The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

The Butterfly Garden at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is beautiful, if still dormant, in early February.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a great destination for picking up ideas and observing many different sorts of plants growing here in James City County, Virginia.

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Whether you go for a quiet walk, or to participate in a class, there is always more to learn, experience and enjoy.

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The garden is a true community effort.  It brings together volunteers from many different organizations, including the Williamsburg Master Gardeners Association.

The garden is subdivided into  specialty gardens planned and maintained by different groups, and serving different purposes.  In addition to the butterfly garden, there are areas devoted to heirloom plants, native plants, wetland and woodland plants, perennials and flowering shrubs, a fernery, and an area of raised beds for therapeutic gardening.

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The Pollinator Palace

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Best practices are modeled, and new gardeners are both trained and inspired in this special space.  Even though the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is fenced to exclude deer; songbirds, pollinators and other small wildlife are welcomed and fed.

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The first stirrings of spring were evident today under bright skies.  It was only a few degrees above freezing when some gardening friends and I ventured out, tools in hand, for a pruning workshop.

Despite numb fingers and toes, we discussed proper pruning for several species of flowering woody shrubs.  Experts demonstrated the proper use of a variety of nifty pruning tools, too.

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A few of the earliest shrubs, like Spirea, showed tiny bits of green. Its buds are just tentatively opening this week.  But most of the herbs, perennials, and deciduous woodies were still slumbering through their last few weeks of dormancy.

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Daffodils have just begun to emerge, their bright blooms now only days away.

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Today served as a call to action to get out and get after the woodies in our own Forest Garden, before the season gets ahead of me this year.  I was a bit slack last year on the pruning. This year, there is a great deal of cutting and thinning and just plain lopping back waiting for us.  But it won’t wait for long; warmer, longer days will coax those buds to open all too soon.

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It is too early in the season to prune wood from early spring bloomers like Spirea and Viburnum.  However, one may always prune out wood that is Dead, Diseased, Deformed, or Damaged.

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Some gardeners grow a bit confused about what pruning to do, and when.  In general, February is a great month for pruning roses, crape myrtle, butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, and other trees and shrubs which won’t bloom before June.  If a shrub blooms on new growth only, it is safe to prune it back now.

If your shrub blooms on old wood from last year’s growth, and already has its flower buds ready to go now, then “wait to prune until after bloom.”  

All of our favorite spring shrubs like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Forsythias, and Spireas have flower buds set and ready to open on schedule, over the next several weeks.   Any pruning done now will reduce our spring blooms.

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There are great Botanical gardens all over the country, and we are very fortunate to have such a nice one here in Williamsburg.  One can’t help but feel either inspired or overwhelmed after an hour’s walk among such a beautiful collection of plants.  This is a great destination for a walking tour, even on a frosty February morning.

Once I had a cup of coffee and could feel my fingertips again, I was ready to head over to Lowes.   I wanted to have a look at some of the new nifty gadgets for pruning that I’d seen demonstrated today, while my enthusiasm was still warm.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Tour Guide

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In a Pot On Wednesday…..

March 18, 2015 pot 008

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We have celebrated the warmth and sunshine of the past several days out in the garden, preparing for a new growing season.

We’ve fertilized, pruned, shredded leaves, cleaned up planting beds, and taken absolute delight in the signs of awakening perennials.  Our daffodils have begun their annual ‘season in the sun’ as more and more clumps begin to open.  I’ve planted a few still sleeping perennials and spread some compost.

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March 18, 2015 pot 009

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All the while, I’ve been thinking of those less fortunate… those whose gardens still lie under ice and snow.  I’ve never wanted to live further ‘north’ than Zone 7.  In fact, I like Zone 8 even more.  But for those blogging friends still waiting for your first daffodils to appear, and especially for those friends waiting to see your soil again after weeks of wicked winter weather; please know you are not forgotten or overlooked.

I’ve potted up a little ‘eye candy’ especially for you, to hopefully bring you a little cheer as you wait….

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March 18, 2015 pot 013

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Monday passed quickly, pruners and camera in hand, and late in the afternoon there was no energy left to execute a ” Vase ” for a Monday post.  Tuesday was much the same, I’m delighted to say.

We have visited our friends who run the best garden center in the area,  ostensibly to buy a few bags of compost.  Of course, when I saw their racks filled with colorful annuals and a whole section of tiny perennials at a bargain price; the inevitable euphoria broke my resolve.

Weather forecast ignored, I came home with the first flats of the season.

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March 18, 2015 pot 006

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And that is how “In A Vase on Monday” morphed into “In A Pot on Wednesday.”

Now, there is still snow in our forecast.  We are counting on a “dusting” with the temperatures hovering just above freezing.  These are all hardy plants, and should manage just fine.  And the pot is completely portable if things get colder than we expect.

Here is the lovely Hellebore from the “One Word Photo Challenge: Melon” post yesterday, with a Heuchera “Melting Fire,Allysum and two melon colored snaps.  What I hope you can’t see in these photos are the cloves of garlic I’ve tucked in to discourage any wayward deer who might sneak into the garden.  They won’t bother the Hellebore or Allysum, but they’ve been known to snack on Heuchera leaves.  Garlic has proven effective to protect our pots from deer nibbling.

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This pot is nestled at the base of a Dogwood tree, among some budding Autumn Olive shrubs, which will soon be covered in tiny champagne colored flowers.  Sunny now, this area will remain shady much of the day when the trees have their leaves.

Even though I didn’t manage a ‘Vase” this week, please still take a moment to visit Cathy’s post at Rambling In the Garden and see the many beautiful arrangements others have created.

We’ve been tidying up until today.  With the chores mostly done, I took a few hours late this afternoon to finally plant a little color.

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March 18, 2015 pot 012

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The flat of Allysum and snaps are all in the ground.  Such tiny little things now, almost lost among the leafy mulch.  But like all of the other tiny starts of spring, these too, will grow.

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Like so much of the happiness in our lives, we take a little here and there as we can.

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We are enjoying these first warm and sunny afternoons of spring.  Fully aware that winter isn’t finished yet, we feel its grip loosening a bit more with each passing day.

Woodland Gnome 2015

Building a Terrarium

January 11, 2015 terrarium 045

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Do you like miniature gardens and “little worlds”?  I downloaded samples of several books about miniature gardens, fairy gardens, and terrariums on Saturday looking for inspiration and fresh ideas.

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Terrariums and fairy gardens first caught my imagination in childhood.  I love that terrariums are largely closed ecological systems, mimicking the water cycle of our planet where water evaporates, condenses, and then returns to the soil.  Once constructed, a balanced terrarium can live indefinitely; or at least until the plants outgrow their vessel.

These are great little gardens for those with little space, or for those who want to bring a bit of nature into their professional environment.  There isn’t any anxiety over keeping them properly watered or making a mess, with a little garden in a bottle.

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Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.

Divisions used in this little garden include a golden creeping Sedum and a division of peacock spikemoss.  I broke these off of pots I’m overwintering in the garage.

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My point in building this little terrarium, beyond the fun and beauty of it, is to demonstrate a few of the “tips and tricks” which make it an easy project.  Yes, so easy that you can pull it together in an afternoon, and then spend the evening admiring it with friends over a glass of wine

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An olive oil bottle from Trader Joes. Needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

This  olive oil bottle came from Trader Joe’s.   It needs a bit more scrubbing to get the rest of that glue off!

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My bottle came full of olive oil from Trader Joes.  The olive oil was delicious, by the way, and I just saved the bottle in the pantry because it was too pretty to throw away.

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Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They're prettiest when wet, anyway. The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

Agates from Oregon beaches have a new home now in the terrarium. They’re prettiest when wet, anyway.  The scarf is one I just finished for a friend.

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The stones are mostly agates picked up off beaches in Oregon.  There is a layer of reindeer moss from the craft store, left over from my moss-covered wreathes, and then another layer of glass shards from a bag of assorted glass purchased at the crafts store for other projects.

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New potting soil and bits of plant materials from the garden complete the project.  My only new investment here was a bit of time on Sunday afternoon.

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All terrariums need an inch or so of loose stones as their base layer.  Not only are they pretty and interesting to view from the glass, but they form the drainage system of the environment.  Any water you add to the terrarium, which isn’t absorbed, drains down into the stones so the soil isn’t waterlogged.

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Many builders add a little bit of aquarium charcoal to this layer of stones to help filter the water and keep it “sweet.”

The layer of moss between the stones and the soil serves as a barrier to the soil to keep it from running down into the stones.  It is purely aesthetic.  I added bits of “beach glass” around this moss layer to add to that barrier, as well as for the color.

Now, there are easier ways to do most anything.  Hold the bottle at an angle when adding the stones and glass, to direct where they fall.  I added a few stones to the center of my pile to take up space, allowing more of the agates to be visible against the glass.  Tilt the bottle when dropping in bits of beach glass to direct where you want the glass to land, then nudge it into place with a long, narrow tool.

Use whatever you have on hand to work inside the terrarium.  Many builders suggest chopsticks.  The cheap ones which come with your meal are the best.  I also like bamboo food skewers, and always have a pack lying around.  Even a pencil works just fine to nudge things into place through the narrow opening of the jar.

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The depth of soil needed depends entirely on plant choice.  Ferns and sedums need a little soil.  Moss needs very little.  I’ve used just over an inch of soil.  The roots will also grow down through the reindeer moss and into the stones below to reach the water there, eventually.

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January 11, 2015 terrarium 039

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A piece of paper, rolled into a funnel, is all you need to get soil or sand into your terrarium neatly.  Just spoon it through the opening, and nudge it into place with your long skinny tool.

Plants can be dropped through the opening, or gently rolled up into a piece of paper and then slid through the opening, before being nudged into place.

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These tiny plants have tiny roots.  It is fairly easy to work soil around the roots , pushing everything into place with your chopstick or pencil.

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I finished off by covering the soil with bits of garden moss.  Everything was frozen solid here on Saturday.  These bits were actually pried out of a pot on the deck, where I’ve been holding them since November.

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The secret to making an interesting miniature garden lies in beginning with tiny starts of things, and then allowing time for them to grow.

For example, you might plant a seed or a bulb, so long as the plant itself will fit in the space the terrarium allows.  Can you see a tiny crocus growing inside this bottle, from a bulb planted in the fall?  It would be a very temporary display, but very cool.

I’ve used another tiny division of peacock spikemoss, Selaginella uncinata, which can grow quite large, on one side of the bottle; and a tiny baby strawberry begonia, Saxifraga stolonifera, still attached to its umbilical stem, right in the middle.  My strawberry begonia plants, growing inside this winter, are making new baby plants every week!  I simply lowered this one, by its stem, into place where I want it to grow.  Its roots will take hold now in the soil, and quickly anchor it into place.

Once planted, add little stones, crystals, shells, marbles, bits of glass, or other ornaments to suit your vision.  Add tiny furniture for a fairy garden.  Lay stone paths or patios.  Add a statue if you wish.  This is your garden and you can do as you please!

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The final step of construction is watering.  I prefer to use bottled spring water so no chemicals are introduced, which might affect the growth of the plants.  And one must water very sparingly.  Little drops at a time are used to rinse away any specks of soil on the glass and to settle the roots into their new soil.

I left this bottle open for the first 36 hours to allow for some evaporation.  An opening this small could be left open all of the time.  But by replacing the stopper, this little garden won’t need additional water for months.  If the glass fogs up, I can remove the stopper for a few hours to allow the water to clear.  If the soil begins to look dry, a few drops of added water will solve the problem.

That is really all you need to know to now build your own terrarium. 

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Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

Place your finished terrarium in bright light, but not right against a window. This one sits opposite the doors to our deck.

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When choosing plants, select those which enjoy high humidity and which can grow without overwhelming the interior space of your garden.

Terrariums can be built to accommodate succulents.  These need openings for air circulation, and should be started off with even less water.  Air plants, which don’t require soil, make excellent terrarium specimens.  But these should be placed on wood or gravel, since contact with potting soil may lead them to rot.  The possibilities are limited mainly by your imagination and the depth of your purse!

Following are the books I reviewed this weekend.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

January 11, 2015 terrarium 059

With an Eye On the Weather

C. Sasanqua, "Jingle Bells" unfolding its first blossom this year.

C. Sasanqua, “Jingle Bells” unfolding its first blossom this year.

We checked the weather forecast repeatedly today.

On days like this, we just wish all of the local media weather people would get together on a conference call and work it out among themselves.

Instead, we are hearing a different story on most every channel.  And none of them see it the way the Weather Channel staff is calling it for the next week.

Time to finally bring this cane Begonia in for the winter.

Time to finally bring this angel wing cane Begonia “Sophia” in for the winter.

The day started with a weather report from my partner, and then a dash to the car to see whether the dashboard thermometers agreed with the TV’s “Locals on the 8s.”  They didn’t.

Why such concern?  Most of our potted things were still outside soaking up the sunshine and gentle autumn rain.  Please notice the past tense of that statement.

A late rose

A late rose

We were hearing more than a 10 degree spread on the forecast for low temperatures tonight, depending on who we listened to.  Not an issue for the Camellias, but definitely an issue for the Begonias.  You see, we may have our first dip below 32F tonight, with wind from the northwest.  That is a recipe for disaster for any annual or tender perennial abandoned to the elements over night.

In fact, the weather maps on the 10 day forecast are filled with this huge blue field of cold high pressure air swooping down from Canada.  Not only are we hearing, in minute detail, about the wintery temperatures on the way, we even heard them discuss the “S” word for next week.  REALLY?  We need to think about snow before Thanksgiving in coastal Virginia?

Snaps will bloom happily outside all winter.

Snaps will bloom happily outside all winter, and the lamb’s ears will green up in early spring with lush growth.

So far, we’ve had roller coaster temps and Indian summer.  It was 70F here yesterday.  I’ve let the daytime sunshine balance out the early morning dips into the 40s or even high 30s, providing a little shelter for the tender potted things and hoping they could withstand the cool.

So, with one eye on the monster typhoon crossing the Philippines, headed directly into Vietnam, where a dear friend is on a cruise with her extended family; the other eye was fixed on tonight’s forecast and the projected lows for the next several nights.  And on the threat of snow.

This cane Begonia "Cracklin Rosie" has grown huge outside.  It was quite a challenge to get it inside with minimal damage.

This cane Begonia, “Cracklin Rosie,” has grown huge outside. It was quite a challenge to get it inside with minimal damage.

By noon the decision was made.

Today was the day to bring in any potted plant we’re not willing to see freeze.  I was handed Latex gloves, and I accepted one for the “infected thumb hand.”  Then I was handed gardening gloves.

I could see this was going to be a big deal, but that I would have help.

Ivy geraniums love the cool, but will freeze in the cold.  This one came inside today.

Ivy geraniums love the cool, but will freeze in the cold. This one came inside today.

My allotted space in the garage, between the hot water heater, the washer, and the steps had already been outlined with dots of “Duck Yellow” paint.  I had partially covered the area with a white plastic tablecloth, to better protect the floor this winter, days ago when the first of the Begonias came inside.  Now it was finally time to match the right plastic saucer to the right plant in the right spot.

Oh how I hate bringing the plants in.  Not only do I hate bringing them in out of the sunshine they need; but I hate mucking with the muddy summer saucers, the fallen leaves stuck deep in the branches, and the occasional slug or snail clinging to pot or leaf.

The baskets and pots are heavy and awkward.  Worse, I hate seeing bits broken off as we move them from deck or patio to narrow doorway to their allotted winter spot.

It is a very messy operation.  But I would hate watching them die in the cold so very much more.

The Bougainvillea is still outside tonight.  We'll need to bring it in before it snows.

The Bougainvillea is still outside tonight. We’ll need to bring it in before it snows.

We carefully calculate the timing for each plant.  How much cold can it stand?  What if we shelter it close to the house under the eaves?  How likely is it to warm up again?  How well will it fare inside for five months, and what will it look like by spring?

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Dragon wing Begonias will wither when they freeze. They root easily from cuttings, so one saved plant can yield many for spring.

There isn’t enough room for all of them, but we get very creative to save as many as we can.

Hanging baskets stand in empty five gallon buckets.  Others sit in combinations of plastic trays to both support them and catch the inevitable drips from watering.

Some we keep mainly for late winter cuttings, others we know will soon go dormant and won’t need much light.  The choicest come inside to the living room, the rangy stay in the garage.

It amazes me to see how huge some of the Begonias have grown this summer.  Two of the canes stand taller than either of us, and we aren’t small people.  They look so much bigger now that they are inside.  They fill the allotted space with a dense forest of leaf, bloom, and branch.

A friend recently asked whether I’d considered getting a greenhouse.  The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” but so far that hasn’t been an option.  There is no good place to site it here where falling trees or limbs wouldn’t be a constant worry.

The cane Begonias look so much larger inside.

The cane Begonias look so much larger inside.

So we appreciate our bright garage with windows to let in the winter sunlight.  We appreciate our bright living room with space to line up the pots like obedient elephants in a circus.  We appreciate the windowsills wide enough for little pots of orchids and cyclamen, and the good light we receive on bright days.

Our entire home becomes a greenhouse from November through April.

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Cyclamen love the cool autumn, but must come in before a freeze.

Late this afternoon, when most of the moving was finished and I was soaking the thumb before fixing us some lunch, I found a missed call from a cherished friend.

I returned her call and learned she had “a few things” she wanted to drop off for us.  She had some candles, some magazines, a lent plate to return….  We told her to come on by.

Along with the cardboard carton came a shopping bag- holding a gorgeous asparagus fern.  She didn’t have enough light to keep it through the winter, and she knew we’d find a bright spot for it.

It is lovely, and I have an empty pot in mind….

Our asparagus fern in its new pot.

Our asparagus fern in its new pot.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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A week into November, and winter is closing in.

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