Sunday Dinner: “A Discipline With a Deadline”

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“Butterflies used to reproduce

on the native plants that grew in our yards

before the plants were bulldozed and replaced with lawn.

To have butterflies in our future,

we need to replace those lost host plants,

no if’s, and’s or but’s.

If we do not, butterfly populations

will continue to decline

with every new house that is built.”

.

Douglas Tallamy

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“We were the product and beneficiary

of a vibrant natural world,

rather than its master.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“Knowledge generates interest,

and interest generates compassion.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“We can no longer afford

to consider air and water common property,

free to be abused by anyone

without regard to the consequences.

Instead, we should begin now

to treat them as scarce resources,

which we are no more free to contaminate

than we are free to throw garbage

into our neighbor’s yard.”

.

  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“Our privately owned land

and the ecosystems upon it are essential

to everyone’s well-being, not just our own.

Abusing land anywhere has negative ramifications

for people everywhere.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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~

“My point is this:

each of the acres we have developed for specific human goals

is an opportunity to add to Homegrown National Park.

We already are actively managing

nearly all of our privately owned lands

and much of the public spaces in the United States.

We simply need to include ecological function

in our management plans

to keep the sixth mass extinction at bay.”

.

  Douglas W. Tallamy

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“Conservation biology . . .

[is] a discipline with a deadline.”

.

E. O. Wilson

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To Learn More (These books should top the reading list of every serious naturalist and gardener…. Woodland Gnome)

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy

 

 

Six on Saturday: Our Forest Garden

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Most times when you hear someone talk about creating a ‘forest garden,’ they are designing a complex environment to generate fresh, healthy food for as many weeks of the year as their growing season permits.  Forest gardens are built around trees, of course, and the food producing plants come in many different layers from tree-tops to ground covers.

I began working with this idea in the 1990’s on another, suburban property where I grew a great deal of food.  In fact, most summer evenings I’d wander around our yard, basket and clippers in hand, and gather a basketful of produce to cook for our evening meal.  There were beans and squash, tomatoes, okra, various leafy greens, potatoes, apples, peaches, berries, various herbs and more.  I experimented a great deal with mixing edibles with flowering plants so the garden was both productive and beautiful.

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Vitis vulpina, a native grape, cascades through the tree tops on the sunny edges of our garden.  Can you see the ripening grapes?

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I wanted to take that to the next level on this property, where I had more space and had several species of fruit trees established when we arrived.  We all have dreams, don’t we? 

It took only a few years to understand that my best attempts would yield more frustration than success…. or dinner.  My old neighborhood had major roads all around and not a single deer for miles.  We had squirrels and the occasional raccoon.  This community is home to herds of roaming deer, a warren of rabbits lives and breeds nearby, and there are squirrels everywhere.  I’ve come to love the wildlife, especially the many species of birds who live with us, but have mostly given up my plans of growing produce at home.

Actually, I pivoted somewhere  along the way from trying every edible plant I could to cultivating as many poisonous plants as I can.  They last longer….

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You see squirrels eat peaches, pears and apples before they ripen.  Deer eat tomato plants and snack on squash and beans.  Even the container garden I tried on the deck fed our acrobatic squirrels before we could harvest the tomatoes.  We never harvest a single nut, even though there is a huge hazelnut patch right beside our deck.  Now we have a few hickory trees maturing, and I’ll be curious to see whether any nuts are left for us.

A forest garden is built around a few carefully selected fruit or nut bearing trees.   Vegetable plants are planted between and under the trees, depending on how much sun each plant requires.  Fruiting shrubs, like blueberries and brambles grow along the perimeter, and one finds room for a few elderberries, gooseberries, figs, currants, and grapes.  This is a sustainable garden, and so one tries to plant perennial crops like asparagus, sun chokes, perennial herbs and the woodies.  It is very elegant and productive when it is well planned on a fertile site.

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Figs are growing on this fig tree that I planted from a cutting of another tree in our garden.  When a branch broke off in a storm, I cut it into pieces and ‘planted’ them where I wanted new trees to grow.  Figs are great ‘forest garden’ plants.

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We’ve had some small successes.  I can grow herbs here and expect to harvest them myself.  The critters don’t bother our rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, or mints.  In fact, fragrant herbs also help deter herbivores from other delicious plants. We’ve grown rhubarb, which has poisonous leaves that the deer won’t graze.  Rhubarb prefers a cooler climate, and isn’t long-lived in our garden.

We have an Italian fig variety that doesn’t darken as it ripens.  They remain light green, and swell until they burst.  We’ve enjoyed some fine fig harvests over the years.  And grapes love our garden.  I grow a delicious Muscadine that bears well, if ‘we’ don’t prune it too hard while it is in flower.

I started our Muscadines from seed after a particularly good purchase at the farmer’s market.  But we have wild grapes, too.   Not that we ever taste them, but large clusters of other native grapes hang down from the canopy through the summer months, until birds decide they are ready to harvest.

We have Vitis aestivalis, the summer grape or pigeon grape with its beautiful trident shaped leaf; and Vitis vulpina, the wild grape or fox grape.   V. vulpina is bitter until very late into the season, and by then the wild things have claimed them.  These vines crop up as volunteers, as they do throughout most of Virginia.  They scamper up and over trees and shrubs and every gardener must decide whether to allow them or to ignore them.  By the time I decided that our forest garden is at heart a wildlife garden, I welcomed the grape vines.

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Fennel may be used fresh, the flowers are edible, and the seeds may be harvested for cooking.

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There is actually quite a lot here one could eat if one were hungry.  We could harvest the bamboo shoots in spring, but we throw them to the squirrels.  We could use many of our native flowers and other herbs for teas.  We have the full cast of edible herbs, beech nuts, acorns, figs and fiddleheads.

I could try harder.  If Trader Joe’s weren’t so conveniently close, I surely could grow potatoes, at least.  Maybe one year I’ll plant some of the seed potatoes I always save.

But quite honestly, foraging for one’s food in the garden takes planning and commitment.   It is a wonderfully interesting undertaking, and very good for both the wallet and the planet.  But it also takes really good fences and barriers.  After all, the wild things have nothing else to do all day except find their food.  Who am I to stop them?

~

Monarda provides excellent forage for pollinators. Its leaves may be dried and used to flavor tea.  Its flowers are edible.  This is the distinctive flavor in Earl Gray tea.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

Sunday Dinner: Bloom Where You Are Planted

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“To accomplish great things we must not only act,
but also dream;
not only plan, but also believe.
.
Anatole France

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~

“Only those who attempt the absurd
can achieve the impossible.”
,
Albert Einstein

~

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“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion,
which is life,
by artificial means and hold it fixed
so that a hundred years later,
when a stranger looks at it,
it moves again since it is life.”
.
William Faulkner

~

~

“People pretend not to like grapes
when the vines are too high
for them to reach.”
.
Marguerite de Navarre

~

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“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing
unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…
I have never in my life envied a human being
who led an easy life.
I have envied a great many people
who led difficult lives and led them well.”
.
Theodore Roosevelt

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~

“Not much happens without a dream.
And for something great to happen,
there must be a great dream.
Behind every great achievement
is a dreamer of great dreams.
Much more than a dreamer is required
to bring it to reality;
but the dream must be there first.”
.
Robert K. Greenleaf

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“One bulb at a time.
There was no other way to do it.
No shortcuts–simply loving the slow process of planting.
Loving the work as it unfolded.
Loving an achievement that grew slowly
and bloomed for only three weeks each year.”
.
Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards

~

~

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Six on Saturday: A Gracious Plenty

Perennial hardy Begonias spread a bit more each year by seed, rhizomes, and little bulblets that form where each leaf meets the stem. These drop in the fall and grow as  new plants the following spring.  Begonias mix here with ferns and Caladiums.

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Some plants have generosity baked into their DNA.  Generosity, or an energetic compulsion to survive and multiply.  As I often tell gardening friends, “Plants just want to live.”

Whether you are just naturally thrifty, or have a large space to paint with plants, or like a coordinated design with large expanses of the same plant; it helps to know which plants are easy to propagate and spread around, and which are likely to simply sit in their spot and wait for you to feed and water them.

Are there extroverts in the plant kingdom?  ‘Super-spreader’ plants just assume you appreciate their company and welcome more of their kind.  Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.  Gardeners tend to share those ‘extras’ freely with one another.

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Silver marked Lamium grows along the edges of this mixed planting. Native ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum, spreads itself around by dropping seeds each summer to crop up in unexpected places the following year.

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Please don’t be naive about it, either.  If I’m offering you a pot or a bag of something and urging you to take it, maybe it is because I’ve had to thin (read: rip) some out of my garden space and would rather give it to you than toss it on the compost.  I have ‘received’ a few of these gifts that went on to boldly colonize huge spaces in our garden.

I just found several baby Canna lily plants growing out into a path.  I say ‘baby’ because they were only a few inches tall.  These beauties will be taller than me in another month.  I had to dig them or give up that little path forever.  The first of their kind made to my garden seven years ago in a friend’s grocery bag; a generous and much appreciated gift.

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Canna lillies die back to the ground each winter, to re-emerge by early summer, spreading a bit further each season. They attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Native Hibiscus grows behind this Canna.

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They have spread themselves about ever since, which I’ve allowed because I like them and the hummingbirds they feed.  But there was nowhere left to move these stragglers, and so I began trying to give them away.   And two weeks later, I’m content in knowing their roots are happily sunk into good rich earth in a garden nearby.

Cannas, like many Iris and some ferns, grow underground stems called ‘rhizomes,’ to spread themselves around.  A new leaf and stalk will just grow along the way as the rhizome keeps on creeping further and further afield.  Roots grow from the bottom and sides of the rhizome.  Separate a hunk that has a few roots attached and at least one ‘eye’ for new leaf growth, and you have an independent plant ready to go out into the world.

Other creepers that just keep expanding into new space include many Colocasia, which have both rhizomes and runners; many grasses; the beautiful groundcover Lamium, also known as deadnettle; all of the many mints and many native wildflowers like obedient plant and goldenrod.  If you want a large, luxurious expanse of this plant, go ahead and invite it home to your garden.  It will reward you by multiplying in short order.

Other beautiful perennials beget seedlings in abundance.  Rudbeckia are famous for this, but aren’t the only ones.  Hibiscus seed freely, and I find new little Rose of Sharon trees popping up every spring.  Some of the newer, named varieties may be sterile, as some newer crape myrtle varieties are sterile.  But every flower will likely produce dozens of seeds, and the math of their propagation is beyond my attention span.

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‘Annual’ Verbena creeps and fills pots and baskets nicely. The stems root easily in soil or water. Verbena flowers from mid-spring through frost.  Coleus (behind) and Dichondra (left) also root easily from nodes along their stems.

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Many stems easily root in either soil or water.  Knowing this, you can clone as many plants as you want just like your original.  Specialized cells at each node where leaf joins stems, called meristematic tissue, can differentiate to grow into new stems, leaves or roots as needed.

When I buy pots of ‘annual’ Verbena, I always examine the stems, where they touch the soil, to look for roots.  If there are little roots already, I snip that stem close to the crown and gently tug the little tangle of new roots away from the root ball.  This rooted stem we call a ‘division.’  Now, if there aren’t any rooted stems, you can easily get a stem to root by pegging it down to the soil with a small stone or a bit of wire.    Once some roots have grown, cut the stem away and gently lift its little roots.  Plant it back into the same pot nearby, or spread the plant to another spot.

Many plants root from their stems.  Most will root if you just cut them away at a node and plop them into moist soil.  Give a little shade from the mid-day sun while those new roots grow, keep the soil watered, and you’ll soon notice new growth.

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Colocasia and Iris; both grow from underground rhizomes and spread more each year. They are very easy to separate and any piece of rhizome with roots and an eye will grow into a new plant.  Grow these in containers to limit their spread.

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Other plants grow in circles, with expanding ‘crowns.’  The crown is where new leaves arise each spring and is normally right at, or right below soil level.  Hostas and Heucheras grow this way.  Lift them and divide them into pieces in the spring, cutting apart ‘sections’ that have both roots and new clumps of emerging leaves.  One Hosta may become several after this simple surgery, each section ready to replant and continue to grow.

With a little patience and planning, you can also have ‘a gracious plenty’ of favorite plants in your garden without buying out the garden center every spring.  Once you grow a little bit infatuated with a plant, you’ll likely want more just like it.  Learn its ways and offer a little encouragement.  Soon it will reward you with enthusiastic growth.

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Hostas may be knocked out of their pot and divided so that each clump of leaves has roots attached. Replant each clump and it will continue to grow and expand.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Sunday Dinner: Ever Widening Circles

Monarda fistulosa

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“I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.”
.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Daucus carota with Cyrtomium falcatum

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“I beg you, to have patience with everything

unresolved in your heart

and to try to love the questions themselves

as if they were locked rooms

or books written in a very foreign language.

Don’t search for the answers,

which could not be given to you now,

because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future,

you will gradually, without even noticing it,

live your way into the answer.”
.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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“To love is good, too: love being difficult.

For one human being to love another:

that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks,

the ultimate, the last test and proof,

the work for which all other work

is but preparation.”
.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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“We need, in love, to practice only this:

letting each other go.

For holding on comes easily;

we do not need to learn it.”

.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Zantedeschia albomaculata

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’

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“Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now,

lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words

that sometimes do you good.

His life may also have much sadness and difficulty,

that remains far beyond yours.

Were it otherwise,

he would never have been able to find these words.”
.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Clematis

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“It is spring again.

The earth is like a child

that knows poems by heart.”
.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Sunday Dinner: Living With Purpose

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“The mystery of human existence

lies not in just staying alive,

but in finding something to live for.”

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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“Your purpose in life

is to find your purpose

and give your whole heart and soul to it”

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Guatama Buddha

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“A small change can make a big difference.

You are the only one who can make

our world a better place to inhabit.

So, don’t be afraid to take a stand .”

.

Ankita Singhal

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“The purpose of life is to live it,

to taste experience to the utmost,

to reach out eagerly and without fear

for newer and richer experience.”

.

Eleanor Roosevelt

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“True glory consists

in doing what deserves to be written,

in writing what deserves to be read,

and in so living

as to make the world happier and better

for our living in it.”

.

Pliny the Elder

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“Awareness is the power

that is concealed within the present moment. …

The ultimate purpose of human existence,

which is to say, your purpose,

is to bring that power into this world.”

.

Eckhart Tolle

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“Following your inner guidance

has a unique power all its own.

Even when others can’t understand it,

you can feel your soul being pulled

to the place it truly belongs.”

.

Kianu Starr

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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Things don’t have purposes,

as if the universe were a machine,

where every part has a useful function.

What’s the function of a galaxy?

I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters.

What does matter is that we’re a part.

Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field.

It is and we are.

What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”
.

Ursula K. Le Guin

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

 

Six on Saturday: Perennial Patience

This tough summer planting includes Coleus, Verbena, Lantana, Dichondra and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’ It can take heat and sun and continue looking good through until fall.  These are all tender perennials and can overwinter in the garage, or some may make it through winter outdoors in this large pot.

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You may know that many of the bright little plants sold at nurseries each spring as ‘annuals’ actually are perennials.  An annual grows from a seed, blooms, sets seed and dies all between last frost of winter and first frost of autumn.  Only the seeds will last from one season to the next.

Perennials will live from year to year given the right degree of protection from winter’s chill.  Hardy perennials can over winter in pot or in the ground out of doors, with minimal protection.  Tender perennials need to come inside to live, whether they overwinter in the living room, garage, basement or cold frame.  We are on the cusp of Zone 8, here in Williamsburg, and some winters prove a bit warmer or colder than the norm.  That means that some of those tender ‘annual’ perennials I’ve left outside in pots, baskets or borders may just delight me by returning the following spring.

It is a contest of patience.  Most don’t rush to show themselves.  And keeping faith that survivors will return is a good reason to procrastinate on re-working our pots and baskets until early June.

Here we are near the end of the first week of June and I am still in the midst of transplanting Caladiums and planting out the few new plants I bought in mid-May.  Our cooler than usual spring dictated that the Caladiums tough it out in the garage several weeks longer than usual.  They’ve grown lank and leggy, but still hold promise.

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Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’ shares a pot with a Japanese painted fern. The Caladium just made its way to its summer pot this week.

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I dig and dry our Caladium tubers each November and store them in bags over winter in a spare room, then start them again by late March.  By May, they are showing new leaves and are ready to move back outside once again.  Only this year, it was too cool until just a couple of weeks ago.

By waiting so late, I’ve allowed time for Pelargoniums and Verbena, Tradescantia, Dichondra, Lantana, ferns and mints to show themselves alive and growing.  In many cases last year’s arrangements are returning for another season of growth.

But not all return.  At some point, one must clear out the leggy Violas and cut back the fading Dianthus, and carefully remove any faded remains of last year’s plants to give this summer’s plants time to establish and fill in before the season heats up too much.

For me, it’s like working a grand and complicated puzzle.  It helps to not over-think it, too, or else end up frustrated and frozen into indecision.  After all, mixing things up year to year and trying new plants and new combinations keeps things fresh.

I have my favorites.  Caladiums and Begonias fall near the top of my list of all time favorite summer plants for long lasting color.  Give them what they require and they will live on season after season.  Begonias must overwinter in the house or garage, unless they are one of the hardy varieties.   They might look a little rough by late May, but by late June they are covering themselves with brilliant new leaves and by late July the Begonias will be full of blooms again.  It is very easy to root Begonia stems to create entirely new plants and spread them around.  Overwinter as potted plants or as cuttings.

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Tradescantia returns reliably in our hanging baskets. It roots easily from a stem cutting and may be started in a new spot mid-season from a cutting.

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Other favorites include Coleus, another tender perennial, which can overwinter in the garage and starts easily from cuttings.   One can also buy a single new plant and take as many cuttings as one wants for additional plants.  Root them in a glass of water, or simply stick them in a pot where you want them to grow and keep them well-watered while they root.

Both ‘annual’ Verbena and Lantana return for us.  These are both excellent choices to stand up to our hot, muggy summers, too.  They can tough it out in hanging baskets or pots when the soil gets dry, and will wait for me to remember to bring them some water, if it doesn’t rain.  They attract hummingbirds, butterflies and lots of other little pollinators for endless entertainment.

Tradescantia looks tropical, but once well established, it will return year after year.  It is related to our native spiderwort. You have to wait for it, however, as you might not see it until late May.  It has little pink flowers, but I grow it for its gorgeous purple leaves and strong constitution.  Full sun, dry soil and long summer days don’t bother it, and deer will leave it strictly alone.  I plant Tradescantia and Lantana in the large pot outside of the Botanical garden’s gate, knowing they are safe from hungry deer.

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This tough Verbena is starting its third year in its basket. Pineapple mint, Lantana and a scented geranium have also returned here this spring.

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Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ is grown as a perennial ground cover further south.  I love it in pots and baskets because it grows into long, shimmering ‘curtains’ of foliage that get better as summer wears on.  Frost knocks back the foliage, but if one is patient and waits, it will often return from its roots by late May.  Dichondra roots easily from stems and is simple to divide from the nursery pot into smaller clumps, or simply layer to spread it around the outer edge of a hanging basket.  It is a wonderful bonus when it returns for another year.

Another plant I wait for each year is scented Pelargonium.  It is always a bonus when one survives and returns with fresh leaves in May.  I wonder sometimes whether I give up waiting too soon, and dig out plants that might eventually sprout.  When in doubt, it is easy enough to pot up the roots and wait to see.

Drenching pots of overwintered perennials with organic fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest, when watering them helps them come into growth, especially if their survival is iffy during a difficult spring.

Tender Pelargoniums can be grown indoors over winter and cuttings root easily, if you have a special variety and don’t want to take a chance on leaving them out of doors all winter.

There are a few hardy perennials  I grow in pots year to year as well.  Heuchera, coral bells, will often keep color and leaves throughout our winter, but wakes up and produces new leaves and flower stalks by mid-spring.  These grow larger and better each year, and may live in a large pot indefinitely.

I prefer to grow Hostas in pots, too.  They will grow larger when planted out in a bed, but then their roots are vulnerable to voles.  Hostas can be knocked out of a pot and divided easily in spring, spread around, and will add color and texture wherever you need them in part to deep shade.

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Heuchera will easily fill a pot. It may be divided in early spring to spread a favorite variety around.  This is a fairly new variety called ‘Midnight Rose.’

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Deciduous ferns will also live on in pots year after year.  Japanese painted ferns and lady ferns, Athyriums, are my favorites for this treatment.  Pair them with Violas over winter to fill the pot, and then drop in a Caladium or two in spring to add interest through the summer. Watching for the first fiddleheads to appear is a sure sign of spring.

All of these plants have proven good investments in this climate.  They give many months of beauty, and generally return year after year.  They thrive in our conditions and most stand up to the wildlife.  (A spritz of deer repellent on the Hostas and Heucheras is helpful to avoid unpleasant surprises, however.)

Our garden centers are filled with enough choices to make one dizzy.  It is tempting to load one’s cart with one or two of everything and hope for the best.  While it is always interesting to try new plants, I am contented to plant what works.  I have had one too many lush baskets bake by late July, pathetic little petunia stems desiccated and dying.  Now, I reach for these hardy companions that will go the distance through a Virginia summer.

And given a little patience, I can extend their lives year to year.

~

Pelargonium, a rose scented geranium that made it through winter and returned in April, is now larger than the new ones I picked up at the nursery in May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

Six on Saturday: Always Another Surprise

This old redbud tree fell over in a storm last year, yet is covered in new growth this spring. Its roots are strongly planted in the earth even as its trunk lies nearly horizontal along the slope of the garden.

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We weren’t expecting to get between 3 and 5 inches of rain yesterday afternoon.  Sure, we knew it might rain; there might even be a little thunder.  It’s nearly June, the start of Hurricane Season.  Storms come and go in coastal Virginia, and we’ve had a lot of that wet traffic lately.

But the storms seemed to be going around us for much of the day.  And even when the wispy little edge of a system brushed over us on radar, we expected only a passing shower.  But no.  It lingered, grew, intensified, roiled around a while.  It filled the ditch by our street and turned the creek in the ravine into a rushing river of run-off as a flash-flood warning pinged on my phone.  We began to hear about local roads flooding as heavy rain pounded on the roof and patio, our trees bending and swaying under such an unexpected watery attack.

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Some parts of the garden love the rain.

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Does it make sense to say that you’re surprised, while not being really surprised at all?  We’ve had so many fast, unexpected storms roll over our area in recent years that nothing from the sky should surprise us anymore.  And yet when they sneak up in mid-afternoon, without proper warning from the weather-guessers, and then leave a changed landscape behind, it does leave a scuff-mark on one’s psyche.

Of course we are in these already surreal and surprising months of 2020, so nothing should surprise us too much at this point.  Weather seems the least of it, honestly.

~

Athyrium ‘Ghost’

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But when I went out early this morning, camera in hand, to spy on the rabbits munching the front ‘lawn’ and to see what I could see in the garden, I was greeted with more little surprises in the garden.

Maybe what I really love most about gardening is the novelty of tending a living system and all of the surprises, both pleasant and not, which greet one each day.  What’s changed?  What’s in bloom?  What’s grown?  What’s been eaten overnight by the deer?  What young tree has just fallen over after the voles ate its roots?  You get my drift….

The very back of our garden is sheltered by a small ‘bamboo forest’ which shields it from the ravine.  Now, you likely know that bamboo, even when it’s 40′ tall and as big around as a large grapefruit, is a grass.  And grass grows from underground rhizomes, which spread as far as they possibly can.  We love the bamboo and the cool privacy it gives us.

~

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That said, every May we must police its new shoots daily to keep it in bounds.  You see, it really, really would like to claim more of the garden and so marches right up the hill towards our home every spring.  It sends up new shoots hourly over several weeks, and then it gives up until next year.  Sometimes the shoots are chopstick thin and actually look like a respectable grass.  They’re rather artistic and I’d be tempted to leave them, emerging in the midst of a flower border or my fernery, if I didn’t know their intent.

Other shoots come up thick and strong, like fast growing baseball bats claiming their right to seek the sun above the garden.  It’s a good thing that the squirrels love fresh bamboo shoots so much, because they quickly clean up the stray shoots we must knock over each day.

Well, when I wandered into the back garden this morning, I was greeted with unexpectedly prodigious new bamboo shoots thrusting up through shrubs, ferns, perennials and grass.  How can they grow that fast?  I wasn’t in my boots yet, so I made their portraits and left them to grow another few hours until my partner could deal with them.

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The ground was soft and squishy, still completely saturated from another early morning rain.  Fig branches were bent and touching the ground.  The lamb’s ears flower stalks I’d been allowing to grow for the bees lay flat in the mulch.  Only the ferns looked truly happy this morning.  The ferns, pushing out abundant new fronds, and a lone Japanese Iris that just bloomed for the first time in our garden.

A fresh Iris blossom always elicits a smile from me.  Like a deep breath of fresh spring air, it fills me with unreasonable happiness.  What is this magic some flowers work in our gnarly, jaded hearts?  I can turn away from two score bamboo shoots invading the garden to admire a single Iris blossom, and let that beautiful surprise buoy me back inside to pour my morning coffee.

Yes, we garden as much for the surprises as for the known rhythms of our gardening year.  There’s always something new to enjoy and always some new chore to do.  What more could one hope for?

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Iris ensata, ‘Temple Bells,’ blooming for the first time in our garden this morning.  It was a gift from a friend last summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a daily photo from our garden.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six On Saturday: When Wood Breaks Into Bloom

Redbud is the earliest tree in our garden to bloom, followed within another week or two by the dogwoods.

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When stark woody limbs suddenly burst open to liberate soft, fragrant flowers, we live, once again, the mystery play of spring.

We witness sudden and transformative change initiated by some small fluctuation in the status quo.  Days grow a few minutes longer; temperatures rise.  The Earth tilts a bit more in this direction or that, and the winds bring a new season as every branch, bulb, seed and root respond.

It is natural magic, and needs no assistance.  Every tree responds to its own cue of light and warmth while the gardener sits back with a cup of tea to appreciate the spectacle.

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Redbud flowers emerge directly from woody stems.  A member of the pea family, redbud, Cercis, trees store nitrogen on their roots, directly fertilizing the soil where they grow.  The nitrogen is filtered out of the air by their leaves, along with carbon.  Other plants can draw on this nitrogen in the soil for their own growth.

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I’m becoming more aware, with each passing season, of the silent cues leading me on my own journey as a gardener.  I’m looking for value when I invest in planting some new thing in the garden.  How many seasons will it grow?  How much return will it yield for my investment in planting?

A potted geranium will give six or eight months of interest, perhaps another season or two if you are both lucky and skilled.  A potted Camellia will outlive the gardener, assuming it survives its first seasons of hungry deer and unexpected drought.  The Camellia can produce hundreds of flowers in a single season, and more with each passing year.  A dogwood or Magnolia tree fills the garden with even more flowers, then feeds the birds months later as their seeds mature.

Gardening, like all transcendent pursuits, may be neatly reduced to mathematics when choices must be made.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle; small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer; red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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Yesterday afternoon I planted the Hydrangea paniculata I bought one Saturday afternoon almost two years ago, while taking my mother shopping.  A dozen potted shrubs were piled in front of her Wal-Mart store that late summer afternoon, reduced by half to move them.  They were clearing out the nursery area in preparation for holiday stock and impulsively, I grabbed a nice one and piled it in my cart.

“What are you going to do with that?”  she asked, cautiously, maybe wondering whether I intended to plant it in her yard somewhere.  She is housebound now, and can’t get out to garden as she once did.

“I don’t know yet,”  I responded, “but I’m sure I’ll find a spot for it at home.”  And the place I found was in a sheltered spot behind the house while I figured out where to plant it.  And it seemed quite content there, though it didn’t bloom last summer.  And it lived through two winters in its nursery pot while I dithered about where to plant it.

And finally, with a twinge of guilt for not letting its roots spread into good earth and its limbs reach into the sunlight, I chose a spot this week on our back slope, near other Hydrangeas, where we lost some lilac shrubs and their absence left an empty space to fill.  The Hydrangea will appreciate our acidic soil and the partial shade that has grown in there, where the lilac shrubs did not.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea also produces panicles of flowers in May, and the flowers persist into early winter. Many Hydrangeas bloom on new wood, while others set their buds in autumn. It pays to know your shrub.

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And as I plant, I can see its spindly little branches growing stout and long, reaching up and out for light and air.  Since it blooms on new wood, not old, every summer it will have the opportunity to stretch, and grow, and fill its corner of the garden with large pale panicles of flowers for months at a time.  Its roots will hold the bank against erosion and its woody body will welcome birds and support heavy flowers.  Each branch has the power to root and grow into a new shrub, even as each flower will support a cloud of humming insects on summer days.

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On March 1, 2017 our Magnolia liliflora trees were already in full bloom.

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There is tremendous potential in every woody plant.  They weave the fabric of the garden as days become weeks and weeks knit themselves into years.  Knowing them closely allows one to choose wisely, creating a flowering patchwork of trees and shrubs that shine each in their own season, and ornament the garden, each in its own way, every day of each passing year.

When leaves turn bright, then brown, and begin to swirl on autumn’s chilling winds, leaving stark woody skeletons where our soft green trees swayed so shortly ago; we watch with confidence that spring is but another breath away.

The only constant is change, as they say.  And knowing that, we know how to plan and plant to enjoy every moment.

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Mountain Laurel grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  Its buds are already swelling to bloom by early May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Fabulous Friday:  Flowers From Wood, Forest Garden, March 2017

Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Sunday Dinner: Finding the Energy

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“…The human perception of this energy

first begins

with a heightened sensitivity to beauty.”

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James Redfield

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“If you wish to make anything grow,

you must understand it, and understand it in a very real sense.

‘Green fingers’ are a fact,

and a mystery only to the unpracticed.

But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.”

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Russell Page

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“It takes as much energy to wish

as it does to plan.”

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Eleanor Roosevelt

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“We grow the aspects of our lives that we feed –

with energy and engagement –

and choke off those we deprive of fuel.

Your life is what you agree to attend to.”

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Jim Loehr

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“Energy is liberated matter,

matter is energy waiting to happen.”

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Bill Bryson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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I now see my life, not as a slow shaping

of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes,

but as the gradual discovery of a purpose

which I did not know.”

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Joanna Field

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“I love the smell of rain and growing things.”
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Serina Hernandez

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Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo of something beautiful and a thought provoking quotation each day.  -WG

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