Six On Saturday: More Winter Flowers for Pollinators

Mahonia aquifolium January 19, 2020

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Have you noticed bees and other insects feeding later than usual this year?  And did you notice how many were out feeding on warm days last winter?  Our roller coaster weather in recent years has affected insects, birds and other animals so that they may be out and about on warmish days in months when we don’t expect to see them.  And, of course they are hungry!

Increased activity translates into an increased need for calories.  Providing winter forage for pollinators and birds presents gardeners with an interesting challenge.  This also brings us round again to that ongoing discussion of ‘native’ vs. imported plants.  As a former forensics coach as well as a smitten gardener, I could argue either side of this issue, and have.

But consider that few of our ‘native’ plants actually bloom between November and February in this climate.  Most of our winter blooming flowers are actually native to areas of Europe, the Mediterranean region, South Africa, or Asia.  Even though the plants may have originated on another continent, they fill an important ecological niche by offering nectar and pollen, sustaining insects who might otherwise starve when they venture out on warming winter days.

Now a native plant advocate could offer the counter argument that many imported plants have adapted so well to our climate, and naturalized so freely, that they sometimes crowd out our indigenous native species.  I could list off a half-dozen woody species that bloom in winter or early spring and have done just that.  The most interesting conversations continue that way.  And while we sit with our tea or toddy and argue the fine points of the question, developers are out with their heavy equipment clear cutting our local forests to widen the roads and plant new neighborhoods and shopping strips.

So let’s not argue, but rather agree to plant consciously and with purpose to sustain the wildlife we have left, absorb as much carbon as possible from the warming air, and to create spots of beauty to cheer and inspire us.

One of my favorite winter blooming shrubs remains the Mahonia aquifolium, which is a North American native shrub that has naturalized in Virginia.  There are several species, hybrids and cultivars of Mahonia, and all bloom extravagantly in December through February or early March each year, with plump, edible drupes forming by early summer.  Oregon Grape Holly offers shelter and food for birds, nectar for pollinating insects, and has such stiff, sharp leaves that deer and other herbivores don’t graze its leaves.  If you plant some of the finer leaf varieties, like ‘M. Soft Caress,’ be prepared for deer to find and sample it.  It is a lovely plant if you can protect it.

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Helleborus species and hybrids remain a mainstay of my garden both for their bright winter flowers and for their evergreen foliage that serves as a sturdy and effective ground cover year round.  Requiring very little maintenance beyond removing old and tattered leaves from time to time, these tough, long-lived plants reliably bloom and feed pollinators from December through late April or early May.  These beautiful flowers offer plenty of pollen as well as deep reservoirs of nectar.  Each flower may last several weeks, feeding insects over a long period, and then producing seeds.

Nothing grazes a Hellebore because all parts of the plant are poisonous.  But their large, glossy leaves remain attractive, often sporting variegation, toothed edges, and interesting form.  They filter the air and sequester carbon, provide cool, moist habitat for small animals, and hold our sloping garden.  The more Hellebores we grow the less we find tunnels made by voles or moles.  Hellebores prefer full to partial shade and mix well with ferns and vining ground covers like Vinca minor, another early spring bloomer.

For sunny areas, consider planting the common Mediterranean evergreen herbs Rosemary and Thyme in Zones 7 and south.  Rosemary often blooms with tiny blue or white flowers from November through April, and Thyme usually begins to bloom by March.  Both are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators.

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Helleborus orientalis, March 2019

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Many very early bulbs provide forage for pollinators.  Scilla siberica, a European bulb, often pops up and begins opening flowers in February.  Its stalk can be covered with many small flowers, opening a few at a time, over a period of weeks.  The leaves follow the flower stalk and fade away again by early summer.  The bulbs multiply over time.  Scilla bloom alongside early Iris histrioides and early Crocus bulbs, also appreciated by hungry pollinators in late winter.  Each bulb may send up multiple flower stalks and may be grown under established deciduous trees.

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Scilla emerging on February 19, 2019

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Very little blooms here in January, except for our reliable Hellebores and Violas.  The biochemistry of some plants allows them to generate enough heat to survive many hours below freezing, and to bounce back quickly after getting covered with ice and snow.  Native to mountainous areas of Europe, colorful little Viola cornuta have been cultivated and hybridized over decades and are easily available each fall in our area.  You may know some of them as ‘Johnny Jump-Ups.’  They may be grown from seeds or plugs, or bought full grown in 6″ pots for instant color in fall and winter arrangements.  Although Violas are perennials, they don’t survive our summer heat.

The larger Viola tricolor, or pansy, is also native to Europe and has been bred for flower size and color. Panolas are a fairly recent cross between various Viola species, and offer a medium sized flower with beautiful color and form.  The plants are lush and offer the impact of a pansy with the hardy habit of a Viola cornuta.  These also bloom in late fall and early spring, but may take a break during the coldest months.

Our native Viola labradorica, or American Dog Violet, blooms in mid-spring to early summer.  An important host plant for some butterfly species, it forms a beautiful ground cover and blooms in shades of white, purple and blue.  Sadly, many homeowners consider these ‘weeds’ when they come up in the lawn and eradicate them.  They make a beautiful ground cover, especially under trees, and re-seed themselves freely.

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Violas blooming on January 27, 2015

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Finally, many trees ‘bloom’ in the winter or very early spring.  Though their flowers may seem insignificant to us, they provide important food sources for pollinators.  Birds also benefit when they feed on insects attracted to arboreal flowers.

One of the best native shrubs for winter flowers is the Witchhazel, or Hamamelis virginiana.  It covers itself in small, sweet blossoms in mid to late winter.  Redbud trees also begin to bloom by February, becoming magnets for hungry insects.  Several species of Spirea and Viburnum produce early, showy nectar filled flowers.

Flowers on trees may be big and showy like those on Magnolias or tulip trees.  But just as often we barely notice them.  We may catch a sweet fragrance from an Ilex or Osmanthus, or notice an attractive blur of red or gold around a tree’s canopy before its leaves unfold.  But these flowers are very important to wildlife.

No one small, residential garden can support all plants for all purposes.  But with a bit of thought and planning, we can all provide some seasonal support for wildlife.  Many gardeners faithfully maintain bird feeders during winter months.  Fresh water in ponds or birdbaths is also very important for wildlife year-round.

Let’s also remember that by planting some winter blooming woody plants and herbaceous perennials, we can support the web of life in our community while enjoying the beauty and activity winter bloomers add to our own gardens.

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February 15, 2017 Edgeworthia chrysantha, an Asian shrub, and Mahonia aquifolium bloom all winter in our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful and a thought provoking quotation.

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Nostalgia II

Colonial Williamsburg 2016

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“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof,
thinking of home.”
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  William C. Faulkner

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Colonial Williamsburg, 2016

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“It is strange how we hold on
to the pieces of the past
while we wait for our futures.”
.
  Ally Condie

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Colonial Williamsburg 2016

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“The Greek word for “return” is nostos.
Algos means “suffering.”
So nostalgia is the suffering caused
by an unappeased yearning to return.”
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Milan Kundera

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Colonial Williamsburg 2016

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“Memory believes
before knowing remembers.
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  William Faulkner

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Colonial Williamsburg December 2015

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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily the remembrance of things
as they were.”
.
Marcel Prous

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Colonial Williamsburg 2015

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“There are a few moments in your life
when you are truly and completely happy,
and you remember to give thanks.
Even as it happens you are nostalgic for the moment,
you are tucking it away in your scrapbook.”
.
David Benioff

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December 2016

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“For children, childhood is timeless.
It is always the present.
Everything is in the present tense.
Of course, they have memories. Of course, time shifts a little for them
and Christmas comes round in the end.
But they don’t feel it. Today is what they feel,
and when they say ‘When I grow up,’
there is always an edge of disbelief—
how could they ever be other than what they are?”
.
Ian McEwan

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December 2016 Powhatan Creek

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“The ‘what should be’ never did exist,
but people keep trying to live up to it.
There is no ‘what should be,’
there is only what is.”
.
Lenny Bruce

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Rose window, Bruton Parish, Williamsburg VA December 2017

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We each find ourselves in uncharted territory this December as we struggle to adapt to the changes swirling around us.  We are haunted by memories, sweet and sad; even as we look ahead with hope.  Let us focus on the eternal ‘Now,’ finding peace and happiness in this present moment.  One day we will look back with nostalgia at this unique time, as rich in opportunities as in limitations. 
As we approach Winter Solstice and a fresh new year, let us mine the sweetness of this moment, share the love always bubbling up in our hearts, and spread the light of understanding, one to another.

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Colonial Williamsburg, December 2016

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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December 2020

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful and a positive thought.

 

Secrets of Appreciation

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“Remember to give thanks

for unknown blessings

already on their way”

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Valentina Giambanco

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Camellia sasanqua and autumn leaves

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“Living in thanksgiving daily is a habit;

we must open our hearts to love more,

we must open our arms to hug more,

we must open our eyes to see more and finally,

we must live our lives to serve more.”

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Farshad Asl

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Camellia sasanqua

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“Gratitude is the seed of gladness.”

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Lailah Gifty Akita

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“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.”

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W.J. Cameron

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Japanese Maple

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May the beauty of this day find you,

May joy bubble up in your heart,

May you know everyone near you as family,

May you feel the love  which surrounds you,

and may you enjoy the blessings of peace,

always.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

 

Six on Saturday: Always Another Surprise

This old redbud tree fell over in a storm last year, yet is covered in new growth this spring. Its roots are strongly planted in the earth even as its trunk lies nearly horizontal along the slope of the garden.

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We weren’t expecting to get between 3 and 5 inches of rain yesterday afternoon.  Sure, we knew it might rain; there might even be a little thunder.  It’s nearly June, the start of Hurricane Season.  Storms come and go in coastal Virginia, and we’ve had a lot of that wet traffic lately.

But the storms seemed to be going around us for much of the day.  And even when the wispy little edge of a system brushed over us on radar, we expected only a passing shower.  But no.  It lingered, grew, intensified, roiled around a while.  It filled the ditch by our street and turned the creek in the ravine into a rushing river of run-off as a flash-flood warning pinged on my phone.  We began to hear about local roads flooding as heavy rain pounded on the roof and patio, our trees bending and swaying under such an unexpected watery attack.

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Some parts of the garden love the rain.

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Does it make sense to say that you’re surprised, while not being really surprised at all?  We’ve had so many fast, unexpected storms roll over our area in recent years that nothing from the sky should surprise us anymore.  And yet when they sneak up in mid-afternoon, without proper warning from the weather-guessers, and then leave a changed landscape behind, it does leave a scuff-mark on one’s psyche.

Of course we are in these already surreal and surprising months of 2020, so nothing should surprise us too much at this point.  Weather seems the least of it, honestly.

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Athyrium ‘Ghost’

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But when I went out early this morning, camera in hand, to spy on the rabbits munching the front ‘lawn’ and to see what I could see in the garden, I was greeted with more little surprises in the garden.

Maybe what I really love most about gardening is the novelty of tending a living system and all of the surprises, both pleasant and not, which greet one each day.  What’s changed?  What’s in bloom?  What’s grown?  What’s been eaten overnight by the deer?  What young tree has just fallen over after the voles ate its roots?  You get my drift….

The very back of our garden is sheltered by a small ‘bamboo forest’ which shields it from the ravine.  Now, you likely know that bamboo, even when it’s 40′ tall and as big around as a large grapefruit, is a grass.  And grass grows from underground rhizomes, which spread as far as they possibly can.  We love the bamboo and the cool privacy it gives us.

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That said, every May we must police its new shoots daily to keep it in bounds.  You see, it really, really would like to claim more of the garden and so marches right up the hill towards our home every spring.  It sends up new shoots hourly over several weeks, and then it gives up until next year.  Sometimes the shoots are chopstick thin and actually look like a respectable grass.  They’re rather artistic and I’d be tempted to leave them, emerging in the midst of a flower border or my fernery, if I didn’t know their intent.

Other shoots come up thick and strong, like fast growing baseball bats claiming their right to seek the sun above the garden.  It’s a good thing that the squirrels love fresh bamboo shoots so much, because they quickly clean up the stray shoots we must knock over each day.

Well, when I wandered into the back garden this morning, I was greeted with unexpectedly prodigious new bamboo shoots thrusting up through shrubs, ferns, perennials and grass.  How can they grow that fast?  I wasn’t in my boots yet, so I made their portraits and left them to grow another few hours until my partner could deal with them.

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The ground was soft and squishy, still completely saturated from another early morning rain.  Fig branches were bent and touching the ground.  The lamb’s ears flower stalks I’d been allowing to grow for the bees lay flat in the mulch.  Only the ferns looked truly happy this morning.  The ferns, pushing out abundant new fronds, and a lone Japanese Iris that just bloomed for the first time in our garden.

A fresh Iris blossom always elicits a smile from me.  Like a deep breath of fresh spring air, it fills me with unreasonable happiness.  What is this magic some flowers work in our gnarly, jaded hearts?  I can turn away from two score bamboo shoots invading the garden to admire a single Iris blossom, and let that beautiful surprise buoy me back inside to pour my morning coffee.

Yes, we garden as much for the surprises as for the known rhythms of our gardening year.  There’s always something new to enjoy and always some new chore to do.  What more could one hope for?

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Iris ensata, ‘Temple Bells,’ blooming for the first time in our garden this morning.  It was a gift from a friend last summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a daily photo from our garden.

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

Fabulous Friday: Awakening

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On our days off, when there’s no appointment to make or task to complete, it’s a pleasure to awaken slowly and gently.  With no urgency to stay on schedule, no insistent alarm, no pet or child in need of immediate attention, we can relax a bit more and gather our thoughts before starting the day’s routines.

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Cercis chinensis, Chinese redbud, blooming this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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This springtime feels like it is awakening slowly, without haste or urgency.  Cool temperatures have slowed down the natural progression of spring’s business this year.  Each blossom and bud is relaxing and taking its time to open, and once open, lasting a few more days than more warmth would allow.

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College Creek

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We’ve had yet another day of cool, soaking rain in our region.  Its rained steadily enough to keep me indoors and it has remained cool enough to slow down the buds on our dogwood trees.  They are still just uncurling, tentatively, and remain more green than white.

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A day like today encourages the fine art of procrastination.  There are a half dozen good reasons to delay most of the tasks on my ‘to-do’ list, especially those tasks that involve waking up more seeds, or tubers, or waking up more beds and borders by removing their blankets of leafy mulch.

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I’ve already delayed many spring time tasks, out of respect for cold nights, cool days and abundant rain.  It’s unwise to work in the soil when it remains so wet.  It’s even unwise to walk around too much on soggy ground, knowing that every step compacts it.

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Dogwood

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But there is balance, over the long view, and I suspect that warmer days are upon us soon.  I saw one of our lizards skitter under a pot when I opened the kitchen door unexpectedly yesterday, and the yard has filled with song birds.  We hear frogs singing now on warm evenings and bees come out whenever it warms in the afternoon sunlight.

They know its time to awaken for another year, and are doing their best to get on with life despite the weather.

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N. ‘Tahiti’

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It is good to rest when one can, storing up energy to spring into action when the time is ripe.  The garage is filled with plants needing to get back outside into the light, to cover themselves with fresh leaves and get on with their growth.  And I need their space for sprouting Caladiums and the small plants and tubers I plan to pick up in Gloucester next week from the Heaths.

There are Zantedeschias in the basement bravely reaching out their fresh leaves towards the windows, and I’m ready to divide and pot up our stored Colocasias and let them get a jump on summer.

And then there is the small matter of packs of seed whose time has come to awaken and grow…

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N. ‘Katie Heath’

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All these plants are waiting for their wake-up call.  I hope the relaxed and gentle start of their new season means they will bring renewed energy and enthusiasm to their growth when the weather is finally settled and warm.

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Japanese painted ferns re-appeared this week, and I have been weeding out early spring weeds wanting to compete with them.

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Until then, I’m enjoying watching the slow progress of spring.

There is time to savor the opening buds, emerging perennials, and slowly expanding vines as they stake their claims for the season.  There is time to relax and gather our thoughts.

There is time to listen to the chattering birds, and to appreciate the sweet gift of unscheduled time.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ wakes up for its first season in our garden.

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“Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource?

Now the hourglass had busted open,

and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand

turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.”
.

Tommy Wallach

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“There is no Space or Time
Only intensity,
And tame things
Have no immensity”
.

Mina Loy

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; 

Let’s Infect One Another!

Green Thumb Tip #23: From Small Beginnings

Begonia, growing inside and waiting for a larger pot.

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Spring invites us to treasure the small. 

Autumn frost and winter storms long since claimed late summer’s towering goldenrods and bushy pineapple sages.  The Cannas and gingers and huge elephant ear leaves were cut down months ago, and live on only in memory and photos and dormant tubers resting underground.

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After several months of bare ground, woody stems and largely open space, the smallest bits of new growth excite me with their promise of a new growing season awakening.

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Iris reticulata ‘Rhapsody’

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It is easiest to start again small.  Small flowers from very small bulbs, like grape sized Iris reticulata and I. histrioides.   Small roots on small cuttings, carefully planted into small pots to ‘grow-on’; and small starts in small pots that will move up into hanging baskets and potted arrangements once the weather warms.

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Cut pussy willow stems root easily in water.  I’ve cut the bottoms off of rooted stems to plant, and returned the larger stems to the vase.  From these small sticks, large shrubs may eventually grow.

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From small beginnings, beautiful plants will grow.  I tend to order bulbs and corms, tubers and rhizomes, seeds and roots, then plant them myself to watch them grow.  A box came in late February filled with a treasure trove of Iris roots.  They may not look very promising, straight out of the package, but the potential for beautiful, healthy growth is there if you handle them properly.

I ‘heeled them in’ in a bin of rich, moist potting soil in the basement, while their roots re-hydrated.  After several days, once the plants had re-awakened and were ready to grow,  I moved each plant into a larger pot, filled with amended potting soil to grow on for the next month or two.

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These are Iris siberica and Iris chrysographes.  They want moist soil with excellent drainage and benefit from some extra perlite and some Plant Tone mixed into good potting mix.

Hardy perennials, they want as much sun as they can have on these early spring days.  Potting them first, before planting them into the garden, gives them a chance to grow and develop a great root system in comfort and safety, away from curious squirrels and hungry voles.  Their leaves are tiny now, but will stretch to a couple of feet high by summer.

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I’ve been busy at my basement planting bench this week, potting up rooted cuttings and a few bags of Zantedeschia bulbs a gardening friend gifted to me last fall .  Next week, I’ll start our saved Caladium tubers.

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Oxalis grow patiently in the garage, among our summer pots, waiting their turn to grow out in the sunshine.  Start Oxalis from tubers any time of year.

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I’m waiting a little later in March to start them this year, mindful of how cold our spring was last year.  The Caladiums wanted space outside in the sun long before it was warm enough to plant them out.  Better to start slowly, in small steps towards summer’s leafy bounty.

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As spring creeps, hesitantly, into the garden, hard lessons learned in years past make me a little hesitant, too.  Last night dipped into the mid-20s, here.  The sun was out this afternoon when I walked the garden, noticing not only the new growth but also the work still needed to properly welcome spring.

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This special Hellebore disappears in the shade. It is only when I seek it out, and turn up its face, that I can appreciate its beauty.

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Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’ve waited this long to rake up winter-blown leaves and finish the pruning.  Once woodies begin to bud and bloom, cold nights like these can ruin tender petals and leaves.  I’ve learned its wise to not rush the season, but to wait and see what more winter weather may come our way.

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The earliest of our daffodils have begun to open.  They are tough, and bounce back from cold nights and late snow.

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Rather than rushing, this March I’m going to savor what comes into leaf or bloom each day.  Each small flower, every tiny bud swelling on a branch, every bit of emerging perennial pushing up through the muddy earth is beautiful.

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Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ is ready to grow.

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Perhaps it is better to savor spring slowly; to re-discover the treasures of awakening plant life  in miniature.

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The smallest parsley seed holds wonder and promises magic.  From small beginnings, beautiful gardens will surely grow.

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Begonia starts, waiting….

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Rejoice in small things

and they will continue to grow”
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Slaven Vujic

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“This is the only advice I offer you.

Pick the small thing, and carry it on.

Let it change your life.” .

Anna White

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“First achieve small things

and you will achieve great things ultimately…

and no one will forget.”
.

Bidemi Mark-Mordi

Green Thumb Tip # 22: Do the Math

Green Thumb Tip # 21: The Mid-Summer Snack 

 

 

 

A Day for Contentment

The first blossom of Camellia ‘Yuletide’ opened Tuesday, right on schedule.

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“It isn’t what you have or who you are
or where you are or what you are doing
that makes you happy or unhappy.
It is what you think about it.”
.
Dale Carnegie

We are entering the season where everyone we know wishes us happiness, merriment, and good fortune.  Greetings fly as freely as golden leaves showering down from the Ginko trees on DoG Street in Colonial Williamsburg.

We send our own flurry of “Happy Thanksgiving” wishes to everyone we encounter.  It is the catch phrase of the week to the checker at the grocery store, the clerk who sells us coffee, and every neighbor we meet out walking.

But do those wishes for happiness actually penetrate into our heart?  Do we feel that glow of happiness from the inside out?

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The first year in several that this Camellia has bloomed for us, I was startled by its beauty yesterday afternoon. For once, its buds survived to open. This shrub is a favorite for browsing once a deer gets into our lower garden.

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“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.
If you concentrate on what you don’t have,
you will never, ever have enough”
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Oprah Winfrey

I know many who are feeling anxious this holiday season, and too many struggling with grief.

We are inundated with images from the California fires.  We are still haunted by the enormous losses neighbors across the country have suffered in recent years from storms, fires, floods and shootings.  We pray for those immigrants caught on our Southern border without shelter this Thanksgiving season right along with those camping in Southern California after losing their homes in the fires.

Five minutes spent scanning headlines or watching the news is enough to drain the happiness right out of anyone.  Our national narrative is like a J.K. Rowling dementor that sucks the warmth and happiness away.

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“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”
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Walt Whitman

We believe that we are living in unusual times; the troubles we face unique in history.  That is not the case.  We are swept up in the currents and eddies of a long river of human history, much of it far worse for everyday folks like us than anything we might experience, now.

Despite the bleak news around us, we are also surrounded by stories of kindness, hope, good fortune and great joy.  President Lincoln was deep in the weeds of his own Civil War between the states, struggling with the great purpose of keeping our states together as one nation, when he declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1863He asked all Americans to come together on one day in gratitude for teh many blessings and resources our country shares.  He asked his neighbors to shift their focus to a higher power, and a higher purpose for our country.

Abraham Lincoln understood the simple truth about mental focus.  We can change our lives by changing the focus of our thoughts, our mental energy.

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“A quiet secluded life in the country,
with the possibility of being useful to people
to whom it is easy to do good,
and who are not accustomed to have it done to them;
then work which one hopes may be of some use;
then rest, nature, books, music,
love for one’s neighbor —
such is my idea of happiness.”
.
Leo Tolstoy
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Oakleaf Hydrangea glows in scarlet, as the flower buds appear on our Edgeworthia behind it.

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Maybe that is why Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  It is a celebration of abundance in all its forms.   It is a day for reflection.  It is the quintessential ‘low stress’ holiday.

It is enough to have a quiet day to enjoy with loved ones.  There is a special meal.  One may see friends or relations one hasn’t seen for a while.  There are stories, there is laughter, there is expectation of the holiday season that debuts on this day.

The first holiday lights appear cities, in neighborhoods and along country roads.

There is a feeling of contentment and abundance and connection.  For a few golden hours, we can be content with ourselves, wherever we may find ourselves.

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“I am content; that is a blessing greater than riches;
and he to whom that is given need ask no more.”
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Henry Fielding

And so I wish you, too, a happy Thanksgiving.  I hope your thoughts linger on the many things that make you happy and enrich your life.

If you are grieving, I hope you remember the good times with your loved ones and feel deep gratitude for those times you shared.  If you are away from loved ones, I hope you can touch with them today.  If your life circumstances have shifted, I hope you find the beauty around you, wherever you might be.

Our happiness comes from within, not from without.  This is the life lesson we discover as the decades roll past.

And this is what we rediscover each autumn, as the leaves fall and the world grows cold.  The most abiding warmth emanates from a loving and grateful heart.

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“We are not rich by what we possess
but by what we can do without.”
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Immanuel
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Illumination and The Freedoms We Celebrate

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“But what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?
It is the greatest of all possible evils;
for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
Those who know what virtuous liberty is,
cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads,
on account of their having
high-sounding words in their mouths.”
.
Edmund Burke

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“If ever a time should come,
when vain and aspiring men
shall possess the highest seats in Government,
our country will stand in need
of its experienced patriots
to prevent its ruin.”
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Samuel Adams

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“Liberty without Learning is always in peril
and Learning without Liberty is always in vain.”
.
John F. Kennedy

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“They who can give up essential liberty
to obtain a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
.
Benjamin Franklin

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“Those who deny freedom to others,
deserve it not for themselves”
.
Abraham Lincoln
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“I am an American; free born and free bred,
where I acknowledge no man as my superior,
except for his own worth,
or as my inferior,
except for his own demerit.”
.
Theodore Roosevelt

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“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom,
must, like men,
undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”
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Thomas Paine
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Summer Solstice Wishes

Butterfly bush prepares to welcome a hungry bee.

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Today is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year.  It is a good day to celebrate our wishes, especially those wishes that have finally manifested for us. 

I first wrote and published ‘A Dirty Hands Garden Club’ in the summer of 2014, and would like to share it with you, again.  I hope that you have found your own community of gardeners, naturalists, conservationists, teachers, artists, and plant nerds, as I have so happily found mine.

WG June 2018

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Asclepias incarnata

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I would love to join  a “Dirty Hands” Garden Club;
One whose members know more about fertilizers
Than they do about wines…

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I’d want our meetings spent wandering through nurseries,
Learning from  expert gardeners,
Or building community gardens…

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Echinacea and Monarda prove beautiful native perennials in our area.

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Not frittered away in chit chat over drinks and hors d’oeuvres .

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Hibiscus syriacus and bumbly

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And all of us would be at least a little expert in something, and
Glad to share what we’ve learned;

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Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

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And we all would love putting our hands in the dirt
To help something grow.

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Lavender is still recovering from the winter.

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My club would collect species, not dues;
Re-build ecosystems rather than plant ivy and  box.

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Caladium ‘Fannie Munson’ with Bergenia and ferns.

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We “dirty hands” gardeners can band together
In spirit, if not in four walls.

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We can share plants and insights,
Instigate, propagate, and appreciate;

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Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

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Perhaps we can even help rehabilitate 
Some sterile lawn somewhere
Into something which nurtures beauty
And feeds souls….

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Magnolia liliiflora is giving us a second flush of bloom in early summer.

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Others can judge flowers,
Decorate homes at Christmas
And organize tours.
These things are needed, too.

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Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, opens its first blooms of the year.

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(But I would rather be out in the garden;
Where cardinals preside over the morning meeting,
And  hummingbirds are our special guests for the day.
The daily agenda ranges from watering to transplanting;
From pruning to watching for turtles and dragonflies.)

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We  wear our muddy shoes and well worn gloves with pride,
Our spades and pruners always close at hand.

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We converse with Nature,
And re-build the web strand by strand,
Plant by plant.

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Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ with Basil

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If this invitation speaks to you,
Perhaps we can work together
From wherever we might find ourselves
Around the globe.
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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in front with C. ‘Pink China’ behind

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We can each put our hands in the dirt
and create a garden,

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Nurture Beauty,
And restore health and vitality to our Earth,
our communities, and ourselves, together.

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Native Oakleaf Hydrangea glows in the morning Solstice sun.

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Poem by Woodland Gnome 2014
*

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“The Holy Land is everywhere”
.
Black Elk

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

Transformation

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“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”

.

Lao Tzu

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There is sadness in wandering along our familiar garden paths in these first few days after frost touched our garden.    Withered leaves litter the ground.  Herbaceous stems droop, their once rigid cells irreparably broken when they froze.

What was once growing a bit more beautiful each day, is now clearly in decline.  Papery brown seedheads replace vibrant flowers.    Our trees grow more naked each day.

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“Do you have the patience

to wait until your mud settles

and the water is clear?”

.

Lao Tzu

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But as the graceful structure of our trees stands stark against the sky, we see that next spring’s buds are already forming.    When dried leaves drift away on the breeze, the magic is revealed:  new flowers and leaves have already begun to grow along every branch.

The buds will grow more plump and full through the wintery weeks ahead, waiting for conditions to signal them to unfold into new growth.

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“The reason why the universe is eternal

is that it does not live for itself;

it gives life to others

as it transforms.”

.

Lao Tzu

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Our sadness in watching the garden decay touches our hearts, even as we understand the familiar process of renewal and re-growth.

Like waves on the beach, things are always coming in, and flowing out.  Like our breath, we receive and we give continually.

Trees draw their life from the soil beneath their roots and the air surrounding their leaves.  And then, after a period of growth, they willingly drop their leaves to decay and feed the life of the soil.  There is balance.

Every root absorbs moisture, and every leaf allows those precious drops of water to evaporate back into the sky.

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“If you realize that all things change,

there is nothing you will try to hold on to.

If you are not afraid of dying,

there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

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Lao Tzu

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Nothing is ever truly gained or lost; everything transforms.  The garden helps us see this truth, and another:  Life goes on. 

No matter the appearance in the moment, life continues; and we are a part of this beautiful flickering, flaming, raging dance of life.

Our sadness springs from our clinging to one beautiful form or another.  And even that sadness can transform to joy, when we see beyond the loss of one thing to welcome what comes back to us in its wake

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Let’s dance the dance of life with joy in our hearts, and embrace the magic of each season of our lives.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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