Sunday Dinner: Momentum

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“A river is easier to channel than to stop.”
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Brandon Sanderson

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“Hope floats but effort propels.”
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Rob Liano

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“Whatever beginning goals you set for yourself,
following through on them will build momentum
and a sense of achievement
and those small success will point the way
to bigger ones”
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Pamela Glass Kelly

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“It’s not about inviting great things into our lives.
Rather, it’s about accepting the invitation
of great things
to step out of our lives.”
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Craig D. Lounsbrough

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“It takes a leader to create the momentum,
it takes a vision to direct the momentum,
it takes a massive action to build on the momentum,
and it takes self-discipline to sustain the momentum.
Momentum is the bridge between a vision
and its results.”
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Farshad Asl

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“Enthusiasm is the energy and force
that builds literal momentum
of the human soul and mind.”
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Bryant McGill

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Instead of talking about what you wish to do,
start doing it.
Take action towards your dreams.”
.
Akiroq Brost
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Time to Travel, Time to Reflect, Time to Plant, Time to Return….

Siletz Bay, Lincoln City Oregon

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“The sun rises each morning to shed light
on the things we may have overlooked
the day before.”
.
Tyler J. Hebert

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Siletz Bay, as seen from the other side along Highway 101

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It has been more than three weeks since my last post of Forest Garden, and probably long since time that I should share with you a few of my adventures.   As friends likely knew, I’ve been away, visiting some of my favorite places and spending time with some of my favorite loved ones.

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Depoe Bay, Oregon, where everyone watches for whales.

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I spend weeks preparing for the trip, and then leave home at o’dark thirty for the airport to catch one of the first planes of the morning out to Chicago.  It is worth the effort, as I’m collecting my luggage in Portland by West Coast lunchtime.  Then the long drive to the coast through some of the most beautiful scenic routes in the country, and I instantly feel ‘at home’ again.

From the beautiful Willamette Valley, where the leaves had already turned scarlet and orange to the rocky central Oregon coast, where they mostly hadn’t, I was enchanted by the beauty of every mile.

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We stopped to shop for produce and pumpkins on the way north to Tillamook.

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I spend the week with daughter and her family, marveling at how much little one has grown since I last saw her and catching up on family news.  There is time for walks on the beach, drives through the mountains, breakfasts together, playground time, and time spent exploring the beautiful Connie Hansen Garden.

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Little one loves the beach, and we found the perfect place for her to play safely.

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I love waking and ending my days listening to the pounding of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, we were blessed with calm, sunny weather.  Aside from one foggy evening and a bit of rain, the days were bright and comfortable and the ocean perfectly peaceful.

The weather was always right for whatever we chose to do.  If you know the Pacific Northwest, you know how blessed we were with this stretch of beautiful weather in the middle of October.

There are favorite places to visit and new ones to explore.   I learned a few new ‘locals’ shortcuts’ this time, and had a wonderful time on the hilly twisty roads of this stretch of coast where the mountains touch the sea.

And finally, for the first time, we spotted whales below Cape Foulweather.  We are always watching for whales at the coast, and this time there was a pod of them in the ocean far below us.

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The whales are just below the surface, and the frothy white on the surface is from their breathing. You may see their shadows below the clear blue sea. This is the view from Cape Foulweather along Highway 101.

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We soaked in the view while also keeping up with an energetic four year old!  She was much more interested in thoroughly exploring the park than in looking at whales, but I managed to still capture a photo or two.

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The view from Cape Foulweather, one of the highest point along this stretch of Highway 101 headed south towards Newport.

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On my visits to Lincoln City, I’m always happy to visit the Connie Hansen Garden to see what is growing, what has changed, and talk with the garden volunteers.

This time I was able to visit with a volunteer who is working on a major new ‘white garden’ installation.  She was still working on the soil while I was there, but I was keenly interested in her plans for planting.  And now I’m looking forward to seeing how it is coming along next year.

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A beautiful collection of heathers and heaths grow in the lower section of the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy.

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The garden’s first owner, Dr. Connie Hansen, established many extensive collections of her favorite genera.  There are Japanese maples, Rhododendrons, many sorts of ferns, Oregon natives and at one time Iris.  A few Iris are left and a new bed established a few years ago.  But her main collection of Japanese Iris were sacrificed when the parking area was laid, after her passing, when the garden became a public Conservancy.  All of the work in the garden is still done by volunteers.

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There are many water features in the Connie Hansen garden to help manage the water that runs through this property from the surrounding neighbors’ yards.  The soil throughout the garden is nearly always moist, and so raised beds are important to grow many of the plants successfully.

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As I explored and enjoyed this beautiful Oregon garden, I was reminded of the work waiting for me at home.  October is a very busy gardening month in Virginia as well as in Oregon.  I thought of the many bulb orders I was waiting to collect and plant on my return and the chores to be done before the weather turns.

Digging the Caladiums and preparing them for winter storage was on my mind and on my ‘to do’ list as soon as I returned home.  They don’t like temperatures much below 50F, which is why they thrive in Florida, survive in Virginia’s summers, but are not grown in Oregon.

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Even in summer, Oregon nights along the coast are often too cool for heat loving plants like Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias.  But there are so many wonderful things they can grow year round that we can’t.  My daughter’s pansies still looked perky and fresh after growing in her garden over the past year.  Her garden is cool enough for them to grow right through the summer.

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Gunnera is related to Rhubarb, and grows to its full potential in the Pacific Northwest. This plant would likely wilt in a Virginia summer.  I don’t see it in cultivation in our area.  Ajuga carpets the ground beneath it.

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We savored every day and made the most of them all, but eventually it was time to pack for the trip home.

Those last few days were fraught with a bit of worry, because Hurricane Michael had swept through our area as a tropical storm with high winds, tornadoes and torrential rain while I was away.  I stayed in touch with friends and loved ones in the storm’s path through Virginia, and knew that our area was hard hit with downed trees and power outages.  I was nervous over what I would find waiting at home in Williamsburg.

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Hydrangeas along the coast were still gorgeous. This one grew beside the doorway where I stayed. 

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And of course, I was concerned about our own Forest Garden.  My partner spent hours and hours cleaning up and chatting with neighbors about the damage and their clean-up efforts in the days after the storm, and he was a bit vague about how much damage we had.

I knew the trees had survived, although some branches were lost.  Some shrubs had blown over, and the wind had had its way with the perennials.

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Sunset on my last night in Oregon along the beach behind where I stayed.

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The journey home was long, and it was well past midnight when we pulled back into our own drive.  I couldn’t see much, but I saw that the Dogwoods and shrubs by the drive were still standing.  My partner had done a beautiful job with his clean up and there was little left to see, except piles of broken trees along every neighborhood street.

It took several days for me to really ‘see’ what was missing- what had been edited from our familiar landscape by the winds.

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After TS Michael blew through, this was left behind in our community.

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But life is as much a process of editing as it is of adding.  The adding usually brings joy, and the editing may bring relief, or may bring sorrow.

I am finding that as I travel further along the path of my own life’s journey that editing is a fact of life.  We all find comfort in ‘simplicity’ at different stages in our lives.  Editing is required to find the promise that simplicity can hold for us.

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Broken and weathered trees are simply part of the landscape along the coast. There is a beauty to them, and a clarity to these windswept landscapes that I love.

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The days since my return have been filled to the brim with planting, planning, reflecting, writing, and the normal business of life.  I have a few projects underway that take time to bring to completion.

It is a very busy time as we use these fine October days to the utmost, before the weather shifts.  November awaits, and then winter will settle over the garden soon enough.

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I’ve spent too little time just enjoying the beauty and capturing it in photos.  I try to remember to snap a photo here and there in an odd moment, but have been at a loss to string them all together in a way that makes sense for a decent post.  I’ve not abandoned Forest Garden, just taken a bit of an extended break.

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With a little help from my friends, we’ll get those hundreds of bulbs planted soon enough!

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And now it is time to settle back into something like a routine.  Perhaps a revised routine to reflect the changing of the seasons.

I have more stories to tell, and perhaps we’ll get to them one day soon.  But for now I’ll leave you with an image I took this morning.  Something beautiful, something that shows me that life goes on, no matter how odd the journeys we make, no matter what storms may come our way.

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Our Camellias have come into bloom, just as they always do. They survived the storm with buds intact.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Growing Hardy Cyclamen

Naturalized Cyclamen hederifolium at the Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, OR are already in bloom in mid-October.

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Cyclamen are just one of those delicate, special plants that we delight in growing.  Their intricately patterned leaves and sculpted, sometimes fragrant, flowers are some of the most novel and beautiful among common potted florist plants.  I generally buy a florist Cyclamen in early December and enjoy it on my kitchen window sill through late spring, when it begins to die back for its summer period of dormancy.

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Discarded from the kitchen windowsill in June, this Cyclamen re-bloomed  out on the deck in the fall of 2013.

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As much as we enjoy the tender florist’s Cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, I have been seeking out other, more hardy species, too

Cyclamen persicum is native to the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and some Mediterranean Islands.  Although it is frost tender, it still prefers cool growing conditions and thrives when kept in medium, indirect light in a spot where night time temperatures drop down into the 50s F.  It wants to go dormant once night time temperatures rise into the upper 60s and 70sF.  I grow it in a windowsill to give it the coolness it needs to keep blooming.

I first began growing Cyclamen hederifolium, which blooms in late autumn into early winter, and Cyclamen coum, which blooms in late winter to early spring, a few years ago.   I was inspired by the Cyclamen I found growing at the Connie Hansen Garden along the Oregon Coast, and then discovered that they are readily available from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, and other bulb dealers.

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Hardy Cyclamen and bulb foliage shine through the leaf litter of a perennial bed at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, Virginia in February, 2018.

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Cyclamen grow from tubers.  Like other geophytes, they go dormant each year and will live on in a dry state with neither roots nor leaves.  If you want to buy Cyclamen , you may purchase seeds, tubers or living plants.  While seeds are relatively inexpensive, it will take a few years to grow your plants on to a good size.  There are more flowers with each passing year as the tubers grow larger.

Many experts recommend buying your hardy Cyclamen plants in leaf, so that you can see the color pattern on the leaves and the color of the flowers.  Others just say they have experienced more success in getting plants established in that way.

Once you have a plant or two, they will produce viable seed.  You can collect and sow the seed, or trust insects to spread it around for you.  New Cyclamen plants will emerge  in following years from seed, even as the original plants continue to grow and expand.

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I order tubers for hardy Cyclamen , which is also an easy way to start a patch of your own.  I have planted directly into the ground in years past, and I’ve planted tubers into our large ceramic pots outdoors, as part of my autumn planted winter arrangements.

Although I’ve had some success, I’ve had disappointments, too.  These are very small plants, and can easily get lost under leaves and under other, larger plants.  They tend to show up best when planted among the exposed roots of mature trees.  I didn’t know that when I planted the first batch out into the garden.  The area where I first planted them has since filled in, and so our patch is less than spectacular.

I’ve sited later plantings in better spots.  But again, one needs to clear away fallen leaves and other, faded plants to really see and enjoy Cyclamen planted in the ground.  The Connie Hansen garden has their patch under a pine tree, in the middle of a concrete bordered traffic island in their parking lot, where little else grows.

Many successful gardeners suggest planting hardy Cyclamen among the roots of established trees because they thrive in the lean soil,  they prefer drier soil in summer, and they are shown off to good advantage.  There is room for seedlings to sprout and the effect in autumn and early spring can be spectacular.

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Last year, I planted most of the precious tubers I bought in large pots outdoors.  To make a sad story shorter, there was obvious digging in the pots in the week after planting, and I never did see any Cyclamen emerge.    I’ve since read advice to lay a sheet of 1/2″ chicken wire over the soil in pots, and cover it with some mulch to protect Cyclamen and other tempting tubers and bulbs.

So this year, I am trying a different approach.  I’ve bought a bag of both C. hederifolium and C. Coum.  C. hederifolium generally gives its best showing in its second and subsequent years from a tuber, because the season of bloom begins in autumn.  But I am planting five of each, just to see what I can do with them.

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Plant the tubers concave side up. If you can’t tell, plant the tuber on its side and let the plant sort itself out as stems and roots begin to grow.

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And rather than planting them where I want them to grow, I’m going to try to foil the squirrels by planting them in little plastic nursery pots, indoors, and keep them inside until they have roots and leaves.  Then, I’ll transplant to where I want them.

The challenge in planting tubers is that they want to be planted very shallow; with only an inch or so of soil and mulch above the surface of the tuber.   That is a screaming invitation for rodents to grab a snack, especially if they’ve watched you plant or see the disturbed earth!  Once the tuber is rooted and attached, they have a fighting chance to survive!

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Fill small pots to within an inch or so of the rim with new, commercial potting soil.  Dust the soil with a little Bulb Tone or bone meal to get the Cyclamen off to a good start.  Cyclamen don’t require a lot of fertilizer.

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I’ve planted ours in regular potting soil under about 1/2″ of soil and another 1/4″ or so of perlite.  I ran out of perlite and finished off the last few pots with vermiculite, which works equally as well.  You’ll notice that some of the C. Coum tubers already show evidence of the first few flower stems emerging from the crown. I hope that these will plump up and continue to grow as the tuber re-hydrates over the coming days.

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C. Coum tubers came packed in wood shavings.

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This was even more pronounced on the tubers I bought last year, as I didn’t get them until early December.  I made a point of arranging to pick up my tubers this year within just a couple of weeks of when they came in to the warehouse to get the freshest tubers possible, and get them growing as early in the season as possible.

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Our new tubers are resting tonight in my basement work area.  I’ll keep an eye on them, and move them up to a protected spot on the deck as soon as new growth appears.

Once the plants are growing well, and some of our summer plants have died back, I’ll plant them out where they can grow on through the winter.  This year I expect success with all 10 of our new little Cyclamen plants.

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Water the pots well after planting, and then let them rest. They won’t need light until they begin to grow. Keep the plants evenly moist when they are in growth, but never let them sit in water.

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To maintain your plants, dust with a little bone meal in the fall, and keep them evenly moist when growing.  Once they die back and go dormant, they prefer to spend the summer on the dry side.  Growth is triggered in autumn when temperatures drop and the weather turns a bit wetter.

It is such a pleasing surprise to see their first flowers and leaves emerge each year.  Hardy Cyclamen are a simple and inexpensive pleasure and well worth the small effort to grow them.  If you’ve not tried them before, this is the time to order a few tubers and try something new.

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Our hardy Cyclamen were a welcome sight last February.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Summer’s Passions

Can you see the raindrops?

“Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.”
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Claude Monet

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Once again, I agree with Monet.  And I believe it is the intensity of summer’s colors which inflames my gardener’s heart.  How would we ever believe it possible for such vibrant color and intricate detail to emerge from the muddy brown Earth, if we didn’t witness it for ourselves?

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Buddleia davidii blooms against a clump of fennel.

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“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life.
He taught me that if you are interested in something,
no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead.
Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it
and above all become passionate about it.
Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either.
White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
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Roald Dahl

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I was very, very young when I discovered the wondrous possibilities that can be coaxed into life in a garden.  There was the monstrous climbing rosebush rooted in our neighbor’s yard, yet blooming with delicate, sweetly perfumed shell pink buds in ours.  I would linger by the fence, meditating on this miracle of roses.

A few years later, there was the gift of vibrant Iris magically emerging from tall green stalks and gnarly brown rhizomes we had buried in beds dug specially to receive them the summer before.  I had never smelled such fragrances as those Iris emitted from their red and purple and yellow and pink and white and blue standards and falls, all embroidered in furry golden velvet.

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“Enthusiasm can help you find the new doors,
but it takes passion to open them.
If you have a strong purpose in life, you don’t have to be pushed.
Your passion will drive you there.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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As soon as my parents taught me the secret of opening the Earth, and planting some small something, and watching it and caring for it and celebrating its growth; I was smitten.  We grew things together, large and small:  Rhubarb and Salvias, coleus and roses; impatiens grown under thick pine tag mulch that grew as large as the azalea hedge behind them.

My mother planted vegetables and my father planted flowers, until his hands shook so much he could barely fit the plug into the prepared pot I set before him.

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Ironweed, blooming at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this week.

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“It is good to love many things,
for therein lies the true strength,
and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much,
and what is done in love is well done.”
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Vincent van Gogh

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And I planted, too.  And what began as a child working alongside a parent, grew into a passion for wildflowers and shrubs, climbing vines and herbs and big bold leaves and every shape and hue of flower.

What magic we can cast with spade and shears and water and Earth.  Birdsong and windsong sing incantations over the garden as it rises up from the soil, animated by the sun!

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Sunflower and bees, WBG

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There is no day so hot, that an impassioned gardener won’t stand out under the sun watering with sprinkler or hose.  There is no back so sore that we won’t find a way to get our precious new plants into the Earth.  There’s no February so cold that we won’t find time to prune and clean up for spring.  There is no summer evening so long and lingering, that we won’t find time for one more twilit walk around the garden.

It is another madness born from love; a passion and obsession beyond reason.  Sweat and mud, stinging insect bites and soreness can’t dim the vividness of our enthusiasm when we are truly smitten.

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Hibiscus syriacus

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“Everyday I discover more and more beautiful things.
It’s enough to drive one mad.
I have such a desire to do everything,
my head is bursting with it.”
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Claude Monet

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Butterfly garden at the WBG

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How can we not be driven a little mad, when surrounded by the intense colors and perfumes of summer?  Stand in the middle of the garden, and slowly turn around, savoring every vivid leaf and petal.  It is July, and the world is intensely alive.  The buzz of life surrounds us.

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It is passion that keeps us young, and obsession which keeps us energized.  But it is light and color which mesmerize and inspire our spirits.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Strange Magics In the Garden

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I kept hearing the refrain to a favorite ELO tune running through my brain as I moved through the garden this morning.  I was watering, trimming, pulling weeds, and very occasionally pausing to pull off my glove and snap a photo, but everywhere I saw wonder and beauty; ‘Strange magics.’

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There was the large green insect that popped up out of the stilt grass I was pulling, the same color as the weeds and with enormously long legs.  He casually hopped away in search of a better place to hide.

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There was the huge black butterfly returning again and again to an enormous panicle of deep purple Buddliea.  I was intently watering a clump of drooping perennials and so missed the shot, but still hold tightly to the memory of such fleeting beauty.

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Our garden is indeed a magical place in July.  Inches of growth happens overnight.  New plants crop up in unexpected places, and we are surrounded by an ever changing cast of lizards and bugs, swooping birds and invisible songsters.

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The sad and bedraggled Begonias we pulled out of the garage in mid-May have sprung back to life, re-clothed in fresh vibrant leaves and new flowers.  Their resurrection always delights as these fragile looking plants prove their strength and resilience.

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I move slowly during these extended watering sessions, pot to pot, plant to plant.  I’m always observing, tweaking, and nudging things along as the season unfolds.

One must be as ready to subtract and divide as one is to multiply or add something new.  How else does one keep order in such a wild kingdom?

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And then there is the choice surprise, the beauty one has waited to enjoy for an entire year, since it last appeared.

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Perhaps there is the low burrr of a hummingbird’s wings, its movement barely seen on the periphery before it swoops up and over and away.

There is a new blossom just opening, or the flash of a goldfinch flying across the garden, or a blue lizard’s tail disappearing under vines or behind a pot.

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One must concentrate with quiet attention to see even a fraction of the action.

“… I get a strange magic
Oh, what a strange magic
Oh, it’s a strange magic
Got a strange magic
Got a strange magic … ” 
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Jeff Lynne

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It is the jaded eye that we must open wide, to fully appreciate all that is happening in the garden.  “Seek and you will find.” 

But without the search, the knocking that opens doors of discovery, the ask for something unique and special from our time in the garden; we might miss the magic and lose the ripe opportunities this moment offers.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“And above all, watch with glittering eyes
the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden
in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic
will never find it.”
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Roald Dahl

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Experiments With Gravel Mulch

Yucca filamentosa ‘Colorguard’ has appeared from under our newly installed gravel mulch.

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Most of the mulches we use are organic and improve the soil as they decay.  Shredded bark or leaves, pine straw, straw, newsprint or brown paper all have their uses.

When we consider inorganic mulches, there are definite benefits along with some obvious deficits.  Inorganic mulch won’t improve soil texture or fertility.  But neither will it harbor fungal disease, come pre-contaminated with weed seeds, provide a nesting site for ants or decay in just a few months.

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New terraces are planted to help control erosion, and mulched with pea gravel (spring 2017).

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I was first drawn to pea gravel mulch as we began to try to control erosion and cultivate the steep slopes of our back garden.    But I was also digging some gravel into the back-fill and planting hole when we installed new shrubs and perennials, to try to thwart the voles who would otherwise devour their tasty root balls.  Finishing the job with a nice mulch of gravel felt appropriate as a further deterrent to rodents.

Pea gravel definitely helps both with erosion control and rodent control.  But it also ‘disappeared’ into the soil on rainy days, after a while, and got covered with leaf litter and other organic matter over time.  I find myself renewing the pea gravel in spots after a while.

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“Soil security”

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Gravel mulch serves to help conserve soil moisture, just like every other sort of mulch.  It shades the soil, shelters root systems, absorbs the shock of falling rain and holds soil in place.

Additionally, gravel reflects sunlight and heat back up into the plants above it, helping to dry the plants more quickly after a rain and thereby deter fungal disease.  Gravel mulch also provides a dry barrier between moist soil and dry plant, preventing crown rot.

Soil doesn’t splash up onto lower leaves and branches, and the gravel perhaps makes it a little harder for invertebrates to travel up and back between soil and delicious plant above.

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Gravel mulch is used most commonly in rock gardens, where many drought tolerant and alpine plants are featured.  Some plants wouldn’t live long with a moist organic mulch, but manage just fine with gravel mulch that protects their crown.  Gravel is coming into vogue again as a fashionable and useful mulch for perennial gardens, too.  I have been reading about perennial and succulent  gardens grown under several inches of pea gravel in various garden magazines.

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Even a thin gravel mulch has helped conserve moisture around these newly planted perennials.

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I also recently enjoyed listening to a presentation by Joseph Tychonievich at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden where he presented his new book, Rock Gardening:  Reimagining a Classic Style.  Joseph inspired me to move ahead with my vision to incorporate more areas of gravel mulch in our sunny perennial beds in the upper garden.

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I use fine gravel as a mulch in potted arrangements, too.

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This area is gently sloping, and erosion isn’t as much of a pressing concern as in the lower gardens.  The entire area was left under several inches of freshly ground hardwood mulch in 2013, as the arborists who cleaned up our fallen trees ground up leaves and branches and simply left it all in place.

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Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area in 2013, right after the trees came down, without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting .

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As that has decomposed, I’ve renewed the mulch with bagged hardwood and Cypress mulch from the local hardware store.  It smells pleasant, and Cypress helps to repel insects.  It has an ecological downside, though as mature trees are cut for mulch.

The soil in much of this area still consists of thick, hard clay, despite my best efforts to dig in compost and improve its texture.  There may be a few inches of good compost on top of the clay, but the clay still holds heavy rainfall and keeps parts of the garden far too wet, especially in winter.

I am beginning to understand that a gravel mulch will promote better growth and vigor in most of the plants we are trying to establish, particularly the Iris and Mediterranean herbs.

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Recently,  I decided to experiment with a much larger gravel mulch in one of the beds that needed some TLC.  I lost several perennials here over winter, and so had quite a bit of bare ground.

On our shopping trip, my partner noticed this beautiful blue green rock quarried somewhere in Virginia.  We decided on the spot to give it a try, and I am very pleased with the results thus far.  Not only is this gravel not going to shift around on a rainy day, but I don’t believe it will sink down into the soil anytime soon, either.

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This three year old Siberian Iris bloomed for the first time this spring, and I hope the new gravel mulch will help it grow more vigorously in future.

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Now, please keep in mind that gravel is the heaviest mulch you can choose, and moving it around and spreading it takes both strength and commitment.  If I had the luxury of ordering up a truckload of it and hiring a crew to spread it for me, that would be a lovely thing.  But I don’t.

Rather, I’m buying it a couple of bags at a time and spreading it by hand.  It is going to take most of the summer to mulch this whole area working with just a few square feet each week.  But I am already seeing the benefit this mulch brings to our plants.

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This is a single bag of gravel spread around our new Monarda.  It will take a few more bags to finish this area….

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I bought three plugs of Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ about four years ago, as we were first planting this bed.  I wanted them to make a large focal point to anchor the area and planted them in a broad triangle.  Well, let’s just say that I expected them to grow much faster and they have largely gotten lost between larger and floppier perennials.  In fact, one of the three was struggling so much that I dug it up in late winter and planted it into a pot in full sun, hoping to give it a better chance to grow.

Never mind that I kept digging it up every month or so, checking to see if there was any visible growth, and replanting it again with the confirmation of a fresh root or tiny shoot.  That is a sad tale, and I ended up filling the pot with first one plant, and then another, simply to have something to look at besides the empty pot.  I ticked this off as a failed plant and moved on.

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Maybe if I put a fresh gravel mulch in this pot, the Yucca would finally grow?

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But not so fast!  Something of that Yucca was left alive in the original bed.  And finally, a month after I mulched over the area with the new Virginia gravel, look at what has emerged!  Plants really really want to live, and sometimes we just need to improve conditions for them and get out of the way to give them a chance!

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This newly planted Lavender was struggling with our weather extremes, but has improved under the gravel mulch this month.

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Our friends at our local garden center have a running joke that we always buy gravel or compost, if nothing else, and are their best customers for pea gravel. Gravel has made gardening in this difficult site possible.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, and want to visit with me and bring a little gift, a fresh bag of gravel is always in style.   I’ll be so happy to see you, will show you around the garden and offer you a few divisions of something nice to take away with you.

And I might even let you help spread the gravel while we’re at it!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Summer Solstice Wishes

Butterfly bush prepares to welcome a hungry bee.

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Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.  It is a good day to celebrate our wishes, especially those wishes that have finally manifested for us. 

I first wrote and published ‘A Dirty Hands Garden Club’ in the summer of 2014, and would like to share it with you, again.  I hope that you have found your own community of gardeners, naturalists, conservationists, teachers, artists, and plant nerds, as I have so happily found mine.

WG June 2018

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Asclepias incarnata

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I would love to join  a “Dirty Hands” Garden Club;
One whose members know more about fertilizers
Than they do about wines…

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I’d want our meetings spent wandering through nurseries,
Learning from  expert gardeners,
Or building community gardens…

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Echinacea and Monarda prove beautiful native perennials in our area.

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Not frittered away in chit chat over drinks and hors d’oeuvres .

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Hibiscus syriacus and bumbly

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And all of us would be at least a little expert in something, and
Glad to share what we’ve learned;

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Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

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And we all would love putting our hands in the dirt
To help something grow.

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Lavender is still recovering from the winter.

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My club would collect species, not dues;
Re-build ecosystems rather than plant ivy and  box.

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Caladium ‘Fannie Munson’ with Bergenia and ferns.

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We “dirty hands” gardeners can band together
In spirit, if not in four walls.

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We can share plants and insights,
Instigate, propagate, and appreciate;

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Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

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Perhaps we can even help rehabilitate 
Some sterile lawn somewhere
Into something which nurtures beauty
And feeds souls….

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Magnolia liliiflora is giving us a second flush of bloom in early summer.

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Others can judge flowers,
Decorate homes at Christmas
And organize tours.
These things are needed, too.

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Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, opens its first blooms of the year.

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(But I would rather be out in the garden;
Where cardinals preside over the morning meeting,
And  hummingbirds are our special guests for the day.
The daily agenda ranges from watering to transplanting;
From pruning to watching for turtles and dragonflies.)

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We  wear our muddy shoes and well worn gloves with pride,
Our spades and pruners always close at hand.

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We converse with Nature,
And re-build the web strand by strand,
Plant by plant.

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Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ with Basil

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If this invitation speaks to you,
Perhaps we can work together
From wherever we might find ourselves
Around the globe.
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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in front with C. ‘Pink China’ behind

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We can each put our hands in the dirt
and create a garden,

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Nurture Beauty,
And restore health and vitality to our Earth,
our communities, and ourselves, together.

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Native Oakleaf Hydrangea glows in the morning Solstice sun.

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Poem by Woodland Gnome 2014
*

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“The Holy Land is everywhere”
.
Black Elk

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

Green Thumb Tip #20: Go With the Flow

Bronze fennel foliage, wet from an early morning watering, with Verbena bonariensis

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There is rhythm to life in the garden.  Much like waves of warm briny water crashing along a sandy beach; so too waves of life appear in the garden, peak, and then quietly disappear.  Part of a gardener’s education, when working in a new garden, is sensing and recognizing a garden’s ‘waves’ of life.

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Wisdom teaches us that much of our frustration and unhappiness is connected to our desires.  There are things we want that we can’t have in the moment.  There are things we love that we fear losing.  There are things we care about that we see passing away before our eyes.  All of these concerns can become causes of our suffering, to some degree, as we work with our gardens.

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Japanese beetles have found the Zantedeschia.

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But our feelings can shift when we take the broader view, acknowledge the rhythms and challenges, and plan ahead to address them.

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When we plant early spring bulbs we know that we’ll be left with their foliage for a few weeks after the flowers fade, and then even that will yellow and fall away.  What will grow up in their place?

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Daffodils and Arum italicum fade as Caladiums, hardy Begonia and ferns grow in their place.

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When we plant roses, we can expect a glorious flush of blooms in May, followed by much that needs to be pruned away.  What happens if blackspot or Japanese beetles attack the leaves?  Will our shrubs bloom again during the season?

We can plan to have other perennials or shrubs nearby to take attention away from resting rose shrubs.

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Crape myrtles have just begun to bloom in our area.

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And what happens when a tender perennial fails to appear in spring?  Is there a gap in the border, or do we have something waiting to grow in its place?

We understand the larger cycles of the seasons and how they affect the life in our garden.  First frost claims much of our garden’s growth, and the beds lie fallow through the winter.

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January in our forest garden

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But there are larger cycles still, as woodies grow and shade out nearby perennials, or a tree falls and changes the light in the garden, or plants fill in, creating dense mats of growth.

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Crinum lily comes into bloom amidst Iris, Thyme and Alliums.

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Gardening teaches us flexibility and resilience.  Resistance to the cycles and happenstance of nature tightens us up inside.  We might feel anger at the voles eating through the roots of a favorite shrub, or the Japanese beetles ruining the leaves of a favorite perennial.  How dare they!

But these things are always likely to happen.  We can’t fully prevent the damages that come along when we work with nature.

I found a small Hydrangea shrub, that I’ve been nurturing along from a rooted cutting, grazed back by deer last week.  No matter how protected it might be, or how often I’ve sprayed it with repellents, a doe came along after a rain, and chewed away most of its leaves.

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Successful gardeners learn how to ‘go with the flow.’  We do the best we can, follow best practices, and have a plan or two up our sleeves to work with the natural cycles of our space.  Even so, we learn the lessons of impermanence in the garden.

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Working to thwart the voles, I am experimenting with planting Caladiums into pots sunk into the bed. I’m also doing this in another bed with tender Hostas.

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Every plant isn’t going to survive.  But we keep planting anyway, trying new things to see what will thrive.

Some things we plant will grow too much, and we’ll have to cut them back or dig them up to keep them in bounds.  Weeds come and go.  Insects chew on leaves and voles chew on roots.

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We stand by, observing this incredible ebb and flow of life, and take our place among the waves.

Gardeners feel the ebbs and flows, too.  We may feel energized in spring and plant lots of new roots and shoots, seeds and plugs.  But then summer heats up, the grounds dries out a little, and we are left scrambling to keep it all watered and tended.

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Suddenly there is stilt grass sprouting up in our beds and pots.  The lawn is growing overnight, and the shrubs need pruning.

As our own energies come and go, we find a rhythm to keep up with maintaining our gardens while also maintaining ourselves.  We can’t stop the ebb and flow in our garden any more than we can stop the waves crashing on the beach.

But we can lighten up, enjoy the scenery, and take pleasure in the ride.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

What I’m reading this week:                            

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“Enjoying the simple beauty of plant against rocks, and cultivating the distinctive forms of alpine plants, is the heart of traditional rock gardening, ranging from gardeners who obsessively recreate the look of mountaintop, to those who carefully cultivate individual specimens of plants into breathtaking peaks of loom not to be matched by anything else in the plant world.”               

Joseph Tychonievich from Rock Gardening, Reimagining a Classic Style

(Thank you, Joseph, for your entertaining talk on Saturday morning!)

“Green Thumb” Tips: 

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

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

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

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

Pot Shots: Caladiums at Last

Caladiums ‘Chinook’ and ‘Highlighter’ blend together well.

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All of the Caladiums are up and growing.  It took a while this year because of our crazy cool spring.

In fact, I still have a tray of C. ‘Moonlight’ on my deck, waiting for me to commit to where I’d most enjoy them this summer.  There are only 10 left, and so many places I’ve considered planting them.

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C. ‘Moonlight,’ overwintered from last summer’s garden.  These pure white leaves appreciate bright shade.

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Back in the day, one just assumed that Caladiums required a shady spot.  With the new hybrids, many can take full sun.  That means I am constantly checking back with the grower’s site to make sure I’m getting ‘right plant, right spot’ and not giving too much, or too little sun.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ can take full sun, so long as you keep it hydrated. This pot is finally growing into its potential!

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I fantasized about this combo of C. ‘Highlighter’ and C. ‘Chinook for better than a year; finally it is growing and looking great in the upper garden.  C “Highlighter” seems to be out of production, which is a disappointment.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ with C. ‘Chinook’

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A little strange for some tastes, but it has become one of my favorites.  I am forever grateful to the wonderful folks at Classic Caladiums for sending me a bag of beautiful C. ‘Highlighter’ with my order this year, even though it wasn’t a catalog listing.  I was happy to be able to plant a few and also share a few with friends.

C. ‘Chinook’ looks much better in person than in the catalog photos, in my opinion.  I’ve been happy with it and have mixed it with several other pink Caladiums in various pots.  It is a strong grower and generous in producing new leaves.

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A mystery Caladium on the left. We have several growing, and I’ve no idea its name. But I like it!   C. ‘Peppermint’ grows in the pot with it, on the right.

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There are lots of new and interesting Caladiums in our garden this year growing alongside old favorites.  I try to find time to get around the garden to check on their progress at some point each day.

And every day, they just keep getting better.

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C. Fannie Munson with Dryopteris x australis

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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A quick and easy wildlife gardening tip:

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Fill a shallow saucer with a bit of sand and some pea gravel, place it in your garden, and keep it moist through the summer. 
You’ve just created a place for butterflies, other insects, and small reptiles to find life-giving water on hot summer days.
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Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom

Daucus carota subsp. sativus attracts many beneficial insects to the garden.  This beautiful flower is the second year growth of a common, edible carrot.

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We don’t see as much ‘Queen Ann’s Lace’ growing along our Virginia roadsides as I remember from childhood.  It was actually my mother who commented on this last weekend, as we were out driving together.  I can remember cutting stems of this lovely wildflower as a child, bringing it home, and wanting to put it on the kitchen table in a vase.

She was usually less than enthusiastic in those days, maybe because of all of the little insects still enjoying the nectar rich flowers.  I often brought home wild flowers and grasses from my wanderings, and never quite understood her concern with the ‘bugs’ they harbored.

Wild carrot is considered invasive in some states, but not in Virginia.  It is one of those common plants that immigrated to North America with the 17th Century European colonists.  I know a place along the Colonial Parkway where the wild plant grows untamed, along with other wildflowers.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

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This is the second spring that I’ve planted plain old grocery store carrots out into our upper sunny garden in early spring, wanting these gorgeous white flowering plants for summer.

You remember that a carrot is a biennial.  The seeds planted in spring result in a carrot root, usually harvested as a vegetable.  Were you to leave the carrots unharvested over winter, this is the plant you’d have the following year.  Organic farms still do this, sometimes, to generate their own seeds.

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But I have simply bought some carrots and planted them.  I got a bag of ‘rainbow’ carrots from Trader Joes in late February.  I’m curious to learn whether the plant or the flowers will be different, depending on whether the carrot was yellow, orange or purple.  What do you think?

My planting technique was to simply open a space in the earth with my hori hori blade, as deeply as I could, and slip a carrot into the hole.  The carrot takes over, from there, and one day this spring I noticed this beautiful, fine foliage growing up through the fading daffodil leaves.

We will enjoy the show for many weeks; longer if I remember to deadhead the spent flowers.  Once the plant sets seeds, it has accomplished its life work.  As a biennial, it won’t return for another year.

But that’s OK.  We can fill the garden with flowers again next year for the price of a bag of carrots.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“It is easier to tell a person what life is not,
rather than to tell them what it is.
A child understands weeds that grow from lack of attention, in a garden.
However, it is hard to explain the wild flowers
that one gardener calls weeds,
and another considers beautiful ground cover.”
.
Shannon L. Alder

 

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