Fresh Start 2021: Carbon Garden

October blooming Camellia sasanqua

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Only recently have I come across the term ‘Carbon Garden’ in the current issue of Horticulture Magazine.  You may be ahead of me on this one, but the picture that came to mind when I first saw the term wasn’t very pretty.  The reality of it is much more attractive, and this garden style proves easier to maintain than many other garden styles.

Like other elements, carbon is an atom that can manifest as a solid, in a liquid, or as a gas.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) remain in the news because they contribute so much to our warming environment.  Gasses like carbon dioxide and methane (CH4) trap heat from the sun near the surface of the earth, causing warmer weather and heavier rainfalls.  Conversations around reversing the current warming trends usually focus on reducing carbon emissions and finding ways to scrub carbon out of the air.

Magically, we have living tools for removing carbon from the air right outside our windows.  You see, every green plant cell uses carbon dioxide in its daily efforts to feed itself and sustain the entire plant.  In the presence of sunlight, carbon dioxide and water transform into glucose, used to power plant growth, and the waste product oxygen, which of course we need in every breath.

When you contemplate a leafy tree, imagine each leaf inhaling polluted air and transforming that air into pure food and oxygen.

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Japanese Maple

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Glucose is further transformed into cellulose, which structures the cell wall of every plant cell.  Now, imagine a tree’s roots growing deeper and wider into the earth with each passing year.  What are those roots made from?  Cellulose:  largely, carbon.

A tree, and most any other plant, can stash carbon deep underground where it will remain for many years in solid form.  Many plants also store nitrogen, filtered out of the air, on their roots.  In fact, any plant in the pea family stores little nodules of solid nitrogen along their roots.  Knowing that nitrogen is a major component of fertilizers, you understand how this stored nitrogen increases the fertility of the soil in the area where these plants grow.

Plant leaves are also made primarily of carbon.  When the leaves fall each autumn, they hold stored, solid carbon.  If returned to the soil as compost or mulch, the carbon remains stored, or sequestered, in solid form in the soil.  This is how ordinary garden soil may be transformed into a ‘carbon sink.’

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Turkey tail mushrooms help decompose the stump of a fallen peach tree. Leaving the stump in place and allowing vegetation to cover it conserves its carbon in the soil.

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A log is made largely of stored carbon.  When you burn it in the fireplace, those chemical bonds break down, and much of the carbon rises back into the air as smoke.  If the same log is made into a cutting board or other wooden object, then the carbon remains in sold form.

Just as burning can break chemical bonds to release carbon back into the air, so will decomposition.  We’ve come to understand that bare dirt, including tilled fields and gardens, releases carbon back into the air.  But ground covered by mulch or living plants doesn’t allow that carbon to move back into the air.

All of this helps explain the science behind the principles of Carbon Gardening, whose goal is to scrub as much carbon as possible out of the air and sequester it in the earth.  Forests have done this very efficiently for untold ages.

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Only in recent times, with so much natural forest cleared and land exposed, has our planet begun its dramatic warming.  Think of all the carbon stored over the centuries as coal, petroleum, peat, and held close under a forest canopy that has been released into our atmosphere over the past century.

So, the point of Carbon Gardening is to use one’s own garden to sequester as much carbon as possible, using gardening methods that hold the carbon in the soil, without burning or releasing any more carbon than possible in the process.

Every breath we exhale contains carbon dioxide.  Our cells produce it as they produce energy.  We live in harmony with the plants we grow, taking in the oxygen they exhale while giving them back our own carbon rich breath.  That said, please don’t try to hold your breath as you make your Carbon Garden.

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Camellia sasanqua

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Here are a few principles of Carbon Gardening that may help point you in the right direction. 

The Audubon Society has a series of articles that go into far more detail.

  1. Plant intensely in layers:  The more plants in growth the more carbon will be scrubbed from the air each day.  Trees are most efficient because they support a huge volume of leaves.  Include evergreen trees that continue respiration through the winter months, and plant a shrub layer, perennial layer, and ground covers under the trees to maximize the amount of carbon absorbed by your garden.  Evergreen perennials and ground covers continue absorbing and storing carbon through the winter months.

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  1. Feed carbon (and nitrogen) back into your soil with plant materials. Use wood chips, bark, and shredded leaves as mulch to minimize bare ground.  Remember that roots sequester a large amount of carbon and nitrogen, so leave those roots in the ground.  Cut weeds or spent annuals at ground level instead of pulling them up.  Compost trimmings and leaves, kitchen waste, and unneeded cardboard, newsprint or brown paper.

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This is a very thin layer of compost covering collected branches, bark and leaves from our fallen tree.  We added additional layers of organic material to build the new planting bed.

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  1. Instead of tilling soil and exposing stored carbon, sheet compost in the winter to prepare for spring planting. Cover the garden area with cardboard or paper to protect the soil and smother any weeds.  Build up layers of composable materials, or even bagged municipal compost, and allow it to decompose in place so that planting seeds or transplants in the spring is possible without tilling or excessive digging.  Coffee grounds, tea bags, rinsed eggshells and other kitchen scraps can be ‘buried’ in the layers of a sheet compost pile, but be careful not to discard of seeds in this way unless you want them to sprout in the spring.

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Paper grocery bags covered with several inches of compost smother weeds and soften the ground for this new planting bed, eliminating the need to dig the area up first.  Pea gravel helps hold this area, which is on a slope.

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  1. Remain mindful of garden ‘inputs’ that burn carbon. This includes garden equipment that burns gas, commercial fertilizers, and maybe even those fun trips to the garden center….?

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This bin of new Caladium bulbs was ready to be planted out in mid-May.  Ordering bare root perennials, bulbs, tubers and seeds and starting them at home reduces the carbon footprint of a garden.  The red leaf is C. ‘Burning Heart,’ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, FL.

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  1. If you normally buy flats of annual plants each spring for pots or borders, consider how to plant those areas more sustainably. Consider all of the carbon releasing ‘inputs’ required to produce those plants, including the plastic containers they are grown in, the transportation to move them, and the chemical fertilizers and peat based potting soil used in growing them.  While all plants sequester carbon from the air, commercial nursery production of short-lived plants releases carbon into the atmosphere throughout the process and should be considered by conscientious gardeners.  What can you raise from seeds, cuttings or divisions, or obtain through trade with gardening friends?

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Saxifraga stolonifera is an evergreen ground cover that is easy to divide and share.  It grows here with Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ Hellebores and ferns.

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  1. Choose native perennials or ones that will naturalize in your climate, so your plants spread and reproduce, reducing the number of plants you need to buy each year to fill your garden. Design a sustainable garden that grows lushly with minimal ‘inputs’ and intervention from the gardener.  Native and naturalizing perennials won’t need much watering during dry spells, will make do with nutrients in the soil, and will expand and self-seed.

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  1. Woody plants sequester carbon in their roots and branches and live for many years. These are the most efficient Carbon Garden plants.   A garden made mostly from trees, shrubs, perennial ferns and groundcovers, will work most efficiently.  Some more arid areas have great success with long-lived succulents.  Consider replacing turf grass with plants that don’t require such intense maintenance.

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Mountain Laurel blooms each May, is native to our region and forms dense clumps over time.

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  1. Use the I-Tree Tool to educate yourself about the power of trees in your landscape to sequester and store carbon, reduce run-off and scrub other pollutants out of the air. Use this tool when selecting new trees to plant in your own yard.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle, small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer, red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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‘Carbon Gardening’ can make a significant contribution to scrubbing carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it in the earth, and the total contribution multiplies as the plants grow and the garden develops year to year.  A fully grown native tree can removed fifty or more pounds of carbon from the air annually.  While the amount varies by tree species and size, every year of growth increases the tree’s effectiveness.

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Each gardener who adopts sustainable practices makes a sizeable contribution to off-set and mitigate carbon production in their area.  Planting more plants and allowing them to grow densely also helps manage rainfall so it is stored onsite, rather than running off so rapidly.  The plants sustain wildlife and build a richly integrated ecosystem.

We reduce our own annual costs for new plants, fertilizers, other chemicals and fuel, while also reducing our time invested in garden maintenance.  It is a good approach for any of us who enjoy watching nature weave her tapestry each year, sustainably, while knowing that our gardens are part of the solution to climate warming and climate change.

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Woodland Gnome 2021

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful and a positive thought.

Six on Saturday: ‘Garden Bathing’

Caladium ‘Berries and Burgundy’ grows enthusiastically in this shady spot.

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Maybe I’m too easily entertained.  Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty leaf.  We’ve reached the time of the year when I can happily circumambulate the garden admiring the newest, brightest leaves appearing on our Caladiums and other ‘Elephant Ear’ plants and noting how many different flowers may be in bloom.

Now, let’s be honest here:  there isn’t a great deal of happiness in our public lives at the moment.  We watch every dystopian plot line play out in the daily news, even as we plan how to avoid viral contamination in the mundane acts of collecting our mail, picking up the groceries or taking a walk.  I find a good antidote to the general anxiety of our age in ‘garden bathing.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ with orbs

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Maybe you’ve heard of ‘Forest Bathing,’ or shinrin-yoku?  This Japanese practice of spending time out of doors under the canopy of trees can be brought right home to our own gardens, as we soak in the atmosphere through all of our senses.  The Japanese scientists who study these things found greater happiness, well-being, and good health among those who devote some time to soaking in the sights, sounds, scents and sensations of nature.

I’m happy knowing that 40 years of research has proven what gardeners already know:  we feel better when we spend time outside in a garden.  Curiously, it doesn’t matter so much whether we are in our own garden or a friend’s; a public garden or a park.  Time spent under trees and surrounded by plants helps us feel better in measurable ways.

And not just plants, either.  Spotting a turtle or a dragonfly feels like a gift.  Watching butterflies feed or birds glide around the garden brings its own peaceful contentment.

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Alocasia with Caladiums

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Maybe that is why I awaken each morning with a gardening ‘to do’ list already percolating in my waking thoughts.  Whether my list includes tasks at home, at the local botanical garden, or both; I awake with purpose and the intent to invest some early morning time out of doors working in a garden.

Whether I’m pulling weeds, watering, or just monitoring how the plants are growing, I can blissfully disconnect from the day’s narrative of outrage and gloom.  Every opening flower and bit of new growth gets counted as a worthy accomplishment.

There are many ways to express compassion for others and ourselves.  There are many ways to assist others in experiencing happiness.  We each do what we can.  I read about an artist who painted a flower for every staff member of a distant hospital, over 1000 in all.  His paintings were framed and presented to each person as a ‘thank you’ gesture for their healing and sustaining work.

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There are those who cook and deliver meals or loaves of bread to those in need.  Others sew and deliver masks, or check on lonely neighbors.  There is a task waiting for every willing heart and hand.

What could be more life-affirming and joy inducing than planting and tending a garden?  We need beauty, tranquility and inspiration now in ways we may have not needed them before. They are an antidote to the darker feelings that bubble up in our thoughts each day.

So I reach out to all of my gardening friends and to everyone who nurtures a plot of growing things.  Let us continue the work and know that it is good, and purposeful and that our efforts make a positive difference in this crazy world.  Let’s sow beauty and reap happiness, for ourselves and for our communities.

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Caladium ‘Splash of Wine’ is new in our garden this year. This is the first leaf opened from the tuber.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Caladium ‘Debutante’

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six on Saturday: Perennial Patience

This tough summer planting includes Coleus, Verbena, Lantana, Dichondra and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’ It can take heat and sun and continue looking good through until fall.  These are all tender perennials and can overwinter in the garage, or some may make it through winter outdoors in this large pot.

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You may know that many of the bright little plants sold at nurseries each spring as ‘annuals’ actually are perennials.  An annual grows from a seed, blooms, sets seed and dies all between last frost of winter and first frost of autumn.  Only the seeds will last from one season to the next.

Perennials will live from year to year given the right degree of protection from winter’s chill.  Hardy perennials can over winter in pot or in the ground out of doors, with minimal protection.  Tender perennials need to come inside to live, whether they overwinter in the living room, garage, basement or cold frame.  We are on the cusp of Zone 8, here in Williamsburg, and some winters prove a bit warmer or colder than the norm.  That means that some of those tender ‘annual’ perennials I’ve left outside in pots, baskets or borders may just delight me by returning the following spring.

It is a contest of patience.  Most don’t rush to show themselves.  And keeping faith that survivors will return is a good reason to procrastinate on re-working our pots and baskets until early June.

Here we are near the end of the first week of June and I am still in the midst of transplanting Caladiums and planting out the few new plants I bought in mid-May.  Our cooler than usual spring dictated that the Caladiums tough it out in the garage several weeks longer than usual.  They’ve grown lank and leggy, but still hold promise.

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Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’ shares a pot with a Japanese painted fern. The Caladium just made its way to its summer pot this week.

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I dig and dry our Caladium tubers each November and store them in bags over winter in a spare room, then start them again by late March.  By May, they are showing new leaves and are ready to move back outside once again.  Only this year, it was too cool until just a couple of weeks ago.

By waiting so late, I’ve allowed time for Pelargoniums and Verbena, Tradescantia, Dichondra, Lantana, ferns and mints to show themselves alive and growing.  In many cases last year’s arrangements are returning for another season of growth.

But not all return.  At some point, one must clear out the leggy Violas and cut back the fading Dianthus, and carefully remove any faded remains of last year’s plants to give this summer’s plants time to establish and fill in before the season heats up too much.

For me, it’s like working a grand and complicated puzzle.  It helps to not over-think it, too, or else end up frustrated and frozen into indecision.  After all, mixing things up year to year and trying new plants and new combinations keeps things fresh.

I have my favorites.  Caladiums and Begonias fall near the top of my list of all time favorite summer plants for long lasting color.  Give them what they require and they will live on season after season.  Begonias must overwinter in the house or garage, unless they are one of the hardy varieties.   They might look a little rough by late May, but by late June they are covering themselves with brilliant new leaves and by late July the Begonias will be full of blooms again.  It is very easy to root Begonia stems to create entirely new plants and spread them around.  Overwinter as potted plants or as cuttings.

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Tradescantia returns reliably in our hanging baskets. It roots easily from a stem cutting and may be started in a new spot mid-season from a cutting.

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Other favorites include Coleus, another tender perennial, which can overwinter in the garage and starts easily from cuttings.   One can also buy a single new plant and take as many cuttings as one wants for additional plants.  Root them in a glass of water, or simply stick them in a pot where you want them to grow and keep them well-watered while they root.

Both ‘annual’ Verbena and Lantana return for us.  These are both excellent choices to stand up to our hot, muggy summers, too.  They can tough it out in hanging baskets or pots when the soil gets dry, and will wait for me to remember to bring them some water, if it doesn’t rain.  They attract hummingbirds, butterflies and lots of other little pollinators for endless entertainment.

Tradescantia looks tropical, but once well established, it will return year after year.  It is related to our native spiderwort. You have to wait for it, however, as you might not see it until late May.  It has little pink flowers, but I grow it for its gorgeous purple leaves and strong constitution.  Full sun, dry soil and long summer days don’t bother it, and deer will leave it strictly alone.  I plant Tradescantia and Lantana in the large pot outside of the Botanical garden’s gate, knowing they are safe from hungry deer.

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This tough Verbena is starting its third year in its basket. Pineapple mint, Lantana and a scented geranium have also returned here this spring.

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Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ is grown as a perennial ground cover further south.  I love it in pots and baskets because it grows into long, shimmering ‘curtains’ of foliage that get better as summer wears on.  Frost knocks back the foliage, but if one is patient and waits, it will often return from its roots by late May.  Dichondra roots easily from stems and is simple to divide from the nursery pot into smaller clumps, or simply layer to spread it around the outer edge of a hanging basket.  It is a wonderful bonus when it returns for another year.

Another plant I wait for each year is scented Pelargonium.  It is always a bonus when one survives and returns with fresh leaves in May.  I wonder sometimes whether I give up waiting too soon, and dig out plants that might eventually sprout.  When in doubt, it is easy enough to pot up the roots and wait to see.

Drenching pots of overwintered perennials with organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest, when watering them helps them come into growth, especially if their survival is iffy during a difficult spring.

Tender Pelargoniums can be grown indoors over winter and cuttings root easily, if you have a special variety and don’t want to take a chance on leaving them out of doors all winter.

There are a few hardy perennials  I grow in pots year to year as well.  Heuchera, coral bells, will often keep color and leaves throughout our winter, but wakes up and produces new leaves and flower stalks by mid-spring.  These grow larger and better each year, and may live in a large pot indefinitely.

I prefer to grow Hostas in pots, too.  They will grow larger when planted out in a bed, but then their roots are vulnerable to voles.  Hostas can be knocked out of a pot and divided easily in spring, spread around, and will add color and texture wherever you need them in part to deep shade.

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Heuchera will easily fill a pot. It may be divided in early spring to spread a favorite variety around.  This is a fairly new variety called ‘Midnight Rose.’

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Deciduous ferns will also live on in pots year after year.  Japanese painted ferns and lady ferns, Athyriums, are my favorites for this treatment.  Pair them with Violas over winter to fill the pot, and then drop in a Caladium or two in spring to add interest through the summer. Watching for the first fiddleheads to appear is a sure sign of spring.

All of these plants have proven good investments in this climate.  They give many months of beauty, and generally return year after year.  They thrive in our conditions and most stand up to the wildlife.  (A spritz of deer repellent on the Hostas and Heucheras is helpful to avoid unpleasant surprises, however.)

Our garden centers are filled with enough choices to make one dizzy.  It is tempting to load one’s cart with one or two of everything and hope for the best.  While it is always interesting to try new plants, I am contented to plant what works.  I have had one too many lush baskets bake by late July, pathetic little petunia stems desiccated and dying.  Now, I reach for these hardy companions that will go the distance through a Virginia summer.

And given a little patience, I can extend their lives year to year.

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Pelargonium, a rose scented geranium that made it through winter and returned in April, is now larger than the new ones I picked up at the nursery in May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

Sunday Dinner: Waiting for the Mud to Settle

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“A good traveler has no fixed plans

and is not intent on arriving.”

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Lao Tzu

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“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.

Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow.

Let reality be reality.

Let things flow naturally forward

in whatever way they like.”

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Lao Tzu

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“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

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Lao Tzu

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“Do you have the patience to wait

until your mud settles

and the water is clear?”

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Lao Tzu

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“Doing nothing

is better than being busy

doing nothing.”

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Lao Tzu

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“I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.”
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Lao Tzu

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“The Way to do is to be.”
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Lao Tzu

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“Your own positive future begins in this moment.

All you have is right now.

Every goal is possible from here.”

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Lao Tzu

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“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”

Lao Tzu

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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Some photos from the Williamsburg Botanical Garden May 1 and May 3, 2020

Illuminations: Walking in Beauty Every Day a daily photo of something beautiful and a thought provoking quotation

Sunday Dinner: Cycles

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“Every good thing comes to some kind of end,
and then the really good things
come to a beginning again.”
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Cory Doctorow

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“Time has a way of eternally looping us
in the same configurations.
Like fruit flies, we are unable to register the patterns.
Just because we are the crest of the wave
does not mean the ocean does not exist.
What has been before will be again.”
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Tanya Tagaq

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“It’s all a series of serendipities
with no beginnings and no ends.
Such infinitesimal possibilities
Through which love transcends.”
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Ana Claudia Antunes

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“What was scattered
gathers.
What was gathered
blows away.”
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Heraclitus

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“I think that to one in sympathy with nature,
each season, in turn,
seems the loveliest.”
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Mark Twain

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“People can’t live with change
if there’s not a changeless core
inside them.”
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Stephen R. Covey

 

Fabulous Friday: Bonus Days

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Winter is already closing in on so many parts of the country, bringing snow to areas where the leaves haven’t even fallen.  With less than a week left in October, every soft, warm, late autumn day feels like a bonus day on the season.

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It has looked like rain all day, with only an occasional glimpse of sunshine breaking through the gloom; perfect weather to putter around outside.  And ‘putter’ is a good description of the bits and pieces I’ve strung together to make a day.

I’m in process of digging Caladiums.  It is always tricky to catch them before they fade away, leaving no trace of where their plump rhizomes lie buried.  But just as they leaf out on their own varietal schedules, so they fade according to their own rhythms, too.

While many in pots still look very presentable, and I’m procrastinating on digging them, others have already slipped away.  I need to sit awhile and study photos of their plantings to dig in the right places to recover them.

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A gardening friend and I were puttering together yesterday, at the Botanical Garden.  I was digging Caladiums as she was planting Violas.  I was digging Caladiums from her bed, and she gently suggested that I not waste too much energy digging until I knew I was in the ‘right’ spot.  That was good advice, and gave me a good reason to dig less and chat more.

Today hasn’t been much more productive, I’m afraid.  Until the forecast calls for colder night time temps, I won’t feel motivated to begin hauling in the pots and baskets.

And yet the signs of autumn are all around in the brown, crinkly leaves skirting the drive and softly gathering on the lawn.  Bare branches come into view all around the garden, as their leafy garments slip away for another season.

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Instead, I’m watering, admiring.  I spent a while potting up Arum tubers in the basement, and planting Violas from their 6 packs into little pots, to grow them on.

These are the bonus days when I can daydream about where I’ll plant them, even as summer’s geraniums and Verbena shine again with their vivid cool weather blooms.

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It is a relief, quite honestly.  The plants have perked up in the cooler, damper weather of the last two weeks.  The Alocasias are sending up new, crisp leaves.  The Mexican Petunias bloom purple as the pineapple sage proudly unfurls scarlet bloom after scarlet bloom.

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Every sort of little bee and wasp covered the Salvias yesterday, reveling in warm sunshine and abundant nectar.  A brilliant yellow Sulphur butterfly lazed its way from plant to plant, bed to bed, and I found some fresh cats here and there.

The Monarchs are still here, though I’ve not seen a hummingbird since early October.  Perhaps they have already flown south.

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Like a band playing one more encore, reluctant for the evening to end, and then leaving the stage to party on with friends; I’m reluctant to admit the season is nearly done.  I don’t want to rush it away, in my haste to prepare for the coming winter.

It is a calculation of how many hours, days, weeks might be left of bonus time, before the first frost destroys all of the tenderness of our autumn garden.

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I’ve been content to admire it all today, and make a few efforts to prepare for the changes to come.

Flocks of goldfinches gather in the upper garden, feasting on ripe black-eyed Susan and basil seeds left standing.  Pairs of cardinals gather in the shrubs, sometimes peering in the kitchen window or searching for tasty morsels in the pots on the patio; sociable and familiar now in these shorter, cooler days.

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We rarely have frost until November, here in coastal Virginia.  But colder weather is on its way.  Snow this week in Texas, and Oklahoma, and a cold front on the move promise changes ahead.   I’m hoping that we’ll have a few more sweet bonus days, before ice transforms our garden’s beauty into its bony, frost kissed shadow.

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Begonias and ferns sparkle in today’s dim sun, enjoying another day in the garden before coming indoors for winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“The strangeness of Time.

Not in its passing, which can seem infinite,

like a tunnel whose end you can’t see,

whose beginning you’ve forgotten,

but in the sudden realization

that something finite, has passed,

and is irretrievable.”

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Joyce Carol Oates

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious. Let’s infect one another.

Blossom XLIX: Camellia sasanqua

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What a delight to see bright flowers open on our evergreen Camellia shrubs during autumn, just as the rest of the garden fades and we prepare for winter.  You may have noticed bright Camellias blooming in October through January and wondered about these beautiful rose-like flowers in shades of red, pink and white.

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A relative of the tea plant, autumn blooming Asian Camellias are hardy in Zones 6b-9.  Like the spring blooming Camellia japonica, they prefer moist, acidic soil.

When the first Camellias were brought to Europe and North America from Asia, they were cultivated in glass houses, to protect them from winter temperatures, ice and snow.  Eventually, gardeners began to experiment with growing them out of doors in the garden, and learned that we can grow Camellias successfully in Zone 7 and warmer, without any special protection.  Providing a sheltered spot, mulch, or wrapping them against winter winds allows gardeners to grow them successfully in even colder climates.

Fall blooming Camellias will tolerate full to partial sun, under the dappled shade of larger trees.  They can take more sun than the C. japonicas appreciate.  Camellias may be used as specimen plants, hedges, in mixed borders, or as large foundation shrubs.  Different cultivars will grow to different proportions, and many will grow into small trees when left unpruned.

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Proper pruning is very good for Camellias.  By carefully removing branches here and there, you can open them up to greater light and air circulation.  This helps encourage blooming and also protects from some fungal diseases that sometimes attack overgrown Camellias.  Good air circulation and care will prevent disease problems and insect damage is rare.

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Never shear Camellias like a hedge.  Prune within a few weeks after they finish blooming to avoid cutting away the next season’s flower buds.  Aim to prune only enough to enhance the shrub’s beauty, or control its size, so the pruning isn’t obvious.  It is best to cut a branch all the way back to where it grows out of another branch.  Clipping a branch in the middle will stimulate more new growth from the nodes below your cut.

Camellias keep their glossy green leaves year-round, adding structure and screening in the garden throughout the year.  Pollinators appreciate this source of nectar when little else is in bloom, and birds find shelter in their branches.  Many gardeners cut a few branches for a vase, or float Camellia blossoms in a bowl.

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Newly planted shrubs will need protection from deer for the first few years.  Deer may graze both leaves and flower buds, but the shrub will generally survive.  Use deer fencing, Milorganite, or repellant sprays to protect Camellias as they establish.  Since Milorganite is an organic nitrogen fertilizer, regular use will actually enhance the color and bloom of Camellia shrubs, while helping to keep deer away from them.

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Camellia, “Jingle Bells” December 2016

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Many Camellia varieties are available now at local nurseries.  You can choose from several different colors and flower forms,  finding a cultivar that will meet your needs for mature shape and size.

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Camellia December 2017

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Varieties like C. ‘Yuletide’  and C. ‘Jingle Bells‘ are especially prized for their red flowers each December.  Bees and late butterflies will be thrilled to find them when there is little other nectar available to them. Camellia flowers may turn brown during a cold snap, but buds will continue to open over many weeks, even during wintery weather.

Then, by very early spring, the first of the Camellia japonica varieties will begin to bloom.

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Camellia November 2017

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Plant Camellia shrubs with confidence that you are making a good investment.  They will reward you with beautiful flowers, when little else will bloom, for many decades to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Blossom XLVIII:  Verbena
Blossom XLVII:  Cornleaf Iris
Blossom XLVI: Snowdrops and Iris
Blossom XLV:  First Snowdrops
Blossom XLIV: Brilliant Hibiscus
Blossom XLIII: Verbena
Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom

 

Sunday Dinner: Departure

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“Go.  The word is my last and most beautiful gift.”

.

Anne Fall

~

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“Set out from any point.

They are all alike.

They all lead to a point of departure.”

.

Antonio Porchia

~

~

“Arrival in the world

is really a departure

and that,

which we call departure,

is only a return.”

.

Dejan Stojanovic

~

~

“The world is a book

and those who do not travel

read only one page.”

.

St. Augustine

~

~

“A good traveler has no fixed plans

and is not intent on arriving.”

.

Lao Tzu

~

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“Such is life, imaginary or otherwise:

a continuous parting of ways,

a constant flux of approximation and distanciation,

lines of fate intersecting

at a point which is no-time,

a theoretical crossroads fictitiously ‘present,’

an unstable ice floe forever drifting

between was and will be.”

.

Sol Luckman

~

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“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”

.

Rumi Jalalud-Din

~

~

“Wherever you go

becomes a part of you somehow.”

.

Anita Desai

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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October beauty at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“Not all those who wander are lost.”

.

J.R.R. Tolkien

~

~

“It is good to have an end

to journey toward;

but it is the journey that matters,

in the end.”
.

Ursula K. Le Guin

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Six on Saturday: Endless Summer

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It’s never a good thing when odd weather makes the news.  The news here this week has noted both our high, mid-summer like temperatures and the deepening drought.  It has felt like July or early August instead of our usual gentle cooling slide into October.  I read this morning that parts of the Southeastern United States not only broke every record for daily high temperatures this past week, but some broke their record high for the entire year, over the past three days.

Clear skies and relentless heat through most of September has left our gardens, fields and roadsides crisp and thirsty.  Even some trees and shrubs look a bit limp, with leaves turning brown and falling early.  Rich autumn colors have been parched out of much of our foliage; an anti-climatic ending to this remarkable year.

But every day I still study the forecast, expecting our slim chance for rain to materialize into a sweet, moist, life-giving inundation.

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A Painted Lady butterfly feeds on Lantana in our front garden.

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Until that happens, the only life-giving water comes from a watering can or hose, and I’ve spent many hours this week delivering water to hard, parched dirt in hopes of sustaining thirsty plants through another searing day of heat.

It chased me back indoors on Wednesday.  After a relatively cool morning, where I was able to enjoy making my watering rounds at the Botanical Garden, the morning blazed into mid-day heat.  I could feel the sun burning through my hat and shirt like a cosmic broiler, as I dutifully watered the last few pots on the patio here at home.  I’ve never felt the sun so strongly in October, or felt chased back indoors so urgently to cool off and re-hydrate myself.  I sat under the ceiling fan, water in hand, and considered how this new weather reality will demand changes in how I plant in years to come.

But even as the leaves crisp and our black-eyed Susans bloom on blackened stems, bright purple berries shine on beautyberry branches, buds swell and bloom on our Camellias, pineapple sage opens its first flowers of the season and butterflies float around the garden

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The first Camellias bloomed in our garden last week.

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Our masses of Lantana support countless small butterflies, all feeding and hovering about their bulk.  I get a rush of pleasure from walking near and seeing the cloud of butterflies rise and resettle at my approach.  A Monarch fed placidly yesterday until I had it in focus.  An instant before I clicked the shutter it rose, looped around a time or two and disappeared across the crest of our roof.

Judith brought over her hamper of chrysalides on Tuesday afternoon.  About 20 butterflies were still growing inside, awaiting their day to break free, stretch their wings, and fly away.  Some of these were the same ones she rescued a few weeks ago from our fennel plants.  After handfeeding them organic parsley as they grow, she protects their chrysalides in mesh cages while they pupate.  Finally, they break out of their protective sheaths to stretch and harden their wings.

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The first Black Swallowtail to emerge from the hamper Judith loaned us was a female.  Here, she allows her wings to stretch and harden before her first flight.  She is resting directly above her now empty chrysalis.

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As we release each adult butterfly from the hamper, I wonder, ‘How do they learn to fly?’

A female flew out of the cage and rested lightly on the Lantana yesterday morning, and then floated up onto a low branch of a nearby dogwood, considering her new world.  Do butterflies remember their caterpillar lives?  Do they recognize the garden from such a different viewpoint?

Butterflies emerge from the chrysalis totally prepared for the next stage of their lives, and float off, effortlessly, to get on with the important business of sucking nectar and finding a mate.  Maybe we aren’t so different, when you really think about it.

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This long tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus, is more commonly found in South and Central America, but it has been sighted as far north as New York. It feeds on bean, Wisteria and pea leaves, so its larvae is often considered a pest.  As an adult, it is very unusual land beautiful.  Here, it feeds on Buddleia and Verbena.

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And this generation emerging from their chrysalis this week will likely mate and lay their eggs in the garden before we see frost.  Winter seems far away this week and summer, endless.

The gardening ‘to-do’ list seems longer now than it did in August, since it’s nearly time to put the garden to bed, plant a few daffodil bulbs, pull out the annuals and fill our pots with pansies.

But that will have to wait a bit while I play with the butterflies, water, and take time to appreciate the beauty of our late summer garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

Sunday Dinner: Hang Tight….

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“Once you make a decision,
the universe conspires to make it happen.”
.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

~

~

“You may be the only person left who believes in you,
but it’s enough.
It takes just one star
to pierce a universe of darkness.
Never give up.”
.
Richelle E. Goodrich

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“The difference between a successful person
and others
is not a lack of strength,
not a lack of knowledge,
but rather a lack in will.”
.
Vince Lombardi

~

~

“F-E-A-R has two meanings:
‘Forget Everything And Run’ or
‘Face Everything And Rise.’
The choice is yours.”
.
Zig Ziglar

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“The thing about a hero,
is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,
he’s going to keep digging,
he’s going to keep trying to do right
and make up for what’s gone before,
just because that’s who he is.”
.
Joss Whedon

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“You can have anything you want
if you want it badly enough.
You can be anything you want to be,
do anything you set out to accomplish
if you hold to that desire
with singleness of purpose.”
.
Abraham Lincoln

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance.
The wise grows it under his feet.”
.
James Oppenheim

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
.
Dedicated to loved ones, who live this each and every day.

~

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“I am not anxious to be the loudest voice
or the most popular.
But I would like to think that at a crucial moment,
I was an effective voice of the voiceless,
an effective hope of the hopeless.”
.
Whitney M. Young Jr.

~

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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