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 Homestead 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.”

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George Orwell

The Unexpected Visitor

Eastern Worm Snake, Carphophis amoenus amoenus

Eastern Worm Snake, Carphophis amoenus amoenus

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We found an unexpected visitor  sunning himself on a stone today.  The Eastern Worm Snake rarely allows itself to be seen.  They burrow in rotted logs, underground and in leaf litter most of the time.  We were amazed to find it even active in January!

But we’ve had a rapid melt, yesterday and today.  We had a sunny day today with temperatures over 70F.  This, after single digit nights early in the week!

Our snow melted away in yesterday’s heat and only the big piles, left from plowing and shoveling remain.  As you might imagine, the ground is completely saturated!  My guess is this little guy came out of his winter hiding place for a breath of air.

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And so we found him, enjoying the winter sun.  He never even twitched as I approached and photographed him.  Probably still winter-sleepy, he hung around for a few hours before disappearing once again.  Do you see the tiny white spider on his back?  We were amazed at how many little creatures woke up in today’s heat.

His facial features are very small.  You may just barely make out his tiny eyes and mouth.  Believe it or not, there are 9-12 teeth in that tiny mouth!

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These totally harmless snakes are native to the Eastern US from Massachusetts to Alabama and west as far as Illinois.  They eat what invertebrates they can find while burrowing.  They earn the name ‘Worm Snake’ both for their worm-like appearance, but also because worms make up a large part of their diet.  They don’t have much color or interesting markings, probably because they spend much of their life underground.

I’ve found them in the garden before, in autumn, while I was digging in an area covered with leaves.  This is the first time we’ve seen one in winter.

This is an adult and near the top of the chart in size.  The longest one ever found was only around 13″.  We hope he found his way back to cover before the cardinals or owls found him.  I’m sure he would be a tasty treat for our winter hungry birds.  But I’m sure he’s far too clever for that to happen, even in the midst of winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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After 5 days under a heavy snow cover, this pot of Ajuga and moss has recovered nicely in the warmth and sunshine today.

After 4 days under a heavy cover of snow, this pot of Ajuga and moss has recovered nicely in the warmth and sunshine today.  You would hardly know they just thawed out!

Sunday Dinner: Resilient

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“Morning will come, it has no choice.”

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Marty Rubin

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“The chief beauty about time
is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day, the next hour  are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
You can turn over a new leaf every hour
if you choose.”

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Arnold Bennett

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“But there’s a beginning in an end, you know?

It’s true that you can’t reclaim what you had,

but you can lock it up behind you.

Start fresh.”

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Alexandra Bracken

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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

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“We grow up with such an idealistic view

on how our life should be; love, friendships,

a career or even the place we will live ~

only to age and realize none of it is what you expected

and reality is a little disheartening,

when you’ve reached that realization;

you have learnt the gift of all,

any new beginning can start now

and if you want anything bad enough

you’ll find the courage to pursue it with all you have.

The past doesn’t have to be the future,

stop making it so.”

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Nikki Rowe

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“New Year – a new chapter, new verse,

or just the same old story ?

Ultimately we write it.

The choice is ours.”

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Alex Morritt

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“The more you know yourself,

the less judgemental you become”

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Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Resilient

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Happy New Year!

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016-2017

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Hardy Amaryllis Flowers for the Holidays

Hippeastrum SA 'Graffiti'

Hippeastrum SA ‘Graffiti’

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Have you heard of  ‘Sonatini Hippeastrum‘  dwarf Amaryllis bulbs? This is a new discovery for us.

The Sonatini bulb is a fairly recent innovation in traditional Amaryllis plants  grown indoors at the holidays.  First, these beautiful bulbs produce smaller plants overall.  That is good news if you wrestle with your Amaryllis plants, as I wrestle with ours, to prevent their tall, heavy stems from falling over as the blooms open.  I devise all sorts of supports, but still often end up letting the flowering stem finish in a tall vase while still managing the 2’+ leaves for several months after the blooms fade.

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The Sonatini Hippeastrum, developed over the last 15 years or so in the Netherlands, grows to only 13″-18″.  This is good news for those of us growing the bulbs in table arrangements during the holidays.  But even better, these bulbs have proven hardy in Zone 7, and even in Zone 6 with some protection.  Which means that I can plant our bulbs out into a permanent place in a perennial bed this spring, and leave it there indefinitely to grow like any other perennial bulb.

We visited the Bulb Shop at Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens in late November to finish off our fall bulb purchases.  I had planned to purchase at least one Amaryllis bulb for our dining table to grow and bloom through the new year.  Imagine my delight to discover these beautiful little H. ‘Graffiti’ bulbs already in bud, and marked down by half.

I knew they were a smaller variety of Amaryllis, but since have done a little research to learn more about them. The two blooming bulbs in this arrangement are both H. ‘Graffiti’.  We also purchased the last H. ‘Trentino’ in the shop that day, also a Sonatini type Amaryllis; which has budded, but has not yet bloomed, in this arrangement.  It should also have a white flower, with a blush border around each blossom.

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I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers.  This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers. This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

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Not only are the Sonatini Amaryllis varieties bred to be smaller and hardier than earlier cultivars; they also produce lots of blooms.  Each bulb is advertised to produce multiple bloom stalks and multiple blooms per stalk over a fairly long period of time.  They also last well when cut and kept in a vase.

These bulbs came to me already under stress.  The whole crate of bulbs in the shop had already sprouted, and a few had flower buds already opening with absolutely no fresh root structure at all.  The bulbs were in growth with only the reserves in their bulb to power them.

These have probably begun rooting now, but have been in their pot for just a little more than a week.  I will be happy for whatever flowers they produce this year.  But I expect them to be even better next winter after spending the summer out in the garden.

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Potted Hippeastrum bulbs should have about the top third of the bulb showing above the soil line. But  planted outside in the garden, these Sonatini bulbs should be planted fully under the soil to remain hardy over our winter, and perhaps even mulched a bit in Zone 6.

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The bulbs are growing around a ‘Frosty Fern’ Selaginella krausiana variegatus, which isn’t really a fern at all.  This clubmoss, or spikemoss,  shows up at our local Trader Joe’s each December and makes a great winter houseplant.  It likes cool shade and moist soil, and will eventually grow quite a bit.  Growing it in this large bowl helps it, as it needs humidity and even moisture to thrive.

Under optimal conditions, Selaginella krausiana can grow to a foot tall and  creep to a foot or more wide.  It can be grown outdoors as a ground cover in cool, moist shade.  Sadly, it won’t overwinter outdoors in our Zone 7 climate, and so I haven’t kept one going for a full year, yet.  I’ll often move the overwintered plant outside into a pot come spring, but often our climate grows too hot for them by mid-summer.   Or perhaps I haven’ t found a shady enough spot for them yet outdoors?

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That isn’t to say that we don’t thoroughly enjoy watching this lovely little plant grow indoors all winter!  This combination will look great for several weeks, and I’ll have another potted Amaryllis, with another ‘Frosty Fern,’ ready to take center stage after this one finishes blooming.  Both the Selaginella and Hippeastrum are native to South Africa.

You may remember that I’ve grown and photographed Amaryllis bulbs indoors every winter for the last several.  A few of the traditional ‘florist’ varieties do prove hardy here and can survive a mild winter out of doors, re-blooming the following summer.

But not taking any chances with our collection, I dug them all up about three weeks ago, before our first frost.  They have been growing all summer in sunny perennial beds, growing great huge strapping leaves, but not showing a single flower bud.  Not to worry….

I have them all resting in the garage, bare root, and will begin potting them up again, one by one, shortly.  Online sources indicate they prefer a couple of months of dormant rest before starting their cycle of bloom and growth once again.

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I’m frankly amazed that the leaves have remained green and healthy looking this long!

If you are curious about the new, smaller Amaryllis varieties, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will continue shipping for about another week.  They still have a few of the Sonatini (designated as ‘Hippeastrum SA’ in their catalog) varieties in stock.

Whether you order these for your own enjoyment, or as gifts, this looks like a promising improvement in  Amaryllis culture.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Our A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendar is filled with photos taken in our garden over the past year. 

To order a copy, write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com.

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Plan Now For Winter’s Flowers

Muscari

Muscari, Grape Hyacinth

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Color drains from the garden as frost works its wintery magic.  Leaves turn brilliant orange, scarlet and gold before tumbling from their trees on autumn winds, soon to turn soggy and brown underfoot.  Newly bare branches stretch high against the sky, sometimes blue but often grey and sodden.

Shiny green remains only on our evergreen shrubs and trees, now brilliant against an otherwise drab and barren landscape.  We admire red berries against prickly holly and soft Nandina leaves and purplish blue ones now noticeable on the Wax Myrtle and Ligustrum.

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Yet some of us crave flowers, even during the restful months between frosts.  It would be altogether too depressing to me, a Virginia girl, to face long months ahead of a dormant garden without anything in bloom.

In Zone 7 and south, we can enjoy flowering shrubs, annuals, perennials and bulbs during the winter.  Even through periods of freezing weather, snow, ice storms temperatures down into the teens; these plants soldier on.  When they thaw, they just keep growing.  Some of these plants still grow and flower through the winter in zones well to our north.

If you need winter flowers, consider some of these beautiful choices: (Follow the links for more detail about growing each plant)

Shrubs

 

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Camellia Sasanqua

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Edgeworthia

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia

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Forsythia

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Japanese Magnolia

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Magnolia stellata
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Mahonia aquifolium

 

Hamamelis (Witchhazel)

 

Perennials

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Helleborus

 

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Primula

 

Annuals

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Viola

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Bulbs

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Crocus

 

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Daffodils

 

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Muscari

 

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Galanthus nivalis ( Snowdrops )

 

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Iris reticulata

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Vines, ground cover

Perwinkle flowers bloom on the Vinca minor vine in early spring.

Vinca Minor, Periwinkle

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This is the time to plan for winter flowers.  Find a good selection of Violas, Hellebores, shrubs and bulbs at garden centers now.  Plant through the end of December, at least; and enjoy these beautiful plants for many years to come.

Winter flowers are brighten our gardens and bring a touch of joy to frosty winter days.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

Helleborus argutifolius

Helleborus argutifolius “Snow Fever’ still in its nursery pot.

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Here is a tasty treat for Helleborus lovers: H. ‘Snow Fever.’ 

Known as a Corsican Lenten Rose, this beauty isn’t as cold hardy as some Lenten Rose varieties.  Its parents are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and it is rated for USDA zones 6-9.

The Helleborus argutifolius varieties may also be termed Corsican Hellebore or even holly leaf Hellebore.  They are large, bold plants with evergreen leaves which persist year round.  These leaves are thick, with toothed edges; but may grow tattered in severe winter winds and weather.  This beautiful H. ‘Snow Fever’ has variegated foliage with a touch of dark red on its stems and the edges of the leaves.  It is a lovely plant, even right out of the pot, and I was delighted to find it last week at our local Homestead Garden Center.

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Hellebores have found their way into my gardener’s heart because they not only look good year round, but they give a good long season of bloom when little else is actively growing, let alone blooming in our garden!  We already have flower buds on a few of our Helleborus plants, believe it or not.

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Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

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Though most come into bloom sometime in February or March here, some bloom right through from late autumn until spring.  Our last Hellebores stop pumping out flowers sometime in late April or May.

Corsican Helleborus is known for its abundant clusters of  green flowers.  But this hybrid promises white flowers, with a shadow of green and lovely pink edges to each petal.  It will grow to around 12″ tall, a bit short for the species, but will expand to a wide clump of around 15″.

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Mid-March 2015

Mid-March 2015

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I’ve come to love growing Hellebores in pots surrounded with bulbs and Violas.  Sometimes I’ll tuck in an evergreen vine.  But these pots look good and remain in dynamic growth all through winter.  The plants still look good through the summer months long after the bulbs have died back and the Violas have finished.  Last summer I simply moved my best pot into the shade and planted some Caladium tubers around the Hellebore, and had a nice display through most of the summer.

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July 2016

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Alternatively,  if I want the pot for something else in late spring;  I’ll move a Helleborus out of its pot and into the ground where it can sink its roots into a permanent home.

These are close to ‘care-free’ perennials.  First, deer and rabbits won’t bother them.  Their leaves are not only tough, they are poisonous.  Every part of a Helleborus is poisonous, so they make a nice underground ‘fence’ of roots if you want to protect an area from voles or moles.

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But Hellebores also prove drought tolerant, tolerate mediocre soil, have few disease issues, need only annual pruning of older leaves, and tend to keep going year after year.  Although common advice dictates they grow best in shade, I’ve had a few keep going strong through the summer in nearly full sun.  That was a pleasant surprise!

The main drawback, for most Helleborus cultivars, is that their leaves aren’t that spectacular.  We grow them for their flowers and as a dependable ground cover plant.  As much as we gardeners love the flowers, pollinators depend on them as an important food source.  These flowers are ready to greet the first of the bees and other insects each year.

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Hellebores

Hellebores given to us as seedlings by a gardening friend.

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But just look at this beauty!  What unusual and eye-catching leaves!

My first one went into a favorite white pot which held geraniums all summer.  The geranium held out through the first frost, and so I rewarded it by re-potting it and bringing it into the garage for the winter.  I like spunky, tough plants!

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I’ve not finished dressing this pot yet, because I want to pick up a few Muscari bulbs to sink into the soil around the Helleborus’s roots before I finish it off with either moss or gravel.  At the moment, there is a bit of Creeping Jenny and  a few Viola starts taking root, which will soon begin to fill the pot with flowers.

I bought a second H. ‘Snow Fever’  on Saturday, and have now planted it in the huge pot where C. ‘Tea Cups’ grew all summer in the front garden.  The Colocasia’s roots will overwinter in a smaller pot indoors, waiting for their chance to head back outdoors next April.

I’ll find a permanent spot for both H. ‘Snow Fever’ in the garden in the spring;  but for now, I want to really enjoy them, up close and featured in  pots.

I’ve surrounded the second one with some starts of Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ some Creeping Jenny vines, and the Daffodil bulbs I left in the pot  last spring.  The Ajuga will keep growing all winter, give blue flowers in early spring, and end up transplanted into a garden bed in early summer.

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February 2016

February 2016

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I expect these two pots to give us a great deal of joy over these next few months.  You’ll probably see lots of photos of these special Hellebores as they grow and eventually bloom.

If you love Hellebores,  or are curious to know more about them, I recommend the excellent and beautifully illustrated article in the December Gardens Illustrated on new Helleborus cultivars.  Gardens Illustrated is an UK magazine, but is absolutely the best source for information on plants and horticulture I’ve found.  It doesn’t matter that it is UK based, as much of the information translates just fine to our East coast USA garden!  I like it even better than Fine Gardening, which also offers solid information and advice on garden design, and is based here in the United States.

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February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn 'Brilliance' fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters. Some of the Helleborus foliage shows wind and cold burn, and these older leaves should be removed in early spring to make room for new growth. 

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This is the time of year to shop for Hellebores.  You may not find any blooming, but you will definitely find them available in many garden centers in December.  They are pricey, and named cultivars generally have been grown on in greenhouses for at least a couple of years from tissue culture.  Variegated cultivars, like H. ‘Snow Fever’ may not be easy to find in all parts of the country.  But if you live in Zone 6 or warmer, you might want to try ordering from an online source to give this beautiful plant a try.

To simply get started with Hellebores, though, find a friend or  neighbor who has a patch growing in their garden, and ask whether they might like your help in thinning them.  Hellebores seed their offspring generously, and many gardeners are happy to share seedlings.  You may have to wait a season to see them bloom, but the wait is well worth the reward.

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Hellebores

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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