Sunday Brunch, Or, One Thousand Shades of Green

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

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Green Rain Falling

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Green rain falling.

Staccato dripping from gutters,

Broken by frog song,

Call and response from the pond;

Celebration of wet abundance.

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Ground glistens below

Jewel encrusted leaves.

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Steady patter, hour after hour.

Creek filled ditches flowing,

Flowing, flowing, where?

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Frogs shelter on  windows, hunting

By porch light.

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Turtle heaven,

Watery world

Filled with liquid shadows.

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Birds perch beneath the eaves,

Warbling,

Waiting,

Rainy week in June.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Riddle Me This: African Rose Mallow

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What looks like a Japanese Maple, but will give large lush flowers in mid-summer, attracts hummingbirds, can grow in waterlogged soil, and is edible?

An impossible combination, you say?

Well, I found the answer by accident.

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I was browsing the water garden section at a local garden center last week, looking for little starts of Asclepias.  And this wonderful burgundy plant with fine foliage grabbed my attention.  How pretty!

Having no idea what it really was, I added it to my cart on a whim.  (Yes, shopping without my readers again.)

We’ve started a new bog gardening area this spring, and I’m adding interesting plants to liven it up.  This pretty red thing was just what I needed to contrast with the native chartreuse Sarracenia flava  we are growing this year.

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Sara

Sarracenia flava, a native Pitcherplant

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Later, when I did a little research, I was duly impressed with the versatility of this wonderful plant.  African Rose Mallow, Hibiscus acetosella will grow to about 5′ high and wide.  This plant originated in Africa, and was first recorded as a distinct species around 1896.

Traders  carried it to Brazil and Southeast Asia, where it was grown as a food source for African slaves.  This Hibiscus remains more popular in Brazil than in Africa, and is still grown as a spinach like vegetable.  Its rose pink flowers are used for coloring beverages like lemonade, although they don’t lend a distinct flavor of their own.

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Although we don’t plan to dine on our ‘Cranberry Hibiscus’ this summer, we look forward to watching it grow.  Its blooms will attract hummingbirds to this part of the garden.  It will prove an interesting addition to our new bog garden.

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We have had excellent experiences with the new Hibiscus cultivars we added to the front garden last summer, and all have returned this year.

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 Hibiscus has proven very easy to grow in our garden, and gives a long season of boom.

I plan to take cuttings of this new African Rose Mallow within the next few days, and hope to establish it in more areas this summer.  I’m glad I followed the prompting to purchase this plant, even without recognizing it as an Hibiscus.

A happy Serendipity; this riddle’s answer has pleased us immensely.  We can always find magic, when we remain open to it.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Planting Pots

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.  Please notice the contrasting colors and shapes of these sun loving plants.

Pots are the easiest way to garden.

If you have only one  square foot of sunlight where something might grow, you can grow your garden in a pot.

Gardening in a pot allows you to be spontaneously creative…  and outrageously unconventional in your plant choices and design.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.  It is planted with Zonal Geraniums, Caladium, Lamium, Ivy, Coleus, and Cane Begonia.

 

Pots are  the “trial and error” notebook of a gardener’s education.

 

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant.  Once I learn how to grow it, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant. Once I learn how to grow it successfully, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

 

A friend was telling me yesterday that she’d love to find a class to teach her about designing potted plantings.

This brilliant and creative friend, an artist by profession,  could definitely teach such a class !

I asked her to please let me know if she found one, because I would come with her…

These aquatic or bog arrangement is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

This aquatic,  or bog arrangement, is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

But I’ve never taken a class on making pots.  I have studied thousands of photographs of others’  pots in gardening books and magazines.  And I’ve grown plants in pots since I was a child.

Maybe a local garden center offered such a class, once upon a time, and I just missed it.  Hard to say…

An experiment:  Do you see the vase "neck" embedded in this hypertufa pot?  It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grow out of the neck.

An experiment: Do you see the vase “neck” embedded in this hypertufa pot? It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grows out of the neck.  A friend generously gave me the pieces of her broken vase to use in this pot.

 

But here is what I’ve already learned about growing potted plants, by long years of trial and error;  and  what I can share with you:

1.  Choose the largest pot your space and budget allows.  From a design perspective, big pots have impact.

A few big pots make a much better statement than two dozen tiny ones; unless they all match and are grouped artistically  together somehow.

This large hypertufa pot is home made.  It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

This large hypertufa pot is home made. It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

 

Big pots allow plants to grow lush and healthy.  There is more room for the roots to grow and it is easier to keep the planting mix hydrated in a large pot.  A larger mass of pot and soil helps moderate soil temperature  in extreme weather, too.

2.  Feed the soil with compost; organic amendments like Plant Tone and Osmocote; coffee grounds (high in nitrogen), and organic liquid feeds like Neptune’s Harvest.  Most potting mixes are nutritionally sterile, so the plants must be fed to perform well.

 

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis.  This pot hasnt' moved in the four years since we placed it here.

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis. This pot hasn’t moved in the four years since we placed it here.

3.  Site the pot, then choose the plants.  Know first of all where your new pot will go in your home or landscape; then select plants which will grow with the level of light and exposure to the weather that location offers.

You may have the same pot in the same spot for many years, but the plantings will switch in and out seasonally.

4.  Select a ” community of plants” which will grow together harmoniously for each pot.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Choose plants which share similiar needs for light and water, but  will “fill” different spaces so they weave together into a pleasing composition.

5  Select plants for contrast.  Choose plants whose differences create an interesting composition.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.  This planting was inspired by Becca Given‘s comment on the “Eggplant” post about her sister in law’s eggplant and turquoise kitchen  color scheme.

 

Contrast color of foliage and bloom to create an interesting, and maybe a dramatic, visual statement.

 

Geraniums and Fennel.  Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.

Geraniums and Fennel. Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.  Variegated, textured  foliage also creates contrast and interest.

Contrast foliage texture and shape, and choose plants which will grow to different heights and proportions so there is a balance of tall, trailing, airy, flat, round, and spiky.

6.  Study nature for inspiration.  Analyze how plants blend into communities in the wild.    Notice what you like, and what you don’t. 

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Do you enjoy wide expanses of a single species growing to a fairly uniform size?  Do you like  grasses mixed in among the flowers?

Do you like lush vines covering structure?  Do you want a classically symmetrical static look, or an asymmetrical spontaneously evolving look?

These differences matter, and you can achieve them all in pots.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large over the summer.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large and fill out this pot  over the summer.

7.  Develop a mental image of what you hope to create in the pot before going to the garden center to purchase the plants.

Have an idea of what you hope to create, and which plants you want to use.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

I often take a list with me.  Others take photos.  With a smart phone, you might even bookmark some photos online which are similiar to what you hope to purchase.

Now, it is a rare treat when the garden center actually has in stock everything on my list.

But, if you know your parameters for light, moisture, size, color and price; you can often make brilliant substitutions.

 

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter.  It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter. It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

 

8.  Be realistic about what you can grow.  Apologies here for the downer… but realism at the beginning saves later disappointment.

Know, in advance, what you can sustain.

This simple, neat basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.

This simple basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.   We grow Fuschia to draw the hummingbirds close to our windows.  The only safe place to grow these plants is on our deck, where the deer can’t reach them.

I know I can’t grow certain plants where deer or squirrels can reach them.  I learned that I can plant tomatoes all I want, but no net or screen will prevent squirrels from stealing them as they ripen, even on the deck.  I know that certain plants, like impatiens, left in reach of deer will be grazed.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care.  I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be "deer resistant." This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care. I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be “deer resistant.” This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Maybe you can’t water hanging baskets of Petunias every day in summer, or you don’t have enough light to keep them in bloom where you have space to hang baskets.

Once you learn and accept the parameters of your current gardening situation,  it allows you to find beautiful  alternatives.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical.  Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical. Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

 

9.  Let time be your ally.  Plant slowly and carefully, leaving sufficient room for each plant to grow.

Remember to use some combination of rooted cuttings, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and actively growing plants.

Unless you’re planting for an immediate show or competition, plan for the arrangement to evolve during the season as the plants grow, peak, and fade.

 

This basket of Petunias requires daily water.  Someone who travels during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive.  Like a pet, it requires daily care.

This basket of Petunias requires daily water. Someone who travels  a lot during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive. Like a pet, it requires daily care.

 

Different plants will take over as “stars of the pot” at different times during the season.

Plants will grow at different rates, and some will try to muscle out others.  You will have to referee with your pruners from time to time.  That is OK, and makes it more interesting.

10.  Treat your potted plants like pets.   K now their names, know their needs, and give consistent loving care.  Expect to learn continuously when you garden.    There is always more to know; and the more you know about each plant you grow, the better care you can take of it.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5' tall.  It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago.  Gradually, it will grow to  dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5′ tall. It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago. Gradually, it will grow to dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

Plants need to be appreciated to grow well.  Visit each regularly, and take care of its needs.  Whether it needs water, pinching, training on a support, turning, or simply a kind word; remember that is a responsive living being.

And, a bonus:

Our plants love for us to share with them.  You give your dog toys, don’t you?  Plants respond to our love just as animals will.

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What can you share with a plant?  I dilute leftover tea and coffee, and use it to water potted plants.  Tea and coffee are high in nitrogen and other phyto-chemicals.  (The same pot doesn’t always get the tea, and there are plenty of “plain water” waterings so the soil doesn’t get too acid.)   I use finished coffee grounds and rinsed egg shells  as mulch in large pots around fruits or vegetables.

When making a pea gravel mulch, I often include something beautiful such as a shell, agate, glass marble, or crystal resting on top of the soil.

A friend scatters trimmed hair around her plants, which also helps keep deer away.

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As you work with each of the plants in your potted garden, you will learn to know what it needs, and to provide for those needs.  You also learn which plants grow well together, and which will not.

The real difference between someone with a “brown thumb” and someone with a “green thumb” comes down to how much attention the gardener pays to providing what each plant needs to fulfill its potential for beauty and productivity.

Each pot, each season, teaches us something new.  

We continue to grow, just as our plants do.

 

A hanging basket of various Begonias.  Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

A hanging basket of various Begonias. Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Pitcherplants

Sarracenia flava growing at Forest Lane Botanicals in York Co. Virginia.

Sarracenia flava growing at Forest Lane Botanicals in York Co. Virginia.

One of our strangest and  most flamboyant native plants grows in bogs from Canada to Mississippi  along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia species and cultivars, grows in areas of poor, very moist soil.  Not always at the  coast, these bogs may be further inland, at greater altitude, and areas of scrub wherever water gathers.

Sarracenia leucophylla grows to three feet tall.  Its showiest pitchers appear in late summer and early autumn.

Sarracenia leucophylla grows to three feet tall. Its showiest pitchers appear in late summer and early autumn.

Preferring very acidic soil, pitcher plants rely on prey, rather than rich soil or fertilizer,  for their nutrition.

The beautifully colored “pitcher” is a modified leaf.  Open at the top, there is an area where sweet smelling liquid collect at the base.

Can you spot the fly on the leaf?

Can you spot the fly on the leaf?

Small insects, spiders, mites, and even small frogs and birds may be lured into the pitcher.

Once inside, sharp hairs, angled towards the base, prevent them from climbing back out.

Pitcherplants bloom each spring.

Pitcherplants bloom each spring.

The unlucky creatures fall into the pool of liquid, which slowly dissolves them.

Many beautiful varieties of Pitcherplants are available.

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I was amazed at the bright colors and intricate patterns on the Pitcherplants at Forest Lane Botanicals when we visited this week.

The Wubbels grow many different native species and hybrids.

Bog plants for sale at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Bog plants for sale at Forest Lane Botanicals.

I would definitely make any future purchases from the Wubbels, or from a nursery where I could choose my plant and bring it home.

Since liquid remains in each leaf at all times, and the leaf can dry out if the liquid is lost; this is not a plant I would want shipped if it  could be avoided.

Sarracenia flava

Sarracenia flava

Pitcher plants are very long lived perennials.  The leaves and flowers arise from an underground rhizome, which may live for more 20 years when conditions are right.

They mostly require uniformly moist soil and full sunshine.  Different varieties have specific needs, but most are hardy to at least Zone 6.

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Sarracenia purpurea, known as Purple Pitcherplant, is hardy in Zones 3-9 and is the  floral emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Plant Pitcherplants in an equal mixture of pure dampened peat moss and sand.   If potting into a free standing pot, as I did, allow for a deep saucer to always contain water, so the mix remains constantly damp.

The Wubbels had all of their Pitcher plants in plastic nursery pots, standing in pools containing several inches of water.

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If you decide to build a “bog garden,” then you might construct a suitably sized container for your situation.  It could be as small as a bowl borrowed from the kitchen, or the size of a child’s swimming pool.  You could build a bog along the edge of an existing water feature, or perhaps construct a “rain garden” with an area kept constantly wet for bog plants.

Other plants you may grow with your Pitcherplants in a bog garden include native orchids, Sundew or Dew-threads, certain Iris, and a variety of other moisture loving native flowers.

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Once established, Pitcherplants quietly take care of themselves.  So long as they are kept moist and given full sun, they will attract their own dinner.  They never need pruning.

You might clean up damaged foliage each spring, but nothing is needed beyond that.

Some species and cultivars will grow to several feet tall, and they will spread as the rhizome grows.

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When crowded, they can be gently divided like other perennials.  When cutting the rhizome into smaller sections, make sure that each section has at least one leaf.  Do this in early spring before flowers emerge.

Pitcherplants bloom, and form seed.   I was amazed at the lovely flowers on the Pitcherplants at Forest Lane Botanicals.

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The seeds need a period of cold stratification for a month or more before they will germinate.  Seeds sown outside, in moist soil, and left over the winter in the “bog” where the parents are growing will meet this requirement.

These beautiful foliage plants prefer high humidity, damp acidic soil,  and bright light.  If you can provide these conditions, then you can grow one of the most beautiful and  interesting native plants North America offers.

This is the Pitcherplant I brought home from Forest Lane Botanicals yesterday.  Planted in a mixture of peat and sand, the pot sits in a saucer filled with gravel and water.  This area gets morning sun, and stays in the sun until late in the afternoon.

This is the Pitcherplant I brought home from Forest Lane Botanicals yesterday. Planted in a mixture of peat and sand, the pot sits in a saucer filled with gravel and water. This area gets morning sun, and stays in the sun until late in the afternoon.  I plan to make a hypertufa tray to set this pot in, large enough to add a few pots, perhaps…..

Another Genus of Pitcher plant, Darlingtonia, is native to  Northern California and Oregon.  Known as a Cobra Plant due to the shape of its leaf.  There is only one species, but it easily hybridizes with Sarracenia, which makes classification of the offspring complicated.

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Other Genera are found in Australia, China, Borneo, and other warm locals around the Pacific.  All are carnivorous.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome

Most of the photos were taken at Forest Lane Botanicals earlier this week.

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