Sunday Dinner: Grace

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“Grace is a power that comes in and transforms
a moment into something better”
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Caroline Myss
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“…whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
And peace will be with you.”
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Barbara Kingsolve
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“Grace is the celebration of life,
relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.
It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way
through the streets of the universe,
flinging the sweetness of its cessations to every window,
pounding at every door in a hilarity
beyond all liking and happening,
until the prodigals come out at last and dance,
and the elder brothers
finally take their fingers out of their ears.”
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Robert Farrar Capon
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“How we fall into grace.
You can’t work or earn your way into it.
You just fall. It lies below, it lies beyond.
It comes to you,
unbidden.”
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Rick Bass
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Leaf III: Decoration

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Unusual leaves bring great energy and interest to our garden.  Caladiums, like this C. ‘Gingerland’ offer a long lasting, bold accent in sun to partial shade.  Each leaf is unique, painted in clear bright color across its graceful, undulating form.

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A pot filled with Caladiums can be stunning.  But mix Caladiums with ferns, vines or annuals for uniquely interesting arrangements.  ‘Gingerland’ was our first Caladium in leaf this year from the new batch ordered in April.

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Caladiums also mix well with other Aroids, like Alocasia ‘Stingray.’  Their cultural needs are similar.  These C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ overwintered together with the Alocasia in their pot in our garage.  Heavy feeders, the more generous you can be with water and fertilizer, the larger and more lush they will grow.

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Newer Caladium varieties can take more sun than you might imagine.  I had this pot of C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. ‘Desert Sunset’ in partial sun until our recent spell of hot, dry weather.  It is photographed here in deep shade, a temporary resting spot until the weather moderates.

We enjoy the beacon like effect of these luminous white leaves shining from a shady spot in the garden.

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Alocasia ‘Frydek’

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Alocasia have just appeared on the market in recent years.  This unusual tropical plant also grows from a tuber.  One of the first commonly available was Alocasia micholitziana.  A widely marketed cultivar is known as A. ‘Frydek’ or ‘African Mask’ or Alocasia Polly.

These ‘elephant ears’  are often sold as house plants, and do well in normal indoor conditions year round.  Sometimes they will go dormant and appear to die back.  Just be patient and keep the soil a little moist.  You will usually be rewarded with new leaves in a few weeks.

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Alocasia are long-lived plants, which grow larger each season.  They enjoy a partially sunny spot in our summer garden.  Their deep green, substantial leaves last for months at a time.   Bring them indoors in winter, if only to a garage or basement, and you will be rewarded with additional years of beauty.

There are many new types of Alocasia on the market these days.  In addition to A. ‘Frydek’ and A. ‘Stingray,’ we also grow A. ‘Plumbea’ and A. ‘Sarian.’  

I recognized some plants at our local Trader Joe’s as unnamed Alocasia back in February, and bought two.  We kept them going in the dining room until it warmed enough to move them outdoors this spring.  they have put out prodigious growth and their leaves are now about 18″ long, each.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Another genus with unusual and beautiful leaves, Begonia, also thrives in our summer garden.  Tropical, most varieties of Begonia enjoy heat and humidity.  Although they often pump out delicate flowers all summer long, we growth them mostly for their outrageous leaves.

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Cane Begonia

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Although not as large as Caladium or Alocasia leaves, some Begonia varieties have large, extravagantly marked and highly textured leaves.  B. ‘Gryphon’ appeared in local shops perhaps six years ago.  It will grow quite large by the end of summer, and the plants keep well from year to year.

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A newly unfolding leaf on B. Gryphon.  The red fades to a more even green as each leaf matures, though the stems remain red.

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B. ‘Gryphon’ can be propagated from stem or leaf petiole cuttings.  Simply stick a section of the trunk into a pot of moist soil, and wait.  I generally use a little rooting hormone on the cut end of the stem.  The stem will root in moist soil, with new growth appearing in just a few weeks in summer.  I overwintered a stem cutting in our garage last winter, and new growth appeared a few weeks after we put it outside this spring.

B. ‘Gryphon’ is grown for its beautiful leaves and tropical form.  It will eventually produce some small flowers in its second or third year.

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Begonia Rex come in hundreds of varieties.  Their leaves are beautifully patterned.  I’m seeing these offered at big box stores in spring along with annuals and other shade perennials.  Although perennial, they are tender and won’t survive freezing temperatures outdoors.  I normally grow these in pots to keep from year to year.

They grow from rhizomes, and may appear to ‘die’ at times.  Often, the plant has gone dormant due to stress, and will begin to produce leaves again if given minimal care and warmth.

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Begonias can be heavy feeders.  They like their soil to dry out a little before you water again, and thrive in bright shade.  They enjoy the humidity when placed under trees in our summer garden.

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Begonia

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Unusual and colorful leaves keep a garden fresh and fun.  Ours have the garden looking Fabulous this Friday!

Whether you have one wonderful pot of Caladiums, or a garden filled with striking foliage, you will soon be hooked.

When you realize how easy and resilient these plants can be for you to grow, and how long-lived and tough these tropical beauties become;  you may soon will find yourself collecting them, too.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Unusual

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, Let’s infect one another!

 

Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More Of That

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What grows well in your garden?  Well, grow more of that.

There are hundreds of thousands of different plants available for the inspired gardener to seek out and grow.  You can choose everything from lilies to Aloe, boxwood to basil, Magnolia to daffodils.  There are uncounted genus and species and cultivars of every imaginable plant, in abundance.  How to choose?

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Tri-color sage, a culinary herb, can take heat and dry soil.

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I enjoy experimenting with plants.  I bring home many flats of this and that, some planned purchases and some adopted on a whim.  And yet as I walk around, hose in hand, during this July heatwave in coastal Virginia; I’m brought up short by which plants in our garden struggle and which thrive.

Let it be said that my beloved roses struggle at the moment.

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Through the vagaries of climate change, they never had a good start this year; and I’ve been too busy with other matters to give them the attention they require.

In fact, my instinct this morning was to rip out of most of the pathetic little shrubs and be done with them.  Perhaps heavy pruning and heavy rain could bring them back to beauty.

I might whistle a different tune by October.  But in this moment, they aren’t earning their garden space.

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Trailing purple Lantana fills several of our hanging baskets this year. It can take heat and drought and still give consistent color.

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Even the geraniums look rather ratty this week.  In fact, as I look around and survey recent purchases, it is clear that some have clearly not lived up to their potential here.

Most of our perennial geraniums were heavily grazed by our resident rabbits.  They’re supposed to be fool-proof, aren’t they?  The annual geraniums struggle in their pots against the unrelenting summer sun and oppressive heat.

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Last year’s potted Hydrangeas, nipped by late frosts, never took off in early summer.  Add a few grazing deer and…. well, you can imagine the nubs without a photo, can’t you?

But on the other hand, the Caladiums, Cannas and Colocasias look great.  The Basil is taking off, and our sage, Thyme, Santolina, Germander, mint and Rosemary still look fresh and strong.  The Crepe Myrtle trees are beginning to bloom and our garden remains filled with bright Hibiscus blossoms.

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Echinacea can hold its own in July, attracts wildlife, and holds its color for several weeks.  It grows easily from seed, and may self-sow.

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It came clear to me earlier today, as I was watering our new shade bed, that while the ferns looked fresh and healthy, most of our newest Rhododendrons, right beside them, look terrible.

I’ll be very surprised if any of them survive.  I was calculating the dollars I spent on them and remembering my great confidence in their coming years of beauty….

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The first Rhododendron we planted this spring to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. It doesn’t look this perky anymore….

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Let’s acknowledge, first of all, that we are in the midst of rapid climate change.  What ‘always worked’ before has become irrelevant in this year’s garden.  Every month is a record breaker as our climate warms.  Neighboring communities flood while our garden bakes and the soil hardens.

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Mahonia is one tough shrub. It looks great year round, blooms in winter, produces berries for wildlife, and require very little from its gardener.

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Weather aside, we all still face our own particular challenges based on our soil and where our garden is situated.  We deal with a virtual zoo of insects, rodents, and other creatures who dine in our garden.  Like generations of gardeners before us, we can either adapt or stop trying to garden.

I vote, ‘adapt.’ 

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Ajuga and creeping Jenny make a dependable ground cover throughout the year.

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Adapting means adjusting to what is rather than working harder to create some fantasy of what used to be so.  For us, that means finding better ways to care for our plants.  And it also means growing more of the tough plants that thrive in the conditions we can provide.

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This native perennial ageratum spreads itself around the garden. I used to ‘weed it out’ in spring, but have grown to appreciate its tough beauty.

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Mid-July is a good time to take a hard, honest look at one’s own garden.  What looks good?  What has already died this season?  Which plants are barely hanging on?

Whatever is doing well, then plant more of that!

We have a few self-seeding perennials we have learned to enjoy.  Black eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, is a beautiful native perennial that conquers more of our garden real estate each season.  I allow them, while also digging up lots of spring seedlings to share with neighbors.

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This is our largest patch of black eyed Susans, bordered with a few Zantedeschia and other perennials..

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Another self-seeding native perennial, Conoclinium coelestinum, is a hardy Ageratum or mist flower.  While I used to buy flats of annual Ageratum in years passed, now I just allow the native form to grow undisturbed. Echinacea and Monarda return and spread each summer.

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I also allow our hardy Colocasia, Hibiscus and Canna to spread a little more each year; and invest part of our spring gardening budget in hardy ferns instead of flats of tender annuals which won’t make it through the hottest part of summer.

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Begonias hold up well in heat and humidity, so long as they have shade from the mid-day sun and consistently moist soil.

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Gone are my hanging baskets once filled with Petunias and ivy geraniums.  Instead, I planted some trailing Lantana, ivy and scented Pelargoniums that can take intense heat and dry soil.  Because Begonias hold up to our heat and humidity, if sheltered in some shade, I keep rooting cuttings and planting more of those, too.

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This ‘volunteer’ Crepe Myrtle tree is taking its place in the border. After several years of TLC, it has grown to about 10′ tall and is covered in blooms this July.

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Planting more of what has proven successful, instead of planting once loved plants which no longer thrive, gives us a fuller and more vibrant garden.  The butterflies and hummingbirds still visit.  Goldfinches appear once the Basil begins to go to seed, and hang around for the autumn ripening Rudbeckia and Hibiscus  seeds.

And, for the budget conscious, propagating more of those plants which grow well sure beats sowing or buying a lot of new plants each year, which might fail!

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Rose of Sharon, tree Hibiscus, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Dozens of seedlings pop up in unexpected spots in the garden each spring.

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Each passing season in this garden teaches me to ‘allow’ more and plant less.  Native and naturalized plants are winning out over showy annuals or the latest new perennial.

I’ve come to see that the garden hones the gardener, just as much as the gardener shapes the garden.  Struggle melts into harmony, and work becomes play.

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Phytolacca americana, common poke weed, fills a corner of our garden with spectacular berries during these ‘Dog Days’ of summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

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

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Shade Haven

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

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

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

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

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Living With Reality

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The Real World we each live in daily, sometimes feels like a living tutorial in ‘Chaos Theory.’  As much as we might admire integrity, neatness, organization and beauty; it proves elusive.

It takes enormous vigilance to maintain, especially without staff.  It requires action and attention to pick up every discarded newspaper, wash every empty cup, dead head every spent blossom, discard every outdated idea, and eliminate every errant weed.

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Have you ever watched a cooking show, and wondered how the host’s kitchen remains so spotless?  Have you ever watched a gardening show, and wondered how every path and plant remains so pristine?

I grew up watching movies and sit-coms , wondering why our home wasn’t as neat and elegant as the ones inhabited by TV families.  Was something wrong with us?

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We still consume the day’s media messages, peering through electronic windows into some else’s seemingly perfect world, wondering why we can’t live that way, too.

Or, maybe we watch the day’s news, and know that things aren’t unfolding in the world as they should.  We feel a visceral disconnect between how we know things should be, and how they currently are. 

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The hard truth remains that we all live in the midst of some measure of chaos and disorder.  We live surrounded by that which we can’t control, which constantly surprises us and throws new challenges our way.   And there is an art in knowing how to stage things for the photograph.

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“Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable.
It teaches us to expect the unexpected.”  
The Fractal Foundation

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We somehow figure out how to take control of those things that we reasonably can.  We plan ahead. We do our due diligence. We have high expectations for ourselves.  But despite our best efforts, perfection remains elusive.

And that is where we somehow learn to shift our focus.  None of us lives in a photograph or a bit of video.  We don’t have producers, set designers and make-up artists on hand to stage some imagined image of how things should be.  We can’t freeze time to capture that fleeting perfect moment.

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… unless we also happen to be photographers….

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Rather, we live in a dynamic and chaotic system.  Our lives play out and our gardens grow in the midst of many competing forces that we simply can’t control.

We eventually learn to expect the unexpected and flow with the living dynamic of our moment.

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But we each still hold great power.  When we add our energy to any system, we change it, for better or for worse.  Our personal influence and expectation might prove the tipping point of change.

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The choices we make in every moment, shape our future.  A small decision can forever change our lives, in ways we don’t even anticipate.

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“Chaos is not simply disorder.
Chaos explores the transitions between order and disorder,
which often occur in surprising ways.”
The Fractal Foundation

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Reality will always challenge our own ideas of how things should be.

The question remains, have we the courage to explore and understand the reality of what is? And once we begin to understand, to work within the flow?

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Can we find a way to ride the waves of our lives so that we live with joy, find the beauty in everything, and abide in love?

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Recognizing the chaotic, fractal nature of our world
can give us new insight, power, and wisdom.
The Fractal Foundation

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Sunday Dinner: Small Worlds

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“The world is awash with colours unseen

and abuzz with unheard frequencies.

Undetected and disregarded.

The wise have always known that these inaccessible realms,

these dimensions that cannot be breached

by our beautifully blunt senses,

hold the very codes to our existence,

the invisible, electromagnetic foundations

upon which our gross reality clumsily rests.”

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Russell Brand

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“Infinity is before and after an infinite plane.”

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RJ Clawso

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“It is frightfully difficult

to know much about the fairies,

and almost the only thing for certain

is that there are fairies

wherever there are children.”

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J.M. Barrie

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“It didn’t seem possible to gain so much happiness

from so little.”

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Peter Lerangis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do the little things.

In the future when you look back,

they’d have made the greatest change.”

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Nike Thaddeus

 

A Garden Mystery: The Case of the Vanished Helleborus

Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever' blooming a week ago.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’  opening its first blooms a week ago, on February 9.

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Pretty, wasn’t it?  Now it’s vanished…. poof!

This beautiful Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’ grew in a very large pot in our front garden, surrounded with Violas, Ajuga, and some Creeping Jenny.  I planted it there in late autumn to keep the pot interesting through the winter months.  There is a dormant fern, and a few spring bulbs tucked in around its roots.

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december-25-2016-christmas-foggy-morning-033~

I’ve been photographing the Hellebore’s progress every week or so as its beautiful new leaves and flowers emerged.  Its first flowers opened last week.  It is the sort of interesting plant that I like to visit whenever I’m out in the garden, just to see its progress.

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January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017

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That said, a friend and I were touring the front garden on Sunday afternoon, and we wandered over to the pot so she could see this unusual Helleborus up close.  She is just getting started gardening at her new home in our community, and  had come over to receive a gift of Hellebore seedlings to begin her own collection.  I wanted to show her the beauty of this special cultivar with its pale new foliage and creamy flowers.

And what I saw in the pot didn’t register at first.  There were the Violas, the vines, the Ajuga and….  nothing in the center of the pot.  The large speckled centerpiece of the planting has simply vanished.

No soil was disturbed, no tell-tale clawing at the soil spoke of visiting squirrels.  There wasn’t a single dropped leaf or flower petal anywhere around.  We searched the area for some clue and found nothing.

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Helleborus argutifolius just home and still in its Nursery pot in late November.

Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’  just home and still in its nursery pot in late November.

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You probably know that Hellebores are poisonous.  Nothing eats them.

In our seven years of growing Hellebores in this garden, I’ve not once seen so much as a leaf munched by a rabbit or deer.  Hellebores are so poisonous that I always wear gloves to handle them.

And yet all that is left of this particularly charming H. ‘Snow Fever’ is its roots, and two tiny bits of red, level with the soil, where its stems were cut at their base.  The whole plant was there on Friday afternoon, and by Sunday morning, it had vanished.

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Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.

Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.  A sharp eye might notice fresh compost spread to cover the spot where our missing plant once grew.

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And so I’m turning to you, my friends and fellow gardeners, for your thoughts on this most annoying mystery.

Have you seen something like this before?  Any ideas on what might have happened to the Hellebore? 

I have high hopes to see new growth emerge from the roots one day soon.  Maybe this Hellebore will prove stubborn and hardy and will amaze us with its prolific growth, to make up for what it has lost.

I’ll keep you posted….

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This H. 'Snow Fever' grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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February 9, 2017

February 9, 2017

Summer Love: Caladiums

'Florida Sweetheart' Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia 'Richmondensis' offers the perfect summer Valentine.

‘Florida Sweetheart’ Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ offers the perfect summer Valentine.

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I love the bright, bold Caladium leaves of summer.  These huge tropical beauties, often called ‘elephant ears’ for both their size and their shape, remind me of living Valentines.   Their form, their red and pink coloring, and their wild patterns remind me of February’s little expressions of love, grown huge summer’s muggy heat.

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C. 'Gypsy Rose' was among the first Caladiums we planted out in early May.

C. ‘Gypsy Rose’ was among the first Caladiums we planted out in May.

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Ours got a late start this year.  It was too cold to put them outside until well into May.  Caladiums love heat!

Plant them out too early and they will sulk along, and maybe even rot before rooting and sending up their beautiful leaves.  Growers counsel us to wait until it is 65F outside at night, consistently, before planting them in the ground.

That is why I start them indoors, in potting soil, and have them ready to go outside when the weather has warmed enough to grow them.

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These 'Florida' series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

These ‘Florida’ series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

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I planted out the last of our sprouted tubers just last week, believe it or not!  These last were some of the tiniest tubers which came with our order, and they were planted in a plastic box, waiting in the garage for me to decide where they were to go.  (Sometimes small pieces break off of larger tubers during shipping.  Though they are small, they will still root and grow!)

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These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.

These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are only the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.  The largest is C. ‘Florida Red Ruffle.’

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These were the last to finally grow leaves.  I planted them in the shade of some shrubs, where we’ve not had Caladiums in years past.  They are near the top of our drive, planted in a shallow layer of compost, where we can see and enjoy them every time we come and go.  With this new bed started, I’ll begin adding companions after the Caladiums establish, to fill it out.

The Caladiums I ordered last February, from a grower in Florida, arrived huge and healthy.  I was amazed to unpack them and discover a few  Caladium tubers the size of baking potatoes!

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C. 'Florida Fantasy' remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

C. ‘Florida Fantasy’ remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

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But some from a ‘starter pack’ we also ordered from the grower, weren’t that large at all; maybe the size of a large grape.  Not to worry.  The tuber size doesn’t affect the leaf size or height.  This is a genetic thing.  The tuber size determines how many leaves will grow from the one plant.  And of course, the tuber expands over the course of the season.

I also picked up a pack of C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ tubers at the ‘end of season’ sale from a local nursery.

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C. 'Florida Moonlight' grows here with hardy Begonia.

C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ grows here with hardy Begonia grandis.

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These were about the size of a half dollar, and it was warm enough to plant them directly outside.  After nearly a month in the ground, they are just beginning to send up leaves now.  I have high hopes that they will fill out and look stunning by August.

The earliest tubers to go out, in May, all survived, despite our cool nights lasting well into early summer. After a slow start,  they are responding to our heat and making lots of new leaves.  Watching each huge new leaf unroll brings its own pleasure!  Our hot, humid summers offer the tropical climate these lovely beauties crave.

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This is a single plant from one of those 'baked potato' sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the afternoon.

This Caladium  is a single plant from one of those ‘baked potato’ sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the day.

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Grown in dappled shade, Caladiums never scorch or wilt.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them, as their leaves are mildly poisonous to eat.  Their color is as bright as any flower, and far more long lasting and reliable.  They beautifully fill a pot or bed.

They are neat and require very little care, beyond keeping them watered when there is a break in the summer rain.  Caladiums are raised on sandy soils in Florida, but they appreciate compost in their soil, and a little feeding to keep them going strong.

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Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.

Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.  I love these wildly patterned leaves of C. ‘Lance Wharton’!

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New Caladium varieties are introduced each year.  Some of the newer ones are the “Florida” series, bred at the University of Florida after 1988, to give better leaf production, larger tubers and to tolerate more direct sun.  Look for those Caladiums with ‘Florida’ in their name, such as C. Florida Red Ruffles and C. Florida Fantasy if you want an improved, relatively sun tolerant Caladium plant.

Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums in Zolfo Springs and Avon Park, FL; is introducing several exciting new, improved Caladium varieties each year.  Most of these new varieties can tolerate full sun with proper hydration.  I am looking forward to growing a few of these varieties in the coming months, and will post photos as they grow.  One in particular, a 2016 introduction called C. ‘Desert Sunset’ has piqued my interest for its beautiful salmon and copper coloring and ruffled form.

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I like to mix Caladiums with ferns and Begonias.  I tend to use them as an accent plant in a pot or bed.  Others may prefer to grow a solid bed of Caladiums for a massed effect.  Use low ferns, Ajuga, Oxalis, Vinca, or other low ground cover plants to fill in the bed.  You can select Caladium varieties by size, with heights between just a few inches and several feet.  As with most plants, they tend to grow taller in the shade, and more compact in the sun.

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Two other plants, often confused with Caladiums, are also called ‘elephant ears.’  Also tropical, Colocasia and Alocasia have similar leaf shapes, but different coloration and texture. All three of these bloom, but those blooms are insignificant.  Many gardeners simply cut them away.  ‘Elephant ears’ are all grown for their beautiful leaves.

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Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

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All ‘elephant ears’ love warmth, and nearly all must be brought inside before frost.  They may be dug up and the tubers stored, or they may be kept in pots indoors through the winter.  But only a few cultivars of Colocasia are hardy in our Zone 7.

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Colocasia generally have the largest of the 'elephant ear' leaves. This is C. 'Pink China,' and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden. This prolific plant spreads each season and may be easily transplanted.

Colocasia generally have the largest of the ‘elephant ear’ leaves. This is C. ‘Pink China,’ and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden.  C. ‘Mojito,’ behind, is supposed to be hardy here, but overwintered in our basement.  These prolific plants spread each season and may be easily transplanted.

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These gorgeous tropical plants, with their heart shaped leaves, are one of my true loves of summer.

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C. 'White Queen'

C. ‘White Queen’

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Big, bold, surprisingly beautiful; elephant ears fill the garden with mass, texture, and movement as they swish and sway in the breeze.  Carefree and attractive, rely on them to look great during the heat of summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2016
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‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4: Get the Light Right!

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Giving each plant the right amount of light, without burning it or starving it, determines how well that plant performs.  Because plants ‘eat’ light, they must have enough to power photosynthesis and to accomplish all of their life processes.

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Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

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Give a plant too little light and it grows leggy and pale.  The stems between its leaves s t r e t c h, reaching for the light.  Flower production slows and it looks a bit ‘sickly.’ It grows more susceptible to pests and to disease, fungal infections and general rot.

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This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.

This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.  It was also crowded after several years growing in the pot.  I divided the tubers, after this photo, and had five separate plants to grow on in better light.

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But too much light can fry fragile leaves and delicate flowers; especially hot summer sun.  Even ‘full sun’ plants appreciate some shade during summer afternoons in the southern United States.  It is harder to keep plants hydrated in full sun and hot weather.

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White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennail Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennial Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

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How do we navigate both the weather, and the needs of our many different plants?

The MOST important question to ask when acquiring a new plant is, ‘How much light does it need?

Most nursery grown plants and seeds now come with little informational tags which indicate: full sun, partial sun, partial shade or shade.    That bit of information provides a start, but most of us need the experience of trial and error to master getting the light right!

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Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. 'Stuttgart' wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.

Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. ‘Stuttgart’ wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.  The nursery sent a note of warning about its needs when I purchased it this spring.

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Like everything else about gardening, the light is ever changing from morning to evening and spring thorough winter.  And of course, these conditions change in our garden as trees and shrubs grow, perennials expand, and of course when plants are lost.  Good gardeners learn through observation, and remain flexible.

When trying a plant for the first time, especially an expensive one, I think it is wise to start it off in a pot.  Why?  Pots are portable.  Unless you are absolutely sure you know where to plant something for it to get proper light, like planting Daffodil bulbs in the sun, starting off with a pot allows for easy experimentation.

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Our 'bog garden' got more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.

Our ‘bog garden’ got a little more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.  Colocasia will grow in sun or shade, but want more moisture in full sun.

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Although gardening books can be helpful guides to knowing how much light or shade a particular plant requires, the latitude and altitude of one’s garden determines the ferocity of the sun.  Climate also plays an important part in knowing how much ‘full sun’ a plant needs and can endure.  If most days are cloudy and rain falls frequently, less shade from buildings and trees will be required.  But if it rarely rains and day after day passes hot and clear, anything but a cactus will likely need a little afternoon shade!

Providing more moisture can help a plant survive a spot that is a bit too sunny and hot for its liking.

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Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.

Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.  They grow in full sun in this cool, moist climate.

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A fern growing in ‘full sun’ in coastal Oregon might burn up in a day or two in my Virginia garden, if not given some afternoon shade.

That is one reason why many experienced gardeners give themselves at least a year to come to understand a new garden before starting renovations.  It takes a full year of observation to understand how light moves through the garden during the course of a day and from month to month.

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Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

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Even a single year isn’t enough to understand the subtleties of microclimates and exposures relative to structures; the prevailing winds; where water flows during a rainstorm; and where heat  lingers during the winter.  That is why patient observation is a gardener’s best ally when placing plants.

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This first bloom on Canna 'Stuttgart' is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.

This first bloom on Canna ‘Stuttgart’ is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.  This variety enjoys moist soil.

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Here is an experiment for you:  If there is a new plant you want to introduce to your garden, begin with several.  Plant them in different spots in your garden, give each the best care you can, and observe how they grow.  Within just a few weeks you may notice some doing better than others.  Why?

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Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden. The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will have to be moved as the Star Magnolia grows into a tree over the next few years.

Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden.  It is planted in several different beds with varying degrees of sun.  The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will need to be moved as the Star Magnolia (right) grows into a tree over the next few years.

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I quickly noticed that two identical pots, one on either side of our front porch, grew differently.  Why?

One side of the porch has more sunshine each day than the other, more shady side.  I can trade out pots every few weeks to keep them even, or experiment to find plants indifferent to the subtle difference in light.

After learning about each plant’s needs and preferences, and understanding what resources each zone of a gardener can offer, it becomes clearer how to design successful plantings.  It takes time; maybe years; to earn this knowledge.  We all make mistakes along the way, and hopefully count them as part of our education.

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This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery. They grow in a little more shade and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias prefer partial shade, they need a filtered or morning sun to bloom well.

This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery, and potted up with the same fertilizers. But the other plants grow in a little more shade, and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias need partial shade, they still want plenty of  filtered light or morning sun to bloom well.  Moving the pot a little into more light might help the other Begonias bloom, too.

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And this is why observation and flexibility make the difference between great ‘green thumb’ gardeners and mediocre ones.

When we realize that a plant isn’t happy where it is growing, we must either move the plant, or somehow change the conditions.  Knowing a plant’s needs and preferences up front helps us make educated guesses about how to grow it well.  When it shows stress, we can give it more favorable conditions, or discard it.

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These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit 'ratty,' don't you think? I should move them.....

These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit ‘ratty,’ don’t you think? I should move them….. and plant something else which appreciates the shade…..

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Likewise, if we realize that we have very little sun in our garden, or very little shade; we choose only plants that can thrive in our conditions.  Why watch a tomato plant languish in a shady, tree filled garden?  Tomatoes like all the sun you can give them, and require 6-8 hours of full sun each day to produce good fruit.  If you garden in a forest, as we do, it pays to make friends with the local farmers and frequent their farm stands!

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These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

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Shade gardeners learn to take pleasure in ferns and Hostas, Azaleas, Caladiums and Begonias.  Those with sunnier gardens have better experiences with most herbs and vegetables, flowers for cutting, conifers and fruit trees.  Sometimes we have to adapt our expectations and desires to the growing conditions our present garden can provide!

We were startled, a few years ago, to lose several mature oak trees in a summer thunderstorm.  In the blink of an eye, much of our shady garden was transformed to an open, sunny, mulch covered field.  What to do? 

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Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed.

Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed which became our ‘stump garden’ after losing our oaks.  Nearly full shade was transformed to ‘full sun’ in a moment, with the loss of three mature oak trees.

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Challenges grow into opportunities, don’t they?  But the available light in a garden determines everything else about plant selection and vigor.  Moving a plant just a foot or so one way or another may change the amount of sun it receives each day.

That is why it is crucial to ‘get the light right!’  when designing our garden, and protecting our investment in the plants we grow.

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Herbs hold the power to heal us. Our own garden in July-

Herbs hold the power to heal us. The ‘stump garden,’  two years later, planted with sun loving herbs and perennials.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015-2016

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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches

is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum,

and that as long as the sun still shines

and people still can plan and plant, think and do,

we can, if we bother to try, find ways

to provide for ourselves

without diminishing the world. ”

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Michael Pollan

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Hydrangea In Motion

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“I believe in the power of the imagination

to remake the world, to release the truth within us,

to hold back the night, to transcend death,

to charm motorways,

to ingratiate ourselves with birds,

to enlist the confidences of madmen.”

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J.G. Ballard

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June 23, 2016 dusk 005

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“Imagination is everything.

It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

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Albert Einstein

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June 7, 2016 Garden Tour 005

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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