WPC: Vibrant

January 29, 2016 vibrant 009

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“Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?

Can one really explain this? no.

Just as one can never learn how to paint.”

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Pablo Picasso

This week’s photo challenge topic is just what I needed today:

“This week, share a photo of something vibrant.
Vivid colors, a lively portrait, or perhaps a delightfully colorful landscape, if you’re in a warmer climate.
Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors to keep the winter gloom at bay.”

What a wonderful idea!  We could all use some rainbow colors right about now, as January melts away into February.

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Sunset Wednesday evening along the James River. When I saw the colors in the sky reflected in the river, I just had to stop and try to capture it in a photo.

Sunset Wednesday evening along the James River. When I saw the colors in the sky reflected in the river, I just had to stop and try to capture it in a photo.

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“Let me, O let me bathe my soul in colours;

let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

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Kahlil Gibran

There hasn’t been a great deal of color outside, lately, and I miss it.  Snow still blankets parts of the garden.  Other parts remain cloaked in wet brown leaves.  Bright moss peaks out here and there, but nature’s range of color has shrunk into winter neutrals.

But this photo challenge inspired me to go on a treasure hunt today, searching for glorious vibrant colors in the garden.  I was amazed to find how quickly many of our plants have recovered from last weekend’s winter storm, and regained their color and vitality.

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“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning,

and unallied with definite form,

can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. ”

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Oscar Wilde

This color speaks to me of the miraculous power in the life force of plants.  These cabbage leaves froze last night, and spent several days under a dome of frozen snow.  Yet what color!  These leaves survived, and the plant is steadily growing new ones from its heart.  I had to observe closely, but was able to find gold and red, purple, green, pink and orange; living colors in the midst of winter.

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Yes, this dandelion is blooming in our garden today like a tiny sun ....

Yes, this dandelion is blooming in our garden today like a tiny sun, blazing with energy and optimism ….

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“The beauty and mystery of this world

only emerges through affection, attention,

interest and compassion . . .

open your eyes wide and actually see

this world by attending

to its colors, details and irony.”

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Orhan Pamuk

Robin, at Breezes at Dawn, has been participating in the Three Day Quote Challenge.  She was invited by our mutual friend, Eliza.  Both have  issued a general invitation for any of their followers to join in.  Robin published a quotation today from one of my long time favorite authors, Benjamin Hoff.

How can I resist?  Robin and Eliza, I am joining your challenge, and inviting my other blogging friends to join us as well.

The rules are simple:  Post an inspirational, uplifting quote for three consecutive days, and invite three other bloggers to join you.  If you are reading this, please consider yourself invited.

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We adopted this lovely Yucca 'Color Guard' from Brent and Becky's shop in Gloucester late last summer. It seems to be holding its own through the cold.

We adopted this lovely Yucca ‘Color Guard’ from Brent and Becky’s shop in Gloucester late last summer. It seems to be holding its own through the cold.

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Just as ‘… two colors, put one next to the other sing…’ ;  this is often true with people, too.  We find a harmony together, and each brings out the best in the other.

I feel this way about Eliza and Robin, and the conversations we have with one another and the inspiration we offer one another through our presence in our blogs.  If you’ve not met them yet, I hope you’ll follow these links to find their beautiful photos and thoughtful quotations from the quotation challenge.

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Purple Sage, still growing despite the cold.

Purple Sage, still growing despite the cold.

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It takes a little more energy and effort to remain vibrant through the winter months.  But what beauty shines now, for those who seek it out.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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How Plants Work: A Fascinating Resource

Acer Palmatum 'volunteer' growing in our border. I've been working with this little tree over the past several years, ever since I recognized it as a useful seedling and not a week in 2011.

An Acer Palmatum ‘volunteer’ growing in our border. I’ve been working with this little tree ever since I recognized it as a useful seedling, and not a weed, a few summers ago.

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Have you ever wished that you knew more about why plants do the often strange and mysterious things they do?  Ever wondered about why a newly planted tree isn’t growing as you expected?  Or how some plants can live in salty soils?

Have you wondered whether you should pay a premium price for some artisinal compost tea?  Or wondered why some vines twist themselves around any available support while others can not?

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I am currently reading Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott’s newly released book, How Plants Work: The Science Behind the  Amazing Things Plants Do. index

Published this year by Timber Press, this is one of the most engrossing and useful books on gardening I’ve found in a very long time.

Linda not only teaches classes in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Washington, she is also an ISA-certified arborist and an extension urban horticulturist for Washington State University.

Linda specializes in helping ordinary gardeners, like us, enjoy more success by understanding the plants we want to grow.  You might have visited The Garden Professors blog which she and several colleagues host.

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Mayapples appeared through the leaf mulch this week in our garden.

Mayapples appeared through the leaf mulch this week in our garden.

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Linda begins with her own garden, and some of her own gardening mistakes, to help us solve our own gardening conundrums. After a quick refresher course in plant biology, enough for us to understand the explanations she offers in the remainder of the book; Linda moves on to an additional eight chapters which cover everything from soil management and pruning to how plants move, why their leaves turn various colors, plant associations, and seed production.  I’m finding new and useful information in each and every chapter.

She also offers ‘myth busting’ sidebars throughout, which explain why some traditional practices, such as staking trees, actually cause problems in the garden.  Do you dig a large hole and ammend the soil when planting a new shrub?  Linda explains why this might actually stunt the development of your shrub over several seasons.

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Overwintered planters with an ivy Geranium popped in. My color combinations this spring are a little shocking, perhaps....

Overwintered planters with an ivy Geranium popped in. My color combinations this spring are a little shocking, perhaps….

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How Plants Work extends the principles of botany to better inform our practices as gardeners.  It explains how plants use the common components of fertilizers and other substances and why they respond as they do to the care we give them.  So much ‘common knowledge’ about gardening practices just doesn’t hold up when examined in terms of a plant’s real needs.

Linda offers her advice and guidance in a very friendly, anecdotal style clearly written to help us enjoy more success with the plants we grow in our gardens.  I learned why potting soil with moisture retaining crystals can easily kill the plant it is supposed to support.  I learned how to bring light sensitive holiday plants, like Poinsettia and Christmas Cactus, into bloom.

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This red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia has come back strong after an oak tree fell on it in 2013.

This red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, has come back strong after an oak tree fell on it in 2013.  This part of the garden is mulched with wood chips made from the oak’s branches.

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And I learned why it is always better to mulch with chipped wood than with landscaping fabric or paper products.  Did you know that roots must have oxygen? Every chapter thus far has been packed with new understandings about plant growth and  the sort of helpful tips one can  put to use immediately.

Linda’s discussion of whether or not native plants are a good choice for suburban gardens offered a fresh perspective on this contentious issue.  And I agree with her. 

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New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

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I’ve been waiting for this book for more than a year, and was delighted to find it in the mail this week.  Timber Press contacted me last April to request the rights to use one of my photos from Forest Garden in the book.  I was happy to agree, and asked for a copy of the completed book as partial payment for the photo.  The anticipation of reading Linda’s completed book has percolated in the back of my mind ever since.

And this book is in every way beautiful.  Filled with interesting, sound and helpful information, it is also beautifully illustrated with color photographs throughout.  These photos illustrate some of the most interesting phenomena of the plant world. The photo I contributed was of an Oregon Grape Holly whose leaves had turned scarlet in our extreme cold last winter.

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Azaleas, dogwoods, and redbud in bloom together. Who could hope for more in a forest garden?

Azaleas, dogwoods, and redbud in bloom together. Who could hope for more in a forest garden?

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If you are a serious gardener, if you love working with the amazing beings of the Plant Kingdom; then you will enjoy reading How Plants Work.  It will become one of your ‘go to’ reference books when you need to solve a problem in the garden.   And when you get your copy, check out page 124… you just might remember that photo from one of my posts last winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Silent Sunday

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 008 

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“When you have once seen the glow of happiness

on the face of a beloved person,

you know that a man can have no vocation

but to awaken that light

on the faces surrounding him.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned

that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

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Albert Camus

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Winter’s “Flowers”

Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale

 

Look at what is “blooming” in our garden! 

We are just past the Winter Solstice, and the coldest weeks of winter stretch before us.  Our days may be growing almost imperceptibly longer, but frigid Arctic air sweeps across the country, dipping down to bring frosty days and nights well to our south.

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Lichens

Shelf fungus

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Our garden looks a very different place at the moment, mostly withered and brown.  But even now, we enjoy bright spots of color and healthy green leaves.

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Some we planned for, some are a gift of nature.

All are infinitely appreciated and enjoyed!

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Ornamental Kale with Violas and dusty miller

Ornamental kale with Violas and dusty miller

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We garden in Zone 7b, here in coastal Virginia.  We are just a little too far north and a little too far inland to enjoy the balmy 8a of Virginia Beach and Carolina’s Outer Banks.  We will have nights in the teens and days which never go above freezing… likely later this week!

But there are still many plants which not only survive our winters, but will grow and bloom right through them!

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Camellia, "Jingle Bells" begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

Camellia, “Jingle Bells” begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

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I saw the first scape of Hellebore rising above its crown of leaves yesterday, topped with a cluster of tight little buds.  Our Hellebores will open their first buds later this month.

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Hellebore with a new leaf emerging.  Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

Hellebore with a new leaf emerging. Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

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Snowdrops are also poking above the soil line now in several pots.  Snowdrops, named for their ability to grow right up through the snow as they come into bloom, open the season of “spring” bulbs for us each year.

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Camellias and Violas remain in bloom, and our Mahonia shrubs have crowned themselves in golden flowers, just beginning to open.

There are several other shrubs which will bloom here in January and February.  Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is on my wishlist, and I hope to add it to our garden this season.

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Mahonia

Mahonia

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Our Forsythia are covered in tight yellow buds, ready to open in February.  Our Edgeworthia chrysantha has tight silvery white buds dangling from every tiny branch.

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Edgeworthia

Edgeworthia

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They look like white wrapped Hershey’s kisses, or tiny ornaments left from Christmas.  These will open in  early March into large, fragrant flowers before the shrub’s leaves appear.

Although many of our garden plants are hibernating under ground, or are just enduring these weeks of cold until warmth wakes them up to fresh growth, we have a few hardy souls who take the weather in their stride.

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This is their time to shine. 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2015

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Male flowers have appeared on our Hazel nut trees.  We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

Male pollen bearing “flowers”  have appeared on our native  Hazel nut trees. We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow

 

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly

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In response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:  Yellow

Woodland Gnome 2014

A Forest Garden 2015 calendar

“Leave It Be”

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“Leave it be.”  Words I heard with some frequency growing up….

And this simple bit of advice is often just the wisdom needed whether baking, navigating relationships, or preparing the garden for winter.

“Leave it be” insists that we quiet our strong urge to interfere with the already unfolding process.  It asks us to step back and observe; to allow for a a solution other than our own.

 

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My mother’s pound cake recipe includes the instruction to leave the oven door closed for the first 75 minutes of baking.  Opening the door too early changes the texture and rise of the cake.  Once in the oven, you must leave the cake be until the very last few minutes of its total cooking time.  You have to trust the process, and resist the urge to constantly check on it or admire it.

First time mothers soon learn the value of this wisdom, too.  When a baby is sleeping, you leave them alone to rest while you enjoy those few minutes of peace.  When a toddler is happily (and safely) playing, it is best to observe without interrupting the flow of play.

And so it is with a garden at the onset of winter. 

The urge is strong for some to tidy up the leaves as they fall, to cut back perennials as soon as they fade, to pull out the annuals as soon as they freeze, and maybe even prune back shrubby trees as soon as their leaves are gone.

And while some neighbors and neighborhoods might expect this level of neatness, it isn’t Nature’s Way. 

 

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

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Letting our gardens take their time to die back and settle into winter allows nature to recycle and re-purpose in interesting ways.

Leaving organic materials in place also helps insulate our marginal plants to give them a better chance to survive the winter ahead.

It isn’t so much that you avoid the fall clean up chores, just that you strategically tweak the timing of when you do them….

Here are some of those things we intend to “Leave be” for the time being, and why:

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HIbiscus seeds.  I'll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.

HIbiscus seeds pods. I’ll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.  These look especially pretty coated in snow.

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Seed Heads provide important food for birds and other wild things.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks.  This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks. This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

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Basil and Echinacea seeds always attract goldfinches.  None of those seeds will be wasted when left in the garden.  So I delay pulling out frozen Basil plants as long as possible into late winter.

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Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

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I won’t cut back any of the seed bearing perennial stems until I’m fairly satisfied they’ve been picked clean.  When I do finally clear up, the plant skeletons will get tossed into the ravine where they can decompose, enriching the soil.

Fallen leaves serve many useful purposes.  Blown into piles at the bases of shrubs they serve as insulation from the cold.  They help conserve moisture as a natural mulch.  As they decompose they add nitrogen and many other nutrients back into the soil.  How often have you seen someone bag their leaves for the trash, then buy bags of mulch and fertilizer for their garden?

Chopped or shredded leaves offer one of the best ammendments to improve the health and texture of the soil.  Leaf mulch attracts earthworms.  Earthworms enrich the soil wherever they burrow.

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Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves.  I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.

Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves. I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.  These new fallen leaves will get shredded one day soon.

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Leaf mulch also encourages the growth of mycelium,.  Mycelium, which is the permanent part of a fungus,  decompose organic matter in the soil, thus  freeing up the nutrients for use by plants.

They improve the texture of soil, and help nearby plants absorb water and nutrients more efficiently.  You might have noticed white threadlike structures growing in soil, or under a pile of leaves.  These are mycellium, and are always a good sign of healthy soil.

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We rake our leaves only enough to make them accessible for the lawn mower or leaf vacuum.   Once shredded, we pour them onto the ground wherever we need some winter insulation or want to improve the soil.  I always pour shredded leaves around our Mountain Laurels, Azaleas,  and around newly planted shrubs.

Marginal tropicals, like Canna and ginger lily, and our Colocasias,  react very quickly to freezing temperatures.  All of the above ground herbaceous stems and leave immediately die back.  What a mess!

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What remains of the Cannas

What remains of the Cannas

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But the tubers are still alive underground.  Cutting the stem now leaves a gaping wound where cold and moisture can enter, potentially killing the tubers before spring.

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Elephant ears, Colocasia, can't survive freezing weather.  But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

Elephant ears, Colocasia, can’t survive freezing weather. But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

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Allowing the plants to remain uncut, eventually falling back to the ground, provides insulation for the tubers and protects them from ice and cold rain.

The frozen stalks must be cleaned up by the time new growth begins, but I believe leaving them in place over the winter helps protect the plants.

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The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.  Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.   Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

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Another marginal perennial, Lantana, isn’t reliably hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  Further south, these plants grow into large shrubs.  Most Virginia gardeners treat them like annuals.

We’ve learned that left alone, Lantana regularly survive winter in our garden.  Cutting back their woody branches too early allows cold to penetrate to the roots, killing the plant.

Leaving these woody plants standing after the flowers and leave are killed by frost gives the roots an opportunity to survive.  The roots grow very deep, and generally will survive if the plant was able to establish during the previous summer.

Although we cut back Lantana in late March or early April, new growth often won’t appear until the first week of May.

Even perennial herbs, like lavender and rosemary survive winter with less damage when left alone.

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Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

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Prune lavender now and it will probably be dead by April.  Leave it be now, prune  lightly in March, and the plant will throw out abundant new growth.

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Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter.  Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter. Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

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Trees and shrubs which need pruning will potentially suffer more winter “die back” when pruned too early.  For one thing, pruning stimulates growth.

 

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Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring.  Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring. Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

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Roses pruned hard in fall will likely start growing again too soon, and that new growth is tender and likely to freeze.

Pruning flowering shrubs like Buddleia and Rose of Sharon in early winter leaves wounds, which will be affected by the cold more easily than a hardened stem.

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Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds.  These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds. These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

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Leave pruning chores, even on fruit trees and other woody trees or shrubs until after the first of the year.  Allow the plant to go fully dormant before removing wood.  I prefer to leave pruning until February.

Our gardens depend on a rich web of relationships between bacteria, fungus, insects, worms, and decaying organic matter in the soil for their vitality.   Plants grow best in soil which supports a vibrant ecosystem of microbes and invertebrates.

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The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice "growing" out of our Pineapple Sage stems.  The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice “growing” out of our Pineapple Sage stems. The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

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I believe that “leaving the soil be” is one of the smartest things a gardener can do.  Pile on the organic matter, but resist the urge to dig and turn the soil.  Spread mulch, but disturb the structure of the soil only when absolutely necessary to plant.

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Here are a few tasks, for those who want to get out and work in the garden, which you can enjoy this time of year:

1.  Shred and spread the leaves which fall near the house.  We have to sweep  copious piles of leaves which gather on our deck and patio and catch in the gutters.  Sweeping and shredding these a few times each season provides lots of free mulch.

2.  Cut the grass a final time after the leaves are falling.  The green grass clippings mix nicely with the brown leaves to speed along composting.  We catch the trimmings in a bag and spread it where needed.

3.  Plant bulbs until the ground is frozen.  Bulbs have gone on sale in many shops and can be had for a fraction of their September price.    Plant a wide variety for many weeks of spring flowers.

4.  Remodel those pots which will stay outside all winter. 

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Pull out the annuals as they freeze and either plant hardy plants in their place, or make arrangements with branches, pine cones, and moss to keep those pots pretty.

5.  Pick up nuts, acorns, pine cones and fallen branches for winter arrangements and wreathes.  Cut overgrown grape or honeysuckle vines and weave them into wreath bases.    Cut and condition evergreen branches for use on wreathes and in arrangements.

6.  Sow seeds which need winter’s cold to germinate.  Broadcast the seeds where you intend for them to grow, or sow in flats which remain outside all winter.  Columbine and many other wildflowers require this winter stratification to germinate well.

7.  Take photos of the garden.  Photograph everything, and then review the photos over the winter as you make plans for spring purchases, plantings, and renovations.

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8.  Prepare new garden beds with “sheet composting.”  Mark where a new vegetable, flower, or shrub bed  will be planted next spring, and cover the entire area with sheets of newspaper or brown paper bags to kill any grass and weeds there now.

Pile shredded leaves, grass clippings, twigs and wood chips, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, banana peels, and shredded shredded newspaper on the area all winter long.  These materials will slowly decompose.  Cover the whole area with a few inches of good compost or top soil a few weeks before you plan to plant.

Add edging around the bed, and it is ready for spring planting.  The materials in your “sheet compost” will continue decomposing over the next year or so, feeding your new garden bed.

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Working with nature always proves easier than working at cross purposes with her. 

She can make our chores lighter and our gardens more abundant when we understand her ways.

When you understand the wisdom of, ‘Let it be,” you will find that nature does much of the heavy work for you, if just given enough time and space.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Order “A Forest Garden 2015” calendar

Colocasia: First Flowers

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We have a bit of tropical beauty where the  Colocasias, Hibiscus,  Canna, and Ginger Lily have woven themselves together into a beautiful out-sized screen in the front garden.

The tallest in the group are over seven feet high, and still growing, scarlet flowers stretching high above our heads.

 

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Hidden among the leaves, the first of the Colocasia flowers emerge, elegant and creamy white in the shadows.

Such beauty is completely unexpected and absolutely appreciated. 

 

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Planted for their enormous and unusual leaves, these Elephant Ears have made themselves at home; first sending out runners to increase their real estate, and now offering  these exotic flowers.

 

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We haven’t seen them visited yet, but hope our nectar loving insects will find them soon.

Our experiment in growing these Colocasia and Cannas has proven a beautiful success.

 

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This part of the garden has transformed itself this season from a largely neglected area to one of real interest and beauty.

The transformation began with a grocery bag of Canna Lily roots,  offered by a dearly loved friend to help us reform this area left sunny and bare after the loss of three oak trees in summer storms last June.

 

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This just goes to show how a sincere gift, given in love, can sometimes initiate transformation and beauty beyond our wildest imagining.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

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Tick Season Is Here

Daffodils blooming in our garden today.

Daffodils blooming in our garden today.

I felt the itching last night right as we began dinner.

My family had gathered at my parents’ home yesterday, and several of us spent a few hours in the afternoon doing some light yard work to help them out.  We’d picked up sticks and trimmed some bushes; nothing too intense.

And since there was snow and ice earlier in the week, none of us gave a thought to what insects might be prowling about.  Sure, there were some bumblies on the Mahonia blossoms, but none of us worried about ticks.

Mahonia blooming at Colonial Williamsburg last week.

Mahonia blooming at Colonial Williamsburg last week.

But then at dinner, I felt the tell-tale itching, and reaching up to scratch the itch, my fingertips touched tick.

Once you’ve had a tick, their feel is unmistakeable.  You know immediately that one is embedded in your flesh, and must be removed, NOW!

At first I tried to lightly brush it away.  But no, a tick is tenacious.  Thank goodness my sister sprang into action.  A dedicated animal lover, she has removed many ticks from her companions and was willing to do the same for me.

Since I'm positive you don't want to see my tick bite, or the tick, I'll just show you some garden photos today.  This is our lilac, "Josee" beginning to open.

Since I’m positive you don’t want to see my tick bite, or the tick, I’ll just show you some garden photos today. This is our lilac, “Josee” beginning to open.

You can’t just pull a tick out.  Often, the tick will just pull apart, and the head will be left embedded in your skin.

You need to get it to back out and begin to let loose before you try to remove it.

Vinca is lovely in early spring when it blooms with either periwinkle blue, or white, blossoms.  The rest of the year Vinca is a tough, evergreen vining ground cover.

Vinca is lovely in early spring when it blooms with either periwinkle blue, or white, blossoms. The rest of the year Vinca is a tough, evergreen vining ground cover.

We first covered this one in petroleum jelly.  Ticks, like all insects, breathe through the hard shell of their exoskeleton.  Tiny holes in their hard covering allow for respiration.  Cover these holes, and they begin to suffocate.

Whatever anyone recommends that you do to a tick before pulling it out is designed to distract them, put them under stress, and make them let loose the tight hold they have on the flesh from which they are feeding.

After a minute or so, she began to work on the tick with a pair of tweezers.  What a hold it had!  It had burrowed into the back of my neck right at the hairline.  It took several tries, but she eventually yanked it out.  We swabbed the bite with alcohol and applied a topical antibiotic.

Miniatrure daffodils have emerged around a Rosemary, badly damaged this winter by cold.  We hope the Rosemary shrubs in our garden have survived the winter.

Miniature daffodils have emerged around a Rosemary, badly damaged this winter by cold. We hope the Rosemary shrubs in our garden have survived the winter.

Now ticks are virulent creatures.  As they suck, they also release chemicals into your skin.

Sometimes ticks also carry disease, such as Lyme’s disease, which they transmit through their bite.  The area around the bite was already red and inflamed before my sister removed the tick, and is more so today.

The intense itching had me up in the night reapplying a topical antibiotic, and had us heading out to the see a doctor this morning, before I even brewed a pot of coffee.

More miniature daffodils in the front border.  These were purchased from Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester, VA.

More miniature daffodils in the front border. These were purchased from Brent and Becky Heath in Gloucester, VA.

The doctor who took a look at the tick bite praised my sister highly for her quick action and the thoroughness with which she managed to remove the tick.

Nothing was left behind in the wound, which is good.  But, we still decided to begin a course of Doxycycline today to prevent any tick borne illness from gaining a foothold.

Doxycycline is sometimes prescribed to those heading into regions known for Malaria, to prevent contracting the disease from a mosquito bite.  I expect it to prevent any infection from this little bite.

These daffodils in shades of pink, purchased from the Heaths, have begun to grow on me.  Do you like them?

These daffodils in shades of pink, purchased from the Heaths, have begun to grow on me. Do you like them?

The tick we removed yesterday was a light brown color, and it was fairly large.  I’m guessing it might have been a brown dog tick.

There are at least seven different ticks active in the United States, and each carries slightly different diseases.

A friend removes ticks from her pets and children using clear tape, and keeps the tick, sandwiched in the tape, in case she needs it later for identification or to show her physician.

That is a great idea, and I didn’t even think to suggest it last night.  We tweezed and flushed, while the rest of the family struggled to keep on with their dinner!

March 22, 2014 daffodils 008

Now that we know ticks are moving this spring, there are some precautions to take:

1.  From now on, I’ll begin wearing insect repellent when working outside.  Since we live in a forest, this is something that we routinely do once the weather warms.  My parents’ suburban yard has not been known for ticks in the past, and none of us even considered insect repellant yesterday.

2.  It is wise to not only wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when working out of doors, but also hat and gloves.  I didn’t have a hat yesterday, and yet was trimming tall shrubs.  This little guy might have fallen into my hair while I was trimming the shrubs.

3.  At home, we normally head straight from the garden to the shower.  A good shower allows one to locate and remove ticks quickly.  Sometimes we find them still crawling, before they have had a chance to dig in.

We also leave our clothing in the garage, so any ticks on our clothing can’t make it into the house.

Violas.  See the garlic I've placed in each pot of Violas to discourage the deer?

Violas. See the garlic I’ve placed in each pot of Violas to discourage the deer?

As Lyme disease becomes more prevalent, we all need to remain vigilant to protect ourselves from tick bites.  Lyme is debilitating for many who contract it, and affects many different systems of the body.

Lyme disease was unknown before the early 1970s.  It first showed up around Lyme, Connecticut, in children and adults who began showing unusual, arthritis like symptoms.

The connection between Lyme disease and deer ticks was finally established around 1981 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Montana.

A new variety of bulb has begun to emerge.  I purchased these from Roxy Patton at Homestead Garden Center this fall, but don't recall the variety.

A new variety of bulb has begun to emerge. We purchased these from Roxy Patton at Homestead Garden Center this fall, but  I don’t recall the variety.

Even today, many physicians don’t recognize Lyme disease, especially symptom clusters which appear months or even years after the initial tick bite and rash. We are becoming familiar with the red, bull’s eye shaped rash which appears within a few days of the bite.

Once that rash goes away, Lyme Disease often remains in the body, to reappear months or years later with more serious symptoms.  Many who have Lyme disease don’t even remember the initial tick bite.

Lyme, a bacterial infection carried in the blood, can be treated with antibiotics, and there is promising research into the effectiveness of colloidal silver for treating particularly difficult cases.

This gorgeous little daffodil was planted by a previous gardener on this property.  I sometimes dig and divide these in late spring.  They are so unusual!

This gorgeous little daffodil was planted by a previous gardener on this property.   I sometimes dig and divide these in late spring. They are so unusual!

Because Lyme disease only appeared in North America roughly 40 years ago, and because it first appeared in only one coastal community, and has spread across the country from there; there are many interesting theories as to its origin.

Interestingly, the US government’s Plum Island Biological Research Facility, in Long Island Sound, is only a few miles offshore from Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease originated in the 1970s.

We planted these dafffodiils in the fern garden three years ago.  They have divided into nice clumps.

We planted these daffodils in the fern garden three years ago. They have divided into nice clumps.

The Biological Research Facility was established in the early 1950’s, to house a research program under the direction of ex-Nazi scientist Erich Traub.  Traub immigrated to the United States in 1949.    He continued his research into diseases, under Project Paperclip, for the United States Government, at Plum Island, NY.

His earlier research into germ warfare had been carried out on Riems’s Island in the Baltic Sea, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler.

Traub had previously studied at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in Princeton, New Jersey during the 1930s, performing research on viruses and vaccines.  He and his wife lived only a few miles from Plum Island at that time.

A wider view of the daffies in the fern garden.

A wider view of the daffies in the fern garden.

This Plum Island facility has carried out various research projects over the years, all involving animals and disease.  Its location in Long Island Sound is intended to isolate the diseases studied, and the animal carriers, from the rest of the country.

Tick borne diseases are believed to have left the island on birds.  Birds can easily fly back and cross Long Island Sound, carrying infected ticks.  Deer also swim between the mainland and Plum Island, and could have carried ticks from the research facility to Connecticut.

March 22, 2014 daffodils 005

The same pathogen, mycoplasma fermentens, is found in individuals infected with Lyme disease, Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Fybromyalgia.  All of these recent, baffling disease conditions tend to affect the central nervous system.  All cause intense fatigue, and affect various other organs in the body.

Infected ticks multiply in warm weather and travel from yard to yard, area to area, state to state on birds, squirrels, deer, dogs, and any other animals likely to get ticks.  Lyme disease has been identified now in many parts of the United States, as well as in more than 80 countries world wide.

This little tree has not yet begun to even bud, let alone leaf out.  It almost disappears in the sea of daffodils.

This little tree has not yet begun to even bud, let alone leaf out. It almost disappears in the sea of daffodils.

Lyme is only one of several diseases carried by ticks.  Even if you are bitten by a tick not infected with one of these diseases, the area around the bite will be sore, swollen, and itchy for several days.

Swab the area around a tick bite with alcohol and apply a topical antibiotic or hydrocortisone cream.

I am not a physician, but I have taken care of lots of tick bites over the years on loved ones and on myself.  My doctor this morning recommended the hydrocortisone cream, which can help with the itch of many types of insect bites.

Please be aware of ticks, and and protect yourself and your loved ones while enjoying activities outside.  Whether you are hiking, cooking out, or gardening; take the simple precautions to prevent tick bites.

Such a lovely day in Williamsburg, today.  A beautiful day to work out in the garden.  Please be careful when you do.

Such a lovely day in Williamsburg, today. A beautiful day to work out in the garden. Please be careful when you do.

And, believe it or not, they are already out there in Virginia.  I have the bite on my neck to prove it.

Woodland Gnome 2014

More on Ticks

Vulcan

March 11, 2014 garden 029

The sky is blue,

the sun is bright,

the wind blows wintery chill.

Although it looks like spring might come,

Winter is with us still.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

The Weather Channel loves its storms,

A new one every week it seems;

With names arcane, and warnings dire,

Of snow and sleet and wind and rain.

Colonial Williamsburg, before winter storm Vulcan blew through, lowering our temperatures by 40 degrees.

Colonial Williamsburg, before winter storm Vulcan blew through, lowering our temperatures by 40 degrees.

Vulcan, God of fire and heat,

Smith to the Gods of ancient Rome;

Celebrated under summer’s Sun,

Has lent his name to this latest one.

March 12, 2014 CW 018

How ironic that this wintery storm

bringing Arctic air in early spring,

bears the name of Vulcan, God of Fire.

March 12, 2014 CW 036

May his gift to us all be: finally, Spring.

March 12, 2014 CW 100

(Although the Weather Channel’s ratings soar,

they should better research their storm names’ lore.)

March 12, 2014 CW 122

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

March 12, 2014 CW 152

Mahonia in bloom, with one of the first bees of spring.

It Is Inevitable

Hellebores and emerging bulbs

Heuchera  and emerging bulbs

Our feet  are now firmly set on the long slow journey of the unfolding year. 

Crocus

Crocus

As with any journey, there may be set backs from time to time.  Yet the journey continues.  Our journey may take us to unanticipated stops along the way, and progress may be a bit slower than we wish; but the path still lies before us.

March 2 garden in snow 012

Yesterday’s snow, blowing in from the west, proved a set back for our journey towards spring.

March 3 budding 002

The intensely cold air, blowing down from the north, brought us record low morning temperatures across the Eastern half of the United States.

March 2 garden in snow 021

It was 17 here this morning at 4:30, but I’m so grateful for that bit of warmth.  Our neighbors to the north, around the Great Lakes, had a far colder morning when the sun finally rose.

March 2 garden in snow 005

Yesterday’s snow is now hardened into ice. But that ice is quickly melting and evaporating in our morning sun.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

We can find inspiration in the budding daffodils, surrounded by snow, still standing tall as they wait for their day to open.  Snow melts from around their still green leaves, watering the Earth where they grow.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

We find inspiration in buds on lilac and Forsythia shrubs, showing color, but waiting to unfurl their petals.  Unfurl they will, one day soon.  The earliest of spring’s flowers inspire me with their courage and fortitude, opening to an uncertain world.

Forsythia and lilac

Forsythia and lilac

Their timing must be correct if they are to open at the perfect time to greet the insects who must pollinate them, and for their pollinated flowers  to have the opportunity to set seeds for the coming season.

Kale

Kale

I wandered around in the falling snow yesterday, finding a thin layer of frozen whiteness  blanketing new spring growth like fragile veils of lace.  The very energy and vitality of the emerging leaves and buds seemed to shine through these icy mantillas, laid gently across the garden.

Mahonia

Mahonia

It was clear that they would  melt swiftly away, like a bridal veil, after the first kiss of sunshine.

March 2 garden in snow 022

Because spring is an inevitable force of nature.  Each day subtly lengthens in our vernal journey back towards the sun.

March 2 garden 026

With every passing day the sun’s rays probe more deeply into the cells of every bough, leaf, and bud.

No matter what winds may blow across the surface of our planet, spring unfolds as the Earth’s deep energy responds to the sun’s approach.

March 2 garden in snow 016

We can not let the illusion of winter distract us from knowing the growing presence of spring.

March 2 garden 006

Our path is set.  Followed year upon year beyond memory, our journey follows the familiar landmarks.  We are pilgrims in time, following an ancient map; making inevitable progress along the path of eternal change.

March 2 garden 016

Grape Mahonia in bud

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“A tree can be tempted out of its winter dormancy by a few hours of southerly sun—the readiness to believe in spring is stronger than sleep or sanity.”

Amy Leach

March 2 garden 007

“The hopeless hope is one of the early harbingers of spring, bespeaking an innocent belief that the world might right its wrongs and reverse its curses simply because the trees are coming into leaf.”

Aleksandar Hemon

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