My Final Plant Order

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

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

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

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

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

July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a Fern Bed to Reduce Erosion

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

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

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

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

-WG 2021

Six on Saturday: Spring in Our ‘Novel’ Garden

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

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

Read more and see more garden photos

Have you visited my new website, Our Forest Garden?

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

Directories to previous posts on the site include:

On Gardening

Trees and Shrubs

Ferns and Mosses

Green Thumb Tips

Choosing Native Plants

Good Garden Books

Begonias

Caladiums and other Aroids

Herbs

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

-WG March 2021

Six On Saturday: Happy Pots in January

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

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

 

Have you visited my new website, Our Forest Garden?

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

Directories to previous posts on the site include:

On Gardening

Trees and Shrubs

Ferns and Mosses

Green Thumb Tips

Choosing Native Plants

Good Garden Books

Begonias

Caladiums and other Aroids

Herbs

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

-WG January 2021

Our Forest Garden

Moss garden with Canadian Hemlock and holly seedlings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Woodland Gnome January 2021

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

Our Forest Garden launched January 2021

Illuminations- Walking in Beauty Each Day launched April 2020

Growing Indigenous Trees from Seeds

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

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

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

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Acorns may be found in September through December in our area

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

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

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

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Redbud tree seedpods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2020

For more information:

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

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

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

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

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

Native Virginia Trees

Choosing A Tree

Obsession: Botany and Empire, As Seen From Jamestown Virginia

Native trees:

American Sycamore

Redbud Tree

American Holly Tree

 

 

Six on Saturday: Return of the Caladiums

Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’

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

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

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’

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

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

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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

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

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

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Caladium ‘Berries ‘N Burgundy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

Six On Saturday: For the Love of Trees

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis, glows against white dogwood flowers and emerging green leaves on nearby trees.

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In youth we plant annuals.  By middle age fill our gardens with perennials.  As we grow more keenly aware of passing time we turn to trees.  There is comfort in trees, and economy.  A single flowering tree can bear hundreds, thousands of flowers all opening over a few fleeting days.

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Magnolia liliflora holds elegant pink flowers against a backdrop of white dogwood blossoms.  Our several trees were young saplings when we came to this garden, left by the previous owner.   Now each has grown into a magnificent, flower covered tree.

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I’ve been very focused on trees lately.  I took an intensive three month Tree Steward course this winter, which has given me new tools to observe, identify and appreciate a wider variety of trees.   I’ve learned more about what trees need to thrive and how they grow.  I’ve been planting tree seeds, rooting cuttings of twigs, and watching for emerging volunteer seedlings of desirable trees.

It sounds trite to say that, ‘trees are a gift of nature.’  We can all acknowledge this, particularly when we pause to think of their many environmental benefits.  Trees hold the earth against erosion, help process excess ground water after a heavy rain, filter pollutants out of the air and refresh it with fresh oxygen.  They provide shade on hot sunny days, offer privacy, and improve the soil.  Trees feed and shelter birds, butterflies and many other insects.  Many also provide food and medicines for us.  So many benefits from these incredible plants!

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Our friends at Homestead Garden Center gave me this hybrid redbud tree one cold November day, when it was maybe 10″ tall. I grew it in a pot with spring bulbs for a season, and then moved it to its permanent spot on a hill in our back garden.  This is its first spring to bloom.

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But many of our trees quite literally are gifts.    They either were handed to us by a friend, while quite small and growing in a pot, or they have popped up in the garden where their seed was dropped by a bird or squirrel.  How exciting to find a desirable tree growing in the garden where it can live for decades to come.

A few years ago I was searching for native holly, Ilex opaca, through all of the local nurseries.  I wanted some for a project I was working on at the time and absolutely couldn’t find a single one for sale.  I ended up buying six hybrid hollies instead.

But this winter, I was out walking in our garden and noticed holly seedlings literally everywhere!  If we allow all of these to grow, our garden will become a holly forest in just a few years.   We’ve found many seedlings of other favorite trees:  dogwood, redbud, Magnolia and oak.   Who needs to hire a landscaper or shop the garden center when nature provides the perfect trees for our site?

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Our neighbor helped us dig this beautiful Magnolia grandiflora out of his yard one summer after we lost many backyard trees to a storm.  It was a little seedling of his own Magnolia, and is now growing into its beauty. I’m hoping for flowers one summer soon.  Southern Magnolias once only grew as far north as the Carolina state line.  Now, they have naturalized throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

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I’ve been propagating native trees this winter to sell through our local plant sales, to make natives available to people in our community who want them.  There are so many wildlife benefits to growing native plants, but they also grow very independently, without much fuss or care from the gardener.

I discovered that buying native tree species isn’t as easy as you might like.  Most garden centers and nurseries carry the latest and greatest hybrid ‘nativar,’ or ornamental from Asia.  Finding good, solid native Virginia trees commercially is a challenge.  And so I’m hoping to fill that niche and increase interest in native trees within my own community.  Our plant sales have been rescheduled from April and May to October, but that just gives these baby trees a bit longer to grow.

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This native red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, volunteered in our yard. It was broken to the ground in our 2013 storm, and has regrown from its roots. It is spectacular in bloom, and attracts many pollinators to its beautiful red flowers. Sometimes, the hummingbirds return early enough to enjoy it.  Like the Magnolia, the buckeye was once native to our south, but has naturalized further north in recent years.

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Have you planted a tree lately?  I grow trees in pots as well as in the ground.  Whey they outgrow their pots, I often transplant them into the garden.  But one can just get a larger pot, or begin to prune their roots and keep them small.

At the moment, I have a few acorns just emerging in paper cups.  I’ll soon tear the bottom of the cup a bit to make easy passage for their roots, and plant the tree, still in its cup, into a gallon pot and grow it on.

For the love of trees leads one to want to share them, as well as propagate and nurture them.  Trees make superb garden companions; constant, patient, easy to live with, and always surprising us with something new.

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I dug these two red maples from my parents yard when they were tiny seedlings, and grew them in pots on the deck for several years before planting them out into the garden. Deer will nibble young maples, so it is wise to protect them until they mature.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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An easy way to root hardwood cuttings over winter is to simply trim them and stick them in a potted plant outdoors.   By mid-spring, most will have enough roots to support some leaves.  The nearest cutting is of the red buckeye, and will soon be potted up and offered at our autumn plant sale.

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations: Walking In Beauty Every Day

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

Caladiums Year to Year

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As autumn days grow shorter, and nighttime temperatures cool, Caladium season draws to a close.  Caladiums love heat. Cool autumn days and nights signal that it is time to dig them and save them for another year.

Our Caladium leaves have lost their rigid posture, and some lie on the ground.  I need to dig them soon, or lose track of some of the tubers. Once the leaves fade, there is little clue of where they may be buried, and the tubers won’t survive a Virginia winter.

Some gardeners treat Caladiums like annuals and let them run their course.  But if you want to save your tubers to grow again next year, you’ll find complete instructions for success in this post, courtesy of Don Patterson of Classic Caladiums.

Greetings to the ladies of the Governor’s Land Garden Club. Thank you for your kind hospitality this morning. I hope that the instructions in this post will help you as you prepare to dig your Caladiums and keep them alive this winter for planting next spring.

 

-WG

 

Forest Garden

Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grown from a single bulb we dug last fall and overwintered.

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Caladiums are tender perennials, growing bigger and better each year in warm climates where they may be left undisturbed.  The catch is that they are tropical by nature, and want to stay warm, even when dormant.

The general rule of thumb tells us to store them at 60F or warmer, even when the tuber is dormant.  Certainly, one would want to bring them indoors in any climate where the soil temperature dips below 60F, right?  Not necessarily…

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Admiring my friend’s Caladium bed last week, she told me that they had overwintered in place.  She’d never gotten around to digging them, and just piled some leaves on their bed at the base of a small tree.  Voila!  They emerged this spring, bigger and better than they had been in 2016.

Now, understand that my…

View original post 1,424 more words

Bringing Some of the Beauty Home

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I’m always inspired by the rich diversity of botanical wonders casually growing from every crevice and bit of soil along the Oregon coast.  After a week of wandering around admiring moss covered trees, richly colored flowers, towering conifers, intricately textured ferns, and thick berry brambles, I’m left (almost) speechless at the sheer beauty and abundance of gardening pleasures for anyone inclined to cultivate a spot in this rain-forested beach town.

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Linaria purpurea grows from a hillside at the Bear Valley Nursery in Lincoln City, Oregon.

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I’m intrigued by everything.  Even in mid-October, as nights grow cold and days grow shorter, the landscape remains lush.

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The view from the patio behind my hotel room.

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There was frost on my windshield last Thursday morning.  I had to study the controls of my rented Chevy to clear the windows and mirrors before I could set off into the foggy, frost kissed morning to pick up my daughter for our morning breakfast.  By 10:00, when Bear Valley nursery opened, the frost was forgotten and sunshine gilded the day.

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My daughter has grown into her gardening heritage.  She proudly showed me the pumpkins she is growing for her family this fall, her beautiful Hubbard squash, vines dripping with beans and huge heads of elephant garlic.  She knows that our wanderings will take us to the beautiful family run nursery just up the road from where I love to stay while visiting her and her family, and that she will leave with a tray of plants to add to her garden.

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Bear Valley Nursery

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In past years,  I’ve bought plants for her, and then waited patiently for photos of them growing.  I just accepted that I couldn’t bring plants home cross-country.  Sure, I mail cuttings and bulbs to her from time to time, but I haven’t tried to bring horticultural finds home…. until this year!

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The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy supports itself with donations and plant sales. Oh, such sweet temptation….

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I guess I was giddy by the time I impulsively bought a cute little fern, one I’ve never seen in a Virginia nursery, and an unnamed Iris.  I have a real weakness for interesting ferns and Iris, and I decided to give my best effort to getting them home again to our Virginia garden.

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Daughter cared for them until packing up day, Tuesday, when I was elbow deep into preparations for my flight home from Oregon.  As we waited for granddaughter’s school bus to deliver her back home, we worked together in the garden.  We split the pot of Iris (maybe a Siberian cultivar?) and I slipped part of the clump into a gallon zip-lock bag as daughter dug a hole in her rich, black soil and planted the other half of the clump.  Whose will bloom first, I wonder?

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My portion of the Iris, now safely home.

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I’d saved a take-away food container, and decided that it would bring my fern home safely.  After knocking the roots out of the nursery pot, I carefully laid the plant on its side, bent the fronds to fit the space, and snapped the lid back on securely.  But then daughter was at my elbow with her offering of plump elephant garlic cloves.  How could I resist?

I nestled a few around the fern, and slipped the rest into another plastic bag.

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My pile of horticultural treasures had been growing all week, actually.  One of the owners of Bear Valley Nursery very generously snipped a few seed stalks off of her beautiful Linaria purpurea, that I had been admiring.  They were cropping up throughout the display gardens, through her gravel mulch.

I’d already been admiring them at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy and wondering what to call them.  The common name, toadflax, somehow seems insufficient for their graceful beauty.

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Linaria growing at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy

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I had also been admiring the Crocosmia, which naturalize so easily both in gardens and on hillsides, and along roadsides throughout the area.  Any spot with a bit of sun seems a good place for a clump to take hold and expand.  I nicked a few seed covered stems one day while walking down the lane from my hotel to the beach below.

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They weren’t growing in anyone’s yard, mind you, just volunteering among the blackberry brambles, ferns, and grasses growing on the shoulder of the road.  I dropped the stems into my bag with sea stones and shells, hoping for similar stands a few years on.

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Crocosmia bloom beside a water feature at the Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, Oregon.

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Both of these perennials are hardy in our Zone 7b climate.  A Master Gardener friend grows Crocosmia in her Williamsburg garden, and gave me a few bulbs.  My Crocosmia are far from these lush stands I’ve admired in Oregon, though.

I am not familiar with the Linaria, though see no reason it shouldn’t thrive in my garden at home.  Native to Italy, it should grow well among Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender.

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I found Linaria growing in white, pink, purple and blue in various gardens around Lincoln City.  A clump grows beside a stream, mixed with Verbena bonariensis, ferns and grasses at the Connie Hansen garden.

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I packed all of these parcels into a heavy plastic shopping bag, and tucked them into my carry on bag.  Nothing on the airline’s website raised any alarms, and so I confidently put my bag on the conveyor at security on the way to my departure gate.   But when it comes to plants and planting, I’m sometimes a bit over-confident…

When my bag didn’t reappear among the plastic bins of my shoes, coat, and tablets, I knew there might be a question or two to answer.

And sure enough, my bag was opened and searched.  But once I explained what plants I was bringing home, and the friendly agent saw there was nothing dangerous involved, we repacked it all and I was on my way.

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Fern and garlic fresh from my carry-on bag.

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I’m happy to tell you that the seeds and plants all made it home in great shape.  As I was unpacking my bags in the wee early morning hours, I happily set my new Oregon plants in a safe spot until I could get to them today.

And so it is that I now have a fresh pot of Cheilanthes argentea, silver cloak fern, and a pot of Iris, species and cultivar yet a mystery. I am hoping that perhaps the Iris will turn out to be one of the beautiful Pacific coast native varieties.

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Silver Cloak fern, Cheilanthes argentea, is a new fern that I’ve not grown before. It is tucked into a new pot and topdressed with a little lime and some gravel.

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Learning that this particular fern loves to grow in the crevices of rocks, and prefers slightly alkaline soil, I’ve top dressed it with a bit of dolomitic lime and given it a gravel mulch.  It likes to grow on the dry side, unusual for a fern, and can take a bit of sun.  Since it is rated for Zones 5-7, I’m thinking that I should give it more shade than it might need if growing in the Pacific Northwest.

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The silvery underside of each frond is this fern’s distinguishing feature. It is a low grower, but spreads.

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Native in Asia, it is able to dry out, curling up its fronds, and then re-hydrate when water comes available again.  Once established, it will spread.  I will give it the pot this winter, and then perhaps plant it out into an appropriate spot in the garden next spring.

Tomorrow I expect to sow the seeds into flats and set them into a safe spot to overwinter, and hopefully sprout in the spring.

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We enjoyed this view during breakfast on the porch of the Wildflower Grill.

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Looking through my hundreds of photos reminds me of the beautiful plants and associations I enjoyed in Oregon.  I will share some with you over the next several days, and perhaps you’ll pick up a fresh gardening idea, or two, as well.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

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While I was away, we finally had abundant rain here in Williamsburg.  But we’ve also had wind and cold.  I can feel the turn of seasons in the breeze, and my thoughts are turning to digging up our Caladiums and moving plants indoors, even while planting out spring bulbs and winter Violas.

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My new Iris can grow on through winter in a pot in my sunny holding area.  I’ll look for lush new growth in spring.  I want to try to identify the Iris before planting it out into the garden.

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I’m happy to be home, back to our beloved Forest Garden.  Even as the seasons shift towards winter, there is beauty everywhere here, too.  My travels have me still buzzing with new ideas, associations to try, and fresh inspiration to carry me through the weeks ahead.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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