Fabulous Friday: Something Borrowed, Something New

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Until I’d struggled with this ‘new’ garden for a couple of years, watching my familiar favorite plants disappear from the garden to feed assorted voles, rabbits, squirrels and deer, I’d never given Hellebores more than a passing thought.  They simply weren’t on my radar in those days when I was busy growing roses and Hydrangeas, berries, beans, tomatoes and every Begonia I could find.

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And then a friend offered to dig a few Hellebores from her garden to share with me.  We had been consoling each other, probably over cups of coffee, as we both told our stories of plants loved and lost in this forested community.  Our houses are nearby, and each of us has a ravine and a pond beyond our back yards, favorite haunts of large herds of deer.

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She’s been here a year or so longer than we; long enough to learn a trick or two.  Long enough to learn to treasure her Hellebores.

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Our first patch of Hellebores, given to us by a friend,  as they were in April of 2012. These perennials look good in every season, thrive in dry shade, and bloom for several months in late winter and early spring.

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Her broad front yard is carpeted with beautiful Hellebores.  Through the warmer months, Hellebores cover the ground, especially in shady spots, with a beautiful, textured deep emerald green.  And then sometime between November and January they begin to bloom.  And they keep producing flowers until things heat up again in April or May.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’.

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Hellebore flowers come in shades of white, cream, light green, pinks, purples, and reds.  Heavily hybridized, there is a huge variety of size and form available through nurseries and catalogs.

Which is fun for collectors, but almost doesn’t matter anymore once you have a plant or three.  Because Hellebores easily set seed, and those seeds easily germinate.  And a few Hellebores easily becomes an ever widening patch of them, all a bit different since they have hybridized with one another.

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I’m reminded of generosity and friendship every spring as we admire our Hellebores.  Those few early plants did so well for us, some even in full sun, that I dig and re-plant seedlings in more areas of the yard each spring.  Hellebores are just the trick to solve several of the challenges we face.

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Hellebores touched with frost

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Because they are highly poisonous, the local wild things leave Hellebores strictly alone.  This makes them valuable for planting around newly planted trees, shrubs, ferns and perennials that need a bit of protection from hungry voles.  The voles avoid the Hellebore roots and so avoid the tasties you need to protect, as well.

Simply plant a circle of seedlings, spaced every 8″-10″, around the new plant.  Those roots very soon grow into a solid mass of protection, and the Hellebores will thrive in dry shade as the shrubs grow.

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Hellebores and Narcissus protect the roots of this Camellia sasanqua, blooming for several months after the Camellia flowers have faded.

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Deer don’t much like to walk through Hellebores, and certainly never nibble them.  Plant them in a mass along property lines, or disrupt deer runs through the garden with a living barrier of Hellebores.

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Hellebore seedlings bloom for the first time on this slope, where I planted them last spring.  This area gets a lot of erosion and several other plants have failed here.  The daffodils and Hellebores may prove the solution to hold the bank.

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Hellebores also serve as a beautiful ground cover on slopes and other areas where you don’t want grass.  They hold the soil against erosion and suppress weeds.  They can take drought and need very little care, other than removing old and damaged leaves in late winter.

I like to mix Hellebores with ferns and spring bulbs, like daffodils or early summer bloomers like Iris.  They make great companions.

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Seedlings blooming in their first year.

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And finally, I still want a few large pots of Hellebores each winter.  I pick out new cultivars at the nursery, looking for interesting leaves as well as striking flowers.  Maybe one day I’ll just dig a few seedlings for the pots.  But I find the new cultivars interesting enough to seek out special ones with variegated foliage or double flowers.

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I was very inspired by a planting featured in a recent issue of Gardens Illustrated.  A very large round stone planter was filled with the earlier blooming Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, interplanted with Galanthus and Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum. The whole confection was white flowers against beautiful green and silver foliage.   It was elegantly simple and absolutely aglow on the dull day it was photographed.

Hellebores make wonderful companion plants for spring bulbs in winter pots, and the whole thing can be transplanted into the garden in April, when you want to re-plant the pot for summer.  You know the arrangement will come back even bigger and better next winter.

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Which brings me to the main reason I’m celebrating our Hellebores on this Fabulous Friday:  they give abundant winter flowers.  Whether cut for a vase, floated in a bowl, or simply admired while walking through the garden; Hellebores defy winter with flowers of vibrant color and delicate beauty.

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We have enough seedling Hellebores appearing each spring that I’m always happy to share with other gardeners.  Especially gardeners making the hard adjustment to gardening in our challenging area, who are just looking for something, anything, they can grow without having to spray it with deer repellents every time it rains.

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Something borrowed, something new… a gardener’s happiness always grows when friends share their botanical treasures, and when success finally blooms from challenge.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
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Blossom XLVI: Snowdrops and Iris

Iris histrioides ‘George’ is blooming today, the first Iris of spring.

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“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in-
-what more could he ask?
A few flowers at his feet
and above him the stars.”
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Victor Hugo

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Galanthus elwesii

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“Nobody sees a flower – really –
it is so small it takes time
– we haven’t time –
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”

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Georgia O’Keeffe

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“If you want love to blossom in your heart,
just sit in the garden,
and watch the flowers grow.”
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Anthony T. Hincks

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“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
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Claude Monet

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Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ with Helleborus

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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All the flowers of all the tomorrows
are in the seeds of today”
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Robin Craig Clark

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“Love speaks in flowers.
Truth requires thorns.”
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Leigh Bardugo

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Mahonia aquifolium

 

 

Blossom XLV: First Snowdrops

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“In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life,
the roots of something new
frequently lie in the decaying husks
of something old.”
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Craig D. Lounsbrough

Once the rain finally stopped, the clouds blew out to sea, and the sun shone golden as it dropped towards the west, I finally felt moved to head out of doors to putter a little in the garden.  How could I not?  It was a rare warmish afternoon and the sun was shining.

It was only after planting out some potted Cyclamen, and a few odd things  that had been languishing in a corner of the garage, that I wandered up to the top of the garden to see what there was to see.  There is always something to see, even if it is nothing more than a swelling bud or a few more green leaves shyly poking up through winter’s mud.

And so it was that I braved the squishy paths and found myself wondering at the bit of fresh whiteness at my feet.  Snowdrops!  The first blooming bulbs of the season!

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What a quiet, special moment that creeps up so unexpectedly, to see the first flower of  a new spring while still  in the midst of winter.   It is like a sigil  for what is yet to come.

The old year has passed away, but the remains of those former days remain.  And out of the decaying leaves and soggy ground something pristine and fresh and bright emerges, as if by some old magic.  Snowdrops are simple things, tiny and meek.  They shyly nod just inches above the soil, ephemeral and fragile.  And still they exhibit the sheer life force to survive and carry on irregardless of the forces of winter.

Who would not be inspired and encouraged by such a sight?  Even though we have several weeks of freezing cold and winter storms ahead, spring began to stir in our garden today.  In our garden, and in this gardener’s heart.

Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Perhaps that is where our choice lies –
– in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things,
and how we will greet each new beginning.”
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Elana K. Arnold

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Blossom XIX: First Snowdrops

The first Snowdrops of spring.

The first Snowdrops of spring.

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We were delighted, and a bit surprised, to discover these pretty snowdrops blooming on the bank behind our house today.  Sheltered, and facing the afternoon sun, these tiny Galanthus emerged to brighten our day with their pristine flowers.

Our bulbs have been popping up all over the garden during the last fortnight.  But these are the first bulbs to bloom in our yard this year.  The premier act, we expect others soon to follow.  Galanthus nivalis lead the season, closely followed by the Crocus and early Daffodils.  I’m happy to see a little clump forming here where the original bulbs have matured and multiplied.  One of the nicest things about many spring bulbs is that they naturalize over time, making spreading patches of  color to delight my gardener’s heart.

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We enjoyed a sunny afternoon in the mid 60s today, and used it productively.  I made the tour and spread a bag of Milorganite around the perimeter of our garden, watching for signs of spring.  I”m still pruning, cutting back spent perennials, replenishing mulch and noticing buds swelling on many shrubs and trees.

We can’t get overly confident just yet.   We expect wintery weather to return by the end of this week.   Williamsburg often endures winter storms right through March or even early April.

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february-6-2017-flowers-011

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But with that said, we feel spring in the air.  The Heaths opened their  Bulb Shop up for the season at their Gloucester gardens last week.  I find it satisfying somehow that the first of our spring bulbs has blossomed within a week of their spring opening!  We will make a trip later this month to enjoy their display gardens, see what is new, and perhaps pick up a bag or two of something nice for this summer’s display.

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These lovely evergreen Arum italicum are from Brent and Becky's bulbs. This clump in its second season, growing with Violas.

These lovely evergreen Arum italicum are from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. This clump in its second season, growing with Violas.

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So for my gardening friends snowed under this week, please let these little snowdrops cheer you with their promise of spring to come!  It won’t be long now until your gardens will also burst into the beauties of springtime!

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Camellia japonica opened its first blooms of the season this weekend. These are our 'winter roses.'

Camellia japonica opened its first blooms of the season this weekend. These are our ‘winter roses.’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
Blossom XII
Blossom XIII
Blossom XIV
Blossom XV
Blossom XVI
Blossom XVII
Blossom XVIII
Blossom XX

 

A Breath of Spring

January 7, 2015 winter flowers 004

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“We may not know whether our understanding is correct,

or whether our sentiments are noble,

but the air of the day surrounds us  like spring

which spreads over the land

without our aid or notice.”

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Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

We’ve not yet had a proper winter; and here is the first snowdrop.  It caught me by surprise.  I noticed it earlier, as I headed  inside laden with groceries.  There nodded a perfect white flower, harbinger of spring, on this January day.

Thus far we’ve imbibed real winter only from the Weather Channel.  Our cold has come in short two or three day bursts, interspersed with days which leave us wondering whether it is November or May.

We did have two hard freezes earlier this week.  The stalwart Geraniums, left behind near the backdoor when their cousins came inside, finally succumbed; or almost.  “….. Not dead yet!”  Damaged leaves cloak still living stems and roots.

But the bulbs are awakening.  Tentative green leaves have shown themselves in all parts of the garden now; just as the last of this year’s lot were buried in the still  malleable soil.

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January 7, 2015 winter flowers 005

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And the Hellebores!  Like precocious schoolgirls, they are flirting with the sun as though it were March already.

It’s January, but we haven’t seen a flake of snow.  The front lawn has sparkled with frost a time or two, so pretty in the morning sun.  But who can argue with spring?  No matter how late or how early, swelling buds and fresh green leaves never fail to make me smile.

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Looks a little like a Marigold or Dahlia, doesn't it? Can you name this winter 'flower?"

Looks a little like a Marigold or a Dahlia, doesn’t it? Can you name this winter ‘flower?”

Plant Now For Spring Living Flower Arrangements

November 2, 2015 015

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Who wants to look at empty pots for the next four months?  I am as interested in planting attractive pots for the winter season as I am interested in replanting those pots for summer.  And each fall, I keep an eye and and ear open for new ideas.

Brent Heath offered a workshop last month at his Bulb Shop in Gloucester that I sorely wanted to attend.  He even offered to bring his workshop across the river if I could pull a group together in our community.  And how I wish my time and energy had stretched far enough to invite him!

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Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

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Brent, a master horticulturalist, teaches the finer points of loading containers with bulbs.  Now even though he and his wife Becky are known internationally for their prodigious offering of Daffodils; they sell hundreds of different bulbs and perennials.  Brent’s workshop teaches how to layer several different species of bulbs into a single pot to create a “Living Flower Arrangement” which changes over time as different bulbs appear, bloom, and fade.

I wanted to attend Brent’s workshop to learn a new trick or two.  I’ve used various bulbs in containers for many years now, but there is always a better way, when one is open to learn from someone more experienced.  But the stars haven’t aligned this season, and so I’ve been experimenting on my own with the bulbs we’ve been collecting.

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Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

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The idea is elegantly simple:  since one plants bulbs at different depths depending on the size of the bulb, and since new growth from most bulbs is very narrow before it reaches the light,  one can plant one ‘layer’ of bulbs on top of another, allowing the emerging stems to sort out the spacing as they grow upwards towards the light.  In fact, three or four ‘layers’ of different types of bulbs may be planted into a single large pot.   This very crowded planting works for a single season, but must be unpacked by early summer.  The bulbs may be transplanted ‘in the green’ into garden beds, to allow the leaves to fully recharge the bulb for the next season of flowers.

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 Containers for sale at the Heath's Bulb Shop last April

Containers on display at the Heath’s Bulb Shop last April

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I modify this idea to include annuals, perennials, woodies and moss so the planting has immediate interest while we wait for the bulbs to emerge in the spring.

Begin with a clean pot.  I use coffee filters or a paper towel over the drainage holes to hold the soil while the roots are growing.  The filters will soon decompose.  Choose a good quality, light, commercial potting soil with nutrition already mixed in.  The annuals and perennials are heavy feeders, and the bulbs will perform better in rich soil.  Many of the ‘organic’ potting soils now come pre-loaded with worm castings!

Now one must  ‘do the math.’  Having chosen 2-5 species of bulbs, depending on the size and depth of the pot, first study the proper planting depth of each.  If you are using Daffodils, for instance, which are planted at a depth of 6″, then fill the pot with soil to within about 7″ of the rim.    Set the first ‘layer’ of Daffodil bulbs on the soil by pushing the root end slightly into the soil so that the tip points upwards.  Space these Daffodils 3″-4″ apart from one another and at least an inch or two inwards from the sides of the pot.  Carefully fill in around these bulbs with more potting soil so they are barely covered, and firm the soil with your palm.

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Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted Redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and Daffodils early last spring.

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Choose your next bulb, adding just enough soil so it is planted at its correct depth, and arrange these bulbs by lightly pushing them into the soil.  Try to avoid setting a new bulb directly over top of a deeper one.  Lightly top with soil to hold this layer in place, and add an additional layer or two of bulbs.  I like to select a few bulbs, like Crocus, Muscari, or Galanthus nivalis, which will emerge in late winter.  These will often be the ones planted most shallow.

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Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I've tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I’ve tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

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If your living flower arrangement will contain only bulbs, then simply top off the soil with a layer of living moss, water in, place the pot, and wait.  You can certainly add a few branches, pods, stones or cones to the pot to catch the eye while you wait for spring.

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Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with Creeping Jenny and a hardy Sedum ‘Angelina’ last April.

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But I want a living flower arrangement which goes to work right away.  I always add some annuals or perennials to the mix, which complicates the bulb planting a bit, as you don’t want bulbs directly under the huge root ball of a perennial or shrub.   I tend to place  a shrub or perennial in the pot first, then plant the bulbs around it.  This is a good use for those clearance shrubs with tiny root balls so easy to find in late October or November.  Or, for the many evergreen shrubs showing up now in tiny quart or 1 gallon pots.

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March 20 2014 spring 006

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Many vines and some perennials root easily from cuttings.  Simply tuck bits of Creeping Jenny, hardy Sedum, or divisions of Ivy or Ajuga into the soil of your finished pot.  These will grow in place.  Consider sprinkling seeds for perennials like Columbine, which like to overwinter out of doors.  They will begin to sprout next spring as the bulbs emerge.

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Creeping Jenny last March

Creeping Jenny last March

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You might complete your design with some winter annuals.  You can pot up the deeper layers of bulbs, and then plant a few Violas, Pansies or snaps in the top three inches of the pot.  Layer in your Crocus and Muscari bulbs around them.

~ April 7,2014 spring flowers 002

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I still finish the pot with moss or pebbles.   This topdressing not only looks more attractive than plain dirt; it helps hold moisture, insulates the roots as temperatures dive, and it offers some protection from digging squirrels.  If I were using Tulips in the pot, I would be tempted to lay some chicken wire, with large openings, over that layer of bulbs for further protection from marauding rodents.  Tuck in a few cloves of garlic or onion sets to protect your Violas from grazing deer and rabbits.

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Now, the ultimate ‘multi-tasking’ for this sort of planting:  hardwood cuttings.  Many of our woodies will root over winter if stuck into moist soil and left alone for several months.  If you have some shrubs you would like to propagate, take your cuttings and push them artistically into the finished pot.  If they root, fine.  If they don’t, you have still enjoyed the extra sculptural elements they lend over winter while the bulbs are sleeping.

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I've added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

I’ve added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

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This sort of winter ‘living flower arrangement’ takes a bit of planning.  There are lots of choices to make about timing and color schemes, size and scale, costs and placement.  You have to imagine how the bulbs will look when they emerge, so the tall ones are more to the center and the shorter ones nearer the edges; unless the shorter ones will finish before the tall ones emerge.  And the container must be large enough to contain all of those robust roots without cracking; and of material which will hold up to your winter weather.

~March 6, 2015 garden 002

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This is an excellent way to showcase miniature Daffodils and other delicate, small flowering bulbs.  You might combine several types of daffies to include those which flower early, mid- and late season.  Daffodils with blue Muscari always look great together.

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Ornamental cabbage with Heuchera in a newly planted pot.

Ornamental cabbage with Hellebore in a newly planted pot.

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You might also compose an arrangement of various Iris.  Include some combination of Iris unguicularis, Iris bucharica, Iris histrioides, Iris reticulata, Dutch Iris, and perhaps even a root of German Bearded Iris for a long season of beautiful Iris blooms.

If your winter is especially harsh, plant your container now, water it in, but leave it in an unheated garage or shed until February.  Bring it out into the spring sunshine and enjoy the bulbs when the worst of winter has passed.

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Newly planted Violas with Heuchera

Newly planted Violas with Hellebores.  Bulbs are tucked into the soil, waiting for spring.

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We enjoy the luxury of  Zone 7b, which allows us to grow winter annuals which would die a few states to the north, and also bulbs which wouldn’t survive in the warmer winters to our south.  We also have many winter or early spring  flowering shrubs to plant in our container gardens.

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Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.  Foliage will fill this pot all winter, with flowers appearing in the spring.

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Here are some of the plants I choose most often for these dynamic pots:

Perennials:  Hellebores, Heucheras, Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, Iris unguicularis, evergreen ferns, culinary Sage, Rosemary, Ivy, Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny), Sedum rupestre, ‘Angelina’ and other hardy Sedums, Ajuga, Vinca Minor (Periwinkle), hardy Oxalis, Columbine, Dianthus

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Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

Pansies will soon respond to warmer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

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Annuals:  Violas, Panolas, Pansies, Snapdragons, Allysum, ornamental kale or cabbage

Whatever combination of plants you choose, think of these living flower arrangements as narratives which unfold over time.

Time truly is the magical ingredient for baking bread, raising children, and creating beautiful gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

A January Monday Vase

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 018

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What bits of beauty can you scavenge from your garden on this last Monday of January?

That is the challenge…

Answering the challenge took me all around the garden today with clippers and a cup of warm water in hand.  We have the proverbial calm before the storm today in coastal Virginia.  It was actually sunny when I headed out mid-day, and almost warm.  The wind was brisk, though, which reminded me to make this a quick scavenging hunt.

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January 26, 2015 Monday vase 016

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I found more snowdrops blooming in a sheltered spot beneath some box, some white Hellebores just making their presence known in the lower stump garden, and a few bright Viola blossoms.  I’ve been admiring the bright red stems of our native blueberry bushes, and so included a few along with some evergreen Azaleas.

There are also a few stems of Forsythia, their buds still tightly closed, and some of the variegated ivy growing near the kitchen door.

Meager as that may be, it reflects the beauty of our January garden.

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There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.

There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.

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And yes, of course the bright vivid greens of our moss and lichen, thriving in this very wet winter.  While most of our evergreens are just hunkered down for the duration hoping to survive, the moss glows with vitality.

I have placed the vase in the midst of another moss garden, constructed in a shallow glass plate set in a silver charger.  Rooted ivy grows and a tiny fern division grow out of the living moss.  Perhaps this little vignette will last long enough for the cut branches to respond to our warmth indoors and begin to unfurl their buds.

I’ve been thinking of a friend while puttering in the garden today, who with her husband left our community a few years back to move closer to her family on the coast of Florida.  She lets me know, sometimes, how much she misses her friends here in Williamsburg, and the magic of our changing seasons.

An avid gardener herself, and very talented floral designer, I hope the photos of this little Monday vase will brighten her day and let her know that we miss her, too.

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January 26, 2015 Monday vase 011~

I discovered the “Monday Vase” challenge a week ago while following links from gardening blog to gardening blog.  Many of the participants tend their gardens across Europe.  Perhaps more of my gardening friends from here in the United States will decide to join in with vases of their own as our gardens awaken to spring.  What a nurturing thing to do to bring a bit of the garden indoors for our loved ones to enjoy close up once a week!

If you love cut flowers, and are curious to see what others have created today, please follow the links in the comments on Cathy’s page.  I also enjoyed John’s vase of pansies and parsley today in his lovely cobalt blue vase.

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January 26, 2015 Monday vase 008

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Often I hesitate to cut flowers from our garden because I want to enjoy them as they grow.  We leave them for the bees and butterflies.  And I wonder if they’ll make us sneeze indoors.

But after enjoying the beautiful arrangements others have made to join this challenge, I’m inspired.  And I plan to make the garden tour with clippers in hand a Monday ritual from here on.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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January 26, 2015 Monday vase 009

 

Waiting For Snowdrops

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I remember golden yellow daffodils blooming in mid-December of 2012 near the James River.  They looked so unnatural nodding their cheerful yellow heads right as Christmas lights were shining and we were deeply into holiday preparations.  They brought with them a horrible foreboding that our seasons were dangerously out of whack.

This December brought a few late roses and early Forsythia blossoms, but blessedly no daffodils. Those of us who choose to live in the temperate areas of the planet appreciate each of our seasons.  When they are out of whack, we feel a bit cheated to have missed out on the special joys and beauties of that time of year.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 001

No, wintery cold weather came early in 2013, and has settled into our Virginia landscape much later into the spring than we’ve come to expect.  Our bare winter landscape is browned out.  Even some evergreen leaves, normally vibrantly green throughout the winter, have been frozen into dull brownness.

Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, is the earliest bulb of spring.  Even their name explains their special place in the late winter garden.

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The genus, Galanthus, is derived from the Greek for “milk,” gala,” and “flower,” anthos.  All Galanthus are creamy white, so “milk flower” is an appropriate and descriptive genus name.  The species name, nivalis, means “of the snow.”  Named by Carl Linnaeus in 1735, the snowdrop is called, “milk flower of the snow.”  “Of the snow” refers to both its pristine white appearance, and also to the fact that snowdrops often bloom so early that snow is still on the ground.

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Snowdrops are our earliest bulb in the garden this year.  Not even Crocus, another early bloomer, or Muscari have opened yet.  Although I found Crocus last week on a sunny bank along the roadside in our community, none have appeared yet in our own garden.

Perhaps because our own winter has been so long and unusually cold, we treasure every jewel like bloom.  Each one is greeted with appreciation and happiness because the clear message each holds is the promise that spring has begun unfolding for us.

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Even during this warm stretch of four days we’ve enjoyed, the local weather forecasters have kept up their warnings of more snow on the way.  We’ll drop back to freezing tonight, and we expect an inch of snow on Wednesday, followed by more freezing snow and sleet by the weekend.  By Wednesday morning our own snowdrops will bravely bloom above a white carpet of fresh snow.

Galanthus nivalis are native to Northern Europe.  They are well adapted to grow and bloom in the freezing weather of late winter and early spring in zones 3-7.  Williamsburg, Virginia, is on the southern border of their range here in the United States.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 003

Perhaps because they are the first bulb of spring, they’ve been hybridized and planted widely throughout Europe and the British Isles.  In fact, they are so popular in Britain, Scotland, Wales and  Northern Ireland that many of us assume that to be their native habitat.

Although widely naturalized in beautiful drifts in woodlands and meadows, snowdrops, or “February fairmaids” as they are often called, probably first crossed the Channel with the Romans.  Popularized in the early Sixteenth Century, they were part of the nursery trade between Europe, The British Isles, and the Colonies in North America.  Snowdrops are so treasured in the British Isles that many avid gardeners take tours in February to see them in bloom, alongside Hellebores and early shrubs.

February 16 spring flowers 037

Snowdrops, like many bulbs, are absolutely simple to grow.  Although it’s always wise to prepare the ground for anything, tiny snowdrop bulbs can be set into tiny drills in the ground, about 2 inches deep, covered, and left alone.  They are quite beautiful naturalized into lawn, under trees and along ponds and creeks; planted in  beds and borders or pots; or even grown in tiny pots to bring in as houseplants during late winter.

Planted in autumn, they need several weeks of cold weather before they’ll begin to grow.  I bought several dozen bulbs this year in December and planted them “second knuckle deep” in outdoor planters where I am growing Violas, Heucheras, ferns, and shrubs.  When I switch out the winter/spring plants for summer ones, I’ll lift the Galanthus bulbs and “plant them in the green” elsewhere in the garden.

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All bulbs need several weeks after bloom time for their leaves to create sugars for next year’s growth.  It is important to leave their leaves freely growing until they die back naturally in early summer.  Doing this prepares the bulb for next spring’s show, and also allows the bulb to create offsets, or new baby bulbs around its base.  When you dig bulbs out of their pots in May you’ll notice several tiny bulbs surrounding the one originally planted the previous fall.

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This is how bulbs spread, and eventually naturalize an area.  Many Galanthus, won’t produce viable seeds.  They are hybrids.  The only way to increase your bulb display year to year is to dig and divide them.  “Planting in the green” means one carefully lifts the bulb, leaving all of the leaves intact, and then gently replants the bulbs at the same depth where they will permanently grow.  Water the clump in well, and allow the foliage to continue growing until it naturally dies back.  No fertilizer is needed, but if helps any plant to give it a drink of dilute fish emulsion or sea weed emulsion from time to time.

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Galanthus really shine in a natural setting.  They are beautiful growing at the base of trees, along paths, creeks and ponds.  They are individually so tiny, at only about 5″ tall, it is best to plant a great mass of them for a big impact.  Plant them where you’ll pass them frequently and pause to enjoy their delicate beauty up close.

You might also want to mark them so you won’t forget where they are and accidentally dig them up later in the season.  Ignored by deer, they grow well in a wide range of soils, in part sun to partial shade.  They prefer moist soil when in active growth, but winter soils are generally moist in our area.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 003

So in our Forest Garden we are waiting and watching for snowdrops to uncurl their petals as our first tangible harbinger of the change of seasons.  Even though winter is returning to our garden tonight, we know its days are numbered, and our snowdrops promise that spring has already begun.

February 23, 2014 spring bulbs 006

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“The snowdrop and primrose our woodlands adorn,
and violets bathe in the wet o’ the morn.”

Robert Burns

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