Sunday Dinner: Confidence

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“If ever there is tomorrow

when we’re not together…

there is something you must always remember.

You are braver than you believe,

stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

But the most important thing is,

even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

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A.A. Milne

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“Remember that wherever your heart is,

there you will find your treasure.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“You are the community now.

Be a lamp for yourselves.

Be your own refuge. Seek for no other.

All things must pass.

Strive on diligently.

Don’t give up.”

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Gautama Buddha

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“Human spirit is the ability to face

the uncertainty of the future

with curiosity and optimism.

It is the belief that problems can be solved,

differences resolved.

It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile.

It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”

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Bernard Becket

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“Believe it can be done.

When you believe something can be done,

really believe,

your mind will find the ways to do it.

Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”

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David J. Schwartz

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Your greatness is revealed

not by the lights that shine upon you,

but by the light that shines

within you.”

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Ray A. Davis

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Leaf III: Decoration

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Unusual leaves bring great energy and interest to our garden.  Caladiums, like this C. ‘Gingerland’ offer a long lasting, bold accent in sun to partial shade.  Each leaf is unique, painted in clear bright color across its graceful, undulating form.

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A pot filled with Caladiums can be stunning.  But mix Caladiums with ferns, vines or annuals for uniquely interesting arrangements.  ‘Gingerland’ was our first Caladium in leaf this year from the new batch ordered in April.

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Caladiums also mix well with other Aroids, like Alocasia ‘Stingray.’  Their cultural needs are similar.  These C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ overwintered together with the Alocasia in their pot in our garage.  Heavy feeders, the more generous you can be with water and fertilizer, the larger and more lush they will grow.

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Newer Caladium varieties can take more sun than you might imagine.  I had this pot of C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. ‘Desert Sunset’ in partial sun until our recent spell of hot, dry weather.  It is photographed here in deep shade, a temporary resting spot until the weather moderates.

We enjoy the beacon like effect of these luminous white leaves shining from a shady spot in the garden.

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Alocasia ‘Frydek’

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Alocasia have just appeared on the market in recent years.  This unusual tropical plant also grows from a tuber.  One of the first commonly available was Alocasia micholitziana.  A widely marketed cultivar is known as A. ‘Frydek’ or ‘African Mask’ or Alocasia Polly.

These ‘elephant ears’  are often sold as house plants, and do well in normal indoor conditions year round.  Sometimes they will go dormant and appear to die back.  Just be patient and keep the soil a little moist.  You will usually be rewarded with new leaves in a few weeks.

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Alocasia are long-lived plants, which grow larger each season.  They enjoy a partially sunny spot in our summer garden.  Their deep green, substantial leaves last for months at a time.   Bring them indoors in winter, if only to a garage or basement, and you will be rewarded with additional years of beauty.

There are many new types of Alocasia on the market these days.  In addition to A. ‘Frydek’ and A. ‘Stingray,’ we also grow A. ‘Plumbea’ and A. ‘Sarian.’  

I recognized some plants at our local Trader Joe’s as unnamed Alocasia back in February, and bought two.  We kept them going in the dining room until it warmed enough to move them outdoors this spring.  they have put out prodigious growth and their leaves are now about 18″ long, each.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Another genus with unusual and beautiful leaves, Begonia, also thrives in our summer garden.  Tropical, most varieties of Begonia enjoy heat and humidity.  Although they often pump out delicate flowers all summer long, we growth them mostly for their outrageous leaves.

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Cane Begonia

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Although not as large as Caladium or Alocasia leaves, some Begonia varieties have large, extravagantly marked and highly textured leaves.  B. ‘Gryphon’ appeared in local shops perhaps six years ago.  It will grow quite large by the end of summer, and the plants keep well from year to year.

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A newly unfolding leaf on B. Gryphon.  The red fades to a more even green as each leaf matures, though the stems remain red.

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B. ‘Gryphon’ can be propagated from stem or leaf petiole cuttings.  Simply stick a section of the trunk into a pot of moist soil, and wait.  I generally use a little rooting hormone on the cut end of the stem.  The stem will root in moist soil, with new growth appearing in just a few weeks in summer.  I overwintered a stem cutting in our garage last winter, and new growth appeared a few weeks after we put it outside this spring.

B. ‘Gryphon’ is grown for its beautiful leaves and tropical form.  It will eventually produce some small flowers in its second or third year.

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Begonia Rex come in hundreds of varieties.  Their leaves are beautifully patterned.  I’m seeing these offered at big box stores in spring along with annuals and other shade perennials.  Although perennial, they are tender and won’t survive freezing temperatures outdoors.  I normally grow these in pots to keep from year to year.

They grow from rhizomes, and may appear to ‘die’ at times.  Often, the plant has gone dormant due to stress, and will begin to produce leaves again if given minimal care and warmth.

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Begonias can be heavy feeders.  They like their soil to dry out a little before you water again, and thrive in bright shade.  They enjoy the humidity when placed under trees in our summer garden.

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Begonia

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Unusual and colorful leaves keep a garden fresh and fun.  Ours have the garden looking Fabulous this Friday!

Whether you have one wonderful pot of Caladiums, or a garden filled with striking foliage, you will soon be hooked.

When you realize how easy and resilient these plants can be for you to grow, and how long-lived and tough these tropical beauties become;  you may soon will find yourself collecting them, too.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Unusual

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, Let’s infect one another!

 

Dark Beauty

Zantedeschia ‘Hot Chocolate’

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Are you drawn to nearly black foliage or flowers when designing your garden?  Many new cultivars have come to the market in recent years sporting very dark shades of purple, burgundy, green and bluish black.

I like them.  My partner doesn’t.

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We were shopping together this spring, and I was ready to buy  a Colocasia ‘Black Coral.’  I must admit that I was seeing the poor little start as I expected it to look in July.  My partner saw the pitiful dark little thing in its plastic nursery pot and didn’t like it at all.  We had words.  And I chose to keep the peace by making a different selection.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ with coleus, petunias and peach verbena

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But I always admire dark leaved Colocasias, especially shiny ones like C. ‘Black Coral’ or ‘Black Ripple.’  And I find them stunning when they are planted near chartreuse or burgundy tropical foliage.

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And so when we returned to the shop some weeks later, I asked my partner to trust me, and bought my C. ‘Black Coral.’  Once I planted our little Colocasia in its new blue ceramic pot with a peach verbena, some coleus and purple petunias, it looked completely different.  Once it was planted up with contrasting plants, he liked it, too.

And that is the key, I believe, to using very dark flowers and foliage:  create contrast in the planting.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ with Oxalis

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The Heath’s catalog describes their Zantedeschia ‘Black Star’ this way:  “…this is close to the illusion of shadow…”  Our garden vignettes are composed of light and shadow, form and emptiness.

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As we design with plants, we splash color against a backdrop of green; or perhaps the backdrop of our home or other hardscape.  As we work with colors, it is sometimes energizing to create contrasts as well as harmony.

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And I enjoy the rich dark colors of some leaves and flowers for the beautiful contrasts they create.

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Try mixing these dark plants with clear bright color in nearby foliage and flowers.  I especially like pairing dark foliage with chartreuse or grey.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Create a hot tropical feel by using dark Colocasias with  orange or bright pink flowers.  Harmonize by pairing with foliage or flowers a few shades lighter or brighter.

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petunias

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Choosing dark flowers and leaves for your garden needn’t make your garden drab or mournful.  Rather, use these unexpected and unusual plants to energize and excite.

Let them inspire you to create a beautiful space uniquely yours.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Blossom XXV: Elegance

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The Calla lily always feels elegant and exotic.  Its long slender leaves, slender stem, and simple form might have been designed by Coco Chanel for all of their tres chic simplicity.  Until a trip to Oregon two years ago, I assumed they were best found at a high end florist.  But no.  Calla may be grown in any temperate garden as simple perennials.

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The Calla growing in every other front garden in the beach communities I visited along the Oregon coast, grew in thick clumps, about 4′ high.  They were already blooming in April of 2015.  I was mesmerized, and determined to find something similar for our own garden.

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Zantedeschia aethiopica blooming at the Connie Hanson Garden in Lincoln City, Oregon in late April 2015.

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My search took me first to Plant Delights, which offers two selections of ‘Giant’ Zantedeschia, both hardy in Zones 7-10.  By ‘Giant,’ we mean plants topping out at perhaps 6′ tall.  Like other aroids, Zantedeschia, called Calla lily, grow from a tuber.  And each year the tubers grow larger as the clump spreads.  The clumps I saw in Oregon had clearly been growing for many years.

I began searching out Zanteschia tubers later that year, and have added a few to our collection each spring since.  I’ve learned these are hardy for us and may be left alone year to year to simply grow to their own rhythm.  They are fairly heavy feeders and appreciate good soil, plenty of moisture, abundant sunshine, and a little support.  Their leaves are spectacular, even before and after the blossoms.

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Z. ‘Hot Chocolate’ with its first bloom of the season.

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We’ve not yet grown any Zantedeschia that reached more than perhaps 3′ tall.  But I have noticed our clumps, left in the garden last fall, bulking up this year.  In fact, I dug up several clumps which grew in pots last summer, and moved them out into the garden in late October.  What a welcome sight when they broke ground this spring!

These South African natives adapt well to our climate.  They aren’t invasive, so far as I know.

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Zantedeschia albomaculata, with white spots on its dark leaves, prefers moist soil and will even grow in a pot partially submerged in a bog garden or shallow pond.  It will grow to about 24″.  Zantedeschia aethiopica, with solid green leaves, grows a little taller.  And it also enjoys moist soil.  Although we normally think of Calla lily as a white flower, there are many named hybrids with flowers of various colors, including some of very dark maroon or purple.

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Zantedeschia emerging in early May. The first leaf tips emerged in late March.

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Zantedeschia grow well in pots or planted directly in the ground.  If you live north of Zone 7, you can bring the pots in when your weather turns, and keep them going indoors as house plants.  In fact, our local Trader Joe’s has proven a reliable source of potted Callas with bright flowers, ready for your patio or to be gifted to a friend on a special occasion.

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If you are looking for something elegant, simple, and different for your garden this year, you might try growing Calla lilies.  Deer leave these leaves alone.  Callas have crystals in their leaves, like other Aroids, which cause them to irritate an animal’s mouth.  Given sufficient moisture and sun, these elegant, yet easy perennials will happily fill your garden with beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“I won’t regret,
because you can grow flowers
where dirt used to be.”
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Kate Nash
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Like other Aroids, the Zantedeschia ‘blossom’ consists of a spadix, surrounded by a modified leaf called a spathe. Seeds form in tiny berries along the spadix after the spathe falls away. This plant is very much like the Arum italicum, and the two plants may be grown side by side to give a full year’s worth of foliage and a longer season of flowers.

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Community

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“No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:
any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls;
it tolls for thee.”
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John Donne
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“If man is to survive,
he will have learned to take a delight
in the essential differences between men
and between cultures.
He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes
are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety,
not something to fear.”
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Gene Roddenberry
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“What should young people do with their lives today?
Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing
is to create stable communities
in which the terrible disease of loneliness
can be cured.”
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Kurt Vonnegut Jr
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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches
is that our relationship to the planet
need not be zero-sum,
and that as long as the sun still shines
and people still can plan and plant,
think and do, we can, if we bother to try,
find ways to provide for ourselves
without diminishing the world. ”
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Michael Pollan
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“Remember that the happiest people
are not those getting more,
but those giving more.”
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H. Jackson Brown Jr.
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In Memory of Special Agent Michael Walter,
who was lost in the line of duty May 26-27, 2017
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“But many of us seek community
solely to escape the fear of being alone.
Knowing how to be solitary
is central to the art of loving.
When we can be alone,
we can be with others without using them
as a means of escape.”
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bell hooks
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Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Dense And Durable

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Dense planting not only looks nice, it protects our garden’s most precious resource, our soil.

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Vinca minor forms a dense ground cover in this mixed border beneath shrubs, spring bulbs, Violas and emerging perennials.

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A newly planted bed, whose perennials and ground covers haven’t yet grown in, looks rather naked and unfinished.  But all of that exposed soil provides a receptive spot for weed seeds to germinate with abandon.  It takes a great deal of time and effort to keep the weeds pulled.

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Ivy

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Naked soil also runs off in heavy rain, dries out quickly, and can get compacted.  Mulch helps, but living mulch in the form of ground cover and dense planting holds the soil and looks far more interesting.

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That is why most experienced gardeners will recommend dense, close planting in beds and pots.  And most experienced gardeners also plan for a low growing ground cover plants as the ‘shoes and socks’ of their designs.

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Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ fills this pot planted with bulbs. Bits of Sedum Angelina poke through the dense mat of Ajuga.  A Zantedeschia will soon emerge, if it survived winter in this pot.

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In a pot, some ground covers will eventually take over, given the chance.  Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, will eventually fill a pot with its own roots.  But it is a beautiful plant in its own right.

Gardeners willing to dig and divide the plant seasonally, and re-plant the design, find it very useful.

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Creeping Jenny spills from the white pot, planted in November beneath the Helleborus “Snow Fever.’ Moss (center) also makes a good, dense ground cover in pots and doesn’t compete with other plants in the container.

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Vinca minor also grows aggressively, striking new roots from its leaf nodes as it creeps along the ground.  It loves our garden. 

I frequently find myself weeding out clumps of it in newly established beds where I want other plants to establish.  And yet, I must admit that it looks beautiful growing beneath spring bulbs and around shrubs.

When it blooms each spring, its flowers contrast beautifully with daffodils.  But its evergreen leaves also give the garden color and structure throughout the year.

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Ajuga reptans, another low growing, flowering perennial, remains one of my favorite ground cover plants.  It forms dense mats of beautiful, colorful leaves which look good throughout the winter months.

And then it blooms with gorgeous flowers for a few weeks in the spring.  I would grow it for its flowers, even if it weren’t such a wonderful ground cover plant.  Is use it in pots, beds, and for edging.

Its dense mat of leaves protects the soil from erosion in heavy rain and cools the soil in summer’s heat.  It helps retain moisture, a living mulch, around shrubs.

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Perennials like Ajuga, which spread with runners, eventually form dense, ever growing clumps.  When planted, it is wise to space them a bit apart, knowing they will soon grow together.

Once you have plants like Ajuga, Vinca, Ivy, Lysimachia, and many Sedums established in your garden, you can easily divide them and spread them around.  Many of these root easily in water or damp soil.  Their interesting colors provide interest and contrast when paired with other plants.

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Another beautiful ground cover vine, Lamium also forms a dense mat in partial shade, protecting the soil, and  blooms in the spring.

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So go dense when planting.  Protect the soil, conserve water, and create a rich tapestry of form and color in your garden.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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for the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Dense

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Fabulous Friday: Muscari

Muscari armeniacum

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Snowdrops, Crocus, Narcissus, Muscari…..

That is the usual order of early spring bulbs unfolding in our garden.  By the time the Muscari bloom, we feel that spring has arrived.

Our odd 2017 roller coaster weather has the usual order of things disrupted a bit.  We’ve found precious few Crocus flowers thus far, and we have a standard Dutch Hyacinth in full bloom, already, in a pot on the patio; while others are just crowning through the soil.  Most of the Daffodils are a month ahead of their 2016 appearance.

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Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Chicago’ in full bloom last Monday

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“Location, location, location!” as the realtors say.

Bulbs kept in pots often bloom a bit earlier than those in the open garden.  Anything which holds heat, like stones and paving, speed the unfolding, too.  This one has extra protection because we pulled its pot right up against the house, in full sun, during the last cold snap.

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We search, each spring, for the emerging Muscari, or ‘Grape Hyacinths,’ like a toddler searches for Easter eggs.  We love their bright perfection as winter fades into early spring.  These tiny perennial bulbs, originally from Europe, naturalize easily.  They crop up in unexpected places in the lawn, always giving a moment of pure joy as we discover them.

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After blooming, Muscari’s leaves grow on for several weeks as offset bulbs grow around the original.  We lift them in clumps as we replant their pots for summer, planting the Muscari  ‘in the green’ elsewhere in the garden.

Potted Muscari sometimes begin their growth in late fall. Their leaves grow on for months before their flowers bloom, persisting through winter.  Sometimes they turn brown around the tips and edges from the cold.  A more fastidious gardener would likely trim them up for spring, but I let them be, knowing the leaves fuel the flowers.

Hardy in Zones 4-9, Muscari always emerge early, well before the season has settled.

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Muscari armeniacum ‘Venus,’

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Muscari remain one of my favorite bulbs to tuck into potted arrangements each fall.  They are so tiny that they can be planted with one finger poking a little hole into the potting mix.  Drop one in, smooth the soil, and you’re done.

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This pot holds white Muscari, too. The leaves emerged in January, and white flowers will appear any day now. Grown in partial shade, this pot is a little behind the others.  Creeping Jenny spills over the front edge.

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Once the winter shrubs and perennials, Violas, ivy and moss have been settled into the pot, little Muscari bulbs can still be added, weeks later.

I’ve been wanting to grow white Muscari for a few years now, but they are hard to find.  I finally picked up these M. ‘Venus’ on a late trip to the Heath’s bulb shop last fall.

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These white Grape Hyacinths appeared yesterday, just in time for the wintery blast coming this weekend. They should do fine in the cold. But our Hydrangeas, already in leaf, will have their first leaves frozen without some protection.  We wrapped the smallest of the Hydrangea macrophylla in plastic bags first thing this morning.

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We nearly forget about our bulbs  over winter.  Their appearance in February and March comes as a little bit of a surprise.

We believe that is the appeal of spring bulbs, anyway.  “Plant them and forget them.”   Bulbs are one of the few things you plant with absolutely no expectation to enjoy them for the next several months.

When they finally emerge, often from the bare ground with little  warning, they feel like a special gift of nature.

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Muscari with Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ which turns a beautiful shade of burgundy in winter’s cold.  The Ajuga will bloom, soon, with flower stalks of about the same height in blue.

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Seeking out, and photographing the Muscari early this morning, got our Friday off to a fabulous start!

We went out first thing, knowing the temperatures would drop throughout the day.  It was already drizzling as we began covering the Hydrangeas and sliding empty pots over the little perennial starts I’ve been planting this week.

We’re taking precautions since we have some nighttime lows forecast in the 20’s over the weekend, and the “S” word lingers in the forecast for the days ahead.  A winter storm may form up off the coast and touch us with its icy fingers early next week.

That said, we decided to photograph the many flowers blooming in our garden this morning.  We’ll keep spring in our hearts even with wintery winds blowing around the doors and windows.

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I am setting an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to write about each Friday. 

Now that the Weekly Photo Challenge has moved to Wednesdays, I am starting  “Fabulous Friday” on Forest Garden. 

If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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 Woodland Gnome 2017

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We invested  yesterday in creating a new garden feature. Warm and sunny, we enjoyed another perfect day working  in the garden.

 

Water-Wise Pots

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Keeping potting soil well hydrated presents a challenge when the mercury rises and the gardener gets busy.

I’m always open to new ideas which allow me to use less water and keep my potted gardens happy.  I hate to water deeply, only to find a growing puddle seeping out of the pot.  Water is a precious resource, and grows more so each year.

I’ve used water globes in some pots and hanging baskets for a few years now, especially when the pots are indoors.    They deliver just the amount of water needed over several days, reducing both evaporation and the inevitable mess watering can make.  The large one I use to keep our Norfolk Island Pine happy through the winter is a two piece contraption.

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Yes, I realize the spike should be deeper into the soil. The tree's roots are so thick this was the best I could do! And it still works....

Yes, I realize the spike should be deeper into the soil. The tree’s roots are so thick this was the best I could do! And it still works….

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A terra cotta spike, about an inch in diameter, stays embedded in the potting soil.  The stained glass globe reservoir lifts out for filling.  You invert the filled globe into the spike (very carefully) and then allow the water to wick through the terra cotta spike, into the potting mix, as the plant needs it.  The tree grows happily, and I fill the globe about twice a week.

This is a neat system, and got me to wondering whether I could construct something similar for the large pots I keep out on our patio and deck all summer.

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My favorite, clean, pea gravel, with a lot of fine grit.

My favorite, clean, pea gravel, comes with a lot of fine grit.

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I’m not keen on buying more globes for the outdoor pots.  For one thing, the kit runs around $20.  For another, our squirrels might just knock the globe out and  shatter it while they explore the pots.

But tiny terra cotta pots are fairly cheap at the big box stores.

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Burlap over the drainage hole keeps potting soil from seeping out of the pot's drainage hole.

Burlap over the drainage hole keeps potting soil from seeping out of the pot.

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I found stacks of little pots today for about 40 cents each at WalMart.  So I’ve dreamed up a little gadget which should work reasonably well to help keep a pot hydrated in summer.  I am going to try it out this spring and see whether it works.

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My idea is to construct a hollow, terra cotta column towards the middle of the pot, that will hold a reservoir of water.  The water will then wick back out into the soil as it is needed.   Unglazed clay, like these little pots, absorbs and holds water easily.  Although solid, they work much like a sponge.

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I've positioned the terra cotta pot a little off center, on about 2" of potting mix. There is a little scrap of burlap in the bottom, covered with a very shallow layer of pea gravel in the bottom pot.

I’ve positioned the first terra cotta pot a little off center, on about 2″ of potting mix.

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That is the main reason I generally avoid unglazed pots for planting anything except succulents:  water evaporates from the clay pot pretty quickly.  They need constant monitoring in summer’s heat.  But that porous clay, which allows water molecules to pass quickly and easily through the pot’s walls is exactly what makes terra cotta  good for watering devices.

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I put a few inches of potting mix into the bottom of the pot, and then began the tower.  There is a little square of burlap in the bottom pot to slow water from simply pouring through its little drainage hole.

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I've added some slow release plant food in the next to the top little pot, and also sprinkled some into the potting mix.

I’ve added some slow release plant food in the next to the top little pot, and also sprinkled some into the potting mix.

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A thin layer of pea gravel in the bottom of each pot in the stack helps space the pots apart and again, slow the movement of water.

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I filled in with potting mix, as I built the tower, to hold it steady.  This pot is planted up with Lily of the Valley roots, Convallaria majalis, found bare root in one of the little packs you find everywhere each spring.  Lily of the Valley grows and spreads from rhizomes, and so should be planted shallowly.  The package said to plant them an inch deep.

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The pot is topped off with potting mix, covering the newly planted roots about 1" deep.

The pot is topped off with potting mix, covering the newly planted roots about an inch deep.

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After topping off the pot with soil, I added a few little Strawberry Begonia divisions and a few Arum italicum seedlings.  These have small root systems still, and so planting didn’t interfere with the Convallaria roots just beneath the surface.

It is still a little early here for planting up pots.  Our last frost date, in April, is weeks away.  Whatever goes  into this practice pot has to be hardy!

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Strawberry Begonia divisions and Arum itallicum seedlings can be tucked into the pot without disturbing the Convallaria roots below.

Strawberry Begonia divisions and Arum itallicum seedlings can be tucked into the pot without disturbing the Convallaria roots below.

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All three of these plants may be transplanted out into the garden in a few months when I want the pot for something else…. or not.

Maybe I will like this perennial arrangement enough to just leave it to grow through until next spring!

The very top little terra cotta pot is filled up with gravel.  Although I watered the whole pot in thoroughly to settle the plants and wet the potting mix, I paid special attention to filling the little terra cotta reservoir.

In retrospect, I wish I had thought to soak the terra cotta pots before using them.  Next time, right?

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Finally, I laid a layer of moss over all of the exposed soil to further slow evaporation.  Mulching pots gives a nice finished look even as it reduces the need to water.  The potting mix won’t splash around when it rains.

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In full sun, I would have mulched with gravel.  But since these plants prefer partial shade, the moss will work just fine.

You might notice a few decorative stones in the finished pot.  I often put stones beside little transplants to protect them.  The stones give a little obstacle to curious birds and squirrels and protect the plant’s tender roots as they establish.  Stones also tend to keep the soil beneath cool and moist.

I like how this pot came together.  As all the plants grow, the terra cotta reservoir should disappear behind their foliage.  But it will still be easy enough to find when I’m watering.

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In summer, or when I’m traveling,  I could remove most of the gravel from the top terra cotta pot to make enough room to upend a plastic water bottle into the reservoir.  While not pretty, the bottle would feed water, as it is needed, to keep the pot going when I’m not here to water! There are lots of possibilities here.

What do you think?  You are probably clever enough to already see ways to improve this scheme.

Please share your ideas, and we’ll tinker around to make an effective, affordable, water wise system to make summer a little easier on us all.  I’d love to see photos of your pots if you try out this idea.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Sunday Dinner: Ordinary Acts

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“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery,

in the courage that drives one person

to stand up for another.”

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Veronica Roth

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“Endurance precedes success.”

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Wayne Chirisa

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“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy;

I’m saying it’s going to be worth it.

If it was easy, you would’ve done it by now”

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B. Dave Walters

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“I am the bended, but not broken.

I am the power of the thunderstorm.

I am the beauty in the beast.

I am the strength in weakness.

I am the confidence in the midst of doubt.

I am Her!”

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Kierra C.T. Banks

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“What difference does it make to the dead,

the orphans and the homeless,

whether the mad destruction

is wrought under the name of totalitarianism

or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

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Mahatma Gandhi

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“Who are the learned?

Those who practice what they know”

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Anonymous

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“If  liberty means anything at all,

it means the right to tell people

what they do not want to hear.”

.

George Orwell

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