Dry Shade Solutions

Epimedium blooms in late April and May.  These leaves often persist through winter.

~

How do you turn the dry, shady areas beneath trees and large shrubs into beautiful garden spots lush with color and texture?  That is one of the toughest challenges for many gardeners.  Most ornamental plants want plenty of sunlight and moisture to thrive.  What to do when the thirsty roots of large woodies soak up the moisture from the soil, and their dense canopy cuts off the sun?

~

Athyrium niponicum grows with Saxifraga stolonifera in dry shade under a hedge of large shrubs, just a few inches from our driveway.

~

Many of us gardening in established neighborhoods face this challenge.  Our shady spots may be under trees, near foundations, in the shade of a neighbor’s home, or around overgrown shrubs.  If we try to maintain a lawn, it’s thin and patchy.  Weeds invade where grass is slow to grow.

~

Gravel makes for a very good mulch over newly planted areas, especially on sloping ground.

~

If we give up and do nothing, then we’re left with these ugly, bare spots in our yard that may even begin to erode after heavy rains.   There are ways to work with these areas to transform them from bare to beautiful.

Luckily, there are some reliable perennials that will grow well in dry shade if we give them just a little encouragement.  A useful garden mantra, ‘Right plant, right place!’ is the first key to success in dry shade.  We can also make the spot a little more accommodating and dress it up a bit with some simple infrastructure.

~

~

Have you ever noticed how the ground under a rock is cool and moist?  Rocks, bricks, pavers and gravel all help hold moisture in the soil.  Using these to border and build your planting area will help conserve moisture and provide cool, moist places for the roots of your shade perennials.

Simply laying a single layer of landscaping bricks around the area you plan to cultivate begins the garden making process.  You can also use large rocks,  cinder blocks, wood, or even shallow pots.  If you use cinder blocks or pots, fill the openings with compost or potting soil and plant them up, too!

~

The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it was in May of 2018. Once begun, gardens tend to expand.

~

After you outline the new bed, spread a few inches of compost to improve the soil, hold moisture and provide a little more depth for planting the roots of new plants.  You can’t dig it in if you are planting over the roots of a tree or large shrub, but don’ worry.

Earthworms and other invertebrates in the soil will appreciate the compost and move it down into deeper layers of soil for you.  Adding an inch or so of fresh compost each spring will help improve the soil further with each passing year.  If there are weeds or grass in the area already, then lay some paper grocery bags or several layers of newsprint over the existing vegetation and then cover the paper in compost.

~

Butterfly garden in March 2012, trimmed, weeded, and with a fresh topping of compost.

~

Care must be taken to not bury the woody roots too deeply.  They don’t like that!  You also can’t pile compost or mulch up the woody trunk of a tree without harming it.  ‘Mulch volcanoes’ climbing tree trunks and burying roots invite disease and weaken a tree.    Keep your new layer of compost a few inches away from the root collar and trunk of any nearby trees or large shrubs.

~

~

If you can only dig a few inches deep in an area where you want to place a well rooted plant, consider partially burying an attractive clay pot.  If you can enlarge the drainage holes without breaking the pot, do so and allow the plant’s roots room to escape and find their own way deeper into the soil.  Planting this way can also protect tasty plants from moles and voles.  I sometimes use this strategy for tender Hostas and Caladiums, that want to stay moist all of the time.

~

This experimental raised bed under a dogwood tree is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

~

The pot helps you create a soil ‘microclimate’ for these particular plants.  Those pots also help other plants near them.  Unglazed terra cotta can absorb and hold water, releasing it back to the soil and roots as needed.  Likewise, if you place decorative pavers, stones, planters, etc. within the bed, they will also help to hold moisture and roots can grow under them.

~

“Soil security”

~

If you are planting on a dry, shady slope, use this idea to create terraces.  Each terrace will hold some of the rain water that otherwise would simply run off.  Planting behind the pavers or timbers used to create each terrace offers a moist spot for roots.  I’ve also used pieces of broken pots to create planting niches on  a slope.  Once the roots grow in, after a season or two, you can often remove the broken pot to use elsewhere.

~

The terraces help stop erosion, holding moisture behind the stones long enough that it sinks in rather than just runnimg off.

~

Choose plants in small pots.  Given a choice between a 2″ pot and an 8″ pot, choose the smallest size available.  You may not be able to dig a very large hole, and the smaller root balls will be easier to plant.  Sometimes you can knock a new plant out of its pot and divide it, then plant the smaller sections, with their roots.  Check to make sure that each crown or stem has some roots attached before separating it from the parent plant.  This will work with many vines, with Hostas and with many ferns.   You can cover more ground initially with fewer new plants by dividing as you plant.

Use a sharp, narrow digging tool.  You might use a butcher knife, a hori hori, or a narrow trowel to dig out small areas between roots for new plants.

~

Larger potted perennials can often be split into divisions and planted in much smaller holes.

~

Also choose a couple of plants that will quickly spread out as ground cover.  Some plants, like Lamium, or dead-nettles, will grow quickly and strike roots at the leaf nodes.  This is a good strategy for plants to survive in dry shade, because they have lots of roots supporting their stems, leaves and flowers.  Once you have this established, you can easily dig up divisions, with roots, to move around.  Vinca minor will also grow this way and bloom each spring.  These plants can become invasive, so plan to keep their growth contained so they don’t overwhelm other plants in your scheme.

~

Ferns and Lamium grow in one of the shadiest areas of our garden, below a stand of hazel trees.  From this small beginning in 2014, the Lamium spread out to cover a very large area. It grows a bit further each year, carpeting a dry, shady area where its needs are met.

~

Plants like Ajuga and Saxifraga spread by stolons.  Each rosette of leaves strikes its own roots, but several stolons, or runners, will radiate out from each plant, forming a new little plant at the end of each of these creeping ‘stems.’  A thick mat of plants will form within a few years.  You can dig up any rosette, once it has a few leaves, and transplant it to another area.

~

The Lamium spread to cover the entire area after just a few years.

~

There are a surprisingly large number of flowering plants that will grow in ‘dry shade.’  Some will need moist soil for the first year or two as they establish, and then once their roots grow deep, they can survive on their own without a lot of extra water during dry spells.  Native gingers, hardy Cyclamens, ivies, Hellebores, Pachysandra, Liriope, Epimedium, perennial Geranium macrorrhizum, and some spring bulbs like Hycinthoides (Spanish bluebells) and Muscari will thrive.

~

Saxifraga spreads by stolons

~

Italian Arum thrives in dry shade from September through May, but will disappear during the summer.  You might balance it with Hostas , which will emerge just a few weeks before the Arum fades, or with Caladiums.  Mayapples, Podophyllum, will appear in March and disappear by July.  But their striking leaves add drama to a planting in the shade.  Highly poisonous, deer and rabbits won’t touch them.

~

Mayapples and Vinca cover the ground in this narrow area under large Azalea shrubs.

~

Hostas will grow well once established, thought they can’t stay dry for extended periods of time.  Heucheras and Tiarellas will also grow well in partial shade.  They will bloom better if they get some sun in the early spring.  If you have rabbits or deer browsing in your garden, you will need to protect the Hostas and Heucheras with animal deterrents.

~

~

Although we may think of ferns as plants for moist areas, some will perform well in dry shade, too.  Native Christmas ferns, Polystichum acrostichoides, Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum, and autumn fern, ‘Brilliance’ are among those that do very well in dry shade.

~

~

Plants growing in dry shade will most commonly bloom in late winter and early spring, before the leaves on deciduous trees grow back into a thick canopy.  During the rest of the year, the garden depends on foliage color and texture for its interest.

When designing for dry shade, consider the various leaf colors, textures, plant heights, and shapes to design a harmonious composition.  You might create a very restful, harmonious scene by repeating the same limited palette of plants over the entire area.  You can also create drama with dramatic foliage plants like Caladiums and Hosta.

~

~

Many dry shade plants are evergreen, holding their places throughout the year.  But plan for winter when deciduous ferns die back, and also for the months after spring ephemerals disappear.  As in other parts of the garden, a little pre-planning allows the display of flowers and foliage to shift and change throughout the gardening year.

~

~

As our climate shifts and summers grow hotter, shade gardening will become more important for maintaining our own health and comfort.  Large trees help shelter our homes and gardens from summer’s sun.  We may not be able to grow velvety lawns beneath the trees, but we can certainly create beautiful plantings in their shelter.

~

~

As you find tough and beautiful plants that work well in your own microclimate, use them again and again to create a sense of unity throughout your garden.  If these are plants that you can easily propagate or divide, you soon realize that this is a thrifty way to create beauty in those challenging spots in your garden.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2019

~

 

 

 

Advertisements

Beginning a New ‘Stump Garden’

Tree damage in our area after the October 2018 hurricane swept through.

~

This has been a very bad year for our trees.  Our community sustained major tree damage when a hurricane blew through in October, and even more damage when heavy wet snow fell very quickly in early December, before the trees were prepared for winter.

There appeared to be just as much, maybe more damage, from the December snow.  At least that was the case in our yard, where we lost two old peach trees.

~

December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even work with them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

~

We found trees and limbs down all over our area again today, after a severe line of thunderstorms pass over us around 3 this morning.  There were tornadoes in the area, and we were extremely fortunate.  We had a mess to clean up, but no major damage to our trees.

~

~

I know many people whose beautiful trees have been reduced to stumps over the past several months.  Depending on how the tree breaks, you may have a neat platform, sawed off cleanly, or you may have a jagged stump left where the tree broke.

A stump is still another opportunity to respond to a challenge with resilience, seeing an opportunity instead of a tragedy.  There is nothing personal about a tree knocked over by gnarly weather and so there is no cause to sulk or lament.  Once the shock of it has passed, and the mess cleaned up, it’s time to formulate a plan.

~

Our peaches in bloom in 2017

~

Maybe easier said, than done.  I’ve pondered the jagged stumps left by our beautiful peach trees for the last four months.  The trees hadn’t given us peaches for many years, although they bloomed and produced fruits.

The squirrels always got them first, and the trees had some health issues.  Now we see that the stumps were hollow, which is probably why they splintered when they fell.  But we loved their spring time flowers and their summer shade.

~

The jagged remains of a once beautiful peach tree, that once shaded our fern garden and anchored the bottom of a path.

~

Now, not only do I have a stump at the bottom of our hillside path, but the main shade for our fern garden is gone.  I’m wondering how the ferns will do this summer and whether other nearby trees and the bamboo will provide enough shade.  A garden is always changing.  We just have to keep our balance as we surf the waves of change.

~

Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

~

Stumps are a fact of life in this garden, and I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with them.  The underlying roots hold water, and they will eventually decay, releasing nutrients back into the soil.  I consider it an opportunity to build a raised bed, maybe to use the hollow stump as a natural ‘container,’ and certainly an anchor for a new planting area.

~

I planted ‘Autumn Brilliance’ ferns in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner, packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade in 2015.  This area has grown to anchor a major part of our present fern garden.

~

This particular new stump forms the corner of our fern garden, and I very much want trees here again.  And so I gathered up some found materials over the weekend and began reconstructing a new planting.  First, I found some year old seedlings from our redbud tree growing in nearby beds, just leafing out for spring.  I didn’t want the seedlings to grow on where they had sprouted, because they would shade areas planted for sun.

Tiny though these seedlings may be, redbuds grow fairly quickly.  I transplanted two little trees to grow together right beside the stump.  They will replace the fallen peach with springtime color, summer shade, and all year round structure.  Eventually, they will also form a new living ‘wall’ for the jagged opening of the stump.

~

I planted two small redbud tree seedlings near the opening of the stump.

~

I had two deciduous ferns, left from the A. ‘Branford Rambler’ ferns I divided last fall, and still in their pots.  I filled the bottom of the stump with a little fresh soil, and pushed both of these fern root balls into the opening of the stump, topping them off with some more potting soil, mixed with gravel, pilfered from one of last summer’s hanging baskets.

~

~

This is a fairly fragile planting, still open to one side.  It will be several years before the redbuds grow large enough to close off the opening in the stump.  And so I pulled up some sheets of our indigenous fern moss and used those to both close off the opening, and also to ‘mulch’ the torn up area around the new tree seedlings.  Fern moss always grows in this spot.

But fern moss also grows on some shaded bricks in another bed.  It is like a little ‘moss nursery,’ and I can pull off sheets to use in various projects every few weeks.  It renews itself on the bricks relatively quickly, and so I transplanted fresh moss from the bricks to this new stump garden.

~

~

After pushing the moss firmly into the soil, I wrapped some plastic mesh, cut from a bulb bag, over the opening in the stump, and tied it in place with twine.  I was hoping for a ‘kokedama’ effect, but the rough contours of the stump thwarted every effort at neatness.

I’ll leave the mesh in place for a few weeks, like a band-aid, until the moss grows in and naturally holds the soil around the roots of the fern.  Something is needed to protect the soil during our frequent, heavy rains.

~

~

I will very likely add some more ferns or other ground cover perennials around the unplanted side of this stump over the next few weeks, just to cover the wound and turn this eye-sore into a beauty spot.

The ulterior motive is to make sure that foot traffic remains far enough away from the stump that no one gets hurt on the jagged edges.  Could I even them out with a saw?  Maybe-  The wood is very hard, still, and I’ve not been successful with hand tools thus far.  Better for now to cover them with fresh greenery from the ferns.

~

~

The second peach stump stands waiting for care.  I noticed, in taking its photo, that it is still alive and throwing out new growth.  It is also in a semi-shaded area, and I plan to plant a fern in this stump, too.

~

The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it looked in May of 2018. The tall ‘Autumn Beauty’ ferns in the center are the originals, shown in the previous photo.

~

Quite often the stumps disappear entirely after such treatment.  The new perennials grow up as the old stump decays, enriching the soil and holding moisture to anchor the bed.  And of course all sorts of creatures find food and shelter in the decaying stump and around the new planting.

This is a gentle way of working with nature rather than fighting against it.  It calls on our creativity and patience, allows the garden to evolve, and offers opportunities to re-cycle plants and materials we might otherwise discard.  It allows us to transform chaos into beauty; loss into joy.

~

~

Woodland Gnome  2019

*

“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose
comes round in another form.”
.
Rumi
~

The fern garden in late April, 2018

…and Fertilizer for Free

Chipped up wood and leaves spread over a foundation of bark, roots and branches will rot into good compost over time.

~

I spent far too many hours of my youth watching Mark Knopfler  and Gordon Sumner sing, “I want my money for nothing, and my chicks for free!”.  MTV was brand new in those days, and I was utterly fascinated by the up-close view of the artists performing and the dreamy vignettes hyper-produced to sell their tunes.

Fun fact:  Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting, co-wrote that tune with Knopfler.  A former teacher, Sumner’s music career was just taking off as I began my own classroom teaching years.  He inspired me….

These were the days when Ted Turner was still trying to prove his idea that the public would support 24/7 journalism as entertainment over at his new CNN cable channel, and I was still living in a tiny walk up city apartment with only a few potted plant to soothe my achy, throbbing thumbs.  The world was filled with delicious possibilities.

~

~

Well Knopfler and Sumner have aged, while I have not.  They still perform and I happily preside over our little Forest Garden.  They may have become unimaginably wealthy, but I have learned how to get fertilizer and plants for free!

I’ve left my classrooms behind, but will happily teach you how to perform the alchemy of soil for yourself, if you care to know the secret.  The world remains filled with delicious possiblities!

~

~

It is all in how you look at things.  You probably understand that simple, but profound statement from your own experiences.  What seems free from one point of view, becomes costly from another.  What at first appears costly, ends up providing many more side benefits than expected.

~

~

Let’s take fertilizer as an example.  Yes, I admit to the bags of Plant Tone, Rose Tone, Holly Tone, Bio-Tone Plant Starter With Mycorrhizae and a precious little jug of Neptune’s Harvest wintering in our garage.  Then there is the jar of Ozmocote, and the secret stash of crystallized orchid food hidden under the kitchen sink; a snack for when I want to coax the cohort of potted plants in our living space to bloom.  No, none of those were free.  In fact, if you added up what I spent on  all of them combined, they would likely buy a nice new pair of work boots….

And that was not the only ‘cost’ involved in these plastic bags and bottles of plant nourishing products.  They all came from factories.  Many of the ingredients were mined out of the earth.

Although these are ‘organic’ formulations, huge amounts of energy were invested in harvesting their components, creating the fertilizer, packaging it and transporting it to our local shops.  After the product is used up, there is some contaminated plastic packaging that won’t decay and must be put somewhere.  Those are costs we don’t see, and ones rolled into the price we pay.

~

Gravel and Plant Tone ready to be mixed into the bottom of the planting hole.

~

Now, if I use too much or time my application incorrectly, a lot of that product will simply wash away from my garden and into the creek.  Fertilizing our waterways increases algae growth and upsets the chemistry of the natural waterways.  Run-off of fertilizers has a profoundly negative effect on our lakes, rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, and even the oceans.

~

~

Phosphorous, the P on your fertilizer bag, has an especially damaging effect when released into the waterways.  It initially stimulates the growth of algae and other plant life, which eventually shades out plants living on the bottom.  As this overabundance of plant life dies and sinks to the bottom and decays, it ties up oxygen needed by animal life, and destroys their food supplies.

Which is ironic.  Phosphorous is essential to plant growth, remains a key component of all commercial fertilizers, and is in limited supply.  Experts predict that our known supply of rock phosphorous that can be mined for industrial use will run out before 2200.

Phosphorous was ‘discovered’ in modern times by German alchemist Hennig Brand, in the late seventeenth century, from his experiments with human urine.    He eventually produced a white substance which glowed in the dark and burned brilliantly.  He called it ‘phosphorous mirabilis’, which means ‘miraculous bearer of light.’

Phosphorous is present in living tissue, and so may be found in urine and bone.  You may have heard about the ancient gardeners using human urine to fertilize their gardens.  This practice is discouraged today, of course.  But recall that animal waste products remain an essential ingredient in agriculture around the world.  Many of the ‘organic’ fertilizers contain rock phosphate or bone meal as essential parts of their formula.

~

College Creek

~

Phosphate in the soil isn’t always readily available to plant roots.  It must go through further biochemistry to make it available, and this happens best in living soil filled with microorganisms.   It happens best when the soil’s pH remains between 6.5 and 7.

Potassium, the K on your fertilizer package, is formed in supernova explosions.  It is both a metal and a salt.  In its pure elemental form, it reacts violently with both water and oxygen.  It is an extremely common element on earth, is found in all living things, and is an essential part of the biochemistry of all life.  Potassium in fertilizers appear as potassium chlorides, sulphates or nitrates.

~

~

How is the average gardener to know whether or not their soil’s pH will even allow the plants access to any available phosphorous, nitrogen or potassium, and whether any additional nutrients are  needed?  That is why a soil test can give us invaluable information about our soil, and how to make it better.  Any local Extension office will gladly help with kits, instructions, processing and interpreting your soil test, and all states offer this service at a modest cost.

~

~

Knowing what nutrients your soil may lack, to grow specific types of plants, allows a gardener to add only what is truly needed.  We can stop over-fertilizing, or adding fertilizer that never becomes available to our plants because of the complex chemistry of our soil.

~

Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting and makes the new bed visually “disappear.”

~

Most experienced gardeners will tell a newbie:  “Feed your soil, not your plants.”  At first, this makes no sense.  But as you begin to understand the complexity of the soil as a living organism, it makes perfect sense.  Good soil is alive!

It is alive with microscopic bacteria, fungi, and tiny invertebrate animals that continually recycle Earth’s elements and make them available to fuel new growth.  Although some part of the soil is made up of tiny grains of mineral like sand, or granite, or clay; a large part of good soil is composed of decaying organic matter.

~

Soil is alive, and improves as you add organic matter each year.

~

These may be decaying roots or leaves, dead ants, or compost you’ve made from kitchen scraps.  It may be animal manure or even animal remains.  It may be a cover crop turned into the soil, bark mulch, hay or grass clippings.  Anything that once lived may eventually feed the soil.

And because all of these things contain the elemental building blocks of life, as they decay, their chemical components are released for re-use.  In addition to the big three of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, plants need many other elements and trace minerals naturally found in good, active soil.

~

Mayapples appeared through the leaf mulch

~

We can re-charge our soil with the nutrients necessary for plant growth in several ways, without having to purchase plastic bags filled with commercial fertilizers.

1. Grow and compost plants with deep roots.  Certain plants grow especially deep roots, which means they can access and absorb minerals deep into the soil, far below the area we cultivate.  As they grow, these minerals are stored in their plant cells.  Harvesting and then composting these plants enriches our soil.

Consider growing plants such as alfalfa, comphrey, parsnips and other root vegetables, purple coneflowers, and dandelions.  Trees with deep taproots also absorb minerals, which are stored in their wood and leaves.

~

Comphrey’s roots extend for several feet into the soil, mining minerals that are stored in leaves and stems.  Comphrey attracts pollinators, is a medicinal herb and a great addition to compost.  Also use it as mulch around plants that need a boost.

~

2.  Encourage earthworms.  Earthworms eat and digest organic material, and their droppings enrich the soil.  This greatly speeds the decomposition process and makes nutrients available to plant roots much faster.

Worm casting also contain beneficial microbes that work with plants.  Worms also loosen the soil and aerate it as they move around.  Worms will come to the surface to eat, but will also tunnel to a significant depth as they go about their lives.

~

Organic matter left on top of the soil attracts earthworms.  Worms will feed at the surface, so long as it is deeply shaded, but live below ground.

~

3.  Sheet compost over areas you plan to cultivate.  Sheet composting simply means laying organic materials directly on the soil where you want them to decay.  This organic material attracts earthworms and other decomposers to live and eat in this area, enriching it.

All organic mulch, whether straw, grass clippings, chipped leaves, bark, seaweed, coffee grounds, tea leaves, kitchen scraps, egg shells, sticks and branches or alfalfa pellets may be considered components in sheet composting.  I like to lay brown paper or black and white newsprint over the area first, establish the borders, and then pile materials in a ‘sheet’ over an area I intend to use later for growing new plants.

~

~

4.  Grow plants that fix nitrogen in the soil.  All plants breathe.  Plants inhale through tiny holes in their leaves and use elements in the air, such as carbon and nitrogen for their growth.  When they exhale, they release oxygen and water vapor back into the environment.

Once plants have inhaled carbon, it is fixed into the walls of each cell.  But some plants are able to store nitrogen on their roots.  All members of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae, fix nitrogen, the N on the fertilizer bag, on their roots.  This nitrogen enriches the soil, and often may be used by plants growing nearby.   Fungi living in the soil assist with the transfer of soil nutrients and water between plants.

~

Native Wax Myrtle fixes nitrogen from the air on its roots, making the area around each shrub more fertile with each passing year. Plants growing nearby can use this nitrogen, thanks to fungi in the soil which help transfer nutrients and water between plants. Fallen leaves also further enrich the soil.

~

Members of this family include crops such as peas and beans, peanuts and lentils.  But it also includes flowers like lupines, and several shrubs and trees like black locust, acacia and mimosa.  I recently learned that the wax myrtle also fixes nitrogen on its roots, enriching the soil.

~

Our native redbud, Cercis canadensis, also fixes nitrogen on its roots, enriching the soil for plants growing nearby.  It is a member of the Fabaceae family, and its seed pods may be eaten.   This seedling can eventually grow into a small tree.

~

Planting, or allowing, plants to grow that ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil enriches the soil with that most necessary element for good plant growth- Nitrogen (N)- for free!  Nitrogen, always present in the atmosphere, can be captured and packaged by plants in our garden, and kept at root level, available to all that need it and naturally enriching our garden’s soil.

~

Clover growing in the lawn is also fertilizing it.  In addition to feeding pollinators and small mammals, clover fixes nitrogen along its roots.

~

Here is a partial list of plants that perform this little miracle:  all clovers, sweet peas, vetch, bush clover, Wisteria, golden chain tree, Judas tree, honey locust tree, Kentucky coffee tree, alder, some roses and many members of the gourd family, such as squash and pumpkins.

~

Native Wisteria frutescens growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden fixes nitrogen in the soil along all of its roots.

~

If you can plant food or flower bearing plants, which also fix nitrogen to improve the soil, you have multiplied this natural wealth for your own use.

Nature’s gifts surround us.  The more we understand about the living ecosystem we inhabit, the more we can work cooperatively with our environment to cultivate and enrich the web of life.  The more we learn, the more we can disengage with costly commercial suppliers, and find ways to accomplish our goals in harmony with nature.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2019

 

Weathered: A Forest Garden

~

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! 

~

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

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

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

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

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.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

.

“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”
.
Ramon Ravenswood

~

~

For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

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

Sunday Dinner

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 013

~

“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

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 017

~

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


.

Jonathan Lockwood Huie

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 005

~

“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

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 020

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 031

~

“Our brightest blazes of gladness

are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”

.

Samuel Johnson

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 004

 

A Colonial Winter Garden

December 13, 2015 CW 034

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 055

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 041

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 067

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 039

~

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

~

December 13, 2015 CW 070

~

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

~

December 13, 2015 CW 046

~

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.

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 042

~

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

~

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!

~

December 13, 2015 CW 035

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 142

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 217

~

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.

~

December 13, 2015 CW 095

~

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.

~

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.

A Jolly Good Idea: Living Border

June 14, 2015 garden 055

~

After writing about the Bed For Salvias we built earlier this month, I was intrigued by a suggestion Sue and Alex offered in a comment.  They have a fresh take on gardening topics, probably because they live in Australia and have access to a whole different world of resources.

Sue and Alex sent a link describing a novel way to create a living ‘border’ for gardens, and suggested it might help with the erosion problems we have been experiencing on our slope.

~

Our new perennial bed this morning, before work on the new border began.

Our new perennial bed this morning, before work on the new border began.

~

It took me a little while to comprehend the article they offered from  Gardening Australia .  There’s a wee language barrier, and I was clueless what “Hessian” might be.  A little searching quickly translated the term as ‘burlap,’ which I know quite well!

The concept is elegantly simple:  One lays out a long strip of burlap where a border or barrier is needed.  The size of the finished border is limited only by one’s imagination, materials, and need.  I chose to cut my piece of burlap in half, which resulted in two long strips, each about 2′ wide.

Next, one lays the filling for the roll.  I used my favorite Leaf Grow bagged compost.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 042

~

This is a good mix I use for planting shrubs and building planting beds.  One could also use topsoil, potting soil, gravel, or sand depending on one’s purpose.

The burlap is then rolled up around the filling, secured, and rolled into place where needed.

I found the burlap at our JoAnn’s craft and sewing shop.  The burlap was marked down by 30%, and I had a 50% off one item coupon.  The fabric ended up costing a little less than $1.50 per yard, and I used only half the width of each yard.  For this project, then, the fabric cost around $0.75 per yard, and I used 10 yards.

I secured my roll with a combination of jute twine and floral wire, and used about 2 1/2 bags of compost.  Since this is a steep slope, and we have all sorts of animals through our garden, I decided to secure the finished roll in place; which wasn’t suggested in the original article.  We purchased 10″ aluminum roofing nails, driving them into the Earth every few feet around the finished border.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 037

~

It took about us about 10 days to gather all of the needed materials, including culinary sage to plant in the border.  They came as a great deal, also.  McDonald Garden Center had all of their herbs marked down last weekend, and a coupon for an additional 20% off of one’s entire purchase.  I suppose it pays to time these projects for late in the spring planting season. 

Our recent heat wave has forced me to procrastinate on this project until today.   It is such a brilliant idea, and our heavy rains lately threaten this new bed.  And of course, those Salvias needed to come out of their tiny pots.

~

I used six S. 'Berggarten,' a golden sage, and five S. 'Tri-color' for the border.

I used six S. ‘Berggarten,’ a golden sage, and five S. ‘Tri-color’ for the border.

~

We were slated to be a tiny bit cooler this morning, and so I committed to pull this project together…. finally.

My guess on fabric length was spot on.  The burlap, once spread on the ground, went the entire length of the bed with about 18″ left on each end to tuck up the sides.  I began at the shady end laying a line of compost in the center of the fabric.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 039

~

The ends are folded up and secured with floral wire, poked “through” the loose weave of the fabric like metal stitches and tied off.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 050

~

After laying the compost in the fabric, I lifted the outside edges to settle it all into the center before folding the lower edge up over the compost, and then rolling the top edge down and over it to create a double thickness of fabric on what became the underside of the roll.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 049

~

I stopped every 18″-24″ and tied up the roll with a length of jute.

I pre-cut these pieces of twine, and laid them out along the roll before starting the process of filling and tying.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 040~

Once the entire roll was filled and tied off; and the final end folded and wired shut, I rolled the entire piece over so the ties lay against the soil.

Working again from one end to the other, I rolled the border into place and then pushed/pounded a roofing nail into the soil just beyond the border, on the downhill side,  to prevent it from slipping out of place.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 052~

Once the Salvias’ roots penetrate the burlap and work their way into the ground, they will hold the border. The nails will keep everything stable until then.

Planting completes the process.  With the border stabilized, I planted from the two ends in towards the middle with three different varieties of culinary Sage.  Thyme or Germander would also work well in our climate.  I wanted a woody stemmed perennial herb to hold this border for years to come.

I cut an 8″ slit with a pair of scissors in the top of the border,  where each Salvia was to be planted.

First, I reached in and packed the compost more tightly in all directions, but especially side to side, lengthwise.  Then, I added two pots full of compost into the slit (using one of the Salvia’s empty pots) and packed the soil again.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 051

~

Removing each Salvia from its nursery pot, I gently broke up the root ball on the very bottom to encourage its roots to grow sideways into the surrounding soil.

I’ve learned (the hard way) that massaging a transplant’s roots may be the most important step in planting success.  The roots must be gently lifted away from the root ball, where they have been encircling the soil inside the pot, to encourage them to grow outwards into the planting hole.

Failure to loosen the roots may leave them growing in circles.

If the transplant’s potting mix isn’t thoroughly moistened, the plant can starve for water even though there is moist soil around the transplant.  This is a further reason why it is wise to allow transplants to soak up sufficient water into their mix before removing them from their nursery pots.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 054

~

With the root ball loosened and made a bit shorter and wider, I slipped it through the slit in the fabric and into the opening of the compost.  Then, I had to massage the entire border roll around the transplant to bring the compost snuggly up around the Sage’s roots.

In nearly all cases, I added a little more compost into the opening around the root ball to ‘top things off.’  It is important to plant each plant at the same depth so it is neither deeper nor shallower in its new ‘pot’ than it was in its nursery pot.

I spaced the new plants fairly widely, about 18″-24″ apart, because each plant can grow quite large.  Sage hate to be crowded.  Eventually, I hope they will all knit into one another.

I moved a golden Sage planted about two weeks ago in the new bed over into the border near the center.

I was about two plants short of enough, and will purchase an additional golden Sage and a final tri-color Sage to complete this design.

~

June 14, 2015 garden 053

~

This entire process took me a couple of hours, at least in part because it was so terribly hot today.  I was working in full sun, and the heat slowed me down.

My partner (who kept bringing me water) and I are both happy with this new border.  We look forward to seeing how it weathers over the summer and to seeing how the plants fill in.

I can see this as a useful strategy for planting knot gardens, for starting hedges, and even for starting seeds.

With seeds, it would be like taking the principle of  a ‘seed tape’ to a new level.   This works equally well on slopes as it would on level ground.

I especially like this for controlling erosion as water pours down this slope in heavy rain.  I’ve broken the slope with multiple tiers above this level already, each planted with well rooted woody plants.  This terracing has allowed us to use land which otherwise would not be useable, except as open space.

~

Cheery red Pentas, growing in another part of our garden, to say "Thank you!" to Sue and Alex.

Cheery red Pentas, growing in another part of our garden, to say “Thank you!” to Sue and Alex.

~

So I offer my appreciation to Sue and Alex for linking me up with this idea to improve our new perennial bed, and to solve our erosion problem.

One of the great joys of our blogging community is how we can all reach out to one another with information, collaboration, support, and jolly good ideas!

~

Our third mother turtle of the summer, laying her eggs in your garden on Thursday afternoon....

Our third mother turtle of the summer, laying her eggs in our garden on Thursday afternoon….

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

A Bed for Salvias

June 1, 2015 perennial bed 021

~

I wanted a bed dedicated primarily to perennial Salvia, and other sun-loving, heat tolerant perennials which appreciate good drainage.

And I didn’t want to dig.

~

The bed is located in full sun on sloping land near the bottom of our garden.  Our bamboo forest grows out of the ravine to the left in this photo.  The leaves littering the ground have fallen from the bamboo in our recent hot weather.

The bed is located in full sun on sloping land near the bottom of our garden. Our bamboo forest grows out of the ravine to the left in this photo. The leaves littering the ground have fallen from the bamboo in our recent hot weather.

~

I’ve been fantasizing about a bed here for more than a year, but the 12’x12′ enclosed raised bed I drew back in February remains on the legal pad.  I didn’t marshal the necessary resources; beginning with my own energy, to build it.

But I have made a start. 

~

May 28, 2015 garden 023

~

That is the secret, you know, to all worthwhile accomplishments:  Begin!  Once you begin, things fall into place in delightfully surprising ways.

So I led my partner to the spot, one afternoon a few weeks ago, and explained what I wanted to grow here.  And we agreed on the boundaries (the lawn is his, remember) before heading out to visit our friends at Homestead Garden Center to buy compost and gravel.

~

Bamboo tried to poke up into the new bed here.  We break the new growth off at the surface.  Eventually, I'll bring compost down to topdress this entire bed, covering the intruder.

Bamboo tried to poke up into the new bed here. We break the new growth off at the surface. Eventually, I’ll bring more compost down to top dress this entire bed, covering the intruder.

~

Now, it is simply not practical to dig on this sharply graded hillside.  Not only do we constantly fight erosion, but this area is laced with hefty bamboo shoots and runners just below the surface.  I realized that the area is too steeply graded to simply lay blocks or timbers to “build” a raised bed.  No hugelkultur here, either, unfortunately.

But there is  an easy and inexpensive way to establish a new planting bed which requires little more than paper and soil…. and time….

After agreeing on the dimension and boundaries of the new perennial bed, my partner marked its edges.  I used the string trimmer to cut back the existing ‘grasses’ to the ground.   We cut open brown paper grocery bags, and laid them within those boundaries to completely cover the existing soil, anchoring them with handfuls of compost as we worked.  There is some overlap, but not a great deal.  I covered the paper grocery bags with several inches of compost, mounding it a little deeper where the first plants were to go.

~

May 20, 2015 garden 016~

After the entire bed was covered in compost, and the outer edges of the bed marked with handfuls of pea gravel, I began planting the Salvias and Lavenders I had collected for this bed directly into the compost, on top of the paper.

When using this method, it is especially important to loosen the outer roots on the rootball before planting, to encourage them to grow into the surrounding soil more quickly.

~

Two weeks of growth in this bed, taken from the same spot as the previous photo.

Two weeks of growth in this bed, shown  from the same spot as the previous photo.

~

The Iris have had the most trouble with this planting method, since they are division, and didn’t have large root systems when they were moved.

~

June 1, 2015 perennial bed 011~

Now, you might think this is “extreme gardening.”  Extremely lazy, you’re thinking? 

Don’t worry, I’ve done my time “double digging” beds and borders in previous gardens.  And since then, I’ve learned that it is much smarter to be kind to the soil, and its complex web of life, by disturbing it as little as possible.  Like cats and children, soil will find its own way if we just remember to feed it regularly….

~

This  large creamy Marigold is one of my favorite varieties.  The Patton family grow these from seed each year to offer at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.

This large creamy Marigold is one of my favorite varieties. The Patton family grow these from seed each year to offer at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.

~

The soil is actually pretty good here.  While there is solid clay at the top of the property, there is pretty good loam on this slope.  It is more than sufficient to feed the flowering perennials I intend to grow here.

~

June 1, 2015 perennial bed 019

~

As the paper decomposes, and earthworms gather beneath it, the paper and compost will be carried deeper into the Earth, mixing  into the existing soil along with the earthworm castings through their life processes.  It is an elegant system, designed by nature millions of years ago.  All I need to do is understand it and work with it.

~

June 1, 2015 perennial bed 015

~

The toughest time for this scheme is the first month, as the plants begin to grow.  You see, we’ve had a heatwave these last few weeks.  The perennials didn’t really get a chance to sink their roots through the paper and into the Earth below before the weather shifted from gentle spring to full-on summer.   But with a little  watering, and a good rain or two, they are all showing growth.

~

May 28, 2015 garden 025

~

The bed now holds four varieties of Salvia, including a golden culinary sage; two varieties of Basil; two Lavender plants;  Asclepias incarnata; Rosemary; Coreopsis; Santalina; German re-blooming Iris dug and transplanted from other parts of the garden; and some beautiful cream marigolds.  I selected these plants to attract and feed butterflies and hummingbirds.  All of these varieties remain unattractive to deer, and should not entice them into the garden from the nearby ravine.

~

May 20, 2015 garden 017

~

This is an extension of the  ‘butterfly and hummingbird garden’ growing further up the slope.

I expect all of these plants to show a lot of growth in June, and this bed should bloom from now until frost in various shades of blues, purples, creams, and gold.

~

June 1, 2015 perennial bed 016

~

I will re-evaluate its progress this fall to decide whether or not we will move any closer to those grand plans I drew back in the winter.

I have some mail order Gooseberry shrubs growing in pots, which were ordered for the original plan.  They may find a home here, yet.  And the Okra?  There is still time to plant some seeds…. maybe when it rains….

~

May 20, the morning after this bed was planted.  The plants have shown good growth in the two weeks they have been adjusting to this new bed.

May 20, the morning after this bed was planted. The plants have shown good growth in the two weeks they have been adjusting to this new bed.

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

WPC: Afloat

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 042

~

Always intrigued by water, we lingered beside the waterfall, stream, and pools of the rock garden in Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens yesterday.

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 038

~

Koi darted and gathered in the depths of the pools, floating among the rocks.

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 061

~

Shadows cast by surrounding plants floated on the surface of the water.

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 045

~

We were nearly afloat ourselves, buoyed along by the beauty of these golden spring time gardens. 

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 057

~

Water remains essential to all life on Earth.

It courses through our veins, just as it gives form and substance to every leaf and stem in our gardens.

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 030

~

Our gardens grow lush and bright because we are blessed with abundant rain and are surrounded by vibrant rivers here in coastal Virginia.  We still have pure groundwater to drink and to irrigate our gardens.

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 085

~

Water is a gift to be treasured and protected; a resource which fills our lives, and our gardens, with beauty.

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Afloat

All photos were taken at Brent and Becky Heath’s dsplay gardens at their farm in Gloucester County, Virginia on April 9, 2015.  If you are in driving distance, please come and enjoy the Gloucester Daffodil Festival on April 11 and 12.

~

April 9, 2015 Gloucester 062

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Daffodil Paradise 

Crazy for Caladiums

Our Caladium garden on June 7, 2014

Our Caladium garden on June 7, 2014

Caladiums are one of my favorite plants for the summer garden.   So easy to grow, they are  strikingly beautiful.

~

Caladium, "Florida Sweetheart"

Caladium, “Florida Sweetheart”

~

I enjoy the intricate patterns etched into their huge leaves in bright tropical colors.  Each leaf is a little different from all of the others.

~

Caladium, "Miss Muffet"

Caladium, “Miss Muffet”

~

Had you been sitting with me and helping as we unpacked this year’s Caladium order, you might have thought me certifiably crazy….  crazy for Caladiums, that is.

~

Caladium, "Florida Fantasy"

Caladium, “Florida Fantasy”

~

When I begin looking through a catalog of Caladiums, it simply isn’t possible to select just one.  So some friends and I combined our orders for Caladiums from a grower in Florida.

And since the best prices are had when Caladium tubers are purchased in lots of 25 or more, I needed a lot of gardening  friends to share the bounty from such a gargantuan purchase.

~

Caladium, "Red Flash" ordered for a friend who wanted all red Caladiums. This variety can take more sun than most, and grows into a vigorous, large plant.

Caladium, “Red Flash” ordered for a friend who wanted all red Caladiums. This variety can take more sun than most, and grows into a vigorous, large plant.

~

So enough of us banded together to purchase six different varieties, plus a lot of 25 mixed tubers, just to see what we would get.

Do the math:  that is 175 large Caladium tubers spread out across my dining room table.

~

The final Caladium plants came out into the garden on June 7. This final hypertufa trough also holds the Saxifraga

The final Caladium plants came out into the garden on June 7. This final hypertufa trough also holds the Saxifraga stolonifera we found at Forest Lane Botanicals this weekend and some Begonia semperflorens.

~

Although one or two friends wanted their Caladiums all the same, most of us were interested in a mixed batch.  And so based on the preferences each friend expressed, the tubers were divided up and delivered in early April.

~

May 29 2014 after the rain 024

~

Caladiums must have warmth. 

Even dormant tubers must be kept consistently warm.  They won’t survive a freeze, and may be damaged if kept below 50 degrees for any length of time.

~

May 29 2014 after the rain 028

~

That is why our order was delayed by several weeks.  The dealer, Bill Kurek,  waited for a long enough stretch of warm weather in Virginia before he shipped the order.

Some of us waited to plant the Caladiums outside once warm weather settled in for good.  But I planted ours in plastic boxes of potting soil within just a few days of receiving them.

~

May 25, 2014 garden 018

~

 I’ve been bringing the Caladiums outside, a few at a time, over the last few weeks.  Believe it or not, one of those boxes was  still over half full of tubers, just beginning to send up their first leaves,  a week ago.

~

Caladium, "White Christmas"

Caladium, “White Christmas”

~

Given the warmth of sunshine on their soil, those outside are growing far more quickly than those left inside, waiting their turn.   All these plants will  require, for the next five to six months, is consistent moisture.

~

Calaldium, "Red Flash" on top, with C. "Gingerland" below.

Calaldium, “Red Flash” on top, with C. “Miss Muffet”  below.

~

Grown for their leaves and not their flowers, Caladiums aren’t heavy feeders.

They’ve already been fed with Osmocote, a time release fertilizer, and were given  a good drink of Neptune’s Harvest when transplanted.  Minerals in the Neptune’s Harvest help the Caladiums  establish by supporting new root growth.

~

May 25, 2014 garden 020

~

Caladiums prefer partial shade.  Newer cultivars have been selected to tolerate more sunshine than older Caladium varieties  can tolerate.  Any Caladium with “Florida” in its name is a newer hybrid and can take at least a few hours of sun each day.

Given warmth, light, and moisture Caladiums will grow indefinitely.  Perennial in Zones 10 and south, these lovely plants won’t survive a Virginia winter out of doors.

~

May 29 2014 after the rain 030

~

They are true tropicals, and their huge lovely leaves lend a tropical summertime flair wherever they are planted.

Even though they can go directly into the ground after the soil warms, I still prefer to plant mine in pots.  It is much easier to bring them inside as cold weather approaches.

 

May 29 2014 after the rain 026

~

All parts of the Caladium are poisonous, another reason we grow them in abundance.  They won’t be grazed by a hungry Bambi who happens to find its way into the garden.

~

May 29 2014 after the rain 019

~

Caladiums are purely ornamental in our summer garden.   They won’t feed birds or give them shelter.  They won’t attract hummingbirds or butterflies.

Pure eye-candy, we grow them for their beauty.

~

May 29 2014 after the rain 029

~

With minimal effort from us, they give maximum pleasure for the rest of the summer.

~

June 7, 2014 garden 041

~

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

.

CC banner-1

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 667 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest