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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Fabulous Friday: Remnants

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“The paradox of life lies exactly in this:

its resources are finite,

but it itself is endless.

Such a contradictory state of affairs is feasible

only because the resources accessible to life

can be used over and over again.”

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I.I. Gitelson

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“Those who intend to destroy me,

underestimate my ability to regenerate.”


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Aleksandra Ninkovic

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“All the beauty that’s been lost before

wants to find us again”

.

U2

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“Change blows through the branches of our existence.

It fortifies the roots on which we stand,

infuses crimson experience with autumn hues,

dismantles Winter’s brittle leaves,

and ushers Spring into our fertile environments.

Seeds of evolution burst

from their pod cocoons

and teardrop buds blossom into Summer flowers.

Change releases its redolent scent,

attracting the buzz of honey bees

and the adoration of discerning butterflies.”


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B.G. Bowers

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:

Happiness is contagious.  Let’s infect one another!

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Courage

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“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery,

in the courage that drives one person

to stand up for another.”

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Veronica Roth

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“Your strength doesn’t come from winning.

It comes from struggles and hardship. 

Everything that you go through

prepares you for the next level.”

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Germany Kent

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“I love to walk.

Walking is a spiritual journey

and a reflection of living.

Each of us must determine which path to take

and how far to walk;

we must find our own way,

what is right for one may not be for another.

.

Edie Littlefield Sundby

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“I am the bended, but not broken.

I am the power of the thunderstorm.

I am the beauty in the beast.

I am the strength in weakness.

I am the confidence in the midst of doubt.

I am Her!”

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Kierra C.T. Banks

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“I know that the future seems hard and scary,

but it will get better, I promise.

It’s time for you to move on.

Get going.”

.

Asper Blurry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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In Bud

Edgeworthia chrysantha, Chinese Paperbush

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January promises limitless potential.  At the time of year when so little appears to be growing in the garden, a closer look shows us evidence of coming attractions.

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Mahonia aquifolium will soon bloom, feeding hungry pollinators through the winter months.

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Another gardening season stretches ahead of us; everything we hope for feels absolutely possible.  The first green tips of daffodil foliage poke up from the muddy soil, reminding us where clumps and drifts will soon begin the year’s progression of flowers.

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And every woody tree, shrub and vine is covering itself with plump, swelling buds.  Like colorful eggs, their protective shells shield the tiny leaves and petals within from winter’s harshness.

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Aesculus pavia, red buckeye buds contain both flowers and new leaves.

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A quick walk about reminds us how incredibly varied something even as simple as a woody bud can be.  Their colors, texture, placement on the stem, shape and form prove as varied as the flowers and leaves which will burst into growth in the months to come.

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Dogwood, Cornus florida sports round onion shaped flower buds from fall through until spring.  Leaf buds grow long and narrow.

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Even in these spare wintery months, the garden holds such a variety of interesting things to see.  Without spring’s fragrant distraction, these beautiful buds, and the stems and twigs which hold,  them claim my attention.

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Last year’s seed heads mix with next summer’s buds on crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia species.

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Next spring’s garden lives in these shivering buds today.  They are more fragile than any other exposed part of the plant when our temperatures dive and winter’s winds blow.   At times they may hold small mounds of snow, or rest encased in an icy skin.

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Magnolia stellata will be one of our first trees to burst into bloom next month.  The large bud at the end of the branch holds the developing flower, while the smaller buds along the stem will unfold as leaves.

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With luck, they will survive the elements to finally unfold into new life, at the perfect moment for their growth to accelerate.  Rapid growth at the buds will elaborate on what is already here, creating new woody growth as the weeks go by.

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Magnolia liliiflora  will bloom a few weeks later, with deep purple flowers.

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Even if a swelling bud is lost, those further down the stem will respond with accelerated growth of their own.  There is always a plan, even if an entire stem succumbs to the cold.  We will watch for shoots and buds to emerge from the roots.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia  is a native shrub hardy to Zone 5.  New growth from late opening autumn buds was frozen in our recent cold snap.  New growth will emerge next spring, and new shoots will also grow from the roots.

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Even as we celebrate our successes when the garden is fully clothed in vegetative growth; in January, we celebrate our garden’s potential.

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These are the days when we feel appreciation for every woody branch and twig, for every evergreen leaf, and especially for all of the healthy, swelling buds which sparkle in the winter sunshine.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Forsythia buds show color early, often blooming by mid-February.  In an especially cold winter, they may not open until early March.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme

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Sunday Dinner: Potential

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“Difficulties and adversities
viciously force all their might on us
and cause us to fall apart,
but they are necessary elements of individual growth
and reveal our true potential.
We have got to endure and overcome them,
and move forward. Never lose hope.
Storms make people stronger
and never last forever.”
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Roy T. Bennett
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“Every moment has infinite potential.
Every new moment contains for you possibilities
that you can’t possibly imagine.
Every day is a blank page
that you could fill
with the most beautiful drawings.”
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John C. Parkin
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“You can dance in the storm.
Don’t wait for the rain to be over before,
because it might take too long.
You can can do it now.
Wherever you are, right now,
you can start,
right now;
this very moment.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor
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Do or Do not, there is no ‘try.’
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Yoda

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“It’s so difficult to love another person
and yourself for who they are
and not what they do
or who they could be.
To stay in this moment
and know it in all its pleasure and its pain.
The world is a beautiful place.
How often do we say this aloud?”
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Vicki Forman
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“Who you are tomorrow
begins with what you do today.”
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Tim Fargo
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“Say ‘Yes’ to your life
by saying ‘Yes’ to the potential of the moment.
Seize the moment,
for the moments add up and become your life.
Every moment has a choice.
Make choices that empower and help you.
Make this moment
the best it can be by living it with love,
kindness, compassion,
forgiveness,  faith
and hope.”
.
Akiroq Brost

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Potential has a shelf life.”
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Margaret Atwood

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“If the doors of perception were cleansed,
everything would appear to man as it is
– infinite.”
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William Blake

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WPC: Silence

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Snow muffles our noisy world.  Falling snowflakes seem to absorb all sound and the world is hushed.

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The normal routine is put on hold. 

School buses and garbage trucks don’t churn through the neighborhood streets today.  Leaf blowers and lawn mowers remain silent.

Traffic has come to rest at home in snowy driveways.

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We all took a snow day today.  Schools were closed everywhere from Roanoke to the Eastern Shore.

Many businesses closed or reduced their hours today, and I believe most of us were content to stay at home and keep warm against the January chill.

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I kept vigil, much of the day, watching out of our windows as fine snow filled the air and accumulated, ever so slowly, on leaf and ground, rail and table, car and walkway.

It was late afternoon before our wet patio was finally cloaked in whiteness.

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It was a quiet day for reading, for finally getting to that long put off project, and for wandering the snowy garden, camera in hand, in search of that quintessential image of Silence.

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And what I noticed today, is that silence is visual as well as auditory.

A snowy day transforms the most casual image into sepia tones blanketed in white.  Our garden’s colors are silenced by the cold and muffled under snow.

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There is a reason we yearn so for ‘peace and quiet.’

Today has brought the blessings of silence and the rare gift of peace, wrapped in a snow-globe world of white.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“We can make our minds so like still water
that beings gather about us
that they may see, it may be, their own images,
and so live for a moment with a clearer,
perhaps even with a fiercer life
because of our quiet.”
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W.B. Yeats

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Silence

Sky Sketchers

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Sky sketches:

Living lines

Tracing history through thin air.

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Reaching ever higher

Every further;

Naked ambition.

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Networking:

Reaching out,

Branching, stretching,

Multiplying opportunities and

Filling empty space with

Proliferating life.

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Ever strong

Dancing in the wind,

Hiding behind fog,

Bending under snow,

Shivering beneath silvery coats of ice;

 yet lithe and limber.

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Timber dream catcher, Sun catcher;

Reflecting first golden rays of sun

and last, warming the winter sky.

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Living web,

Growing thicker with each passing season;

Gnarly, twisted, infested with life:

Sky sketchers.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Sunday Dinner: On the Path

Ocracoke Lighthouse April 2007

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“There are no wrong turnings.
Only paths we had not known
we were meant to walk.”
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Guy Gavriel Kay
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Route 101 near Depot Bay, Oregon 2010.

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“It is not we who seek the Way,
but the Way which seeks us.
That is why you are faithful to it,
even while you stand waiting,
so long as you are prepared,
and act the moment you are confronted
by its demands.”
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Dag Hammarskjöld
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Powhatan Creek, Virginia January 2018

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“You never know what’s around the corner.
It could be everything. Or it could be nothing.
You keep putting one foot in front of the other,
and then one day you look back
and you’ve climbed a mountain.”
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Tom Hiddleston
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Yaquina Head Lighthouse Oregon 2010

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“If you do not change direction,
you may end up where you are heading”
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Gautama Buddha
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The Colonial Parkway, Virginia 2014

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“What you’re missing
is that the path itself changes you.”
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Julien Smith
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Near the York River, November 2014

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“…the universe…sets out little signposts for us
along the way, to confirm
that we’re on the right path.” 
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Michelle Maisto
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Cape Foulweather Lookout, Oregon October 2017

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

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Along the Chickahominy River August 2016

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“End?
No, the journey doesn’t end here.
Death is just another path.
One that we all must take.”
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J.R.R. Tolkien
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Native Trees: American Sycamore

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North America’s trees were considered one of its greatest treasures both by European colonists like John Bartram and his son William, and by European gardeners eagerly awaiting shipments of seed from ‘the colonies.’

Our many varieties of conifers and hardwood are as beautiful as they are useful.  North American trees were planted extensively in European gardens soon after Jamestown was settled.  The early colonists were always on the lookout for ‘useful plants’ to send back home.

These same prized trees still grow wild here in Virginia, today.

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The American Sycamore grows on the bank of Jones Millpond in York County, Virginia

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One of my favorite native American trees is the American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis.   Also called ‘bottonwood tree,’ named for its round fruits which persist through winter, the sycamore may also be called an American plane tree.

I particularly like this tree’s mottled, light colored bark, and its beautiful branching form.

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The sycamore prefers moist soil and can often be found in the wild in lowlands and near bodies of water. Yet it will grow in many different environments in Zones 4-9.  It’s native range extends from Florida, north into Canada, and westwards into Texas and Oklahoma.  It is also considered a native tree in Oregon.

The sycamore will quickly grow into a massive shade tree, with a thick trunk (to more than 6 feet in diameter), a broad canopy, and a mature height of over 130 feet.  Its extensive roots can damage nearby walls or sidewalks, yet it is a common street tree in cities.  A sycamore can handle the heat and polluted air of urban areas, where it is enjoyed for its beauty and its shade.  Its dense canopy helps filter the air.

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This Sycamore grows on the banks of the James River near Jamestown Island.

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I enjoy visiting this lovely sycamore growing on the bank of Jones Millpond, alone the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown throughout the year.  It is pleasing in all seasons.

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There are several notable sycamore trees in our area.  Their interesting branches and bright bark make them easy to recognize.  In winter, the seedpods hanging from their branches playfully sway in the wind.

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A sycamore tree’s wood is useful for making things, but it isn’t a preferred wood for furniture making.  It doesn’t produce edible nuts or leaves.

It is valued more as a beautiful landscape tree and for the shade it gives in summer.

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The distinctive leaves and bark help identify this tree as a Platanus

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The sycamore ranks high among my favorite native American trees.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Even when pruned hard in a style called pollarding, the Platanus is easily recognized by its light colored bark. This tree grows in Colonial Williamsburg.

Weathered: A Forest Garden

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You may wonder why we leave this old, weathered, decaying stump as a centerpiece in our garden.

It was a living tree as recently as June 2013, when it was broken a dozen feet above the ground in a thunderstorm.   A double oak tree, growing nearby, was hit with a gust of wind and blew over completely, taking this tree and a companion dogwood tree with it on its way down.

What a mess it all made! 

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A freak June thunderstorm spawned waterspouts from the creek, which felled three great oak trees from our forest.

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Many more trees and established shrubs were also broken and crushed by the sheer weight of the trees.  This was such a sudden blow to our woodland garden, that it took us a while to get over the shock of it all.

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As we cleaned up over the next week, we decided to keep a portion of the stump of this beloved old oak as a reminder of the tree.  We asked our tree guys to cut what was left of the tree several feet above the ground, leaving a taller than usual stump.

I covered the exposed cut in hypertufa and tried to transform it into a bit of folk art as well as a useful pedestal for potted plants.

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A forest garden must continually recycle itself.  The trees’ leaves and branches were mulched and left in place on the newly exposed forest floor.  The roots and trunk of the double oak were buried in place.  We kept as much of the trees as we reasonably could to nurture the garden.

We collected all of the odd bits of branch and bark left behind by our tree guys, and used them to build a Hugelkulture bed around this stump.  We called it ‘the stump garden’ and began all of our gardening efforts to re-plant this entire area from this one bed.

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That was nearly five years ago, now.  While our vision of this remaining stump might have been as a bit of garden art, the creatures here saw it differently.  It didn’t take long for the stump to become a wildlife condo.

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We’ve seen skinks skittering around beneath the remaining bark in summer’s heat.  Squirrels explore it, pushing back on the loose bark, and beetles and other insects find shelter here.  Birds visit this spot to search for insects, and there is cool shade for toads.

At first, most of the bark was left intact.  There was a scar on the side that I patched with hypertufa.  With each passing year the remaining bark pulls away a little more and falls to the bed below.  Virginia Creeper climbs the stump each summer, though I prune it back from the pot.

Finally, this autumn, I’ve planted our large blue pot atop the stump with a vigorous English ivy.  I’ll let it grow on and eventually re-clothe the stump.

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Yes, it is weathered now, and ragged.  You might glance askance and think to yourself, ‘What an eyesore…’ 

I”m sure you wouldn’t say such a thing, but you might wonder why we leave the stump in its disheveled state.

There is beauty of form, and their is beauty of function.  Sometimes, the two can be as one.  We see the stump as useful and as beneficial to the web of life in our forest garden.  It may not please the eye anymore, but it is still a thing of beauty.

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Woodland gardeners are wise to leave fallen trees and branches, fallen cones and pine tags, and all of the other accumulated detrius of a forest in place, as much as possible.  These by products of trees form an important component of woodland soil.

As they slowly decay, they feed billions of microorganisms which keep the soil fertile.  They shelter insects, which feed birds, which keep the woodland animated and fill it with song.  They prevent erosion, cool the roots of growing plants and balance the PH of the soil.

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An ancient mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, renews itself  in our garden.  I dump our chopped up leaves around these shrubs during spring clean up to feed the soil and keep their roots cool.

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Mosses and fungi grow on decaying wood.  Small animals find shelter around stumps and branches.

Now, we don’t leave every fallen branch where it lands.  We gather them and use them elsewhere on the property.  We didn’t leave the fallen oaks where they landed, either.  But we re-used what we could of their canopy, ground up and spread as thick mulch.

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We have been rewarded for this effort with a lush re-growth on the forest floor.  The raw wood chips created an environment where seeds for new trees could sprout.  We have at least 15 new native holly trees growing now that are more than a foot high, with many more seedlings coming along.

Can we let them all grow?  Maybe, maybe not.  We have to decide for each seedling, as these little hollies can eventually grow into prodigious, full sized trees.

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Native holly, dogwood, magnolia, cedar, buckeye and blueberry have sprung up from seeds lying dormant on the forest floor.

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We also have newly sprouted dogwoods to replace those lost, and some self-sown Magnolia seedlings coming along.  There is Eastern red cedar, and a huge crop of volunteer native blueberry shrubs that have grown in as a wildlife friendly ground cover.  I didn’t purchase or plant any of these.  There are always little oak seedlings coming along, and choices must be made whether to let them grow or to prune them out.

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Our land wants to be a forest.  When our trees fell, allowing the sunshine back in, it hastened new growth of seeds which may have lain dormant in the soil for many years.  Now, all of those little plants are racing with one another, and with those we’ve planted, to see who gets the sun.

We can prune and pull and plant and try to sort it all out somehow, but that is only a temporary aberration from the garden’s eventual course.

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We found many stumps, when we first came to the garden, from where a previous gardener cut some of the greatest trees.  He wanted light for his fruit trees, and safety for the house.  Some of those stumps are decaying now back into the earth, but a few re-sprouted with new limbs.

He is long gone, as one day we will be, too. Other gardeners will come here and will either disturb the land for their own schemes, or will let the forest continue to fill the garden.

A forest weathers over time, but that time is long; longer than the awareness of any one human.  And we are wise to find the beauty and the wisdom of its ways, and to work in harmony with the land.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Sentinels of trees
breathe life into bodies of earthly flesh
As their mighty arms reach to the stars
we join in their quest for Helios’s mighty power
Like sentinels, we seek our place
in the forest of nature’s gentle breath”
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Ramon Ravenswood

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

For more about allowing  forests to regenerate and managing a woodland garden, please read:

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