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

For the Love of Iris

Iris ‘Stairway to Heaven’

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I fell in love with Iris as a child.  My parents accepted a gift of Iris rhizomes from a retired friend, who happened to hybridize and grow German bearded Iris.  Dad came home one summer evening with his trunk loaded with paper grocery bags, each containing the mud caked rhizomes his friend had dug and discarded from his working garden.  He needed to repurpose the  space for his new seedlings.

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I’ve been searching for those intensely colored and perfumed Iris cultivars I remember from childhood. This is one of the closest I’ve found.  Iris ‘Medici Prince’ available from Brecks.com

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My mother looked at the sheer volume of gifted plants. A conversation followed about what to do with them all.  And then, Dad started digging.  He dug long borders in our sunny Danville, Virginia back yard.  Full sun and good loam were just what those Iris needed.

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The first spring after that, we were all speechless at the absolute beauty of them.  And the fragrance!  I don’t know whether my parents’ friend was selecting for fragrance, but these were the most fragrant flowers my young nose had ever discovered.

The colors of these special Iris ranged from white to intense reds and nearly black shades of purple.  They bloomed orange and pink and many shades of blue.  I was smitten, and have loved Iris since the day these Iris first bloomed in our back yard.

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When we moved, a few years later, we labeled the Iris by color while they were in bloom so we could dig some of each variety.  Back into grocery bags, we carried this legacy to our new home.  The new place had a shadier yard, and yet we set to work digging a new Iris bed, even while still unpacking boxes and settling into the house.

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I. ‘Echo Location’

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That began a new ritual around our family’s moving.  Each time after, we would try to dig and move as many Iris as we could.  As each of us left home, and our parents aged, that became a little more challenging with each move.

Even though I dug divisions for each of my gardens over the years, we still lost many of the cultivars along the way.

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But I never lost my enthusiasm for growing Iris.  And when I learned about re-blooming German bearded Iris a few years back, I began collecting and digging new beds for Iris in sunny spots in our Forest Garden.  I bought several varieties from local breeder Mike Lockatelle, and have ordered others from online catalogs.  Now, it is as common for us to enjoy Iris in bloom in November or December as it is to enjoy them in May.

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‘Rosalie Figge’ remains my favorite of our re-blooming Iris.

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We now grow many types of Iris, ranging from the earliest winter blooming cultivars which grow only a few inches tall, to our beautiful Bearded Iris which may grow to 4′ if they are happy.  We plant a few more each year.  There is a shallow pool filled with bright yellow flag Iris in our front yard, inherited with the garden.

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A master gardener friend gave me divisions of an antique variety of bearded Iris grown in Colonial Williamsburg, and all over this area, from her own garden.  Other friends have also given us beautiful gifts of Iris over the years, and each remains special to me.  The blooming Iris remind me of friendships and loved ones; other times and places in my life.

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The ‘Williamsburg Iris’ is an antique variety found growing around Colonial Williamsburg, and in private gardens throughout our area.  Ours were a gift from a Williamsburg Master Gardener friend.

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Iris can be grown successfully and enjoyed even if you have deer grazing in your garden.  Deer will not bother them.  This is one of the reasons why we find Iris to be a good investment.  They grow quickly, and can be easily divided and spread around the garden.  They pay amazing dividends as they get better and better each year.

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Iris can be easy to grow, if you can give them hot, sunny space to spread. They are heavy feeders and perform best when grown in rich soil and are fed once or twice a year.  But without sun and space, many varieties will just fizzle out. Make sure bearded Iris get at least six hours of direct sun; more if possible.

Iris want soil that drains after a rain.  Most established Iris can tolerate fairly dry soil after they bloom, which makes them a good selection for hot climates, like ours.  Japanese Iris and Louisiana Iris species require moist soil year round, and are happy growing in standing water.

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Winter blooming Iris histrioides in January

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Sometimes, their foliage will die back; but the roots remain alive and ready to grow new leaves when conditions improve.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find these beautiful miniature Iris growing this spring.

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Iris cristata ‘Vein Mountain’ is available from Plantdelights.com. This is a North American native Crested Woodland Iris.

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I though we had lost them during last summer’s drought, when they disappeared.  I’m still waiting for our Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ to reappear, which struggled last summer, too.

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Dutch Iris, always fun to cut for a vase, grow each spring and then, like so many other bulbs, die back.  They come in an amazing array of colors and can be ordered for pennies a bulb.

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Dutch Iris can be planted alongside bearded Iris to extend the season.

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Showy Louisiana Iris don’t have a place in our garden.  They grow best with their roots always wet, usually at the edge of a pond.  I admire them, but don’t have the right conditions to grow them.  But I am always happy to grab a shovel and make a spot for more bearded Iris. 

I’ve been moving Iris around my parents’ garden, the last few years, to bring shaded plants out into the sun.  I hope to salvage and increase what is left of their collection. We are enjoying the fruits of that effort this week, as they have gorgeous Iris blooming here and there around their home.

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These yellow flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

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We discussed plans for a new Iris bed when I was there last weekend.  While I’m moving them, I plan to cull a few divisions for myself, too.  And, I will take them a few roots from our garden, too.

Sharing is one of the nicest things about growing Iris.  No matter how many roots you give away, more will grow.  Each division of rhizome needs at least one leaf and root.  Plant the division in amended soil, with the top of the rhizome visible.

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Siberian Iris

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Cover all roots well with good earth, and mulch lightly around the newly planted roots, without covering the exposed rhizome.  Water the plant in, and then keep the soil moist until new growth appears.  I feed our Iris Espoma Rose Tone each spring when I feed the roses.  A light application of dolomitic lime or Epsom salts makes for stronger, faster growth.

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This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ was new to the garden last year.

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Once each flower blooms and collapses, gently cut it away from the main stem.  A single stem may carry 5 or 6 buds, each opening at a slightly different time.

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I. ‘Immortality’

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Once all of the buds have finished, cut the stem back to its base.  Remove browned or withered leaves a few times each year, as needed.  With a minimal investment of effort, Iris give structure to the garden year round.

And when they bloom, oh, the fragrance and color they give…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Wednesday Vignette: Iris

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“Hope is a rainbow of thought.”

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Harley King

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“To find the rainbow and life’s incredible beauties,

learn to play with adversity.”

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Debasish Mridha

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“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

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Maya Angelou

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“If it rains during sunshine,

don’t worry; you’ll see your rainbow.”

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Vikrmn

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“Pointing to another world

will never stop vice among us;

shedding light over this world can alone help us.”

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Walt Whitman

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“Love, I’m pretty sure, is light.”

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Jan Zwicky

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Iris was the personification of the rainbow in Greek mythology, as well as messenger of the gods along with Hermes. She was also known as the goddess of the sea and the sky.  It was said that she traveled on the rainbow while carrying divine messages to the mortals.”

from Greekmythology.com

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WPC: Surprise

Athyrium niponicum ‘Joy Ride’

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The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge this week invites us to explore the often overlooked details in form.  A ‘macro-lens view’ opens up new worlds of beauty.

Often, in the hurry of our daily lives, we glance around us and take the world into consciousness in chunks of meaning.  We register the traffic moving around us, the child moving towards us, the inventory of our fridge. Even in the garden, we register our landscape in chunks of form and color.

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It takes undistracted time to focus the lens of our mind on the tiniest of details, like the uncurling fronds opening on our ferns this week.  This annual springtime show might otherwise be overlooked as the garden explodes in color and fragrance.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’

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Who can pass a fragrant Iris to contemplate a tiny fern?  Only the child or the gardener!  Our eyes train on those tiniest of details as we pace the paths of our garden each day, documenting what changes have unfolded since our last visit.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern

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I had a few minutes to wander this morning, camera in hand, as I waited for a friend’s arrival.  And although I couldn’t pass the Iris without capturing another shot or two, I also spent time with several of our ferns.

Jen kindly crafted a challenge this week especially for us craven gardeners, who must photograph our flowers in minute detail.  But because that was the model she set, I decided to leave flowers to others this time, (well, almost….) and instead focus on the elegant and fascinating details found only in the leaves of ferns.

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The Japanese Painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum, have just emerged from their winter dormancy.  Their fragile fronds disappear after a heavy frost each autumn, to reappear quite suddenly and surprisingly some warm spring day.

They are one of the most beautiful surprises our garden offers us each spring.  I realized today, in sharing our garden with friends, that we have something of a collection now of Athyrium niponicum cultivars.

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Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

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Not that I intended to make a collection of them, I simply like them and wanted to watch some of the different varieties grow out.  I have ordered a few, like A. ‘Joy Ride’, A. ‘Branford Beauty,’ and A. ‘Burgundy Lace’ from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC, in years past.  They carry a staggering and surprisingly wonderful variety of ferns and other unusual perennials which do well in our Zone 7 climate.

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I am still lusting after A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ A. ‘Godzilla’ and A. ‘Thrill Seeker.’  And that lust will go unrequited for the foreseeable future, it seems, as their shipping charges just keep climbing each year.  Now that the minimum shipping charge is nearly $30, I am seeking out these wonderful cultivars locally, and asking our nearby nurseries to consider stocking these beautiful new varieties.

I was absolutely thrilled to find a beautiful pot of A. ‘Ghost’ at Green Planters, Inc., in Gloucester earlier this week.  I will be returning, as they carry a satisfying selection of native ferns in addition to their various Japanese Painted ferns and other cultivars.

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The best ferns in our garden, year round, are our Autumn Brilliance, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’.  Their tough, but graceful fronds weather sun, rain, drought wind and winter.  Who could ask for more?

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These sturdy clumps expand a bit each year, and each new year’s fronds seem a few inches taller than the last.  We’re not talking tree ferns, of course, but the older ferns make a substantial presence.  What I admire in these ferns is their wonderful bronze color as  new fronds emerge each spring.

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As each frond unfolds, the hairy brown fiddleheads relax into soft, shiny fresh rose-gold leaves.  It is quite a show and goes on for several weeks.  By mid-summer, each leaf will have relaxed further into a soft medium green.  It’s not until winter that the same fiddlehead brown begins to frost the edges of the mature fronds once again.

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It is the surprising beauty of leaves which carries our garden through the seasons.  Flowers come and go all too quickly.  They may delight with a bold color or enticing scent.  But flowers prove ephemeral by nature.

They are only there long enough to lure a bee, butterfly or hummingbird to pollinate them. so they can get down to their real business of seed production.  Even the hybrids seem confused on this point, and fade far too quickly despite their sterility.  Like kids gone off to college, what is left behind is none too pleasant to look at, oftentimes….

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But leaves prove their worth and loyalty; offering sum and substance, color, drama and incredible detail.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Surprise!

 

“Will Deer Eat It?”

Polka Dot plant takes center stage in this fairy garden. It comes in white, pink and red.

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The lady checking out in front of me at McDonald’s Garden Center on Jamestown Road had two cute little pots of ‘Polka Dot Plant,’ Hypoestes phyllostachya, and she had a single question for the clerk: “Will deer eat it?”  For those of us living among free-roaming herds of deer, that is always the question!

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Hydrangea macrophylla attract deer, who eat both leaves and flowers.

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Do deer graze in your garden?  It seems that ever growing herds of deer continue moving into more and more areas across the United States.  Even suburbs and small town now have a problem with deer.  So many are born each year, and they have no natural predator.  There is no longer enough hunting to keep their population in check, and so they have learned to live among us.

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Maybe you, like some of our neighbors, enjoy seeing ‘The Bambis.’  But maybe you, like many of our friends, want to grow a garden around your home to please you and your family- not to offer a free dinner to the local herd.

It is a constant struggle here, in our forested community.  Each doe can have up to five fawns a year.  Triplets aren’t uncommon.  Each buck may have a harem of six or more does in his family group.  We saw a group of more than 20 running across our neighbor’s yard one day in late January.

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Plants with poisonous leaves, like these Colocasia, won’t be grazed by deer.

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Even if you are content to let nature take its course in your yard, and you aren’t an avid gardener; you may be concerned about deer ticks and the diseases they carry.  Ticks lurk in places frequented by deer.  They wait on grasses, shrubs, anywhere they can until a warm blooded comes near enough for them to jump on and catch a ride and a meal.

The last time we were at the doctor getting an antibiotic script for a tick bite, the doctor offered up some comforting news.  She told us that the tick must be attached for 24 hours to transmit Lyme’s disease.  That is reason enough to thoroughly check for ticks after a day of gardening!

We have so many neighbors who have contracted Lyme’s disease, and we have had so many tick bites, that we do everything in our power to keep deer out of our garden.

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Ticks linger in overgrown grasses and on shrubs and trees, waiting for a ride and a meal.

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And that is not an easy thing.  Unless you are ready to construct a 10′ high chain link fence around the perimeter of your yard, maybe adding a little razor wire on top, they will likely find a way in from time to time.  And so we do everything in our power to discourage the deer from coming in to start with.  And if they do sneak in, we dispatch them and encourage them to stay in the ravine in future!

Which brings us back to buying ‘deer resistant’ plants.  The McDonald’s clerk didn’t know whether annual Polka Dot Plant was deer resistant or not.  But she looked it up somehow in her system, and told her customer that she believed it was.  She was right.  Hypoestes is considered deer resistant.

But that is a very loose term.  When hungry enough, deer will try grazing many things they shouldn’t.

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Rose scented Pelargonium with Pineapple Sage and Rose.  Herbs with a strong fragrance can offer some protection to tasty shrubs, like this rose.

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We’ve had to learn a lot about what deer won’t eat in order to garden in our community.  My last garden was enclosed with a 7′ fence in a suburb which had no deer.  My azaleas were 8′ high and I could grow anything I wanted without a second thought.  But the past is the past, and we live in the present, right?

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Azaleas once grew abundantly in our forest garden, before the deer population skyrocketed. Ours are now badly grazed and misshapen.  Some barely hang on from year to year.

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So unless you have an eidetic memory, it might be easier to remember some basic principles of what plants deer avoid than trying to memorize a list!  I’ve read lots of lists over the years and listened to a few experts speak on the topic.  No one is 100% accurate. in part because deer develop different preferences.

But here are a few guidelines which might prove useful as you plan your garden this spring:

  1.  Deer don’t like strongly scented or strongly flavored foliage.  This means that almost any herb is ‘safe’ and won’t be grazed.  This includes plants you might not think of as herbs, including annual geraniums, scented geraniums, Artemisias, and some perennials related to the mint family.  All Alliums, including garlic, scallions and onions, repel deer.
  2. Deer don’t like thick, tough and textured leaves.  Your Yucca is safe, as is prickly pear cactus, Iris and Lantana.  I’ve never seen lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina,  grazed, either.
  3. Many plants are naturally poisonous, and others have oxalic acid crystals in their leaves which irritate deer mouths.  Caladiums and their relatives are ‘safe’ due to the irritating crystals in their leaves.  That said, two friends told me their Caladiums were grazed during a summer drought last year.  We lose a leaf from time to time, but never a whole plant.  Colocasia and Alocasia, Arum italicum, and Zantedeschia all fall into this group.  If a plant is known as poisonous, like Helleborus and daffodils,  you can plant it with confidence.
  4. Deer avoid eating ferns.
  5. Deer avoid grey foliage.

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    Lavender has both a strong fragrance and tough, thick leaves. Deer never touch them and they are helpful as screening plants around tasty plants you want to protect.

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Now, here is what they do enjoy eating:

  1.  Any new shrub from the nursery, which has been grown with lots of fertilizer, looks delicious!  Even a shrub they wouldn’t think of grazing when it is mature will be tasty when young.  Nitrogen, a salt, makes the foliage taste good.  Think salt on french fries….. Give those newly planted shrubs and trees a bit of extra protection until they are at least 2 years old.
  2. Any plant you might eat, especially in your vegetable garden, will attract deer.  We’ve had fruit trees grazed, tomatoes devastated, bean vines harvested, and lettuce made to disappear in the blink of an eye.
  3. Any tender, soft, succulent, beautiful leaf, like a Hosta, Heuchera, Coleus, or Hydrangea, will interest a deer.  They also like flowers, otherwise known as ‘deer candy.’  You wouldn’t think deer would graze roses, but they do.  They adore eating any lily, especially daylily leaves and flowers.

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Grow tasty annuals, like sweet potato vine, in pots or baskets out of reach of deer.  Grown where they can get to it, expect it to be grazed from time to time.

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What can you do?  Like the lady with the Polka Dot plant, consider whether or not a new plant will attract deer before you bring it home to your garden.  Let the majority of your new plants be those the deer won’t graze.  I’ve learned how to create an interesting garden by growing lots of herbs and poisonous plants!

But I grow my favorites, too.  We gave up on a veggie garden, but we still have roses, a few Hosta, and Hydrangeas.  I defiantly grow a few tasty annuals in pots and baskets out of the reach of deer, or in pots right up against the house.  You would be amazed how brazen hungry deer can be!  And yes, I’ve had sweet potato vines and Coleus plants eaten off my front patio.

That is why the perimeter of our property is mostly planted with shrubs and trees that deer won’t graze.  We have wax myrtle, crepe myrtle, bamboo, red cedar, Ligustrum and Yucca along  the outer edges, somewhat hiding the more delicious plants in the center of our garden.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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I generally surround tender tasty plants with highly scented ones the deer will avoid.  We grow garlic, chives and onions in random places to protect certain plants.  Highly scented herbs can often give some protection, too, if planted around a shrub you want to protect.  I throw garlic cloves in pots of annuals.

We also regularly spread Milorganite around the perimeter of our property and around shrubs, like azaleas, we want to protect from deer.  You need at least a 4′ swath of this smelly fertilizer to fend off deer.  An interesting benefit is the drastic reduction in ticks we’ve found since we began using Milorganite last spring.

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Scented Pelargoniums and Zantedeschia prove a winning, and deer proof, combination.

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I keep a spray bottle of ‘Repels-All’ and spray the Hosta and Heuchera as they emerge; the roses and Hydrangeas as they leaf out.  Rain washes this product away, eventually, and so one needs to use it every few weeks.  Plants are more vulnerable in spring than in late summer, so you don’t have to make a life-time commitment to spraying this stuff.

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Hibiscus prove deer resistant.

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No one of us can solve the deer problem alone.  We’ve recently heard of some research in New York with contraceptive injections good for 22 months for an adult doe.  But this program is very expensive and labor intensive.  Hunting remains very controversial.  There are few ideas out there for a humane solution to this growing problem.

As undeveloped habitat disappears deer move in to our neighborhoods, sharing the land with us. And so it is up to us, as the brainier species, to adapt.  One way to co-exist with these gentle creatures is to design our gardens with plants they won’t eat.

Let them eat elsewhere!” becomes our motto, and  constant vigilance our practice.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Our ‘deer resistant’ garden, filled with poisonous plants and herbs,  in early spring

Fabulous Friday: Virginia In Bloom

Narcissus ‘Art Design’

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Springtime in Virginia is simply fabulous.  So fabulous, that garden clubs all over the Commonwealth open public and private gardens to celebrate Historic Garden Week while our dogwoods, azaleas, daffodils, tulips and redbuds burst into bloom.

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Newly opened leaves blur in a haze of color around the crowns of tall trees and the stately boxwood, a fixture in so many historic and public gardens, glow with new, green growth.  It is a sight worth celebrating.

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Our garden on Wednesday morning

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We are celebrating April in our own Forest Garden as dogwoods and azaleas bloom and the landscape wakes up for the new season.  Our Iris have produced scapes covered with buds, seemingly overnight.  Leaves emerge from bare branches.   Perennials keep breaking ground with new growth, reminding us that they, too, survived the winter.

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Brunnera

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Historic Garden Week traditionally falls the week after Easter, here in Virginia.  With a late Easter this year, Garden Week gets an  especially late start.  Combined with an early spring, gardening friends and I have been wondering what may still be in bloom by then to entice visitors.  Surely there will still be Iris, and probably Rhododendron.  But tulips, dogwoods and azaleas are coming into their prime, at least in coastal Virginia, right now.

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Tulips and daffodils blooming in a public garden in Gloucester Courthouse for their Daffodil Festival last weekend.

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One of the strangest sights to celebrate this Fabulous Friday is our blooming rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum.  Rhubarb is best known as a tasty filling in spring in pies.  Its long petioles are stewed with sugar and spices to make a tart seasonal treat.  But I’ve noticed Rheum used as an ornamental, especially in Pacific Northwest gardens.  I decided to give it a try in our garden, especially since its poisonous leaves leave it impervious to grazing.

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Rhubarb in bloom

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This is the second year for this plant, which I grew in a pot last summer and planted into the garden in September.  I’ve enjoyed watching its progress, but was amazed to see flower buds emerge a few weeks ago.  I’ve never before watched rhubarb bloom, and thought you might enjoy its unusual flowers, too.

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We are still enjoying daffodils as the late season varieties continue to open.  These hybrids all carry interesting names, and I keep my Brent and Becky’s Bulbs catalog handy to look them up and try to remember them.  Handily, we received the new fall catalog in the mail last week, so we can begin penciling in a fall order, while this year’s crop still fills the garden.

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Every tree and shrub in our garden dances in the wind as a cold front blows through today.  Often, a particularly strong gust carries flower petals as it blows spring flowers from the greening trees.  We expect temperatures back into the 30s tonight, and a much cooler day tomorrow.

We find ourselves ‘dancing’ back and forth, too, as we move pots and baskets in and out of the garage with the fluctuating weather.  We keep telling ourselves it’s good exercise, but I will be quite happy when we can finally leave everything out in its summer spot.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge this week.

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But even if we weren’t carrying our pots back and forth, we would still find excuses to head back out into the garden.  We eavesdrop on avian conversations as they happily build their nests and find their mates.  They are as energized as we feel with the warmth of spring and the fresh opportunities it brings.

We watched lizards skitter across our back porch for the first time on Wednesday, a sure sign of the garden’s awakening.  Butterflies dance with one another in mid-air before floating off for another sip of nectar.  It is good to live in Virginia in the springtime, when it seems the whole world is in bloom.

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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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Dogwood, our state flower

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Wednesday Vignette: Perseverance

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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Nelson Mandela

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

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Seneca

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“Many of life’s failures

are people who did not realize

how close they were to success

when they gave up.”

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Thomas A. Edison

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall at Homestead Garden Center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Expect the Best

On March 1, 2017  it hit 82F, and our Magnolias were already in full bloom.  Temperatures plummeted later that week, and frost hit them a few days after this photo.

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Our Magnolias were in full bloom when spring morphed back into winter last month.  Unusual, early warmth teased them into bloom weeks ahead of their usual awakening.  But 80 degree days in February will tease all sorts of things into early awakening, won’t they?

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Magnolia liliiflora

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As much as we enjoyed the early spring blossoms, we held our breath, wondering whether the nice weather would hold out.  And of course, it didn’t.  Quite suddenly, the temperatures plummeted back to ‘normal.’

We had a string of nights in the 20s which brightened into frosty mornings and cool grey days.  That slowed down the progression of spring in our garden, a bit; but devastated the Magnolias blossoms.

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April 3, and our Magnolia is blooming once again.

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What had been hundreds of richly purple delicate blossoms one day were reduced to these sad, drooping brown husks of their former beauty the next.  If I’m getting too personal here, forgive me, please.  It is one of the ironies of our lives here on this Earth that such things can happen, and so quickly.

We wondered what the prolonged cold would do to our Magnolias.  They are well established, but we wondered whether their frozen buds would recover.

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Our Magnolias have finally grown both leaves and new blossoms.

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When that happened last spring, to our emerging Ficus “Silver Lyre,’ most of the stems died, too.  We had to wait for new growth from the shrub’s roots.  It recovered, but very slowly; they didn’t make much new growth and remained a bit stunted all last year.

But our 2017 cold snap ended about a week ago.  Our temperatures have been moderate, near normal, and we’ve had no nights in the 30s for about 10 days.  And so we see spring progressing in our garden, despite the frosty hiccup in mid-March.

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Azaleas fill our garden this week, but the Hydrangea macrophylla also took a hit from the cold last month.  They are slowly trying again with fresh leaves.

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I’m still holding my breath a bit, quite honestly.  Our frost free date remains two weeks into the future, and I’m working to restrain my natural urge to plant and move our pots and baskets back out to their summer spots in the garden.

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Acer palmatum

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I moved the hanging baskets out of our garage early last week, and massed them against the foundation, on the backside of our home, near the spigot.  I gave them all a good drenching and left them out during the torrential rains last week.

I worry a little about the afternoon sun there, but am reluctant to rehang them in the trees until I’m sure we won’t need to move them back inside for shelter should we get a rogue snowstorm.  More likely, hail and wind, from the week’s forecast!  Tornadoes ripped through southern Virginia on Friday.

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Columbine, ready to bloom.

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I finally fed the roses their breakfast of Rose Tone and Epsom salts last week, just before the rains came.  I’ve done a little pruning, and need to do more.  Prune too early, and the new growth you encourage will die back in a hard freeze.  That happened to a few of our roses last month.

The roses are ready to grow!  All sport new red leaves, and I know that the longer I wait, the harder it will be for me to do the necessary spring shaping.  Our first roses bloomed in April last year.  It was another early spring….

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Gardening, like any good board game, leaves a lot to chance.  And we gardeners must swallow our feelings, sometimes, and just be good sports.  Whoever wrote the “Serenity Prayer” must have been a gardener.  There are always things in our control that we can change, do, not do, encourage, or ignore.

And then there are those things that we can’t change:  like the small herd of deer we found grazing in our garden when we returned home yesterday afternoon from our day at the Daffodil Festival in Gloucester.  I saw the back of one, calmly grazing our butterfly garden, as I climbed out of the car.  I was off, laden with bags and my coffee cup, in hot pursuit.  Seven brown little heads turned and magically ran right through the deer fences.

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The Oakleaf Hydrangeas made it through March just fine. The cold slowed their leaves opening, but there was no damage. Autumn Brilliance ferns emerge this week.

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And we can’t necessarily change the weather, either.  We can remain mindful of the calendar and the forecast and do our best to work with the changing of the seasons.  But storms will come and the mercury will dance when it should remain slow and steady.  Which brings us back to our frozen Magnolias….

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Which, I’m happy to tell you, recovered.  What joy to notice both green and purple emerging from their tolerant stems.  New flowers are blooming, and leaves continue to emerge.  I expect they will fully recover from their trauma this spring.

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My parents always taught me, growing up, to “Expect the best.”  That has been good advice.

Oftentimes, our attitude, our expectations, our thoughts and even our feelings will influence how things will turn out.  Yes, there are exceptions.  But in general, we can find a silver lining when we go looking for one.

And even through the inevitable disappointments and challenges we encounter along the way; a hopeful, joyful attitude makes the journey a lot more pleasant.  When we expect the best, the best inevitably comes our way.

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We discovered this beautiful Heron in a wetland near the York River yesterday. We stopped to enjoy the beach near VIMS as we left Gloucester, and he was wading nearby.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“At times what you expect and what happens don’t match.
The faster you accept and adapt to what happened
and work towards creating what you believed,
that what you expected gets created
in a whole new way..!”
.
Sujit Lalwani

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