The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

The Butterfly Garden at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is beautiful, if still dormant, in early February.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a great destination for picking up ideas and observing many different sorts of plants growing here in James City County, Virginia.

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Whether you go for a quiet walk, or to participate in a class, there is always more to learn, experience and enjoy.

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The garden is a true community effort.  It brings together volunteers from many different organizations, including the Williamsburg Master Gardeners Association.

The garden is subdivided into  specialty gardens planned and maintained by different groups, and serving different purposes.  In addition to the butterfly garden, there are areas devoted to heirloom plants, native plants, wetland and woodland plants, perennials and flowering shrubs, a fernery, and an area of raised beds for therapeutic gardening.

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The Pollinator Palace

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Best practices are modeled, and new gardeners are both trained and inspired in this special space.  Even though the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is fenced to exclude deer; songbirds, pollinators and other small wildlife are welcomed and fed.

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The first stirrings of spring were evident today under bright skies.  It was only a few degrees above freezing when some gardening friends and I ventured out, tools in hand, for a pruning workshop.

Despite numb fingers and toes, we discussed proper pruning for several species of flowering woody shrubs.  Experts demonstrated the proper use of a variety of nifty pruning tools, too.

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A few of the earliest shrubs, like Spirea, showed tiny bits of green. Its buds are just tentatively opening this week.  But most of the herbs, perennials, and deciduous woodies were still slumbering through their last few weeks of dormancy.

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Daffodils have just begun to emerge, their bright blooms now only days away.

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Today served as a call to action to get out and get after the woodies in our own Forest Garden, before the season gets ahead of me this year.  I was a bit slack last year on the pruning. This year, there is a great deal of cutting and thinning and just plain lopping back waiting for us.  But it won’t wait for long; warmer, longer days will coax those buds to open all too soon.

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It is too early in the season to prune wood from early spring bloomers like Spirea and Viburnum.  However, one may always prune out wood that is Dead, Diseased, Deformed, or Damaged.

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Some gardeners grow a bit confused about what pruning to do, and when.  In general, February is a great month for pruning roses, crape myrtle, butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, and other trees and shrubs which won’t bloom before June.  If a shrub blooms on new growth only, it is safe to prune it back now.

If your shrub blooms on old wood from last year’s growth, and already has its flower buds ready to go now, then “wait to prune until after bloom.”  

All of our favorite spring shrubs like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Forsythias, and Spireas have flower buds set and ready to open on schedule, over the next several weeks.   Any pruning done now will reduce our spring blooms.

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There are great Botanical gardens all over the country, and we are very fortunate to have such a nice one here in Williamsburg.  One can’t help but feel either inspired or overwhelmed after an hour’s walk among such a beautiful collection of plants.  This is a great destination for a walking tour, even on a frosty February morning.

Once I had a cup of coffee and could feel my fingertips again, I was ready to head over to Lowes.   I wanted to have a look at some of the new nifty gadgets for pruning that I’d seen demonstrated today, while my enthusiasm was still warm.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Tour Guide

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Sunday Dinner: Promise

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“Know who you are,
what your potential is
and press towards it with all
that you have within you”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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“There is that gnawing feeling
that we are far more than what we believe ourselves to be.
Maybe it’s time to believe the gnawing.”
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Craig D. Lounsbrough

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“A potential is a hidden greatness.
It is the success to be realized.
It is an accomplishment yet to be uncovered.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“The unlike is joined together,
and from differences
results the most beautiful harmony.”

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Heraclitus

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“Dreams become regrets when left in the mind,
never planted in the soil of action.”
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Auliq-Ice

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“To be ordinary is a choice,
for everyone has it in them
to become extraordinary.”
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Lauren Lola

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“This is the miracle of all miracles—
when life sacrifices itself to become something greater.
When it awakens to its potential
and rises in power.
That is true magic.”
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Seth Adam Smith
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Never become impatient with the process,
bored with the pace, frustrated at the meager results,
just keep trying.”
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Auliq-Ice

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“All of those things – rock and men and river – resisted change,
resisted the coming as they did the going.
(Mt.) Hood warmed and rose slowly,
breaking open the plain, and cooled slowly
over the plain it buried.
The nature of things is resistance to change,
while the nature of process is resistance to stasis,
yet things and process are one,
and the line from inorganic to organic and back
is uninterrupted and unbroken.”
.
William Least Heat-Moon

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“Everything is an experiment.”
.
Tibor Kalman

 

In Bud

Edgeworthia chrysantha, Chinese Paperbush

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January promises limitless potential.  At the time of year when so little appears to be growing in the garden, a closer look shows us evidence of coming attractions.

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Mahonia aquifolium will soon bloom, feeding hungry pollinators through the winter months.

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Another gardening season stretches ahead of us; everything we hope for feels absolutely possible.  The first green tips of daffodil foliage poke up from the muddy soil, reminding us where clumps and drifts will soon begin the year’s progression of flowers.

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And every woody tree, shrub and vine is covering itself with plump, swelling buds.  Like colorful eggs, their protective shells shield the tiny leaves and petals within from winter’s harshness.

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Aesculus pavia, red buckeye buds contain both flowers and new leaves.

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A quick walk about reminds us how incredibly varied something even as simple as a woody bud can be.  Their colors, texture, placement on the stem, shape and form prove as varied as the flowers and leaves which will burst into growth in the months to come.

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Dogwood, Cornus florida sports round onion shaped flower buds from fall through until spring.  Leaf buds grow long and narrow.

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Even in these spare wintery months, the garden holds such a variety of interesting things to see.  Without spring’s fragrant distraction, these beautiful buds, and the stems and twigs which hold,  them claim my attention.

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Last year’s seed heads mix with next summer’s buds on crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia species.

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Next spring’s garden lives in these shivering buds today.  They are more fragile than any other exposed part of the plant when our temperatures dive and winter’s winds blow.   At times they may hold small mounds of snow, or rest encased in an icy skin.

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Magnolia stellata will be one of our first trees to burst into bloom next month.  The large bud at the end of the branch holds the developing flower, while the smaller buds along the stem will unfold as leaves.

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With luck, they will survive the elements to finally unfold into new life, at the perfect moment for their growth to accelerate.  Rapid growth at the buds will elaborate on what is already here, creating new woody growth as the weeks go by.

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Magnolia liliiflora  will bloom a few weeks later, with deep purple flowers.

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Even if a swelling bud is lost, those further down the stem will respond with accelerated growth of their own.  There is always a plan, even if an entire stem succumbs to the cold.  We will watch for shoots and buds to emerge from the roots.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia  is a native shrub hardy to Zone 5.  New growth from late opening autumn buds was frozen in our recent cold snap.  New growth will emerge next spring, and new shoots will also grow from the roots.

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Even as we celebrate our successes when the garden is fully clothed in vegetative growth; in January, we celebrate our garden’s potential.

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These are the days when we feel appreciation for every woody branch and twig, for every evergreen leaf, and especially for all of the healthy, swelling buds which sparkle in the winter sunshine.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Forsythia buds show color early, often blooming by mid-February.  In an especially cold winter, they may not open until early March.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme

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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”
.
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:

The Arum Affair

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My new-found friends at the Native Plant Society might not approve, but I’m still falling in love with this beautiful Italian Arum.   After six days under the snow, with temperatures falling near zero at night, it still looks this fresh and crisp as the snow melts around it!

Arum leaves hold their vibrant green throughout the winter, as though unaffected by the ice and freezing cold.  The beautiful geometric patterns traced on their leaves in softest cream remain elegant from autumn through to early summer.  They remind me a little of a cold hardy Alocasia.

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Arum growing with our daffodils last February

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Native to Southern Europe and North Africa, Arum originated in a much warmer climate.  But it has a superpower: Arum italicum is thermogenic, capable of producing heat from its leaves and from its unusual flower.  The mitochondria in each cell produce excess heat, which gives the plant some protection from the cold.

A member of the Araceae family, it also has calcium oxalate crystals in its leaves.  These crystals are very irritating to skin and soft tissue… like the tender mouths of hungry deer.   All parts of the Arum are poisonous, including the corm from which it grows; which is the other reason I love these beautiful foliage plants.

Deer, squirrels, voles and rabbits won’t touch them.

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Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum last March.

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These are a useful ground cover species in our woodland garden.  They grow best in shade and though drought tolerant, grow more prolifically in moist and fertile soil.

While I am thrilled to see these beautiful plants spread through our garden by seed and division, their prolific growth and nearly indestructible nature make them problematic in other regions of the United States.  Areas like the Pacific Northwest consider them invasive and ask home gardeners not to plant them.

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But Arum remain my cold-weather guilty pleasure.  I ordered over 200 of them this fall from Brent and Becky Heath, sharing a little more than half with my gardening friends.

I’ve planted them in beds and pots, beneath shrubs and amongst spring bulbs.  Interplant them with Hosta to keep a beautiful foliage presence in your Hosta beds year round.  Pair them with either hardy or deciduous ferns for delicious spring time associations.

I use them in parts of the garden where we grow Caladiums in the summer.  As we lift the Caladiums in fall, the Arum emerge from their summer dormant period.  Arum die back in early summer as the Caladiums fill in.

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Exotic as they may be, Arum still fill a niche in a North American woodland garden.  They hold and protect the ground against erosion.  They produce both nectar and pollen for pollinators each spring.  Birds eat their seeds in mid-summer.  And, their beautiful leaves make this gardener very happy. 

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Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, VA,  feature many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heath’s call Arum italicum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well as a ground cover beneath shrubs.

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I’m still wavering up and down the native plant/exotic imported plant continuum.  I’m hanging out more these days with the native plant enthusiasts and reading the literature.  I understand the nativist point of view, and yet I still believe that there is space in our garden for a population of exotic ‘come here’ plants, too.

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How would I garden without our Camellias and Rhododendrons, Alocasias, Narcissus, Caladiums and Mediterranean herbs?

Basically, if it will grow here and not end up as breakfast for a deer, I’m willing to entertain most any plant for at least a season or two.  And when it makes me happy, I just might explore a more lasting relationship.  Which perhaps explains the Arum affair….

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Arum italicum blooming in our garden last April

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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WPC: Growth

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“We are not trapped or locked up in these bones.
No, no. We are free to change.
And love changes us.
And if we can love one another,
we can break open the sky.”
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Walter Mosley
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“In this first week of the year, many people anticipate beginnings, changes, and opportunities for growth.

Share with us an image that evokes this spirit of change and newness …”  The Daily Post

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“Growth” is a wonderful topic for a garden blogger.  Except it is January, and we had a half a foot of snow fall on our garden overnight.

In fact, it was still snowing here into the early afternoon.  Without taking a deep dive back into my photo archives, I’ve been thinking about how to share good photos of “growth.”

Maybe I could respond to the challenge with growing piles of snow, or even icicles growing ever longer from the eaves?

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Yet, as I ventured out into the newly shoveled paths my partner made for us, I realized that even during this ‘dormant’ time of year, our garden is still very much in growth.

Buds are swelling.  Ivy keeps creeping along with new leaves, and the catkins on our hazelnut trees grow visibly longer each week.

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Mistletoe grows bold and green in the tree tops, and so do the leaves of our Italian Arum, still appearing through the soil.

Our new holly shrubs grow bravely on in their pots, and the tender new leaves of bulbs poke up through the soil, announcing their promises for a beautiful spring.

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Growth isn’t so much about what is ‘new’ as it is about continuation.  Just as we keep growing and changing year to year and decade to decade, so too does our garden.

Growth may slow now and again, but its dynamic demand for expansion and change pays heed only to its own design.

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“Change may not always bring growth,
but there is no growth without change.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Mahonia is ready to bloom one day soon.

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Growth

2017 Favorites

Japanese Maple, found in our front border in 2010 when it was a seedling, and nurtured ever since.  April 2017

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November finds me sifting through the year’s photos in search of our favorites for the coming year’s calendar.

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Out of the thousands of photos I capture each year, sixty-one may come to be selected, re-cropped, and published in our limited edition ‘A Forest Garden’ calendar.

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We set parameters.  First, I use only photos taken here in our own Forest Garden.  All of those photos taken while visiting and traveling never have a chance to make it to the calendar.

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Next, I decide on certain types of photos each year.  One year, I wanted a photo of a bird for every month.

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I always want to use photos of butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and the other interesting creatures who have visited our garden during the year.  We love watching them, and plant to attract and feed them.

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Our 2018 calendar’s theme is ‘Flowers Every Day of the Year.’  I focused more on photos of flowers,  and a little less on  beautiful foliage.  Selecting the year’s favorite photos requires a major investment of time and thinking.

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It is instructive, as it illustrates the garden’s annual progression of growth.  I watch the colors of our garden shift from month to month and season to season.

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I learn so much about our garden by reviewing the year’s photos. This discipline of studying the photos also helps spark fresh ideas, and clearly shows where a little extra effort may be required!

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Now that my holiday efforts are complete, there is time to look one more time through the photo file I compiled while working on our 2018 calendar.

I hope you enjoy this retrospective of the past year in our Forest Garden.

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If you would like to have a copy of our 2018 “A Forest Garden” calendar, they are available through The Nurtury in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia.  As in past years, this is a working gardener’s calendar.  Moons, solstices, equinoxes, and first and last frost dates in Zones 5-9 are noted.  Each month features gardening tips and reminders.

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This week between Christmas and New Year, this longest night of the year, remains one of my favorite weeks of the year.  It is a time for looking back at fond memories, and also for looking ahead to those plans and projects on our personal horizon.

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It is a time for favorite friends, favorite activities, favorite keepsakes, and favorite memories.

 

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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April 3, 2017, and our Magnolias have put out both leaves and new blossoms after a late frost in March.

 

 

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  2017 Favorites

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“A Forest Garden 2018” calendar is available,
should you wish to have one,
at The Nurtury, 6619 Main Street, in Gloucester Court House, Virginia. 
Reach The Nurtury at 804.695.4417 for more information. 
The Nurtury ships merchandise around the world.

Happiness This Thanksgiving: Transformation

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“Remember to give thanks

for unknown blessings

already on their way”

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Valentina Giambanco

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“Living in thanksgiving daily is a habit;

we must open our hearts to love more,

we must open our arms to hug more,

we must open our eyes to see more and finally,

we must live our lives to serve more.”

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Farshad Asl

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“Gratitude is the seed of gladness.”

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Lailah Gifty Akita

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“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”

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W.J. Cameron

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May the beauty of this day find you,
May joy bubble up in your heart,
May you know everyone near you as family,
May you feel the love  which surrounds you,
and may you enjoy the blessings of peace,
always.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Our garden is ablaze in color today! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Transformation

Sunday Dinner: Grateful

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“I am grateful for what I am and have.
My thanksgiving is perpetual.
It is surprising how contented one can be
with nothing definite –
only a sense of existence.
… I am ready to try this 
for the next ten thousand years,
and exhaust it …
 My breath is sweet to me.
O how I laugh when I think
of my vague indefinite riches.
No run on my bank can drain it,
for my wealth is not possession
but enjoyment.”
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Henry David Thoreau
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“Be thankful for your allotment in an imperfect world.  
Though better circumstances can be imagined,
far worse are nearer misses
than you probably care to realize.”
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Richelle E. Goodrich
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“You have to be able to slow down enough
to switch your focus away from
all the ways things could be better,
to know how good they already are.”
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Katherine Ellison
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“One single gift acknowledged in gratefulness
has the power to dissolve the ties of our alienation.”

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David Steindl-Rast
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“It’s a funny thing about life,
once you begin to take note
of the things you are grateful for,
you begin to lose sight
of the things that you lack.”
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Germany Kent
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“Behind every creative act is a statement of love.
Every artistic creation is a statement of gratitude.”
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Kilroy J. Oldster
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“The single greatest cause of happiness is gratitude.”
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Auliq-Ice
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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Don’t ever stop believing in your own transformation.
It is still happening
even on days you may not realize it
or feel like it.”
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Lalah Delia

Transformation

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“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”

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Lao Tzu

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There is sadness in wandering along our familiar garden paths in these first few days after frost touched our garden.    Withered leaves litter the ground.  Herbaceous stems droop, their once rigid cells irreparably broken when they froze.

What was once growing a bit more beautiful each day, is now clearly in decline.  Papery brown seedheads replace vibrant flowers.    Our trees grow more naked each day.

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“Do you have the patience

to wait until your mud settles

and the water is clear?”

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Lao Tzu

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But as the graceful structure of our trees stands stark against the sky, we see that next spring’s buds are already forming.    When dried leaves drift away on the breeze, the magic is revealed:  new flowers and leaves have already begun to grow along every branch.

The buds will grow more plump and full through the wintery weeks ahead, waiting for conditions to signal them to unfold into new growth.

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“The reason why the universe is eternal

is that it does not live for itself;

it gives life to others

as it transforms.”

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Lao Tzu

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Our sadness in watching the garden decay touches our hearts, even as we understand the familiar process of renewal and re-growth.

Like waves on the beach, things are always coming in, and flowing out.  Like our breath, we receive and we give continually.

Trees draw their life from the soil beneath their roots and the air surrounding their leaves.  And then, after a period of growth, they willingly drop their leaves to decay and feed the life of the soil.  There is balance.

Every root absorbs moisture, and every leaf allows those precious drops of water to evaporate back into the sky.

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“If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try to hold on to.

If you are not afraid of dying,

there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

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Lao Tzu

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Nothing is ever truly gained or lost; everything transforms.  The garden helps us see this truth, and another:  Life goes on. 

No matter the appearance in the moment, life continues; and we are a part of this beautiful flickering, flaming, raging dance of life.

Our sadness springs from our clinging to one beautiful form or another.  And even that sadness can transform to joy, when we see beyond the loss of one thing to welcome what comes back to us in its wake

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Let’s dance the dance of life with joy in our hearts, and embrace the magic of each season of our lives.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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