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.”
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Mortimer J. Adler

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

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Pleasure in the job
puts perfection in the work.”
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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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A Touch of Gold

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Rudbeckia fills our garden in late August, blooming in a rich tapestry of gold.

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This native Rudbeckia hirta, which first seeded itself here more than five years ago, attracts golden bees, butterflies and goldfinches to its tasty nectar and abundant seeds.

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Rosettes of Rudbeckia leaves emerge in mid-March all across the garden.  They sprout wherever a seed has fallen or an underground root has spread.

There are always plenty to dig and share, especially those that emerge in the pathways.  The plants remain in the background througout spring and early summer, biding their time as they bulk up in the warming sun.

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How much is too much?” I sometimes wonder…

Native plants are enthusiastic growers, determined to survive.  They take every available advantage to thrive.  In full sun and over tree roots, clumps sometimes get wilty when days grow hot and rain is scarce.  I sometimes revive them with a drink from the hose.

But those that are well established, in deep soil and partial shade, care for themselves.  All we do is clear the paths and set the boundaries….

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Their opening comes slowly; not all at once.  Accustomed to sharing their space, they mix well with others.

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Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant

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Native obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, creeps and spreads in the same way.  It has spread even faster and more aggressively than the Rudbeckia. 

This spring, I took the string trimmer to many areas where these two grow among a growing spread of goldenrod, Solidago.  I decided last year that those huge, waving plumes of gold were a bit over the top for our little woodland garden, and I’ve been cutting back the goldenrod to give other perennials a better chance.

The Rudbeckia and Physotegia took that trimming in their stride and came back bushier and stronger than ever.

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Now native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is also growing in the mix, offering a subtle touch of periwinkle contrast.  I didn’t plan and intentionally plant this mix of native perennials to create a ‘meadow style’ planting.  I only recognize what nature is doing, and guide it a bit.

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And our rich reward is a touch of gold gilding these late summer days, delighting us as we await the rich color and welcome coolness of autumn.

Our garden remains dynamic, changing from year to year.  Some plants persist and expand while others decline.

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We plant a few new things each season and other turn up on their own.

Each new year’s unfolding remains a grand surprise, guided by nature and the seasons; a golden opportunity to learn and grow as a gardener.

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Another native Rudbeckia, cutleaf coneflower, also fills our late summer garden with pure gold.  With a much larger habit and larger flowers, it is equally attractive to many pollinators and birds.

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Woodland Gnome 2010

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.

I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
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Roman Payne

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Late Summer Nectar

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden feasts on annual Cleome, which flowers exuberantly for several months each summer in full sun and reseeds itself each year.

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I had an interesting chat with a local beekeeper on Saturday morning.  We were both at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  He was there as a part of the annual August Butterfly Count, and I was there wishing I was joining them.  I had my to-do list and a schedule to keep, but we spent a few minutes discussing some of the most generous and reliable nectar plants growing in that part of the garden.

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A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Verbena bonariensis in the Iris border of the WBG.  This South American native Verbena is a pollinator magnet, feeding many species from late spring until frost.  It is hardy in our area and also reseeds.

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I am absolutely delighted to learn that the team counted 25 different species of butterflies on Saturday morning in and around the Botanical garden.

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Pollinators find plentiful nectar in annual Zinnias, even after the petals fall.  Zinnas withstand full sun, heat and drought, lasting until frost.

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Whether you have bee hives to feed or simply want to support the wild pollinators in your area, planting late summer nectar plants in your pots and borders proves a win-win for you as the gardener and for the hungry creatures in search of a reliable buffet.

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This sunny spot in our Forest Garden supports many species of pollinators and birds.  Black-eyed Susans are just opening beneath this mixed planting of fennel, Verbena bonariensis and butterfly bush.

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Some beekeepers rent out their hives, moving them from place to place to take advantage of seasonal bloom.  The hives might be in an apple orchard for a few weeks, then in a peach orchard or near an agricultural field.  The bees follow the path of seasonal flowers.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.  This native herb has been developed into many colorful cultivars and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators.  Agastache is one of my top picks for a long season of bloom and high quality nectar.

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A beekeeper who wants to keep their hives at home must plan for that succession of bloom nearby so the bees are fed on local nectar year round.  That includes late summer, fall and winter when flowers grow more scarce.

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Many pollinators feast on the rich nectar of Buddleia, butterfly bush.  Newer hybrids are smaller than the species and many are sterile.  I started this one by sticking a pruned branch into the soil a few springs ago.  They are very easy to root from stem cuttings.  Butterfly bush is drought tolerant, grows in full or partial sun and blooms non-stop until late autumn.

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We are always delighted to watch butterflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths and many sorts of bees and wasps feasting in our garden.  We get just as much pleasure from watching a cloud of goldfinches rise up from the upper perennial beds as we draw near, or listening to the songbirds calling to one another as they glide from shrub to tree.  I saw a cardinal balancing on the swaying stem of a tall Verbena bonariensis on Friday, clearly finding something there tasty to eat.

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Goldfinches and other birds find as much joy here as the pollinators. After the nectar lovers enjoy the flowers, birds follow along to enjoy the seeds, especially Rudbeckia seeds.

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Selecting plants that will bloom reliably through the heat and dry spells of July and August rewards the gardener with ongoing color and garden interest.  Choosing nectar rich plants that prove both colorful and highly attractive to wildlife keeps the garden alive with flight and song.

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Tubular flowers, like these from Hosta ‘Fire Island’ please hummingbirds.  The Coleus, growing in the background, produces spikes of flowers loved by pollinators and hummingbirds, too,

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A diversity of plant species attracts a diversity of animal species.   By growing a diverse combination of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous annual and perennial flowering plants, including herbs, it is possible to provide nectar rich plants throughout the year.  A reliable food source is key to attracting wildlife and encouraging them to raise their young in the garden.

Cultivating such a wide variety of plants is as much about ‘selecting’ as it is about ‘allowing.’  Many of the plant species growing in our garden were planted by a previous owner, or simply appeared; wild sown, and we chose to allow them to grow.  A few were gifts from gardening friends.  There are many sources for plant material at little or no cost.

When a plant doesn’t perform well or fit into the overall garden scheme, it should be removed to make room for something better.

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Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, grows into a large shrub or small tree. Planted near windows, they invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to feed near the house, where you can observe them in comfort.  These bloom continuously from mid-spring until late fall, and produce tasty seeds to tempt birds through the winter.

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It may take a few years of close observation to develop a useful list of late summer nectar plants appropriate for your own climate.  What blooms happily in one area may prematurely shrivel and fry in another.

Or, there may not be enough hot sunny days to bring a particular plant to its full potential.

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Canna flowers thrill both humans and nectar lovers. They bloom reliably over a long season.  These heat lovers grow in full to partial sun, but like moist soil.  Many insects, including larvae of some moths, attack their leaves.  They may be a bit too messy for some gardeners to enjoy them.

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As our summers heat up, and precipitation patterns grow more erratic, we discover that popular plants may not do as well here as they once did.  A drive around town shows many commercially landscaped spaces looking derelict in mid-August.

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Lantana is one of my top picks for attracting pollinators. It blooms continuously from mid-spring until frost in full sun. It keeps pumping out flowers even during dry spells. Lantana develops woody stems and deep roots. Some varieties prove hardy and return bigger and better each year here in Zone 7.  It is native in warmer areas of the Southeastern United States, but is also considered invasive along the Gulf Coast.

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Our pollinators’ lives depend on a steady supply of nectar rich flowers.  Their lives depend on it, and future generations of them depend on habitat, host plants, and a steady food supply.  If you want to have a more active role in supporting the butterflies observed frequenting your area, spend some time poking around https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org

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This established stand of Lantana in our front garden breaks my resolve to control it every year. There used to be roses and Iris here, and I planted out lots of annuals this spring. Once things heat up, the Lantana and morning glory vines just get ahead of me, but the butterflies flock here on hot afternoons.

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From the main page, click on ‘Regional Species Checklists.’ In the box on the left of the screen, click under region.  Choose your country, and then as menus appear keep choosing your own state, local, etc. until you land on the list of butterflies observed in your own area. 

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As you then click on any species name, you’ll learn about host plants required for its larvae to mature and nectar plants that feed the adults.  By providing nectar plants, you invite the adults.  Also providing host plants, allows you to support that species as it lays eggs in your garden for its next generation.  

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Fennel, an edible herb, serves as a host plant for swallowtails and its flowers attract many different types of pollinators. Parsley, a biennial, is another swallowtail host plant that produces similar flowers in its second year. Both produce seeds for the birds.

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Some gardeners prefer a professional, groomed appearance to their yards.  There is mulched space between carefully trimmed individual plants.  The plan is serene and green, with large blocks of a single plant species and few flowers.  That style might invite compliments from neighbors, but doesn’t necessarily invite wildlife or nurture species diversity.

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There are hundreds of different types of Salvia available.  Some are hardy in our area, some need warmer winters. All delight pollinators and hummingbirds while blooming in difficult conditions over many months.

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Butterflies, bees, wasps, and birds need a richer landscape that provides for their basic needs of shelter, water, secure movement and diverse food sources.  They’ll also seek out the native plants that sustain them and their young.

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Cutleaf coneflower, native Rudbeckia laciniata, draws in many different pollinators. Each plant grows to 6′ or more tall and wide, producing many flowers over a long season. it is just getting started in our garden, but will bloom from now until frost. Bees and wasps love it.

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The mulch in a wildlife friendly garden quickly disappears as plants grow together, coming and going as the season progresses.  There is a rich diversity of species with native trees, shrubs and perennials mixed in among the gardener’s choice of non-native plant species.

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Crape myrtle isn’t a native plant in Virginia, but it naturalizes here and is widely grown in our coastal region. It feeds pollinators and birds while brightening up the summer garden. Keep in mind that many butterflies use native trees as host plants. Allowing native hardwood trees to colonize is a way to support our butterfly and moth populations.  Many other insects shelter in hardwood trees.

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The list of late summer nectar plants offered here isn’t exhaustive.  But it is a good core list that offers choice and variety for gardeners in our region.  I hope you will perhaps find an idea here of something you’d like to try as you grow the buffet for pollinators in your area.

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Native mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, blooms over a long season in late summer and fall.  This easy native perennials spreads itself around and requires very little from the gardener.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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When allowed to bloom, Coleus provides abundant nectar and attracts many pollinators.

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Basil attracts many pollinators when allowed to bloom.  Goldfinches love its seeds.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of many pollinators attracted to native purple Coneflowers.  All of the Echinacea cultivars bloom over a long period during the hottest, driest part of summer.

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A bumblebee enjoys native Monarda fistulosa.  There are many types of Monarda available that perennialize here, blooming over many weeks. 

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Tiger Swallowtail on Monarda.

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Native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa is one of many Asclepias species that perform well in our climate.  Monarch butterflies use Asclepias as their only host plant.

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Monarch feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.

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Asclepias incarnata, milkweed.

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Clerodendrum trichotomum, Harlequin gloryblower, is a small tree which attracts many pollinators to its nectar rich flowers.  It gets its common name from the electric colors of its blue seeds a few weeks later. (below)

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed.  This tough, native perennial feeds many sorts of bees and wasps alongside the butterflies.  The species grows quite tall, but there are shorter cultivars available.

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Alliums, like these garlic chives, are wonderful nectar plants. These edible herbs perennialize in our garden. You may also enjoy the flowers or the leaves in salads and other summer dishes.

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Most herbs, and certainly all of the types of mints, reliably feed pollinators. This Nepeta, cat mint,  blooms continually from mid-spring until frost.  If the flowers slow down, simply cut it back and let it regrow.

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‘Black and Blue’ Salvia is a special favorite of hummingbirds.

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are both native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and seeds they drop. 

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Pot Shots: Caladiums and Lady Fern ‘Queen of Green’

Caladium ‘Starburst,’ with white veins, and Caladium ‘White Delight’ share this pot with a hybrid lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae.’  Both of these new hybrid Caladium varieties can take full sun.  The fern can take partial sun.  This is a shady spot for most of the day; bright shade, and I expect them all to be very happy here until at least the end of October.

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I have been looking for a good pot for an  A. ‘Victoriae’ lady fern and some Caladiums, still waiting for their permanent spot.

I was delighted to find this green pot, that had room for both a fern and several Caladiums, at The Great Big Greenhouse this weekend.  The Great Big Greenhouse is my favorite source for beautiful and interesting pots of all shapes and sizes.

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I started several hundred Caladiums this spring and still have some in nursery pots.  I ordered several new varieties, and also had great success saving Caladiums that grew last summer.

Part of the fun of trying new Caladium hybrids is to observe as each develops its full colors and patterns.  Each leaf is unique, but the leaves change as they emerge and grow, their colors becoming more intense with age.  I have grown C. ‘White Delight’ for the last few summers, appreciating its tough, beautiful leaves that last well into the fall.  I am trying C. ‘Starburst’ for the first time this year.

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Caladium ‘Starburst,’ a Caladium for full sun that was developed by Dr. Robert Hartman at Classic Caladiums.

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In addition to the pot, the GBGH also had a lovely Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’, also called ‘Queen of Green’ lady fern, which has divided tips on each frond.  I have been holding another A. ‘Victoriae’ in its original nursery pot since last fall, waiting for the right pot to transplant it out of its nursery pot into something more permanent.

I was very glad that I had picked up the additional ‘Queen of Green’ fern on Saturday, which fits this more shallow pot;  because the other’s roots were deeper than this little green pot allowed.

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This unusual lady fern is sometimes hard to find.  I first noticed it on Tony Avent’s Plant Delights site several years ago, ordered one, and lost it within its first year.  I am always happy to buy larger plants of interesting cultivars, locally.

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The larger A. ‘Victoriae,’ that I kept in a nursery pot over winter, ended up going into a pot where a Helleborus had been growing.

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I ended up switching the larger lady fern out with a Helleborus that can spend the rest of the summer in a plain plastic pot, while it rests and gets ready to bloom next winter. 

The lady ferns, hardy to Zone 4, can stay in their ceramic pots through the winter.  They are deciduous, and so will go dormant as winter approaches.  The Caladiums will need to go dormant too.  Hardy only to Zone 10, the Caladiums will spend the winter inside.

I can fill out their spaces in the pots with spring bulbs, pansies, Italian Arum, hardy Cyclamen, or even ivy.  These will be ‘four season pots’ with the lady ferns as anchor plants that remain in place year round.

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C. ‘White Delight’

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Even at the end of July, I am still planting out new arrangements and switching out plants in older ones.  We still have a good three months of good growing weather here in Williamsburg.

Spring planted pots may be looking a little tired by now.  After the intense heat earlier this month, most pots and baskets need a boost to see them through until fall.

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The displaced Hellebore will have a chance to recover for the next few months in deep shade. They really don’t like our summer heat…

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If your pots are looking a bit tired and shabby, please don’t give up in the face of August.  Sometimes a good pruning, a foliar feed of fish emulsion, and attention to hydration is all a potted plant needs to bounce back.

Other times, you know its time has come and gone.  Just dig it out and replace it with something fresh and interesting.  This is the time to find some excellent deals at your local garden center.

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Late July and early August are still great times to plant.  Just keep an eye on those pots during our remaining hot summer days, site them carefully, and enjoy the many pleasures these plant treasures will give.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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This is one of our Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on a Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  Enjoy the Butterfly Festival at the Garden this coming Saturday and Sunday, 9-4.

 

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