Sunday Dinner: Imagination

Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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

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Begonia

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

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Begonias with Caladium ‘Moonlight’

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

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Caladium ‘Berries and Burgundy’

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

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Begonia ‘Flamingo’

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

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Caladium ‘Sangria’

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

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“An idea is salvation by imagination”
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Frank Lloyd Wright

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Caladium ‘Summer Breeze’

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

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Begonia

 

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Pot Shots: Bird’s Nest Fern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vase with prismatic  glaze by Denis Orton

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2018


 

 

Fabulous Friday: Shadows and Shade

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When the sun is shining and the temperature is climbing, it is time to seek shadows and shade.

Our temps here have been running 10 degrees or more above our historical ‘normal’ for better than a month.  Although school is just getting out and our high school seniors in the community graduate this weekend, it already feels like mid-summer.  You feel the burn quickly when caught out in the full sun.  And so the smartest place to spend one’s time is in the shade.

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The fern garden at the bottom of the yard holds the cool and shade we seek.  There is usually a nice breeze, and it is quiet, save for the calls of our resident birds and the hum of bees.  With tall bamboo making a dense wall on one side, and several good sized trees for shelter, we have a beautiful spot that is nearly always sheltered and shaded.

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This is where we have been planting ferns, Hellebores,  and other shade loving perennials for the past eight or so years.  It fills in a little better each year as the plants grow and spread, and as I plant up new parts of the hillside.  In fact, I just developed a large new bed this spring and the ferns are just taking hold and beginning to show new growth.

This shady area gives a great deal of textural interest, but nearly everything here grows in shades of green.  Beyond the early season Helleborus flowers and later daffodils, our shade garden glows in many shades of green, with little touches  of silver sheen on the Japanese painted fern, and the occasional burgundy stem.

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This week, the our huge voodoo lilies, Sauromatum venosum, rise over the garden so their huge, showy leaves may catch every ray of sunlight penetrating the canopy.

Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, these unique plants belong to the family of Araceae, like our own native Jack in the Pulpit.  I didn’t really intend to plant Voodoo lily in our garden.  It chose me…

On a late spring trip to Brent and Becky’s Gloucester bulb shop several years ago, the voodoo lily had already begun to grow, their elongated flower stalks breaking free of both their mesh bags and their bottom shelf bin.  A flower stalk caught my ankle as I walked by, drawing my attention.  It reminded me of past trips to the animal shelter when a kitten reaches through the bars of their cage to invite you to play with them.

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A deal was struck, and I bought a large sack full of the poor lilies, straining to escape their bags and grow.  I had to cut each plant out of its mesh bag carefully with sharp scissors to avoid damaging its bloom stalk.  I planted them in many different shady spots.

Each year they catch me by surprise, either with their huge purple flowers early, or these gargantuan leaves in early summer.  The leaves last a few weeks and then fade away.  The bulbs often divide and spread a little between one season and the next.

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I wonder, sometimes, why I don’t spend more time lingering in the shade of our wonderful fern garden.

It may be that I burn up my gardening hours watering the thirsty sun-drenched upper garden.  It may be that I get distracted photographing our pollinator visitors elsewhere, or tending to some much needed weeding or pruning where the growth is more rampant.

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There is always a long to-do list on my mind, and I feel responsible to take care of the garden chores before allowing myself to wander down here  to relax and enjoy the cool, calm beauty of it all.

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But when I finally slip down the hill to the shade, usually hose in hand, I am delighted to spend some time in the shadows, watching for turtles and enjoying the coolness and the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!

Sunday Dinner: Precisely

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“Philosophy [nature] is written
in that great book which ever is before our eyes –
– I mean the universe –
– but we cannot understand it
if we do not first learn the language
and grasp the symbols in which it is written.
The book is written in mathematical language,
and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures,
without whose help it is impossible
to comprehend a single word of it;
without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.”
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Galileo Galilei

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“Billions of years ago
there were just blobs of protoplasm;
now billions of years later
here we are.
So information has been created
and stored in our structure.
In the development of one person’s mind from childhood,
information is clearly not just accumulated
but also generated—created from connections
that were not there before”
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James Gleick

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“His way had therefore come full circle,
or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral,
following as ever no straight unbroken line,
for the rectilinear belongs only to Geometry
and not to Nature and Life.”
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Hermann Hesse

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“sacred knowledge of the cosmos
seems to be hidden within our souls
and is shown within our artwork and creative expressions.”
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Nikki Shiva

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“What if Loves are analogous to math?
First, arithmetic, then geometry and algebra,
then trig and quadratics…”
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J. Earp

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

All but the first photo are from the woodland walk at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.   The first photo is from our Forest Garden.

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“the pattern appears so ethereally,
that it is hard to remember that the shape is an attractor.
It is not just any trajectory of a dynamical system.
It is the trajectory toward which
all other trajectories converge.”
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James Gleick

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“The geometry of the things around us
creates coincidences, intersections.”
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Erri De Luca
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“If the human mind can understand the universe,
it means the human mind is fundamentally
of the same order as the divine mind.
If the human mind is of the same order as the divine mind,
then everything that appeared rational to God
as he constructed the universe,
it’s “geometry,” can also be made to appear rational
to the human understanding,
and so if we search and think hard enough,
we can find a rational explanation and underpinning for everything.
This is the fundamental proposition of science.”

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Robert Zubrin

Pot Shots: A Pop of Color

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A grouping of simple hypertufa troughs have rested here, forming the edges of a raised bed, since 2014.  I made the troughs for this purpose, and planted them that first year almost entirely in Caladiums.  A dogwood tree grows from the center of this very shady bed planted mostly with ferns and Hellebores.

Wanting year round interest with a minimum of effort, I’ve added hardy Begonia grandis, evergreen Saxifraga stolonifera, additional seedling Hellebores and various ferns in and around the pots over the seasons since.  Vinca minor and ivy volunteered themselves as groundcovers.  I have tried establishing moss around the pots, but haven’t met as much success with that as I would like.

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There isn’t much space left to add summer Caladiums anymore, especially as the ferns have filled out and the Saxifraga and Begonias continue to spread themselves around.  But I still tuck in a Caladium tuber or two each spring.  This is easiest to do as the Caladium just begins to grow, before its roots grow too large for the hole I can dig in these shallow pots.

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This is one of my favorite spots in the garden year round, now, and we will enjoy the intense pop of color the Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ offers with its intense red leaves.  I like how it plays off of the new Begonia leaves and the stipes of these ferns.

When growing over a period of years in shallow pots, it is important to feed the soil and keep it hydrated for best plant performance.  I top off these pots with some compost with the changing seasons, sprinkle in some Osmocote ever few months, and water occasionally with fish and seaweed emulsion in the mix.

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These pots on May 3, before I groomed and topped them off for the season, and before it was warm enough to plant out any Caladiums.  Dogwood petals fell like snow after several days of wind and rain.

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This composition of leafy plants holds my interest without a lot of bright flowers.  That said, we enjoy the Hellebores from January through May.

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Saxifraga stolonifera blooms this week in another shady fern bed. These perennials send out runners, and a new plant grows at the tip of each runner. The plants root when they touch moist earth. They can fill in a large area fairly quickly and bloom by their second year.

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The Saxifraga is blooming this month, and tiny pink Begonia flowers will emerge by midsummer.

The flowers here may be subtle, but the foliage in this bed really pops!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: Summer Rain

Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ glows after a rain shower.

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As the early summer rain continues to fall in fits, drizzles and passing storms, I am enjoying a rare quiet day at home, chased inside from any major gardening tasks by the weather.  The forays outside have been brief thus far today, and usually ended with me left feeling soggy from the humidity or a sudden shower.

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Ferns and hardy Begonias enjoy our damp weather.

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I woke this morning concerned about all of the little plants in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted out.  I thought of how soggy their roots must be and rushed outside to move them as needed and empty standing water that had collected overnight.

Soggy roots can mean sudden death for many plants that need a bit of air in their soil.  That set me to puttering about with pots and baskets and a few strategic transplanting jobs.

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Rose scented Pelargonium likes room for its roots to breathe.

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I am especially concerned for the Caladiums still growing on in their bins.  It is one of those tasks that gets more difficult the longer one procrastinates.  While I wait for the new ones, ordered this spring to emerge, the ones grown from over-wintered bulbs have gotten huge and leggy; their roots entangled.  But the wet soil and frequent showers give me reason to wait another day for more transplanting.

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What won’t wait is our annual dance with the bamboo grove in the ravine.  Bamboo is considered a grass, but what a stubborn and determined force of nature it as proven to be in our garden!  Though we didn’t plant it, we admire it and appreciate its beauty.

But that beauty is expected to stay within reasonable bounds.  The bamboo disagrees, determinedly marching up the slope of our garden towards the house.  It sends out small scouting sprouts ahead of its main force.  We must stay on top of these year round, as they seek to colonize every bed and pathway.  The bamboo’s main assault begins in late April, as its new stalks emerge.

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We allow a certain number of these to grow each spring, and it seems that we give up another few feet of garden to the ‘bamboo forest’ with each passing year.  What would happen if we were away in May?  Could we find the house when we returned?

Every day we seek out and remove the new bamboo stalks growing in spots we cannot allow.  The squirrels appreciate our efforts, and feast on the broken shoots we leave for them.

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And so it was that we were out early this morning, me with the pots and saucers, and attacking the new bamboo that emerged over night.  This constant stream of moisture has encouraged its audacity.

As we made another tour of the garden during a break in the rain this afternoon, my partner called me over to see one of our garden visitors.

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She was hiding under a very large sage plant.  At least I hope she was hiding, and had not dug a nest to lay her eggs.

The turtles like our garden.  We find them resting in the greenness of forgotten places, and try to always give them their peace.  They repay us by eating their share of bugs each day.

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But just as I settled in to re-plant another pot or two with Caladiums, the brief sunshine was blotted out by another passing, rain soaked cloud.  Large cold drops of rain splattered down much quicker than I expected, leaving me all wet once again.

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And so there is nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of a rainy afternoon indoors.  The coffee is made, and I’ll soon be off to enjoy a good book with the cat curled up by my feet.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

Crazy (For) Ferns

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum  ‘Applecourt’

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Who would dare find ferns boring?  Ferns are some of the craziest and most bodacious plants you’ll ever grow!  You just need an idea of which ones to choose.

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Native maidenhair fern, Adiantum x mairisii

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I enjoy all ferns, to be perfectly honest.  Even the relatively ‘plain Jane’ native Christmas ferns grow with a certain peaceful confidence that I admire.

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Polystichum acrostichoides, our native Christmas fern, earned its name because it remains green and beautiful past Christmas and into the winter months. This is a very hardy (zones 3-9), dependable fern that can tolerate a fair amount of sun, once established, and will survive a our hot, dry summers.

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And I am sure that there are those fern lovers who prefer these for their neat, regular, evenly green fronds.

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Sensitive fern. Onoclea sensibilis, peeks out from around a clump of native Mayapples.  This deciduous fern is very sensitive to cold weather, and dies back each autumn with the first frost.  Not to worry, because each year it spreads and gets a bit better in the garden.

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And that is all fine, but I am partial to ferns with interesting colors and forms.  I enjoy ferns that are a bit variable from frond to frond and plant to plant; full of surprises, you might say!

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

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The Japanese painted ferns fill the bill on both counts.  A hybrid of the ‘Lady Ferns,’ it interbreeds with other ferns fairly easily to produce some very interesting color patterns and beautifully ruffled and crested fronds.

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Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’

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Growing from just a few inches to more than several feet tall, these wonderfully surprising ferns can fill many different garden niches.

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There are lots of crazy ferns on the market these days.  There are ruffled ferns, footed ferns, staghorn ferns, hart’s tongue ferns, and even a hybrid named A. ‘Godzilla.’

I found and planted A. ‘Godzilla’ last summer, and I’m keeping a close eye on it.   It has not yet grown into its gargantuan potential.  It’s still sinking its roots and trying to feel at home in the garden.

But believe, me, when it does begin to grow crazy-big, I’ll post a photo for you.

Woodland Gnome 2018
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Sunday Dinner: Strength

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“We’re built of contradictions, all of us.
It’s those opposing forces that give us strength,
like an arch, each block pressing the next.
Give me a man whose parts are all aligned in agreement
and I’ll show you madness.
We walk a narrow path, insanity to each side.
A man without contradictions to balance him
will soon veer off.”
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Mark Lawrence

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Clematis ‘Elizabeth’

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

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“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance,
and have faith that in this love
there is a strength and a blessing so large
that you can travel as far as you wish
without having to step outside it.”
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Rainer Maria Rilke

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Peony

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“With the new day
comes new strength and new thoughts.”
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Eleanor Roosevelt

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Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’

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“It will never rain roses:
when we want to have more roses,
we must plant more roses.”
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George Eliot

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Yellow flag Iris

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance.
The wise grows it under his feet.”
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James Oppenheim
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Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’

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Happiness to all on this beautiful Mother’s Day. 
May we all find the strength and determination
to nurture beauty, wisdom,
justice and resilience
in all we touch.
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia in bloom with ferns.

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“Mastering others is strength.
Mastering oneself makes you fearless.”
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Lao Tzu

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Foxglove emerges from the shadows, from behind the oakleaf Hydrangea

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Sunday Dinner: Tranquility

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“Quiet is peace. Tranquility.
Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life.
Silence is pushing the off button.
Shutting it down. All of it.”
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Khaled Hosseini

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“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire.
Perfect tranquility within
consists in the good ordering of the mind,
the realm of your own.”
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Marcus Aurelius

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“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.
If our thoughts are peaceful, calm,
meek, and kind; then that is what our life is like.
If our attention is turned
to the circumstances in which we live,
we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts
and can have neither peace
nor tranquility.”
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Thaddeus of Vitovnica
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“Sometimes you just have to find something
to keep your body grounded,
your mind flexible, and your heart open.”
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Imania Margria
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Peace is not the absence of chaos.
It is the presence of tranquility and joy
in the midst of chaos.”
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Debasish Mridha

Pot Shots I: Viola and Fern

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This glazed ceramic pot sits by our drive and transitions through the seasons with an ever changing array of players.

The mainstay is the Japanese painted fern, which grows a bit bigger each year.  A deciduous perennial, it emerges in early April but disappears by Halloween.  I plant the Violas in early October as the fern is fading, but they will fry in early summer’s heat.  Muscari, from fall planted bulbs, join the arrangement for a brief appearance.

The pot is surrounded by Vinca minor, English ivy and Mayapples, all here of their own accord.  I’ll pop a Caladium into the pot by mid-May to carry us through the summer.

Conditions:  partial shade, enriched potting soil, gravel mulch

Woodland Gnome 2018

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