Weathered: A Forest Garden

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You may wonder why we leave this old, weathered, decaying stump as a centerpiece in our garden.

It was a living tree as recently as June 2013, when it was broken a dozen feet above the ground in a thunderstorm.   A double oak tree, growing nearby, was hit with a gust of wind and blew over completely, taking this tree and a companion dogwood tree with it on its way down.

What a mess it all made! 

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A freak June thunderstorm spawned waterspouts from the creek, which felled three great oak trees from our forest.

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Many more trees and established shrubs were also broken and crushed by the sheer weight of the trees.  This was such a sudden blow to our woodland garden, that it took us a while to get over the shock of it all.

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As we cleaned up over the next week, we decided to keep a portion of the stump of this beloved old oak as a reminder of the tree.  We asked our tree guys to cut what was left of the tree several feet above the ground, leaving a taller than usual stump.

I covered the exposed cut in hypertufa and tried to transform it into a bit of folk art as well as a useful pedestal for potted plants.

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A forest garden must continually recycle itself.  The trees’ leaves and branches were mulched and left in place on the newly exposed forest floor.  The roots and trunk of the double oak were buried in place.  We kept as much of the trees as we reasonably could to nurture the garden.

We collected all of the odd bits of branch and bark left behind by our tree guys, and used them to build a Hugelkulture bed around this stump.  We called it ‘the stump garden’ and began all of our gardening efforts to re-plant this entire area from this one bed.

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That was nearly five years ago, now.  While our vision of this remaining stump might have been as a bit of garden art, the creatures here saw it differently.  It didn’t take long for the stump to become a wildlife condo.

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We’ve seen skinks skittering around beneath the remaining bark in summer’s heat.  Squirrels explore it, pushing back on the loose bark, and beetles and other insects find shelter here.  Birds visit this spot to search for insects, and there is cool shade for toads.

At first, most of the bark was left intact.  There was a scar on the side that I patched with hypertufa.  With each passing year the remaining bark pulls away a little more and falls to the bed below.  Virginia Creeper climbs the stump each summer, though I prune it back from the pot.

Finally, this autumn, I’ve planted our large blue pot atop the stump with a vigorous English ivy.  I’ll let it grow on and eventually re-clothe the stump.

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Yes, it is weathered now, and ragged.  You might glance askance and think to yourself, ‘What an eyesore…’ 

I”m sure you wouldn’t say such a thing, but you might wonder why we leave the stump in its disheveled state.

There is beauty of form, and their is beauty of function.  Sometimes, the two can be as one.  We see the stump as useful and as beneficial to the web of life in our forest garden.  It may not please the eye anymore, but it is still a thing of beauty.

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Woodland gardeners are wise to leave fallen trees and branches, fallen cones and pine tags, and all of the other accumulated detrius of a forest in place, as much as possible.  These by products of trees form an important component of woodland soil.

As they slowly decay, they feed billions of microorganisms which keep the soil fertile.  They shelter insects, which feed birds, which keep the woodland animated and fill it with song.  They prevent erosion, cool the roots of growing plants and balance the PH of the soil.

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An ancient mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, renews itself  in our garden.  I dump our chopped up leaves around these shrubs during spring clean up to feed the soil and keep their roots cool.

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Mosses and fungi grow on decaying wood.  Small animals find shelter around stumps and branches.

Now, we don’t leave every fallen branch where it lands.  We gather them and use them elsewhere on the property.  We didn’t leave the fallen oaks where they landed, either.  But we re-used what we could of their canopy, ground up and spread as thick mulch.

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We have been rewarded for this effort with a lush re-growth on the forest floor.  The raw wood chips created an environment where seeds for new trees could sprout.  We have at least 15 new native holly trees growing now that are more than a foot high, with many more seedlings coming along.

Can we let them all grow?  Maybe, maybe not.  We have to decide for each seedling, as these little hollies can eventually grow into prodigious, full sized trees.

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Native holly, dogwood, magnolia, cedar, buckeye and blueberry have sprung up from seeds lying dormant on the forest floor.

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We also have newly sprouted dogwoods to replace those lost, and some self-sown Magnolia seedlings coming along.  There is Eastern red cedar, and a huge crop of volunteer native blueberry shrubs that have grown in as a wildlife friendly ground cover.  I didn’t purchase or plant any of these.  There are always little oak seedlings coming along, and choices must be made whether to let them grow or to prune them out.

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Our land wants to be a forest.  When our trees fell, allowing the sunshine back in, it hastened new growth of seeds which may have lain dormant in the soil for many years.  Now, all of those little plants are racing with one another, and with those we’ve planted, to see who gets the sun.

We can prune and pull and plant and try to sort it all out somehow, but that is only a temporary aberration from the garden’s eventual course.

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We found many stumps, when we first came to the garden, from where a previous gardener cut some of the greatest trees.  He wanted light for his fruit trees, and safety for the house.  Some of those stumps are decaying now back into the earth, but a few re-sprouted with new limbs.

He is long gone, as one day we will be, too. Other gardeners will come here and will either disturb the land for their own schemes, or will let the forest continue to fill the garden.

A forest weathers over time, but that time is long; longer than the awareness of any one human.  And we are wise to find the beauty and the wisdom of its ways, and to work in harmony with the land.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Sentinels of trees
breathe life into bodies of earthly flesh
As their mighty arms reach to the stars
we join in their quest for Helios’s mighty power
Like sentinels, we seek our place
in the forest of nature’s gentle breath”
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Ramon Ravenswood

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

For more about allowing  forests to regenerate and managing a woodland garden, please read:

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Shade Haven

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As June fades towards July, we appreciate every speck of shade our garden offers.  Summer days in Virginia routinely heat up to over 90F.  And it’s a moist heat, here near the coast.  Some days we have nearly 100% humidity.

When I was growing up in Virginia, we somehow survived it, often without any air conditioning.  The first few schools where I taught didn’t have air conditioning, either.  Maybe that is why I love the shade and know the value of a cool breeze on a summer day.

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Japanese painted fern’s silvery fronds make it especially cooling on a sultry summer day.

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The lowest slope at the back of our garden enjoys a lot of shade.  It is steep, and erosion remains a concern.  This is one of the first areas where we began planting ferns in our first year of tending this garden.  A dense stand of bamboo grows just beyond, where our garden falls off into the ravine.

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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I add a few more ferns and shade-loving plants to this area each year.  I began a new planting bed around the stump of a newly fallen tree, at the base of the slope, several years ago.  It began with a transplanted Hellebore seedling and some  little autumn ferns, planted into a mound of compost poured in and around the stump.  Well, they  survived into the next year, and so I made the circle of compost a little wider and added a few more plants.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns planted are  in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.   June 2013

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I’ve added a few more plants each year, including some Sauromatum venosum, or  Voodoo Lily tubers, in 2015.

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I thought I might have ruined this ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.  July 2016

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We finally decided this spring to extend this whole area and give it a proper border.  This was very early on when I was studying rain gardens, and thinking about places on our property where we needed to do more to catch and use run-off from storms.

This shady slope has fairly good soil, but is ridden with roots.  So I simply outlined the new dimensions of the bed, laid an outline of landscaping bricks, and set to work eliminating the existing  weedy growth.

Some of the weeds, near existing perennials, needed pulling.  Some areas where moss was well established, I wanted to simply leave alone.  But much of the new garden could be covered with brown paper grocery bags, and topped off with a few inches of compost.  This is the best method I’ve found for creating new planting beds in this garden.

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I chose a selection of ferns and shade loving perennials to harmonize with the ferns, Hellebores, and voodoo lily already growing here.  Although I’ve planted mostly hardy ferns, there are a few more tender ferns that I potted up last fall, and returned to this bed after danger of frost.  Others are planted into containers and  displayed in this area.

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Bamboo leaves drift down on every breeze.  I clear them, occasionally, off of the larger plants in this bed.  One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, I plan to grab our leaf blower and blow all of the bamboo leaves away from the garden and back towards the ravine.  I’m sure the moss establishing here would be better for it, and so would my character.  How I admire fastidious gardeners!  Perhaps one day I’ll join their ranks….

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Ken Druse has written a delightful book entirely about gardening in shade.

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His The New Shade Garden is one of those beautiful books I lusted after for more than a year, before I finally ordered it this past winter.  The luscious photos and useful information and encouragement on every page left me wondering why I waited so long to read it.  This book is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to you if you share my affinity for finding cool haven in the shade.  You’ll find whole chapters devoted to shade loving trees, shrubs, perennials and ferns; along with useful lists and recommendations for plants for particular situations.

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All we need now, to complete this beautiful shade haven in our back garden, is a little patio and a place to sit.  That may still be a few years off, though.  Somehow I’m always more interested in plants than hardscape, and rarely find time to just sit in the garden.

There is always more to do…. something waiting for me to plant….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Bog Garden: Early Summer

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Maybe you don’t have a pond or spring in your yard, and would still like to grow a few special plants who like their roots wet.  We’re not talking a full-fledged water garden here, filled with Lotus and water lilies.  That requires an excavation or above ground water-tight construction. which will hold a foot or two of water; maybe with a stream or a waterfall with a pump and filter worked in.

A ‘bog’ garden tolerates variable amounts of water, from several inches to slightly moist.  These plants enjoy moist soil, but don’t want to remain submerged all the time.  Our bog garden has evolved in a mysterious old rock and cement construction in our back garden.  Maybe, at one time, it was water tight.  But it’s not water tight anymore.  Its uneven bottom of cemented gravel and large rocks allows for water to collect in several little pools before slowly draining away.

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I cleaned out the old leaves and accumulated silt a few years ago, and began massing pots of moisture loving plants in this mostly sunny spot to create a potted bog garden.  That is also when I began adding to our collection of a Southeastern North American native carnivorous plant, the Sarracenia, or Pitcher Plant.

Sarracenia produce tubular, brightly colored leaves all summer long, starting about now.   Each leaf holds a pool of digestive solution, just waiting for a curious insect to fall into the brightly colored hollow opening.  Their ‘Dr. Seuss’ flowers emerge early, in bright reds and yellows, looking like the sort of flower a child might draw.   These are very unusual looking plants which naturally grow in the sort of wet, insect filled swamp most of us tend to avoid.

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Our first pitcher plant, in late May of 2014

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But they prove easy to grow in a pot, so long as you use their preferred potting mix and keep them moist.  Sarracenia want moist soil, but not water-logged soil.  Their roots need some oxygen and don’t like the sour/stagnant soil often found in water gardens.  Dr. Larry Mellichamp, in his book, Native Plants of the Southeast, recommends a 50:50 mix of pure peat moss and clean quartz sand for pitcher plants.

I began collecting pitcher plants four years ago.  My first one spent the summer with its pot set in a ceramic bowl, about 2″ deep, which I filled with the hose when I watered that part of the garden.  It was gorgeous all summer long, and a conversation piece for every visitor.  That first pitcher plant inspired me to set up a bog garden, the following summer, with space for a community of more pitcher plants mixed with other plants that like wet soil.

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Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638. It was difficult for English gardeners to keep them alive until they learned to grow them in pots of moss standing in water. These are displayed at Forest Lane Botanicals in York County, Virginia.

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Pitcher plants, like other perennials, grow in clumps and may be divided every few years.  The plants we’ve collected were still growing in modest sized pots.  But I wanted to change the look of our bog garden this year, and so tracked down a huge, shallow pot to hold divisions from several of our Sarracenia cultivars.

Following Dr. Mellichamp’s instructions for potting mix has brought us success.  The one plant I purchased, and didn’t re-pot myself, didn’t make it through the winter of 2015.  It was in a compost based potting mix and failed to thrive.  But the grower made it good, and I’ve relied on the peat/sand mixture for my own re-potting.

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Mix and re-hydrate the peat at least a day before you plan to use it.  It is important to have very moist soil when you re-pot pitcher plants.  I knocked three of our Sarracenias out of their pots, pulled out or trimmed back the old, brown leaves, and then gently pulled the clumps apart.  I potted some of the smaller clumps into this new, large pot; and re-potted the largest of each division back into its original pot. Pack the peat mixture into the pot fairly tightly, and then water it in to settle the soil and rinse off the pot.

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You never fertilize Sarracenia.  That is one reason it doesn’t work to use compost or a standard potting mix which would work perfectly well with most potted plants.  Sarracenia take their nutrition from the insects that fall into their leaves.  And they thrive in acidic conditions, which the peat provides.

In addition to pitcher plants, I’ve grown Colocasia, Canna, Asclepias, Hibiscus, Coleus and Zantedeschia  in this bog garden.  All of these have at least a few cultivars that enjoy full sun and wet soil.  This year, I’ve added Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ to the Colocasia ‘Mojito’ we’ve had in years passed.  Colocasia ‘China Pink’ grows around the outside.  This year I’ve potted up a few divisions from our yellow flag Iris to add to the mix.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ saved from last summer’s garden, spent the winter in our basement. We’re happy to have it growing again. This Colocasia loves damp soil and could even grow submerged in a pond.

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A bog garden like this one, where there is usually at least some water, provides important resources for wildlife.  Birds, frogs, turtles and many insects come here to eat, drink and find shelter.  Once the plants grow in, there is cool, moist shade on even the hottest summer days.

Rain provides sufficient wetness for the bog garden during much of the year here in coastal Virginia.  But during dry spells, I try to visit this garden several times a week with the hose, filling it and watering the various pots.  Creeping Jenny, originally planted around the border as a ground cover, has colonized the interior of the garden, too.  I was a little surprised to learn that it, too, tolerates growing in shallow water.

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Tadpoles and other tiny creatures can often be found in the bog garden.  This photo is from its first summer, 2015.

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If you don’t already have a wet spot in your own garden, you might consider building something similar to this with stone and concrete.  If that is too much trouble, you might follow Dr. Mellichamp’s advice and begin with a child’s wading pool.  You can put a small drainage hole or two, if it doesn’t have a crack or hole already, and either excavate and sink the liner in the ground, or build up some landscaping blocks around it to make it more attractive.

Line the bottom with some gravel and sand, and then fill your new bog garden with the peat/sand mix, or just set ceramic pots into it as I’ve done.  Dr. Mellichamp shows a beautiful bog garden he built, in his chapter on bog plants.  His is filled with peat and sand, with the plants growing as they would in a natural bog.  The peat is overgrown with moss and the effect is stunning.

If you don’t have Sarracenia at a garden center near you, you can order a wide variety of pitcher plants, and other water loving plants, from Plant Delights nursery in North Carolina.  Sarracenia Northwest, a grower based in Oregon, offers a wide selection of pitcher plants, and other interesting carnivorous plants.  Their service is excellent.  The plants I ordered arrived in excellent condition.

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Pitcher plants are easy to forget during winter.  Most are hardy in zones 5-9.   They stay outdoors, dormant, and need no special care.  It is only when those psychedelic flowers suddenly appear in late spring, and the first new leaves emerge that you take notice.

That is when I’m moved to clean them up, and begin assembling a beautiful collection of plants for our summer enjoyment in this quiet spot in our back garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Wednesday Vignette: Iris

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“Hope is a rainbow of thought.”

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Harley King

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“To find the rainbow and life’s incredible beauties,

learn to play with adversity.”

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Debasish Mridha

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“Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

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Maya Angelou

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“If it rains during sunshine,

don’t worry; you’ll see your rainbow.”

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Vikrmn

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“Pointing to another world

will never stop vice among us;

shedding light over this world can alone help us.”

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Walt Whitman

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“Love, I’m pretty sure, is light.”

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Jan Zwicky

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Iris was the personification of the rainbow in Greek mythology, as well as messenger of the gods along with Hermes. She was also known as the goddess of the sea and the sky.  It was said that she traveled on the rainbow while carrying divine messages to the mortals.”

from Greekmythology.com

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Love Offering

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The day I began this ‘Forest Garden Blog‘ we were still a bit in shock.  Our front garden was filled with three fallen oak trees.

Chainsaws whined hour after hour, cutting them apart into smaller bits, drowned out only by the grinder pulverizing piece after piece of our beloved trees.  Heavy orange earth movers made trip after trip into the yard, completely obliterating the little sapling Mountain Laurel shrubs we’d planted the year before.  But who could possibly see them under the tons of branches and leaves fallen in an instant during a summer thunderstorm?

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It was late afternoon when it happened.  A sudden thunderstorm had blown up off the James River and it was raining hard.  Bright white lightening flashed, thunder clapped and the wind blew sheets of rain across the yard.

I stood at the window, trying to understand the changed landscape before me.  It took some time for me to make sense of the towering walls of wet red clay and mangled roots risen in front of us, blocking our view of the upper garden.

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While we counted ourselves blessed that the trees went down away from our home and cars, we were not quite sure what to do about our trees now filling, and blocking, the street in front of us; lying neatly in the opening of our neighbors’ driveway.

The storm was still thundering around us as we inspected the damage.  Neighbors showed up with chainsaws, rakes and offers of help.  An arborist, checking on a nearby customer, saw our distress and pitched in to help clear the street.  Help was there that evening when we needed it most, and each day following, until the clean up was handled.

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But the garden left behind was shockingly different.  The hot summer sun beat down where once we enjoyed deep shade.  Deer happily explored the new breaches in the fence, discovering full access to the garden we’d worked so hard to cultivate.  In all, five trees were completely gone and many more left severely damaged.  Shrubs were shattered, our light post crushed, the drive caked in mud, and everywhere lay browning leaves, small branches, and pulverized bits of our beloved trees.

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This was the second time oaks had fallen in our garden in our four years in this home, leaving some portions forever changed.  I was feeling very edgy the day “Forest Garden” was born; at loose ends to do something constructive inside, away from the mess; away from the crews of strangers wielding chainsaws in my garden.

And so I sat before the computer and began this blog.

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My purpose was mainly to reach out.  I wanted to connect with other gardeners, and hopefully share a little of what I had learned with others who felt as frustrated gardening in a forest, filled with unplanned surprises, as I was feeling.

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I had this list of plants I’d been compiling for a few years already, and I wanted  to publish it for others whose yards are grazed by ever-hungry deer.  Friends and I had been keeping records of what the deer didn’t eat, and I hoped someone else might find that useful.

And I wrote about what it means to me to garden in this historic place near Jamestown Virginia, in woods once belonging to the great chiefs of the Algonquian nation.

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I used this blog as a ladder to help myself climb back up from sadness and self-pity over what we had lost, and were losing, that June of 2013; towards something brighter and stronger and more useful than I was feeling in that moment.  And eventually I used ‘Forest Garden’ to help define my own philosophy and style of gardening.

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And never once did I entertain any thought of trying to turn a profit from it. 

Now please understand, I’m a child of the 60’s, coming into this world along with the early Peace Corps and Beatle Mania. I was born in the era of man’s first flights into outer space.  Maybe if I’d been born in the age of Reagan or the Bushes I’d have a different outlook on things.

But the work I do on this blog I do for myself, primarily.  And I’m happy if what I write is helpful to others; but I do it in a spirit of sharing, not of seeking profit.  You may think I’m hopelessly naive.

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‘Real’ artists and writers expect to profit from their work.  Photos sell for hundreds of dollars.  Maybe I need to wise up, and publish an e-book rather than publishing each day, freely, on the world-wide-web.   But I get the greatest feeling of warmth and connection when I see comments left by fellow gardeners and seekers. 

I love to respond to others facing similar challenges and thinking similar thoughts in England or Australia, Brussels or Massachusetts,  Oregon or Florida, Indonesia or on an island in the Mediterranean Sea.  I take great pleasure in watching others’ gardens grow through the photos they publish, and finding new ideas in their experiences.  That is priceless experience to me, and I would never risk alienating my fellow bloggers by suggesting they should donate to support this joyful work I do.

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Do you see this differently?  If you have a blog of your own, have you considered asking for financial support?  How do you feel when you see a ‘donate’ button on someone’s blog?

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Perhaps if I truly needed to ask for financial support I’d see this question through a different lens.  But I am blessed, and have achieved a stage in life more focused on giving to others than on ‘earning my keep.’  And every photo that I take and prepare for publication is an act of love, a meditation on the beauty of the world around us.

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I am deeply grateful for our garden, for the creatures who share it with us, for the changing seasons and the endless opportunities to learn.

I am deeply grateful to the staff of WordPress for this online platform, and for the technology which makes it possible to share thoughts and photos with the world each day.  And I am grateful to have the time, the energy, and the ability to make a little contribution to the online conversation.

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I hope that everyone who visits ‘Forest Garden’ feels enriched in some way by that experience.   I am ‘enriched’ through the process, too.  And that is all I need to keep going with this blogging adventure.

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It has been a little more than three years now since the day our oak trees fell in a summer storm.  In that time, I’ve published well over a thousand posts, returning to the writing that was once such an important part of my life.  I’ve had motivation to read and study, to experiment and observe.

I’ve found great joy through photography, maybe gotten a little better at it; and I’ve discovered scores of ‘expert’ bloggers ready to help me learn about any subject I can think of.  All I need do is search them out and click freely through their many pages of instruction, insight and advice.

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That is the magic of this ‘blogosphere’ we love.  It is inspiring.  It is always fresh and new.  It offers endless opportunities to learn and to explore.  It harnesses human creativity in so many novel and uplifting ways.  And it is free.  It costs nothing but time, once we have the technology to access the world wide web.

I sincerely hope our blogging community remains a non-commercial exchange of ideas and a not-for-profit love offering to humanity.  If it can, then we have found a way to elevate human society; to evolve a more peaceful and interconnected community which benefits us all.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2: Feed!

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Most plants grow larger and fuller, have better color, and produce more flowers when they are well fed.  Well-fed plants always reflect well on the gardener, because they look healthy and robust. 

Many sources of gardening advice admonish that one must ‘feed the soil, not the plant.’  And this is generally true for trees, shrubs, and perennials.  Anything planted directly into the ground performs better in fertile, well prepared soil.  Compost is the most important thing to dig into a bed or planting hole to enrich the soil.  Adding an organic mulch, which attracts earthworms, further enriches and improves the soil.  The more worms, the better the soil.  Additional fertilizer rarely is needed once one ‘gets the soil right.’  That said, heavy bloomers benefit from an annual application of an organic fertilizer such as Espoma’s Rose Tone.

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However, most potting soils are basically sterile mixes of coir or peat, perlite and/or vermiculite.  There isn’t enough nutrition to support healthy plant growth.  Some potting soils come fortified with worm castings or pelletized fertilizer and advertise that they will feed a plant for several months.  Some gardeners recommend mixing a little compost into the pot; but this is generally not enough to encourage lush growth.

To support vibrant growth coming from a relatively small pot, there needs to be a lot of minerals available for those crowded roots to absorb.  When preparing a pot for a fresh planting, I thoroughly mix some balanced organic fertilizer, like Espoma’s Plant Tone, into the potting soil before adding any plants.  This feeds the plants long-term, but is released very slowly.  It also includes helpful strains of microorganisms to help plants use the minerals.  After adding the plants, I sprinkle the smoothed soil with a timed-release pelletized fertilizer like Osmocote, which also includes important trace minerals.  Some soil mixes already have the Osmocote mixed in.  This is a timed release fertilizer which is activated whenever the pot is watered.

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Finally,  I’ll mix some very quick release Neptune’s Harvest in a watering can to water the plants into the soil.  This is a foliar feed, easily absorbed, and offers some protection while the plants establish.  It truly does ‘feed the soil,’ and improves soil texture and its ability to retain water.  It is also a good ‘pick me up’ if a plant ever starts to look a little dull.  Now, you might think that feeding a potted plant so much fertilizer might burn or kill it.  I’ve never had any problem, probably because these are organic products and have relatively low nitrogen.  The plants begin growing quickly, have good leaf color and produce sturdy new growth.

Why it works:  Although plants make their own ‘food/fuel’ from water, oxygen and sunlight, they need nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous for healthy growth.  Lacking any of these, the plant will be stunted and sickly.  In addition, plants also benefit from a variety of trace minerals like copper, iron, magnesium and zinc.  These can be absorbed from many garden soils, but are lacking in potting soil.  Access to these important minerals is essential to productive plant growth.  Think of a plant as a living chemistry lab.  Many elements are needed to keep the bio-chemistry of life fueled.

Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  My guilty secret for abundant flowers, especially on indoor plants during winter, is water soluble Miracle Grow Orchid Food.  This is not an organic product, but a tiny bit mixed into the usual water, every month or so, produces fabulous results!  Our ‘Christmas’ Cactus, Schlumbergera, bloomed non-stop from November through May with monthly feeding.

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June 17, 2016 Hibiscus 007

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit 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 you grow the garden of your 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 will 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 plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot Bound Roots!  by J. Peggy Taylor

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3:  Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

June 20, 2016 garden 022

 

 

Our Latest Experiment: Milorganite

Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City Oregon

The Connie Hansen Garden, in Lincoln City, Oregon, where deer roam freely through the beach front community.  This beautiful garden remains open to the public – and the deer- year round.

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A friend and neighbor, allies in our battle against hungry deer, first mentioned Milorganite several years back.  I’d never heard of the stuff.  She said she was trying it as a deer deterrent with some success.

She and her partner garden on one of the most exposed water front lots in our part of the community.  We collaborated together on our list of deer resistant plants, but I never followed up on her suggestion to try Milorganite.  Now I wish we had…..milorganite

A year or so later, a Gloucester based landscaper suggested it to me again.  He recommended creating a barrier around one’s entire garden by broadcasting a 3′-4′ wide strip of the smelly stuff around the perimeter of any area you need to protect.  He swore deer wouldn’t cross it.  Sounded like a good idea; which I filed away to explore in more detail later.

Meanwhile, our personal battle to protect our garden from the deer continues.  It’s not just the plants we want to protect from their grazing.  Deer carry ticks, and ticks carry Lyme’s disease and other nasty infections.  We’ve both had several bites over the years followed by expensive visits to the doctor, tests, and prescriptions.

Lyme’s disease is one of those infections one never truly gets over; it can linger in the body and flare up later in unexpected ways.  It changes people’s lives in unpleasant ways; another reason to stay away from deer and ticks.  We figured this out, of course, only after we fell in love with the community  and bought our little forest garden.  We’ve learned a great deal since then.

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August 27, 2014 Parkway 021

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After nearly seven years of finding ways to foil the deer, a few somehow still slip into the garden from time to time.  And once in, they find tasties to nibble while spreading ticks and leaving their little ‘gifts.’   We’ve both had ticks latch onto us this spring, already.

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By mid-August of 2014 surrounding shrubs shade the actual raised bed..

By mid-August, our garden grows in with plenty of temptations for grazing deer.

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But a casual conversation with one of the garden experts at Lowes, earlier this week, reminded me of Milorganite.  She gardens on the Northern Neck, along the Piankatank River slightly north of Williamsburg.  And she contends with herds of deer, too.  She highly recommended Milorganite as a deer repellent in the garden.

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August 7, 2014 garden 040

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Now, before we go any further in this story, I need to share with you our real reason for avoiding Milorganite all these years.  I was all set to try it years ago until we learned its true nature:  municipal sewage sludge.  Somehow we just didn’t want to spread dried sewage all around our garden, despite its potential benefits.

Since 1926, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has processed the sludge from its sewage treatment plant to produce a 5-2-0 natural fertilizer known as Milorganite. Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen” was devised to reduce material in landfills while recycling this natural source of nitrogen as a safe fertilizer for lawns, golf courses, and agriculture.  The dried sewage is heat dried to kill bacteria and other pathogens, then pelletized to produce an easy to apply, dust free organic fertilizer.  But all the processing doesn’t completely remove the odor, which is why Milorganite repels deer.

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Rose scented Geranium

Rose scented geranium has proven a more pleasant deer repellent than sprays.  We plant scented Pelargoniums all around the garden to protect tasty shrubs and perennials.  They also repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects.

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If you’ve bought a spray bottle of deer repellent lately, you know it’s very pricey.  Whether you buy Plantskydd , Repells- All, or some other product; you make an investment which often washes away in the next thunderstorm.

After resisting Milorganite these last few years, we finally decided to try it earlier this week.  The little guys have been slipping through our ‘deer fences’ and have already grazed some favorite roses and Camellias just as they leafed out this spring.  We are weary of chasing them out of the garden with no clue as to how they get in or out….

A 36 pound bag of Milorganite, enough to treat 2500 square feet, was only around $13.00 at Lowes.  On Monday afternoon we decided to give it a try, and bought a bag. Produced as a ‘slow release’ fertilizer, it lasts a long time before it completely dissolves into the soil.  How long will it work for us?  That is part of our experiment….

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April 5, 2016 070

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I suited up in my usual garden ‘get up,’ covered head to toe, with hat and gloves; and broadcast the first strip of Milorganite along our street.  Using a recycled plastic quart food container, I shook a light application in the spaces between our shrubs, and especially around the Camellias, from the pavement back to our deer fence behind the shrubs.

It wasn’t bad, really.  It didn’t smell as bad as the sprays we use, and was so much easier to apply.  Our single bag proved sufficient to broadcast a 4′ perimeter around our entire garden, and also to make barriers around vulnerable beds of Azaleas, roses, Hydrangeas, and perennials.  I laid a stripe everywhere we know the deer frequent in our garden.

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Azaleas once filed our front garden. In recent years, a growing herd of deer graze on what little remains.

Azaleas once filed our front garden. In recent years, a growing herd of deer graze on what little remains.

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Although the University of Georgia has published studies on Milorganite as a deer repellent, it isn’t marketed as one.  Its use to repel animals is a ‘word of mouth’ sort of thing between gardeners.  And how long a single application will last depends on any number of variables.  We plan to spread it again by the middle of June, then again in September.  Based on what we’ve read, it should last close to 90 days during the growing season.

Now we watch and wait.  My daydreams of full, lush Azalea shrubs and un-grazed roses may finally come true.  Our hopes to finally watch our Hostas mature, un-nibbled and full, may be realized this year.  Faith, hope and love wax strongest in a gardener’s heart in early spring, before realities set in.

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June 21 Lanai 022~

I’ll let you know how it works, of course.  If Milorganite performs as well as other gardeners have promised, we might actually plant a few vegetables later in the season with hope to harvest a cucumber or two!  I’m curious to learn whether it deters squirrels, rabbits, voles, and other mammals, in addition to deer.  If it does, we will use it faithfully from now on.

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May 15, 2015 roses 010~

We may be holding our noses, metaphorically speaking, but we’ll gladly support the city of Milwaukee in their recycling efforts.  And we’ll spread the word as broadly as we spread the Milorganite!

Have you tried Milorganite in your garden?  If you have, how well does  it work for you?

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It was almost 9 PM when I took these photos of our rabbit on Wednesday evening. A long day, indeed.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

In recognition of Wildlife Wednesday

(Tina has posted some lovely photos of birds visiting her garden this month. 

Please visit her for links to other Wildlife Wednesday posts this April.)

 

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April 5, 2016 051

A mother Cardinal built her nest by our kitchen door. We feel honored by her trust.

 

Sunday Dinner

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 013

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“Today expect something good to happen to you

no matter what occurred yesterday.

Realize the past no longer holds you captive.

It can only continue to hurt you

if you hold on to it.

Let the past go.

A simply abundant world awaits.”


.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 017

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“A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.”


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Jonathan Lockwood Huie

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 005

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“Excellence is the Result of Caring

more than others think is Wise,

Risking more than others think is Safe,

Dreaming more than others think

is Practical, and Expecting more

than others think is Possible.”


.

Ronnie Oldham

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 020

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 031

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“Our brightest blazes of gladness

are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”

.

Samuel Johnson

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 004

 

A Colonial Winter Garden

December 13, 2015 CW 034

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Those fierce souls who founded our nation knew the importance of taking care of business.  And their business always included raising food for their own family’s table.

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December 13, 2015 CW 055

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Our country was founded by serious gardeners.  Even  luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington maintained gardens, tended orchards, had fields of crops to use and sell, and raised those animals needed to keep meat on the table.  Although they, and others of their class kept slaves in those days; they still took a very active hands-on interest in their garden.

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December 13, 2015 CW 041

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Colonial Williamsburg maintains many gardens, but this remains my favorite.  It is a very well maintained colonial vegetable garden tended in the 18th Century style.

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December 13, 2015 CW 067

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It looks even more lush this December than usual.  But that is likely due to our fair weather these last few months.  It is a pleasing mix of herbs, flowers and vegetables.

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December 13, 2015 CW 039

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Fruit trees may be found around the edges.  There are vegetables growing from tiny seedling up to ready to harvest cabbages and collards.

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December 13, 2015 CW 070

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These vegetables are used in the CW kitchens.  They are lovingly tended up to the moment they are authentically prepared and gratefully consumed.

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December 13, 2015 CW 046

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We strolled down Duke of Gloucester Street on Sunday to enjoy the ingenious Christmas wreathes.  But as you might guess, I was distracted for quite a while by the garden.

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December 13, 2015 CW 043~

It was  a grey day, completely overcast and damp.  A few drops spritzled as we were leaving.  But it was warm and comfortable; a great day to enjoy the wreathes and seasonal decorations on every building.

I’ll share a few with you each day for the next few days.

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December 13, 2015 CW 042

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I’ve not yet made any wreathes myself,  this year. 

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December 13, 2015 CW 047~

But there is still time before Christmas Eve, and a dear friend gifted me with a bucket of Magnolia branches later Sunday afternoon.  We used some of the Magnolia while decorating for a community luncheon we’re hosting tomorrow.

And yes, there is a vase.  I just haven’t photographed it, yet!

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December 13, 2015 CW 035

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Evergreen Magnolia is one of my favorite native plants.  They grow wild here in Virginia, and my friend has a wild seedling grown large in her garden.

You’ll see lots of Magnolia used at Colonial Williamsburg in their holiday decorations.  It has wonderful color and holds up for the several weeks of our festivities.  One can’t eat it, but it decorates many holiday dinner tables and sideboards.  We spread it liberally around our buffet table and the beverage tables for tomorrow’s gathering.

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December 13, 2015 CW 142

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Which in a round about way brings us back to my neglect of wreathes this season.  Our  front doors are graced with old ones from ‘the wreath collection’ which hangs in our garage at the moment.  They are fine from a distance, with red silk roses and moss on a grapevine base.

And I just may recycle the Magnolia leaves off the buffet table into a stunning garland to hang round the front doors this year.  Southern Living Magazine has any number of fine projects featuring Magnolia leaves this December.

If you are a Virginia neighbor, you might have been admiring the December issue right along with me.

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December 13, 2015 CW 217

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It still all comes down to ‘taking care of business’ for our family and our community.

As modern as our lives might feel at times, our foundation remains in hearth and home;  friendship and family; good food and hands-on self sufficiency.    It is part of our heritage not just as Virginians or Americans;  it is part of our human heritage and a fundamental value around the world.

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December 13, 2015 CW 095

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May you take time for those things which bring you real joy this holiday season.  And may you take care of business such that you assure yourself and your loved ones of a very Happy New Year, too.

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December 13, 2015 CW 048~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Photos from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar is now available, featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

Looking Good On Friday

 

October 30, 2015 flowers 003

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A lot of satisfaction comes from re-freshing parts of the gardens fallen to neglect.  So it is with this little bed beneath a Camellia shrub.  The bed and shrub have grown here since 2011.  The shrub has at least quadrupled in size on those years, and the bed has gone through many transformations.

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Camellia sasanqua blooming in late December of 2011.

Camellia sasanqua blooming in late December of 2011.

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At first, it was planted in Violas and covered in a mosaic of shells picked up by family on the North Carolina beaches.   When the shrub was new, I wanted to protect its root ball from digging squirrels and burrowing voles.  The shells were there to thwart the squirrels.  I planted a few Daffodil bulbs around the shrub to ward off the voles.

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Mid-March, 2015

Mid-March, 2015

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As one season melted into the other, Violas were yanked out or planted new.  A variety of summer annuals were planted and lots of grass and wild strawberry overtook the bed from time to time.  I’ve had to dig out the shells and place them again at least a half dozen times.  I’ve added compost and coffee grounds, Espona and Neptune’s Harvest.

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October 30, 2015 flowers 005

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And bulbs…. I tuck a few more bulbs into this bed each year, it seems.

This spring, I decided to transplant some Hellebore seedlings up to this spot.  Maybe I’m reaching the age when simplifying the workload feels right.  Maybe I expect the Hellebores to last longer and look better than the various annuals I’ve tried.

But the Hellebores grew on all summer, slowly, despite the grass creeping into the bed through the hot summer when I didn’t take time to weed.  And one day in early fall, I decided it was way past time to get this bed looking good yet again!

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September 2015

September 2015

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After a thorough weeding, I added a few more Hellebores, two Autumn Brilliance ferns, some nearly black Ajuga, vines, and of course, more bulbs.

But this time I added a new flower to our garden:  autumn blooming Crocus speciosus ‘Conqueror.’  We picked these bulbs from the Heath’s Bulb Shop in Gloucester on one of our visits along with several other fall and winter blooming bulbs we are trialing for the first time this year.

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October 30, 2015 flowers 004

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These Crocus are as welcome as the early spring ones, but look how much larger and lush they grow!  I love the markings on their petals and the delicate stamens in the center.  These opened for the first time yesterday, and I was glad to have a moment for taking photos this afternoon.

Last week I added a few more Daffodils to the bed, and some additional Muscari.  There are bulbs for spring Crocus buried in the bed now, too, and a frosting of white Violas.

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October 30, 2015 flowers 007

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This little flower bed, which we pass each day, finally is looking good again!  It looks fresh and clean, even with its dusting of fallen leaves.  The Camellia is sporting a few buds, which will open red in December.

Taking time to notice what is Looking Good each week keeps my focus on the positive.  Many thanks to Gillian at Country Gardens UK for hosting this theme each Friday.  Please visit her site to enjoy gardens from around the world, which are looking good today!

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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October 30, 2015 flowers 006

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