Winter Storm

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A winter storm blankets the East Coast of the United States today from the Gulf to New England.  After a mostly balmy fall, we are a bit surprised by this early snow.

Thus far, we’ve been to the east of the rain snow line, which means we woke up this morning to a light slush gathered on the porch furniture and on our cars; but otherwise, cold rain.   Friends and family living west of us woke up to ice and inches of snow, with more still falling today.

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It is a good day to remain indoors, keeping an eye on the birds and the garden from the windows.  All of this wet will freeze this evening as temperatures dip below freezing.

I brought in a few of the last hold-outs of potted plants before dusk yesterday.  I found a few more inches here and there for pots, and dug up a couple of little hold-out Begonias.  I finally simply tugged a still blooming geranium out of its pot by the kitchen door.  It came with enough roots that I tucked it into a pot with a little soil, wished it well, and wedged  it in with other potted geraniums in our garage.

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Still blooming by the kitchen door yesterday…

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There is nothing like impending ice and snow to force those last decisions about which plants can come indoors to survive the winter.

But as the weather turns outdoors, a friend and I are finishing up our collaboration on ‘fairy tree’ vignettes.  While I have sculpted and mounted the trees, she has been sculpting and placing a fascinating collection of miniatures to bring our vignettes to life.

She has already created a flock of cardinals and parliament of owls.  Male and female, she has sculpted and painted them.

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In addition to the birds, she has also sculpted a sleeping cat, ice skates, boots, rabbits, gnomes, mushrooms and assorted gardening tools.  It is quite amazing to see how the little vignettes come to life under her meticulous care and vibrant imagination.  I spent a happy afternoon with her this week exploring the finished vignettes, and collaborating on those still in progress.

I expect to photograph all of the finished vignettes on Monday afternoon, as we place them as centerpieces for a luncheon coming this week.

This gnarly weather simply must turn mild again for the early part of the week, so that we can enjoy this long anticipated gathering of friends!

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Today I’m showing you the last in this series of trees, finished earlier this week.  Imagine it as it is now with bright red cardinals feeding on the ground, and the boss cardinal keeping watch over them from his perch in the tree.

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I hope our friends will enjoy seeing these fairy trees surrounded with ‘wildlife’;  and that you will, too, when I post the photos next week.

As our garden slips into its winter slumber, the mediums of metal, stone and clay feel appropriate for capturing the illusion of an enchanted forest, so we can enjoy it in comfort-  indoors.

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The stones used to mount the fairy trees have a special meaning for me. My daughter and I picked them up while walking together along the beaches of her coastal Oregon town, back in October.   I brought them home with this project in mind.   She kept the rest of our collection to use in her own garden.   The crystals are specially treated quartz.   The trees are made from a variety of wires of different gauges and metal content.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

Fabulous Friday: Winterizing Pots

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Variegated foliage really pops in the winter landscape.  On a dull chilly day, anything that reflects light catches my eye and brightens my mood!  I seek out pretty plants with variegated foliage as I re-plant our pots for the winter months.

Last year I discovered Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever and fell in love with its beautiful leaves, creamy flowers, and deep pink edges on both new leaves and flowers.  I used this beautiful perennial in several pots and we thoroughly enjoyed watching it grow between November and April.

I found a few new plants at the Great Big Greenhouse in Chesterfield, VA earlier this month, on sale no less, and have them planted in pots flanking our front door.  Its shiny, dark green leaves look like they are covered in creamy lace.

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H. ‘Snow Fever’ newly planted, and ready for the coming winter season.

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This year I’ve had my eye out for a variegated holly to fill additional pots on our patio.  I won’t bore you with how many shops I’ve checked.  I finally spotted Osmanthus, ‘Goshiki,’ (also called ‘false holly) in a 4″ pot last weekend.  When I saw the double digit price for a tiny plant, I reluctantly left it behind and continued the search.

The December issue of the UK’s Gardens Illustrated only made my longing for a lovely variegated holly more intense.  Their article, 26 Hollies For Year Round Interest, details many beautiful holly cultivars, most of which aren’t available anywhere around Williamsburg, VA.  I’ve read and re-read the article several times, trying to absorb the names and descriptions should I ever be lucky enough to come across one.

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Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’ is safely tucked in to its new pot on our patio.

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And then we made a trip to Lowes yesterday to pick up something for my partner.  And of course, I just had to take a turn through the garden department while we were there.  And, to my delight, there sat three lovely little pots of variegated holly.  I scooped them into my cart before you could utter the syllables, “Ilex aquifolium” three times fast.

So I happily brought home three beautiful Ilex aquifolium “Argenteo marginata” for our winter pots.  Those pots so recently emptied when I brought plants in ahead of our first frost, have lovely tenants again.   Underplanted with ivy, miniature daffodils and grape hyacinths,  and mulched with fresh moss and gravel, they are properly dressed ahead of the holidays.

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These beautiful little variegated holly shrubs will happily grow in a pot for a season or two.  They grow fairly slowly, so given a large enough pot and sufficient water, you can keep them growing year round with a little afternoon shade.

For a while…. most of these ‘little hollies’ will eventually grow into good sized trees.  I use them in winter pots, with the understanding that they will need a spot in the garden before long.

The largest pot, beside our walk, had already sprouted beautiful variegated leaves of Arum italicum.  I had planted tiny starts from seeds last autumn, and let them grow on until they faded away in mid-summer.  I was happy to see them emerge this year bigger and better than ever.

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Arum has proven its worth as a stalwart winter companion in beds, borders and pots in our garden.  It stays bright and shiny through all sorts of winter weather, and the deer never dare touch it.  I’ve planted quite a few tubers in pots this fall, to fill the pot with beautiful leaves while we wait for the spring bulbs to emerge and bloom.

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Arum with Violas and Galanthus last March.

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This is the season for ‘winterizing’ our favorite pots.  Summer’s annuals are done, and any perennials we’re saving have already been moved to beds or inside for the winter.  I enjoy puttering around with bulbs, pretty little shrubs, Violas, ivy starts, moss and winter blooming perennials in this lull before the holidays are upon us.

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Newly planted pots might still look a little rough now, but the plants will take off and fill them soon enough.  If using moss for mulch, remember to keep it well watered as it establishes itself on the soil.

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To make this Friday even more Fabulous, we drove off into the sunshine to admire the changing trees, and somehow ended up in Gloucester at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop.  We came away with a few little packs of white Muscari bulbs to add a little more sparkle to our winter pots.  A tiny investment, they look magical when they emerge in early spring.

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Muscari armeniacum ‘Venus,’ blooming last March.

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Real winter remains a few weeks away from Williamsburg, yet this is the time to prepare for the coming season.

I sincerely hope that you are enjoying your ‘winterizing’ preparations, and that you are creating something beautiful to enjoy while you wait for spring.

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Transformation

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

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Lao Tzu

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

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

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“Do you have the patience

to wait until your mud settles

and the water is clear?”

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Lao Tzu

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

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

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“The reason why the universe is eternal

is that it does not live for itself;

it gives life to others

as it transforms.”

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Lao Tzu

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

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

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

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

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“If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try to hold on to.

If you are not afraid of dying,

there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

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Lao Tzu

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Green Thumb Tip #13: Breaching Your Zone

It is time to save our favorite Alocasia before our first freeze of the season, tonight.

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We expect frost tonight, the first of the season.   In fact, the forecast suggests that we may have temperatures in the 20s overnight; the result of an approaching cold front and gusty winds from the north all day.

We can’t complain.  Here in Zone 7, we know that frost is possible any time from October 15 on.  We’ve escaped the inevitable for nearly an extra month, and tonight is the night.

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Alocosia ‘Stingray’ in August, with Begonia ‘Griffin’ behind.  Both came inside today for the winter.

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Bringing tender plants in for winter remains one of our annual rituals here in our forest garden.   We procrastinate as long as possible, to give the plants every day possible out in the air and sunshine.   We’ve found that even tender tropicals will survive a few nights in the 40s better than a few days in the garage, and so have learned to wait until we are sure that we have a freeze warning before we gather them back indoors.  Moving them back and forth several times over our long fall really isn’t practical; we wait for the last possible moment to commit.

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Colocasia ‘Mohito’ is marginally hardy in our area. I couldn’t lift this pot, but brought all of the divisions of the plant indoors today.

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Preparations for the ‘great migration’ included doing a little homework to refresh my memory about the lowest temperatures some of our plants can tolerate, before they turn to mush.  Nearly all of our Begonias won’t tolerate any freezing at all.  The hardy ones are mostly dormant, already.

But the Aroids, the Alocasias and Colocasias, have different degrees of cold tolerance.  Unlike Caladiums, which like to stay cozy at 50F or above, some Colocasias remain hardy to Zone 6.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ has proven hardy in our garden. It spreads a little more each year and grows lush and reliable from May until November. I expect to find this whole stand knocked down by frost when we come out tomorrow morning.

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When we talk about  USDA agricultural zones, there are three variables in play; all very important for which plants you may grow.  First, dates of first and last frost are pretty standard across a given Zone.  For example, here in Zone 7, we expect our first frost around October 15, and our last freeze around April 15.  That gives us a solid six months of outdoor growing season, which means we can raise lots of different sorts of crops in our zone.  There is sufficient time for a plant to develop, bloom, and ripen fruit.  A few miles to the southeast, nearer the Atlantic, Zone 8 begins.  Zone 8 has later first frosts (November 15) and earlier last frosts (March 15).

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Colocasia have runners, and each runner will create a new little plant. These special stems run just at ground level. This is how a dense stand develops from a single plant. Were you to visit my garden, I’d offer you as many of these little Colocasia plants as you would take!

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So knowing your Zone (updated in 2012,) not only tells you how many weeks of the year you have a 50% chance or greater of having freezing temperatures, at least overnight; it also tells you how cold those temperatures may go.   Here in Zone 7b, we may experience a low between 5F-10F.  Most winters we never drop below the teens, here, but it is possible.  Zone 8 may have temperatures down to 10F, but Zone 9 wouldn’t expect temperatures to drop below 20F.

Knowing this helps me make choices about what to bring inside, where  to keep overwintering plants, and what to take a chance on leaving outside until spring.  When space is limited, hard choices must be made if one wants to share the house with the plants for the next six months!

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is hardy to Zone 7b. I still brought many of these plants in to hedge my bets, since we are right on the edge….

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If a plant is hardy to Zone 8, we sometimes have success keeping it outdoors when we provide mulch or significant shelter.  In a mild winter, we may not dip below 10F to begin with.   Plants with deep roots may be mulched, or may have a little shelter built around it with most anything that will trap and hold heat on those few cold nights.  Our patio is a great place to offer potted plants shelter through the winter.  It offers shelter from the wind, and also absorbs and holds a bit of heat on sunny days.

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A plant rated to Zone 9 or 10 will definitely need to come indoors in our area.  But because Aroids have a dormant period over winter, we can keep them in our low light but frost free basement.

As Colocasias and Alocasias grow more popular, enthusiasts are left deciding whether to try to save them for another season, or whether to start next season with fresh plants.   Sometimes space determines our choices, other times our budget.  That said, I’ve found four ways to keep these beautiful plants from one season to the next.

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Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ is hardy to Zone 8. We were fortunate to have one overwinter in a protected area, and this is an off-set I dug up in August to grow on. It is now safely tucked into our garage for the winter.

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I found two of our most spectacular Alocasias back in February, at Trader Joe’s.  They were right inside the door, with a few other pots of ‘tropical’ plants.  Because I recognized their leaf, I bought two, intending to use them in large pots to frame our front door all summer.  What came home in a 4″ pot, grew over summer into a huge and beautiful plant.  I learned today that their roots had completely filled the 20″ pots they have grown in since early May.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled when I bought it last winter. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.

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I can barely slide those pots when they are well-watered.  And, I plan to re-plant them for winter interest.  There was no question of trying to move them into our home or garage to overwinter the plants.

But last night I did my homework, and spent a while searching out how others have managed to overwinter large Alocasias.  Since the plant goes dormant, it can be kept, barely moist, out of its pot in a frost free basement or garage.    So I pried each of my beautiful Alocasias  out of their pots this morning, and lowered each, root ball intact, into a large paper grocery bag.  I’ve set the bags into shallow plastic storage boxes in our basement.  The leaves will wither; the soil will dry.  But life will remain in the plant, and I can pot it up again in spring for it to continue growing.

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How many plants? I didn’t count…. But here are four grocery bags filled with Aroids to sleep through winter in the basement.

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I decided to hedge my bets again this winter by storing our Aroids in a variety of ways.  While I’ve brought a few indoors in smaller pots to either keep growing in our living room, or slowly go dormant in our garage or basement; a great many got yanked from their pots this morning and stuffed into grocery bags.  Now the Alocasias will mingle for the next few months with A. ‘Stingray,’ C. ‘Mohito’, and C. ‘Tea Cups.’

C. ‘Tea Cups’ is supposed to be hardy in Zone 7.  Actually, we had one overwinter in a very large pot last year, but it was slow to emerge and never grew with much vigor over summer.  So again, I hedged my bets.

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A. ‘Stingray’ came home in a 4′ pot this spring. It has grown prodigiously, and there were several small off-sets. I pried these out of the wet soil, and am storing them in the grocery bags for winter.

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Remember, all of these plants create off-sets.  So, I left a few plants growing in the circular bed we began in spring.  But I pulled up enough to replant the bed next spring, if those don’t survive winter for whatever reason.  I have a few C. ‘Tea Cups’ overwintering in moist soil in pots, and others set to go dormant in paper grocery bags.

The very small divisions of Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ that I potted up in late summer came in to the living area in their pots, along with  A. ‘Sarian’ and a few A. ‘Amazonica‘.   I can give them window-sill space and keep them growing.  Even if you don’t have space to keep the largest of your Aroids, chances are good that there will be a small off-set that you can save over winter.

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For plants like Begonias and Brugmansias, which don’t create off-sets, consider taking cuttings if you need to conserve space. If you don’t have room for the whole pot or basket, cut a few vigorous branches to root in a vase or jar near a window.

Cuttings placed in water now will root, and may be potted up in early spring.  I always have Begonia cuttings rooting in vases of water, but I brought a few more cuttings in today.  We just have too many pots of Begonias to save them all.  But I am careful to save some of each variety.  Because plants like Begonias root so easily in water,  once you have a variety, you can keep it going indefinitely.

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Many, many plants will root in water.  I’ve experimented over the years with keeping many genus of plants going, because the nursery trade just isn’t that dependable when there is a particular variety you want to buy in spring.   Maybe you’ll find it, but maybe its shelf space will be given over to something newer or more fashionable, and your favored cultivar just won’t be available in your area.

My friends know that even if I had a good sized greenhouse, I’d soon fill it to the rafters like some botanical Noah’s Ark.  As it is, our living space is filled, once again, with my coterie of plants.  My partner is blessedly patient with my horticultural obsessions.

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Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.  A perennial in Zone 10,  you can overwinter it in its pot, or as a cutting.

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There is no shame in letting ‘annuals’ perish when winter finally blows into your garden.  But your Zone doesn’t have to limit what you can grow, and winter doesn’t have to destroy your beautiful collection of plants.

Master a few handy hacks, and you can keep your favorite warm-weather plants growing (and multiplying) indefinitely.

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A. ‘Amazonica’, also known as ‘African Mask’, grows vigorously in a large pot. I’ve kept this pot going for several years by letting it over winter in our living room..

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Woodland Gnome 2017
“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 #12: Grow More of That! 

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

 

Dichotomy, or, Courageous Gardening

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“Success is not final,
failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.”
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Winston S. Churchill

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November isn’t for the faint of heart.

As chill winds blow and birds flock up to travel to gentler places, a season’s growth shrivels before our eyes, and blows away.  Much of what  we have nurtured and admired for the past several months perishes in the short span of a couple of weeks.

The changes come almost imperceptibly at first, and then overwhelming in their inevitability.

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The trees in our garden transform themselves from green to scarlet to brown or bare.  More and more branches stand naked in the morning chill each day, and we know from our years of watching this that soon enough our garden will fall away to its barest bones.

Our lush landscape will soon be made mostly of brown and grey sticks, beige grass, bare beds.

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November is when you feel deep gratitude for every vibrant green Camellia shrub you’ve planted, and wonder why you haven’t planted more.

You study the framework of evergreens; box and myrtle, Osmanthus, juniper, holly, Magnolia and hemlock.  These are the stalwart companions that sparkle in the winter sunshine, assuring us of the continuity of life through the gardens’ time of rest.

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“Have enough courage to trust love one more time
and always one more time.”
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Maya Angelou
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We dig into the cooling Earth, placing our faith in dormant bulbs and tubers; trusting that they will eventually awaken and strike new roots and greet us with fresh growth and soft flowers and bright color when the days have grown longer and warmer once again.

We know those days will come, despite the wintery months ahead.

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November shows its two faces in our garden.  Leaves fall as flowers bloom.  Birds gather and fill the air with music.  Buds swell on the Magnolias‘ newly bared branches, and berries redden among the prickly holly leaves.   One day the sky is low and white, the next it’s deepest blue.

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“You do not need to know precisely what is happening,
or exactly where it is all going.
What you need
is to recognize the possibilities and challenges
offered by the present moment,
and to embrace them
with courage, faith and hope.”
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Thomas Merton

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Yet summer lives in all the seasons of a gardener’s heart.  We watch nature’s machinations in autumn, knowing that it is only a preparation for what is to come.  We take courage in the sure knowledge of vibrant life in every root and limb.  We look past the illusions of disillusion,  putting our faith in ripening seeds and and expanding rhizomes, hungry earthworms, mycelium, and moss.

We take courage from our own determination to cultivate beauty in every circumstance.  We trust November as surely as we trust May, and so breathe deeply; knowing that all is well.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Change Is in the Air

This morning dawned balmy, damp and oh, so bright across our garden!

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Brilliant autumn color finally appeared on our trees this past week, and we are loving this annual spectacle when trees appear as blazing torches in shades of yellow, gold, orange and scarlet.   We have been watching and waiting for this pleasure since the first scarlet leaves appeared on Virginia creeper vines and the rare Sumac in early September.  But summer’s living green cloaked our trees longer than ever before in our memories,  this fall.

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I remember a particularly beautiful autumn in the late 1980s, the year my daughter was born.  I went to the hospital in the second week of October to deliver, with the still summery trees barely showing a hint or shadow of their autumn finery.  When we drove back home with her a couple of days later, I was amazed at the transformation in the landscape.  The trees were bright and gorgeous, as if to celebrate her homecoming.

Once upon a time, I believed that first frost brought color to deciduous leaves.  Our first frost date here in zone 7 is October 15.  We haven’t always had a frost by then, but there is definitely a frosty chill in the evening air by late October here.

But not this year, or last….

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Bees remain busy in our garden, gathering nectar and pollen for the winter months ahead.

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The annual Begonias are still covered with blossoms in my parents’ garden, and our Begonia plants still sit outside in their pots, blooming with enthusiasm, waiting for us to decide to bring them back indoors.  Our days are still balmy and soft; our evenings barely drop below the 50s or 60s.  There is no frost in our forecast through Thanksgiving, at least.

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Our geraniums keep getting bigger and brighter in this gentle, fall weather.

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It is lovely, really.  We are taking pleasure in these days where we need neither heat nor air conditioning.  We are happily procrastinating on the fall round-up of tender potted plants, gleefully calculating how long we can let them remain in the garden and on the deck.  I’m still harvesting herbs and admiring flowers in our fall garden.

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Of course, there are two sides to every coin, as well as its rim.  You may be interested in a fascinating description of just how much our weather patterns have changed since 1980, published by the Associated Press just last week.  Its title, “Climate Change is Shrinking Winter in the US, Scientists Say,”  immediately makes me wonder why less winter is a bad thing.  I am not a fan of winter, personally.  Its saving grace is it lets me wear turtleneck sweaters and jeans nearly every day.

Just why is winter important, unless you are a fan of snowy sports?  Well, anyone who has grown apple, pear or peach trees knows that these trees need a certain number of “chilling hours,” below freezing, to set good fruit.

Certain insects also multiply out of control when there aren’t enough freezing days to reduce their population over winter.    Winter gives agricultural fields a chance to rest, knocks down weeds and helps clear the garden for a fresh beginning every spring.

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But there are other, more important benefits of winter, too.  Slowly melting snow and ice replenish our water tables in a way summer rains, which rapidly run off, never can.  Snow and ice reflect solar energy back into space.  Bodies of water tend to absorb the sun’s energy, further warming the climate.

Methane locked into permafrost is released into the warming atmosphere when permafrost thaws.  And too much warmth during the  winter months coaxes shrubs and perennials into growth too early.  Like our poor Hydrangeas last March, those leaves will freeze and die off on the occasional below-freezing night, often killing the entire shrub.

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By March 5, 2017, our Hydrangeas had leaves and our garden had awakened for spring.  Freezes later in the month killed some of the newer shrubs, and killed most of the flower buds on older ones.

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The article states, ” The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

” The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.

“This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.”

Not only has the first freeze of the season grown later and later with each passing year, but the last freeze of the season comes ever earlier.  According to Meteorologist Ken Kunkel, winter 2016 was a full two months shorter than normal in the Pacific Northwest.

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Coastal Oregon, in mid-October 2017, had seen no frost yet. We enjoyed time playing on the beach and visiting the Connie Hansen garden while I was there.  Very few leaves had begun to turn bright for fall, though many were already falling from the trees.

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I’ve noticed something similar with our daffodils and other spring flowers.  Because I photograph them obsessively each year, I have a good record of what should bloom when.  This past spring, the first daffodils opened around February 8 in our garden.  In 2015, we had a February snow, and the first daffodil didn’t begin to open until February 17.  In 2014, the first daffodils opened in our garden in the second week of March.  Most years, we never saw daffodils opening until early to mid- March.  We ran a little more than two weeks early on all of the spring flowers last spring, with roses in full bloom by mid-April.

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March 8, 2014

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Is this ‘shorter winter phenomena’ something we should care about?  What do you think?  Do you mind a shorter winter, an earlier spring?

As you’ve likely noticed, when we contemplate cause and effects, we rarely perceive all of the causes for something, or all of its effects.  Our planet is an intricate and complex system of interactions, striving to keep itself in balance.  We may simplistically celebrate the personal benefits we reap from a long, balmy fall like this one, without fully realizing its implications for our planet as a whole.

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February 9, 2017

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I’m guessing the folks in Ohio who had a tornado blow through their town this past weekend have an opinion.  Ordinarily, they would already be enjoying winter weather by now.

We are just beginning to feel the unusual weather patterns predicted decades ago to come along with a warming planet.  The seas are rising much faster than they were predicted to rise, and we are already seeing the extreme storms bringing catastrophic rain to communities all across our nation, and the world.  The economic losses are staggering, to say nothing of how peoples’ lives have been effected when they live in the path of these monster storms.

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Magnolia stellata blooming in late February, 2016

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Yes, change is in the air.  I’m not sure that there is anything any of us can do individually to change or ‘fix’ this unusual weather, but we certainly need to remain aware of what is happening, and have a plan for how to live with it.

My immediate plan is simple:  Plant more plants!  I reason that every plant we grow helps filter carbon and other pollutants from the air, trapping them in its leaves and stems.  Every little bit helps, right?  And if not, at least their roots are holding the soil on rainy days, and their beauty brings us joy.

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Newly planted Dianthus blooms in our autumn garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Rescuing Our Caladiums

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As the season changes, our Caladiums have grown a little droopy and woebegone.

Tropical, heat loving Caladiums don’t care much for cold winds and autumn’s chill at night.  It is time to rescue them from their pots, and help them grow dormant for the coming winter.

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Caladium ‘White Delight’ still looked pretty good on October 3.   I rescued this one on Friday, and its tuber is in the garage preparing for winter storage.

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Many gardeners treat their Caladiums like annuals, letting them freeze alongside the petunias and impatiens.    There is no harm in that, so long as you have deep pockets to buy all the Caladiums you want come spring.  But if you are a thrifty gardener, or have just grown attached to your Caladiums and would like to enjoy them for another year, saving them takes very little effort.

As Caladiums prepare to go dormant, their leaves first droop, and then just sort of fade away.  I was disappointed to discover that process well underway with some of my potted Caladiums, making it nearly impossible to find their buried tubers without vigorous digging through the entire pot.

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I’ll bring this basket of Begonia, tender lady fern and Caladium into the garage before our first freeze.

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If you have Caladiums planted alongside ferns or other plants you want to save, that vigorous digging might not be possible without doing a lot of damage.  In that case, you can simply bring the pot indoors for the winter, with the Caladium tubers left in the soil.  Water sparingly, and try to keep the pot at 50F or above and the Caladiums will survive and begin sending out new leaves next spring.

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These Caladium tubers can be dug up for storage. I’ll fill their space in this basket with some Violas.

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My brilliant gardening friend has even overwintered her Caladiums (accidentally she says) under several inches of fallen leaves left on their bed as mulch.  Some of the newer varieties have been bred to be more cold tolerant, and how do you argue with success?

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A flat filled with Caladiums I have already rescued for storage

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The most reliable way to save your favorite Caladium tubers for next season is to simply dig them, dry them, and store them indoors.   Dig several inches to the side of where the remaining leaves emerge from the soil, and work your way around to loosen the tuber.

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Most Caladiums have extensive roots by now, and you will need to work gently to avoid cutting or breaking the tubers, which may have grown much larger than what you planted last spring.   Sometimes, the tubers calve over summer, and you may be digging up a clump of little tubers growing together.

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Once you lift the Caladium and shake off as much dirt as possible, simply lay the whole plant, leaves and roots and all, into a flat or box where it can dry in a sheltered place.  Remember to gently dig or comb through the soil with your fingers in search of any little stray bits of  tuber. Even bits as small as a dime may be saved, and will grow next spring.

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I’ve been planting a tuber of Arum itallicum in many of the spots where I’m lifting Caladiums this month.   The evergreen Arum will look great growing over winter, keeping pots and beds green through the cold season.  Pair Arum with spring flowering bulbs, Violas, Heucheras, Hellebores, hardy ferns, ivy, snapdragons, Saxifraga, or even just with a mulch of living moss  to fill pots or beds with winter interest.

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These Arum italicum, already a few years old, are emerging now for the cold months ahead.  They are similar enough to Caladiums to make a good winter substitute, and grow near where I lifted some Caladiums from the bed last week.

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Once you’ve dug all of your Caladiums, spread the plants out in a single layer in an empty flat or box, in a protected shady area where they may dry over the next few weeks.  During this time the leaves and roots will wither, the remaining soil around the root will dry, and any nicks to the tubers from digging should heal.  I allow ours to dry in our garage where they are out of the weather, and protected from freezing as nights grow colder.

After several weeks, you should be able to shake away any remaining soil and easily pull of the withered stems and roots.  Any damaged tubers may be dusted or dipped into a fungicide for extra protection.  Otherwise, simply pack them loosely into mesh bags with some wood shavings, rice hulls, sawdust, or dry peat moss.

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We can begin to move newly sprouted Caladiums outside by late May.

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I normally save the rice hulls my Caladiums arrive in from the grower each spring, and reuse them for storage over winter.  Individual bags of Caladiums may be kept together in a larger box or paper grocery bag until time to plant next spring.  Store them in a closet or other out of the way spot in a heated room.

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Caladium tubers, ready for spring planting

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I start our stored Caladium in late March each year, usually several weeks earlier than the grower will ship new Caladium tubers to Virginia.  We have fresh Caladiums ready to plant out in pots and beds again as soon as it grows warm enough for them to take off for the new season ahead. Since the tubers grow a little bit each year, saved tubers may be larger and more lush than the new ones you buy.

All in all, a good deal for those of us who truly love our Caladiums.

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This is the Caladium I rooted from a leaf over the summer. It finally produced a second leaf, seen here, before the rooted leaf faded away. I plan to bring this pot indoors before frost, and hope the tiny new tuber will keep over winter to continue growing next year.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

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Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

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Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

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The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

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Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

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Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

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When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

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Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

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Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

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I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Blossom XXXII: Apple Scented Pelargonium

Pelargonium odoratissimum

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On species Pelargoniums, commonly known as ‘scented geraniums,’ the flowers are almost an afterthought.  I grow them for their beautiful, fragrant leaves, and am always thrilled if flowers appear.  I found a nice selection of scented geraniums at The Great Big Greenhouse this summer.  Though I was mostly interested in the huge leaves of the chocolate scented variety, I scooped up several others as well.

I bought this apple scented Pelargonium odoratissimum, which is a species and not a cultivar or hybrid, on the late summer clearance.  It didn’t look very promising on the day that I bought it.  But I planted it in a large pot in full sun on our front patio beside an established tri-color sage, and hoped for the best.

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With regular water and a bit of feeding, it has tripled in size and bloomed.  I am just delighted to find it giving us spray after spray of these tiny white flowers.

People often confuse Pelargoniums with Geraniums.  Most of the fancy plants we buy for summer blooms and call ‘geraniums,’ are actually Pelargoniums, originally from South Africa.  All of the wonderfully scented ‘geraniums’ like  P. ‘Citronella,’ and this one are also Pelargoniums.   Although perennial in warmer regions, we treat them as annuals if we can’t bring them inside during the winter.  Most Pelargoniums are hardy only to Zone 8 or 9.

Species Geraniums are hardy to Zone 5 or 6, with smaller leaves and less showy flowers.  These plants are native to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.  Perhaps you’ve grown ‘Rozanne’ hardy Geranium or G. ‘Birch’s Double.’  Their flowers have a somewhat different form than a true Pelargonium.

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The first of summer’s perennial Geraniums bloom alongside the last of winter’s Hellebores last May.

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Many Pelargoniums are considered herbs.  Leaves may be used in tea or cooking, and often they are grown for their essential oils.  Sometimes the leaves or oils may be used medicinally, as is the case with P. odoratissimum.   Branches work beautifully in  a vase.  The foliage is long-lasting and holds its fragrance.  Dried leaves and flowers may be kept  in a drawer to scent its contents.

These wonderful plants can take full sun, and like many herbs, don’t need a great deal of water.  In fact, their most common cause of failure is over-watering and soggy soil.

They are generally pest-free and grow enthusiastically, once established.  Stem cuttings will root in moist sand or soil in summer.

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rose scented Pelargonium

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If you’ve not yet grown Pelargoniums, I encourage you to give them a try.  Whether they give you blossoms, or not, they will fill their space with beauty and fragrance.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Love is wild;
its whole beauty is in its wildness.
It comes like a breeze with great fragrance,
fills your heart,
and suddenly where there was a desert
there is a garden full of flowers.”
.
Osho
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives
Blossom XXXI: Lantana

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