A Touch of Gold

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Rudbeckia fills our garden in late August, blooming in a rich tapestry of gold.

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This native Rudbeckia hirta, which first seeded itself here more than five years ago, attracts golden bees, butterflies and goldfinches to its tasty nectar and abundant seeds.

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Rosettes of Rudbeckia leaves emerge in mid-March all across the garden.  They sprout wherever a seed has fallen or an underground root has spread.

There are always plenty to dig and share, especially those that emerge in the pathways.  The plants remain in the background througout spring and early summer, biding their time as they bulk up in the warming sun.

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How much is too much?” I sometimes wonder…

Native plants are enthusiastic growers, determined to survive.  They take every available advantage to thrive.  In full sun and over tree roots, clumps sometimes get wilty when days grow hot and rain is scarce.  I sometimes revive them with a drink from the hose.

But those that are well established, in deep soil and partial shade, care for themselves.  All we do is clear the paths and set the boundaries….

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Their opening comes slowly; not all at once.  Accustomed to sharing their space, they mix well with others.

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Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant

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Native obedient plant,Physostegia virginiana, creeps and spreads in the same way.  It has spread even faster and more aggressively than the Rudbeckia. 

This spring, I took the string trimmer to many areas where these two grow among a growing spread of goldenrod, Solidago.  I decided last year that those huge, waving plumes of gold were a bit over the top for our little woodland garden, and I’ve been cutting back the goldenrod to give other perennials a better chance.

The Rudbeckia and Physotegia took that trimming in their stride and came back bushier and stronger than ever.

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Now native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is also growing in the mix, offering a subtle touch of periwinkle contrast.  I didn’t plan and intentionally plant this mix of native perennials to create a ‘meadow style’ planting.  I only recognize what nature is doing, and guide it a bit.

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And our rich reward is a touch of gold gilding these late summer days, delighting us as we await the rich color and welcome coolness of autumn.

Our garden remains dynamic, changing from year to year.  Some plants persist and expand while others decline.  We plant a few new things each season and other turn up on their own.

Each new year’s unfolding remains a grand surprise, guided by nature and the seasons; a golden opportunity to learn and grow as a gardener.

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Another native Rudbeckia, cutleaf coneflower, also fills our late summer garden with pure gold.  With a much larger habit and larger flowers, it is equally attractive to many pollinators and birds.

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Woodland Gnome 2010

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.

I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
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Roman Payne

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Sunday Dinner: In the Shadows

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“There is strong shadow

where there is much light.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.

For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly

as when one longs to taste it,

and when is the taste refracted

into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth,

and when do our senses know any thing so utterly

as when we lack it?

And here again is a foreshadowing –

– the world will be made whole.

For to wish for a hand on one’s hair

is all but to feel it.

So whatever we may lose,

very craving gives it back to us again.”

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Marilynne Robinson

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“One realized all sorts of things.

The value of an illusion, for instance,

and that the shadow

can be more important than the substance.

All sorts of things.”

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Jean Rhys

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“A garden should make you feel

you’ve entered privileged space –

– a place not just set apart but reverberant –

– and it seems to me that, to achieve this,

the gardener must put some kind of twist

on the existing landscape,

turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”

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Michael Pollan

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“It was such a pleasure

to sink one’s hands into the warm earth,

to feel at one’s fingertips

the possibilities of the new season.”

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Kate Morton

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“If you wish to make anything grow,

you must understand it,

and understand it in a very real sense.

‘Green fingers’ are a fact,

and a mystery only to the unpracticed.

But green fingers

are the extensions of a verdant heart.”

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Russell Page

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“The green thumb is equable

in the face of nature’s uncertainties;

he moves among her mysteries

without feeling the need for control

or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions.

To garden well is to be happy

amid the babble of the objective world,

untroubled by its refusal to be reduced

by our ideas of it,

its indomitable rankness.”

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Michael Pollan

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“To love a swamp, however,

is to love what is muted and marginal,

what exists in the shadows,

what shoulders its way out of mud

and scurries along the damp edges

of what is most commonly praised.

And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing.

Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth,

breeding grounds,

experimental labs where organisms and ideas

have the luxury of being out of the spotlight,

where the imagination can mutate and mate,

send tendrils into and out of the water.”

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Barbara Hurd

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“It is not hard to start a small garden,

all you need is a sapling, a planting pot,

a small bag of soil,

and regular watering.

There you go,

you helped cooling the earth down by one plant.”
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Noora Ahmed Alsuwaidi

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Sunday Dinner: Fragile

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“if only these treasures

were not so fragile

as they are precious and beautiful.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“What they all knew was this:

Life was fragile.”

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Kaya McLaren

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“The world is changeable,

and its ability to change is so fragile

that a single person

can be responsible for it.”

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A.J. Darkholme

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“The air was swollen with music,

shouting, and something I could not quite place-

a feeling of happiness,

but happiness with an edge,

a sense of joy

that was all the more meaningful

because it was so fleeting.”

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Chelsey Philpot

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“Human spirit

is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future

with curiosity and optimism.

It is the belief that problems can be solved,

differences resolved.

It is a type of confidence.

And it is fragile.

It can be blackened by fear, and superstition.”

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Bernard Beckett

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“I discovered in nature

the non utilitarian delights that I sought in art.

Both were a form of magic,

both were a game of intricate enchantment

and deception.”

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Vladimir Nabokov

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“The rest is just wishes and hope,

the most fragile of things.”
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Sabaa Tahir

 

Six On Saturday: Visitors

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When we arrived back home this afternoon, our garden guests scattered as I climbed out of the car, laden with bags and parcels.  Two or three scolding goldfinches flew up into the lowest branches of a nearby oak.  They had been perched down among the Verbena and basil, feasting on ripening seeds.

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A pair of cardinals glided across the yard very low, taking cover in thick shrubs.  A hummingbird zoomed higher to a tasty blossom well out of my reach, and then zoomed again out of sight.

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The butterflies seemed least concerned about my sudden and unexpected arrival home.  They are calm and congenial, most of the time.  Still, they took wing and glided away, secure that there would still be nectar waiting for them when they returned.

The bees buzzed on, diligently, flower to flower, knowing they would be left undisturbed.

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Thunder rumbled across the garden, and my camera was tucked away in my bag.  My hands were full, and I was still a bit creaky from the long drive.  I could only hope that our visitors would return by the time I could put everything down inside and get back out to the garden.

But as I headed back out, camera and two new little plants in hand, the skies opened.  I was met at the door with the staccato pounding of a summer rain storm.

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It had been that sort of day; rolling thunder, bright white flashes of lightening, and rain squalls  leaving deep puddles on the roads.  But I’d left all of that 100 miles behind me, and was home now, and was a bit surprised the storms had caught up to me so quickly.

No matter, I went on about my business setting the new plants where they could enjoy the shower, staking a toppled elephant ear, and watering the pots on the patio that were out of the reach of the lovely, sweet smelling rain.   Five minutes and it was mostly passed.

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I headed back up to the upper garden with my camera, and was greeted with the determined hum of worker bees.  I could hear the birds calling to one another from their perches in the trees.  A single Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly floated among the Buddleia and Verbena.  It was enough. 

I was home, and back to the garden once again.

Woodland Gnome 2019
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“The master of the garden is the one who waters it,
trims the branches, plants the seeds,
and pulls the weeds.
If you merely stroll through the garden,
you are but an acolyte.”
.
Vera Nazarian

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

Sunday Dinner: Aspirations

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“Faith is the bird
that feels the light and sings
when the dawn is still dark.”
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Rabindranath Tagore

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“Dreams are what guide us,
art is what defines us,
math is what makes it all possible,
and love is what lights our way.”
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Mike Norton

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden bathed in morning light.

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“Rome was not built in one day;
But one day Rome was built.”
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Kayambila Mpulamasaka

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“We never know what we can be or do
until the need is there
and we are tested by it.”
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Terry Brooks

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“If you trust in yourself. . .
and believe in your dreams. . .
and follow your star. . .
you’ll still get beaten
by people who spent their time
working hard and learning things
and weren’t so lazy.”
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Terry Pratchett

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Monarch butterfly feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.

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“The heights charm us,
but the steps do not;
with the mountain in our view
we love to walk the plains.”
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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Clouds come floating into my life,
no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add color to my sunset sky.”
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Rabindranath Tagore

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Martagon lily at the Stonehouse Elementary School garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Our deep aspiration
is an immense source of energy.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh

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“Imagination grows by exercise
and contrary to common belief
is more powerful in the mature
than in the young.”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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Our Forest Garden as June draws to its close.

Sunday Dinner: Becoming

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“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere

or achieving a certain aim.

I see it instead as forward motion,

a means of evolving,

a way to reach continuously

toward a better self.

The journey doesn’t end.”

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Michelle Obama

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“She said the music made her wonder,

Does it alter us more to be heard, or to hear?”

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Madeleine Thien

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“You may live in the world as it is,

but you can still work to create the world

as it should be.”

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Michelle Obama

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“But in the midst of all that uncertainty

and lack of clarity, there lies a wild beauty.

A hope. Possibility.

The promise of something bigger than us

happening just beneath the surface

that we can’t see.”

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Mandy Hale

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“Over and over again we
become lost and un-lost
We become and un-become.
This is meant to be.
Without our knowing and
unknowing we would have no
splendid, epic stories to tell.”

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Susan Bocinec Terry

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“Or maybe they weren’t changing.

Maybe they were just now becoming

what they had always wanted to be.”

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Eilis O’Neal

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“My fears teach me courage.

My weaknesses coach me to strength.

My scars remind me

not to make the same mistakes.

I can become who I long to be

by loving who I am now.”

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Toni Sorenson

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“We are all in the process of becoming.”

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Harmony Dust

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Give focus

only to which you want to see expand,

anything else is nonsense.”
.

Nikki Rowe

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Six on Saturday: Portraits

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Our garden buzzes and hums with the voices of hundreds of hungry bees and wasps.

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The butterflies silently float by, elusive and aloof.  A dragonfly lights on a petal, watching me, patiently posing while I take his portrait.

Our garden is filled with such beauty this week.  We are enjoying the butterflies and bunnies, expanding perennials, trees clothed in their summer colors, expanding ferns and flowers.  Oh, so many flowers opening each day.

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As we celebrate the summer solstice, our garden is still becoming fuller and fuller with each passing day.  Vines grow so fast we wonder whether they are under some magical, summertime spell.  Clusters of grapes on their wild vines swell, well out of reach, in the tops of some dogwood and rose of Sharon trees.  Our family of cardinals swoops through the garden, clearly playing tag, and watching for the opportune snack.

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I wander about with my camera, trying to capture a portrait here and there to savor the beauty unfolding all around us.  It is so much bigger and more expansive than my tiny lens will capture.  And so I focus on the details, the tiny bits of beauty we might otherwise overlook.

Here are six portraits from our garden today.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“When magic through nerves and reason passes,
Imagination, force, and passion will thunder.
The portrait of the world is changed.”
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Dejan Stojanovic

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

 

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.

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.

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