Growing Herbs for the Beauty of It

Culinary tri-color sage grows alongside perennial Geranium and fennel.

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I grow herbs mostly for their beauty.  That, and their toughness as season-long dependable plants in our pots, beds and baskets.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows near emerging Colocasia.

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I haven’t built them their own little parterre, and I don’t grow them in cute little matching terra cotta pots, either.  I treat them like any other plant and let them earn their spot in my heart and in our garden.

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A newly planted Spanish lavender will soon fill this pot.  It is surrounded with wild violets and wild strawberries.

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Herbs may be some of the oldest plants cultivated and passed on generation to generation and from one culture to the next.  They are celebrated in story and song.  They can heal us, feed us, soothe us and delight us.  Herbs are intensely fragrant; a living, growing perfume.

But I would grow them even without their rich mythological and pharmacological mystique.  Why?  Because I can depend on them.

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The first fennel flowers of the season opend this week.

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The strong fragrance and coarse texture of many herbs makes them distasteful to the deer I want to foil.  I learned in the early years of this garden that I could plant herbs in the spring, and expect them to still be merrily growing in our garden, sans critter damage, the following October.  I like to believe that planting lots of fragrant herbs can also protect more desirable plants growing nearby.

They are a good investment.  They bring me peace of mind.

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Basil

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But the more I tried different cultivars of favorite herbs, the more I delighted in them for their own sake.  They are entertaining plants to grow.  Let me explain.

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Chocolate mint

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Most herbs draw in pollinators.  That means that on a sunny day, I’ll find bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of bright little insects that I can’t name without a field guide hovering around them and blissing out on their sweet nectar.

As I observe and photograph the visitors, I can crush and sniff their wonderfully fragrant leaves.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Many herbs, like the mints and scented geraniums, produce compounds in their leaves that repel biting insects.

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Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, is a versatile herb with strongly fragrant leaves.  The Garden Club of America  has named it their 2018 native plant of the year.

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If a buzzy or bitey is getting too up close and personal with me, I can pinch a stem and rub the fragrant leaves on whatever skin might be exposed.

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Pineapple mint with lavender

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Mountain mint, though not so beautiful, is an especially effective insect repellent with no toxicity to harm my family or me.

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Rose scented ‘Skeleton Rose’ Pelargonium repels insects with its fragrance. Growing here in a basket with Lantana, this basket makes a tough combination for full sun.

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That same fragrance makes herbs appealing as cut flowers, too.  Stems worked in with other flowers make interesting, long lasting arrangements.

My favorite herbs for the vase are Basil, Pelargoniums, Artemesia, and Salvias. The interesting colors, shapes and textures of herbal foliage pumps up any vase.  Oftentimes, a stem will root in the vase and can be planted out to grow on when the arrangement is disassembled.

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Basil with pineapple mint, Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

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Just as herbs create interesting contrasts with flowers in a vase, so they also pump up pots, baskets and perennial beds.

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White Monarda came to our garden as a gift from a gardening friend.  It is edible, can be used for tea, and looks lovely in a vase.  Also known as bee balm or Oswego tea, this plant is a useful North American native herb.

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Although herbs bloom, most have relatively small and insignificant flowers.  With a few exceptions, like some basils, dill, borage and fennel; herbs are grown more for their leaves than for their flowers.

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Now rosemary is a delight all unto itself.  Sometimes evergreen if the winter is mild, usually perennial, it delights us with its blue, winter flowers.

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Rosemary in bloom

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Rosemary often comes into bloom in late autumn, and many years I can include blooming sprigs of rosemary in our holiday wreathes in December.

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A newly planted rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ will triple in size by fall. Sedum ‘Angelina’ shares the pot.

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The pungent fragrance of rosemary exudes from a lovely little shrubby plant.  With rosemary, as with other Mediterranean herbs, the hotter the better in summer.  Growing to 4′ tall or more, a rosemary hedge by a fence or wall is possible in Zones 7b or 8 and warmer.

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An upright shrubby rosemary grows here with prostrate, creeping  rosemary.  Most of our rosemary plants died in our cold winter, and so I’ve had to replace them with new this spring.

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Many people grow herbs primarily for use in the kitchen.  And most, but not all, are edible.  Herbs generally respond well to the continual pruning that frequent use entails.

There are whole encyclopedias of information on using herbs for cooking, crafts, healing and housewifery.  I’ll leave you to read them if you want to learn more.

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Creeping Rosemary makes a good groundcover, or a good ‘spiller’ in a pot in full sun.

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I get busy and forget to cut and use them, I’ll admit to you.  My plants might be bushier if I used them more.

But I love watching my Pelargoniums grow huge and fill the gigantic pots I grow them in.  I love watching butterfly larvae growing plump as they harvest my parsley and fennel for me.  And yes, quite often the plants regenerate themselves within a few weeks once the larvae crawl off for their transformative naps.

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And so it is that I end up growing herbs much like any other garden plant; no special fuss required.

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Comphrey with Artemesia

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That said, keep in mind that herbs such as lavenders, culinary sages, thymes, rosemaries, oregano, germanders, Artemesias, Santolinas, and a few others originated in hot, mountainous areas where the soil may be a bit rocky and the rain scarce.  They aren’t used to coddling, and they don’t much appreciate our muggy damp summers in Virginia.

Our soil may be a bit too acidic and heavy with clay.  Our nights too damp and warm, our rain too intense.  There may be some rot or mildew.  Their roots may not thrive.

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There are a few simple things to do to make these Mediterranean herbs a bit more comfortable.  I tend to grow many of them in pots more successfully than in our heavy clay soil.

But culture in the soil is possible.  I like to dig some dolomitic lime and a little pea gravel into the planting hole before I plant a new transplant.  I set the crown a little high, mounding up the back-fill around the top-most roots, but not up the stem.  Then, I mulch with gravel out a few inches around the plant.  I’m told that chicken grit or broken up oyster shells work well for mulching herbs, too.

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Roots of these Mediterranean herbs want good drainage.  They can rot easily if left sitting in wet soil for very long.  That is why it is smart to amend the soil and plant them high.  If your soil is too heavy with clay, also dig in some compost before you plant, to loosen and improve it a bit.

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If planting in a pot, I mix some lime into the top few inches of the potting soil, set the plants a little high, and mulch the pot with pea gravel.

The gravel reflects sun and heat up into the plant on fine days, holds a little extra moisture during drought, and prevents soil from splashing up onto the lower leaves when it rains.  The gravel mulch helps protect those lower leaves from any disease harbored in the wet soil.

When growing an herb plant with woody stems or grey to blue leaves, take these precautions if your soil and weather is like ours.

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Artemesia with lavender and Iris

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Basil, dill and cilantro are annuals.  Parsley a biennial.  Chives and other Alliums are perennials, even when they are harvested annually for their bulbs.   All are soft stemmed and want a bit gentler treatment.  They appreciate more water and richer soil… but not too rich.  Herbs grown without much fertilizer have better flavor and aroma and grow more compactly.

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The Alliums are just beginning to bloom.

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Grow all of these in full sun, or the most sun you can manage.  The more sun, the more growth in most cases.

Also, give them space to grow.  Your little transplant fresh from its 4″ pot may look a bit small, and your new planting a bit sparse at first.  But please remember that most herbs grow quickly.  Mind the mature height and spread and allow space for your herbs to grow into their potential.

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Pineapple sage in its fall glory, still sending out new buds in late September 2017.

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Crowding, in our weather, makes it more likely for mold or rot to get a start where the branches stay too wet, and where air can’t easily circulate around their leaves.

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Thyme needs a good trim now and again. The stems get too long, with new growth only towards the tips.

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I wait each spring to see which of our perennial herbs made it through the winter, and which were finished off by the cold and damp soil.  Ironically, most will make it through until early spring.  It is those last few weeks and those last few frosts that may prove too much.

That is why I wait until I see new growth sprouting from their branches, before I cut them back.  Once they are growing and the weather is milder, I can cut with confidence.  Cut too soon, and a late freeze may be too much of a shock.  I killed a beautiful Agastache this spring by pruning it too early.

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Breakfast at the Agastache… summer 2017.

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Cut back any obviously dead wood, and trim most of the branches by at least a third to stimulate new, healthy growth.  But don’t throw all of those trimming away!  Many herbs, like Artemesia will root from these stem cuttings taken in late winter or early spring.  What will you lose by trying? 

And there is nothing complicated in my technique.  I open up a hole in the earth with my blade, insert a stem a few inches deep, and close the hole.  It roots and begins growing within a few weeks.  That is how I’ve spread Artemesia all around my garden over the years.

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Pineapple sage has beautiful leaves, but won’t bloom until late September.  It is hardy in our garden.

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Most herbs will root from stem cuttings.  You might cut several stems of basil, use most of the leaves, and root the stems in a glass of water to generate new plants over the summer.  Herbs like thyme are easy to divide.  Just take a stem on the outside of the plant, with some roots already growing, cut it off and plant it where its needed.  Do this with most Salvias, too.

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Apple mint roots easily in water. But easier still, pull a stem with some roots attached and planted it up elsewhere.

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If you’ve shied away from planting herbs in the past, I hope you’ll try a few this year.  You don’t need to be an expert gardener to succeed.  Most are very easy, and forgiving.

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An heirloom Pelargonium that I managed to root from a gifted stem cutting is now out in a basket for the summer.  This cultivar was brought to Williamsburg by the early colonists and grown here in the Colonial era.

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And this is the perfect time to begin, now that we are into the second week of June.  Garden centers in our area have just begun to mark down their herbs by 20-30%.  There are great bargains available this month as plant shops clear out their stock.

Unlike more tender plants, herbs will establish just fine in summer’s heat, so long as you don’t let them completely dry out as they grow new roots into the surrounding soil.

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Deadhead lavender, and other herbs, to keep the flowers coming all season. This is Spanish lavender, with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.

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There is always more to learn, there is always more to try, and there are always more beautiful and interesting plants to introduce in our gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Sunday Dinner: “Be Fruitful”

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“Don’t sit at home and wait
for mango tree to bring mangoes to you wherever you are.
It won’t happen.
If you are truly hungry for change,
go out of your comfort zone
and change the world.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“True passion motivates the life forces
and brings forth all things good.
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Gabriel Brunsdon

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Double Narcissus ‘Gay Tabour’

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“Try not to become a man of success.
Rather become a man of value.”
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Albert Einstein

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“There is no season of your life
that you cannot produce something.”
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Bidemi Mark-Mordi

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“To be fruitful
is to understand the process of growth”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“It had long since come to my attention
that people of accomplishment
rarely sat back and let things happen to them.
They went out and happened to things.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci

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“Success is not how high you have climbed,
but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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Portraits: May Flowers

R. 'Crown Princess Margareta'

R. ‘Crown Princess Margareta’

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“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in-

-what more could he ask?

A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”

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Victor Hugo

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The first of summer's perennial Geraniums bloom alongside the last of winter's Hellebores.

The first of summer’s perennial Geraniums bloom alongside the last of winter’s Hellebores.

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Photographing flowers in the garden, for me, is like taking photos of much loved children, favorite pets, and well loved vistas from one’s own front porch.  It is a gesture of love and appreciation; a desire to capture the magic of a  moment in time. 

These portraits transform a fleeting moment into something tangible to keep, to share, and to return to in the depths of winter.

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Are they fairies dancing at dusk? No, the strawberry begonias, Saxifraga stolonifera, have finally bloomed.

Are they fairies dancing at dusk? No, the strawberry begonias, Saxifraga stolonifera, finally have bloomed.  Their evergreen leaves persisted through every kind of weather this winter to cover themselves in flowers in May.

 

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“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.”

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Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Peony

Peony

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Edna expresses perfectly how I feel about our flowers.  Lovely as they are in the garden, I’m always sad to cut them and bring them indoors.  I still do it occasionally, and have posted photos of flower filled vases from time to time. 

As much as I admire flowers arranged and elevated as objects d’arte, I love them best still growing in the garden; pulsing with life, feeding the pollinators, and moving with the wind and sun.  I would rather photograph our flowers than cut them….

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Comphrey

Comphrey

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“People from a planet without flowers

would think we must be mad with joy the whole time

to have such things about us.”

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Iris Murdoch

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Iris 'Immortality' with Comphrey.

Iris ‘Immortality’ with Comphrey.

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“A weed is but an unloved flower.”

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Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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Perennial Geranium is a North American native plant and oh so useful and reliable in the garden. What a perfect shade of blue!

Perennial Geranium is a North American native plant and oh so useful and reliable in the garden. What a perfect shade of blue!

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What is the difference between a flower and a weed?  Only how much it is valued, and whether it is welcomed by the gardener.  Some of Europe’s most admired landscape architects are showing us how native plants may be incorporated into our gardens as treasured ornamentals.  I’m thinking of Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury, whose book Planting:  A New Perspective I’ve been reading this month.  I’ll devote a post to this book one day soon, but now I’m still digesting it. 

Their book challenges all of us to take a fresh look at those shrubs, flowers and grasses we’ve mentally discarded as not being up to our horticultural standard for beauty.  Perhaps there is something there of value after all; something which allows us to create a new sort of garden which manages itself, remains beautiful through all the seasons, and requires less water, fertilizer, time and investment from the gardener…..

Something hardy, simple and beautiful to bring us joy….

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This Iris, 'Secret Rites,' is new to the garden this season. Certainly not a native plant, it is a tough and reliable perennial. Oudolph and Kingsbury rely on these tough German bearded Iris in many of their designs.

This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ is new to the garden this season. Certainly not a native plant, it is a tough and reliable perennial. Oudolph and Kingsbury rely on tough German bearded Iris in many of their designs.

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“Nobody sees a flower – really –

it is so small it takes time –

we haven’t time –

and to see takes time,

like to have a friend takes time.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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These yellow Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

These yellow  flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty. 

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Photography, like other art forms, is practiced as a joyful expression and as a discipline.  There is no harsh connotation to ‘discipline’ here; only that one takes photos intentionally, thoughtfully, and regularly.  Making photos on an almost daily basis allows me to slow down and see our garden in a particular way that I wouldn’t, if not through the camera’s lens. 

Working with the photos later at the computer:  cropping, adjusting the contrast and light, meditating on the captured forms; allows me to see each flower, leaf and horizon with a different focus that I do in daily passing.  I see more deeply perhaps.  Certainly with more concentration than when I’m distracted by a buzzing insect or by the tasks remaining on my daily list. 

Framing the subject, cropping out the extraneous, taking time to appreciate those small details builds appreciation and familiarity.  Like inviting a friend for tea, one takes the time to concentrate, appreciate, listen, and love.  The relationship transforms from acquaintance to co-conspirator in this mystery of life.

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Tea roses

Tea roses

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“I must have flowers, always, and always.”

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Claude Monet

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R., 'Lichfield Angel'

R., ‘Lichfield Angel’

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Perhaps Monet and I could have been friends, since I share his passion for beauty, flowers, and evolving gardens.  As passionate about gardening as about painting, Monet found happiness with both. 

Without his talent for painting, I content myself with making portraits of our garden with my little camera.  But like Monet, “I must have flowers, always, always…. “

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R. 'Lady of Shallott'

R. ‘Lady of Shallott’

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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May 13, 2016 Begonias 007

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“God will reward you,’ he said.

‘You must be an angel since you care for flowers.”

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Victor Hugo

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May 13, 2016 Begonias 040

 

Sunday Dinner: Rain Kissed

April 29, 2016 Iris 008

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“The only noise now was the rain,

pattering softly with the magnificent

indifference of nature

for the tangled passions of humans.”

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Sherwood Smith

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April 29, 2016 Iris 015~

“If I were rain,
That joins sky and earth that otherwise never touch,
Could I join two hearts as well?”

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Tite Kubo

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April 29, 2016 Iris 023~

“… millions long for immortality

who don’t know what to do with themselves

on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”

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Susan Ertz

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April 29, 2016 Iris 011~

“Rainy days should be spent at home

with a cup of tea and a good book.”

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Bill Watterson

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April 29, 2016 Iris 004~

“After every storm, there is a rainbow.

If you have eyes, you will find it.

If you have wisdom, you will create it.

If you have love for yourself and others,

you won’t need it.”

.

Shannon L. Alder

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April 29, 2016 Iris 043~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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April 29, 2016 Iris 042

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“…I don’t just wish you rain, Beloved –

I wish you the beauty of storms…”

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John Geddes

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April 29, 2016 Iris 003

 

In A Vase on May Day

May 1, 2015 flowers 015~

May brings the most wondrous array of fragrant flowers to gardeners everywhere north of the equator on our shimmering blue planet.  Our gardens fill with herbs, Iris, Rhododendrons, Columbine, violets, Clematis blossoms, and of course, roses this month.

I always celebrate the first of May. And so since I was away and unable to post a vase on Monday, I have snipped a few stems to fill the beautiful vase I found on Saturday at the Mossy Creek Pottery near Gleneden Beach, Oregon.

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The garden at the Mossy Creek Pottery in Oregon.

The garden at the Mossy Creek Pottery in Oregon.

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Melanie, who owns Mossy Creek Pottery, told me that they display work from potters all over Washington and Oregon.  I found a few mugs, and this lovely vase, which arrived in the mail today.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 007

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Today dawned cool and rainy, and it is raining still.  There has been no warm sunshine, and I’m wearing the same snug cowl-necked sweater I found a week ago in Oregon to wear for the duration of my visit there.  The misty cool weather followed me home.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 006~

It was still raining as I headed out to snip flowers for today’s vase.  The brightest clumps in the front garden, aside from the Azaleas, are the lovely Comphrey which will bloom from now until frost.  I thought their clear violet flowers blend beautifully with the glaze on this little vase.

There are also many varieties of Aquilegia, Columbine, blooming now, and I snipped a few stems to bring inside and admire.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 010~

When I went in search of a little silvery Artemisia foliage; there, to my delight, were the first of the Lavender blossoms.  This Spanish ‘rabbit’s ear’ lavender has bloomed as early as March after mild winters.  Its buds are just beginning to show color here on May 1, but  I snipped a few for the vase since their texture is still lovely.

A bit of Asparagus fern tucked into the back of the vase helped hold the other stems in place.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 013~

You might notice that this little bouquet was re-arranged multiple times from photo to photo.  I’ve shown you the work in progress as new stems were added along the way.

The final photos inside also show you a few of the minerals I picked up on the trip.  There are geodes from the aquarium in Newport, Oregon and a few Apophyllite crystals found at the Crystal Wizard at Gleneden Beach, Oregon.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 016~

I appreciate Cathy’s tolerance for tardy posts to her “Vase” meme each week at Rambling in the Garden.  I hope you have already visited her page earlier this week to see what other gardeners have found in their gardens in the last lovely days of April.  I am always delighted with the beautiful arrangements she creates and hope you visit to enjoy them, too.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 021~

A week away from the garden leaves me discovering it all again.  Things change so quickly in late spring, and I’m thrilled to find the roses covered in thousands of buds, perennial Geraniums showing their first blossoms, and plump spikes of Iris shooting up everywhere.

I plan to cut some of the Iris and arrange them in another of the pieces which arrived from Mossy Creek today, for a vase this Monday coming.  Perhaps you will decide to join “A Vase On Monday,” with photos of your own flowers this week.

We work  hard to nurture beauty in our gardens, and it a joy to bring a bit inside, in a vase, to share.

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May 1, 2015 flowers 020

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Autumn Flowers

October 15, 2014 garden at dusk 001

 

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.

 

October 15, 2014 garden at dusk 029

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

 

 

“Indian Summer”

African Blue Basil and Comfrey still attract bumblebees in late September.

African Blue Basil and Comfrey still attract bumblebees in late September.

September is nearly gone.  We will greet October in only three more days.

Yet summer lingers in our garden.

Shorter days and cooler nights have brought color to our Dogwood trees.

Our Caladiums have passed their prime.  Cool nights send them into dormancy.

Our Caladiums have passed their prime. Cool nights send them into dormancy.

 

The Caladiums began to crumple and lose leaves three weeks ago.    But we forgive them.  They are tropicals, after all; and they hate temperatures below 50 F.

We know the cool nights, sometimes dipping into the 50’s lately, have sent a strong signal that it is time for a rest.

It is nearly time to dig them and bring them in for winter.

 

September 27, 2014 garden 015

But most of our herbs and flowers looks as lovely as they did in May, June, and July.

Here, near the coast, we have something like a  “second spring” in September and October.  And I grew up calling it, “Indian Summer.”

Although nights may be cool, we still enjoy sunny days of 70 and 80 degrees.  Last week’s rain signaled an opportunity for new growth through most of the garden.

September 27, 2014 garden 001

The color palette may have shifted towards richer, deeper tones  now that the Black Eyed Susans have opened.

And our Pineapple Sage opened its first scarlet flowers this week.  Perhaps I’ll remember to take some photos of them tomorrow.

I gathered figs today, and pears.  There is pear butter cooking in the crock-pot this evening, filling the house with the rich aroma of cinnamon and cloves, brown sugar and stewing fruit.

 

September 25 iris 003

But the Basil still blooms, perfuming the garden with its spicy sweetness.

Some of our Lantana now bloom over my head,and I’m rather tall for a Woodland Gnome.

"Miss Huff" Lantana, now in its third summer, blooms at "head height" now.  It will continue to bloom until a hard freeze kills the leaves.

“Miss Huff” Lantana,  in its third summer, blooms at “head height” now. It will continue to bloom until a hard freeze kills the leaves.

The Cannas still open their crimson flowers  each day, and the Elephant Ears grow larger than toilet seats.

That may not be an elegant way to describe them, but I bet you know exactly how large they’ve grown!

Colocasia, "Blue Hawaii" is supposed to be hardy here in Zone 7b.  I'mn debating whether to pot up a division to keep inside as insurance...

Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii” is supposed to be hardy here in Zone 7b. I’m debating whether to pot up a division to keep inside as insurance…  This one spent the winter in the garage.

Geraniums still offer up  fresh fuchsia, cream  and pink blossoms in their pots.  They love these cooler days and nights.  Almost embarrassingly bright now, they soldier on as though summer will last forever.

Those who spent winter in our garage are most determined to keep the blooms coming, savoring each new day out of doors.

A particularly nice cultivar of ornamental sage, this has bloomed in the garden since I planted it from a 6 pack in April.

A particularly nice cultivar of ornamental sage, this has bloomed in the garden since I planted it from a six pack in April.

 

And of course, our Begonias have covered themselves in tiny pink blossoms; hundreds of them on every stem.

Their new foliage has grown in, replacing the pale winter leaves with which they greeted May.  I”m a little sad now, realizing they have grow so much there isn’t room for them all to come in next month.

All of those little cuttings I stuck into pots with such optimism are now full fledged plants.

These blooming adults need new homes of their own if they are to survive.  I am hoping to find some willing adoptive parents among my gardening friends.

Although this photo was taken a month ago, Begonia "Flamingo" remains covered in flowers.

Although this photo was taken a month ago, Begonia “Flamingo” remains covered in flowers.

I sent home a little division of a favorite Begonia, tucked into a clam shell as there was not pot at hand, yesterday evening with a beloved friend.  We are sisters at heart, although she grew up half a world away, speaking different languages and eating different foods.  Somehow our paths brought both of us to this community at about the same time.  And now she fosters Begonias for me over the winter in her bright, sunny home.

Colocasia, "Black Magic"

Colocasia, “Black Magic” is supposed to be hardy here, and should survive winter with a little mulch over its crown.

 

And yes, it is time to begin the move back indoors for those tender plants who won’t make it through the  first hard freeze.  Another friend and I were chatting today, as I visited her garden for the first time.

We agree the coming winter will be as cold and harsh as winter 2013.   She is waiting to buy perennials for her newly made border, knowing in her bones they don’t have time to establish before the weather shifts.

Flowers have grown into seeds on this butterfly tree.

Flowers have grown into seeds on this butterfly tree.

 

This “Indian Summer” may be tantalizingly sweet, but it will be brief.  Gardening friends to the north already feel the change that is coming.

And so I’ll begin to close the garden down next week.  I’ve already been walking around and making plans; assessing what will be hardy and what is not.  My windowsills are full of cuttings.   I’m gathering seeds; pulling up spent annuals.

 

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But it’s not quite time to bring all the pots back inside, yet.  It is still September, and the sun shines bright and golden on the garden this weekend.

Bearded Iris have come back into bloom and there are new buds on the roses.  Bumble bees still hum around the herbs.

 

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New leaves are opening on the figs, and early mornings feel like spring.

I hope summer still lingers in your garden.   

I hope a few vegetables are still ripening on your vines, and flowers are still blooming in your beds.

 

Pyracantha berries have begun to ripen.

Pyracantha berries have begun to ripen near the street.

 

As the trees turn up the volume of color a little more each day, there is no mistaking the crisp scent of change  in the air.

But let summer linger just a little longer, before it fades back into memory.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

WPC: Fray

A white egret wades in a pond along the Colonial Parkway this afternoon.

A white egret wades in a pond along the Colonial Parkway this afternoon.  A frayed fringe of grasses frames the pond.

 

“Frayed” is an excellent word to describe the end of August. 

After a long, hot, eventful summer, we may all feel a bit frayed around the edges.

 

Rose of Sharon flowers are still lovely, though the leaves are a bit frayed.

Rose of Sharon flowers are still lovely, though the leaves are a bit frayed.

 

The garden certainly looks a bit frayed after withstanding many weeks of heat and thunderstorms, hungry insects and hungry deer.

And the grasses blooming now along the roadsides offer a “frayed” fringe to all vistas.

 

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“Fray” itself is an interesting word.

Coming to us from middle English, it means that something is worn down, or worn out, to the point of beginning to come apart.

My jeans are nearly always frayed somewhere.

I was raised when it was fashionable to fray them in spots on purpose, which definitely frayed my mother’s nerves.

The first of the reblooming Iris sends up a bud against the old and frayed Comfrey foliage which has lasted the summer.

The first of the reblooming Iris sends up a bud against the old and frayed Comfrey foliage, which has lasted the summer.

 

But to become “frayed” implies that one has been in the thick of the action.

We might choose to “join the fray” as we add our voice to stand up for a good cause; or a bad one, as the case might be.

 

Losing the fray can mean ending up as someone else's dinner in the garden.

Losing the fray can mean ending up as someone else’s dinner in the garden.

 

In our garden, we are in the midst of an ongoing fray with hungry Bambis who steal in through the fences at night  to eat our “shrubberies.”

 

Frayed Oakleaf Hydrangea, grazed last night by the deer.

Frayed Oakleaf Hydrangea, grazed last night by the deer.

 

I found two “deer resistant” Oakleaf Hydrangeas “frayed” this morning; their beautiful leaves gone overnight into the maws of gourmet deer.

 

The other Hydrangea nibbled last night is also sadly frayed.

The other Hydrangea nibbled last night is also sadly frayed.

 

I’m often reminded that if I continue to plant, they will continue to come; which frays my expectations for a beautiful, lush garden.  But only a little…

 

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As we drove out to Jamestown this afternoon to visit our favorite vegetable stand for some of the last of this summer’s tomatoes, and some of the first of this year’s apple crop; we watched the frayed edges of storm clouds dip ever lower in the sky.

We waited, as for Gadot, for the promised thunderstorm which never came.

 

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But continuing on to the historic island itself, we noticed a creature running across the lawn near the causeway.

We had spotted it a few times before, always from a distance, and were happily surprised to find it out in the open today where we could photograph it.

 

The fox who came out near Jamestown  Island this afternoon.

The fox who came out near Jamestown Island this afternoon.

 

It was a fox.  A somewhat old and painfully thin fox, with a frayed tail and dull looking coat.

 

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And it had found something lying in the grass it  could eat.  It’s hunger must have fed its courage, and it stayed out in the open, despite our company and the passing traffic.

We are sorry to find the fox looking so thin with autumn coming quickly on.

 

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But that is the way of things in the wild.  Things remain a bit frayed around the edges year round, especially here at the last gasp of summer.

 

Osprey Eagle on the James River today.

Osprey Eagle on the James River today.

 

The elements of sun and wind, rain and lightening work their will on forest, field, and garden alike.

But what is frayed today, is often renewed with fresh growth of leaves and flowers soon enough.

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Whether its own new growth, or that of a conquering vine; it matters little.

Nature always wins, in the end.

 

Autumn Clematis scrambles over shrubs and trees on the river bank.  Its sweet fragrance fills the air with perfume.

Autumn Clematis scrambles over shrubs and trees on the river bank. Its sweet fragrance fills the air with perfume.

 

Getting “frayed” is only a stop along the path of re-newal. 

It is the way of things….

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Fray

 

With love, to a favorite aunt who let me know she cares enough to follow my ramblings here…..

 

Sweet Autumn Clematis, awash in sweet perfume.

Sweet Autumn Clematis, awash in sweet perfume.

Things Change: Butterfly Garden

Pineapple Sage fills the butterfly garden last October.

Pineapple Sage fills the butterfly garden last October.

 

The butterfly garden was built four springs ago during our first year on the property.

Finding the garden full of butterflies and hummingbirds when we first settled in, I wanted to plant even more nectar rich flowers  on the sunny west facing slope between our house and the ravine.

We constructed a raised bed, roughly 8′ deep, which stretched the full length of a fairly flat area between walkways.

 

March of 2010, our newly built bed is ready to plant.

March of 2010, our newly built bed is ready to plant.

By then we had discovered the voles.  So we laid down landscaping fabric and filled the bed in with purchased garden soil and compost, hoping to create a bed the voles couldn’t reach.

And that first season we planted three butterfly bushes, three rose bushes, white and purple coneflowers, several different Salvias, lots of Basil, Cleome, Monarda, giant Zinnias, and probably a half dozen other things I’m not remembering.

Late June of 2010, the newly planted garden is taking off.

Late June of 2010, the newly planted garden is taking off.

It was gorgeous, especially in late summer and early autumn, when all of the Salvias came into bloom.

Back then, the Rose of Sharon shrubs weren’t quite so tall on the bank above the garden.

There were a few spindly little deer nibbled Rose of Sharon shrubs below the bed, too;  but they were too short to make significant shade.

The garden in 2011

The garden in 2011

The bed has changed a little each season.  I’ve added several new rose bushes and some Iris.  Two of the Buddleia davidii  died over winter.

But perhaps the most significant change has been a change in the light reaching the garden from full sun to partial shade.

June of 2011 with full sun, the herbs and perennials grow happily.

June of 2011 with full sun, the herbs and perennials grow happily.

And I was inspired to keep planting in tiers down the slope, setting out shrubs as they outgrew their pots, more iris, and lots of little Rosemary and Lavender plants on the sun drenched slope.

Like with any growing family, over time, things change.

By mid-August of 2014 surrounding shrubs shade the actual raised bed..

By mid-August of 2014 surrounding shrubs shade the actual raised bed..

The Rose of Sharon in front of the bed, given a little love in the form of careful pruning and Plant Tone have just taken off!  They’ve grown from knee high to “out of reach” in just these last few years.

The little re-blooming lilacs moved from pots into the ground quickly quadrupled in size, casting their shade back onto the original raised bed.

Plants along the edges of the bed have gotten enough sun to grow.  The Pineapple Sage made it through the winter, and has grown high again this year.  It will burst into bloom late next month.

Plants along the edges of the bed have gotten enough sun to grow. The Pineapple Sage made it through the winter, and has grown high again this year. It will burst into bloom late next month.

I started work in the butterfly garden in early spring, cutting back last year’s woody growth and weeding.

Our long cold winter delayed appearance of the perennials.

But I kept puttering out there, transplanting bulbs “in the green” from pots into the ground, pruning and feeding the roses, and finally as the weather warmed, planting Basil, Zinnias, and scented geraniums.

April 2014, Comfrey and Parsley

April 2014, Comfrey and Parsley

But the butterfly garden never quite came together this summer as it has in past years.

We had a nice crop of roses in May, but the Monarda, Echinacea, and Cleome just didn’t appear as I had expected.

And while I waited for them to appear, weeds sprouted in their place.

Late May 2014

Late May 2014

But I was busy elsewhere and let them get away from me.  Life happens, doesn’t it?

And, as you surely know, I’ve invested a lot of my “gardening hours” in other parts of the garden this season.

So last week, when I finally had a stretch of days at home, it came time to face the sad state of our once stunning butterfly garden and see what could be done to fix it.

The roses are already shaded by over arching Rose of Sharon shrubs here in mid-May.

The roses are already shaded by over arching Rose of Sharon shrubs here in mid-May.

With  encouragement from the weather, we used the cool August morning to our advantage, and waded in.

I pulled out weedy growth by the handful, and my partner gathered it all and carted it off to return to the Earth in the ravine.

The main offender, Mulberry weed, or Fatoua villosa, has leaves enough like our herby perennials that it can easily hide out near other plants.

It grows thickly from seeds left the season before, and easily shades out more desirable plants returning from seed.

It was the featured weed of the month in a gardening magazine I happened to read last week.  When I learned that it can shoot its little seeds up to four feet away from the mother plant, I realized it could be tolerated no longer!

Mulberry weed is growing among the perennial Ageratum, at the base of the Echinacea here.  This is on the opposite side of the pathway from the raised bed.

Mulberry weed is growing among the perennial Ageratum, at the base of the Echinacea here.   This is on the opposite side of the pathway from the raised bed.

The ground was soft and moist enough to allow us to pull the weeds, roots intact, with minimal effort.

I was happy to find a few of the Salvias and Monarda we’d been watch for struggling on among the weeds.

Zinnias and Penta, on the front edge of the bed, got a bit dirt covered during the great weeding....

Zinnias and Penta, on the front edge of the bed, got a bit dirt covered during the great weeding….

But the main problem with the bed wasn’t really the weeds…. it was the shade.  Leggy growth on perennials can only be explained away in so many ways….

Although I thinned out some of the over-arching Rose of Sharon branches, that won’t be enough to restore this bed to its original sunny exposure.

Rose of Sharon, which has grown from knee high to "out of reach" in such a short time.  Butterflies and hummingbirds just love these flowers.

Rose of Sharon, which has grown from knee high to “out of reach” in such a short time. Butterflies and hummingbirds just love these flowers.

 

It is time to acknowledge that the growing conditions here have shifted, and adjust with new plants.

 

Leggy growth is a sure sign of too much shade.

Leggy growth is a sure sign of too much shade.  This poor rose was recently grazed by deer, in spite of the scented geranium planted in front of it.

The roses will stay, of course, and the herbs and Lantana planted along the very front edge will just have to manage for the remainder of this season.

We also have one good stand of Pineapple Sage on the  end of the garden.  But once the weeds were pulled, there was a lot of bare real estate to replant.

Early August, before I got busy working on the butterfly garden.

Early August, before I got busy working on the butterfly garden.

Visiting deer remain a  complicating factor for this garden, which limits plant choices.  All of the Heuchera I moved out of pots to this garden in the spring have been grazed.

The scented Pelargoniums, onion sets, Basil, and Comphrey were supposed to help keep the deer away… But the roses and missing Heuchera bear witness to the deer and their hunger.

So what nectar rich, deer resistant, shade loving plants might survive in this garden?

Hardy Begonia, before I dividided it and replanted portions in the butterfly garden.

Hardy Begonia, before I divided it and replanted portions in the butterfly garden.

Most of the obvious selections, like Impatiens, Hosta,  or Solomon’s Seal have already proven too tasty in summers past.

Even Coleus, which produces flowers in the sun, tempts our deer from time to time.

But  hardy Begonias have survived  on a shady bank, in another part of the garden, since we planted them there in 2009.

Hardy Begonia begins its season of bloom in August, and blooms until frost. Here, on a shady bank.

Hardy Begonia begins its season of bloom in August, and blooms until frost. Here, on a shady bank.

 

These beautiful plants bloom in the shade, attract butterflies, spread, and return year after year.  Luckily, we have a large pot of them started from cuttings last summer, which survived the winter, too.

Ferns will also fill the space beautifully, hold no interest for deer, and spread a little each year.

We had a large clump of Japanese Pained Fern, Athyrium niponicum in a pot on the deck which needed dividing anyway.

So I began the rehabilitation of this once lovely garden with divisions of fern, Begonia, and two hardy ferns picked up at Lowes.

 

Divisions of Japanese Painted Fern and Hardy Begonia will spread to fill the shadiest portions of the butterfly garden.

Divisions of Japanese Painted Fern and Hardy Begonia will spread to fill the shadiest portions of the butterfly garden.

Once plants fill the space, weedy growth will not be much of a problem.  And once the Begonias establish, they will bloom here reliably season after season.

A bag of compost is always a good investment when re-working a garden space, and I added it generously to this bed as I planted.

I grew this particular Begonia for more than a decade in my last garden before moving it here, and I have no idea what its cultivar name might be.

 

August 16, 2014 garden 036

Plant Delights Nursery offers a dozen different hardy Begonias which I’m looking forward to trying here.

Begonia grandis, ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ is growing nicely in a pot on the deck.  I’ll take cuttings and have more plants to add to the now shady butterfly garden by next season.

Begonia, ‘Pewterware’ should arrive in the mail later this week.  A new plant in the catalog, I’m looking forward to watching it grow.

We also have Saxifraga stolonifera, or Strawberry Begonia, spreading like crazy in a large pot in the front garden.   I’ll move a few of these around to the front edge of this garden for spring blooms.  We saw them in full bloom at Forest Lane Botanicals this year, and they make an impressive display for a few weeks each spring.  They provide a pleasing ground cover during the rest of the season.

There is space left to add a few more ferns to the garden around the Begonias.

Autumn 'Brilliance' fern remains evergreen in our garden.  I'll add a few of these to the bed as they come available.

Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern remains evergreen in our garden. I’ll add a few of these to the bed as they come available, and will also add some evergreen, winter blooming Hellebores.

The Patton’s have promised that a shipment of ferns will be in at the Homestead Garden Center later this week, and I’ll hope for an interesting selection.

We have plenty more Japanese Painted Ferns in pots to divide, but they are deciduous ferns.  I’d like at least a few evergreen ferns to fill the bed over the winter.

One thing I’ve learned over the years:  good gardeners experiment continuously. 

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We continue to experiment and to observe; to try new plants and methods, and to learn more than we currently know.

We change and grow with our gardens.  And we find ways to transform disappointments into opportunities.

That is our philosophy in our Forest Garden, and thus far we’ve been rewarded richly  for our efforts.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Cool August Morning

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This morning found us out in the garden watering, pulling grass, deadheading spent flowers, and generally admiring the beauty around us.

Morning sun shines through the Hibiscus and Cannas, illuminating their leaves like stained glass.

Morning sun shines through the Hibiscus and Cannas, illuminating their leaves like stained glass.

It was the sort of cool, breezy morning which invited one out of doors to enjoy the day; and to look around for things which need doing while enjoying it.

I’ve finally had a stretch of days at home, and have turned to pulling grass and weeds in preparation for some late summer planting and sprucing up.

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The first warning to go gently came from friend turtle. 

One of our Eastern Box turtles had sought shelter at the base of a Dogwood tree, under the lacy canopy of grasses.

As I worked steadily closer to him, he made no noise and gave no sign of his presence.

When I finally pulled out the grasses sheltering him, he turned to look up at me, but stood his ground.  Our turtles know us by now, as the lizards do, and know there is nothing to fear so long as we see them.

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Finally turning my attention to the stump garden, after a good watering, I worked my way around the bed trimming  spent Gladiolus stems, pruning the Catnip,  pulling the odd vagrant weedy growth, and trimming the Comfrey.

My attention was on the plants, and I almost didn’t see the delicate web of this  black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia.

 

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The sparkling drops of water caught on its strands caught my attention just before I cut one of the stems anchoring it.  What beauty!

 

The male spider

The male spider

 

My partner came over and we admired the web and two resident spiders for a while.

 

The larger female spider, with yellow markings, is joined on the web by a more slender male spider.  These non-poisonous spiders garden spiders are common throughout most of the United States.

The larger female spider, with yellow markings, is joined on the web by a more slender male spider. These non-poisonous spiders garden spiders are common throughout most of the United States.

 

Large spiders like these begin to show themselves and cover the garden with their webs in late summer, here in Virginia.  It is nothing to find webs several feet across from  shrub to shrub sparkling with dew in the early mornings.

 

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So long as our butterflies don’t end up trapped in the webs, we try to leave them alone and bless the spiders for each mosquito they can eat.

So after photographing the spiders and their web, I gathered my tools and moved on, leaving the spiders in peace.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Butterfly tree this morning.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Butterfly tree this morning.

 

The signs of autumn have appeared all around us here in Williamsburg.

These cool nights and mornings feel more like late September than mid- August.  Dogwood trees along the Colonial Parkway have taken on a rosy hue as the chlorophyll fades from their leaves.

 

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Sweet Autumn Clematis came into bloom this week, and our Tulip Poplar trees have begun to turn bright yellow and to drop their leaves.

It will be an early  and cool autumn across much of the United States.  Summer has been compressed this year between a late spring and an early fall.

 

The Devil's Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, is in full bloom now, and is covered by bees.  Notice the leaves beginning to change colors.

The Devil’s Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, is in full bloom now, and is covered by bees. Notice the leaves beginning to change colors.

 

We have enjoyed the cooler summer, and we’ve had enough rain to make things green and lush here.

But this is not the year to sow late crops and expect to harvest them before frost.

 

Our mild weather has been kind to the roses this summer.

Our mild weather has been kind to the roses this summer.

 

Cold winds will blow down from Canada and the Great Lakes with frost much earlier than most expect them.

But not for a while yet.  At the moment we are still celebrating the butterflies and hummingbirds who find our garden.

 

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We’re encouraging the lizards to gorge themselves on insects, watching out for the turtles, and admiring the spiders’ weaving.

And planting….

 

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But I’ll show you the garden bed I’m rehabilitating in another post.

For now, let’s just enjoy this beautiful August weekend, and celebrate summer in our Forest Garden.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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