Sunday Dinner: Brightness!

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“I can assure you
that the life outside the front door
is bright and full of life”
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Sunday Adelaja
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“The joy you feel
when you become a small life particle sun
and share its brightness and warmth
with those around you
is indescribably great.”
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Ilchi Lee
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“The true optimist
not only expects the best to happen,
but goes to work to make the best happen.
The true optimist not only looks upon the bright side,
but trains every force that is in him
to produce more and more brightness in his life….”
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Christian D. Larson
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“May your eye go to the Sun,
to the Wind your soul…
You are all the colours in one,
at full brightness.”
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Jennifer Niven
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“Let your love be the light of your life.
Now enlighten the whole world
with the brightness of that light.”
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Debasish Mridha
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“A day’s brightness is determined
by the light in our hearts.”
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A.D. Posey
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“One passionate heart can brighten the world.
From person to person
the chain reaction burns through us —
setting heart to heart ablaze,
and lighting the way for us all!”
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Bryant McGill
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Native Beauty

Virginia thistle growing with goldenrod and beautyberry on Jamestown Island, Virginia.

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We headed out onto the Colonial Parkway yesterday afternoon, to see what we could see.   We were watching for signs of the changing season, and of course watching the sky for signs of the approaching storm.  Hurricane Jose was swirling out in the Atlantic, well away to our southeast.   Even so, the outer bands of this enormous storm were already creeping across our sky.

Once we reached  the ‘roads less traveled’ on Jamestown Island, we were delighted to see bright purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma , bright golden Solidago, yellowing marsh grasses and occasional reddening leaves.

The outer tips of branches on our native dogwoods, and some maples, have begun to change into their autumn finery.

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Yellowed Poplar leaves have been falling for weeks now.  A few inky purple berries still cling to magenta stems on the many native Aralia spinosa trees lining the road.  Their leaves will soon turn golden, too.

We stopped in a few of the pull-offs on the island to read the signs yet again, and for me to hop out to take a few photos.   As we approached one pull-off in particular, along the longer Island Drive, I was intrigued by the bright wildflowers and purple berries right beside the road.

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A pull off on the longer Island Drive on Jamestown Island.

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In addition to the vivid beautyberries  which lined the whole of the road in abundance, and the stands of goldenrod, there was something uniquely different.  This had flowers like a thistle, but on a radically different tall and lanky plant that I’d never noticed before.  What was it?

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The wild thistles we’d seen on Ocracoke Island, many miles to the south, were much stockier and shorter plants with larger blossoms.  I quickly ruled out perennial Cardoon, and every other ‘thistle-like’ plant I’ve known.

We have a passing acquaintance with most all of the native trees, ferns and perennials in the area.  And this one was new to us.

Perhaps we’d never visited the island at precisely this point in the seasonal progression before…  And so I took lots of photos, and determined to investigate the plant later, at home.

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As it turns out, the plant we found is a native of the Southeastern United States, called Cirsium virginianum, or Virginia thistle.   A biennial, it prefers moister, sandier soils along the coast.  It has a dangerously thorny stem, long thin leaves, and had grown a bit taller than I stand.  In some areas along the Gulf coast, it is considered a ‘noxious weed.’  But in Virginia, it is still relatively rare, at least in my experience.

I enjoyed the natural combination of its lavender blossoms growing against a back drop of purple beautyberry, with a skirt of bright goldenrod.    For this forested, marshy island especially, this was a rare colorful sight along the road.

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The beautyberry is rampant now in our garden, too.  In fact, so many volunteers have appeared that we often must cut them back throughout the season.  This is one of the plants I cut back hard in early spring to somewhat control its size.

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One of the larger beautyberry shrubs in our garden, which we cut hard every spring, reaches up for the lower limbs of the dogwood tree which shelters it.

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Solidago has self-seeded in sunny parts of our garden, too.   And we have a single berry-topped Aralia proudly presiding over it all.  A neighbor tipped me off to how badly the Aralia can sucker, and so I ruthlessly cut out the many small clones trying to grow up around the main stem this spring.  I suppose that will be an ongoing part of our garden routine from now on.

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Our Aralia, in its first season of bloom, surrounded by native Phytolacca americana, or pokeweed, another rampant native plant.  The birds love these berry laden natives.

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There are definite advantages and disadvantages to inviting native plants into one’s garden.  It is something to consider, especially for aging gardeners who want neat, easy maintenance landscapes around their home.

Native plants self-seed easily, and often grow and spread with enthusiasm.  It can take great effort to control them, especially if they establish on good garden soil, in areas tended and irrigated to keep them productive.  We are nearly overrun with the stunningly beautiful Rudbeckia hirta and Rudbeckia laciniata.  They both quickly claim far more real-estate than a gardener plans to give them.

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Three natives growing together in our front garden: black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum; and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  A Master Gardener friend gave us a large clump of obedient plant this spring. I divided it into several smaller clumps, and planted them in different areas to see where they perform best.  I am thrilled that this beautiful plant survived our summer drought and is blooming this first year.

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The R. laciniata wasn’t even invited; a gardening friend gave me a clump of white Monarda passed on from her friend, and some R. laciniata roots just happened to be in the clump.  But these gargantuan, flower covered plants are now filling my former ‘butterfly garden.’  I must tend to their removal this fall, when the weather cools, and weed them out ruthlessly next spring.

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Rudbeckia laciniata now fills what once was our butterfly garden, filled with various flowering shrubs and perennials.  I intend to weed most of this out over the next month, sharing it with a friend who wants it!

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The Rudbeckia hirta I shared lavishly with all gardening friends who would accept a few this spring.  I dug up clump after clump, and still have the largest, lushest stand of it, ever.  There are worse things than a sea of golden flowers come August and September, I suppose.

The rich drifts of perennials one admires in public gardens are attainable with natives, without stretching the budget, I’ve learned.

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This is the season for native plant sales, sponsored by local native plant societies.  This is a good service for communities and enables more of us to grow natives, if we choose.  While I support the effort in theory, I must admit that in general I prefer more curated, controllable cultivars.

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Self-sown Solidago in our garden, a week and a half ago, nearly ready to bloom. It has just begun to show color, and will be fully in bloom by next weekend.  This huge perennial attracts many pollinators and provides late season nectar for our bees.  But, large natives often shade and crowd out the more desirable cultivars of perennials one has purchased for the garden….

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Yes, I acknowledge the many and varied benefits native plants offer wildlife, and we absolutely grow our share of natives here.

That said, a word to the wise:  carefully research and observe any native plant you want to grow, before you invite it home to your garden.  Let  the natives you grow remain natural beauties, and may they never cross that line to become noxious weeds, overtaking your garden.

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Obedient plant with black-eyed Susans

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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A waterway through the marsh on Jamestown Island

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled.  No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.  In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.  No other place on earth feels so lush.  Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.  But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.  Truant plants will not survive.  The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do.  One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”
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Diane Ackerman

 

 

Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More Of That

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What grows well in your garden?  Well, grow more of that.

There are hundreds of thousands of different plants available for the inspired gardener to seek out and grow.  You can choose everything from lilies to Aloe, boxwood to basil, Magnolia to daffodils.  There are uncounted genus and species and cultivars of every imaginable plant, in abundance.  How to choose?

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Tri-color sage, a culinary herb, can take heat and dry soil.

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I enjoy experimenting with plants.  I bring home many flats of this and that, some planned purchases and some adopted on a whim.  And yet as I walk around, hose in hand, during this July heatwave in coastal Virginia; I’m brought up short by which plants in our garden struggle and which thrive.

Let it be said that my beloved roses struggle at the moment.

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Through the vagaries of climate change, they never had a good start this year; and I’ve been too busy with other matters to give them the attention they require.

In fact, my instinct this morning was to rip out of most of the pathetic little shrubs and be done with them.  Perhaps heavy pruning and heavy rain could bring them back to beauty.

I might whistle a different tune by October.  But in this moment, they aren’t earning their garden space.

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Trailing purple Lantana fills several of our hanging baskets this year. It can take heat and drought and still give consistent color.

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Even the geraniums look rather ratty this week.  In fact, as I look around and survey recent purchases, it is clear that some have clearly not lived up to their potential here.

Most of our perennial geraniums were heavily grazed by our resident rabbits.  They’re supposed to be fool-proof, aren’t they?  The annual geraniums struggle in their pots against the unrelenting summer sun and oppressive heat.

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Last year’s potted Hydrangeas, nipped by late frosts, never took off in early summer.  Add a few grazing deer and…. well, you can imagine the nubs without a photo, can’t you?

But on the other hand, the Caladiums, Cannas and Colocasias look great.  The Basil is taking off, and our sage, Thyme, Santolina, Germander, mint and Rosemary still look fresh and strong.  The Crepe Myrtle trees are beginning to bloom and our garden remains filled with bright Hibiscus blossoms.

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Echinacea can hold its own in July, attracts wildlife, and holds its color for several weeks.  It grows easily from seed, and may self-sow.

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It came clear to me earlier today, as I was watering our new shade bed, that while the ferns looked fresh and healthy, most of our newest Rhododendrons, right beside them, look terrible.

I’ll be very surprised if any of them survive.  I was calculating the dollars I spent on them and remembering my great confidence in their coming years of beauty….

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The first Rhododendron we planted this spring to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. It doesn’t look this perky anymore….

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Let’s acknowledge, first of all, that we are in the midst of rapid climate change.  What ‘always worked’ before has become irrelevant in this year’s garden.  Every month is a record breaker as our climate warms.  Neighboring communities flood while our garden bakes and the soil hardens.

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Mahonia is one tough shrub. It looks great year round, blooms in winter, produces berries for wildlife, and require very little from its gardener.

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Weather aside, we all still face our own particular challenges based on our soil and where our garden is situated.  We deal with a virtual zoo of insects, rodents, and other creatures who dine in our garden.  Like generations of gardeners before us, we can either adapt or stop trying to garden.

I vote, ‘adapt.’ 

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Ajuga and creeping Jenny make a dependable ground cover throughout the year.

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Adapting means adjusting to what is rather than working harder to create some fantasy of what used to be so.  For us, that means finding better ways to care for our plants.  And it also means growing more of the tough plants that thrive in the conditions we can provide.

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This native perennial ageratum spreads itself around the garden. I used to ‘weed it out’ in spring, but have grown to appreciate its tough beauty.

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Mid-July is a good time to take a hard, honest look at one’s own garden.  What looks good?  What has already died this season?  Which plants are barely hanging on?

Whatever is doing well, then plant more of that!

We have a few self-seeding perennials we have learned to enjoy.  Black eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, is a beautiful native perennial that conquers more of our garden real estate each season.  I allow them, while also digging up lots of spring seedlings to share with neighbors.

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This is our largest patch of black eyed Susans, bordered with a few Zantedeschia and other perennials..

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Another self-seeding native perennial, Conoclinium coelestinum, is a hardy Ageratum or mist flower.  While I used to buy flats of annual Ageratum in years passed, now I just allow the native form to grow undisturbed. Echinacea and Monarda return and spread each summer.

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I also allow our hardy Colocasia, Hibiscus and Canna to spread a little more each year; and invest part of our spring gardening budget in hardy ferns instead of flats of tender annuals which won’t make it through the hottest part of summer.

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Begonias hold up well in heat and humidity, so long as they have shade from the mid-day sun and consistently moist soil.

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Gone are my hanging baskets once filled with Petunias and ivy geraniums.  Instead, I planted some trailing Lantana, ivy and scented Pelargoniums that can take intense heat and dry soil.  Because Begonias hold up to our heat and humidity, if sheltered in some shade, I keep rooting cuttings and planting more of those, too.

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This ‘volunteer’ Crepe Myrtle tree is taking its place in the border. After several years of TLC, it has grown to about 10′ tall and is covered in blooms this July.

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Planting more of what has proven successful, instead of planting once loved plants which no longer thrive, gives us a fuller and more vibrant garden.  The butterflies and hummingbirds still visit.  Goldfinches appear once the Basil begins to go to seed, and hang around for the autumn ripening Rudbeckia and Hibiscus  seeds.

And, for the budget conscious, propagating more of those plants which grow well sure beats sowing or buying a lot of new plants each year, which might fail!

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Rose of Sharon, tree Hibiscus, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dozens of seedlings pop up in unexpected spots in the garden each spring.

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Each passing season in this garden teaches me to ‘allow’ more and plant less.  Native and naturalized plants are winning out over showy annuals or the latest new perennial.

I’ve come to see that the garden hones the gardener, just as much as the gardener shapes the garden.  Struggle melts into harmony, and work becomes play.

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Phytolacca americana, common poke weed, fills a corner of our garden with spectacular berries during these ‘Dog Days’ of summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Nurturing Endangered Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava at one time grew wild around Jamestown, Virginia

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There are several good reasons to grow our native North American pitcher plants.  Maybe you enjoy chic, sculptural foliage plants, and are curious to try growing something new.  Maybe you want a striking plant that you can grow in a very small, sunny spot on your deck.  Maybe you care about preserving endangered plant species.  Or maybe, you would just enjoy growing something that will help reduce the population of ants and mosquitoes in your garden.

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If you think that you need to construct a special boggy bed to grow these beauties, you might be pleased to see that there is a clean and simple way to grow them.   You can create a mini-bog in a bowl, and grow your pitcher of choice for several years with little fuss or effort.

North American pitcher plants, Sarracenia, are endangered because so much of their natural habitat, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, has been drained and developed.  There is precious little land left where they can naturally grow undisturbed.  Enthusiasts all over North America have risen to the challenge of preserving, and further hybridizing these unusual plants in private gardens.

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There are a few basic conditions they need for survival, and these are conditions many of us can provide.

First, the soil:  Sarracenia naturally grow in acidic, peaty bogs.  Peat comes from decomposing mosses.  There is little nutrition in this soil, but there is a measure of sand.  Standard potting mixes aren’t a good choice, and pitcher plants won’t do well planted into clay or compost.   However peat is readily available in most places where other specialized potting mixes are sold.  Mix peat and sand together, and you have a good mix for growing your own pitcher plants.

Second, pitcher plants prefer full sun.  They will grow in partial sun, but their colors are better, and growth more vigorous, if you give them six or more hours of sun each day.

Pitcher plants want consistently moist soil.  Don’t let the soil dry out.  It should vary in moisture content, though, from fully hydrated to moist.  In other words, let the pitcher plants’ roots get some air from time to time so they don’t rot from constant standing water.  You also don’t want the water in their soil to sour.

Finally, all Sarracenia need a few months of winter dormancy each year.  In other words, don’t try to grow them as houseplants and keep them growing year round.  Allow them a few months of rest, even if you live in zones 9 or 10.

You can leave your Sarracenia outdoors in the winter, unless you live north of Zone 7.  Then, be guided by the natural zone of the species you are growing.  Some species can survive colder temperatures than others.  But you may be able to keep tender Sarracenia through the winter in a cold frame or cold greenhouse, even if you are living in Zone 5 or colder.

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If you can provide moist, peaty soil and full sun, you can grow a pitcher plant.  Just remember that they are carnivorous, and the insects that wander into their tubular leaves provide all the nutrition they need, in addition to the sugars produced during photosynthesis.  Never add fertilizer to your pitcher plants.

You can create your own little container bog in a pot.  Choose a pot that will be large enough to hold your plant when it grows to maturity.  While some pitchers, like Sarracenia purpurea may grow to only a few inches tall, other species, like Sarracenia flava may grow to 40″ or more.   Taller pitchers will need more substantial pots, of course.

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I ordered Sarracenia ‘Tarnok’ from Sarracenia Northwest about a month ago. It has been growing on in its nursery pot in my larger bog garden since. But now I’m ready to move it to a miniature bog garden on my deck.

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If your pot has a drainage hole, then keep it in a shallow container with an inch or two of standing water.  If your pot doesn’t have a drain hole, then let the soil begin to dry out a little bit in the top few inches between waterings.  Many experts suggest watering with rainwater, spring or distilled water.  I have to admit that I often use tap water.

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This is the first  pitcher plant I brought home some years ago. Planted in a mixture of peat and sand, the pot sat in a saucer filled with gravel and water.

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Abundant moss often covers the natural bogs where pitcher plants grow in the wild.  Moss is the appropriate ground cover for a container bog, as well.   The pitcher plant you find at a local garden center, or that you order through the mail, may already have moss growing in its pot when you get it.  Just keep the soil moist, and that moss will keep on growing.

If your new pitcher doesn’t come with its own moss, you can transplant moss you collect onto the soil of your container bog.

I prefer to cover the bottom of my closed container with a few inches of sand to serve as a drainage area and reservoir.  Then, I fill the rest of the container with a moist blend of pure peat and coarse sand.  You can make your mix with up to half sand.  My mix is about 1/4 sand by volume.

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Pack the peat mixture fairly tightly in the bottom and onto the sides of your pot, leaving a well about the same size as the pitcher’s nursery pot.  Carefully tip the nursery pot over, supporting the soil mass with one hand, leaves through your spread fingers, and tap the bottom and sides to loosen the root ball.

Gently invert the freed roots, original soil, and leaves as you slip the entire mass into the well you’ve created.  Gently pack additional moist peat mix into any open space around your plant’s roots.

Leave an inch or so of head space between the top of the finished soil and the rim of your pot, then gently water until there is a little standing water on top of the soil.

Finish your pot with bits of wild moss, if you choose, or with fine, clean gravel.   I often add a few bits of glass or stones on top of the soil, too.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States, in its first season in our garden.  I eventually moved this growing plant into a larger pot and added it to our bog garden.

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Site your new pitcher plant in any sunny spot outdoors where you can relax and enjoy it.  Even though your newly purchased plant may have tiny leaves when you get it, it will bulk up with time.  Soon, you will see it mature into its potential.

I usually move my potted bog gardens under shelter in heavy rain, since there is nowhere for overflow to drain.  While the plants won’t mind sitting in water for a day or two, let the excess water evaporate so the top few inches of soil are just moist before watering again.  Peat holds a lot of water, and you never want it to dry out entirely.

Just as in nature, let the moisture content of the soil vary.

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Pitcher plants are found in abundance  at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, where owner Alan Wubbels propagates several species.

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I began with a single pitcher.  I was a little unsure whether I was really interested in pitcher plants, but soon grew fascinated with these strangely beautiful plants.  My collection continues to grow, and my ‘wish list’ for different species and cultivars grows as I learn more about them.

You will find many sources for native pitcher plants once you begin looking for them.  I bought an unnamed Sarracenia at the Great Big Greenhouse in the Richmond area this spring.  They had a fine display of various carnivorous plants, and I bought a Venus flytrap, which is native to coastal North Carolina, at the same time.

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The Venus flytrap is another native carnivorous plant that has become endangered in recent years as its natural habitat has been developed. These are hardy and relatively easy to grow, if you provide the growing conditions they require.  The leaves close to digest insects that wander onto the leaf pads. 

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I hope you will give these beautiful plants a try.  Maybe you, too, will discover their charm and beauty, and will dedicate a bit of your gardening space to preserving these amazing native carnivorous  plants.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, really, pitcher plants grew wild in the boggy wetlands along the Atlantic coast.  They grew right around here, along the banks of the James River and the many creeks that feed it.

The yellow trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava, is native to our part of coastal Virginia.  Most species of pitchers grow from Virginia south to Florida, and west along the Gulf coast.

Only one species, Sarracenia pupurea ssp. purpurea, grows from Virginia north to Canada and west to the wetlands around the Great Lakes.  Most of these species live in bogs and wetlands at sea level, but a few species grow at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia south into Georgia.

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It’s rare now to find a pitcher plant growing wild.  Over 97% of their habitat has been drained and developed.  A few species and natural hybrids are all but extinct.  These beautiful carnivorous plants are sustained these days mostly in private collections.

And the good news, gardening friends, is that these striking plants are easy to grow!  Anyone with a sunny spot can participate in keeping these beautiful and unusual species going.

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If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow most any of the North American pitcher plants outdoors year round.  If you live in colder climes, you probably can grow the species and hybrids of Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia oreophila, or Sarracenia montana.  Even if you live a zone or two colder than your plants are rated, you can find ways to insulate them over winter.

These easy to please plants simply want wet, acidic soil and as much sun as you can give them.  Grow them in pots filled with a mix of half peat moss and half sand, or three quarters peat and 1/4 perlite or fine gravel.    Keep the soil moist by growing in a glazed ceramic pot with no drainage hole, or a glazed ceramic pot with a deep, water filled saucer beneath.  Peter d’Amato, owner of California Carnivores and author of The Savage Garden, recommends growing potted Sarracenias in glazed pots kept standing in  2″ of water at all times, so the soil stays evenly moist.

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These are definitely tough, outdoor plants and prefer full sun.  If you grow them indoors, keep them near a window with bright light for at least 6 hours a day, or in a greenhouse.

Never use commercial potting mix, compost, or commercial fertilizers with pitcher plants.  Peat is closest to the soil of their natural habitat, and provides the acidic environment they require.

The only pitcher plant that has ever failed for me came from a local grower.   He cut corners, and blended his own compost based soil mix rather than using good peat.  He admitted this to me when I returned the plant to him the following spring after I bought it, because it hadn’t begun new growth.  He replaced the plant, and I immediately re-potted it into the proper mix.  It is thriving still.

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There are several distinct features to the different species of pitcher plants.  The pitchers can be as short as 5″-6″ or as tall as 48″ depending on the species.  Each hollow pitcher is actually a leaf.  The most common pitchers, the S. purpureas, are also some of the shortest.  They are usually a beautiful red or purple and have red flowers.

S. flava, S. leucophylla and S. oreophila produce some of the tallest pitchers.  Some pitchers stand up tall, and others form recumbent rosettes of pitchers.  Pitchers may have wide mouths with fancy, frilly openings, or may have wide open mouths that catch the rain.  S. minor and S. psittacina pitchers have hooded openings.

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Some pitchers are mostly green, others are red or purple.  S. Leucophylla have white around the openings to their pitchers.  S. flava is also called the yellow pitcher plant, and they are a beautiful  chartreuse yellow.

Sarracenia flowers may be red, purple, white, peach, yellow or some combination of these colors.  There are so many interesting hybrids and cultivars that a pitcher plant enthusiast has many choices of which plants to grow.

I ordered two new pitcher plants from Sarracenia Northwest, in Portland OR, this spring.  I’m now watching S. ‘Bug Bat’ and S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ begin to grow.  Both were very carefully packaged and arrived in growth and in perfect condition.

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And then earlier today, I found an interesting carnivorous plant terrarium kit at Lowes, with a dormant Sarracenia and a dormant Dionaea, or flytrap; little bags of peat and sphagnum moss.  There were potting instructions and a clear plastic box to hold the plants until they begin to grow.  At under $10.00, this looked like a pretty good value.

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Our newest pitcher plant  came in a carnivorous plant terrarium kit found at Lowes.  I’ve planted it, and a dormant flytrap in this bowl given to us by a potter friend.

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I potted the little dormant plants in my own mix of peat and sand, in a beautiful bowl our potter friend Denis Orton gave us at the holidays.  The bowl has no drainage and is a perfect first home for both plants.  They may need potting on next year or the next, but that is the way of things, isn’t it?

It will be a surprise to see which species of pitcher plant grows from this start, but I’m guessing it is most likely the most common, S. purpurea.

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Pitcher plants have various ways of luring insects into their open mouths.  There are nectar trails that lure insects up the pitchers and into their open mouthed leaf.  Each species has ingenious ways to keep them from escaping again.  These plants catch and digest every sort of insect from crawling ants to mosquitoes and flies.

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There is no shortage of insects in our May garden!  We have come to the part of summer haunted by every sort of bug imaginable, and it’s fabulous irony that one of our most beautiful native perennials also helps control the bug problem!

Our little collection of pitcher plant is growing now, and it is fabulous to admire their fresh new pitchers on this very muggy Friday afternoon.  I am looking forward to watching the new ones grow and show their special colors and forms.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States

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If you’ve not yet tried growing pitcher plants, I hope you’ll think about giving them a try.  These endangered species need all the help adventurous gardeners will give to keep them going on into the future.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Heritage

 

Fabulous Friday: Pollinators

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We love hearing the low hum of bees, feeling their subtle movements, as we move about our garden.  We admire the focused attention they give to each blossom in their relentless search for nectar and honey.

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Butterflies skim above the shrubs, silently landing on one flower, and then another, as they uncurl their straw-like tongues to sip sunwarmed nectar.  They drink intently, their bright wings opening and closing lazily, ready to instantly lift off if startled.

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Our garden hosts hundreds of species.  Some we see, others we never notice.  I’ll always remember the late summer evening we returned home well after dark.  As we pulled into our drive, we were curious about the tiny, glowing animals flying around from flower to flower among our stand of ginger lilies.  They looked like tiny fairies.  We stopped and watched them flit and hover, sip and rest in a beautifully choreographed nocturnal dance.

Finally, I got out of the car and crept closer to see if I could identify these night time pollinators.  They were hummingbirds, enjoying the cool darkness as they gorged on sweet ginger lily nectar.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily

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Gardeners curate their gardens in many ways, for many different purposes.  Depending on where we live, we work within the constraints of our space, our climate, our free time, our environment and maybe even our community’s covenants.  Most of us remain aware of our neighbors, and what they expect to see when they look across the street at our home.

Which may be why so many homeowners maintain large, well kept lawns and neat foundation plantings.  Neighborhoods across the United States strive to ‘keep up appearances’ with neatly clipped front yards.  It seems easiest to plant slow growing evergreen shrubs, a few trees, and then hire a lawn care service to take care of it for us.

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But these neatly maintained lawns and low maintenance shrubs do little to support our pollinators and other wildlife.  They are sterile, and often toxic.  The same chemicals which maintain our lawns pollute the nearby waterways and kill beneficial insects, as well as those we might want to target.  Without insects, birds lose their main source of protein and calcium.

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We curate our garden to attract as many species of birds and pollinators as we can.  We also welcome turtles, lizards, toads, frogs and the occasional snake.  We host rabbits and squirrels, and I know that other mammals, like fox, raccoon and possums roam our community by night.  We listen to owls calling to one another across the ravines.  Sometimes we’ll see a hawk swoop down to catch a vole or mouse.

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We are surrounded by wildlife.  We live in a forest bordering wetlands.  And we make a conscious decision to integrate our lives and our garden into this teeming web of life.  Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, song birds, and brightly colored wasps bring movement, life and sometimes living poetry to our garden.

We enjoy feeling their presence around us.  We enjoy watching them going about their lives.

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Wherever you live, you can make a decision to do your part to support pollinators and other wildlife, too.  The  more of us engaged in this effort, the more seamless our efforts become.  In other words, our little oasis of safe haven and food for pollinators grows larger as more and more of us wake up, and create habitat in their outdoor spaces, too.

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Here are the main principles to follow.  Each of us will interpret these individually in ways appropriate to our own circumstances:

  1.  Abstain from using toxic chemicals outdoors.  Especially, don’t use any insecticides on individual plants, in the air, or on our lawns.
  2. Allow some area to provide shelter to birds and insects.  This might be a thicket of shrubs, a brush pile, native trees, a bee hive, or even a Mason bee box.
  3. Incorporate native trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses and perennials into your planting to directly provide for the needs of wildlife in your area.  Many birds and insects have symbiotic relationships with native plants of a particular area.  Growing natives attracts and supports more of these species.
  4. Select and allow flowering plants which will produce nectar over the entire season.  If your climate is warm enough, provide nectar year round through your plant selections.  Keep in mind that some of the most beneficial ‘nectar plants,’ like clover and many wildflowers,  might appear as ‘weeds’ to humans.
  5. Provide a dependable source of fresh, clean water.

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Did you notice the repeated use of the word, ‘allow’ in these guidelines?  ‘Allowing’ is an important guiding principle for wildlife gardeners.  We relax a little, and put the needs of the native wildlife ahead of our own preoccupation with neatness and control.

We might allow a few native tree seedlings, self sown, to grow where they appear.  We might allow clover and dandelions to colonize patches of our lawn.  We might allow a stand of native goldenrod to grow in our perennial border among our carefully chosen hybrids.  We might allow vines to sprawl in some part of our landscape, offering food and shelter to many small creatures.

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The more we allow the natural web of life to re-emerge in our curated landscapes, the more diversity we will enjoy.  Insects attract birds.  Birds drop seeds.  Seeds sprout into new plants we hadn’t planned on.  New plants attract more pollinators.  It is a fascinating process to watch unfold.

How to begin?  First, make a commitment to nurture life instead of spreading death.  Stop using poisons and pesticides.

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Once your outdoor space is no longer toxic, plant a few of the most important food source plants for the pollinators you hope to attract. Find suggestions for your region at the Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation.

If  you have the space, begin by planting trees and shrubs.  These will give the most ‘bang for your buck’ because they are long lived and produce many, many flowers on each plant.  Remember, too, that many herbs, even if they aren’t native to your region, provide copious nectar all summer long.

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If you live in an apartment or condo, you might have room for a hanging basket or a few large containers on your porch or balcony.  Include a few nectar rich plants, like Lantana and herbs, in your planting.  Any outdoor space, even roofs, walls and balconies, may be enriched and enlivened with careful plant choices.

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As much as I respect those gardeners who champion native plants, I will never advice another gardener to plant only natives.  I believe a plant’s function, and how well it meets the gardener’s needs, outweighs its provenance.  If we can include some percentage of carefully selected native plants, then we can also choose wisely from the enormous variety of interesting plants on the market today.

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There are many non-native plants available which also provide shelter for birds and insects; nectar rich flowers; and fruit, seeds or berries enjoyed by birds.

Some, like Mahonia aquifolium are native on the West Coast of North America, but not here in Virginia.  They still naturalize here and grow easily, providing winter flowers for pollinators and spring berries for our birds.  Others, like Lantana cultivars, have a species form native in American tropics; but also many interesting hybrids which  grow well  in cooler regions.

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Many Mediterranean herbs provide rich sources of nectar, as do common Asian shrubs, like Pyracantha and Camellia.

And there are wildlife friendly native plants, like poison ivy, that most of us would never allow to naturalize in our own garden.  However environmentally conscious we may want to be, our garden remains our personal space and must bring us comfort and joy.  Gardens are human spaces first; enjoyed, curated and tended by people.

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It adds to our enjoyment of our garden when we invite beauty, in the form of pollinators, into our personal space.  We are like stage managers, tending a safe environment, ready for the music and drama these beautiful creatures always bring to it.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.”

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Thomas Fuller

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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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Wednesday Vignette: Intricacies

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“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind:
Study the science of art.
Study the art of science.
Develop your senses-
especially learn how to see.
Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“The artist is the confidant of nature,
flowers carry on dialogues with him
through the graceful bending of their stems
and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms.
Every flower has a cordial word
which nature directs towards him.”
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Auguste Rodin
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“All sciences are vain and full of errors
that are not born of Experience,
the mother of all Knowledge.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“Patience is also a form of action.”
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Auguste Rodin
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“While human ingenuity may devise
various inventions to the same ends,
it will never devise anything more beautiful,
nor more simple,
nor more to the purpose than nature does,
because in her inventions nothing is lacking
and nothing is superfluous.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“If you paint the leaf on a tree without using a model,
your imagination will only supply you with a few leaves;
but Nature offers you millions, all on the same tree.
No two leaves are exactly the same.
The artist who paints only what is in his mind
must very soon repeat himself.”
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
of Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia,
a  North American native shrub
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“Details make perfection,
and perfection is not a detail.”
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Leonardo da Vinci

“Why Does It Always Rain On The Iris?” and Other Gardening Conundrums

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Our Iris are in full, glorious bloom, and its raining…

Ironic, that just as soon as these gorgeous blooms open, they are inundated.  Petals turn to mush; stems fall over under their waterlogged weight.

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Same with the roses, if you must know.  The first gorgeous buds began to open on Saturday morning.  The rains started on Saturday, too, with more on the way.

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Now, I am always grateful for rain, please don’t misunderstand.  It is much easier to garden in rain than drought.  But I can’t help but noticing these beautiful flowers, with such a short period of bloom, blooming in the rain.

How many of us gardeners plan with the ‘worst case’ scenario in mind?  Very few, I’d bet.

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Gardeners must be optimists.  Otherwise, we’d be living in rented flats in a tall building somewhere, enjoying the local parks instead of puttering in our own unruly gardens.  We tend to expect the best and overlook the rest.

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Our stump garden has finally taken off from bare mulch, four summers ago.

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But real life is full of quirks and challenge.  We must make long range plans and then hope that we get to enjoy them.  Like the Iris, which take nearly a full year, or more, from when you plant their rhizome until they bloom.  We just plant them with a sprinkling of faith that eventually we’ll enjoy a few days of their delicious flowers.

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I have a packet of ‘Ten Free Flowering Trees’ from Arbor Day which arrived in Friday’s mail.  They arrived late in the day, while I was finishing up other projects, with no energy left to plant them.

They are still lying there in the garage, waiting for me.  We may still get a break in the rain, at least enough to get some of them in the ground today, I hope.  We have room for only a few.  The rest I hope to give to friends.

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Our front garden, yesterday in the rain, filled with blooming Mountain Laurel.

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It takes faith to plant a rooted twig, only a foot high, and envision the tree which will eventually manifest.  If one stops to consider the many things which may happen along the way, one might never even consider planting a tree of one’s own.

Two Live Oaks I planted last spring ended up broken off by something over the winter.  A very hungry deer, maybe?  (I gathered up the broken tops, and thrust them into pots hoping they might root.)

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A new Live Oak ended the summer at around 15″ tall, but was broken over the winter. It has begun growing again this spring.

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But consider our wild Scarlet Buck-Eye, Aesculus pavia.  This lovely tree began life as a volunteer seedling, before it was crushed by fallen oak trees four summers ago.  It was broken to a 4″ stump, and we could only hope it would recover.

I think that its strong roots helped it come back so quickly.  What you see is four years of growth, and its best bloom yet.  A gift of nature, it draws every eye in our garden this week.

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Scarlet Buckeye, also called ‘Firecracker Tree’ grows wild in our garden.

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A gardener learns to suspend judgement after a while.  Calling a happening ‘good’ or ‘bad’ proves one short-sighted, all too often.  Better to keep an open mind, and find ways to work with events as they arise.

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But that still doesn’t explain why this rogue, self-planted ‘Firecracker Tree’ looks stupendous today, even in the pouring rain, while our expensive and carefully tended Iris are melting before our eyes.

Maybe all of those purists who urge us to plant more native plants have a point, when you look at things dispassionately.  Did I mention that hummingbirds love those gorgeous red flowers?  Should any find our garden, their buffet lies waiting for them…..

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A gardener’s life comes filled with conundrums.  So many choices, so little time…. And yet, we get a fresh go at it with each passing season.

I’ve come to look at life in our garden as some sort of ongoing science experiment.  We try this, we try that.  When something succeeds, that is very gratifying.  When something fails, we have learned something new.

I’ll try it differently next time.

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And does that mean I’m going to rip out the Iris and plant something else; something that will stand up to our rainy springs?  Not a chance.

I’ll just grab my jacket and a hat and enjoy our garden in the pouring rain, and perhaps even find spots to add a few more Iris ….

Virginia Historic Garden Week April 22-29

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“When you find your path, you must not be afraid.

You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes.

Disappointment, defeat, and despair

are the tools God uses to show us the way.”

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Paulo Coelho

Fabulous Friday: Dogwood In Bloom

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“True happiness is to enjoy the present,

without anxious dependence upon the future,

not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears

but to rest satisfied with what we have,

which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.

The greatest blessings of mankind

are within us and within our reach.

A wise man is content with his lot,

whatever it may be,

without wishing for what he has not.”

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Seneca

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to photograph each Friday.   If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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