Artistry of Herbs

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So much of our garden was slack and wilting yesterday evening, before the rain began.  The ground has grown drier each day, available moisture retreating deeper, away from the multitude of thirsty roots.  This time of year devolves into a contest of will between me with my trusty garden hoses, and July’s relentless heat and extended dry spells.

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Bronze fennel glows in the late afternoon paired Verbena bonareinsis and Joe Pye weed.

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Plants react differently to the many challenges that befall them in the course of the year.  Watching how plants respond to stress can guide us in the choices we make in planting.

No one enjoys a garden filled with drooping, brown tipped leaves.  And most of us don’t have the unlimited time or resources to water enough to compensate when the weather turns hot and dry for days or weeks at a time.  That is why it is smart to plant a good percentage of deep rooted, sturdy, drought tolerant plants to stand tall through July and August.

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Loose foliage of Siberian Iris and Crinum lily function like ornamental grasses through summer, setting off other flowering plants nearby.

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Herbs top my list of sturdy, dependable choices for summer structure.  Fennel, lavender, Salvias, dill, thyme, Santolina, rosemary, Germander, Artemesia, and Pelargoniums stand up and look smart with a minimum of supplemental water.  Iris, considered an herb by many, are a part of this dependably sturdy cohort.

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Rose scented Pelargonium

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And, these plants are all beautiful.  Many are fragrant, and some bloom for weeks right through the summer. Their leaves are fleshy and thick, some waxy and prepared to stand up to the relentless Mediterranean sun.  Their subtle colors and designs fascinating.

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Spanish Lavender

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As an added bonus, most can be found for a very small investment each spring.  Many herbs are offered at local big box stores and grocery stores from March through June or early July for just a few dollars a pot.

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Newly planted Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ grows with tough Sedum ‘Angelina.’  This Rosemary can eventually grow into a good sized shrub.

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Perennials generally survive challenging weather better than annuals, anyway, because they have grown deeper, larger roots. Perennial herbs prove some of the most dependable.

They may need more coddling through their first few months, but once established they will hang on until conditions improve.  Like trees and shrubs, their roots can seek out moisture out of reach of many other plants.

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Keep newly planted perennials well watered while their roots grow out into the surrounding soil. Once new growth begins, you know the plants are settling in. The Monarda and Verbena hastata were planted in mid-July, a terrible time for planting!  The Pineapple sage (top right) is now well established and can handle summer weather.

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We are all discovering ways to adapt to the challenges our changing weather patterns bring.  We see all sorts of records broken month after month, and know that more change is likely ahead.

Our gardens can adapt, beautifully, and with tremendous artistry.  We just need to keep an open mind as we plant.  A willingness to experiment with new plants, ones we may not have previously considered for the perennial garden, and different ways of cultivating it opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“In a world of change,

the learners shall inherit the earth,

while the learned shall find themselves

perfectly suited

for a world that no longer exists.”
.

Eric Hoffer

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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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Fabulous Friday: Growing Herbs

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One of the nicest things about summer is the garden filled with fresh herbs.  Most herbs prove very easy to grow.  They enjoy full sun, can stand a little dry weather, naturally repel pests, and smell delicious.

Herbs have such beautiful and interesting foliage, that I enjoy using them in containers and in the perennial garden. They also add an interesting touch in a vase.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows with parsley and fennel.

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Evergreen perennial herbs, like rosemary, often maintain a presence through the winter.  Even when frost damaged, most will begin to recover and grow again by early spring. Although many Mediterranean herbs are marginally hardy in our climate, we’ve had enough success overwintering them that it is well worth making the effort.

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Overwintered Lavender and Artemesia. Artemesia propagates easily from stem cuttings in early spring.

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Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Artemesia, culinary sage, Santolina, germander, oregano, chocolate mint and many varieties of Lavender remain evergreen in our garden.  Other herbs, like comphrey, dill and fennel, return with fresh growth once the weather warms.

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Comphrey is one of our earliest herbs to bloom each spring.

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We’ve had mixed experience in overwintering one of my favorite herbs, scented Pelargoniums.   I’m always thrilled to see tiny leaves emerge in early spring where one has survived the winter.  Perennials, they aren’t fond of winter indoors, unless you have a spot to keep them in bright light.

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Thyme provides lots of early nectar for pollinators. It grows into an attractive edging for perennial beds and borders.

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Scented Pelargoniums rank high on my spring shopping list, as I scout out choice varieties wherever herbs are sold.  P. ‘Citronella,’ sold to ward off mosquitoes, can be found in many garden centers and big box plant departments.  But I am always watching for the rose scented varieties and an especially pretty plant called P. ‘Chocolate Mint.’ 

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Pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ has the scent of roses

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Basil grows particularly well for us here in coastal Virginia.  It really takes off quickly in our late spring and summer heat.  Sometimes I begin with seeds, but most often watch for my favorite varieties at herb sales.  Some varieties, like African Blue Basil, are hybrids and can’t be grown true from seeds.

African Blue and Thai Basil quickly grow into small, fragrant shrubs.   I let them flower, and then enjoy the many pollinators they attract all summer.  Their seeds attract goldfinches and usually stand in my garden until after the holidays, when I finally pull the plants once the seeds are gone.

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Basil gone to seed, delighted our goldfinches and other small birds last September.

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Our garden is filling up again with growing herbs, now that we are into mid-May.  Taking some time to enjoy our herbs makes this rainy Friday fabulous.  The perennial herbs are into active growth now, and I’m finding and planting choice varieties of Basil, Salvia and Pelargonium.

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Newly planted Santolina and purple Basil will grow in quickly.

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We experimented with a relatively new Lavender cultivar last year:  L. ‘Phenomenal.’  This very hardy (Zones 5-9) and disease resistant cultivar was introduced by Peace Tree Farms in 2012. Hybrid ‘Phenomenal’ can take our muggy summers, so long as it has reasonably good drainage, and doesn’t die back during the winter.  It will eventually grow to a little more than 2 feet high and wide.  I was curious to see how it would grow for us, and bought a few plugs through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last spring.

I was so pleased with how fresh they looked all winter, that I ordered new plugs this spring.   The plugs are still growing on in pots, but I look forward to planting them out before the end of May.

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Culinary purple sage grows well with German Iris and other perennials.

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If you have faced challenges in past years overwintering your Lavender, or losing them during a muggy summer; you might want to give L. ‘Phenomenal’ a try.  These will work nicely in a good sized pot if your space is limited.  Add a little lime to the potting mix or garden soil, and try mulching around newly planted Lavender plants with light colored gravel to reflect the heat and protect the foliage from splattered soil.

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Spanish Lavender also proves very hardy and overwinters in our garden.  This is my favorite Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast.’

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Herbs prove such useful plants.  They nourish, they heal, they repel pests, and they thrive in challenging garden conditions.  Their unique leaves and healing scents add beauty to our lives.

Do you rely on herbs in your garden?  Wild at heart, they simply want a place to grow.  Why not try one this summer you’ve not grown before?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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August herbs in a vase

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Wordless Wednesday

 

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Photo by Woodland Gnome 2015

In A Vase on Monday: Summer’s Hydrangeas

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Finding our Hydrangea shrubs covered in beautiful flowers has been a special joy for us this season.  It is the first time they have flowered in two years.

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We celebrate this hedge of Hydrangeas, which grows across the front of our home, when it is covered in blossoms.  Some years we enjoy their bounty for several months. Others we miss them because of winter’s damage to their buds, or because they are grazed by miscreant deer who find their way into the garden.

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This area of Virginia used to be reliably warm enough in winter to support our Hydrangea macrophylla shrubs without worry.  Our unusually cold winters lately have taken their toll.  All of our potted Hydrangeas on the deck were lost last winter, despite getting pulled up close to the house, out of the wind.

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And so we celebrate the survivors, here studded with the first stems of Lavender to bloom this summer.

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The antique coffee pot belonged to my partner’s mother.  It lost its lid along the way before it found its way to our home, and so it can be enjoyed filled with flowers.

Our minerals this week are these  little green pebbles of Malachite.

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I’m joining Cathy at Rambling In the Garden, and other gardeners all over the planet; in finding beautiful things growing in our gardens to bring inside today.  Appreciation to Cathy, again, for hosting this In A Vase on Monday meme.

I hope you will visit her page today to see her garden fairy, and to follow the  links in her comments to enjoy the many other beautiful floral arrangements photographed today.  You will find a plethora of interesting blogs to visit written by dedicated gardeners.

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Do you remember the “Flower Power” slogans of the 1960’s? 

We have finally realized that vision, enjoying the power of beautiful flowers to bring bloggers together,  in appreciation of one another’s efforts.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

In A Vase on May Day

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

In A Vase on Easter Monday

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Spring has settled gently across our garden.  The warmth has returned quietly to re-awaken the many creatures who slumbered in the Earth through our long winter.

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A sea of daffodils fills the awakening perennial beds and rings our newly planted shrubs.  Woody stems burst into bloom.  Ferns have begun to uncurl their new fronds, and the front lawn is awash in wildflowers.

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Gigantic bees bumble and buzz from flower to flower in giddy joy at the feast.  We hear lizards skittering beneath the dry leaves, and hear frog song in the evening.  The breezes carry sweetness from the flowers, along with clouds of pollen from the trees.

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Ah, spring….

Today’s vase showcases some of our smaller, white daffodils which might otherwise be overlooked among their larger and brighter cousins.  N. “Thalia” remains one of my favorites, along with the larger N. “Mt. Hood,” which I didn’t cut for this vase today.

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I did cut small branches from a deliciously sweet shrub in our side garden which covers itself in white blossoms each spring.  It looks to me like a plum, but fruit never follows its flowers.  The flowers last only a few days, and then we must wait another year for this little woody thing to shine again.  It rarely shows growth, probably because the area where it grows remains hot and dry, and the scene of much tunneling from the voles.  Everything here struggles despite my best efforts to keep the area more accommodating.

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Clippings of overwintered Dusty Miller and Lavender stems give a bit of structure, and hold two tiny white Muscari alba stems.  A few tiny stems of our white flowering Vinca minor peek out around the edges.

This antique silver sugar bowl holding this week’s flowers was passed on from my mother’s mother many years ago.  We believe it was already an antique when she acquired it as a young woman.

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Here are a few photos of other daffodils spared the clippers today.  They remain growing in the garden….

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Appreciation, as always, to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden  for hosting this floral challenge each Monday.  Maybe you will even feel moved to join Cathy’s Monday Vase meme with photos of a vase filled with what may be growing in your own garden this week.  When you visit her, you will find links to beautiful floral arrangements from all over the planet in her comments.

Here are a few other Monday Vases you might enjoy this first Monday in April:

John, at A Walk in the Garden

Cathy at Words and Herbs

And here is the full calendar of garden memes, for other gardeners who might want to follow this and other garden blogging events.  Thanks to Tina and her partner, at My Gardener Says... for organizing the calendar for all of us to use and enjoy!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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Candlemas Monday Vase

Purple sage has survived winter, still growing in the garden.

Purple sage has survived winter, still growing in the garden.

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February demands patience.  Still locked in a battle for survival, the garden remains in defensive posture; waiting out the onslaught of wind, ice, rain, and grinding cold.

And so do we.  Perhaps already feeling the approach of spring, our bones tell us that winter will linger a while yet.  Perhaps a frustratingly long while yet.  Who can say?

Interludes of brilliant sun always fade as the clouds blow back in, bringing who knows how much more pounding rain or snow.  A morning in the 50s will likely fade into the 20s overnight.  Such is February, perhaps the hardest month of the year.

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Today’s Monday vase reflects this sense of ‘survival mode’ in our garden.  Buds remain tightly closed. ‘Evergreen’ leaves are dulled and discolored from the cold.

Yet ‘survival’ is the operative word here, and the garden remains very much alive.  Hazel twigs sport their male pollen filled ‘flowers.”

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Lavender, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme remain fresh and growing, if only very slowly.  Our Camellias are covered in buds.

Sprigs of ivy, found growing under a mat of wet leaves, show new growth.

Like a tightly coiled spring, the entire garden waits for the sun’s signal to begin its annual vernal unfolding.

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The moonstone frog heralds spring, as the discarded antler reminds us of what was left behind last autumn.

The moonstone frog heralds spring, as the discarded antler reminds us of what was left behind last autumn.

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Candlemas, February 2 of each year, brings its own message of purification, hope and renewal.

Bright color may presently be lacking in this vase and in the garden; but for those with patience, the potential for spring’s explosion of new life and color can be felt everywhere.

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The vase is hand blown glass made by Blenko, an historic glass company in West Virgina.  Filled with a sandy bottom, it suggests the eternal sea, from which all new life comes.  The plate is by friend and potter Denis Orton.

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With appreciation to Cathy at Rambling In the Garden for her Monday Vase challenge. 

Please visit her page for links to more beautiful vases of flowers prepared today.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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February 2, 2015 Monday Vase 015

Words and Herbs, “In A Vase On Monday:  Snow White”

In A Vase on Monday- Gray or Silver?

A Walk In the Garden, In A Vase on Monday: Buds

Bejeweled

January 14, 2015 ice storm 025

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Bejeweled, bedazzled,

Cased in glittering ice;

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 038

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Every leaf and stem ornamented

With shimmering bagatelles.

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 047

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Buds magnified

Through clear coats of cold;

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April’s promises preserved,

Protected,

Perfectly presented.

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Icy prisms deflect the light;

Reflecting, not refracting;

A frigid glow on wintery  fog.

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Crystal clear coating coagulates

Out of misty air.

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Like dipping a candle, icicles grow

Thicker, longer, bumpier with each passing hour.

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 008

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Tinkling bells echo from garden to garden

As branches sway in the biting breeze,

And great ripping groans answer from the ravine.

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 046

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Symphony of sirens in the distance tell of travelers

Who have lost their way on glassy streets.

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 009

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A wicked wonderland, this ice coated world.

Weird and wonderful at once,

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Dazzlingly devious,

Dangerously delightful.

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 001

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Bejeweled and bedazzled,

Winter has dressed to thrill-

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January 14, 2015 ice storm 053

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Unusual Leaves: More Texture

'Silver Lyre' Afghan Fig

‘Silver Lyre’ Afghan Fig

Unusual leaves bring a wonderful texture, as well as interesting colors, to the garden.

Coleus

Coleus

 

The variety available to an adventurous gardener feels infinite… and probably is infinite when one considers how many interesting new cultivars of plants like Coleus,   Heuchera, Begonia, Hosta, fern, and Caladium come on the market each year.

 

Heuchera

Heuchera

In addition to these perennials, there are a few new introductions of trees and shrubs with interesting variegation or unusual leaf color each season.

‘Black Lace’  Eldeberry, Sambucus nigra; ‘Ruby Falls’ Redbud, Cerceis canadensis; and ‘Maculata’ Lacecap Hydrangea come to mind immediately.

‘Black Lace’ Elderberry is on my “wish list” at the moment.

 

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

 

Some of these perennials, trees, and shrubs also offer beautiful flowers.

But the flowers are just a little something “extra,” compared to their beautiful leaves.

And while the flowers may add interest in their season, the fabulous foliage brings beauty to the garden month after month.

 

Buddleia, "Harlequin" sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

Buddleia davidii, “Harlequin” sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

 

Do you experiment with unusual  foliage in your garden?

So many residential gardens rely on a few standard, well known plants commonly available in “big box” shops.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar to Plant Delight's "Pewterware" Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar in appearance  to Plant Delight’s “Pewterware” Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

 

These commonly used plants are easy to find, and we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them.

They bring their own beauty, but overuse can also dull our appreciation of them.  Like white paint on a wall, we hardly ever notice them after a while.

 

A Begonia Rex, with fern.

A Begonia Rex, with fern and other Begonias.

 

Searching out a variety of plants with interesting foliage adds novelty and a touch of the unexpected to our garden.

 

Scented Pelargonium

Scented Pelargonium graveolens

 

Most any gardening “need” can be filled, whether we are creating a drought tolerant garden nourished only by a few inches of rain each  year, or a Forest Garden, unappetizing to deer and rabbits!

 

Collection of succulents.

Collection of succulents.

Small local nurseries, web nurseries, and specialty nurseries offer the most interesting varieties.

( I’m writing this within just a day or so of receiving Plant Delights Nursery’s fall 2014 catalog!  Yes, I’ve been closely studying it!)

 

 

It is the thrill of the hunt, and the fun of curating a collection, which fuels my search for unusual foliage plants.

 

This interesting Sedum, which I've not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.

This beautiful Sedum, which I’ve not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.  It will grow much like an Autumn Sedum, but with more interesting leaf color.

Plants with unusual leaves often grow best in  shady gardens.

Heuchera, ferns, Hosta, and Hydrangeas generally perform best in partial shade.

 

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Newer cultivars can often withstand more direct sun than older varieties; but shade, especially during the heat of the day, is lit up by the outrageous foliage of these  flamboyant plants.

 

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Layering them creates interesting and complex compositions; dynamic living sculpture in the garden.

 

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But wonderful foliage plants grow in full sun, also.

 

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, in a sunny garden

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, grow in a sunny garden area with Lavender, Comfrey, variegated iris, Eucalyptus, Artemisia, and other herbs.  Planted this season, the area is still filling in.

 

All of the amazing varieties of succulents enjoy sun to partial shade.

 

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Variegated  Cannas, Hibiscus cultivars like ‘Kopper King” and nearly all of the herbs thrive in sunny beds.

 

Sage Officinallis, "Tricolor"

Sage Officinalis, “Tricolor”

 

Whether you search out the most interesting varieties of a particular group of plants, like Hostas or Ferns; or amass a collection of silver foliage plans, variegated plants, or purple leaved plants; you may discover that the more you work with foliage in your own garden, the more satisfied you feel with your efforts.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.

Author Unknown

 

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

 

As for any artist, an expanded palette of plant possibilities inspires new ideas and presents novel solutions to site based problems.

 

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

 

It helps me to remember that,  “Gardening is the slowest art form.”

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Wonderful effects can be created in the garden using just foliage; and they just keep getting better and more fully developed over time.

 

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.

Georgia O’Keeffe

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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