Transformation

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“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”

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Lao Tzu

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There is sadness in wandering along our familiar garden paths in these first few days after frost touched our garden.    Withered leaves litter the ground.  Herbaceous stems droop, their once rigid cells irreparably broken when they froze.

What was once growing a bit more beautiful each day, is now clearly in decline.  Papery brown seedheads replace vibrant flowers.    Our trees grow more naked each day.

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“Do you have the patience

to wait until your mud settles

and the water is clear?”

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Lao Tzu

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But as the graceful structure of our trees stands stark against the sky, we see that next spring’s buds are already forming.    When dried leaves drift away on the breeze, the magic is revealed:  new flowers and leaves have already begun to grow along every branch.

The buds will grow more plump and full through the wintery weeks ahead, waiting for conditions to signal them to unfold into new growth.

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“The reason why the universe is eternal

is that it does not live for itself;

it gives life to others

as it transforms.”

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Lao Tzu

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Our sadness in watching the garden decay touches our hearts, even as we understand the familiar process of renewal and re-growth.

Like waves on the beach, things are always coming in, and flowing out.  Like our breath, we receive and we give continually.

Trees draw their life from the soil beneath their roots and the air surrounding their leaves.  And then, after a period of growth, they willingly drop their leaves to decay and feed the life of the soil.  There is balance.

Every root absorbs moisture, and every leaf allows those precious drops of water to evaporate back into the sky.

~

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“If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try to hold on to.

If you are not afraid of dying,

there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

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Lao Tzu

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Nothing is ever truly gained or lost; everything transforms.  The garden helps us see this truth, and another:  Life goes on. 

No matter the appearance in the moment, life continues; and we are a part of this beautiful flickering, flaming, raging dance of life.

Our sadness springs from our clinging to one beautiful form or another.  And even that sadness can transform to joy, when we see beyond the loss of one thing to welcome what comes back to us in its wake

~

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Let’s dance the dance of life with joy in our hearts, and embrace the magic of each season of our lives.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2017
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Color Your World

January 24: Cerise

January 24: Cerise tinged Hellebore buds

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There was a time, not so long ago, when Tuesdays found me visiting Jennifer’s One Word Photo Challenge,and scrambling to find or create photos to fit her chosen color of the week.  For a very long time, Jennifer’s word of the week described a color. And what wonderful words she chose! Shamrock,‘ ‘Eigengrau,‘ ‘Teal,’ and Saffron.’ 

It was always an interesting challenge to find the photos, and often it evolved into an afternoon drive as we set out in search of the week’s color.

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January 25, Cerulean blue sky

January 25, Cerulean blue sky behind our mistletoe laden tree limbs

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  In addition to Jenny’s rules, I tried to always use current photos and also remain true to my ‘Forest Garden’ themes.  But sometime last year, when Jenny moved from color in her photo challenges to weather, I drifted away.

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January 26: Chestnut bark of our Crepe Myrtles glows against the snow.

January 26: Chestnut bark of our Crepe Myrtles glows against the snow.

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And so last night, when I stumbled across Cee’s blog featuring “Cerulean,” I was quite happy to click back and discover Jenny’s new “Color My World: One Hundred Days of Crayola” photo challenge.

Now Jenny offers a new color challenge each day for 120 days, beginning January 1.  Although we are already 26 days into the challenge, I am happy to tag along once again, and hope you will visit Jenny and explore links to other photographers participating in this Color Your World challenge.

But I will switch things up a bit and clock in only on Tuesdays, with current photos featuring as many of the week’s colors as I’m able.  I’m featuring Jenny’s challenge  colors from January 24: ‘Cerise’ through January 30: ‘Dandelion‘ in today’s post.

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January 26: Chestnut colored leaves nearly hiding an owl, sheltering in the tree from heavy snowfall.

January 27: Copper colored leaves and catkins nearly hide an owl, sheltering from heavy snowfall at the edge of our ravine.  This owl, and its mate, often appear here in the trees, keeping watch on our comings and goings.

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I have always enjoyed Jenny’s color challenges because they guide me in focusing on the changing color palette of the garden, as the seasons progress.

While our garden sleeps under its snow cover this week, we find breathtaking shades of blue in the sky; wondrous ever-greens in the shrubs, ferns and other perennials; every shade of grey and brown in the woody stems of our trees; and other interesting neutral shades in our hardscaping.  These are the colors which fade into the background during much of the year.  But we see them clearly now.

Although January remains a quiet time of year, color wise, we’re only a breath away from late winter’s flowers and the bright buds of early spring.

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January 28 Cornflower fills the sky behind bare limbs

January 28 Cornflower blue fills the sky behind bare tree limbs

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Color always tickles our emotions.  Whether we feel sheer delight in a bunch of crimson roses or relax peacefully in a shady green garden, the colors surrounding us also color our moods.

Our clear blue skies, present since the snow  crept away early Sunday morning, fill me with energy and optimism.  I look out across our snowy garden and feel gratitude for every green leaf, shining in the afternoon sun.

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January 29 Cotton candy describes these lovely Camellias, blooming in late December before snow found our garden.

January 29 Cotton candy describes these lovely Camellias, blooming in late December before snow found our garden.

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What a pleasure to notice the range of colors living in our garden, even in the midst of winter.  I am happy to take part in this new color challenge; and through it; celebrate our journey through winter and into spring 2016. 

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January 30 Dandelion yellow perfectly describes the bright stamens at the heart of a Hellebore

January 30 Dandelion yellow perfectly describes the bright stamens at the heart of a Hellebore

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Shadows also bring color to a snowy January day.

Shadows also bring color to a snowy January day. Rabbits left their footprints here in the snow.

Wednesday Vignettes: Wild

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“Plants are also integral to reweaving

the connection between land and people.

A place becomes a home when it sustains you,

when it feeds you in body as well as spirit.

To recreate a home, the plants must also return.”

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Robin Wall Kimmerer

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July 4, 2015 Jamestown 007

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused.

No emptiness goes unfilled.

No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.

In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.

No other place on earth feels so lush.

Sometimes we picture it as an echo

of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient,

serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.

But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.

Truant plants will not survive.

The meek inherit nothing.

Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for,

and they do. One of the first truths one learns

in the rain forest is that there is nothing

fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”

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Diane Ackerman

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July 4, 2015 Jamestown 011

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“As dreams are the healing songs

from the wilderness of our unconscious –

So wild animals, wild plants, wild landscapes

are the healing dreams

from the deep singing mind of the earth.”

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Dale Pendell

~

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Appreciation, always, to  Anna at Flutter and Hum for hosting the Wednesday Vignette each week. Please visit her for links to other beautiful garden photos from around the planet.

Photos by Woodland Gnome

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July 4, 2015 Jamestown 073

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There are still a very limited number of A Forest Garden 2016 garden calendars left, if you wanted one and didn’t order it in December.  Please contact me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com to order.

~

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Fly Away…

August 26, 2015 milkweed 003

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“Don’t judge each day

by the harvest you reap,

but by the seeds that you plant.”

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Robert Louis Stevenson

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August 26, 2015 milkweed 001

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for Rickii....

~

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

~

Milkweed, Asclepias incarnatarnata

Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

Mistletoe

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Mistletoe shines so beautifully in our forest canopy on sunny days. 

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Evergreen, it catches the sunlight on clear days, and forms a beautiful lacy silhouette on cloudy ones.

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We never notice it during the long summer months when it is hidden by the leaves.  But once the trees are bare, I always watch for mistletoe colonizing trees along the way as we drive.

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One of the ancient Druid’s sacred plants, Mistletoe has been used in many ways through the ages.

It is one of the more unusual plants growing wild in our forests, feeding birds and providing cover for many different creatures.

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Read more about mistletoe here….

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

The Beauty Left Behind

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Wind driven leaves filled the air like great golden snowflakes.  The air was soft and moist, unusually warm for a Virginia November.

And it was beginning to rain again.  The road and lawns, slick with new fallen leaves, glowed as golden as the forest in this muted noon time light.

 

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Great fronts of wind and rain, snow and ice rake across the country transforming the landscape.

The season has been rushed along its way.  No lingering, languid autumn this year. 

 

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No, the wind strips the leaves as they’re still turning and whips them through the air to their terrestrial demise.

You have to be out in it to fully appreciate the spectacle.

And we were.

 

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What could be more beautiful than driving through the golden showers of bright leaves flung against a low, grey sky?

And the world is transformed yet again; the finely crafted beauty left behind, revealed.

 

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Ivy and mistletoe, sculpted branches and mottled bark shine now that their leafy drape has blown away.  Tiny buds dot each branch.

 

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Silhouettes of vines, pods, fruits and berries etch fine figures against the sky.

 

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The forest’s canopy is  melting away, opening the woods once again.

Sunlight penetrates what was shaded since early summer.

 

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What was dense has opened; the hidden treasures of the forests revealed.

 

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This is our time to see down to the bones of things; to explore and discover the structure of the landscape.

Which trees harbor the nests of birds and squirrels?  Where might grapevines be found?

 

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And what tiny promises of spring might already be waiting along the woody limbs of trees and shrubs?

What beauty has been left behind by the cleansing winds?

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

Back to the Bare Bones

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Our landscape is back to the bare bones.

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Again we can catch a glimpse at the structure of things,

the truth of them.

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Leaves blown from branches, grasses falling back to Earth,

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we are left with the finely wrought network of stem and branch

only partially obscuring our view of what is beyond.

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The horizon has opened.

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Woodland windows opened to see past the edges,

into the heart of things.

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There is a hardness, an emptiness, a utilitarian look to the world in winter.

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Sharpness in the air echoed by the sharpness of the light

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Echoed again in the sharp chirps and trills and laughter

of birds calling to one another

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With warning, with encouragement, with wisdom

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With the sheer joy of a light washed winter day.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Weekly Photo Challenge: One

dec 23 2013 013

The mistletoe and tree are one, growing together as a single organism.  Roots deeply embedded into the living tissue of the tree, the mistletoe draws water and nutrients from the tree’s sap.  The evergreen mistletoe still makes its own food from sunlight, and has its owl life cycle living high in the branches of this oak.  Feeding birds, insects, and other tiny creatures, the mistletoe’s branches also offer shelter and safe haven.  As birds visit and eat the seeds in late winter, they help the mistletoe colony to spread and grow to nearby branches and other trees.  Every winter the new growth is revealed when the oak’s leaves have fallen.

One garden, one life.  Everything is connected in the most subtle ways.  Appreciating the interconnectedness of life takes a lifetime to fully comprehend, if then.

Our skies are overcast again today, with rain puddling on the ground and in all of the low spots.  A snow sky, we called it growing up, with heavy white and grey clouds full of moisture.  Too warm for snow in the moment,  once the temperatures plummet tonight, we may have snow for Christmas Eve.

The last work day before the Christmas holiday begins in earnest has been a soggy one.  The gifts we took around to friends today were all touched by the winter rain; perhaps an added blessing.

May your December 23 be a productive one.  May your remaining Christmas chores be completed in joy and good company, and may all of your travels be safe ones.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Fresh (and Dried) From the Garden

An herb garden on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg

An herb garden on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg

Once upon a time most of the makings for a merry Christmas came from the garden.  Although most of us today might begin at a big box retailer or the grocery store, up until the last generation, Christmas was mostly home-grown.   Even so, much of what we purchase today still comes from someone’s garden or farm.

Artichokes growing now will bloom in the spring.

Artichokes growing now will bloom in the spring.

Pomegranate growing near the Bruton Parish garden.

Pomegranate growing near the Bruton Parish garden.

Even as the agricultural year is at its lowest ebb, and snow covers much of the country this weekend, there is a great deal to be gathered outside.  Solstice celebrations have honored trees since earliest times.  The Egyptians  brought palm fronds indoors in late December to honor the rebirth of Ra.  Trees have been a potent symbol of life and longevity for time out of memory.

Trees in the garden at Colonial Williamsburg

Trees in the garden at Colonial Williamsburg

Evergreen trees hold a special place in solstice celebrations all over the world and symbolize everlasting life and promise the return of the sun.  Evergreens with red berries, like holly and Nandina are especially popular winter decorations since the berries are symbolic of the returning sun.  So branches of trees and shrubs, cut from one’s own garden  or purchased from a nursery, are first on our list merry-makings from the garden.

We include mistletoe among the evergreens.  Growing on trees, though not a tree itself, it is an evergreen plant full of myth and meaning.  It is an important part of our decorations.

Even bare branches make beautiful decorations.  I love white twinkle lights laced through the bare branches of crepe myrtle.  Once I decorated an entire spiral staircase with dead branches pruned from mountain laurel shrubs, wrapped in white lights.  It was perfectly beautiful and I kept it lit each evening until spring.

We also gather every sort of cone and seed.  Whether used as is, or painted white or gold; cones are beautiful in wreathes, swags, sprays, centerpieces and hung on the Christmas tree.

Wreath in Colonial Williamsburg

Wreath in Colonial Williamsburg with cones, artichokes, apples, dried fruit, and seed pods on an evergreen base.

Nuts and nut shells can be used in the same way to make decorations.  Nuts are also gathered for wonderful Christmas foods like cakes, cookies, fudge, puddings, and breads.  Walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds grow over much of the United States.  It’s always wonderful to have a nut tree in one’s own garden or the garden of a friend.  Peanuts, although not from a tree, are an important food at Christmas all over the southern United States and can be grown at home.

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A different wreath, using much of the same fruits, cones, and vegetables for decoration.

We also enjoy every sort of fruit and berry at Christmas.  Except for persimmons, pomegranates and the occasional late fig, most of us have to use dried fruit or preserves.   Local apples are still available in Virginia, but they were picked and stored weeks ago.  We import oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes from Florida and California.  Whether used in wreathes; stuck with cloves and set out in bowls; sliced into mulled wine or Wassail; or peeled and eaten out of hand, citrus is an important part of our Christmas celebration.

Many crops still wait to be harvested in the CW garden.

Many crops still wait to be harvested in the CW garden.

Cranberries don’t grow well in Virginia, but they fill whole shelves of the produce section at the local groceries.  We eat them from Thanksgiving through the new year baked into cakes muffins and breads.  We grind them with oranges to make cranberry relish and cook them with sugar and other fruits to make preserves.  Those that don’t get eaten are strung onto garlands or stuck into wreathes.

Virginia had a lively trade with islands in the Caribbean during Colonial times and has maintained those ties.  Pineapples are an important symbol of hospitality in Virginia.  Pineapples, imported from the islands, were available for Virginia Christmas celebrations.

Wreathes for sale in the Colonial Williamsburg garden on Duke of Gloucester St. use pineapples, feathers, oyster shells, apples, English holly, and dried flowers in their designs.

Wreathes for sale in the Colonial Williamsburg garden on Duke of Gloucester St. use pineapples, pine cones, feathers, oyster shells, apples, English holly, and dried flowers in their designs.

And of course grapes are enjoyed on party trays with cheeses, or savored as wine.  We bake raisins into cakes, cookies, and puddings. We use grapevines as the base for wreathes and garlands.

We even have greens and produce in the garden.  Our holiday meals are built around potatoes, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, collards, cabbages, kale, salad greens, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.  Many of these are still out in the garden with a little winter protection, or have just come in for winter storage.

Some might count eggs, since many keep their own chickens or buy eggs locally.  Eggs are used in such huge quantities as we bake our way towards Christmas day.  Likewise honey, an important part of the holiday, and a gift from our gardens.

Flowers, like lavender, Achillea, roses, hydrangea, baby’s breath, and cockscomb; dried last summer,  come out to play their part in our decorations. Whether worked into our wreathes, or tucked into the branches of the Christmas tree, they remind us of fragrant summers past.

December 5 2013 DOG St 031Herbs can still be cut here in Williamsburg, for both cooking and for decorations.  We still have sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, germander, and some fragrant geraniums living in the garden.  Many more dried herbs and spices shine at Christmas.  How could we bake without cinnamon?    Cinnamon sticks. star anise, and cloves work their way into our decorations with dried citrus and herbs.  Sprigs of herbs tied into a bow make a Christmas gift fragrant.  Herbs and essential oils melted with beeswax and Shea butter or mixed with salt or sugar make special indulgent gifts for loved ones.

The garden at Colonial Williamsburg was bustling with activity when we visited on Thursday afternoon.  In fact, it was the busiest place we visited.  So many beautiful vegetables are still growing in the garden.  The shop is full of tempting wreathes, arrangements, dried materials, tools, and books.  As garlands and wreathes continue popping up all over town, we see the wintery landscape transform into a beautiful botanical paradise.

A centerpiece in the garden shop at CW will make a local table very festive this month.

A centerpiece in the garden shop at CW will make a local table very festive this month.

Everything we need is at hand to make our Christmas merry and bright, waiting for us in someone’s garden.

Here is a recipe to make your Christmas a little more flavorful.  Mulled wine and mulled cider are traditional at Virginia Christmas parties, as they are in England.  Mulled wine, or Gluehwein, is served at Christmas markets all over Germany, Switzerland, and Austria today.   I’ll be  making this tomorrow afternoon for our neighborhood cookie exchange party.  December 5 2013 DOG St 017After helping to construct nearly 2 dozen little houses from graham crackers and royal icing, I’ll be more than ready to sit back and sip a cup while watching the children decorate the houses with candy.

Mulled Wine or Gluehwein

Combine 1 1/2 c. of water and/or orange juice and 1 1/2 c. sugar in a large pot and simmer on medium heat as the sugar dissolves.  Wash, and cut 2 oranges, a large lemon, and an apple into narrow wedges or slices.  Stick whole cloves into the sliced fruit to use between 12 and 20 cloves.  Add the fruit to the simple syrup along with a 2 tsp. of cinnamon or a cinnamon stick.  Allow the syrup and fruit to simmer on a very low heat for at least 20 minutes before adding two bottles of red wine.  I like to use a Shiraz or Syrah as they are bold, fruity wines.  Once the wine is heated through (do not boil) transfer the mixture to a crock pot to keep warm, or serve directly from the cooking pot for informal events.

For a non-alcoholic treat, use apple juice or cider, or a combination of apple and cranberry juice in place of the wine.  Skip the water, and mull the fruit and spices in the fruit juices.  Add a little rum to individual servings as needed.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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Looking Up… Mistletoe

Mistletoe lives in the branches of this tree along the banks of the James River.

Mistletoe lives in the branches of this tree along the banks of the James River.

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We gardeners spend so much of our time out of doors looking down.  We look down to check the progress on our beds and borders, to water our pots, to plant, to generally keep an eye on new things in the garden.

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This day I made a conscious decision to look up.  It is a gloriously sunny day with a clear blue sky, no humidity, and few clouds.  Knowing a storm is on the way for midweek; I set out, camera in hand, to enjoy the beauty of the day.

And what a perfect day it’s been for looking up.  Strong winds have stripped most of the leaves away, leaving the trees’ sculpted skeletons shining in the sun.

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A row of Crepe Myrtles stands near College Creek.

A row of Crepe Myrtles stands near College Creek.

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What a striking sight:  trunks and branches revealed once again, the living mathematics of their branching no longer hidden amongst their leaves.  The beauty of bark revealed in all of its silvery, marbled, textured variety.

Looking up, I was happy to see lively green clusters of mistletoe shining in the tree tops.  These special, evergreen, plants have been a part of myth and folklore since ancient times.  They live, suspended, between heaven and Earth; rooted into the branches of hardwood trees.

 

Mistletoe lives peacefully in this pair of trees along the Colonial Parkway.

Mistletoe lives peacefully in this pair of trees along the Colonial Parkway.

 

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Sacred to the Norse goddess Frigga, European mistletoe, Viscum album, was harvested at the summer and winter solstice by the Druids using a golden sickle, and never allowed to touch the ground.  It has been used, along with other evergreens, to decorate for the winter solstice celebrations for millennia.  Its mythic associations with masculinity and fertility, and with marriage, have earned it a prominent place in “kissing ball” decorations, hung from doorways and chandeliers.  Couples kiss under the mistletoe to seal engagements, cement friendships, make up after arguments, and often to begin new relationships.

 

Mistletoe growing in our garden is a welcome sight.  We are happy for its presence and look forward to finding branches blown to the ground.

Mistletoe growing in our garden is a welcome sight. We are happy for its presence and look forward to finding branches blown to the ground.

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Our North American mistletoe, Phoradendron serotinum, looks similar to European mistletoe, but is a different plant with larger clusters of white berries.  Both live high in the branches of trees, and both are semi-parasitic.

Both European and American mistletoe begin life as a seed, deposited on a tree branch by a bird.  The mistletoe berry contains a very sticky juice.  Whether the seed is rubbed off of a bird’s beak onto the branch as the bird eats, or is deposited in the bird’s droppings, the juice surrounding it cements it to the bark until it has the chance to germinate.

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Instead of roots, the new plant sends out haustorium, a type of aerial root, which penetrates the bark to grow into the wood to both anchor the mistletoe plant and absorb water and minerals from the host.  The evergreen mistletoe produces its own food from sunlight, as does every other plant.  It relies on its host for water, but not for food.

A large colony of mistletoe can weaken a tree over many years, and can disfigure the branches.  But in general, the host and guest can live quite peacefully together for a long time.  In fact, research has shown that the presence of mistletoe actually increases biodiversity in woodlands where it is found.

The plant provides food and shelter for numerous birds and insects.  In fact, some species of birds create their nests in mistletoe clusters.  They eat both the berries and the young leaves and shoots.  When mistletoe blooms in the spring it provides nectar for a variety of insects.

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Mistletoe is not something that a gardener plants.  I am always very happy to find it growing nearby, as though it is a special blessing of nature.  Sometimes pieces of it get knocked down by strong wind or a falling branch.  I always collect this and take it inside. People living out in the countryside sometimes try to shoot down clusters with a rifle to sell at Christmastime for decoration.

The only way to remove mistletoe from a tree is to prune the branch on which it is growing.  Since it won’t kill an otherwise strong and healthy tree, there really is no need to do this.  And, clusters of mistletoe add their own special beauty to a tree’s bare branches during winter.  Found all over Europe, North America, and Australia, there are also species of mistletoe which live in tropical and subtropical forests.  It is another beautiful plant in our forest garden.

 

A bald eagle near his nest along the James River.

A bald eagle near his nest along the James River.

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While looking up at the tree tops this afternoon along the Colonial Parkway, we also spotted a bald eagle hovering over its nest.  By the time we stopped the car and I got out with the camera, he had taken off, alarmed, and was circling nearby.  I managed to catch a single photo before he took off across the road towards the marsh.  We saw several eagles today, a few hawks, and lots of gulls.

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A closer view of the nest, which was full of young in early summer.

A closer view of the nest, which was full of young in early summer.

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The gulls are gathering inland again ahead of the winter storms coming later this week.  As sometimes happens, a huge icy system is coming from the west at the same time another storm system is swooping down from Canada.  It looks like they will meet over the Carolinas and Virginia by Tuesday, and then rush up the coast.

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Gulls have flown inland ahead of the coming winter storms.

Gulls have flown inland ahead of the coming winter storms.

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We already have January like temperatures in place, with a high here today in the mid-30s.  It was the first day I reached for my hat, gloves, and scarf before heading outside, and the howling winds made it feel much colder.  I filled the camera today, hoarding photos like cans of soup.

The rest of the week might not be the best weather for wandering the garden taking photos.  But today has been a lovely day in Williamsburg, a beautiful wintery day, and a glorious day for “looking up.”

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“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled
with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.

Rabbi Harold Kushner

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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