Six on Saturday: Perennial Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

 

Six on Saturday: Textured Tapestry

Siberian Iris just began to bloom here this week.

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We’ve had a wet week here in coastal Virginia.  It always rains on the Irises here.  I keep waiting to be proven wrong on that maxim, but I can’t remember a year when my beautiful tall German Iris haven’t been beaten down under heavy rain and wind.  Brave and hardy as Iris prove in our garden, those 4′ tall stalks covered in buds and bloom can only take so much before they crumple in the rain.  I’ve been cutting away those soggy, crumpled blooms between showers, and propping up fallen stems.

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Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia is native to our region

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I believe most all of us gardeners still feel excitement when our favorite flowers bloom.  Some years that excitement lasts a nice long while.  Other times the weather grows erratic and the blooms are cut short by too much heat or cold, rain or drought.  Flowers come in so many novel shapes and sizes that we might never grow them all.  But for me, it is the intense pop of color that I crave most.

It is hard to pick a favorite as most every color becomes my favorite in its own place and season.  When the flowers fade and drop (and they always do,) we’re left with the rest of the plant: stems and leaves.  And so that had better be somehow attractive, too.

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Purple Violas bloom with a lady fern. Wild strawberries and Vinca hide their pot and  fill the bed around fading daffodil leaves.

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At some point in our garden planning each of us turns our attention from the bright excitement of flowers to the textured tapestry of beautiful foliage.  And I don’t mean the ‘restful’ monotony of solid green meatball shrubs growing out of a grassy green carpet.  I’m thinking more of the extravagant textures and intricate color patterns found on many leaves.  Leaves are long-lived.  Most will grow on for many months before fading away.

Some plants we grow for their leaves alone, never expecting or wanting their flowers.  There are thousands of ferns that never bloom.  Shade gardeners also love Hosta, and generally have strong opinions on whether to allow them to bloom or not.  Other easy choices include Heuchera, coleus, Begonias, Caladiums, the many beautiful ornamental grasses, and Liriope.

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Autumn fern ‘Brilliance’ grows larger and better each year. Strawberry Begonia fills the pots surrounding this bed of ferns and Hellebores.

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For pure texture, without much variegation or shading, I love herbs.  But oh, the wonderful colors in the herbal palette!  There are so many silvery, shimmery greys, deep green rosemary, purple basil leaves and every color of green mint.  Most herbs are easy to grow with very little thought or care.  They can take heat and drought and are ignored by pests and pesky grazers.  Too much rain and humidity are the only things that stop their performance.

And honestly, I’m developing a new appreciation of those wild volunteer plants commonly called ‘weeds.’  Some indigenous to this garden I’ve since realized are native wildflowers.  Others were once cultivated but now run wild.  When you just look at them for their texture, shape and color, many have their own beauty.  They may be thugs and crowd out something you planted, and may need pulling and thinning at times.  But that remains true of many perennials we plant, too.

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The humble strawberry begonia, that I cultivated as a hanging houseplant in the 70’s, is actually a hardy perennial here in Williamsburg.  I started a few years ago with just a few small pots.  And as they multiplied (one of the plants known as ‘mother of thousands,’ by the way) I have used them in more pots and beds.  What was innocently planted last year as an accent plant will soon enough take over the entire pot or bed.  But what a beautiful groundcover!  And now, in May, when they bloom with stalks of tiny white fairy shaped flowers, I am glad that I’ve let it run.

These are aren’t members of the ‘Begonia’ genus.  They are a Saxifraga and perform especially well in rock gardens and pots.  But the leaf is silvery and bright like some Begonias, and it runs like a strawberry with new plants growing at the ends of long stolons.  Saxifraga stolonifera is hardy in Zones 6-9 and remains evergreen if left outside here over winter.

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Native muscadine grape produce good edible grapes, when allowed to bloom. Many gardeners clear these away as they quickly grow huge if left unpruned.

 

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Once we find ourselves in May, and perennials grow again and woody’s leaves unfold, the many interesting textures of our garden weave themselves together in beautiful and novel ways.  It is a little different every year.  Once I can get past the novelty of bright flowers blooming again, I settle in to enjoy the every changing tapestry of stems and leaves that reliably furnish the garden from now until first frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a garden photo and a thought provoking quotation each day.

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

Six on Saturday: Endless Summer

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It’s never a good thing when odd weather makes the news.  The news here this week has noted both our high, mid-summer like temperatures and the deepening drought.  It has felt like July or early August instead of our usual gentle cooling slide into October.  I read this morning that parts of the Southeastern United States not only broke every record for daily high temperatures this past week, but some broke their record high for the entire year, over the past three days.

Clear skies and relentless heat through most of September has left our gardens, fields and roadsides crisp and thirsty.  Even some trees and shrubs look a bit limp, with leaves turning brown and falling early.  Rich autumn colors have been parched out of much of our foliage; an anti-climatic ending to this remarkable year.

But every day I still study the forecast, expecting our slim chance for rain to materialize into a sweet, moist, life-giving inundation.

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A Painted Lady butterfly feeds on Lantana in our front garden.

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Until that happens, the only life-giving water comes from a watering can or hose, and I’ve spent many hours this week delivering water to hard, parched dirt in hopes of sustaining thirsty plants through another searing day of heat.

It chased me back indoors on Wednesday.  After a relatively cool morning, where I was able to enjoy making my watering rounds at the Botanical Garden, the morning blazed into mid-day heat.  I could feel the sun burning through my hat and shirt like a cosmic broiler, as I dutifully watered the last few pots on the patio here at home.  I’ve never felt the sun so strongly in October, or felt chased back indoors so urgently to cool off and re-hydrate myself.  I sat under the ceiling fan, water in hand, and considered how this new weather reality will demand changes in how I plant in years to come.

But even as the leaves crisp and our black-eyed Susans bloom on blackened stems, bright purple berries shine on beautyberry branches, buds swell and bloom on our Camellias, pineapple sage opens its first flowers of the season and butterflies float around the garden

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The first Camellias bloomed in our garden last week.

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Our masses of Lantana support countless small butterflies, all feeding and hovering about their bulk.  I get a rush of pleasure from walking near and seeing the cloud of butterflies rise and resettle at my approach.  A Monarch fed placidly yesterday until I had it in focus.  An instant before I clicked the shutter it rose, looped around a time or two and disappeared across the crest of our roof.

Judith brought over her hamper of chrysalides on Tuesday afternoon.  About 20 butterflies were still growing inside, awaiting their day to break free, stretch their wings, and fly away.  Some of these were the same ones she rescued a few weeks ago from our fennel plants.  After handfeeding them organic parsley as they grow, she protects their chrysalides in mesh cages while they pupate.  Finally, they break out of their protective sheaths to stretch and harden their wings.

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The first Black Swallowtail to emerge from the hamper Judith loaned us was a female.  Here, she allows her wings to stretch and harden before her first flight.  She is resting directly above her now empty chrysalis.

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As we release each adult butterfly from the hamper, I wonder, ‘How do they learn to fly?’

A female flew out of the cage and rested lightly on the Lantana yesterday morning, and then floated up onto a low branch of a nearby dogwood, considering her new world.  Do butterflies remember their caterpillar lives?  Do they recognize the garden from such a different viewpoint?

Butterflies emerge from the chrysalis totally prepared for the next stage of their lives, and float off, effortlessly, to get on with the important business of sucking nectar and finding a mate.  Maybe we aren’t so different, when you really think about it.

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This long tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus, is more commonly found in South and Central America, but it has been sighted as far north as New York. It feeds on bean, Wisteria and pea leaves, so its larvae is often considered a pest.  As an adult, it is very unusual land beautiful.  Here, it feeds on Buddleia and Verbena.

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And this generation emerging from their chrysalis this week will likely mate and lay their eggs in the garden before we see frost.  Winter seems far away this week and summer, endless.

The gardening ‘to-do’ list seems longer now than it did in August, since it’s nearly time to put the garden to bed, plant a few daffodil bulbs, pull out the annuals and fill our pots with pansies.

But that will have to wait a bit while I play with the butterflies, water, and take time to appreciate the beauty of our late summer garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

 

Pot Shots: Rescue Plants

Hosta ‘Halcyon’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Fabulous Friday: Who’s Welcome to Dine?

White butterfly ginger lily produces abundant nectar loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators. It perfumes the garden, making it one of our favorites, too. Deer never touch it.

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When planning your garden and buying plants, is your first consideration who, or what, might eat them?

If you’re planting fruit trees, tomato vines, or salad greens you’re likely planning to share the fruits of your labor and investment with family and friends.  Some friends of mine garden in a community garden, where much of the produce raised is donated to our local FISH organization.

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Begonia ‘Gryphon’ sometimes gives up leaves to deer, or even squirrels. Begonia ‘Pewterware’ has holes on its leaves from nibbling insects . These are plants I grow for the beauty of their leaves, and I hope to enjoy them without wildlife feeding on them.

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But food crops aside, when planting ornamental plants, do you expect them to get nibbled down to next to nothing?

That is an interesting conundrum that many of my gardening friends grapple with each season.  We’re inconsistent in our views here, too.  I’m irritated with the deer who sneak into our garden and then nibble at our shrubs and flowers.  I’ve been struggling to keep rabbits away from ornamental sweet potato vines planted in some pots, spraying Repels All with determination on a regular basis so the vines might grow.

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And yet, many, many gardeners plant perennials and herbs specifically to feed the butterflies and their larvae.  We sold hundreds of pots of milkweed at the recent Butterfly Festival plant sale at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I can’t tell you how many gardeners happily bought plants and considered it a bonus to have a resident Monarch cat already munching away on their leaves.

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Monarch cats already munching on our milkweed plants, for sale.

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I checked in with a friend the following week.  “How is your milkweed doing?”  I asked.

“Not so well,” she replied, “All of its leaves are gone.”  She thought she had done something wrong in caring for her new plant, to make it lose its leaves.  I explained that the reason to grow milkweed is for it to feed and support Monarch larvae.  The cats had eaten her plant’s leaves, and the roots were still alive.  She should be patient and watch for new growth.

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Asclepias, milkweed left over from the Butterfly Festival plant sale at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden has been nibbled down to nubs. But the roots are alive, and new top growth will appear soon.  The fencing will help keep out bunnies, but Monarchs can still reach the plants to lay their eggs.

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How many of us are willing to buy plants, expecting their foliage to be eaten away by insects?

One of my butterfly loving friends visited yesterday afternoon, and as I was walking her back to her car, we detoured into the upper garden.  We were watching the hummers, bees and butterflies go about their always hungry business when she spotted a clearwing moth.  That was the first I’ve seen in that part of the garden in several weeks, and we were both happily watching it feed on the black-eyed Susans when I suddenly noticed a cat covered fennel plant beside us.

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Fennel plant covered in nearly two dozen cats.

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The fennel plants had been an afterthought.  I bought them on clearance in early June, and planted three or four in a sunny spot where I thought they would grow well, but not necessarily where I thought they would add much aesthetically to the garden scene.

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We could barely see the plant, most of its leaves already stripped away.  It was something like an odd-ball Christmas tree almost completely covered with crawling cats.  We counted nearly two dozen.

We were both excited to see so many Black Swallowtail larvae at once, and found more on a nearby plant.  This is my friend who released three emerging Black Swallowtail butterflies into our garden this spring, and she was clearly ready to adopt these cats.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly cats make short work of our fennel plants.

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Since the food source was nearly all gone, I was happy for her to take them.  I know she will patiently feed them parsley until they pupate, and then I know she’ll bring at least some of them back to release here, when they are ready to emerge from their chrysalis and fly. What a magical experience to watch a butterfly emerge from the husk of what was once a caterpillar!

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In mid-April, Judith released three emerging butterflies that she had collected as cats late last November; the day before a hard freeze.  She raised these on parsley for several weeks until they were ready to pupate.  I had originally spotted them at the WBG, and so she brought them to our garden when they emerged.

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We still have time this year for another generation of eggs to hatch and their larvae to mature and pupate.   Eastern Black Swallowtails don’t migrate like Monarchs, but a generation will overwinter here in their chrysalides, ready to emerge next spring.

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More and more, my plant choices aren’t so much about form and color to please myself, but rather plants to support various birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, wasps, and other pollinators.  We love watching them feed and go about their life cycles.

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A male, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Lantana. The flowers are long lived, continually producing fresh nectar over several days.

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I used to make the distinction that pollinators suck nectar, but leave the plant intact.  That is how I shaped my thinking to support pollinators, while trying to keep the deer away.  Rabbits are always welcome to graze our front lawn, eating whatever grass or other plants may grow there, but the voles who eat the roots of things, are not.  I confuse myself sometimes making these distinctions about who is welcome to dine, and who is not.

And now my mind and heart have opened to include the caterpillars happily munching away on herbs and other host plants.  They are welcome, and I happily plan for their sustenance, too.

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Fennel and parsley support many Swallowtail butterflies. Monarchs need Asclepias. Many native trees, vines and shrubs also support particular butterfly larvae as host plants.  The darker caterpillar here is younger than its mates, but is the same species.

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I’ve spent a happy Friday observing caterpillars and asking those smarter than me to teach me about them.

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None of us have yet been able to identify these cats covering a hybrid Angelonia. There are more than a dozen on this plant, growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  It is unusual to find native butterfly larvae on non-native plants, and so we wonder whether this may be some sort of moth…?

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I’ve taken pleasure in the flight of hummingbirds and butterflies.  This afternoon, I thought I saw a yellow leaf, gently falling to the ground.  Only the leaf landed on the Lantana and fluttered there, revealing itself to be a beautiful male Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, in the midst of his feeding rounds around the garden.

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I read yesterday that researchers have determined that quietly listening to birds singing is more relaxing than most medications people take to cope with the stresses and disappointments of modern life.  I would add watching butterflies feed, and listening for hummers, as simple pleasures that bring us great happiness and contentment.

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Our upper garden, looking a little bedraggled after storms and heavy rains last night, still supports many different species of pollinators and birds, rabbits, turtles, lizards, squirrels, and who knows what else?

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As with so many other things we might do, when we open our hearts to generously provide for others beyond ourselves; I would suggest that planting a wildlife garden is a good antidote to the stresses and sorrows of life.

Perhaps we can offset some of our other environmental transgressions a bit, by creating a safe space to nurture wildlife.  A safe and beautiful place, to find joy and peace of mind for ourselves, too.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Walk in kindness toward the Earth and every living being.
Without kindness and compassion for all of Mother Nature’s creatures,
there can be no true joy; no internal peace, no happiness.
Happiness flows from caring for all sentient beings
as if they were your own family,
because in essence they are.
We are all connected to each other and to the Earth.”
.
Sylvia Dolson

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Newly emerged Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly dries its wings in our garden late last summer.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another

Six on Saturday: Silver Lining

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Sometimes it’s a real challenge to find the ‘silver lining’ in difficult events.  I was taught, growing up, to always look for the good in people, the opportunity within a challenge, and the silver lining in whatever events may come.  This sort of thinking helps us remain optimistic and resilient, and perhaps gives us a little more happiness and peace of mind along the way.

But the slow swirling menace of Hurricane Dorian’s approach over the last few weeks has cast its long shadow across those of us living near the Atlantic coast, as we’ve watched its destructive progress.  We saw the utter devastation it caused as it chewed its way across the islands in its path.

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We watched the updates to its track, strength and speed.  We wondered just how a mighty storm was supposed to make a 90 degree turn from moving west to moving northeastwards, as it pivoted off of the Florida coast.  But it did, just in time to ‘save’ certain luxury properties along the southern Florida coast.  We live in an amazing age, don’t we?

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We watched the eye of the storm slowly skirt along the coast, just offshore, as its long rain bands and dangerous winds reached inland to rake across Georgia, South and North Carolina, and finally reach into Virginia yesterday morning.

We know so many people living in its path, and so many of those places that it touched from happy summers spent on beautiful island beaches along the coast.  We’ve taken the ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke and driven through the National Park to spend happy days in Ocracoke village.  The hospitable people who live there spent yesterday watching the tide rise and overwash their island home as they moved up into attics and out onto roofs, waiting for rescue from the mainland to arrive.

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Hurricane Dorian made a brief landfall at Cape Hatteras, a tiny sliver of sand miles off the mainland coast, before turning further out to sea and away from our home along the James River.  It is still swirling along, a monster storm, bringing wind and rain to everyone within miles of the Atlantic coast, as it heads ever further northwards towards Canada.

We’ve watched the reports in fascination and horror, as weather journalists reported along the path of the storm.  Our hearts are touched by the resilience of people who weather these monster storms year after year, rebuilding their homes and their lives to live along the coast.

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The windswept beaches of our Atlantic coast feel timeless because they survive these devastating challenges time and again.  The landscape is forever changed by the passage of such storms, but the land and sea and sky remain, and return to calm within hours of the storm’s passing.  The people focus on what is saved and their relationships with one another, rather than focus on what they have lost.

By dinner time the winds had subsided, patches of blue sky appeared, and the remaining clouds took on soft, pastel sunset colors.  The air was cool, fall-like.  We heard birds and chirping insects before dusk, and the sounds of children finally let out to play in the street.

Another storm finally passed, and life is returning to its normal rhythms.  Perhaps ‘normal’ is the silver-lining we all hope for in the passing storms of life.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

At Work or at Play? Hummingbird Moth

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

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

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

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

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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

Sunday Dinner: Sweetness

Lycoris radiata

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“We love with all our heart
but we also keep our heart light and pliable.
It has space. It breathes.
It waits on life to give instructions.
It sings with sweetness when the winds are soft and warm.
It stands with calm patience when the storm is brewing.
It lets go when endings have left their irrefutable mark.
It moves. It heals.
It hopes.”
.
Donna Goddard

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Begonia grandis

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“True happiness is to enjoy the present,
without anxious dependence upon the future,
not to amuse ourselves
with either hopes or fears
but to rest satisfied with what we have,
which is sufficient,
for he that is so wants nothing.
The greatest blessings of mankind
are within us and within our reach.
A wise man is content with his lot,
whatever it may be,
without wishing for what he has not.”
.
Seneca

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“It is the tenderness that breaks our hearts.
The loveliness that leaves us stranded on the shore,
watching the boats sail away.
It is the sweetness that makes us want to reach out
and touch the soft skin of another person.
And it is the grace that comes to us,
undeserving though we may be.”
.
Robert Goolrick

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“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again,
I won’t look any further than my own back yard.
Because if it isn’t there,
I never really lost it to begin with.”
.
Noel Langley

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“She hated the way roses smelled,
their sweetness too fragile.
She wanted a garden of evergreens.
A garden of stones. A garden of swords.”
.
Keirsten White

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“Happiness is not a goal…
it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
.
Eleanor Roosevelt

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Magnolia liliflora reblooming to greet September.

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“Should I refuse the honey
because the bee stings?”
.
Marty Rubin

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Yes, there is a Nirvanah;

it is leading your sheep to a green pasture,

and in putting your child to sleep,

and in writing the last line of your poem”
.

Kahlil Gibran

Fabulous Friday: Continuous Effort

Our upper garden was bathed in sunlight this morning.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if gardening was all about sunbeams and rose petals, happy planting times and delicious harvests?

Let’s have a good laugh together, and then get real.  Gardening is really about making a continuous effort to fashion little improvements here and there and address challenges as they arise.

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More sunbeams and golden orbs encircle our happy Colocasia ‘Black Coral’

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If you need a bit of inspiration, please pick up the current issue of Horticulture Magazine, which is filled this month with timely advice, gorgeous photography, and wonderful suggestions for how to have fun with fall planted bulbs.

In case you’re wondering, those suggestions include a group of friends, good things to eat, and a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

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Narcissus ‘Art Design’  It’s that time of year to start thinking about planting spring bulbs….

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My gardening challenge this morning involved neither friends nor wine, but my partner was there to support and assist.

You see, there are well tended beautiful parts of our garden, and then there is this sad, steep slope from the side yard down into the ravine that suffers from erosion, vole tunnels, deer traffic, deep shade and benign neglect.  While we’ve both made efforts in this area over the years; they don’t seem to amount to much.

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This steep slope in our side yard has had erosion problems for many years. Every bit we do helps, but we’re still trying to improve it.

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A neighbor’s fallen oak wiped out many of the ornamental trees growing here when we came.  The remaining trees, and shrubs we’ve planted, have been regularly pruned by the deer.  Let’s just say the challenges have outnumbered the successes.

But excuses don’t matter a whit when it’s raining buckets and your slope is washing down into the ravine.  Which is why we decided that another ‘intervention’ is necessary this week, as we sit here on the cusp of Atlantic Hurricane Season.

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April 2017: Another area where we had an erosion problem has responded very well to these terraces and perennial plantings.

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We’ve had great success with the terraces we installed a few years ago, on the other side of the yard, to control erosion.   Even though the Rhodies didn’t take off as planned, the ferns and other perennials are filling in, and the erosion is handled.

In fact, I’ve learned that ferns are a terrific plant for controlling erosion in deep to part shade.  They set deep, thirsty roots to both hold the soil and control the amount of moisture retained in the soil.  Their dense foliage absorbs some of the impact of pounding rain.  As they grow, they create their own living mulch to keep their roots cool and moist.

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This is the planting at the top of that previously terraced slope, today.

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So it was that I loaded up my shopping cart on Wednesday with concrete landscaping blocks, pea gravel and as many holly ferns, Cyrtomium fortunei, as I could find. 

Now, I imagine some of you are thinking:  “Why don’t you just spread a good load of pine bark mulch here?”  or “Why don’t you just build a retaining wall?” 

We’ve learned that bark mulch makes moles very, very happy.  They love the stuff, and consider it great cover for their tunnels.  We use very little wood mulch, always a blend with Cypress, and I am transitioning to gravel mulch in nearly every part of the garden.  The voles hate gravel, and it is much longer lasting.

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This bluestone gravel is my current favorite to use in the upper garden.  A Yucca I thought had died reappeared a few weeks after I mulched this area.  I’m installing more of this, one bag at a time….

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A retaining wall wouldn’t work here because we use this area as a walkway between parts of the yard.  It is also so steep, that we would need major construction for it to be safe.   I don’t fancy bringing all of that heavy equipment into this part of the property.  Everything we use has to be carted in by hand.

It was my partner’s idea to space the landscape blocks a few inches apart this time.  We’ll reevaluate that decision after the next heavy rain!  But we filled in some of the divets, from collapsed vole tunnels, with the root balls of our new ferns.  Voles don’t do as much damage to fern roots as to some other perennials and woodies…. and then there is the small matter of the gravel….

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I planted five new ferns today and added two more bags of gravel to the 10 or so we’ve already spread here over the last several years.  Pea gravel gets worked down into the soil over time, and can even get washed further down the hill in a heavy rain.  The concrete blocks will stop the washing away.  Eventually, we may add a larger size of rock mulch in this entire area.

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These are two of the three holly ferns I found on sale racks Wednesday morning. With perennials, you are really buying the roots and crowns. I cleaned up the browned leaves and planted these with full confidence that they will grow into beautiful ferns.  New fiddleheads were already peaking out of the crowns.

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But this is our effort for today, and we are both satisfied.  I had two little ferns in our holding area, waiting for a permanent spot, that we added to the three new holly ferns.  I’m sure a few more will turn up over the next few weeks.

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I have already been planting a few ferns in this area over the last several years (top center). Now, I’ll also add some Helleborus transplants to the ferns, to further hold the ground and make this area more attractive in winter and early spring.  Hellebores make excellent ground cover year round and stop voles with their poisonous roots.

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Why holly ferns?  Cyrtomium fortunei, Fortune’s holly fern, is hardy at least to Zone 6.  Some sources say Zone 5.  It is evergreen, with large fronds of tough, waxy green pinnae.  The clump expands each year, and eventually, after a couple of year’s growth in a good spot, a single fern will cover an area a little more than 2′ across.  Once planted, little care is required.

Cut out brown fronds once a year, keep them watered the first year, and then just regularly admire them after that.  Disease and critter damage isn’t an issue.  This is a large, bold, shiny green plant that shrugs off ice and snow.  It is great for halting erosion in shady spots.

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Fortune’s holly fern planted in the 2017 terraces has grown very well.

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And so once the blocks were set, ferns planted and gravel spread, I was happy to go back up to the upper garden to hold a spraying hose while watching butterflies.

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Actually, I also had 3 new Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ to plant to entice more hummingbirds to the garden.  But that was quick and happy work, and only a minor distraction from admiring the butterflies.

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My partner and I agree that every summer day should be a lovely as today.  We enjoyed sunbeams and cool breezes here for most of the day.

And yes, did I mention all of the butterflies?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Fabuous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

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Dryopteris erythrosora’Brilliance’ is another of our favorite ferns. It is evergreen and easy to grow.

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“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge
to test our courage and willingness to change;
at such a moment, there is no point in pretending
that nothing has happened
or in saying that we are not yet ready.
The challenge will not wait.
Life does not look back.
A week is more than enough time for us to decide
whether or not to accept our destiny.”
.
Paulo Coelho

 

Let’s Join in The Song for the Butterflies

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”  “If the forest is gone, people will also end,” says Ajareaty Waiapi, a female chief and grandmother working to preserve her community — and the planet’s lungs.

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“And in spite of the ongoing threats from the outside world, she teaches them to celebrate, to sing and to dance.

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“At a festive party one afternoon, she rallies the women of her village to gather in a line, holding hands, teaching them a song that has been passed on for generations.

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”  “We are singing for the butterfly,” Nazaré said.

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“According to Waiapi legend, butterflies are constantly flying around tying invisible strings that hold the planet in place.

“If we don’t take care of the butterflies and their home,” she says, “they will not be happy and will stop working, causing the earth to fall.”

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Teresa Tomassoni from:  The Amazon’s best hope? A female indigenous chief is on a mission to save Brazil’s forests”  (NBC News 8.25.2019)

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“We are all butterflies
Earth is our chrysalis.”
.
LeeAnn Taylor

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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