Fabulous Friday: What is Beauty?

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We live surrounded by beauty.  But how do you define it?  Everyone has their own idea of what is beautiful, and what is not.

This is a conversation that has been going on for a very, very long time.  We know that people living many thousands of years ago discussed this a lot, and had their own, very definite ideas.

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Anything in any way beautiful
derives its beauty from itself
and asks nothing beyond itself.
Praise is no part of it,
for nothing is made worse or better by praise.
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Marcus Aurelius
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We gardeners generally intend to cultivate beauty through our efforts.  That isn’t to say our gardens are always beautiful, though.   Beauty happens, but there is a lot of cleaning up of the ‘not so beautiful’ too.

And that is the space which interests me: when there might be disagreement as to whether or not something is beautiful.

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Do you find this Eucomis beautiful?  Would you grow it?

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“Everything has beauty,
but not everyone sees it.”
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Confucius
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Most of us find flowers beautiful.

But what about the perfect insects which drink their nectar?  What about the beetles eating their petals?  Can you see their beauty, too?

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Perhaps my perception of beauty is a little skewed, but I find the insects, in their geometric grace and perfection, beautiful.

There is beauty in every leaf, every petal, every stem.  The longer you gaze, the more beauty one absorbs.

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I was so pleased, when I walked through the garden this afternoon, to find these beautiful wasps enjoying our Allium blossoms.  There must have been 20 or more of them, each enjoying the sweet nectar at their feet.  They were peacefully sharing the bounty with bees and other pollinators.

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There are people in my life who would have squealed and backed away at the sight of these busy insects.  But I was too fascinated to fear them, and instead took great joy in making their portraits.  They are interesting visitors, and we rarely see such large, colorful wasps.

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Our garden’s bounty this week includes golden parsley flowers and creamy white carrot flowers, in addition to the Alliums.  There are Echinaceas now, lavender, Coreopsis, Salvias, crepe myrtle, Basil, and more.  All these tiny nectar filled flowers attract plenty of attention from hungry pollinators!

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It’s a feast for our eyes, too.  Sometimes, it is hard to imagine the abundance of our June garden until it returns.

We’re celebrating the solstice this week, and we are surrounded by such beauty here, that it is a true and heartfelt celebration

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I’ve always valued beauty.  To me, beauty can cause happiness, just as food expresses love.  There is beauty in truth, though you can argue that beauty may often be based in illusion.

We could discuss this all evening, couldn’t we? 

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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Rather than ‘over-think’ it, which may be the antithesis of beauty, let’s just enjoy it.

Let’s simply celebrate this Fabulous Friday, this Beautiful high summer day; and like the bees, drink in as much sweet nectar as our eyes and hearts will hold.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter,’ a new introduction this year. Do you find it beautiful?

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Woodland Gnome 2017

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure
as long as life lasts.”
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Rachel Carson
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Clematis ‘Violet Elizabeth’

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

Shade Haven

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As June fades towards July, we appreciate every speck of shade our garden offers.  Summer days in Virginia routinely heat up to over 90F.  And it’s a moist heat, here near the coast.  Some days we have nearly 100% humidity.

When I was growing up in Virginia, we somehow survived it, often without any air conditioning.  The first few schools where I taught didn’t have air conditioning, either.  Maybe that is why I love the shade and know the value of a cool breeze on a summer day.

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Japanese painted fern’s silvery fronds make it especially cooling on a sultry summer day.

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The lowest slope at the back of our garden enjoys a lot of shade.  It is steep, and erosion remains a concern.  This is one of the first areas where we began planting ferns in our first year of tending this garden.  A dense stand of bamboo grows just beyond, where our garden falls off into the ravine.

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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I add a few more ferns and shade-loving plants to this area each year.  I began a new planting bed around the stump of a newly fallen tree, at the base of the slope, several years ago.  It began with a transplanted Hellebore seedling and some  little autumn ferns, planted into a mound of compost poured in and around the stump.  Well, they  survived into the next year, and so I made the circle of compost a little wider and added a few more plants.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns planted are  in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.   June 2013

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I’ve added a few more plants each year, including some Sauromatum venosum, or  Voodoo Lily tubers, in 2015.

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I thought I might have ruined this ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.  July 2016

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We finally decided this spring to extend this whole area and give it a proper border.  This was very early on when I was studying rain gardens, and thinking about places on our property where we needed to do more to catch and use run-off from storms.

This shady slope has fairly good soil, but is ridden with roots.  So I simply outlined the new dimensions of the bed, laid an outline of landscaping bricks, and set to work eliminating the existing  weedy growth.

Some of the weeds, near existing perennials, needed pulling.  Some areas where moss was well established, I wanted to simply leave alone.  But much of the new garden could be covered with brown paper grocery bags, and topped off with a few inches of compost.  This is the best method I’ve found for creating new planting beds in this garden.

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I chose a selection of ferns and shade loving perennials to harmonize with the ferns, Hellebores, and voodoo lily already growing here.  Although I’ve planted mostly hardy ferns, there are a few more tender ferns that I potted up last fall, and returned to this bed after danger of frost.  Others are planted into containers and  displayed in this area.

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Bamboo leaves drift down on every breeze.  I clear them, occasionally, off of the larger plants in this bed.  One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, I plan to grab our leaf blower and blow all of the bamboo leaves away from the garden and back towards the ravine.  I’m sure the moss establishing here would be better for it, and so would my character.  How I admire fastidious gardeners!  Perhaps one day I’ll join their ranks….

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Ken Druse has written a delightful book entirely about gardening in shade.

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His The New Shade Garden is one of those beautiful books I lusted after for more than a year, before I finally ordered it this past winter.  The luscious photos and useful information and encouragement on every page left me wondering why I waited so long to read it.  This book is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to you if you share my affinity for finding cool haven in the shade.  You’ll find whole chapters devoted to shade loving trees, shrubs, perennials and ferns; along with useful lists and recommendations for plants for particular situations.

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All we need now, to complete this beautiful shade haven in our back garden, is a little patio and a place to sit.  That may still be a few years off, though.  Somehow I’m always more interested in plants than hardscape, and rarely find time to just sit in the garden.

There is always more to do…. something waiting for me to plant….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

WPC: Transient

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“The only way to make sense out of change

is to plunge into it, move with it,

and join the dance.”

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Alan W. Watts

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“Nothing endures but change.”

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Heraclitus

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“If a beautiful thing were to remain

beautiful for all eternity, I’d be glad,

but all the same I’d look

at it with a colder eye.

I’d say to myself: You can look

at it any time, it doesn’t have to be today.”

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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“It is in changing that we find purpose.”

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Heraclitus

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Clematis ‘Violet Elizabeth’

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For The Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Transient

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Faith and Patience

The first tiny leaves of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ which overwintered outside in a large pot, and finally showed itself this weekend to prove it is still alive.

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Fear and faith often compete for our attention.  How often do we preface a thought with, “I’m afraid….,” ? 

Faith requires great patience.  It asks us to overlook the passage of time as we wait for what we want and need to manifest.  When fear wins, we let go of faith and give up our positive attitude of hope.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ survived winter in this pot, though I feared all the tubers were lost. Here it is shooting up around the Calla lilies and annuals I planted last month.

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We may explain it away as being ‘realistic.’  We might give any number of plausible reasons for surrendering to fear.  But a hallmark of integrity and strength is one who has faith in an eventual positive outcome, who can look away from fear and remain hopeful.

I believe that gardening teaches us this lesson above all others.  The work of a gardener requires great faith, whether we are planting something in the Earth, waiting for spring to unfold, rejuvenating a shrub through heavy pruning, or simply sharing a plant with someone else who hopes to grow it on for themselves.

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In all of our work as gardeners, we maintain faith that our vision will eventually manifest, perhaps even better than we can possibly imagine it.

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Zantedeschia, which overwintered in the garden, and came back three times the size it was last year.

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I got a hard reminder of this from another gardener this week.  Earlier this spring, I admitted that I was ‘afraid’ that some Caladium tubers I’d saved and some Colocasia tubers I’d left outside over winter hadn’t made it.  I was afraid they were lost to winter’s cold, and replanted the pots with something else.  I gave up too easily….

My gardening friend chided me with a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew:  “Oh ye of little faith!” And  of course, he was right.  I wasn’t so much afraid as I was tired of waiting.  In my hurry to keep my pots productive, I gave up too soon.  I didn’t allow nature the time it needed to initiate the miracle of new growth.

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But even through my lack of faith, these tiny bits of life have grown, sprouting new leaves, and proving to me that they have endured.

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Faith can be defined as: a strongly held unshakeable belief; confidence; complete trust; an obligation of loyalty; and a belief in that which cannot be seen or proven.

It is by maintaining our faith in our aspirations that they may eventually be realized.

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The fruits of Friday’s marathon planting efforts, ready to grow into their positive potential.

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Often the difference between success in our endeavor, or failure, is only a matter of how long we can sustain our efforts and our faith.  We can give up or give in too soon!

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And so our eventual success often hinges on our ability to patiently wait for nature’s process to unfold.

When we hold on to our faith in the positive outcome we envision, we have that proverbial ‘”faith like a grain of mustard seed, …   and nothing will be impossible for you.”  Mathew 17:20

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These Cannas, given to me by a dear friend in the weeks after our front garden was devastated by a storm, encouraged me to keep faith in re-making the garden.

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Faith becomes a very practical source of strength.  It is a stubbornness which demands the best from ourselves, the best from our environment, and the best from others in our lives.

In its essence, it is an unshakeable belief in the endless positive potential of the universe.  And that is what we gardeners are always about, isn’t it?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves,
and it was completely calm.    Matthew 8:26

Sunday Dinner: Loving Dads

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“I believe that what we become
depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments,
when they aren’t trying to teach us.
We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
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Umberto Eco

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“Beauty is not who you are on the outside,
it is the wisdom and time you gave away
to save another struggling soul like you.”
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Shannon L. Alder

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“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery.  
It merely washes clean the glass you look through
so you can clearly see the colors.”

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Richelle E. Goodrich

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Happy Father’s Day to everyone who has gone the distance, who has given their best effort, who has expressed unconditional love to a child.  Maybe the child was your own flesh, maybe not.   Families are often made more through love and respect than through simple biology.  And every child needs a loving, responsible, dependable guide to grow into a loving, responsible, dependable adult.  Whatever your gender, whatever your age; I hope today is filled with love for you.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“By being grateful, appreciating all we have
instead of focusing on what is lacking,
we allow more of the same to flow toward us.”
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William Powers

Summer Garden: Shifting Focus

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“The beauty of that June day was almost staggering.

After the wet spring, everything that could turn green

had outdone itself in greenness

and everything that could even dream of blooming

or blossoming was in bloom and blossom.

The sunlight was a benediction.”

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Dan Simmons

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Allium

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“And so with the sunshine

and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,

just as things grow in fast movies,

I had that familiar conviction

that life was beginning over again

with the summer.”

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

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“There’s this magical sense of possibility

that stretches like a bridge

between June and August.

A sense that anything can happen.”

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Aimee Friedman

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Carrot flower and Coreopsis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Clematis

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“A flower blossoms for its own joy.”

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Oscar Wilde

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Focus

WPC: In Focus, Or Not….

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“When I fully enter time’s swift current,
enter into the current moment
with the weight of all my attention,
I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.”
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Ann Voskamp
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“Miracles… seem to me to rest not so much upon…
healing power coming suddenly near us
from afar but upon our perceptions being made finer,
so that, for a moment, our eyes can see and our ears can hear
what is there around us always.”
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Willa Cather
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“Listen to the trees as they sway in the wind.
Their leaves are telling secrets.
Their bark sings songs of olden days
as it grows around the trunks.
And their roots give names to all things.
Their language has been lost.
But not the gestures.”
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Vera Nazarian
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“Pay attention to the intricate patterns of your existence
that you take for granted.”
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Doug Dillon
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Attention is a resource as abundant as sunlight.
It streams outward all day long
whether we choose to tap into it or not.
By developing conscious focus of our attention,
we learn to harness one of the greatest creative powers
available to humankind,
one that happens to be freely available
within ourselves at all times.”
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Scott Edmund Miller
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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Focus

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Sunday Dinner: Discovery

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“From so high above it,

the world seems ordered and deliberate.

But I know it’s more than that.

And less.

It is structured and chaotic.

Beautiful and strange.”

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Nicola Yoon

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“Our real discoveries come from chaos,

from going to the place that looks wrong

and stupid and foolish.”

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Chuck Palahniuk

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

(parsley flowers and fennel leaves, after the rain)

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For the Daily Post’s 

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Order

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Fabulous Friday: The Napping Bee

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I was trecking through the garden a bit earlier than usual this morning.  Thank the doe I spotted strolling in the lower garden, for that.  The cat and I were enjoying the best of early morning on our dew dampened deck when she strolled into view, gazing up at us way too innocently.

Not yet dressed for the garden, at least I had on some old jeans and a pair of deck shoes.  I took off for the back door, grabbed the long baton we keep there for such activities, and headed out to inspire her swift departure.  Since my camera was right there on the kitchen counter, I grabbed it too, and headed down the hill in pursuit.

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Mrs. Doe knows us well.  And she soon realized that since it was just me, she could lead me on a merry chase.

Across the bottom, back up hill, through the perennials in front; she thought she had found refuge by lying down under our stand of Mountain Laurel.  But I still saw her, still as she was in the shadows, and let her know it was time to go.

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Once she had leapt the fence back to the neighbor’s yard next door, I hung out for a while, taking photos and listening for her to try to sneak back in.

And that is when I spotted the napping bee.  These bumblies don’t have hives, like honeybees.  And it isn’t unusual to find them, sleeping still, in the cool of early morning, clinging to the same flowers they visited last evening.

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Breakfast at the Agastache…

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A few of its mates were lazily slurping their breakfasts nearby.  Perhaps their night time perch had already been warmed by the sun.

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Allium, Verbena bonariensis and Coreopsis all delight hungry pollinators.

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Our sunny perennial beds are planted to attract as many pollinators as we can. The Agastache, in its third year, has grown into a gigantic mass of nectar rich flowers.  It will bloom steadily now until frost.

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Agastache with white mealy cup sage, white Echinacea, purple basil, thyme, dusty miller and a calla lily offer plenty of choices for our pollinators.

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Looking around, the feast is definitely laid for the wild creatures who frequent our garden.  There are ripening berries and abundant insects for our several families of birds.  There are plenty of flowers beckoning bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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And, there are plenty of ants marching along in formation to feed the skinks who sun themselves on our porches.   A huge rabbit, maybe even bigger than our cat, was munching grass on the front lawn at dusk last night.  And we’ve found several box turtles, who eat most anything, sheltering among the perennials.

And how could the deer not look in through the fences, and use every brain cell they’ve got to find a way into the garden?  Sadly, unlike our other garden visitors, their munching harms the plants and destroys the beauty of the place.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, although native in our region, is still loved by hungry deer. This is our first year to enjoy more than a single bloom or two. I keep it sprayed with Repels-All.

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The doe who called me outside this morning was the third deer in two days, and she returned with a friend just an hour or so later, while I was brewing coffee.  By partner and I teamed up to help them both find their way back out.  That was a respectable work-out for both of us!

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The summer blooming Crinum lily is poisonous. This is one of the few lilies we dare grow, as it isn’t grazed and the bulbs won’t be disturbed by rodents. Hardy in Zone 7, this lily is long lived and the clump expands each year.

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When I went back outside, a bit later, to begin my day’s tasks in the garden; my partner took off to Lowe’s for a fresh bag of Milorganite.   Inches of rain, earlier this week, must have washed away what was left.

The Milorganite really does work.… until it doesn’t.  It’s not hard to tell when it’s time for a fresh application.  It might last as long as a couple of months, unless we have a heavy rain.

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I ended my morning’s gardening by spreading the entire bag of Milorganite, making sure to also cover that sweet spot under the Mountain Laurel where the doe believed she could hide.

By then, the sun was fully warming the front garden.  Our napping bee had awakened, and gotten on with the serious business of sipping nectar and collecting pollen.

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When I was young, I collected bumblies just like her in a glass jar with holes poked in the lid, just to observe the bees up close.  The delight in watching these creatures go about their work has never faded.

Now, it is fabulous to watch our June garden host so many wild and beautiful visitors.

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“The keeping of bees
is like the direction of sunbeams.”
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Henry David Thoreau
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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Dark Beauty

Zantedeschia ‘Hot Chocolate’

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Are you drawn to nearly black foliage or flowers when designing your garden?  Many new cultivars have come to the market in recent years sporting very dark shades of purple, burgundy, green and bluish black.

I like them.  My partner doesn’t.

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We were shopping together this spring, and I was ready to buy  a Colocasia ‘Black Coral.’  I must admit that I was seeing the poor little start as I expected it to look in July.  My partner saw the pitiful dark little thing in its plastic nursery pot and didn’t like it at all.  We had words.  And I chose to keep the peace by making a different selection.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ with coleus, petunias and peach verbena

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But I always admire dark leaved Colocasias, especially shiny ones like C. ‘Black Coral’ or ‘Black Ripple.’  And I find them stunning when they are planted near chartreuse or burgundy tropical foliage.

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And so when we returned to the shop some weeks later, I asked my partner to trust me, and bought my C. ‘Black Coral.’  Once I planted our little Colocasia in its new blue ceramic pot with a peach verbena, some coleus and purple petunias, it looked completely different.  Once it was planted up with contrasting plants, he liked it, too.

And that is the key, I believe, to using very dark flowers and foliage:  create contrast in the planting.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ with Oxalis

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The Heath’s catalog describes their Zantedeschia ‘Black Star’ this way:  “…this is close to the illusion of shadow…”  Our garden vignettes are composed of light and shadow, form and emptiness.

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As we design with plants, we splash color against a backdrop of green; or perhaps the backdrop of our home or other hardscape.  As we work with colors, it is sometimes energizing to create contrasts as well as harmony.

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And I enjoy the rich dark colors of some leaves and flowers for the beautiful contrasts they create.

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Try mixing these dark plants with clear bright color in nearby foliage and flowers.  I especially like pairing dark foliage with chartreuse or grey.

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Begonia Rex with fern

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Create a hot tropical feel by using dark Colocasias with  orange or bright pink flowers.  Harmonize by pairing with foliage or flowers a few shades lighter or brighter.

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petunias

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Choosing dark flowers and leaves for your garden needn’t make your garden drab or mournful.  Rather, use these unexpected and unusual plants to energize and excite.

Let them inspire you to create a beautiful space uniquely yours.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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