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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Pot Shots: A Pop of Color

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: First Iris

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Spring has settled over our garden for another year, as the daffies give way to the rest of their perennial cousins.  The comphrey, one of the first to awaken with fresh leaves each spring, burst into bloom with week with its wine colored flowers.

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Our Iris are all stretching for the sky, and the first golden yellow blossoms are opening.  This is an exciting time in the garden as the beds begin to fill in with new foliage and we re-discover loved perennials who made it through this brutal winter, just ending.

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That isn’t to say that spring is settled.  It was in the mid-30s when I headed out this morning, still dressed in winter wear.  But the sun was golden, gilding every blooming shrub and tree in the garden.

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The North wind gusted all day, like a bored toddler determined to attract one’s attention.   Choosing to ignore it, I stayed out in the sunshine.

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All in all, a fabulous Friday as spring’s promises begin to come true.

Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious… Let’s infect one another!

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Sunday Dinner: Small Miracles

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“Miracles are a retelling in small letters
of the very same story
which is written across the whole world
in letters too large
for some of us to see.”
.
C.S. Lewis

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“People usually consider walking on water
or in thin air a miracle.
But I think the real miracle
is not to walk either on water or in thin air,
but to walk on earth.
Every day we are engaged in a miracle
which we don’t even recognize:
a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves,
the black, curious eyes of a child—
our own two eyes.
All is a miracle.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

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“There are days when I think I don’t believe anymore.
When I think I’ve grown too old for miracles.
And that’s right when another seems to happen.”
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Dana Reinhardt

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“I am realistic –
I expect miracles.”
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Wayne W. Dyer
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“To experience what isn’t,
love what is.”

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Eric Micha’el Leventhal
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For all of my siblings, with love…

 

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Spring’s Surprise

Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’

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“Our brightest blazes of gladness
are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”
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Samuel Johnson

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“Magic is the stunning art
of surprising your audience,
so that nothing else surprises them.”
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Amit Kalantri

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“The best part of the journey
is the surprise and wonder along the way.”
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Ken Poirot

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Trees are already in bloom at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, VA.

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“The beauty of the unexpected
lies within the surprise of the momentum,
not only at its tipping point,
but also within all the moments waiting.”
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Akilnathan Logeswaran

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“Magic is a very beautiful mystery.
Even the ages old magic effects
still surprises the most modern men.”
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Amit Kalantri
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ alongside N. ‘Tete-a-Tete’

Hellebores: Winter’s Flowers

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Even before the first snowdrop emerges, we enjoy abundant winter flowers in our garden.  Perennial Hellebores fill our pots, beds and borders with their sturdy evergreen leaves year round.

Buds emerge in late December or early January, and their flowers begin to open during that long stretch of cold when little else can bloom.  Often called “Christmas rose” or “Lenten rose,”  these tough, beautiful flowers continue blooming through late spring.

I’ve just re-edited my 2014 post, Hidden Jewels: Hellebores, with additional information and updated photos.  I hope you will enjoy it!

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H. argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ February 9, 2017

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Woodland Gnome  2018
*     *     *
Hidden Jewels: Hellebores
The Beauty of Hellebores
Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’
Why I Love Those Plants of Ill Repute
Plan Now For Winter Flowers

Shade Haven

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As June fades towards July, we appreciate every speck of shade our garden offers.  Summer days in Virginia routinely heat up to over 90F.  And it’s a moist heat, here near the coast.  Some days we have nearly 100% humidity.

When I was growing up in Virginia, we somehow survived it, often without any air conditioning.  The first few schools where I taught didn’t have air conditioning, either.  Maybe that is why I love the shade and know the value of a cool breeze on a summer day.

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Japanese painted fern’s silvery fronds make it especially cooling on a sultry summer day.

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The lowest slope at the back of our garden enjoys a lot of shade.  It is steep, and erosion remains a concern.  This is one of the first areas where we began planting ferns in our first year of tending this garden.  A dense stand of bamboo grows just beyond, where our garden falls off into the ravine.

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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I add a few more ferns and shade-loving plants to this area each year.  I began a new planting bed around the stump of a newly fallen tree, at the base of the slope, several years ago.  It began with a transplanted Hellebore seedling and some  little autumn ferns, planted into a mound of compost poured in and around the stump.  Well, they  survived into the next year, and so I made the circle of compost a little wider and added a few more plants.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns planted are  in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.   June 2013

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I’ve added a few more plants each year, including some Sauromatum venosum, or  Voodoo Lily tubers, in 2015.

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I thought I might have ruined this ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.  July 2016

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We finally decided this spring to extend this whole area and give it a proper border.  This was very early on when I was studying rain gardens, and thinking about places on our property where we needed to do more to catch and use run-off from storms.

This shady slope has fairly good soil, but is ridden with roots.  So I simply outlined the new dimensions of the bed, laid an outline of landscaping bricks, and set to work eliminating the existing  weedy growth.

Some of the weeds, near existing perennials, needed pulling.  Some areas where moss was well established, I wanted to simply leave alone.  But much of the new garden could be covered with brown paper grocery bags, and topped off with a few inches of compost.  This is the best method I’ve found for creating new planting beds in this garden.

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I chose a selection of ferns and shade loving perennials to harmonize with the ferns, Hellebores, and voodoo lily already growing here.  Although I’ve planted mostly hardy ferns, there are a few more tender ferns that I potted up last fall, and returned to this bed after danger of frost.  Others are planted into containers and  displayed in this area.

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Bamboo leaves drift down on every breeze.  I clear them, occasionally, off of the larger plants in this bed.  One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, I plan to grab our leaf blower and blow all of the bamboo leaves away from the garden and back towards the ravine.  I’m sure the moss establishing here would be better for it, and so would my character.  How I admire fastidious gardeners!  Perhaps one day I’ll join their ranks….

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Ken Druse has written a delightful book entirely about gardening in shade.

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His The New Shade Garden is one of those beautiful books I lusted after for more than a year, before I finally ordered it this past winter.  The luscious photos and useful information and encouragement on every page left me wondering why I waited so long to read it.  This book is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to you if you share my affinity for finding cool haven in the shade.  You’ll find whole chapters devoted to shade loving trees, shrubs, perennials and ferns; along with useful lists and recommendations for plants for particular situations.

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All we need now, to complete this beautiful shade haven in our back garden, is a little patio and a place to sit.  That may still be a few years off, though.  Somehow I’m always more interested in plants than hardscape, and rarely find time to just sit in the garden.

There is always more to do…. something waiting for me to plant….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Signs Of Spring

Iris histrioides

Iris histrioides

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Signs of spring draw us outside, and lead us step by step, path by path, through the garden today.

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Daffodils

Daffodils

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There is a newness to the greens emerging now from the warming, moist soil.  Can you smell the smell of green on the breeze? 

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Vinca minor

Vinca minor

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We won’t bother with labels like leaf or weed, grass, shoot, stem or bud.  It is all welcome on a day such as this.

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Another warm day, that is; with bright sunshine and blue sky and soft breezes setting the Daffodils dancing to some unheard ( by us) spring jig.  But the birds flitting from shrub to shrub surely hear it.  Their chirps and bits of tune harmonize with the wind song in the still bare branches high above the garden.

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We went out to admire the bits of clearing and pruning we’ve completed already, and take stock of what is still needed to welcome spring.

The Vinca has already given soft lavender flowers; new leaves emerge still tightly wound in their buds.  This is the one time of year when I actually like the Vinca vines which threaten to take over every bed we start.

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The one Iris we discovered Saturday afternoon has multiplied, and now stands in company with its sisters.  Their petals almost startling blue, gauche perhaps against winter’s neutrals, but so welcome.

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Blue Iris and soft purple Crocus stand low against the soil, timid almost, to have shown their faces so early in the season.

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Crocus

Crocus

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But cheeky Daffodils open bravely, budding and unfolding  with such speed that we delight in finding new ones each day.  The first of the miniatures appeared yesterday.

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And today I noticed a divided Daffodil bulb exposed to the afternoon sun.  It lay on a steep bank below a shrub, a few of its roots determinedly reaching down into the soil even as leaves and a flower bud emerged from each bulb’s tip.

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How did it get here?  Did it wash out of its bed in heavy rain, or can we thank some curious squirrel for its plight?

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Rep-planted, and ready to grow!

Re-planted, and ready to grow!

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I was simply glad to notice it, and moved it to a more accommodating spot where it can ‘live long and prosper…”… I hope.

We can never have too many Daffodils brightening a February day!

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The seedling  Hellebores I transplanted last spring are blooming now, too.  They hybridize themselves promiscuously, and I’m endlessly fascinated to see the first of their flowers open.

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No named beauty in a catalog is quite as lovely as these debutantes, bred in our own garden.

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I find it deeply satisfying to see their  leaves and buds stretching for the sun, appearing in places I had forgotten I’d planted them.   And today I made mental notes of where to plant a few more seedlings later this week.

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Forsythia flowers are opening, and even the Hydrangea buds have begun to burst and show a hint of green.  Tender new leaves have emerged now on the roses and from woody vines on the trellis.

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What do you think?  Do we trust this early spring?

We moved our Olive and Pomegranate trees back outside this weekend to let them enjoy a bit of fresh air and real sunshine.  I hope, for my back’s sake, that they can stay!

All of the hanging baskets had a holiday on Sunday, out of the garage, and a good deep drink with a bit of  Neptune’s Harvest mixed in.  We opened the garage door to let air and light in to the pot-bound Begonias and Bougainvillea sheltering there.

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A Virginia spring is never a settled thing.  It teases and promises, but never can be trusted until early May, at least.  I’ve spent too many Easter Sunday mornings huddled in a winter coat and shivered through too many April snows, to fully trust an 80 degree February day.

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Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny

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We happily use these sweet warm days, opening windows and doors and starting new projects.  But the furnace kicks in again by dusk.  There is no long-term contract signed, yet. 

Still, we will marvel at each emerging bud and fiddlehead, and keep our fingers crossed that March will be gentle with our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is.

And when you’ve got it, you want—

oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want,

but it just fairly makes your heart ache,

you want it so!”

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Mark Twain

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february-21-2017-bulbs-005

 

A Garden Mystery: The Case of the Vanished Helleborus

Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever' blooming a week ago.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’  opening its first blooms a week ago, on February 9.

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Pretty, wasn’t it?  Now it’s vanished…. poof!

This beautiful Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’ grew in a very large pot in our front garden, surrounded with Violas, Ajuga, and some Creeping Jenny.  I planted it there in late autumn to keep the pot interesting through the winter months.  There is a dormant fern, and a few spring bulbs tucked in around its roots.

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I’ve been photographing the Hellebore’s progress every week or so as its beautiful new leaves and flowers emerged.  Its first flowers opened last week.  It is the sort of interesting plant that I like to visit whenever I’m out in the garden, just to see its progress.

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January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017

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That said, a friend and I were touring the front garden on Sunday afternoon, and we wandered over to the pot so she could see this unusual Helleborus up close.  She is just getting started gardening at her new home in our community, and  had come over to receive a gift of Hellebore seedlings to begin her own collection.  I wanted to show her the beauty of this special cultivar with its pale new foliage and creamy flowers.

And what I saw in the pot didn’t register at first.  There were the Violas, the vines, the Ajuga and….  nothing in the center of the pot.  The large speckled centerpiece of the planting has simply vanished.

No soil was disturbed, no tell-tale clawing at the soil spoke of visiting squirrels.  There wasn’t a single dropped leaf or flower petal anywhere around.  We searched the area for some clue and found nothing.

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Helleborus argutifolius just home and still in its Nursery pot in late November.

Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’  just home and still in its nursery pot in late November.

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You probably know that Hellebores are poisonous.  Nothing eats them.

In our seven years of growing Hellebores in this garden, I’ve not once seen so much as a leaf munched by a rabbit or deer.  Hellebores are so poisonous that I always wear gloves to handle them.

And yet all that is left of this particularly charming H. ‘Snow Fever’ is its roots, and two tiny bits of red, level with the soil, where its stems were cut at their base.  The whole plant was there on Friday afternoon, and by Sunday morning, it had vanished.

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Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.

Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.  A sharp eye might notice fresh compost spread to cover the spot where our missing plant once grew.

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And so I’m turning to you, my friends and fellow gardeners, for your thoughts on this most annoying mystery.

Have you seen something like this before?  Any ideas on what might have happened to the Hellebore? 

I have high hopes to see new growth emerge from the roots one day soon.  Maybe this Hellebore will prove stubborn and hardy and will amaze us with its prolific growth, to make up for what it has lost.

I’ll keep you posted….

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This H. 'Snow Fever' grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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February 9, 2017

February 9, 2017

Blossom XVIII: Tough

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“We have not journeyed all this way

because we are made of sugar candy.”

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Winston S. Churchill

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“Anyone can be tough for a season.

It takes a special kind of human

to rise to life’s challenges for a lifetime.”


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Chris Matakas

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“If you’re looking for the easy challenge,

you’re not cut out for success.”


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T Jay Taylor

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“Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face

conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.”

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Greta Garbo

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Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever'

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

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Do you often think of flowers as ‘tough’ ?  Likely not.

And yet look at these beautiful Hellebores blooming in our garden today.  So fragile looking, but tough enough to bloom in January.  These sheltered under the deep  snowfall when temperatures here dipped into the single digits two weeks ago.  That is extremely cold for coastal Virginia, but the Hellebores kept  on growing and even blooming despite their environment.

There is a lesson there for gardeners; perhaps for all of us.  Such beauty is an expression of itself.  It fulfills its own plan and promise.

Hellebores fill a special niche in our garden.  They are one of the toughest perennials we grow.  Their graceful evergreen leaves maintain a presence year round, through summer’s heat and drought as easily as through frigid winter days.  Their delicate veins and subtle shading express the same sort of athletic beauty as a ballerina.   And just when it looks like the garden has suffered defeat at winter’s hand, these wondrous flowers emerge from the frozen Earth.

And they last.  The cut flowers last a long time whether left growing out of doors or cut for a vase.  These plants will still be blooming when the garden has filled with Daffodils and Azalea next April.

A new neighbor and I were chatting today, and she asked me what perennial I would recommend for her front garden.  She has a wide sheltered bed near the street; an inviting  bed and breakfast for every rabbit and deer in the neighborhood.  It is shaded with a thick growth of native hollies and young hardwood trees.

I’ll be you know what advice I offered…. Hellebores.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
Blossom XII
Blossom XIII
Blossom XIV
Blossom XV
Blossom XVI
Blossom XVII
Blossom XX

 

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