Beginning a New ‘Stump Garden’

Tree damage in our area after the October 2018 hurricane swept through.

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This has been a very bad year for our trees.  Our community sustained major tree damage when a hurricane blew through in October, and even more damage when heavy wet snow fell very quickly in early December, before the trees were prepared for winter.

There appeared to be just as much, maybe more damage, from the December snow.  At least that was the case in our yard, where we lost two old peach trees.

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December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even work with them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

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We found trees and limbs down all over our area again today, after a severe line of thunderstorms pass over us around 3 this morning.  There were tornadoes in the area, and we were extremely fortunate.  We had a mess to clean up, but no major damage to our trees.

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I know many people whose beautiful trees have been reduced to stumps over the past several months.  Depending on how the tree breaks, you may have a neat platform, sawed off cleanly, or you may have a jagged stump left where the tree broke.

A stump is still another opportunity to respond to a challenge with resilience, seeing an opportunity instead of a tragedy.  There is nothing personal about a tree knocked over by gnarly weather and so there is no cause to sulk or lament.  Once the shock of it has passed, and the mess cleaned up, it’s time to formulate a plan.

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Our peaches in bloom in 2017

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Maybe easier said, than done.  I’ve pondered the jagged stumps left by our beautiful peach trees for the last four months.  The trees hadn’t given us peaches for many years, although they bloomed and produced fruits.

The squirrels always got them first, and the trees had some health issues.  Now we see that the stumps were hollow, which is probably why they splintered when they fell.  But we loved their spring time flowers and their summer shade.

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The jagged remains of a once beautiful peach tree, that once shaded our fern garden and anchored the bottom of a path.

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Now, not only do I have a stump at the bottom of our hillside path, but the main shade for our fern garden is gone.  I’m wondering how the ferns will do this summer and whether other nearby trees and the bamboo will provide enough shade.  A garden is always changing.  We just have to keep our balance as we surf the waves of change.

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Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

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Stumps are a fact of life in this garden, and I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with them.  The underlying roots hold water, and they will eventually decay, releasing nutrients back into the soil.  I consider it an opportunity to build a raised bed, maybe to use the hollow stump as a natural ‘container,’ and certainly an anchor for a new planting area.

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I planted ‘Autumn Brilliance’ ferns in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner, packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade in 2015.  This area has grown to anchor a major part of our present fern garden.

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This particular new stump forms the corner of our fern garden, and I very much want trees here again.  And so I gathered up some found materials over the weekend and began reconstructing a new planting.  First, I found some year old seedlings from our redbud tree growing in nearby beds, just leafing out for spring.  I didn’t want the seedlings to grow on where they had sprouted, because they would shade areas planted for sun.

Tiny though these seedlings may be, redbuds grow fairly quickly.  I transplanted two little trees to grow together right beside the stump.  They will replace the fallen peach with springtime color, summer shade, and all year round structure.  Eventually, they will also form a new living ‘wall’ for the jagged opening of the stump.

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I planted two small redbud tree seedlings near the opening of the stump.

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I had two deciduous ferns, left from the A. ‘Branford Rambler’ ferns I divided last fall, and still in their pots.  I filled the bottom of the stump with a little fresh soil, and pushed both of these fern root balls into the opening of the stump, topping them off with some more potting soil, mixed with gravel, pilfered from one of last summer’s hanging baskets.

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This is a fairly fragile planting, still open to one side.  It will be several years before the redbuds grow large enough to close off the opening in the stump.  And so I pulled up some sheets of our indigenous fern moss and used those to both close off the opening, and also to ‘mulch’ the torn up area around the new tree seedlings.  Fern moss always grows in this spot.

But fern moss also grows on some shaded bricks in another bed.  It is like a little ‘moss nursery,’ and I can pull off sheets to use in various projects every few weeks.  It renews itself on the bricks relatively quickly, and so I transplanted fresh moss from the bricks to this new stump garden.

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After pushing the moss firmly into the soil, I wrapped some plastic mesh, cut from a bulb bag, over the opening in the stump, and tied it in place with twine.  I was hoping for a ‘kokedama’ effect, but the rough contours of the stump thwarted every effort at neatness.

I’ll leave the mesh in place for a few weeks, like a band-aid, until the moss grows in and naturally holds the soil around the roots of the fern.  Something is needed to protect the soil during our frequent, heavy rains.

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I will very likely add some more ferns or other ground cover perennials around the unplanted side of this stump over the next few weeks, just to cover the wound and turn this eye-sore into a beauty spot.

The ulterior motive is to make sure that foot traffic remains far enough away from the stump that no one gets hurt on the jagged edges.  Could I even them out with a saw?  Maybe-  The wood is very hard, still, and I’ve not been successful with hand tools thus far.  Better for now to cover them with fresh greenery from the ferns.

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The second peach stump stands waiting for care.  I noticed, in taking its photo, that it is still alive and throwing out new growth.  It is also in a semi-shaded area, and I plan to plant a fern in this stump, too.

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The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it looked in May of 2018. The tall ‘Autumn Beauty’ ferns in the center are the originals, shown in the previous photo.

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Quite often the stumps disappear entirely after such treatment.  The new perennials grow up as the old stump decays, enriching the soil and holding moisture to anchor the bed.  And of course all sorts of creatures find food and shelter in the decaying stump and around the new planting.

This is a gentle way of working with nature rather than fighting against it.  It calls on our creativity and patience, allows the garden to evolve, and offers opportunities to re-cycle plants and materials we might otherwise discard.  It allows us to transform chaos into beauty; loss into joy.

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Woodland Gnome  2019

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose
comes round in another form.”
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Rumi
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The fern garden in late April, 2018

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Sunday Dinner: Curiouser and Curiouser…

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“I set out to discover the why of it,
and to transform my pleasure
into knowledge.”
.
Charles Baudelaire
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“Children, be curious.
Nothing is worse (I know it)
than when curiosity stops.
Nothing is more repressive
than the repression of curiosity.
Curiosity begets love.
It weds us to the world.
It’s part of our perverse, madcap love
for this impossible planet we inhabit.
People die when curiosity goes.
People have to find out,
people have to know.”
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Graham Swift
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“Remember that things
are not always as they appear to be…
Curiosity creates possibilities
and opportunities.”
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Roy T. Bennett
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“Thinkers aren’t limited by what they know,
because they can always increase what they know.
Rather they’re limited by what puzzles them,
because there’s no way to become curious
about something that doesn’t puzzle you.”
.
Daniel Quinn
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“The days on which one has been the most inquisitive
are among the days on which one has been happiest.”
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Robert Lynd
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“The whole art of teaching
is only the art of awakening
the natural curiosity of the mind
for the purpose of satisfying it
afterwards.”
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Anatole France
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“When you sneak into somebody’s backyard,
it does seem that guts and curiosity are working together.
Curiosity can bring guts out of hiding at times,
maybe even get them going.
But curiosity usually evaporates.
Guts have to go for the long haul.
Curiosity’s like a fun friend you can’t really trust.
It turns you on and then it leaves you
to make it on your own-
with whatever guts you can muster.”
.
Haruki Murakami
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“Learning is by nature curiosity…
prying into everything, reluctant to leave anything,
material or immaterial,
unexplained.”
.
Philo
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“Curiosity is the hunger of the mind.”
.
Lance Conrad
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Green Thumb Tip #14: Right Place, Right Plant

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

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The first of the new year’s plant catalogs landed in our mailbox earlier this week.  After resisting it for a day, I finally poured a fresh cup of coffee and sat down to savor its promises of  fresh gardening adventures.  My attention was grabbed by a new Hosta introduction, H. ‘Waterslide’ on page 2.  Oh, such a pretty grey-blue Hosta, with long, wavy leaves.

I felt the first tickling sensation of plant lust inflaming my gardener’s imagination.  Before I hardly knew what was happening, I was back on the computer searching for vendors and deals on this new Hosta cultivar.  Then, barely pausing for breath, I was admiring all of the many Hosta cultivars offered by the Avents at Plant Delights Nursery, including their own new introductions this season.  Did you know that some of their Hosta will grow to nearly 4′ tall and wide?  Can you imagine?

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Hosta growing in our garden, with Autumn Brilliance fern, in  2012. The fern survived and thrives. The Hosta was grazed a few too many times, and hasn’t returned in recent years.

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That is how it begins each winter.  With little left to do outdoors, I’m planting imaginary gardens in my mind filled with roses, Hosta, ferns, fruit trees, herbs and lots of vibrant petunias.  I can spend many happy hours reading plant catalogs and gardening books, sketching out new beds and making long wish lists of new acquisitions.  I am always keenly interested in the year’s new introductions across many genera, and spend time assessing the year’s newest Proven Winners.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.  December 2016.

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Now, during the first few years on a new property, one might excuse such extravagance.  But I’m experienced enough to know better, by now, and have determined to impose even more self-discipline this year than ever before.

That, and I literally just planted the last of our spring flowering bulbs, acquired on December 15 on the clearance sale at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop.  What was I thinking?   What rational gardener loads up on an additional five dozen bulbs in mid-December, even if they are 75% off?

I used our last warmish day to find spots for every last one of them, including the last of the 50 miniature Iris bulbs ordered earlier this fall.  I rationalized ‘Christmas presents,’ at the time.  And in honesty, a few of my close gardening friends did get a dozen or so of the little guys.  But that still left me with a lot of little Iris bulbs to place.  Where to put them all?

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Winter blooming miniature Iris, February 2017.

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And that, of course, is the point.  I am a naturally curious plant collector.  I want to try growing one or two (or two dozen)  of everything! They all grow beautifully in my imagination.

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June 2017 in our front garden. The tall flowers are grown from grocery store carrots, planted in late winter.  It is nearly time to plant carrots again.  These bloomed for several months last summer.

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But reality sets in as I wander around the garden, pot and trowel in hand thinking, ‘Where can I plant this?’  And that approach regularly gets me into trouble.

Like people and pets, plants have needs.  If you meet their individual needs, they will thrive.  If you don’t plant them in the right place where their needs are met, they mope along looking ratty.

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Or worse, your investment dies.  But that’s not the end of it.  No, sometimes it is even worse when you successfully meet a plant’s needs, and it takes off and shows you its thuggish nature as it takes over all of the surrounding real-estate its hungry little roots can reach!

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Rudbeckia laciniata, a native that feeds wildlife, and an unapologetic thug that has taken over our ‘butterfly garden.’  Yes, there is work to do here before spring….

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Within a season or two, those plants near such an over-achiever get crowded or shaded out.  Without a vigilant gardener ready to prune, divide, dig out and generally keep the horticultural peace, the balance (and a season or two’s previous plantings) are lost.

So I remind myself, as we come into the 2018 gardening catalog season, of what I used to frequently remind my students:  “PPPPP.”  (or, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance)  With a bit of creativity, maybe we can work a ‘Planting’ into that maxim…

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Our stump garden has finally taken off from bare mulch, four summers ago.  This photo from spring of 2017 shows how lush it has become over just a few years.

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As our garden fills up, there are fewer and fewer places left to plant anything new.  As little starts and rooted cuttings mature and grow on and spread, there is almost no ‘good’ place left to even consider installing a new bed or planting area in this garden.

Beyond even that practical consideration, this remains a hostile environment for so many beloved garden plants that most gardeners consider ‘normal,’ or even ‘easy.’  Like Hosta.  And daylillies.  And roses and oh, so many other fruiting and flowering plants I would love to grow!

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I can certainly order and plant that beautiful $20+ newest and grooviest Hosta.  If nowhere else, I’ll stick it in a pot and grow it under a shady tree.  But NO!  Just as soon as it begins to really fill out and look great in its new spot, some hungry Bambi will squirm into our garden on a day after the rain has washed our repellents away. The next time I go out to admire and water said Hosta, it will be gnawed off at the soil.

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Native Mountain Laurel blooms here  for several weeks in May.  This small tree remains evergreen all year, with interesting bark and slender trunks.  Poisonous, deer and squirrels leave it strictly alone.

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Thus, we return to, “Right place, right plant.”  You see, I’ve been working sorta backwards all of my gardening life.  (and yes, I’ve enjoyed it, and No, I don’t regret all of those poor planting choices.  I get lucky sometimes.)

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The stump garden, with newly planted Iris, Violas, chives, and Geranium cuttings in October of 2013;  four months after several trees came down here in a summer thunderstorm.

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First, we choose the place to plant.  Then, we analyze what will grow well there, and what we want those new plants to do for us.  Do we need something flowering?  Something evergreen?  Something edible?  A visual screen for something?  Does it fit into a larger planting scheme?

I envy those highly regarded English garden designers, who are commissioned to fill many acres at a time of some posh, historical site.  They have space, and budgets, and walls to hold off the deer.  And, they have deep soil and a perfect climate to fill their garden with roses….

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Late April, 2017, and our Iris fill the front garden.

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But I’m gardening in my imagination again, which is maybe OK this last week of the year.

I’ve made a firm New Year’s resolution to make more realistic plant purchases this coming year, and fewer of them.  I intend to train a new habit of having a spot chosen in advance before any new plant may be ordered or adopted on a whim.

No more vague, “I’ll find a spot for it, I’m sure.” 

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September 2013, and I took a friend’s good advice to try this Edgeworthia.  We sited it well, and it has delighted us with its flowers each winter since.

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This will make my partner very happy.  This is a Forest Garden, and I want to make sure we leave room for the trees, and the people, and for the plants that have already sunk their roots here, to grow.

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Our ‘deer resistant’ garden in February, 2017

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Looking Good on Friday

June 3, 2016 Jamestown 027

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This pot has been going continuously for three years now.  We make minor changes season to season, adding plants, moving things around, and removing spent annuals.  Last summer it held a seedling Japanese Maple, which has since been moved out into the garden to grow in its permanent spot!

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June 3, 2016 Jamestown 028~

The fern is in its second season now.  Daffodil leaves are ready to die back for summer, and a newly planted Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ stands poised to take off in the coming summer heat.

A few Zantedeschia tubers will send up leaves any time now.  The first batch I planted in late March fizzled, we think.  Perhaps our long spring was too cool.  But new ones should show growth soon, and will fill this planter with elegant flowers by July.

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Zantedeschia offer deliciously elegant flowers and foliage.

Zantedeschia offer deliciously elegant flowers and foliage.

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Warm days make all the difference with tropical heat loving plants.  Our Cannas and Colocasias have all begun to really grow, filling our garden with vibrant color and movement.

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June 3, 2016 Jamestown 030~

Finally, the garden is looking good again!

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Rhubarb commands attention in this large pot on our 'pedestal.'

Rhubarb commands attention in this large pot on our ‘pedestal’ in the ‘stump garden.’

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia.

Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia.

The Beauty of Hellebores

February 23, 2016 Daffodils 006

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Hellebores are one of the great joys of our winter garden.

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February 23, 2016 Daffodils 020

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Each one is so different.  These are some of the most interesting and exotic flowers we grow.  They are even more special now, when most of the garden remains dormant.

Hellebores provide some of the earliest nectar and pollen for overwintering insects, too.

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February 23, 2016 Daffodils 010

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Hellebores cross-pollinate and sow their seeds abundantly.  Areas where we first established them, more than four years ago now, sport a large crop of ‘volunteers.’

I’ve moved quite a few seedlings to new areas to expand our winter garden.  They  need to grow on for three years or more before they bloom.  Which makes the anticipation build to discover the unique colors and patterns of the seedlings’ blossoms.

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February 23, 2016 Daffodils 021

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Cold and wind take their toll on last year’s evergreen foliage.  This is the time I begin cutting back the older leaves so the flowers and new leaves show better.

Always remember that Hellebores are highly poisonous.  I avoid handling the leaves or sap by wearing gloves.  Then those precious leaves are recycled anywhere we’ve been troubled by voles.  As they decompose into the Earth, they also offer that bit of the garden more protection from their tunneling.

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February 23, 2016 Daffodils 009~

And the plants themselves protect the beds where they are planted.  No creatures dig or graze around them.  Every year they grow more beautiful, blooming so enthusiastically even in shade and less than perfect soil.

Hellebores have become some of my favorite plants in our Forest Garden.

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February 23, 2016 Daffodils 004

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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February 2, 2016 flowers 031

 

 

Garden Tapestry: July and August

July 13, 2015 Our native Hibiscus are in their full glory. This seedling pokes up amidst the border of Canna Lily and Colocasia.

July 13, 2015 Our native Hibiscus are in their full glory. This seedling pokes up amidst the border of Canna Lily and Colocasia.

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Cathy, of  Garden Dreaming at Chattilon,’ inspired me through her comment last week, to review my garden photos taken over the last year with an eye to those ‘tapestries’ of plant combinations which worked well, and also to analyze those which didn’t.

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July 1 2015

July 1 2015 A ‘Chocolate Vine,’ Akebia quinata and a wild grapevine grow beyond the trellis and up into a Rose of Sharon tree, with Dogwood foliage providing the backdrop.  The Akebia bloomed in early summer, before the Hibiscus.

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I started with my favorite gardening months, May and June.   I love these months because our roses always come into bloom by Mother’s Day in early May, and our Iris are at their best.  But many other interesting plants are growing, too, as the summer progresses.

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July 11, 2015 and we still have abundant roses blooming in the garden.

July 11, 2015 and we still have abundant roses blooming in the garden.

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Looking back over my photos from this last July and August, I’m struck by how many are close ups of pollinators and single blossoms rather than true ‘tapestry’ shots.  I’m also a little disappointed in myself for neglecting the weeds and wild grasses to the point where there are some shots I’d rather not publish.   They are inspiration to do a better job of keeping up with the weeding and trimming in 2016!

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July 28, 2015 and the Joe Pye Weed is in its glory and covered with bees.

July 28, 2015 and the Joe Pye Weed is in its glory and covered with bees.

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There are also several fairly ‘new beds’ which haven’t filled in quite yet.  They were more a ‘patchwork quilt’ than a tapestry in mid-summer!

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July 16, 2015 the Joe Pye Weed, planted in 2014, towers over this new perennial bed.

July 16, 2015 the Joe Pye Weed, planted in 2014, towers over this new perennial bed.  This bed did extremely well over summer and bulked up nicely by autumn.

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But excuses aside, there were some areas which pleased me.  The part of our garden nearest the street, where I concentrated my attention this season, was cloaked in deep shade until three major trees fell in a storm in June of 2013.  Suddenly, this shady and fairly neglected area was bathed in full sun.

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July 16, 2015 This is the farthest edge of the new border where Cannas end and a variegated Butterfly Bush is growing into its space.

July 16, 2015 This is the farthest edge of the new border where Cannas end and a variegated Butterfly Bush is growing into its space near a stand of native Hibiscus moscheutos.  Foxglove still bloom on the front edge of the border.

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I’ve been planting this area with perennial beds, ornamental trees, bulbs and shrubs since July of that year, beginning with our ‘stump garden.’

A sister gardener made a gift of a grocery bag full of Canna lily divisions dug from her garden that fall, which started our very tropical looking border of Cannas and Colocasia.

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July 16, 2015

July 16, 2015 the leading edge of this new border begins where the Ginger Lily ends, in the shade of a Dogwood tree.  Some of the Colocasia didn’t make it through the past winter and were replaced by hardier varieties this spring.

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We already had native perennial Hibiscus and tree Hibiscus, or Rose of Sharon, growing when we came to the garden in 2009.  But once there was more sun available, more of the seedlings began to grow and bloom in this new area.  We also planted several additional Hibiscus cultivars, a variegated Buddleia, several perennial Salvias and Lantana along this long, sunny border.

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July 16 This is the other side of the border, where Hibiscus and other perennials were left by previous owners of the garden.

July 16 This is the other side of the border, where Hibiscus and other perennials were left by previous owners of the garden.  The deep magenta Crepe Myrtle ( in the center of this photo ) has been growing from a seedling and finally gained some height this year.

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This border grows better each year as the Cannas and Colocasia multiply, the Hibiscus grow, and the existing shrubs grow larger.

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This shady bed, under a Dogwood tree, holds mostly ferns and Hellebores. The Begonias, with their large and colorful leaves, stay in pots as summer visitors.

This shady bed, under a Dogwood tree, holds mostly ferns and Hellebores. The Begonias, with their large and colorful leaves, stay in pots as summer visitors.

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Another perennial bed, still in shade, has done exceptionally well, too.  I raised a circular bed under a Dogwood tree by ringing it with containers, and filling in with bags of compost.  This was home to a good collection of Caladiums the first year, inter-planted with various ferns and seedling Hellebores.  Plants in raised beds definitely perform better than plants put directly into the ground over most of the garden.

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July 10, 2015 Here is my magical Begonia, which dies back to its rhizome from time to time. From its sad start when I set it out in May, it has now grown its summer crop of new leaves in a shady bed of ferns.

July 10, 2015 Here is my magical Begonia, which dies back to its rhizome from time to time. From its sad start when I set it out in May, it has now grown its summer crop of new leaves in this shady bed of mixed ferns.  It is going into its fourth year now, overwintering in a pot in the garage.

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I add large leaved Begonias when the weather warms in May, taking them back inside in October.  The mix of ferns here makes a pleasing tapestry of foliage.  The Hellebores have finally grown large enough to bloom this winter, and now they take much more of the available space in the bed.

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July 28, 2015 Oxalis and Hardy Begonia share one of the border pots with a division of fern. These plants are all perennial, and should fill the pot nicely this summer coming.

July 28, 2015 Oxalis and Hardy Begonia share one of the border pots with a division of fern. These plants are all perennial, and should fill the pot nicely this summer coming.

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I’ve also planted Sedum along the sunny edge and Saxifraga stolonifera into the pots which ring the bed. This past spring I added divisions of hardy Begonias with their lovely reddish leaves, which will fill in over time.

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August 2, 2015 our Devil's Walkingstick has come into full bloom.

August 2, 2015 our Devil’s Walkingstick has come into full bloom along the border of the back garden.

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July and August give us Crepe Myrtle flowers and a lovely tapestry of flowers and foliage from the many trees around our garden.  A ‘Devil’s Walkingstick,’ Aralia Spinosa, grows into our garden from the woody border between our neighbor’s garden and ours.  It was absolutely spectacular this summer, and I’ve found several seedlings in other parts of the yard.  This native plant grows wild along the roads in James City County, blooming in mid-summer before covering itself with inky purple berries in early autumn.

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August 30, 2015 Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana is a native shrub.

August 30, 2015 Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, is a native shrub which ‘volunteered’ in a stand of Ginger Lily this summer.  Considered a weed by most, I chose to let it grow for the beauty of its flowers and berries.  Birds love the berries and pollinators enjoy its long lived flowers.  But, because I let it set seed this summer, we know that seedlings will emerge all over the garden next spring….

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Much of our garden tapestry was either  already here when we began to garden, or has sprouted as a volunteer seedling.  Nature takes a strong hand in what grows where, and what is ‘edited’ out by storms and the passing seasons.  Our best intentions and plans often get thwarted or changed along the way.

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August 5, 2015

August 5, 2015 August brings this glorious ‘Butterfly Tree’ into bloom at the bottom of the garden at the edge of the ravine.  It is a magnet for butterflies and other pollinators.

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As gardeners, we can certainly add plants, prune, ‘weed’ and change the landscape with new planting beds.  But at best, we adapt to the ongoing life of the garden with our own human touches.

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A scented Pelargonium growth in a bed cloaked in Vinca and Creeping Jenny.

August 7, 2015  A scented Pelargonium grows in a bed cloaked in Vinca and Creeping Jenny in the ‘stump garden.’  Vinca minor is one of the default groundcovers which encroaches in every part of the garden.  Beautiful, it quickly takes over new planting beds; and so often chokes out other desirable plants.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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July 1, 2015

July 1, 2015

 

 

Garden Tapestry: May and June

6/16/2015 One of the perennial geraniums I planted in spring, growing with dusty miller, which survives winter here.

6/16/2015 One of the perennial geraniums I planted in spring blooms beside Dusty Miller, which survives winter here. Leaves of Black Eyed Susans, which bloom in late summer and fall, form the background.  These plants proved exceptionally good in this spot.

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What is a tapestry?

These woven decorative textiles were much more fashionable in Medieval times than in ours.

Meticulously designed and executed, many vividly colored threads were woven into geometric designs and pictures on a heavy cloth.  I think of tapestries as large artworks  hung on a vast stone wall in a drafty European castle.

Cathy, of Garden Dreaming at Chatillon, brought the topic to mind in her very kind comment on last week’s Wednesday Vignettes: Magical Green, where she said,

“The quotes are as good as the photos – Beth Chatto’s ‘Green Tapestry’ on our blogging screens. Thanks so much…”

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6/22/2015 Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

6/22/2015 Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.  The Colocasia to either side looked fresh and dramatic until taken down by frost.

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I know of Beth Chatto as a well respected British garden designer and plantswoman.  I’ve read reviews of many of her books, but never owned one of them.

And so Cathy’s comments sent me to Amazon to locate her book, The Green Tapestry, which I promptly ordered.

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6/5/2015 A red leaf Canna with Colocasia 'Pink China' made a striking combination all season.

6/5/2015 A red leaf Canna with Colocasia ‘Pink China’ made a striking combination all season.  Mahonia grows behind this grouping.

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Chatto’s The Green Tapestry was delivered earlier today, and I’ve immersed myself this evening in her instructive  text and beautiful photos.  There is so much to learn from her!  I was delighted to see so many familiar plants that I treasure in our garden, featured in hers.

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Here the perennial geraniums bloom with snaps, planted the previous fall which bloomed sporadically all winter.

6/5/2015 Here  perennial geraniums bloom with snaps, planted the previous fall, which bloomed sporadically all winter.  Vinca minor forms a glossy green backdrop for the flowers.

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Which brings us to today’s post, and brings the idea of  a  ‘tapestry’ back to the garden.

The metaphor of gardener as artist can not be visited too often.  We work with color, form, rhythm, mood, line and shading;  just as does any fine artist.

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A seedling Acer, dug from my parents' garden, punctuates this planter of ferns and Caladiums.

6/20/2015 A seedling Acer, dug from my parents’ garden, punctuates this planter of ferns and Caladiums.  I moved the Acer into a permanent spot in the garden in October, and plan to ring it with a bed of fern and Caladiums next May.

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Ours is a dynamic and ephemeral art, however; because we work within the stream of time, the fourth dimension, along with the other three.

Most painters work within two dimensions;  sculptors, potters, glass makers and textile artists with three.  But like musicians, gardeners must also work within the dimension of unfolding time.

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5/25/2015 Begonia 'Gryphon,' in a pot, is surrounded by 'volunteer' growth of Virginia Creeper and wild grapes.

5/25/2015 Begonia ‘Gryphon,’ in a pot with an angel wing Begonia, is surrounded by ‘volunteer’ growth of Virginia Creeper and wild grapes.  Yucca filamentosa leaves poke into the picture from lower down the hill.  The Begonias grew quite large over the summer and made a good display.  The pot disappeared under the vines, but the vines didn’t compete with the potted Begonias.

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And the style of garden design I favor, and what Beth Chatto narrates so skillfully; interweaves many different plants of different form and color, all coming and going into the ‘picture’ of a garden bed as the season progresses.

This is an ever changing tapestry created primarily with woodies, bulbs, and of course, perennials.  The picture continually changes as plants emerge, unfold, bloom, grow, mature, and eventually fade.  And of course different plants come and go on their own schedules.  This style of planting, the antithesis of a monoculture, is featured prominently in the current Special Plants Edition of the British gardening magazine, Gardens Illustrated.

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5/4/2015 This is a view of our 'stump garden finally coming into its own this spring.

5/4/2015 This is a view of our ‘stump garden’ finally coming into its own this spring.  The Iris bloomed here for its first time in this bed, followed by Alliums and Glads later in the season.  The Hellebores remained green and happy all summer, despite this sunny location.  A large Nepeta grows behind the Iris.

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And so I’ve set a new task for myself in the new year:  I will review my photos from last year, with an eye to identifying pleasing garden ‘tapestry’ shots.  And in studying the photos, I plan to make a list of those plants which worked out well in our garden, and should be used more often.

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Our Allium flowers remain popular with the insects. These from onion sets planted last year to protect other things growing in our stump garden.

6/16/2015 Our Allium flowers remain popular with the insects. These from onion sets planted last year to protect other things growing in our stump garden.

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And I’ll also note those plants which didn’t perform well, and should be overlooked next season.

Thank you, Cathy, for inspiring this project!  In this post, I’ve included photos taken between May 4 and June 22, 2015.

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5/10/2015 I hope these lovely Siberian Iris will return in the spring. They were overshadowed

5/10/2015 I hope these lovely Siberian Iris will return in the spring. They were overshadowed by the sweet, lacy little Artemesia beside them, which grew into a shrub this season!  As dainty as the tiny purple flowers of the Comphrey may appear, this plant is a lovely thug.  I’ve spent lots of time over the past six months cutting it back and checking its spread.  It makes great mulch and fertilizer, it is just labor intensive!

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Just as an artist favors certain colors and materials, so gardeners favor those plants which perform well, remain pest free, offer the colors we prefer, and grow well in our garden’s conditions.  And of course, we are always looking for new varieties to trial!

Success comes from planting more of those plants which perform well, and moving or editing out those which disappoint.

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6/3/2015 This Autumn 'Brilliance' fern is now my 'go to' perennial. Believe it or not, it still looks this vibrant and lovely now as it did all summer. I grow it in all sorts of different light conditions and soils with success. If I could plant only one fern, this would be it. Here, a Sedum given to us by a friend skirts below it.

6/3/2015 This Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern is now my ‘go to’ perennial. Believe it or not, it still looks this vibrant and lovely in January as it did all summer. I grow it in all sorts of different light conditions and soils with success. If I could plant only one fern, this would be it. Here, a Sedum, given to us by a friend, carpets the soil below it.

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I hope these photos may offer you an inspiration for some new plant or approach to try in your own garden this coming year.

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6/3/2015 Applecourt crested painted fern has proven interesting and hardy in our garden. Japanese painted ferns are my second favorite fern for this garden. They come in countless color variations and forms, are reliably perennial, and prove tough through our summer weather.

6/3/2015 Applecourt Crested Painted Fern has proven interesting and hardy in our garden. Japanese painted ferns are my second favorite fern for this garden. They come in countless color variations and forms, are reliably perennial, and prove tough through our summer weather. Aren’t those crested fronds simply outrageous? (Find a great selection of unusual Japanese Painted Fern and Ghost Fern hybrids at Plantdelights.com )  This is a start in its second season, and I can’t wait to watch it grow larger and more impressive as time goes by.  And yes, that is another hardy Geranium growing to its left….  I’ve paired it here in front of  a Hellebore.

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January is my official month for garden dreaming, and perhaps it is for you as well.  With nursery catalogs arriving now in each day’s mail, I’m ready to review the year past, and plant my ideas for our garden in the year ahead.

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5/26/2015 This container combination of Dusty Miller, Sedum, and Geranium proved tough and beautiful all summer in a particularly hot and harsh location.

5/26/2015 This container combination of Dusty Miller, Sedum angelina and Pelargonium proved tough and beautiful all summer in a particularly hot and harsh location.  The Pelargonium bloomed sporadically, but with leaves like these, who worries about the flowers?  A variegated ivy grows from a lower opening in this custom made pot.  In fact, everything but the Pelargonium is still growing in this pot as winter approaches, and still is looking good.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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June 22, 2015

June 22, 2015

Voodoo Lilies Rise Again

Voodoo lily, , emerging with it s first leaf this summer.

Voodoo Lily, Sauromatum venosum , emerging with it s first leaf of the season.

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The Voodoo Lily bulbs we brought home from our visit to Brent and Becky Heath’s  Gloucester garden in early April have not disappointed us.  Their first leaves of the season are emerging in weird and wonderful form.

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May 28, 2015 garden 006

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These African natives, Sauromatum venosum offer a flower first, followed in early summer by one or more large, tropical looking leaves.  The leaves will last in the garden until frost.  The first leaves are just emerging in our garden this week.  They are as odd looking, and as poisonous, as the huge flowers which preceded them.   These plants aren’t poisonous to the touch, by the way.  But they are poisonous if ingested, which protects them from grazing.  They won’t harm us,our cat, or nearby wildlife ….

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Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted in April, with its huge flower.

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Many of the bulbs had already produced flowers when we purchased them.  We planted them with their flowers lying on the ground, and only a few managed to perk up a little before withering away.  We expect next year’s blooms to be fabulous, as these tubers slowly spread, and the lilies propagate themselves from seeds, which ripen in the autumn.

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May 28, 2015 garden 005

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There are three Voodoo Lily plants spaced in a border near our driveway.  I’ve transplanted offsets of Colocasia, ‘China Pink,’ around them.  C. ‘China Pink’ grew vigorously for us last summer, and I expect this area to remain interesting as the season progresses.

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May 28, 2015 garden 004

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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May 28, 2015 garden 017

 

Switching It Up

This planting needs

This planting needs some  ‘switching up’ to renew it for summer.  I went to work last night removing all of the plants and finding new spots for them to grow.

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When the weather finally warms up, late April or early May, those winter and early spring pots we planted so lovingly last autumn just don’t look so good anymore.

Between plants which never quite recovered from winter’s bite, and early season annuals gasping in the heat; there comes a day when you really look at a pot and say to yourself, “Enough! Time for a change.”

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"Enough!"  Monday afternoon this poor planting looked ragged enough I was determined to change it out.

“Enough!” Monday afternoon this poor planting looked so ragged I was determined to switch it out for something fresh.

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That day was yesterday for the large hypertufa tub installed on the ‘pedastal’ in our ‘stump garden’ last spring.

I like the idea of ‘four season’ pots which drift from season to season in the garden with only minor adjustments.  While that is an nice idea, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

The original Dusty Miller planted in this pot last spring lived, but was seriously burned by the cold.  I’ve moved it out of the pot now to a less conspicuous place in the garden where it can continue growing.

The Violas, still blooming, will not last much longer in full sun.  They have been moved to a bed in partial shade.  The snaps could have grown on here for quite a while.  Planted a few months ago in earliest spring, they often make it through our winters.  I’ve moved them to a bed in full sun where they should perform well this summer.

After a full year of watching this pot, I decided to populate it with plants which thrive in hot and often dry conditions.  I want a large and showy display which won’t need regular care of any sort to continue looking great.  Mission impossible?

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May 25, 2013, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

May 25, 2014, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

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The original planting last summer included Coleus, Dusty Miller, a Brugmansia, some golden Sedum and Creeping Jenny.  I expected the Brugmansia to grow several feet and bloom with huge pendulous flowers in late summer.

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July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

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Although it grew, it never performed as expected.  Everything else in the pot looked great all summer, but required nearly daily watering to avoid the late afternoon wilts.

So I’ve chosen a new group of plants this summer in hopes of an even more vibrant display, even on those days when I don’t have the opportunity to water this trough.

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May 5, 2015 garden 002

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The headliner is a pink Mulla Mulla, Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey,’ which will grow to 15″ in full sun.  This tender perennial (Zone 9) loves neutral to chalky soil with sharp drainage.  Beside the Mulla Mulla grows a very large leaved variety of culinary Sage.  Sage thrives in full sun and well drained, even rocky soil.

There is a very subdued palette of color in the pot this year, moderated by two fresh new Dusty Miller plants.  Only a recent fan of Dusty Miller, I like the lacy texture of their leaves and their ability to withstand drought and sun.  I expect texture and scale to make this planting interesting as the season unfolds.

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This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

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The only concession to soft trailing flowers comes from the Lanai Twister Purple Improved Verbena draping over one end of the pot.  I hope it will spread to soften the entire top of the ‘pedestal.’

Finally, I added several clumps of the golden Sedum back into the pot since it obviously thrives here year round and makes a nice pop of chartreuse against the silvery foliage and lavender flowers.  The entire pot is mulched in fine, light colored pea gravel.

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The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset.  All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset. All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

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The Creeping Jenny and remaining Sedum removed from the pot is already earmarked for use in a new bed I’m ready to construct tomorrow.  It will grow alongside Oxalis triangularis in the back garden.

This is my first experience growing Ptilotus exaltatus and the Lanai Twister hybrids of Verbena.  It is good to try new things each year, and the Mulla Mulla is known as a good flower for cutting and for drying.  I am looking forward to growing them on and seeing how these varieties grow together over the coming months.

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I plant to "switch up" this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil.  The tiny plant on the far right is a "Kent's Beauty" Oregano which survived the winter.

I plant to “switch up” this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil. The tiny plant on the far right is a “Kent’s Beauty” Oregano, which survived the winter.  The bare stump is from the Brugmansia I tried to over-winter outside.

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There are still lots of pots with actively growing Violas around the garden.  I’ll be moving them to shady spots this week as I continue re-planting containers for summer.  I purposely waited this long both to enjoy them, and to give time for some of the dormant plants in the same pots to awaken.  While patience is a virtue, at some point patience creeps into procrastination.

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May 5, 2015 garden 012

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I’ve collected several trays of new plants this week, and I’m ready to work with them over the next few days.  There are lots of geraniums this year, a fair lot of Salvias, a good assortment of fragrant Basils, a few more Dusty Miller plants, now a half-dozen large white Marigold plants I’ve been waiting for the Patton family to offer for sale at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.  They grow the marigolds, and many other annuals, organically in their own greenhouse each spring. If one has patience to wait for them; healthier, more affordable plants simply cannot be found in this area.

Planting pots for the coming season, or switching up established pots, requires the vision, energy and creativity needed for all of the other art forms.  Like painting a canvas, all of the elements have to come together harmoniously.  But as in music, time is the essential element.  Only as plants grow and weave themselves together does the gardener’s vision materialize.

Whether it takes weeks or years, our gardens remain works in progress.

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May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Another Weird, Wonderful and Poisonous Plant

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

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Yes, we’ve brought home another weird, wonderful and poisonous plant.

Its name says it all:  Sauromatum venosum.  Get it?  Venosum?

It is also called “Voodoo Lily” because it begins to grow, as if by some strange magic, without water or soil.

That is how we found it, actually.  It wasn’t on my shopping list per se…

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A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18" away from the first.

A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18″ away from the first.

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But as we were browsing the summer flowering bulbs offered in Brent and Becky Heath’s bulb shop yesterday, there they were:  the already growing flowers of Voodoo Lily reaching out of their bin for our ankles.

They put me in mind of cats reaching through the bars of their little cages at the animal shelter, vying for attention and maybe a new home….

How could I ignore them?  Some of these flowers were already more than 18″ long, poking out of the holes in their little red mesh bags.  Phototropic, they were reaching for the light.  They were ALIVE!

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This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot... which is how I missed planting it last night.  It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot… which is how I missed planting it last night.   It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

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Actually, some weird plantophiles (much like yours truly) will buy these Voodoo Lily tubers and simply set them, dry, on a shelf to watch them grow.  They will grow happily for weeks on the energy stored in their tuber.  Eventually, one must plant them up, of course.  Which is what I did with these poor little guys last night.

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See?  Not a hint of a root...

See? Not a hint of a root…  Like a Caladium, this is a tuber, not a true bulb.

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Keep in mind they’ve been growing in a bin of bulbs on the floor.  One mustn’t expect too much yet in terms in statuesque form.  The flowers will grow several feet high, open, release a putrescently musky scent for a few days, and then die back.  The scent is to attract the right insects for pollination, of course.

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April 9, 2015 planting 018

This flower stalk is only just getting started. It will grow to several feet high before dying back to the ground. Leaves will follow in early summer.

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Once the flowers have died back, one or more leaf stalks emerge and add a lovely tropical note to the garden for the remainder of the season.  Native to Africa, Sauromatum venosum remain hardy from Zone 7 south.  They will spread by tuber and by seed indefinitely.  Phototropic, they will reach for the light if grown in too much shade.

I hope that as these little guys get established and sink some roots into our garden soil, the flower stalks will lift themselves and continue growing towards the sun.  Plants will do amazing things, given the opportunity.

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Plant the tuber 2" to 3" in good, moist soil in bright partial shade.  Keep moist.  I've heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

Plant the tuber 2″ to 3″ in good, moist soil in bright partial shade. Keep moist. I’ve heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

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Whether the flowers right themselves or not, the leaves will still emerge properly by early summer and offer some interesting foliage in the garden for several months.  They will die back with the fall frost, but the tuber can remain in the garden, mulched, over winter.

So we’ve covered ‘weird’ and we’ve covered ‘wonderful.’  Why poisonous?

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Yes, another stump garden.  I've been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010.  That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous.  A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the 'Voodoo Lily' will complete the set.  I'll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.

Yes, another stump garden. I’ve been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010. That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous. A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the ‘Voodoo Lily’ will complete the set. I’ll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.  The decaying stump retains moisture and feeds the plants as it and the tree’s roots decompose.

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Poisonous plants don’t get eaten by miscreant deer who sneak into our garden for dinner. 

I’m becoming something of an aficionado on poisonous plants.  For more on this, you might enjoy an earlier post titled, Pick Your Poison.

After losing our early investments in Phlox and lilies, roses, impatiens, holly shrubs, tomatoes and Camellias; we realized that tasty plants disappear in the night.  Poisonous plants manage to grow all season.

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These N. "Katie Heath,' growing in our garden, were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother.  These have been growing in our garden for several years.

These N. “Katie Heath’  were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother. These have been growing in our garden for several years now.  We continue to plant lots of new daffodils each year to protect other plants, as every part of a daffodil is poisonous.

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So now it is a bonus when I find beautiful plants for the garden which also happen to be poisonous.  Like Hellebores and daffodils, all parts of the Voodoo lily are very poisonous.  Not only will they not get eaten to a nub; their roots offer protection from tunneling voles to nearby plants.

So there you have my take on the very weird, wonderful and poisonous Voodoo Lilies we brought home yesterday from our shopping excursion in Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop at their farm in Gloucester.

I’ll show you follow up photos of these lilies as they grow.

A pair are planted at the top of the garden, visible from the street.  If you’re in the neighborhood, you can keep a watch on them as they come along.  And if you smell something like rotting meat when you pass our garden, you’ll know they have come into full bloom.

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It's Alive!

It’s Alive!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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