Six on Saturday: Gifts

These windmill palms made it from California to Virginia in perfect shape, thanks to Tony Tomeo.

Gifts are always fun.  Gardening gifts are the best, and gifts of plants always warm my heart.  A living plant is a gift from the heart, and it creates a special bond between giver and receiver as the plant grows on and develops into its potential.

That said, sometimes those gifted plant can get too enthusiastic and create work down the road.  But when that happens, I try to dig up those I can’t use and share them with someone else.  I love trying new plants I’ve not grown before.   Most gardeners I know love expanding their gardening experience by growing out new types of plants.

When California Horticulturalist, Tony Tomeo, who I’ve been corresponding with for the last several years through our respective blogs, offered to send me some windmill palms, Trachycarpus fortunei, I immediately accepted his kind offer.  He told me these were babies, and he assured me that they should grow OK here in coastal Virginia. 

I’ve not grown palms before.  What a wonderful opportunity to learn something new!  I know that they will do well on my sheltered front patio.  Since these are slow growing, I can keep them in pots on the patio for the time being, to watch them grow.  Once they settle in and grow more roots, I expect to transplant two of these beautiful palms into large pots on either side of my front porch.

Read more on Our Forest Garden

Associations

As a young gardener, I bought and cared for individual plants I liked.  I still remember a beautiful, red-leafed Begonia in a hanging basket that I bought at a Richmond farmer’s market in the early 80’s.  I happily brought it home to my little apartment and hung it on the screened in porch.  It brought tremendous joy as it bloomed and stretched and succeeded in that humble little space. 

Many of us may spend our entire gardening lives focusing on single plants.  There are orchid enthusiasts, African violet enthusiasts, rose enthusiasts and Begonia enthusiasts; and we can remain quite happy with our special plants in special little pots doing their beautiful genus specific ‘thing.’

Begonia x. rex

But at some point, some of us experiment with putting several different types of plants, together, into a single pot or basket.  You may have seen ‘how-to’ articles in gardening magazines that offer recipes for container gardens of 3, 5, 7, maybe 9 or more plants.  When plants are grown together in a community like this, we call it an ‘association.’

It takes a little more understanding of the chosen plants to create a successful association.  In addition to considerations of the various colors of the flowers and leaves, we also consider each plant’s form.  What will grow tall?  What will droop or drape down the pot?  What will grow thick and dense?  What will reach out of the arrangement for the sun, or what will creep across the soil as a groundcover?  When will the flowers bloom, and for how long?

To create a good association, we also need to know what is happening in the soil.  How deep do each plants roots want to grow?  Do any have taproots?  Will there be bulbs dividing and expanding?  Rhizomes creeping?

And of course, we need to consider the amount of sun each plant needs to thrive, and which plants might die back with too much or too little light.  Does the plant want the soil to dry between waterings, or should the soil remain moist?  Or ever waterlogged?  Most of us learn these things through our mistakes as much as through our study.

It may be simpler to use a recipe from a magazine, but experienced gardeners develop their own ideas of favorite associations that suit their own microclimate.  A simple potted arrangement also allows us to learn about new plants, watching them carefully through a season or two to learn more about how they perform.  We can decide whether to grow more, or move on to something else.

A good association of plants can carry a pot or basket with something of interest every month of the year.  Winter blooming annuals, bulbs that begin their growth during the cold weeks of winter, and good strong foliage plants can bridge the awkward times when nothing else much may bloom.  Annuals may be popped in and out of a grouping anchored by a shrub or an evergreen perennial.

Pots are a great way to try out new associations of plants.  Some will work beautifully, and maybe others, not so much.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  Pots are portable, allowing a gardener to easily move the grouping into different light, and to control the water more reliably.

Those of us blessed with a bit of ground where we can dig, and plant, will eventually create associations in our garden beds and borders.  That is how great designs develop, as we get a good feel for which plants make good neighbors and stunning displays together.

Read more at Our Forest Garden

Six on Saturday: Ruthless Love

Solidago, goldenrod, and Physostegia virginiana grow vigorously, making life challenging for other perennials in this space.

Baby plants have a particular charm for me.  I spent a happy half hour this afternoon browsing the display of tiny ‘terrarium’ plants in 1” pots at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond. and came home with more than a half dozen tiny starts of Begonias and ferns.  What fun!  I have a couple of future projects taking shape in imagination, and I gathered some of the plants and staging I will need for them today.

The charm of baby plants is their mystery and their promise.  What will it look like as it grows?  How beautiful will it be as it blooms?  How will it fit into my garden?

I have purchased countless baby plants over the years that ‘seemed like a great idea at the time.’  And then there were gifts of little divisions that came from friends in grocery bags and old nursery pots.  Gifts of love and kindness, all.   Especially when our upper garden was largely an empty, mulch carpeted blank slate, gardening friends expressed their compassion and well-wishes with gifts from their own gardens.  Plus, they know I’m a sucker for a new plant, right?

The promise inherent in most of these sweet little starts is that they will be happy in our garden, will feel comfortably at home, and will grow.

Here lies the irony experienced gardeners know in their bones:  some cute little baby plants grow up to become out of control real estate tycoons.  Sound like a familiar story?

Read more at Our Forest Garden

My Final Plant Order

The second part of an order as it arrived on April 11, 2014. Michigan bulb did replace these plants when notified of their condition on arrival.

Back in the day, I loved finding a plant or seed catalog in the mail.  I studied each one carefully, marking up my wish list and then winnowing it down to something almost reasonable.  I read the descriptions on each shrub and perennial, compared tomato, bean and squash varieties, and stayed abreast of all the latest and greatest plant introductions.

Over the past thirty years (plus or minus) I have ordered everything from fruit trees to roses, ferns, geraniums, tomato seeds and Caladium bulbs.

I have received some fine, healthy plants that grew well, and I’ve received some duds.  Like you probably have over the years, too.  I used to collect heirloom roses and fruit trees.  There weren’t deer or rabbits in that garden, and I could grow vegetables and strawberries, too.  I grew at least six varieties of apples and three different peaches, all purchased through the mail.

I remember those days fondly.  The mail came every day, efficiently and without long delays.  Prices were fair and nursery companies were honorable and cared about their reputations.

July 2014

But things change over time, don’t they?  For the last few years, most of the nursery catalogs that make it to my mailbox go straight to the recycling can, just as soon as I can remove and shred my address label.  A quick glance shows me how ridiculously overpriced the most common perennial can be when ordered through the mail.  What I can buy locally for $5 suddenly becomes a $20 a plant before tacking on the postage.

It has been a long time since I have found a good deal on anything other than my favorite Caladium tubers.  A few years ago, I took a chance on ordering a rare, hard to locate Iris.  I ordered from a huge national company that advertises heavily, used a coupon code, and waited excitedly for my Iris to arrive.  The stock looked good on arrival and I potted up the several I had purchased.  They didn’t bloom the first year, and so I had an entire year to anticipate these inky, almost black, species Iris flowers. 

And then there were buds, and finally the buds opened…. blue.  What had been sold as an Iris chrysographes bloomed as a pale blue Japanese Iris.  It was a pretty enough Iris, but not what I had ordered.  And so instead of refunding my purchase, the company sent me a letter promising store credit on my next order.  That letter sat in my filing cabinet for a couple of years, because I truly wasn’t interested in buying anything else from them.

And then temptation struck me this past February.  February does strange things to an otherwise sensible gardener’s sensibility.  I found this fern I just had to have, and this company had it at a fair enough price.  And so one freezing February day I ordered the golden fern and a couple of Calla lily bulbs, and paid for it with my letter of credit, plus a few extra dollars to cover the difference.

We are fortunate to have Brent and Becky’s Bulbs close enough to shop with them in person.

Well, the fern arrived just fine in early March, but no bulbs.  They said the bulbs would be along shortly.  And so I waited patiently through the time frame they indicated, and still no Calla bulbs.  When I called customer service last week, the sweet lady apologized profusely while telling me that the next time frame for mailing them would be mid-May.  No thank you.

I cancelled the order, scolding myself the entire time, and requested a refund.  Well, I’m still waiting for that refund.  Are you surprised?

I tried a new company last February, too.  The Tennessee Wholesale Nursery has a professional looking website and carries a large selection of bare root ferns.  I was in fern bliss ordering species never found in stores.   The order arrived a few weeks later in March, and I was pleased with what I received.

Pleased enough that I had the botanical garden where I volunteer place an order for a project I was planting there.  We were a bit shocked to pay around $30 for postage for a few packages of bare root ferns, but there was no stated shipping policy on the website other than a statement that they would determine the shipping on each order.  Those ferns were shipped the same day they were ordered, and I was a very happy gardener to open that order, too.

The silvery underside of each frond is this fern’s distinguishing feature. I brought this fern home from Oregon in my luggage in 2019.

Perhaps I should have been satisfied and left it at that.  But no, I wanted a few more ferns for my spring projects, so I placed the third order with Tennessee Wholesale Nursery in mid-March.  The website indicated it would ship out in March, and my credit card was charged on March 20.

And I’m still waiting for that order a month later in mid-April, while getting nothing helpful or encouraging from their customer service agent.  When they told me last Monday that they wouldn’t be able to dig my ferns for several more weeks, I asked that the order be cancelled if they couldn’t ship by today. Numerous attempts to call the available numbers led only through the phone tree to full voice mailboxes.

Well, the order wasn’t prepared last week, and so on Friday, I requested that it be cancelled, and my payment refunded. No acknowledgement, just an apology.  It is getting too late in the season here for me to want to start off with bare root plants.  Our cool spring is history, and it is stressful for plants to have to grow new roots in our heat.

I requested again today that the order be cancelled.  And I followed up with an email to the owner.  Still, no acknowledgment that it has been cancelled, or that my refund is in process, even after writing to the owner.   Instead of happily planting my ferns, I am left pondering next steps . . .

2013, An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to plant. It is still thriving in our garden today.

I have one more plant order ‘out there’ that is supposed to ship this week from Plant Delights in North Carolina.  This will be my first order with them in several years.  Once their shipping costs went above $30 for even a single plant, it cooled my plant lust considerably.  All it took was a few moments of ‘doing the math’ to figure out the actual cost of the plant to convince me that I didn’t need it that badly.

But I was given a gift of cash and asked to get something I had been wanting for a while.  And after several days of thinking about it, I decided to support the work that Plant Delights does for the horticultural community with a purchase/donation.  I say donation because the prices are so high.  But they are quite honest and let you know that your purchase helps support their botanical garden where the plants are trialed and cultivated.  Fair enough.

These three Colocasia plants were all purchased through the mail. The tall Colocasia “Black Runner” arrived from Plant Delights Nursery on April 2, 2014, in perfect condition. The tiny Colocasia, “Pink China” plants arrived from another company in poor condition. You get what you pay for!

I am waiting to hear that the order has shipped.  Plant Delights has a good track record of customer service.  If you don’t mind paying $20-$30 a plant for a little something in a 3.5” pot, you can source plants from them unavailable from anyone else.  And, the plants are healthy and correctly labeled.

Buying new plants should be joyous.  We all want to be treated fairly and to receive good value for our expenditure.  The plants we receive should be healthy, arrive at the correct time, and we should be able to communicate with the nursery staff if problems arise.

Many of the old names in the mail-order nursery business have gone under in recent years.  Others have consolidated.  This past year has presented special challenges for every sort of business, including mail-order nurseries.  I appreciate the work they do and the opportunity to purchase unusual plants few others carry.

This past week I unsubscribed from the emails of all but two nursery companies.  Why read the emails and see the sales when I’ve decided to stop ordering from them?  I am still allowing emails from Plant Delights, because I enjoy seeing their new introductions.  And I am still impressed with the quality, service and selection at Classic Caladiums, in Avon Park, Florida.

Beyond that, I have placed my final plant order.  I will shop locally or find happiness with whatever wildflower or sapling pops up in my yard.  Because peace of mind is priceless.

Native dogwood is our state flower, and the Virginia Native Wildflower of the Year for 2018. Best of all, it seeds itself around our garden for free.

Building a Fern Bed to Reduce Erosion

Rainy weather and frequent storms over the past few years have presented a particular challenge.  We are situated on a sloping bit of land on the side of a ravine.  A creek runs through the ravine below us and empties into a small lake.

Working with the continual erosion has remained a constant theme of our gardening here.  Our challenge is to slow the flow of water to increase opportunities for rain to soak into the soil for later use, while reducing the amount of flowing water that erodes the soil and runs off into the ravine.

Read more about the construction of this new series of raised beds, and see photos of some of the ferns we’ve chosen at my new site, Our Forest Garden.

If you enjoy these posts. please follow my new site, Our Forest Garden, so you remain up to date with all of the activity in our garden.

-WG 2021

Six on Saturday: Spring in Our ‘Novel’ Garden

When we first moved to this garden nearly 12 years ago, we were delighted to find daffodils blooming our first spring, in a lush mass across a bank in the front yard.  We watched in wonder as their buds opened, revealing their varied forms and colors. 

Our next door neighbors, an English couple, also love daffies and plant a fresh lot of bulbs each fall to add to their springtime display.  Daffodils are heirloom plants, blooming for many decades after they are planted.  They divide each summer and sometimes their seeds are spread around, allowing for natural hybrids and unpredictable spread. Their bright yellows, whites and golds light up our woodlands before the first buds of Forsythia or wild deerberries begin their bloom.

Read more and see more garden photos

Have you visited my new website, Our Forest Garden?

This is a continuation of A Forest Garden, with additional storage space for fresh photos. You’ll also find a library of directories that make it easy for you to find information published here over the past 7 years.

Directories to previous posts on the site include:

On Gardening

Trees and Shrubs

Ferns and Mosses

Green Thumb Tips

Choosing Native Plants

Good Garden Books

Begonias

Caladiums and other Aroids

Herbs

The new site is still a work in progress, and I hope you will visit and have a look at the new format. Please bookmark or follow Our Forest Garden to continue to receive notice of new posts as they are published.

-WG March 2021

Six On Saturday: Happy Pots in January

January and February might be months gardeners choose to take off.  After all, it is hard to get too enthusiastic with a northwest wind blowing and temperatures dropping, even if the sun shines for a few hours of the day.  Plant choices dwindle as temperatures drop, and frozen soil makes it even more challenging to keep potted plants hydrated.  Leaves may get crispy edges when roots can’t absorb enough water to replace moisture left to cold, drying winds.  Frozen soil is almost as limiting to plant growth as dry soil.

That’s why I pay attention and take note of potted plants that still shine with vigor and health by late January.  I get excited by every winter flower, green leaf, and promise of continued growth.  Granted, our winters here in Williamsburg may be milder than most.  And our coldest, frostiest weather often waits for February or early March, just as we’re primed for spring.  But I’ll tell you that last night was in the 20s here, and it had only warmed up into the 30s when I took these photos.  These are a few plants that have proven themselves sturdy through colder nights and icier days in winters passed. Read More on Our Forest Garden

 

Have you visited my new website, Our Forest Garden?

This is a continuation of A Forest Garden, with additional storage space for fresh photos. You’ll also find a library of directories that make it easy for you to find information published here over the past 7 years.

Directories to previous posts on the site include:

On Gardening

Trees and Shrubs

Ferns and Mosses

Green Thumb Tips

Choosing Native Plants

Good Garden Books

Begonias

Caladiums and other Aroids

Herbs

The new site is still a work in progress, and I hope you will visit and have a look at the new format. Please bookmark or follow Our Forest Garden to continue to receive notice of new posts as they are published.

-WG January 2021

Our Forest Garden

Moss garden with Canadian Hemlock and holly seedlings

The time has cometo continue the journey that we began in June of 2013, with A Forest Garden, on a new site.

After over 1700 posts, it seems I’ve filled up all of the space allowed for new photos. If you are a regular visitor, you might have noticed fewer new posts over the past several months as I approached the limit time and again. I deleted some old material, recycled a few old photos, and tried to make it to January 2021 to organize a new website.

Now, in the quiet months, I have the time to assemble a new and improved “Our Forest Garden” site for gardening friends old and new.

If you have been a follower for awhile, I hope you will follow this new site today, so you will still receive notifications when new content is posted. If you are a new follower, you will be able to still access any old content of interest to you on A Forest Garden. I am building links between the sites for your convenience.

In fact, you may find it easier to find content by using the new directory pages I’m setting up to try to organize seven and a half years of posts. You’ll find these pages of links on the menu.  There are several of these directory pages already constructed and I have plans to continue adding new pages for a while.

Over the years, the most popular posts on A Forest Garden have been the ‘how to’ posts. The posts most heavily viewed have generally been those about trees, Begonias and Caladiums. With lots of media space open, I plan to offer some new posts on these popular topics.

My interests have expanded over the years, and my gardening community has grown. Even as our garden space has filled up with plants, my curiosity to grow new genera and to garden in new ways has also increased. I’m more curious now about working with nature in ever more subtle ways to support our rich ecosystem.

I am a ‘dirty hands’ gardener and am always happy with my hands in the soil, helping something to grow. My camera is always close at hand and I try to capture as much of the action as possible to document the passing of the seasons, the growth of favorite plants, and the presence of butterflies, birds, turtles, rabbits, and the other creatures who visit us.

There is so much left to grow and left to learn. I invite you to remain with me on the journey.

The Woodland Gnome January 2021

To receive notifications of all new posts, please visit and follow:

Our Forest Garden launched January 2021

Illuminations- Walking in Beauty Each Day launched April 2020

Growing Indigenous Trees from Seeds

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Indigenous trees are those native species that have grown in our area since before European colonization.  They are suited to our climate.  They support our indigenous wildlife and make our landscape unique.

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North American trees were so highly valued in 17th and 18th Century Europe that a lively trade grew up between botanists in the ‘colonies’ willing to collect, package and ship seeds, and European plantsman eager to receive those packages and grow out the seeds.  North American trees were preferred for landscaping European parks and estates.  Beautiful flowers, autumn color and graceful structure made them instantly popular.  They added to the biodiversity of regions which had lost much of their forest, in prior generations.

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And as Europeans favored North American trees, so we often value Asian trees and shrubs and gravitate towards showy, named woody cultivars so commonly found at local garden centers.  Common native species that crop up in fields and on roadsides may not hold much appeal for us.  And even if we want to grow an indigenous tree, they are difficult to buy.

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Acorns may be found in September through December in our area

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Collecting seeds and growing indigenous trees provides a tremendous service to our community.  Growing trees from seed takes time, but is a simple, enjoyable activity for gardeners with itchy fingers who want to make a living contribution to the community.

September through December is the prime time to collect many fresh seeds.  Pick up acorns, beech nuts, hickory nuts, seed pods from redbud trees, ripe maple seeds, black locust pods, and opened cones with fresh pine seeds.

Seeds from woody plants respond well to soaking in hot water for several hours up to a day, depending on their freshness, before planting.   This allows water to enter the seed coat and trigger metabolism.  Consider soaking in a clean thermos bottle to keep the water hot, longer.

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Redbud tree seedpods

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Seeds may be wrapped in damp paper towel and kept in a baggy until they sprout, or they may be ‘planted’ in a baggy filled no more than halfway with damp sand, peat based potting soil or damp vermiculite.  Some seeds need light to germinate.  Other seeds need an extended period of either warm or cold stratification to germinate.  Ilex species grow best after passing through a bird’s digestive system, where the acids help prepare the seed coat.  Some seeds are ready to grow when fresh.

A little research on a particular species’ needs indicates whether heat, cold, or both is required for germination.  Seeds requiring cold stratification may be kept outside over winter or placed in the produce drawer of your refrigerator for several weeks.  Seeds needing warmth often respond well to a spot in the kitchen near a pilot light or a cabinet over the stove.

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Beautyberry seeds are found within the tiny purple berries. These native shrubs reseed themselves prolifically with little assistance from a gardener.  They are most commonly ‘planted’ by a bird. 

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When collecting acorns and other seeds, try to identify the parent tree.  A photo of the tree in leaf will help you identify or confirm the particular species later. Label the container used while collecting.

Once home, float each batch of seeds in a container of warm water.  Seeds that sink are viable, and those that float likely are not.  Look for any small holes where insects may have burrowed inside, and discard these.  If collecting a lot of seeds, it is useful to keep a log with details about each batch.

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An oak tree growing beside the James River near Jamestown produced many of the acorns I gathered last autumn.

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Oaks are some of the easiest trees to grow from seed.  The seeds are easy to find and to collect, and ripe acorns can be found from September through early winter.  Oaks species native to the South, like the Live Oak, Quercus virginiana, may germinate immediately.  Those native to northern regions, such as Quercus rubra, the Northern Red Oak, will likely need a period of cold stratification before germination.

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Test the seeds you gather by placing them in a container of warm water. Those that sink are viable, any that float, after a few hours of soaking, likely aren’t going to germinate.

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After soaking acorns in hot water for six hours or more, remove the caps and sow the seed.  If space isn’t a concern, each may be potted up in a 4”-6” pot, labeled, and then set aside in a protected area outdoors to sprout.  Otherwise, wrap the viable seeds in moist paper towels, or mix with medium, and seal in a labeled plastic bag.  Those that need cold stratification may be kept outdoors on a porch or in the produce drawer of your refrigerator.   Begin to watch for signs of germination after about 8 weeks of cold stratification.

In the wild, seeds wait to germinate until the weather will support their growth.  The period of cold stratification through the winter is needed before the warmth of ‘spring’ allows the seed to crack open and begin to grow.  A seed that germinates too early might begin to grow before weather conditions are favorable for its development.

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The Compton Oak, a natural hybrid of Quercus virginiana and Quercus lyrata, grows in the Colonial area of Williamsburg.  Quercus virginiana can be found growing throughout Colonial Williamsburg.

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Seeds started in a baggy may be planted into pots once they have cracked open and the root has appeared.  To plant the germinated seeds, mix up an appropriate potting mix from fine pine bark mulch, compost, soaked peat, with some builder’s sand or perlite added to improve drainage.  Let 2 parts be bark mulch, 1 part compost or peat and 1 part sand or perlite.  If using a commercial potting soil, mix it with an equal amount of bark mulch.  After planting the seed, mulch each pot with about ¼” of chicken grit, vermiculite, or fine aquarium gravel.

Most indigenous seeds begin to grow in forest duff, if they survive hungry squirrels, insects and birds, that is!  They don’t need coddling so long as you can meet their basic needs.  These seeds can germinate under a light layer of fallen leaves or pine tags, and some actually benefit from light during germination.

Of course, insects, squirrels or deer eating a seed like an acorn destroys it.  But when birds eat berries, the seed passes through their body intact.  Often the digestive acids help break down the seed coat to prepare it for germination.  That is why seeds encapsulated in fruits, like holly seeds and dogwood seeds, benefit from being ‘planted’ by birds.  Holly seeds may need more than a year before they can germinate.

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Native Redbud trees, Cercis canadensis, brighten the spring landscape.  These neat trees never grow very tall, and perform well in partial shade.

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Protect newly planted seeds from squirrels by placing the pots on a screened porch, in a cold frame, or in a container, such as a clear plastic box, with a lid.  Check the seeds regularly to make sure the soil is moist.  Once the seeds sprout, and new growth is visible, allow the plants to grow on in a partially shaded spot.

Expect to grow your baby trees for some time so they are well- established before they are transplanted.  Once growing, move the seedlings up to a deep enough pot for roots to develop without circling the pot.  Take care not to damage the main tap root.  A 1 gallon pot is a good start.

Wait until fall to transplant your seedling tree into its permanent spot.  If deer are a problem in your area, you may need to protect the seedling from their grazing for the first several years.  I had a seedling oak tree, that I purchased from the Arbor Day Foundation, grazed several winters in a row.  It would regrow the following spring from its roots.  Only after I protected it did the deer finally leave it alone long enough for it to grow above their reach.

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You can offer your indigenous seedling trees to neighbors or friends, or offer them to a local native plant sale.

However we get them into the community, we can use these indigenous trees to teach the larger community to value our native, indigenous trees; and make them available as an alternative to the mass produced trees so commonly available at local retail nurseries.

It is an investment in beauty.  It is an investment in preserving our local landscapes and the web of life they support.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

For more information:

Bubel, Nancy.  The New Seed-Starter’s Handbook.  Rodale Press.  Emmaus PA.  1988.

Copp, Catherine. Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns: The Complete Guide to Growing Oak Trees From Seed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2017.

Dirr, Michael A. and Charles W. Heuser, Jr.  The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation from Seed to Tissue Cultures. Varsity Press, Inc.  Cary, NC.  2006.

Druse, Ken.  Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation.  Clarkson Potter/Publishers.  New York, NY.  2000.

Wulf, Andrea. The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession.  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.  New York, NY. 2019.

Native Virginia Trees

Choosing A Tree

Obsession: Botany and Empire, As Seen From Jamestown Virginia

Native trees:

American Sycamore

Redbud Tree

American Holly Tree

 

 

Six on Saturday: Return of the Caladiums

Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’

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Some things are worth the wait.  The stars have to align and summer has to heat up to its steamy, sultry best before that familiar, happy satisfaction fills my heart as I walk around our garden admiring the Caladiums.

I love Caladiums.  I love their pure colors, their intricate patterns, their tough beauty, their easy way of popping out leaf after gorgeous leaf from early summer until deep into fall.  I love them enough to care for them through the coldest months of winter and early spring, all to watch them live to grow another year.

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’

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When I dug and dried our Caladiums late last year, as nights grew chilly and days grew short,  I was a little overwhelmed with our harvest.  I had crate after crate of plants drying out in the basement.  By the time they were dried and I was ready to pack them up for the winter, it was time to prepare for the holidays.

But no, I was more interested in putting the Caladiums properly to bed.  Each bulb needs its own TLC to clean it up and pack it gently away.  I pack mesh bags with bulbs graded by size and cushioned with packing material, stack them together in a paper grocery bag, and then store that bag in a warm dry spot in the house to rest for the next several moths.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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By early March, I’m dreaming about our Caladiums again, itching to bring them out of storage and plant them in flats to sprout.  And we had so many bulbs packed away that I didn’t order any new ones, for the first year in several.

I waited, this year, about two weeks later than usual to start our Caladiums, and they were eager to grow.  We knew we had a cool, late spring coming, and so I waited until late March.  Most already had little sprouts when I brought them out of storage.

I planted the tubers in large plastic boxes, watered them in, put the lids back on, and then stacked the boxes indoors until the Caldiums rooted and began to grow..  This year I had 8 big storage boxes planted densely with Caladiums.

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Caladium ‘Berries ‘N Burgundy’

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It was so cool in April, that I tried to keep them indoors in their boxes even later than usual.  One day I glanced at my stack of plastic boxes and saw some leaves reaching out, lifting the lids, in their bid to escape and find the light.  What strong leaves!  I almost waited too long.

It was time to open up the boxes to give them space to grow, ready or not.  Our nights were still in the 40s, which is much too cool for Caladiums.  So I began moving the boxes out to our sunny garage in hopes I could keep them growing, but protected for a few more weeks, out there.

It was Mother’s Day before it was warm enough to move our Caladiums outside, and I moved the boxes out into some sheltered shade.  By then many of the first leaves had stretched tall and lanky.  But after a day or two outside, their colors developed and I happily greeted many favorite varieties from years gone by.  They were growing too large for their boxes, and so I spent several days lifting them and potting them individually to grow on.

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This Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ has grown some of the largest leaves I’ve ever seen on a Caladium!

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I’ve spent June potting and planting Caladiums throughout the yard in all of our shady or partly shady beds.  I’ve sorted them more by color than by variety, sometimes guessing from a first little leaf or two what the plant might be.  Often the first leaf or two to open isn’t true to the mature coloration of a variety.  It takes a bit of time, and heat, and light for the leaves to grow into the fullness of their potential.

Older Caladium bicolor varieties were strictly shade plants.  Many of the newer hybrids can stand full or partial sun.  Finding the right spot for each variety is a little like working a very complicated puzzle.  This year, I’ve planted mostly in pots to make the autumn operation a little easier.  I lost track of some last fall that lost their leaves before I got around to digging them up.  These tropical beauties can’t take our winters out of doors.

But bringing the whole pot in has its advantages, too.  I was surprised and delighted to find Caladiums sprouting in several of the pots that I overwintered in our garage, with other tender plants, like ferns and Begonias.  When I bring potted Caladiums into the living areas of our house, they will often begin to grow again by January or February, and we enjoy them indoors as houseplants.  Those left undisturbed are growing lush, and full again now.

Finally, this first week of July, our Caladiums are all growing vigorously and filling in with their spectacular leaves.  The hours invested in their care have given a rich return in beauty.

You might think that I’d be growing tired of the Caladiums by now, and my attention would turn to other things.  But no… an email from Classic Caladiums broke my resolve to grow only our saved tubers this year.

There was this newly introduced variety that caught my eye, and they are all marked down for the end of season clearance.  I just had to try something new, and so ordered a bag.  When the tubers arrived just a few days later, I eagerly planted them into pots wherever I thought they would grow.  We’ll soon see what new beauty they bring.

Caladiums will brighten our garden through the hottest, most humid days of summer, until the seasons turn yet again. Each leaf is a bit different, endlessly fascinating and lovely.

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Caladium ‘Moonlight’ grows best in deep shade, lighting it like a beacon well into a long, summer evening.

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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

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