In A Vase On Monday: Summer Garden

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Summer has settled over our garden.  We’ve had several sunny days where temperatures reached the upper 80’s.  A thunderstorm with heavy downpours roared through yesterday afternoon, and more rough weather remains in our afternoon forecast.


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If you’ve not experienced a Virginia summer, you may not understand my point, here.  Those who garden even further south, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, have had the heat, humidity, insects and afternoon thunderstorms as too frequent visitors to their gardens for a while now.

While spring is savored, summer it to be endured… and survived. 


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Temperatures rise rapidly on sunny days.  This means any real efforts must be made in the garden in early morning or late evening.  One must avoid the unbroken sun, staying as much as possible in the shade.  Wide brimmed hats morph from fashion statement to survival gear.

The roses have no such flexibility.  Which means they begin to droop and wilt as the sun climbs.  Cutting must be accomplished in early morning, and the stems plunged into deep warm water in a shady place while they drink, before arranging them.


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Their fragrance permeates the garden, mixed now with the familiar warm weather fragrances of box, mint and Magnolia.… and freshly mown grass.  Some one or another of the neighbors is cutting grass most every day now, and the fragrance carries on the summer breeze.

Today’s vase reflects early summer in our garden. 


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Cuttings of our native Mountain Laurel, which prefer partial shade, mix with today’s pick of roses.   Also in the vase the first of the white Sage; a stem of Spanish Lavender with its distinctive “rabbit’s ears” flowers; cuttings of perennial Geranium.


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Nearly all of our roses have come into bloom now. 

The Lantana has awakened from its winter rest and is pushing out its new stems for the year.  Most of the figs are showing new growth, finally, and there are flower buds on many of the Hydrangeas.  As the Cannas grow taller our garden will recover its rich tropical, summer wildness.

But the roses, covered in thousands of buds, still rule the garden landscape.  The first of the Peonies bloomed on Friday, but the heat and rain took their toll before they even fully opened.  And so our vase is filled with roses today.


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You may recognize this little antique silver sugar dish from earlier in the spring.  It is a family piece from my mother’s mother.  A little turtle carved from solid moonstone, which came home with me from Oregon last month, sits with the roses alongside a piece of polished rutillated quartz.  All rest on the fabulous board crafted by Michael Laico.


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Please take a moment to visit Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden, who sponsors this Vase meme each week.  You’ll find links in her comments,  left by many other flower gardeners, to their floral creations today.  Cathy is gardening in the West Midlands of Great Britain, and her lovely tulips, and other spring flowers today, reflect that cooler climate.

I hope your garden is filled with spring or early summer flowers today, and that you’ll maybe cut a few stems to enjoy inside.


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I’ve finally realized it is the flowers cut and brought in which are enjoyed the most.  Especially now that we have sequestered ourselves indoors away from the mid-day heat.  Flowers may bloom and burst in the garden without us ever giving them much notice.  But indoors, where we enjoy them at close range, we take time to appreciate their lovely colors and form…. in comfort.


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Woodland Gnome 2015


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Enveloped In Light

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Friends invited me to visit their garden today, to enjoy the beauty of their Mountain Laurel in bloom.


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The garden behind their home is filled with a forest of Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia, which is native to our area. These ancient woody shrubs line the steep banks of the pond we share behind our homes.


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Mountain Laurel grows along the edges of the woods, especially along the banks of the many waterways which snake through our part of coastal Virginia.  Hardly noticeable for most of the year, these evergreen shrubs burst into bloom each May.


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Our friends’ Mountain Laurel shrubs must be quite old, as they reach the second story deck behind their home and form a dense thicket all the way down their bank to the pond.

Their uncountable tiny blooms make the space feel enchanted, especially when illumined by the setting sun.


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 Beautiful orbs of light show up from time to time in my photos.


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One frame will reveal them, while another photo taken seconds later will not.  This beautiful illumination has nothing to do with my lens.

Digital photography simply reveals what is there; often more than the human eye can discern unaided.


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Perhaps they are a trick of the lighting, but I believe they are much more than that.

And I am always happy to find them hovering in my photos.  Our friends’ garden is filled with them, as it is enveloped in living light.


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With appreciation to our friends for inviting me to share the wonder of their garden with them today, and for allowing me to take photos at the peak of its beauty.


The Weekly Photo Challenge:  Enveloped

Woodland Gnome 2015


More on Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

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Our mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, began blooming over Mother’s Day weekend.

Saturday afternoon I looked out of the window, up into the forest, and was surprised to see our shrubs covered in flowers.

These evergreen wild looking shrubs, almost small trees, simply blend into the fabric of the forest through much of the year.  It is only for a few weeks in May that they burst into bloom, suddenly elegant and beautiful.

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One of our most ornamental  native plants along the east coast of North America, early American  botanists first recorded Mountain Laurel, then called “Spoonwood,” in 1624.    Carl Linnaeus  named the shrub for Pehr Kalm, a Swede, who explored eastern North America in search of new and useful plants in 1748-49.  Mountain laurel was one of the plants Kalm collected to export to gardeners in Europe.

Mountain laurel grows from Maine all the way to Florida.  It even grows east along the Gulf Coast  from western Florida to eastern Louisiana.

Here in Williamsburg, the banks of our creeks and rivers are often covered in wild mountain laurel.  It is an understory shrub in our oak and pine forests.

South of Virginia, mountain laurel isn’t found near the coast.  It prefers the coolness of the mountains, and so its range is ever further west, at elevation, following the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains.

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Mountain laurel, part of the Ericacea family of plants, is related more closely to blueberries than to bay laurel, which is native to Europe.

It prefers moist, acidic soil and requires at least partial shade.  Although the shrubs flower more abundantly in bright shade than deep, Kalmia don’t like growing in full sun.

These plants are best mulched, and fertilized, with pine straw or pine bark mulch.  When we shred our leaves in autumn, and again in early spring, I empty the bags around the roots of our little mountain laurel grove.  They also get offerings of Espoma Holly Tone once a year or so, in late autumn or early spring.

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All parts of the mountain laurel shrub are poisonous, from root to nectar.  They have survived in our garden over the years because the deer won’t graze them.

Even honey made from Kalmia flowers in bitter and toxic for human consumption, although it will sustain a hive of bees.

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These shrubs don’t need pruning.  They are best left to grow in their own twisted, idiosyncratic way.

Their wood is very hard and brittle, much like the wood of azaleas, a relative.   I like using  branches of mountain laurel in winter floral displays.  They are sturdy enough to hold a string of twinkle lights, or small hung ornaments.

Although they can get very tall over many years in optimal conditions, most Kalmia won’t grow more than 20′ tall in one’s garden.

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Over time they form a thicket.  Their open structure near the ground makes intriguing little places in the garden for birds and small animals to seek shelter.

Kalmia may be grown alongside dogwood trees, native blueberries, azaleas, native hollies, and of course, pines, oaks, and  other native hardwood trees.

Mountain laurel in the wild have flowers of white or pink.  Some cultivars in the nursery trade have been selected for darker flowers of red or maroon.

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Ours are probably wild ones, since most of the flowers are white.

Loving mountain laurel as we do, I  purchased four little starts from a mail order nursery, and planted them at the edge of our forest near the drive in 2011.

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Growing slowly, they were growing , and were perhaps almost a foot tall when our trees fell last summer.

The heavy equipment had only one way in to deal with the mess, and no one noticed the little Kalmia starts under the mess of leaf litter when work began.  By the time I had presence of mind to look for them, they were gone.

Mountain laurel can be started from cuttings, but should never be dug from the wild.

Shrubs can be ordered, and are sometimes found at nurseries in regions where they will grow.  Plant Mountain Laurel a little “high” like an azalea, as planting too deeply may kill the shrub.

Found in zones 5-9, these shrubs will grow successfully if you can create the moist, shady, acidic forest environment they prefer.  The roots like to remain cool and moist, so it is important to keep the shrubs mulched.  Water the first few seasons as the shrubs are established, and then only in times of drought.

I love mountain laurel where it is growing in large masses in the wild.  One of our pleasures in May is to drive around in search of it, finding it peaking out of forested areas which haven’t yet been developed.   It is easily spotted from bridges, growing along the banks of our waterways; a lovely mass of light colored flowers, glowing softly in the forest.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2018

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