Nature’s Way

May 24 2014 vines 047

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. 

May 29 2014 after the rain 016

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.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 041

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.

May 24 2014 vines 019

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

Forest Lane Botanicals

Forest Lane Botanicals display garden.

Color and Form

August 15 2013 flowers 006Color, pattern, line and form:  the elements all artists have worked with to create their masterpieces from the earliest carvings at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, perhaps 12,000 years ago, right up to the most contemporary art works posted to the Web.August 21, 2013 close up garden 026

And our inspiration comes always from the beauty, balance, and intricate design of nature.August 21 2013 garden photos 001

Whether the pattern of color on a leaf, the rhythm in a stand of trees, the form of a flower; we can only imitate the beauty born minute to minute around us.August 11 2013 CP trees 025

Here is a quotation from one of the oldest texts known to our current civilization.  The Hermetica comes to us from Egypt in at least 3000BC, perhaps earlier. August 13 2013 vines 008 It is attributed to Thoth, one of the elders who instructed the Pharaohs.  August 13 2013 vines 015Its long history sees its translation into Greek, which made it accessible to the Medicis of Italy, where its translation into Latin sparked the Renaissance.  August 6 2013 morning glory 005

This translation is by the great Gnostic historians and philosophers Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, for your enjoyment:

Contemplate Creation

Autust 6 colonial Pkwy 008

Ask Atum to flash a ray of his illumination into your awareness,Aug 6 2013 dragonfly 005

giving you the power to grasp in thought his sublime Being.August 15 2013 flowers 004

For the invisible may only be seen with thoughts-which are themselves invisible.August 13 2013 vines 017

If you can’t see thoughts, do you expect to see Atum?August 13 2013 vines 016

Look with your mind, however, and he will appear to you, manifesting himself without reservation throughout the whole universe, so that you may see his image with your eyes and hold it with your two hands.August 19,2013 roots 002

Do you think Atum is invisible?  Don’t say that!  Nothing is more visible than Atum.  August 21, 2013 close up garden 018

He created all things so that through them you could see him.  This is Atum’s Great Heart- that he manifests himself in everything.August 21 2013 garden photos 027

Everything can be known, including the insubstantial.August 15 2013 flowers 010

Just as Mind is known through thoughts, so Atum is known through his creation.August 1 2013 rain soaked garden 008

Atum is the all-encompassing author of entirety, weaving everything into the fabric of reality.Autust 14, 2013 vines 007

Because creation is visible, we can see the Creator, and this is the purpose of his creation.  August 1 2013 rain soaked garden 005

Since he is always creating, he can always be seen, so we should think and marvel, and realize that we are blessed with Knowledge of our Father.July 31 2013 002

…Look at matter filled full with Life, and see Atum pulsating with all he contains.Autust 6 colonial Pkwy 011

All photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013

Garden Snippings

After a thunderstorm and heavy rain last night, I went looking early this morning for blossoms to snip for an arrangement for a friend. This small arrangement is made from three different varieties of Basil, Pineapple Mint, Lime Queen Zinnias, and a few rose blossoms the deer overlooked in their latest munching.  Since Basil is … Continue reading

Bountiful Basil

African Blue basil

African Blue Basil

Basil, an annual herb, is beautiful, delicious, and very easy to grow.  It grows very quickly and can give a huge harvest of leaves over the season.  It is a favorite herb for all nectar loving insects, and goldfinches love its seeds.  Deer and rabbits avoid it because of its strong scent and flavor.

Basil growing beside a tomato plant.

Basil growing beside a tomato plant.

A sport of

A sport of Dark Opal Basil, mostly green with highlights of purple.

Basil, like tomatoes, enjoys warmth and sunshine.  It grows extremely well in Zone 7b once the weather has settled in spring and the nights stay above about 50F.  Like tomatoes, it is often offered in big box garden centers weeks before it can successfully grow outside.  It is better to be patient and plant tomatoes, Basil, peppers, squash, and other warmth loving annuals after spring has given way to summer.

A banded Tussock moth caterpillar is exploring the basil.  He prefers the leaves of trees, and will leave the basil intact.

A banded Tussock moth caterpillar is exploring the basil. He prefers the leaves of trees, and will leave the basil intact.

This year I started my seeds in early April, as usual, and was disappointed to watch the seedlings languishing week after week while waiting for the weather to warm.  They just refused to grow until the nights stayed warm, and our long cold spring set them back.  Eventually I gave in and bought beautifully grown basil plants at the garden center, but they also just sat and sulked until the weather was consistently warm.  Most years I find volunteer basil plants from seeds dropped during the previous summer, but not this year.

Because the seeds are so small, several seedlings generally grow in the same pot.  It is a good idea to gently pull them apart and space them out when transplanting, because each seedling has the potential to grow quite large and develop a big root system over the summer.  If left crowded together, none of the plants will fully develop.

Sweet Basil is commonly found in garden centers.  With a medium size leaf, it is a good to harvest for cooking.

Sweet Basil is commonly found in garden centers. With a medium size leaf, it is a good to harvest for cooking.

Basil is a fast grower. It should be planted in rich soil and then kept evenly moist.  Prepare the soil with a good dose of Espoma Tomato Tone whether growing in a pot or out in the garden.  Topdress Basil with a layer of finished compost, or even with coffee grounds, which are rich in nitrogen.  Tomatoes and basil both appreciate a handful of Epson salts (magnesium sulfide) sprinkled around their drip line when planted, and again every 6 weeks or so through the season.

African Blue basil is planted in a mixed bed of herbs and vegetables.

African Blue Basil is planted in a mixed bed of herbs and vegetables.

Basil roots easily along its stems, but should be planted at the same level, or only slightly deeper than it was growing in its nursery pot.  Seedlings can be planted a little deeper at transplant to develop a stronger root system.   Plants of most varieties should be at least 6 inches apart.  A single plant can easily fill out a 10” pot, and will appreciate the space.

Basil needs at least 6-8 hours of direct sun each day to grow well.  If the soil dries out too much, the Basil will begin to droop.  When this happens, water well.  The plant will generally recover.  It is smart to grow basil in a large enough pot that it will survive a day in the hot summer sun without needing an afternoon watering.

Basil can be grown alone, as a companion to tomatoes and other vegetables, or as a companion to flowers.  It has a beneficial relationship with tomatoes and peppers.  If allowed to flower, the tiny flowers draw a variety of carnivorous insects, including tiny wasps which will eat insects feeding on other vegetable plants.  The insects visiting the basil will also stop over to help pollinate the tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, and other vegetable plants nearby.  Basil will grow well planted around the stem of a tomato plant, and will cover its “bare legs” to make the pot or bed more attractive.

Basil with heliotrope

Basil with heliotrope

Most people grow basil for its leaves, although the flowers are beautiful.  All parts of the plant are edible and fragrant.  Basil flowers are pretty enough to use as cut flowers in little arrangements with roses, Cosmos, Zinnias, and other summer flowers.  Many varieties of basil have gorgeous leaves which make great filler foliage in flower arrangements.  A gift of such an arrangement is a gift that keeps on giving.  Remind the recipient to keep the water fresh long enough for the basil to root, cut off the flowers once they fade, and then plant the stem.

Basil is a good filler in flower arrangements.  Its interesting flowers and foliage work well with other garden flowers.

Basil is a good filler in flower arrangements. Its interesting flowers and foliage work well with other garden flowers.

A Basil plant will of course channel most of its energy into the flowers, and then into seed production.   It is wise to remove the flower stalks frequently to keep the plant producing leaves.

A newly planted Purple Ruffles Basil grows beside a rose and white sage.  Basil grows well beside roses.

A newly planted Purple Ruffles Basil grows beside a rose and white sage. Basil grows well beside roses.

When harvesting basil, cut of an entire stem back to just above a leaf node.  New stems and leaves will grow from the main stem above that leaf.  If you remove all but the top few leaves from the stem you harvest, you can put it into a jar of water and expect roots to form within a week or so.  This new basil plant is ready to pot up and will mature in just a few weeks.  By harvesting frequently, and cutting to just above a pair of leaves, a plant will stay productive for months.

The flowers have faded and seeds are beginning to form on this Basil.  The goldfinches have already found it and visit to harvest the seeds.

The flowers have faded and seeds are beginning to form on this Basil. The goldfinches have already found it and visit to harvest the seeds.

By the end of summer most basil plants will have grown some flower stalks and set seed.  Goldfinches love basil seeds, and I often see them landing on the flowers stalks and eating the tiny seeds right out of their cases.  Before the birds get all of the seed, make sure to harvest some yourself to start plants next year.  Choose your favorite plants, and watch the flower stalk carefully after the flowers fade.  You’ll see the casings darken when the seeds are ripe.  You can sprinkle these on the ground where you want plants next year, or take the seeds inside and keep them in a labeled envelope in a cool place until next spring.

Basil with Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

Basil with Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.  More views here.

 

Basil is a culinary herb used most frequently in cooking Italian dishes.  It is delicious fresh, dried or frozen.  Different cultivars have slightly different flavors.  There is Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Basil, Lime Basil, and a whole range of regular Basils from mild to very pungent.

My favorite way to prepare Basil is in pesto.  This requires at least 2 cups of basil leaves.  I tend to grow the large leaved varieties, like Genovese, because it offers enough leaves to make pesto frequently.

This little Genovese basil, started from seed, is finally taking off in early July.  It is planted here with thyme and parsley.

This little Genovese Basil, started from seed, is finally taking off in early July. It is planted here with thyme and parsley.

Pick the leaves off of the cut stems, wash them, pat dry, and pack into the bowl of a food processor along with 1 or more large cloves of garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheese (about ½ c. to 2 c. leaves), 1/4 c. of toasted pine nuts or walnuts, 1 tsp. of salt, and about ½ c. of extra virgin light olive oil.  Puree, streaming in more oil until the pesto reaches the consistency you prefer.  Good additions to this pesto are dried tomatoes, capers, or oil cured olives.  This is a very personal recipe, and the amounts should be adjusted to suit your taste and purpose.

African Blue basil grows into a large shrub which holds its own with Zinnias and Rosemary.

African Blue Basil grows into a large shrub which holds its own with Zinnias and Rosemary.

Pesto is wonderful spread on crostini, mixed with freshly cooked pasta; spread on pizza dough and topped with cheese; used as a dip; or spread on a sandwich. It is especially good spread on the bun of a veggie burger, mixed with a little mayo.  It is also a delicious garnish for soups.  Any extra can be stored in a small jar in the refrigerator topped with ¼ of olive oil to prevent the basil from browning.  It can also be spooned into cupcake papers, frozen, and then the frozen portions moved to a zip top bag for long term freezing.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A simpler way to freeze Basil is similar.  Prepare the leaves and puree with only salt and olive oil.  Transfer to a gallon size freezer bag, zip the bag nearly shut, and lay the bag flat on a counter.  Gently flatten the pureed Basil into a layer ½ ” thick or less, press the air out of the bag, seal, and freeze lying flat.  When you’re ready to use the basil, open the bag and break off the portion you need for cooking, returning the remainder to the freezer.

Large basil leaves are also excellent on sandwiches.  A good sandwich starts with a sliced baguette  spread with mayonnaise or cream cheese.  Cover one side of the bread with Basil leaves, and the other with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.  Lay large slices of fresh tomato on the basil leaves, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy.

This basil grew from a seed dropped the summer before.

This Lettuce Leaf Basil grew from a seed dropped the summer before.

Basil leaves can be dried, crumbled, and stored in an air tight container for use all winter.  Leaves can be added to herbal tea mixtures, and you can make Basil vinegar.  There are complex vinegar recipes out there, but I simply buy store brand red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar) at the grocery store, remove the top, add several branches of Basil, reseal the jar, and allow the basil to steep in the dark pantry for several weeks.  You can remove the Basil and replace with a fresh sprig for gift-giving, or simply remove the herb, label the bottle, and keep it in your pantry for use in salad dressing and cooking.  Basil vinegar makes a wonderful Greek style dressing mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little sugar.  I often add one or two peeled cloves of garlic to the bottle along with the basil.

There are many more ways to cook with Basil.  Citrus scented basil can be added to lemonade, hot or iced tea, steeped in fruit juice and then frozen into sorbet, or steeped in warm milk to flavor ice cream.  Please share your favorite uses for basil as a comment to this post.

Herbalists will tell you that Basil can be used medicinally to calm the nerves and settle the stomach.  Maybe that is why it is so popular as a culinary herb!  Many of the wisest physicians advise that that good food is the best medicine.  Basil is certainly good food for all of the senses.

Dark opal basil

Dark Opal Basil

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