Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage

New growth on Mahonia

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A garden built from woody trunks, stems, branches and beautiful leaves will last through the seasons.  Abundant foliage offers cool shade and privacy.  It screens the view, cleans the air, muffles outside sounds and protects the soil, all while offering a sense of enclosure.

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Crape Myrtle

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Flowers can be exciting, for a while.  But they fade or explode into a heap of petals all too quickly.  Their perfumes entice us, but flowers aren’t enough to create a lasting garden.

Better to focus on foliage plants for a garden’s flesh and bones, and appreciate ephemeral flowers as seasonal accents.

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Once one gets past wanting a garden filled with fragrant flowers, there is a beautiful palette of foliage waiting for the curious garden designer.  In fact, I’ve been reading an intriguing book on garden design by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz  called Gardening With Foliage First:  127 Dazzling Combinations That Pair the Beauty of Leaves With Flowers, Bark, Berries and More.

The authors have photographed and described associations of shrubs, perennials, vines, ferns and grasses that will grow well together for a variety of climate zones and locations.  The color combinations are striking, and the authors discuss how the association will change as the four seasons unfold.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in August

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One of the nicest things about designing with foliage is the wide selection of colors and textures in the plant palette.  And with woodies and perennials, the plants grow larger and more complex with each passing year.

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A native redbud tree seedling has appeared by our drive. This tree can eventually grow to 20′ or more.

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We plan and plant our gardens in at least four dimensions.  We create out door ‘rooms’ by creating ‘walls’ with large shrubs and trees, or perhaps vines growing on a pergola or trellis.  Our carpet is a selection of low-growing plants and ground covers.   Some of us cultivate a simple carpet of moss.

The leafy canopy of trees offers us a bit of shelter and shade, enclosing our garden from above.   So we are planting foliage plants of varying heights to serve different purposes.

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Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is a native, deciduous tree in coastal Virginia that will grow to about 25 feet.  It often grows as a multi-stemmed shrub, growing a bit broader with each passing year.

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Perennials tend to also spread, growing wider with each passing year.  A plant or two this year may propagate itself into two dozen plants within just a season or two.  Even within the short span of a single season, a small tropical plant purchased in a 3″ pot may grow to be 5′ tall and wide before frost.

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Our garden is also constantly changing over time, the fourth dimension.  Sculptural stems and branches cover themselves in buds, then ever expanding leaves.  The leaves grow and change colors as the season progresses, often developing intricate veins or spotted markings as they mature.

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Begonia

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Eventually, we are enclosed in leaves and woody growth before winter sweeps the season’s tender growth away.  Leaves glow with autumn color, then fall.  Perennials die back to ground level, harboring the promise of next year’s growth in their roots and crowns.

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It is this foliage framework which demands a garden designer’s attention. This is where we make our main investment of time and treasure. 

When beginning a new garden, one selects and plants the trees first to give a head start on growth.  When renovating a garden, it is wise to replace tired shrubs, or rejuvenate them with heavy pruning before the season’s new growth begins.

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Once we have good woody ‘bones’ in place, then we fill in the ground covers and herbaceous plants to occupy the mid-level spaces .

Flowers are the ephemeral elements which can come- and go- with the seasons. Whether we choose blooming shrubs, perennials with a short season of bloom like Iris, or even if we plant annuals for several months of bloom;  the flowers themselves are very short-lived.

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Japanese painted fern emerges among the Arum italicum, and is interlaced with creeping Jenny.  Bulb foliage will die back soon.  You can just see the new leaf of a hardy Begonia catching sunlight like a stained glass window to the right.  They will grow to about 18″ tall before their tiny pink flowers emerge.

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Many traditional gardens rely on foliage for all of their seasonal interest.  This is easy to do with herbaceous perennial foliage plants like ferns, Heucheras and Colocasia.  But a ‘foliage only’ garden doesn’t mean a monochromatic garden.  Beautiful contrasts and color combinations may be painted with colorful leaves.

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And stunning beauty may be created with little more than variations of texture and form.  Leafy plants swaying in the breeze bring life and movement to the garden.

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantina. is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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As you plan and plant your pots and garden borders, remember to focus first on the foliage framework.   This will last over many months or years and will grow better with time.

The flowers will come and go, but your garden’s leafy presence will make the lasting impression.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!

 

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Fabulous Friday: It Lived!

Our figs lived through this long and very cold winter.

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We’ve been watching the fig trees daily for signs of life.  Yes, along with the joy and excitement of spring, there is a fair degree of anxiety, for some of us, about what survived the winter and what did not.  As I chat with gardening friends, the topic of what has survived and what is not in leaf comes up again and again, these days.

That anxiety and expectation has been preoccupying me this week as I tour the garden expectantly between attempts at unpacking our basement and garage.  What am I unpacking, you might wonder? 

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Applecourt’ has leafed out this month, and the hardy Begonias have begun to emerge and grow.  It is always a relief to see their small red leaves appear each spring.  Newly planted Caladiums will soon open their first leaves, too.

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In those last warmish weeks of late October and early November, we moved as many of our tender perennials as we could into the basement and the garage.  It has been a horticultural Noah’s Ark these past months as the survivors have huddled together in the relative security of these all too dim spaces, waiting for spring.

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Colacasia ‘Mojito’s’ tubers were stored over winter in the basement, and have come back to the garden today.

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And now that it is clearly spring, we have been bringing them back out into the light, watering and grooming each pot and basket, and allowing them to rest a while in the shade on the way to their summer homes.  There is an urgency about bringing these brave survivor plants back out into the life-giving warmth and light of early summer, and looking for signs of life.

Dormancy, for a plant, can fool you.  The plant may look completely dead; bare branches, bare soil, brown slimy leaves.  The whole ugly mess… may still harbor life in the roots and branches.  Pitch it too soon, and you have lost a beautiful plant.  Wait too long, and the plant’s life force may expire.

Sad to admit, but I have erred a few times on the side of impatience when I should have just waited a bit longer for a plant to awaken into new growth.

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There is the matter of the Colocasias and Alocasias I stuffed into grocery bags last autumn and stowed in the basement.  To be honest with you, I didn’t want to lift and carry their generous pots to the basement.  And so I followed the odd advice I found somewhere on the internet to store their root balls in paper bags.  Given the choice between further hurting my back, losing my beautiful plants, or trusting the anonymous but reasonable advice…. I took the chance with the grocery bags.

Miraculously, there was a vivid green leaf of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ bravely waving at me from above the crusty brown rim of the bag in February.  But it was still too cold to repot them, then, and I’ve procrastinated on this task since things warmed up in late April.  When I went to retrieve them this afternoon there was nothing green or promising about the mess waiting for me in the bags.

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But I soldiered on and lugged them up from the basement and out to my work area, where I managed to beat and coax and squeeze their rigid root balls of the two largest plants into 5 gallon plastic pots.  After a thorough watering, I’ve set the pots aside in a warm bright spot to see whether my plants will resurrect themselves from their dormant tubers.

There were a dozen smaller tubers, still attached to the desiccated leaves of other plants rescued last autumn.  I’ve trimmed and planted them into waiting pots and I will hope to see their leaves emerge by June.

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The Afghan fig F. ‘Silver Lyre’ returns from its roots each May.  Rarely, leaves will emerge from buds on last year’s stems.

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And my beautiful reward for all of the effort today came on my last tour of the garden this afternoon:  fig leaves!  Our figs are finally awakening, trusting that the summer weather is settling in at last.  Their buds are opening up and leaves unfurling on the branches even as new sprouts emerge from the soil.

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One by one, our winter dormant plants are springing back to life and growth.  We’re still waiting for a few woodies, like those olive trees that overwintered on the patio because I couldn’t lug their huge pots indoors.  There is still green wood just beneath their thin bark, and so I’ve not yet given up.

Hope fuels us gardeners.  And the smallest green leaf emerging from a brown and wrinkled stem can make all of that patience and effort worthwhile.

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Woodland Gnome  2018

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Iris ‘Strange Rites’

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious! 

Let’s infect one another.

Where In the World?

Virginia native Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

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Lesley Buck, in her beautiful new book, Cutting Back, describes her apprenticeship as a gardener in the gardens of Kyoto.  After studying the art of pruning and Bonsai for more than 7 years near her home in California, she took a leap of faith and moved to Japan in hopes of finding an apprenticeship.  Her memoir not only reflects on her experiences, but also shares some of her understanding of gardening with native plants.

Early in the book, Buck observes that Japanese gardens are composed almost entirely of native plants, many of them centuries old within the garden.  The gardener’s goal is to make the garden’s landscape look and feel as natural as possible.

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Her advice to gardeners in America interested in creating a Japanese garden?  Use plants native to the natural environment where you live, and use Japanese design principles in composing and caring for this garden of your own particular native plants.

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North American native Wisteria frutescens, growing at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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I was surprised, and yet not surprised, to read this advice.  The ‘Japanese’ gardens I grew up visiting featured Japanese plants:  Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Iris, Japanese pines and of course, Japanese Maple trees.  Many of us favor Japanese or Chinese flowering woody plants for our gardens whether we style our gardens after Japanese principles, or not.  These are beautiful plants and we enjoy them.

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Acer palmatum

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And yet, how often have you noticed, when traveling from city to city, the same relatively small palette of plants used time and again in public and residential landscapes?  The nursery trade in our country traditionally has focused on certain popular and easy to grow and transport plants.

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English shrub roses, hybridized and cultivated over several centuries, make me feel at home. I plant them in every garden I make.

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Walk into any garden center in the eastern half of the United States right now, and you will find flat after flat of neon bright petunias and geraniums, won’t you?  There will be Knock-Out roses, a nice selection of box and at least a few pots of mophead Hydrangea.

And of course we’ll find the ubiquitous azaleas, Rhododendrons and Japanese maple trees.  We like what we like, don’t we?

When we rely on nursery stock to landscape our private and public spaces, we may create a familiar sense of beauty; or perhaps even a boring predictability from one area to another.   Do we want to encounter the same plants again and again as we travel, or do we want to find something unique to our destination?

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In this section of our fern garden an interesting mix of native ferns, hybrids and imported Hellebores grow elbow to elbow.

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Only recently have more and more nurseries chosen to propagate and sell a larger percentage of native plants.  And in recent years, a growing cohort of us have taken an interest in learning about, and  appreciating our native plants in our own home gardens.  It is these natives which give us our sense of place, which help us identify ‘home.’  Our native plants attract and support the birds, butterflies and small mammals of our native environment, too.

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Broad beech fern, Phegopteris hexagonoptera, is native in woodsy areas of coastal Virginia.  It grows here at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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We enjoy a wide choice of very beautiful native plants in coastal Virginia.  Our landscapes are filled with majestic trees , vigorous vines, wild fruits and interesting flowers.  Surrounding ourselves with familiar plants helps us feel more ‘at home,’ and gives us a sense of place that feels very personal.

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A native muscadine grape vine grows near our home. We expect to be picking grapes by mid-summer.

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Yet,  because we have over 400 years of history here, there are many other plants, brought to Virginia by the early colonists, which may feel like natives, because they have become a part of our culture and our historic heritage:  boxwood, tulips, peonies, roses, azaleas and bearded Iris come to mind.

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Peonies, much loved in our Virginia gardens, came to our country with the early colonists.

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Wandering the historic gardens in our area, one realizes that the colonists created beautiful formal, European style gardens in this new land of Virginia to make it feel like home to them.  Even as they send seeds and cuttings of Virginia’s trees back to Europe, they imported the herbs, flowers and shrubs they were accustomed to finding in their gardens ‘back home’.

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The fronds of native ferns emerge through the leaves of a daffodil.  Daffodils were highly valued in Colonial times and were among the beautiful European plants colonists brought with them to Virginia.

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The annual rhythm of growth and bloom, fruiting, seed and leaf fall bring us a sense of comfort and familiarity.  The familiar colors of the landscape help set the mood in daily life.

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Native dogwood is our state flower, and the Virginia Native Wildflower of the Year for 2018.

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These beautiful plants are like the well worn and much loved kitchen table in our childhood home.  They help create our sense of our own place in the world.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Native Hydrangea quercifolia

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  A Place In the World

Arbor Day: Planting a Beautiful Future

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If you want to create a lasting legacy of beauty, plant a tree.  If you want to heal the planet and counteract climate change, plant a tree.  If you want to improve the quality of life for yourself, your family and your immediate neighbors, plant a tree.

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Trees change the world.  They create shade, sequester carbon,  produce oxygen, humidify the air, hold and feed the soil, create habitat for wildlife, support the entire ecosystem, and give a place character.  And in their spare time, they sway in the wind; helping forecast the weather and making musical, soothing sounds.

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Trees inspire awe and wonder.  Some survive to extreme old age; experiencing centuries of life and service.  Trees feed us, shelter us, and mark the passing of the seasons with their annual changes.

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Today is Arbor Day.  First celebrated in the United States in Nebraska, when a million trees were planted in 1872, this remarkable day is observed all over the United States and around the world.  Some call it ‘Tree Planting Day.”  It is a day to reflect on the importance of trees, and to add a tree or two to our environment.

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Other than loving and teaching a child, planting and protecting trees is one of the most satisfying pursuits of a lifetime. Both require faith that our simple acts today will resonate far into the future, creating positive change, and shaping how our community transforms itself for good.

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A potted Ginko tree that I adoped in early spring, represents one of the earliest trees on the planet, still growing today.  Fossils of this tree’s leaves date to 270 million years ago. Its leaves turn vibrant golden yellow in late autumn.

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So please celebrate Arbor Day this weekend in a way that feels fitting to you.  Commit an “Act of Green” to somehow enrich your life and community.

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I have been planting Japanese Maple trees this spring.  You might say I’m collecting them at the moment. Japanese Maple trees, with their exquisite leaves, add a bit of elegance to our wild garden.

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The first two I came across were small enough to plant into interesting pots to keep on our deck this summer.  The third, as tall as I am, came to me last weekend at a community plant sale.  I have tucked its roots into a moist and sheltered spot beside the Butterfly Garden.  And so I have committed my “Act of Green” this Arbor Day, and I trust you have, as well.

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If you’ve not had a chance, there is plenty of time this weekend to get outside, visit a park or garden center, plant up a pot of something, and find your own special way to make our planet a big healthier, a bit greener, and a lot more beautiful.

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A tiny investment today can yield a lifetime of satisfaction and beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“The planting of a tree,
especially one of the long-living hardwood trees,
is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost
and with almost no trouble,
and if the tree takes root
it will far outlive the visible effect
of any of your other actions,
good or evil.”

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George Orwell
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WPC: Living Lines

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Much of our garden’s personality can be defined by the lines.  There are the lines we create and the lines we allow.

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Do we cultivate the formality of lines straight and orderly, or do we invite ever changing curves and organic softness?

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Our plants grow in lines.  Our beds are bordered by lines… or not.  We organize our garden spaces within the confines of a line.

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Lines give us structure.  Woody trunks and branches frame and fixate; divide, fill, support and explode with soft flowers and leaves.

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We recognize our garden’s denizens by the outline of their leaf; the pattern of the life giving veins networking through them.

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At times, the lines of vines overtake and blur the others.  They extend of their own accord, to their own rhythm, geometry and design.

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There is a primal intelligence in these living, breathing, ever exuberant lines as they stretch towards the light, defying gravity and the gardener’s imagination.

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As the season progresses, all of the lines evolve and change.  New lines criss-cross the old.  Lines swell into curves, then shrivel into zig-zagged shrunken shells of  themselves before falling away.

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Our gardens’ lines inspire us even as they define us, ever unfolding, ever new.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Lines

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A Profusion of Flowers: Dogwood

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There is nothing quite like a flowering tree to fill the garden with a profusion of flowers.  Our native dogwood, Corunus florida, which explodes with flowers each April, remains my favorite.

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Chosen by the Virginia Native Plant Society as their Wildflower of the Year for 2018, flowering dogwood is an easy to grow understory tree which adapts to sun or partial shade.

Native across most of the Eastern half of the United States, from Florida to New Hampshire and west to Texas in zones 5-9, dogwood adapts to many soils and climates.  They prefer neutral to slightly acidic, moist soil and afternoon shade.

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Dogwoods are found growing along the edges of deciduous forests, but are also popular trees for parks and neighborhoods.  Their clouds of white or pink flowers, when in bloom, show up through shady woods or down winding neighborhood streets.  They grow to only about 30′, which makes dogwood a good landscape choice close to one’s home.

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Dogwoods are one of our most wildlife friendly native trees.  They offer nectar to pollinators early in the season, and their canopy supports over 100 species of butterfly and moth larvae in summer.  Many other insects find shelter in their branches, which makes them a prime feeding spot for song birds all summer long.  Birds find shelter and nesting spots in their branches, and in autumn  their plump scarlet fruits ripen; a feast for dozens of species of birds and small mammals.

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The beautiful white ‘petals’ which surround a dogwood’s flowers are actually bracts.  The flowers are small, almost unnoticeable and yellow green, in the center of four bracts.  A cluster of drupes emerges by September, rosy red and beautiful against a dogwood’s scarlet autumn leaves.

Birds distribute dogwood seeds over a wide area, and they grow easily from seed in the garden or the wild.  Young trees grow relatively quickly and are seldom grazed by deer.

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I am always happy to notice a dogwood seedling crop up in our garden and astounded at how quickly they develop.  A seedling dogwood will most likely bloom by its fourth or fifth spring.

Dogwood trees may also be started from cuttings, especially if more trees of a particular form or color are needed.  Their seeds may be gathered and planted outside in a prepared bed in autumn.  They need cold stratification to germinate, and so an outdoor seedbed is a reliable method to grow new trees from gathered seeds.

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There are many dogwood cultivars and trees found with white, pink or red bracts.  There are also several other native and Asian species in the Cornus genus, some with beautiful variegated foliage or colorful stems.

All are relatively pest free and graceful plants.  The Anthracnose virus is a problem for dogwood trees in some areas.  Good hygiene, removing and destroying any affected plant tissue, is important in controlling this fungal disease.  Keeping the tree in good health, especially irrigating during drought, helps to prevent disease problems.

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The last time I counted, we had at least 15 native dogwood trees around our garden, filling it, this month, with billowing clouds of flowers.  It nearly takes my breath away when the sun is shining and we see them against a colorful backdrop of budding trees and clear blue sky.

There is such prolific beauty in April, how can one person take it all in?

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Woodland Gnome 2018
For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Prolific

Re-Weaving the Web

Viola papilionacea

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Our ‘lawn’ hosts many wildflowers, including the always beautiful violet, Viola papilionacea.  I’m happy to see these lovely wildflowers bloom each spring.  They are so common, and so elegant.  And I’ve always assumed that their nectar is a welcome source of nourishment for bees and other pollinators in early spring.

But I was surprised to learn, when browsing recently on the National Wildlife Federation’s website, that the common, native violet is a larval host to 30 different species of moth and butterfly.   By simply allowing these pretty spring wildflowers, rather than stopping their growth with a ‘broadleaf weed’ herbicide, I’ve been helping to support moths and butterflies.

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Monarch butterfly on hybrid Lantana, an excellent source of nectar.

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Once we begin to understand our own lawns and gardens as part of an intricate web of life; the daily decisions we make, and the actions we do, or don’t take assume an entirely new and more meaningful context.

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Spiders often weave large webs in our autumn garden.

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I certified our garden as a wildlife habitat some years ago.  Ever since, I get regular mailings and emails from the National Wildlife Federation offering me things if I’ll only send a bit more money to them.  I respect their work and detest the constant fundraising.  But an email last week somehow caught my attention, and in a spare moment I began clicking through to find a personalized list of native plants that thrive in our zip code and also support wildlife.

Imagine that!  A personalized plant list just for me and my neighbors to assist us in preserving habitat!

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Our native redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, supports 25 species of butterfly and moth larvae.  Our dogwood tree supports 110 larval species.

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Also on my list: Fragaria, Solidago, Aster, Geranium, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Achillea and good old Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium.  It’s the first plant on this list, Fragaria, that nudges that guilty sense that maybe I’m not as good as I want to be.

Common (weedy) ground strawberries, Fragaria virginiana, thrive in our garden.  They thrive and spread themselves over and around every bed I start and every other thing I plant.  Along with the ubiquitous Vinca minor vines, Fragaria are the plants I find myself pulling up and throwing away the most.  And to think that this common and enthusiastic plant; which feeds pollinators, songbirds, small mammals and reptiles; also supports 73 different species of larval moths and butterflies.  How did I ever miss that?

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Wild strawberries, Fragaria, mix with other wildflowers as ground cover at the base of this stand of Narcissus. Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens, Gloucester VA.

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You may have read Dr. Doug Tallamy’s revolutionary manual, Bringing Nature Home.   Dr. Tallamy makes a clear argument for why including native plants in our home landscape matters, and offers simple advise about how to do this in the most practical and easy to understand terms possible.

The National Wildlife Federation has based their Native Plant Finder on his work, and will give anyone an individualized list of native plants that form the basis of the ecosystem in their particular area, down to their zip code.

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The American Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, supports 43 species of larvae, including the beautiful Luna moth..

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The change in my sensibility came when I realized that I don’t really have to do anything special to grow a garden of native plants.  Rather, I need to allow it to happen, by understanding and respecting the natural processes already at work in our garden.

We modern American gardeners are often conditioned to feel like we need to go and buy something in order to be gardening.  Dr. Tallamy helps us to understand that going to our local garden center or nursery may not be the best way to heal our local ecosystem.

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How many of us already have an oak tree (or two or three) growing in our garden?  They are handsome shade trees, and I’ve always admired oaks.  Did you know that in addition to producing acorns, oak leaves support over 500 species of larval butterflies and moths?  A birch tree supports over 320 species.  That is a lot of mileage from a single tree, when it comes to supporting the insect world!

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Virginia Creeper, a native vine which crops up in many areas of our garden, provides nectar, berries, and it also supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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Keep in mind that this is only a counting of butterflies and moths, and doesn’t even consider the hundreds of other insect species which live on our native trees.  Even a pine tree supports over 200 species, and the simple mistletoe already growing in several trees around our yard will support 3 species of moth larvae.

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 Zebra Swallowtail feeding on Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester .

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I keep returning to this conundrum about native vs. ‘exotic’ plants. I listen closely when experts, like the erudite speakers at our local chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, speak on this matter.  I have also been doing a bit of reading about the balance between natives and non-native plants in our home gardens.

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Hibiscus syriacus is not our native Hibiscus… but our bees and butterflies love it anyway.  It has naturalized in our area.

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Some landscape designers suggest planting exotic plants near our house and native plants towards the edges of our property.  This assumes, I think, that the native plants may not be beautiful enough or refined enough to plant along our daily paths.  Somehow, I know there must be a better way….

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Purists try to demonstrate to us that ‘native’ means the plants that have grown in our particular location for centuries, maybe even millennia.  It is the particularly adapted sub-species that have grown in symbiotic relationships with the local fauna and geo-forms which matter most.  They are adapted to our soil, climate and may not be truly ‘native’ 30 miles down the road.

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Asclepias incarnata, July 2017

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The problem with this analysis comes from understanding that there was a lot of movement of people and spreading of plants in North America before the earliest recorded European inhabitants.  It doesn’t matter whether you take that back to the Vikings, Sir Henry Sinclair, The Templar fleets or Captain Chris; the truth is that many different groups of native Americans carried plants around from place to place and established agriculture long before there was a European around to observe and record their activities.

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Muscadines are a native North American grape.  Vitis species support 69 larval species, and were cultivated long before the European migration to our continent.

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Many of us mail order an Asclepias or two and know we have done a good thing for the Monarchs.  But Asclepias only supports twelve larval species, while the Rudbeckia systematically colonizing our entire front garden support 20!

But Rudbeckia don’t feed Monarch larvae.  And neither do many of the Asclepias I’ve planted in recent years.  Their leaves remain pristine.  It is not just what we plant, but many factors in the environment that determine whether or not a butterfly will choose a particular plant to lay their eggs.

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I am happiest when I realize that the plants I want to grow anyway also qualify as ‘native’ and benefit wildlife.

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Native Hibiscus moscheutos grows in our garden, and has naturalized in many wetlands in our area.  Sadly, non-native Japanese Beetles feasted on its leaves.  Hibiscus supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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I am content when the ‘exotic’ plants I want growing in our garden also offer some benefit to wildlife, whether it is their nectar or their seeds.  And I still stubbornly assert my rights as The Gardener, when I commandeer real-estate for those non-natives that I passionately want to grow, like our beloved Caladiums. 

As long as I find hummingbirds buzzing around our canna lilies and ginger lilies each summer, and find the garden filled with song birds and butterflies, I feel like we are doing our small part to support wildlife.

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Many of us enjoy watching pollinators gather nectar and pollen from the flowers in our garden.  We enjoy a variety of birds attracted to seeds, berries, and insect life in our gardens, too.  But how many of us relish watching caterpillars nibble the leaves of our garden plants?

We see nibbled leaves as damaged leaves, without taking into consideration that before we have butterflies flitting from flower to flower, we must shelter and support their larvae.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Assuming that you have read Doug Tallamy’s work, let me invite you to take the next step by reading Larry Weaner’s thought provoking new book,    Garden Revolution:  How Our Landscapes Can Be A Source of Environmental Change.  Where Doug Tallamy writes about plant choice, Larry Weaner is all about ecological landscape design.  He teaches how to begin with a tract of land and restore an ecosystem.  Weaner teaches us how to work with the processes of nature to have plants present their best selves, with minimum inputs from us.

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Restoring our environment, preserving our ecosystem, are holistic, systemic endeavors worthy of our energy and attention.  As we develop a deeper understanding and sympathy for these matters, our aesthetic, and our understanding of our own role in the garden’s evolution, also evolve.

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The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species. A volunteer in our garden, it is one of the most spectacular trees we grow.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“The wild is where you find it,
not in some distant world
relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future;
its presence is not black or white,
bad or good, corrupted or innocent…
We are of that nature, not apart from it.
We survive because of it,
not instead of it.”
.
Renee Askins
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Hummingbird moth on a hybrid butterfly bush growing among native Rudbeckia. 

Sunday Dinner: Curious

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“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds,
the first passion and the last.”
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Samuel Johnson

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“Enjoy every step you take.
If you’re curious, there is always something new
to be discovered in the backdrop
of your daily life.”
.
Roy T. Bennett

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“I set out to discover the why of it,
and to transform my pleasure
into knowledge.”
.
Charles Baudelaire

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“The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existence.
One cannot help but be in awe
when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life,
of the marvelous structure of reality.
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend
a little of this mystery each day.
.
Albert Einstein
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“Study hard what interests you the most
in the most undisciplined, irreverent
and original manner possible.”
.
Richard Feynman

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“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.
Try to make sense of what you see
and wonder about what makes the universe exist.
Be curious.
And however difficult life may seem,
there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.”
.
Stephen Hawking

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“The mind is not a vessel to be filled,
but a fire to be kindled.”
.
Plutarch

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WPC: Awakening

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“The world is exploding in emerald, sage,
and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it.
It is an explosive green that,
if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day,
would grow in every dimension.”
.
Amy Seidl

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“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone.
The shell cracks, its insides come out
and everything changes.
To someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.”
.
Cynthia Occelli

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Meaning is only found
when you go beyond meaning.
Life only makes sense
when you perceive it as mystery
and it makes no sense
to the conceptualizing mind.”
.
Anthony de Mello

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“Waking up from a deep sleep,
I always seem to be discovering life
for the first time.”
  .
Marty Rubin

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“A single event
can awaken within us
a stranger totally unknown to us.
To live is to be slowly born.”
.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Awakening

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“My speaking is meant to shake you awake,
not to tell you how to dream better.”
.
Adyashanti

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Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time

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We are just finishing a harsh winter, and find ourselves in the midst of a chilly, slow spring.  Most of our woodies and perennials are a little behind the times in showing new growth, according to our experience with them in recent years.  Understandable!

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The Camellias didn’t do well in our cold, windy winter weather.

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We had a few nights in January when the lows dipped a little below 0 degrees F, which is rare here.  We had winter temperatures more like Zone 6, found several hundred miles to the west.  Our woodies and perennials rated for Zones 7 or 8 suffered from the deep, prolonged cold.  And it shows.

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Normally evergreen shrubs, now show extensive leaf damage, with brown and curling leaves.  Bark on some trunks and branches split and some stand now with bare branches.   Those woody shrubs that can easily withstand winter in Zones 6a or colder generally look OK.  But those that normally grow to our south, that we coddle along here in the edge or warmer climates, took a hit.

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I needed to cut back far more dead wood from our roses than any year in memory.  It is a very sad sight to see established shrubs looking so bad here in the second week of April.  Our cool temperatures through March and early April, with a little snow recently, have slowed the whole process of new spring growth, too.

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Some gardeners may be struggling with a decision about whether to replace these badly damaged plants.  Now that the garden centers are finally allowing deliveries of fresh stock, it is certainly tempting to rip out the shabby and re-plant with a vigorous plant covered in fresh growth.

I will counsel patience, which is the advice I am also giving to myself this week!  We invest in woodies and perennials mainly because they are able to survive harsh winters.  While leaves and some branches may be lost, there is still life in the wood and in the roots.

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I was out doing the ‘scratch test’ on a completely bare lilac shrub this morning.  Its condition is still a troubling mystery to us, as several other lilacs, of the same cultivar, are leafing out and are covered in budding flowers.  But this one, on the end of the row, sits completely bare without a swelling bud to be seen.  I scratched a little with my fingernail one of the major branches, and found green just below its thin bark.  So long as there is green, there is life.

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This lilac survived our winter in a pot near the kitchen door. We are delighted to see it in bloom so early. I’ll plant this shrub out in the garden once the blooms are finished. It has been in this pot for several years, after arriving as a bare root twig in the mail in early 2015.

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I want to prune this one back pretty severely, mostly because it is becoming an eyesore.  But my Master Gardener friend strongly advises to give it more time.  She suggests waiting until early June to make life and death decisions on trees and shrubs, to give them time to recover.

I may prune the lilac a little, now that the freezing weather here is likely over for the year, and hope that stimulates some fresh growth.

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Japanese Maples have finally allowed their leaves to unfold this week.

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That is what we’ve done with the roses.  We pruned, hard, and we see new shoots coming from the roots on all of our roses now.

There are a few good reasons to nurse our winter damaged woodies back to health instead of replacing them now.  First, our tree or shrub is established and has a developed root system.  Even if all of its trunks and stems are dead, new ones will soon appear from the roots.  This seems to happen every single year with my Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’.  It keeps the shrub a manageable size, and the plant looks pretty good again by early summer.

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F. ‘Silver Lyre’s’ stems are visible beside the Iris leaves. Rated to Zone 7b, it always returns, sometime in May, from its roots.  A Sweetbay Magnolia waits behind it, in a nursery pot.  I want to see some sign of life before planting it.

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Another reason to rejuvenate an established shrub, rather than plant a new one, is economic.  Finding a good sized shrub to replace the old one is a bit of an investment.  Weather and higher fuel prices are definitely reflected in shrub prices this spring.  I’ve felt a little bit of ‘sticker shock’ when looking at prices at area nurseries.

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These Viburnums show cold damage, even while still at a local nursery.

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And even if you buy a new shrub, it is likely to sustain damage during its adjustment time, if you live in deer country.  Shrubs fresh from the grower have been heavily fertilized to induce quick growth.  This extra nitrogen in the plant’s tissue tastes a little ‘salty’ to grazing deer, and makes the shrub that much more delicious and attractive to them.  It takes a year or so of growth before the tastiness of new shrubs seems to decline, and they are ignored by grazing deer.

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I’ve just watched a major investment in new holly trees get nibbled down nearly to the branches by deer in our area.  It is very discouraging, especially if your new shrub is replacing one damaged by winter’s weather!

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This Eucalyptus sometimes sprouts new leaves from its existing trunks in spring. Last winter it was killed back to its roots, but then grew about 6′ during the season.  I expect it to send up new growth from its roots by early May.

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All things considered, I am planning to give our woodies another six to eight weeks, and every possible chance, before declaring them and cutting them out.  It is the humane and sensible approach.  Even though the selection at garden centers this month is tempting, I will wait.

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The view this week at the top of our garden. Still looks rather wintery, doesn’t it?  The southern wax myrtles which normally screen our view, were hit hard by the cold, and a new flush of leaves have not yet opened.

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In this climate, it is generally better to plant in fall, anyway.  Fall planted shrubs get a good start in cooler weather, so their roots can grow and establish the plant in the surrounding soil before summer’s heat sets in.  The selection may be a little more sparse by October or November, but the prices are often better, as nurseries try to clear their stock before winter.

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This English holly, purchased last November, lived in a container over winter, and may be too far gone to save. I planted it out in the garden last month in hope it may recover….

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And of course, you might try propagating replacement shrubs yourself, from cuttings.  I have pretty good luck rooting hardwood cuttings over winter, or greenwood cuttings in spring and summer.  It isn’t hard to do, if you are willing to wait a few years for the shrub to grow to maturity.

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As with so many thing in the garden, it takes time and patience to achieve our goals.  They say that ‘time heals all things.’

That may not be true 100% of the time, but patience allows us to achieve many things that others may believe impossible!

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Our red buckeye tree was knocked back to the ground in a summer 2013 storm.  It lived and has grown to about 5′ high in the years since.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

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