WPC: Twisted Wisteria

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If you have ever wondered whether plants are aware and know what they are doing, just study a Wisteria vine for a while.  Plants are wiser than you may want to believe.

This formidable vine grows across an arbor at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in Freedom Park.  Believe it or not, this vine hasn’t been growing here more than a dozen years.  It already looks quite venerable and sage, doesn’t it?

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It has enthusiastically taken over the arbor, like a toddler with a new play set!

Never mind the climbing Hydrangea petiolaris desperately trying to grow up the opposite side, or the always feisty Virginia creeper that has snuck its way through the dense network of twining branches.

These three neighbors fight it out, now, for the best real estate on the arbor to catch the summer rays.

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This is our native North American Wisteria frutescens, which grows from Virginia west to Texas, and south into Florida.  A deciduous woody vine, W. frutescens will grow to only about 15 meters long, which is only two thirds of the mature height of Asian Wisterias.

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Wisteria grows best is moist soil with full, or at least partial sun.  It normally uses a strong  nearby tree for support, but also grows on fences, trellises, or pergolas.  It makes a lovely ‘ceiling’ for a pergola over a  porch or deck.

Our native Wisteria may also be trained into a standard tree form, but requires a lot of tending along the way and regular trims to keep it in bounds.

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A member of the pea family, Wisteria captures nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil along its roots, helping to ‘fertilize’ other plants growing nearby.  But please don’t taste its pea-like pods!  Wisteria is a poisonous plant if eaten, which helps protect it from hungry rabbits and deer.

Wisteria also absorbs carbon from the air, cleaning and purifying the air around it while fixing excess carbon in its woody stems and roots.

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Our native Wisteria’s flowers are smaller than its Asian cousins’, too; and so it is often favored by gardeners who want a more contained Wisteria for a small garden.

Our native Wisteria is also a larval host for several types of butterflies and moths, including skippers.

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This particular vine has embraced its arbor in a crushing grip.  It is as though the vine itself has become a living, twisted, arbor that will stand the test of time even if the man-made frame eventually comes apart.

Let this be a caution to you if you ever choose to plant one near your home.  I did that once, and realized that wood and nails and staples are no match for this prodigious vine, no matter how sturdy the construction may appear!

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Wisteria twists clockwise around its support, weaving itself into a living sculpture.

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While other vines may have tendrils that twine or sticky pads that stick to surfaces like masonry, Wisteria is the twisting, twirling boa constrictor vine of the plant kingdom.

It gives shade to us weary gardeners, and it generously shelters birds and bugs, lizards and toads.  It is teeming with life, reaching wildly with its newest branches in search of something to support its restless sprawl.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Twisted
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Fabulous Friday: Color!

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I look forward to September when colors take on that specialty intensity of early autumn.  They sky turns brilliantly blue and the roadsides turn golden with wild Solidago and Rudbeckia.

I planted a little extra splash of color to enjoy this month in our front perennial garden.  While the Rudbeckia were still small, last spring, I interplanted several different Salvias, some perennial mistflower and some gifted Physotegia virginiana divisions.  I wanted bright splashes of blue and violet to emerge through their golden flowers.

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We are just beginning to enjoy the show as these late summer flowers come into their own.  The Rudbeckia grew taller this summer than I remember them in years passed.

We’re still waiting to see whether all of those Salvias will muster the strength to shoulder past the Black Eyed Susans and raise their flowers to the autumn sun.  Life and gardening are always an experiment though, aren’t they?

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It is fabulous to see the sea of gold highlighted with other richly colored flowers.  Soon, the bright red pineapple sage and bright blue Mexican bush sage will burst into bloom, filling the entire garden with intense color.  September is a fabulous time of year, full of promise and energy.

May your last weekend of summer be a good one.

Our hearts are heavy from the many troubling events this summer has precipitated.  We remember those struggling with flood water and wind damage; those seeking peace and justice in the wake of this summer’s violence; those who have lost dearly loved ones; and all those who still hold the hope and promise our country offers to the world, as a living flame in their heart.

In these dark and troubling days, may your world be filled with the colors of hope.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Love was a feeling completely bound up with color,
like thousands of rainbows
superimposed one on top of the other.”
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Paulo Coelho
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Fabulous Friday! 
Happiness is Contagious; let’s infect one another!
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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’

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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

 

August Wonders

Azalea indica ‘Formosa’ in bloom on August 22, 2017.

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A deeply pink blossom shone like a beacon in its sea of dusty August green.  What could that be?

I know that color; a color normally enjoyed in late April: Azalea indica ‘Formosa’.   But the Azaleas in our garden are old ones, planted years before the ‘Encore’ series of fall blooming  Azaleas was ever marketed.

I studied this beautiful flower, a wondrous anachronism, as I drew closer and saw that yes, it was blooming from an Azalea shrub.  In August…

August is filled with wonders. 

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August often melts into a reprieve of sorts.  Relentless heat and drought eventually give way to soaking rains, cooler nights; and a chance for new growth to replace the burnt and fallen leaves of high summer.   Each new leaf whispers a promise of renewal.

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Virginia Creeper

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After the rains begin, one morning we’ll find living fireworks sprung up nearly overnight from long forgotten bulbs.

The spider lily, or hurricane lily, has awakened for another year.  Their exuberance is a milestone along the long downward arc of days from Summer’s Solstice to Autumn’s Equinox.

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Hurricane Lily, Lycoris radiata

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The cast of characters in our garden shifts through the seasons.  The topography of things changes, too, as Cannas and Ficus and Rudbeckia gain height with each passing week.

The poke weed I cut out so ruthlessly in May finally won, and has grown into a 12′ forest in one corner of our garden.

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Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, proves an invasive native perennial loved by birds.

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Countless clusters of beautiful purple berries hang from its spreading branches, an invitation to the feast.  Small birds flit in and out of its shelter from dawn to dusk, singing their praises of summer’s bounty.

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After so many decades of gardening, one would think that I could have learned the twin disciplines of faith and patience by now.  It is a life long practice; perhaps never perfected. 

Time seems to slip past my muddy fingers each spring as I race to plant and prepare our garden for the season coming.  But nature bides her time, never fully revealing the bits of life she has nurtured through winter’s freezing nights; until she chooses to warm them back to life again.

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Mexican Petunia, Ruellia simplex

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At first I assumed it was a windborne weed, this bit of green growing up through the Oxalis in a humble clay pot by our back door.  I very nearly plucked it one day.  But something about its long narrow leaf was familiar, and echo of a memory of summers past.

And so I left it alone, keeping watch and feeding it, hoping it might be the newest incarnation of the marginally hardy Mexican Petunia.  My patience was rewarded this week with its first purple blossom.

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Hardy only to Zone 8, this Ruellia is one of the plants I search for in garden centers each spring.   And this spring I didn’t find one.  And the pot where I grew it on our deck last summer with Lantana and herbs showed no life by mid-May, and so I threw its contents on the compost.

But this pot by the door sat undisturbed, filled with growing  Oxalis and a bit of geranium.  And obviously, the dormant, but still living, Ruellia’s roots.  How often our plants live just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to show themselves, bursting  into new growth.

We somehow have to wrap our minds and memories around the full scope of our garden’s possibilities.

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Garlic chives spread themselves around the garden, blooming in unexpected places in late summer.

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Autumn is our second spring, here in coastal Virginia.  It is a fresh chance to plant and harvest, plan and prune and putter in the garden.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ has renewed its growth with vibrant new leaves.

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We have ten or twelve weeks remaining, at least, before cold weather puts an end to it for another year.

As our season cools, we can spend more time outside without minding the heat and humidity of July and early August.

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Hardy Begonias have finally begun to bloom.

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We breathe deeply once again, and share the renewed joy of it all with the small creatures who share this space with us.

Late August is filled with wonders, teasing us out from the air conditioning of our indoor havens, back out into the magic waiting in the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Looking Good on Friday

June 3, 2016 Jamestown 027

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This pot has been going continuously for three years now.  We make minor changes season to season, adding plants, moving things around, and removing spent annuals.  Last summer it held a seedling Japanese Maple, which has since been moved out into the garden to grow in its permanent spot!

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June 3, 2016 Jamestown 028~

The fern is in its second season now.  Daffodil leaves are ready to die back for summer, and a newly planted Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ stands poised to take off in the coming summer heat.

A few Zantedeschia tubers will send up leaves any time now.  The first batch I planted in late March fizzled, we think.  Perhaps our long spring was too cool.  But new ones should show growth soon, and will fill this planter with elegant flowers by July.

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Zantedeschia offer deliciously elegant flowers and foliage.

Zantedeschia offer deliciously elegant flowers and foliage.

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Warm days make all the difference with tropical heat loving plants.  Our Cannas and Colocasias have all begun to really grow, filling our garden with vibrant color and movement.

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June 3, 2016 Jamestown 030~

Finally, the garden is looking good again!

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Rhubarb commands attention in this large pot on our 'pedestal.'

Rhubarb commands attention in this large pot on our ‘pedestal’ in the ‘stump garden.’

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia.

Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia.

Outrageous Color

Beautyberry

Beautyberry

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Fall never fails to fascinate with its outrageous color.

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 Camellia

Camellia

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Suddenly, the tired, dry world of late summer in reinvigorated by cooler nights, shorter days, and a bit of rain.  And the world transforms itself yet again.

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November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 009

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Each day just grows better as the colors concentrate into the brightest possible hues.  A cerulean sky floats above gold and bronze, scarlet and orange leaves of all shapes and descriptions.

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November 3, 2015 autumn 001

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When the wind whispers even slightly, a shower of falling leaves gently let loose and dance their way to the ground.  And there they lay in moist and colorful splendor, against an emerald green mix of grass and herbs, until they fade.

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November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 006

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We, too, float in that magical space of Indian Summer, here in Williamsburg this year.

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After morning rain, we enjoyed warm sunshine this afternoon.  The golden late afternoon sun animated every petal and leaf in the garden.

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We had the slider to the deck open to enjoy the balmy, rain rinsed air.   The cat and I enjoyed this chance to hear the birds just outside in the trees and smell the sweetness of autumn.

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New flowers are opening daily on the Camellias.  Even our perennials still bravely pump out buds, hoping this warmth will last.

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Echinacea

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The hungry bees lap of each day’s nectar like the precious gift that it is.  And we feast on the colors of autumn, changing daily, packing in every bit of beauty to our minds’ eyes, while they last.

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November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 023

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Woodland Gnome 2015

NaBloPoMo_1115_298x255_badges

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November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 011

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“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not,

but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess,

and then thankfully remember

how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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Winter's buds have appeared on our Edgeworthia.

Winter’s buds have appeared on our Edgeworthia.

Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: June

This little Acer Plamatum germinated in my parents' garden this spring.  I brought it home to grow on, here in a large pot with ferns and Caladiums.

This little Acer Palmatum germinated in my parents’ garden this spring. I brought it home to grow on, here in a large pot with ferns and Caladiums.

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Our world is leafy green this month; a thousand shades of green.  Yet there are many more colors found glowing on leaves in our garden.

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Coleus

Coleus

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Layer upon layer of leaves extend themselves to catch the sun’s rays.

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Canna lilies have reached about half their final height.  Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

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From the Oaks’ canopies down to the tiny chartreuse leaves of creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, which blanket parts of our garden; leaves bask in summer’s brilliant sunshine.

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I ventured into new territory last summer when planting a border of tall Canna lilies, given by a friend, and elephant ear Colocasia.  Both are well up now with the Cannas bursting into bloom.

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June 16, 2015 blooming in June 022

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They will continue growing for a few weeks, topping out above head high with blooms through the summer.

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June 16, 2015 blooming in June 017~

Tall, perennial Hibiscus join these tropical looking, large plants in the front border.  I’ve extended the grouping to a new area in the lower garden where growth has been slow.

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Colocasia 'Mojito'

Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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There is less light here, and the Cannas were purchased as roots just this spring.  I hope they will catch up in the summer heat and make a good show by mid-summer.

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They border the new bog garden, filled now with pitcher plants, Sarraceniaceae, which are native to the mid-Atlantic coast; with the African rose Hibiscus; Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ and Coleus.  Two pots of milkweed grow here, too, in our hope to draw in Monarch butterflies.

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Oxalis triangularis has struggled here because deer frequently graze these beautiful burgundy leaves.

Oxalis triangularis has struggled here because deer frequently graze these beautiful burgundy leaves.

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The border of Oxalis I planted with such confidence in May is nearly gone, grazed by rogue deer who have somehow snuck into the garden through our fences.  I’ve sprayed what remains with deer repellent and hope they will re-grow from the tubers.

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This Oxalis has been protected with a clove of garlic grown here since fall.  In more shade, there are no flowers and darker leaves.  A division of hardy Begonia can be seen at the top of the photo, and a division of fern to the far right.  These will fill in fairly quickly.

This Oxalis has been protected with a clove of garlic grown here since fall.  In more shade, there are no flowers and darker leaves. A division of hardy Begonia can be seen at the top of the photo, and a division of fern to the far right. These will fill in fairly quickly.

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Oxalis is supposed to be ‘deer resistant,’ but anyone who gardens near deer understands the humor of that phrase.

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Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia 'China Pink' grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.

Voodoo lily and a division of Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grow in front of our Edgeworthia in part shade.  Rudbeckia, to the right, will bloom golden in July.  I just love these spotted stems!

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Our collection of poisonous plants has grown this summer to include the “Voodoo Lily,” Sauromatum venosum, bought at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in April; and a hardy Calla lily, just ordered from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.

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I was pleased to learn that Calla, native to South Africa, is in fact poisonous.  The poisonous leaves have more staying power in our garden, and do no harm to those who aren’t grazing them!

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Helebores, also poisonous, protects this pot from grazing.  The Heuchera would be munched if unprotected.

Hellebore, also poisonous, protects this pot from grazing. The Heuchera would be munched if unprotected.

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There are many more leaves to share, but you’ll see them as the summer unfolds.

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We continue to plant ferns, and we’ve added several new cultivars this year.

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June 22, 2015 foliage 002

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We have also found several interesting cultivars of scented Pelargonium.  This rose scented Pelargonium grows in a pot with Ajuga.

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Herbs smell wonderful on hot sunny days, and have such beautiful foliage.

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June 18, 2015 bees 002

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 I appreciate Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides,  for hosting this Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day meme on the 22nd of each month. She challenges us to focus on the foliage in our gardens; not just the flowers.

Please visit her and follow as many links as you can to enjoy beautiful foliage posts photographed in a variety of different gardens.

But, before you do, we will end with a few more photos of my beloved Begonias:

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There will be another Begonia post soon.  These beauties continue growing better each week.

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June 14, 2015 garden 017~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Sunday Brunch, Or, One Thousand Shades of Green

June 20, 2015 garden 043

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I took Sunday brunch in the garden today, feasting on the sounds, smells, and beautiful sights the garden offers on this mid-summer’s Sunday.

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It is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  In Williamsburg, our sun rose today at 5:47 AM and will set at 8:30 PM for an astronomical day length of 14 hours and 44 minutes.

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June 20, 2015 garden 026

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Interestingly, our period of the summer solstice began on June 17 this year when the sun rose at 5:46 AM and set at 8:30 PM.  Our days will remain this exact length until June 24.  The sun will rise a single minute later on June 25, at 5:48 AM.  The sun will continue to set at 8:31 until July 6, when it will finally set a single minute earlier at 8:30 PM.   By then, the sun won’t rise above the horizon until 5:53 AM, a full six minutes later than today.

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The sun is felt, even after it has dipped below the horizon.  It stays light now for more than an hour past the moment of ‘sun-set,’ and it stays hot from dusk to dawn.

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June 20, 2015 garden 024

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We had violent thunderstorms move through Virginia again last night, feeding off the muggy heat which envelops us.  We were among the fortunate who kept our power and our trees as the storm passed.

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June 20, 2015 garden 003

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And this morning dawned rain soaked, hot and bright.  Opening the slider to the deck, I inhaled the greenness in the morning air.

Our cat slipped past my ankles to drink the fresh rain water collected in his dish overnight.  He lingered a little while to listen to the birds chattering from their hiding places in the overhanging trees.

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But he lingered only a little while.  He was ready to slip back inside to the shade and cool of our house when my partner appeared at the door.  Wise old cat, he knows this heat can be deadly.

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He was asleep behind a chair when I suited up and headed out to the garden an hour later.  Camera in hand, I went only to appreciate and record the morning’s beauty.

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But you know the truth of good intentions.  Before long I was deadheading something here, pulling a weed there, and finally succumbed to the lure of the herbs we picked up on Friday morning still waiting in their tiny nursery pots.

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I was in the lowest, sunniest part of the garden planting a Basil when my partner’s voice reached me.  He was back out on the deck, searching for a glimpse of me in the green forest below.

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His voice broke the spell the garden had woven around me. 

He reminded me of the heat, and called me back inside.  It was only then that it registered that my clothes were soaked with perspiration and I was exposed to the fullness of the still rising sun.

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June 20, 2015 garden 046~

We lost a friend this past week.  We lost one of the kindest, gentlest, most loving people in our circle of friends.

Long retired, he was a tireless volunteer in our community; a gardener, caretaker for stray cats; devoted husband, father, and grandfather.  Our friend was out walking in this relentless heat mid-week, and collapsed.

He was doing what he loved, out of doors, and left us all peacefully and swiftly.

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The news reached us yesterday morning.  As much as we will miss him, we are so grateful that he left us all on his own terms, and was active until then end.  May it be so for each of us.

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June 20, 2015 garden 008

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And yet his passing in this way is a stark reminder to all of us. 

We must respect this extreme weather, and remain cautious in the face of the heat and sun.  Our children, our pets, our elderly and even ourselves need a little extra consideration during this hottest part of the year, in the northern hemisphere.

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June 20, 2015 garden 004

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The sun burns, and burns quickly.  The heat overpowers our body’s cooling systems.  The heavy, humid air makes it that much harder to breathe.

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I will not pretend to understand climate change; but I can see the signs that our climate is changing, rapidly.  And so we must change and adapt.  We must shift our behaviors to survive.

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June 20, 2015 garden 015

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Our friend’s passing was only the latest in a string of untimely loss this week.  I won’t rehearse the litany of loss; I trust you’ve been watching the news, too.

But the common denominator in all of these heart wrenching stories boils down to this:  People going about their business, doing what they have always done, were caught in extraordinary circumstances.

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June 20, 2015 garden 062

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There is a a message here for each of us.  Perhaps it is no longer, “Business as usual.”   Perhaps we all need to be more mindful of our changing environment and plan for the unexpected to touch our lives.

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It is summer in Virginia.  Our theme parks and beaches are full of tourists.  There are festivals every weekend, and holiday traffic fills our roads.

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And our garden is full of fragrance, color and sound.  Something new blooms each day.  Blackberries ripen, bees buzz from flower to flower and the herbs release their perfume to the caress of the sun.

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Everything is growing so fast.  A thousand shades of green filled our garden this morning. 

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Most people, when asked, will tell you how much they love the summer; and will give you a long list of things they love to do in these few sweet weeks from June through August.

May this summer be filled with joy for you and yours. 

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June 20, 2015 garden 058

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And please, remain mindful of a few simple things you can do to keep yourself and loved ones safe and healthy during this special season:

1.  Stay hydrated, and always carry water with you for everyone in your party when traveling.

2.  Keep your head and skin covered when outside.

3.  Wear sunscreen, routinely, to protect yourself even further from the sun’s rays.

4.  Stay out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day.  Seek the refuge of shade.

5.  Pace yourself.  Don’t overexert when it is hot and muggy.

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6.  Watch the weather forecast, several times a day, and plan accordingly.  Stay off the roads when heavy rains and are expected.

7.  Keep pets indoors when it is hot, and keep fresh water available.

8.  Never leave a child, a pet, or a companion waiting outside in a car during the heat of the day.

9.  Remember that our environment is rapidly changing. Expect the unexpected.  Remain alert to these changing conditions, and prepare in advance to survive potential hazards and extreme weather events.

10.  Balance pleasure with vigilance.  Enjoy the fruits of summer and all of the special experiences it brings.  But do so smartly and cautiously, so all survive to enjoy many more summers to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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With fond remembrance of our treasured friend,

Lt. Col. Alden George Hannum.

May his memory always bring  joy to those who loved him.

Begonias: The Ultimate House Plant

June 12, 2015 Begonias 001

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Whether choosing a pet or a house plant, most of us have criteria.

We think about shedding and noise, ease of care, how much space we have, and the general appearance of our new companion.

Long hair or short?  Leggy or compact?  And how much will I need to feed it?

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Many of us treat our indoor plants a little like pets.  We offer fresh water and food.  We groom them, probably talk to them; and we clean up behind them.

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Having kept everything from ferns to Ficus trees over the years, I have developed some preferences and prejudices.

I like interesting foliage, first of all.  I want something eye-catching and unusual.  And I want to see growth and change.

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I grew up in the era when my mother kept ‘dish gardens’ in the living room.  These florist made concoctions were uniformly boring and rarely grew at all.

Nearly all included a ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue,’ otherwise known as ‘Snakeplant.’  They thrive on total neglect.

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June 12, 2015 Begonia 2 001

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For my money, rhizomatous Begonias remain the best ‘house plants’ of all.

Their leaves unfold like colorful mosaics or textured silk.  Even though they produce flowers from time to time, the flowers are almost an afterthought; and nearly always tiny.

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The leaves, streaked and mottled in shades of silver, green, black, red, pink, brown, white and purple, are more colorful and interesting than any flower, with the possible exception of orchids.

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You probably know rhizomatous Begonias as ‘Rex’ Begonias.  ‘Rex’ of course is Latin for ‘king.’  All Rex Begonias are rhizomatous, but all rhizomatous Begonias are not classed as ‘Rex.’

The original species of B. Rex was found in the forests of northern India.  Since, the species has been hybridized with other rhizomatous Begonias to create the many many cultivars available around the world today.

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Rhizomatous Begonias thrive in the warm, shady environment most homes can offer.  They remain relatively small and rarely shed so much as a petal or leaf.  While these Begonias hate soggy soil, they appreciate humid air.  In areas with low humidity the will perform better when grown on a tray of moist gravel, or near other plants where humidity remains fairly high.

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Most of our Begonias spend the summer out of doors in the shade.  They love our high coastal humidity.    Once outside, the leaves become more vibrantly colored as they respond to increased levels of light.

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This is the Begonia pictured above, as it looked near the end of February.  We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2" pot about three weeks earlier.  Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

This is the same Begonia pictured 2 photos above, as it looked near the end of February. We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2″ pot about three weeks earlier. Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

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Rhizomatous Begonias send up individual leaves, on long petioles, from a special stem called a rhizome, which creeps along the surface of the soil.  This means that as these plants grow larger, they can be divided by cutting the rhizome into pieces.  Each piece should have some roots and some leaves attached so it can grow on in its new pot.

I top dress the soil with fine gravel, often aquarium gravel, to make the pot look nicer and to protect the plants’ fragile leaves.

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A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia purchased in February.

A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia.

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Believe it or not, many rhizomatous Begonias are sold along with other ‘tropical’ plants in big box stores like Lowes and Walmart.

I scan their tropical plant displays for the distinctively beautiful leaves of Begonias.  They often come in tiny pots, 3″ or less, for just a few dollars.

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I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

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Once cleaned up, potted up, and fed; these little guys respond quickly.  Like a stray adopted from the pound, they respond to love and care to grow into beautiful companion plants!

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Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

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But unlike a stray Lab or Tom cat, these beauties will not grow out of bounds.  They are extremely well behaved and tolerant of the ways of humans.  They will never reach for the ceiling like a cane Begonia, or drop vivid petals everywhere  as the tuberous Begonias will.

These are the most refined and polite Begonias of the genus.

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This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later.  Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later. Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

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If you’ve not yet lived with one of these lovely Begonias, you might consider adopting one soon.

They will become your faithful companions for year after year if you will simply give them light, warmth, humidity, a drink when they need it (soil dry to the touch) and a light meal from time to time.

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June 12, 2015 Begonia 2 005

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The difficult part of the relationship is choosing a favorite from so many tempting cultivars.

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June 12, 2015 Begonias 013~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: Pelargoniums

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage.  It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage. It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

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Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides, sponsors a day on the 22nd of each month to focus on the foliage in our gardens.

I’ve wanted to join her theme for many months now, and have finally been home with time to pull a post together, and interesting leaves to photograph, today.  Christina posts to Cathy’s In A Vase On Monday theme, and I always admire her lovely flowers.

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Zonal Pelargonium

Zonal Pelargonium are so named because of the “zones” of color in their leaves.

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What a treat to enjoy the wide angles of her Mediterranean garden filled with herbs in her post today!  What a fabulous garden she keeps!

I love plants with interesting leaves.  And I love interesting leaves which happen to also be distasteful to the deer who continue to sneak into our garden.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 053~

Perhaps that is why I’ve become so enamored of Pelargoniums in the past few years.  I’ve never been particularly fond of the flowers these plants produce.  There are so many other more beautiful flowers.  But I grow as many varieties as I can for their lovely foliage.

My favorites are the scented Pelargoniums, which have been particularly difficult to source this season.  The ones I hoped would survive our winter did not.  Marginally hardy here, some winters they make it, and others are cold enough that they die before the weather sufficiently warms in spring.

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This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer.  I still haven't been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn't make it through this past winter.

This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer. I still haven’t been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn’t make it through this past winter.

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I kept many pots of various Pelargoniums going through the winter in our garage, and these are leafing out now.

Most of our scented ones had grown into shrubs by autumn, and I didn’t make cuttings, believing I could purchase fresh plants this year.  Although I’ve found a few at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia; our local nurseries have little to offer beyond the ubiquitous P. “Citronella.”

I love the soft, fragrant leaves of these useful plants, mostly native to South Africa.  Like other herbs, they are edible and may be used in cooking.  Their fragrance helps repel flying insects, and they remain utterly distasteful to deer.  Drought tolerant, they thrive in full sun.

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This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.

This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.  The leaves are so beautifully textured, and they are edible.

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(Christina, had you considered a large and lovely pot filled with Pelargoniums to fill the empty spot where your Buxus once grew?  It will turn loss into beauty while you plan a more permanent fix.)

As much as I enjoy the scented varieties, I’ve gained a new respect for other Pelargoniums as well.  I’m growing a selection of Ivy leaved cultivars  in pots and baskets this year in many areas of the garden.  I love how these drape in a hanging basket.

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An ivy leaved Pelargonium I have growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

An ivy leaved Pelargonium growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

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They have deep glossy foliage, in the shape of ivy leaves, and produce an abundance of sturdy bright flowers through the entire season.  Hummingbirds love the flowers, which grow well in full sun and can stand getting a little dry without drooping.

I’ve also been purchasing Zonal Pelargoniums with variegated leaves.  These beautiful variegated Zonals have been widely available in our area, and I have been collecting them to use in planters at the street and on our front patio.

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May 26, 2015 vase 001~

I’m not so concerned with the color of their flowers, as I am with the beautiful patterns on their leaves.  These blend well with other plants grown primarily for their foliage to make a living tapestry of texture and color in summer displays.  They can take full sun or partial shade, withstand drought, and aren’t bothered by pests or disease.

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August 2, 2014 014

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Pelargoniums, though tender perennials, generally get treated as annuals by modern gardeners.  Most remain so common and inexpensive that we give them little thought.  In fact, many American gardeners see them as cliched; often overlooking them for newer hybrids of other flowering annuals.

I experimented with keeping as many of our plants as I could in the garage over winter with mixed results.  A little more than half survived, kept in slightly moist soil.  Had our winter been shorter, they might all have made it.  Many of these plants kept green leaves all winter, even if they did grow very scraggly by February.

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These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season.  These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season. These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

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It seems that European gardeners are much more likely to grow Pelargoniums than are American gardeners. Many Europeans fill window boxes and hanging planters with these sturdy plants season after season.  Many have perfected techniques for keeping their plants alive from one summer to the next.

I’ve been reading The Passion For Pelargoniums: How They Found Their Place In the Garden by Anne Wilkinson.  9780752496061_p0_v1_s260x420

Anne traces the history of this genus from the native plants found growing in South Africa and South America by European explorers in the Seventeenth Century, up to the present day.  She talks about the important European growers who developed countless hybrid cultivars of the various species of Pelargoniums, and what traits were valued at different points in their history.  In fact, in the mid-Nineteenth Century, at the time of the American Civil War, British nurserymen were in stiff competition with one another to develop the many Zonals with variegated leaves that we enjoy so much today.

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October 28, 2014 fall color 006

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This extremely detailed and meticulously researched book will be of interest both to gardeners who enjoy growing Pelargoniums, and to anyone interested in the history of commercial horticulture.  The story is filled with fascinating characters, drama, intrigue, and previously untold history.

If you are wondering why I’m not simply calling these plants “Geraniums,” as most of us normally do, it is to avoid confusion with the true, perennial Geraniums.  We are growing quite a few varieties of these in the garden this year, too.  They are native to many areas of Europe, and have nothing to do with the tender Pelargoniums native to the Southern Hemisphere.

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Perennial hardy Geranium

Perennial hardy Geraniums have flowers with five, equally spaced petals.

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Many of the plants we grow  are chosen strictly for their leaves.  Beyond the Pelargoniums, I’ve also been watching for the Bonefish series of Coleus, and I’ve been nurturing a wide variety of Begonias.  Both offer inconspicuous flowers but outrageous foliage!

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An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

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For those waiting for the wide shot of our May garden, I’ll include one to show the progress of the Canna lilies and Colocasia which finally have begun to grow.  These overwintered in the ground.  It appears that we lost some of the dark leaved  Colocasia, a huge disappointment; but at least two of our cultivars survived winter and are bulking up now that the heat has finally arrived in our garden.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 042~

Do you select plants primarily for their flowers or for their foliage?  Everyone has their own preference for the balance between leaves and foliage, bright color and restful green.

As much as we love that rush of May Iris and roses, our focus remains on the foliage which lasts through the season.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 023

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I plan to focus on a different genus each month, sharing some of our favorite foliage plants growing  in our garden this summer, as I join Christina in her monthly GBFD post.

Do you have favorite foliage plants?  Do you include tropical foliage plants in your garden?

If you’ve not grown Pelargoniums for a while, I hope you will give them another look on your next trip to the garden center.

We stopped by our little McDonald’s Garden Center satellite store today, and were delighted to find a wonderful selection at 40% off.  These tough little plants prove a true bargain, because they keep performing well through the entire season with minimal attention.  Give them bright sunlight, steady moisture, and a monthly feeding to keep them growing (and blooming) until frost.

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May 25, 2015 foliage 004

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

For the Love of May

Indica hybrid Azalea "Formosa"

Indica hybrid Azalea “Formosa”

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May brings perfume to the garden and joy to the soul. 

It is the happiest month of the whole year to me.  Spring’s warmth has settled comfortably over the garden so the last of the shrubs and perennials finally stir from their winter slumber to send out their first green leaves, which let you know they have survived winter.

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Mayapples

Mayapples

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Taxes are completed and forgotten for another year.  The first fresh local strawberries ripen, tomatoes may be planted, songbirds are nesting, and school is nearly out.

May is for proms, graduations, Mother’s Day, births and weddings.  It is a month for successfully completing long lived goals.   Happiness is almost a tangible fragrance in the air.

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May 7, 2015 garden 021

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Our roses always bloom by Mother’s Day, but our first bud opened in all of its warm beauty yesterday!

Our shrubs are absolutely covered in buds this year, by the way.  The air is soft and filled with the fragrance of sweet iris and freshly cut grass.  The mint has grown tall enough to harvest, and I’m finally planting this summer’s crop of Basil.

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May 7, 2015 garden 002

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I spotted a hummingbird for the first time today flitting from one Columbine blossom to another.  A snapping turtle chose a quiet area to dig a nest and lay her eggs this morning.

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May 7, 2015 garden 022

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The closing weeks of May serve as a “soft opening” for summer. 

May is for switching over to the summer wardrobe and buying new sandals.  We greet May with Cinco de Mayo and bid it farewell with Memorial Day and the opening of community pools.

May is for the first beach trips of the season, enjoying long twilit evenings on the deck, and catching up with the farmers who run the local farm stand.  We re-arrange the deck for a new season, re-plant the pots, and remember our summer routines.

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May 7, 2015 garden 009

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My summer routine finds me in the garden most mornings watering, observing, trimming, and taking photos.  Listening to the chatter of birds and the whirr of hummingbird wings, I take note of what needs attention that day.  And we celebrate each new wonder as it unfolds.

Yesterday brought the Mountain Laurel opening the first of its flowers.

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Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

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Today brought more roses opening and more Iris.  And today I finally installed that new planting bed that I’ve been contemplating since February.

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May 7, 2015 garden 017

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Of course May also brings Mayflies and sunburn, summer heat and higher gas prices.  Every month has its stresses, its true.

Yet May holds more happiness than most.  And I’m partial to any month which brings me iris and  roses…

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May 5, 2015 garden 009

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

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