Sunday Dinner: Allowing Peace

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“You are a valuable instrument
in the orchestration of your own world,
and the overall harmony of the universe.
Always be in command of your music.
Only you can control and shape its tone.
If life throws you a few bad notes or vibrations,
don’t let them interrupt or alter your song.”
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Suzy Kassem
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“Cultivate blessing.
Bless yourself.
Bless the whole world.
Let it be full with love,
peace, joy and happiness.”
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Amit Ray
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Woodland Tableau

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Cathy, at  Rambling in the Garden, urges us to bring cut flowers indoors for a vase each Monday.  But instead of filling a vase, I’ve made my foliage arrangement today in small pots.

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My inspiration came from an intriguing photo in the fall 2016 Country Gardens magazine.  In the article, ‘The Splendor of Seedpods;” there is a log centerpiece, covered in moss, small ferns, Rex Begonias and various seedpods.  It is simply stunning. 

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But, copying this arrangement meant finding a partially hollowed out log of the right size for one’s table.  The more I thought about putting a real decaying log in my dining room, and the little bugs which might come with it, the more I searched for another way to accomplish a similar effect.

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Center pot from Mossy Creek pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

Begonia Rex in a hand thrown pot  from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

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My version uses a handmade pottery tray as the base.  The  ferns, ivy, and Rex Begonias are all potted, then their pots arranged with small animals, bits of glass and stones.  Moss pulled from the garden finishes each little pot.

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The three main pots are cast clay, shaped to look like stones.  I’ve grown succulents in them most years, but they’ve been empty for the past several months.  They recycled nicely into this arrangement.

The two glazed pots came from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.   The tray was found at a tag sale a few years ago.  But it is a signed original, and I enjoy it very much.

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The classic terra cotta pot has languished in my potting area for several years, awaiting inspiration to find it a new use.  It, and the other pots with drainage holes were lined with a sheet of burlap before I filled them with good potting soil.  Lay a layer of aggregate, like pebbles, in any pots without drainage holes, before adding the plant and its soil.

I’ve chosen two tender ‘Tabletop’ ferns (Pteris species) and a division of a tender Lady fern from one of my hanging baskets.  These little ‘tropicals’ are easy to find at big box stores which sell little houseplants, and the needlepoint ivy and Begonia came from our local Lowes.

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This is a nice, relaxed, woodsy arrangement to carry us through the autumn months.  I can add a few little pumpkins or gourds in the weeks ahead.  All of these plants should grow fine in the low light of our dining room.

If you want to copy this design, be creative with re-purposing things you already have lying around.  I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week,  collecting the materials and plants before assembling it all this afternoon.  It can be great fun to find new ways to use containers already in ‘the collection.’

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I hope that Cathy will accept this humble aberration from her floral meme.  Eventually, those Begonias will sport blossoms, after all.

But I find great beauty in foliage, too, and appreciate its longevity.  This little arrangement should be alive and growing for many weeks on our dining table.

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Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a 'houseplant..'  These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a ‘houseplant.’ These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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The Road Home

The Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City, OR

The Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City, OR

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I found the way home, a few days ago, after spending a week in one of my favorite places on Earth, enjoying the company of my daughter and her family.

My heart always sings when the jet drops through the clouds low enough to catch my first glimpse of emerald green Oregon.  It is a place like no other; and I treasure every hour spent wrapped in its beauty.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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Evergreen trees, grassy fields, budding moss cloaked hardwoods, ferns and countless Rhododendrons create a tapestry of every shade and hue of green.  The air is moist and cool. 

We dropped low over the green Columbia River on a final approach to Portland’s airport, finding the safe pavement of the runway just before our wheels touched the water.

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The garden at the Mossy Creek Pottery

The garden at the Mossy Creek Pottery

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My family was waiting, little one doubled in size since last I saw her.  Our drive home to the coast wound through towns and countryside, through the Willamette Valley, across mountains and beside rocky creeks.

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It was raining before we made it back, and cold.  Instant return to wintery weather.   The ocean below the condo roared and crashed, white caps breaking all along the beach at high tide.

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How much can one pack in to a few short days?  How many trips up and down Route 101?  How many walks on the beach?  How many wanderings through the gardens? How many cups of Starbucks?   How much shopping, and how much listening? 

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A wild cucumber vine growing at Cape Foulweather.

A wild cucumber vine growing at Cape Foulweather.

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There is never enough time for me to soak in my fill of Oregon.  There is always more I want to see and want to do.   And I was at a disadvantage this time, with allergies and a cold.

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The view from Cape Foulweather, 500 feet above the Pacific.

The view from Cape Foulweather, 500 feet above the Pacific.

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But the days passed, and all too soon we made the drive back north to Portland; back to the airport.  Roses were blooming around the parking lot of the shopping mall where we stopped, by the time we returned.  We had gone from 40’s to 90’s and back down again while I was there.  We all were suffering from the pollen laden air, even at the coast.

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The path down to Beverly Beach.

The path down to Beverly Beach.

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I enjoyed a small slice of Oregon’s spring; a few beautiful days while the landscape was still waking from it’s winter slumber.  Clumps of Zantedeschia bloomed in nearly every yard.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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Rhododendrons as tall as trees were bursting with huge bright flowers.   Primroses carpeted the ground, and  ferns stretched their fronds from tiny fiddle heads to tall scapes.

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Azaleas bloomed in Crayola colors; Skunk Cabbages glowed golden yellow; and blue Lobelia grew lush and large, many times bigger than they possibly could at home.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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One day I’ll return deeper into summer to enjoy a different view of the landscape.  But for now, I’ve tried to memorize every detail of April in Oregon.

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And still my own garden called across the miles.  An order of trees arrived earlier than expected.  The rhizomes and tubers planted weeks ago broke ground in the garage, reaching for the light.  Weeds took hold amongst the moss.  Our first Iris bloomed, Dogwoods lost their petals, and our ferns, too, are unfolding.

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The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden

The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden

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I got daily updates from my partner, who stayed behind at home to feed the cat and tend the garden in my absence.

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One of the earliest Irises in bloom at the Connie Hansen garden, perfectly matched to the Azalea behind it.

One of the earliest Irises in bloom at the Connie Hansen garden, perfectly matched to the Azalea behind it.

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And the day finally came for the long journey home to Virginia.  Begun before dawn, we finally pulled back into our own driveway in the wee early hours of the following morning.

Weather along the way delayed my final flight, making us last plane to land well after midnight, and just before Richmond’s airport shut down for the night.

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Beverly Beach, my last full day in Oregon.

Beverly Beach, my last full day in Oregon.

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The night air was sweet and moist.  Deer and raccoons congregated along the highway.  We sped through the early morning hours sharing stories and enjoying the empty road.

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Travelers always return with fresh eyes, and new appreciation for the comforts of home.   I have made this journey enough times now to have a sense of  ‘home’ on both ends of the trip, which is a tremendous blessing.  Loved ones wait for me on both coasts these days.  Both places hold their own special beauty.

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I’ve gathered a few fresh ideas to try in the garden,  and perhaps a few fresh perspectives from time spent with my daughter, too.  She is always teaching me, in her own wise and loving way.

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The Maidenhair fern native to Oregon isn't so very different from the Maidenhair fern we can grow in our garden. I will experiment with growing this beautiful fern.

The Maidenhair fern native to Oregon isn’t so very different from the Maidenhair fern we can grow in our garden.   I will experiment with growing this tough and beautiful fern, which looks so fragile.  This one grows in the Connie Hansen Garden.

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And Virginia ‘s greens are lovely, too.  I’ve spent a lot of time, since returning, lingering at the windows, reacquainting myself with our own familiar landscape.

There is much waiting for me to do, now that I’m home again.  After all, it is still only April…..

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Green Velvet Serenity: Moss Garden

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What can  grow on poor compacted soil, in sun or shade, with no fertilizer, has no problems with pest or disease; and still will look beautiful year round?

Why mosses and other bryophytes, of course….

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Bryophytes are hardy, ancient non-vascular plants.  They remain with us in abundance despite their long history covering the soil of planet Earth.  And their appearance often appears magical when they begin growing in the most impossible and most inhospitable spots.

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Soft expanses of moss exude serenity and calm.  They offer respite from an often chaotic world.  They allow us to simplify our gardening effort; providing sanctuary for the weary gardener while helping to heal our planet.

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Mosses utterly fascinate me.  These miniature plants simply appear, unplanned and unplanted; sown by nature’s hand.  Like a thick plush rug, they carpet the soil year round, remaining green even under a blanket of snow or glaze of ice.

And every moment they clean carbon  dioxide and pollutants from the air we breathe, returning these elements to Earth.

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But a moss carpet takes time to grow; many years in most cases.  Allowing nature to create the moss garden, unaided by the gardener’s hand, can be an uncertain proposition because those tiny bits of moss must compete with other larger, stronger, more weedy vascular plants.

My experiments with moss gardening in containers have been mixed.  While some have survived and colonized the pot, others have not.

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The moss turns brown. Birds raid the loose pieces for their nests.  Squirrels push the moss aside to dig for nutty treasures, leaving it to desiccate in the sun.

The longer we live in this garden, the more I value moss as a ground cover for paths, slopes and areas which remain in deep shade.  It is an affordable, practical option to ‘finish’ areas which otherwise would remain muddy for much of the year.

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When I saw Annie Martin’s The Magical World of Moss Gardening, published in early September of 2015 by Timber Press, I knew this lush ‘how to’ manual  could teach me the techniques I needed to cultivate mosses on a larger scale in our garden.  And it has proven to offer as much inspiration as it has instruction. moss gardening bookThe photos alone opened my eyes to possibilities for using mosses in the garden which I wouldn’t have imagined on my own.

‘Mossin Annie’ takes us on garden tours around the United States; from her own and others she has created near Asheville, NC on to Oregon and California;  as well as to the centuries old moss gardens of Japan.  In fact, one of the gardens Annie photographs grows in Chesterfield County, Virginia.  In showing us these gardens, Annie demonstrates the three main ways to establish gardens and design with mosses.

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The first, simplest way also takes the longest time.  Norie Burnet, a Chesterfield County teacher with a wooded suburban property and little budget for gardening, allowed nature to plant her moss garden for her.  She waited for airborne spores to take hold and colonize those areas she prepared for moss, then meticulously watered, weeded and groomed to give the moss every chance to thrive.

She has invested 25 years of careful tending and designing to help those mosses grow exactly where she wants them.  Now she enjoys an exquisite shaded garden, beautifully carpeted in many species of moss, which she can easily maintain herself.

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A second method for establishing mosses gives the gardener a more active hand in selecting and placing mosses to create beautiful designs with their textures and colors.  It also speeds the process considerably.  This is the method I’m experimenting with this year.

Rather than waiting for moss spores to colonize the garden, we speed things up a bit by transplanting moss where we want it to grow.  This works best in areas where moss can and will grow naturally, using native species of moss.  But moss from other parts of the world sometimes may be transplanted if their needs are met.

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Ordinary unamended, compacted garden soil works best here.  First clearing away every weedy vascular plant, we rough up the surface a little, then firmly press small bits of moss onto the prepared soil.  Annie recommends pieces the size of one’s hand, but smaller bits will work.  These are laid into a patchwork with spaces left between.  The transplanted moss will take hold and grow.  Eventually it will send its spore into the surrounding areas.

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The mosses need moisture and time to grow.  Daily watering is key to keeping them alive and growing during the crucial time when they are taking hold.  Firm pressure to give them a good bond with the soil is needed, too.  First, pressing them very firmly into place when planting. and later walking over them regularly to maintain that contact.

Here is where I had problems.  No matter how firmly I might push my little transplants down, some bird or squirrel will come behind me and flip it!  Some tasty morsel surely is under that moss!  And the birds appreciate my help in tearing the mosses for them to line their nests!

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hunks of flipped moss to the right got securely replanted and held with metal pins.

Hunks of flipped moss to the right got securely replanted and held with metal pins.

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The remedy is to pin each piece of moss into place with toothpicks, small broken sticks, or metal pins.  I used the same U shaped metal pins we keep for making evergreen wreathes.  These hold the mosses securely and allow them a chance to grab into the soil below.

This has been a major problem in my outdoor containers, too.   Agitation of the moss transplants from animals interferes with its growth. But also, the potting soil itself isn’t a good subsoil for moss.

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Potting soil is too light, and the perlite in most mixes makes it nearly impossible for moss rhizoids to grow into it.  While moss spores easily colonize moist potting soil, transplanting mature pieces remains a challenge.

The size of the hunks of moss, and the size of the spaces between are determined by how much moss you have to plant and how quickly you need the ground covered.  Which do you have in more abundance, time, moss or money?

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Volunteer moss in our garden ready for harvesting and replanting elsewhere

Volunteer moss in our garden ready for harvesting and replanting elsewhere

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The third method for establishing a moss garden is the fastest and gives the most immediate satisfaction.  After cleaning and preparing the site, one simply rolls out the already growing moss.  Annie owns a moss garden landscaping company and raises large sheets of moss already growing on landscaping fabric, which her crews will roll out on your bare soil, for a price, and anchor into place.  Voila!  Instant moss garden! 

She, and others around the world, also grow moss in nursery flats.  It is possible to buy many varieties of moss, mail ordered from a nursery, by the square foot.  These smaller mats are then torn into designs or laid whole to carpet the area.

All methods require careful attention for the first several months as they attach to the soil below.  They must be kept clean, with fallen leaves, sticks and other garden waste swept away so light can reach the moss.  Vascular weeds which take root in the moss must be plucked.  They compete by shading out the moss and absorbing the moisture it needs.  Tears in the moss must be mended; stray bits pushed back into place.

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Porous material, like this hypertufa pot, support moss very well. Glazed and plastic pots do not. In general, moss will grow on brick, some stone, concrete, bark and asphalt very well.

Porous material, like this hypertufa pot, support moss very well. Glazed and plastic pots do not. In general, moss will grow on brick, some stone, concrete, bark and asphalt very well.

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Perhaps you’ve heard stories of ‘Moss Milkshakes’ as a method for getting mosses to grow on rocks or clay pots.  I’ve not yet tried this method.  Annie discourages it and explains she has had little success.  One breaks up hunks of living moss into an old blender, and adds some combination of buttermilk, yogurt, or beer….. This whole mess is whirred into a thick slurry and painted on to a porous surface, kept moist and shaded, and at some time in the future moss begins to grow.  It should work.

Most mosses can regrow from any part of the plant.  Like the arm of the starfish, even the tiniest bit of leaf or rhizoid is enough for the whole moss to grow back in the right conditions.  And the gardener’s challenge becomes to provide those right conditions consistently enough and long enough for the moss to colonize and establish themselves on the new surface.

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This may be something I experiment with in the coming weeks.  Mossin Annie shares very detailed and useful information about moss gardening in her beautiful book.  But search as I may, nowhere can I find instructions for growing a flat of moss, or for growing one of her large sheets of landscape fabric based moss.  Those must be trade secrets!

And that is what I would like to learn.  I’d like a few beautiful homegrown flats of the mosses already native in our area, ready to lay on the ground,  to embellish our now growing moss gardens.  Because part of the art of designing moss gardens is the interplay of various textures and colors of mosses growing next to one another.  Flats of ready moss are the artist’s palette for a moss gardener; and like everything else in the garden, must be bought if not ‘home grown.’

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And it all takes time.  Annie makes clear that the moss gardener must think in months or years to see a vision grow into place.  Even buying her moss mats to carpet a shady corner of the garden, one must still wait for mosses to grow up over rocks or stumps, trees trunks and walls.

Like with all gardening, it unfolds in its own time.  We can perhaps speed the process a little with our efforts.  We can aid and encourage nature in her natural course.  But ultimately, we wait for the miracle; with enough patience to finally witness its unfolding.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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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“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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“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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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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Amaryllis Centerpiece

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You know the weather has shifted when I’m inspired to make a living centerpiece for our dining room.

We enjoyed watching our Amaryllis grow so much last winter, that I decided to start one early enough to enjoy over the holidays this year.

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The Great Big Greenhouse, near Richmond, carried some of the largest Amaryllis bulbs that I’ve ever seen .  They also have the largest selection of varieties I’ve found, anywhere.  Some of the ‘specialty’ varieties normally only found in catalogs, with exorbitant price tags, were right there in their bulb display at grocery store prices.

And so I selected a huge Amaryllis bulb last weekend, and four tiny ferns, for this arrangement.  A bulb this large would be expected to give several stalks of flowers.

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The ceramic bowl has no drainage.  It is much deeper and wider than the Amaryllis needs, which leaves room for a couple of  inches of aggregate in the bottom to afford drainage for the roots.  I’ve used a fairly coarse pea gravel to leave pockets for air or water.  Use only new, good quality potting soil for a project like this.  I’m using a lightweight mix of mostly peat and perlite.

Amaryllis need only their roots in soil.  The ‘collar’ of the bulb, where its leaves emerge, should be visible above the soil line.  In addition to the four tropical ferns, I’ve planted a tiny Strawberry Begonia and a tiny tender fern division, both rescued from an outside pot.  The soil is covered with sheets of moss lifted from an oak’s roots in the upper garden.

Maybe it is an odd idiosyncrasy, but I don’t like looking at potting soil in a living arrangement.  Who wants to look at a dish filled with dirt in the middle of their dining table, anyway? 

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November 19, 2015 Amaryllis 001

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Rarely do I leave a potted plant ‘unfinished,’ without at least a mulch of fine gravel over the soil anymore.  It is easier to water neatly, the plant needs less water, the plant stays cleaner outside in the rain, and it just looks better to me.

Since moss has no roots, it won’t grow down into the potting soil.  It will continue to grow only in the thin film of soil where it is already anchored. Press it firmly into the surface of the potting soil as you place patch beside patch.  I drop fine stones around the edges to help meld these pieces together, and to help retain moisture around the patches of moss.

Moss will live indoors so long as it remains hydrated.  You can mist it, or pour a little water over it every few days.  Keeping the mix evenly moist keeps the moss and ferns happy.   Watering occasionally with diluted tea (no cream or sugar, please) makes the moss happy, too, as it appreciates soil on the acidic side.

When I eventually break this arrangement up, in a few months, the moss should be transplanted back outside.  It can also be ground up and used to start new colonies of moss, even if it appears dead at that point.

This is a simple project which gives weeks of pleasure.  It would make a nice hostess gift over the holidays.

~

November 19, 2015 Amaryllis 003

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If you’re ever tempted to order the glitzy Amaryllis gifts from your favorite catalog, consider making your own instead for a fraction of the cost.  Even a non-gardener can enjoy an Amaryllis bowl such as this one.

Simply add a little water, and enjoy!

Woodland Gnome 2015

~

November 19, 2015 001

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“If nature has made you for a giver,

your hands are born open,

and so is your heart;

and though there may be times when your hands are empty,

your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that-

-warm things, kind things, sweet things-

-help and comfort and laughter-

-and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

 .

 

Frances Hodgson Burnet

 

NaBloPoMo_1115_298x255_badges

Plant Now For Spring Living Flower Arrangements

November 2, 2015 015

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Who wants to look at empty pots for the next four months?  I am as interested in planting attractive pots for the winter season as I am interested in replanting those pots for summer.  And each fall, I keep an eye and and ear open for new ideas.

Brent Heath offered a workshop last month at his Bulb Shop in Gloucester that I sorely wanted to attend.  He even offered to bring his workshop across the river if I could pull a group together in our community.  And how I wish my time and energy had stretched far enough to invite him!

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Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

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Brent, a master horticulturalist, teaches the finer points of loading containers with bulbs.  Now even though he and his wife Becky are known internationally for their prodigious offering of Daffodils; they sell hundreds of different bulbs and perennials.  Brent’s workshop teaches how to layer several different species of bulbs into a single pot to create a “Living Flower Arrangement” which changes over time as different bulbs appear, bloom, and fade.

I wanted to attend Brent’s workshop to learn a new trick or two.  I’ve used various bulbs in containers for many years now, but there is always a better way, when one is open to learn from someone more experienced.  But the stars haven’t aligned this season, and so I’ve been experimenting on my own with the bulbs we’ve been collecting.

~

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

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The idea is elegantly simple:  since one plants bulbs at different depths depending on the size of the bulb, and since new growth from most bulbs is very narrow before it reaches the light,  one can plant one ‘layer’ of bulbs on top of another, allowing the emerging stems to sort out the spacing as they grow upwards towards the light.  In fact, three or four ‘layers’ of different types of bulbs may be planted into a single large pot.   This very crowded planting works for a single season, but must be unpacked by early summer.  The bulbs may be transplanted ‘in the green’ into garden beds, to allow the leaves to fully recharge the bulb for the next season of flowers.

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 Containers for sale at the Heath's Bulb Shop last April

Containers on display at the Heath’s Bulb Shop last April

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I modify this idea to include annuals, perennials, woodies and moss so the planting has immediate interest while we wait for the bulbs to emerge in the spring.

Begin with a clean pot.  I use coffee filters or a paper towel over the drainage holes to hold the soil while the roots are growing.  The filters will soon decompose.  Choose a good quality, light, commercial potting soil with nutrition already mixed in.  The annuals and perennials are heavy feeders, and the bulbs will perform better in rich soil.  Many of the ‘organic’ potting soils now come pre-loaded with worm castings!

Now one must  ‘do the math.’  Having chosen 2-5 species of bulbs, depending on the size and depth of the pot, first study the proper planting depth of each.  If you are using Daffodils, for instance, which are planted at a depth of 6″, then fill the pot with soil to within about 7″ of the rim.    Set the first ‘layer’ of Daffodil bulbs on the soil by pushing the root end slightly into the soil so that the tip points upwards.  Space these Daffodils 3″-4″ apart from one another and at least an inch or two inwards from the sides of the pot.  Carefully fill in around these bulbs with more potting soil so they are barely covered, and firm the soil with your palm.

~

Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted Redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and Daffodils early last spring.

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Choose your next bulb, adding just enough soil so it is planted at its correct depth, and arrange these bulbs by lightly pushing them into the soil.  Try to avoid setting a new bulb directly over top of a deeper one.  Lightly top with soil to hold this layer in place, and add an additional layer or two of bulbs.  I like to select a few bulbs, like Crocus, Muscari, or Galanthus nivalis, which will emerge in late winter.  These will often be the ones planted most shallow.

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Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I've tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I’ve tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

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If your living flower arrangement will contain only bulbs, then simply top off the soil with a layer of living moss, water in, place the pot, and wait.  You can certainly add a few branches, pods, stones or cones to the pot to catch the eye while you wait for spring.

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Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with Creeping Jenny and a hardy Sedum ‘Angelina’ last April.

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But I want a living flower arrangement which goes to work right away.  I always add some annuals or perennials to the mix, which complicates the bulb planting a bit, as you don’t want bulbs directly under the huge root ball of a perennial or shrub.   I tend to place  a shrub or perennial in the pot first, then plant the bulbs around it.  This is a good use for those clearance shrubs with tiny root balls so easy to find in late October or November.  Or, for the many evergreen shrubs showing up now in tiny quart or 1 gallon pots.

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March 20 2014 spring 006

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Many vines and some perennials root easily from cuttings.  Simply tuck bits of Creeping Jenny, hardy Sedum, or divisions of Ivy or Ajuga into the soil of your finished pot.  These will grow in place.  Consider sprinkling seeds for perennials like Columbine, which like to overwinter out of doors.  They will begin to sprout next spring as the bulbs emerge.

~

Creeping Jenny last March

Creeping Jenny last March

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You might complete your design with some winter annuals.  You can pot up the deeper layers of bulbs, and then plant a few Violas, Pansies or snaps in the top three inches of the pot.  Layer in your Crocus and Muscari bulbs around them.

~ April 7,2014 spring flowers 002

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I still finish the pot with moss or pebbles.   This topdressing not only looks more attractive than plain dirt; it helps hold moisture, insulates the roots as temperatures dive, and it offers some protection from digging squirrels.  If I were using Tulips in the pot, I would be tempted to lay some chicken wire, with large openings, over that layer of bulbs for further protection from marauding rodents.  Tuck in a few cloves of garlic or onion sets to protect your Violas from grazing deer and rabbits.

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March 20 2015 fresh 027~

Now, the ultimate ‘multi-tasking’ for this sort of planting:  hardwood cuttings.  Many of our woodies will root over winter if stuck into moist soil and left alone for several months.  If you have some shrubs you would like to propagate, take your cuttings and push them artistically into the finished pot.  If they root, fine.  If they don’t, you have still enjoyed the extra sculptural elements they lend over winter while the bulbs are sleeping.

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I've added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

I’ve added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

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This sort of winter ‘living flower arrangement’ takes a bit of planning.  There are lots of choices to make about timing and color schemes, size and scale, costs and placement.  You have to imagine how the bulbs will look when they emerge, so the tall ones are more to the center and the shorter ones nearer the edges; unless the shorter ones will finish before the tall ones emerge.  And the container must be large enough to contain all of those robust roots without cracking; and of material which will hold up to your winter weather.

~March 6, 2015 garden 002

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This is an excellent way to showcase miniature Daffodils and other delicate, small flowering bulbs.  You might combine several types of daffies to include those which flower early, mid- and late season.  Daffodils with blue Muscari always look great together.

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Ornamental cabbage with Heuchera in a newly planted pot.

Ornamental cabbage with Hellebore in a newly planted pot.

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You might also compose an arrangement of various Iris.  Include some combination of Iris unguicularis, Iris bucharica, Iris histrioides, Iris reticulata, Dutch Iris, and perhaps even a root of German Bearded Iris for a long season of beautiful Iris blooms.

If your winter is especially harsh, plant your container now, water it in, but leave it in an unheated garage or shed until February.  Bring it out into the spring sunshine and enjoy the bulbs when the worst of winter has passed.

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Newly planted Violas with Heuchera

Newly planted Violas with Hellebores.  Bulbs are tucked into the soil, waiting for spring.

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We enjoy the luxury of  Zone 7b, which allows us to grow winter annuals which would die a few states to the north, and also bulbs which wouldn’t survive in the warmer winters to our south.  We also have many winter or early spring  flowering shrubs to plant in our container gardens.

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Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.  Foliage will fill this pot all winter, with flowers appearing in the spring.

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Here are some of the plants I choose most often for these dynamic pots:

Perennials:  Hellebores, Heucheras, Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, Iris unguicularis, evergreen ferns, culinary Sage, Rosemary, Ivy, Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny), Sedum rupestre, ‘Angelina’ and other hardy Sedums, Ajuga, Vinca Minor (Periwinkle), hardy Oxalis, Columbine, Dianthus

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Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

Pansies will soon respond to warmer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

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Annuals:  Violas, Panolas, Pansies, Snapdragons, Allysum, ornamental kale or cabbage

Whatever combination of plants you choose, think of these living flower arrangements as narratives which unfold over time.

Time truly is the magical ingredient for baking bread, raising children, and creating beautiful gardens.

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March 25-28 013

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Small Scale

July 18, 2015 fungus 009

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It can be interesting to watch nature’s processes play out on a small scale.  That is one of the attractions of gardening in containers, for me.

This large container sits in a shady area of our deck.  It was planted as a moss garden through the winter, but by June it required some major rehabilitation.

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November 25, 2014 moss garden 013

Last November, when this garden was newly made. The ‘pond’ did not work out very well to hold water. I removed this feature and planted a hardy Begonia in the space. The moss turned brown in our warm spring when it dried out on sunny days.

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Since I had some tiny potted ferns and Begonias which needed a more permanent home, I’ve been re-working this little garden by adding new plants.  Several volunteers, from airborne seeds, or possibly from the patches of moss, are colonizing the garden as well.  It is endlessly interesting to watch what grows here.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 008

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And now, there is a golden yellow mushroom growing right under the little tree!  Who knows whether the spores which started its growth were already in the potting soil, came with the moss, or blew in on the breeze.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 007

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Whatever the case, the mycelium which supports this fruiting fungus is alive and well in the pot, connecting the roots of one plant with another.  The tiny tubular filaments of the mycelium, networking through the soil, help distribute nutrients and water from one plant to another, just as they do up in our forest.  All of the plants benefit from fungi in the soil.

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bouquet and environ

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And what next, for this tiny garden?  Some of the Begonias are hardy.  I’m looking forward to them blooming as the season progresses, and their roots will survive here to grow again next summer.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 005

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A dwarf Begonia, and some of the little ferns, are tender and must be dug this autumn to survive.  Perhaps then I’ll bring fresh moss to carpet the soil through winter.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 002

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As dynamic as any part of the larger garden, this little space allows us to watch the seasons come and go in small scale.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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July 18, 2015 fungus 001

The same fungi have begun to grow in a nearby pot. Perhaps their spores came with the potting soil….

Bonsai Accent Plants

May 28, 2015 garden 052~

While visiting pages written by some of my favorite Bonsai artists last evening, I was absolutely fascinated by a Japanese art form called, ‘Bonsai  accent plants.’  Growing perennials, ferns, herbs, and wildflowers in tiny, shallow little Bonsai pots, over many years, is an horticultural art cultivated along with woody Bonsai.

When I saw these beautiful spring accent pots, I had an “Ah-Ha!” moment.  Immediately, I recognized the mature form of the little “moss gardens” I constructed all winter long.

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May 28, 2015 garden 040~

Finally, at long last, I saw how these beautiful living masterpieces should be constructed and cultivated.

These accents must look absolutely natural.  In fact, oftentimes seeds germinate after they are constructed, or unexpected perennial roots begin to grow, and are left as part of the composition.

I was especially touched by the compositions of ferns and moss growing on lava rock or hunks of wood.

Having never encountered this art form before, I searched for every scrap of information and photo I could find.  In traditional Bonsai display, the tree itself is displayed along side a calligraphy scroll, and an accent plant which expands on the theme of the tree.

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Pteris cretica 'Albo-lineate, Variegated Cretan Breakfern

Pteris cretica ‘Albo-lineata, Variegated Cretan Breakfern

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The accent reflects where the tree might grow in nature, and compliments its form.

The accent plant should also reflect the season in which the tree is displayed.  Plants with spring interest; either spring flowers or unfurling leaves, would be displayed along with Bonsai at a springtime show.  A complete vignette is created by the Bonsai artist to express a mood.

As lovely as the plants themselves, I was entranced by the beautiful handcrafted ceramic bowls paired with many of the plants.  Depending on the plant’s needs, the container might have drainage or not.  Some of the most interesting displays feature succulents, ferns, moss and vines growing directly on rock, as they might in nature.

How does one construct these intriguing displays?  How does one care for them?

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May 28, 2015 garden 048

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Of course, I was inspired to create another little moss garden today.  I used a little fern purchased last weekend, which was sitting in the shade waiting for inspiration to strike; a handcrafted pottery bowl, and moss lifted from the garden.

Since this bowl offers no drainage, I mixed a base layer of vermiculite, sand, fine aquarium gravel, and a little perlite.  Good quality fresh potting soil fills the bowl, topped with a thin layer of builder’s sand between the soil and layer of moss.  The sand, I learned last night, provides a better base for the moss than does placing it directly on uneven soil.  The moss makes better contact, and so grows more happily.

Moss should never completely cover the soil, and so fine gravel may be used around the edges of the container to make a thin margin, framing the moss, and also in seems between sheets of moss.  I was doing this instinctively, but learned so much more about moss culture and use last night.

Bare areas of soil, around 25% for trees, allows the tree’s roots to breathe.  Water permeates the soil more easily if it does not need to first soak through a layer of moss.

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May 28, 2015 garden 044

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Ideally, an accent plant should be cultivated for several years before it is first displayed.  Like Bonsai trees, these living works of art grow better over time.

Showing you this little arrangement the same day it was created is entirely presumptuous, as is showing it to you alongside a seedling Acer Palmatum in a pot, which is in no way a Bonsai.

I’ve only had the Acer for a few months.  But photographing them together may give  you a faint idea of the beauty Bonsai artists create by pairing a tiny potted plant with a Bonsai tree.

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May 28, 2015 garden 046

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Now that I’ve finally had a formal introduction to the concept of accent plants, I have fresh inspiration for my own potted arrangements.  I’ve seen a further horizon of possibility.

I’m keen to experiment with the instructions I read last night for cultivating moss in shallow trays, ready to use when needed.  I’m also now in search of an appropriate wooden or lava base for experimenting with designs layered onto a solid foundation, rather than anchored in soil in a pot.

Oh, the possibilities!

“An artist’s concern

is to capture beauty

wherever he finds it.”
.

Kazuo Ishiguro

 

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May 28, 2015 garden 047

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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May 28, 2015 garden 053

 

 

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