Blossom XXXII: Apple Scented Pelargonium

Pelargonium odoratissimum

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On species Pelargoniums, commonly known as ‘scented geraniums,’ the flowers are almost an afterthought.  I grow them for their beautiful, fragrant leaves, and am always thrilled if flowers appear.  I found a nice selection of scented geraniums at The Great Big Greenhouse this summer.  Though I was mostly interested in the huge leaves of the chocolate scented variety, I scooped up several others as well.

I bought this apple scented Pelargonium odoratissimum, which is a species and not a cultivar or hybrid, on the late summer clearance.  It didn’t look very promising on the day that I bought it.  But I planted it in a large pot in full sun on our front patio beside an established tri-color sage, and hoped for the best.

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With regular water and a bit of feeding, it has tripled in size and bloomed.  I am just delighted to find it giving us spray after spray of these tiny white flowers.

People often confuse Pelargoniums with Geraniums.  Most of the fancy plants we buy for summer blooms and call ‘geraniums,’ are actually Pelargoniums, originally from South Africa.  All of the wonderfully scented ‘geraniums’ like  P. ‘Citronella,’ and this one are also Pelargoniums.   Although perennial in warmer regions, we treat them as annuals if we can’t bring them inside during the winter.  Most Pelargoniums are hardy only to Zone 8 or 9.

Species Geraniums are hardy to Zone 5 or 6, with smaller leaves and less showy flowers.  These plants are native to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.  Perhaps you’ve grown ‘Rozanne’ hardy Geranium or G. ‘Birch’s Double.’  Their flowers have a somewhat different form than a true Pelargonium.

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The first of summer’s perennial Geraniums bloom alongside the last of winter’s Hellebores last May.

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Many Pelargoniums are considered herbs.  Leaves may be used in tea or cooking, and often they are grown for their essential oils.  Sometimes the leaves or oils may be used medicinally, as is the case with P. odoratissimum.   Branches work beautifully in  a vase.  The foliage is long-lasting and holds its fragrance.  Dried leaves and flowers may be kept  in a drawer to scent its contents.

These wonderful plants can take full sun, and like many herbs, don’t need a great deal of water.  In fact, their most common cause of failure is over-watering and soggy soil.

They are generally pest-free and grow enthusiastically, once established.  Stem cuttings will root in moist sand or soil in summer.

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rose scented Pelargonium

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If you’ve not yet grown Pelargoniums, I encourage you to give them a try.  Whether they give you blossoms, or not, they will fill their space with beauty and fragrance.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Love is wild;
its whole beauty is in its wildness.
It comes like a breeze with great fragrance,
fills your heart,
and suddenly where there was a desert
there is a garden full of flowers.”
.
Osho
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives
Blossom XXXI: Lantana
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Sunday Dinner: Nostalgia

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
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William Faulkner
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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily the remembrance of things
as they were.”
.
Marcel Proust
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“The ‘what should be’ never did exist,
but people keep trying to live up to it.
There is no ‘what should be,’
there is only what is.”
.
Lenny Bruce
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“There comes a time in your life
when you have to choose to turn the page,
write another book
or simply close it.”
.
Shannon L. Alder
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“We are homesick most
for the places we have never known.”
.
Carson McCullers
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“It is strange how we
hold on to the pieces of the past
while we wait for our futures.”
.
Ally Condie
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017 
For my friend, Janet, who I miss often, and learn from, always
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“Nostalgia in reverse,
the longing for yet another strange land,
grew especially strong in spring.”
.
Vladimir Nabokov
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“For children, childhood is timeless.  It is always the present.
Everything is in the present tense.
Of course, they have memories.
Of course, time shifts a little for them
and Christmas comes round in the end.
But they don’t feel it.
Today is what they feel,
and when they say ‘When I grow up,’
there is always an edge of disbelief—
how could they ever be other than what they are?”
  .
Ian McEwan
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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.”
.
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.”
.
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

 

First Ginger Lilies

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Our first ginger lily of the year began opening a few days ago, wafting its intoxicatingly sweet fragrance across our garden.  These hardy perennials return year after year, growing to over 7 ft high in our garden.

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I remain grateful to our neighbor who offered to let me dig some of these beauties from her garden in the weeks before she moved.  I’d never grown these  before, and simply trusted that we would enjoy them.

We had space for them to spread, and spread they have in the years since.  This part of our garden grows dense and tropical and full of life.

Oh my!  What a treat we look forward to in late summer each year, when our ginger lilies bloom.

Getting reacquainted with their pure white flowers today has made this a Fabulous Friday, indeed.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Just remember to say THANK YOU sometimes,
for all of these everyday extraordinary gifts.”
.
Scott Stabile

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, so let’s infect one another!

 

 

 

Blossom XXVIII: Fennel

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Fennel produces beautiful golden flowers.  Many different pollinators feast from these tiny blossoms.  Abundant flowers and fine foliage make this a special plant in our garden over many weeks.

Bronze fennel is particularly beautiful, and may be grown in pots with other herbs and flowers for a spectacular container garden.

Considered an herb, it in an edible hardy perennial in our garden.  Use the leaves fresh as needed, or dry for winter.

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Fennel feeds both pollinators and butterfly larvae.   Finding caterpillars devouring the plant cheers us that the next generation of swallowtail butterflies are on their way.

Plant fennel in full sun for best flowers.   It will grow quite large in good sun and soil, and may need staking after its first year.  These flowers are good enough to cut for arrangements; though we prefer to leave them sparkling in the sun, offering their nectar to whatever hungry mouth might buzz buy.  Their seeds are tasty, and may be gathered to dry for cooking through the season.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry;
conquer the wicked by goodness;
conquer the stingy by generosity,
and the liar by speaking the truth.”
.
Gautama Buddha

Fabulous Friday: What is Beauty?

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We live surrounded by beauty.  But how do you define it?  Everyone has their own idea of what is beautiful, and what is not.

This is a conversation that has been going on for a very, very long time.  We know that people living many thousands of years ago discussed this a lot, and had their own, very definite ideas.

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Anything in any way beautiful
derives its beauty from itself
and asks nothing beyond itself.
Praise is no part of it,
for nothing is made worse or better by praise.
.
Marcus Aurelius
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We gardeners generally intend to cultivate beauty through our efforts.  That isn’t to say our gardens are always beautiful, though.   Beauty happens, but there is a lot of cleaning up of the ‘not so beautiful’ too.

And that is the space which interests me: when there might be disagreement as to whether or not something is beautiful.

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Do you find this Eucomis beautiful?  Would you grow it?

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“Everything has beauty,
but not everyone sees it.”
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Confucius
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Most of us find flowers beautiful.

But what about the perfect insects which drink their nectar?  What about the beetles eating their petals?  Can you see their beauty, too?

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Perhaps my perception of beauty is a little skewed, but I find the insects, in their geometric grace and perfection, beautiful.

There is beauty in every leaf, every petal, every stem.  The longer you gaze, the more beauty one absorbs.

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I was so pleased, when I walked through the garden this afternoon, to find these beautiful wasps enjoying our Allium blossoms.  There must have been 20 or more of them, each enjoying the sweet nectar at their feet.  They were peacefully sharing the bounty with bees and other pollinators.

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There are people in my life who would have squealed and backed away at the sight of these busy insects.  But I was too fascinated to fear them, and instead took great joy in making their portraits.  They are interesting visitors, and we rarely see such large, colorful wasps.

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Our garden’s bounty this week includes golden parsley flowers and creamy white carrot flowers, in addition to the Alliums.  There are Echinaceas now, lavender, Coreopsis, Salvias, crepe myrtle, Basil, and more.  All these tiny nectar filled flowers attract plenty of attention from hungry pollinators!

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It’s a feast for our eyes, too.  Sometimes, it is hard to imagine the abundance of our June garden until it returns.

We’re celebrating the solstice this week, and we are surrounded by such beauty here, that it is a true and heartfelt celebration

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I’ve always valued beauty.  To me, beauty can cause happiness, just as food expresses love.  There is beauty in truth, though you can argue that beauty may often be based in illusion.

We could discuss this all evening, couldn’t we? 

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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Rather than ‘over-think’ it, which may be the antithesis of beauty, let’s just enjoy it.

Let’s simply celebrate this Fabulous Friday, this Beautiful high summer day; and like the bees, drink in as much sweet nectar as our eyes and hearts will hold.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter,’ a new introduction this year. Do you find it beautiful?

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Woodland Gnome 2017

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure
as long as life lasts.”
.
Rachel Carson
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Clematis ‘Violet Elizabeth’

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious, Let’s infect one another!

Wednesday Vignette: Peace

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Peace begins with a smile..”
.

Mother Teresa

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness:

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate:

only love can do that.”

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Martin Luther King Jr.

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“The day the power of love overrules the love of power,

the world will know peace.”

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Mahatma Gandhi

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.

If you are attentive, you will see it. ”

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Thich Nhat Hanh,

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path,

I walk in peace.

With each step, the wind blows.

With each step, a flower blooms.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday Dinner: Small Worlds

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“The world is awash with colours unseen

and abuzz with unheard frequencies.

Undetected and disregarded.

The wise have always known that these inaccessible realms,

these dimensions that cannot be breached

by our beautifully blunt senses,

hold the very codes to our existence,

the invisible, electromagnetic foundations

upon which our gross reality clumsily rests.”

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Russell Brand

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“Infinity is before and after an infinite plane.”

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RJ Clawso

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“It is frightfully difficult

to know much about the fairies,

and almost the only thing for certain

is that there are fairies

wherever there are children.”

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J.M. Barrie

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“It didn’t seem possible to gain so much happiness

from so little.”

.

Peter Lerangis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do the little things.

In the future when you look back,

they’d have made the greatest change.”

.

Nike Thaddeus

 

Bog Garden: Early Summer

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Maybe you don’t have a pond or spring in your yard, and would still like to grow a few special plants who like their roots wet.  We’re not talking a full-fledged water garden here, filled with Lotus and water lilies.  That requires an excavation or above ground water-tight construction. which will hold a foot or two of water; maybe with a stream or a waterfall with a pump and filter worked in.

A ‘bog’ garden tolerates variable amounts of water, from several inches to slightly moist.  These plants enjoy moist soil, but don’t want to remain submerged all the time.  Our bog garden has evolved in a mysterious old rock and cement construction in our back garden.  Maybe, at one time, it was water tight.  But it’s not water tight anymore.  Its uneven bottom of cemented gravel and large rocks allows for water to collect in several little pools before slowly draining away.

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I cleaned out the old leaves and accumulated silt a few years ago, and began massing pots of moisture loving plants in this mostly sunny spot to create a potted bog garden.  That is also when I began adding to our collection of a Southeastern North American native carnivorous plant, the Sarracenia, or Pitcher Plant.

Sarracenia produce tubular, brightly colored leaves all summer long, starting about now.   Each leaf holds a pool of digestive solution, just waiting for a curious insect to fall into the brightly colored hollow opening.  Their ‘Dr. Seuss’ flowers emerge early, in bright reds and yellows, looking like the sort of flower a child might draw.   These are very unusual looking plants which naturally grow in the sort of wet, insect filled swamp most of us tend to avoid.

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Our first pitcher plant, in late May of 2014

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But they prove easy to grow in a pot, so long as you use their preferred potting mix and keep them moist.  Sarracenia want moist soil, but not water-logged soil.  Their roots need some oxygen and don’t like the sour/stagnant soil often found in water gardens.  Dr. Larry Mellichamp, in his book, Native Plants of the Southeast, recommends a 50:50 mix of pure peat moss and clean quartz sand for pitcher plants.

I began collecting pitcher plants four years ago.  My first one spent the summer with its pot set in a ceramic bowl, about 2″ deep, which I filled with the hose when I watered that part of the garden.  It was gorgeous all summer long, and a conversation piece for every visitor.  That first pitcher plant inspired me to set up a bog garden, the following summer, with space for a community of more pitcher plants mixed with other plants that like wet soil.

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Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638. It was difficult for English gardeners to keep them alive until they learned to grow them in pots of moss standing in water. These are displayed at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

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Pitcher plants, like other perennials, grow in clumps and may be divided every few years.  The plants we’ve collected were still growing in modest sized pots.  But I wanted to change the look of our bog garden this year, and so tracked down a huge, shallow pot to hold divisions from several of our Sarracenia cultivars.

Following Dr. Mellichamp’s instructions for potting mix has brought us success.  The one plant I purchased, and didn’t re-pot myself, didn’t make it through the winter of 2015.  It was in a compost based potting mix and failed to thrive.  But the grower made it good, and I’ve relied on the peat/sand mixture for my own re-potting.

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Mix and re-hydrate the peat at least a day before you plan to use it.  It is important to have very moist soil when you re-pot pitcher plants.  I knocked three of our Sarracenias out of their pots, pulled out or trimmed back the old, brown leaves, and then gently pulled the clumps apart.  I potted some of the smaller clumps into this new, large pot; and re-potted the largest of each division back into its original pot. Pack the peat mixture into the pot fairly tightly, and then water it in to settle the soil and rinse off the pot.

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You never fertilize Sarracenia.  That is one reason it doesn’t work to use compost or a standard potting mix which would work perfectly well with most potted plants.  Sarracenia take their nutrition from the insects that fall into their leaves.  And they thrive in acidic conditions, which the peat provides.

In addition to pitcher plants, I’ve grown Colocasia, Canna, Asclepias, Hibiscus, Coleus and Zantedeschia  in this bog garden.  All of these have at least a few cultivars that enjoy full sun and wet soil.  This year, I’ve added Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ to the Colocasia ‘Mojito’ we’ve had in years passed.  Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grows around the outside.  This year I’ve potted up a few divisions from our yellow flag Iris to add to the mix.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ saved from last summer’s garden, spent the winter in our basement. We’re happy to have it growing again. This Colocasia loves damp soil and could even grow submerged in a pond.

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A bog garden like this one, where there is usually at least some water, provides important resources for wildlife.  Birds, frogs, turtles and many insects come here to eat, drink and find shelter.  Once the plants grow in, there is cool, moist shade on even the hottest summer days.

Rain provides sufficient wetness for the bog garden during much of the year here in coastal Virginia.  But during dry spells, I try to visit this garden several times a week with the hose, filling it and watering the various pots.  Creeping Jenny, originally planted around the border as a ground cover, has colonized the interior of the garden, too.  I was a little surprised to learn that it, too, tolerates growing in shallow water.

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Tadpoles and other tiny creatures can often be found in the bog garden.  This photo is from its first summer, 2015.

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If you don’t already have a wet spot in your own garden, you might consider building something similar to this with stone and concrete.  If that is too much trouble, you might follow Dr. Mellichamp’s advice and begin with a child’s wading pool.  You can put a small drainage hole or two, if it doesn’t have a crack or hole already, and either excavate and sink the liner in the ground, or build up some landscaping blocks around it to make it more attractive.

Line the bottom with some gravel and sand, and then fill your new bog garden with the peat/sand mix, or just set ceramic pots into it as I’ve done.  Dr. Mellichamp shows a beautiful bog garden he built, in his chapter on bog plants.  His is filled with peat and sand, with the plants growing as they would in a natural bog.  The peat is overgrown with moss and the effect is stunning.

If you don’t have Sarracenia at a garden center near you, you can order a wide variety of pitcher plants, and other water loving plants, from Plant Delights nursery in North Carolina.  Sarracenia Northwest, a grower based in Oregon, offers a wide selection of pitcher plants, and other interesting carnivorous plants.  Their service is excellent.  The plants I ordered arrived in excellent condition.

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Pitcher plants are easy to forget during winter.  Most are hardy in zones 5-9.   They stay outdoors, dormant, and need no special care.  It is only when those psychedelic flowers suddenly appear in late spring, and the first new leaves emerge that you take notice.

That is when I’m moved to clean them up, and begin assembling a beautiful collection of plants for our summer enjoyment in this quiet spot in our back garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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