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.

 

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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

 

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Holiday Wreath Challenge

Autumn Flowers

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Our garden remains full of flowers. 

Allysum, planted early in April, has bloomed for seven months now.

Allysum, planted early in April, has bloomed for seven months now.

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Some, like Allysum, have bloomed since we set them out in early April.  Others, like our Camellias, have only just begun their season.

 

These Camellias bloom each autumn, and continue producing buds until early spring.

These Camellias bloom each autumn, and continue producing buds until early spring.  We are at the northern edge of their hardiness zone.

 

I’m grateful to our faithful annuals which have soldiered on, month after month, covering themselves in flowers.  If the weather never shifted, I wonder how long they would go on….

Begonias

Begonias

But we are in that unpredictable  time of transition  from heat to cold.

It was nearly 80 yesterday.  But the nights grow cold.  We’ve already needed to turn the heat on a few times this season.

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

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

 

Frost may come any time now; or it may wait until sometime in December to pay its first call.

Ginger Lily, entering its third month of bloom, will crumple to the ground with the first frost.  This variety is hardy here, and returns each spring.

Ginger Lily, entering its third month of bloom, will crumple to the ground with the first frost. This variety is hardy here, and returns each spring.

 

We’ve prepared the permanent winter shelter for our pots and baskets.  I’ve swept the garage and spread the holding area in plastic tablecloths.

 

Begonia, "Flamingo," grown from a stem stuck in the soil in early summer must come inside by Saturday.  The Caladiums have fallen, and must be lifted if they are to survive.

Begonia, “Flamingo,” grown from a stem stuck in the soil in early summer must come inside by Saturday. The Caladiums have fallen for the season, and must be lifted if they are to survive.

 

New this year is a line of buckets, also sitting on plastic, ready to hold then hanging baskets when I bring them in on Saturday.

The forecast promises night time lows in the 40s by the weekend….

 

Comphrey has bloomed continually now since early spring.  This perennial herb is one of the first to emerge in the spring garden.

Comfrey has bloomed continually now since early April.   This perennial herb is one of the first to emerge in the spring garden.

 

Procrastination stays my hand each time I think to move them all inside.

They grow so beautifully in this Indian summer.

 

Camellia susanqua

Camellia sasanqua

 

I want to wait as long as possible, giving them every sunny day I can.

 

Another of our many potted BEgonias which won't survive the weekend if left outside....

Another of our many potted Begonias which likely won’t survive the weekend if left outside….

 

And now each warm day, each warm night, is acknowledged  as a gift.  Each new blossom savored.  Each bee and butterfly blessed.

 

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Even as the solid green of a Virginia summer gives way to crimson and yellow, brown and orange; we see the daily changes quietly creeping through the garden.

 

Redbud has now turned golden.

Redbud has now turned golden.

 

Autumn rolls into our garden like a great, relentless wave.

 

Pyracantha berries

Pyracantha berries

 

We hear it in the early morning calls of geese and the chatter of flocking starlings.

 

Roots of our Beech

Roots of our Beech

 

We smell it in the wet Earth.

We feel the sharpness of early morning when we first go outside, and see skeletons of trees appearing here and there, leaves blown away in the night.

October 15, 2014 garden at dusk 008

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Ginger Lily

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Our Ginger Lilies began to bloom late yesterday afternoon.  Their perfume fills this area of the garden  with an aroma reminiscent of Easter lily or rich honeysuckle.

We’ve waited all summer for the pleasure of their blooming, and our stand of lilies is filled with buds, ready to burst open in the warmth of late summer.

Ginger Lilies grow from rhizomes.  These were a gift from a neighbor’s garden, and are hardy here in Zone 7.

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Many cultivars need warmer winters than Virginia offers, but these lilies  have survived and multiplied every year, creeping beyond their original bed.

These are called “Hardy White Butterfly Ginger Lily”,  Hedychium coronarium,  in the Plant Delights catalog, and grow to between 5′ and 6′ tall.

Aggressive growers, this stand of lily has grown thick and tall.  Like a field of corn, it offers a formidable barrier.  Make up your mind where you would like a permanent display before you plant the first tuber, because they aren’t easy to relocate once established.

The rhizomes are thick and tough.

I tried to dig out a few of these which were growing too far forward this spring, into the roses’ territory.  It was a tough job, and I didn’t get all of the sprouting rhizomes I should have dug.

You can dig enough to spread these around once established, but I would recommend a backhoe if you decide to reclaim the garden bed for other plants.

 

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But what a sweet problem to have!  These Ginger Lilies are one of our favorite flowers in the garden.

We are so appreciative to the neighbor who shared them with us.  We will enjoy a constant supply of white fragrant blossoms from now until a heavy frost.  These are one of the sweetest joys of late summer in our garden.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Pass Along Plants:  Ginger Lily (Forest Garden, 2013)

The Wonder of the Rhizome

Bird's nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex

Bird’s nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex sending up new leaves.

A rhizome, technically a stem, grows just at the surface, or slightly underground; sending roots down into the soil and leaves up into the light.

Many plants grow from rhizomes.

Have you eaten ginger?  Ginger is a rhizome, and the ginger you purchase at the grocery can be planted and grown into a new plant by placing it on the surface of some good dirt, adding just a little dusting of soil on top, and watering it in.  Within a few weeks roots will grow and leaves emerge from the piece of ginger rhizome.

Many of the most beautiful Begonias grow from rhizomes. 

And like a piece of ginger, the rhizome may go dormant for a period of time before suddenly producing new leaves and beginning to grow.

When you buy a Rex Begonia for its gorgeous leaves, it is growing from a little rhizome.

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I purchased this bird’s nest fern and a little Begonia at Lowe’s back in the winter, and potted them up in a big bowl for a winter centerpiece on my dining table.  We enjoyed them all winter, but the Begonia struggled along while the fern took off.

I moved them both into a nursery pot and set them outside in early summer.  The Begonia had lost its last leaf by this time, and I had no way to tell whether it was alive or dead.

But look!  The rhizome survived, and has begun to grow again and produce new leaves.

Here is another rhizomatous Begonia which has gone completely dormant twice now, and then has suddenly sprung back into growth.

I love the leaves on this one for their silvery sheen.

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Rhizomatous Begonias grow extremely well in the shade.  That said, they grow much better outside than inside.

Many of these special Begonias are winter bloomers, and will begin blooming, when they are happy, in January or February.  They need bright light inside to bloom, but love a shady and sheltered spot outside in the summer.

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

 

We had actually given up on this one for dead last spring, and chucked the contents of its pot under a shrub.  I was thrilled to find it alive and leafing out several weeks later.

It grew happily under an Azalea all last summer, and survived most of the winter potted, indoors by a window.

By April it looked like it was dieing back, and so I moved it outside, and out of its pot, into the Earth.  It perked up within a few weeks, and looks lush and happy again.

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Because a rhizome sends out both roots and stems, it can be broken into smaller pieces and each replanted.

The rhizome grows longer over time, as it stores food for the plant; sometimes branching out to cover more ground.  It can grow  pretty quickly into a large plant.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern.  This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot.  I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern. This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot. I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

 

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  German Iris grow from rhizomes.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend.  These can be divided and spread each spring.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend. These can be divided and spread each spring.

Canna lilies and ginger lilies grow from rhizomes.

Plants which grow from rhizomes can be easily divided to increase your stock.

 

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Each little piece of the rhizome has the potential to grow into a new plant identical to the original one.

Most plants growing from a rhizome need to dry out a little between waterings.  Too much water can cause the rhizome to rot, which will kill the plant.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes. They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

 

Watch the leaves to know when more water is needed, but in general let the surface of the soil dry a bit between drinks.  Some, like iris, are very drought tolerant.

A rhizome is a wonderful adaptation which allows a plant to wait out poor conditions without dieing, so it can grow again when conditions improve.

And it is a wonderful thing for a gardener to realize that a plant thought dead was only dormant, and has begun to grow yet again!

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

Scarlet Mallow

Hibiscus coccineus

Hibiscus coccineus

 

This gorgeous scarlet flower caught my eye today.

It is the first blossom to open on the Scarlet Mallow, Hibiscus coccineus, we purchased at the Williamsburg  Farmer’s Market in May.

The beautiful, deeply cut foliage drew my attention at the market.  Almost lacy, like some Japanese Maple leaves, it appealed to me.

 

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The plant wasn’t even in bud yet, but I knew a native Hibiscus would work in the border. no matter what color the bloom.

So I bought it on impulse and brought it home to the garden.

When the Japanese beetles attacked the Cannas and other Hibiscus, they left this one alone.  It’s quietly grown into its spot without drawing too much attention to itself…. until today!

Wow!  What a huge, elegant flower!

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Native in the deep south, Scarlet Mallow is hardy north to Zone 6b.

It can eventually grow to 8′ high, though it dies back to the ground each winter.  The plant is upright and sturdy.

It prefers wet soil, and will even tolerate flooding.  No chance of flooding where it is planted in our garden, but it is on the downhill portion of a slope and will catch run off in a heavy rain.  Like all Hibiscus, it appreciates full sun.

As a native, this plant will pretty much grow itself.  I’ve given it compost and a little Plant Tone thus far.  The deer have grazed around it, but have left it untouched.

I hope it is self- fertile and the seeds it produces will sprout.  I plan to gather the seeds when they ripen this fall and sow them, hoping for more of these gorgeous plants.

Scarlet Mallow grows near Azalea and Ginger lily.  The Ginger Lily will come into bloom soon with huge white flowers.

Scarlet Mallow grows near Azalea and Ginger lily. The Ginger Lily will come into bloom soon with huge white flowers.

If you’d like to grow Scarlet Mallow in your own garden, it is available at Plant Delights Nursery.

You will likely see more photos of these gorgeous flowers as the season progresses, so I hope you like them.

They inspired me to  look for “red” around the garden, and so here is a bit more of the scarlet found in our garden today.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Hardy HIbiscus

Elephant Ears: Always More to Learn

Colocasia Esculenta, purchased as a tuber from Easy To Grow Bulbs this March.

Colocasia Esculenta, purchased as a tuber from Easy To Grow Bulbs this March.  This plant will grow to 5′ tall.  Canna “Australia,” also purchased from Easy To Grow Bulbs,  (with burgundy leaves) and Cannas from a friends garden, behind.

It seemed simple enough at the time:

I added three Colocasia esculenta tubers to my spring order at Easy To Grow Bulbs.  I was also ordering tubers for Canna Lilies and Gloriosa Lilies.

Easy To Grow Bulbs is one of my favorite online vendors.  Their stock is of high quality, their prices fair, their selection intriguing, and their customer service excellent.

Black  Purchased from Plant Delights Nursery

C. “Black  Runner”Purchased from Plant Delights Nursery

A bargain at around $7.00 each, these huge tubers arrived healthy and ready to grow.

I filled plastic boxes with fresh potting soil and planted the entire order the day it arrived, carefully following the  enclosed instructions.   The instructions suggested planting about 8″ deep, so I used a deep Rubbermaid container.

I watered at planting time to moisten the mix, but then kept the lid on waiting for the plants to grow.

The boxes of dormant tubers were fine down in the workroom, where I could keep an eye on them.  I checked the soil several times, found it slightly moist, and so just gave them time.

After a few weeks, the Cannas were growing well;  so we moved them up to the garage where they could get some light.  It was still a little too cool to plant them out in the garden.

C. China ordered from The Michigan Bulb Co.  This is one of the replacement plants they sent.

C. “Pink China,” ordered from The Michigan Bulb Co. This is one of the replacement plants they sent.

I could see root growth in the box with the Colocasia, known as Elephant Ears, but no top growth yet.

Finally our cool spring warmed up enough to plant the Canna Lilies out.  I had ordered Colocasia from several different sources, and also had one plant which grew in a pot all winter in the garage.

The others had arrived already in leaf, and so I moved them out to the garden a few at a time throughout May.

C. "Blue Hawaii," wintered over in the garage.

C. “Blue Hawaii,” wintered over in the garage.

Finally, a beautiful, strong leaf emerged on the Colocasia esculenta  grown from a tuber.  I moved the box up to the brighter garage, and waited for the other two tubers to leaf out.

But nothing happened.

Believing they probably needed more warmth, I took the box out to the garden one warm day in late May.  These were the last of the Elephant Ears planted in our new sunny border.

Still following directions, I dug three deep holes and amended them with compost.   I planted the leafed out plant first.

 

Camma. "Tropicana" in the foreground, from Easy to Grow Bulbs.  C. "Esculenta, and the tiny little C. "China Pink" from Michigan Bulb Co.  At least it has survived.

Canna. “Tropicana”  and C. “Australia” in the foreground,  from Easy to Grow Bulbs.                Colocasia  esculenta, and the tiny little C. “China Pink,” from Michigan Bulb Co., beside the Canna.    At least it has survived.

It had a huge healthy root system, and I tried to plant it at about the same level it had been growing in the box.

But here is where the mystery begins:  the other two tubers showed no evidence of growth.  I planted them anyway, believing they would begin to grow at any time given the warmth of early summer.

The tubers were all the same variety, and looked nearly identical when they arrived.  One would think that given exactly the same conditions, they would respond the same…. Wouldn’t you?

So I’ve faithfully watered my newly planted Cannas, Colocasias, Sages, and Hibiscus several times a week, when it hasn’t rained, to get them properly established.

 

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And of course I’ve watered the spots where the tubers were planted- just to help them along.  After all, we all know that Colocasias like moist soil and need plentiful water to support their huge leaves.

So when no growth appeared by late last week, I was truly puzzled.  In fact, I was very naughty and gently dug into one of the planting areas to see what was going on.

On hands and knees, I dug around gingerly, expecting to hit a green shoot at any moment.  Until I hit a pocket of greenish beige slime….

The tuber had rotted.

How is that possible?  I did everything right, didn’t I?

Colocasia, "Black Magic,"  shipped from the Michigan Bulb Co. earlier this month.

Colocasia, “Black Magic,” finally shipped from the Michigan Bulb Co. earlier this month.  

This morning I called Easy To Grow Bulbs to talk with them about the problem with the Elephant Ears.  And I was delighted to meet a very knowledgeable gardener, and “bulb whisperer,” named Kathleen.  After listening patiently, and asking a few questions, Kathleen launched into teaching/ coaching mode and taught me something new.

She explained that although all of the tubers may look identical, they are all individuals, have their own genetic blueprint, and so will break dormancy on their own schedule.

Some may be a little earlier, some a little later.  It is actually a survival mechanism so that if an early frost comes, the later individuals will survive.

It isn’t unusual for some tubers to begin growing, while others wait another few days or weeks to break their dormancy and begin growing.

The time when they break dormancy is the tuber’s most vulnerable time, when a small factor can make the difference between growth and rot.

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Like Caladiums, Colocasia enjoy moist soil when actively growing.  But, soil that is too moist, before their leaves have grown in , can easily kill them.

Kathleen reminded me that just as we humans must exhale, so tubers must be able to relieve themselves of too much moisture.

Plants exhale through their leaves.  Both Oxygen and water vapor exit the plant through the stomata in the cells of their leaves.  Giving too much water in the soil, before the leaves have formed, is deadly.

And that is where I went wrong.  When I planted the still dormant tubers out into the garden before they were growing, they were both wet and warm, and so rotted.

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I should have planted out the one actively growing plant, but left the two dormant tubers in the original planting box until they showed top growth.  Each plant must be treated as an individual.   Lesson learned.

Kathleen was very understanding and patient, and put two replacement Colocasia tubers in the mail to me today.

And she gave me precise instructions on how to care for them until they break dormancy and are ready for their places in the garden.

I feel like I made a new friend today; and will absolutely turn to Easy To Grow Bulbs again, as I have so often in the past, for bulbs, roots, and tubers of all sorts.

I’ll save Kathleen’s instructions for another post when the tubers arrive, so you can see them.

You probably know that the tubers of Colocasia are a delectable staple of the Pacific Island diet.  Have you ever eaten Poi?  If so, you have eaten Colocasia.  The leaves are poisonous, but the tuber can be cooked, mashed, and eaten.

I would much rather grow them than eat them, and am looking forward to watching these enormous and beautiful plants grow.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Nature’s Way

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

Rarely will you find just one of anything-

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

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

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

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

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

Nature teaches the wisdom of strength through  unity and relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese painted fern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbs filling in our new "stump garden."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this also works in beds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It can also make your gardening easier and more productive.

It is important to observe as the plants grow. 

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

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

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

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

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is Nature’s way…

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

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

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Forest Lane Botanicals

Forest Lane Botanicals display garden.

Plants Through the Post

Roses from a well known rose company arrived with an infestation of black spot.

Roses from a well known rose company arrived with an infestation of black spot in 2010.  They recovered, and are beautiful in the butterfly garden.

Specialty nurseries in North America offer most any plant one might hope to find.  I am amazed each year with the new ones I discover.  And I appreciate the ease of ordering online or over the phone to shop from home.

Sometimes I feel almost guilty about the volume of catalogs our postman must bring us, especially in spring and fall.

Roses already in growth take off much faster than bare root roses.

Roses already in growth take off much faster than bare root roses.

The catalogs certainly stack up quickly, and are filled with such an amazing variety of plants.  I love reading informative catalogs like the ones published by Wayside Gardens, Gardener’s Supply Company and Plant Delights Nursery.  They allow me to stay current with new introductions, new trends, and new products.  I can also compare prices for a product across several different companies to get a better idea of fair market value before ordering.

David Austin's English shrub roses offer wonderful fragrance.

David Austin’s English shrub roses offer wonderful fragrance.

There are some plants I nearly always order.  I prefer David Austin’s English roses for their form, color, and disease resistance and vigor.  McDonald Garden Center is the closest vendor  in this area, but they don’t carry the full catalog.  I find it easier to order directly from the catalog, using the spring promotions they always offer in gardening magazines to get a substantial discount on the plants.  David Austin roses are vigorous and healthy upon arrival, and they have a good customer service department.

Caladiums puchased as tuers ae economical, an deasy to start indoors.

Caladiums purchased as tubers are economical, and easy to start indoors.

I order Caladium tubers from one of the growers in Florida.  They offer a substantial discount on lots of 25 tubers or more of a given variety.  I always receive a few extra tubers, and end up paying less than $1 per plant.  Compared to the average of $8 per plant in early summer at most area nurseries, there is a substantial savings, in addition to the tremendous selection the growers offer.

I also order most of my Begonia plants from Garden Harvest Supply Company.   They have a huge selection from which to choose, send healthy, well rooted plants, and offer wonderful customer service.  They have such a huge variety of plants, one could outfit an entire garden right from the catalog and get great value on the purchase. Cane Begonias are hard to find in this area.  The Homestead Garden Center stocks more Begonias since I’ve been requesting them, but they still don’t have a large selection of unusual varieties.

The Homestead Garden Center stocks a huge selection of beautiful plants.

The Homestead Garden Center stocks a huge selection of beautiful plants.

I realize that we are very fortunate to live reasonably close to several good local nurseries.  We have a huge selection of plants and products available within easy driving distance.  That isn’t true everywhere, and so mail order nurseries, especially specialty nurseries; provide an important service to this nation of gardeners.

That said, I grow more cautious about purchasing plants through the mail each season.   I’ve done a lot of ordering over the years, with mixed results.  I’ve wasted a lot of money on plants that didn’t grow well, or ended up costing more than locally available equivalents would cost.  And, some once respected companies have been bought out by shady operations.  Operating under the familiar name, the company no longer lives up to its reputation and will not stand behind promises made.

A friend ordered this beautiful ginger lilywhe n weco mbined orders this spring.

A friend ordered this beautiful ginger lily from Easy To Grow Bulbs when we combined orders this spring.

As we begin a new gardening season, here are a few cautions I’d like to offer based on my own experiences, in hopes they might help someone just beginning to plant a garden of their own.

1.  Begin with an idea of what plants you want to grow, and then shop based on that list.  I started off doing it backwards.  I looked through the catalogs, and then tried to figure out where I could plant the things I wanted.   Like a child in a candy store, I wanted to order every beautiful blossom, leaf, and berry.  Not only is the garden rather chaotic using that approach, but one wastes money on plants that never quite fit in.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, "Blue Hawaii" , is a plant I shopped for extensively this spring.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii,”  is a plant I shopped for extensively this spring.

2.  Once you’ve made a list of plants to acquire, shop around for the best deal.   In general, catalog prices are inflated.  Many companies start out with extremely high prices, and then lower them through a variety of special deals and offers.  I rarely pay full price for any mail order plant, because many of these nurseries offer serious discounts throughout the season.

May 13 2013 Garden photos 003

Iris and roses dominate this end of the butterfly garden in May. Iris form large clumps, and may be spaced widely when planted.

Internet searches for a given plant will show you the different vendors which offer it, and you can begin the comparison shopping from there.  Waiting until late in the season to place an order also yields a better price, in most cases.  Since shipping times are fixed by the seasons, this doesn’t cause you to get the plant much later than you otherwise would.

3.  Order in multiples.  Not only will you generally pay less per plant, but your garden will look more cohesive with a greater number of fewer plants.  Planting in clumps, or sweeps, of a single variety makes a much greater impact.  A hedge, or an allee, is an elegant way to plant trees and large shrubs.  Most vendors offer price breaks and promotional offers for larger orders.

This hardy Begonia from Plant Delights Nursery arrived in bloom.

This hardy Begonia from Plant Delights Nursery arrived in bloom.

4.  Pay attention to how a plant is shipped from a prospective vendor.  Will you receive a rooted cutting; a dormant, bare root plant; a potted and growing plant; a dormant bulb or tuber; or a packet of seeds?  The age of the plant and what form it takes affects its price, but also how long it will take for you to enjoy the plant’s beauty.

Roses normally come bare root, but can be purchased in small pots, actively growing, from some vendors.  Both forms can give flowers the first year they are planted.  Bare root roses can be planted earlier in the spring, but take longer to establish.

Fruit trees give spring a beautiful, early, start in the garden.

Fruit trees give spring a beautiful, early, start in the garden.

Fruit trees normally come as bare root whips.  Most reputable vendors allow you to select the size and age you prefer.  These must be soaked and planted soon after they arrive, and will take several years to mature enough to produce fruit.  Stark Bros. offers a great selection of healthy trees.

I once ordered a dozen very cheap Nanking cherry bushes from a popular discount nursery.  They were only a foot or so tall when they arrived, but were healthy.  I planted them as a hedge against a chain link fence to screen off the neighbor’s yard.  They grew quickly and filled in within a few years.  All of those rooted cuttings lived, bore cherries within a few years, and were covered in beautiful flowers each spring.  A great bargain!

Bare root perennials and ferns are often dried out bits of root which must be soaked and planted.  They may take weeks to show any growth, and a percentage may not survive at all.  Live plants from local nurseries are usually much better deals.

This David Austin rose was new in 2012, and really took off with growth this year.

This David Austin rose was new in 2012, and really took off with growth this year.

Rare vegetables and flowers may only be available as seeds.  The best selection of cultivars, especially heirloom varieties, usually comes from specialty seed companies.  If growing from seed, make sure you can offer the seedlings enough light and warmth indoors to get off to a good start.

5.  Research a plant thoroughly before ordering it, to make sure you can grow it successfully.  The more you know about an individual plant, the more success you can expect.  Especially when ordering trees, shrubs, and vines, know how large the plant will grow.  Visit the space where you’ll plant it.  Will it still fit in 15 years?  Will it get the correct light?  Do you have enough sun for it to grow well?  Will it get too much sun or wind?

Fuchsias need shade, protection from wind, and abundant moisture to survive a Virginia summer.

Fuchsias need shade, protection from wind, and abundant moisture to survive a Virginia summer.  These were ordered from Garden Harvest Supply Co., which offers an extensive collection.

Check the plant’s cultural requirements carefully to determine whether it will survive both winter and summer in your climate.  Determine whether you’ll need to provide an arbor, trellis, stakes, fencing, or other supports to properly grow the plant, and whether you need to order multiples for cross pollination.

6.  Check out the vendor’s reputation.  I was ready to place a large combined order for some friends and myself from one of the only nurseries offering muscadine grape vines, when I found some poor customer service reviews about the company.  I hadn’t ordered from this company before, and so did some digging.  It didn’t take long to realize that this little Mom and Pop operation had disappointed a lot of people.  We decided not to order.  It pays to do an internet search on any nursery to get the latest scoop.  Even well known, established companies change hands and let their customer service slip from time to time.  The information is out there and easy to find, and can save a lot of stress.

Document and contact the company if it doesn't arrive in prime condition.  This hydrangea eventually grew, but the vendor offered to replace it.

Document the condition of the shipment and contact the company if it doesn’t arrive in prime condition. This hydrangea eventually grew, but the vendor offered to replace it.

7.  Get answers to your questions before you place that order!  When will the order ship?  Will the company honor your request for an earlier or later shipping date?  When will your card be charged?  What will the company do if you are unhappy with the condition of your plants?  You will learn a lot by calling the companies customer service number to talk with the staff before placing an order.  In fact, you might learn that there is no regular staff to talk with customers….

Be cautions of a company which charges you for a plant when the order is placed, but won’t ship the plant for many months to come.  Your money is tied up for a long time with nothing to show for it.  Seeds and supplies are generally shipped year round, but living plants will be shipped only during certain windows in spring and fall depending on the weather.  I’ve had some frustrating experiences with a well known company who insisted on waiting too late into the early summer to ship out an order placed in late winter.

Most of the plants in this photo came in the mail only a few months before this photo, taken in June.

Most of the plants in this photo came in the mail only a few months before this photo, taken in late June.

8.  Remember to count the postage and handling charges into the order’s final price.  Again, the costs vary wildly from vendor to vendor.  If you are ordering a rare plant or cultivar, it may be worth it to you to pay whatever handling charges the vendor charges.  This is the case with Plant Delights Nursery.  They will ship up to three plants for a flat charge, and then charge per plant for each additional item.

Sometimes you’ll avoid shipping charges altogether by placing a larger order.  I love to work with gardening friends to place a combined order to reduce or eliminate shipping charges.  Often calculating the shipping is all it takes to convince me to be patient and shop locally for the plants I want to grow.

Specialty seeds must nearly always come from catalogs.

Specialty seeds must nearly always come from catalogs.

9.  Communicate with the vendor!  I generally send an email to confirm that I’ve received a shipment, and comment on its condition.  If it has arrived in good shape, I offer thanks.  If there is a problem, I document that problem immediately with photos.  Plants are a big investment, and reputable nurseries stand behind their products.  Once you’ve had a plant for a few weeks, it becomes more questionable whether a problem came with the plant or is due to your handling of it.

When you buy a plant locally, you take your choice of what is offered, finding the healthiest, largest, and best formed plants available.  When a garden center knows you, they may even hold back the best plants in a shipment for you if you ask.  Mail order nurseries simply pull stock, wrap and ship it.  Whether you get the best of the lot is pure chance, and you’re at the mercy of the nursery.

Hosta and ferns, always tempting in catalogs, perform best when purchased locally.

Hosta and ferns, always tempting in catalogs, perform best when purchased already in growth.  When purchased bare root, they take a long time- perhaps a year or more- to look good.

I’ve had mixed results in reporting problems.  Some nurseries will replace the plant immediately, some never will.  I’ve found that documenting the condition of plants on arrival increases the likelihood that the nursery will stand behind their products.

If there is an opportunity to rate the product or level of customer service online, remember to do so to help others.

I hope these suggestions and observations prove helpful to you.  All of this was learned the hard way, for good or for ill.

If you have had great experience with a vendor I’ve failed to mention, please tell me in the comments section.  I’m always looking for great new nurseries to try!

After the Frost

November 16 2013 after the frost 001

The ginger lilies were hit by frost early Thursday morning, and will bloom no more this season. The Lavender will remain green and beautiful through much of the winter, blooming in early spring.

Our first heavy frost came Wednesday night into Thursday morning, with a low in the 20s overnight.  We were greeted with a sparkling white lawn on Thursday morning and obvious frost kill on the ginger lilies and Lantana.  The garden does, indeed, look like a very different place than it did early in the week.  In fact, there was a distinct “seedy” air to it when friends visited yesterday to adopt a half dozen Mahonia seedlings.

The garden looks a little "seedy" at the moment...

The garden looks a little “seedy” at the moment…

Looking around the garden one might wonder where to even begin with the clean up.

And I would ask, what needs to be cleaned up, and why?   Since the garden is a wild place, and is designed to shelter birds and other small creatures, we tend to look more to maintaining the balance of the garden than to pure aesthetics.

Lambs Ears will stay green through most of the winter.  Remove any dead foliage, and keep tree leaves from accumulating on top of the plant.

Lambs Ears will stay green through most of the winter. Remove any dead foliage, and keep tree leaves from accumulating on top of the plant.

Our goal is to let every bit be used, nothing thrown away, so much as we are able.  We try to allow one season’s growth to nurture the next.

With that in mind, here is an overview of what we will do, and not do, over the next three months.

Tender perennials

Ginger lilies are left alone to collapse and mulch their how roots until at least February.

Ginger lilies are left alone to collapse and mulch their own roots until at least February.

We push the limits of hardiness by growing ginger lilies and Lantana here as perennials.  Technically, they aren’t hardy to zone 7, and in an especially cold winter, might not be.  We have found that leaving the plants in place after frost kills back the foliage helps them survive winter.  Although not beautiful, the dying leaves and stems provide insulation to the roots and so increases the chances of them living through the winter.

The ginger lilies will collapse after another few cold nights, fall to the ground, and provide a thick mulch; along with the leaves falling from the trees.  I’ll move this around so the rose roots are also mulched and simply let it be until late January or early February.  On a warmish day I’ll cut and remove the stalks, exposing the growth tips of next summer’s lilies; dig the rhizomes growing forward into the roses, and vacuum out the accumulated leaves from the surrounding trees.  The roses will get pruned back and the entire bed will get a fresh cover of compost.  I’ve already vacuumed and shredded leaves from this bed once this week, but its hard to tell that now.

Lantana are left in place until at least March to protect their roots and provide food and shelter for songbirds.

Lantana are left in place until at least March to protect their roots and provide food and shelter for songbirds.

The Lantana have grown into large woody shrubs over the summer.  The largest are over 6′ tall now.  They were in full bloom when the frost came, and so are still covered in flowers and berries.  This is a favorite spot of our songbirds who appreciate the ready food supply and the dense shelter of the Lantana.  We’ll leave these in place, just as they are, until at least March.

No, the Lantana aren’t pretty anymore.  I suppose we could string white lights over them for the holidays, but we’ve never done that.  By patiently leaving them in place through winter and into early spring we’ll protect the roots and have a better chance of enjoying them again next summer.  When the time comes to trim them back, we’ll cut them to 6″-12″, depending on the plant, and remove all of the old leaves and branches from the bed.

I generally set Violas into this bed as I remove them from pots during spring planting.  They’ll live here for another few weeks, and then die off as the Lantana fills in again.  This bed will also get a thick covering of fresh compost, some Rose Tone, and general re-working in March.  Patience is required with Lantana because they normally don’t show new growth until late April or May.

Bright rose hips form when spent roses aren't deadheaded.  These are pretty during autumn, and provide food for birds who will eat them.

Bright rose hips form when spent roses aren’t deadheaded. These are pretty during autumn, and provide food for birds who will eat them.

Roses

Roses have not died back with the frost.  We still have both leaves and buds.  They may even bloom some more over the next few weeks.  Trimming roses always stimulates growth, and so it is important to wait until early spring to prune them.  Hard pruning now could kill the plant if tender new growth dies off in a hard freeze.  Deadheading spent blooms is even optional this time of year.  Of course, in our climate, roses will continue sending out new growth over the next few months with only a short break in late December and early January.  I’ll wait until February to prune them, and will begin giving Rose Tone and Epson salts by early March.

Hardy Perennials

Seeds from hardy Hibiscus pods provide food for many birds.

Seeds from hardy Hibiscus pods provide food for many birds.

Hardy perennials like Peonies, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Iris, Hibiscus, and Chrysanthemum are often the first targets for fall garden clean up.  Browned foliage is simply cut off near the ground, tossed into a trash bag, and “Voila”, the garden looks much neater.

That is certainly one approach, but isn’t mine. 

Peony leaves are definitely unsightly now.  Since the flowers bloomed in May, they haven’t looked good for a while.   The frost finished them off, and the foliage definitely needs to get cut back before spring growth begins.

Peony foliage should be cut back in autumn, supports removed, and stored.

Peony foliage should be cut back in autumn, supports removed, and stored.

Peony crowns don’t need insulation from their own leaves, and leaving them in place can certainly encourage disease.  This is the first foliage I’ll cut on the next warm day.  I don’t bag such trimmings and add them to the trash pick up, but neither do I add it to a compost pile.  We’ll throw these trimmings  into the ravine, away from our perennial beds, along with other old foliage.

The Iris are still blooming, and their rhizomes will continue to grow all winter.  Dead leaves and finished stalks may be removed, but it is too late in the season to dig or divide the plants. 

Iris, "Rosalie Figgee" will continue to bloom into December.  She'll take a break, and bloom again in the spring.

Iris, “Rosalie Figgee” will continue to bloom into December. She’ll take a break, and bloom again in the spring.

Chrysanthemums are just finishing.  Spent flowers should be deadheaded, and in fact the plants can be cut back after the leaves are killed by frost.  If protected, new buds can still open in the weeks ahead.  Any new, potted chrysanthemums should be planted as soon as possible if you intend to keep them as perennials.  Otherwise, add them to the compost pile.

Echinacea seeds are enjoyed by many birds.  The dried cones also make nice additions to autumn wreathes and arrangements.

Echinacea seeds are enjoyed by many birds. The dried cones also make nice additions to autumn wreathes and arrangements.

Echinacea finished flowering weeks ago.  Their seeds are loved by goldfinches and other birds.  They can be left standing in the garden deep into winter.  They are sculptural, attractive to some, and definitely appreciated by the birds.

The  same is true of any Hibiscus or Rudbeckia seed pods still standing.  They can be left in place until March or April if you wish.  Collect seeds to broadcast in areas you would like new plants, or leave them to the birds.  You might even cut some Echinacea or Hibiscus to use in winter wreathes, pots, or arrangements.  It can be sprayed gold to add a little sparkle, if you wish.

Other perennials, like lambs ears, daisies, Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, and other herbs will stay green through most, or all of the winter.

This daisy should be dead headed, but the foliage left alone until new growth appears at the base in spring.

This daisy should be dead headed, but the foliage left alone until new growth appears at the base in spring.

I’ll deadhead the daisies, but leave the foliage standing until new growth appears in spring.  Herbs should have already been harvested and trimmed.  What is left can be lightly harvested all winter, or simply left alone.

Shrubs

Hydrangea needs to be deadheaded before spring.  Cut carefully above any buds so next season's flowers are left on the shrub.

Hydrangea needs to be deadheaded before spring. Cut carefully above any buds so next season’s flowers are left on the shrub.

Hydrangea blossoms dry easily.  You can collect them now for a fall arrangement.   Already dry blossoms can be sprayed gold or used as is in wreathes and winter arrangements.  There is no value to the plant in leaving them, and in fact they just look worse as the season progresses.  And, they don’t harbor any seeds for the birds.When you trim them, be careful to cut above where new buds are forming so you don’t prune off next year’s blossoms.

Wait to trim Rose of Sharon until the worst winter weather has passed.  Songbirds will enjoy their seeds through the winter.

Wait to trim Rose of Sharon until the worst winter weather has passed. Songbirds will enjoy their seeds through the winter.

Rose of Sharon is covered in little dry seed pods at present.  These can be left as an important food source for the birds as long as you wish.  I generally prune back Rose of Sharon in early spring.  Most need to be thinned and shaped before new growth begins.  Since this shrub blooms on new wood, pruning only increases the following season’s bloom.  Althea tend to be tender sometimes, and may die for no apparent reasons.  So I don’t cut them, leaving wounds exposed, until after the worst winter weather has passed.

Buddleia, butterfly bush, should also be left alone until early spring.  Not only is it covered in seeds, but it will have a greater chance of survival if left unpruned until early spring.  Cut back hard in February, almost to the ground, as it blooms each year on new growth.

This Camellia was grazed by deer sometime in the last day or so.  Although protected with Plant Skydd, after the rain it must have been palatable enough...

This Camellia was grazed by deer sometime in the last day or so. Although protected with Plant Skydd, after the rain it must have been palatable enough…

Camellias, as evergreens, are in their glory at the moment.  Many are either blooming now or preparing to bloom.  They enjoy a mulch of chopped leaves, so mulch freely as yard clean up progresses.  Their main need at the moment is protection from grazing deer.  Deer love the flower buds and will even eat their leaves.  I have sprayed mine with Plant Skydd multiple times, and will continue to do so.

Another concern is with damage done by bucks during “rutting season” in autumn.  They go a little crazy during their mating season, and rub their antlers against trees and shrubs.  The damage to this little magnolia happened last night.

Magnolia tree damaged overnight by a rutting buck.

Magnolia tree damaged overnight by a rutting buck.

  I have no idea why a buck chose to damage this particular tree, since it’s small, pliable, and not a favorite to eat.  But, he did.  Despite hours and hours spent this week reinforcing deer fences and protecting individual plants, somehow a buck  got in and stripped the bark down much of the Magnolia’s trunk.  I taped up one of the branches left hanging, and will hope for healing.  This Magnolia is special to us as our neighbor gave it to us.  Ironically, I sprayed Plant Skydd, even on this Magnolia, earlier this week.

Figs are also losing their leaves now.

Figs survivie our winters without special winter protection.  Remove fallen leaves and give the roots a little mulch.

Figs survivie our winters without special winter protection. Remove fallen leaves and give the roots a little mulch.

The plants are covered in buds for next season’s growth.  Although they need winter protection further north, the figs seem to overwinter very well here with no particular care.  Other than gathering their leaves, and possibly adding some compost or shredded leaf mulch around the roots, they will make it through winter just fine.

Hollies, Pyracantha, Cedar, Forsythia, Viburnum, and other shrubs won’t need any particular care over the next several moths.  All will appreciate shredded leaves mulched over their roots.  Forsythia still have their leaves, but I noticed a few yellow blossoms on some of our shrubs yesterday.  They normally bloom in February, so this November bloom is a mystery…

Annuals

Annual Ageratum should be clipped at the soil line and discarded.  It could be replaced with Violas for bloom through the winter.

Annual Ageratum should be clipped at the soil line and discarded. It could be replaced with Violas for bloom through the winter.

Annual flowers and herbs are past their season now.  Unless they are covered in ripe seeds, like the Basil, there is no reason to leave them any longer.  Clip at the soil line, leaving the roots  to enrich the soil.

Some annuals, like Cleome reseed freely and can become invasive.  These should definitely be removed.  Others, like this basil, will feed many hungry birds.

This basil is covered in ripe seeds.  I'll remove it, but throw the plant into the ravine where the birds will still enjoy its seeds.

This basil is covered in ripe seeds. I’ll remove it, but throw the plant into the ravine where the birds will still enjoy its seeds.

But it doesn’t have to be here.  This whole plant can be removed in the interest if tidiness and thrown into the ravine, where the birds will still enjoy the seeds.  Seeds should never be added to a compost pile, for obvious reasons.

Fallen Leaves

Living in a forest, we have leaves everywhere at the moment.  They are still falling.  Some of our neighbors are so concerned with the leaves that we hear their blowers running daily.  In fact, we shake our head in disbelief at neighbors out blowing leaves off their walk or driveway on a windy day, with leaves continuing to fall all around them.

November 16 2013 after the frost 009

Hardy Hibiscus seed heads stand out against the leaf covered forest floor.

It must be a deeply held cultural fetish to manicure the lawn and remove every fallen leaf; a concern we don’t share.   And so we have made only small efforts so far to sweep the porches and steps, clear the driveway, and remove leaves from newly planted Violas.

When most of the leaves have fallen, we’ll use a combination of broom, lawn mower and our leaf blower/bagger to tidy up around the house.   We do our best to maintain the peace and quiet by using hand tools, like a rake, when possible.

Wet leaves underfoot are definitely a safety hazard, especially when they freeze.  And wet leaves on masonry do bad things to steps and porches.  Our reality, living among deciduous trees, is that leaves blow around from place to place all winter long.  We accept them and appreciate the good things they do for the garden.

Leaves around porches and walkways can be swept, and then shredded.

Leaves around porches and walkways can be swept, and then shredded.

Leaves are extremely important  for building good soil.  As they decompose they release many important nutrients to the soil, feed earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures, insulate the ground, and hold moisture.  We either shred the leaves with the lawn mower, allowing them to mix with the grass clippings for speedier decomposition,  or suck them up with our blower.  In both cases we catch them in the appliance’s bag, and pour them out around shrubs where the mulch is needed.  Leaves are far too valuable to an organic gardener to bag and throw away. Carbon and nitrogen, along with many minerals, accumulate in the leaves throughout the summer.  These are released and enrich the soil as the leaves decompose.  When earthworms feed on the leaves, even more of their nutrient content is made available to feed other plants.

My friend has begun working on a new hugelkultur bed and will fill this area with shredded leaves, fallen branches, and other organic materials to prepare for spring planting.

My friend has begun working on a new hugelkultur bed and will fill this area with shredded leaves, fallen branches, and other organic materials to prepare for spring planting.

Shredded leaves are an important ingredient for new hugelkultur beds and for  compost piles.

Any spot where you plan to plant in spring can be covered in a layer of shredded  leaves now.  First lay down cardboard, grocery bags, or sheets of newspaper in new areas to kill off any grass or weeds over the winter, pour on the shredded leaves, and then water the pile to keep the leaves from blowing away.  This method is called “sheet composting”.   Throughout winter add coffee grounds, tea bags, vegetable scraps, rinsed egg shells, and used potting soil under the leaves.  Top this mound off with a few inches of topsoil or finished compost in spring, and plant directly into this new bed.

Shredded leaves used as mulch around shrubs enrich the soil, conserve moisture, encourage earthworms, and prevent erosion.

Shredded leaves used as mulch around shrubs enrich the soil, conserve moisture, encourage earthworms, and prevent erosion.

So work done in the garden, now that we’ve had our first frost, will focus on conserving our resources and preparing for the coming season.  As we clean up what remains from this year’s growth, we will provide protection from winter’s cold, allow food and shelter for our birds to remain in place, build the soil, and prepare our beds for the coming season.  Recycling nature’s gifts enriches the garden, and makes it more beautiful and abundant with each passing year.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

After the frost, the garden is still beautiful.

After the frost, the garden is still beautiful.

Leaves

Ginger Lilies and Rosemary

Ginger Lilies and Rosemary

In autumn our thoughts turn towards leaves.  We admire them, and then we rake them.  Leaves are so much a part of our world, and we rarely give them a thought during the rest of the year.

Forsythia leaves, with the buds of next spring's yellow flowers already visible.

Forsythia leaves, with the buds of next spring’s yellow flowers already visible.

But leaves are the key to our survival as a species.  Have you ever looked at them in that light?

Leaves are the key to transforming the sun’s energy into matter to support the web of life on Earth.

Think of it:  spinach, kale, lettuce, grass.  We eat leaves directly, but many of the animals we eat depend upon leaves for their own sustenance.

Evergreen, Camellia is closely related to plants from which we make tea

Evergreen, Camellia is closely related to plants from which we make tea

Every time we take a slice of cheese or pour milk into our coffee, we benefit from the goat or cow who grazed on grass and hay.

When we eat a banana, we benefit from the sugars produced by banana leaves and stored in the fruit.  It’s the same with apples, plums, okra, and squash.  Every bean is full of sugars produced by leaves and stored in the cotyledons to nourish the embryonic plant nestled between them.  Every potato grows in the soil as its leaves produce sugars in the sun.

Autumn  fern and Hellebores will both remain green through winter.

Autumn fern and Hellebores will both remain green through winter.

Not only does all food originate from sugars produced in a leaf, but so does the very air we breathe.  Each leaf is covered with tiny stomata which breathe in the carbon dioxide we exhale.  The carbon goes to build sugar molecules, and the extra oxygen is exhaled through the stomata for our benefit.  The leaves filter our air, trapping harmful compounds as they return the oxygen we take from it in every moment.

Culinary sage and violas

Culinary sage and violas

Water, absorbed deep in the Earth through the roots, travels throughout the plant.  Water not needed in sugar production is released back into the air as water vapor or as oxygen through the plant’s leaves.  Thus water is recycled from ground, to sky; and our atmosphere can produce sweet rain and winter snow.  Without leaves, this wouldn’t be possible.

Nov 2 2013 garden 002

Leaves are essential to our existence.  We depend on the leaves of herbs to season our food and heal our bodies.  We drink tea made from leaves.  We make paper, cover roofs, wrap food, and poultice wounds.

We compost leaves to build our soil; plant grass to control erosion and carpet our gardens; and live in the shade and shelter given by leafy trees around our homes.

Leaves are a remarkable part of our lives.  And now we watch as they turn bright colors or shrivel into grey.  We see them falling on the wind.  They puddle in brown piles around our yards and porches.  We rake, we blow, we bag, we mulch.

Crepe Myrtle

Crepe Myrtle

Let us also appreciate the contributions they make to life on planet Earth, the blue and green planet where leaves sustain all life.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

November 5 garden at dusk 028

Geranium

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