WPC: Broken

April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 318

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This broken concrete birdbath at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy in Lincoln City, Oregon, was re-purposed as a planter for succulents.

Many succulents are shallow rooted and can grow in very thin soil, conserving water in their leaves and stem during dry periods.

More from the Connie Hansen Garden

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April 30, 2015 Oregon in  April 317

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For The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

For this challenge, capture something broken: an old window,

a vintage sign, a toy never fixed, a contemplative friend.

Or go deeper: find beauty in something broken.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Unusual Leaves: More Texture

'Silver Lyre' Afghan Fig

‘Silver Lyre’ Afghan Fig

Unusual leaves bring a wonderful texture, as well as interesting colors, to the garden.

Coleus

Coleus

 

The variety available to an adventurous gardener feels infinite… and probably is infinite when one considers how many interesting new cultivars of plants like Coleus,   Heuchera, Begonia, Hosta, fern, and Caladium come on the market each year.

 

Heuchera

Heuchera

In addition to these perennials, there are a few new introductions of trees and shrubs with interesting variegation or unusual leaf color each season.

‘Black Lace’  Eldeberry, Sambucus nigra; ‘Ruby Falls’ Redbud, Cerceis canadensis; and ‘Maculata’ Lacecap Hydrangea come to mind immediately.

‘Black Lace’ Elderberry is on my “wish list” at the moment.

 

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

 

Some of these perennials, trees, and shrubs also offer beautiful flowers.

But the flowers are just a little something “extra,” compared to their beautiful leaves.

And while the flowers may add interest in their season, the fabulous foliage brings beauty to the garden month after month.

 

Buddleia, "Harlequin" sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

Buddleia davidii, “Harlequin” sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

 

Do you experiment with unusual  foliage in your garden?

So many residential gardens rely on a few standard, well known plants commonly available in “big box” shops.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar to Plant Delight's "Pewterware" Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar in appearance  to Plant Delight’s “Pewterware” Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

 

These commonly used plants are easy to find, and we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them.

They bring their own beauty, but overuse can also dull our appreciation of them.  Like white paint on a wall, we hardly ever notice them after a while.

 

A Begonia Rex, with fern.

A Begonia Rex, with fern and other Begonias.

 

Searching out a variety of plants with interesting foliage adds novelty and a touch of the unexpected to our garden.

 

Scented Pelargonium

Scented Pelargonium graveolens

 

Most any gardening “need” can be filled, whether we are creating a drought tolerant garden nourished only by a few inches of rain each  year, or a Forest Garden, unappetizing to deer and rabbits!

 

Collection of succulents.

Collection of succulents.

Small local nurseries, web nurseries, and specialty nurseries offer the most interesting varieties.

( I’m writing this within just a day or so of receiving Plant Delights Nursery’s fall 2014 catalog!  Yes, I’ve been closely studying it!)

 

 

It is the thrill of the hunt, and the fun of curating a collection, which fuels my search for unusual foliage plants.

 

This interesting Sedum, which I've not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.

This beautiful Sedum, which I’ve not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.  It will grow much like an Autumn Sedum, but with more interesting leaf color.

Plants with unusual leaves often grow best in  shady gardens.

Heuchera, ferns, Hosta, and Hydrangeas generally perform best in partial shade.

 

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Newer cultivars can often withstand more direct sun than older varieties; but shade, especially during the heat of the day, is lit up by the outrageous foliage of these  flamboyant plants.

 

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Layering them creates interesting and complex compositions; dynamic living sculpture in the garden.

 

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But wonderful foliage plants grow in full sun, also.

 

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, in a sunny garden

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, grow in a sunny garden area with Lavender, Comfrey, variegated iris, Eucalyptus, Artemisia, and other herbs.  Planted this season, the area is still filling in.

 

All of the amazing varieties of succulents enjoy sun to partial shade.

 

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Variegated  Cannas, Hibiscus cultivars like ‘Kopper King” and nearly all of the herbs thrive in sunny beds.

 

Sage Officinallis, "Tricolor"

Sage Officinalis, “Tricolor”

 

Whether you search out the most interesting varieties of a particular group of plants, like Hostas or Ferns; or amass a collection of silver foliage plans, variegated plants, or purple leaved plants; you may discover that the more you work with foliage in your own garden, the more satisfied you feel with your efforts.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.

Author Unknown

 

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

 

As for any artist, an expanded palette of plant possibilities inspires new ideas and presents novel solutions to site based problems.

 

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

 

It helps me to remember that,  “Gardening is the slowest art form.”

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Wonderful effects can be created in the garden using just foliage; and they just keep getting better and more fully developed over time.

 

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.

Georgia O’Keeffe

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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One Word Photo Challenge: Chartreuse

Gloriosa Lilies

Gloriosa Lilies

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Whether golden tinged green,

Or green faded towards yellow;

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Chartreuse glows like chlorophyll infused sunlight.

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Dill in bloom

Dill in bloom

 

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Named for a French mountain monastery where monks make herbal infused liqueur;

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Perennial Begonia, planted last autumn as cuttings, fills this bowl.

Perennial Begonia, planted last autumn as cuttings, fills this bowl with Creeping Jenny.

 

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even this botanical liqueur comes in a greener variety (more potent)

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Autumn "Brilliance" Fern

Autumn “Brilliance” Fern

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and a milder, sweeter yellow golden variety.

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Coleus

Coleus

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“Chartreuse” is the given name of a family of colors, more than any one particular shade.

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Coleus

Coleus

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Sometimes fashionable, sometimes not;

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An acquired taste, perhaps,

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Rose scented Pelargonium with Colocasia

Rose scented Pelargonium with Colocasia

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Which can light up the garden, on even grey and cloudy days,

 

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Chartreuse.

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Geranium

Geranium

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

And her One Word Photo Challenge:   Chartreuse

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

 

Hypertufa In The Stump Garden

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The stump in the stump garden has been bugging me.

When the tree guys cut this  broken oak tree last summer, leaving me a stump as instructed, they didn’t make an even cut.

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It seemed trivial at the time, given the enormous task of cleaning up the mess three downed oak trees left in our front garden, and restoring what we could of what little was left behind.  I planted up a large glazed ceramic pot and we balanced it on the uneven stump last summer, just to try to make things look a little better.  I knew we needed to do better this summer.

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The stump garden in October of 2013

We’ve worked on this area ever since, building up the Hugelkultur  bed around the stump, planting  the bed, pruning away dead wood from the shrubs, repairing the deer fences and spreading mulch.

The entire area looks worlds better, but there was still the issue of the uneven stump.

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I decided back in the winter to make a new, much larger pot for this stump from Hypertufa; and I ordered a Brugmansia, “Cherub,” which will grow very tall, to grow in the large pot.  I expect a 5′-7′ tall shrub covered in huge, pendulous fragrant flowers growing from the new pot on the stump by late August.

The large hypertufa pot I've made for our stump garden.

The large hypertufa pot I’ve made for our stump garden.

But there was still the small matter of the uneven cut on top of the stump.  And the even uglier matter of the missing bark.  Left as it was, I knew rot would set in, and soon this pedestal would begin disintegrating.

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I decided to transform the stump into a work of art; a fitting pedestal for the beautiful hypertufa pot and blossom covered Brugmansia.

Using a fairly wet hypertufa blend, I first covered the entire top of the stump, leveling it out as much as possible.  The top is decorated with bits of glass.  I expect the glass to help hold and stabilize the pot, holding it up a little to allow for drainage.

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After the top had a chance to set up, I came back with a second batch of hypertufa to address the torn and peeling bark.  I was careful to seal the top edge of the bark all the way around the stump under a coating of the concrete hypertufa mixture.

The top was already dry to the touch when I finished the patch on the side.  We’ve had a bright and windy day, which has helped the concrete to set up quickly.

I’ll give the stump a good 36 to 48 hours to dry before placing the pot on its new pedestal, where it can remain indefinitely.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, and Sedum.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, Creeping Jenny, and two varieties of Sedum.

The tiny Brugmansia start  grows now from the center of the pot.  It is flanked with Dusty Miller on the ends, and sun tolerant Coleus on the sides.

All of these plants, except the Sedums and Creeping Jenny, will grow at least 18″ tall, helping to hide the “knees” of the Brugmansia as it grows.

These plants will do well in full sun to partial shade.  These plants are a mix of annuals and perennials.  The Brugmansia  is rated to Zone 8, so I’ll most likely cut the plants back in late autumn, and bring the pot inside for winter.

two large drainage holes are important so the plants' roots don't get too wet when it rains.

Two large drainage holes are important so the plants’ roots don’t get too wet when it rains.  Wine corks held the drainage holes open as the pot dried.

Creeping Jenny  and cuttings of two different Sedums will fill in around the base of the Brugmansia to cover the soil, helping to hold in moisture.  The Creeping Jenny will trail down the sides of the pot, tying it visually to the stump and garden below.

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A piece of netting covers the drainage holes, and a layer of pea gravel holds the netting in place.

Brugmansia is a heavy feeder and needs daily water.  I mixed a good handful of Plant Tone fertilizer into the soil before planting.  I’ll top the soil with some Osmocote, and a pea gravel mulch once the pot is lifted into place on its stump pedestal on Tuesday.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

It will be interesting to see how the hypertufa and the wood come together over time, as the concrete cures.  I expect this will prolong the useful life of the stump indefinitely, keeping moisture and bacteria out of the wood.

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I expect this to be a beautiful focal point, visible from both the street and the house.

All of my plantings in this front area this season are chosen with their size in mind.  I’ve chosen large plants, with the expectation that they will create a lovely display, and re-create some of the  the privacy we lost when our trees fell last summer.

Even though these plants are tiny now, they will grow quickly to fill the pot.  This should be a beautiful summer display of interesting foliage, with flowers developing by late summer.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Hypertufa Pot Ready For Action

Hyper-What?

Nature’s Wisdom and Tuesday Snapshots

A secluded marsh on Jamestown Island.  Do you see the orbs?

A secluded marsh on Jamestown Island. Do you see the orbs?

We took a ride on the Colonial Parkway again yesterday since it was such a gorgeous day.  A federal holiday in the United States, we had spring like weather, clear skies,  and a brief respite from winter.

Sunny and 63 degrees, it felt like spring, though we are still deep in January.

Sunny and 63 degrees, it felt like spring, though we are still deep in January.

With schools, banks, post offices, and government offices closed,  many could travel to enjoy the three day weekend.  The Colonial Parkway had a busy, vacation time feel, with more visitors than we’ve seen in a very long time.  The best fishing spots were occupied with happy anglers.

We were out, again, looking for birds to photograph.  We had seen so many on Sunday, we were sure that we’d find many more in the far warmer weather on Monday.  But that was not the case.  Where have the birds gone?

The eagles' favorite trees were empty, as were their nests.

The eagles’ favorite trees were empty, as were their nests.

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This heron wading on Sunday was no where to be seen by Monday.

All the favorite eagle perching trees were empty, and we didn’t see them in the sky.  The nests looked abandoned.  No Great Blue Herons waded in the shallows, and no Black Vultures gathered around the deer carcass still lying beside the road.  We did spot two perched companionably together in the top of a nearby tree, but the great gathering had dissipated.

Only a few brave Canada geese grazed near the river on Monday afternoon.

Only a few brave Canada geese grazed near the river on Monday afternoon.

All we found was a small flock or red winged black birds, a handful of geese, and a few white gulls.  Everyone else had disappeared on this clear, bright, warm  winter day.  We think they sense the storm coming out of the north, and have moved further inland.  At the least, they have already taken shelter from the wind and snow already on its way.

The Colonial Parkway on a spring like January day saw heavy traffic from visitors.

The Colonial Parkway on a spring like January day saw heavy traffic from visitors.

This morning dawned clear and mild, but the weather front has crept ever closer as the day has worn on.  Our 60 degree temperatures yesterday afternoon will soon transform into frigid teens later tonight.   The forecasters still don’t agree on how much snow will accumulate here in Williamsburg, but snow is on the way.

Monday was a beautiful day for walking on the beach of the James River.

Monday was a beautiful day for walking on the beach of the James River.

And the birds must feel the coming change.  As the gulls had already flown in from the coast this weekend to our Jamestown marshes, so I’m sure they have moved on elsewhere by now:  Nature’s wordless wisdom in action.

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Sunset Monday afternoon as families loaded dogs and fishing equipment into their cars to head home.

One could not ask for a finer January weekend than we have just enjoyed.  Since we’ve had the opportunity to get outside and be a part of it,  I will share a few photos, which didn’t make it into other posts, in today’s Tuesday Snapshots.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Berries, Branches, and Flowers?

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When you click on this photo to enlarge it, you may be able to spot the yellow Forsythia flowers, blooming out of season in November.

Late yesterday afternoon, I wandered around the garden looking for branches to cut for this arrangement on our refreshment table ready for tomorrow’s gathering.  I wanted a mixture of branches with evergreen leaves, some interesting fall color, and bare branches.

After cutting some Southern Wax Myrtle, whose berries have all been eaten by the birds, sadly; and some  Ligustrum, still heavy with deep purple berries; I  wandered over to a stand of Forsythia to cut a few branches of beautiful gold and burgundy leaves.  And there, believe it or not, were tiny yellow flowers.  Now, I’ve seen Forsythia bloom in late January after an especially mild winter, but I’ve never seen it bloom in November.  Look closely at the arrangement, between the two cardinals and just above the purple berries. There… you’ll see the yellow Forsythia flowers.

Our refreshment table is set and ready for tomorrow's gathering.

Our refreshment table is set and ready for tomorrow’s gathering.

The branches with large yellow leaves are hazelnut. If you look closely you’ll see tiny male catkins hanging from the branches.  The catkins produce pollen, and are usually seen in early spring.  If you think you see gold branches in this arrangement, your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

The largest pieces are re-used from last Christmas’s mantlepiece, and are sprayed gold.  Normally they are covered in little blown glass birds.  There are three birds in this arrangement.  Can you spot them?  The two red cardinals are carved wood.  There’s also a little grey and white bird in the very center.  The blown glass birds are a bit much until after Thanksgiving, when we’ll gear up for the holidays…

For all of you fellow gardeners, who watch the seasonal movement of the wild things as I do, I thought you might be interested in Forsythia and Hazel blooming in November.  It ended up as a very rewarding walk around the garden yesterday.  Even after our first frosts, I was still able to find interesting and beautiful material for a bouquet.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”      

Stanley Horowitz

Succulent Arrangements on Pumpkins

November 14 pumpkins 016We  are still in the season for all things pumpkin, and I was inspired by Claire Jones to try a pumpkin succulent arrangement after seeing her post on her Garden Diaries blog in October.

We are looking forward to a neighborhood gathering next week, and I wanted to try to construct succulent arrangements on pumpkins for our refreshment table at that event.  Pumpkins just disappeared from most shops after Halloween.  I felt very lucky to find exactly the shape pumpkins I was looking for at the Homestead Garden Center last week, and even luckier when Jonathan made a gift of them as they clear out fall stock to make room for Christmas.November 14 pumpkins 001

I found a bag of good, thick moss at Michael’s craft store for around $8.00 today.  It is beautiful moss, but not quite enough to sufficiently cover two pumpkins.  Luckily I had a frosted moss fern, Selaginella pallescens, which needed a trim going into garage storage for winter.  I expect that its aerial roots will allow it to root into the moss, and its similiar texture filled in the gaps.

Claire suggested cutting the stem off of the pumpkin to begin.  She used a moss which looks a little thinner than what I found, and covered the entire stem area with a sheet of moss.  The depression in the top of the pumpkin allows moisture to collect to hydrate the plants.  I really liked the stems on my pumpkins, and decided to leave them in place.  This made it a little easier to attach the plants.  I was able to drape rooted stems of “Angelina” stonecrop around the stem, and glue the stems of some of the rosettes to the pumpkin stem instead of to the moss.November 14 pumpkins 002

If you want to try this arrangement, first gather your plant materials.   I used nearly every piece of plant material I cut today, and could have used more.  Cut heavily so your finished pumpkin will look lush.  This is a good project for this time of year because it is good to trim back the succulents as the come inside for winter.  Cut the stems longer than you might otherwise, so you have plenty of surface area to glue.  Purchasing plants just for this project, at least in Virginia, would be very pricy.  Taking cuttings from established plants keeps this project affordable.November 14 pumpkins 005

I dropped one of my largest succulent pots while bringing it into the garage this week, so I am very motivated to take cuttings from those plants ahead of having to repot all of the plants into new pots next week.  Claire indicates that the succulent cuttings should root into the wet moss.  Succulents are often very slow to root, but are also good at growing aerial roots and taking moisture directly from the air in some cases.  They hold their hydration well and can go “unplanted” for several weeks.  I’ll want to take this arrangement apart after Thanksgiving and cook the pumpkins.  The cuttings will be fine until then, and can be set into small pots of soil for the remainder of the winter to finish rooting.November 14 pumpkins 009

In addition to the stonecrop, and moss fern, I also cut heavily from a Kalanchoe which is still outside.  I don’t think it will survive the winter, but has rooted into the ground near our back porch.  It is a fairly old plant now and needs to be repotted.  I just haven’t gotten to it, and so cut it back hard for this arrangement.

After wiping the pumpkins with a damp cloth to remove dust, I securely hot glued hunks of the sheet moss into place around the pumpkin stem.  The sheet moss forms the base for the rest of the arrangement and needs to be securely attached.November 14 pumpkins 007

Then, I began working in layers to attach the moss fern and stonecrop, then the Kalanchoe, and finally the Sedum, Echeverea, and other cuttings.  Some of my pieces had a little potting soil and root, which I left on, and covered the soil with other plants.  I made an effort to put hot glue on the sides of stems, but never on the broken end, where moisture is absorbed and roots should begin to grow.

This is a very peaceful process.  There are no instructions to give, other than to allow the plants to show you how they best fit together.  Work with your cuttings until you are pleased with the arrangement and it looks complete.November 14 pumpkins 010

Claire used branches of Nandina, berry clusters, okra pods, and other dried materials in her arrangement.  I cut some Nandina branches and berries, but decided to save those for another project.  I liked the effect of the moss, fern, and succulents just as they are.

After giving the glue a few minutes to dry and harden, I took each pumpkin to the kitchen sink and sprayed lightly with the hose sprayer to re-hydrate the moss.  I didn’t do this before constructing the arrangement because I thought the glue would adhere better to the dry moss.  When the moss hydrates, it plumps up and looks alive.  Regular spritzing will keep the moss and fern fresh.  Overdoing it might induce rot in the succulents, so as in all things, we’ll find a happy medium.

November 14 pumpkins 012The finished pumpkins are out on the deck, where they’ll stay as long as temperatures remain in the 40s or above, until needed for our gathering on Tuesday.  One of them will become a Thanksgiving gift for my parents, and the other will take a place of honor on our dining room table Thanksgiving week.

I still have several small white pumpkins that I want to trim with moss and succulents ahead of Tuesday.   These large pumpkins needed most all the cuttings taken today, so the small ones will have to wait until tomorrow.

Thank you, Claire, for sharing your beautiful decorated pumpkins, and for inspiring me to try something  new.  This is such a beautiful way to use pumpkins, and another way to “shop our gardens” for components for gorgeous floral arrangements.

Tuesday Snapshots

November 5 garden at dusk 003

Our high temperature today came early, before 11 AM.  The TV weather folks have been warning us about this cold snap for several days now, almost giddy at the possibility of covering snow in early November.  We’ve seen lots of maps and charts, but the forecast seems to change day to day and hour to hour.  We’ve seen the snow accumulations to our west and north, but I don’t think anyone in Williamsburg has any expectation of seeing more than a brief flurry, which we had this afternoon.

The Pineapple Sage will probably freeze before morning.

The Pineapple Sage will probably freeze before morning.

The sky filled with flying leaves as the wind howled all morning.  What a beautiful sight against the increasingly brooding sky.  The temperature started to plummet around noon, and we all know that the garden will look like a very different place tomorrow.  I went out for a last visit with the vividly scarlet pineapple sage , gathered the last of the hot peppers, admired the basil one more time, and noticed a still emerging bud on a zinnia.  The garden has hung on as long as possible.  I think it would be quite happy to keep on growing and blooming for another month or so.

But we expect lows in the 20’s tonight.

Begonia Rex came out of its summer pot yesterday, leaving the Camellia to brave winter with some Violas as new companions.

Begonia Rex came out of its summer pot yesterday, leaving the Camellia to brave winter with some Violas as new companions.

We  spent all of yesterday bringing in the last of the pots to save; digging the final Rex Begonias and settling them into new pots; and  dealing with the leaves accumulating around porches and flower beds.

It was a long day, but we wanted to finish up while it was dry and sunny.  Besides, it was a gorgeous day to be outside.

The roses, iris, and lantana are blooming as though it were still September.  New buds continue to open on the ginger lilies and camellias.  It is almost surreal to see the riot of blossoms against the now nearly bare limbs of trees.

Now the Begonias will have to adjust to life inside, with drier air and less light.  They will all drop some leaves, but those will be replaced with new ones over the next few weeks.  Pinching back, and pruning over long branches will make the plants grow more thickly.

Now the Begonias will have to adjust to life inside, with drier air and less light. They will all drop some leaves, but those will be replaced with new ones over the next few weeks. Pinching back, and pruning over long branches will make the plants grow more thickly.

So the  house is officially full up.  There is even a potted Begonia on my work table in the office.  I’m clueless where I’d set even a holiday Poinsettia.  The last few ivy geraniums are going to a good home tomorrow in my friend’s guest room.

So let the frozen wind blow.  The fireplace is lit and the house smells of roasted sweet potatoes.  Autumn is upon us,  winter knocks at the windows, and we’re settled in for the season.

Here then are Tuesday’s snapshots, photos from the last week in our forest garden.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Recycling A Broken Mug

November 7 2013 follow up 003

A moment of clumsiness this morning with the tea kettle, and one of my favorite mugs lay broken in the sink.  November 7 2013 001We purchased two matching mugs from the potter in Manteo, NC, quite a few years ago.  This deep burgundy glaze is a bit unusual and hard to find, and we always enjoyed using these lovely mugs.  Too beautiful to throw away, I salvaged all but one of the pieces of the broken mug and took them back to my work table.

If it is no longer good for drinking, at least it will serve as a lovely planter.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

Succulents are very forgiving plants, easy to grow, undemanding, and will survive in this little mug.  I took cuttings of a rangy blue chalk sticks plant, Kleinia mandraliscae,  and of some Echeveria growing in pots on the front porch.  I had a few sprigs of jade plant, Crassula ovata, already lying around, waiting for a new home.  Succulents appreciate bright, indirect light, but don’t need or want very much water.  They root easily from bits and pieces, and grow fairly slowly.  This makes them excellent candidates for tiny arrangements in unusual containers.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

After gluing the mug back together and allowing it to dry, I laid a foundation of several small stones in the bottom of the cup and covered them with a mixture of sand and gravel.  Since the mug has no drainage holes, the rocks and sand will provide a small reservoir, below the roots, where water can drain.  It will also allow the soil to soak in water as needed between waterings.

Next came potting soil. I could have mixed in a bit of sand, but I have better luck with using the same potting mix I use for pots and baskets.  I filled the mug to within 1/4 or so of the rim, and topped off the soil with more clean sand and gravel.  This will prevent the succulent leaves from resting directly on damp soil.

Once the mug was prepared, I simply stuck the stems of my cuttings into the soil in a pleasing arrangement, gave a light spritz of water from the sink sprayer to settle everything in, and set the mug where it will get bright light.

The cuttings will take a few weeks to root, but will grow happily in the mug all winter.  When they appear to be outgrowing the mug, in a year or so, they can be potted up to another container and more cuttings can take their place in the mug.  It has a new purpose in life, and will continue to be a treasured part of ours.

November 7 2013 follow up 004

Photos by Woodland Gnome

Thoughts on recycling:

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly.November 7 2013 017

Clement of Alexandria

Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.

R. Buckminster Fuller

The paradox of life lies exactly in this: its resources are finite, but it itself is endless. Such a contradictory state of affairs is feasible only because the resources accessible to life can be used over and over again.” November 7 2013 018

I.I. Gitelson, Manmade Closed Ecological Systems

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