Six on Saturdays: In Leaf

Some new Rex Begonias with A. ‘Ghost’ and have found their place in the shade.  This is a piece of the A. ‘Ghost’ that I divided a few weeks ago.  It has been growing on in a nursery pot and now has a home of its own.

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August is perhaps the leafiest month of all.  Have you ever thought about it?

The trees are not only fully clothed in leaves, they are also in active growth, pushing out new tender, leafy branches in all directions.  Shrubs sit plump and leafy, their woody skeletons obscured beneath a thick cloud of green.

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Every sort of grass and herb and herbaceous blooming stem bursts out of the ground, some taunting us to come and tame them with mowers, string trimmers and secateurs.

And then there are the beautiful, whimsical leaves which simply delight.  Leaves with swirls of color, spots, stripes, and wavy edges.

Leaves that shimmer and shine in their iridescent beauty.  Leaves that grow to gargantuan proportions, regal and proud.

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When we brought our large Begonias out of the house and garage in late May, many had lost most of their leaves.  Their long, woody stems held only a few stragglers and looked rather awkward.

We cleaned them up, cut them back, watered and fed them and set them in bright shade.  Most have finally grown a new summer cloak of beautiful leaves and are beginning to push out panicles of flowers.  Their beauty has returned in time to luxuriate in August’s heat.

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Our garden shimmers in the light and rustles in the breeze, leaves giving shade as they hungrily soak up summer’s sunlight.

As we consider how our changing, warming climate might affect the planet’s future, and our own, we might consider the leaf; that bio-factory that absorbs not only sunlight, but also breathes in air.  It filters, it cleans, and it produces pure oxygen.  And it takes all of those carbon bits floating in the air and transforms them into the very cellulose of its own growing body.

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Forests of trees, big trees, long-lived trees offer a potential strategy to help clean the carbon out of our atmosphere, eventually reversing our planet’s warming.

If we can’t plant a forest, perhaps we can plant a tree.  If not a tree, then perhaps a pot of leafy plants.

Every shrub and tree and beautiful leaf does its own small part towards healing and enlivening us all.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“The journey may be fraught with challenges,
yet it continues,
for even the smallest leaf must embrace destiny…
Persistence is the key…”
 Virginia Alison
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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

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Six On Saturday: Visitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six on Saturday: Portraits

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

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

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

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

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

Here are six portraits from our garden today.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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

 

Six On Saturday: What Color!

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What do most people want from their summer plantings?  Color!

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Mophead Hydreangeas can produce differently colored flowers.  When the soil is more acidic, the flowers will be blue.  When the soil is sweeter, they will be pink.  Our Nikko Blue Hydrangeas are blooming prolifically in a rainbow of shades from deep blue to deep pink this week.  They look wonderfully confused.

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While many landscape designers focus on structure and texture, most of us living in the landscape crave color in our garden, however large or small that garden may grow.  But what colors?

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Every year designers choose a ‘color of the year’ as their theme. This year’s color  is a lovely peachy coral. This ‘Gallery Art Deco’ Dhalia is an intense shot of color, especially paired with a purple leafed sweet potato vine.

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We each have a very personal idea of what colors make us feel good, relax us, and excite us.  Color is all about emotion, and how those colors make us feel.

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Calla lilly

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One of the joys of gardening is that our colors change as the seasons evolve.  We don’t have to settle on just one color or color palette, as we do for our indoor spaces.

In our gardens we can experiment, we can celebrate, we can switch it up from month to month and year to year through our choices of plant materials.

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Rose of Sharon trees in our yard are opening their first flowers this week.

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Pastels?  Jewel tones?  Reach out and grab you reds?

We’ve got a plant for that….

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Canna ‘Red Futurity’ blooms for the first time in our garden this week, and should bloom all summer in its pot by the butterfly garden. I love its purple leaves as much as its scarlet flowers.  A favorite with butterflies and hummingbirds, we expect lots of activity around these blooms!

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“The beauty and mystery of this world

only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . .

open your eyes wide

and actually see this world

by attending to its colors, details and irony.”
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Orhan Pamuk

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

 

Six on Saturday: Shimmer and Shine

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When morning brings only a slight lightening of the darkness, sky hung with low, grey clouds; and nighttime’s staccato soundtrack of raindrops on the roof plays on and on; a certain reluctance to greet the new day may be overlooked.

But the new day still dawns and clocks tick on in their steady counting.  And so with determined optimism I stepped out this morning to see what could be seen of the garden without stepping off the stone patio.

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Inches of rain poured from the sky from Friday noon until evening, from evening into the night, and all night through the melting darkness and into this reluctantly dawning Saturday.

Staying in bed, the most logical course of action, wasn’t an option.  I had plans to travel and promises to keep.  But the prospects for the day seemed dim.

And when I’m feeling unenthusiastic, the best antidote is a walk, however short, to survey the garden.

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Raindrops gilded every leafy surface, reflecting morning’s pale grey light.  Puddles collected on the stones and in the leaves.  The air smelled clean and alive.

The front garden, cloaked in cool fog and wet trees, enclosed my timid explorations.  It felt like spring again, even as the blooming Hydrangeas and Hibiscus and extravagant tropical leaves proved it is early summer.

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Water gives life and fuels growth.  The garden trembled with shimmer and shine in the slight breeze, even as misty rain filled the air and seeped into my light clothing.

I could hear our toads singing their approval of this fine wet morning.

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It is on days like this that I most appreciate the beautiful leaves that fill our garden.  Texture takes over when delicate flowers melt in a steady rain.  What might be overlooked on a brighter day reveals its beauty under the glamour of raindrops, in the thin light of a wet morning in June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“But here, the rain was just another part of the landscape.

Like it was the thing that lived here

and we were merely visitors.”
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Megan Miranda

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

Six on Saturday: Elegance

Peruvian daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Six On Saturday: In Leaf

Zantedeschia catches the setting sun in our upper garden.

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Brightly colored flowers always catch my eye at the nursery.  We all respond in our own peculiar way to color.

But more and more, when I’m choosing plants for my own garden, I’m more drawn to the intricate details of beautiful leaves.

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Hosta leafs out amid wild violets and ferns.

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Anyone who assumes that leaves are just monotonous green may find a new world waiting once they open their eyes and notice the wonderful colors, shapes, and texture available with foliage.  Combining leaf textures and shape can be even more interesting than designing with flowers.

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Colocasias with dwarf pomegranate

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Leaves grow in countless shades of green.  They surprise us with many other brilliant colors, too.  Most any color found in a flower may find its echo in a leaf.

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Caladium ‘Southern Charm’ is a new introduction from Classic Caladiums this year.  This new Caladium will thrive in full to partial sun.

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Beautiful veins, interesting shapes, crinkled surfaces, variegation and surprising textures can make foliage as ornamental as flowers.  Leaves emerge and persist for weeks or months, while most flowers fade in just a few days.

Foliage forms and fills a garden, while flowers appear briefly as highlights.

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Many of my favorite foliage plants are returning, expanding, and filling our garden with interest and beauty this week.  I greet them like old friends, delighting in their fresh new leaves.

Many that overwintered inside as tubers or dormant in pots are awaking, and waiting in their nursery pots for me to plant them out in their summer spaces.  Sometimes it takes time to discern the best spot for each plant, and to group good companions together.

Like smearing paints on canvas, I plant living colors and forms in garden soil.    Unlike paint, which mostly stays where it’s put, plants move, expand, intermingle and respond to moisture, light and heat.  Their colors change with the weather; they arise and wither with time’s changing winds.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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Just a peak into the shady nursery, where my plants grow on and wait their turn for planting out.

 

Six On Saturday: Flowers In Bloom

Our first white coneflowers, Echinacea, opened yesterday.  Each flower lasts for a very long time. Pollinators frequent the flowers over several weeks. Once the petals finally drop, goldfinches delight in picking out the tasty seeds. Coneflower remains a presence in our garden all summer, producing new flowers deep into the season.

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The few weeks after Azaleas fade and Iris finish bring a brief lull in the garden.  Our trees are fully covered now in deep green and shrubs cover themselves with tender new growth.  Now is a good time to take softwood cuttings, if you want to clone any woodies.

Most gardeners keep secateurs close at hand as we deadhead spent flowers and sometimes need to clip a path for ourselves through vigorous new growth.

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African blue basil remains one of my favorite annual flowering herbs. I grow it for the sweetly scented flowers and rarely cut it for cooking. Once the flowers finish, goldfinches swoop in to claim the seeds. This basil continue flowering and growing all summer long.

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I’ve done more trimming than planting this week as I continue to tame the rampant goldenrod and obedient plant claiming too much real estate in our front perennial beds and the thuggish cutleaf coneflower shading out its companions in the butterfly garden.  Abundant rain and warm weather fuels this early summer growth spurt, as plants increase by inches a day.

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Verbena bonariensis, a South American native Verbena, is one of my favorite perennials at the moment. I have planted it in beds and pots this year. I’ve learned that it self-sows generously, and returns more vigorously with each passing year. I saw a friend’s plant that had grown into a small woody shrub and fooled me, as I thought it was a butterfly bush leafing out last month!  All Verbenas prove magnets for butterflies and other pollinators.

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But looking across the front garden I don’t see as much color this week.  And so I walked our garden paths, camera in hand, to see what new flowers have appeared as we transition from spring ephemerals to summer’s perennials.

Most of these flowers will continue for several weeks more, if not for several months.  Some will bloom on from now until frost.  Spring’s exuberance settles now into summer’s steadiness.

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Garlic chives are always the first of our Alliums to bloom in May. They spread a bit more each year. These are an edible herb, a good pollinator plant, and add color during early summer.

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I brought home a new rose colored Salvia today and a beautiful new coral Agastache.  I am looking forward to their bold color shining in the garden for many weeks ahead.

Spring is all about the flowers, but summer color comes more reliably from interesting foliage.  Flowers come and go, bloom and fade and fall.  They bring in the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, but they fade all too quickly.

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Spiraea japonica blooms reliably each May, and will re-bloom if deadheaded. This is a very traditional shrub, left by a previous gardener, and may be cut for the vase.

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I’m most excited this week about all of the deep red Canna plants growing by the day, tubs of Caladiums and Alocasias ready to take their places throughout the garden, and a growing collection of beautiful coleus.  But our winter Violas are still going strong in their pots, and they are so colorful I am loathe to pull them before they fade.  Our summer foliage plants continue to wait on the Violas and snaps for their turn in our summer pots.

Another steamy summer settles over the garden, and the garden is transforming itself yet again, as our perennials emerge and grow.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ keeps these deep ruby leaves all year long, even through winter.  It is a special treat when its flowers emerge in early summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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“At last came the golden month of the wild folk-

– honey-sweet May,

when the birds come back,

and the flowers come out,

and the air is full of the sunrise scents

and songs of the dawning year.”
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Samuel Scoville Jr

Six on Saturday: Wildlife Friendly Perennials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Six on Saturday: Iris in Bloom

German Bearded Iris ‘Rosalie Figge’

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Iris perfectly blend color, fragrance, geometry and grace.

I’ve spent the last six months delving into the details of the genus and am delighting now in watching them unfold their perfect standards and falls.

The appearance of Iris each spring still feels like a bit of natural magic.  From a slender green stem, the intensely pure colors emerge as each flower unfolds.

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Iris tectorum, Japanese roof Iris, can be grown on traditional thatched roofs.  It was a status symbol in some Japanese communities to have a roof covered with blooming Iris.  This is a crested Iris, like our native Iris cristata.

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Watching an Iris bud open reminds me of how a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, ever so slowly stretching and unfolding its wings.  Both grow so large one wonders how they could have possibly fit into their sheath.  While a butterfly soon flies off in search of nectar and a mate, Iris blossoms remain anchored to their stems, hovering above the garden in motionless flight.

Our Iris continue to multiply in the garden.  I’ve been collecting them, dividing them, and have even received some as gifts.  Most bloom only once each year, and then for only a few weeks.  But what an amazing sight to anticipate through the long weeks of winter, knowing that spring will bring Iris blossoms once again.  Collecting different types of Iris extends the period of bloom, and planting re-blooming iris offers the tantalizing promise of an encore in autumn.

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Iris pallida, a European species Iris brought to Virginia by the colonists, is one of the species used in German bearded Iris hybrids.

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There is a fellowship of Iris lovers extending back through our recorded history.  We see Iris carved into bas reliefs in Egyptian temples, and Iris flowers were admired in ancient Greece.  The Babylonians grew them, and Iris grew wild across the hills of Turkey and meadows of Europe.  There are more than 150 species of Iris, and many of our garden Iris are hybrids of two or more species.

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Native Iris cristata

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Tough and persistent, Iris are easy to grow, once you understand what each variety needs.   It is easy to fall in love with Iris plants in bloom.  And that is the best way to buy them, so you know exactly what you are planting.  Since most are hybrids, gardeners rarely grow Iris from seeds.

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Some Iris grow from bulbs, most from rhizomes.  Some may come in the mail as bare-root plants.  You may have to wait a year or two for the first bloom when you buy divisions.

For immediate satisfaction, look for potted Iris plants in bloom.  You will know exactly what colors you are adding to your garden and know you have a healthy plant to start.

Then, just wait for the beauty to multiply with each passing year.

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Iris x hollandica ‘Silver Beauty’

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

 

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