canna, giving its first blooms of the season.

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Our established Cannas are nearly finished for the season.  But a newly planted one, which is probably in more shade than it likes. has given its first flowers of the season this week.  It is a striking golden yellow.  I will remember to move pieces of it to a sunnier location next spring.

Also coming into bloom this month are our hardy perennial Begonias.

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I enjoy Begonias of many different types.  Most of ours come inside and bloom throughout the winter.

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But I have a special fondness for these very tough, if fragile looking hardy Begonias.  They are easy to divide and spread around, rooting easily and also producing tiny bulbs at their leaf joints.

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Hardy Begonia

Hardy Begonia

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Each little bulb can send roots into the soil and expand into a tiny plant.   I’ve learned that these survive winter much better in the ground than left in a pot.  They are late to emerge and late to bloom.  But they are very lovely in both bloom and leaf once they come into their own.

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Although each flower is a simple affair, their color is very satisfying.  Almost as lovely as the pink flowers are the pink stems of this plant.

We choose our plants with both birds and nectar loving insects in mind because we enjoy watching the many creatures drawn to our garden for food and safe haven.

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Seeds of our Butterfly tree are even more colorful than the flowers of a few weeks ago.

The seeds of our Butterfly tree are even more colorful than the flowers of a few weeks ago.

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And it is in late summer and early fall when many of summer’s flowers have faded that their seeds appear.  I often leave the flowers to go to seed, looking forward to the goldfinches and other small birds who will visit to eat from the drying flower stalks.

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Basil seeds and Echinacea seeds are a particular favorite.

And berries have also begun to form in the garden as well.  Often the berries are much showier than the original flowers, which often were quite small and plain.

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We enjoy the bright color and interesting texture the berries offer until the birds finish them.

It is nearly time to shop for autumn Violas and Snaps.  We will plant both by late September, planning to enjoy them through the winter months and into mid-spring.

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Our new Crepe Myrtle, 'Delta Jazz'

Our new Crepe Myrtle, ‘Delta Jazz’

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Autumn is an excellent month to plant winter annuals and vegetables as well as many shrubs, trees, and perennials here in Zone 7.  I’ve already been planting new Iris and several new perennials.  I will be planting a few hundred Daffodil bulbs over the coming weeks, and we planted a new Crepe Myrtle tree a few weeks ago.  It continues to bloom even as its roots settle into their new home.

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Rose of Sharon began its season of bloom in late May. It makes abundant seeds which feed our birds all winter long.

Rose of Sharon began its season of bloom in late May. It makes abundant seeds which feed our birds all winter long.

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Although winter has already visited some parts of the United States, we will enjoy warm weather for another six weeks, at least.

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Bougainvillea normally blooms in the winter in more southern climates. Ours was just beginning to bloom as we had to bring it inside for autumn last year. We are glad to have these blooms early enough to enjoy outside.

Bougainvillea normally blooms in the winter in more southern climates. Ours was just beginning to bloom as we had to bring it inside for autumn last year. We are glad to have these blooms early enough to enjoy outside.

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We normally enjoy a last blast of warm weather in early October, even after a few fall like days and cool nights in September have enticed us to anticipate the cooler days and lower humidity of autumn.  September and October are every bit as busy for us in the garden as April and May.

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Oxalis blooms here all summer.

Oxalis blooms here all summer.

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As much as we enjoy the varied foliage of our garden, our fall flowers bring great pleasure, too.  Especially as we enjoy the seeds and fruits they leave behind for the birds migrating through Virginia on their way further south.

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Daisy, almost ready to bloom this autumn.

Daisy, almost ready to bloom this autumn.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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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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Snow Washed

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Oregon Grape Holly

Snow began falling late yesterday afternoon, after a day of wind and plummeting temperatures.

"Adam's Needle" the day after the snow.

“Adam’s Needle” the day after the snow.

It began in the half-light an an early dusk, and continued on into the night.  Our lawn turned shiny white within the first hour.

The nest in the Crepe Myrtle tree, left from last summer is now filled with snow.

The nest in the Crepe Myrtle tree, left from last summer is now filled with snow.

We chose to leave up the Christmas lights on the deck and front shrubbery  in hopes of snow, and were not disappointed.  They illuminated the snowy night.

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The shrub in the foreground is Beauty Berry. You may remember it covered in tiny purple berries this autumn. Beautiful even in winter, it will get a hard pruning sometime in the coming weeks. It blooms, and produces berries, only on new wood.

All trace of clouds cleared out sometime after midnight, and  the sun rose early over a snow covered garden.

This morning dawned clear and bright, even if still bitterly cold.

This morning dawned clear and bright, even if still bitterly cold.

A coastal storm, this snow stretches down into the outer banks of North Carolina much farther than usual, and up the coast to Maine.  We ended up with about four inches here.

A few songbirds have returned to the garden, appreciative to still find seeds in the frozen Lantana bed.

A few songbirds have returned to the garden, appreciative to still find seeds in the frozen Lantana bed.

The bright sun is helping us clear walks and drive, but it won’t warm out of the 20s today.

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A general snow day has been declared across the entire area, with everyone cautioned to stay at home when possible.  Virginia is like that, at least here near the coast.  Since we don’t have snow every winter, and rarely have much fall at a time, we just aren’t prepared to handle it the way other communities might be.

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So, today is an extra day of vacation for many families .  A beautiful snow day!

Autumn fern in our garden stands up even to this winter's frigid temperatures and snow.

Autumn fern in our garden stands up even to this winter’s frigid temperatures and snow.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The first fall of snow is not only an event,
it is a magical event.
You go to bed in one kind of a world
and wake up in another quite different,
and if this is not enchantment
then where is it to be found?
J. B. Priestley

Winter Pruning

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When winter days turn warmish and dry in the afternoon, many of us like to get outside and do some small thing in the garden.

This is the perfect time to begin pruning hardwood trees and shrubs to shape them up for the coming season.  Why prune at all?

Pruned shrubs have put on new growth and buds by mid-May.

Pruned shrubs have put on new growth and buds by mid-May.

– Improve the plant’s shape and general appearance

-Control the plant’s size

-Improve the plant’s health

-Increase the plant’s vigor and bloom in the coming season

This little Crepe Myrtle put on a lot of growth after its June damage in a storm.  Now is the time to prune and shape the new growth.

This little Crepe Myrtle put on a lot of growth after its June damage in a storm. Now is the time to prune and shape the new growth.  Much of the new, twiggy growth needs to go so energy is channeled into growing a new structure for this tree.

Many small trees, like Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon, produce lots of chaotic, twiggy growth during the summer season.  With the leaves gone, we can take a moment to examine each one and determine what to leave and what to prune.

Before pruning any flowering shrub, please make sure you know whether it blooms on old wood left from the previous season, or on new wood.  Shrubs like Forsythia, Azalea, Hydrangea, and Lilacs set buds for the coming spring blooms during the previous autumn.  Any late winter pruning removes the branches set to bloom in the coming spring.  A hard pruning will sacrifice that season’s bloom.

The same Crepe Myrtle, after pruning.

The same Crepe Myrtle, after pruning.

An unpruned shrub is a confusing mass of little twigs and larger branches.  Before making the first cut, take a few moments to study the plant.  Look for its structure; the  main skeleton which gives it shape and form.  If you are new to pruning, take photos of the plant and spend some time studying them on your computer before making any pruning cuts.  As you examine the plant you’ll begin to see what should be left behind to support the new season’s growth.

Here are the general things to consider before beginning to prune any woody plant:

Size:  Is this plant at its mature size?  If a plant is still growing into itself, you want to help it develop a strong structural skeleton of branches.  Consider whether you want one main trunk with side  branches, a main trunk which forks and bushes out into several main branches as it gets taller, or whether you want a clump of main stems which branch out into a large canopy of branches.

Roses respond to pruning with abundant bloom on new wood.  These English shrub roses don't require the same hard pruning a tea rose requires.

Roses respond to pruning with abundant bloom on new wood. These English shrub roses don’t require the same hard pruning a tea rose requires.

Any time you cut the tip off of a branch, you will activate the buds lower on the branch so they grow into new lateral branches.  If you cut the tip off of a main vertical stem, two, three, or more new man stems will grow from the buds below that cut in the coming year.  A “fork” will develop, multiplying your one main stem into several.  The canopy will grow broader.

Crepe Myrtle will "sucker" with new vertical growth around the main stem.  Remove this new growth to grow a single trunk.  Leave only a few strong stems to grow as a clump.

Crepe Myrtle will “sucker” with new vertical growth around the main stem. Remove this new growth to grow a single trunk. Leave only a few strong stems to grow as a clump.

If you want to keep a clumping shrub, like Crepe Myrtle, to a single trunk; remove the new smaller vertical growth coming from the base.  If you want a ‘ clump”, remove all but the strongest few vertical stems.

If grazing deer attack your garden, as they do mine, remember to “limb up” trees as they grow so the lowest limbs are too high for the deer to reach.
This is especially important if you have any fruit trees, so tasty leaves and fruits are out of reach.  If you don’t do it, deer are attracted to graze in your garden and will do the pruning for you…

Thin Rose of Sharon, and remove seed heads at the ends of branches any time now through early March.  These shrubs bloom on new wood, so light pruning increases the number of blooms.

Thin Rose of Sharon, and remove seed heads at the ends of branches any time now through early March. These shrubs bloom on new wood, so light pruning increases the number of blooms.

Density:  Most shrubs and small trees need light to penetrate through the canopy to the interior of the shrub.  Keeping the branch structure somewhat open will increase flowering and improve the plant’s health.  Air circulation allows the plant to dry faster after a rain, reducing fungal disease.  An open structure allows strong winds to pass right through, limiting damage in storms.

Remove branches growing towards the plant’s interior.  Keep all lateral branches growing outward towards the periphery.

Where branches cross, select one to keep and one to remove.  Don’t leave branches touching one another, or crossing in the interior of the shrub.

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Very old, and damaged trees and shrubs might need heavy pruning. All damage and dead wood should be removed, then the remaining branches thinned. In extreme cases rejuvenate by cutting the tree down to a stump. New growth will come from the stump in most cases.

Where many tiny twiggy branches have grown, especially on a vertical stem, remove all but a few strong ones placed where you want new branches.  If the shrub is small, and these twiggy branches are close to the ground, you can safely remove them all.  Remove up to a third of the wood on most small trees and shrubs.

If a shrub must be pruned to keep it smaller than its natural size to fit its spot in the garden, keep in mind that every cut stimulates new growth.   Cut the main vertical stems shorter than you want the plant to be by mid-summer, since the pruning cut will stimulate new vertical growth.

This Josee Lilac is still young and requires little or no pruning.  Its buds are set in autumn and should be pruned in early summer after its first bloom.  Removing spent blossoms will cause it to rebloom several times during the summer.

This Josee Lilac is still young and requires little or no pruning. Its buds are set in autumn and so it should be pruned in early summer after its first bloom. Removing spent blossoms will cause it to rebloom several times during the summer.

It is better to remove a branch all the way back to a main stem than it is to “head it back” part way, unless you intend to stimulate new lateral branches.  If you prune off the tip, all of the buds below the tip are activated to give new branches.

Appearance:  Remove any branch or stem which is obviously dead.  Cut back any broken or damaged branches to an inch or so below the damage.  Remove or head back any branch which ruins the silhouette of the plant, or conflicts with the general lines and shape you have established.

“Dead head” seed heads left from last year’s flowers.  Remember that when you cut back a branch, you stimulate growth of new wood, and therefore new spots where flowers will emerge.

Butterfly bush, Buddhleia, blooms on new wood.  Cut the plants hard, within a foot or two of the ground, to control the shrub's size and get abundant bloom.  This shrub will continue to bloom until frost if you cut the dead flowers away throughout the summer.

Butterfly bush, Buddleia, blooms on new wood.  Cut the plants hard, within a foot or two of the ground, to control the shrub’s size and get abundant bloom. This shrub will continue to bloom until frost if you cut the dead flowers away throughout the summer.

A fine point:  Examine a branch before making the pruning cut.  Notice the tiny buds along the branch.  Choose the bud you want to stimulate to grow and make the pruning cut just above it.

January 9 pruning 007

Notice three new stems are left in addition to the original trunk of this Crepe Myrtle tree, cut off when the tree was crushed in June. I could remove all of these, but left them to form a clump to eventually hide the damage. Notice how little wood is left after pruning. All of the plant’s energy will pour into these branches in spring, and the tree will grow by several feet in the coming season.

Notice the buds are positioned all around the circumference of the branch.  Some point inwards, others outwards.  Choose a bud growing in the direction you wish the dominant new branch to grow, and cut just above this bud.  Make a diagonal, angled cut just a millimeter or so above the chosen bud.

Your newly pruned plant will look very clean and open when you are finished.  Remember this is just the plant’s skeleton.  Spring will clothe these branches not only in leaves, but also in new wood.  The shrub will fill out very quickly through spring and early summer.  Vigorous new growth is a hormonal response to pruning.  A pruned plant will actually grow larger and more vigorous in the following season.

Exceptions to the rules:

Some shrubs, such as Butterfly Bush, want to be cut back nearly to the ground.  Use heavy pruners or a small saw to cut the entire plant back to only a foot or two tall.  This is called “coppicing,” and this form of pruning is used to rejuvenate many species of shrub and tree.  New growth from the remaining trunk will be fresh and vigorous.  Butterfly Bush often grows too large for its space, and flower production declines when it is left unpruned or is pruned too lightly.  Do this in late winter, but after the worst of the freezing weather is over.

Forsythia buds were set by late autumn.  Winter pruning removes the spring flowers.  If you must trim a Forsythia back in winter, save the branches to force blooms inside in a vase of water.

Forsythia buds were set by late autumn. Winter pruning removes the spring flowers. If you must trim a Forsythia back in winter, save the branches to force blooms inside in a vase of water.

Roses are often coppiced.  Tea roses respond well to hard winter pruning, giving more blossoms on the newly grown wood.  Climbing roses and
English shrub roses shouldn’t be pruned so hard.  Shaping, removing dead or damaged wood and crossed branches are all that is required.  An old, thick rose may be rejuvenated by pruning up to a third of the older stems back to just above the bud union.  Younger plants don’t require such drastic treatment.

Spring blooming shrubs, like Forsythia, should be pruned in late spring, after they bloom.  If you do tidy up a Forsythia with light pruning in late winter, bring the pruned branches inside in a vase of water and enjoy them indoors as cut flowers.  I’ve had these forced branches eventually form roots, and have planted them outside where they grew into new shrubs.  All woody spring blooming shrubs can be forced to bloom early indoors in this way.  If you have fruit trees to prune, you might want to bring some of the branches indoors, in a vase of water, to enjoy their early blossoms.

Beauty Berry responds well when it is pruned hard in winter with abundant summer growth and flowers, followed by autumn berries.

Beauty Berry responds well when it is pruned hard in winter with abundant summer growth and flowers, followed by autumn berries.

Tools:  There are many brands and styles of hand pruners on the market.  Choose pruners which feel comfortable in your hand, have a sharp blade, and are sturdy enough to trim the shrubs you need to prune.

Keep the pruners cleaned by disinfecting the blade from time to time, and keep them sharp.  Ragged or torn cuts allow disease to enter a stem.  Make sure your pruners make clean, sharp cuts.  Use loppers or a pruning saw for larger branches.

Gather your cut branches on a tarp on in a large bag and remove them from the garden.  There are many traditional uses for larger branches.  Some may be used to build trellises, small fences, stakes, or may be used in building a raised bed.

Grape Mahonia shrubs need no pruning at all.  Their winter flowers will open sometime in the next month.  These shrubs remain compact and neat.

Grape Mahonia shrubs need no pruning at all. Their winter flowers will open sometime in the next month. These shrubs remain compact and neat.

Use or dispose of all your trimmings.  Just leaving them lying about on the ground encourages disease and insects.

Pruning can be done a little at a time over the next two months in Zone 7b.  Further north, it pays to wait until February or March so plants aren’t stimulated to grow too soon.  Further south, pruning is an ongoing task in the garden.  Winter allows us to see the bones of our gardens, and the structure of our plants.  It is a good time to shape, refine, and lay the ground work for the garden we will enjoy this coming spring.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Sumac berries are still an important food source for wildlife.  However, cut away the old to make way for new growth by early spring.

Sumac berries are still an important food source for wildlife. However, cut away the old to make way for new growth by early spring.

Savoring the Sweetness

September 24 2013 garden 034Sometimes I think the bright colors of autumn, we all look so forward to, serve to distract us from what is actually happening.  September 24 2013 garden 003

I sat in the bright, cool morning, under the intensely blue September sky, admiring the Beautyberries and reddening Dogwood leaves, hardly noticing the leaves falling from trees all around me.

A slow walk through the garden is full of tell-tale signs of the approaching winter. September 24 2013 garden 004The butterfly tree is almost bare of flowers now, its bright blue berries disappearing, too, into the mouths of hungry birds. Brown husks where Echinacea bloomed only weeks ago, grasses gone to seed, shriveled leaves on the lawn, and Coreopsis shutting down for the season all hint at the approaching winter chill.

September 24 2013 garden 010Suddenly the Pyracantha berries are turning bright orange, and the inky purple Pokeweed berries with their bright red stems shine along roadside.  We hear the “alarm geese” flying over the house each morning around 7.  The flocks keep sounding larger with each passing week.

A lonely bee is still hanging around the Pentas, Sage, and Coleus.

A lonely bee is still hanging around the Pentas, Sage, and Coleus.

We noticed quite suddenly that the butterflies have disappeared.  It seems only yesterday that they were constant companions on our walks through the garden.  We watched them flying together in wild spirals near the Lantana, covering the butterfly bushes and competing with the hummers for the tastiest blossoms.  Where did they go so suddenly?  And when did it happen?

I was thrilled to find a bee today buzzing from sage blossom to sage blossom, and another on some Pentas.  Where are the rest?  It is as if they all suddenly had their fill of nectar and disappeared, although the buffet of flowers is still generously spread out across the garden for their enjoyment.

Butterfly bush offers its seeds to the hungry birds, its flowers nearly fallen away in the advancing chill of September.

Butterfly Tree offers its seeds to the hungry birds, its flowers nearly fallen away in the advancing chill of September.

Now the garden is quiet, with only the occasional bird call.  Even the grass is growing more slowly.  We hear fewer lawn crews mowing the neighbors’ lawns, and find that our mornings are no longer scheduled around watering, buzzing and mowing.September 12 Parkway 006

It is as if the whole area is breathing a huge sigh of relief.  The humidity has evaporated, and the air is crisp.  Autumn is a restful time as nature begins to shut down and prepare for the silence of winter.  The lush green of summer is dying back to branch and soil, withering to gold and orange, and finally brown, before crumpling to the Earth.  The birds have fewer places to hide.

For so many years of my life I was too busy to notice the slow involution of September.  I was completely engrossed with my classes, whether as student or teacher.  New books to read, fresh syllabi to accomplish, students to learn, classrooms to decorate, stacks of papers and journals to go through, parents to greet, and PTA fundraisers to promote.  By the time I came up for breath summer had already slipped into full orange and brown October.  I missed the quiet beauty of September mornings and this glorious “in between” time as summer makes a graceful exit.

Sept 24 2013 pumpkins 003We bought pumpkins for the front porch today, and a huge Chrysanthemum.  The year progresses in its steady march and continuous change.  I want to savor the sweetness of September a while longer, though.  I’m not quite ready to let go of warm afternoons and the busyness of insects buzzing in the garden, crickets and frogs filling the nights with music, and morning glories in the sharp morning air.  September should be savored, like a delicious Muscadine grape: chewed slowly, tasted thoroughly and appreciated for the delicious and fleeting sweetness it offers.

September 24 2013 garden 020

All Photos by Woodland Gnome

Sept 24 2013 pumpkins 006

“Shopping” The Garden For Flowers

Sept 22 flowers 018

We all love to spend time in our gardens, but how often do you “shop” your garden for cut flowers?  Most of us have wonderful flowers and foliage every day of the year that can be re-imagined as cut flower arrangement for friends, special events, and of course our own homes.

Lantana, Pineapple mint, and Ageratum

Lantana, Pineapple mint, Rosemary, and Ageratum

We all know that most of the cut flowers offered for sale at the florist or the grocery store are flown in from another continent.  There are far too few growers here in the United States.  So just as grapes from Chile and oranges from Israel come with a “carbon cost”, so too do the pricey stems at our favorite florist.

Besides, when is the last time you smelled a deliciously sweet flower out of the florist’s cold storage?  Most flowers on the market have been hybridized for size, color, and staying power.  So many lost their fragrance along the way.

Basil and Dill

Basil and Dill

Like locally grown tomatoes, there is just something very special about locally grown flowers.  And you don’t need a special “cutting garden” to have a good supply of flowers and branches to cut.  You just need a little planning ahead and creativity.

This arrangement began with a desire to use the Beautyberry which is so intensely beautiful at the moment.  It is beautiful on its own in a vase, or mixed with something tall and airy, like Dill.  After reading the new Country Gardens magazine, I was inspired to use a pumpkin as the base for this little arrangement.

Sept 22 flowers 001To prepare to “shop” your own garden, prepare a clean container with warm water.  The stems take up warm water faster than cold, and so are better hydrated.   This is a gallon jug, rinsed, and cut to make room for lots of stems.   I added a few drops of honey, which not only feeds the blossoms, but also helps control bacteria in the water.  The other important tool is a pair of sharp pruners.  Since I gather woody branches as well as herbaceous stems, the pruners work better than scissors.Sept 22 flowers 017

First walk around to see what might be in bloom.  I was delighted to find that the Pineapple Sage had finally bloomed.  A few hydrangea blossoms sheltered under an other shrub were still fresh enough to cut.

Queen Lime Zinnias growing with Rudbeckia and African Blue Basil.

Queen Lime Zinnias growing with Rudbeckia and African Blue Basil.

I have an abundance of Rudbeckia, Queen Lime Zinnias, Basil, and Ageratum.  I also had lots of white Lantana, flowering dill, mint, and some chrysanthemums about to open.  Herbs are a wonderful choice for foliage and filler, especially if the herbs are also in bloom. One must pick and choose.  The flowers I cut actually ended up as two separate arrangements yesterday morning.

Rudbeckia, Ageratum, and a little red pepper I cut, but couldn't use this time.

Rudbeckia, Ageratum, and a little red pepper I cut, but couldn’t use this time.

Once deciding what to use, cut long stems, and remove all of the lower foliage.  Beauty berry still has all of its leaves, but they should be removed when you cut the branch.  The branch is more striking with just its berries.  Cut as early in the morning as you’re able, and allow the stems to rest in deep, warm water for several hours.  Cut more flowers than you think you’ll need.  I almost always head back out into the garden part way through for more of something.  Extra flowers can be made into something small  and will always be enjoyed  by someone.

Pineapple Sage has just come in to bloom.

Pineapple Sage has just come in to bloom.

To use a pumpkin or gourd as a container, first study it to determine how it sits, and what side is best.  You don’t have to cut it “Jack O’lantern” style.  The hole you carve can be off-center.  You can make a series of small holes around it and place just a few stems in each opening.  The pumpkin can be stacked in a basket, pot, urn, or on a larger pumpkin.  It can be set in the midst of grapevines.  I chose some little white companion pumpkins to go with my larger white pumpkin.

After opening the pumpkin, and removing the seeds, decide whether you want to hollow it out a bit and place a plastic or glass vase inside, or whether you prefer to work in crumpled chicken wire or oasis.    Oasis, like Styrofoam, is controversial since it is a chemical product.  It is what I happened to have on hand, and so I secured a half-round, pre-soaked, into the body of the cleaned pumpkin with wooden skewers.

Take inspiration from how your flowers blend in the garden.

Take inspiration from how your flowers blend in the garden.

I added warm water with honey to the cavity, and began arranging with the hydrangea blossoms first, and then the beauty berry branches.  Begin any arrangement by determining  the outer “edges” in space with your largest elements both vertically and horizontally.   I added lots of African Blue Basil next, which has blooms along with the wonderfully fragrant leaves.  Finally place the major flowers like the Zinnias and Rudbeckia, and finish with the Ageratum “filler”.  This arrangement would be viewed from all sides, so I turned it frequently so it was presentable from all angles.  At some point, “enough is enough”, and

Beautyberry, at its peak, is the inspiration for this arrangement .

Beautyberry, at its peak, is the inspiration for this arrangement .

you know it is complete.

We had a special event in our community this weekend.  Friends from our garden club made many beautiful silk arrangement to decorate our “Boutique Sale,” which were also offered for sale.  They were elegant and beautiful throughout the room.  My little pumpkin arrangement sat in our refreshment area, and went home today with a special friend as a “thank you” for her help this weekend.  It will only last a few days, but the joy in making it lasts a life-time.

The second arrangement with the dill, for home.

The second arrangement with the dill, for home.

Whether you cut a single blossom, or a bouquet, just remember that most plants respond well to “pruning”, and generally give far more flowers over the season when you harvest flowers regularly.   Cultivate a “cut and come again” garden with blooms and branches ready for harvest throughout the season.

Share with friends, family, your community, and of course, bring the beauty of your own garden into your home as often as you’re able.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013Sept 22 flowers 019

Wardrobe Change

Have you noticed the change happening all around us? Colors are growing deeper, and darker More deep burgundies, purples, orange and brown, Even the greens are getting deeper. I used to think cooler nights brought on the change; Maybe it’s also the days growing shorter. The plants in the garden want to make one last … Continue reading

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