Sunday Dinner: Details

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“Everything made by human hands

looks terrible under magnification-

-crude, rough, and asymmetrical.

But in nature every bit of life is lovely.

And the more magnification we use,

the more details are brought out,

perfectly formed,

like endless sets of boxes within boxes.”

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Roman Vishniac

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…  pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein

and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself

and all that dwells therein.”

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Frederick Buechner

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It is imperative, whether consciously or not,

that one observe the vast

as well as the infinitesimal

in order to create the image

or choose accurate words that ring true.”

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Elizabeth Winder

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“Tiny details imperceptible to us decide everything!”

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W.G. Sebald

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“To pay attention,

this is our endless and proper work.”

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Mary Oliver

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.

If you are attentive, you will see it.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

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“Miracles… seem to me to rest not so much upon

… healing power coming suddenly near us from afar

but upon our perceptions being made finer,

so that, for a moment, our eyes can see

and our ears can hear

what is there around us always.”

.

Willa Cather

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Winter Gardening

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

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Yes, it’s January, but there is still plenty to do in the garden.  When we get a fairly nice day, like today, you might feel the itch to get outside and get gardening again.  Even when the weather isn’t fine, there are still preps for the season ahead that can be done indoors, while the pace remains decidedly unhurried.

The most important winter gardening work can be accomplished from an armchair:  planning ahead.  Every year we tweak and revise; opening new ground, moving plants, refining the design.  This is a good time of year to photograph every part of the garden with an eye to its bones.  Study those photos for inspiration and instruction.  Look with fresh eyes to see new possibilities in your familiar turf.

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I also spend quite a bit of time studying plant catalogs as they come in.  I read about newly introduced cultivars of familiar plants.   I consider what perennials or shrubs I might want to add, and  plan designs for our  pots and baskets.

I try to keep notes and drawings from these winter musings.  Ideally, a binder proves helpful over time to track the evolution of one’s garden.  Include photos, receipts, tags, a site plan and notes of what is planted, and when.

January through early March prove the best months for pruning woody plants here in Williamsburg.  There is less shock when a tree is dormant, and spring growth, when it breaks, will prove more vigorous.

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Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

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Some shrubs, like Beautyberry, Callipcarpa,  respond well to very hard pruning.  Cut these back by 30% or more and they will reward you with abundant growth and heavy fruiting the following year.    I make the rounds of our Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia; Buddleia, roses, fruit trees and small ornamental trees like Japanese Maples in winter when it is easiest to see their structure.  All of these bloom on new wood.

Remove crossed or crowded branches.  Thin and direct growth.  Remove suckers growing straight up from a mostly horizontal branch, and cut back long branches to encourage bushier growth.  Thinning, to allow sunlight and air to circulate through the plant both controls diseases before they can take hold, but also produces a stronger plant.

Wait to prune shrubs like Hydrangea and Lilac, which bloom on old wood, until after they bloom each summer.  If you remove old Hydrangea blossoms before spring, carefully cut above the first dormant bud.

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Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring's growth.

Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring’s growth.  Any serious pruning can remove next season’s flowers.

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Remove any perennial stems still standing in the garden before new growth begins in early spring.  Emerging growth, especially spring  bulbs, looks neater after last year’s perennial remains have been cut and composted.

Some of us leave our Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Lantana and other late flowering seed heads to feed the birds over winter.  These will be mostly picked clean by early February and their time has passed.  Remove old leaves from Hellebores as new ones emerge to rejuvenate the plant.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 115

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Building the soil can be done year round.  Adding organic matter, especially when working with heavy clay, brings the soil, and the garden, to life.   Whether you keep a compost pile, add mulch,  or simply sheet compost fallen and shredded leaves; do something each season to improve the soil in some part of the garden.  We save our coffee grounds and spread them on beds or around shrubs every few weeks.   Feeding the soil pays dividends much longer than does spreading any chemical fertilizer.

If you are starting a new planting area, consider building a raised bed with cardboard, brown paper, newspaper, or even fallen wood as a base.  “Sheet compost” the area over the winter months by adding coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, shredded leaves, and fruit and vegetable trimmings as they come available.  Keep adding layers of materials, topping the bed with straw or even bagged compost or topsoil from the garden center.  There are many, many ways to do this.

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Earthworms, drawn to the organic matter on the soil, begin to work their way through the pile, speeding the process and enriching the ground with their castings.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly crumbled into humus before you plant in spring.  If necessary, pile a few inches of bagged soil on top of your pile and plant directly into this finished soil, confident that the composting layers will break down in the weeks ahead.

This is a better way to begin a new bed than tilling or digging because it leaves the organisms already living in the soil intact.  The roots of your newly planted garden will stretch and grow, loosening the soil as they expand.  Earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures will also loosen its structure over time.

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Chipped up wood and leaves spread over the foundation of wood will rot into good compost over time.

Chipped up wood and leaves spread over a foundation of broken limbs will rot into good compost over time.  We built this raised Hugelkulture bed in July of 2013, and it has been productive ever since.

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Winter is also a good time for building new garden structures.  Whether you are adding walls, steps, raised beds, pergolas, paths or a patio, consider beginning in late winter before the trees leaf out.  You can see the structure of things better, and your construction mess won’t detract from the beauty of your spring or summer garden.

Finally, begin planting for the coming season.  Although autumn is the best time for planting new trees and perennials in our area so they can establish during the cool and wet winter months; we find our best selection at local garden centers in the spring.  The selection of shrubs, fruiting vines, annuals, perennials trees and summer bulbs at local garden centers can feel dizzying by late March.  Ride the crest of this wave, seeking out small perennial starts and bare root nursery stock in late February or March.

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Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by may.

Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by May.

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Many garden centers will offer popular perennials in 2″-3″ pots at very low prices in early spring.  These will establish and grow to full sized plants by summer.  Planting early on will give your new plants a chance to establish and expand their root system before summer’s heat and drought.

If you’ve ordered bulbs, tubers, or bare root stock from catalogs, you can plant these up in nursery pots and keep them in a garage or basement for a few weeks until it is warm enough to set them out.   For example, many tropical tubers,  ordered in early spring, can be gotten at much lower prices than you’ll find for the leafed out plants in early summer.  Order Caladiums, Colocasia, Canna, Alocasia, Dahlias and many other beautiful plants early for the best selection of cultivars.  You can easily pot these up yourself in soil and have them ready to plant out when it warms enough for them in May.

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Caladium

Caladium

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Seedling trees from mail order nurseries may also be potted up and allowed to grow in a protected area of your garden for the summer, and then planted into their permanent spot in the garden next autumn.

As our summers grow hotter each year, I’ve come to appreciate the winter months even more.   A lot can be accomplished in relative comfort, without the distraction of biting insects or broiling sun, on warmish winter days.  It feels good to get out of doors and work in the garden.

Whether you are cleaning up, building up, planting up, or pruning; enjoy the time you spend preparing for spring’s beauty to unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

First Frost

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The first frost of the season touched our garden last night.  After a windy, cold day, the temperatures dropped quickly through the 30s and into the mid-twenties here.  What a quick transition!  We awoke to a front garden sparkling in the morning sunshine, the ground covered in frost.

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Ollie, our cat, asked to go out around supper time.  He had spent the day basking in the sunshine on a thick rug, watching the trees swaying and the birds flying through a large glass door nearby.  Even with his thickening fur coat, it was a bit much.  He was at the door, ready to come back inside, in short order.

I know.  I was out there, too.  A rumble at the street alerted me that a truck was at the top of our drive well after nightfall.  I stepped outside to find a new UPS driver struggling to find us in the dark.  I called to him, an invisible voice in the night; confirmed the delivery was for us, and then started the long climb up the drive to meet him.   Oh, the wind was cold!

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Cold comes swiftly to our region, once it finally does.  Week after week of lingering  warmth, sunshine, and generally happy weather don’t just fade into fall.  It was 80F her on Saturday!  And now, after a couple of windy days on the downside of the mercurial climate roller coaster, we find ourselves waking up to a frost covered garden.

Ah, change!

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You just know, sometimes, when it is time to move on.  And living in Virginia we learn early that change is the only real constant.   Summer must come to a close.  Autumn leaves must fall on the frosty wind even as perennials fade, annuals freeze, and the clearest blue sky imaginable glows through newly bare branches.

We find beauty and happiness in each season’s progress.

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It is time for winter to settle over our garden.  We have returned to a season of rest and contemplation; a time to meditate on the ‘bare bones’ of things as we make way for something new.

Winter cleans the garden in ways I never would.  The winds, like a cadre of frosty maids, sweep and scour, straighten and put away what has grown perhaps a bit shabby with time.

We appreciate nature’s gesture, even as we appreciate the beauty and richness of the season’s passing.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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A Forest Garden 2017 garden calendar is now available

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Wordless Wednesday: Acer

May 13, 2016 Begonias 029

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“Peace is not the absence of chaos.

It is the presence of tranquility and joy

in the midst of chaos.”

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Debasish Mridha

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Connie Hansen Conservancy, Lincoln City, OR

Connie Hansen Conservancy, Lincoln City, OR

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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May 28, 2016 ferns 005

Garden Tapestry: May and June

6/16/2015 One of the perennial geraniums I planted in spring, growing with dusty miller, which survives winter here.

6/16/2015 One of the perennial geraniums I planted in spring blooms beside Dusty Miller, which survives winter here. Leaves of Black Eyed Susans, which bloom in late summer and fall, form the background.  These plants proved exceptionally good in this spot.

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What is a tapestry?

These woven decorative textiles were much more fashionable in Medieval times than in ours.

Meticulously designed and executed, many vividly colored threads were woven into geometric designs and pictures on a heavy cloth.  I think of tapestries as large artworks  hung on a vast stone wall in a drafty European castle.

Cathy, of Garden Dreaming at Chatillon, brought the topic to mind in her very kind comment on last week’s Wednesday Vignettes: Magical Green, where she said,

“The quotes are as good as the photos – Beth Chatto’s ‘Green Tapestry’ on our blogging screens. Thanks so much…”

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6/22/2015 Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.

6/22/2015 Canna lilies have reached about half their final height. Hibiscus, behind them, will bloom with scarlet flowers in a few weeks.  The Colocasia to either side looked fresh and dramatic until taken down by frost.

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I know of Beth Chatto as a well respected British garden designer and plantswoman.  I’ve read reviews of many of her books, but never owned one of them.

And so Cathy’s comments sent me to Amazon to locate her book, The Green Tapestry, which I promptly ordered.

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6/5/2015 A red leaf Canna with Colocasia 'Pink China' made a striking combination all season.

6/5/2015 A red leaf Canna with Colocasia ‘Pink China’ made a striking combination all season.  Mahonia grows behind this grouping.

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Chatto’s The Green Tapestry was delivered earlier today, and I’ve immersed myself this evening in her instructive  text and beautiful photos.  There is so much to learn from her!  I was delighted to see so many familiar plants that I treasure in our garden, featured in hers.

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Here the perennial geraniums bloom with snaps, planted the previous fall which bloomed sporadically all winter.

6/5/2015 Here  perennial geraniums bloom with snaps, planted the previous fall, which bloomed sporadically all winter.  Vinca minor forms a glossy green backdrop for the flowers.

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Which brings us to today’s post, and brings the idea of  a  ‘tapestry’ back to the garden.

The metaphor of gardener as artist can not be visited too often.  We work with color, form, rhythm, mood, line and shading;  just as does any fine artist.

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A seedling Acer, dug from my parents' garden, punctuates this planter of ferns and Caladiums.

6/20/2015 A seedling Acer, dug from my parents’ garden, punctuates this planter of ferns and Caladiums.  I moved the Acer into a permanent spot in the garden in October, and plan to ring it with a bed of fern and Caladiums next May.

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Ours is a dynamic and ephemeral art, however; because we work within the stream of time, the fourth dimension, along with the other three.

Most painters work within two dimensions;  sculptors, potters, glass makers and textile artists with three.  But like musicians, gardeners must also work within the dimension of unfolding time.

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5/25/2015 Begonia 'Gryphon,' in a pot, is surrounded by 'volunteer' growth of Virginia Creeper and wild grapes.

5/25/2015 Begonia ‘Gryphon,’ in a pot with an angel wing Begonia, is surrounded by ‘volunteer’ growth of Virginia Creeper and wild grapes.  Yucca filamentosa leaves poke into the picture from lower down the hill.  The Begonias grew quite large over the summer and made a good display.  The pot disappeared under the vines, but the vines didn’t compete with the potted Begonias.

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And the style of garden design I favor, and what Beth Chatto narrates so skillfully; interweaves many different plants of different form and color, all coming and going into the ‘picture’ of a garden bed as the season progresses.

This is an ever changing tapestry created primarily with woodies, bulbs, and of course, perennials.  The picture continually changes as plants emerge, unfold, bloom, grow, mature, and eventually fade.  And of course different plants come and go on their own schedules.  This style of planting, the antithesis of a monoculture, is featured prominently in the current Special Plants Edition of the British gardening magazine, Gardens Illustrated.

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5/4/2015 This is a view of our 'stump garden finally coming into its own this spring.

5/4/2015 This is a view of our ‘stump garden’ finally coming into its own this spring.  The Iris bloomed here for its first time in this bed, followed by Alliums and Glads later in the season.  The Hellebores remained green and happy all summer, despite this sunny location.  A large Nepeta grows behind the Iris.

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And so I’ve set a new task for myself in the new year:  I will review my photos from last year, with an eye to identifying pleasing garden ‘tapestry’ shots.  And in studying the photos, I plan to make a list of those plants which worked out well in our garden, and should be used more often.

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Our Allium flowers remain popular with the insects. These from onion sets planted last year to protect other things growing in our stump garden.

6/16/2015 Our Allium flowers remain popular with the insects. These from onion sets planted last year to protect other things growing in our stump garden.

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And I’ll also note those plants which didn’t perform well, and should be overlooked next season.

Thank you, Cathy, for inspiring this project!  In this post, I’ve included photos taken between May 4 and June 22, 2015.

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5/10/2015 I hope these lovely Siberian Iris will return in the spring. They were overshadowed

5/10/2015 I hope these lovely Siberian Iris will return in the spring. They were overshadowed by the sweet, lacy little Artemesia beside them, which grew into a shrub this season!  As dainty as the tiny purple flowers of the Comphrey may appear, this plant is a lovely thug.  I’ve spent lots of time over the past six months cutting it back and checking its spread.  It makes great mulch and fertilizer, it is just labor intensive!

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Just as an artist favors certain colors and materials, so gardeners favor those plants which perform well, remain pest free, offer the colors we prefer, and grow well in our garden’s conditions.  And of course, we are always looking for new varieties to trial!

Success comes from planting more of those plants which perform well, and moving or editing out those which disappoint.

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6/3/2015 This Autumn 'Brilliance' fern is now my 'go to' perennial. Believe it or not, it still looks this vibrant and lovely now as it did all summer. I grow it in all sorts of different light conditions and soils with success. If I could plant only one fern, this would be it. Here, a Sedum given to us by a friend skirts below it.

6/3/2015 This Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern is now my ‘go to’ perennial. Believe it or not, it still looks this vibrant and lovely in January as it did all summer. I grow it in all sorts of different light conditions and soils with success. If I could plant only one fern, this would be it. Here, a Sedum, given to us by a friend, carpets the soil below it.

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I hope these photos may offer you an inspiration for some new plant or approach to try in your own garden this coming year.

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6/3/2015 Applecourt crested painted fern has proven interesting and hardy in our garden. Japanese painted ferns are my second favorite fern for this garden. They come in countless color variations and forms, are reliably perennial, and prove tough through our summer weather.

6/3/2015 Applecourt Crested Painted Fern has proven interesting and hardy in our garden. Japanese painted ferns are my second favorite fern for this garden. They come in countless color variations and forms, are reliably perennial, and prove tough through our summer weather. Aren’t those crested fronds simply outrageous? (Find a great selection of unusual Japanese Painted Fern and Ghost Fern hybrids at Plantdelights.com )  This is a start in its second season, and I can’t wait to watch it grow larger and more impressive as time goes by.  And yes, that is another hardy Geranium growing to its left….  I’ve paired it here in front of  a Hellebore.

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January is my official month for garden dreaming, and perhaps it is for you as well.  With nursery catalogs arriving now in each day’s mail, I’m ready to review the year past, and plant my ideas for our garden in the year ahead.

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5/26/2015 This container combination of Dusty Miller, Sedum, and Geranium proved tough and beautiful all summer in a particularly hot and harsh location.

5/26/2015 This container combination of Dusty Miller, Sedum angelina and Pelargonium proved tough and beautiful all summer in a particularly hot and harsh location.  The Pelargonium bloomed sporadically, but with leaves like these, who worries about the flowers?  A variegated ivy grows from a lower opening in this custom made pot.  In fact, everything but the Pelargonium is still growing in this pot as winter approaches, and still is looking good.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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June 22, 2015

June 22, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Trees Growing

Acer palmatum 'Peaches and Cream'

Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream’

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“You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars.

In the noisy confusion of life,

keep peace in your soul.”

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Max Ehrmann

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“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
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Kahlil Gibran

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“Planting trees, I myself thought for a long time,

was a feel-good thing, a nice but feeble response

to our litany of modern-day environmental problems.

In the last few years, though, as I have read

many dozens of articles and books

and interviewed scientists here and abroad,

my thinking on the issue has changed.

Planting trees may be the single most important ecotechnology

that we have to put the broken pieces of our planet back together.”

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Jim Robbins

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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April 8, 2015 trees 011

“Peaches and Cream”

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Our little “Peaches and Cream” maple has grown quite a lot since you first saw it in late March.  Aren’t its leaves stunning?

We brought both little maple trees inside the garage last Friday afternoon to weather the rain and cold with the olive trees.  Our last freeze came early last Sunday morning, and the maples came back outside to a shady spot on Monday.

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April 3, 2015 spring trees 011

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By Tuesday morning, this one looked as though a bar fight had been waged in its pot.  Bits of moss were everywhere around it on the deck, and most of the soil was bared.  The other moss gardens nearby were in a similiar state.  What happened?

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You guessed it!  Nesting season, of course.  And the soft moss already in pots, easy to reach, looked too tempting to our amorous song birds.

I picked up what bits were left, replaced them, and tidied up… several times now.  Tiny wild violets have just appeared, and may possibly anchor the moss as they grow.

The trees have made steady progress, and I am pleasantly surprised to see so much new growth.

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Later in the week, I’ll share photos of the second little Acer .

Woodland Gnome 2015

Japanese Maple

March 25, 2015 Acer 014

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Japanese Maples are such graceful, lovely trees.  I’ve admired them for a long time, but have not, until now, purchased one.

Although Bonsai culture remains beyond my reach, when the opportunity to purchase two little Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream’ arose yesterday, I decided on the spot to grow them.

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March 25, 2015 Acer 017

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These are very young grafted trees, purchased in 3″ pots from a local garden center’s seasonal grand opening sale.

Synchronistically, some might say, I had just spent an hour exploring several interlinked sites on growing Bonsai earlier this week. 

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March 26, 2014 acer 001

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I’m now following Ben at Scratch Bonsai and Adam’s Art and Bonsai Blog.  I love studying these trees growing in pots or simply on slabs of stone.  Their will to live and determination to carry on in difficult circumstances inspires me.

And so when it came time to pot up my two little Acer trees yesterday, I had read enough to know to add a large amount of perlite to my good quality potting soil mix, and to add a little extra fertilizer.  There are stones in the bottom of the two pots, and I planted the trees at precisely the same level they were already growing.

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March 25, 2015 Acer 015

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And that was it…. nothing fancy here- just a standard ‘potting up.’  I am going to just let these guys grow this season, in partial shade. to see what they will do on their own.

I don’t know Acer palmatum personally yet.  I need to watch them for a while, and learn a whole lot more about Bonsai before offering them more than water, light and air.  (Ben just sent me this link to Bonsai4Me, and I’m looking forward to exploring this site for useful tips and information.)

Are you growing anything new this season?  Have you been tempted by the glossy winter garden catalogs to branch out  into any new gardening projects?

Winter remains a time of rest and renewal; a fertile time to make plans for the growing season ahead.  Now that it is officially spring, and March has nearly passed, the time has come to muddy one’s hands and brings those plans to life.

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March 25, 2015 Acer 013

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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