Kaleidoscope World

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We returned to Jones Mill Pond this afternoon.  The swans were nowhere in sight, but the far bank shone with pale pink Mountain Laurel in full bloom.

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May has remained cool and wet; those rare days when we see the sun luring us outside to enjoy a few hours in the garden.  Abundant rain feeds abundant growth.  Every tree and shrub has cloaked itself in verdant leaves; fresh, vibrant, and lush.

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Wave after wave of spring blossoms linger in these moist and cool days, embellished with raindrops and growing to gigantic proportion.

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We feel surrounded by a Kaleidoscopic world of green.  Every stem and blade stretches itself from one hour to the next, as though this May will last forever.

Paths close with encroaching vegetation, all hard edges blurred by expanding green.

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The opposite shore glowed even on this dull day between rain showers.  The spongy ground sank beneath my every step as I clambered around the near bank of the pond, taking photos down the coves and hoping to catch a glimpse of the swans at rest.

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It was utterly silent; no croaking frogs or calling birds to break the spell.  We’d seen turtles along the way, driven from their usual spots by this morning’s torrential rains.

But none were visible at the pond.

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Found along the way, near Jamestown, this wise old turtle held its ground as I took photos.

Found along the way, near Jamestown, this wise old turtle held its ground as I took photos.

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Asclepias stands ready to feed hungry Monarch larvae.  Hundreds of flowers offer up their nectar filled blossoms.

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There is cover for every creeping, slithering, nesting and burrowing creature wanting a home.  But they did not show themselves this afternoon.  Maybe they had found other shelter, still waiting for the next shower they could feel drawing ever closer.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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In A Vase On Monday: Summer Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s vase reflects early summer in our garden. 

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

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Nearly all of our roses have come into bloom now. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Enveloped In Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Weekly Photo Challenge:  Enveloped

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

More on Mountain Laurel

Watershed

The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chickahominy River flows into the James, then on to the Chesapeake Bay.

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Abundant rainfall continues to fall in our area.  Whether coming as snow, sleet, rain or freezing rain; moisture has filled our sky several times a week for the last few months.

We appreciate the rain.  Our soil is so well hydrated it squishes.

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Water from this ditch runs into a tiny creek which feeds College Creek, less than 200 ft. away.

Water from this ditch runs into a tiny creek which feeds College Creek, less than 200 ft. away.

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Our neighborhood ditches and low spots fill with precious water, and excess water is channeled down our steep sloping yards into the many creeks which run through our ravines.

Living near the coast, on a peninsula between mighty rivers, with ponds, marshes and and creeks dotting the landscape, we see and cross bodies of water each day.

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Channeling water run off in our neighborhood into College Creek

Channeling water run off of streets  in our neighborhood into College Creek

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Our close relationship with our area’s waterways remains immediate and tangible.

There is a clear route from our garden directly to the James River, then the Chesapeake Bay, and within only about 60 miles directly into the Atlantic Ocean.

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This pond behind our home flows directly into College Creek

This pond behind our home flows directly into College Creek

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And every inch of this watery pathway hosts abundant life.  Our thick forests and dense marshlands support thousands of species of birds, fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and small mammals.  We see and hear many of these beautiful creatures each day, and we appreciate their presence. (Except for the dratted voles, ticks, and mosquitoes, that is.)

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College Creek flows under this Colonial Parkway bridge and into the James River

College Creek flows under this Colonial Parkway bridge and into the James River

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has raised awareness of the Bay’s fragile ecosystem since the late 1960’s.  I grew up admiring this group and its efforts to improve water and air quality in our state, to raise awareness of erosion, and to preserve the unique beauty of our coastal region.

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Erosion continues to be a problem along our waterways.  Here, ducks enjoy feeding in the shallows of College Creek near where it empties into teh river.

Erosion continues to be a problem along our waterways. Here, ducks enjoy feeding in the shallows of College Creek near where it empties into the river.

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As much as the Bay’s health remains dependent on the decisions and actions of corporations, the U.S Navy, and all levels of government; there are still things individuals can do (and not do) to make our own small efforts to preserve the health and beauty of our waterways.

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The Beautiful James River with water flowing into it from College Creek to the left.

The beautiful James River with water flowing into it from College Creek to the left.

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We are often reminded that anything left on the ground will eventually find its way to the Bay, and then the ocean.  This includes not only litter and pet waste, but also lawn chemicals, garden fertilizers, oil or gas leaked from engines, and even eroding soil.

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Much of the river banks in our immediate area are forested.  Forest lands and marshes do a great deal to filter water running off of the land before it reaches the larger waterways.  Even the hated phragmites, bane of boaters, serve an important role in filtering harmful substances out of water flowing through creeks and marshes on its way to the Bay and the Atlantic.

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Phragmites fill much of our marshy areas.

Phragmites fill much of our marshy areas.

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Every bit of vegetation helps absorb run-off and clean the air, filtering out harmful substances, including carbon, trapping them within the tissue of the plant.

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation runs a number of excellent projects both to educate people at all levels about the Bay’s ecosystem, and to take direct action to restore watersheds and clean up solid pollution.  Please take a look at the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Foundations Clean Water Blueprint for more information.

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This ditch along Jamestown Road catches and absorbs run off before it can reach the James River.

This ditch along Jamestown Road catches and absorbs run off before it can reach the James River.

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Even with a nuclear power station as one of our ‘neighbors,’ across the river in Surry, there has been a minimum of impact from that industrial site on the overall health of this section of the James river.

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Surry nuclear power station as seen across the james River from the Colonial Parkway, ,near Jamestown Island.

Surry nuclear power station as seen across the James River from the Colonial Parkway, near Jamestown Island.

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We came home earlier today to find one of the ubiquitous “lawn care” companies spraying mystery liquids on a neighbor’s lawn.  I immediately tensed up and felt angry that the neighbor had actually hired someone to come and spray harmful chemicals so close to the pond behind our homes.  This same neighbor had shrubs and trees ripped out of her yard a few years back so this green lawn could be laid.  Now we have to listen to the crews come with their noisy equipment to care for it and treat it with chemicals on a regular basis.

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Our pond empties directly into this area of College Creek

Our pond empties directly into this area of College Creek

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With every rain, those chemicals wash off of her lawn and into the pond behind our properties, home to frogs, toads, turtles, and more; then on into College Creek.

Planting and preserving trees, shrubs, herbs, and vines helps hold the soil and slow run-off during rainstorms, thus preventing erosion.  Planting primarily native or naturalized species which don’t require herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers for their growth allows us to enjoy a beautiful landscape around our homes without releasing chemicals into the ecosystem.  Naturalized landscapes use far less energy than lawns and return far greater value to the ecosystem.

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Another neighbor whose garden borders our shared pond has filled his garden with native shrubs and trees.  This Mountain Laurel makes a spectacular display in his garden each May.

Another neighbor whose garden borders our shared pond has filled his garden with native shrubs and trees. This Mountain Laurel makes a spectacular display in his garden each May.

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Re-planting native and naturalized species also helps re-store the ecosystem for our wildlife.  As we provide food sources and nesting sites, we provide safe haven for the many creatures which make up the web of life in our region.  This is good stewardship of our ecosystem, and also saves us a great deal of time an money.  Wouldn’t you also prefer listening to birdsong than to the blowers, mowers, saws and grinders of a lawn crew?

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May 27. 2014 Herons 027

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Jane, a blogging friend at “Just Another Nature Enthusiast,” has created a new blogging meme called, “Unless… Earth Friendly Fridays.”  Somehow I missed her start up.  Jane has declared March the month for us to focus on water and waterways.  March 14 is the International Day of Action for Rivers,  and March 22 the UN’s World Water Day.

Jane posted the challenge, “Water- What’s Your Watershed?” on the last Friday of February, and I’m finally responding with this post today.  Better late than never, I believe!

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The Chickahominy River earlier this afterrnoon.

The Chickahominy River earlier this afterrnoon.

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Although Jane lives in the beautiful northwest of the United States, and we live here in coastal Virginia; we have a great deal in common.  Even living on opposite coasts, I feel as though we share a back yard.  Perhaps all of North America is in some way our back yard!  If we all treated it as such, I firmly believe that we could do a great deal to clean and preserve our environment in our generation.

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Working together, helping others become more aware of how their actions affect the greater whole, we might be able to leave a cleaner, more beautiful planet for our granddaughters and grandsons.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Please join the Earth-friendly Friday Challenge.

UNLESS we care nothing is going to get better… it’s not

Our watershed

Our watershed

Woodland Garden By the Pond

A hummingbird keeps watch from the deck of our friends' garden.

A hummingbird keeps watch from the deck of our friends’ forest garden.

Our friends live “across the pond” from us. 

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We could reach their garden much faster by canoe than by foot or car. 

When I stopped in one morning recently, I was left speechless by the beauty of their Mountain Laurels.

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It was the first time I had visited during this beautiful time in May when our community lights up with the blooms of Mountain Laurels, Rhododendrons, Ligustrum, and Hydrangeas.

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Our friends invited me to return this week to take photos of the Mountain Laurel before they fade in our early summer heat.

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The back garden drops steeply towards the pond in a series of terraces.

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Mature Dogwoods, Hollies, Mountain Laurels, and Hydrangeas gather under the taller hardwood trees to thickly carpet the bank.

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Wild grapevines trace patterns across the tops of the shrubs, basking in what sunshine may be had.

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Ferns grow in dense shade near the house,

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but a deck, overlooking this beautiful bank, and the pond beyond; holds a variety of beautiful potted plants which thrive in partial sun.

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When the Mountain Laurel bloom, their white and light pink flowers billow like waves; white water crests rolling down the hillside.

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Towering over my head, these mature shrubs have grown to become more tree than shrub.

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Their tops reach towards the sky as their trunks remain cloaked in shady undergrowth.

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This is a true woodland garden, inhabited by wild things. 

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The deck feels like the deck of a ship.

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It offers a secure place  for the human inhabitants to view the constant activity of all the wild things scampering through the garden below.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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May Evening

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“When despair for the world grows in me,

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be —

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron feeds.

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“I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.

I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Wendell Berry

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We came out of the coolness of the house this evening as the clouds were gathering, sun setting, and temperatures dropping.

We first went to visit and photograph a friend’s garden, and then drove right past the road towards home heading for an evening drive along the Colonial Parkway.

Our friends' forest garden, full of Mountain Laurel and lush with trees and ivy.

Our friends’ forest garden, full of Mountain Laurel and lush with trees and ivy.

The water, marshes, wildflowers and great trees make this a soothing place.

Such a treasure of mostly undisturbed eco-system where the great birds find safe havens and abundant food for their young.

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After the first mile we spotted a Great Blue Heron wading in the marsh near where fishermen park and wander down to the bank of the creek with their coolers and poles.

No one was fishing tonight, so we pulled in , and I hiked back to where I could get a clear view of the heron through the trees .

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A peaceful and soothing evening, but you must know that the air was thick with Mayflies and heavy with the approaching rain.

Definitely not a place I wanted to linger, with flies landing on hand and camera as I searched for that angle with a clear view through the dense branches.

Flies still hovering, I slipped back into the cool safety of our car for a short ride to the parking lot

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We had already spotted two more herons on the opposite bank, and a Bald Eagle watching from a pine.

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Another hike down the path to the beach, but the breeze off the James River smelled fresh and kept the flies at a distance.

The beach was nearly deserted; the best time to find birds.

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After yesterday’s crowded lots and full beaches, we enjoyed the silence and emptiness of the park this evening.

Fellow photographers leap-frogged with us from spot to spot along the way to Jamestown Beach.

My partner has a good eye for spotting wild life, and often mentions turtles and ground hogs, rabbits and lizards- only a few of which I see.

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He spotted this next heron, and made a wide U-turn to head back to share it with me.

He simply said, “Have your camera ready.”

What a beautiful surprise when we pulled up, alone on the road, and close enough to take photos from the car’s open window!

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We watched the clouds grow heavier and closer against the water.  We could smell the coming rain.

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The geese were gathering into flocks for the night, the solitary herons looking for one more fish before their sharp eyes could no longer penetrate the shallows were they waited.

Ospreys, deep in meditation on the abundant beauty of it all, sat still as sculptures on their nests.

This early summer evening offered its gift of peacefulness, wrapped in thick, fragrant May ethers.

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The Mayflies gradually faded away; and as evening turned to shadows, we allowed ourselves another moment to contemplate the abundant beauty of it all.

“To stand at the edge of the sea,

to sense the ebb and flow of the tides,

to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh,

To watch the flight of shore birds

that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents

for untold thousands of years,

to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea,

is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal

as any Earthly life can be.”

Rachel Carson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Mountain Laurel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2018

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