Blossom XXXVIII: Akebia quinata

Akebia quinata

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Chocolate vine, Akebia, grows joyfully in a corner of our garden.  It springs back to life early in the season, when many of our other woodies are still resting.  First, the delicate spring green leaves emerge, clothing the long and twisting stem with fresh growth.  Compound leaves emerge in groups of five leaflets, which is how it earned its species name, ‘quintata‘.  And then its beautiful rosy flower buds appear, opening over a long season of several weeks.

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I mail-ordered this ‘chocolate vine’ several years ago to clothe a new arbor we were installing.  I’d never grown it before, and never admired it growing in another’s garden.  But I’m always interested in trying new things; especially unusual fruits.    This vine is supposed to produce an edible pod that tastes like chocolate.

And I only ordered one, not the two necessary for pollination, to first determine whether it would grow well for us.  Does it like our climate?  Will the deer eat it?

Yes, and no.  And from that first bare root twig, it has taken off and begun to take over this corner of the yard!  Yes, I could prune it into better manners.  But I rather like its wild sprawl through the neighboring trees.

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But as much as the vine extends itself, it doesn’t appear to pollinate itself.  We’ve not yet found any edible pods to taste.  I could plant another vine to see if I can make them produce fruit, but that would be unwise. 

Akebia grows so robustly that it can smother out other nearby plants.  It is considered invasive in the mid-Atlantic region and has made the list of regulated invasive species in Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia.

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We enjoy this vine for its flowers.  It is simply stunning in bloom, filling its real estate with bright flowers.  There are plenty of little dangling stems to cut to add to flower arrangements.

I’ve never noticed this vine growing in the wild in Virginia, and have not heard of it being a problem in native habitats in our area.  It is something of a novelty to us.

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In its native Asia, where both the pulp and the husk of the fruit are enjoyed in cooking, the vines are cut and woven into baskets.  The vines wrap themselves in neat spirals around their supports, laying themselves in parallel layers like a living sculpture.  Akebia was first imported to the United States as an ornamental vine around 1845.

Akebia is a beautiful plant, and you can find it from several good mail order nurseries in the United States and the UK. You will even find named cultivars.   It tolerates shade, is drought tolerant, and grows in a variety of soils.  This deciduous, woody vine is hardy in Zones 4-10.  The color of its flowers blends well with other springtime flowers in our garden.

Ironically, the more resilient and adaptable a plant, the more likely it will eventually make it on to a list of ‘invasive’ plants.   Although this spreads and roots at the nodes, I feel confident that the birds won’t spread it elsewhere, since our vine isn’t producing fruits and seeds.

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I would plant Akebia again, given the opportunity.  It is a useful  vine to cover a trellis, pergola, fence or wall.  But use it with caution, and do keep the secateurs handy.

I’ll need to give ours a trim this spring, when the flowers have faded, to keep it in bounds.  That said, some of those trimmings will be rooted and shared with gardening friends.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXVII: Daffodils, Variations On A Theme

Blossom XXXVI: Crocus

Blossom XXXV: In The Forest

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Fabulous Friday: Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, really, pitcher plants grew wild in the boggy wetlands along the Atlantic coast.  They grew right around here, along the banks of the James River and the many creeks that feed it.

The yellow trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava, is native to our part of coastal Virginia.  Most species of pitchers grow from Virginia south to Florida, and west along the Gulf coast.

Only one species, Sarracenia pupurea ssp. purpurea, grows from Virginia north to Canada and west to the wetlands around the Great Lakes.  Most of these species live in bogs and wetlands at sea level, but a few species grow at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia south into Georgia.

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It’s rare now to find a pitcher plant growing wild.  Over 97% of their habitat has been drained and developed.  A few species and natural hybrids are all but extinct.  These beautiful carnivorous plants are sustained these days mostly in private collections.

And the good news, gardening friends, is that these striking plants are easy to grow!  Anyone with a sunny spot can participate in keeping these beautiful and unusual species going.

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If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow most any of the North American pitcher plants outdoors year round.  If you live in colder climes, you probably can grow the species and hybrids of Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia oreophila, or Sarracenia montana.  Even if you live a zone or two colder than your plants are rated, you can find ways to insulate them over winter.

These easy to please plants simply want wet, acidic soil and as much sun as you can give them.  Grow them in pots filled with a mix of half peat moss and half sand, or three quarters peat and 1/4 perlite or fine gravel.    Keep the soil moist by growing in a glazed ceramic pot with no drainage hole, or a glazed ceramic pot with a deep, water filled saucer beneath.  Peter d’Amato, owner of California Carnivores and author of The Savage Garden, recommends growing potted Sarracenias in glazed pots kept standing in  2″ of water at all times, so the soil stays evenly moist.

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These are definitely tough, outdoor plants and prefer full sun.  If you grow them indoors, keep them near a window with bright light for at least 6 hours a day, or in a greenhouse.

Never use commercial potting mix, compost, or commercial fertilizers with pitcher plants.  Peat is closest to the soil of their natural habitat, and provides the acidic environment they require.

The only pitcher plant that has ever failed for me came from a local grower.   He cut corners, and blended his own compost based soil mix rather than using good peat.  He admitted this to me when I returned the plant to him the following spring after I bought it, because it hadn’t begun new growth.  He replaced the plant, and I immediately re-potted it into the proper mix.  It is thriving still.

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There are several distinct features to the different species of pitcher plants.  The pitchers can be as short as 5″-6″ or as tall as 48″ depending on the species.  Each hollow pitcher is actually a leaf.  The most common pitchers, the S. purpureas, are also some of the shortest.  They are usually a beautiful red or purple and have red flowers.

S. flava, S. leucophylla and S. oreophila produce some of the tallest pitchers.  Some pitchers stand up tall, and others form recumbent rosettes of pitchers.  Pitchers may have wide mouths with fancy, frilly openings, or may have wide open mouths that catch the rain.  S. minor and S. psittacina pitchers have hooded openings.

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Some pitchers are mostly green, others are red or purple.  S. Leucophylla have white around the openings to their pitchers.  S. flava is also called the yellow pitcher plant, and they are a beautiful  chartreuse yellow.

Sarracenia flowers may be red, purple, white, peach, yellow or some combination of these colors.  There are so many interesting hybrids and cultivars that a pitcher plant enthusiast has many choices of which plants to grow.

I ordered two new pitcher plants from Sarracenia Northwest, in Portland OR, this spring.  I’m now watching S. ‘Bug Bat’ and S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ begin to grow.  Both were very carefully packaged and arrived in growth and in perfect condition.

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And then earlier today, I found an interesting carnivorous plant terrarium kit at Lowes, with a dormant Sarracenia and a dormant Dionaea, or flytrap; little bags of peat and sphagnum moss.  There were potting instructions and a clear plastic box to hold the plants until they begin to grow.  At under $10.00, this looked like a pretty good value.

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Our newest pitcher plant  came in a carnivorous plant terrarium kit found at Lowes.  I’ve planted it, and a dormant flytrap in this bowl given to us by a potter friend.

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I potted the little dormant plants in my own mix of peat and sand, in a beautiful bowl our potter friend Denis Orton gave us at the holidays.  The bowl has no drainage and is a perfect first home for both plants.  They may need potting on next year or the next, but that is the way of things, isn’t it?

It will be a surprise to see which species of pitcher plant grows from this start, but I’m guessing it is most likely the most common, S. purpurea.

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Pitcher plants have various ways of luring insects into their open mouths.  There are nectar trails that lure insects up the pitchers and into their open mouthed leaf.  Each species has ingenious ways to keep them from escaping again.  These plants catch and digest every sort of insect from crawling ants to mosquitoes and flies.

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There is no shortage of insects in our May garden!  We have come to the part of summer haunted by every sort of bug imaginable, and it’s fabulous irony that one of our most beautiful native perennials also helps control the bug problem!

Our little collection of pitcher plant is growing now, and it is fabulous to admire their fresh new pitchers on this very muggy Friday afternoon.  I am looking forward to watching the new ones grow and show their special colors and forms.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States

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If you’ve not yet tried growing pitcher plants, I hope you’ll think about giving them a try.  These endangered species need all the help adventurous gardeners will give to keep them going on into the future.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Heritage

 

Winter Gardening

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

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Yes, it’s January, but there is still plenty to do in the garden.  When we get a fairly nice day, like today, you might feel the itch to get outside and get gardening again.  Even when the weather isn’t fine, there are still preps for the season ahead that can be done indoors, while the pace remains decidedly unhurried.

The most important winter gardening work can be accomplished from an armchair:  planning ahead.  Every year we tweak and revise; opening new ground, moving plants, refining the design.  This is a good time of year to photograph every part of the garden with an eye to its bones.  Study those photos for inspiration and instruction.  Look with fresh eyes to see new possibilities in your familiar turf.

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I also spend quite a bit of time studying plant catalogs as they come in.  I read about newly introduced cultivars of familiar plants.   I consider what perennials or shrubs I might want to add, and  plan designs for our  pots and baskets.

I try to keep notes and drawings from these winter musings.  Ideally, a binder proves helpful over time to track the evolution of one’s garden.  Include photos, receipts, tags, a site plan and notes of what is planted, and when.

January through early March prove the best months for pruning woody plants here in Williamsburg.  There is less shock when a tree is dormant, and spring growth, when it breaks, will prove more vigorous.

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Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

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Some shrubs, like Beautyberry, Callipcarpa,  respond well to very hard pruning.  Cut these back by 30% or more and they will reward you with abundant growth and heavy fruiting the following year.    I make the rounds of our Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia; Buddleia, roses, fruit trees and small ornamental trees like Japanese Maples in winter when it is easiest to see their structure.  All of these bloom on new wood.

Remove crossed or crowded branches.  Thin and direct growth.  Remove suckers growing straight up from a mostly horizontal branch, and cut back long branches to encourage bushier growth.  Thinning, to allow sunlight and air to circulate through the plant both controls diseases before they can take hold, but also produces a stronger plant.

Wait to prune shrubs like Hydrangea and Lilac, which bloom on old wood, until after they bloom each summer.  If you remove old Hydrangea blossoms before spring, carefully cut above the first dormant bud.

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Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring's growth.

Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring’s growth.  Any serious pruning can remove next season’s flowers.

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Remove any perennial stems still standing in the garden before new growth begins in early spring.  Emerging growth, especially spring  bulbs, looks neater after last year’s perennial remains have been cut and composted.

Some of us leave our Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Lantana and other late flowering seed heads to feed the birds over winter.  These will be mostly picked clean by early February and their time has passed.  Remove old leaves from Hellebores as new ones emerge to rejuvenate the plant.

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Building the soil can be done year round.  Adding organic matter, especially when working with heavy clay, brings the soil, and the garden, to life.   Whether you keep a compost pile, add mulch,  or simply sheet compost fallen and shredded leaves; do something each season to improve the soil in some part of the garden.  We save our coffee grounds and spread them on beds or around shrubs every few weeks.   Feeding the soil pays dividends much longer than does spreading any chemical fertilizer.

If you are starting a new planting area, consider building a raised bed with cardboard, brown paper, newspaper, or even fallen wood as a base.  “Sheet compost” the area over the winter months by adding coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, shredded leaves, and fruit and vegetable trimmings as they come available.  Keep adding layers of materials, topping the bed with straw or even bagged compost or topsoil from the garden center.  There are many, many ways to do this.

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Earthworms, drawn to the organic matter on the soil, begin to work their way through the pile, speeding the process and enriching the ground with their castings.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly crumbled into humus before you plant in spring.  If necessary, pile a few inches of bagged soil on top of your pile and plant directly into this finished soil, confident that the composting layers will break down in the weeks ahead.

This is a better way to begin a new bed than tilling or digging because it leaves the organisms already living in the soil intact.  The roots of your newly planted garden will stretch and grow, loosening the soil as they expand.  Earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures will also loosen its structure over time.

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Chipped up wood and leaves spread over the foundation of wood will rot into good compost over time.

Chipped up wood and leaves spread over a foundation of broken limbs will rot into good compost over time.  We built this raised Hugelkulture bed in July of 2013, and it has been productive ever since.

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Winter is also a good time for building new garden structures.  Whether you are adding walls, steps, raised beds, pergolas, paths or a patio, consider beginning in late winter before the trees leaf out.  You can see the structure of things better, and your construction mess won’t detract from the beauty of your spring or summer garden.

Finally, begin planting for the coming season.  Although autumn is the best time for planting new trees and perennials in our area so they can establish during the cool and wet winter months; we find our best selection at local garden centers in the spring.  The selection of shrubs, fruiting vines, annuals, perennials trees and summer bulbs at local garden centers can feel dizzying by late March.  Ride the crest of this wave, seeking out small perennial starts and bare root nursery stock in late February or March.

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Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by may.

Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by May.

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Many garden centers will offer popular perennials in 2″-3″ pots at very low prices in early spring.  These will establish and grow to full sized plants by summer.  Planting early on will give your new plants a chance to establish and expand their root system before summer’s heat and drought.

If you’ve ordered bulbs, tubers, or bare root stock from catalogs, you can plant these up in nursery pots and keep them in a garage or basement for a few weeks until it is warm enough to set them out.   For example, many tropical tubers,  ordered in early spring, can be gotten at much lower prices than you’ll find for the leafed out plants in early summer.  Order Caladiums, Colocasia, Canna, Alocasia, Dahlias and many other beautiful plants early for the best selection of cultivars.  You can easily pot these up yourself in soil and have them ready to plant out when it warms enough for them in May.

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Caladium

Caladium

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Seedling trees from mail order nurseries may also be potted up and allowed to grow in a protected area of your garden for the summer, and then planted into their permanent spot in the garden next autumn.

As our summers grow hotter each year, I’ve come to appreciate the winter months even more.   A lot can be accomplished in relative comfort, without the distraction of biting insects or broiling sun, on warmish winter days.  It feels good to get out of doors and work in the garden.

Whether you are cleaning up, building up, planting up, or pruning; enjoy the time you spend preparing for spring’s beauty to unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Nature Challenge Day 2: Lilies and Koi at the Heath’s Gloucester Gardens

May 25, 2016 Brent & Beckys 004

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We returned to Gloucester today, with my gardening sister, to visit Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens and pick up our ‘end of season’ order of plants and tubers.  Brilliant sunshine and warm fragrant breezes off the river made for a perfect day to wander around their acres of display gardens.

Every plant the Heath family offers is showcased somewhere in the gardens, grown against a backdrop of ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials and Virginia natives.  We learn so much by observing these thousands of plants grown in optimal conditions by professionals who truly love the many plants they nurture.  I am continually surprised with an unexpected combination of plants, and by familiar plants grown in unusual and beautiful new ways.

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The garden was punctuated today with hundreds of Amaryllis bulbs grown out in the beds with other perennials.  You probably know Amaryllis as one of those bulbs sold in the autumn, and grown in a pot during the winter holidays.  Well, come spring, one can plant those bulbs outside in a flower bed.  Many of them are hardy in our coastal Virginia winters and can be left to naturalize, blooming in early summer.

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The Heath's gardens, where Amaryllis grow beside perennials.

The Heath’s gardens, where Amaryllis grow beside other perennials.

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Jay Heath, attacking weeds along the main path, encouraged us by pointing out that our wet spring has brought abundant growth of ‘natives,’ or weeds to some, to everyone’s garden.  Even with a dedicated staff, they are still challenged to stay ahead of this spring’s abundant growth.

Side by side, both the nurtured and the ‘self-sown’ sprawled and bloomed, a banquet for their bees and butterflies.   The ground was wet, saturated by recent storms.  And everywhere were signs of the change of season and evolution of their garden.

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I was captivated by the first water lily blooms of the season.  The Koi here were nearly hidden by the many water plants.  Imagine having to weed the water garden, too!  But that is just what is planned for later this week, along with a re-do of the planters surrounding the fountain and pool.

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We were fortunate to find owner Brent Heath consulting on the water garden as we wandered back to the shop.  I am always delighted to find Brent in the garden because he so generously shares his deep knowledge of plants with interested visitors.

My friend and I had questions, and he guided us around some of the beds to demonstrate answers and to give useful advice.  He points out plants like the old friends they are, teaching us all the while.

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This is the meadow garden where Brent showed us Mountain Mint and other native perennials we might grow in our own gardens.

This is the meadow garden where Brent Heath showed us Mountain Mint and other native perennials we might grow in our own gardens.  Some, but not all of these plants are listed in the summer catalog.

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We each accepted a generous clump of Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum, pulled from the meadow, with advice to plant it in a bed with deep borders to keep it in check.  This native medicinal herb can be used in numerous ways, both in herbal medicine and in a perennial border.  But Brent introduced us to its strong delicious fragrance, and advised that rubbing it against one’s skin keeps flying insects like gnats and mosquitoes far away.

Mountain mint is very hard to find for sale.  Brent and Becky Heath don’t sell it at their garden.  But I had been looking for a source ever since reading about its use in perennial plantings in Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury’s new book, Planting:  A New Perspective This is one of their ‘go to’ plants for long-lived perennial plantings which carry through all of the seasons of the year with minimal maintenance.  For Brent to spontaneously offer us each a well rooted clump was a tremendous blessing for us both.

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If you still have an empty spot in your garden, and would like to fill it with something gorgeous and unusual, please take a look at the Heath’s online summer catalog of plants.  Their end of season, 50% off sale lasts through Saturday, and their offerings can’t be beat for quality and value. We filled the back of our car and look forward to happy planting days ahead!

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Blogging friend, Y,  invited me to join the Seven Day Nature Challenge last Saturday.  Thank you for your invitation Y., at In the Zone, and for sharing your fascinating photos taken around our shared state of Virginia.  Y and I know many of the same places and share a love for the quirky and beautiful, the fun and poignant.  I appreciate her invitation and will follow her lead to capture the spirit, if not the exact parameters of the challenge.

Not only is one asked to post a nature photo for seven days running, but to also invite another blogger to join in each day.

For this second day of the challenge, I’ll invite you again to join in.  This challenge has been out there for a while, and many nature photographers have already participated.  If you would like to take up the challenge, please accept in the comments and I’ll link back to you tomorrow.

Although I try to take photos in our garden each day, friends and followers may have noticed that it has been a very long time since I’ve been able to post daily.  Life has gotten quite busy over the past year, and the garden is always calling me out of doors!

But in the spirit of the challenge I’ll set the intention to post a photo or three daily.  If you decide to accept this challenge, too, I’ll look forward to seeing what surprises May has brought to your corner of the world, even as I share the beauty of ours.

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All photos in today's post were taken at the Heath family display gardens in Gloucester, VA, which are open to the public during much of the year.

All photos in today’s post were taken at the Heath family display gardens in Gloucester, VA, which are open to the public during much of the year.  Please check their schedule if you are planning a trip to visit the shop and gardens.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Achillea

Achillea

Lilac Revival

April 6, 2016 Parkway 008

This lovely Lilac, another gift left by previous gardeners here, is revived.

Covered in blooms again, with lush spring growth, it is finally performing better than it did that first spring we found it in our new garden .  Revived, you wonder?  What happened?

There was the small matter of Holly Tone,  spread generously for its acid loving neighbors…..   The Lilacs, there are two, are planted among Hydrangeas, Forsythia, and a Rose of Sharon.  I spread Holly Tone pretty generously on all of the acid loving shrubs our first few autumns in this garden.  Azaleas, Hydrangeas and their cousins love Holly Tone and respond with vigorous growth.

But not the Lilac, which prefers a sweet soil.  And these let me know right away that I had made their soil inhospitable.

It was a sad and sorry sight to watch them struggling along these past few years.  We gave them a little lime from time to time and some Plant Tone.   The crisis is finally passed, and they have covered themselves in abundant blooms and beautiful leaves for the first time in several years.

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A large ‘Rose of Sharon’ tree towers over our Lilac, with Forsythia and Hydrangea shrubs behind. These have grown together in the garden for a very long time. It is wise to plant Lilac with at least 6′ feet all around for its future growth.

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Lilac shrubs enjoy full to partial sun and consistently moist soil.  They have few pests and require little or no maintenance.  Lilacs will grow into small trees if allowed, so plant them with plenty of space!  Deer won’t bother them, and they offer plenty of nectar for pollinators.

I order Lilac shrubs from mail order nurseries and grow them in a pot for their first few seasons, then move them out into the garden.  This is our current potted Lilac, our first with a white flower.  We will plant it in the garden after its bloom has finished.

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Lilacs make wonderfully fragrant and colorful cut flowers.  Cutting lilacs to bring indoors is simply ‘pruning,’ which should only be done after they bloom each spring.  Prune too early, and you prune the flower buds away!  These long lived shrubs have been popular in both home and public gardens in Europe since late in the 16th Century; and in North American gardens since early colonial times..

There are Lilac enthusiasts who showcase their Syringa collection as the ‘bones’ of their garden.  They prove excellent additions to our Forest Garden.

Woodland Gnome 2016

In A Vase On Monday: April Abundance

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The sweetness in the air today wafts in whenever the door is opened. 

It envelopes one in warm enticing fragrance with each trip out of doors into the heavy, moist air.  We had storms last night with wind and rain.

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But the dogwoods held their flowers.  A few more daffodils have fallen over perhaps, and the newly leafed out roses bend nearly to the ground under the weight of their wet leaves.  Perhaps the pruning should have been more aggressive, after all.  But no matter, soon they will cover themselves in roses.  There will be time for pruning when the first flush has come and gone.

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The lilac shrubs in the butterfly garden began to open yesterday.  Last night’s rain left them sparkling and lush, and still full of buds.

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All of these shrubs came mail order over the last four years.  They are Syringa ‘Josee,’ a dwarf reblooming variety with superior disease resistance.  They came as rooted whips, and spent their first year or two in a pot.  As they outgrow their pots I plant them out where they enjoy the afternoon sun.

They have all the beauty and fragrance of traditional lilac shrubs, but won’t grow much taller or wider than 6′.  They will re-bloom sporadically through summer and into the fall.  This is one of the shrubs predictably pictured in many winter garden catalogs.  They always go on sale in spring, grow quickly, and make a lovely container planting for a season or two.

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Also in today’s vase is the first of the Columbine to break bud,  Columbine leaves, apple mint, late Narcissus, and a piece of our Akebia vine.

Rain has hovered nearby all day, with periods of bright sunshine poking through only occasionally.

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Akebia quinata growing up into the trees

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The garden is wet, and more storms are forecast for this evening.  I brought the flowers in for photos, and the cloudy day made it feel a bit dimmer than usual as I photographed this springtime vase.

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You may notice a beautiful little fairy sitting with the vase today, an original creation by Creekrose, given to me earlier this week.  This exquisite little handmade doll feels full of the happiness of springtime, and was dressed to match today’s vase.  Such a loving gift from, and so much enjoyed already.

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We can feel the transition in the garden now to late spring.  The Daffodils have nearly finished, buds cover the roses, more perennials have announced their survival, and our trees are all leafing out.  The shade will arrive just as we need it, now that temperatures continue to climb towards summer.

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Please remember to visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, who generously sponsors A Vase on Monday each week.  You’ll find links to many wonderful arrangements of spring flowers in her comments.   I’m always delighted with the beauty picked from others’ gardens.  It makes the world feel a bit smaller to see the same flowers blooming many thousands of miles away.

May you find joy in the beauty of your own garden this week, and perhaps clip a few stems to enjoy inside.  If you’re like me, you may be so busy preparing the garden for spring that you aren’t taking much time to cut and arrange.  There wasn’t much time today to fuss over arranging these, and they could have been shifted around to better advantage, perhaps…

But once a flower is cut and brought inside, it seems to subtly change somehow.  I appreciate them more, and take time to really see the unique beauty of each once they are placed in a vase.

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If you do cut a few stems from your garden, please share them in a post, and link back to the comments in Cathy’s post this week, and mine, so we can all enjoy them with you.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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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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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

WPC: Afloat

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Always intrigued by water, we lingered beside the waterfall, stream, and pools of the rock garden in Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens yesterday.

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Koi darted and gathered in the depths of the pools, floating among the rocks.

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Shadows cast by surrounding plants floated on the surface of the water.

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We were nearly afloat ourselves, buoyed along by the beauty of these golden spring time gardens. 

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Water remains essential to all life on Earth.

It courses through our veins, just as it gives form and substance to every leaf and stem in our gardens.

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Our gardens grow lush and bright because we are blessed with abundant rain and are surrounded by vibrant rivers here in coastal Virginia.  We still have pure groundwater to drink and to irrigate our gardens.

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Water is a gift to be treasured and protected; a resource which fills our lives, and our gardens, with beauty.

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Afloat

All photos were taken at Brent and Becky Heath’s dsplay gardens at their farm in Gloucester County, Virginia on April 9, 2015.  If you are in driving distance, please come and enjoy the Gloucester Daffodil Festival on April 11 and 12.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Daffodil Paradise 

Daffodil Paradise

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We’ve just spent the day in daffodil paradise… or the nearest to it in Virginia.

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We drove north across the York River to Gloucester County to visit Brent and Beck Heath’s gardens and garden shop at their daffodil farm.

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Penny, in the shop, invited us to come back regularly as the gardens continue to transform every few weeks through the season.

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These gardens demonstrate the many shrubs, trees, perennials, and of course, bulbs, which grow well here in coastal Virginia.

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Meticulously planted and groomed, we were astounded at the wealth of beautiful growth already visible in the gardens this early in the season.

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We visited only the first few areas of the gardens today.  The many acres are divided by theme, as you might expect.  I was particularly interested in the bird and butterfly garden and the native plant gardens.

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Walking through these gardens has my head spinning with new ideas of how plants may be used and grown together to create beautiful spaces.

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And it is only April….

The Gloucester Daffodil Festival begins this coming Saturday, April 11 and continues on Sunday, April 12.

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The village is in full preparation mode, with daffodils blooming literally everywhere.  Daffodil themed wreathes and ornaments grace most doors.  Trees in front yards are decorated with round kissing balls covered in flowers.  If you are within driving distance, and love flowers, this is a festival which shouldn’t be missed.

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We just wanted to see the flowers, and so popped in for a quiet visit today ahead of the crowds.  Even on a cool and rainy spring day, we were dazzled.

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I’ll show you more of the photos we took over the next few days.    And honestly, I have a few things waiting to be planted up…

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When you’re planning to make your next purchase of bulbs, please keep Brent and Becky in mind.  They have a beautiful nursery right here in Virginia.

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Everyone we met there today was absolutely kind, helpful, and delighted to be a part of their operation.  The prices are fair and the stock healthy and robust.  There are hundreds of pots filled with flowering spring bulbs just waiting to go home with you to your garden, and bags of summer bulbs waiting for you in the shop.

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And by the way, if you do make the trip to Gloucester this spring, please remember to stop at Short Lane for home made ice cream on your way home.  It is absolutely the best of the best.

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Woodland Gnome  2015

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Remembering Summer

Purple sage with onion.  This experiment in repelling deer from this bed was a total success.

Purple sage with geranium and  onion. This experiment in repelling deer from this bed was a total success.

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The last day of January came clear, bright, windy and cold in our garden today.  The sun rose earlier than it has in months, heralded by birds calling to each other before its first rays poured in through the windows.

Today was the sort of day when I found myself standing near the sunniest of the windows looking out into the garden with longing, and pondering the tiniest bits of vibrant new growth on our many potted plants indoors.

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Rose of SHaron in its first blush of blooms last summer.

Rose of Sharon in its first blush of blooms last summer.

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Spring is definitely on its way.  I found two sprouted flower bulbs in a small sack on the kitchen counter.  They’ve been there for at least two months, waiting for action to break through procrastination to get them into a bit of soil.  Today was the day as I tucked them both into a 6″ pot and left it nestled among the hanging baskets growing through this very cold winter in the garage.

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Canna

Canna

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The stack of gardening catalogs grows on the living room table.  Our first order of seeds arrived in yesterday’s mail; a dozen packets of promise and hope.

I ventured out into the garden today, for the first time since gathering flowers on Monday, to walk the site where I’m dreaming of building a new raised bed.  This has been a bizarre cough syrup fueled week of recovery from a nasty bug picked up in early January.  Our efforts to stay warm, hydrated and medicated may or may not be paying off.

So I distract myself in those rare bursts of energy with reading gardening books and catalogs.  Today I sketched a first draft of a raised bed featuring herbs, flowers and a few perennial vegetables for our table.

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June 30, 2014 butterfly 009

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I was a little put-off by Amazon’s only listing for Egyptian Walking Onions.  Their one offering was listed at over $3000.00.  A misprint, I hope?  Let’s Not find out…. I found another site offering about eight varieties of Alium X Proliferum, the formal name for these self-replicating beauties, and a much better price.  Too bad all but one variety have already sold out for the season.  To order, or not?  That is tonight’s question.

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Calla

Calla

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And that is all given as a weak excuse for tonight’s post.  The best I’ve been able to muster today is a retrospective of photos taken in the garden at the end of last June, six months ago, today.  I hope you take as much pleasure in this brief remembrance of early summer as I have.

It reminds me that January is always balanced by June, and that our garden is already bursting with beauty whether that new dreamed of bed finds its way into back garden reality this spring, or not.

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Hibiscus

Hibiscus

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And the intense sunshine bathing our home in light today made us both a bit more energetic and optimistic.  It reminds us that although we still have a few months of winter ahead, we have definitely turned the corner towards spring and the promise of renewal and growth.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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