Re-Weaving the Web

Viola papilionacea

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Our ‘lawn’ hosts many wildflowers, including the always beautiful violet, Viola papilionacea.  I’m happy to see these lovely wildflowers bloom each spring.  They are so common, and so elegant.  And I’ve always assumed that their nectar is a welcome source of nourishment for bees and other pollinators in early spring.

But I was surprised to learn, when browsing recently on the National Wildlife Federation’s website, that the common, native violet is a larval host to 30 different species of moth and butterfly.   By simply allowing these pretty spring wildflowers, rather than stopping their growth with a ‘broadleaf weed’ herbicide, I’ve been helping to support moths and butterflies.

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Monarch butterfly on hybrid Lantana, an excellent source of nectar.

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Once we begin to understand our own lawns and gardens as part of an intricate web of life; the daily decisions we make, and the actions we do, or don’t take assume an entirely new and more meaningful context.

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Spiders often weave large webs in our autumn garden.

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I certified our garden as a wildlife habitat some years ago.  Ever since, I get regular mailings and emails from the National Wildlife Federation offering me things if I’ll only send a bit more money to them.  I respect their work and detest the constant fundraising.  But an email last week somehow caught my attention, and in a spare moment I began clicking through to find a personalized list of native plants that thrive in our zip code and also support wildlife.

Imagine that!  A personalized plant list just for me and my neighbors to assist us in preserving habitat!

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Our native redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, supports 25 species of butterfly and moth larvae.  Our dogwood tree supports 110 larval species.

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Also on my list: Fragaria, Solidago, Aster, Geranium, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Achillea and good old Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium.  It’s the first plant on this list, Fragaria, that nudges that guilty sense that maybe I’m not as good as I want to be.

Common (weedy) ground strawberries, Fragaria virginiana, thrive in our garden.  They thrive and spread themselves over and around every bed I start and every other thing I plant.  Along with the ubiquitous Vinca minor vines, Fragaria are the plants I find myself pulling up and throwing away the most.  And to think that this common and enthusiastic plant; which feeds pollinators, songbirds, small mammals and reptiles; also supports 73 different species of larval moths and butterflies.  How did I ever miss that?

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Wild strawberries, Fragaria, mix with other wildflowers as ground cover at the base of this stand of Narcissus. Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens, Gloucester VA.

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You may have read Dr. Doug Tallamy’s revolutionary manual, Bringing Nature Home.   Dr. Tallamy makes a clear argument for why including native plants in our home landscape matters, and offers simple advise about how to do this in the most practical and easy to understand terms possible.

The National Wildlife Federation has based their Native Plant Finder on his work, and will give anyone an individualized list of native plants that form the basis of the ecosystem in their particular area, down to their zip code.

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The American Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, supports 43 species of larvae, including the beautiful Luna moth..

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The change in my sensibility came when I realized that I don’t really have to do anything special to grow a garden of native plants.  Rather, I need to allow it to happen, by understanding and respecting the natural processes already at work in our garden.

We modern American gardeners are often conditioned to feel like we need to go and buy something in order to be gardening.  Dr. Tallamy helps us to understand that going to our local garden center or nursery may not be the best way to heal our local ecosystem.

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How many of us already have an oak tree (or two or three) growing in our garden?  They are handsome shade trees, and I’ve always admired oaks.  Did you know that in addition to producing acorns, oak leaves support over 500 species of larval butterflies and moths?  A birch tree supports over 320 species.  That is a lot of mileage from a single tree, when it comes to supporting the insect world!

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Virginia Creeper, a native vine which crops up in many areas of our garden, provides nectar, berries, and it also supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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Keep in mind that this is only a counting of butterflies and moths, and doesn’t even consider the hundreds of other insect species which live on our native trees.  Even a pine tree supports over 200 species, and the simple mistletoe already growing in several trees around our yard will support 3 species of moth larvae.

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 Zebra Swallowtail feeding on Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester .

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I keep returning to this conundrum about native vs. ‘exotic’ plants. I listen closely when experts, like the erudite speakers at our local chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, speak on this matter.  I have also been doing a bit of reading about the balance between natives and non-native plants in our home gardens.

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Hibiscus syriacus is not our native Hibiscus… but our bees and butterflies love it anyway.  It has naturalized in our area.

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Some landscape designers suggest planting exotic plants near our house and native plants towards the edges of our property.  This assumes, I think, that the native plants may not be beautiful enough or refined enough to plant along our daily paths.  Somehow, I know there must be a better way….

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Purists try to demonstrate to us that ‘native’ means the plants that have grown in our particular location for centuries, maybe even millennia.  It is the particularly adapted sub-species that have grown in symbiotic relationships with the local fauna and geo-forms which matter most.  They are adapted to our soil, climate and may not be truly ‘native’ 30 miles down the road.

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Asclepias incarnata, July 2017

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The problem with this analysis comes from understanding that there was a lot of movement of people and spreading of plants in North America before the earliest recorded European inhabitants.  It doesn’t matter whether you take that back to the Vikings, Sir Henry Sinclair, The Templar fleets or Captain Chris; the truth is that many different groups of native Americans carried plants around from place to place and established agriculture long before there was a European around to observe and record their activities.

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Muscadines are a native North American grape.  Vitis species support 69 larval species, and were cultivated long before the European migration to our continent.

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Many of us mail order an Asclepias or two and know we have done a good thing for the Monarchs.  But Asclepias only supports twelve larval species, while the Rudbeckia systematically colonizing our entire front garden support 20!

But Rudbeckia don’t feed Monarch larvae.  And neither do many of the Asclepias I’ve planted in recent years.  Their leaves remain pristine.  It is not just what we plant, but many factors in the environment that determine whether or not a butterfly will choose a particular plant to lay their eggs.

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I am happiest when I realize that the plants I want to grow anyway also qualify as ‘native’ and benefit wildlife.

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Native Hibiscus moscheutos grows in our garden, and has naturalized in many wetlands in our area.  Sadly, non-native Japanese Beetles feasted on its leaves.  Hibiscus supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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I am content when the ‘exotic’ plants I want growing in our garden also offer some benefit to wildlife, whether it is their nectar or their seeds.  And I still stubbornly assert my rights as The Gardener, when I commandeer real-estate for those non-natives that I passionately want to grow, like our beloved Caladiums. 

As long as I find hummingbirds buzzing around our canna lilies and ginger lilies each summer, and find the garden filled with song birds and butterflies, I feel like we are doing our small part to support wildlife.

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Many of us enjoy watching pollinators gather nectar and pollen from the flowers in our garden.  We enjoy a variety of birds attracted to seeds, berries, and insect life in our gardens, too.  But how many of us relish watching caterpillars nibble the leaves of our garden plants?

We see nibbled leaves as damaged leaves, without taking into consideration that before we have butterflies flitting from flower to flower, we must shelter and support their larvae.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Assuming that you have read Doug Tallamy’s work, let me invite you to take the next step by reading Larry Weaner’s thought provoking new book,    Garden Revolution:  How Our Landscapes Can Be A Source of Environmental Change.  Where Doug Tallamy writes about plant choice, Larry Weaner is all about ecological landscape design.  He teaches how to begin with a tract of land and restore an ecosystem.  Weaner teaches us how to work with the processes of nature to have plants present their best selves, with minimum inputs from us.

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Restoring our environment, preserving our ecosystem, are holistic, systemic endeavors worthy of our energy and attention.  As we develop a deeper understanding and sympathy for these matters, our aesthetic, and our understanding of our own role in the garden’s evolution, also evolve.

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The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species. A volunteer in our garden, it is one of the most spectacular trees we grow.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“The wild is where you find it,
not in some distant world
relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future;
its presence is not black or white,
bad or good, corrupted or innocent…
We are of that nature, not apart from it.
We survive because of it,
not instead of it.”
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Renee Askins
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Hummingbird moth on a hybrid butterfly bush growing among native Rudbeckia. 

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Reducing Damage From Moles and Voles

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Are moles or voles tunneling through your lawn?  Are your newly planted perennials disappearing into a vole tunnel?

We have been doing quite a bit of stomping on tunnels and filling of holes this spring.  In fact, a pesky little vole ate half the roots of a newly planted Columbine earlier this week, before I saw the damage and rescued it to a pot!  I planted a lovely Hellebore seedling in its place, only to find the opening of the tunnel widened the next morning, the rejected Hellebore lying beside it.

You know why the vole didn’t want the Hellebore, don’t you?  It is poisonous!  Planting poisonous bulbs and perennials seems to be our “go to strategy” in this wild garden, to foil the wildlife.  But there are a few other tricks that work as well.

Our spring time battle with the voles inspired me to update one of my first 2013 posts to Forest Garden, about our battles with the voles and moles we found here.  If you missed it then, let me invite you to take a dive into the Forest Garden archives and read it now.  You may find a useful idea that works for you, too.

When Your Garden Looks Like Swiss Cheese:  Living With Moles and Voles
Woodland Gnome 2018

Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time

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We are just finishing a harsh winter, and find ourselves in the midst of a chilly, slow spring.  Most of our woodies and perennials are a little behind the times in showing new growth, according to our experience with them in recent years.  Understandable!

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The Camellias didn’t do well in our cold, windy winter weather.

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We had a few nights in January when the lows dipped a little below 0 degrees F, which is rare here.  We had winter temperatures more like Zone 6, found several hundred miles to the west.  Our woodies and perennials rated for Zones 7 or 8 suffered from the deep, prolonged cold.  And it shows.

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Normally evergreen shrubs, now show extensive leaf damage, with brown and curling leaves.  Bark on some trunks and branches split and some stand now with bare branches.   Those woody shrubs that can easily withstand winter in Zones 6a or colder generally look OK.  But those that normally grow to our south, that we coddle along here in the edge or warmer climates, took a hit.

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I needed to cut back far more dead wood from our roses than any year in memory.  It is a very sad sight to see established shrubs looking so bad here in the second week of April.  Our cool temperatures through March and early April, with a little snow recently, have slowed the whole process of new spring growth, too.

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Some gardeners may be struggling with a decision about whether to replace these badly damaged plants.  Now that the garden centers are finally allowing deliveries of fresh stock, it is certainly tempting to rip out the shabby and re-plant with a vigorous plant covered in fresh growth.

I will counsel patience, which is the advice I am also giving to myself this week!  We invest in woodies and perennials mainly because they are able to survive harsh winters.  While leaves and some branches may be lost, there is still life in the wood and in the roots.

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I was out doing the ‘scratch test’ on a completely bare lilac shrub this morning.  Its condition is still a troubling mystery to us, as several other lilacs, of the same cultivar, are leafing out and are covered in budding flowers.  But this one, on the end of the row, sits completely bare without a swelling bud to be seen.  I scratched a little with my fingernail one of the major branches, and found green just below its thin bark.  So long as there is green, there is life.

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This lilac survived our winter in a pot near the kitchen door. We are delighted to see it in bloom so early. I’ll plant this shrub out in the garden once the blooms are finished. It has been in this pot for several years, after arriving as a bare root twig in the mail in early 2015.

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I want to prune this one back pretty severely, mostly because it is becoming an eyesore.  But my Master Gardener friend strongly advises to give it more time.  She suggests waiting until early June to make life and death decisions on trees and shrubs, to give them time to recover.

I may prune the lilac a little, now that the freezing weather here is likely over for the year, and hope that stimulates some fresh growth.

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Japanese Maples have finally allowed their leaves to unfold this week.

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That is what we’ve done with the roses.  We pruned, hard, and we see new shoots coming from the roots on all of our roses now.

There are a few good reasons to nurse our winter damaged woodies back to health instead of replacing them now.  First, our tree or shrub is established and has a developed root system.  Even if all of its trunks and stems are dead, new ones will soon appear from the roots.  This seems to happen every single year with my Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’.  It keeps the shrub a manageable size, and the plant looks pretty good again by early summer.

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F. ‘Silver Lyre’s’ stems are visible beside the Iris leaves. Rated to Zone 7b, it always returns, sometime in May, from its roots.  A Sweetbay Magnolia waits behind it, in a nursery pot.  I want to see some sign of life before planting it.

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Another reason to rejuvenate an established shrub, rather than plant a new one, is economic.  Finding a good sized shrub to replace the old one is a bit of an investment.  Weather and higher fuel prices are definitely reflected in shrub prices this spring.  I’ve felt a little bit of ‘sticker shock’ when looking at prices at area nurseries.

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These Viburnums show cold damage, even while still at a local nursery.

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And even if you buy a new shrub, it is likely to sustain damage during its adjustment time, if you live in deer country.  Shrubs fresh from the grower have been heavily fertilized to induce quick growth.  This extra nitrogen in the plant’s tissue tastes a little ‘salty’ to grazing deer, and makes the shrub that much more delicious and attractive to them.  It takes a year or so of growth before the tastiness of new shrubs seems to decline, and they are ignored by grazing deer.

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I’ve just watched a major investment in new holly trees get nibbled down nearly to the branches by deer in our area.  It is very discouraging, especially if your new shrub is replacing one damaged by winter’s weather!

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This Eucalyptus sometimes sprouts new leaves from its existing trunks in spring. Last winter it was killed back to its roots, but then grew about 6′ during the season.  I expect it to send up new growth from its roots by early May.

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All things considered, I am planning to give our woodies another six to eight weeks, and every possible chance, before declaring them and cutting them out.  It is the humane and sensible approach.  Even though the selection at garden centers this month is tempting, I will wait.

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The view this week at the top of our garden. Still looks rather wintery, doesn’t it?  The southern wax myrtles which normally screen our view, were hit hard by the cold, and a new flush of leaves have not yet opened.

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In this climate, it is generally better to plant in fall, anyway.  Fall planted shrubs get a good start in cooler weather, so their roots can grow and establish the plant in the surrounding soil before summer’s heat sets in.  The selection may be a little more sparse by October or November, but the prices are often better, as nurseries try to clear their stock before winter.

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This English holly, purchased last November, lived in a container over winter, and may be too far gone to save. I planted it out in the garden last month in hope it may recover….

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And of course, you might try propagating replacement shrubs yourself, from cuttings.  I have pretty good luck rooting hardwood cuttings over winter, or greenwood cuttings in spring and summer.  It isn’t hard to do, if you are willing to wait a few years for the shrub to grow to maturity.

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As with so many thing in the garden, it takes time and patience to achieve our goals.  They say that ‘time heals all things.’

That may not be true 100% of the time, but patience allows us to achieve many things that others may believe impossible!

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Our red buckeye tree was knocked back to the ground in a summer 2013 storm.  It lived and has grown to about 5′ high in the years since.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“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:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Blossom XXXVIII: Akebia quinata

Akebia quinata

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Chocolate vine, Akebia, grows joyfully in a corner of our garden.  It springs back to life early in the season, when many of our other woodies are still resting.  First, the delicate spring green leaves emerge, clothing the long and twisting stem with fresh growth.  Compound leaves emerge in groups of five leaflets, which is how it earned its species name, ‘quintata‘.  And then its beautiful rosy flower buds appear, opening over a long season of several weeks.

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I mail-ordered this ‘chocolate vine’ several years ago to clothe a new arbor we were installing.  I’d never grown it before, and never admired it growing in another’s garden.  But I’m always interested in trying new things; especially unusual fruits.    This vine is supposed to produce an edible pod that tastes like chocolate.

And I only ordered one, not the two necessary for pollination, to first determine whether it would grow well for us.  Does it like our climate?  Will the deer eat it?

Yes, and no.  And from that first bare root twig, it has taken off and begun to take over this corner of the yard!  Yes, I could prune it into better manners.  But I rather like its wild sprawl through the neighboring trees.

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But as much as the vine extends itself, it doesn’t appear to pollinate itself.  We’ve not yet found any edible pods to taste.  I could plant another vine to see if I can make them produce fruit, but that would be unwise. 

Akebia grows so robustly that it can smother out other nearby plants.  It is considered invasive in the mid-Atlantic region and has made the list of regulated invasive species in Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia.

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We enjoy this vine for its flowers.  It is simply stunning in bloom, filling its real estate with bright flowers.  There are plenty of little dangling stems to cut to add to flower arrangements.

I’ve never noticed this vine growing in the wild in Virginia, and have not heard of it being a problem in native habitats in our area.  It is something of a novelty to us.

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In its native Asia, where both the pulp and the husk of the fruit are enjoyed in cooking, the vines are cut and woven into baskets.  The vines wrap themselves in neat spirals around their supports, laying themselves in parallel layers like a living sculpture.  Akebia was first imported to the United States as an ornamental vine around 1845.

Akebia is a beautiful plant, and you can find it from several good mail order nurseries in the United States and the UK. You will even find named cultivars.   It tolerates shade, is drought tolerant, and grows in a variety of soils.  This deciduous, woody vine is hardy in Zones 4-10.  The color of its flowers blends well with other springtime flowers in our garden.

Ironically, the more resilient and adaptable a plant, the more likely it will eventually make it on to a list of ‘invasive’ plants.   Although this spreads and roots at the nodes, I feel confident that the birds won’t spread it elsewhere, since our vine isn’t producing fruits and seeds.

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I would plant Akebia again, given the opportunity.  It is a useful  vine to cover a trellis, pergola, fence or wall.  But use it with caution, and do keep the secateurs handy.

I’ll need to give ours a trim this spring, when the flowers have faded, to keep it in bounds.  That said, some of those trimmings will be rooted and shared with gardening friends.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXVII: Daffodils, Variations On A Theme

Blossom XXXVI: Crocus

Blossom XXXV: In The Forest

A Gardener’s Journey

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Becoming a gardener is a journey.

It is a journey of discovery; a journey of evolution.

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To begin with a bit of dirt, a splash of water and a tiny seed or leaf or stem or root, and coax that living tissue into a beautiful and productive plant, is a journey, too.

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A gardener begins with a question:  “How does that grow?”

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And every answer she discovers leads to more and more interesting questions.

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The journey lasts a lifetime.

From the first seed sown in a bit of mud as a child, to the creation and care for garden upon garden upon garden throughout one’s life; the gardener herself ripens as the journey continues.

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There are salads to grow and herbs for cooking.

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We plant flowers, fruit, mosses, ferns, roses, grasses and graceful trees to flower in early springtime.

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There are long and twisty names to learn; and knotty, weedy problems to resolve.

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We learn to shape a plant with skillful pruning.

We have soils to amend, mulch to spread, oils to spray and compost to make.

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There is always more to learn, and there are always tasks waiting for us to accomplish, along the way.

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Some gardeners choose to quietly tend their own gardens.  They make their journey largely on their knees, coaxing the earth into fertility and abundance.

They lay their daily table with the fruits of their devotion.

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Some gardeners create something new.  They play matchmaker in their beds and breed new and better and different and healthier plants to introduce to the horticultural world.

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Some design and some construct.  Others experiment with new ways to adapt to a changing environment, and find ways to increase the land’s productivity.

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Some raise quantities of plants to supply to others, and create beautiful nurseries to inspire their brother and sister gardeners.

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And some gardeners share what they have learned with others.  They pass along plants,  offer advice, and help other gardeners find answers to their questions.

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It is all a part of the journey:  Asking, learning, propagating, teaching, sowing, amending, pruning and investing one’s energy in making something grow; making a place more beautiful.

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A gardener works to heal the planet.  We create beautiful spaces for people and safe spaces for wildlife.

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We nurture plants to cleanse the air and perfume it.  We plant to build and hold the soil and purify the water.

We feed our families and ourselves.

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If you find yourself somewhere along this path, then you are on a journey of happiness and good fortune.

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Root something; share something. 

And feel your own roots and branches expanding ever further into this beautiful world we share.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Spring’s Happy Faces

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“There are souls in this world
who have the gift of finding joy everywhere,
and leaving it behind them when they go.”
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Frederick William Faber

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Bright yellow Narcissus x odorus ‘flore pleno’, also called ‘Queen Anne’s double jonquil,’ blooms with a clump of N. ‘Thalia’ this week,  within a clump of evergreen Arum.  Arum grow from fall until early summer,  forming a beautiful ground cover around spring bulbs.

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Watching spring’s flowers unfold, day by day as the season warms, brings us happiness.  Sharing these beautiful flowers, that are popping up so extravagantly this time of year, allows us to share the happiness with friends.

What a joy to have enough flowers to cut and bundle into bouquets for a vase and to share with visiting friends.

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Double Narcissus ‘Albus Plenus Odoratus’ is an heirloom variety, and has brought happiness each springtime since at least the mid-Nineteenth Century.

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There is a language of flowers.  Their colors and forms, fragrance and presentation allow us to convey meaning through gifts of floral beauty.

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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ is another heirloom Narcissus, dating to at least 1916. It is one of the few pure white daffodils, and shines like a beacon from sunrise until well past sunset in the garden.  Here, it is planted with lambs ears and Scilla.

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Filling the garden with spring blooming bulbs remains the easiest and most reliable way to fill the garden with waves of flowers from late winter until May.

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Narcissus ‘Tahiti’ is one of the brightest and warmest of the double Narcissus.  It grows here with N. ‘Katie Heath.’

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Spring bulbs appear reliably once the weather has warmed enough for them to thrive.  They give a long season of bloom, and most are perennials.

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This split corona Division 11 Narcissus may be N. ‘Smiling Twin,’ hybridized by Brent Heath in Gloucester, VA.

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Many bulbs, like Narcissus, divide and form ever expanding clumps over the years.  Some will spread by seed if you leave the flowers in place to mature.   They appear for only a few months each spring. Their foliage dies back and disappears by early June, when summer flowers have taken center stage.

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Ipheion uniflorum, star flower,  bloom in our front lawn each spring.

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Even small, insignificant spring flowers naturalized in the lawn, like Ipheion uniflorum, bring a smile.  They join whatever spring time wildflowers crop up to create a floral carpet on the lawn as we greet April.

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Spring flowering trees also fill our garden with early flowers.   While a bulb may give us only a single flower, a tree may give us thousands.

Flowering trees cover themselves in flowers, often before their first leaf unfolds.  We enjoy their ephemeral beauty for a few weeks until the petals blow away on the wind, to live on only in our memories until next spring.

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Native dogwood, Cornus florida, has been name ‘Wildflower of the Year’ by the Virginia Native Plant Society.  The swelling buds of our dogwood trees are just beginning to open this week.

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Our garden fills with more flowers each day.  The earliest daffies have begun to fade, while the late season daffodils are just showing their first leaves poking up through the soil.  Cool weather means that each stem lasts a few days longer, and they never mind a good rain.  They are joined now with Hyacinths, Muscari, Leucojum and other early flowers.

Vinca minor weaves and evergreen ground cover, studded with periwinkle blue flowers beneath them all.

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Our woody shrubs and trees come along in their own sequence of spring flowers, too.  From the earliest Forsythia and Camellia we enjoy new flowers every week; now the dogwoods will soon fill the garden with clouds of white flowers.

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Dogwood just coming into the fullness of its beauty.

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May this springtime bring you happiness, too, unfolding in beauty and wonder all around you.

Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Those who wish to sing always find a song.”
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Swedish Proverb

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Magnolia liliiflora ‘nigra’

 

 

Reliable Beauty: Ferns

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Once the first few fronds of our hardy ferns poke through the warming soil, and begin to unfurl themselves, I finally trust the change of season to spring.  Tight fiddleheads are appearing in pots and beds, under shrubs, and along the bank, and we always celebrate their appearance.

Emerging fronds show up so subtly; one might not even notice them at first.

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Japanese painted fern emerges deep red, and lightens to show some green with silver markings as the season progresses.

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Especially those coming along under larger plants, or in secluded corners of the garden, may escape my notice until I go in search of them.  But like a child hunting Easter eggs, I make my rounds of the garden in search of my favorite ferns, re-emerging after their winter’s rest.

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Christmas ferns emerge among Hellebores in our back garden.

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Some hardy ferns remain evergreen.  The Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides; holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum; and our Autumn Brilliance fern, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’,  maintain a presence through the winter.  They are growing a bit raggedy by April and I sometimes cut off their old fronds as they break or fall.  But you never lose track of them.

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D. ‘Brilliance’ emerges a beautiful copper, but its fronds eventually fade to medium green.

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While D. ‘Brilliance’ is a hybrid, the Christmas fern is one of our most common native ferns.  D. ‘Brilliance’ can be found easily in most garden centers each spring.  It can be a little harder to locate starts of the Christmas fern, however.  This spring I found them, bare root, at a big-box store and stocked up.  I have about a dozen of them started in little pots, ready to plant out when I find a spare hour for planting.

Holly fern is also easy to find at garden centers and big box stores either bare root in late winter, or already growing in a pot in the spring.

These are all clumping ferns.  While they will grow a bit wider and taller over the years, they won’t go wandering through your garden without your assistance.

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D. ‘Brilliance’ in June

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Like other perennials, ferns have their own sequence for when they first appear each spring.  One of the earliest ferns to emerge is the beautiful hybrid Athyrium niponicum, ‘Pictum.’ 

Known as the Japanese painted fern, there are now several beautiful hybrids with various color patterns and with beautifully curled and divided fronds.  These are such a dark shade of burgundy as they emerge, you might not even notice their fiddleheads at first.

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I keep a clump growing in a low trough by the kitchen door, and watch it daily each spring, waiting for the first signs of life.  These fronds have often fallen away by early spring, and unless you remember where they are planted, they will surprise you as they unfold.

The Athyriums, known as ‘lady ferns,’ may spread year by year.  They have good manners, however.  Chances are you will divide them before they move beyond where you want them to grow.  I particularly enjoy the hybrid A. ‘Ghost,’ which is a lovely silver grey.

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There are many beautiful ferns that grow well in coastal Virginia.  We have an interesting selection of native ferns here, and we grow several of them.  Maidenhair fern, royal fern, cinnamon fern and sensitive fern are a few easily grown natives.

But we also collect several imported ferns, hybrids and cultivars, as well.  Can one grow too many ferns?

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Although ferns generally appreciate at least partial shade and consistently moist soil, they are much tougher than they appear.  Once established, many varieties can stand up to some sun and survive, with mulch and a little supplemental water, during drought.

Do your homework before you plant, however, and keep in mind the gardener’s mantra, “Right plant, right place.”

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It is easy to grow most ferns, if only you site them to meet their needs.  Given good soil, a bit of shade, and sufficient moisture, they happily grow on year after year.  In fact, if they are sited in their ‘happy place,’ you will see new ferns crop up nearby from either spore or spreading.

If a fern seems to be struggling, then simply dig it up and move it.  Often, a fern will go into dormancy during summer’s heat in order to survive if it is getting too dry or too much sun.

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September 2017

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I tend to buy the smallest pots of ferns that I can find.  In  our wooded garden, with so many roots everywhere, I like to start ferns small and let them grow and find their own way among the already established plant community.  This nearly always works. 

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It is also kind to build a raised bed for your fern installation, as long as you keep it hydrated.  I also grow some in pots, and keep them going year to year.

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Hardy ferns can stay outside in their pots all winter.  I bring the tender ferns in to the house each fall and set them out again when the weather has settled in spring.

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Emerging holly fern in early March.

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Ferns are beautiful just by themselves, and I am cultivating a collection of them on a steep bank in the shade in our back garden.  But they also add a graceful note when grow with bulbs and perennials or under shrubs.  Medium sized ferns are a good ‘shoes and socks’ ground cover in the front of a shrub border and under trees.

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Ferns lend a peacefulness and serenity to the garden.  These easy plants hold the soil against erosion, require minimal fuss or maintenance, and have a long season of beauty.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them.

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They make me happy, and I keep planting more with each passing year.

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Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXVII: Daffodils, Variations On A Theme

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A daffodil is such a simple flower.  Most bloom yellow or white, or some combination of these colors.  They have six petals, or perianth, and a corona in the middle.  Each grows on a long, slender herbaceous stem alongside long narrow leaves. Yet nature has made thousands of variations from these simplest of elements.

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It is March, and our garden blooms in daffodils.  Newly planted singles emerge from the Earth alongside clumps planted some years ago.

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These simple, charming flowers greet us as we venture out on cool windy days to get on with the springtime chores.  Their toughness and tenacity encourage us as we prepare for the season ahead.

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Through sleet and rain, and springtime snow, daffodils nod cheerfully in the wind.  They shrug off late frosts and spring storms, remaining as placidly beautiful as on a warm and sunny afternoon.

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Narcissus is a delightful genus to collect and celebrate.  From the tiniest miniature to the largest trumpet daffodil, each blooms with beauty and grace.  They come on, one cultivar after another, as the garden beds warm and the other perennials oh so slowly wake from their winter slumber.

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Early, middle, and late season; single or double; white or pink, cream or golden, orange or pure white; I want to grow them all.

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Each autumn our catalog comes.  And I sit down with a fresh mug of coffee and a pen to begin making selections.  I study them all, and note which ones we already grow.  Order more of these…  Try these this year…. Which to order of the new ones?  And where to plant them this time?

One can only choose so many in a season, and the choosing may take a while.

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We are a community of daffodil lovers here, and most neighbors grow at least a little patch somewhere near the street. Some of us collect them, filling our gardens with magical flowers that pop up under the huge old trees, through the duff of leaves, as winter fades into spring.

Roadsides are lined with them, and they even crop up in the wild places near the creeks and in the woods.

Patches of golden daffodil yellow catch our eye on the dullest days, reminders that at some time, someone cared enough to drop their bulbs in the moist soil.

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Our neighbors plant a few more bulbs each year, as do we.  We share this camaraderie and high hope each autumn.

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And when it’s spring again, we celebrate the waves of flowers from first to last.

Beautiful daffodils fill our gardens and remind us that life is sweet.   It takes such little effort to bring such joy

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“She turned to the sunlight
    And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
    “Winter is dead.”
.
A.A. Milne

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXVI: Crocus

Blossom XXXV: In The Forest

 

Fabulous Friday

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As the garden fills up with flowers, I am ready to begin celebrating ‘Fabulous Friday’ once again.   It’s been a month since we last celebrated Friday in the garden, and a cold, wet month it’s been!

Today dawned bright and sunny, yet still windy and deceptively cool.

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We headed out after lunch to see what we could see.  I carried my camera and my partner carried heavy pruners.  I was in search of beauty, but he intended to tackle some stubborn bamboo climbing up from the ravine into the garden.  Even in the relative shelter of the back garden, the cutting wind found us and made us wish we had grabbed more layers on the way out.

We have layered clumps of daffodils all the way down the slope, from the edge of the drive as far as we know the sun can reach them.  We plant more bulbs each fall.  Each spring, once the special ones have finished in their pots, I transplant them ‘in the green’ to still empty spots in the garden.

Seeing them shining in the bright sunshine today makes us very glad for the small effort to plant them.

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I convinced my partner that we should fill the garden with daffies by reminding him that every part of the Narcissus plant is poisonous, even its roots.  We began to plant them in areas once relentlessly dug up by voles.  Over the years that strategy has proven effective, and where there are daffies there are no vole tunnels.  Now we plant them generously around new shrubs and trees, working to create a ‘curtain’ of poisonous roots to protect our newly planted treasures.

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It’s elegant, in a somewhat warped and twisted way, to realize that while Narcissus and Hellebores look lovely together, they are equally effective in stopping voles ‘dead’ in their tunnels. This association continues as the tall Hellebores help to hide the daffodil foliage as  it gradually dies back, feeding the bulb for several weeks after the flowers finish.

We have an endless supply of seedling Hellebores to transplant each spring now, and I dutifully dig them up and move them to where we need them.  Hellebores are tough plants.  They will hold a bank.  They will ring a shrub.  They will fill a bed or a pot or crop up spontaneously where you most need one to grow!  Sold as shade plants, some of ours continue to thrive in nearly full sun through our long hot summers.

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I’m seduced to buy a new cultivar or two each winter when the garden centers offer little else.  Yes, oysters to Kilmarnock, I know.  But do you blame me?

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We admire their bright and ever changing faces during these last weeks of winter when spring can’t make up its mind whether or not to linger.  They fill the garden with flowers when little else beside the daffies and the Vinca dare to bloom.

I’ve been enrolled in a gardening class since early January, and yesterday we sat in rapt attention as a local landscape designer shared slide after slide of gorgeous gardens she has designed.   She shared with us her favorite annuals and perennials that grow well around Williamsburg.

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The shot that stole my heart was a bowl filled with Hellebore blossoms, snipped from a garden she designed.

When I noticed how many different Hellebores have come into bloom in our garden this week, I couldn’t resist clipping a collection of our flowers, too, to try to replicate that picture for you.

Hellebores bloom in waves, over four or five months here in coastal Virginia.  The earliest may open in late December.  We often still have a few Hellebores in bloom in mid-May.

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More are still on their way, including a particularly sassy dark purple cultivar that I just planted last week.  When it finally blooms, it may rate a Fabulous Friday post all on its own.

This fabulous sunny Friday offered us a respite to get outside and check on spring’s progress, as we wait for the rains to return here early next week.

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Pear blossoms have just begun to open in our garden.

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Forecasters shout the ‘S’ word, threatening us with another round of storms.  I don’t plan to give that much thought or worry, though.

Spring is well underway here with the annual progression of flowers.  And our gorgeous Hellebores highlight the beds, promising that the season is now mostly here  to stay.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious.  Let’s infect one another!

 

 

Early March Stories

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“Once you start recognizing the truth of your story,
finish the story.
It happened but you’re still here,
you’re still capable, powerful,
you’re not your circumstance.
It happened and you made it through.
You’re still fully equipped with every single tool you need
to fulfill your purpose.”

.
Steve Maraboli
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“Do you wait for things to happen,
or do you make them happen yourself?
I believe in writing your own story.”
.
Charlotte Eriksson

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“Most of us have only one story to tell.
I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives:
there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories.
But there’s only one that matters,
only one finally worth telling.”
.
Julian Barnes

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“The significance –
and ultimately the quality –
of the work we do
is determined by our understanding
of the story in which we are taking part.”
.
Wendell Berry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Story

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“Embrace the path your loved one’s story has taken,
and be part of the culture shift
that acknowledges dying
as part of living.”
.
Carrie Chavez Hansen
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