First Ginger Lilies

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Our first ginger lily of the year began opening a few days ago, wafting its intoxicatingly sweet fragrance across our garden.  These hardy perennials return year after year, growing to over 7 ft high in our garden.

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I remain grateful to our neighbor who offered to let me dig some of these beauties from her garden in the weeks before she moved.  I’d never grown these  before, and simply trusted that we would enjoy them.

We had space for them to spread, and spread they have in the years since.  This part of our garden grows dense and tropical and full of life.

Oh my!  What a treat we look forward to in late summer each year, when our ginger lilies bloom.

Getting reacquainted with their pure white flowers today has made this a Fabulous Friday, indeed.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Just remember to say THANK YOU sometimes,
for all of these everyday extraordinary gifts.”
.
Scott Stabile

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

 

 

 

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Sunday Dinner: In Color

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People observe the colors of a day

only at its beginnings and its ends,

but to me it’s quite clear that a day

merges through a multitude of shades and intonations,

with each passing moment.

A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors.

Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues.

Murky darkness.

In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. ”

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Markus Zusak

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“Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?

Can one really explain this? No.

Just as one can never learn how to paint.”

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Pablo Picasso

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“White is not a mere absence of color;

it is a shining and affirmative thing,

as fierce as red, as definite as black.

God paints in many colors;

but He never paints so gorgeously,

I had almost said so gaudily,

as when He paints in white. ”

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G.K. Chesterton

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“The world is exploding in emerald, sage,

and lusty chartreuse – neon green

with so much yellow in it.

It is an explosive green that,

if one could watch it moment by moment

throughout the day,

would grow in every dimension.”

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Amy Seidl

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“Love was a feeling completely bound up with color,

like thousands of rainbows

superimposed one on top of the other.”

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Paulo Coelho

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

*

Above:  Caladium ‘Cherry Tart’
Below:  Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’
Friends and I are trialing both of these new introductions
for Classic Caladiums of Avon Park, Florida

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“Music gives color to the air of the moment.”

.

Karl Lagerfeld

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High Water and Hurricane Lilies

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The storm, Hermine, still spins off the coast making her way, slowly and majestically, towards the northeast.  Now off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and back over open water, she gathers strength even as she loses speed.

Her winds are up, her pressure down, and she generously keeps sending rain showers our way.

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The folks on-air at the Weather Channel obviously aren’t allowed to use the ‘H’ word anymore.  They call her a ‘Post-Tropical Cyclone.’  But we know the truth.  Her winds are back up to a sustained 70 mph and her pressure is down to 29.38 inches.  That sounds like a hurricane to me.

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The James River is well out of its banks here near Jamestown.

The James River is well out of its banks here near Jamestown.

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I’m thinking of loved ones on the ‘Eastern Shore’ of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.  They pretty much sit on a little peninsula out in the Atlantic Ocean, well out of site of the mainland.

It must feel very lonely out there when a hurricane is knocking at the door.  And this one brought an overnight bag; it may spin off their coast between now and Wednesday or Thursday!

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College Creek

College Creek

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We’re far enough inland to have benefited from the rain but not had problems caused by the winds.  Our streets, wet and covered with pine tags and fallen leaves, are blessedly clear.  The few branches we’ve cleared were all small enough to pick up and toss with one hand.

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But the creeks and rivers have spilled out of their banks.  All the marshes and ditches filled and overflowing from the storm surge, reflect our low grey sky.  Flocks of birds gather and fly in great arcs above the wetlands.

They feel the change in the air, as do we, and have gathered to prepare for their autumn journeys.

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Our rain came last night, soon after dusk.  Quiet and gentle at first, we had to listen carefully to know it had begun.  It rained all night, giving life back to our desiccated  garden; and we awoke to a newly greened and wonderfully  wet world.

Plants which I thought were dried and finished plumped up and revived themselves overnight.

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This slow, gentle rain has soaked in instead of running off.  The soil is soaking it in, channeling it down, down, to the reservoirs below.

There is nothing like a prolonged drought to remind us that water is the life’s blood of every living thing.  It is that magical, precious substance which animates and sustains us all.

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Alocasia 'Sarian' grows happily here in a pot filled with Coleus.

Alocasia ‘Sarian’ grows happily here in a pot filled with Coleus.

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The ‘Hurricane Lily,’ or ‘Spider Flower’ got its name when gardeners recognized that its bloom comes on only after a heavy late summer rain.  A long dry hot spell, followed by a heavy rain, such as a tropical storm might bring, triggers growth in this unusual bulb.

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Its flowers come first in late August or September.  Carried on tall bare stems, this flower is another of the lilies commonly knows as ‘Naked Ladies.’  Long, thin Liriope like leaves will emerge in several weeks, growing through autumn and into the winter.

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Even a damp and bedraggled Ginger Lily still smells sweetly.

Even a damp and bedraggled Ginger Lily still smells sweetly.

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My intense watering, these last few weeks, of the roses and Ginger Lilies growing near our bulbs triggered their early blooming.

They didn’t wait for the hurricane to pass before they bloomed.

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September 2, 2016 York River 001

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Now, if you want to order a few bulbs for yourself, please search for ‘Lycoris radiata,’ not ‘Naked Ladies,’ as a friend told me he recently did.  There are several lilies from bulbs which bloom either before or after their leaves appear, and so have earned this descriptive moniker.  My friend suggested that his returns on the search were more interesting than he expected.  And I promised to email a link to him for ordering some bulbs….

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 005

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We’ve now enjoyed 20 hours of nearly steady rain, with more to come.  The air smells fresh and the breeze is cool.

We are quite satisfied with Hermine’s brief visit.  And we wish her well and hope she moves on out to sea, sparing our neighbors to the north any ill effects from her passing.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Mirror

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 007

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

 

 

Blossom XIV

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“Patience is the calm acceptance

that things can happen in a different order

than the one you have in mind.”

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David G. Allen

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
Blossom XII
Blossom XIV
Blossom V
BlossomVI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII

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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September 15, 2015 Begonias blooming 012

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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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September 15, 2015 Begonias blooming 002

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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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September 6, 2015 garden 011

 

Sunday Dinner: From A Different Angle

August 29, 2015 garden at dusk 046

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“The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view.

Since life is growth and motion,

a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.”

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Brooks Atkinson

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“We begin to learn wisely when we’re willing
to see world from other people’s perspective.”

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Toba Beta

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“The truth is, I can choose to view

tough times as growing times,

I can choose to see aging as seasoning

and I can choose to focus on whatever good

there is to be found in living.

I choose.  After all, it’s my point of view.”

.

Steve Goodier

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August 29, 2015 garden at dusk 044

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“Its all about perspective,

that is how you look at things.

Your own thoughts and outlook defines

whether an experience, event, situation

whatever is good or bad.

And your definition determines your response.”

.

Stella Payton

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Every Angle

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August 29, 2015 garden at dusk 045

 

Moving On

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Summer is moving on towards its climax in our garden.  I found the garden filled with butterflies this morning when I came out to water.

The butterflies we’ve watched for since April are in residence now, and flutter constantly from flower to flower, shrub to shrub; as they drink their fill of warm, sweet nectar.

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I counted five individuals on a single Lantana this morning.  When I turned around, more fluttered behind me in another flower bed.  They surrounded me as I moved around the garden, watering.

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No longer timid, they continued feeding as I approached.  They no longer fly away when my camera beeps.

I can watch them from the window above my kitchen sink.  In fact, I would say that every window opens out onto views of butterflies moving on from one flower to another.  One may get lost in simply watching them; a voyeur of sorts, hypnotized by butterfly wings.

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August 20, 2015 butterflies 005~

Perhaps they are the ones entranced.  There is a rich buffet of flowers beckoning them to feed:  Lantana and Butterfly Bush, Rose of Sharon, mints and Sage, Echinacea, Zinnia, Monarda, Rudbeckia, Hibiscus.

The litany of sweet flowers goes on and on in the August garden.  Butterflies float from flower to flower almost like devotees fingering prayer beads.

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Lycoris radiata

Lycoris radiata

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Two new flowers have come into bloom this week, which signal our shift towards autumn. The Lycoris radiata never appear before mid-August; timed with the onset of our hurricane season.

The ginger lilies also begin their bloom towards the end of August, just as Labor Day draws close each year.

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White Butterfly Ginger Lily coming into bloom

White Butterfly Ginger Lily coming into bloom

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We have a crescendo of growth now, in this third week of August.  Cannas and ginger lily tower over our heads.  Colocasia leaves reach gigantic proportions in the shade.  Ferns grow tall and Begonia flowers emerge thick and vivid from their canes.

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This is the season where wishes materialize, beautifully fulfilled.  The garden crawls with life, never silent and never still.

Newborn blue tailed lizards skitter up the wall above the hose.  Cicadas whir and bump in the border.  Birds call to one another as wind rustles through the tall stems of lily and Canna.

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August 15, 2015 Gardens 011

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And butterflies float by silently, above it all, moving on in search of the next nectar filled flower in their never ending quest for summer’s sweetness.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Summer Spreaders

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

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

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Is there a large area in your garden which you would like to fill with plants with a minimum investment of cost and effort?

Many of us have large areas to tend, and welcome plants which make themselves at home, colonizing the surrounding real estate.  If we like a single specimen, we might also enjoy a larger area filled with the same plant.

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Colocasia growing with Canna lily

Colocasia ‘China Pink’  growing with Canna lily and hardy Hibiscus.

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One way to accomplish this is by buying multiples of a single plant to begin with; say seven or nine or thirteen pots of the same cultivar, planted together in a large bed.  If your budget doesn’t allow such a splurge very often, consider buying plants which spread themselves around in a fairly short time.

Most of these spreading plants grow radiating stems which creep along just under or just above the ground.

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A new plant begins to grow from a Colocasia runner.

A new plant begins to grow from a Colocasia runner.

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As the stems grow away from the original plant, they send up new sets of leaves some distance away, and root at that spot to form an entirely new plant.

Over time, each of these new plants will send out its own runners.

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August 5, 2015 butterflies 017~

The new plants can be cut away and replanted elsewhere or allowed to grow in place, thus expanding the original planting.

Many plants spread themselves in this way, eventually forming dense colonies.  Some begin to crowd themselves out after a year or two and appreciate thinning.  Others may be left alone indefinitely.

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Clumping Hazel trees form the backdrop to this bed filled with hardy Colocasia and Canna lilies.

Clumping Hazel trees form the backdrop to this bed filled with hardy Colocasia and Canna lilies.  The  bed was planted this spring from divisions of established plants.

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In fact, many of the plants we consider ‘invasive weeds,’ like wild strawberry and crabgrass, spread themselves in this way.  Leaving any part of the plant in the ground when weeding may result in a new plant cropping up in a matter of days.

One of my current favorite plants for covering large areas with interesting foliage is  Colocasia, or Elephant Ear.  These are marginally hardy here in Zone 7.  Some cultivars have returned for us while others have died out over the winter.

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August 2, 2015 garden 018

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Winter hardiness is an important consideration when choosing a plant to spread.  While a tender plant allows one to easily change one’s mind after the growing season; a hardy plant will most likely become a permanent fixture in the garden.  It pays to do plenty of research into the plant’s needs and habits before making that initial investment to bring it home to the garden.

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C. Black Magic growing in 2014

C. Black Magic, growing in 2014, did not survive our winter.

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Of the several Colocasia cultivars I planted last summer, only two proved hardy in our garden.  The species, C. Esculenta and C. “Pink China” survived our winter.  While the species hasn’t spread beyond its immediate area, C. “Pink China” has spread prolifically this year.  I moved several plants to a new area this spring and they have all sent out runners as well.

One of the cultivars which didn’t survive our winter was C. “Black Runner,” prized for its ability to spread.  Although Plant Delights nursery indicated it is hardy to our Zone 7B, only those plants I kept in pots in the basement survived the winter.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily comes into bloom in late August in our garden.

Butterfly Ginger Lily comes into bloom in late August in our garden.  It is very fragrant, perfuming this whole area of the garden for more than a month.

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Three large, spreading plants we enjoy in the summer garden are the Colocasia, Canna lily, and our hardy Butterfly Ginger Lily.

Our first ginger lily, Hedychium coronarium, came as a gift from a neighbor as she prepared to move.  She allowed me to dig roots from her garden and I happily replanted them  in a new bed near our driveway.  These plants die back to the ground each winter, and then grow to around 6′ tall each summer before blooming at the end of the season.  Their fragrant blooms keep coming until a heavy frost.

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Our first Lycoris of the season blooms beside stems of ginger lily. These create a thick, creeping mat and must be dug each season to keep them in bounds.

Our first Lycoris of the season blooms beside stems of Ginger Lily. The Ginger Lily create a thick, creeping mat and must be thinned each season to keep them in bounds.

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I’ve since dug up roots to share and to spread to a wider area of the garden.  The stems grow very densely together and make a good screen for about half of the year.

Most of our Canna lily were also a gift from a gardening friend.  She brought me a grocery sack of roots dug from her garden late in the summer we lost several tall oaks, transforming our very shady garden to nearly full sun.   Although I planted the roots with several feet between each, they have grown to form dense clumps in just two summers.  The named cultivars with more ornamental leaves planted last year have not proven nearly as prolific in their growth.

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A new bamboo 'shoot' emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

A new bamboo ‘shoot’ emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

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Bamboo, another spreading giant, already grew at the bottom of our garden when we arrived.  Technically a grass, its rhizomes now cover much of our lower garden.  We are surprised each spring to see where the new stems emerge.  We promptly break these off when they emerge out of boundaries for the bamboo.

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Bearded Iris spread easily when planted in full sun with moist, reasonable soil. They may be allowed to grow into large clumps, or divided and spread around.

Bearded Iris spread easily when planted in full sun with moist, reasonable soil. They may be allowed to grow into large clumps, or divided and spread around.  This is I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ which blooms reliable again each fall.  I’ll shortly be digging these to share with our next door neighbor.

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We enjoy several other hardy perennials which spread over time, although on a much smaller scale than these lovely giants.

German Bearded Iris quickly grow to form large clumps when they are happy with the light and soil.  They prefer full sun and reasonable soil.

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Iris rhizomes may be divided into small pieces, as long as each piece has at least one root.

Iris rhizomes may be divided into small pieces, as long as each piece has at least one root.  They are planted shallowly so the rhizome remains visible above the soil.

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Iris must be divided every few years as their rhizomes age and play out after a while.  We grow mostly re-blooming Iris, which offer two seasons of blooms each year.

Daylilies will clump and spread as well, as will many species of Rudbeckia.

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The large fern in the blue pot is my favorite tender lady fern, which spreads its self around generously. Most ferns spread by rhizomes, gradually growing larger and larger each year.

The large fern in the blue pot is my favorite tender lady fern, which spreads its self around generously. Most ferns spread by rhizomes, gradually growing larger and larger each year.

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Many ferns spread by rhizomes growing at or just below the soil’s surface.  The Japanese ferns and various “walking ferns” are especially good at covering real estate.

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July 21, 2015 garden midday 010

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One of my tender lady ferns is especially prolific at spreading it self around a hanging basket or pot and may be divided again and again without harming the original plant.

Many plants sold as ‘ground cover,’ like Ajuga, quickly spread out to carpet large areas of the garden.

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Ajuga, which forms a dense ground cover in one of our beds.

Ajuga, which forms a dense ground cover in one of our beds.

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Vines, like Creeping Jenny and Periwinkle, or Vinca minor can root at each leaf node, spreading themselves out indefinitely.  Although only a few inches high, these plants spread quickly to offer large areas of uniform coverage in beds and under shrubs.

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Creeping Jenny, easy to divide and transplant, grows quickly into a densly matted ground cover.

Creeping Jenny, easy to divide and transplant, grows quickly into a densly matted ground cover.  Here it is interplanted with a hardy Sedum.

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Many succulent varieties offer the same rapid spread through their rooting stems.  These make good ground cover for pots as well as in rock gardens or sunny beds.

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August 13, 2015 spreaders 001

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Members of the mint family, including Monarda and Lemon Balm,  remain notorious for quickly spreading to cover as much territory as possible.  Because their runners travel both above and below ground, one must be ruthless to yank out rooted stems growing beyond their boundaries.

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Pineapple mint

Pineapple mint

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Shrubs, and even some trees, will increase through spreading rhizomes, as well.  Hazel, Forsythia, Sumac, Lilac, Crepe Myrtle, some Figs and many sorts of berry bushes will quickly form large clumps.

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Crepe Myrtle tend to sucker and slowly spread. Lovely and prolific, many gardeners allow them to grow into a large area each year. This one has returned from its roots after being broken down in a 2013 storm.

Crepe Myrtle tends to sucker and slowly spread. Lovely and prolific, many gardeners allow them to grow into a large area each year. This one has returned from its roots after being broken down in a 2013 storm.

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This ability to generate new plants, clones of the original, from spreading stems may be desirable to you or not; depending on your situation.  If you have space to allow the expansion these new plants can be a blessing.  If you are gardening in cramped quarters, the spreading tendencies of many plants may become a nuisance.

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Strawberry Begonia spreads prolifically with long runners, tipped with baby plants which will root wherever they touch the soil.

Strawberry Begonia spreads prolifically with long runners, tipped with baby plants which will root wherever they touch the soil.  An attractive foliage plant, they bloom in the spring.

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It helps to have gardening buddies who are willing to receive extra plants, as well as those who will share free plants with us.  Some of our favorite plants came as gifts from generous and loving friends.

And we appreciate the prolific growth of our favorite plants each summer when they fill our garden with beautiful leaves and fragrant flowers.

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Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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July 4, 2015 Jamestown 090

 

 

“Leave It Be”

November 22, 2014 frost 002

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“Leave it be.”  Words I heard with some frequency growing up….

And this simple bit of advice is often just the wisdom needed whether baking, navigating relationships, or preparing the garden for winter.

“Leave it be” insists that we quiet our strong urge to interfere with the already unfolding process.  It asks us to step back and observe; to allow for a a solution other than our own.

 

November 22, 2014 frost 007

My mother’s pound cake recipe includes the instruction to leave the oven door closed for the first 75 minutes of baking.  Opening the door too early changes the texture and rise of the cake.  Once in the oven, you must leave the cake be until the very last few minutes of its total cooking time.  You have to trust the process, and resist the urge to constantly check on it or admire it.

First time mothers soon learn the value of this wisdom, too.  When a baby is sleeping, you leave them alone to rest while you enjoy those few minutes of peace.  When a toddler is happily (and safely) playing, it is best to observe without interrupting the flow of play.

And so it is with a garden at the onset of winter. 

The urge is strong for some to tidy up the leaves as they fall, to cut back perennials as soon as they fade, to pull out the annuals as soon as they freeze, and maybe even prune back shrubby trees as soon as their leaves are gone.

And while some neighbors and neighborhoods might expect this level of neatness, it isn’t Nature’s Way. 

 

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

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Letting our gardens take their time to die back and settle into winter allows nature to recycle and re-purpose in interesting ways.

Leaving organic materials in place also helps insulate our marginal plants to give them a better chance to survive the winter ahead.

It isn’t so much that you avoid the fall clean up chores, just that you strategically tweak the timing of when you do them….

Here are some of those things we intend to “Leave be” for the time being, and why:

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HIbiscus seeds.  I'll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.

HIbiscus seeds pods. I’ll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.  These look especially pretty coated in snow.

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Seed Heads provide important food for birds and other wild things.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks.  This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks. This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

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Basil and Echinacea seeds always attract goldfinches.  None of those seeds will be wasted when left in the garden.  So I delay pulling out frozen Basil plants as long as possible into late winter.

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Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

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I won’t cut back any of the seed bearing perennial stems until I’m fairly satisfied they’ve been picked clean.  When I do finally clear up, the plant skeletons will get tossed into the ravine where they can decompose, enriching the soil.

Fallen leaves serve many useful purposes.  Blown into piles at the bases of shrubs they serve as insulation from the cold.  They help conserve moisture as a natural mulch.  As they decompose they add nitrogen and many other nutrients back into the soil.  How often have you seen someone bag their leaves for the trash, then buy bags of mulch and fertilizer for their garden?

Chopped or shredded leaves offer one of the best ammendments to improve the health and texture of the soil.  Leaf mulch attracts earthworms.  Earthworms enrich the soil wherever they burrow.

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Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves.  I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.

Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves. I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.  These new fallen leaves will get shredded one day soon.

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Leaf mulch also encourages the growth of mycelium,.  Mycelium, which is the permanent part of a fungus,  decompose organic matter in the soil, thus  freeing up the nutrients for use by plants.

They improve the texture of soil, and help nearby plants absorb water and nutrients more efficiently.  You might have noticed white threadlike structures growing in soil, or under a pile of leaves.  These are mycellium, and are always a good sign of healthy soil.

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We rake our leaves only enough to make them accessible for the lawn mower or leaf vacuum.   Once shredded, we pour them onto the ground wherever we need some winter insulation or want to improve the soil.  I always pour shredded leaves around our Mountain Laurels, Azaleas,  and around newly planted shrubs.

Marginal tropicals, like Canna and ginger lily, and our Colocasias,  react very quickly to freezing temperatures.  All of the above ground herbaceous stems and leave immediately die back.  What a mess!

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What remains of the Cannas

What remains of the Cannas

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But the tubers are still alive underground.  Cutting the stem now leaves a gaping wound where cold and moisture can enter, potentially killing the tubers before spring.

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Elephant ears, Colocasia, can't survive freezing weather.  But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

Elephant ears, Colocasia, can’t survive freezing weather. But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

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Allowing the plants to remain uncut, eventually falling back to the ground, provides insulation for the tubers and protects them from ice and cold rain.

The frozen stalks must be cleaned up by the time new growth begins, but I believe leaving them in place over the winter helps protect the plants.

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The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.  Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.   Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

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Another marginal perennial, Lantana, isn’t reliably hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  Further south, these plants grow into large shrubs.  Most Virginia gardeners treat them like annuals.

We’ve learned that left alone, Lantana regularly survive winter in our garden.  Cutting back their woody branches too early allows cold to penetrate to the roots, killing the plant.

Leaving these woody plants standing after the flowers and leave are killed by frost gives the roots an opportunity to survive.  The roots grow very deep, and generally will survive if the plant was able to establish during the previous summer.

Although we cut back Lantana in late March or early April, new growth often won’t appear until the first week of May.

Even perennial herbs, like lavender and rosemary survive winter with less damage when left alone.

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Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

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Prune lavender now and it will probably be dead by April.  Leave it be now, prune  lightly in March, and the plant will throw out abundant new growth.

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Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter.  Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter. Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

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Trees and shrubs which need pruning will potentially suffer more winter “die back” when pruned too early.  For one thing, pruning stimulates growth.

 

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Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring.  Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring. Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

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Roses pruned hard in fall will likely start growing again too soon, and that new growth is tender and likely to freeze.

Pruning flowering shrubs like Buddleia and Rose of Sharon in early winter leaves wounds, which will be affected by the cold more easily than a hardened stem.

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Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds.  These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds. These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

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Leave pruning chores, even on fruit trees and other woody trees or shrubs until after the first of the year.  Allow the plant to go fully dormant before removing wood.  I prefer to leave pruning until February.

Our gardens depend on a rich web of relationships between bacteria, fungus, insects, worms, and decaying organic matter in the soil for their vitality.   Plants grow best in soil which supports a vibrant ecosystem of microbes and invertebrates.

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The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice "growing" out of our Pineapple Sage stems.  The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice “growing” out of our Pineapple Sage stems. The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

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I believe that “leaving the soil be” is one of the smartest things a gardener can do.  Pile on the organic matter, but resist the urge to dig and turn the soil.  Spread mulch, but disturb the structure of the soil only when absolutely necessary to plant.

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November 22, 2014 frost 053

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Here are a few tasks, for those who want to get out and work in the garden, which you can enjoy this time of year:

1.  Shred and spread the leaves which fall near the house.  We have to sweep  copious piles of leaves which gather on our deck and patio and catch in the gutters.  Sweeping and shredding these a few times each season provides lots of free mulch.

2.  Cut the grass a final time after the leaves are falling.  The green grass clippings mix nicely with the brown leaves to speed along composting.  We catch the trimmings in a bag and spread it where needed.

3.  Plant bulbs until the ground is frozen.  Bulbs have gone on sale in many shops and can be had for a fraction of their September price.    Plant a wide variety for many weeks of spring flowers.

4.  Remodel those pots which will stay outside all winter. 

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November 12, 2014 golden day 168

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Pull out the annuals as they freeze and either plant hardy plants in their place, or make arrangements with branches, pine cones, and moss to keep those pots pretty.

5.  Pick up nuts, acorns, pine cones and fallen branches for winter arrangements and wreathes.  Cut overgrown grape or honeysuckle vines and weave them into wreath bases.    Cut and condition evergreen branches for use on wreathes and in arrangements.

6.  Sow seeds which need winter’s cold to germinate.  Broadcast the seeds where you intend for them to grow, or sow in flats which remain outside all winter.  Columbine and many other wildflowers require this winter stratification to germinate well.

7.  Take photos of the garden.  Photograph everything, and then review the photos over the winter as you make plans for spring purchases, plantings, and renovations.

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November 22, 2014 frost 006

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8.  Prepare new garden beds with “sheet composting.”  Mark where a new vegetable, flower, or shrub bed  will be planted next spring, and cover the entire area with sheets of newspaper or brown paper bags to kill any grass and weeds there now.

Pile shredded leaves, grass clippings, twigs and wood chips, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, banana peels, and shredded shredded newspaper on the area all winter long.  These materials will slowly decompose.  Cover the whole area with a few inches of good compost or top soil a few weeks before you plan to plant.

Add edging around the bed, and it is ready for spring planting.  The materials in your “sheet compost” will continue decomposing over the next year or so, feeding your new garden bed.

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November 22, 2014 frost 008

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Working with nature always proves easier than working at cross purposes with her. 

She can make our chores lighter and our gardens more abundant when we understand her ways.

When you understand the wisdom of, ‘Let it be,” you will find that nature does much of the heavy work for you, if just given enough time and space.

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November 22, 2014 frost 009

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The Last Day Before Frost

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We definitely expect a freeze by tomorrow night.

We feel it coming in the wind blowing through the garden.  With our high for today in the low 50s, we know it will drop quickly from here on.

The winter storm which has so much of the country in its icy grip is blowing into Williamsburg this weekend.

 

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

 

With so much of the country under snow, and threat of snow, we can hardly complain about a mid-November frost.

But the day is still tinged with a bit of  sadness.  Sadness, and motivation to take care of everything we possibly can before the cold settles in this evening.

 

The African Blue Basil may be tough,but it isn't cold hardy.  it will die with when it freezes here.

The African Blue Basil may be tough, but it isn’t cold hardy.  It will die with the first heavy frost.  We still see bees and butterflies.  We hope they find shelter or fly south today.

 

After making the coffee this morning, I set about bringing in those last few pots of tender perennials.

I’ve filled every possible spot now in the house and garage with overwintering plants.  The main body of them in the garage  got re-arranged this morning to make room for a few more pots.

 

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

 

Even the brave Bougainvillea, which only started blooming in mid- October, finally made the journey from patio to garage this morning.

 

Our three year old Bouganvillia has waited until this week to begin its season of bloom.

Our three year old Bougainvillea has waited until October to bloom.  It came back into the garage this morning, covered in bright cherry flowers.

 

And the supposedly hardy “Pewter” Begonia got brought in to the garage, as well.  Its leaves are so pretty, I hate to let it go to the frost.

A pot of tender ferns, a few more pots of tender succulents, and a final mish-mash pot of Begonia cuttings completed the morning’s efforts.

 

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns have a snug spot by a basement window.

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns now have a snug spot by a basement window.

 

My ever patient partner assisted (supervised) this final effort until getting called away to assist a neighbor.  And from there to another neighbor’s yard, and then to another.

His work out may have been more strenuous than mine, but we all now have covered outside faucets, covered foundation vents, and we’re as ready as we can be for the prolonged stretch of  cold ahead.

 

This winter I'm using watering globes to care for the indoor plants.  Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.

This winter I’m using watering globes to care for the indoor plants. Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.  The fern hasn’t yet adjusted to the drier inside air.

 

And at noon our local weather guy confided that we may have some “Bay effect snow” by Saturday morning.

That seems to be the way our forecasts evolve around here.  They prepare you for a little change, and then the forecast continues to shift towards the extremes as the system progresses.

We are promised only rain this evening.  And I can feel the falling barometer and approaching storm in all of the usual places….

 

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

 

 

But we have today to enjoy the garden before Frost’s icy fingers have their way with it.  I’ve moved all those things for which there is simply no spot inside up against a brick wall on the patio.

Petunias survived there two winters ago.

Our sheltered patio provides a microclimate which stays warmer during the winter.  Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

Our sheltered patio provides a micro-climate which stays warmer during the winter. Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

 

They began blooming again in February, and just kept going right on through the following summer.  That gives me hope that the few geraniums and succulents I couldn’t bring in have a chance to survive.

And the little olive trees I’ve been nurturing along in pots should make it there, too.

 

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies have managed fine in our cool nights.  They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies and Canna lilies have managed fine in our cool nights. They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

 

I’ve read they are growing olives in parts of England, now.  I hope these are hardy enough to survive our winter outside, in this sheltered spot.

They traveled in and out, as the weather shifted, last winter.  It got to be quite a chore, but the olive trees  were in much smaller pots then, too.

 

November 12, 2014 golden day 194

 

And the many Violas we’ve planted will be fine.  They will shrug off the cold.

We’ve planted lots of ornamental kale, a pot of Swiss chard, hardy ferns, bulbs, and our beloved Violas.

Our garden will continue through the winter, even though much will go with  the coming  frost.

 

Camellia

Camellia

 

 

So, we are bracing ourselves for what we’ll find Saturday morning.

The landscape continue to edit and simplify itself.  As the brilliant leaves  fall from their branches, so will our Ginger lilies and Cannas also crumple to the ground.

 

Iris "Rosalie Figge" normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg.  This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

Iris “Rosalie Figge” normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg. This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

 

 

The bright Salvias will shrivel back to the soil.  The Lantana will lose its leaves, though the berries will remain until cleaned up by the birds.

Basil will freeze beside the stalwart Rosemary, which grows and blooms all winter long.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won't survive a freeze.  But its roots are hardy.  It should return in this pot by early summer.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won’t survive a freeze. But its roots are hardy. It should return in this pot early next summer.

 

The last of autumn’s roses will soon freeze, but the Camellias will continue to bloom until spring.

 

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold.  We'll enjoy them a few more days inside.

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold. We’ll enjoy them a few more days inside.

 

It is the way of things, this annual turning of the seasons. 

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds.  Only a few remain.

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds. Only a few remain.

 

Something is always coming on, and something is always fading in the garden.    And we are endlessly fascinated as we witness the changes which come each and every day.

 

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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