Fabulous Friday: Floods of Rain

Native sweetbay Magnolia virginiana, in bloom this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, fills the garden entrance with its musky perfume.

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This Friday dawned humid and grey, and I set out as soon as we finished a quick breakfast to meet a friend at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  While I am all about the plants, she is all about the cats and butterflies.  Today, she was hunting for a few special cats to use in her upcoming program  at our local library  about protecting butterflies and providing habitat for their next generations.

We checked all of the usual host plants: Asclepias,, spicebush, Wisteria, fennel, Passiflora vines, and parsley.  We weren’t equipped to check out the canopies of the garden’s host trees, like the paw paw or the oaks, but we were left empty-handed. There were no caterpillars that we could find today.

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A Zebra Swallowtail butterfly enjoys the Verbena bonariensis at the WBG last week.  Its host plant is the native paw paw tree.

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In this peaceful nectar and host plant rich environment, where are the butterflies and their young?  We both happily snapped photos of interesting views and blooms as we searched, took care of a few chores together, and then she was off.

By then the first Master Naturalist gardeners had arrived.  All of us had one eye to the sky and another on our ‘to-do’ lists.

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Native Asclepias tuberosa is one of the Asclepias varieties that Monarch butterflies seek out as a host plant to lay their eggs.

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I have great admiration and affection for the Master Naturalists who work at the WBG, and I appreciate the opportunity to ask questions when they are around.  I hope to join their ranks one year soon.  The course is rigorous and the standards high, and the volunteer work they do throughout our area is invaluable.

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This is our native Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia caroliniensis, that blooms near the gate at the WBG. 

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One of the Master Naturalists was also working on an inventory of butterflies in the garden today.   He checked out all of the tempting nectar plants from Verbena to Lantana, the Asclepias to his blooming herbs, the pollinator beds of native flowers, the various Salvias and Agastache.  Where were the butterflies today?

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Native spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, also grows near the garden’s gate.

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I had the constant company of bees buzzing around my knees and ankles as I climbed into a border to weed and deadhead.

But no Zebra Swallowtails danced among the Verbena.  Not a single butterfly fed on the Salvias where I was working.  A Monarch showed itself briefly and promptly disappeared.  We observed the heavy, humid air and decided they must be sheltering against the coming rain.

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Native Iris virginica blooming last week at the WBG.

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But as the storm grew closer, there wasn’t much time for sociability today.  We could hear the thunder rumbling off in the distance as we weeded, cut enthusiastic plants back, potted and chatted with garden visitors.

My partner kept an eye on the radar maps at home and phoned in updates.  When he gave the final ‘five minute warning!’ it was nearly noon, and the rain began as I headed back to my car.  It was a good morning’s work and I left with the ‘to do’ list completed.

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Seedpods ripen on the sweetbay Magnolia

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But the rain has been a constant presence this afternoon, falling loudly and insistently all around us.  There are flood warnings, the ground is saturated, and I am wondering how high the water might rise on local roads and along the banks of the James and its feeder creeks.  It has been a wet year for many.

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The James River last week, before this last heavy rain brought it even higher.

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There was a timely message from the James River Association in my inbox.  The river is brown with run-off, and has been for a while now.  They are encouraging folks to address run-off issues on their properties.  The best advice there is, “Plant more plants!”  But of course, the right plants in the right places!  Successful plants help manage stormwater; dying ones, not so much.

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I use both rock and hardwood mulch in our garden at home to help protect the soil during heavy rains. This is a native oakleaf Hydrangea in bloom.

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Rain gardens are encouraged to catch the run-off and allow it to slowly percolate into the earth instead of running off so quickly.  There are programs available that help plan and fund new rain gardens to protect local water  quality.

Where there is no good spot for a rain garden, then terraces help on slopes like ours, and solid plantings of shrubs and perennials help to slow the flow of water downhill towards the creeks.

Most anything that covers the bare soil helps with erosion.  But deeply rooted plants help hold the soil while also soaking up the water and allowing it to evaporate back into the atmosphere through their leaves.

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Groundcover plants, like this golden creeping Jenny, also hold and protect the soil.  Our Crinum lily is ready to bloom.  This hardy Amaryllis relative gets a bit larger each year as its already huge bulb calves off pups.

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We’ve been watching flooding news roll in from all over the region this afternoon.  Streets and sidewalks underwater, cars floating away, and families chased indoors by the weather.  It looks like a wet stretch coming, too.

I’m glad have a new garden book, The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom waiting for me; the prose is as inspiring as the photographs.  I love seeing how other gardeners plant and how they think about their planting.  There is always more to learn.

Once these flooding rains subside and the soil drains a bit, I expect to be back outside and “Planting more plants!”

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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Echinacea, purple coneflower, delights pollinators and goldfinches  in our forest garden.

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Six on Saturday: Elegance

Peruvian daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis

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A gift of bulbs this spring from a gardening friend finally unfolded yesterday into unexpected elegance.

A catalog photograph simply doesn’t convey the intricate beauty of these members of the Amaryllis family called ‘Peruvian daffodils.’  Native in South America and hardy only to Zone 8, their large bulbs quickly sent up Amaryllis style robust leaves and an Amaryllis style bloom stalk, topped with multiple tight buds.  I am enjoying the show as bud after bud unfolds to reveal its beauty.

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Dry summer heat has finally given way to cooling rains.  I watched newly planted starts wilting under the unrelenting sun earlier in the week, and I’m relieved to see them reinvigorated and growing again after a series of thunderstorms and a welcome cold front brought us relief from the heat.  We nearly broke the record set in 2018 for hottest May since weather data has been recorded.  We only missed it here by a hair.

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Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’ with buds of Daucus carota and Nepeta

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And so I wasn’t surprise to notice the first white buds opening on crape myrtle trees planted along the road yesterday morning.  I noted that this is the earliest I’ve seen crape myrtles bloom, as they normally wait until at least mid-June to appear.  And then I noticed one of our new hybrid crapes last evening, the first pink fluffy flowers open in its crown.

Crape myrtles are beautiful trees in our region, one of the pleasures of summer that blooms for a hundred days or more until early fall.  They love heat, tolerate drought once established, and grow into tidy, elegant trees with interesting bark and form.  I love our crapes as much in winter for their form as I do in summer for their flowers.

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Butterflies love crape myrtles for their nectar, but not as much as butterflies love Verbena.

We’ve had a strong population of Zebra Swallowtail butterflies this month and they are found most often sipping from the Verbena bonariensis, both in our own forest garden and at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I’ve photographed them sipping nectar in both gardens this week.

Yes, we’re also seeing Tiger Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails and Painted Ladies, along with other smaller butterflies.  We are delighted with how many individuals we are spotting around the area this year.  The efforts of so many area gardeners to provide host as well as nectar plants, and to create safe spaces for them to grow, is showing beautiful results.

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Our garden continues filling up with newly blooming flowers as summer’s heat builds and the days grow longer.  We are only a few weeks away from Summer Soltice now.

Each plant in the garden unfolds and grows with its own unique elegance, filling its niche; offering up its botanical gifts with nature’s boundless generosity.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

Six on Saturday: Wildlife Friendly Perennials

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, grows in full to partial sun.  It spreads a bit more each year.  There are other species of Rudbeckia equally attractive to pollinators that also produce tasty seeds for the songbirds.  Deer rarely touch a leaf, unless there is a severe drought and they need moisture.

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So many of us want to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators to our gardens.  We want beautiful flowers and glowing, healthy foliage; but we don’t want to attract deer to feast in our yards.

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Monarda fistulosa loves full sun and spreads on many types of soil. Flower color varies from lavender to white.  Any species of Monarda, which is a perennial herb, feeds pollinators and is distasteful to deer.  Purple coneflower, Echinacea, is another native plant that blooms for much of the summer to attract butterflies, and delights goldfinches once it sets seed.  Once established, both are very drought tolerant.

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As I chat with fellow gardeners, I hear the same concerns over and again.  We want to be good stewards and support wildlife.  But we want to plant things the deer will leave alone!  No one wants to use expensive sprays and granules to protect their plants, and neither do we want to come out to admire it all and find it munched!

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Hellebores keep right on blooming through winter storms and freezing nights from January until May.  Every part of the plant is poisonous and grazers never touch them.  Pollinators find much needed pollen and nectar when little else is in bloom.

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As undeveloped lands shrink, all of the animals that once lived there look for new places to live and raise their young.  And that means that they learn to live among us in our neighborhoods and in the few remaining ‘wild’ places behind and between the developed parcels.

We have the added challenge in our neighborhood of backing up against protected wetlands and a National Park.  The deer and other wild things move freely from park to neighborhood, looking for a safe place to live where their needs can be met.

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Yellow flag Iris spreads in full to partial sun in moist soil.  It produces a lot of nectar, though it blooms for only a few weeks each spring.  All Iris support pollinators and are distasteful to grazers.  Plant a variety of different types of Iris to support pollinators over a longer period of time.

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I sometimes feel conflicted planting to attract some wildlife, while trying to exclude other species.  But as we all eventually learn, deer don’t share; they consume.   Deer will eat a plant to the point of killing it, then go looking for more.

I’ve spent many years searching for those particular bird and pollinator friendly plants that deer and other grazers won’t eat.  These are some of my favorites in our Zone 7b garden.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a few good picks that come to mind.

In general,  deer avoid herbs because of their essential oils, and avoid plants with tough, leathery leaves that feel unpleasant in their mouths.  Plants with poisonous leaves are a sure bet; and there are plenty that may be poisonous to eat, but perfectly safe for us to handle.

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A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.  There are many species of  perennial Verbena, all of which attract pollinators and all of which are ignored by grazers. 

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These plants are easy to grow and easy to find, relatively inexpensive to buy, and forgiving of novice gardeners.  I hope they offer a bit of hope to those gardening, as we do, where the deer roam free and generations of rabbits raise their young in the side yard.

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Agastache, anise hyssop, is an herb related to mint.  Like other herbs, it has essential oils that make it distasteful to grazers.  Agastache often attracts even more pollinators than Lantana, which is saying a lot!  Its seeds feed birds once the flowers fade.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

Sunday Dinner: Flow

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Mist to mist, drops to drops.

For water thou art,

and unto water shalt thou return.”

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Kamand Kojouri

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They both listened silently to the water,

which to them was not just water,

but the voice of life,

the voice of Being,

the voice of perpetual Becoming.”

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Hermann Hesse

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“To them, as to Magnus,

time was like rain, glittering as it fell,

changing the world,

but something that could also

be taken for granted.”

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Cassandra Clare

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“…I keep looking for one more teacher,

only to find that fish learn from the water

and birds learn from the sky.”

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Mark Nepo

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“Water is the most perfect traveller

because when it travels

it becomes the path itself!”

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Mehmet Murat ildan

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“Water is the driving force in nature.”

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Leonardo da Vinci

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“Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape,

so in warfare

there are no constant conditions.”

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Sun Tzu

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“Empty your mind,

be formless, shapeless, like water.

Be water, my friend.”

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Bruce Lee

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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Wildlife Wednesday: Eastern Black Swallowtail

Novembr 27, 2018, I spotted two tough little Eastern Black Swallowtail cats munching on a lone fennel plant, left in a cleared out bed at the Williamsburg Botanical garden.

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Eastern Black swallowtails lay their eggs and their larvae feed on parsley and fennel. This bed was filled with Lantana, Salvia, and with fennel all summer, and hosted many butterflies from May until November.

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Butterflies covered this planting of Lantana at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in August.

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When I told my friend Judith about the caterpillars, she came and rescued them the afternoon before a hard freeze, at the very end of November.

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Judith cared for the caterpillars until each formed its chrysalis, feeding them organic parsley in little habitats indoors; then she added them to her collection of living chrysalides. She cared for the sleeping caterpillars all winter and brought them over to our garden yesterday morning,  just as they were ready to leave their chrysalides as butterflies.

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She named the two caterpillars rescued from the fennel at the botanical garden ‘Rough’ and ‘Tough’. They spent the winter pinned to this Styrofoam in her butterfly habitat.

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A total of three Black Swallowtail butterflies emerged during her visit yesterday morning. She generously set all three free in our garden. There were two males and a female. The amount of blue on the hindwings is the main way to distinguish gender in these swallowtail butterflies.

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Here Judith is releasing the first of the butterflies, a female. Then she invited us to help release the other two butterflies into the garden.

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The butterflies need some time for their wings to fully stretch, dry and toughen before they are ready to fly. We were able to hold and observe them as they prepared for their first flight.

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Would you like to attract butterflies to your garden?

The first step is to plant a variety of both nectar plants and host plants.  Nectar plants attract butterflies, and host plants allow them to lay their eggs and will feed the larvae as they grow.

If you attract butterflies and host their larvae, it is important to commit to not using insecticides in your garden.  Yes, the larvae will eat some leaves on their chosen host plant.  The plants will survive.

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Fennel and parsley host several types of swallowtail caterpillars.  Other easy to grow host plants include oak trees; spicebush, Lindera benzoin;  paw paw trees, Dutchman’s pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla; passionfruit vine, Passiflora lutea; and even common wood violets.

Most butterflies prefer very specific host plants and may only use one or two.  For example, Monarch butterflies want Asclepias, or milkweed.  There are several different species of Asclepias available, and most all of them will support Monarchs.

It is useful to do a little research on common butterflies that live in your own region, and then plant their host plants, if you don’t have them growing on your property already.

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This was the last of the three butterflies to emerge from chrysalis, and the last to be released. He wasn’t ready to fly, and so we gently placed him on this red bud tree, where he rested while his wings hardened. Finally, he also flew away into the garden.

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Butterflies need safe places to shelter out of the wind at night and during storms.  Trees and dense shrubs serve them well.  They also need places where they can ‘puddle,’ landing on the ground to drink water from mudpuddles, moist earth, or even shallow saucers filled with gravel and water.  Butterflies need the minerals they absorb this way.

Butterflies will feed from a variety of nectar plants, including trees, vines, and flowering plants you may plant in baskets, pots or beds.  Lantana is an absolute favorite source of nectar.  Agastache, anise hyssop, attracts even more butterflies than Lantana!  All Verbenas attract butterflies and are very easy to grow.  The more flowers your garden offers, at a variety of heights, the more butterflies will likely stop by to visit your garden.

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We have seen a variety of butterflies in our garden already this spring, including Black Swallowtails. In fact, an hour or so after the release, we saw another Black Swallowtail laying eggs on an emerging fennel plant in the upper garden. This is one of the butterflies we released, resting before its first flight,

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There are many butterflies and moths native in Virginia and all of them are currently in decline. We have a network of dedicated butterfly enthusiasts in our area who rescue and raise cats, releasing the butterflies into the wild as they emerge. By protecting the butterfly larvae, they help insure that more individuals make it to the adult butterfly stage, mate, and increase the population.

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One of the greatest problems faced by butterflies is loss of habitat.  The native plants they depend on to raise their next generation are often the ones removed for development, but not replanted by landscapers.

Gardeners can make a significant difference by providing a small bit of habitat in their own yard.  Like a patch in a quilt, our own bit of habitat may be small.  But, when many of us are all working together, we can provide safe places for butterflies to rest and refuel along their migration routes, and can provide safe and welcoming places for them to lay their eggs.

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Butterflies feed on Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

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By working together, each of us providing a bit of habitat and safety for butterflies, we can help support the next generations of butterflies; making sure that our own grandchildren can enjoy these beautiful insects and share their magic with their own children, far into the future.

Will you join us?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feeding on Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’.

Mindful of Seeds

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“Remember to be conscious of what seeds you plant,

as the garden of your mind is like the world.

The longer seeds grow,

the more likely they are to become trees.

Trees often block the sun’s rays

from reaching other seeds,

allowing only plants that are acclimated

to the shadow of the tree to grow—

keeping you stuck with that one reality.”

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Natasha Potter

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“The tree which moves some to tears of joy

is in the eyes of others only a green thing

that stands in the way.

Some see nature all ridicule and deformity…

and some scarce see nature at all.

But to the eyes of the man of imagination,

nature is imagination itself.”

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William Blake

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Sentinels of trees
breathe life into bodies of earthly flesh
As their mighty arms reach to the stars
we join in their quest for Helios’s mighty power
Like sentinels, we seek our place
in the forest of nature’s gentle breath”

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Ramon Ravenswood

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Sunday Dinner: Telling the Truth

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“A lie can travel half way around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
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Mark Twain
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“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing,
and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
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J.K. Rowling
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“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
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Oscar Wilde
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“Never be afraid to raise your voice
for honesty and truth and compassion
against injustice and lying and greed.
If people all over the world…would do this,
it would change the earth.”
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William Faulkner

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“Above all, don’t lie to yourself.
The man who lies to himself
and listens to his own lie
comes to a point that he cannot
distinguish the truth within him, or around him,
and so loses all respect for himself and for others.
And having no respect
he ceases to love.”
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Fyodor Dostoevsky
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“The truth does not change
according to our ability to stomach it.”

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Flannery O’Connor
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“When I despair, I remember
that all through history
the way of truth and love have always won.
There have been tyrants and murderers,
and for a time, they can seem invincible,
but in the end, they always fall.
Think of it–always.
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Mahatma Gandhi

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“In a time of deceit
telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
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George Orwell

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“Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.”
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Roy T. Bennett

Six On Saturday: Six Beautiful Things

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,

but on this beautiful path,

I walk in peace.

With each step, the wind blows.

With each step,

a flower blooms.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh

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“Strangeness

is a necessary ingredient

in beauty.”
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Charles Baudelaire

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“Beauty is no quality in things themselves:

It exists merely in the mind

which contemplates them;

and each mind perceives a different beauty.”
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David Hume

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“Live quietly in the moment

and see the beauty of all before you.

The future will take care of itself……”
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Yogananda

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“All the diversity, all the charm,

and all the beauty of life

are made up of light and shade.”
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Leo Tolstoy

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“Though we travel the world over

to find the beautiful,

we must carry it with us,

or we find it not.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

 

 

International Day of Forests and Trees

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March 21 marks the International Day of Forests and Trees.

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We celebrate trees every day of the year in our Forest Garden.  They shelter and shade us, filter the air, block out noise, feed the soil, produce flowers, fruits, nuts and harbor mistletoe!  Our trees attract and shelter songbirds and squirrels and fill the garden with beauty.  We love their unique forms and colors.

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We live in an area where there are many trees still standing along the roads and in neighborhoods.  Our climate allows us to grow many different species of trees and they form the ‘climax community’ in our ecosystem.  In other words, without intervention, every wild space would soon grow up in trees.

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Sadly, this isn’t true across much of the planet.  Trees are the lungs of our planet.  Even as they clean our air and produce oxygen, they also fix carbon, and other elements, in their wood and leaves.  Trees filtering carbon and other greenhouse gasses out of the air helps mitigate global warming.  More trees will help regulate our planet’s temperature.  Fewer trees allow the warming to accelerate.

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In one of the great insanities of bureaucracy,  our state’s transportation department is widening a long stretch of Interstate 64 that goes through our area, to allow ever more cars to use the highway.  In order to do this, they are cutting down, this week, thousands and thousands of mature trees that have stood in the median between the lanes for decades.

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Dogwood is our Virginia state tree, and many beautiful dogwoods grew in the areas recently clear cut between the lanes of I64 through Williamsburg.

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Fewer trees, more exhaust, more pavement, more cars, more noise,  poorer air quality, and more rapid warming of our climate will result.  It is hard to believe how governments can operate with such total disregard for the quality of life for the people they are supposed to serve, or the environmental impact of their actions.

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Bald Cypress trees grow along the Chickahominy River.

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We’ve been watching the destruction of this narrow, but important strip of forest.  It makes us heartsick to see the waste and the ugliness, and to think about how this once attractive stretch of road will have lost its grace and its character forever.

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Powhatan Creek

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But this is a common story in our area, as it likely is in yours as well.  Trees are cut so more roads, shopping centers and homes can be built.  What can any of us do?

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Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

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Plant as many trees as we are able, to make some effort to offset the damage done when trees are cleared.  Have you planted a tree lately?

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A row of Crepe Myrtles stands near College Creek.

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I actually bought two little maple trees earlier this week.  They are only about a foot tall now, but they will grow.  And so will the trees that you plant!

We don’t plant trees just for ourselves; we plant trees for the generations to come.

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Acer palmatum

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We can also speak for the trees, use our own voices to support conservation efforts, to support parks and wild spaces, and to support the local vendors who raise and sell trees and shrubs in our area.

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We have lost a great many trees across our region in recent years to storms and construction.  Our trees and forests are precious resources.

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Let’s each do what we can to protect the trees still standing, and replace those that are lost. 

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A native redbud tree seedling appeared by our drive. This tree can eventually grow to 20′ or more.  Sometimes protecting trees is as effortless as protecting seedlings and allowing them to grow.

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Our grandchildren’s lives depend on what we do today.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Gold is a luxury.

Trees are necessities.

Man can live and thrive without gold,

but we cannot survive without trees.”
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Paul Bamikole

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Sandy Bay, which frames one end of Jamestown Island, provides a home for many species of birds in its shallow waters. Bald cypress trees grow along its banks.

Six New Things On Saturday

Japanese Pieris

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The novelty of emerging spring draws me outside to tromp around our garden on the rawest of late winter days, when most reasonable people would busy themselves inside.

“What’s new today?” I wonder, slipping into my muddy shoes and pocketing my camera.  There are changes now hour to hour, let alone day to day.

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Iris reticulata ‘Sunshine’

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Yesterday, I noticed the first two of our yellow Iris reticulata in bloom.  The skies opened up with more rain before I made it back outside to photograph them.  I wondered how they would hold up in heavy rain, as I listened to it pounding on the roof and coursing through the gutters last night.   And in answer they still stand smartly this morning, petals holding strong, if splashed a bit with soil.

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Helleborus orientalis seedling, in its first season of bloom

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The passage from February into March is measured by emerging colors, in our garden.  Brighter, fresher greens, yellow, pinks, purples, blue, white and sometimes red,  appear with Disney-like synchronicity.  Of all the colors of spring, yellow feels the warmest and most penetrating.

I can see the yellow Forsythia exploding like fireworks, and dafffodils appearing, like flickering growing flames, beneath the shrubs.  Yellow is the color I can see from across the yard, through the window as I wait indoors for the latest storm to pass.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea buds began to open this week.

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Like a litter of kittens awakening one by one from their naps, so the shrubs awaken one by one, all in their proper time.  Forsythia leads them all, with flowering quince buds swelling and unfolding a few days later.

This morning I found the first of the Japanese Pieris opening, Magnolia stellata buds finally glowing white instead of fuzzy grey, and the first white carnation like Camellias opening on a juvenile shrub.  We added this Camellia in autumn 2016, and this is its first spring covered in buds.

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Camellia japonica

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Such is the rhythm of making a garden.  We make small gestures, a bulb here, a perennial there.  A new shrub or two each year, perhaps a tree.  We plant and build, shape, prune and plan with some idea of the shape of things to come.

But maybe sometimes we forget, as the months and seasons follow one after the other, while we wait for our small gestures to root and grow.  And then suddenly it’s spring, again.  And the garden awakens, and our investments mature into beauty beyond imagination.

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Hyacinth

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

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