Six (or more?) Surprises on Saturday



This past week has been filled with surprises.  We swept right out of the fringe and frigid edges of the so-called ‘Polar Vortex’ into a few days of balmy spring weather.  The last three days have been as near to perfect weather as one could possibly hope for in February in Virginia.

Its been warm, dry, and sometimes a little sunny these past few days.  Signs of spring are literally bursting out of ground, buds on trees are swelling and those of us already itching to get busy for spring have heeded the call to come out of the cozy house and outdoors to make use of these unexpected days.


The first of our red Camellia japonica bloomed this week.


I’ve spent many happy hours outside these past several days flitting like some crazed butterfly from one part of the garden to the next, looking for growth even as I got on with the business of pruning and clearing beds.   We actually spotted a butterfly on Wednesday afternoon.

We don’t know whether it awoke from its chrysalis too soon, or migrated too far north too early.  Its orange and brown wings caught our eye as it fluttered around some old cedar trees, an unusual color to find in the garden in February.  It may have been a Fritillary; we didn’t get close enough to do more than determine it wasn’t an early Monarch.  We were both very surprised to see it, and wish it well and safe shelter as we return to more seasonable temperatures this weekend.


Our first Iris reticulata of the season. This cultivar is ‘Pauline.’ Squirrels have been digging around this patch of bulbs and I’ve repaired their damage several times. I’m happily surprised to discover these blooming.


The butterfly turned up a day after we found a honeybee feeding on the Mahonia, and the same day we found a colony of ground bees awake and foraging near the ravine.  I was glad to notice the ground bees buzzing around as I headed their way with a cart full of pruned branches…. before they noticed me!  I didn’t stumble into them and they didn’t feel a need to warn me off.


The first leaves of daffodils remind us where we’ve planted in years gone by, and entice us with the promise of flowers on their way.


We saw our first blooming daffodils of the year, blooming beside the fence at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  We discovered the first blooming Iris histrioides of the year, the first dandelion of the season shining golden in our ‘lawn,’ and the first ruby red Camellia japonica flowers on the shrubs near the street.


Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ planted out several years ago, after devastating damage from caterpillars one summer.  It has been very slow to recover and slow to grow.  Its beautiful leaves make it worth the effort.


The most interesting surprise came yesterday afternoon when I placed a cutting of our Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, that has been growing in our garden for the last several years, into a one of the little shrubs I believed to be a variegated English holly.

We bought these shrubs as English holly in November of 2017 at a chain home improvement store and sporting a big name plant tag.  I never questioned the label and have written about them as English holly over the past few years.


Can you spot the cutting taken from our Osmanthus growing in the upper garden?


But them California horticulturalist Tony Tomeo called me out.  He commented on the post about taking stem cuttings, saw the little holly cuttings with the eyes of experience, and told me that what I was calling variegated English holly was, in fact, variegated false holly, Osmanthus ‘Goshiki.’


Now you see it… an exact match …


It took me a day to process what was so plain to him.  I photographed my shrubs, took a cutting from an older Osmanthus and set it seamlessly into the holly in a pot by our kitchen door.  Their leaves were identical.  Tony was correct and I had missed it in my own garden.

This is actually very good news.  At maturity, the Osmanthus will grow to only half the size of an English holly.  It has softer leaves and tolerates full shade.  An English holly wants full sun, which is hard to find in our garden.  Correctly identifying the shrub has proven a happy surprise for us.

Today we settle back into winter clothes and winter routines, but my heart is awake to the energy of spring.  I’m motivated to continue the clean-up and pruning; polishing the garden stage for the next act waiting in the wings: spring.

Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.


… Wait For It…..

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Our unusually intense winter made a devastating impact on several plants in the garden.  The amount of snow and ice the garden endured, and the longer period of freezing cold weather before winter finally melted into spring made this a record breaking winter in Williamsburg.

Although we are technically in Zone 7b (average low temperatures of 5-10 F) , many winters, especially in recent years, have been far milder.  Plants rated for hardiness in Zones 8-10, like our Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, have made it through recent winters just fine.

Normally evergreen, with thick, glossy dark green leaves, our Star Jasmine has been an important feature of this garden for decades.  Planted in brick planter box beside the railing and fence which enclose our side entrance, this vigorous vine grew to completely cover the metal structure long before we came to the garden.

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Its tough woody stems have twined themselves into oneness with their support.

We find the vine beautiful.  We enjoy it year round, but especially in winter when it is still green and leafy.  We also enjoy many weeks of its white blooms perfuming the air each summer.

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This vine is a vigorous grower and will expand its reach each year if not frequently pruned.

And so when its leaves began turning brown and dropping in February we were concerned, but hoped the vine would survive the season.  As winter turned to spring, more and more of the vine turned brown so that  our once healthy green living wall of Jasmine by the side entrance shriveled into an unsightly mass of bare vines.

I’ve avoided showing you photos of our poor Jasmine vine.   It has been such a depressing sight.

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We both had confidence in  its strength and eventual recovery.

Soon after we recycled the pots of our seemingly dead Bay trees, and after we gave up on several Rosemary and Lavender plants, we finally agreed the time had come to prune the Jasmine vine hard in hopes of shocking it into growth.

A few remaining green leaves here and there were testament to a bit of life still in the vine, but these were few and far between.

So in late April we both had a hand in the great pruning.  We took almost half of the vine, trimming back to where the structural woody branches were clearly visible.

I poured Neptune’s Harvest over the roots, and have included the planter box in all of my outdoor watering this spring.

And the vine is slowly recovering.

From a distance our Star Jasmine remains a mass of brown, with patches of green around the edges.  But up close, new leaves and fragrant flowers are visible all over the vine now.

After a hard winter, sometimes you just have to wait for plants to respond to spring on their own time.

Osmanthus Goshinki lived happily in a pot on the deck until this winter.  Since it still has some leaves alive, we hope it will soon sprout new growth.

Osmanthus Goshiki lived happily in a pot on the deck until this winter. Since it still has some leaves alive, we hope it will soon sprout new growth.


We still have any number of plants “in recovery.”

An Osmanthus goshiki shrub has lived in a pot on the deck for three previous winters, but has only a handful of green leaves at the moment.

We moved the pot to a shady recovery area and I we keep checking for evidence of new growth.  So far, we’re still waiting.

A new fig shrub has growth coming from the roots, but none has broken out of its woody structure, yet.

This little fig, planted in autumn of 2012, trippled in size last summer.  So far new growth is visible only from its roots.

This little fig, moved from a container to the garden  in autumn of 2012, trippled in size last summer. So far new growth is visible only from its roots.


I haven’t pruned off the old wood, waiting to see whether it responds to our warm May before giving up.  So from a distance the shrub looks like a casualty of winter.

Nature has its own rhythms and patterns of hot and cold, light and dark, moisture and drought.

June 10, 2014 wait for it 003


We observe and respond, sometimes an ambivalent dance partner with nature taking the lead in this ever unfolding dance of life.


A more established fig, elsewhere in the garden, finally shows new growth from its branches.  I'll continue to wait for our newly established fig to sprout new growth before pruning it bakc.

A more established fig, elsewhere in the garden, finally shows new growth from its branches. I’ll continue to wait a few more weeks for our newly established fig to sprout new growth before pruning it back.


Often patience is our best ally.  And we are often rewarded with beauty when we are willing to simply …. wait for it…..


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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