Blossom XXXIX: Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“At last came the golden month of the wild folk-
– honey-sweet May,
when the birds come back, and the flowers come out,
and the air is full of the sunrise scents and songs
of the dawning year.”
.
Samuel Scoville Jr.

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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

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

WPC: Favorite Place

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My favorite place is one of magic and mystery, comfort, peace and ever expanding potential.

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It changes minute to minute, day to day.  Yet it always remains constant in its beauty.

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There are infinite layers to this place.  What the eye can see, and what the camera perceives, are sometimes different.

The air is filled with song from creatures seen and unseen.

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And the light infuses all. 

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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Favorite Place
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Within the mystery of life
there is the infinite darkness of the night sky
lit by distant orbs of fire,
the cobbled skin of an orange that releases its fragrance to our touch,
the unfathomable depths of the eyes of our lover.
No creation story, no religious system
can fully describe or explain this richness and depth.
Mystery is so every-present
that no one can know for certain
what will happen one hour from now. 
It does not matter whether you have religion
or are an agnostic believe in nothing,
You can only appreciate
(without knowing or understanding)
the mysteries of life.

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Jack Kornfield
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“Those loving and most loved lights do not leave this world.  They remain among us, the stuff of sunbeams and whispers; always as close as thought, as real as dream.  Light and love bind us one to another, beyond the bounds of space and time. ” WG

Early March Stories

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“Once you start recognizing the truth of your story,
finish the story.
It happened but you’re still here,
you’re still capable, powerful,
you’re not your circumstance.
It happened and you made it through.
You’re still fully equipped with every single tool you need
to fulfill your purpose.”

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Steve Maraboli
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“Do you wait for things to happen,
or do you make them happen yourself?
I believe in writing your own story.”
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Charlotte Eriksson

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“Most of us have only one story to tell.
I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives:
there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories.
But there’s only one that matters,
only one finally worth telling.”
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Julian Barnes

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“The significance –
and ultimately the quality –
of the work we do
is determined by our understanding
of the story in which we are taking part.”
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Wendell Berry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Story

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“Embrace the path your loved one’s story has taken,
and be part of the culture shift
that acknowledges dying
as part of living.”
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Carrie Chavez Hansen
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WPC: Out of This World

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“I address you all tonight for who you truly are:
wizards, mermaids, travelers,
adventurers, and magicians.
You are the true dreamers.”
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Brian Selznick

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“We travel, some of us forever,
to seek other states, other lives,
other souls.”
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Anaïs Nin

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“It is good to have an end to journey toward;
but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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“Every dreamer knows
that it is entirely possible to be homesick
for a place you’ve never been to,
perhaps more homesick
than for familiar ground.”
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Judith Thurman

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“Wherever you go
becomes a part of you somehow.”
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Anita Desai

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All photos from the water garden at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, Virginia.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Out of This World

 

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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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

WPC: Weathered Flowers

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Flowers have survived on our Hydrangea quercifolia shrubs longer this season than ever before.  From buds to these weathered remnants, we have enjoyed them daily over their season.

This is the longest they’ve ever lasted, as some years the flowers  are eaten off of our oakleaf Hydrangeas by hungry deer before the flowers fully mature.

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I see these winter wilted leaves and weathered flowers as a small sign of victory in our ongoing struggles with this garden.  Like an elderly person, a story of survival is told in every detail of their countenance.

Winter teaches us to find beauty in all stages of life.  It shows us the dignity of strength and tenacity, and serves as

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Allium flowers, gone to seed, and now with the seeds mostly blown away.  Their structure and grace remains.

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“…a reminder that there’s beauty to be found in the ephemeral and impermanent.”

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

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