Fabulous Friday: Growing Herbs

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One of the nicest things about summer is the garden filled with fresh herbs.  Most herbs prove very easy to grow.  They enjoy full sun, can stand a little dry weather, naturally repel pests, and smell delicious.

Herbs have such beautiful and interesting foliage, that I enjoy using them in containers and in the perennial garden. They also add an interesting touch in a vase.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows with parsley and fennel.

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Evergreen perennial herbs, like rosemary, often maintain a presence through the winter.  Even when frost damaged, most will begin to recover and grow again by early spring. Although many Mediterranean herbs are marginally hardy in our climate, we’ve had enough success overwintering them that it is well worth making the effort.

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Overwintered Lavender and Artemesia. Artemesia propagates easily from stem cuttings in early spring.

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Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Artemesia, culinary sage, Santolina, germander, oregano, chocolate mint and many varieties of Lavender remain evergreen in our garden.  Other herbs, like comphrey, dill and fennel, return with fresh growth once the weather warms.

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Comphrey is one of our earliest herbs to bloom each spring.

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We’ve had mixed experience in overwintering one of my favorite herbs, scented Pelargoniums.   I’m always thrilled to see tiny leaves emerge in early spring where one has survived the winter.  Perennials, they aren’t fond of winter indoors, unless you have a spot to keep them in bright light.

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Thyme provides lots of early nectar for pollinators. It grows into an attractive edging for perennial beds and borders.

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Scented Pelargoniums rank high on my spring shopping list, as I scout out choice varieties wherever herbs are sold.  P. ‘Citronella,’ sold to ward off mosquitoes, can be found in many garden centers and big box plant departments.  But I am always watching for the rose scented varieties and an especially pretty plant called P. ‘Chocolate Mint.’ 

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Pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ has the scent of roses

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Basil grows particularly well for us here in coastal Virginia.  It really takes off quickly in our late spring and summer heat.  Sometimes I begin with seeds, but most often watch for my favorite varieties at herb sales.  Some varieties, like African Blue Basil, are hybrids and can’t be grown true from seeds.

African Blue and Thai Basil quickly grow into small, fragrant shrubs.   I let them flower, and then enjoy the many pollinators they attract all summer.  Their seeds attract goldfinches and usually stand in my garden until after the holidays, when I finally pull the plants once the seeds are gone.

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Basil gone to seed, delighted our goldfinches and other small birds last September.

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Our garden is filling up again with growing herbs, now that we are into mid-May.  Taking some time to enjoy our herbs makes this rainy Friday fabulous.  The perennial herbs are into active growth now, and I’m finding and planting choice varieties of Basil, Salvia and Pelargonium.

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Newly planted Santolina and purple Basil will grow in quickly.

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We experimented with a relatively new Lavender cultivar last year:  L. ‘Phenomenal.’  This very hardy (Zones 5-9) and disease resistant cultivar was introduced by Peace Tree Farms in 2012. Hybrid ‘Phenomenal’ can take our muggy summers, so long as it has reasonably good drainage, and doesn’t die back during the winter.  It will eventually grow to a little more than 2 feet high and wide.  I was curious to see how it would grow for us, and bought a few plugs through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last spring.

I was so pleased with how fresh they looked all winter, that I ordered new plugs this spring.   The plugs are still growing on in pots, but I look forward to planting them out before the end of May.

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Culinary purple sage grows well with German Iris and other perennials.

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If you have faced challenges in past years overwintering your Lavender, or losing them during a muggy summer; you might want to give L. ‘Phenomenal’ a try.  These will work nicely in a good sized pot if your space is limited.  Add a little lime to the potting mix or garden soil, and try mulching around newly planted Lavender plants with light colored gravel to reflect the heat and protect the foliage from splattered soil.

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Spanish Lavender also proves very hardy and overwinters in our garden.  This is my favorite Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast.’

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Herbs prove such useful plants.  They nourish, they heal, they repel pests, and they thrive in challenging garden conditions.  Their unique leaves and healing scents add beauty to our lives.

Do you rely on herbs in your garden?  Wild at heart, they simply want a place to grow.  Why not try one this summer you’ve not grown before?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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August herbs in a vase

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3: Deadhead!

Snap the stem of spent Pelargonium flowers where it meets the main stem to 'deadhead' as the flowers fade.

Snap the stem of a spent Pelargonium flower cluster where it meets the main stem to ‘deadhead,’ as the flowers fade.

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We may grow flowers for their beauty, but from the plants’ point of view, a flower has but one purpose:  to produce seeds. 

Now, it is a noble purpose; the continuation of the species.  And that is why our beds are filled right now with little seedling trees and other ‘weeds.’ Our flowering trees do a fine job of seed production!

And certainly, there are many plants which we want to produce fruit and seeds.  Tomatoes come to mind...  But as you might imagine, it takes a lot of a plant’s energy and attention to produce those seeds; energy it might otherwise invest in producing more growth.

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Pears grow from spring's flowers. Deer grazed these branches last summer.

Pears grow from spring’s flowers. Deer grazed these branches last summer.

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If a plant produces flowers only once each year, say an apple tree, it is unlikely you’ll choose to deadhead spent flowers.  You might remove some to allow those left to grow  into larger and healthier fruit; but you’ll leave a few flowers to transform into apples!

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Fuchsia flowers wither quickly, but more are waiting to open. Keep the faded ones trim away to keep new buds forming.

A Fuchsia flower withers quickly, but more are waiting to open. Trim faded ones away to keep new buds forming.

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But many plants in our garden are grown for their flowers, not for their seeds.  And to keep those flowers coming, we need to ‘deadhead.’   The more we cut back the flowers once faded, the more flowers many plants will produce.  Along with ‘pinching,’ this frequent cutting inspires more branching, more growth, and more flowers!

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Dahlia is a 'cut and come again,' flower: The more you cut, the more will grow for you to come and cut again!

Dahlia is a ‘cut and come again,’ flower: The more you cut, the more will grow for you to come and cut again!

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This holds true for cutting flowers for a vase as well.  In this case we cut the flower just as it is opening to enjoy its beauty indoors.  But cutting the stem will still stimulate more flower production during ‘the season.’  This is true for many favorites in our ‘cutting gardens’ such as Dahlias, Zinnias, Coreopsis, Roses, and even for some Hydrangeas.

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Columbine flowers will reliably produce seed when left on the plant.

Columbine flowers will reliably produce seed when left on the plant.

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Sadly, it won’t work this way for most Iris, Columbine or Glads, which produce but one flush of blooms annually.

But beyond the utility of keeping our flowers coming on for a longer season, deadheading also keeps our plants looking their best.  Faded and drooping flowers are not very attractive.  Annuals, especially, look pretty ragged if we leave the dying flowers in place.  A little grooming, every few days, helps keep our flowering plants in top condition.  It is fairly easy and quick to do with a pair of garden scissors while watering the pots.

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Petunias respond well to frequent grooming to remove faded flowers and elongating stems.

Petunias respond well to frequent grooming,  removing faded flowers and pruning elongating stems.

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Some plants, like  Coleus and Basil, grown for their leaves; should have flowers spikes removed as they form, before they even ‘bloom.’  Basil leaves grow sparse once it blooms and seeds set.  It has accomplished its life’s work at this point, and is ready to ‘retire.’  Cutting the flower spikes before they bloom will encourage a longer season of leaf production and better quality leaves.

Most Coleus cultivars will also stretch out and get ‘leggy,’ with less impressive leaves, once allowed to bloom.  While those flowers are enjoyed by pollinators, each gardener must decide whether or not they want flowers on their Coleus.  If allowed to bloom, it is important to cut off the bloom spikes as the flowers fade.

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When allowed to flower freely, Basil leaf production suffers. This Basil was grown for its flowers last summer. Pollinators love it and it is nice in cut flower arrangements. Goldfinches enjoy the seeds if they are allowed to grow.

When allowed to flower freely, Basil leaf production suffers. This Basil was grown for its flowers last summer. Pollinators love it and it is nice in cut flower arrangements. Goldfinches enjoy the seeds if they are left to grow.

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Perennial flowers, which produce attractive seed heads and seeds enjoyed by our songbirds can present a special case.  Many of us want to leave Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Asclepias,  and other perennial flowers to ‘go to seed’ in the autumn, giving some winter interest to the beds where they grow.

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Coreopsis should be deadheaded until late in the season, when flowers may be left to go to seed for the birds.

Coreopsis should be deadheaded until late in the season, when flowers may be left to go to seed for the birds.

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We enjoy watching Goldfinches and other small birds feeding on the seeds.  While we may choose to stop deadheading in mid- to late summer, deadheading spent blooms in the first half of summer will keep flower production going longer into the season.

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Seed production is one of the many beauties of Arum Italicum. All from a single flower, these beautiful seeds will grow red by late summer. If collected and sown, each seed can produce a new plant by next spring.

Seed production is one of the many beauties of Arum Italicum. All from a single flower, these eye-catching seeds will grow red by late summer. If collected and sown, each seed can produce a new plant by next spring.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  Many flowers will ‘self-seed’ if left alone.  When spent flowers are left on the plant, nature takes its course, producing viable seed, which will germinate to populate the garden for another season. 

We regularly find seedling ornamental peppers in pots where they grew the year before.  We also enjoy Petunias from seed, Violas, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, and Columbine.  You can help this process along by harvesting and re-sowing desirable seed by hand.  Or, just ‘allow’ seedlings to sprout and grow on undisturbed soil. 

These self-sown gifts of nature  often prove hardier and stronger than anything brought home from the garden center.

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Both this ornamental pepper, and the Petunia growing with it, came up as volunteers from seeds dropped by last year's annuals in pots.

Both this ornamental pepper, and the Petunia growing with it, came up as volunteers from seeds dropped by the previous year’s annuals.

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

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

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

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

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

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June 26, 2016 deadhead 030

Yucca filamentosa blooms only once each year. But it will grow large and distinctive seed pods when left alone. We often cut back the stalks when flowering finishes for a neater appearance, enjoying just the leaves through the rest of the year.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015-2016

In A Vase: Finally, Zinnias

Septembr 8, 2015 vase 009

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We are past Labor Day, that great holiday marking the end of summer in the United States; and finally I’ve cut some Zinnias for our vase.

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September 8, 2015 Vase2 001

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These are lovely Zinnias.  I love their soft but vibrant pink petals.  I’ve admired them every day for weeks now, but have refrained from cutting any to bring indoors.  I’ve only cut off spent blossoms in order to inspire the plants to push out more.

These Zinnias are a tender spot for me.  No, not a warm and fuzzy tender spot.  They are a guilty tender spot.  You see, I bought them.

When the several dozen Zinnia seeds I had carefully ordered and later sowed out in the beds failed to produce; I bought a few potted Zinnia plants from our friends at the local farm stand.  They were so far along that I planted them, pots and all, in a few prominent spots mid-summer.

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September 8, 2015 Vase2 002~

Now how much gardening skill does it take to grow Zinnias from seeds??? 

I’ve done it often in the past.  And, in retrospect there are now a few of my home sown Zinnias blooming in the butterfly garden.  But my grand winter plans for rows of Zinnias, ripe for cutting, failed to materialize in the vagueries of spring.

I first sowed the little seeds in wet paper toweling, as I often do with bean seeds, and then planted each little packet into the beds.  Needless to say, it didn’t work well this time….  Next year, back to the trays or little pots for sowing those precious seeds.

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Septembr 8, 2015 vase 003~

But enough of gardening angst.  We’ll celebrate these lovely Zinnias blooming so vibrantly with the Blue Mist Flowers, Salvia, purple Basil, Pineapple Mint, Catmint and Garlic Chives.  One thing I enjoy about these vases is how I can capture the essence of things blooming all over the garden into one tiny vase.

The Blue Mist flower self seeds, and is also a spreading perennial.  It is popping up in nearly every part of the garden this summer.  I’ve been spreading the Garlic chives around for several years now.  Another self-seeding perennial, they are also blooming in surprisingly random places in the garden at present.

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Septembr 8, 2015 vase 001~

The “Jade” Buddha was given to us by a friend at Chinese New Year.  I included it today after learning, just this week, the story of the “Emerald” Buddha of Thailand.  This “Emerald” Buddha statue has a long and mysterious history which likely began in southern India in the years before the Common Era, and continues today in modern Bangkok.  The stones were picked up while walking along an Oregon beach.

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Septembr 8, 2015 vase 002

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The season is turning yet again, and it feels like as good a time as any to ponder our successes and shortcomings of the last few months.  It is a good time to process gardening, and life lessons, learned; while at the same time entertaining plans for the seasons coming.

Another gardening blogger wrote of sketching her cuttings beds for next season, now.  Plans made now will likely be more realistic than those we plot over the winter catalogs in February, don’t you think? 

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September 6, 2015 garden 010~

I’m building some new beds in the sunny front garden.  I’ve already planted some new Iris roots, and am ready to plant bulbs as soon as some rain comes to soften the soil a bit.

Once the weather turns more towards autumn in a few weeks, I’ll also move some shrubs from their pots to the Earth.  The trick at the moment is to spend enough time watering and weeding to keep things alive until it rains again.

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August 29, 2015 garden at dusk 011

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But despite my failed Zinnias and a half dozen other misadventures this year, we celebrate those gardening efforts which have worked out well.   Gardening offers a series of second (third and fourth…) chances to ‘get it right.’

Though brutal at times, nature also offers us the opportunity to try, try, again each season; in the continual pursuit of our green and growing dreams.

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August 29, 2015 turtle 020~

Please take a moment to visit Cathy at Rambling In The Garden to enjoy more beautiful gardening successes, captured for a moment in time In A Vase this week.

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

Sunday Dinner: Shades of Violet

Basil

Basil

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“To maintain peace in the world,

first maintain peace inside of you.

A restless mind can never generate beneficial ideas.”

 

Mehek Bassi

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Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

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“True restfulness, though, is a form of awareness,

a way of being in life.

It is living ordinary life with a sense of ease,

gratitude, appreciation, peace and prayer.

We are restful when ordinary life is enough.”

Ronald Rolheiser

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Blue Mist Flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

Blue Mist Flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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“If a solution fails to appear …

and yet we feel success is just around the corner,

try resting for a while. …

Like the early morning frost, this intellectual refreshment

withers the parasitic and nasty vegetation

that smothers the good seed.

Bursting forth at last is the flower of truth.”


Santiago Ramón y Cajal

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Oxalis

Oxalis

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“You rest now.

Rest for longer than you are used to resting.

Make a stillness around you, a field of peace.

Your best work, the best time of your life

will grow out of this peace.”

Peter Heller

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Catmint

Catmint

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

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“The most valuable thing

we can do for the psyche, occasionally,

is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room,

not try to be or do anything whatever.”


May Sarton

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Basil

Basil

 

Herbs in a Vase

August 3, 2013 vase 017

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By early August our herbs have established, enjoyed the heat of July, and taken off with energetic growth.  Many are blooming.  Their leaves are large, soft and velvety.   Basil perfumes the garden and entices me to cut large handfuls to make fresh pesto.

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August 2, 2015 garden 004 ~

We invited friends for dinner on Friday, and much of our Basil went into the pizzas.  I made pesto and added a large dollop to the crust as I was mixing it.  More pesto took the place of tomato sauce on a pizza made with artichoke hearts, black olives, sweet red peppers and thick slices of mozzarella cheese.

The rich spicy smell of Basil always transports me to summer.

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August 2, 2015 garden 005

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The flowers for the dinner table were of course the Basil’s flowers, mixed with a few of the early Black Eyed Susans.  They have held up remarkably well over the weekend.

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August 3, 2013 vase 012~

And that inspired me to make today’s vase entirely of edible herbs.  There is more Basil of course; but also blooming Pineapple Mint, Purple Sage, the golden flowers of Fennel, and the huge, soft leaves of a mint scented Geranium.

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August 3, 2013 vase 014~

Can you imagine how my kitchen smells after constructing this arrangement, snipping here and crushing a leaf there?

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August 3, 2013 vase 009

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Joining Cathy in her “In A Vase on Monday” meme has our home filling with vases at the moment.  The Hydrangeas dried in place, and now sit off to the side.  I will save these flower heads for holiday decorations.  The Coleus from several weeks ago waits on the sideboard for me to plant it out in pots .

And now there are these three more vases of Basil.    Is it possible to have too many beautiful flowers?

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August 3, 2013 vase 011

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I love how long these vases last.  Foliage often stays crisp and happy days longer than flowers will.  There is very little dropped over the life of the arrangement.  And there is always the option of cooking with these herbs, allowing them to root, or setting them aside to dry.

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August 3, 2013 vase 016~

I am coming to understand Cathy’s simple lesson about cutting flowers from the garden, and bringing them indoors to enjoy at close range.  I am often reluctant to cut beautiful flowers from the garden, believing they will last longer and bring more pleasure on the living plant.

But outside even the most elegant flower can get lost in the larger landscape.  Or perhaps those plants around it are no longer in their prime and detract from the beauty of the flower.  Cut, arranged, staged and curated that same flower takes on an added panache.

Combined with other carefully chosen flowers and leaves, suddenly the composition is far greater than the sum of its parts.

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August 3, 2013 vase 007~

Have you cut flowers or foliage from your garden lately?  It can be as simple as plunking a single stem in a pretty vase and setting it where you can enjoy it.  There are no rules here, and you may do it to please yourself.

Let us celebrate summer while we can and savor each sweet and beautiful bit of it. 

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August 3, 2013 vase 013~

Woodland Gnome 2015

The Last Day Before Frost

November 12, 2014 garden 002

We definitely expect a freeze by tomorrow night.

We feel it coming in the wind blowing through the garden.  With our high for today in the low 50s, we know it will drop quickly from here on.

The winter storm which has so much of the country in its icy grip is blowing into Williamsburg this weekend.

 

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

 

With so much of the country under snow, and threat of snow, we can hardly complain about a mid-November frost.

But the day is still tinged with a bit of  sadness.  Sadness, and motivation to take care of everything we possibly can before the cold settles in this evening.

 

The African Blue Basil may be tough,but it isn't cold hardy.  it will die with when it freezes here.

The African Blue Basil may be tough, but it isn’t cold hardy.  It will die with the first heavy frost.  We still see bees and butterflies.  We hope they find shelter or fly south today.

 

After making the coffee this morning, I set about bringing in those last few pots of tender perennials.

I’ve filled every possible spot now in the house and garage with overwintering plants.  The main body of them in the garage  got re-arranged this morning to make room for a few more pots.

 

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

 

Even the brave Bougainvillea, which only started blooming in mid- October, finally made the journey from patio to garage this morning.

 

Our three year old Bouganvillia has waited until this week to begin its season of bloom.

Our three year old Bougainvillea has waited until October to bloom.  It came back into the garage this morning, covered in bright cherry flowers.

 

And the supposedly hardy “Pewter” Begonia got brought in to the garage, as well.  Its leaves are so pretty, I hate to let it go to the frost.

A pot of tender ferns, a few more pots of tender succulents, and a final mish-mash pot of Begonia cuttings completed the morning’s efforts.

 

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns have a snug spot by a basement window.

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns now have a snug spot by a basement window.

 

My ever patient partner assisted (supervised) this final effort until getting called away to assist a neighbor.  And from there to another neighbor’s yard, and then to another.

His work out may have been more strenuous than mine, but we all now have covered outside faucets, covered foundation vents, and we’re as ready as we can be for the prolonged stretch of  cold ahead.

 

This winter I'm using watering globes to care for the indoor plants.  Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.

This winter I’m using watering globes to care for the indoor plants. Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.  The fern hasn’t yet adjusted to the drier inside air.

 

And at noon our local weather guy confided that we may have some “Bay effect snow” by Saturday morning.

That seems to be the way our forecasts evolve around here.  They prepare you for a little change, and then the forecast continues to shift towards the extremes as the system progresses.

We are promised only rain this evening.  And I can feel the falling barometer and approaching storm in all of the usual places….

 

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

 

 

But we have today to enjoy the garden before Frost’s icy fingers have their way with it.  I’ve moved all those things for which there is simply no spot inside up against a brick wall on the patio.

Petunias survived there two winters ago.

Our sheltered patio provides a microclimate which stays warmer during the winter.  Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

Our sheltered patio provides a micro-climate which stays warmer during the winter. Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

 

They began blooming again in February, and just kept going right on through the following summer.  That gives me hope that the few geraniums and succulents I couldn’t bring in have a chance to survive.

And the little olive trees I’ve been nurturing along in pots should make it there, too.

 

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies have managed fine in our cool nights.  They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies and Canna lilies have managed fine in our cool nights. They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

 

I’ve read they are growing olives in parts of England, now.  I hope these are hardy enough to survive our winter outside, in this sheltered spot.

They traveled in and out, as the weather shifted, last winter.  It got to be quite a chore, but the olive trees  were in much smaller pots then, too.

 

November 12, 2014 golden day 194

 

And the many Violas we’ve planted will be fine.  They will shrug off the cold.

We’ve planted lots of ornamental kale, a pot of Swiss chard, hardy ferns, bulbs, and our beloved Violas.

Our garden will continue through the winter, even though much will go with  the coming  frost.

 

Camellia

Camellia

 

 

So, we are bracing ourselves for what we’ll find Saturday morning.

The landscape continue to edit and simplify itself.  As the brilliant leaves  fall from their branches, so will our Ginger lilies and Cannas also crumple to the ground.

 

Iris "Rosalie Figge" normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg.  This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

Iris “Rosalie Figge” normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg. This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

 

 

The bright Salvias will shrivel back to the soil.  The Lantana will lose its leaves, though the berries will remain until cleaned up by the birds.

Basil will freeze beside the stalwart Rosemary, which grows and blooms all winter long.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won't survive a freeze.  But its roots are hardy.  It should return in this pot by early summer.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won’t survive a freeze. But its roots are hardy. It should return in this pot early next summer.

 

The last of autumn’s roses will soon freeze, but the Camellias will continue to bloom until spring.

 

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold.  We'll enjoy them a few more days inside.

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold. We’ll enjoy them a few more days inside.

 

It is the way of things, this annual turning of the seasons. 

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds.  Only a few remain.

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds. Only a few remain.

 

Something is always coming on, and something is always fading in the garden.    And we are endlessly fascinated as we witness the changes which come each and every day.

 

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Holiday Wreath Challenge

“Pay It Forward” With Cuttings

September 4, 2014 Coleus 002

 

As the growing season draws to a close, I’m beginning to look around with an eye to which plants I’d like to save for next year, and which will be left to the frost.

Other years I’ve sometimes assumed that a favorite variety will be available the following spring and let a beautiful annual expire at the end of the season.  Sometimes that variety is available, and other times not.

Last year I grew several gorgeous varieties of Coleus ‘Under the Sea,’ a fairly recent introduction with intensely colored, deeply cut leaves.

Coleus, Under the Sea

Coleus, ‘Under the Sea, Gold Anemone’ in my garden last summer.  I couldn’t find this line of Coleus locally this year and have missed them.

 

This spring they never turned up at my local garden centers.

Some annuals are reasonably simple to keep indoors from one season to the next.

And if you have a favorite variety, that you want to enjoy again next summer, it may be worth the effort.

Another of last summer's Coleus varieties I never found this spring.

Another of last summer’s Coleus varieties I never found this spring.

 

While perennials are engineered to survive over many seasons, almost indefinitely; annuals are engineered to grow, flower, set seed, and then decline.

One reason for “pinching back” or “deadheading” is to keep a plant productive by preventing it from ever setting its crop of seeds.

It keeps producing flowers until it fulfills its life’s purpose with seed production.

Coleus in this year's garden.  A neighboring plant was targedted for distruction by a wayward deer.

Coleus in this year’s garden. A neighboring plant was targeted for destruction by a wayward deer.

 

That said, the annual you’ve had growing on your patio all summer might not be a good candidate for overwintering in the garage.

Even if it survives, it may not look like much the following season.

A better approach is to overwinter cuttings of a favorite plant.  The cuttings can then be grown on into beautiful plants when the weather warms in spring.

These cuttings have been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.

These cuttings have been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.

 

And this is the time to begin the process of evaluating which plants you intend to save.

I got a head start this season thanks to some deer.  The deer chose one Coleus plant out of several to disassemble over a period of about two weeks.

We would go out in the morning and find another branch or two torn away each day.  They ignored an identical Coleus a pot or two away, and kept working on one poor plant until nothing was left.

They may have actually eaten a little here and there; but mostly they just tore off branches and left them near by.

I gathered the branches as I found them, gave the ends a fresh cut, and stuck them into a jar of water in the windowsill.

These cuttings left from "pinching back" other plants were simply pressed into a pot of moist soil.  They root quickly and grow into new plants with simple care.

These cuttings left from “pinching back” other plants were simply pressed into a pot of moist soil. They root quickly and grow into new plants with simple care.

 

Coleus is ridiculously easy to root.  It roots easily in moist soil or in water.  And Coleus will grow in a simple jar of water for months.

All you need is a windowsill wide enough to hold a jar or a vase, or an area near a window where you can tend houseplants from October until early May.  Depending on your growing season, you may need to start a little earlier than we do here, or hold your annuals inside a little later.

Take cuttings that are 10″ or longer if you plan to keep them in water.

Take cuttings 10" or longer if you plan to keep them in a vase.  Remove the lower leaves which will be under water, leaving several pair to continue making food for the plant.  Keep the water clean to prevent the stems from rotting before you can plant them in soil.

Take cuttings 10″ or longer if you plan to keep them in a vase. Remove the lower leaves which will be under water, leaving several pair to continue making food for the plant. Keep the water clean to prevent the stems from rotting before you can plant them in soil.

 

If you are planting them in moist soil you can use any cutting with at least two sets of leaves.  Strip off the lower leaves, and push the cutting into the moist soil.

Keep the pot outside in the shade for a few weeks until there is resistance (roots) when you gently give it a tug.  Bring the plant inside when nights begin to dip down towards 40F, and keep it in bright light .

Pinch the growing tips from time to time to keep the plant bushy, and water when the top of the soil begins to feel a little dry.

This is one of my favorite Begonias from cuttings.  I bought one plant a decade ago, and continue to start new ones from it.  I've given cuttings from this special Begonia to many friends.

This is one of my favorite Begonias from cuttings. I bought one plant a decade ago, and continue to start new ones from it. I’ve given cuttings from this special Begonia to many friends.

 

I treat my Begonias the same way.  Many varieties of Begonia root easily in a jar of water, and will live in just water for many months.  I keep jars of cuttings in the windows over winter.  Many Begonias will root, just like Coleus, when the lowest set of leaves is removed and the cutting pushed into the soil so that lowest leaf node is buried in the soil.

Begonia "Flamingo' is another favorite "pass along plant."  I lost my original plant, but took cuttings from one shared with family.  This variety will grow very tall, bearing hundreds of tiny pink flowers.  Stems will root in moist soil.

Begonia “Flamingo’ is another favorite “pass along plant.” I lost my original plant, but  later took cuttings from one shared with family. This variety will grow very tall, bearing hundreds of tiny pink flowers. Stems will root in moist soil.

 

It’s that easy.  Dip the cutting into a little rooting hormone powder to speed the process if you want to; but many people have success without the hormone powder.

You can easily root many other annuals and herbs in water, and then pot them up once the roots are an inch or so long.

Believe it or not, Begonia "Gryphon' will root from a stem cutting.  Remove 4" or more of a stem, press into moist soil, and wait for new growth to appear after the roots establsih.

Believe it or not, Begonia “Gryphon’ will root from a stem cutting. Remove 4” or more of a stem, press into moist soil, and wait for new growth to appear after the roots establish.

 

Try Basil and mint, impatiens, scented geraniums, New Guinea impatiens, Oregano, and Petunias. 

Some of our “annuals” are actually tender perennials.  They grow year round in warmer climes, but are killed by freezing temperatures.

Scented Geraniums, Pelargonium, are tender perennials.  They sometimes survive the winter here in Zone 7, reappearing in mid-May or later.  Cuttings will root in water or moist soil.

Scented Geraniums, Pelargonium, are tender perennials. They sometimes survive the winter here in Zone 7, reappearing in mid-May or later. Cuttings will root in water or moist soil.

 

Plants like Geraniums and Caladiums can be kept from one season to the next indoors.

They will survive with  low light and minimal moisture, so long as you keep them well above freezing.

Caladium, "Gingerland" will send up new leaves in January when kept inside over the winter.

Caladium, “Gingerland” will send up new leaves in January when kept inside over the winter.  Keep the tubers in pots indoors in a heated room, and water as the soil dries.  You will be rewarded with a beautiful winter house plant.

 

Caladiums don’t even like to go below 50F.    If you have space in a basement or garage, you might be able to save these plants over the winter, bringing them back as the weather warms with more water, light, and warmth.

Our unheated garage gets enough sunlight through the windows, and enough heat from the house to serve as a shelter for many pots through the winter.

Some plants are worth keeping, others, maybe not.  

 

Begonia, "Richmondensis" isn't easy to find.  Homestead Garden Center carried it this spring, and I purchased several.  This Begonia blooms prolifically all summer and can take more sun than most.  I will definitely keep this plant over winter and root cuttings in early spring.

Begonia, “Richmondensis” isn’t easy to find. Homestead Garden Center carried it this spring, and I purchased several. This Begonia blooms prolifically all summer and can take more sun than most.  I will definitely keep this plant over winter and root cuttings in early spring.

 

But even if you don’t have space to keep a large pot of a favorite plant, you can still keep cuttings of many going in  minimal space.  Once you know how to handle cuttings you can continue to create new plants form your existing stock indefinitely.

Some of my “annuals” are now into a fourth or fifth season, started anew each year from cuttings kept in windowsills over the winter.

Basil roots easily in water and grows quickly in warm weather.  A single plant can be used to produce an "endless supply" of Basil over a summer.

Basil roots easily in water and grows quickly in warm weather. A single plant can be used to produce an “endless supply” of Basil over a summer.

And cuttings are easy to share.  Friends share with me, and I with them.

That poor Coleus, torn to pieces by the deer, has resulted in more than a dozen “cuttings,” most now gone to new homes.

I’m always happy to give cuttings to friends who will take them.

 

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And growing on gifts of cuttings fills one’s garden with love and happy memories.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

Always Evolving

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Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others?  What drives your selections?

My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season.  Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.

 

Basil, "African Blue" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums  grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

 

We garden to fill a need.  Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food.  Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.

Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.

 

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Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.

And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.

But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract  than by their usefulness as cut flowers.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

 

Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers.  We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

 

Our gardening  focus is shifting here.  It began our first month on the property.  I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.

I planned to replace them  with something more interesting… to me, that is.

And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.

 

 

Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.

The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.

And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

 

Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.

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After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb's Ears.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears.  Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.

 

What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.

And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage

 

Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.

 

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

 

If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.

There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.

 

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

 

And leaves are far more durable than flowers.  While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many  months.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with  stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.

 

"Harlequin" is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

 

While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course –  they do become food now and again.

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer.... But something ate them....

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….

 

It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.

Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them.  This pepper has survived to ripeness.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.

 

Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.

 

We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful  varieties of annuals each spring and fall.

The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.

 

Spikemoss is a plant we've just begun using as groudcover in pots and beds.

Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.

 

It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.

As I hope we are, as well.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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One Word Photo Challenge: Rainbow

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The spectrum of visible life dances in different wavelengths, and at different speeds, on its journey to our eyes.

All clear light at Source, its dance leads it through refraction, and against reflection, giving us the kaleidoscopic illusion of hundreds of colors when the light finally reaches us.

 

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Living plants do wonderful things to light as they absorb this bit, reflect that, and allow the rest to pass right through leaf and petal in a warm glow of color.

Sometimes their colors appear as a waxy shine, other times deep and velvety.  Sometimes rough and dull.

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Variation upon variation is born to the endless delight of gardening addicts everywhere.

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As we surround ourselves with  leafy greenness, we seek the other colors of the rainbow in golden yellow stamens; red leaves; orange fruits and petals; and blue and violet flowers.

Every band of the rainbow dances in the garden.

And this grouping of pots supports them all.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her One Word Photo Challenge:  Rainbow

 

Nature’s Way

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Nature’s way brings elements of the natural world together into relationship.

Rarely will you find just one of anything-

Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.

Prickly pear cactus growing in a field beside the Colonial Parkway with assorted grasses and Aliums.

It is our human sensibility which wants to bring order from the “chaos” of nature by sorting, classifying, isolating, and perhaps eliminating elements of our environment.

Pickerel weed growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.

Pickerel weed, cattails, and grasses  growing from the mud in a waterway on Jamestown Island.

Nature teaches the wisdom of strength through  unity and relationship.

Gardens in medieval Europe were often composed primarily of lawns, shrubs, and trees.

A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.

A similiar group of plants growing along the edge of College Creek in James City County, Virginia.

This is still fashionable in American gardens today.  But it is a high maintenance and sterile way to garden.

I won’t bore you with a re-hash of the arguments for and against lawns… but will only say that wildflowers of all sorts find a home in ours.

White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

White clover growing with purple milk vetch and other wild flowers and grasses on the bank of a pond along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown, Virginia.

And I’m not an advocate of allowing every wild plant to grow where it sprouts, either.  There are some plants which definitely are not welcome in our garden, or are welcome in only certain zones of it.

Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek.  Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing?  Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.

Wild grapes grow on this Eastern Red Cedar beside College Creek.   Do you see the tiny cluster of grapes which are already growing? Grapes grow wild in our area, but many pull the vines, considering them weeds.

But in general, I prefer allowing plants to grow together in communities, weaving together above and below the soil, and over the expanse of time throughout a gardening year.

Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses.

Perennial geranium and Vinca cover the ground of this bed of roses.  Young ginger lily, white sage, dusty miller, Ageratum, and a Lavender, “Goodwin Creek” share the bed.

A simple example would be interplanting peonies with daffodils.  As the daffodils fade, the peonies are taking center stage.

Another example is allowing Clematis vines to grow through roses; or to plant ivy beneath ferns.

Japanese painted fern

Japanese Painted Fern emerges around spend daffodils.  Columbine, Vinca, apple mint and German Iris complete the bed beneath some large shrubs.

Like little children hugging one another as they play, plants enjoy having company close by.

When you observe nature you will see related plants growing together in some sort of balance.

Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.

Honeysuckle and wild blackberries are both important food sources for wildlife.

And you’ll find wild life of all descriptions interacting with the plants as part of the mix.

The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area.  All provide shelter to birds.  The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.

The blackberries and honeysuckle are scampering over and through a collection of small trees and flowering shrubs on the edge of a wooded area. All provide shelter to birds. The aroma of this stand of wildflowers is indescribably sweet.

When planning your plantings, why not increase the diversity and the complexity of your pot or bed and see what beautiful associations develop?

Herbs filling in our new "stump garden."

Herbs filling in our new “stump garden.”  Alyssum is the lowest growing flower.  Tricolor Sage, Rose Scented Geranium, Violas, White Sage, Iris, and Catmint all blend in this densely planted garden.

Now please don’t think that Woodland Gnome is suggesting that you leave the poison ivy growing in your shrub border.

Although poison ivy is a beautiful vine and valuable to wildlife, our gardens are created for our own health and pleasure.  So we will continue to snip these poisonous vines at the base whenever we find them.

Another view of the "stump garden" planting.  Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot.

Another view of the “stump garden” planting. Here African Blue Basil has begun to fill its summer spot in front of Iris and Dusty Miller.

But what about honeysuckle?  Is there a “wild” area where you can allow it to grow through some shrubs?  Can you tolerate wild violets in the lawn?

Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.

Honeysuckle blooming on Ligustrum shrubs, now as tall of trees, on one border of our garden.

The fairly well known planting scheme for pots of “thriller, filler, spiller” is based in the idea that plants growing together form a beautiful composition, a community which becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun.  Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot.  A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.

Three varieties of Geranium fill this pot in an area of full sun. Sedum spills across the front lip of the pot. A bright Coleus grows along the back edge, and Moonflower vines climb the trellis.

I like planting several plants in a relatively big pot; allowing room for all to grow, but for them to grow together.

Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot.  This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted.  It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.

Geraniums, Coleus, Caladium, and Lamium fill this new hypertufa pot. This photo was taken the same evening the pot was planted. It will look much better and fuller in a few weeks.

This is a better way to keep the plants hydrated and the temperature of the soil moderated from extremes of hot and cold, anyway.

But this also works in beds.

Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb's Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John's Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub.

Two different Sages, Coreopsis, and Lamb’s Ears currently star in this bed, which also holds daffodils, Echinacea, St. John’s Wort, and a badly nibbled Camellia shrub.  The Vinca is ubiquitous in our garden, and serves an important function as a ground cover which also blooms from time to time.  The grasses growing along the edge get pulled every few weeks to keep them in control.  

Choose a palette of plants, and then work out a scheme for combining a repetitive pattern of these six or ten plants over and again as you plant the bed.  Include plants of different heights, growth habits, seasons of bloom, colors and textures.

So long as you choose plants with similiar needs for light, moisture, and food this can work in countless variations.

A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek.  Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree.  Trees are nature's trellis.  Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone.  Beautiful yellow Iris and pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.

A wild area between a parking lot and College Creek. Notice the grape vines growing across a young oak tree. Trees are nature’s trellis. Bamboo has emerged and will fill this area if left alone. Beautiful yellow Iris, Staghorn Sumac,  pink Hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed grow in this same area.

This is Nature’s way, and it can add a new depth of beauty to your garden.

It can also make your gardening easier and more productive.

It is important to observe as the plants grow. 

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If one is getting too aggressive and its neighbors are suffering, then you must separate, prune, or sacrifice one or another of them.

Planting flowers near vegetables brings more pollinating insects, increasing yields.

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Planting garlic or onions among flowers has proven effective in keeping deer and rabbits away from my tasty flowering plants.

Planting deep rooted herbs such as Comfrey, Angelica, and Parsley near other plants brings minerals from deep in the soil to the surface for use by other plants.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Perennial geranium growing here among some Comfrey.

Use the leaves from these plants in mulch or compost to get the full benefit.

Planting peas and members of the pea family in flower or vegetable beds increases the nitrogen content of the soil where they grow, because their roots fix nitrogen from the air into the soil.

Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.

Purple milk vetch is one of the hundreds of members of the pea family.

Planting Clematis vines among perennials or roses helps the Clematis grow by shading and cooling their roots.

The Clematis will bloom and add interest when the roses or perennials are “taking a rest” later in the season.

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, "Empress Wu" in the Wubbel's garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, “Empress Wu” in the Wubbel’s garden at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Just as our human relationships are often based in helping one another, so plants form these relationships, too.

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The more you understand how plants interact with one another, the more productive your garden can become.

It is Nature’s way…

A "volunteer" Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.

A “volunteer” Japanese Maple grows in a mixed shrub and perennial border in our garden near perennial Hibiscus.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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