Sunday Dinner: Brightness!

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“I can assure you
that the life outside the front door
is bright and full of life”
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Sunday Adelaja
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“The joy you feel
when you become a small life particle sun
and share its brightness and warmth
with those around you
is indescribably great.”
.
Ilchi Lee
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“The true optimist
not only expects the best to happen,
but goes to work to make the best happen.
The true optimist not only looks upon the bright side,
but trains every force that is in him
to produce more and more brightness in his life….”
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Christian D. Larson
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“May your eye go to the Sun,
to the Wind your soul…
You are all the colours in one,
at full brightness.”
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Jennifer Niven
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“Let your love be the light of your life.
Now enlighten the whole world
with the brightness of that light.”
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Debasish Mridha
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“A day’s brightness is determined
by the light in our hearts.”
.
A.D. Posey
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“One passionate heart can brighten the world.
From person to person
the chain reaction burns through us —
setting heart to heart ablaze,
and lighting the way for us all!”
.
Bryant McGill
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Autumn Imperfection

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Autumn often brings a bit of imperfection to the garden. 

The foliage around us is a little tired and droopy.  Greens are fading to brown.  Bright colors may appear, highlights on our trees for a few days; but we know it will fade all too soon.

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Mexican blue sage

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“Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…
but merely to be LIVED.
Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly,
imperfectly, magically LIVED.”
.
Mandy Hale

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Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Ete’

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Every autumn flower feels precious.  We stop to enjoy the sweet, fleeting fragrance of ginger lily and roses.

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We stop to admire the ever deepening colors of the berries and Lantana.  We find beauty in the seed heads of the Rudbeckia, and the beauty berries so plump now they look like they might pop.

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“The eye always fills in the imperfections.”
.
Rabih Alameddine

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Hibiscus

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Birds fill the garden, gorging themselves on the ripening berries, drying seeds and abundant insects.   They appear suddenly from their hiding places, shooting through the air from shrub to tree as we move about.  We see living flashes of yellow, red, black, white, grey and brown as they celebrate the moment and fill the air with life.

We hear their exuberant song from first light until they click and chirp softly to themselves, as they settle in the bamboo at dusk.

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Even as the garden fades into its autumn disarray, we find it beautiful.

Its ‘perfect imperfection’ reminds us to find the beauty in each day, and to savor its sweetness.

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“A scar is not always a flaw.
Sometimes a scar may be redemption inscribed in the flesh,
a memorial to something endured,
to something lost.”
.
Dean Koontz
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Caladium ‘White Delight’ at sunset

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: Autumn Re-Blooming Iris

Iris ‘Immortality’

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Something white caught my eye as I was watering the other evening.   As if by magic, an Iris scape stood there tall and proud, its white buds glowing in the fading light.  The second bloom of our re-blooming Iris catch me by surprise each autumn.  It is hard to predict when they will appear.

Our favorite I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ sent up a scape with four buds last week.

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Iris ‘Rosalie Figgee’ blooming last week.  It is past time for me to clear up the spent Iris foliage to prepare for fall blooms.

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It re-blooms reliably through the fall, sometimes blooming into December.  But I. ‘Immortality’ is a little more rare, and we always accept her fall blooms with deep appreciation.

Just as many perennials wind down for the season, Iris will often begin to grow fresh leaves.  Their spring-time leaves are often yellowed or burned at the tip.  This is a good time to clean up the old spent foliage, if you haven’t already, and cut back their weathered leaves.

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The Iris grow well with culinary sage.  Seed heads from our garlic chives add texture. I like them very much, though I know I’d be wise to follow Eliza’s advice and deadhead more of these before the garden is overrun with chives next summer,  grown from these lovely seeds.

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A little water, and maybe a top-dressing of compost or a sprinkle of Espoma will revive their vitality.  If your Iris are a re-blooming type, this may increase your fall blossoms.  If not, you have prepared your plants for a beautiful show next spring.

This is also on my ‘to-do’ list, and so these beautiful blossoms have emerged today from less than beautiful foliage.   With cooler weather in our forecast, I will hope to accomplish this, too, before I take off for the West Coast in mid-October.

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Pineapple Sage, in its fall glory, still sends out new buds.

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Our garden is filled with light today, and alive with many pollinators feasting on the goldenrod.  They focus with such concentration as they work flower to flower, gathering nectar and pollen to feed their colonies through the long winter ahead.

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There are plenty of flowers left for our enjoyment, as well as for those nectar loving creatures who visit us.

I will head back out there shortly to make up for our lack of rain this week, with another good soaking from the hose.  It takes a lot of water to satisfy our thirsty garden, and watering allows me to see things I might otherwise miss.  It also keeps the flowers coming, and with any luck, we’ll have more Iris emerging soon.

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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I’m learning to make wire sculpture trees, and this is my second attempt: ‘Oak in autumn.’  I’ll learn so much about the structure of trees through sculpting them in wire.

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Signs of Autumn

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There are signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Never mind that it went over 90F here today.  As the days grow shorter, plants have a sense of the change of season and respond.  This is one of the great mysteries entertained by those of us who live in gardens.

Of course, leaves began to turn and drop in early August from our searing drought.  But now, even plants I’ve kept well-watered have joined in. Most of our Japanese painted ferns have dropped fronds now, modestly disappearing from the bed as leaves of Italian Arum begin to emerge.

Why is that?  How do they know it is time to rest?

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Some dogwoods and maple trees sport reddish leaves now.  It makes for pretty sightseeing on a drive.  The Aralia seed heads have been purple for weeks.  Even perennials, like our milkweed, have turned yellow and dropped most of their leaves.

As spring unfolds over many months here in Williamsburg, so too, does autumn.  And autumn leaves me feeling a bit melancholy and nostalgic.

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Although my birthday comes each spring, I never really feel that year older until fall creeps across the garden.   My steps slow a bit;  my enthusiasm wanes a little, too.  I’m ready to settle and just ‘let things be’ for awhile.

I look around and see that our garden is entering its final acts of the year, preparing for a few months of rest .  I suppose that like naps, a few months of rest allows the garden, and us, to store up the vibrant energy we need to greet another spring.

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Aralia spinosa with pokeweed

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Even so, there are still a few perennials and herbs just coming into bloom.  The Mexican sage is in bud, and goldenrods are just opening.  The pineapple sage is covering itself in scarlet flowers now, and tender fresh leaves have emerged on some of our spring bulbs.

I could try to fool myself that this is a ‘second spring;’ the preponderance of the evidence says otherwise.

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Pineapple Sage

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We are swiftly entering back into restful darkness, now that the autumn equinox has passed.  I feel it most in the evenings, when it’s noticeably dark earlier each evening.

I go for a walk, and darkness has gathered before I return.  A thin sliver of moon mocks me, nestled in its soft, moist cloudy cloak.

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Mexican bush sage

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I’m beginning to catalog the autumn chores ahead, and doing the math to decide how much time I have to procrastinate before lifting tubers, carrying pots indoors, and starting the round of fall planting.    I have flats of little shrubs stashed behind the house, waiting for autumn’s cool and damp.  I’ve ordered daffodils and more Arum, and will soon buy Violas for winter pots.

I expect at least another month of frost-free days and nights; maybe another six or seven weeks, if we’re lucky.  Today it felt like summer.  The sun was intense, the air humid and dense.

Hurricane Maria still swirls off of our coast, though far enough away that we had no rain and only a little wind.  We were glad it stayed away.

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Goldenrod coming into bloom

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And yet, I see the signs of autumn everywhere in the garden.  Huge spiders spin their webs on the deck.   Monarchs as large as birds visit our baskets of Lantana, floating above the garden in their vivid orange finery.

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  Goldfinches swoop and dive, stopping to snack on ripe seeds on the Rose of Sharon shrubs.    Their bare branches and yellow leaves make the message clear:  “Get ready.  Change is in the air.”

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Crape Myrtle with its last flowers of the year, just as its leaves begin to turn orange and red.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Nostalgia

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
.
William Faulkner
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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily the remembrance of things
as they were.”
.
Marcel Proust
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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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“There comes a time in your life
when you have to choose to turn the page,
write another book
or simply close it.”
.
Shannon L. Alder
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“We are homesick most
for the places we have never known.”
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Carson McCullers
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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
*
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017 
For my friend, Janet, who I miss often, and learn from, always
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“Nostalgia in reverse,
the longing for yet another strange land,
grew especially strong in spring.”
.
Vladimir Nabokov
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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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Fabulous Friday: ‘Black Magic’

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’

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It has been a few years since I ordered Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic,’ and so it puzzled me a little when I noticed a few dark purple leaves peeking out among a stand of Colocasia, ‘Pink China’ around our bog garden.  Never one to quibble with gifts of nature, I said a silent ‘thank you!’ to the universe and let it be.

Its leaves were quite small, beneath the towering canopies of C. ‘Pink China,’ and they never particularly took off.  What with my extended absences from the garden in late June and July, and the punishing drought of July and early August, it is a wonder this remnant survived at all.

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Our bog garden in July, with  C. ‘Pink China’  backlit to show its beautiful color.

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But it did.  And it stubbornly kept pushing up leaf after leaf, despite everything.

It was mid-August before I followed through on my determination to rescue this plant from its less than hospitable spot.  It is the least I could do, considering that it has hung on through at least two winters and survived the crowding of our very rambunctious and energetic C. ‘Pink China’ growing all around it.

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After about 10 days in the pot, I was ready to move our little C. ‘Black Magic’ out into the sun of our perennial garden at the end of August.

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See what a little horticultural love can do?  From a single leaf on a bit of rhizome and root, our C. ‘Black Magic’ has not only rapidly grown in its pot, it has already grown an offset!  A second little plant has emerged inches away from the first.

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September 15, 2017,  C. ‘Black Magic has already grown an offset.

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It is a genuinely magical experience to watch this little guy grow!  At first, I set it in a shady spot for about 10 days to establish.  Once I saw evidence of new growth, I knew it wanted sun, and moved it out to this choice spot where I would keep it well-watered.  I expect to leave this Colocasia out in the garden until late October or early November.

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September 20

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Now that I know  it is winter hardy here, we can decide whether to move it to a sheltered spot on our patio, or into the basement when nights grow cold.

I have been watching for new leaves to emerge around the bog garden, too.  Surely, there are still a few of  its roots in that bed.  In fact, I dug two more tiny starts, each less than 3″ tall, earlier this week.  I’ve potted them up and set them in shady, sheltered spots to grow on.

I like this beautiful, dark purple leaf, and C. ‘Black Magic’ is known for growing into a spectacularly large plant.  Plant Delights Nursery, which offers this variety, reports that the plant will grow to 5′-6′ tall and wide when given rich, moist soil and plenty of sun.   They also suggest that it can stand winter temperatures down to 0F when grown in a sunny spot, well-mulched through winter.

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This variety is known to spread quickly, as many Colocasias will, with lateral stems which run just above or just below the soil.  New plants will spring up from the nodes, rooting  into whatever soil is available; eventually forming a thick patch of plants.

I have to say that didn’t happen in the areas where I planted this variety originally.  My guess is that the part of the garden where I first planted it was too dry for it to thrive.  I moved an offset from the original plant down to the bog garden a couple of years ago, where it eventually survived.

C. ‘Black Magic’ may be grown with its pot submerged or in a wet, boggy spot in the garden.  In fact, I’m growing C. ‘Mojito’ and C. ‘Tea Cups’ most successfully with their pots partially submerged.  These are thirsty plants, needing a  lot of water to hydrate their huge leaves on hot summer days.

But I’ve learned my lesson now, and will make sure to offer plenty of water from here on to keep these rescued plants growing strong!

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Colocasias love rich, moist soil. They will grow into a dramatic display when their needs are met.  Allow plenty of space, as most cultivars will grow to 4′- 5′.   From left:  C. ‘Pink China’, C. ‘Tea Cups’, C. ‘Mojito’, C. ‘Pink China’

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C. ‘Black Magic’ was originally spotted growing in the Philippines.  It was collected, grown on, and eventually introduced to the nursery trade.  It is a dramatic plant; a touch of the tropics which will thrive in a more temperate garden if simply given a little consideration and care.

I’m happy to have another chance to get it right with this beautiful plant.  Every season we learn a bit more, don’t we?  That is one of the fabulous gifts gardening gives us, always another chance to grow our gardens well.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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September 22 …  It is Fabulous how much this Colocasia has grown since we moved it to its pot about six weeks ago.  (Why the plastic dish?  The wet sand is there for the butterflies, who frequent this part of our garden.)

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

 

 

Time for Autumn

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“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
.
C.S. Lewis
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“This is a wonderful day,
I have never seen this one before.”
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Maya Angelou
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“I cannot endure to waste anything
so precious as autumnal sunshine
by staying in the house.”

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Nathaniel Hawthorne
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“He found himself wondering at times,
especially in the autumn,
about the wild lands,
and strange visions of mountains
that he had never seen came into his dreams.”
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J.R.R. Tolkien

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“There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.”
.
Bliss Carman

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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WPC: Layered

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Our lifetime, like our environment, is built of uncountable layers. 

Ben Huberman reminds us of this in his weekly photo challenge today, and asks us to explore the various meanings of layers through our images.

While some of us may already be reaching for an extra layer of warmth when we head outside; there are also many of us still discarding as many layers as we safely can, when we muck through the humid heavy air of hurricane season to capture our images.

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I found these images on Sunday afternoon, as Hurricane Jose swirled off the coast,  all at a single stop along the marshes of Jamestown Island.  I was wearing far too many layers for comfort that afternoon, yet wished for an extra layer or two after the first few mosquitoes had their way with me.  Invisible predators sipped from hand and ear as I worked.

Just as I crept towards the last dry edge of the marsh, a Great Blue Heron startled, taking off from his hidden sanctuary beyond the reeds.  It reminded me that there are always layers upon layers of life more than we may every perceive.

Senses tuned, listening, watching, smelling the brackish air;  his presence still escaped me until he burst into the air in a massive explosion of determined wings, only a few feet ahead.

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Yet once he took flight, it wasn’t his presence which intrigued me, so much as the tiny crabs scuttling along on the muddy shore as the tide pushed back in.  These tiny crustaceans, each with one giant claw, make their lives and livings in our brackish marshes from south of Virginia Beach north throughout the rivers and estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. Masses of them appear from the reeds as the tide recedes.

I have fond memories of watching them with my daughter when she was small enough that I held her in my arms, pointing and laughing with her at their antics.  We have changed so much; they, not at all. 

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Maybe that is one of the comforts nature offers to us.  We can watch the same tree grow over our lifetime.  We can see the same birds and butterflies and even tiny crabs again and again through the decades of our lives.

We watch each season melt into the next; sunsets fade to reveal the star filled firmament above us.

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And yet, for all of that lifetime of seeing and hearing and smelling and tasting; we never quite discover all of the intricate layers of our world.  There is always a little bit more out there to discover and to love.

What a wonderful challenge this life presents to us, to know and to feel and to grow.  Not that all of it is beautiful.  Not that all of it makes us happy.  Not that all of it is even pleasant.

But it is incredible in its complexity, its balance, its depth and its ability to still surprise us.

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Yet to know it, we must be out there in the midst of it all, peeling back layer after layer of ourselves in our search for experience.

What lies beneath all of these layers?  What will we find if we can only watch long enough?

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Layered

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Native Beauty

Virginia thistle growing with goldenrod and beautyberry on Jamestown Island, Virginia.

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We headed out onto the Colonial Parkway yesterday afternoon, to see what we could see.   We were watching for signs of the changing season, and of course watching the sky for signs of the approaching storm.  Hurricane Jose was swirling out in the Atlantic, well away to our southeast.   Even so, the outer bands of this enormous storm were already creeping across our sky.

Once we reached  the ‘roads less traveled’ on Jamestown Island, we were delighted to see bright purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma , bright golden Solidago, yellowing marsh grasses and occasional reddening leaves.

The outer tips of branches on our native dogwoods, and some maples, have begun to change into their autumn finery.

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Yellowed Poplar leaves have been falling for weeks now.  A few inky purple berries still cling to magenta stems on the many native Aralia spinosa trees lining the road.  Their leaves will soon turn golden, too.

We stopped in a few of the pull-offs on the island to read the signs yet again, and for me to hop out to take a few photos.   As we approached one pull-off in particular, along the longer Island Drive, I was intrigued by the bright wildflowers and purple berries right beside the road.

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A pull off on the longer Island Drive on Jamestown Island.

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In addition to the vivid beautyberries  which lined the whole of the road in abundance, and the stands of goldenrod, there was something uniquely different.  This had flowers like a thistle, but on a radically different tall and lanky plant that I’d never noticed before.  What was it?

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The wild thistles we’d seen on Ocracoke Island, many miles to the south, were much stockier and shorter plants with larger blossoms.  I quickly ruled out perennial Cardoon, and every other ‘thistle-like’ plant I’ve known.

We have a passing acquaintance with most all of the native trees, ferns and perennials in the area.  And this one was new to us.

Perhaps we’d never visited the island at precisely this point in the seasonal progression before…  And so I took lots of photos, and determined to investigate the plant later, at home.

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As it turns out, the plant we found is a native of the Southeastern United States, called Cirsium virginianum, or Virginia thistle.   A biennial, it prefers moister, sandier soils along the coast.  It has a dangerously thorny stem, long thin leaves, and had grown a bit taller than I stand.  In some areas along the Gulf coast, it is considered a ‘noxious weed.’  But in Virginia, it is still relatively rare, at least in my experience.

I enjoyed the natural combination of its lavender blossoms growing against a back drop of purple beautyberry, with a skirt of bright goldenrod.    For this forested, marshy island especially, this was a rare colorful sight along the road.

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The beautyberry is rampant now in our garden, too.  In fact, so many volunteers have appeared that we often must cut them back throughout the season.  This is one of the plants I cut back hard in early spring to somewhat control its size.

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One of the larger beautyberry shrubs in our garden, which we cut hard every spring, reaches up for the lower limbs of the dogwood tree which shelters it.

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Solidago has self-seeded in sunny parts of our garden, too.   And we have a single berry-topped Aralia proudly presiding over it all.  A neighbor tipped me off to how badly the Aralia can sucker, and so I ruthlessly cut out the many small clones trying to grow up around the main stem this spring.  I suppose that will be an ongoing part of our garden routine from now on.

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Our Aralia, in its first season of bloom, surrounded by native Phytolacca americana, or pokeweed, another rampant native plant.  The birds love these berry laden natives.

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There are definite advantages and disadvantages to inviting native plants into one’s garden.  It is something to consider, especially for aging gardeners who want neat, easy maintenance landscapes around their home.

Native plants self-seed easily, and often grow and spread with enthusiasm.  It can take great effort to control them, especially if they establish on good garden soil, in areas tended and irrigated to keep them productive.  We are nearly overrun with the stunningly beautiful Rudbeckia hirta and Rudbeckia laciniata.  They both quickly claim far more real-estate than a gardener plans to give them.

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Three natives growing together in our front garden: black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum; and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  A Master Gardener friend gave us a large clump of obedient plant this spring. I divided it into several smaller clumps, and planted them in different areas to see where they perform best.  I am thrilled that this beautiful plant survived our summer drought and is blooming this first year.

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The R. laciniata wasn’t even invited; a gardening friend gave me a clump of white Monarda passed on from her friend, and some R. laciniata roots just happened to be in the clump.  But these gargantuan, flower covered plants are now filling my former ‘butterfly garden.’  I must tend to their removal this fall, when the weather cools, and weed them out ruthlessly next spring.

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Rudbeckia laciniata now fills what once was our butterfly garden, filled with various flowering shrubs and perennials.  I intend to weed most of this out over the next month, sharing it with a friend who wants it!

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The Rudbeckia hirta I shared lavishly with all gardening friends who would accept a few this spring.  I dug up clump after clump, and still have the largest, lushest stand of it, ever.  There are worse things than a sea of golden flowers come August and September, I suppose.

The rich drifts of perennials one admires in public gardens are attainable with natives, without stretching the budget, I’ve learned.

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This is the season for native plant sales, sponsored by local native plant societies.  This is a good service for communities and enables more of us to grow natives, if we choose.  While I support the effort in theory, I must admit that in general I prefer more curated, controllable cultivars.

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Self-sown Solidago in our garden, a week and a half ago, nearly ready to bloom. It has just begun to show color, and will be fully in bloom by next weekend.  This huge perennial attracts many pollinators and provides late season nectar for our bees.  But, large natives often shade and crowd out the more desirable cultivars of perennials one has purchased for the garden….

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Yes, I acknowledge the many and varied benefits native plants offer wildlife, and we absolutely grow our share of natives here.

That said, a word to the wise:  carefully research and observe any native plant you want to grow, before you invite it home to your garden.  Let  the natives you grow remain natural beauties, and may they never cross that line to become noxious weeds, overtaking your garden.

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Obedient plant with black-eyed Susans

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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A waterway through the marsh on Jamestown Island

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled.  No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.  In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.  No other place on earth feels so lush.  Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.  But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.  Truant plants will not survive.  The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do.  One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”
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Diane Ackerman

 

 

Blossom XXXI: Lantana

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“For it is in giving that we receive.”
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Francis of Assisi

Lantana proves a most generous flower.  It’s prolific blooms, full of sweet nectar, nourish butterflies from May until November.

As each flower fades, a small berry forms in its place.  These delight our hungry birds.

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“Generosity does not come from wealth.
Wealth comes from the flowers of kindness and love.”
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Debasish Mridha

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Lantana asks little for itself.  It thrives in poor soil.  It tolerates weeks of drought as its deep, sturdy roots seek out water to fuel its prolific blossoms.

It covers itself in flowers continually, growing ever larger, week by week, until it is touched by frost.

Its sturdy, green leaves soak in every ray of summer sun without wilt or burn.

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“When a person becomes aware of their genius
and they live it and they give generously from it,
they change the world, they affect the world.
And when they depart
everyone knows something is missing.”
.
Michael Meade

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Many of the Lantana that we planted five or more years ago have firmly established themselves in our garden.  Their woody bones burst into life in late spring, and they quickly grow back to enormous proportions.  We leave their skeletons in place through the winter, where they offer shelter and food to the birds who hang back in our garden.

Their drying berries provide a long lasting source of food.  Their dense branches and soft, fallen leaves give shelter from wind and snow.  Small birds play in their structure,  flying in an out of openings in the canopy as they search for insects.

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We wait to cut the Lantana back until the Crocus are blooming.  Once we see these signs of spring, we cut them hard, nearly back to the ground.  Their beds are opened once again to the warming sun.

Bulbs bloom, roses bloom, grass greens, spring settles; and finally, the Lantana re-awaken;  their first blossoms opening in time to greet a new generation of visitors to our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The Universe blesses a generous heart.”
.
Eileen Anglin
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Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 
Blossom XXIV:  Buddleia 
Blossom XXX:  Garlic Chives

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