The Temptations of Early Spring…

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Last week we were swept up in the edges of the ‘Polar Vortex’ and had some of our coldest temperatures of the season.  It felt like winter.  We ate soup and stayed indoors.  But a winter storm swept through on Friday and took the cold out to sea, leaving us with balmy spring-time weather in its wake.

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We were still frozen at mid-day on Sunday, but the sun was out and warmth was returning.

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It was warmer this morning than all day yesterday, and by afternoon we were looking for projects to take us outside.  The air was soft and the sun was warm.  I could smell the sweetness of our opening Edgeworthia flowers for the first time this season.

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A honey bee was out foraging on the Mahonia flowers, and birds called to one another throughout the day.  A group of owls had a loud conversation in the ravine, and a nest has appeared in a shrub by the garage.

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It feels like instant spring, and I was inspired to all sorts of little tasks like taking cuttings, giving our living room fern a trim out on the deck, and potting up some of our rooting Begonia stems.

I groomed the pots on the patio; fingers crossed.  We had geraniums still green until this last cold spell and ‘annual’ Verbena still green and growing.  The ‘Goodwin Creek’ lavender is usually fried and frozen by February; but so far, so good with ours in big pots by the front porch.

Will it make it all the way through to next summer?

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Italian Arum unfolding ever so slowly in a pot by the kitchen door.

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I am a little chagrined to realize how much the weather effects my ambition to get gardening things done.  The warmth and sunshine gave me a welcome rush of energy.  Even so, I know that winter hasn’t finished with us, yet.

There may be warmer days yet in the forecast for the week, but I know that more ice and snow will find us before May.  I’m still reluctant to do much pruning or other clean-up so early.

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Iris bulbs are up and growing in the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. We will have flowers before the end of February.

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I wanted to clean up the dead and dying branches of things in pots near the house, but not too soon, if they can still recover from their roots.

Cut too soon, the next hard freeze might kill them.

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I spotted little green buds on the Clematis and found Dianthus buds ready to open.  I’m still taking inventory of all the Hellebores with flower buds.   Oh, the havoc a false spring can create when a hard freeze follows a balmy breeze!  I’d rather the plants remain dormant, and not begin to grow too early.

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It was too nice a day to waste fretting over winter’s next act.  I went ahead and pruned our little variegated English holly to shape it a bit, and now have a pan with eight Ilex aquifolium cuttings that I hope will root.  The holly should be hardy enough to not mind the early pruning.

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Hellebores keep right on blooming through winter storms and freezing nights.

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Bulbs are popping up everywhere and buds are swelling on our Magnolia trees.  Yesterday morning, the ground was too frozen to re-plant Violas uprooted by the squirrels.

Today, the soil is soft and moist, full of promise and tempting me to press some bit of stem or seed or root into it for safe keeping, until spring settles in and our garden grows lush and green once again.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Date Seed Update:  I moved some of the seeds showing growth from the jar of water to a damp paper towel in a zip-lock.  I have the seeds under a lamp in a warm spot, and am checking them daily for growth. 

Of course, I could have planted these directly into pots of soil.  But it’s more interesting to keep them out where we can watch them grow a while longer!

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Wednesday Vignettes: Winter Beginnings

Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever' offering its first flowers of the season.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ offering its first flowers of the season.

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“Those who love much, do much

and accomplish much,

and whatever is done with love is done well….

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“… Love is the best and noblest thing

in the human heart, especially

when it is tested by life

as gold is tested by fire. …

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Magnolia stellata in bud

Magnolia stellata in bud

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“… Happy is he who has loved much,

and although he may have wavered and doubted,

he has kept that divine spark alive

and returned to what

was in the beginning and ever shall be….

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Mahonia aquifolia

Mahonia aquifolium coming into bloom with Magnolia liliiflora in bud

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“… If only one keeps loving faithfully

what is truly worth loving

and does not squander one’s love

on trivial and insignificant and meaningless things

then one will gradually

obtain more light and grow stronger.”

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Vincent Van Gogh

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Helleborus

Helleborus

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Cercis canadensis seedpod left by the wind

Cercis canadensis seedpod left by the wind

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“Go out in the woods, go out.

If  you don’t go out in the woods

nothing will ever happen

and your life will never begin.”

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Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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“Imagination makes the world
and all the wonders in it.
The seed of every dream unfurls
as you with love begin it!”

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Eric Micha’el Leventhal

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WPC: Vibrant

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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

This week’s photo challenge topic is just what I needed today:

“This week, share a photo of something vibrant.
Vivid colors, a lively portrait, or perhaps a delightfully colorful landscape, if you’re in a warmer climate.
Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors to keep the winter gloom at bay.”

What a wonderful idea!  We could all use some rainbow colors right about now, as January melts away into February.

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Sunset Wednesday evening along the James River. When I saw the colors in the sky reflected in the river, I just had to stop and try to capture it in a photo.

Sunset Wednesday evening along the James River. When I saw the colors in the sky reflected in the river, I just had to stop and try to capture it in a photo.

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“Let me, O let me bathe my soul in colours;

let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

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Kahlil Gibran

There hasn’t been a great deal of color outside, lately, and I miss it.  Snow still blankets parts of the garden.  Other parts remain cloaked in wet brown leaves.  Bright moss peaks out here and there, but nature’s range of color has shrunk into winter neutrals.

But this photo challenge inspired me to go on a treasure hunt today, searching for glorious vibrant colors in the garden.  I was amazed to find how quickly many of our plants have recovered from last weekend’s winter storm, and regained their color and vitality.

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“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning,

and unallied with definite form,

can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. ”

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Oscar Wilde

This color speaks to me of the miraculous power in the life force of plants.  These cabbage leaves froze last night, and spent several days under a dome of frozen snow.  Yet what color!  These leaves survived, and the plant is steadily growing new ones from its heart.  I had to observe closely, but was able to find gold and red, purple, green, pink and orange; living colors in the midst of winter.

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Yes, this dandelion is blooming in our garden today like a tiny sun ....

Yes, this dandelion is blooming in our garden today like a tiny sun, blazing with energy and optimism ….

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“The beauty and mystery of this world

only emerges through affection, attention,

interest and compassion . . .

open your eyes wide and actually see

this world by attending

to its colors, details and irony.”

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Orhan Pamuk

Robin, at Breezes at Dawn, has been participating in the Three Day Quote Challenge.  She was invited by our mutual friend, Eliza.  Both have  issued a general invitation for any of their followers to join in.  Robin published a quotation today from one of my long time favorite authors, Benjamin Hoff.

How can I resist?  Robin and Eliza, I am joining your challenge, and inviting my other blogging friends to join us as well.

The rules are simple:  Post an inspirational, uplifting quote for three consecutive days, and invite three other bloggers to join you.  If you are reading this, please consider yourself invited.

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We adopted this lovely Yucca 'Color Guard' from Brent and Becky's shop in Gloucester late last summer. It seems to be holding its own through the cold.

We adopted this lovely Yucca ‘Color Guard’ from Brent and Becky’s shop in Gloucester late last summer. It seems to be holding its own through the cold.

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Just as ‘… two colors, put one next to the other sing…’ ;  this is often true with people, too.  We find a harmony together, and each brings out the best in the other.

I feel this way about Eliza and Robin, and the conversations we have with one another and the inspiration we offer one another through our presence in our blogs.  If you’ve not met them yet, I hope you’ll follow these links to find their beautiful photos and thoughtful quotations from the quotation challenge.

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Purple Sage, still growing despite the cold.

Purple Sage, still growing despite the cold.

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It takes a little more energy and effort to remain vibrant through the winter months.  But what beauty shines now, for those who seek it out.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

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January 27, 2016 Parkway 040

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

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“Today expect something good to happen to you

no matter what occurred yesterday.

Realize the past no longer holds you captive.

It can only continue to hurt you

if you hold on to it.

Let the past go.

A simply abundant world awaits.”

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Sarah Ban Breathnach

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The first Hellebore blooming this season

The first Hellebore blooming this season

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Bejeweled

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Bejeweled, bedazzled,

Cased in glittering ice;

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Every leaf and stem ornamented

With shimmering bagatelles.

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Buds magnified

Through clear coats of cold;

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April’s promises preserved,

Protected,

Perfectly presented.

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Icy prisms deflect the light;

Reflecting, not refracting;

A frigid glow on wintery  fog.

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Crystal clear coating coagulates

Out of misty air.

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Like dipping a candle, icicles grow

Thicker, longer, bumpier with each passing hour.

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Tinkling bells echo from garden to garden

As branches sway in the biting breeze,

And great ripping groans answer from the ravine.

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Symphony of sirens in the distance tell of travelers

Who have lost their way on glassy streets.

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A wicked wonderland, this ice coated world.

Weird and wonderful at once,

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Dazzlingly devious,

Dangerously delightful.

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Bejeweled and bedazzled,

Winter has dressed to thrill-

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Winter’s “Flowers”

Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale

 

Look at what is “blooming” in our garden! 

We are just past the Winter Solstice, and the coldest weeks of winter stretch before us.  Our days may be growing almost imperceptibly longer, but frigid Arctic air sweeps across the country, dipping down to bring frosty days and nights well to our south.

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Lichens

Shelf fungus

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Our garden looks a very different place at the moment, mostly withered and brown.  But even now, we enjoy bright spots of color and healthy green leaves.

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January 4, 2014 garden 054.

Some we planned for, some are a gift of nature.

All are infinitely appreciated and enjoyed!

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Ornamental Kale with Violas and dusty miller

Ornamental kale with Violas and dusty miller

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We garden in Zone 7b, here in coastal Virginia.  We are just a little too far north and a little too far inland to enjoy the balmy 8a of Virginia Beach and Carolina’s Outer Banks.  We will have nights in the teens and days which never go above freezing… likely later this week!

But there are still many plants which not only survive our winters, but will grow and bloom right through them!

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Camellia, "Jingle Bells" begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

Camellia, “Jingle Bells” begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

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I saw the first scape of Hellebore rising above its crown of leaves yesterday, topped with a cluster of tight little buds.  Our Hellebores will open their first buds later this month.

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Hellebore with a new leaf emerging.  Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

Hellebore with a new leaf emerging. Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

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Snowdrops are also poking above the soil line now in several pots.  Snowdrops, named for their ability to grow right up through the snow as they come into bloom, open the season of “spring” bulbs for us each year.

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January 4, 2014 garden 057.

Camellias and Violas remain in bloom, and our Mahonia shrubs have crowned themselves in golden flowers, just beginning to open.

There are several other shrubs which will bloom here in January and February.  Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is on my wishlist, and I hope to add it to our garden this season.

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Mahonia

Mahonia

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Our Forsythia are covered in tight yellow buds, ready to open in February.  Our Edgeworthia chrysantha has tight silvery white buds dangling from every tiny branch.

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Edgeworthia

Edgeworthia

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They look like white wrapped Hershey’s kisses, or tiny ornaments left from Christmas.  These will open in  early March into large, fragrant flowers before the shrub’s leaves appear.

Although many of our garden plants are hibernating under ground, or are just enduring these weeks of cold until warmth wakes them up to fresh growth, we have a few hardy souls who take the weather in their stride.

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January 4, 2014 garden 065.

This is their time to shine. 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2015

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Male flowers have appeared on our Hazel nut trees.  We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

Male pollen bearing “flowers”  have appeared on our native  Hazel nut trees. We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

 

 

Associations

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

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

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

Azaleas prefer to grow under deciduous trees.

Azaleas prefer to grow under deciduous trees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German Iris in a different bed with roses.

German Iris in a different bed with roses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally, I love every species and color of Iris.

Iris germanica "Rock Star" reblooms in late summer

Iris germanica “Rock Star” reblooms in late summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iris with Lavender "Otto Quast"

Iris with Lavender “Otto Quast”

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

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

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

Lamb's Ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuschia with Impatiens in a basket

Fuschia with Impatiens in a basket

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

June 21 Lanai 008

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

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

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

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

Scented geranium, culinary Sage, garlic

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

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

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

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

Coleus with Sedum

Coleus with Sedum and bulb foliage.

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

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

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

Newly planted annuals

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

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

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

Geraniums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 041

 

 

 

 

 

Tick Season Is Here

Daffodils blooming in our garden today.

Daffodils blooming in our garden today.

I felt the itching last night right as we began dinner.

My family had gathered at my parents’ home yesterday, and several of us spent a few hours in the afternoon doing some light yard work to help them out.  We’d picked up sticks and trimmed some bushes; nothing too intense.

And since there was snow and ice earlier in the week, none of us gave a thought to what insects might be prowling about.  Sure, there were some bumblies on the Mahonia blossoms, but none of us worried about ticks.

Mahonia blooming at Colonial Williamsburg last week.

Mahonia blooming at Colonial Williamsburg last week.

But then at dinner, I felt the tell-tale itching, and reaching up to scratch the itch, my fingertips touched tick.

Once you’ve had a tick, their feel is unmistakeable.  You know immediately that one is embedded in your flesh, and must be removed, NOW!

At first I tried to lightly brush it away.  But no, a tick is tenacious.  Thank goodness my sister sprang into action.  A dedicated animal lover, she has removed many ticks from her companions and was willing to do the same for me.

Since I'm positive you don't want to see my tick bite, or the tick, I'll just show you some garden photos today.  This is our lilac, "Josee" beginning to open.

Since I’m positive you don’t want to see my tick bite, or the tick, I’ll just show you some garden photos today. This is our lilac, “Josee” beginning to open.

You can’t just pull a tick out.  Often, the tick will just pull apart, and the head will be left embedded in your skin.

You need to get it to back out and begin to let loose before you try to remove it.

Vinca is lovely in early spring when it blooms with either periwinkle blue, or white, blossoms.  The rest of the year Vinca is a tough, evergreen vining ground cover.

Vinca is lovely in early spring when it blooms with either periwinkle blue, or white, blossoms. The rest of the year Vinca is a tough, evergreen vining ground cover.

We first covered this one in petroleum jelly.  Ticks, like all insects, breathe through the hard shell of their exoskeleton.  Tiny holes in their hard covering allow for respiration.  Cover these holes, and they begin to suffocate.

Whatever anyone recommends that you do to a tick before pulling it out is designed to distract them, put them under stress, and make them let loose the tight hold they have on the flesh from which they are feeding.

After a minute or so, she began to work on the tick with a pair of tweezers.  What a hold it had!  It had burrowed into the back of my neck right at the hairline.  It took several tries, but she eventually yanked it out.  We swabbed the bite with alcohol and applied a topical antibiotic.

Miniatrure daffodils have emerged around a Rosemary, badly damaged this winter by cold.  We hope the Rosemary shrubs in our garden have survived the winter.

Miniature daffodils have emerged around a Rosemary, badly damaged this winter by cold. We hope the Rosemary shrubs in our garden have survived the winter.

Now ticks are virulent creatures.  As they suck, they also release chemicals into your skin.

Sometimes ticks also carry disease, such as Lyme’s disease, which they transmit through their bite.  The area around the bite was already red and inflamed before my sister removed the tick, and is more so today.

The intense itching had me up in the night reapplying a topical antibiotic, and had us heading out to the see a doctor this morning, before I even brewed a pot of coffee.

More miniature daffodils in the front border.  These were purchased from Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester, VA.

More miniature daffodils in the front border. These were purchased from Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester, VA.

The doctor who took a look at the tick bite praised my sister highly for her quick action and the thoroughness with which she managed to remove the tick.

Nothing was left behind in the wound, which is good.  But, we still decided to begin a course of Doxycycline today to prevent any tick borne illness from gaining a foothold.

Doxycycline is sometimes prescribed to those heading into regions known for Malaria, to prevent contracting the disease from a mosquito bite.  I expect it to prevent any infection from this little bite.

These daffodils in shades of pink, purchased from the Heaths, have begun to grow on me.  Do you like them?

These daffodils in shades of pink, purchased from the Heaths, have begun to grow on me. Do you like them?

The tick we removed yesterday was a light brown color, and it was fairly large.  I’m guessing it might have been a brown dog tick.

There are at least seven different ticks active in the United States, and each carries slightly different diseases.

A friend removes ticks from her pets and children using clear tape, and keeps the tick, sandwiched in the tape, in case she needs it later for identification or to show her physician.

That is a great idea, and I didn’t even think to suggest it last night.  We tweezed and flushed, while the rest of the family struggled to keep on with their dinner!

March 22, 2014 daffodils 008

Now that we know ticks are moving this spring, there are some precautions to take:

1.  From now on, I’ll begin wearing insect repellent when working outside.  Since we live in a forest, this is something that we routinely do once the weather warms.  My parents’ suburban yard has not been known for ticks in the past, and none of us even considered insect repellant yesterday.

2.  It is wise to not only wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when working out of doors, but also hat and gloves.  I didn’t have a hat yesterday, and yet was trimming tall shrubs.  This little guy might have fallen into my hair while I was trimming the shrubs.

3.  At home, we normally head straight from the garden to the shower.  A good shower allows one to locate and remove ticks quickly.  Sometimes we find them still crawling, before they have had a chance to dig in.

We also leave our clothing in the garage, so any ticks on our clothing can’t make it into the house.

Violas.  See the garlic I've placed in each pot of Violas to discourage the deer?

Violas. See the garlic I’ve placed in each pot of Violas to discourage the deer?

As Lyme disease becomes more prevalent, we all need to remain vigilant to protect ourselves from tick bites.  Lyme is debilitating for many who contract it, and affects many different systems of the body.

Lyme disease was unknown before the early 1970s.  It first showed up around Lyme, Connecticut, in children and adults who began showing unusual, arthritis like symptoms.

The connection between Lyme disease and deer ticks was finally established around 1981 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Montana.

A new variety of bulb has begun to emerge.  I purchased these from Roxy Patton at Homestead Garden Center this fall, but don't recall the variety.

A new variety of bulb has begun to emerge. We purchased these from Roxy Patton at Homestead Garden Center this fall, but  I don’t recall the variety.

Even today, many physicians don’t recognize Lyme disease, especially symptom clusters which appear months or even years after the initial tick bite and rash. We are becoming familiar with the red, bull’s eye shaped rash which appears within a few days of the bite.

Once that rash goes away, Lyme Disease often remains in the body, to reappear months or years later with more serious symptoms.  Many who have Lyme disease don’t even remember the initial tick bite.

Lyme, a bacterial infection carried in the blood, can be treated with antibiotics, and there is promising research into the effectiveness of colloidal silver for treating particularly difficult cases.

This gorgeous little daffodil was planted by a previous gardener on this property.  I sometimes dig and divide these in late spring.  They are so unusual!

This gorgeous little daffodil was planted by a previous gardener on this property.   I sometimes dig and divide these in late spring. They are so unusual!

Because Lyme disease only appeared in North America roughly 40 years ago, and because it first appeared in only one coastal community, and has spread across the country from there; there are many interesting theories as to its origin.

Interestingly, the US government’s Plum Island Biological Research Facility, in Long Island Sound, is only a few miles offshore from Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease originated in the 1970s.

We planted these dafffodiils in the fern garden three years ago.  They have divided into nice clumps.

We planted these daffodils in the fern garden three years ago. They have divided into nice clumps.

The Biological Research Facility was established in the early 1950’s, to house a research program under the direction of ex-Nazi scientist Erich Traub.  Traub immigrated to the United States in 1949.    He continued his research into diseases, under Project Paperclip, for the United States Government, at Plum Island, NY.

His earlier research into germ warfare had been carried out on Riems’s Island in the Baltic Sea, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler.

Traub had previously studied at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in Princeton, New Jersey during the 1930s, performing research on viruses and vaccines.  He and his wife lived only a few miles from Plum Island at that time.

A wider view of the daffies in the fern garden.

A wider view of the daffies in the fern garden.

This Plum Island facility has carried out various research projects over the years, all involving animals and disease.  Its location in Long Island Sound is intended to isolate the diseases studied, and the animal carriers, from the rest of the country.

Tick borne diseases are believed to have left the island on birds.  Birds can easily fly back and cross Long Island Sound, carrying infected ticks.  Deer also swim between the mainland and Plum Island, and could have carried ticks from the research facility to Connecticut.

March 22, 2014 daffodils 005

The same pathogen, mycoplasma fermentens, is found in individuals infected with Lyme disease, Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fybromyalgia.  All of these recent, baffling disease conditions tend to affect the central nervous system.  All cause intense fatigue, and affect various other organs in the body.

Infected ticks multiply in warm weather and travel from yard to yard, area to area, state to state on birds, squirrels, deer, dogs, and any other animals likely to get ticks.  Lyme disease has been identified now in many parts of the United States, as well as in more than 80 countries world wide.

This little tree has not yet begun to even bud, let alone leaf out.  It almost disappears in the sea of daffodils.

This little tree has not yet begun to even bud, let alone leaf out. It almost disappears in the sea of daffodils.

Lyme is only one of several diseases carried by ticks.  Even if you are bitten by a tick not infected with one of these diseases, the area around the bite will be sore, swollen, and itchy for several days.

Swab the area around a tick bite with alcohol and apply a topical antibiotic or hydrocortisone cream.

I am not a physician, but I have taken care of lots of tick bites over the years on loved ones and on myself.  My doctor this morning recommended the hydrocortisone cream, which can help with the itch of many types of insect bites.

Please be aware of ticks, and and protect yourself and your loved ones while enjoying activities outside.  Whether you are hiking, cooking out, or gardening; take the simple precautions to prevent tick bites.

Such a lovely day in Williamsburg, today.  A beautiful day to work out in the garden.  Please be careful when you do.

Such a lovely day in Williamsburg, today. A beautiful day to work out in the garden. Please be careful when you do.

And, believe it or not, they are already out there in Virginia.  I have the bite on my neck to prove it.

Woodland Gnome 2014

More on Ticks

One Word Photo Challenge: Red

March 19, 2014 red 001

Finding red is a tremendous challenge for a garden photographer in earliest spring.

Our garden is still mostly grey and brown, with a little ever-green to be found here and there.  The biggest news in our garden at the moment is the yellow daffodils and yellow Forsythia flowers appearing here and there through the rainy mist.

The leaves on this Azalea, usually evergreen, have turned red with the cold.

The leaves on this Azalea, usually evergreen, have turned red with the cold.

At first glance, there appears to be no fiery red in the landscape at all.  We’re months away from red roses and purple basil.

March 19, 2014 red 018

Red Dianthus won’t open for a while yet, and the only red splotched Caladiums are hunkered down in their pots inside, waiting for May to make their debut outside.

March 11, 2014 garden 011

But, I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Seek and you will find.”  Perhaps it speaks more to the world fulfilling our expectations, whatever those may be; but for me it generally has worked.

At times it works extremely well, in fact.  Today I found red.

Newest tiny leaves on an Heuchera.

Newest tiny leaves on an Heuchera.

Crimson, scarlet, garnet jewel;

Rose and Ruby, blood that’s pooled.

  *

Lipstick, matchstick,  cherry red,

Color of passion,  life well led…

      *

Dried red peppers, tomatoes in sauce,

Red striped candy, hot dental floss.

      *

Fast cars, hot coals, shiny red shoes,

Stop signs, chili lights, Halloween ooze.

      *

Red at Christmas and Valentine  hearts;

Summer fireworks and berry Pop Tarts.

      *

“I love red things and fast red cars,”

Says April’s child born under Mars…

Hips from last summer's roses, still clinging to the canes in March.

Hips from last summer’s roses, still clinging to the canes in March.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Many thanks to Jennifer Nichole Wells for hosting this One Word Photo Challenge.  Please check out the links on her page for many other interesting photos posted for the challenge.

Purple

Blue

Black

Vulcan

March 11, 2014 garden 029

The sky is blue,

the sun is bright,

the wind blows wintery chill.

Although it looks like spring might come,

Winter is with us still.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

The Weather Channel loves its storms,

A new one every week it seems;

With names arcane, and warnings dire,

Of snow and sleet and wind and rain.

Colonial Williamsburg, before winter storm Vulcan blew through, lowering our temperatures by 40 degrees.

Colonial Williamsburg, before winter storm Vulcan blew through, lowering our temperatures by 40 degrees.

Vulcan, God of fire and heat,

Smith to the Gods of ancient Rome;

Celebrated under summer’s Sun,

Has lent his name to this latest one.

March 12, 2014 CW 018

How ironic that this wintery storm

bringing Arctic air in early spring,

bears the name of Vulcan, God of Fire.

March 12, 2014 CW 036

May his gift to us all be: finally, Spring.

March 12, 2014 CW 100

(Although the Weather Channel’s ratings soar,

they should better research their storm names’ lore.)

March 12, 2014 CW 122

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

March 12, 2014 CW 152

Mahonia in bloom, with one of the first bees of spring.

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