Holding the Bank, or, The Dogwood is Free!

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It was a harmless little thing when we moved here…. barely knee high.

We debated at the time whether to keep it or cut it.

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We both know, firsthand, the problems with white pine trees growing near a home:  fallen branches, pine cones, tons of needles, and the ever present danger of the whole thing falling in a strong wind.  If any tree might be considered a ‘weed’ in Virginia, the white pine comes close.

But it was so cute and green; and its root system held a very steep bank.  I made the argument to leave it be.  And we did.

But that isn’t to say we haven’t reconsidered that decision seasonally.  We have trimmed off branches and headed back others in our efforts to keep it in bounds for its space.  And even I had to admit that the cute little pine had grown large and rangy.

What finally convinced me to ‘sign off’ on removing the pine, was seeing that the Dogwood seedling, which has been growing beside it, needs space to grow.  It is over 6′ tall this spring.  Its roots will help hold the bank, and it needs room to develop symmetrically.

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Beloved partner was tactful enough to get the task completed while I was away for the day.  I came home to the stump; the happy Dogwood, and a huge mess now visible on the bank.

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This was an inaccessible area we mostly ignored in the garden; until now.  With the pine gone, I raked back the pine straw and gathered leaves to find a seriously eroded clay bank much in need of attention.

Our garden tumbles and rolls down a fairly steep hill from street to ravine.  There is no naturally flat surface on the entire lot.  We’ve invested a lot of effort and materials in reinforcing the steeper areas of the garden to control erosion.  In fact, the guys at our local garden center know that I’ll need them to load gravel and compost on most every visit.

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April 6, 2015 building 001~

My prescription for these areas is simple:  soil, gravel and perennial plants.

Monday afternoon found me on hands and knees rebuilding the bank around where the pine once stood.

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April 6, 2015 building 003~

Interestingly, I found a very old, hollowed out stump and a smaller solid stump beside the newly cut stump of our pine.  It appeared that the roots of the pine have battled valiantly over the years to maintain a presence here!

Once all of the accumulated needles had been raked away, I pulled the weeds, filled in the creature tunnels with small stones, and then packed the bank firmly with moist compost.  A  Carex plant, salvaged from a potted arrangement several years ago, was still alive near the base of the bank.  I had planted it and a deciduous fern two years ago in an earlier attempt to work with this area.  I simply reinforced the area around and below it with more compost.

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April 7, 2015 spring chores 001

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I also re-cycled pieces of a broken planter, and its gravely soil, at the base of the bank to further hold the new compost in place and to add a little interest.

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April 8, 2015 spring garden 037

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I plan to extend the existing fern garden across to this new planting area.  A variety of ferns, daffodils,  Hellebores and Lamium maculata already grow east of this new bed.

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April 8, 2015 bank 007

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And so I selected Lamium maculata ‘Aureum,’  Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ ferns, a golden leaved Hypericum, and Tiarella cordifolia, or foam flower, for the initial planting.  I plan to add some additional ferns and Hellebores before considering this area finished.  I’ve already added a strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, and a table top fern, to the pockets created by the planter.

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All of these plants have proven unappealing to our herd, even if they could now find a way into the garden through our deer fences.

After the initial planting, I packed gravel over the entire area both to hold and mulch the compost and to discourage digging from the wild things.

It is only a start.  Newly developed beds always take a while to settle in and begin growing together. The white gravel will gradually ‘disappear’ as time goes by.  The plants will grow to cover it, and weather will dull it.

But we believe this spot is already infinitely better than it was a before the pine came down.

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April 7, 2015 spring chores 004

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Once the nearby trees grow their leaves, this bank will remain in deep shade most of the time.  I hope the golden leafed perennials will brighten a previously dark and forgotten area.

Part of the pleasure of creating gardens is in re-doing an unappealing area to make it beautiful.

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April 8, 2015 bank 001~

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

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The Dogwood tree has responded dramatically in the four days since the pine was cut.  It is ready to fill this space with its beauty.

The Dogwood tree has responded dramatically in the four days since the pine was cut. It is ready to fill this space with its beauty.

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Postscript:

Several hours of thunderstorms with heavy rain rolled through here in the wee early morning hours today.  Listening to it, I wondered whether this newly reinforced bank would hold.  The plants haven’t had an opportunity to take hold yet and they haven’t grown to cover the newly laid compost.  We were so happy to see, in the morning’s light, that everything held.  There was absolutely no damage from all of the rain.  Success!

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After last night's heavy rain... no damage to be seen at all.  The bank held.

After last night’s heavy rain… no damage to be seen at all. The bank held.

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“Leave It Be”

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“Leave it be.”  Words I heard with some frequency growing up….

And this simple bit of advice is often just the wisdom needed whether baking, navigating relationships, or preparing the garden for winter.

“Leave it be” insists that we quiet our strong urge to interfere with the already unfolding process.  It asks us to step back and observe; to allow for a a solution other than our own.

 

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My mother’s pound cake recipe includes the instruction to leave the oven door closed for the first 75 minutes of baking.  Opening the door too early changes the texture and rise of the cake.  Once in the oven, you must leave the cake be until the very last few minutes of its total cooking time.  You have to trust the process, and resist the urge to constantly check on it or admire it.

First time mothers soon learn the value of this wisdom, too.  When a baby is sleeping, you leave them alone to rest while you enjoy those few minutes of peace.  When a toddler is happily (and safely) playing, it is best to observe without interrupting the flow of play.

And so it is with a garden at the onset of winter. 

The urge is strong for some to tidy up the leaves as they fall, to cut back perennials as soon as they fade, to pull out the annuals as soon as they freeze, and maybe even prune back shrubby trees as soon as their leaves are gone.

And while some neighbors and neighborhoods might expect this level of neatness, it isn’t Nature’s Way. 

 

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

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Letting our gardens take their time to die back and settle into winter allows nature to recycle and re-purpose in interesting ways.

Leaving organic materials in place also helps insulate our marginal plants to give them a better chance to survive the winter ahead.

It isn’t so much that you avoid the fall clean up chores, just that you strategically tweak the timing of when you do them….

Here are some of those things we intend to “Leave be” for the time being, and why:

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HIbiscus seeds.  I'll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.

HIbiscus seeds pods. I’ll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.  These look especially pretty coated in snow.

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Seed Heads provide important food for birds and other wild things.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks.  This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks. This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

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Basil and Echinacea seeds always attract goldfinches.  None of those seeds will be wasted when left in the garden.  So I delay pulling out frozen Basil plants as long as possible into late winter.

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Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

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I won’t cut back any of the seed bearing perennial stems until I’m fairly satisfied they’ve been picked clean.  When I do finally clear up, the plant skeletons will get tossed into the ravine where they can decompose, enriching the soil.

Fallen leaves serve many useful purposes.  Blown into piles at the bases of shrubs they serve as insulation from the cold.  They help conserve moisture as a natural mulch.  As they decompose they add nitrogen and many other nutrients back into the soil.  How often have you seen someone bag their leaves for the trash, then buy bags of mulch and fertilizer for their garden?

Chopped or shredded leaves offer one of the best ammendments to improve the health and texture of the soil.  Leaf mulch attracts earthworms.  Earthworms enrich the soil wherever they burrow.

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Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves.  I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.

Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves. I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.  These new fallen leaves will get shredded one day soon.

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Leaf mulch also encourages the growth of mycelium,.  Mycelium, which is the permanent part of a fungus,  decompose organic matter in the soil, thus  freeing up the nutrients for use by plants.

They improve the texture of soil, and help nearby plants absorb water and nutrients more efficiently.  You might have noticed white threadlike structures growing in soil, or under a pile of leaves.  These are mycellium, and are always a good sign of healthy soil.

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We rake our leaves only enough to make them accessible for the lawn mower or leaf vacuum.   Once shredded, we pour them onto the ground wherever we need some winter insulation or want to improve the soil.  I always pour shredded leaves around our Mountain Laurels, Azaleas,  and around newly planted shrubs.

Marginal tropicals, like Canna and ginger lily, and our Colocasias,  react very quickly to freezing temperatures.  All of the above ground herbaceous stems and leave immediately die back.  What a mess!

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What remains of the Cannas

What remains of the Cannas

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But the tubers are still alive underground.  Cutting the stem now leaves a gaping wound where cold and moisture can enter, potentially killing the tubers before spring.

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Elephant ears, Colocasia, can't survive freezing weather.  But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

Elephant ears, Colocasia, can’t survive freezing weather. But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

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Allowing the plants to remain uncut, eventually falling back to the ground, provides insulation for the tubers and protects them from ice and cold rain.

The frozen stalks must be cleaned up by the time new growth begins, but I believe leaving them in place over the winter helps protect the plants.

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The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.  Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.   Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

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Another marginal perennial, Lantana, isn’t reliably hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  Further south, these plants grow into large shrubs.  Most Virginia gardeners treat them like annuals.

We’ve learned that left alone, Lantana regularly survive winter in our garden.  Cutting back their woody branches too early allows cold to penetrate to the roots, killing the plant.

Leaving these woody plants standing after the flowers and leave are killed by frost gives the roots an opportunity to survive.  The roots grow very deep, and generally will survive if the plant was able to establish during the previous summer.

Although we cut back Lantana in late March or early April, new growth often won’t appear until the first week of May.

Even perennial herbs, like lavender and rosemary survive winter with less damage when left alone.

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Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

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Prune lavender now and it will probably be dead by April.  Leave it be now, prune  lightly in March, and the plant will throw out abundant new growth.

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Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter.  Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter. Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

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Trees and shrubs which need pruning will potentially suffer more winter “die back” when pruned too early.  For one thing, pruning stimulates growth.

 

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Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring.  Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring. Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

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Roses pruned hard in fall will likely start growing again too soon, and that new growth is tender and likely to freeze.

Pruning flowering shrubs like Buddleia and Rose of Sharon in early winter leaves wounds, which will be affected by the cold more easily than a hardened stem.

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Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds.  These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds. These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

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Leave pruning chores, even on fruit trees and other woody trees or shrubs until after the first of the year.  Allow the plant to go fully dormant before removing wood.  I prefer to leave pruning until February.

Our gardens depend on a rich web of relationships between bacteria, fungus, insects, worms, and decaying organic matter in the soil for their vitality.   Plants grow best in soil which supports a vibrant ecosystem of microbes and invertebrates.

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The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice "growing" out of our Pineapple Sage stems.  The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice “growing” out of our Pineapple Sage stems. The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

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I believe that “leaving the soil be” is one of the smartest things a gardener can do.  Pile on the organic matter, but resist the urge to dig and turn the soil.  Spread mulch, but disturb the structure of the soil only when absolutely necessary to plant.

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Here are a few tasks, for those who want to get out and work in the garden, which you can enjoy this time of year:

1.  Shred and spread the leaves which fall near the house.  We have to sweep  copious piles of leaves which gather on our deck and patio and catch in the gutters.  Sweeping and shredding these a few times each season provides lots of free mulch.

2.  Cut the grass a final time after the leaves are falling.  The green grass clippings mix nicely with the brown leaves to speed along composting.  We catch the trimmings in a bag and spread it where needed.

3.  Plant bulbs until the ground is frozen.  Bulbs have gone on sale in many shops and can be had for a fraction of their September price.    Plant a wide variety for many weeks of spring flowers.

4.  Remodel those pots which will stay outside all winter. 

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November 12, 2014 golden day 168

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Pull out the annuals as they freeze and either plant hardy plants in their place, or make arrangements with branches, pine cones, and moss to keep those pots pretty.

5.  Pick up nuts, acorns, pine cones and fallen branches for winter arrangements and wreathes.  Cut overgrown grape or honeysuckle vines and weave them into wreath bases.    Cut and condition evergreen branches for use on wreathes and in arrangements.

6.  Sow seeds which need winter’s cold to germinate.  Broadcast the seeds where you intend for them to grow, or sow in flats which remain outside all winter.  Columbine and many other wildflowers require this winter stratification to germinate well.

7.  Take photos of the garden.  Photograph everything, and then review the photos over the winter as you make plans for spring purchases, plantings, and renovations.

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8.  Prepare new garden beds with “sheet composting.”  Mark where a new vegetable, flower, or shrub bed  will be planted next spring, and cover the entire area with sheets of newspaper or brown paper bags to kill any grass and weeds there now.

Pile shredded leaves, grass clippings, twigs and wood chips, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, banana peels, and shredded shredded newspaper on the area all winter long.  These materials will slowly decompose.  Cover the whole area with a few inches of good compost or top soil a few weeks before you plan to plant.

Add edging around the bed, and it is ready for spring planting.  The materials in your “sheet compost” will continue decomposing over the next year or so, feeding your new garden bed.

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Working with nature always proves easier than working at cross purposes with her. 

She can make our chores lighter and our gardens more abundant when we understand her ways.

When you understand the wisdom of, ‘Let it be,” you will find that nature does much of the heavy work for you, if just given enough time and space.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The Wonder of the Rhizome

Bird's nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex

Bird’s nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex sending up new leaves.

A rhizome, technically a stem, grows just at the surface, or slightly underground; sending roots down into the soil and leaves up into the light.

Many plants grow from rhizomes.

Have you eaten ginger?  Ginger is a rhizome, and the ginger you purchase at the grocery can be planted and grown into a new plant by placing it on the surface of some good dirt, adding just a little dusting of soil on top, and watering it in.  Within a few weeks roots will grow and leaves emerge from the piece of ginger rhizome.

Many of the most beautiful Begonias grow from rhizomes. 

And like a piece of ginger, the rhizome may go dormant for a period of time before suddenly producing new leaves and beginning to grow.

When you buy a Rex Begonia for its gorgeous leaves, it is growing from a little rhizome.

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I purchased this bird’s nest fern and a little Begonia at Lowe’s back in the winter, and potted them up in a big bowl for a winter centerpiece on my dining table.  We enjoyed them all winter, but the Begonia struggled along while the fern took off.

I moved them both into a nursery pot and set them outside in early summer.  The Begonia had lost its last leaf by this time, and I had no way to tell whether it was alive or dead.

But look!  The rhizome survived, and has begun to grow again and produce new leaves.

Here is another rhizomatous Begonia which has gone completely dormant twice now, and then has suddenly sprung back into growth.

I love the leaves on this one for their silvery sheen.

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Rhizomatous Begonias grow extremely well in the shade.  That said, they grow much better outside than inside.

Many of these special Begonias are winter bloomers, and will begin blooming, when they are happy, in January or February.  They need bright light inside to bloom, but love a shady and sheltered spot outside in the summer.

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

 

We had actually given up on this one for dead last spring, and chucked the contents of its pot under a shrub.  I was thrilled to find it alive and leafing out several weeks later.

It grew happily under an Azalea all last summer, and survived most of the winter potted, indoors by a window.

By April it looked like it was dieing back, and so I moved it outside, and out of its pot, into the Earth.  It perked up within a few weeks, and looks lush and happy again.

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Because a rhizome sends out both roots and stems, it can be broken into smaller pieces and each replanted.

The rhizome grows longer over time, as it stores food for the plant; sometimes branching out to cover more ground.  It can grow  pretty quickly into a large plant.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern.  This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot.  I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern. This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot. I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

 

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  German Iris grow from rhizomes.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend.  These can be divided and spread each spring.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend. These can be divided and spread each spring.

Canna lilies and ginger lilies grow from rhizomes.

Plants which grow from rhizomes can be easily divided to increase your stock.

 

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Each little piece of the rhizome has the potential to grow into a new plant identical to the original one.

Most plants growing from a rhizome need to dry out a little between waterings.  Too much water can cause the rhizome to rot, which will kill the plant.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes. They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

 

Watch the leaves to know when more water is needed, but in general let the surface of the soil dry a bit between drinks.  Some, like iris, are very drought tolerant.

A rhizome is a wonderful adaptation which allows a plant to wait out poor conditions without dieing, so it can grow again when conditions improve.

And it is a wonderful thing for a gardener to realize that a plant thought dead was only dormant, and has begun to grow yet again!

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

Lavender Lovers

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When Jennifer issued her One Word Photo Challenge: Lavender this morning, I headed out between showers to capture a few photos of our lavender flowers in the garden.

We have been admiring the lavender Rose of Sharon from the living room windows.

 

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

In fact the hummingbirds have been hovering near them them all morning between the showers, and we enjoy watching them come and go.

But I suspected there might be other lavender flowers blooming this morning, if only I’d go out and notice them.

Chocolate mint in bloom

Chocolate mint in bloom

How does one draw a firm line between what is lavender and what is blue or pink?

There are so many shades, and all shine differently depending on the light.

Salvia nemerosa with Artemesia

Salvia nemerosa with Artemesia

 

Soon I was straying off the patio and into the wet grass, following the trail of lavender flowers through the garden.

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And despite the wet, overcast weather, the garden was still buzzing with hungry creatures flying from flower to flower.

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Perhaps moving a bit more slowly today, they seemed not to mind  me closing in with the camera to capture their portraits.

I wonder how these flowers appear to our bees, and to our dragonflies.

Bumblebee on Joe Pye Weed

Bumblebee on Joe Pye Weed

 

Do their compound eyes see these colors even more intensely than ours?

Can they see flowers in ways we can only dream them?

A butterfly shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee.

A moth shares the Joe Pye Weed blossoms with the bee.

What must it be like to spend one’s entire lifetime in pursuit of flowers, and the sweet nectar and pollen they hold?  Might bees, like whales and dolphins, have a level of intelligence in advance of our own?

We have learned much about bees, and their language of dance, in recent years.  

Now scientists have learned they can be trained, even more quickly than dogs, to sniff out certain odors.

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New technologies are in development which use trained bees to sniff out drugs and other substances.  It is all quite amazing to realize that bees can communicate with us in so many ways.

The low hum of their contented buzzing filled our garden this morning, much like the hum of a cat’s purr.

Hearing from friends across the country that bees are scarce in some gardens this summer, we feel special appreciation for the bees who choose to visit ours.

 

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Another vital link in the web of life which brings food to our own table, we  appreciate the lives of bees;

and all of the other small creatures who spend their lives in pursuit of nectar, moving from flower to flower in the garden.

 

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

One Word Photo Challenge: Lavender… Forest Garden

More One Word Photo Challenge: Lavender photos

 

Cool August Morning

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This morning found us out in the garden watering, pulling grass, deadheading spent flowers, and generally admiring the beauty around us.

Morning sun shines through the Hibiscus and Cannas, illuminating their leaves like stained glass.

Morning sun shines through the Hibiscus and Cannas, illuminating their leaves like stained glass.

It was the sort of cool, breezy morning which invited one out of doors to enjoy the day; and to look around for things which need doing while enjoying it.

I’ve finally had a stretch of days at home, and have turned to pulling grass and weeds in preparation for some late summer planting and sprucing up.

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The first warning to go gently came from friend turtle. 

One of our Eastern Box turtles had sought shelter at the base of a Dogwood tree, under the lacy canopy of grasses.

As I worked steadily closer to him, he made no noise and gave no sign of his presence.

When I finally pulled out the grasses sheltering him, he turned to look up at me, but stood his ground.  Our turtles know us by now, as the lizards do, and know there is nothing to fear so long as we see them.

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Finally turning my attention to the stump garden, after a good watering, I worked my way around the bed trimming  spent Gladiolus stems, pruning the Catnip,  pulling the odd vagrant weedy growth, and trimming the Comfrey.

My attention was on the plants, and I almost didn’t see the delicate web of this  black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia.

 

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The sparkling drops of water caught on its strands caught my attention just before I cut one of the stems anchoring it.  What beauty!

 

The male spider

The male spider

 

My partner came over and we admired the web and two resident spiders for a while.

 

The larger female spider, with yellow markings, is joined on the web by a more slender male spider.  These non-poisonous spiders garden spiders are common throughout most of the United States.

The larger female spider, with yellow markings, is joined on the web by a more slender male spider. These non-poisonous spiders garden spiders are common throughout most of the United States.

 

Large spiders like these begin to show themselves and cover the garden with their webs in late summer, here in Virginia.  It is nothing to find webs several feet across from  shrub to shrub sparkling with dew in the early mornings.

 

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So long as our butterflies don’t end up trapped in the webs, we try to leave them alone and bless the spiders for each mosquito they can eat.

So after photographing the spiders and their web, I gathered my tools and moved on, leaving the spiders in peace.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Butterfly tree this morning.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Butterfly tree this morning.

 

The signs of autumn have appeared all around us here in Williamsburg.

These cool nights and mornings feel more like late September than mid- August.  Dogwood trees along the Colonial Parkway have taken on a rosy hue as the chlorophyll fades from their leaves.

 

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Sweet Autumn Clematis came into bloom this week, and our Tulip Poplar trees have begun to turn bright yellow and to drop their leaves.

It will be an early  and cool autumn across much of the United States.  Summer has been compressed this year between a late spring and an early fall.

 

The Devil's Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, is in full bloom now, and is covered by bees.  Notice the leaves beginning to change colors.

The Devil’s Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, is in full bloom now, and is covered by bees. Notice the leaves beginning to change colors.

 

We have enjoyed the cooler summer, and we’ve had enough rain to make things green and lush here.

But this is not the year to sow late crops and expect to harvest them before frost.

 

Our mild weather has been kind to the roses this summer.

Our mild weather has been kind to the roses this summer.

 

Cold winds will blow down from Canada and the Great Lakes with frost much earlier than most expect them.

But not for a while yet.  At the moment we are still celebrating the butterflies and hummingbirds who find our garden.

 

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We’re encouraging the lizards to gorge themselves on insects, watching out for the turtles, and admiring the spiders’ weaving.

And planting….

 

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But I’ll show you the garden bed I’m rehabilitating in another post.

For now, let’s just enjoy this beautiful August weekend, and celebrate summer in our Forest Garden.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Always Evolving

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Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others?  What drives your selections?

My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season.  Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.

 

Basil, "African Blue" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums  grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

 

We garden to fill a need.  Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food.  Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.

Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.

 

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Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.

And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.

But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract  than by their usefulness as cut flowers.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

 

Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers.  We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

 

Our gardening  focus is shifting here.  It began our first month on the property.  I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.

I planned to replace them  with something more interesting… to me, that is.

And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.

 

 

Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.

The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.

And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

 

Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.

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After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb's Ears.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears.  Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.

 

What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.

And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage

 

Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.

 

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

 

If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.

There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.

 

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

 

And leaves are far more durable than flowers.  While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many  months.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with  stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.

 

"Harlequin" is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

 

While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course –  they do become food now and again.

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer.... But something ate them....

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….

 

It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.

Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them.  This pepper has survived to ripeness.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.

 

Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.

 

We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful  varieties of annuals each spring and fall.

The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.

 

Spikemoss is a plant we've just begun using as groudcover in pots and beds.

Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.

 

It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.

As I hope we are, as well.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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WPC: Summer Lovin’

Buddleia davidii, “Harlequin” coming into bloom near perennial Hibiscus

*

“Your work is to discover your work

and then with all your heart

to give yourself to it.”

A Buddha

 

For one who has accepted the work of a gardener, one of the greatest joys comes from the annual fruition of all of the year’s planning and work. 

 

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Each carefully chosen and tended plant unfolds itself in beauty, and our love for the garden multiplies.

 

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There are seasons to every love in our life. 

 

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We touch each again and again as we spiral through all the experiences our lives bring. 

 

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And summer remains the sweetest. 

Summer;  filled with color, vitality, growth, and accomplishment. 

 

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It is always a summer of love when the gardener is at home in her garden.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Summer Lovin’

 

 

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What I Learned From Our Hummingbird

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As more and more flowers continue to bloom, hummingbirds become more frequent visitors to our garden.

They dart around so quickly from flower to flower, and are normally so shy, that I’ve had no photos to share with you; though we see them daily now.

We’ve identified at least four different hummingbirds who frequent the garden.

But one was kind enough to visit with me at the Stump Garden late on Sunday afternoon .

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Returning from a walk to a friend’s home, I stopped to take photos of the newly blooming Gladiolus.

And while I was busy snapping away from various angles, I heard the whirring buzz of a hummingbird zooming into the garden to sample the Glad’s nectar.

The hummingbird is drinking from the lowest flower on the left.

The hummingbird is drinking from the lowest flower on the left.

He was so comfortable hovering inside the huge Glad blossom, that he ignored me and my clicking, chiming camera entirely.

The Hummingbird zoomed from blossom to blossom, and then paused to rest on a leaf.

All the while I’m happily taking his portrait.

Now the hummingbird has turned to drink from the catnip on the right.  Can you see his curved beak?

Now the hummingbird has turned to drink from the catnip on the right. Can you see his curved beak?

And by observing, I learned.

Conventional wisdom holds that hummingbirds prefer red flowers.

Supposedly, that is why the plastic hummingbird kits come with gaudy red and yellow feeders and bright red Kool-Aid like mix with which to fill them.

But our little guy was sipping  first from blue Glads, then white catnip flowers, and finally from the tiny purple flowers of our Coleus, growing in the pot on the stump.

Did you know Hummingbirds would drink from Coleus flowers?  I normally break those off as a part of “grooming” the Coleus for more leaf production!

But there he was, hovering beautifully high up in the air, drinking as happily from the Coleus as from the reddest Canna, Salvia,  or Fuschia.

Hummingbirds need to consume half their weight in sugar, daily, just to survive.   They prefer flowers which offer nectar of 25%-35% sugar content.

They can starve in a matter of hours when food isn’t available. 

“Feed them and they will come.” 

Good advice, especially in the world of wildlife gardening.  And it always amazes me to see how many different species will show up for the feast, once the garden blooms each summer.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Beautiful Birthday Gift

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

A very special friend brought me a very special birthday gift  earlier this year.

She brought me a sack of Gladiolus bulbs.

We share bits and pieces from our gardens with one another all of the time.  In fact, we hardly ever get together without sharing cuttings and discussing our gardens.

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Yet this was a special gift. 

Although our friend loves and grows Gladiolus  in her own garden, these were bulbs she had selected especially as a gift for me.  She brought two colors; a blue and a violet.

But this gift was also a challenge, because I haven’t grown Glads in the past.  She was inviting me to explore a new genus not yet in the garden.

The weather was still cold and wet when she brought them, and I had no idea where they would best grow.

I also had to do a little research before feeling confident enough to plant them.

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I just took the time to enjoy them for a little while, and consider all of the possibilities before the day came to plant them in the garden.

In retrospect, there was only one proper place to enjoy these beautiful glads:  The new stump garden. 

It receives full sun, and the plants already growing are lush and large enough to help provide support to these very tall flowers.

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And now they are coming into glorious bloom.

What a wonderful gift of love and beauty!

As the blossoms open, it is  a new gift  to enjoy each day!

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And a reminder of our very special friend….

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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