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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Native Monarda punctata

Monarda punctata in a ceramic vase by local potter Bob Leek.

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If you’re looking for an elegant and unusual native perennial for a sunny spot in your garden, you might enjoy growing Monarda punctata.  Known as horsemint, or spotted bee balm, this very unusual floral display relies on large bracts and tiny, spotted flowers to advertise its nectar.

There are nine different varieties of this very architectural Monarda, having slight variations in color of the bracts and tiny flowers.  Unlike most Monardas, the ‘flowers’ grow in stacks, one group atop the next, surrounded by elegant bracts.  Each long branch, cloaked in narrow, opposite leaves. branches out near the top.  Each branch terminates in its own stack of flower clusters.

Bees of all sorts and hummingbirds are attracted to feed on the plant’s nectar.

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Hardy in Zones 3-8, Monarda punctata is native over most of the Eastern United States from Vermont to Texas.  A member of the mint family, clumps will expand over time.  Start new plants from seed or stem cuttings taken in summer.

I found my plant at the Sassafras Farm booth at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market, and just planted it out into a permanent spot in the garden a few days ago.  I cut it back a bit this morning , hoping to encourage a new round of fresh flowers.  Who knows, maybe these little cuttings in the vase will throw out some new roots over the week ahead, and I can grow out a few more plants of this beauty.

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I am encouraged to grow more of this Monarda because other Monarda species have done very well for us,  can tolerate some days of dry soil, once established, and they grow in full sun to partial shade.  This is a native herb, and can get along on its own quite nicely without a lot of fuss from a gardener.

I like that, as there are lots of other plants in our garden which need attention, and there are always a few weeds I need to pull as well!

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Monarda’s texture and aroma make it unattractive to deer; another reason I’m happy to grow it!  We cut back our other Monardas after they bloom, and new blooming stems often appear along the main stems to extend the season.  Monarda will die back in autumn, and will disappear entirely over winter.  But it comes back the following spring, larger and with more flowers each passing year.

And we are always happy to welcome Monarda in early summer, knowing we will have a long season of enjoying its fragrance, beauty, and its ability to attract interesting pollinators to our garden.

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Echinacea and Monarda fistulosa prove beautiful native perennials in our area.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Things Change: Butterfly Garden

Pineapple Sage fills the butterfly garden last October.

Pineapple Sage fills the butterfly garden last October.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The garden in 2011

The garden in 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our long cold winter delayed appearance of the perennials.

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

April 2014, Comfrey and Parsley

April 2014, Comfrey and Parsley

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

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

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

Late May 2014

Late May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Leggy growth is a sure sign of too much shade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 16, 2014 garden 036

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 16, 2014 garden 045

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

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

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

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Floral Fireworks

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Phosphorescent lights

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Explode  against the night sky,

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Expanding

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Into fantastic bursts of color and form,

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Before twinkling and blinking  out

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As gravity pulls showers of fading bits

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Back to Earth.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

The Red, White, and Blue

Bee Balm, Monarda, blooming in our garden today.

Bee Balm, Monarda, blooming in our garden today.

Red for valor, hardiness, and sacrifice.

It reminds us our freedoms were won, and are maintained, through blood shed for our ideals.

Magnolia

Magnolia

White for purity of intent and a fresh beginning.

Eagles flying in the clearing sky this morning.

Eagles flying in the clearing sky this morning.

 

White is also the color of radiant light from heaven; the brilliant stars shining in the night sky.

 

Morning Glory on a pruned rose cane.

Morning Glory on a pruned rose cane.

 

Blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

 

Ripening blackberries grow all along the Colonial Parkway in early July.

Ripening blackberries grow all along the Colonial Parkway in early July.

 

It is interesting to consider that the colors chosen for the Colonial flags during the American Revolution,  and for the flags of our new country; are the same red, white and blue of Great Britain’s Union Jack.

 

Wildflowers in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

Wildflowers in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

 

The  French also chose red, white and blue as the colors for their flag at the time of the French Revolution in 1790.

 

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Blue is for liberty, White for equality, and Red for fraternity.   There are many other meanings to these colors in French society, which do not necessarily have meaning in the United States.

 

Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus.

Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus.

 

We find these same symbolic colors again and again around us every day.

Ageratum and Lavender with Dusty Miller.

Ageratum and Lavender with Dusty Miller.

In the United States, many of us regularly wear blue denim clothing.

Blue Salvia growing with Comphrey

Blue Salvia growing with Comphrey

Denim, originally a sturdy fabric for work clothing; has become a symbol of our relaxed, egalitarian, and informal way of life here.

It has been adopted by people around the world since the social revolutions of the 1960s.

Canna

Canna and scarlet sage

White, the color of purity and cleanliness, is also a part of our daily lives.  

Many of us prefer white shirts, white china, white walls, white painted wood in our gardens, white cars, and white linens.  We  grow white flowers in our gardens because they glow in the moonlight.

 

Cedar with berries

Cedar with berries

Red is the color of boldness and energy. 

We admire red sports cars.

Red product logos and red street signs demand our attention.  We wear shiny red shoes, bright red lipstick, and give red roses as symbols of our passion for life and living.

Caladium and Begonias

Caladium and Begonias  Can you spot the bumblebee?

 

Color speaks a language of its own. 

Every layer of meaning we uncover teaches us more about this world we’ve inherited, and what it means to participate in the stream of history.

Happy Independence Day!

May the Red, White, and Blue have meaning for you today, and every day.

 

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Rosa, “John Paul II”

Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

Butterflies Everywhere….

What a wonderful sensation to wander out into the butterfly garden and stand in the midst of dozens of butterflies flying around from flower to flower sipping nectar. Sometimes four or five butterflies are all drinking from the same plant, shoulder to shoulder with the bumblebees. What joy to be a butterfly in July when … Continue reading

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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