Wild Life Wednesday: Evening Pollinators

A moth drinks deeply from Comphrey flowers.

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Long past dinner time, as dusk settles over the garden, tiny flickering moths and fat bumblebees are still foraging for nectar.

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Two moths share these sweet Physostegia virginiana.

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We were just coming home, and camera in hand, I went to have a last look at the garden.  These little moths were fluttering so fast they weren’t much more than a blur to my eye.

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I was amazed to find them everywhere this evening, on so many different plants.  Their wings blurred like the fast beating wings of a hummingbird, or a hummingbird moth, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing in motion.  One might imagine them to be tiny fairies, playing from plant to plant.

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The garden still whirred and chirped with life this evening as darkness gathered.  Most of the paths are still closed off with tumbled perennials after our days of wind and rain.  I had to lift and push past and step carefully over to find my way around.  It needs a bit of tidying again, but the creatures don’t mind.  They probably prefer this wildness.

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But the sun shone brightly today.  The air, not quite crisp, was cooler and no longer oppressive with humidity.  With Florence well past, we are feeling lighter, brighter, and a bit more optimistic.  We left home by mid-morning, heading north to see what we could see.

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Cane Begonias have covered themselves with bright flowers, finally, now that the season draws to its close.  These flowers offer sweet nectar, too.

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I forget sometimes, how much wildlife calls our garden home.  This afternoon we found a golden turtle waiting for us by the garage door.  I wonder if he’d ventured out of his usual hiding places to sample some fallen grapes while we were away.

But there he was, waiting, as we got our of the car.  His neck was fully extended as he watched us approach, trusting that he was welcome there and safe.  We were glad to see him, and a bit surprised as well.  He usually stays well-hidden in the undergrowth lower in the garden.

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Bumblebees share the Rudbeckia, even into the night.

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From the tiniest skinks waiting on the windowsill, to the hummingbirds resting on a branch beside the kitchen window, we are surrounded by beautiful creatures here.

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This dragonfly stopped to watch me photographing flowers yesterday, and waited patiently as I captured his image, too.

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They are already up and foraging when the sun rises, and others still busily flying about into the night  Their comings and goings remain cloaked in mystery to us.  We see only tiny slices of their lives.

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We’ve seen hummingbirds still feeding on the ginger lilies late into the evening.

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And  we hear their music deep into the night.  Owls call, geese sing to us as they fly low over the ravine and over the roof.  There is a low melody of insects playing lullabies after sunset.  Then songbirds begin greeting the morning well before dawn.

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Hardy Begonia naturalizes in shady spots in the garden.

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These are the familiar sounds of summer drawing to a close, a celebration of life, even as the seasons change again.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“There’s an exact moment for leaping into the lives of wild animals.
You have to feel their lives first, how they fit the world around them.
It’s like the beat of music.
Their eyes, the sounds they make, their head,
movements, their feet and their whole body,
the closeness of things around them –
all this and more make up
the way they perceive and adjust to their world.”
.
Richard O’Barry

 

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Moss: Let It Grow

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I love plush, moist green moss.  And I am always interested in reading about how other gardeners grow their moss.  Imagine my delight to come across a beautifully photographed feature on Dale Sievert’s gorgeous Wisconsin moss garden in the Fall 2018 Country Gardens magazine.  If you love moss, please treat yourself to this issue.

“The color green engenders a great sense of tranquility,

peace and serenity.” 

Dale Sievert

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I am always looking for simple and effective ways to get moss to grow both in shady spots in the garden and also in pots.  The keys to good moss growth remain steady moisture and reliable shade.   Wonderfully, moss spores are often carried on the wind, ready to grow when they land in a place that offers the moisture and shade that allow them to grow.

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A moss garden I constructed in February of 2012 using stones picked up on the beach in Oregon.

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The first stage of moss growth looks more like algae than like typical moss.  It is low, smooth and moist looking.  From this, the buds and rhizoids will form, soon growing into recognizable moss plants.

If you live in a wet area, you likely see this early growth of moss on brick and stone and clay pots quite often.  If you love mosses as I do, you might also be looking for ways to assist this process to get moss established exactly where you want it to grow.

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And I think I just discovered a new way to encourage moss growth that doesn’t involve organic milkshakes made with beer, buttermilk or yogurt.  Some writers swear by the efficacy of whirring up moss with one of these in a blender and painting it onto stones and walls.  Others say they’ve only ended up with a smelly mess.  I’ve put that experiment off to another day!

But I noticed recently, that the perlite topping off the soil mix of some newly potted up little trees, has turned green.

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I potted up these rooted Acer cuttings within the last month, and moved them out to a shady spot on the deck to grow on.  You can imagine my delight at seeing a fresh green sheen on the perlite!  Is this an early growth of moss from airborne spores?

Think of perlite as ‘popcorn rock.’  It is volcanic rock that has been super heated to more than 1500F, where it puffs up and expands, now riddled with airways.   Perlite is light, soft and fine grained, making a valuable addition to improve texture and drainage in potting soil.

It is also very good for rooting cuttings because it holds moisture so well, while also allowing air to permeate the soil.  This helps to prevent rot in the stem and new roots of the cutting.

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So it makes sense that moist perlite is a great medium for growing moss.  It isn’t a smooth base, like so many gardeners recommend for getting transplanted mosses established.  But it is a wonderful material for the moss rhizoids (not roots) to anchor onto as the plant develops.

Remember that mosses don’t have any roots.  They absorb moisture directly through their cell walls into the structure of the plant.

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That is why rain, fog and mist encourage moss to grow.  If you are trying to encourage moss to grow, remember to keep the plants and their growing medium misted and moist.

I’ve been wanting to grow a sheet of moss for a while now, and picked up a terra cotta tray recently for that purpose.  Once I saw Dale’s gorgeous moss covered stones in the CG article, I’ve been thinking about how I can replicate the effect for my own pots.  Once I saw the moss growing on perlite last week, an idea began to form to make it happen.

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A layer of perlite covers a thin layer of peat based potting soil in this terracotta tray. Terracotta also helps to hold moisture.

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I’ve poured a thin layer of regular potting soil into the terra cotta tray, and topped off the soil with a layer of perlite.  I moistened the medium well, and then went out into the garden hunting for a few clumps of moss.  Some moss gardeners recommend breaking found moss up into tiny bits to sow into a new medium.

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You don’t have to worry about having roots as you would with a vascular perennial.  Moss just wants to grow!  So I broke my hunks up into very small bits, and pushed them firmly down into the perlite before watering it all in.  I’ve set some stones among the bits of moss, hoping that by keeping it all damp I can encourage moss to grow on these small rocks.  I’d count that as a major victory in my moss growing efforts!

It is still damp and rainy today as the remnants of Hurricane Florence bring us a bit more rain even as they blow northwards and out to sea.  It is a good day for moss, and our garden is still very damp from days and days of rain.

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I have this terra cotta tray set in the shade on the deck this afternoon.  When the weather turns dry again, I may tuck it into a plastic bag or cover it with a clear plastic box while the moss establishes.  But the moss in the Acer pots didn’t get any special treatment; this may not need covering, either, as our weather cools.

I want moss to grow on these stones so I can use them as decorative accents in our winter pots.  I haven’t decided whether to simply keep the tray of moss growing for its own sake, or whether to use sheets of the moss in pots.  Either way, I’ll show you what this experiment does in the weeks ahead.

If you love moss as I do, then you may want to try this simple method for growing it, too.

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Woodland Gnome

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The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden, Lincoln City, Oregon

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“There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks
poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.
This is what has been called the “dialect of moss on stone –
an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present,
softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.”
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Robin Wall Kimmerer

Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

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Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

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The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

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Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

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Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

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Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
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Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
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Isaac Asimov
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Autumn’s Textures and Layers

Our Forest Garden is filled with growth this first week of September.

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Last Friday, I had the rare privilege of tagging along on a garden tour led by one of our region’s most beloved and respected horticulturalists, Brent Heath.  And he began the tour by reminding us that color in the garden is secondary to texture and form.  He reminded us that only about 10% of the vegetation in a good garden design should be flowers.  Considering that his business sells a rainbow of geophytes that bloom in every season of the year, this bit of advice seemed important to note.

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Late August at the Heath’s display gardens

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Although Brent and Becky’s catalogs may be filled with seas of golden daffodils and page after page of bright lilies, tulips, Iris, hyacinths and other garden delicacies; their display gardens around the bulb shop are more of an arboretum, filled with interesting woodies set in beautiful lawns.  And yes, within the vast green spaces grow beautiful beds of perennials.

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Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

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In the spring we crave those crazy bright yellow daffodils and clear bright tulips, crocus, and hyacinths.  We revel in fluffy pink clouds of blooming fruit trees and early Magnolias.  But by late summer, I am cooled and soothed by layer upon layer of green.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Edgeworthia, Camellia, Rudbeckia, Solidago and the surrounding trees create many layers of texture in our garden this week.  How many different shades of green can you see?

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By early September, our garden approaches its maximum growth for the season.  It is filled with leaves of many shapes, sizes, and shades of green.  Tall stands of Solidago reach up for their bit of sunlight, their tops feathery and alive, shifting and shimmying in every breath of a breeze.  Likewise Cannas, Hibiscus and ginger lilies have grown taller than me, and moving through the garden feels like winding through a living, breathing maze.

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I feel sheltered and cocooned standing in the midst of it, marveling at how much has grown over the past few months.  The secret to this garden magic comes from planting in layers.  Literally, one might have several plants sharing the same square foot of real estate, that grow to different heights and that take center stage at different times of the year.  Herbaceous plants come and go with the seasons, while the woodies and evergreen ground covers remain.

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Obedient plant, Black-eyed Susans, goldenrod and other natives grow against shrubs in our front garden. This area is underplanted with spring bulbs and perennial ground covers like Vinca and Ajuga.

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But even beyond seasonal layering, we build more permanent layers with trees and shrubs of various statures, ground cover vines, evergreen ferns and perennials such as bearded Iris, and the architecture of pergolas and pots, walls, gates, paths and raised beds.  Everywhere the eye can rest offers a layer of structure.  Much of the structure is green, and every layer offers its own special texture to the mix.

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Perennial native mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows at the base of Canna and Colocasia in this sunny spot.

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“Green’ describes a multitude of shades, multiplied further by the ever changing light and shadows.  This is, perhaps, a reason to favor perennials over annuals.  Perennials fill the garden with interesting texture and color, both before and after their much shorter season of bloom.

The annuals certainly charm us in March in April when we crave color.  But by late August and September, most have begun to wane.  They show the ravages of drought and time.  If we’ve not cut them back hard, the growth may be a bit old and rangy, perhaps dying off in spots.

 

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Annual Zinnias fill beds at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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But worse, annuals may not improve that much over the long coastal Virginia summer.  You lose the subtleties of change enjoyed as perennials grow, bud, bloom and fade.  I look at so many pots of summer annuals now and think, ‘Ick.’  Many looked tired out and nearly ready for the compost pile.

And good riddance, as we approach another ‘golden season’ of Rudbeckias, goldenrods, Chrysanthemums, Lycoris, ginger lilies and soon autumn’s golden leaves.

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The garden will revel in a final burst of gold and scarlet and orange before it finally settles and fades again to browns and grey; and before the first frosts of winter transform it, yet again.

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Scarlet Pineapple Sage has just begun to bloom in our garden this week, to the delight of hummingbirds and butterflies.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Sunday Dinner:… at Relative Rest…

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“Stone and sea are deep in life
Two unalterable symbols of the world
Permanence at rest
And permanence in motion
Participants in the power that remains”
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Stephen R. Donaldson
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“Newton’s work on gravity
led to the discovery of the Lagrange point,
a place where opposing forces
cancel one another out,
and a body may remain at relative rest.
This is where I am right now;
the forces in my life confound one another.
Better, for the moment, to be here and now,
without history or future.”
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Nick Harkaway
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“You rest now.
Rest for longer than you are used to resting.
Make a stillness around you, a field of peace.
Your best work, the best time of your life
will grow out of this peace.”
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Peter Heller
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“Each wave that rolls onto the shore
must release back to the ocean.
You are the same.
Each wave of action you take
must release back to the peace within you.
Stress is what happens
when you resist this natural process.
Everyone needs breaks.
Denying this necessity does not remove it.
Let yourself go. Realize that, sometimes,
the best thing to do is absolutely nothing.”
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Vironika Tugaleva
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Photos by Woodland Gnome
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“True restfulness, though, is a form of awareness,
a way of being in life.
It is living ordinary life with a sense of ease, gratitude,
appreciation, peace and prayer.
We are restful when ordinary life is enough.”
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Ronald Rolheiser
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Butterfly’s Choice: Aralia spinosa

Aralia blooms mingle with wild Clematis along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

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We stopped to admire the Clematis.  It was only once we pulled in to the parking area that we noticed the butterfly.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Aralia spinosa.

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And what a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail he was, contentedly feeding on the Aralia flowers.

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Aralia spinosa is one of those wild trees we notice growing along the roadsides that appear, to our eye, rather weedy.  They grow tall and thin, eventually forming dense thickets, and sport wicked sharp thorns along their trunks and branches.  A native in our area, most sane folk would never allow them to take root in their garden.

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But their thorns can be overlooked in late summer, when the Aralia produce huge, thick clusters of tiny flowers.  The flowers bloom, and after the blossoms drop dense purple berries take their place.  Butterflies love their flowers and all sorts of song birds love the berries.  These small trees produce abundant food for wild life each summer, before their leaves drop in late autumn.

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“The Devil’s Walking Stick”, Aralia spinosa, with berries forming.  This stand grows along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

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We got to know Aralia when our neighbor’s fell over under its own weight one year, and leaned its huge flowery head into our back garden.  Perhaps it was merely reaching for the sun; I was intrigued.  Within another few years, we had one sprouting in the upper garden.  I decided to give it a chance and let it grow.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge each spring.

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It lost its top in a storm in early spring this year, and just as I hoped, more branches and flower heads sprouted lower along its trunk.  Where last year we had one large flower cluster at the very top, this year we have several.  We often find our Tiger Swallowtails winging their way up to enjoy its nectar.

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But here along the Colonial Parkway on Sunday afternoon, I was still surprised to see the swallowtail feasting only on the Aralia, and completely ignoring the Clematis.  To my eye, the Clematis flowers are far more appealing.  They fairly shimmer in the sunlight, and they are a bit larger and perhaps easier to access.

But butterflies perceive the garden differently than do we.  Something about the Aralia intrigued this butterfly and kept it satisfied.  The Aralia is a Virginia native, and this particular Clematis is a naturalized variety from Asia.

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Clematis terniflora was introduced from Asia, and has naturalized in many parts of the country, including here along the Colonial Parkway.  Its fragrance is strong and sweet.  This variety is on the invasive list in several states.

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As we garden, we have to come to terms with our purposes.   What do we intend to accomplish by planting and tending our garden?  Who is the consumer?  Who is to be pleased by it?  Are we growing food for ourselves, enjoying the latest brightest flowers, creating a peaceful green sanctuary of shrubs and trees, or are we gardening to nurture wildlife?

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We can find compromises, but we can’t do it all.

What appeals to wildlife may not be our idea of horticultural beauty.  Maintaining a garden that is immaculately beautiful won’t serve the needs of the butterflies, birds, toads and other creatures we may hope to attract.

Wildlife will impact any food crop we cultivate, for good or ill, and we need to come to terms early on with whether we will use the many chemicals that promise garden perfection.

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Native Asclepias incarnata grows wild in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

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It helps to know what wildlife need and prefer if we want to contribute to conservation efforts to protect them.  But that doesn’t mean we want all of those plants surrounding our home.  Many have a short season of beauty, or are rampant, or simply prefer to grow in wide open spaces.

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Native Pickerel weed, Pontederia cordata, may be used in water features in our garden.  Here is grows in one of the marshes on Jamestown Island, along with Phragmites.

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Maybe our homeowners association has strict standards for how our yards must be maintained.  Growing vigorous native plants may be discouraged, in favor of more traditional landscaping.

There is a tension, sometimes, in how we resolve these apparent conflicts of purpose, intent and personal needs.  But there can be creative, and beautiful compromises possible, when we stop and observe closely enough, and plan with clarity and wisdom.

Our love of the wild and beautiful world around us helps us discover those compromises, and find joy in the result.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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A wildlife friendly border, with mixed natives and exotics, in our upper garden.

Fabulous Friday: Gifts from Friends

Obedient Plant, Physotegia virginiana

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In our neighborhood, we celebrate the plants the deer leave alone.  And many of us share with our neighborhood friends when we have the opportunity to dig and divide.  We are so happy to have found something beautiful that will grow un-grazed and un-molested, that we just naturally want to ‘spread the joy.’

I am very fortunate to have a Master Gardener friend who has been tending her acre for many years and has developed many garden rooms of trees, ferns, and perennials.  She gave me a tour of her beautiful garden a few years back, and will share a perennial with me from time to time.  Last spring, 2017, she offered me some divisions of a native commonly called ‘obedient plant.’

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You may know this beautiful perennial as Physotegia virginiana, or false dragonhead.  I think it looks a little like a summer foxglove or snapdragon, don’t you?  It comes in shades of pink, lavendar and white.  I was very happy to receive this special gift, and she brought enough that I could plant quite a few divisions and still share some further with friends.

I was determined to take care of these so they would survive last summer.  And even through the excessive heat and my extended absences from the garden, somehow they pulled through and even gave a few late summer blooms.  And when they reappeared this spring, and I recognized that my few plants had not only taken hold but spread, there was real cause to celebrate.

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Now, what you need to know, if you think you might want a little P. virginiana in your own garden, is that this perennial belongs to the mint family.  That’s a good thing if you want a plant that will quickly grow and fill in a large space.  That maybe isn’t such a good thing if your garden is already pretty full, and you don’t want your precious perennials crowded out by a newcomer.  In its first spring,  my new stand of obedient plant immediately required ‘the discipline of the spade.’  But no worries, that just gave me a few more clumps to share, right?

This plant quickly forms clumps as its rhizomes spread around.  The plants grow fairly tall, in sun or part sun, and can manage with average soil.  They are considered drought tolerant and are much loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators.  They make lovely cut flowers, and help the garden gracefully bridge the transition to fall.

I planted them in several spots to see what they would prefer, and most of those initial clumps are either in bud or bloom.  I am enjoying these elegant flowers as they bloom this year.  They continually remind me how the kindness of others enriches our lives so much.

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Some gardeners recommend planting obedient plant in a large, bottomless pot sunk into the garden to contain the rhizomes.  This advice is often given for members of the mint family, and it may work for you.

I’m a bit more laissez-faire with our Forest Garden, and still feel very grateful to those plants who can make it through the season with their leaves, stems, and roots still intact.  What the deer don’t get around here, the voles often claim.  Please just keep in mind that the moniker ‘obedient’ refers to the flowers, who will hold a curve if you try to shape their stem, but not the roots and rhizomes of this vigorous plant.

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We have enjoyed abundant rain and a short spell of cooler weather this week.  We’ve had some cool, crisp mornings to remind us that September is a breath away.  I’m always a little surprised to feel how much energy we have when the humidity and temps drop towards the end of summer!

We have used these cool mornings in the garden, and have actually done some productive tasks when not chasing butterflies!

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The change of seasons always brings a bit of excitement and fresh energy.  The colors in the garden shift as new perennials come into bloom and some of the trees are beginning to blush with the first hints of fall color.

Our garden turns purple and gold as autumn approaches, and white with clumps of chives popping up in unexpected places.  Even as we prepare to welcome our long Virginia autumn, I’m already ordering bulbs to plant this fall and thinking ahead to spring.  And yes, finding spare clumps of perennials to share with our neighbors and friends.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious;
Let’s infect one another!

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Monarch on Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge

to test our courage and willingness to change;

at such a moment, there is no point in pretending

that nothing has happened

or in saying that we are not yet ready.

The challenge will not wait.

Life does not look back.

A week is more than enough time

for us to decide whether or not

to accept our destiny.”
.

Paulo Coelho

 

Blossom XLIV: Brilliant Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus

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Brilliant Hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus, blooms in our August garden.  Its first blossoms unfold weeks after the Hibsicus moscheutos and Hibiscus syriacus begin their annual display. 

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Last evening’s bud opened early this morning.

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Also known as scarlet rosemallow, this beautiful Hibiscus is native to our coastal plain, here in the Southeast.  We live along its northern most range, and it is found more commonly south to Florida, and west across the Gulf Coast to Louisiana.

Hardy to Zone 6, brilliant Hibiscus grows in full to partial sun in moist soils.  This is a great choice for rain gardens, along streams or ponds, and places where the soil takes a while to drain.

Though a white flowered form is available, we have only the scarlet in our garden.

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This beautiful native welcomes hummingbirds, butterflies, moths and bees.  As you can see from its outrageous anatomy, it offers hospitality like few other summer flowers.

It’s a large plant, growing to 6′ or more tall where its needs are met.  The flowers are large and are carried near the top of the plant.  It eventually forms a small clump, and like other Hibiscus, will spread its own seeds around in late summer.

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Unlike our Rose of Sharon tree Hibiscus plants, these woody Hibiscus will die back to the ground each fall, and should be cut back before spring.  New stems emerge from the ground in mid to late spring each year and quickly grow, eventually forming buds by early August.

The buds will open, one or two at a time, and then brown as their seeds ripen.  Seeds are a favorite autumn treat for many birds.  The stems may be left in place through winter, or cut and used to construct shelters for many bees, small wasps and other insects through the winter months.

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Hibiscus coccineus is a dramatic and beautiful plant through all of its stages of annual growth.  I’ve never found it grazed by deer or rabbits.  It takes little care from the gardener, aside from keeping it watered in dry spells.

You’ll find many hybrid Hibiscus bred with this native as one of the parents.  It is prized for its unusual leaves as well as for its flowers.  Look for hybrid cultivars with burgundy or purple leaves and plants that remain a bit shorter over the season.

Untroubled by heat, humidity, intense sun or torrential rains, this is a stalwart and dependable native for gardeners in the Southeastern United States.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Blossom XLIII: Verbena
Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom

Wildlife Wednesday: Eastern Black Swallowtail Cats

Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae feast on our bronze fennel.

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Hummingbirds are much smarter than we want to consider.  They would have to be.  How else would they know to buzz in for a sip of nectar when my camera is out of reach?

The first of the morning zoomed by to visit a basket Verbena and Lantana flowers warmed by early morning sunshine on our deck.  I’d gone out with the cat to water first thing, before the day’s heat had a chance to build.

Even had I brought the camera out with me, the little guys would have likely buzzed away again before I could even turn it on.  They are independent minded like that!

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I heard their comings and goings a bit later in the garden.  My attention was focused on some late season planting and mixing up snacks of fish emulsion for the pots, and I was too busy to fumble off my gloves and pull the camera from my pocket.

The hummers could care less; they were systematically sampling the morning’s offerings of nectar.

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It was early afternoon when I realized they weren’t as innocent as I’d assumed.  My partner and I were headed out on errands.  Two hummers lingered at the top of the drive, as though to wave us ‘Good-bye.’

One lit on a branch to watch the car pull away while the other made a dash for the Lantana patch that grows by the street.  Their message was clear: they would watch over the place while we were away.

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A female Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly enjoyed nectar from Lantana last Sunday afternoon.

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A new friend asked me over the weekend whether I photograph many birds.  Questions like this leave me a bit on the defensive.  I’m not much good with birds, especially with hummingbirds.

I’ve taken maybe five good photos of hummingbirds over the past several years.  They always seem to take off before I can get my camera out and on and focused on them.  They seem to have a sixth sense about when I’m paying attention to them, and quickly lift up and away.

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A tiny blue dragonfly paused long enough for a capture

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Maybe I should set an intention to capture more bird photos in the weeks ahead.  The big ones, like eagles and herons are slow and patient enough for me.  I’m always happy to snap their portraits.  It’s the fast little ones that I’ve not yet learned to charm into posing.

So now you know the real reason why I’m thinking and writing about hummingbirds, while sharing photographs today of caterpillars.

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Caterpillars make easy targets for a novice wildlife photographer.  They are so entirely focused on stripping the vegetation from the fennel that they pay me and my curious camera no mind.

These beauties are Eastern Black Swallowtail larvae, and they enjoy a variety of host plants related to herbs in the carrot family.  They love parsley and dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and wild parsnip.  I counted four individuals on a single fennel plant this afternoon, after finding only a single cat munching away yesterday.

Eastern Black Swallowtails may produce three generations over our long summer.  Depending on the weather and the host plants, an individual may develop from egg to adult in 40-60 days.  The final generation of the summer may overwinter here as a pupae.  This beautiful butterfly may be found in Eastern and Central North America from Southern Canada south to Northern Mexico.

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We don’t mind them munching the herbs.  We plant the herbs in hopes of attracting them and keeping them returning to our garden.  Besides, the herbs are tough, and will send out new growth so long as we keep them hydrated.

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How many cats can you spot on the fennel?  They blend in very well.

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That may sound like a strange thing for a gardener to say.  But as much as I admire the beautiful plants in our garden, it feels very lonely and empty without the hum and buzz and movement of the many animals who share it with us.   The garden is like a living stage; and it’s the animals, even the insects, who bring the drama to life.

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“The future of wildlife and the habitat
that they depend on is being destroyed.
It is time to make nature and all the beauty living within it
our priority
.
Paul Oxton

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Our hummers love this Salvia ‘Black and Blue.’  Goldfinches love the black eyed Susans.

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We’re willing to sacrifice the herbs in hopes of enjoying the butterfly adults!  We plant lots of nectar plants to occupy the butterflies (and hummingbirds) while we enjoy them.

That said, I couldn’t find a single butterfly when I was out with the camera in late afternoon.  My partner said he saw a big yellow Tiger Swallowtail, that I missed.

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed last week.

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The best I could capture on this Wild Life Wednesday was a tiny dragonfly, a large bumblebee, some unknown bugs on an Iris seedpod, and this family of swallowtail cats.

That’s OK.  I know they’re out there, and that means the garden is a refuge and delight for many amazing species.

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Native Hibiscus will open to welcome all hungry pollinators tomorrow morning!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“If you are not filled with overflowing love,
compassion and goodwill for all creatures living wild in nature,
You will never know true happiness.”
 .
Paul Oxton

Sunday Dinner: Accomplishments

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The resolve to accomplish your goals is what counts.

If you earnestly put your mind to something,

your brain, your body, your environment-

-everything-

-will start working toward achieving that end. 

Daisaku Ikeda

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“I am only one, but I am one.

I cannot do everything, but I can do something.

And because I cannot do everything,

I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

.

Edward Everett Hale

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“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do

if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

.

Ronald Reagan

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“Do the best you can in every task,

no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time.

No one learns more about a problem

than the person at the bottom.”

.

Sandra Day O’Connor

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“It’s no use saying, “We are doing our best.”

You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

.

Winston S. Churchill

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“To accomplish great things,

we must dream as well as act.”

.

Anatole France

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“If you can’t do great things, Mother Teresa used to say,

do little things with great love.

If you can’t do them with great love,

do them with a little love.

If you can’t do them with a little love,

do them anyway.

Love grows when people serve.”

.

John Ortberg

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