Sunday Dinner: From Your Point of View

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“The cosmos is within us.
We are made of star-stuff.
We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
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Carl Sagan

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“When you have once
seen the glow of happiness
on the face of a beloved person,
you know that a man can have no vocation
but to awaken that light
on the faces surrounding him.
In the depth of winter,
I finally learned that within me
there lay an invincible summer.”
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Albert Camus

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“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.”
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Tim Burton

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“What we do see
depends mainly on what we look for.
… In the same field the farmer will notice the crop,
the geologists the fossils,
botanists the flowers, a
rtists the colouring,
sportmen the cover for the game.
Though we may all look at the same things,
it does not all follow that we should see them.”
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John Lubbock

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“Nothing is really work
unless you would rather be doing something else.”
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J.M. Barrie

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“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then
to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted.”
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Bertrand Russell

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“It is a narrow mind
which cannot look at a subject
from various points of view.”
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George Eliot

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“If we are always arriving and departing,
it is also true that we are eternally anchored.
One’s destination is never a place
but rather a new way of looking at things.”
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Henry Miller
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Experiments With Gravel Mulch

Yucca filamentosa ‘Colorguard’ has appeared from under our newly installed gravel mulch.

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Most of the mulches we use are organic and improve the soil as they decay.  Shredded bark or leaves, pine straw, straw, newsprint or brown paper all have their uses.

When we consider inorganic mulches, there are definite benefits along with some obvious deficits.  Inorganic mulch won’t improve soil texture or fertility.  But neither will it harbor fungal disease, come pre-contaminated with weed seeds, provide a nesting site for ants or decay in just a few months.

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New terraces are planted to help control erosion, and mulched with pea gravel (spring 2017).

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I was first drawn to pea gravel mulch as we began to try to control erosion and cultivate the steep slopes of our back garden.    But I was also digging some gravel into the back-fill and planting hole when we installed new shrubs and perennials, to try to thwart the voles who would otherwise devour their tasty root balls.  Finishing the job with a nice mulch of gravel felt appropriate as a further deterrent to rodents.

Pea gravel definitely helps both with erosion control and rodent control.  But it also ‘disappeared’ into the soil on rainy days, after a while, and got covered with leaf litter and other organic matter over time.  I find myself renewing the pea gravel in spots after a while.

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“Soil security”

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Gravel mulch serves to help conserve soil moisture, just like every other sort of mulch.  It shades the soil, shelters root systems, absorbs the shock of falling rain and holds soil in place.

Additionally, gravel reflects sunlight and heat back up into the plants above it, helping to dry the plants more quickly after a rain and thereby deter fungal disease.  Gravel mulch also provides a dry barrier between moist soil and dry plant, preventing crown rot.

Soil doesn’t splash up onto lower leaves and branches, and the gravel perhaps makes it a little harder for invertebrates to travel up and back between soil and delicious plant above.

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Gravel mulch is used most commonly in rock gardens, where many drought tolerant and alpine plants are featured.  Some plants wouldn’t live long with a moist organic mulch, but manage just fine with gravel mulch that protects their crown.  Gravel is coming into vogue again as a fashionable and useful mulch for perennial gardens, too.  I have been reading about perennial and succulent  gardens grown under several inches of pea gravel in various garden magazines.

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Even a thin gravel mulch has helped conserve moisture around these newly planted perennials.

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I also recently enjoyed listening to a presentation by Joseph Tychonievich at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden where he presented his new book, Rock Gardening:  Reimagining a Classic Style.  Joseph inspired me to move ahead with my vision to incorporate more areas of gravel mulch in our sunny perennial beds in the upper garden.

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I use fine gravel as a mulch in potted arrangements, too.

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This area is gently sloping, and erosion isn’t as much of a pressing concern as in the lower gardens.  The entire area was left under several inches of freshly ground hardwood mulch in 2013, as the arborists who cleaned up our fallen trees ground up leaves and branches and simply left it all in place.

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Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area in 2013, right after the trees came down, without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting .

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As that has decomposed, I’ve renewed the mulch with bagged hardwood and Cypress mulch from the local hardware store.  It smells pleasant, and Cypress helps to repel insects.  It has an ecological downside, though as mature trees are cut for mulch.

The soil in much of this area still consists of thick, hard clay, despite my best efforts to dig in compost and improve its texture.  There may be a few inches of good compost on top of the clay, but the clay still holds heavy rainfall and keeps parts of the garden far too wet, especially in winter.

I am beginning to understand that a gravel mulch will promote better growth and vigor in most of the plants we are trying to establish, particularly the Iris and Mediterranean herbs.

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Recently,  I decided to experiment with a much larger gravel mulch in one of the beds that needed some TLC.  I lost several perennials here over winter, and so had quite a bit of bare ground.

On our shopping trip, my partner noticed this beautiful blue green rock quarried somewhere in Virginia.  We decided on the spot to give it a try, and I am very pleased with the results thus far.  Not only is this gravel not going to shift around on a rainy day, but I don’t believe it will sink down into the soil anytime soon, either.

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This three year old Siberian Iris bloomed for the first time this spring, and I hope the new gravel mulch will help it grow more vigorously in future.

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Now, please keep in mind that gravel is the heaviest mulch you can choose, and moving it around and spreading it takes both strength and commitment.  If I had the luxury of ordering up a truckload of it and hiring a crew to spread it for me, that would be a lovely thing.  But I don’t.

Rather, I’m buying it a couple of bags at a time and spreading it by hand.  It is going to take most of the summer to mulch this whole area working with just a few square feet each week.  But I am already seeing the benefit this mulch brings to our plants.

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This is a single bag of gravel spread around our new Monarda.  It will take a few more bags to finish this area….

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I bought three plugs of Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ about four years ago, as we were first planting this bed.  I wanted them to make a large focal point to anchor the area and planted them in a broad triangle.  Well, let’s just say that I expected them to grow much faster and they have largely gotten lost between larger and floppier perennials.  In fact, one of the three was struggling so much that I dug it up in late winter and planted it into a pot in full sun, hoping to give it a better chance to grow.

Never mind that I kept digging it up every month or so, checking to see if there was any visible growth, and replanting it again with the confirmation of a fresh root or tiny shoot.  That is a sad tale, and I ended up filling the pot with first one plant, and then another, simply to have something to look at besides the empty pot.  I ticked this off as a failed plant and moved on.

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Maybe if I put a fresh gravel mulch in this pot, the Yucca would finally grow?

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But not so fast!  Something of that Yucca was left alive in the original bed.  And finally, a month after I mulched over the area with the new Virginia gravel, look at what has emerged!  Plants really really want to live, and sometimes we just need to improve conditions for them and get out of the way to give them a chance!

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This newly planted Lavender was struggling with our weather extremes, but has improved under the gravel mulch this month.

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Our friends at our local garden center have a running joke that we always buy gravel or compost, if nothing else, and are their best customers for pea gravel. Gravel has made gardening in this difficult site possible.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, and want to visit with me and bring a little gift, a fresh bag of gravel is always in style.   I’ll be so happy to see you, will show you around the garden and offer you a few divisions of something nice to take away with you.

And I might even let you help spread the gravel while we’re at it!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XLIII: Verbena

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A winning combination:  Dependable, easy to grow,  attracts butterflies and other pollinators, grows well with others.  Verbena bonariensis endears itself to my gardener’s heart a little more with each passing summer.

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I bought my first few on a whim as little plugs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs several years ago.  I had admired this Verbena growing in their display garden both for the clear lovely color of the flower, and for its obvious popularity with the winged nectar loving set.  I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I planted the plugs into slightly raised, full sun beds with confidence that something interesting would grow.

I had grown other Verbenas, of course, before trying this very tall, perennial variety.  I still pick up a few annual Verbenas for my pots and baskets each year.  They produce non-stop flowers all summer, take full sun, shrug off July and August heat, and keep on blooming up until frost.  All they ask is that you don’t let them dry out completely, and perhaps offer a snack when you water from time to time.

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Annual Verbena grows in a sunny pot with Lantana.

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I’ve also grown Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple,’ which makes a beautiful ground cover and often returns the following year.  It prefers somewhat dry soil, and though hardy to Zone 6, may not make it through a particularly wet or late winter.

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Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

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It was introduced in the 1990s, and is very commonly available throughout our region, alongside the many colorful annual Verbenas each spring.  The flowers are a very intense purple, and the foliage a rich dark green.

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Eastern Swallowtail butterfly on Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ at the Heath family’s garden in Gloucester.

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All of the Verbena flowers prolifically attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Verbena bonariensis, native in South America, mixes lightly among other perennials in the garden.  Its long airy stems, sparse foliage and small flowers allow it to appear to float in mid-air, like some magical oasis for pollinators.

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It can grow to 5′ or more tall, in full sun and steady moisture.  It forms expanding clumps, and also spreads its seeds around easily.  It isn’t considered invasive in Virginia, and though it will send up nearby seedlings, they are almost always welcome.  Any falling in a path can be easily moved or shared.

And now I’m adding still another native Verbena to our garden:  Verbena hastata, which is a North American native perennial.  I’ve admired it at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, but found it potted and offered for sale on Saturday at the Sassafras Farm display at our local Farmer’s Market.

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Verbena hastata at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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Verbena hastata, commonly called Blue Vervain, is native to our region and feeds both pollinators and birds.  It grows in moist, disturbed soil in full sun to partial shade and is frequently found near swamps, ditches, and ponds.  It is a larval host for the Verbena moth and the Buckeye butterfly.

I was first attracted by the wonderful violet color of its unusual flowers.  Like V. bonariensis, this is another very tall, airy plant, which blends well into a meadow planting or mixed border.  The plant itself is nearly invisible allowing its flowers to attract all of one’s attention.

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Verbena has a coarse, somewhat bitter foliage that is unappealing to deer.  While rabbits have been known to nibble at Verbena hastata, especially new and tender growth, the plant survives.

I am always interested to learn by growing out a new plant.  One can read multiple descriptions and still not really know a plant, unless it has lived in one’s own garden for a season.  I want to watch it grow and see how it responds to the challenges of the passing seasons and the wandering herbivores, before I feel any confidence in recommending it to others.  But the next best thing to growing a plant myself is to watch it in a public garden, or listen to another gardener describe their experience growing it.

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After talking with Sassafras Farm owner Denise Greene on Saturday, I left with pots of three new perennials to trial here in our Forest Garden.  In addition to Verbena hastata, I also came away with Eryngium yuccifolium and horsemint, our native Monarda punctata.  I’ve been looking for this Monarda for a few seasons now, and it caught my attention first with its huge, delicately tinted very architectural flowers.

I parked all three pots near the hose when we got home from the market on Saturday, watered them, and headed back out on more errands.  Yesterday I was away, and when I checked the new pots in the early evening, I was delighted to find a cloud of bees surrounding the still potted Monarda!  I’m still plotting where each of these interesting new perennials will grow in our garden.  But know that once they are settled in, photos will follow!

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Monarda grows well in the conditions of our garden, even in partial shade. Here, Monarda fistulosa grows with purple coneflowers.

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Most of us want to invest in plants we believe will grow well for us.  Who wants to invest, only to watch a plant decline and fail; or worse, feed some vagrant deer?

My search for deer resistant, tough, drought tolerant and beautiful perennial plants continues.  If you are considering additions to your garden, I hope you will take a closer look at the native American Verbenas.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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And, another one: 
Have you grown Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum muticum?
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Mountain mint is another tough, native perennial for pollinators, that deer will leave strictly alone.

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Blossom XLII: Carrots in Bloom
Blossom XLI: Tradescantia

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Building A Community

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“The world is so empty
if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities;
but to know someone who thinks & feels with us,
& who, though distant, is close to us in spirit,
this makes the earth for us
an inhabited garden.”
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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches
is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum,
and that as long as the sun still shines
and people still can plan and plant, think and do,
we can, if we bother to try,
find ways to provide for ourselves
without diminishing the world. ”
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Michael Pollan
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“I know there is strength
in the differences between us.
I know there is comfort,
where we overlap.”
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Ani DiFranco
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“Community is a sign that love is possible
in a materialistic world
where people so often either ignore or fight each other.
It is a sign that we don’t need
a lot of money to be happy-
-in fact, the opposite.”
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Jean Vanie
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“If man is to survive,
he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences
between men and between cultures.
He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes
are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety,
not something to fear.”
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Gene Roddenberry
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Every human activity
can be put at the service of the divine and of love.
We should all exercise our gift
to build community.”
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Jean Vanie
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Growing Herbs for the Beauty of It

Culinary tri-color sage grows alongside perennial Geranium and fennel.

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I grow herbs mostly for their beauty.  That, and their toughness as season-long dependable plants in our pots, beds and baskets.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows near emerging Colocasia.

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I haven’t built them their own little parterre, and I don’t grow them in cute little matching terra cotta pots, either.  I treat them like any other plant and let them earn their spot in my heart and in our garden.

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A newly planted Spanish lavender will soon fill this pot.  It is surrounded with wild violets and wild strawberries.

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Herbs may be some of the oldest plants cultivated and passed on generation to generation and from one culture to the next.  They are celebrated in story and song.  They can heal us, feed us, soothe us and delight us.  Herbs are intensely fragrant; a living, growing perfume.

But I would grow them even without their rich mythological and pharmacological mystique.  Why?  Because I can depend on them.

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The first fennel flowers of the season opend this week.

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The strong fragrance and coarse texture of many herbs makes them distasteful to the deer I want to foil.  I learned in the early years of this garden that I could plant herbs in the spring, and expect them to still be merrily growing in our garden, sans critter damage, the following October.  I like to believe that planting lots of fragrant herbs can also protect more desirable plants growing nearby.

They are a good investment.  They bring me peace of mind.

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Basil

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But the more I tried different cultivars of favorite herbs, the more I delighted in them for their own sake.  They are entertaining plants to grow.  Let me explain.

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Chocolate mint

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Most herbs draw in pollinators.  That means that on a sunny day, I’ll find bees, wasps, butterflies, and all sorts of bright little insects that I can’t name without a field guide hovering around them and blissing out on their sweet nectar.

As I observe and photograph the visitors, I can crush and sniff their wonderfully fragrant leaves.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Many herbs, like the mints and scented geraniums, produce compounds in their leaves that repel biting insects.

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Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, is a versatile herb with strongly fragrant leaves.  The Garden Club of America  has named it their 2018 native plant of the year.

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If a buzzy or bitey is getting too up close and personal with me, I can pinch a stem and rub the fragrant leaves on whatever skin might be exposed.

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Pineapple mint with lavender

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Mountain mint, though not so beautiful, is an especially effective insect repellent with no toxicity to harm my family or me.

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Rose scented ‘Skeleton Rose’ Pelargonium repels insects with its fragrance. Growing here in a basket with Lantana, this basket makes a tough combination for full sun.

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That same fragrance makes herbs appealing as cut flowers, too.  Stems worked in with other flowers make interesting, long lasting arrangements.

My favorite herbs for the vase are Basil, Pelargoniums, Artemesia, and Salvias. The interesting colors, shapes and textures of herbal foliage pumps up any vase.  Oftentimes, a stem will root in the vase and can be planted out to grow on when the arrangement is disassembled.

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Basil with pineapple mint, Lime Queen Zinnia and roses.

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Just as herbs create interesting contrasts with flowers in a vase, so they also pump up pots, baskets and perennial beds.

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White Monarda came to our garden as a gift from a gardening friend.  It is edible, can be used for tea, and looks lovely in a vase.  Also known as bee balm or Oswego tea, this plant is a useful North American native herb.

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Although herbs bloom, most have relatively small and insignificant flowers.  With a few exceptions, like some basils, dill, borage and fennel; herbs are grown more for their leaves than for their flowers.

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Now rosemary is a delight all unto itself.  Sometimes evergreen if the winter is mild, usually perennial, it delights us with its blue, winter flowers.

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Rosemary in bloom

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Rosemary often comes into bloom in late autumn, and many years I can include blooming sprigs of rosemary in our holiday wreathes in December.

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A newly planted rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ will triple in size by fall. Sedum ‘Angelina’ shares the pot.

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The pungent fragrance of rosemary exudes from a lovely little shrubby plant.  With rosemary, as with other Mediterranean herbs, the hotter the better in summer.  Growing to 4′ tall or more, a rosemary hedge by a fence or wall is possible in Zones 7b or 8 and warmer.

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An upright shrubby rosemary grows here with prostrate, creeping  rosemary.  Most of our rosemary plants died in our cold winter, and so I’ve had to replace them with new this spring.

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Many people grow herbs primarily for use in the kitchen.  And most, but not all, are edible.  Herbs generally respond well to the continual pruning that frequent use entails.

There are whole encyclopedias of information on using herbs for cooking, crafts, healing and housewifery.  I’ll leave you to read them if you want to learn more.

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Creeping Rosemary makes a good groundcover, or a good ‘spiller’ in a pot in full sun.

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I get busy and forget to cut and use them, I’ll admit to you.  My plants might be bushier if I used them more.

But I love watching my Pelargoniums grow huge and fill the gigantic pots I grow them in.  I love watching butterfly larvae growing plump as they harvest my parsley and fennel for me.  And yes, quite often the plants regenerate themselves within a few weeks once the larvae crawl off for their transformative naps.

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And so it is that I end up growing herbs much like any other garden plant; no special fuss required.

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Comphrey with Artemesia

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That said, keep in mind that herbs such as lavenders, culinary sages, thymes, rosemaries, oregano, germanders, Artemesias, Santolinas, and a few others originated in hot, mountainous areas where the soil may be a bit rocky and the rain scarce.  They aren’t used to coddling, and they don’t much appreciate our muggy damp summers in Virginia.

Our soil may be a bit too acidic and heavy with clay.  Our nights too damp and warm, our rain too intense.  There may be some rot or mildew.  Their roots may not thrive.

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There are a few simple things to do to make these Mediterranean herbs a bit more comfortable.  I tend to grow many of them in pots more successfully than in our heavy clay soil.

But culture in the soil is possible.  I like to dig some dolomitic lime and a little pea gravel into the planting hole before I plant a new transplant.  I set the crown a little high, mounding up the back-fill around the top-most roots, but not up the stem.  Then, I mulch with gravel out a few inches around the plant.  I’m told that chicken grit or broken up oyster shells work well for mulching herbs, too.

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Roots of these Mediterranean herbs want good drainage.  They can rot easily if left sitting in wet soil for very long.  That is why it is smart to amend the soil and plant them high.  If your soil is too heavy with clay, also dig in some compost before you plant, to loosen and improve it a bit.

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If planting in a pot, I mix some lime into the top few inches of the potting soil, set the plants a little high, and mulch the pot with pea gravel.

The gravel reflects sun and heat up into the plant on fine days, holds a little extra moisture during drought, and prevents soil from splashing up onto the lower leaves when it rains.  The gravel mulch helps protect those lower leaves from any disease harbored in the wet soil.

When growing an herb plant with woody stems or grey to blue leaves, take these precautions if your soil and weather is like ours.

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Artemesia with lavender and Iris

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Basil, dill and cilantro are annuals.  Parsley a biennial.  Chives and other Alliums are perennials, even when they are harvested annually for their bulbs.   All are soft stemmed and want a bit gentler treatment.  They appreciate more water and richer soil… but not too rich.  Herbs grown without much fertilizer have better flavor and aroma and grow more compactly.

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The Alliums are just beginning to bloom.

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Grow all of these in full sun, or the most sun you can manage.  The more sun, the more growth in most cases.

Also, give them space to grow.  Your little transplant fresh from its 4″ pot may look a bit small, and your new planting a bit sparse at first.  But please remember that most herbs grow quickly.  Mind the mature height and spread and allow space for your herbs to grow into their potential.

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Pineapple sage in its fall glory, still sending out new buds in late September 2017.

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Crowding, in our weather, makes it more likely for mold or rot to get a start where the branches stay too wet, and where air can’t easily circulate around their leaves.

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Thyme needs a good trim now and again. The stems get too long, with new growth only towards the tips.

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I wait each spring to see which of our perennial herbs made it through the winter, and which were finished off by the cold and damp soil.  Ironically, most will make it through until early spring.  It is those last few weeks and those last few frosts that may prove too much.

That is why I wait until I see new growth sprouting from their branches, before I cut them back.  Once they are growing and the weather is milder, I can cut with confidence.  Cut too soon, and a late freeze may be too much of a shock.  I killed a beautiful Agastache this spring by pruning it too early.

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Breakfast at the Agastache… summer 2017.

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Cut back any obviously dead wood, and trim most of the branches by at least a third to stimulate new, healthy growth.  But don’t throw all of those trimming away!  Many herbs, like Artemesia will root from these stem cuttings taken in late winter or early spring.  What will you lose by trying? 

And there is nothing complicated in my technique.  I open up a hole in the earth with my blade, insert a stem a few inches deep, and close the hole.  It roots and begins growing within a few weeks.  That is how I’ve spread Artemesia all around my garden over the years.

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Pineapple sage has beautiful leaves, but won’t bloom until late September.  It is hardy in our garden.

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Most herbs will root from stem cuttings.  You might cut several stems of basil, use most of the leaves, and root the stems in a glass of water to generate new plants over the summer.  Herbs like thyme are easy to divide.  Just take a stem on the outside of the plant, with some roots already growing, cut it off and plant it where its needed.  Do this with most Salvias, too.

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Apple mint roots easily in water. But easier still, pull a stem with some roots attached and planted it up elsewhere.

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If you’ve shied away from planting herbs in the past, I hope you’ll try a few this year.  You don’t need to be an expert gardener to succeed.  Most are very easy, and forgiving.

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An heirloom Pelargonium that I managed to root from a gifted stem cutting is now out in a basket for the summer.  This cultivar was brought to Williamsburg by the early colonists and grown here in the Colonial era.

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And this is the perfect time to begin, now that we are into the second week of June.  Garden centers in our area have just begun to mark down their herbs by 20-30%.  There are great bargains available this month as plant shops clear out their stock.

Unlike more tender plants, herbs will establish just fine in summer’s heat, so long as you don’t let them completely dry out as they grow new roots into the surrounding soil.

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Deadhead lavender, and other herbs, to keep the flowers coming all season. This is Spanish lavender, with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.

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There is always more to learn, there is always more to try, and there are always more beautiful and interesting plants to introduce in our gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Sunday Dinner: Knowledge

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“The beginning of knowledge

is the discovery of something

we do not understand.”

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Frank Herbert

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“Proper teaching is recognized with ease.

You can know it without fail

because it awakens within you that sensation

which tells you this is something

you have always known.”

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Frank Herbert

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“A process cannot be understood by stopping it.

Understanding must move with the flow of the process,

must join it and flow with it.”

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Frank Herbert

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“Without change something sleeps inside us,

and seldom awakens.

The sleeper must awaken.”

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Frank Herber

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“The future remains uncertain and so it should,

for it is the canvas upon which we paint our desires.

Thus always the human condition

faces a beautifully empty canvas.

We possess only this moment

in which to dedicate ourselves continuously

to the sacred presence

which we share and create.”

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Frank Herbert

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“If you need something to worship, then worship life –

all life, every last crawling bit of it!

We’re all in this beauty together!”

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Frank Herbert

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“When a wise man does not understand, he says: “I do not understand.”
The fool and the uncultured are ashamed of their ignorance.
They remain silent
when a question could bring them wisdom.”
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Frank Herbert
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Blossom XLI: Tradescantia

Tradescantia, spiderwort

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“Everyday I discover more and more beautiful things.

It’s enough to drive one mad.

I have such a desire to do everything,

my head is bursting with it.”

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Claude Monet

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“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection

that one finds a way.

So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”

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Claude Monet

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden keeps many native plants in its collection. This area is for pollinators.

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“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands

into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips

the possibilities of the new season.”

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Kate Morton

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“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.”

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Vera Nazarian

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

all photos from the Williamsburg Botanical Garden
May 2018

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“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it,

and understand it in a very real sense.

‘Green fingers’ are a fact,

and a mystery only to the unpracticed.

But green fingers are the extensions

of a verdant heart.”

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Russell Page

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WPC: Twisted Wisteria

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If you have ever wondered whether plants are aware and know what they are doing, just study a Wisteria vine for a while.  Plants are wiser than you may want to believe.

This formidable vine grows across an arbor at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden in Freedom Park.  Believe it or not, this vine hasn’t been growing here more than a dozen years.  It already looks quite venerable and sage, doesn’t it?

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It has enthusiastically taken over the arbor, like a toddler with a new play set!

Never mind the climbing Hydrangea petiolaris desperately trying to grow up the opposite side, or the always feisty Virginia creeper that has snuck its way through the dense network of twining branches.

These three neighbors fight it out, now, for the best real estate on the arbor to catch the summer rays.

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This is our native North American Wisteria frutescens, which grows from Virginia west to Texas, and south into Florida.  A deciduous woody vine, W. frutescens will grow to only about 15 meters long, which is only two thirds of the mature height of Asian Wisterias.

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Wisteria grows best is moist soil with full, or at least partial sun.  It normally uses a strong  nearby tree for support, but also grows on fences, trellises, or pergolas.  It makes a lovely ‘ceiling’ for a pergola over a  porch or deck.

Our native Wisteria may also be trained into a standard tree form, but requires a lot of tending along the way and regular trims to keep it in bounds.

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A member of the pea family, Wisteria captures nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil along its roots, helping to ‘fertilize’ other plants growing nearby.  But please don’t taste its pea-like pods!  Wisteria is a poisonous plant if eaten, which helps protect it from hungry rabbits and deer.

Wisteria also absorbs carbon from the air, cleaning and purifying the air around it while fixing excess carbon in its woody stems and roots.

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Our native Wisteria’s flowers are smaller than its Asian cousins’, too; and so it is often favored by gardeners who want a more contained Wisteria for a small garden.

Our native Wisteria is also a larval host for several types of butterflies and moths, including skippers.

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This particular vine has embraced its arbor in a crushing grip.  It is as though the vine itself has become a living, twisted, arbor that will stand the test of time even if the man-made frame eventually comes apart.

Let this be a caution to you if you ever choose to plant one near your home.  I did that once, and realized that wood and nails and staples are no match for this prodigious vine, no matter how sturdy the construction may appear!

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Wisteria twists clockwise around its support, weaving itself into a living sculpture.

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While other vines may have tendrils that twine or sticky pads that stick to surfaces like masonry, Wisteria is the twisting, twirling boa constrictor vine of the plant kingdom.

It gives shade to us weary gardeners, and it generously shelters birds and bugs, lizards and toads.  It is teeming with life, reaching wildly with its newest branches in search of something to support its restless sprawl.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Twisted

Sunday Dinner: Complicated

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“Abandon the urge to simplify everything,
to look for formulas and easy answers,
and begin to think multidimensionally,
to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life,
not to be dismayed
by the multitude of causes and consequences
that are inherent in each experience —
to appreciate the fact that life is complex.”
.
M. Scott Peck

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“The ideal art, the noblest of art:
working with the complexities of life,
refusing to simplify, to “overcome” doubt.”

.
Joyce Carol Oates
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Simplicities are enormously complex.
Consider the sentence, “I love you”.”
.
Richard O. Moore

Blossom XXXIX: Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’

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Watching the Hydrangeas bloom can keep me entertained for a long time.  This is a slow-motion feast for the eyes as the flowers unfold and subtly change over a period of weeks each spring.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a smaller shrub, and its flowers turn a rosy dusky pink in summer.

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The flowers are barely noticeable as they begin to appear, small, tight and creamy green against the shrub’s large leaves.

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H. quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ four years on from planting.

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As the panicles lengthen and swell, the buds open, one by one,  into pure white flowers.

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Even as they open, the flowers remain subtle in early summer, allowing the shrub’s beautiful leaves to garner equal admiration.

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Texture remains more interesting than color in these early stages of the oakleaf Hydrangea’s annual show.

As the flowers mature, they will become more noticeably white before fading to shades of cream, pink, mauve, and finally caramel.  By October, the leaves will still command our attention as they turn scarlet.

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But in May, these beautiful native Hydrangeas emerge lush and green, blending into the lush, leafy enveloping green of our early summer garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally.
Make it the object of pursuit,
and it leads us a wild-goose chase,
and is never attained.”
.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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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.”
.
Samuel Scoville Jr.

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