Fabulous Friday: Continuous Effort

Our upper garden was bathed in sunlight this morning.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if gardening was all about sunbeams and rose petals, happy planting times and delicious harvests?

Let’s have a good laugh together, and then get real.  Gardening is really about making a continuous effort to fashion little improvements here and there and address challenges as they arise.

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More sunbeams and golden orbs encircle our happy Colocasia ‘Black Coral’

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If you need a bit of inspiration, please pick up the current issue of Horticulture Magazine, which is filled this month with timely advice, gorgeous photography, and wonderful suggestions for how to have fun with fall planted bulbs.

In case you’re wondering, those suggestions include a group of friends, good things to eat, and a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

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Narcissus ‘Art Design’  It’s that time of year to start thinking about planting spring bulbs….

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My gardening challenge this morning involved neither friends nor wine, but my partner was there to support and assist.

You see, there are well tended beautiful parts of our garden, and then there is this sad, steep slope from the side yard down into the ravine that suffers from erosion, vole tunnels, deer traffic, deep shade and benign neglect.  While we’ve both made efforts in this area over the years; they don’t seem to amount to much.

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This steep slope in our side yard has had erosion problems for many years. Every bit we do helps, but we’re still trying to improve it.

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A neighbor’s fallen oak wiped out many of the ornamental trees growing here when we came.  The remaining trees, and shrubs we’ve planted, have been regularly pruned by the deer.  Let’s just say the challenges have outnumbered the successes.

But excuses don’t matter a whit when it’s raining buckets and your slope is washing down into the ravine.  Which is why we decided that another ‘intervention’ is necessary this week, as we sit here on the cusp of Atlantic Hurricane Season.

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April 2017: Another area where we had an erosion problem has responded very well to these terraces and perennial plantings.

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We’ve had great success with the terraces we installed a few years ago, on the other side of the yard, to control erosion.   Even though the Rhodies didn’t take off as planned, the ferns and other perennials are filling in, and the erosion is handled.

In fact, I’ve learned that ferns are a terrific plant for controlling erosion in deep to part shade.  They set deep, thirsty roots to both hold the soil and control the amount of moisture retained in the soil.  Their dense foliage absorbs some of the impact of pounding rain.  As they grow, they create their own living mulch to keep their roots cool and moist.

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This is the planting at the top of that previously terraced slope, today.

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So it was that I loaded up my shopping cart on Wednesday with concrete landscaping blocks, pea gravel and as many holly ferns, Cyrtomium fortunei, as I could find. 

Now, I imagine some of you are thinking:  “Why don’t you just spread a good load of pine bark mulch here?”  or “Why don’t you just build a retaining wall?” 

We’ve learned that bark mulch makes moles very, very happy.  They love the stuff, and consider it great cover for their tunnels.  We use very little wood mulch, always a blend with Cypress, and I am transitioning to gravel mulch in nearly every part of the garden.  The voles hate gravel, and it is much longer lasting.

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This bluestone gravel is my current favorite to use in the upper garden.  A Yucca I thought had died reappeared a few weeks after I mulched this area.  I’m installing more of this, one bag at a time….

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A retaining wall wouldn’t work here because we use this area as a walkway between parts of the yard.  It is also so steep, that we would need major construction for it to be safe.   I don’t fancy bringing all of that heavy equipment into this part of the property.  Everything we use has to be carted in by hand.

It was my partner’s idea to space the landscape blocks a few inches apart this time.  We’ll reevaluate that decision after the next heavy rain!  But we filled in some of the divets, from collapsed vole tunnels, with the root balls of our new ferns.  Voles don’t do as much damage to fern roots as to some other perennials and woodies…. and then there is the small matter of the gravel….

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I planted five new ferns today and added two more bags of gravel to the 10 or so we’ve already spread here over the last several years.  Pea gravel gets worked down into the soil over time, and can even get washed further down the hill in a heavy rain.  The concrete blocks will stop the washing away.  Eventually, we may add a larger size of rock mulch in this entire area.

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These are two of the three holly ferns I found on sale racks Wednesday morning. With perennials, you are really buying the roots and crowns. I cleaned up the browned leaves and planted these with full confidence that they will grow into beautiful ferns.  New fiddleheads were already peaking out of the crowns.

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But this is our effort for today, and we are both satisfied.  I had two little ferns in our holding area, waiting for a permanent spot, that we added to the three new holly ferns.  I’m sure a few more will turn up over the next few weeks.

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I have already been planting a few ferns in this area over the last several years (top center). Now, I’ll also add some Helleborus transplants to the ferns, to further hold the ground and make this area more attractive in winter and early spring.  Hellebores make excellent ground cover year round and stop voles with their poisonous roots.

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Why holly ferns?  Cyrtomium fortunei, Fortune’s holly fern, is hardy at least to Zone 6.  Some sources say Zone 5.  It is evergreen, with large fronds of tough, waxy green pinnae.  The clump expands each year, and eventually, after a couple of year’s growth in a good spot, a single fern will cover an area a little more than 2′ across.  Once planted, little care is required.

Cut out brown fronds once a year, keep them watered the first year, and then just regularly admire them after that.  Disease and critter damage isn’t an issue.  This is a large, bold, shiny green plant that shrugs off ice and snow.  It is great for halting erosion in shady spots.

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Fortune’s holly fern planted in the 2017 terraces has grown very well.

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And so once the blocks were set, ferns planted and gravel spread, I was happy to go back up to the upper garden to hold a spraying hose while watching butterflies.

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Actually, I also had 3 new Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ to plant to entice more hummingbirds to the garden.  But that was quick and happy work, and only a minor distraction from admiring the butterflies.

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My partner and I agree that every summer day should be a lovely as today.  We enjoyed sunbeams and cool breezes here for most of the day.

And yes, did I mention all of the butterflies?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Fabuous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

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Dryopteris erythrosora’Brilliance’ is another of our favorite ferns. It is evergreen and easy to grow.

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“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge
to test our courage and willingness to change;
at such a moment, there is no point in pretending
that nothing has happened
or in saying that we are not yet ready.
The challenge will not wait.
Life does not look back.
A week is more than enough time for us to decide
whether or not to accept our destiny.”
.
Paulo Coelho

 

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Six on Saturday: Taking Some Heat!

Lantana thrives in full sun to partial shade and blooms from late May until frost, attracting butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.  This tough woody shrub tolerates many types of soil and is drought tolerant once established.  You may need to prune to control size on vigorous plants.  Choose from many colors and forms.  I use a trailing purple or white Lantana in hanging baskets, too.  Newer cultivars are winter hardy in Zone 7.

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The dash thermometer clicked up from 90 to 91F as we entered the shade of our neighborhood, returning home from some quick errands.  It was only 10:30 in the morning.

Our overnight low was in the 80s, with a high dew point and humidity.  Not surprisingly, many plants suffer in the heat, even when growing in the shade, just as much as our pets and ourselves.

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Rudbeckia species grow exuberantly in our summer heat and bloom from July through October, continuously producing new flower buds.  Grow in average soil in full sun to partial shade.  These natives will reseed and spread annually.  This is Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan, growing with Salvia.  Most Salvias also shrug off heat and humidity to bloom throughout the summer.  Choose carefully, as some prefer a drier climate and won’t like wet soil.

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When you read a plant tag, you’ll notice a range of zones where a plant will thrive.  It is smart to select plants that will still grow in a zone or two higher than where you garden. (I live in Zone 7b, so I want a plant rated at least to Zone 8, if not to Zone 9.)

Yes, summer heat can kill a plant just as surely as winter’s chill.  Even if the heat doesn’t kill a plant, it can weaken it to the point where disease, especially bacterial blights that thrive on humidity and wet plant tissue, will quickly finish it off.

This is the third summer in a row where an otherwise healthy looking potted Hellebore suddenly turned brown and expired.  I just moved the pot into deeper shade and crossed my fingers that the roots might survive, even as the leaves shrivel.   I believe that long stretches of intense heat and humidity may be too much for some Hellebore cultivars, especially when left in a pot through the summer.

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Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ is one of many cultivars of this ornamental herb that thrive in humidity and heat, blooming continuously all summer.  Many bright colors are available in shades of blue, purple, white, pink and orange.  Grow in full sun to partial shade.  Keep your camera handy to capture the many butterflies drawn to Agastache.

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A gardener’s challenge is always to choose the right plant for the right place.  Just as we consider which plants will overwinter in our garden, it is smart to also notice which plants thrive in July and August.

Just because we ‘think’ a plant will survive all summer; just because a particular plant has done well in previous summers, doesn’t mean that we can expect great performance as our climate warms.  It is smart to choose varieties which aren’t susceptible to mildews and rots, whose foliage can withstand plenty of heat and humidity, and that can weather wet summer storms.

Those living closer to the coast may also need to consider salt tolerance, as storm surge, flooding and windblown sea spray bring more salt into our gardens.

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Native Hibiscus or naturalized tree hibiscus provide bright pops of color in July and August.  Tree hibiscus blooms for months, but herbaceous Hibiscus may bloom for only a few weeks.  Tropical Hibiscus grown in pots and brought in during the winter will also provide lots of summer color in sun to partial shade.

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What a disappointment when we buy lots of pretty flowering plants in April and May, only to watch them waste away by mid-July.  No amount of optimism and TLC can counteract the realities of how the weather affects different plants.

So the smart gardener chooses resilient, heat tolerant plants from the beginning.  Here are a few that grow well for us.  Your list may be different depending on where you live.  But as we all experience warmer and wetter summers than we have had in past years, we may need to discover some new plants to keep our gardens healthy and beautiful.

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Verbena bonariensis is a South American species that performs extremely well in coastal Virginia.  There is also a tall native Verbena hastata, as well as trailing Verbenas for pots, hanging baskets and ground covers.  All produce flowers that attract pollinators and hold their intense color for a long time, regularly sending up new flowers until frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ in one of hundreds of varieties that thrive in heat and humidity.  Each leaf lasts for many weeks, and plants continue to produce new leaves until November.  Flowers are insignificant, but the leaves offer bright pops of color in partial shade.  Newer varieties will grow in full sun, some older ones want full shade.   All are heat lovers, rated for Zones 9-11, and want constant moisture and rich soil.  Dig tubers before frost to save for next summer.

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“Resilience is accepting your new reality,
even if it’s less good than the one you had before.
You can fight it,
you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost,
or you can accept that
and try to put together something that’s good.”
.
Elizabeth Edwards

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

Blossom XLIII: Verbena

The Zebra Swallowtail butterflies are particularly drawn to feed on Verbena bonariensis, a South American native that naturalizes extremely well in our garden. 

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Verbena proves a tough, useful genus of flowering plants for many garden situations.   I want to share this post about Verbena again because I am so pleased with how the Verbena is drawing in the butterflies this year.

Because it is very heat and drought tolerant, Verbenas are a good choice as our summers grow hotter.  The plants are very beautiful, pump out the flowers continually, and provide lots of nectar for pollinators.  The foliage is disease resistant, and coarse enough that deer and rabbits leave Verbenas strictly alone.

I hope that sharing this post again will inspire other gardeners to try some new types of Verbena in their own gardens this summer.

-WG

Forest Garden

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A winning combination:  Dependable, easy to grow,  attracts butterflies and other pollinators, grows well with others.  Verbena bonariensis endears itself to my gardener’s heart a little more with each passing summer.

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I bought my first few on a whim as little plugs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs several years ago.  I had admired this Verbena growing in their display garden both for the clear lovely color of the flower, and for its obvious popularity with the winged nectar loving set.  I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I planted the plugs into slightly raised, full sun beds with confidence that something interesting would grow.

I had grown other Verbenas, of course, before trying this very tall, perennial variety.  I still pick up a few annual Verbenas for my pots and baskets each year.  They produce non-stop flowers all summer, take full sun, shrug off July and…

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Sunday Dinner: Decided

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“Once you make a decision,

the universe conspires

to make it happen.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“It had long since come to my attention

that people of accomplishment

rarely sat back and let things happen to them.

They went out and happened to things.”

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Leonardo da Vinci

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“The difference between a successful person

and others is not a lack of strength,

not a lack of knowledge,

but rather a lack in will.”

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Vince Lombardi

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance.

The wise grows it under his feet.”

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James Oppenheim

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“Determine that the thing

can and shall be done

and then… find the way.”

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Abraham Lincoln

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“Ordinary People Promise To Do More.

Extraordinary People Just Do More.”

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Wesam Fawzi

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“If you think what you tried

and couldn’t achieve yesterday

isn’t possible, think again.

Today’s a new day.

You’re stronger.

It’s another opportunity to rise

and get things done.”
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Wesam Fawzi

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Celebrating Spring Indoors: Mosses and Ferns

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Greeness re-emerges each March from February’s shades of brown and grey.  We notice exquisite shades of fresh green wherever there is new growth; even if only weeds emerging in the lawn, new grass, and buds breaking open on early shrubs.

Green is alive with possibility, giving us fresh energy and enthusiasm.  Green is the color by which energy from the sun is captured and transformed into the sort of chemical food energy that fuels us all.  Whether we access it directly from a kiwi or avocado, or allow the green to be munched first by a cow before it is transformed into milk or meat; we depend on green chlorophyll to produce every calorie of energy which fuels our lives.

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Green attracts like a powerful, life-affirming magnet, especially in the spring when we are ready to move on from winter’s rest.  And in these last chilly weeks of unpredictable weather, I enjoy making a green arrangement with ferns and mosses to enjoy indoors until spring is firmly established outside in the garden.

I have been experimenting with keeping moss inside for several years.  While all goes well for a while, the moss often ends up turning brown and sometimes disappearing entirely.  Moss is the simplest of plants, yet its nurture as a ‘houseplant’ proves fickle and complex.

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Moss pairs well with ferns, as their needs are nearly the same. Lichens may also be incorporated in the design.  2014

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For all of the vibrant green kokedama covered in moss I’ve seen in books and on other’s websites, I have not yet figured out how to reliably keep moss alive for long inside.  But I keep trying…..

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There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.  January 2015

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Japanese guides suggest taking one’s potted moss outside for some portion of each day to give it fresh air and bright light.  This sounds suspiciously like walking a pet dog to me, and I’m not yet prepared to treat my moss gardens like a barking or purring pet.

I’ve also learned that closing moss up into a terrarium can be the ‘kiss of death’ because it gets too wet in the high humidity, and doesn’t get the free exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen that it requires.

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February 2015

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Let’s recall that moss has no vascular system.  There are no water carrying tubes through ‘leaves’ or ‘stems’.  Moss is so simple, structurally, that every cell absorbs water.  That means that too much water for too long will kill the cell, because it isn’t going to move the excess water on, elsewhere.

We must find balance in tending moss: the balance between light and shade, moisture and dryness, heat and cold.

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January 2018

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That is why I have chosen a tall, clear vase for this arrangement, but one without a lid.  I’ve constructed this like a terrarium, but have not enclosed it.

And for the time it stays indoors I will do my best to faithfully mist it several times a week, but will resist the temptation to pour water into it.  And, if I notice the moss struggling, I’m prepared to remove it, ‘plant’ it back outside, and start again with some fresh moss.

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This is my favorite sort of moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which is called fern moss because it looks like fine, low growing fern fronds.  This perennial moss prefers a moist, acid soil, can stand a fair amount of light, and grows prolifically in several spots in our garden.

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This is fern moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which looks like it is made of tiny, low growing ferns.

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I’ve created a base in this vase with fine aquarium gravel mixed with some fine charcoal, recycled from a water filter.  I mixed a little more of the charcoal in with the coarse potting soil mix I used for the ferns.  This is soil I’ve used earlier this winter for starting tubers and bare root plants in the basement, and it was already perfectly moist when I scooped some into the pot.  Charcoal is often used in terrariums to help purify the soil and water, keeping the plants healthier.  Without any drainage, it helps prevent water in the soil from growing stagnant.

Moss doesn’t have roots, but needs firm, continuous contact with the soil.  After planting the two tiny ferns, I simply pressed sheets of moss, with its own soil from outside still attached, on top of the potting mix.

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The taller fern is a popular houseplant called a brake fern or ribbon fern, genus Pteris.  This one is tender, though it will grow very well outside from late April through November.  The shorter one is also a tender fern, probably one of the footed ferns.

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Then I misted it well, using the mister to also clean the inside of the glass.  The pot sits a few feet away from large windows and under a lamp.  It is a bright location, and I’ll hope that both ferns and mosses grow here happily.

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March, 2018

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Plants indoors are good for us in many ways.  Plants filter the air and fill it with fresh oxygen.  Plants calm us, and bring tremendous beauty into our homes.  Plants inside in early spring also inspire us and keep that promise of spring alive, even when the weather turns cold and wintery once again.

March is a fickle month, but the overall trajectory is towards more daylight and milder weather.  As the sun returns, our garden responds with fresh growth.

But we respond, as well.  And bringing a bit of that spring time magic indoors helps us celebrate the change of seasons… in comfort.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

Pruning

Pruning keeps trees and shrubs healthy and productive.  Spring flowering shrubs should be pruned in May or June, once their blooms have faded.

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February and March offer the best window to prune many shrubs and trees, shaping their growth, renewing them, and correcting any diseased or damaged wood while the plant is bare.

I wrote this essay, ‘Pruning’ about a month after beginning this ‘Forest Garden’ blog. It is deeply buried in the archives, and yet its message remains absolutely current. I’ve cleaned it up a bit with some new photos, but left the text exactly as written nearly six years ago.

I hope you will enjoy this meditation on pruning, on a gardeners’ philosophy of life, and on the relentless flow of change which shapes us all, renews us, and keeps us strong.

 

-WG

Forest Garden

oak

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Pruning is hard for me.  I am always reluctant to cut away bits of a living plant.  And yet I’ve learned that the cutting away nearly always catalyzes new growth; usually more vigorous and productive than what was removed.

Biologically, when a stem or branch is cut back, the plant releases hormones which activate all of the growth nodes further back down the plant so they begin to send out new shoots.  When you cut a stem of basil, two new branches will grow back from just below the cut, but new branches will also begin to grow where none were before along the rest of the stem.  Soon the plant has filled out with lush new growth.

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Basil

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When you remove spent flowers, the plant is mobilized to produce more buds and blossoms to replace them in the hopes of eventually setting seeds.  All flower gardeners…

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Mountain Laurel

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Are you considering planting some new shrubs in your garden this spring? I looked over the carts of new arrivals at our local Lowe’s store yesterday, and noticed that there weren’t any native shrubs in the lot.

It got me to thinking about attractive native shrubs that we enjoy in our Forest Garden, and mountain laurel  immediately came to mind.  We look forward to weeks of bright flowers around Mother’s Day each year, and enjoy its attractive form and evergreen leaves the rest of the time.

If you’ve been trying to find an evergreen, deer resistant (poisonous) flowering shrub for a shade spot in your yard, please read on about our beautiful mountain laurel, from this 2014 post in the Forest Garden archives.

-WG

Forest Garden

May 11,2014 Bamboo and roses 040

Our Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia, began blooming over Mother’s Day weekend.

Saturday afternoon I looked out of the window, up into the forest, and was surprised to see our shrubs covered in flowers.

These evergreen wild looking shrubs, almost small trees, simply blend into the fabric of the forest through much of the year.  It is only for a few weeks in May that they burst into bloom, suddenly elegant and beautiful.

May 11,2014 Bamboo and roses 044

One of our most ornamental  native plants along the east coast of North America, early American  botanists first recorded Mountain Laurel, then called “Spoonwood,” in 1624.    Carl Linnaeus  named the shrub for Pehr Kalm, a Swede, who explored eastern North America in search of new and useful plants in 1748-49.  Mountain Laurel was one of the plants Kalm collected to export to gardeners in Europe.

Mountain Laurel grows from Maine all the way to Florida.  It even…

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Forsythia

Cut branches of Forsythia share a vase with a branch of Edgeworthia and a frond of autumn fern.

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I’m just back indoors from cutting a few branches of Forsythia to take to some friends this morning.  It is a wet wintery morning here, and the buds are still tightly coiled on the branches I’ve cut.  But a few days indoors will coax them open and fill the room with springtime perfume.

If you need a breath of spring this morning, when so many across our country are under a winter storm, please enjoy reading this post about our beautiful springtime Forsythia, that I found in the Forest Garden archives.

 

-WG

Forest Garden

March 23, 2014 parkway and flowers 002

Have you noticed the shrubs full of tiny yellow flowers just coming into bloom in our gardens? 

March 23, 2014 parkway and flowers 003The first Forsythia shrubs observed in Japan were misidentified by Carl Thunberg in his 1794 Flora Japonica as a new species of Lilac.

They are most likely Forsythia.  Commonly called by its genus name, Forsythia made its way into the gardens of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century from Eastern Asia.  Found growing in gardens in both Japan and China, and exported to Holland and Great Britain, Forsythia quickly spread from garden to garden on its new continent, and then on to North America.

Absolutely easy to grow, Forsythia , like daffodils, gives us a shot of bold yellow in the garden just as we feel like we can’t stand another day of winter’s greys and browns.

The tiny yellow flowers just burst with the message of spring as…

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Six (or more?) Surprises on Saturday

Scilla

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This past week has been filled with surprises.  We swept right out of the fringe and frigid edges of the so-called ‘Polar Vortex’ into a few days of balmy spring weather.  The last three days have been as near to perfect weather as one could possibly hope for in February in Virginia.

Its been warm, dry, and sometimes a little sunny these past few days.  Signs of spring are literally bursting out of ground, buds on trees are swelling and those of us already itching to get busy for spring have heeded the call to come out of the cozy house and outdoors to make use of these unexpected days.

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The first of our red Camellia japonica bloomed this week.

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I’ve spent many happy hours outside these past several days flitting like some crazed butterfly from one part of the garden to the next, looking for growth even as I got on with the business of pruning and clearing beds.   We actually spotted a butterfly on Wednesday afternoon.

We don’t know whether it awoke from its chrysalis too soon, or migrated too far north too early.  Its orange and brown wings caught our eye as it fluttered around some old cedar trees, an unusual color to find in the garden in February.  It may have been a Fritillary; we didn’t get close enough to do more than determine it wasn’t an early Monarch.  We were both very surprised to see it, and wish it well and safe shelter as we return to more seasonable temperatures this weekend.

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Our first Iris reticulata of the season. This cultivar is ‘Pauline.’ Squirrels have been digging around this patch of bulbs and I’ve repaired their damage several times. I’m happily surprised to discover these blooming.

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The butterfly turned up a day after we found a honeybee feeding on the Mahonia, and the same day we found a colony of ground bees awake and foraging near the ravine.  I was glad to notice the ground bees buzzing around as I headed their way with a cart full of pruned branches…. before they noticed me!  I didn’t stumble into them and they didn’t feel a need to warn me off.

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The first leaves of daffodils remind us where we’ve planted in years gone by, and entice us with the promise of flowers on their way.

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We saw our first blooming daffodils of the year, blooming beside the fence at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  We discovered the first blooming Iris histrioides of the year, the first dandelion of the season shining golden in our ‘lawn,’ and the first ruby red Camellia japonica flowers on the shrubs near the street.

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Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ planted out several years ago, after devastating damage from caterpillars one summer.  It has been very slow to recover and slow to grow.  Its beautiful leaves make it worth the effort.

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The most interesting surprise came yesterday afternoon when I placed a cutting of our Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, that has been growing in our garden for the last several years, into a one of the little shrubs I believed to be a variegated English holly.

We bought these shrubs as English holly in November of 2017 at a chain home improvement store and sporting a big name plant tag.  I never questioned the label and have written about them as English holly over the past few years.

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Can you spot the cutting taken from our Osmanthus growing in the upper garden?

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But them California horticulturalist Tony Tomeo called me out.  He commented on the post about taking stem cuttings, saw the little holly cuttings with the eyes of experience, and told me that what I was calling variegated English holly was, in fact, variegated false holly, Osmanthus ‘Goshiki.’

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Now you see it… an exact match …

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It took me a day to process what was so plain to him.  I photographed my shrubs, took a cutting from an older Osmanthus and set it seamlessly into the holly in a pot by our kitchen door.  Their leaves were identical.  Tony was correct and I had missed it in my own garden.

This is actually very good news.  At maturity, the Osmanthus will grow to only half the size of an English holly.  It has softer leaves and tolerates full shade.  An English holly wants full sun, which is hard to find in our garden.  Correctly identifying the shrub has proven a happy surprise for us.

Today we settle back into winter clothes and winter routines, but my heart is awake to the energy of spring.  I’m motivated to continue the clean-up and pruning; polishing the garden stage for the next act waiting in the wings: spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.

Six on Saturday: Camping Out Indoors

This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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We love big and colorful leaves in our summer garden, and we end up growing a pretty good collection of tropical plants each year that can’t make it through our coldest winter nights outdoors.  By the end of October, we are deciding which plants will get to camp out inside for the winter, and where (and how) they will overwinter.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.  It died back to its tuber in the basement last winter.  This winter it is still in growth in our sunny garage.

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Some plants get to grow on in their pots in our sunny living spaces.  They will stay comfortably warm from November through April or May.  Aside from living with a little less light than they’d like, they have a good winter of continued growth and minimal disruption.  I continue to fertilize many of these plants to encourage winter blooms.

Others come into the garage.  It is a good deal chillier, and they get even less light.  But they remain active, with very little new growth, and most manage to survive the winter.  I water these only as needed to keep their soil barely moist, and don’t apply any fertilizer until the weeks before they move back outdoors.

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Begonias live in our garage and living room through the winter.  Some may lose their leaves, but often return from their rhizomes in the spring.  this one is growing well this winter and is still producing new leaves.

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A few sturdier plants, Alocasias, Zantedeschias and Colocasias, are re-potted into much smaller quarters and overwinter in the basement near a window.  Most of those that get this treatment have a dormant period built into their annual life cycle and are at least marginally hardy here in Zone 7.

I spare them a real period of freezing temperatures and make sure that they stay barely moist through winter.  They lose most, or all of their leaves and may survive as a tuber with a few active roots.  The Zantedeschias we are overwintering this way have continued to throw out sturdy new leaves, reaching for the feeble winter light from our basement windows.

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Begonias with Caladium ‘Moonlight’. Cane Begonias can be overwintered in vases of water as cuttings. Once the stem has roots, it can be potted up in a much smaller pot, indoors, until time to plant it outside in late April.  Cuttings of this Begonia rest on my kitchen counter, waiting for spring.

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Finally, most of the Caladiums and some Zantedeschias go fully dormant in November, with all leaves and roots dying back.  Once their tubers have dried out, I pack them away in rice hulls, in bags, and put them in an out of the way spot indoors for the winter.

They slumber through winter without any moisture or light, and must be re-awakened each spring by planting them in moist soil.  They send out all new growth each spring and are ready to back out doors in May or June.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ was a newcomer to our garden this summer.  Its tubers are resting, waiting for me to wake them up next month.

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The alternative to going to all of this trouble would be to treat our beautiful summer tropical plants like annuals, allowing the frost to kill them each fall and starting over with new plants each spring.  Some gardeners may go this route, especially if you don’t have the space indoors to let the plants camp out in comfort for a few months.

It would be an outrageous expense for us, and there isn’t a guarantee that you will even find the plants in spring to replace those lost.  We lost our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ last winter, and then didn’t find it in any catalogs for spring.  We were delighted to find A. ‘Stingray’ in Brent and Becky Heath’s spring catalog, and have several on order.

So every fall we bring as many as we can indoors, care for them through the winter, and then begin moving them all back outside again in April.  They may look a bit worse for the winter in doors, but all soon grow new foliage and perk up in the sunshine to enjoy another summer of beauty and growth.

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Zantedeschia, calla lily, blooming last June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.

 

 

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