Six on Saturday: Winter Flowers

Edgeworthia chrysantha in late March 2019

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Here in coastal Virginia, it is possible to have flowers blooming in the garden every day of the year.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation now, before winter settles around us.  But it is within reach for most of us with a little outdoor space to plant.

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Planning a garden is a lot like working a very large jigsaw puzzle.  Consider one of the 1200 piece puzzles you buy to work with family or close friends, where you spend hours and hours just sorting pieces and making the frame before ever beginning to fill in the body of the puzzle.  Maybe you work in small sections, completing a bit here and there, then fitting those vignettes into their proper place in the whole at the right time.

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Planning for winter color, and more specifically for winter flowers, is just one of those chunks to fit into the bigger picture.

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Hellebores blooming in mid-February

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As you begin to think about winter flowers, it is helpful to think about winter blooming shrubs, winter blooming geophytes, winter blooming perennials, and finally winter blooming ‘annuals.’  Each have their own niche in the whole picture, and their own level of expense and commitment.

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This weekend I’ve visited three garden centers and have been delighted to find plants on my own ‘winter wish list’ at all three.  In all cases, the plants I wanted were marked down on clearance.  Even looking a bit rough and scraggly, giving them the right care now guarantees flowers in a few months, when we’ll need them.

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Violas of all sorts our still widely available in our area and still sold at full price at most locations.  There are hundreds of varieties, and the hardest part about planting Violas is deciding which ones to grow.  Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.  Use Osmacote or another time-release fertilizer at planting time, and feed them again with a liquid feed in February or March for best bloom.  Cut them back with scissors to remove bad foliage or leggy stems, and they will reward you with lush growth until summer.

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This is the easiest, least expensive way to enjoy winter flowers, and carries the least commitment.  Violas thrive here until sometime in May, when it gets too hot for them.  I’m usually pulling them out of their spots by mid-May to replant for summer, anyway.  Gardeners in cooler climates can keep them going year to year, but here we treat them like annuals.  Pansies have the largest, brightest flowers.  There are both singles and doubles in a wide variety of colors and color combinations.

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Panolas are a nice compromise between Pansies and the tiny Violas like ‘Johnny Jump-Ups.’  Again, there is a variety of color combinations available, solid flowers, and both single and double blossoms.  Little Violas have flowers about the size of a penny or a nickle, but they are very sweet and saturated color.  Although the plants look tiny now, they grow and spread throughout the winter.  By spring, when they begin to bloom again in earnest, they are covered in many, many small, but bright flowers.  We have a grower near us who specializes in little Violas, and I always end up with a flat or two and put them in pots and baskets on our patio and deck.

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Since deer find these little guys very tasty (most of the flowers are edible for humans, too) I generally don’t plant out Violas in beds or borders.  But I have, and as long as they are kept sprayed with animal repellent, they grow beautifully.

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Hardy Cyclamen leaves with blue Vinca flowers and emerging Crocus in February.

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A notch up from the Violas are Snapdragons, Antirrhinum species.  These are perennials, though many people pull them out and replace them by mid-spring.  I have several plants still going strong planted more than a year ago.  They are short-lived perennials, but will bloom profusely well into early summer, and then sporadically during our hot season.  The secret to keeping these covered in flowers is to dead-head the spent blooms before they set seeds, keep them moist, and feed the plants every month or so to keep them healthy and productive.  Give snaps some shade in the summer, but they are happy in full sun through the winter months.  You will find Antirrhinum varieties in small, medium or tall plants, and in a range of beautiful colors from bold to soft pastels.

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An equally easy, but often overlooked winter blooming perennial is Dianthus chinensis.  Often sold in cell packs in early spring, Dianthus is a tough, dependable easy perennial in our area that isn’t ever grazed.  It blooms sporadically in winter and summer, but really shines in spring and fall on evergreen plants.   I often use it in potted arrangements because it is versatile, bright, and the flowers remain the size of quarters in shades of white, pink, purple or crimson.  Flowers may be solid or bi-color.  Cuttings root easily.  Deadhead this plant regularly to keep it looking neat, and to keep the flowers coming.

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Requiring a bit more time and commitment are the Hellebores.  I had never paid Hellebores any attention until I moved to Williamsburg, but they are very popular here.  Probably because they are very poisonous, and won’t be bothered by deer, rabbits, squirrels, moles, voles, or ground-hogs.  It take about three to four years from seedling to blooming plant, but blooming plants are readily available in gallon pots at our garden centers, for around $25.00 each.

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Preferring shade, some of my plants grow in full to partial sun and do fine, as long as I water them during dry spells.  Hellebores begin blooming between December and February, depending on the species and variety, and them bloom continuously for another 3 to 4 months.  They are evergreen, serve as background foliage during the warm months, and are very tough and easy plants to grow.

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I was given a few dozen seedling plants by a neighbor years ago, and they continue to bloom each year and multiply, naturally spreading to form a dense ground cover.  I also buy one or two new varieties each year.  I grow them in pots and in the ground, and delight in their beautiful flowers through the winter months when little else blooms.

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Violas and ivy make fora beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate. This photo from early January 2017.

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When most people think of winter flowers, they think about winter blooming bulbs.  Bulbs are easy and most are inexpensive.  This is prime time to find bulb sales from online dealers, who can be very good, and also to find reduced bags of bulbs at garden centers.

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Be wary, if buying bulbs locally, that the bulbs still look plump and healthy and have no discoloration.  If they look shriveled or have anything grey or green on them, pass them by.  They probably won’t bloom well, or they may not grow at all and infect your soil with bacterial rot.

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Snowdrops, Galanthus species, bloom in January or February most years.  Although they are very small and white or white and green, by the time they bloom, they are a welcome sign of spring.  Miniature Iris bloom from bulbs at just about the same time, but come in a broader range of colors with larger flowers.  Early daffodils begin to bloom most years in February, and Crocus can bloom very early, before there is much else color in the garden.  Muscari also bloom in very early spring.  All of these are called geophytes because they are bulbs, and can be stored dry during their dormant time each year.

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Other geophytes, or ‘Earth plants’ grow from corms, tubers, or rhizomes.   Some hardy Cyclamen tubers begin to bloom in autumn and bloom until early winter.  Their beautifully patterned leaves persist much longer than their delicate flowers in pinks or white.  Other Cyclamen species begin to bloom in the middle of winter, and bloom through mid-spring.  Buy tubers based on when they bloom, the color of their flowers or the color and pattern of their leaves.  Cyclamen may be grown from seeds, but it takes several years for their tubers to grow large enough to bloom.  Leave the tuber in place and it will keep growing larger, giving a wider area of bloom each year.

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Iris reticulata ‘Sunshine’ on March 2, 2019.

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Finally, shrubs can be a great source of winter flowers.  If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow Camellias.  Some Camellia varieties are hardier than others, and you may find species to grow in Zone 6 or cooler.  We grow both fall blooming and spring blooming Camellias, so we have them from October through until April, whenever the weather has a bit of a warm enough stretch to allow buds to bloom.

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Daphne can bloom very early, but is also a very difficult shrub to keep happy.  I’ve never had one for very long.

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Our favorite winter bloomer is Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese paperbush.  It is already in bud, and those flower buds keep steadily swelling and growing larger until they finally open into blossoms. There are two or three different varieties, and flowers may be white with yellow centers, or all yellow. They have a very sweet and strong fragrance, so the garden is perfumed on warmish days.

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Now, if you want to grow this gorgeous shrub, you will make a bit of an investment.  I saw one today in a 3 gal. pot for nearly $80.  Shop around, and you will likely find a much better deal.  One of our local nurseries carries them at a more reasonable price, but they never order very many.  You have to seek this one out.

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A shining star through the winter months, the shrub is rather non-descript with medium green, deciduous leaved through the summer.  The leaves turn yellow in fall, as the flowers appear on the branches.  It is a very sculptural shrub once the leaves fall, and is a real focal point.

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Mahonia, a northwest native shrub, blooms in November- January.   Japanese Pieris will also begin to bloom as winter fades into spring.  Both of these shrubs have evergreen foliage and bees and other small pollinators love them.   They support native bees when there is little else available for forage.

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Native redbud trees, Cercis Canadensis, sprout tiny flowers that break out of their bark along twigs, limbs and sometimes even the trunk!  I’ve seen them bloom here as early as mid-February, when they cover themselves in a cloud of deep magenta pink.  Some of the cultivars available now offer other color choices, but most are shades of pink/purple/red and even white.  Each tree hosts hundreds (thousands on a mature tree) of tiny flowers to the delight of every hungry pollinator in the area.  Birds follow to feed on the insects, and so redbud trees become hubs of activity when in bloom.

Heart shaped leaves follow, which turn beautiful yellow in fall.  Seed pods look like snow peas, and are edible.  Our trees are covered in seed pods, still, and they feed a variety of wildlife in winter.  Cut branches may be forced inside in early spring, in a vase of water.  Designers may also cut branches covered in seed pods now to add drama to their arrangements.

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Some Magnolia trees, like Magnolia stellata and Magnolia lilliflora may break into bloom in February.  Deciduous Magnolia trees bloom earlier than the evergreens and generally stay much smaller.  These are easy to grow in sun to part shade, and come in a variety of flower forms and colors.

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Finally, Forsythia shrubs often begin blooming for us in February with golden yellow flowers.  They are one of the earliest blooming shrubs in late winter.  You can force branches to bloom indoors several weeks earlier than they bloom outside.   And Japanese quince blooms in bright scarlet or pink soon after.

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These are just the high points of winter blooming plants that we grow, and that easily come to mind.  You may have other favorites.  We have to consider climate, available sun or shade, and what will or won’t be grazed by the animals who visit our garden.

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Many gardeners are quite happy with evergreens, a few bright berries, and maybe some variegated ivy or a variegated shrub.  We all crave a bit of color in the winter time, and it is worth planning for and making a bit of an investment to keep the garden interesting during the darkest months of the year.

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February 2017 Magnolia stellata

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Six on Saturday: ‘Garden Bathing’

Caladium ‘Berries and Burgundy’ grows enthusiastically in this shady spot.

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Maybe I’m too easily entertained.  Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty leaf.  We’ve reached the time of the year when I can happily circumambulate the garden admiring the newest, brightest leaves appearing on our Caladiums and other ‘Elephant Ear’ plants and noting how many different flowers may be in bloom.

Now, let’s be honest here:  there isn’t a great deal of happiness in our public lives at the moment.  We watch every dystopian plot line play out in the daily news, even as we plan how to avoid viral contamination in the mundane acts of collecting our mail, picking up the groceries or taking a walk.  I find a good antidote to the general anxiety of our age in ‘garden bathing.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ with orbs

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Maybe you’ve heard of ‘Forest Bathing,’ or shinrin-yoku?  This Japanese practice of spending time out of doors under the canopy of trees can be brought right home to our own gardens, as we soak in the atmosphere through all of our senses.  The Japanese scientists who study these things found greater happiness, well-being, and good health among those who devote some time to soaking in the sights, sounds, scents and sensations of nature.

I’m happy knowing that 40 years of research has proven what gardeners already know:  we feel better when we spend time outside in a garden.  Curiously, it doesn’t matter so much whether we are in our own garden or a friend’s; a public garden or a park.  Time spent under trees and surrounded by plants helps us feel better in measurable ways.

And not just plants, either.  Spotting a turtle or a dragonfly feels like a gift.  Watching butterflies feed or birds glide around the garden brings its own peaceful contentment.

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Alocasia with Caladiums

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Maybe that is why I awaken each morning with a gardening ‘to do’ list already percolating in my waking thoughts.  Whether my list includes tasks at home, at the local botanical garden, or both; I awake with purpose and the intent to invest some early morning time out of doors working in a garden.

Whether I’m pulling weeds, watering, or just monitoring how the plants are growing, I can blissfully disconnect from the day’s narrative of outrage and gloom.  Every opening flower and bit of new growth gets counted as a worthy accomplishment.

There are many ways to express compassion for others and ourselves.  There are many ways to assist others in experiencing happiness.  We each do what we can.  I read about an artist who painted a flower for every staff member of a distant hospital, over 1000 in all.  His paintings were framed and presented to each person as a ‘thank you’ gesture for their healing and sustaining work.

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There are those who cook and deliver meals or loaves of bread to those in need.  Others sew and deliver masks, or check on lonely neighbors.  There is a task waiting for every willing heart and hand.

What could be more life-affirming and joy inducing than planting and tending a garden?  We need beauty, tranquility and inspiration now in ways we may have not needed them before. They are an antidote to the darker feelings that bubble up in our thoughts each day.

So I reach out to all of my gardening friends and to everyone who nurtures a plot of growing things.  Let us continue the work and know that it is good, and purposeful and that our efforts make a positive difference in this crazy world.  Let’s sow beauty and reap happiness, for ourselves and for our communities.

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Caladium ‘Splash of Wine’ is new in our garden this year. This is the first leaf opened from the tuber.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Caladium ‘Debutante’

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

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

Six on Saturday: Perennial Patience

This tough summer planting includes Coleus, Verbena, Lantana, Dichondra and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’ It can take heat and sun and continue looking good through until fall.  These are all tender perennials and can overwinter in the garage, or some may make it through winter outdoors in this large pot.

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You may know that many of the bright little plants sold at nurseries each spring as ‘annuals’ actually are perennials.  An annual grows from a seed, blooms, sets seed and dies all between last frost of winter and first frost of autumn.  Only the seeds will last from one season to the next.

Perennials will live from year to year given the right degree of protection from winter’s chill.  Hardy perennials can over winter in pot or in the ground out of doors, with minimal protection.  Tender perennials need to come inside to live, whether they overwinter in the living room, garage, basement or cold frame.  We are on the cusp of Zone 8, here in Williamsburg, and some winters prove a bit warmer or colder than the norm.  That means that some of those tender ‘annual’ perennials I’ve left outside in pots, baskets or borders may just delight me by returning the following spring.

It is a contest of patience.  Most don’t rush to show themselves.  And keeping faith that survivors will return is a good reason to procrastinate on re-working our pots and baskets until early June.

Here we are near the end of the first week of June and I am still in the midst of transplanting Caladiums and planting out the few new plants I bought in mid-May.  Our cooler than usual spring dictated that the Caladiums tough it out in the garage several weeks longer than usual.  They’ve grown lank and leggy, but still hold promise.

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Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’ shares a pot with a Japanese painted fern. The Caladium just made its way to its summer pot this week.

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I dig and dry our Caladium tubers each November and store them in bags over winter in a spare room, then start them again by late March.  By May, they are showing new leaves and are ready to move back outside once again.  Only this year, it was too cool until just a couple of weeks ago.

By waiting so late, I’ve allowed time for Pelargoniums and Verbena, Tradescantia, Dichondra, Lantana, ferns and mints to show themselves alive and growing.  In many cases last year’s arrangements are returning for another season of growth.

But not all return.  At some point, one must clear out the leggy Violas and cut back the fading Dianthus, and carefully remove any faded remains of last year’s plants to give this summer’s plants time to establish and fill in before the season heats up too much.

For me, it’s like working a grand and complicated puzzle.  It helps to not over-think it, too, or else end up frustrated and frozen into indecision.  After all, mixing things up year to year and trying new plants and new combinations keeps things fresh.

I have my favorites.  Caladiums and Begonias fall near the top of my list of all time favorite summer plants for long lasting color.  Give them what they require and they will live on season after season.  Begonias must overwinter in the house or garage, unless they are one of the hardy varieties.   They might look a little rough by late May, but by late June they are covering themselves with brilliant new leaves and by late July the Begonias will be full of blooms again.  It is very easy to root Begonia stems to create entirely new plants and spread them around.  Overwinter as potted plants or as cuttings.

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Tradescantia returns reliably in our hanging baskets. It roots easily from a stem cutting and may be started in a new spot mid-season from a cutting.

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Other favorites include Coleus, another tender perennial, which can overwinter in the garage and starts easily from cuttings.   One can also buy a single new plant and take as many cuttings as one wants for additional plants.  Root them in a glass of water, or simply stick them in a pot where you want them to grow and keep them well-watered while they root.

Both ‘annual’ Verbena and Lantana return for us.  These are both excellent choices to stand up to our hot, muggy summers, too.  They can tough it out in hanging baskets or pots when the soil gets dry, and will wait for me to remember to bring them some water, if it doesn’t rain.  They attract hummingbirds, butterflies and lots of other little pollinators for endless entertainment.

Tradescantia looks tropical, but once well established, it will return year after year.  It is related to our native spiderwort. You have to wait for it, however, as you might not see it until late May.  It has little pink flowers, but I grow it for its gorgeous purple leaves and strong constitution.  Full sun, dry soil and long summer days don’t bother it, and deer will leave it strictly alone.  I plant Tradescantia and Lantana in the large pot outside of the Botanical garden’s gate, knowing they are safe from hungry deer.

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This tough Verbena is starting its third year in its basket. Pineapple mint, Lantana and a scented geranium have also returned here this spring.

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Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ is grown as a perennial ground cover further south.  I love it in pots and baskets because it grows into long, shimmering ‘curtains’ of foliage that get better as summer wears on.  Frost knocks back the foliage, but if one is patient and waits, it will often return from its roots by late May.  Dichondra roots easily from stems and is simple to divide from the nursery pot into smaller clumps, or simply layer to spread it around the outer edge of a hanging basket.  It is a wonderful bonus when it returns for another year.

Another plant I wait for each year is scented Pelargonium.  It is always a bonus when one survives and returns with fresh leaves in May.  I wonder sometimes whether I give up waiting too soon, and dig out plants that might eventually sprout.  When in doubt, it is easy enough to pot up the roots and wait to see.

Drenching pots of overwintered perennials with organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest, when watering them helps them come into growth, especially if their survival is iffy during a difficult spring.

Tender Pelargoniums can be grown indoors over winter and cuttings root easily, if you have a special variety and don’t want to take a chance on leaving them out of doors all winter.

There are a few hardy perennials  I grow in pots year to year as well.  Heuchera, coral bells, will often keep color and leaves throughout our winter, but wakes up and produces new leaves and flower stalks by mid-spring.  These grow larger and better each year, and may live in a large pot indefinitely.

I prefer to grow Hostas in pots, too.  They will grow larger when planted out in a bed, but then their roots are vulnerable to voles.  Hostas can be knocked out of a pot and divided easily in spring, spread around, and will add color and texture wherever you need them in part to deep shade.

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Heuchera will easily fill a pot. It may be divided in early spring to spread a favorite variety around.  This is a fairly new variety called ‘Midnight Rose.’

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Deciduous ferns will also live on in pots year after year.  Japanese painted ferns and lady ferns, Athyriums, are my favorites for this treatment.  Pair them with Violas over winter to fill the pot, and then drop in a Caladium or two in spring to add interest through the summer. Watching for the first fiddleheads to appear is a sure sign of spring.

All of these plants have proven good investments in this climate.  They give many months of beauty, and generally return year after year.  They thrive in our conditions and most stand up to the wildlife.  (A spritz of deer repellent on the Hostas and Heucheras is helpful to avoid unpleasant surprises, however.)

Our garden centers are filled with enough choices to make one dizzy.  It is tempting to load one’s cart with one or two of everything and hope for the best.  While it is always interesting to try new plants, I am contented to plant what works.  I have had one too many lush baskets bake by late July, pathetic little petunia stems desiccated and dying.  Now, I reach for these hardy companions that will go the distance through a Virginia summer.

And given a little patience, I can extend their lives year to year.

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Pelargonium, a rose scented geranium that made it through winter and returned in April, is now larger than the new ones I picked up at the nursery in May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

 

Bringing Some of the Beauty Home

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

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

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

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The view from the patio behind my hotel room.

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

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

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Bear Valley Nursery

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

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

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

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

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My portion of the Iris, now safely home.

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

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

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

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

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Linaria growing at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fern and garlic fresh from my carry-on bag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Connie Hansen Garden

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Pot Shots: Rescue Plants

Hosta ‘Halcyon’

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Maybe your soft spot is homeless dogs at the Humane Society.  My soft spot is clearance shelf rescue plants.  It is hard for me to walk past that clearance shelf without pausing to assess what is on offer.

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I went to Lowes in late August for gravel, potting soil and landscaping blocks, and happened upon hundreds of struggling plants loaded on rack after rolling rack out in the full sun.  Oh, the indignity of once beautiful plants ending up in such straits after just a few short weeks in a big-box store.

I couldn’t avert my eyes.  I couldn’t just walk past.  I had to scan the shelves to see what I might salvage.  That is where I turned up two Fortune’s holly ferns that I planted to help control erosion, a flat of mixed Sedums, and this poor little Hosta.  Marked down to only a dollar, how could I not give it another chance at life?

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The Hosta has grow several new leaves over the past three weeks. It could be divided next spring.

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The day it came home with me, it had exactly three leaves left, and those were scalded from sitting in full sun with dried up soil.  That’s not a promising start.  But I knew that if those three leaves were alive, then the roots were alive.  And you buy a perennial for its roots.

Before adopting a dog or a plant, there are a few questions one must address:  Does it have fleas, or other insect infestation?  Any signs of disease?  Will it fit in with the family?  Can it be saved?

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Two Athyrium ‘Bradford’s Rambler’ that I picked up on an August clearance in 2018 yielded several plants, after division.

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With a plant, my next question is its expected life-span.  Only the perennials are worth the effort, to me.  An annual is only expected to live a few months, anyway.  Late in the season, it usually isn’t worth it to purchase and rescue an annual plant.

Now, a marginally hardy perennial might be an exception.  I recently bought a couple of flats of stressed Salvia coccinea, a native perennial to our south.  This red hummingbird Salvia is hardy at least to Zone 8, and might make it here with a good mulch.  The plants were still in 1″ cell packs, root bound, and stunted.  I took a chance.

I freed each one’s roots, loosened the root balls, and planted them into rich potting mix in larger pots.  After a good feeding and watering, I set them into a protected spot in partial sun to recover and begin to grow.  After giving away more than half of those I bought, I still had a few Salvia plants left to use in a bed, and others left for pots.

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Salvia coccinea, Hummingbird Salvia, have prospered now that they have room to grow and reasonable care.

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The key to reviving a rescue plant is to meet its needs and give it space and time to recover.  Rescue plants have sat in a shop for too long.  They may have gotten too much or too little light, been allowed to dry out, and they are almost certainly root bound.  Most have lost a lot of their leaves and may have stopped growing due to extreme stress.

So the first thing I do with a plant, after looking it over carefully for any sign of hitch-hiking insects or disease, is to water the root ball.  First thing, before I even go in the house.  I may even water the plant before I leave the nursery, if I have some water in the car.  Water is life for a plant, and it can’t carry out any of its life functions if it doesn’t have moisture.

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I enjoy miniature Hostas, but they can be pricey. All of mine came as gifts or as clearance plants. I found this one in late July, with its own culture of moss, and simply repotted and fed it.

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Next, I usually cut away and throw away any broken or dead stems and leaves.  Pruning stimulates new growth, and the plant needs healthy new tissue to begin producing sugars and cellulose again so it can recover.

If a plant has grown way too much top growth, for the size of its roots, you might cut it back by a third to a half to stimulate new growth.  It is possible that the stems you cut away will root, given a chance, to give you even more new plants.

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After several weeks of care, it is producing new leaves and may fill the pot before frost.

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If a plant is severely root bound, with roots showing on top of the rootball and hanging out of the pot, it needs repotting or planting as soon as possible.  Gently tease out the roots, trim away any that look damaged or dried up, and give the plant a new, larger pot.  I usually pot up all rescue plants and leave them in shade to partial sun, away from other plants, until they show signs of growth.  This allows the plants a rest, a chance to convalesce, before I expect them to perform.  While they all need light, placing them in a little more shade than they would normally grow in gives them a chance to recover without the stress of full sun exposure.

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This little Alocasia was a rescue plant last summer. It has many beautiful leaves, but is still much shorter than most cultivars of this species.

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Finally, I give a good foliar feed with fish emulsion, such as Neptune’s Harvest.  Drench the plant’s remaining leaves and root ball with this gentle, mineral rich fertilizer.  Do it once every week or so, and watch the life return to the plant as it sends up new leaves.

Remember, with a perennial, you are buying the root system.  If there are some leaves or buds, that is just a bonus.  After working with bare root starts for a while, one comes to realize that the roots and crown are the main things required for a plant’s survival.  Most perennials die back to just their roots and crown during the winter, or their period of dormancy anyway.  A stressed plant may go dormant in the summer, too, and will reawaken with new growth when conditions become favorable once again.

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Late summer and early fall are prime time to find good rescue plants.  Discounts may range from 15% up to %75.  Sometimes I’m even given plants for free, where I have a relationship with the staff, especially if the plants are already destined for the compost pile.

This is a good way to acquire plants when you want to experiment with a new cultivar, when you need a large quantity of a specific plant, or when you’re on a budget.   A little TLC and a lot of patience make those horticultural dreams come true, as plants bounce back and grow in your care for many, many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Sunday Dinner: The Work

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“True freedom is impossible
without a mind made free by discipline.”
.
Mortimer J. Adler

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“We must do our work for its own sake,
not for fortune or attention or applause.”
.
Steven Pressfield
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“Always listen to experts.
They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why.
Then do it.”
.
Robert A. Heinlein

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“Everything has boundaries.
The same holds true with thought.
You shouldn’t fear boundaries,
but you should not be afraid of destroying them.
That’s what is most important
if you want to be free:
respect for and exasperation with boundaries.”
.
Haruki Murakami
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“Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas.
Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection,
despite its ugliness.
I take it for granted that to create a tree I condemn a seed to rot.
If the first act of resistance comes too late
it is doomed to defeat.
But it is, nevertheless, the awakening of resistance.
Life may grow from it as from a seed.”
.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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“Believe me, for I know,
you will find something far greater in the woods
than in books. Stones and trees will teach you
that which you cannot learn from the masters.”
.
Bernard of Clairvaux
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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Trees styled by members of the Richmond Bonsai Society
and displayed at The Great Big Greenhouse, Richmond Virginia 9.14-15.2019
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“And the forest perfume —
trees and earth —
it’s like incense in a shrine.
You fall into a state of… prayer.”
.
Keiichi Sigsawa
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Six on Saturday: Fragrant Foliage

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Have you ever bought a little ‘Citronella’ plant, sold to keep mosquitoes away from your deck and picnic table?  I’m not sure whether they work well or not.  How many mosquitoes might there be without one growing nearby?  But whatever their effectiveness with mosquitoes, I enjoy growing scented Pelargoniums for their many other benefits.

First, their textured leaves come in varied shapes and sizes, each exquisitely sculpted from the moment it begins to unfold until its eventual demise.  The variety of shapes is matched by the variety of scents these special geraniums offer.

Citrus scents come in orange, lemon and lime.  Then there are minty scents, rose perfumes, clove, apple, chocolate mint and more.  The leaves release their scent on hot summer days, and when you rub them between your fingers.

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Some leaves feel velvety, others are more roughly textured.  Some have dark maroon markings, others have lighter variegation, or even grow in shades of grey.

Dry them as they grow to use through winter.  Their strong essential oils hold a scent for years.  In a sachet or bowl of pot purri their scent recalls a summer day.

Most are edible, and may be used in teas or as garnishes.  Some people even add a few fresh, small leaves to salads.  Use scented geraniums as you might use many other herbs.

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I rarely get around to harvesting these delicious, scented leaves.  I grow them for their beauty, fragrance and their resilience.

I’ve not yet found any wild creature that will bother them.  Because deer, rabbits and insects leave them strictly alone, some gardeners plant scented Pelargoniums to shield and protect tastier garden plants.  The theory of confusing ‘the nose’ of grazing animals works some of the time.  I suppose it depends on the strength of the scented geranium’s fragrance, and how hungry a rabbit or deer may be for what is behind it.

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Most of these geraniums are hardy to Zone 8 or warmer.  I’m sometimes fortunate enough to have one return in spring from its roots, but that is a rare bonus.  They can be brought in as houseplants through winter, or they root easily from cuttings and may be overwintered as much smaller plants.  All have small, but showy flowers in shades of white, pink or red.

Scented Pelargoniums are consistently agreeable and easy to grow in full sun or bright indoor light.  They don’t easily wilt in summer sun and heat, and aren’t particularly thirsty.  I like to grow them where more tender plants might falter, and use them in full sun pots and hanging baskets, knowing they will survive through until fall.  As with most herbs, they don’t want much fertilizer.  Perhaps mine would bloom more if I fed them more often, but I grow them for their delightful foliage.

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Every spring I’m looking for the new year’s scented geraniums at every garden center and herb display I visit.  There is very little consistency in finding a given variety year to year, beyond the ubiquitous ‘Citronella’ that seems to be everywhere each spring.

It is a bit of a game, or perhaps an obsession, to find my favorites again each year.  One day perhaps I’ll perfect the art of keeping the plants going through the winter.

Until then, I’m delighted and surprised with whichever varieties appear, and I’m always tempted to try something new I’ve not grown before.  There are so many different scented Pelargoniums in cultivation, including antique varieties from the 18th Century and before, that every year’s collection can be different.

There is always a new one waiting to be grown and enjoyed.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“When nothing else subsists from the past,

after the people are dead,

after the things are broken and scattered…

the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time,

like souls…bearing resiliently,

on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,

the immense edifice of memory”
.

Marcel Proust

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This collection of Pelargoniums is grown among other herbs and vines. It is a deliciously scented tangle that grows better as summer progresses.

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

 

 

At Work or at Play? Hummingbird Moth

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“This is the real secret of life –
– to be completely engaged
with what you are doing in the here and now.
And instead of calling it work,
realize it is play.”
.
Alan Watts

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“The best way to not feel hopeless
is to get up and do something.
Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.
If you go out and make some good things happen,
you will fill the world with hope,
you will fill yourself with hope.”
.
Barack Obama

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“Without ambition one starts nothing.
Without work one finishes nothing.
The prize will not be sent to you.
You have to win it.”
.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Your purpose in life
is to find your purpose
and give your whole heart and soul to it”
.
Buddha

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Pleasure in the job
puts perfection in the work.”
.
Aristotle

Photos are of a hummingbird moth, Hemaris thysbe, feeding on Lantana camara ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden September 2, 2019.

Six on Saturday: Silver Highlights

Japanese painted fern A. ‘Metallicum’ grows with silvery Rex Begonias.

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Silvery leaves bring a cool sparkle and shine to summer pots, baskets and borders.  Gazing at them makes me feel a little cooler and more relaxed on sultry summer days.

Whether you prefer silver highlights, or shimmery silvery leaves, there are many interesting plants from which to choose which perform well in our climate.

Some silver leaved plants are herbs, with fragrant foliage rich in essential oils.  Grow Artemesia to repel pests, curry and sage for cooking, lavender for its delicious scent.  Some cultivars of thyme also have silvery leaves.

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Siberian Iris bloom here with Artemesia and Comphrey, both perennial herbs.

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Silver and grey leaved plants have an advantage because many of them prove extremely drought tolerant and most are perennials.  Perovskia atriplicifolia, Russian sage, isn’t a Salvia, but is a closely related member of the mint family.  An Asian native, it blooms in late summer and fall with light blue flowers.

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Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ grows as both a ground cover and a beautiful ‘spiller’ in pots and baskets.  Drought tolerant, it grows in full to part sun.

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Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ may be grown as a ground cover or as an elegant vine draping a pot or hanging basket.  Winter hardy only to Zone 10 and south, we grow it as an annual here in Virginia.  It continues growing, like a living beaded curtain, until killed off by frost.

When I first saw it growing from hanging baskets in Gloucester Courthouse, some years ago, my first impression was of Spanish moss.  A closer inspection revealed a well grown planting of Dichondra.

Dichondra proves drought tolerant and I’ve never seen any difficulties with insect nibbling or disease.  Buy a nursery pot in spring, and then divide the clump to spread it around.  Dichondra also roots easily at each leaf node.

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Another perennial usually grown as an annual in our area, dusty miller, Senecio cineraria, works wonderfully as a ‘filler’ in potted arrangements.  It sometimes returns after a mild winter, but with much less vigor.  Several different cultivars of different sizes and leaf shapes fill our garden centers each spring.  Another drought tolerant plant, depend on dusty miller to make it through an entire season without any damage from deer, rabbits, or hungry insects.  Drought tolerant, many cultivars have textured leaves.

Similar in appearance, but hardy in Zones 4-8, Stachys byzantina, lamb’s ears, is another elegant perennial for bedding.  The fuzzy, textured leaves makes this Middle Eastern native perfect for children’s or sensory gardens.  Stachys shimmers in the moonlight and looks coolly elegant in full sun.  Drought tolerant, it sometimes collapses in a mushy mess when the weather grows too wet and humid.  I am beginning to wonder if our summers have grown too hot for it to thrive here.  It does return from its roots, eventually, if the plant dies back in summer

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantium is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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There are several attractive silvery cultivars of Japanese painted ferns, including A. ‘Ghost’ and A. ‘ Metallicum.’  I like these in pots and borders.  Deciduous, they die back in autumn but return stronger and larger each spring.

And finally, many varieties of Begonias have silver leaves, or silver markings on their leaves.   Find silver spotted leaves on many cane Begonias and shiny silver leaves on some Rex Begonias.  The variations seem endless.  I use these primarily in pots or baskets, where they can be enjoyed up close.

I particularly enjoy silver foliage mixed with white, blue or purple flowers.  Others may prefer silver foliage with pink flowers.  Mix in a few white leaved Caladiums as a dependable combo for a moon garden or to perk one up on a hot and humid summer day.

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Silver foliage is drought tolerant and is often fragrant with essential oils. In the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ and Artemesia ‘Silver Mound’ grow with lavender, Salvias and Iris.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

 

 

 

 

In a Pot: ‘Companion Plants’

Begonia boliviensis from a rooted cutting

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Tiny plants in tiny pots, expressing a particular season, sometimes displayed alongside a potted tree, are called ‘companion plants’ or ‘accent plants.’

I particularly enjoy growing these little treasures.  They allow us to appreciate a plant, in all of its intricate detail, as a work of art.

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First, these precious little pots fit easily on a windowsill, side table or plant stand.  They can be grown year-round indoors, or moved out into a protected space during warm weather.

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Maidenhair fern with Pilea glauca, creeping blue Pilea. A division of the Pilea grows alone in the previous photo.

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But more importantly to me, these little pots allow me to ‘grow on’ very small plants, or rooted cuttings.  Once they begin to outgrow the little companion pot, they can be re-potted or planted out; used in a larger display, or grown on as a specimen in a larger pot.  This is especially helpful during the winter and early spring when small plants may be grown on for use outdoors in summer.

I buy many of my Asian ceramic companion pots and 1″-2″ companion plants at The Great Big Greenhouse in south Richmond.  They keep a tremendous selection of pots of all sizes, and offer a large display of Asian pots for Bonsai and companion plants year-round.  The pots in these photos were found at The GBGH.

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Coleus with Dichondra, Cuban Oregano, Tradescantia pallida and Lantana.

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Small companion pots are equally good for starting cuttings to grow on into larger plants.  I had a pot where the fern died back in early spring.  I put it outside in a protected spot to see if it might re-grow from the roots; without success.  So I am going to recycle the pot and soil to root some Coleus.

Coleus (now Plectranthus) are members of the Lamiaceae family, most of which root very easily from stem cuttings.

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Take a cutting by cutting or pinching off a stem at a node, where new leaves may be beginning to grow.  Four nodes are visible in this photo.  While many gardeners pinch out Coleus flowers, I let them flower because pollinators love them.

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Prepare the cutting by removing the lowest set of leaves and pinching out the flowers at the top of the stem.  It is usually better to use a stem that hasn’t flowered, as they will often root more easily. Rooting hormone isn’t really necessary with Coleus cuttings.  Feel free to use it if you have it, as it may speed up the process a bit.

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The same stem is now ready for ‘sticking’ into the soil.  Roots will form along the lower stem wherever it is in contact with moist soil, or even plain water.

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I took three cuttings today so the pot looks full right away.  After sticking the cuttings, water lightly, and set the pot into a protected spot…. or not.  I sometimes just stick a cutting where I want the new plant to grow, and hope for the best.

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I struck this cutting several weeks ago and it is now growing on in a pot on my front porch. It gets full sun for several hours a day. If the soil is kept hydrated, the Coleus should root in less than ideal conditions….

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The parent Coleus plant is growing very well this summer. Taking cuttings helps keep the plant bushy, and there is always a spot to fill with a cutting, isn’t there?

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Arrangements in companion pots are temporary plantings.   All things change, right?  Especially in gardening, we expect things to come and go.

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Three cuttings, struck into moist soil, will root withing a week or so. This arrangement can ‘grow on’ through autumn. Cutting back the tops as it grows will extend the life of the planting.  Or, the rooted cuttings can be re-potted into larger containers and kept as houseplants through the winter.  Coleus is a tender perennial.

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An aspect of the beauty of companion plants is their transience.  Favorite subjects in Asia might be ferns, grasses, wildflowers, flowering bulbs and vines.  Some may only be at their peak for a week or two.

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This little Ficus tree has a ‘companion’ in the same pot. A little footed fern grows long rhizomes which ‘visit’ other pots nearby on the windowsill.

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Some of the pots are as tiny as egg cups, and so can only hold a very small root mass.  Many have no drainage holes, and so I begin with a layer of fine gravel in the bottom of the pot.

I use gravel mulch, but a moss mulch is more common, and very lovely.  The moss really needs to live outside to stay plush, however.

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Companion plants in little pots are an affordable luxury for those of us who love to work with plants.

Even without an outside garden space, a little garden may be cultivated in a pot and enjoyed on a windowsill at any time of the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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