Green Thumb Tip #19: Go With the Flow

Bronze fennel foliage, wet from an early morning watering, with Verbena bonariensis

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There is rhythm to life in the garden.  Much like waves of warm briny water crashing along a sandy beach; so too waves of life appear in the garden, peak, and then quietly disappear.  Part of a gardener’s education, when working in a new garden, is sensing and recognizing a garden’s ‘waves’ of life.

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Wisdom teaches us that much of our frustration and unhappiness is connected to our desires.  There are things we want that we can’t have in the moment.  There are things we love that we fear losing.  There are things we care about that we see passing away before our eyes.  All of these concerns can become causes of our suffering, to some degree, as we work with our gardens.

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Japanese beetles have found the Zantedeschia.

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But our feelings can shift when we take the broader view, acknowledge the rhythms and challenges, and plan ahead to address them.

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When we plant early spring bulbs we know that we’ll be left with their foliage for a few weeks after the flowers fade, and then even that will yellow and fall away.  What will grow up in their place?

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Daffodils and Arum italicum fade as Caladiums, hardy Begonia and ferns grow in their place.

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When we plant roses, we can expect a glorious flush of blooms in May, followed by much that needs to be pruned away.  What happens if blackspot or Japanese beetles attack the leaves?  Will our shrubs bloom again during the season?

We can plan to have other perennials or shrubs nearby to take attention away from resting rose shrubs.

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Crape myrtles have just begun to bloom in our area.

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And what happens when a tender perennial fails to appear in spring?  Is there a gap in the border, or do we have something waiting to grow in its place?

We understand the larger cycles of the seasons and how they affect the life in our garden.  First frost claims much of our garden’s growth, and the beds lie fallow through the winter.

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January in our forest garden

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But there are larger cycles still, as woodies grow and shade out nearby perennials, or a tree falls and changes the light in the garden, or plants fill in, creating dense mats of growth.

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Crinum lily comes into bloom amidst Iris, Thyme and Alliums.

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Gardening teaches us flexibility and resilience.  Resistance to the cycles and happenstance of nature tightens us up inside.  We might feel anger at the voles eating through the roots of a favorite shrub, or the Japanese beetles ruining the leaves of a favorite perennial.  How dare they!

But these things are always likely to happen.  We can’t fully prevent the damages that come along when we work with nature.

I found a small Hydrangea shrub, that I’ve been nurturing along from a rooted cutting, grazed back by deer last week.  No matter how protected it might be, or how often I’ve sprayed it with repellents, a doe came along after a rain, and chewed away most of its leaves.

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Successful gardeners learn how to ‘go with the flow.’  We do the best we can, follow best practices, and have a plan or two up our sleeves to work with the natural cycles of our space.  Even so, we learn the lessons of impermanence in the garden.

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Working to thwart the voles, I am experimenting with planting Caladiums into pots sunk into the bed. I’m also doing this in another bed with tender Hostas.

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Every plant isn’t going to survive.  But we keep planting anyway, trying new things to see what will thrive.

Some things we plant will grow too much, and we’ll have to cut them back or dig them up to keep them in bounds.  Weeds come and go.  Insects chew on leaves and voles chew on roots.

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We stand by, observing this incredible ebb and flow of life, and take our place among the waves.

Gardeners feel the ebbs and flows, too.  We may feel energized in spring and plant lots of new roots and shoots, seeds and plugs.  But then summer heats up, the grounds dries out a little, and we are left scrambling to keep it all watered and tended.

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Suddenly there is stilt grass sprouting up in our beds and pots.  The lawn is growing overnight, and the shrubs need pruning.

As our own energies come and go, we find a rhythm to keep up with maintaining our gardens while also maintaining ourselves.  We can’t stop the ebb and flow in our garden any more than we can stop the waves crashing on the beach.

But we can lighten up, enjoy the scenery, and take pleasure in the ride.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

What I’m reading this week:                            

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“Enjoying the simple beauty of plant against rocks, and cultivating the distinctive forms of alpine plants, is the heart of traditional rock gardening, ranging from gardeners who obsessively recreate the look of mountaintop, to those who carefully cultivate individual specimens of plants into breathtaking peaks of loom not to be matched by anything else in the plant world.”               

Joseph Tychonievich from Rock Gardening, Reimagining a Classic Style

(Thank you, Joseph, for your entertaining talk on Saturday morning!)

“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’ll 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 gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

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Growing Herbs for the Beauty of It

Culinary tri-color sage grows alongside perennial Geranium and fennel.

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I grow herbs mostly for their beauty.  That, and their toughness as season-long dependable plants in our pots, beds and baskets.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows near emerging Colocasia.

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I haven’t built them their own little parterre, and I don’t grow them in cute little matching terra cotta pots, either.  I treat them like any other plant and let them earn their spot in my heart and in our garden.

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A newly planted Spanish lavender will soon fill this pot.  It is surrounded with wild violets and wild strawberries.

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Herbs may be some of the oldest plants cultivated and passed on generation to generation and from one culture to the next.  They are celebrated in story and song.  They can heal us, feed us, soothe us and delight us.  Herbs are intensely fragrant; a living, growing perfume.

But I would grow them even without their rich mythological and pharmacological mystique.  Why?  Because I can depend on them.

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The first fennel flowers of the season opend this week.

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The strong fragrance and coarse texture of many herbs makes them distasteful to the deer I want to foil.  I learned in the early years of this garden that I could plant herbs in the spring, and expect them to still be merrily growing in our garden, sans critter damage, the following October.  I like to believe that planting lots of fragrant herbs can also protect more desirable plants growing nearby.

They are a good investment.  They bring me peace of mind.

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Basil

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But the more I tried different cultivars of favorite herbs, the more I delighted in them for their own sake.  They are entertaining plants to grow.  Let me explain.

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Chocolate mint

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Most herbs draw in pollinators.  That means that on a sunny day, I’ll find bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of bright little insects that I can’t name without a field guide hovering around them and blissing out on their sweet nectar.

As I observe and photograph the visitors, I can crush and sniff their wonderfully fragrant leaves.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Many herbs, like the mints and scented geraniums, produce compounds in their leaves that repel biting insects.

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Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, is a versatile herb with strongly fragrant leaves.  The Garden Club of America  has named it their 2018 native plant of the year.

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If a buzzy or bitey is getting too up close and personal with me, I can pinch a stem and rub the fragrant leaves on whatever skin might be exposed.

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Pineapple mint with lavender

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Mountain mint, though not so beautiful, is an especially effective insect repellent with no toxicity to harm my family or me.

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Rose scented ‘Skeleton Rose’ Pelargonium repels insects with its fragrance. Growing here in a basket with Lantana, this basket makes a tough combination for full sun.

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That same fragrance makes herbs appealing as cut flowers, too.  Stems worked in with other flowers make interesting, long lasting arrangements.

My favorite herbs for the vase are Basil, Pelargoniums, Artemesia, and Salvias. The interesting colors, shapes and textures of herbal foliage pumps up any vase.  Oftentimes, a stem will root in the vase and can be planted out to grow on when the arrangement is disassembled.

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Basil with pineapple mint, Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

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Just as herbs create interesting contrasts with flowers in a vase, so they also pump up pots, baskets and perennial beds.

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White Monarda came to our garden as a gift from a gardening friend.  It is edible, can be used for tea, and looks lovely in a vase.  Also known as bee balm or Oswego tea, this plant is a useful North American native herb.

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Although herbs bloom, most have relatively small and insignificant flowers.  With a few exceptions, like some basils, dill, borage and fennel; herbs are grown more for their leaves than for their flowers.

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Now rosemary is a delight all unto itself.  Sometimes evergreen if the winter is mild, usually perennial, it delights us with its blue, winter flowers.

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Rosemary in bloom

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Rosemary often comes into bloom in late autumn, and many years I can include blooming sprigs of rosemary in our holiday wreathes in December.

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A newly planted rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ will triple in size by fall. Sedum ‘Angelina’ shares the pot.

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The pungent fragrance of rosemary exudes from a lovely little shrubby plant.  With rosemary, as with other Mediterranean herbs, the hotter the better in summer.  Growing to 4′ tall or more, a rosemary hedge by a fence or wall is possible in Zones 7b or 8 and warmer.

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An upright shrubby rosemary grows here with prostrate, creeping  rosemary.  Most of our rosemary plants died in our cold winter, and so I’ve had to replace them with new this spring.

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Many people grow herbs primarily for use in the kitchen.  And most, but not all, are edible.  Herbs generally respond well to the continual pruning that frequent use entails.

There are whole encyclopedias of information on using herbs for cooking, crafts, healing and housewifery.  I’ll leave you to read them if you want to learn more.

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Creeping Rosemary makes a good groundcover, or a good ‘spiller’ in a pot in full sun.

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I get busy and forget to cut and use them, I’ll admit to you.  My plants might be bushier if I used them more.

But I love watching my Pelargoniums grow huge and fill the gigantic pots I grow them in.  I love watching butterfly larvae growing plump as they harvest my parsley and fennel for me.  And yes, quite often the plants regenerate themselves within a few weeks once the larvae crawl off for their transformative naps.

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And so it is that I end up growing herbs much like any other garden plant; no special fuss required.

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Comphrey with Artemesia

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That said, keep in mind that herbs such as lavenders, culinary sages, thymes, rosemaries, oregano, germanders, Artemesias, Santolinas, and a few others originated in hot, mountainous areas where the soil may be a bit rocky and the rain scarce.  They aren’t used to coddling, and they don’t much appreciate our muggy damp summers in Virginia.

Our soil may be a bit too acidic and heavy with clay.  Our nights too damp and warm, our rain too intense.  There may be some rot or mildew.  Their roots may not thrive.

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There are a few simple things to do to make these Mediterranean herbs a bit more comfortable.  I tend to grow many of them in pots more successfully than in our heavy clay soil.

But culture in the soil is possible.  I like to dig some dolomitic lime and a little pea gravel into the planting hole before I plant a new transplant.  I set the crown a little high, mounding up the back-fill around the top-most roots, but not up the stem.  Then, I mulch with gravel out a few inches around the plant.  I’m told that chicken grit or broken up oyster shells work well for mulching herbs, too.

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Roots of these Mediterranean herbs want good drainage.  They can rot easily if left sitting in wet soil for very long.  That is why it is smart to amend the soil and plant them high.  If your soil is too heavy with clay, also dig in some compost before you plant, to loosen and improve it a bit.

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If planting in a pot, I mix some lime into the top few inches of the potting soil, set the plants a little high, and mulch the pot with pea gravel.

The gravel reflects sun and heat up into the plant on fine days, holds a little extra moisture during drought, and prevents soil from splashing up onto the lower leaves when it rains.  The gravel mulch helps protect those lower leaves from any disease harbored in the wet soil.

When growing an herb plant with woody stems or grey to blue leaves, take these precautions if your soil and weather is like ours.

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Artemesia with lavender and Iris

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Basil, dill and cilantro are annuals.  Parsley a biennial.  Chives and other Alliums are perennials, even when they are harvested annually for their bulbs.   All are soft stemmed and want a bit gentler treatment.  They appreciate more water and richer soil… but not too rich.  Herbs grown without much fertilizer have better flavor and aroma and grow more compactly.

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The Alliums are just beginning to bloom.

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Grow all of these in full sun, or the most sun you can manage.  The more sun, the more growth in most cases.

Also, give them space to grow.  Your little transplant fresh from its 4″ pot may look a bit small, and your new planting a bit sparse at first.  But please remember that most herbs grow quickly.  Mind the mature height and spread and allow space for your herbs to grow into their potential.

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Pineapple sage in its fall glory, still sending out new buds in late September 2017.

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Crowding, in our weather, makes it more likely for mold or rot to get a start where the branches stay too wet, and where air can’t easily circulate around their leaves.

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Thyme needs a good trim now and again. The stems get too long, with new growth only towards the tips.

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I wait each spring to see which of our perennial herbs made it through the winter, and which were finished off by the cold and damp soil.  Ironically, most will make it through until early spring.  It is those last few weeks and those last few frosts that may prove too much.

That is why I wait until I see new growth sprouting from their branches, before I cut them back.  Once they are growing and the weather is milder, I can cut with confidence.  Cut too soon, and a late freeze may be too much of a shock.  I killed a beautiful Agastache this spring by pruning it too early.

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Breakfast at the Agastache… summer 2017.

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Cut back any obviously dead wood, and trim most of the branches by at least a third to stimulate new, healthy growth.  But don’t throw all of those trimming away!  Many herbs, like Artemesia will root from these stem cuttings taken in late winter or early spring.  What will you lose by trying? 

And there is nothing complicated in my technique.  I open up a hole in the earth with my blade, insert a stem a few inches deep, and close the hole.  It roots and begins growing within a few weeks.  That is how I’ve spread Artemesia all around my garden over the years.

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Pineapple sage has beautiful leaves, but won’t bloom until late September.  It is hardy in our garden.

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Most herbs will root from stem cuttings.  You might cut several stems of basil, use most of the leaves, and root the stems in a glass of water to generate new plants over the summer.  Herbs like thyme are easy to divide.  Just take a stem on the outside of the plant, with some roots already growing, cut it off and plant it where its needed.  Do this with most Salvias, too.

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Apple mint roots easily in water. But easier still, pull a stem with some roots attached and planted it up elsewhere.

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If you’ve shied away from planting herbs in the past, I hope you’ll try a few this year.  You don’t need to be an expert gardener to succeed.  Most are very easy, and forgiving.

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An heirloom Pelargonium that I managed to root from a gifted stem cutting is now out in a basket for the summer.  This cultivar was brought to Williamsburg by the early colonists and grown here in the Colonial era.

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And this is the perfect time to begin, now that we are into the second week of June.  Garden centers in our area have just begun to mark down their herbs by 20-30%.  There are great bargains available this month as plant shops clear out their stock.

Unlike more tender plants, herbs will establish just fine in summer’s heat, so long as you don’t let them completely dry out as they grow new roots into the surrounding soil.

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Deadhead lavender, and other herbs, to keep the flowers coming all season. This is Spanish lavender, with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.

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There is always more to learn, there is always more to try, and there are always more beautiful and interesting plants to introduce in our gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Sunday Dinner: Juxtaposed

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“Because you don’t notice the light without a bit of shadow.
Everything has both dark and light.
You have to play with it
till you get it exactly right.”
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Libba Bray

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“You couldn’t have strength without weakness,
you couldn’t have light without dark,
you couldn’t have love
without loss”
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Jodi Picoult

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“Red was ruby, green was fluorescent,
yellow was simply incandescent.
Color was life.
Color was everything.
Color, you see,
was the universal sign of magic.”
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Tahereh Mafi

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“Hygge is our awareness of the scale of our existence
in contrast to the immensity of life.
It is our sense of intimacy
and encounter with each other
and with the creaturely world around us.
It is the presence of nature
calling us back to the present moment,
calling us home.”
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Louisa Thomsen Brits

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“Yes, contrast teaches us a great many things
and there is purpose for it.
Yet it is time to transcend your everyday dramas
that are but drops in an ocean.
Cease focusing on your droplets of water and look around you.
Everything you say and touch and do
sets into motion ripples
that either heal and create
or curse and destroy.
Let me repeat: Everything.”
.
Alaric Hutchinson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“…the basic stuff of the universe, at its core,
is looking like a kind of pure energy
that is malleable to human intention and expectation
in a way that defies our old mechanistic model of the universe-
-as though our expectation itself
causes our energy to flow out into the world
and affect other energy systems.”
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James Redfield

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“A warrior has to believe,
otherwise he cannot activate his intent positively.”
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Théun Mares
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Sunday Dinner: Knowledge

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“The beginning of knowledge

is the discovery of something

we do not understand.”

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Frank Herbert

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“Proper teaching is recognized with ease.

You can know it without fail

because it awakens within you that sensation

which tells you this is something

you have always known.”

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Frank Herbert

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“A process cannot be understood by stopping it.

Understanding must move with the flow of the process,

must join it and flow with it.”

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Frank Herbert

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“Without change something sleeps inside us,

and seldom awakens.

The sleeper must awaken.”

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Frank Herber

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“The future remains uncertain and so it should,

for it is the canvas upon which we paint our desires.

Thus always the human condition

faces a beautifully empty canvas.

We possess only this moment

in which to dedicate ourselves continuously

to the sacred presence

which we share and create.”

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Frank Herbert

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“If you need something to worship, then worship life –

all life, every last crawling bit of it!

We’re all in this beauty together!”

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Frank Herbert

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“When a wise man does not understand, he says: “I do not understand.”
The fool and the uncultured are ashamed of their ignorance.
They remain silent
when a question could bring them wisdom.”
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Frank Herbert
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Blossom XL: Zantedeschia

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The first of our overwintered  Zantedeschia  opened its first blossom this morning.  I might have missed it, had I let the misting rain keep me indoors.  This cool, foggy morning coaxed me outside to do a little planting; a little moving of pots from their protective shade into their permanent summer spots.

Feet damp, and camera covered in raindrops, I was taking a quick turn around the upper garden when the pure white elegance of it caught my eye.

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Zantedeschia albomaculata is named for the white spots on its leaves.  Spotted leaf calla lilies want wetter soil than those without spots.  Both want full sun, and reward good care with elegant flowers.

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Zantedeschia looks so tropical.  And yet, they survive our winters, here in the northern reaches of their hardiness zone (Zones 7-10).  Their elegant leaves never fail to surprise me when they finally emerge each spring.  The leaves would be enough, some would say.  That is, until their blossoms begin to appear.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’ will have deep purple flowers when it blooms.

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Although we have Zantedeschia blooming in shades of purple, pink, rose, peach and white in the garden; the pure white flowers remain our favorites.

Many people call these flowers ‘calla lily,’ especially when ordering stems from the florist.  There is actually a North American Calla palustris, which grows in bogs, swamps and ponds.  A near relative, it looks very similar, but is not as refined.

The newest Zantedeschias  in our collection are called Z. aethiopica ‘White Giant,’ and may eventually grow to 5′ to 6′ tall in good soil and consistent moisture.

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Z. ‘White Giant’ is still a very young plant in our garden. We expect the leaves to grow larger as the weeks go by, and hope it will bloom this first year. Here, it grows with Caladium ‘Burning Heart.’

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Like this beautiful blossom in form and color, they will grow more like the tremendous clumps of white Zantedeschia aethiopica I’ve admired in front gardens in coastal Oregon, where the hardy clumps expand a bit each year.  Mature clumps grow 3′-4′ tall there, already blooming by early April.

We have our new Z. ‘White Giant’ all in pots at the moment, but I plan to plant most of them from their pots into the garden this fall, and expect them to grow a bit better each year..

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Like other Aroids, Zantedeschia is a good plant choice in areas grazed by deer.  They have tiny calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves which will irritate the mouth and upset the stomach of any who try to eat its leaves.   Zantedeschia belong to the same family and subfamily, Aroideae, as Caladiums, Colocasia, and our beautiful Arum italicum. 

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Do you see the family resemblance to this Arum italicum, which is preparing to go dormant for the summer?  As the leaves die back, the green berries will grow bright reddish orange, when ripe.  Its flower is also the simple spadix and spathe form, in a creamy green.

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Their leaves are large and beautiful.  Their flowers are the simple ‘spathe and spadix’ form, which in many genera turn into green, berry covered stalks after fertilization.  Other than calla lilies, most of the plants in this family are grown for their leaves or for their edible tubers.

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This Caladium flower isn’t nearly as sturdy or long lasting as a calla flower. Most gardeners cut Caladium flowers away so all the plant’s energy goes into leaf production.

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Natives of southern Africa, these elegant callas enjoy full sun and consistently moist soil.  Buy them as dry tubers in the early spring, or as potted plants at many nurseries and grocery stores.  Plant tubers near the soil’s surface in good potting mix, and keep just moist until growth begins.

If growing callas in pots, make sure to add fertilizer to the soil to keep them at their best.

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I’m not sure where these peachy orange calla lilies came from…. I was expecting them to be purple when I planted their tubers earlier this spring….  Is this Z. ‘Mango’?  At any rate, we will enjoy them and appreciate their generous blooms.

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Zantedeschia are often grown commercially for their flowers, much loved by florists world-wide.  Calla stems are long-lasting in a vase, perhaps for several weeks if one changes the water and re-cuts the stem every few days.

If you love their flowers, why not grow them yourself, and enjoy the beauty of the entire plant?  This is an easy plant if you give it the sun and moisture it craves.  Whether you grow it in a pot or in a bed, it will reward your efforts with many years of gorgeous foliage and elegant blossoms.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Rooting Caladium Leaves

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“Oops!  I didn’t mean to do that!”

Sometimes when I am transplanting a Caladium, a leaf will break off in the process.  No matter how careful I’m trying to be with moving the plant from where it has been growing to where it will be growing, a piece will sometimes break away.

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And with such a lovely leaf, why would anyone simply throw it away?  And that is how I discovered a little discussed secret about Caladiums. 

A green-handed gardening friend had a rooted Caladium leaf on her kitchen windowsill when I visited with her last summer, and I learned that it is possible to root a Caladium leaf from her.

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A Caladium leaf grows on a petiole that is connected, below ground, to the Caladium’s tuber.  The tuber is a fleshy storage organ which helps the plant survive while it is dormant, without active leaves or roots.

It is from the tuber that new roots and stems emerge when there is sufficient warmth and moisture to support growth.  New leaves emerge from the tuber at a growth point called a ‘bud,’ which is rich in growth hormones.

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Late October 2017, tubers were still in active growth when I dug them up to store over winter.  Tubers tend to grow in segments.  Larger tubers may be broken apart into smaller sections, especially when digging them in the fall.  This is another way to propagate more plants.

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When a Caladium leaf, and its petiole, break off with a bit of the brown tuber still attached, there is potential for this ‘division’ to grow new roots.

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These leaves have been rooting for only a few days. On a rainy humid day like today, there is a good chance that these rooted leaves will establish quickly in a pot in a shady spot.

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Once the roots form, the leaf is likely to survive.  The leaf has to be able to absorb enough water to prevent it from wilting, as water evaporates from its surface.   A new tuber begins to grow at the point where the roots are growing from the petiole.

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Once this new tuber is actively growing, new leaves will begin to emerge.  The more leaves in active growth, the more photosynthesis will occur.  The sugars produced during photosynthesis will be sent to the new tuber for storage.

Depending on how many weeks the new plant can grow before it goes back into dormancy, the tuber may bulk up enough to survive until spring.  If it doesn’t, you will still have enjoyed the rooted Caladium leaf for that season.

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I transplanted the newly rooted leaf into this shady spot on the deck where it can continue growth. If it needs more space in a few weeks, it will be easy enough to transplant it to a pot of its own.

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One must be careful about respecting plant patents in any home-grown propagation efforts.  That said, I have been carefully saving any leaves that break away while I am transplanting Caladiums this spring, and placing them in clean bottles filled with fresh water.

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Small bottles tend to work well, and I change out the water every few days to minimize any bacterial growth that would stop the process before the leaf can grow new roots.

Keep this technique in mind if you are designing pots or making floral arrangements and don’t have room for a fully established Caladium plant.  Maybe you do have room for a rooted leaf to make your arrangement sparkle with that special flair a Caladium leaf always brings.

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 September 2017, a successfully rooted leaf grows on. I hope it will emerge again this spring.

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I successfully established this rooted leaf last summer, and stored its tiny tuber in its pot over winter.  I’m still waiting to see whether it survived, and will leaf out again this year.

“Fingers crossed…”

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: It Lived!

Our figs lived through this long and very cold winter.

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We’ve been watching the fig trees daily for signs of life.  Yes, along with the joy and excitement of spring, there is a fair degree of anxiety, for some of us, about what survived the winter and what did not.  As I chat with gardening friends, the topic of what has survived and what is not in leaf comes up again and again, these days.

That anxiety and expectation has been preoccupying me this week as I tour the garden expectantly between attempts at unpacking our basement and garage.  What am I unpacking, you might wonder? 

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Applecourt’ has leafed out this month, and the hardy Begonias have begun to emerge and grow.  It is always a relief to see their small red leaves appear each spring.  Newly planted Caladiums will soon open their first leaves, too.

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In those last warmish weeks of late October and early November, we moved as many of our tender perennials as we could into the basement and the garage.  It has been a horticultural Noah’s Ark these past months as the survivors have huddled together in the relative security of these all too dim spaces, waiting for spring.

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Colacasia ‘Mojito’s’ tubers were stored over winter in the basement, and have come back to the garden today.

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And now that it is clearly spring, we have been bringing them back out into the light, watering and grooming each pot and basket, and allowing them to rest a while in the shade on the way to their summer homes.  There is an urgency about bringing these brave survivor plants back out into the life-giving warmth and light of early summer, and looking for signs of life.

Dormancy, for a plant, can fool you.  The plant may look completely dead; bare branches, bare soil, brown slimy leaves.  The whole ugly mess… may still harbor life in the roots and branches.  Pitch it too soon, and you have lost a beautiful plant.  Wait too long, and the plant’s life force may expire.

Sad to admit, but I have erred a few times on the side of impatience when I should have just waited a bit longer for a plant to awaken into new growth.

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There is the matter of the Colocasias and Alocasias I stuffed into grocery bags last autumn and stowed in the basement.  To be honest with you, I didn’t want to lift and carry their generous pots to the basement.  And so I followed the odd advice I found somewhere on the internet to store their root balls in paper bags.  Given the choice between further hurting my back, losing my beautiful plants, or trusting the anonymous but reasonable advice…. I took the chance with the grocery bags.

Miraculously, there was a vivid green leaf of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ bravely waving at me from above the crusty brown rim of the bag in February.  But it was still too cold to repot them, then, and I’ve procrastinated on this task since things warmed up in late April.  When I went to retrieve them this afternoon there was nothing green or promising about the mess waiting for me in the bags.

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But I soldiered on and lugged them up from the basement and out to my work area, where I managed to beat and coax and squeeze their rigid root balls of the two largest plants into 5 gallon plastic pots.  After a thorough watering, I’ve set the pots aside in a warm bright spot to see whether my plants will resurrect themselves from their dormant tubers.

There were a dozen smaller tubers, still attached to the desiccated leaves of other plants rescued last autumn.  I’ve trimmed and planted them into waiting pots and I will hope to see their leaves emerge by June.

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The Afghan fig F. ‘Silver Lyre’ returns from its roots each May.  Rarely, leaves will emerge from buds on last year’s stems.

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And my beautiful reward for all of the effort today came on my last tour of the garden this afternoon:  fig leaves!  Our figs are finally awakening, trusting that the summer weather is settling in at last.  Their buds are opening up and leaves unfurling on the branches even as new sprouts emerge from the soil.

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One by one, our winter dormant plants are springing back to life and growth.  We’re still waiting for a few woodies, like those olive trees that overwintered on the patio because I couldn’t lug their huge pots indoors.  There is still green wood just beneath their thin bark, and so I’ve not yet given up.

Hope fuels us gardeners.  And the smallest green leaf emerging from a brown and wrinkled stem can make all of that patience and effort worthwhile.

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Woodland Gnome  2018

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Iris ‘Strange Rites’

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious! 

Let’s infect one another.

Where In the World?

Virginia native Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

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Lesley Buck, in her beautiful new book, Cutting Back, describes her apprenticeship as a gardener in the gardens of Kyoto.  After studying the art of pruning and Bonsai for more than 7 years near her home in California, she took a leap of faith and moved to Japan in hopes of finding an apprenticeship.  Her memoir not only reflects on her experiences, but also shares some of her understanding of gardening with native plants.

Early in the book, Buck observes that Japanese gardens are composed almost entirely of native plants, many of them centuries old within the garden.  The gardener’s goal is to make the garden’s landscape look and feel as natural as possible.

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Her advice to gardeners in America interested in creating a Japanese garden?  Use plants native to the natural environment where you live, and use Japanese design principles in composing and caring for this garden of your own particular native plants.

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North American native Wisteria frutescens, growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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I was surprised, and yet not surprised, to read this advice.  The ‘Japanese’ gardens I grew up visiting featured Japanese plants:  Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Iris, Japanese pines and of course, Japanese Maple trees.  Many of us favor Japanese or Chinese flowering woody plants for our gardens whether we style our gardens after Japanese principles, or not.  These are beautiful plants and we enjoy them.

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Acer palmatum

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And yet, how often have you noticed, when traveling from city to city, the same relatively small palette of plants used time and again in public and residential landscapes?  The nursery trade in our country traditionally has focused on certain popular and easy to grow and transport plants.

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English shrub roses, hybridized and cultivated over several centuries, make me feel at home. I plant them in every garden I make.

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Walk into any garden center in the eastern half of the United States right now, and you will find flat after flat of neon bright petunias and geraniums, won’t you?  There will be Knock-Out roses, a nice selection of box and at least a few pots of mophead Hydrangea.

And of course we’ll find the ubiquitous azaleas, Rhododendrons and Japanese maple trees.  We like what we like, don’t we?

When we rely on nursery stock to landscape our private and public spaces, we may create a familiar sense of beauty; or perhaps even a boring predictability from one area to another.   Do we want to encounter the same plants again and again as we travel, or do we want to find something unique to our destination?

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In this section of our fern garden an interesting mix of native ferns, hybrids and imported Hellebores grow elbow to elbow.

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Only recently have more and more nurseries chosen to propagate and sell a larger percentage of native plants.  And in recent years, a growing cohort of us have taken an interest in learning about, and  appreciating our native plants in our own home gardens.  It is these natives which give us our sense of place, which help us identify ‘home.’  Our native plants attract and support the birds, butterflies and small mammals of our native environment, too.

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Broad beech fern, Phegopteris hexagonoptera, is native in woodsy areas of coastal Virginia.  It grows here at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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We enjoy a wide choice of very beautiful native plants in coastal Virginia.  Our landscapes are filled with majestic trees , vigorous vines, wild fruits and interesting flowers.  Surrounding ourselves with familiar plants helps us feel more ‘at home,’ and gives us a sense of place that feels very personal.

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A native muscadine grape vine grows near our home. We expect to be picking grapes by mid-summer.

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Yet,  because we have over 400 years of history here, there are many other plants, brought to Virginia by the early colonists, which may feel like natives, because they have become a part of our culture and our historic heritage:  boxwood, tulips, peonies, roses, azaleas and bearded Iris come to mind.

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Peonies, much loved in our Virginia gardens, came to our country with the early colonists.

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Wandering the historic gardens in our area, one realizes that the colonists created beautiful formal, European style gardens in this new land of Virginia to make it feel like home to them.  Even as they send seeds and cuttings of Virginia’s trees back to Europe, they imported the herbs, flowers and shrubs they were accustomed to finding in their gardens ‘back home’.

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The fronds of native ferns emerge through the leaves of a daffodil.  Daffodils were highly valued in Colonial times and were among the beautiful European plants colonists brought with them to Virginia.

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The annual rhythm of growth and bloom, fruiting, seed and leaf fall bring us a sense of comfort and familiarity.  The familiar colors of the landscape help set the mood in daily life.

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Native dogwood is our state flower, and the Virginia Native Wildflower of the Year for 2018.

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These beautiful plants are like the well worn and much loved kitchen table in our childhood home.  They help create our sense of our own place in the world.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Native Hydrangea quercifolia

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  A Place In the World

Sunday Dinner: “Be Fruitful”

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“Don’t sit at home and wait
for mango tree to bring mangoes to you wherever you are.
It won’t happen.
If you are truly hungry for change,
go out of your comfort zone
and change the world.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“True passion motivates the life forces
and brings forth all things good.
.
Gabriel Brunsdon

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Double Narcissus ‘Gay Tabour’

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“Try not to become a man of success.
Rather become a man of value.”
.
Albert Einstein

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“There is no season of your life
that you cannot produce something.”
.
Bidemi Mark-Mordi

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“To be fruitful
is to understand the process of growth”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“It had long since come to my attention
that people of accomplishment
rarely sat back and let things happen to them.
They went out and happened to things.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci

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“Success is not how high you have climbed,
but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time

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We are just finishing a harsh winter, and find ourselves in the midst of a chilly, slow spring.  Most of our woodies and perennials are a little behind the times in showing new growth, according to our experience with them in recent years.  Understandable!

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The Camellias didn’t do well in our cold, windy winter weather.

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We had a few nights in January when the lows dipped a little below 0 degrees F, which is rare here.  We had winter temperatures more like Zone 6, found several hundred miles to the west.  Our woodies and perennials rated for Zones 7 or 8 suffered from the deep, prolonged cold.  And it shows.

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Normally evergreen shrubs, now show extensive leaf damage, with brown and curling leaves.  Bark on some trunks and branches split and some stand now with bare branches.   Those woody shrubs that can easily withstand winter in Zones 6a or colder generally look OK.  But those that normally grow to our south, that we coddle along here in the edge or warmer climates, took a hit.

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I needed to cut back far more dead wood from our roses than any year in memory.  It is a very sad sight to see established shrubs looking so bad here in the second week of April.  Our cool temperatures through March and early April, with a little snow recently, have slowed the whole process of new spring growth, too.

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Some gardeners may be struggling with a decision about whether to replace these badly damaged plants.  Now that the garden centers are finally allowing deliveries of fresh stock, it is certainly tempting to rip out the shabby and re-plant with a vigorous plant covered in fresh growth.

I will counsel patience, which is the advice I am also giving to myself this week!  We invest in woodies and perennials mainly because they are able to survive harsh winters.  While leaves and some branches may be lost, there is still life in the wood and in the roots.

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I was out doing the ‘scratch test’ on a completely bare lilac shrub this morning.  Its condition is still a troubling mystery to us, as several other lilacs, of the same cultivar, are leafing out and are covered in budding flowers.  But this one, on the end of the row, sits completely bare without a swelling bud to be seen.  I scratched a little with my fingernail one of the major branches, and found green just below its thin bark.  So long as there is green, there is life.

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This lilac survived our winter in a pot near the kitchen door. We are delighted to see it in bloom so early. I’ll plant this shrub out in the garden once the blooms are finished. It has been in this pot for several years, after arriving as a bare root twig in the mail in early 2015.

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I want to prune this one back pretty severely, mostly because it is becoming an eyesore.  But my Master Gardener friend strongly advises to give it more time.  She suggests waiting until early June to make life and death decisions on trees and shrubs, to give them time to recover.

I may prune the lilac a little, now that the freezing weather here is likely over for the year, and hope that stimulates some fresh growth.

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Japanese Maples have finally allowed their leaves to unfold this week.

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That is what we’ve done with the roses.  We pruned, hard, and we see new shoots coming from the roots on all of our roses now.

There are a few good reasons to nurse our winter damaged woodies back to health instead of replacing them now.  First, our tree or shrub is established and has a developed root system.  Even if all of its trunks and stems are dead, new ones will soon appear from the roots.  This seems to happen every single year with my Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’.  It keeps the shrub a manageable size, and the plant looks pretty good again by early summer.

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F. ‘Silver Lyre’s’ stems are visible beside the Iris leaves. Rated to Zone 7b, it always returns, sometime in May, from its roots.  A Sweetbay Magnolia waits behind it, in a nursery pot.  I want to see some sign of life before planting it.

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Another reason to rejuvenate an established shrub, rather than plant a new one, is economic.  Finding a good sized shrub to replace the old one is a bit of an investment.  Weather and higher fuel prices are definitely reflected in shrub prices this spring.  I’ve felt a little bit of ‘sticker shock’ when looking at prices at area nurseries.

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These Viburnums show cold damage, even while still at a local nursery.

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And even if you buy a new shrub, it is likely to sustain damage during its adjustment time, if you live in deer country.  Shrubs fresh from the grower have been heavily fertilized to induce quick growth.  This extra nitrogen in the plant’s tissue tastes a little ‘salty’ to grazing deer, and makes the shrub that much more delicious and attractive to them.  It takes a year or so of growth before the tastiness of new shrubs seems to decline, and they are ignored by grazing deer.

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I’ve just watched a major investment in new holly trees get nibbled down nearly to the branches by deer in our area.  It is very discouraging, especially if your new shrub is replacing one damaged by winter’s weather!

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This Eucalyptus sometimes sprouts new leaves from its existing trunks in spring. Last winter it was killed back to its roots, but then grew about 6′ during the season.  I expect it to send up new growth from its roots by early May.

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All things considered, I am planning to give our woodies another six to eight weeks, and every possible chance, before declaring them and cutting them out.  It is the humane and sensible approach.  Even though the selection at garden centers this month is tempting, I will wait.

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The view this week at the top of our garden. Still looks rather wintery, doesn’t it?  The southern wax myrtles which normally screen our view, were hit hard by the cold, and a new flush of leaves have not yet opened.

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In this climate, it is generally better to plant in fall, anyway.  Fall planted shrubs get a good start in cooler weather, so their roots can grow and establish the plant in the surrounding soil before summer’s heat sets in.  The selection may be a little more sparse by October or November, but the prices are often better, as nurseries try to clear their stock before winter.

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This English holly, purchased last November, lived in a container over winter, and may be too far gone to save. I planted it out in the garden last month in hope it may recover….

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And of course, you might try propagating replacement shrubs yourself, from cuttings.  I have pretty good luck rooting hardwood cuttings over winter, or greenwood cuttings in spring and summer.  It isn’t hard to do, if you are willing to wait a few years for the shrub to grow to maturity.

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As with so many thing in the garden, it takes time and patience to achieve our goals.  They say that ‘time heals all things.’

That may not be true 100% of the time, but patience allows us to achieve many things that others may believe impossible!

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Our red buckeye tree was knocked back to the ground in a summer 2013 storm.  It lived and has grown to about 5′ high in the years since.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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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’ll 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 gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

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