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
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Re-Weaving the Web

Viola papilionacea

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

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

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

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

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Spiders often weave large webs in our autumn garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Asclepias incarnata, July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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

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

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

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

WPC: Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Dinner: Energized!

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“If you want to find the secrets of the universe,
think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
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Nikola Tesla

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“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop away from you
like the leaves of Autumn.”
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John Muir

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“Earth, water, fire, and wind.
Where there is energy there is life.”
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Suzy Kassem

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“I define connection as the energy that exists between people
when they feel seen, heard, and valued;
when they can give and receive without judgment;
and when they derive sustenance and strength
from the relationship.”
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Brené Brown

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“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”
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Aristotle

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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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“Rage — whether in reaction to social injustice,
or to our leaders’ insanity,
or to those who threaten or harm us —
is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice,
can be transformed into fierce compassion.”
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Bonnie Myotai Treace

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Never forget that you are not in the world; the world is in you.
When anything happens to you, take the experience inward.
Creation is set up to bring you constant hints and clues
about your role as co-creator.
Your soul is metabolizing experience
as surely as your body is metabolizing food”
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Deepak Chopra

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Snow Surprise

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Did I say surprise?  Little should surprise us anymore.  We live in such a ‘land of confusion’ these days that I’ve started taking a lot of what I hear, including weather forecasts, with a grain of salt.  Which is probably why I didn’t expect it to snow, at least not here, despite the forecasts on every wavelength and website. We decided it was as good a day as any to venture out to Toano for some shopping, and chose to ignore the sputtering rain as we headed out on our errands just before noon.

We listened to the sleet bouncing off the car as we returned in the early afternoon from our foray to the Tractor Supply Co.  It is one of our favorite stops in early spring, and we took some time browsing among the boots and hats before heading off to see what was new and interesting.

I was interested in the tools and shrubs and baby chicks huddling under heat lamps in the middle of the store.  There was an ‘instant flower garden’ seed mix complete with mulch and fertilizer; just sprinkle and add water.  I contented myself with a giant bag of potting soil, and we headed back out into the rain and darkening skies.

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After one more stop at a big box store to pick up some bags of bare-root ferns, we hastened home as the storm picked up.  I still expected hours of mixed precipitation with just barely above freezing temperatures through the rest of the afternoon.  The staccato tinkling of sleet sounded oddly comforting, and I turned my attention to pulling together something warm for lunch.

It was only an hour or so later, when I looked up from what I was reading, that I noticed huge flakes of snow falling past the windows.  The cat was asleep beside me and took no notice of our world gone oddly white.  I can’t remember when I’ve ever seen snowflakes the size of eggs, but that is what filled the sky and was already sticking to the deck.

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I quickly pulled up a radar weather map to get the latest guess on what was happening.  Right.  Our whole region still registered as heavy rain according to the NWS map on my screen.  Nothing is quite what it seems these days, but I sort of still hope that at least the radar map will reflect reality.

I looked back to the window, and put the map in motion.  It clearly showed the blue and pink clouds moving over the state well to our west, and we were under dark green and yellow.  Maybe there was still some rain mixed in with these gargantuan snowflakes?

I grabbed my camera and headed for the deck to see for myself what was actually falling.  The budding pear tree, now covered in snow, was shaking strangely.

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At first I thought that two large birds had settled into its upper branches.  I focused carefully and snapped, determined to get a closer look at what had landed in our tree.  And then they moved again, oddly for a bird, and I saw the give-away furry tails of a trio of squirrels happily snacking on our opening flower blossoms despite the falling snow.  And no, there was no rain mixed in; it was pure, fluffy wet snow falling in our yard.

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It felt far colder than the windowsill thermometer reported.  We decided that we should retrieve the mail before the box had a chance to freeze, and so I found boots and something warm and hooded for the hike to the box.  It was only an excuse, of course, to get a better look at our snow filled garden.

It looked absolutely surreal to see pops of bright springtime yellow and fresh green under the white and brown and grey of a snow covered garden.  The pavement was already slippery under almost an inch of snow; the sky thick and white and filled with falling blobs of crystallized wetness; the garden bent under the weight of this spring time ‘snow surprise’.

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Well, for my friends in the northeast, my smugness has been knocked down a notch today.    I’ve been showing you flowers and sunshine, while knowing you were getting hammered up there with winter storms.  Your gracious admiration of my springtime flower photos is appreciated.  Now, I hope you get a good chuckle seeing our snow covered garden this afternoon.

Of course, we wonder how much damage this may cause.  Last spring the Magnolia liliiflora had already bloomed when we got a hard freeze, and all of those buds and blossoms were lost.   A second flush came a few weeks later, but the damage was done.

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Our roses are showing new stems and leaves, despite my reluctance to prune them back yet.  And the redbud trees were just showing their first blossoms this weekend.  The Camellias along the street are covered in red rose-like blossoms.  The fruit trees are beginning to bloom, and the first of the Japanese painted ferns were just showing their earliest fiddle heads yesterday morning.  We’ll know what comes through unharmed tomorrow, won’t we? 

A gardener comes to accept uncertainty.  We keep on planting and tending with some measure of confidence that it will ‘all be OK.’  There is always the chance of a late freeze or snow, a summer storm, a flood, drought, earthquake or even an asteroid, I suppose.  Yet, we keep tending the soil and planting and pruning and protecting tender things when it’s cold like this.

In four months, when the ground is parched, we’ll water and mulch.  And tonight, we’ll linger by the window and find beauty in this last (?) taste of winter before spring settles in for good.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Were you around in 1986, in the early years of MTV, when this song filled the air?  Somehow it still sounds fresh and true today….  We can still take comfort in our tunes, especially when the weirdness of the day’s news feels like a bit too much.

Land of Confusion

Genesis 1986

I must’ve dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear their marching feet
Moving into the street

Now, did you read the news today?
They say the danger’s gone away
Well, I can see the fire’s still alight
Burning into the night

Too many men, too many people
Giving too many problems
And not much love to go around
Can’t you see this is the land of confusion?

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

Oh, Superman, where are you now?
When everything’s gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour

This is the time, this is the place
So we look for the future
There’s not much love to go around
Tell me why this is the land of confusion

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

Make it a place oh, yeah

This is the world we live in (oh, I remember long ago)
This is the world we live in (oh, the sun was shining)

Songwriters: ANTHONY BANKS, MICHAEL RUTHERFORD, PHILLIP COLLINS
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Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!

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Strange but true:  Gardening can become political, too.

This disturbing notion is reflected in our gardening styles.  Consider the traditional scheme of evergreen shrubs and lawn.  Maybe there is an urn filled with bright annuals, somewhere.

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A ‘monoculture’ garden where the same plant, or small number of plants is repeated over and over, lacks diversity.  Most everything in the garden is green.

Now, where there is a limited palette of plants, there will also be a very limited number of insects, birds and small mammals supported.  What will they eat?  Where will they rest?  Other than a few robins pulling worms from the lawn, there will be a very small number of species observed.

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This common scheme, repeated over and again in neighborhoods across the country, gives us a clue as to why native birds, butterflies, amphibians and other small animals have been in decline for some time.  We have transformed woods and prairie and farms and natural riparian communities into suburbs.  Suburbs of lawn and largely imported shrubs and trees.

Once we introduce a larger palette of plants, providing more ‘niches’ for both plants and animals, the diversity and interest increases exponentially.  And interestingly, our garden comes alive with synergistic abundance.

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For example:  A single oak tree can support over 250 different species of insects.  It serves as a host for many common butterfly larvae, too.  The insects it harbors attract songbirds who will visit to eat, but will also use the tree for cover and nesting.  Every native tree and large shrub will provide food and shelter to wildlife, and will become a hub of life in the garden.

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Native Live Oak in Colonial Williamsburg

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Trees form the backbone of our garden and of our ecosystem.  They offer us shade.  They freshen the air, fix carbon, and may even bloom in the spring.

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Dogwood was chosen as the Virginia Native Plant Society’s Wildflower of the Year for 2018.  Its spring blossoms support pollinators, and fall berries feed birds.  Many sorts of insects, including caterpillars, live in its canopy each summer

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Native trees support more animal species than do exotic imports, but all trees have value.  Willow, Magnolias, poplars, sycamore, black cherry, beech and redbud all enrich the lives of wildlife and of gardeners!

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March 2017, with the flowering Magnolia trees in our garden covered in blossoms.

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Deciduous trees mark the passing months, providing different sorts of beauty in each season.  Evergreen trees anchor the landscape, serve as windbreaks, and give us bright green structure through winter.  Many, like hollies, also produce berries to feed wildlife when little else can be found.

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American Holly

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As we add various layers to the garden with ground covers, ferns, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, vines and trees; the number of wildlife species our garden can support increases exponentially.  But even more importantly, it comes alive as an interesting and intriguing habitat for us humans as well!

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A dynamic cast of horticultural characters come and go with the seasons.  They grow and change, transforming the character of our outdoor space as well.  We bring color, fragrance, texture and maybe even delicious flavor to our garden as we diversify our planting scheme.

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We can begin with what we have, converting turf into habitat a little at a time.  Plant ground covers under existing shrubs to form a living mulch; plant large shrubs to anchor new planting beds, or begin to cultivate wide borders beside walls or fences.  Early spring is the perfect time to plan and establish new plantings.

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Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

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A tidy benefit of this approach comes with reducing the amount of turf we need to maintain each year.  Consider the savings when there is less grass to water, fertilizer, treat with chemicals and to mow.  Turf is the most expensive landscape plant, per square foot, of any commonly grown plant in North America.  It demands the most effort and gives the least return.

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The Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, October 2015.

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It is our adventurous spirit which motivates us to try new plants each year.  As our gardens evolve, we evolve with them; building a wealth of experience and appreciation with our ever expanding community of plants and wildlife.  We add beauty to our home and to our neighborhood.

We help preserve species for future generations, sustaining the wildlife that sustain the web of our own existence on planet Earth.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Gardening for Wildlife

Butterfly Garden Plants

Bringing Nature Home by Dr. Douglas Tallamy

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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

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

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

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

Green Thumb Tip #15: Conquer the Weeds

Asclepias, milkweed,  July 2017

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What is a weed, anyway?

The gardener’s answer observes that any plant growing where you don’t want it to grow, is a weed.

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Dandelion, Taraxacum

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Some ‘weeds’ came to North America as invited guests, because they were beloved and useful to earlier immigrants.  Although many of us cringe at dandelions cropping up in our lawn or veggie plot; dandelions, Taraxacum species,  were originally planted in the veggie plot for their nutritious leaves, and have been used through much of human history as a medicinal herb.

Since most of us don’t use dandelions anymore, and they crop up where we least want to see them; we consider them a weed.

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Vinca minor, periwinkle, was brought to North America with European settlers.  It is now considered invasive, though many gardeners still buy and plant it.

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Other ‘weeds’ are actually native plants.  If you notice purple violets in your lawn, will you admire them or destroy them?  You can buy pricey violets, Viola odorata, from many native plant nurseries, if you aren’t fortunate enough to have them already popping up here and there on their own.  Other common native ‘weeds’ in our garden include pokeberry, Phytolacca americana; ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea; and wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana.

Plants may be ‘wildflowers’ to some, ‘weeds’ to others.  Maybe it depends on whether they grow on a roadside, or in your own garden.  Native plant enthusiasts are sometimes accused of planting ‘weeds’ in their yard when they cultivate Asclepias or wild Ageratum.

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Aralia spinosa is a native tree with thorns on its trunk and branches. Because it spreads its seeds and sends up shoots from its roots, many consider it a weed to be eradicated from the garden.  Here it grows with native pokeweed.

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The same tufts of grass I’m digging out of my garden paths may be planted and coddled in my neighbor’s yard.  The seedling Rose of Sharon shrubs I’m digging out of my flowerbeds, may be valuable when transplanted into another spot in the garden.

Some ‘weeds’ now considered ‘invasive’ started out as desirable imported plants.  But, without the competition or predators that keep them in check in their native lands, they run amok here.  When birds carry their seeds around, or they propagate clonally; these once desirable plants colonize real estate and out-compete the natives.  This has happened with autumn olive shrubs, Elaeaganus umbellata; perennial Lantana, and  even the beautiful Bradford pear.

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Perennial Ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Periwinkle, or Vinca minor, came to the United States with European colonists in the Eighteenth Century.  An effective evergreen groundcover, it blooms in spring with beautiful lavender or white flowers.  But it spreads aggressively!  I often find myself yanking it out by the handful when it creeps into my borders.  Its roots form thick mats, and can choke out other perennials.

So what to do about weeds?

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Three natives growing together in our front garden: Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, and Obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  Each of these can spread itself to become invasive, and may need to be ‘weeded’ out in early summer.

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‘Weeds gone wild’ can disrupt our garden plans.  They may shade out or choke out more desirable plants that we bought and planted.  They may compete for water and nutrients against our edible crops.  They might spread aggressively, colonizing large area with thick mats of roots and vegetation.

Well, before reaching for a handy toxic herbicide, take a moment to consider your adversary.  It helps to understand the plant you hope to annihilate!

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Morning Glory, or ‘bindweed’ sprouts each summer from seed, and grows through our bed of Lantana and roses.

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Is it a perennial?  Does it prefer sun or shade?  Does it root easily when chopped into pieces?  Does it have rhizomes or stolons?

Understanding its needs, and how it reproduces, helps you plan an attack.  Knowing how long it may live, and whether it will easily re-seed, tells you the scope of your problem.

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Self-seeding beauty berry crops up in our shrub borders, and out competes many other plants. It will grow several feet in a single season.

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Seeds may lie dormant for a long time before conditions are right for them to sprout.  Whenever you disturb the soil, you may be bringing long dormant seeds to the surface, giving them the conditions they need to grow.  That is why breaking ground to till or otherwise dig up new garden areas may bring ‘weed’ seeds to the surface.

Many weeds can be smothered, or prevented from germinating, or growing further, with mulch.

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While shredded bark mulch will suppress weeds, it may allow others to germinate as it decomposes.  The rogue Magnolia tree behind this bed is a volunteer, growing from the mulch.  Is there room for it to mature here, or must it be cut out?

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A relatively easy way to kill grass and weeds, without chemicals, when you want to start a new garden bed, is to simply cover them.   Use your choice of cardboard sheets, layers of newspaper (black and white only if you plan to grow food crops), paper grocery bags, burlap or landscape fabric.  Completely cover the area you plan to cultivate, and then layer compost, garden soil, shredded leaves, seaweed and even shredded bark mulch on top.  If you won’t be planting for several months,  add  ‘compostable’ materials like rinsed egg shells, fruit and vegetable peels, teabags and coffee grounds in your layers.  Some gardeners use straw as mulch, adding layers every year.  In my experience, there are always seeds which sprout, creating more weeds.

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Paper grocery bags covered with several inches of compost killed the grass and weeds under this new bed.  Pea gravel holds down the paper edges and serves as an initial border to the bed.  A loose layer of gravel on top serves as a light mulch to hold the compost in place as the plants take hold.

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If you are starting a new shrub border, you might add black plastic around the new shrubs, and cover this with mulch.  Black plastic may also be laid out over an area of grass and weeds you wish to kill, pegged down and left for several weeks.   The plants under the plastic are both smothered and cooked, leaving an area ready to cultivate when the plastic is removed.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ spread aggressively.  Now that they are established, I dig up plants each spring to share with friends to try to control how far they spread in the garden.

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Some weeds may be simply dug up.  If the weed is a desirable plant sprouted in the wrong place, you may dig it up and either transplant it or give it away.

Other weeds easily re-grow from any bit left behind.  Digging the plant today won’t destroy it; it will appear again in a few weeks.  In that case, cut the plant off at ground level and remove all of the stems.  This starves the plant.  You may need to cut it back several times before it gives up; but eventually, you will win.

Cutting weeds instead of pulling them up by their roots takes less of a gardener’s energy.  It also keeps the soil intact, giving no opportunity for new weed seeds to sprout.  You may cut weeds with a hoe at ground level, with a pair of scissors, or with secateurs.  It depends on the thickness of the stem you need to cut what tool you will choose.

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Plant densely, with many layers of plants, to suppress weeds.

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I like a Japanese Hori Hori digging tool for cutting weeds off at ground level, or for digging up plants to move.  It is a long, pointed blade with a serrated edge, which serves as both knife and narrow shovel.

Another approach is to simply mow an area several times during the summer to discourage perennial or woody weeds.  I often use a string trimmer a few times a year in our upper wooded garden, to cut back seedling trees and shrubs sprouting in an area where they can not grow.

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Plants just want to live and grow, like every other living thing.  And just because you begin a bed weed free doesn’t mean it will remain that way for long.  Seeds blow in on the wind and get deposited by birds.  Seed capsules explode and rhizomes creep.

As your organic mulch breaks down over time, it serves as a great medium for new seeds to germinate.  Any bare ground screams an invitation to colonize it with new plants.

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Evergreen ground cover, like perennial Hellebores, will shade out weeds so they can’t begin to grow.  However, Hellebores self-seed freely.  Large stands of Hellebores soon surround the original plants.

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Prevent new weeds by densely covering any planting area with desirable plants.  Cultivate the garden in layers, with plants of different heights, to make it nearly impossible for new weedy plants to get a start.  This would include some sort of perennial, maybe evergreen ground cover to protect your soil through winter.

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Rose of Sharon

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You might also consider using a gravel mulch.  Once a new bed is planted up, pile several inches of pea gravel over a layer of biodegradable material like paper or burlap, placed around the new plants.  The layer of paper or fabric stops perennial weeds from re-sprouting.  The gravel mulch doesn’t facilitate germination of seeds blown in to the bed.  You may need to employ some sort of border around the bed to hold the gravel in place, but this is a neat looking and effective approach.

Experiments with gravel mulch have demonstrated that shrubs and many perennials grow well through the gravel.  The soil remains cool and moist, and the pea gravel reflects sunshine back up onto the plant to reduce disease and increase photosynthesis.  This is an especially good way to conserve moisture in dry climates.

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Wild wood violets open in spring, carpeting parts of the garden in vivid color.  These perennial wildflowers may be considered weeds when they show up in a lawn.

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Some gardeners may still reach for an herbicide to zap the stray dandelion or wild onions in their lawn.  Few stop to realize the long term effects on their own health and well being, or on the ecosystem, from these toxic chemicals.  They penetrate into the ground and run off into creeks, ponds and rivers.   Many herbicides have proven links to debilitating and fatal diseases for anyone exposed to them.  Even if you wear gloves, you and those around you may still breathe in the fumes.  Is it worth the risk to your health, simply to kill a few weeds?

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With a bit of thought and a effort, weeds can be eliminated, and new ones prevented from growing, without doing any harm to yourself or to the environment.

After all, we are the gardeners.  Our goal remains to make the world a more beautiful and productive place.  We are happiest and most successful when we work with nature, and when we respect both ourselves, and the many life forms drawn to our gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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More information about health dangers of herbicides:

Weed Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells- Scientific American
The Dangers of Glysophate Herbicide- Mother Earth News
New Studies Reveal the Effects of Glysophate – Mercola.com
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Ground ivy Glechoma hederacea

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

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

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

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead
Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm
Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy
Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More of That! 
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Wonders

Magnolia stellata

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“A man should hear a little music,
read a little poetry,
and see a fine picture every day of his life,
in order that worldly cares
may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful
which God has implanted in the human soul.”
.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
.
Socrates

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“It is a happiness to wonder; –
– it is a happiness to dream.”
.
Edgar Allan Poe

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else
in the universe.
.
John Muir

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“The invariable mark of wisdom
is to see the miraculous in the common.”
.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“When you don’t cover up the world
with words and labels,
a sense of the miraculous returns to your life
that was lost a long time ago
when humanity, instead of using thought,
became possessed by thought.”
.
Eckhart Tolle

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Incidentally, the world is magical. 
Magic is simply
what’s off our human scale…
at the moment.”
.
Vera Nazarian

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Sunday Dinner: Early Gold

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.
I have seen a little of it.
I know that it is very malleable,
but not so malleable as wit.
A grain of gold will gild a great surface,
but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
.
Henry David Thoreau
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“Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold.”
.
John Muir
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“Everyone can get the gold of the Sun.
(Tout le monde cueille – L’or du soleil)”
.
Charles de Leusse
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“Lords of blue and Lords of gold,
Lords of wind and waters wild,
Lords of time that’s growing old,
When will come the season mild?
When will come blue Madoc’s child?”
.
Madeleine L’Engle
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“This grand show is eternal.
It is always sunrise somewhere;
the dew is never all dried at once;
a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising.
Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset,
eternal dawn and gloaming,
on sea and continents and islands,
each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
.
John Muir
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*     *     *
“It is spring again.
The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
.
Rainer Maria Rilke
~

Fabulous Friday: Evergreen

Hardy Cyclamen and bulb foliage shine through the leaf litter of a perennial bed at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, Virginia.

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I’m appreciative today for every little scrap of green shining in our winter garden.  So much of the world is brown or grey or beige here this week.

Although I’ve spotted a few early snow drops, Galanthus, in public gardens; we haven’t seen more than the first tentative tips of green leaves from our own spring bulbs.  And yet they are utterly fascinating as they push up through the wet, nearly frozen Earth; and we celebrate every tiny tip of green.

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Early February comes, some years, gilded with early Forsythia, the first golden Crocus, and a few brave daffodils splashed across the landscape.

Other years, winter still reigns supreme. Tiny Forsythia buds shiver along the branches, swollen but wisely closed.  Bulbs wait for the sun’s warm embrace to trigger their unfolding.

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Italian Arum keeps sending up leaves despite the frosty weather.  Our first daffodils have begun to show themselves in recent days.

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This winter feels unusually determined and harsh.  It has been so cold that many of our evergreen shrubs, like the wax myrtle and Camellias, have cold-burned leaves.  Worse, many of their leaves have fallen this year, lying browned and forlorn beneath the shrubs’ bare twigs.

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Every bit of evergreen moss and leaf and blade and needle catches my grateful eye with its promise of better gardening days ahead.  I feel glad for all of those winter hardy Cyclamen and Arum blithely shining against the leaf litter and mud below them.  The effort of finding them and planting them feels like a very wise investment in horticultural happiness today.

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Ilex aquifolium argentea marginata grows in several pots in our winter garden. Generally cold hardy, even this English holly has shown damage from our frigid nights in January.

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Garden designers always admonish us to plan for all seasons in the garden.  But one season isn’t like the last, and this year isn’t like the next.  We gardeners are always improvising and experimenting, our planting often extemporaneous; the results surprisingly serendipitous.  It is through these odd cracks of chance that magic happens in our gardens.

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Hellebore leaves and hardy ferns fill the bed beneath a fall blooming Camellia shrub.

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I know it has been a harsh winter when deer even strip the Hellebore leaves and nibble the flowers from a thorny Mahonia shrub.  I caught a large herd of 20 or more gazing longingly into our garden, through the fence, from our neighbor’s yard this afternoon.  Individuals find their way in from time to time.  Hoof prints in the moist soil tell their never-sorry tale.

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Deer have even nibbled leaves from new English ivy plants in our garden this winter.

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What’s left behind and living feels all the more precious today.  I’m glad for the stray Vinca vine shining through the leaf litter.  The stray wild strawberry plant looks oddly elegant air planted in a rotting stump.  I feel that every evergreen shrub was planted as insurance against a frigid February like this one.

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Mountain Laurel will resume growth and bloom by mid-May.

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I’m happy to pause today to celebrate every ever-green and growing thing I see in the garden.

We’ll ignore the usual labels of ‘weed’ or ‘native,’ ‘exotic’ or ‘invasive.’  We’ll pay no mind to how large or unusual its eventual blooms might  be, or even consider whether or not we will still want to befriend it in June.

We’ll just let it warm our gardener’s hearts on this cold and windy February day, and follow its brave example of endurance through challenging times.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, let’s infect one another!

 

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