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!

Leaf Studies

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Cathy, of Rambling in the Garden, inspired me with her July post  for ‘Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day’, hosted by Christina of My Hesperides Garden on the 22nd of each month.

Cathy constructed a tessellation of 16 square photos featuring the textures and varying shades of green, showcasing leaves from her summer garden.  Her post is stunning, and perhaps you will take a moment to pop over and have a look at her photos.

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Foliage can be so much better than flowers.  Leaves last for weeks or even months; not just days.  They are tough.  And the intricate details of their structure, often highlighted in vivid color, elevate these organs of photosynthesis to art in its purest form.

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There was finally an opportunity to focus on foliage this morning while I watered the garden.  We have record heat here in Virginia this week, making it more critical to venture out early in the day, or just before dusk, to hydrate pots and new plantings.  Our afternoon heat indexes near 120F,  yet these beautiful leaves endure mid-summer temperatures gracefully.

Water droplets on the leaves make them even more interesting to photograph.

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I have enjoyed taking and editing these photos because they showcase some of my favorite leaves in a unique way.  Following Cathy’s example, I’ve cropped each into a square.  Within that square, there is an effort to show you several different features of each plant’s particular foliage.

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To make it even more interesting, I challenge you to guess the names of as many leaves as you might recognize.  Answers will appear below.

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Collecting and growing beautiful plants remains my passion. I’m attracted by the unique shapes, colors, patterns and textures of their foliage.  Any flowers are surely a bonus, but almost distract from the beauty of these special leaves.

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18.

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Grown more for their beauty than for any other purpose, they fill the garden with excitement.  Some are scented; others not.  Most of these are tropical, though a few hardy ones can survive our winters.  Each unfolds its unique geometry, a study in beauty and endurance.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016
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“Plants cannot stay safe.
Desire for light spools grass out of the ground;
desire for a visitor spools red ruffles out of twigs.
Desire makes plants very brave,
so they can find what they desire;
and very tender, so they can feel what they find.”
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Amy Leach
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Caladium

Caladium

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  1. Caladium ‘White Christmas’
  2. Begonia ‘Gryphon’
  3. Coleus ‘Wizard Pineapple’
  4. Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’
  5. Begonia Rex
  6. Colocasia ‘Mojito’
  7. Fig
  8. Sarracenia flava
  9. Alocasia
  10. Caladium ‘White Queen’
  11. Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’
  12. Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’
  13. Pineapple Mint
  14. Coleus
  15. Pelargonium – Rose scented geranium
  16. Angel wing Begonia
  17. Canna ‘Australia’
  18. hardy Begonia ‘grandis’
  19. Pelargonium ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’
  20. Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’

Nature Challenge Day 2: Lilies and Koi at the Heath’s Gloucester Gardens

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We returned to Gloucester today, with my gardening sister, to visit Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens and pick up our ‘end of season’ order of plants and tubers.  Brilliant sunshine and warm fragrant breezes off the river made for a perfect day to wander around their acres of display gardens.

Every plant the Heath family offers is showcased somewhere in the gardens, grown against a backdrop of ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials and Virginia natives.  We learn so much by observing these thousands of plants grown in optimal conditions by professionals who truly love the many plants they nurture.  I am continually surprised with an unexpected combination of plants, and by familiar plants grown in unusual and beautiful new ways.

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The garden was punctuated today with hundreds of Amaryllis bulbs grown out in the beds with other perennials.  You probably know Amaryllis as one of those bulbs sold in the autumn, and grown in a pot during the winter holidays.  Well, come spring, one can plant those bulbs outside in a flower bed.  Many of them are hardy in our coastal Virginia winters and can be left to naturalize, blooming in early summer.

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The Heath's gardens, where Amaryllis grow beside perennials.

The Heath’s gardens, where Amaryllis grow beside other perennials.

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Jay Heath, attacking weeds along the main path, encouraged us by pointing out that our wet spring has brought abundant growth of ‘natives,’ or weeds to some, to everyone’s garden.  Even with a dedicated staff, they are still challenged to stay ahead of this spring’s abundant growth.

Side by side, both the nurtured and the ‘self-sown’ sprawled and bloomed, a banquet for their bees and butterflies.   The ground was wet, saturated by recent storms.  And everywhere were signs of the change of season and evolution of their garden.

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I was captivated by the first water lily blooms of the season.  The Koi here were nearly hidden by the many water plants.  Imagine having to weed the water garden, too!  But that is just what is planned for later this week, along with a re-do of the planters surrounding the fountain and pool.

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We were fortunate to find owner Brent Heath consulting on the water garden as we wandered back to the shop.  I am always delighted to find Brent in the garden because he so generously shares his deep knowledge of plants with interested visitors.

My friend and I had questions, and he guided us around some of the beds to demonstrate answers and to give useful advice.  He points out plants like the old friends they are, teaching us all the while.

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This is the meadow garden where Brent showed us Mountain Mint and other native perennials we might grow in our own gardens.

This is the meadow garden where Brent Heath showed us Mountain Mint and other native perennials we might grow in our own gardens.  Some, but not all of these plants are listed in the summer catalog.

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We each accepted a generous clump of Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum, pulled from the meadow, with advice to plant it in a bed with deep borders to keep it in check.  This native medicinal herb can be used in numerous ways, both in herbal medicine and in a perennial border.  But Brent introduced us to its strong delicious fragrance, and advised that rubbing it against one’s skin keeps flying insects like gnats and mosquitoes far away.

Mountain mint is very hard to find for sale.  Brent and Becky Heath don’t sell it at their garden.  But I had been looking for a source ever since reading about its use in perennial plantings in Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury’s new book, Planting:  A New Perspective This is one of their ‘go to’ plants for long-lived perennial plantings which carry through all of the seasons of the year with minimal maintenance.  For Brent to spontaneously offer us each a well rooted clump was a tremendous blessing for us both.

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If you still have an empty spot in your garden, and would like to fill it with something gorgeous and unusual, please take a look at the Heath’s online summer catalog of plants.  Their end of season, 50% off sale lasts through Saturday, and their offerings can’t be beat for quality and value. We filled the back of our car and look forward to happy planting days ahead!

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May 25, 2016 Brent & Beckys 001~

Blogging friend, Y,  invited me to join the Seven Day Nature Challenge last Saturday.  Thank you for your invitation Y., at In the Zone, and for sharing your fascinating photos taken around our shared state of Virginia.  Y and I know many of the same places and share a love for the quirky and beautiful, the fun and poignant.  I appreciate her invitation and will follow her lead to capture the spirit, if not the exact parameters of the challenge.

Not only is one asked to post a nature photo for seven days running, but to also invite another blogger to join in each day.

For this second day of the challenge, I’ll invite you again to join in.  This challenge has been out there for a while, and many nature photographers have already participated.  If you would like to take up the challenge, please accept in the comments and I’ll link back to you tomorrow.

Although I try to take photos in our garden each day, friends and followers may have noticed that it has been a very long time since I’ve been able to post daily.  Life has gotten quite busy over the past year, and the garden is always calling me out of doors!

But in the spirit of the challenge I’ll set the intention to post a photo or three daily.  If you decide to accept this challenge, too, I’ll look forward to seeing what surprises May has brought to your corner of the world, even as I share the beauty of ours.

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All photos in today's post were taken at the Heath family display gardens in Gloucester, VA, which are open to the public during much of the year.

All photos in today’s post were taken at the Heath family display gardens in Gloucester, VA, which are open to the public during much of the year.  Please check their schedule if you are planning a trip to visit the shop and gardens.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Achillea

Achillea

On A Tray: Beautiful Bouquets

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Inspiration waits everywhere; especially in a good gardening magazine.

Particularly inspiring is the article ‘Beautiful Bouquets’ in the current special edition Plant Issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine.  Plantswoman Anne Townley suggests delicious combinations of plants one might grow together, expecting to later cut them for beautiful and unusual bouquets.

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Clockwise from top left: Violas, Edgeworthia, Artemesia

Clockwise from top left: Ivy, Violas, Edgeworthia, Lavender, Artemesia, Iris, Mahonia, Fennel, Black Eyed Susan.

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Her plant choices are quite idiosyncratic, at least to this Virginian gardener.

The photography for this article was my inspiration, however.  Photographer Andrew Montgomery created a stunning tableau with each combination of plants Ms. Townley selected.  Please follow the link to see these artful vignettes of petal and leaf composed to illustrate this lively article about cutting gardens.

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Clockwise from top left: Viola, Camellia, Cyclamen

Clockwise from top left: Camellia, Viola, Pineapple Sage, Camellia, Cyclamen, Viola, Edgeworthia, Ivy, Rose, Salvia, Hellebore,  Pineapple Mint, scented Pelargonium.

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Emulation remains the highest form of flattery, and so I couldn’t resist assembling a little tableau of my own this morning from what looks fresh in our garden today.

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Part scavenger hunt, part journey of discovery; what a surprisingly diverse collection of leaf and flower waited for me in the garden!

Wandering, cutting and arranging, I quickly realized that most of these bits of horticultural beauty would have grown unnoticed save for this challenge.

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Clockwise from top left: Rosa, 'The Generous Gardener,' Ivy, Viola, Black Eyed Susuans,

Clockwise from top left: Rosa, ‘The Generous Gardener,’ Ivy, Viola, Black Eyed Susan, Rose hips, Mahonia, Fennel, Iris.

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Each newly snipped blossom and leaf delighted me.  Though cut from many different areas of the garden, from pots, beds and shrubs; they harmonize.  What a helpful way to get a ‘read’ on how well the plants in one’s garden go together.

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Clockwise from top left:

Clockwise from top left: Purple Sage, Viola, Rosemary, Pineapple Sage, Lavendar, Dianthus, Vinca minor,  Cyclamen, Viola, Ivy, Salvia, Hellebores, Pineapple Mint, Pelargonium, Camellia

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I could have just sat and admired this tray full of cuttings over a steamy cup of coffee.

But, other projects called, like the bin filled with Brent and Becky’s bulbs, gleaned from their end of season clearance sale, just before the holiday.   We had been granted another good day for planting, and so I didn’t tarry over the tray too long.

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December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 019

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Rather, I recut the stems and tucked them into a vase, floated the blossoms in a bowl, slipped the ivy into a jar of rooting cuttings, and headed back out to the garden.

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December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 025

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Because there were  just one or two stems of each plant on the tray, this is a somewhat unusual vase.  It needed photographing from all sides as each of its ‘faces’ is different.

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I am happy to join Cathy at Rambling In the Garden for her “In A Vase On Monday’ meme this week.  She has created a ‘Moondance’ by the sea; more inspiration, as always!

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Although we are enjoying our little vase this afternoon, my partner and I remain intrigued by the possibilities of simply arranging stems  on a tray.  I plan to tour the garden, tray in hand, at some regular interval from here on just to see what there is to see.

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December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 005

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And, inspired by several excellent articles on garden color  in Gardens Illustrated, I also took my bin of bulbs back out to the garden for a few happy hours of planting today.  Bulbs planted a few weeks ago have already broken ground with their first, tentative leaves.

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Winter blooming Iris have started into growth in this pot with Violas and Moss.

Winter blooming Iris have started into growth in this pot with Violas and Moss.

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I dug new areas and planted Daffodils, Muscari, Leucojum, Cyclamen and more, before covering everything with a fresh coat of compost.

Although imagination is a wonderful thing,  I can’t wait to actually see these new additions grow into the tapestry of our garden in the months ahead.

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December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 008

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

In A Vase: E. ‘Green Jewel’

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Today’s vase is a celebration of green; particularly the Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ new to our garden.

I was extremely fortunate to find Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ offered on Brent and Becky Heath’s end of season perennial sale a week ago.  I bought two pots, already in flower.  I finally cut two of the flowers for today’s vase, with the intention of helping the plants establish a little better without their flowers setting seed.

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August 24, 2015 Vase 002~

That set the color note, and I added various shades of green with Apple Mint and Coleus ‘Gold Anemone’ for the background foliage.

My offering today features a smattering of favorites, including some a friend especially admired on our impromptu garden tour this morning.  I love the opportunity to deepen a friendship while sharing a garden.  It was her first visit to ours, and now I’m looking forward to visiting the garden she and her husband have designed.

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August 24, 2015 Vase 003~

She was interested in the mints and the Coleus especially.  Of course, the ‘Under the Sea’ line of Coleus are so unusual they really don’t resemble normal Coleus very much.  I love the fern like fringe of these leaves.

There are a few stems of flowering Basil in the vase today, along with a a handful of our happy Black Eyed Susans and a few roses.

I’ve walked past the roses in recent weeks, trying, like Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, to feature a few of our more unusual flowers.  But I love the roses and they bring us such pleasure each day.  I relented and cut a few for today’s vase.

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August 24, 2015 Vase 007

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I especially like how the mostly green arrangement sets off the peachy tones of these ‘Lady of Shalott’ roses from David Austin’s collection of English shrub roses.

This is one of my favorite green glass vases, acquired second or third hand many years ago.  The green egg is Malachite and so is the tiny green frog.  This stone frog reminds me of the tiny frogs we find hopping around the garden in August.

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August 24, 2015 Vase 005~

It has been very hot here again today, and we are truly dry for the first time in months.  I spent much of yesterday watering the garden and pulling grass and weeds from around thirsty perennials.

The jewel like green surrounding us a few weeks ago looks a bit faded today, showing the growing distress of our trees and shrubs.  We still hope for some rain tonight and tomorrow.  In fact, clouds were gathering from the west as I went out late this afternoon to cut stems for today’s vase.

I didn’t make it out to the garden this morning before the heat set in, and so waited for the blazing sun to fade behind the gathering clouds before cutting this evening.

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August 23, 2015 garden 033

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I hope you are still finding beautiful and interesting stems in your garden to cut and bring inside to enjoy.

Preparing a vase each week, or two or three; gives us the opportunity to appreciate the garden’s offerings at leisure and up close.  The flowers look different, more special somehow, trimmed, arranged, and placed just so indoors.  I appreciate Cathy encouraging garden bloggers to cut and arrange each week by allowing us to share with one another through her posts.

Please try your hand at it if you haven’t already.  This is one of summer’s simple pleasures and is not to be missed.

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One of our new Echinacea 'Green Jewel' before I cut for today's vase.

One of our new Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ before I cut for today’s vase.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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August 24, 2015 Vase 004

Summer Spreaders

These Black Eyed Susans were growing in the garden when we came here, but we spread the plants around when they emerge each spring. The clumps spread and also self-seed.

These Black Eyed Susans were growing in another part of the garden when we came here, but we spread the plants around when they emerge each spring. The clumps spread and also self-seed.

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Is there a large area in your garden which you would like to fill with plants with a minimum investment of cost and effort?

Many of us have large areas to tend, and welcome plants which make themselves at home, colonizing the surrounding real estate.  If we like a single specimen, we might also enjoy a larger area filled with the same plant.

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Colocasia growing with Canna lily

Colocasia ‘China Pink’  growing with Canna lily and hardy Hibiscus.

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One way to accomplish this is by buying multiples of a single plant to begin with; say seven or nine or thirteen pots of the same cultivar, planted together in a large bed.  If your budget doesn’t allow such a splurge very often, consider buying plants which spread themselves around in a fairly short time.

Most of these spreading plants grow radiating stems which creep along just under or just above the ground.

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A new plant begins to grow from a Colocasia runner.

A new plant begins to grow from a Colocasia runner.

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As the stems grow away from the original plant, they send up new sets of leaves some distance away, and root at that spot to form an entirely new plant.

Over time, each of these new plants will send out its own runners.

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August 5, 2015 butterflies 017~

The new plants can be cut away and replanted elsewhere or allowed to grow in place, thus expanding the original planting.

Many plants spread themselves in this way, eventually forming dense colonies.  Some begin to crowd themselves out after a year or two and appreciate thinning.  Others may be left alone indefinitely.

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Clumping Hazel trees form the backdrop to this bed filled with hardy Colocasia and Canna lilies.

Clumping Hazel trees form the backdrop to this bed filled with hardy Colocasia and Canna lilies.  The  bed was planted this spring from divisions of established plants.

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In fact, many of the plants we consider ‘invasive weeds,’ like wild strawberry and crabgrass, spread themselves in this way.  Leaving any part of the plant in the ground when weeding may result in a new plant cropping up in a matter of days.

One of my current favorite plants for covering large areas with interesting foliage is  Colocasia, or Elephant Ear.  These are marginally hardy here in Zone 7.  Some cultivars have returned for us while others have died out over the winter.

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August 2, 2015 garden 018

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Winter hardiness is an important consideration when choosing a plant to spread.  While a tender plant allows one to easily change one’s mind after the growing season; a hardy plant will most likely become a permanent fixture in the garden.  It pays to do plenty of research into the plant’s needs and habits before making that initial investment to bring it home to the garden.

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C. Black Magic growing in 2014

C. Black Magic, growing in 2014, did not survive our winter.

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Of the several Colocasia cultivars I planted last summer, only two proved hardy in our garden.  The species, C. Esculenta and C. “Pink China” survived our winter.  While the species hasn’t spread beyond its immediate area, C. “Pink China” has spread prolifically this year.  I moved several plants to a new area this spring and they have all sent out runners as well.

One of the cultivars which didn’t survive our winter was C. “Black Runner,” prized for its ability to spread.  Although Plant Delights nursery indicated it is hardy to our Zone 7B, only those plants I kept in pots in the basement survived the winter.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily comes into bloom in late August in our garden.

Butterfly Ginger Lily comes into bloom in late August in our garden.  It is very fragrant, perfuming this whole area of the garden for more than a month.

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Three large, spreading plants we enjoy in the summer garden are the Colocasia, Canna lily, and our hardy Butterfly Ginger Lily.

Our first ginger lily, Hedychium coronarium, came as a gift from a neighbor as she prepared to move.  She allowed me to dig roots from her garden and I happily replanted them  in a new bed near our driveway.  These plants die back to the ground each winter, and then grow to around 6′ tall each summer before blooming at the end of the season.  Their fragrant blooms keep coming until a heavy frost.

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Our first Lycoris of the season blooms beside stems of ginger lily. These create a thick, creeping mat and must be dug each season to keep them in bounds.

Our first Lycoris of the season blooms beside stems of Ginger Lily. The Ginger Lily create a thick, creeping mat and must be thinned each season to keep them in bounds.

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I’ve since dug up roots to share and to spread to a wider area of the garden.  The stems grow very densely together and make a good screen for about half of the year.

Most of our Canna lily were also a gift from a gardening friend.  She brought me a grocery sack of roots dug from her garden late in the summer we lost several tall oaks, transforming our very shady garden to nearly full sun.   Although I planted the roots with several feet between each, they have grown to form dense clumps in just two summers.  The named cultivars with more ornamental leaves planted last year have not proven nearly as prolific in their growth.

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A new bamboo 'shoot' emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

A new bamboo ‘shoot’ emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

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Bamboo, another spreading giant, already grew at the bottom of our garden when we arrived.  Technically a grass, its rhizomes now cover much of our lower garden.  We are surprised each spring to see where the new stems emerge.  We promptly break these off when they emerge out of boundaries for the bamboo.

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Bearded Iris spread easily when planted in full sun with moist, reasonable soil. They may be allowed to grow into large clumps, or divided and spread around.

Bearded Iris spread easily when planted in full sun with moist, reasonable soil. They may be allowed to grow into large clumps, or divided and spread around.  This is I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ which blooms reliable again each fall.  I’ll shortly be digging these to share with our next door neighbor.

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We enjoy several other hardy perennials which spread over time, although on a much smaller scale than these lovely giants.

German Bearded Iris quickly grow to form large clumps when they are happy with the light and soil.  They prefer full sun and reasonable soil.

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Iris rhizomes may be divided into small pieces, as long as each piece has at least one root.

Iris rhizomes may be divided into small pieces, as long as each piece has at least one root.  They are planted shallowly so the rhizome remains visible above the soil.

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Iris must be divided every few years as their rhizomes age and play out after a while.  We grow mostly re-blooming Iris, which offer two seasons of blooms each year.

Daylilies will clump and spread as well, as will many species of Rudbeckia.

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The large fern in the blue pot is my favorite tender lady fern, which spreads its self around generously. Most ferns spread by rhizomes, gradually growing larger and larger each year.

The large fern in the blue pot is my favorite tender lady fern, which spreads its self around generously. Most ferns spread by rhizomes, gradually growing larger and larger each year.

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Many ferns spread by rhizomes growing at or just below the soil’s surface.  The Japanese ferns and various “walking ferns” are especially good at covering real estate.

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July 21, 2015 garden midday 010

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One of my tender lady ferns is especially prolific at spreading it self around a hanging basket or pot and may be divided again and again without harming the original plant.

Many plants sold as ‘ground cover,’ like Ajuga, quickly spread out to carpet large areas of the garden.

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Ajuga, which forms a dense ground cover in one of our beds.

Ajuga, which forms a dense ground cover in one of our beds.

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Vines, like Creeping Jenny and Periwinkle, or Vinca minor can root at each leaf node, spreading themselves out indefinitely.  Although only a few inches high, these plants spread quickly to offer large areas of uniform coverage in beds and under shrubs.

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Creeping Jenny, easy to divide and transplant, grows quickly into a densly matted ground cover.

Creeping Jenny, easy to divide and transplant, grows quickly into a densly matted ground cover.  Here it is interplanted with a hardy Sedum.

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Many succulent varieties offer the same rapid spread through their rooting stems.  These make good ground cover for pots as well as in rock gardens or sunny beds.

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August 13, 2015 spreaders 001

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Members of the mint family, including Monarda and Lemon Balm,  remain notorious for quickly spreading to cover as much territory as possible.  Because their runners travel both above and below ground, one must be ruthless to yank out rooted stems growing beyond their boundaries.

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Pineapple mint

Pineapple mint

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Shrubs, and even some trees, will increase through spreading rhizomes, as well.  Hazel, Forsythia, Sumac, Lilac, Crepe Myrtle, some Figs and many sorts of berry bushes will quickly form large clumps.

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Crepe Myrtle tend to sucker and slowly spread. Lovely and prolific, many gardeners allow them to grow into a large area each year. This one has returned from its roots after being broken down in a 2013 storm.

Crepe Myrtle tends to sucker and slowly spread. Lovely and prolific, many gardeners allow them to grow into a large area each year. This one has returned from its roots after being broken down in a 2013 storm.

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This ability to generate new plants, clones of the original, from spreading stems may be desirable to you or not; depending on your situation.  If you have space to allow the expansion these new plants can be a blessing.  If you are gardening in cramped quarters, the spreading tendencies of many plants may become a nuisance.

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Strawberry Begonia spreads prolifically with long runners, tipped with baby plants which will root wherever they touch the soil.

Strawberry Begonia spreads prolifically with long runners, tipped with baby plants which will root wherever they touch the soil.  An attractive foliage plant, they bloom in the spring.

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It helps to have gardening buddies who are willing to receive extra plants, as well as those who will share free plants with us.  Some of our favorite plants came as gifts from generous and loving friends.

And we appreciate the prolific growth of our favorite plants each summer when they fill our garden with beautiful leaves and fragrant flowers.

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Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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July 4, 2015 Jamestown 090

 

 

In A Vase On Monday: Dahlias and Friends

June 1, 2015 in a vase 011

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Digging up the Dahlia tuber was an afterthought last October.

We only grew one, and I simply scooped it out of the Earth and laid it on top of one of the pots coming into the garage for the winter.  That pot ended up near the back of the group, was only watered occasionally, and the poor Dahlia got no special treatment at all.

So the dirty little tuber  took me by surprise when the pot came out of storage in April.  It took a minute to register that this was a living tuber, and not something to compost, when I saw it.

And just as thoughtlessly, I scratched a hole in a large plastic pot near the butterfly garden with one gloved hand while tucking the Dahlia in with the other.  Done and done.  Moving on…

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June 1, 2015 in a vase 014

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Except this Dahlia had a thing or two to teach me.  It grew quickly, stocky and covered in buds.  Its first blooms opened on Saturday.  Surprise!

I have never been a Dahlia devotee.  But that may change, now that I see what a powerhouse of flowers come packed in such a tiny little tuber.

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June 1, 2015 in a vase 009

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The warm colors of our vase this week bear witness to the weather.  Warm is a polite euphemism.

It has been hot and humid now for so many days I’ve stopped counting.  Tropical strikes closer to the truth. I’m out watering again nearly every morning, watching the garden unfold itself into beauty.

The Yarrow has been blooming for a few weeks, and this wonderful Coleus has grown large enough to cut off side branches for the vase.  It comes in a mix, and I’ve no idea of the cultivar.

Our roses continue to open bud after bud.  They badly need some concentrated attention to prune away their finished hips. I keep procrastinating until we find a day overcast and cool; comfortable enough  to do a thorough job of it.

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June 1, 2015 in a vase 001

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Pineapple mint has returned yet again, and grows near the Dahlia’s pot.  I love its sweet fragrance and gorgeous foliage.  All mints run, but this one remains exceptionally well behaved in its allotted space.

And finally, our variegated ivy has grown this delicate little stem of cream colored leaves.  I cut it for today’s vase with hopes it will root.

The vase today sits on a side table, in front of the beautiful board Michael Laico made for us, and beside our salt lamp.  These hunks of wonderfully colored salt, dug out of mines in the Himalayas, are drilled to accept a tiny bulb to illuminate them.  They are said to have healing properties, and their light is soothing and soft.

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June 1, 2015 in a vase 006

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There is a salt spa, here in Williamsburg, where you can pay to relax and bask in the glow of salt lamps.  Tons of imported salt line the ‘salt cave’ where your treatments are given.  We’ve not been, although we’ve heard good things from friends.  We enjoy our salt lamps, though, and they cast a nice glow on today’s little vase.

In addition to the salt lamp, we also have an Amethyst spirit cluster.  The vase is hand blown cobalt glass by a local artist.

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June 1, 2015 in a vase 006

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Please remember to visit Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden, who sponsors “In A Vase On Monday” each week.  I appreciate her tireless inspiration to cut and arrange home grown flowers, and her warm encouragement of other garden bloggers to do the same.  You will find links in her comments to many other participating gardeners.

Each has created something beautiful for us this week.  I hope you will follow as many links as time allows.  Stop and admire the flowers on this first day of June.

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June 1, 2015 in a vase 004~

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

 

In A Vase On Monday: Iris In Bloom

May 4, 2015 garden 031

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When the weather finally warms, the Iris spring into action by sending up wonderful thick stalks of fragrant, intensely colored buds.  I’ve loved Iris of all sorts since childhood.  My parents once received several grocery bags full of Iris fans from a friend who bred them.

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May 4, 2015 garden 004

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He was thinning his patch, and gave us the most wonderfully scented varieties we had ever experienced.  We planted them all around our home, and my parents tried to move a few of each variety every time they moved thereafter.  Some gardens are better for Iris than others, but they left a legacy of beautiful Iris everywhere they lived.

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First blooms of Iris established in this new bed last summer.  The golden Iris is I. 'Harvest of Memories,' which reblooms in our climate.

First blooms of Iris established in this new bed last summer. The golden Iris is I. ‘Harvest of Memories,’ which re-blooms in our climate.

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Iris need full sun and relatively rich soil.  They want their roots moist but their rhizomes somewhat exposed and dry.  Those rhizomes creep and expand the clumps over time if they are sited where they are happy, and so there is a constant supply of rooted fans to chop off and share or spread to other parts of the garden.

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Re-blooming Iris I. 'Rosalie Figge' and I. 'Lunar Whitewash' bloom again each autumn.

Re-blooming Iris I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ and I. ‘Lunar Whitewash’ bloom again each autumn.

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I’ve purchased several varieties of re-blooming Iris for this garden from Mike Lockatell, a breeder of re-blooming Iris in the Richmond area.  I’ve also received an old variety of Iris popular around Williamsburg from a gardening friend.

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This old variety can be found in Colonial Williamsburg gardens, and in many neighbors' yards around the community.  These plants were a gift from a gardening neighbor.

This old variety can be found in Colonial Williamsburg gardens, and in many neighbors’ yards around the community. These plants were a gift from a gardening neighbor.

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Blogging friends have generously sent me clumps of their Iris, and I’ve purchased a few.  I’m working on building a good collection of beautiful Iris plants  in our sunny areas here.

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May 4, 2015 garden 036

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My partner loves our Iris, and was less than enthusiastic when I mentioned cutting some from the garden for today’s vase.  So I cut only one, and that one where I didn’t think he would notice.  I’ve taken only photos of some of the other Iris in bloom today.

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May 4, 2015 garden 034~

Also in today’s vase are the last of the ‘Josee’ lilac, some apple mint, more Aquilegia,  a stem of Azalea, and a bit of dusty miller.

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May 4, 2015 garden 028

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The vase today is actually a handle-less mug purchased last week at Mossy Creek Pottery on the Oregon Coast.  I love the soft blues and greens of its glaze, and the sculpted shape which fits my fingers perfectly.  It also makes a pretty good vase, don’t you think?  It is half filled with aquarium gravel to hold the stems in place.

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May 4, 2015 garden 030

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I appreciate Cathy’s dedication to her “Vase” meme each week at Rambling in the Garden.    She is away this week, and yet she has given us a bouquet and a post most creatively.

I hope you will visit her blog to see how she has posted a unique ‘vase’ while away from her garden, and to enjoy what other gardeners have found in their gardens in these first days of May.  I am always delighted with the beautiful arrangements she creates and hope you visit to enjoy them, too.

I am settling back into my garden, finally, and am so happy to enjoy these wonderfully fragrant flowers we’ve waited for all winter.  You probably know that it takes a few years for Iris to establish and perform.  What a wonderful experience when they finally come into bloom each May.

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May 4, 2015 garden 025~

Woodland Gnome 2015

In A Vase On Monday: April Abundance

April 20, 2015 rain 035

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The sweetness in the air today wafts in whenever the door is opened. 

It envelopes one in warm enticing fragrance with each trip out of doors into the heavy, moist air.  We had storms last night with wind and rain.

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April 20, 2015 rain 007

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But the dogwoods held their flowers.  A few more daffodils have fallen over perhaps, and the newly leafed out roses bend nearly to the ground under the weight of their wet leaves.  Perhaps the pruning should have been more aggressive, after all.  But no matter, soon they will cover themselves in roses.  There will be time for pruning when the first flush has come and gone.

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April 20, 2015 rain 023

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The lilac shrubs in the butterfly garden began to open yesterday.  Last night’s rain left them sparkling and lush, and still full of buds.

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April 20, 2015 rain 022

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All of these shrubs came mail order over the last four years.  They are Syringa ‘Josee,’ a dwarf reblooming variety with superior disease resistance.  They came as rooted whips, and spent their first year or two in a pot.  As they outgrow their pots I plant them out where they enjoy the afternoon sun.

They have all the beauty and fragrance of traditional lilac shrubs, but won’t grow much taller or wider than 6′.  They will re-bloom sporadically through summer and into the fall.  This is one of the shrubs predictably pictured in many winter garden catalogs.  They always go on sale in spring, grow quickly, and make a lovely container planting for a season or two.

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April 20, 2015 rain 041

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Also in today’s vase is the first of the Columbine to break bud,  Columbine leaves, apple mint, late Narcissus, and a piece of our Akebia vine.

Rain has hovered nearby all day, with periods of bright sunshine poking through only occasionally.

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April 20, 2015 rain 010

Akebia quinata growing up into the trees

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The garden is wet, and more storms are forecast for this evening.  I brought the flowers in for photos, and the cloudy day made it feel a bit dimmer than usual as I photographed this springtime vase.

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April 20, 2015 rain 028~

You may notice a beautiful little fairy sitting with the vase today, an original creation by Creekrose, given to me earlier this week.  This exquisite little handmade doll feels full of the happiness of springtime, and was dressed to match today’s vase.  Such a loving gift from, and so much enjoyed already.

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April 20, 2015 rain 027

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We can feel the transition in the garden now to late spring.  The Daffodils have nearly finished, buds cover the roses, more perennials have announced their survival, and our trees are all leafing out.  The shade will arrive just as we need it, now that temperatures continue to climb towards summer.

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April 20, 2015 rain 033

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Please remember to visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, who generously sponsors A Vase on Monday each week.  You’ll find links to many wonderful arrangements of spring flowers in her comments.   I’m always delighted with the beauty picked from others’ gardens.  It makes the world feel a bit smaller to see the same flowers blooming many thousands of miles away.

May you find joy in the beauty of your own garden this week, and perhaps clip a few stems to enjoy inside.  If you’re like me, you may be so busy preparing the garden for spring that you aren’t taking much time to cut and arrange.  There wasn’t much time today to fuss over arranging these, and they could have been shifted around to better advantage, perhaps…

But once a flower is cut and brought inside, it seems to subtly change somehow.  I appreciate them more, and take time to really see the unique beauty of each once they are placed in a vase.

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April 20, 2015 rain 030

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If you do cut a few stems from your garden, please share them in a post, and link back to the comments in Cathy’s post this week, and mine, so we can all enjoy them with you.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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April 20, 2015 rain 039

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