Six On Saturday: More Winter Flowers for Pollinators

Mahonia aquifolium January 19, 2020

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Have you noticed bees and other insects feeding later than usual this year?  And did you notice how many were out feeding on warm days last winter?  Our roller coaster weather in recent years has affected insects, birds and other animals so that they may be out and about on warmish days in months when we don’t expect to see them.  And, of course they are hungry!

Increased activity translates into an increased need for calories.  Providing winter forage for pollinators and birds presents gardeners with an interesting challenge.  This also brings us round again to that ongoing discussion of ‘native’ vs. imported plants.  As a former forensics coach as well as a smitten gardener, I could argue either side of this issue, and have.

But consider that few of our ‘native’ plants actually bloom between November and February in this climate.  Most of our winter blooming flowers are actually native to areas of Europe, the Mediterranean region, South Africa, or Asia.  Even though the plants may have originated on another continent, they fill an important ecological niche by offering nectar and pollen, sustaining insects who might otherwise starve when they venture out on warming winter days.

Now a native plant advocate could offer the counter argument that many imported plants have adapted so well to our climate, and naturalized so freely, that they sometimes crowd out our indigenous native species.  I could list off a half-dozen woody species that bloom in winter or early spring and have done just that.  The most interesting conversations continue that way.  And while we sit with our tea or toddy and argue the fine points of the question, developers are out with their heavy equipment clear cutting our local forests to widen the roads and plant new neighborhoods and shopping strips.

So let’s not argue, but rather agree to plant consciously and with purpose to sustain the wildlife we have left, absorb as much carbon as possible from the warming air, and to create spots of beauty to cheer and inspire us.

One of my favorite winter blooming shrubs remains the Mahonia aquifolium, which is a North American native shrub that has naturalized in Virginia.  There are several species, hybrids and cultivars of Mahonia, and all bloom extravagantly in December through February or early March each year, with plump, edible drupes forming by early summer.  Oregon Grape Holly offers shelter and food for birds, nectar for pollinating insects, and has such stiff, sharp leaves that deer and other herbivores don’t graze its leaves.  If you plant some of the finer leaf varieties, like ‘M. Soft Caress,’ be prepared for deer to find and sample it.  It is a lovely plant if you can protect it.

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Helleborus species and hybrids remain a mainstay of my garden both for their bright winter flowers and for their evergreen foliage that serves as a sturdy and effective ground cover year round.  Requiring very little maintenance beyond removing old and tattered leaves from time to time, these tough, long-lived plants reliably bloom and feed pollinators from December through late April or early May.  These beautiful flowers offer plenty of pollen as well as deep reservoirs of nectar.  Each flower may last several weeks, feeding insects over a long period, and then producing seeds.

Nothing grazes a Hellebore because all parts of the plant are poisonous.  But their large, glossy leaves remain attractive, often sporting variegation, toothed edges, and interesting form.  They filter the air and sequester carbon, provide cool, moist habitat for small animals, and hold our sloping garden.  The more Hellebores we grow the less we find tunnels made by voles or moles.  Hellebores prefer full to partial shade and mix well with ferns and vining ground covers like Vinca minor, another early spring bloomer.

For sunny areas, consider planting the common Mediterranean evergreen herbs Rosemary and Thyme in Zones 7 and south.  Rosemary often blooms with tiny blue or white flowers from November through April, and Thyme usually begins to bloom by March.  Both are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators.

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Helleborus orientalis, March 2019

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Many very early bulbs provide forage for pollinators.  Scilla siberica, a European bulb, often pops up and begins opening flowers in February.  Its stalk can be covered with many small flowers, opening a few at a time, over a period of weeks.  The leaves follow the flower stalk and fade away again by early summer.  The bulbs multiply over time.  Scilla bloom alongside early Iris histrioides and early Crocus bulbs, also appreciated by hungry pollinators in late winter.  Each bulb may send up multiple flower stalks and may be grown under established deciduous trees.

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Scilla emerging on February 19, 2019

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Very little blooms here in January, except for our reliable Hellebores and Violas.  The biochemistry of some plants allows them to generate enough heat to survive many hours below freezing, and to bounce back quickly after getting covered with ice and snow.  Native to mountainous areas of Europe, colorful little Viola cornuta have been cultivated and hybridized over decades and are easily available each fall in our area.  You may know some of them as ‘Johnny Jump-Ups.’  They may be grown from seeds or plugs, or bought full grown in 6″ pots for instant color in fall and winter arrangements.  Although Violas are perennials, they don’t survive our summer heat.

The larger Viola tricolor, or pansy, is also native to Europe and has been bred for flower size and color. Panolas are a fairly recent cross between various Viola species, and offer a medium sized flower with beautiful color and form.  The plants are lush and offer the impact of a pansy with the hardy habit of a Viola cornuta.  These also bloom in late fall and early spring, but may take a break during the coldest months.

Our native Viola labradorica, or American Dog Violet, blooms in mid-spring to early summer.  An important host plant for some butterfly species, it forms a beautiful ground cover and blooms in shades of white, purple and blue.  Sadly, many homeowners consider these ‘weeds’ when they come up in the lawn and eradicate them.  They make a beautiful ground cover, especially under trees, and re-seed themselves freely.

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Violas blooming on January 27, 2015

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Finally, many trees ‘bloom’ in the winter or very early spring.  Though their flowers may seem insignificant to us, they provide important food sources for pollinators.  Birds also benefit when they feed on insects attracted to arboreal flowers.

One of the best native shrubs for winter flowers is the Witchhazel, or Hamamelis virginiana.  It covers itself in small, sweet blossoms in mid to late winter.  Redbud trees also begin to bloom by February, becoming magnets for hungry insects.  Several species of Spirea and Viburnum produce early, showy nectar filled flowers.

Flowers on trees may be big and showy like those on Magnolias or tulip trees.  But just as often we barely notice them.  We may catch a sweet fragrance from an Ilex or Osmanthus, or notice an attractive blur of red or gold around a tree’s canopy before its leaves unfold.  But these flowers are very important to wildlife.

No one small, residential garden can support all plants for all purposes.  But with a bit of thought and planning, we can all provide some seasonal support for wildlife.  Many gardeners faithfully maintain bird feeders during winter months.  Fresh water in ponds or birdbaths is also very important for wildlife year-round.

Let’s also remember that by planting some winter blooming woody plants and herbaceous perennials, we can support the web of life in our community while enjoying the beauty and activity winter bloomers add to our own gardens.

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February 15, 2017 Edgeworthia chrysantha, an Asian shrub, and Mahonia aquifolium bloom all winter in our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful and a thought provoking quotation.

 

 

Six on Saturday: Winter Flowers

Edgeworthia chrysantha in late March 2019

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Here in coastal Virginia, it is possible to have flowers blooming in the garden every day of the year.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation now, before winter settles around us.  But it is within reach for most of us with a little outdoor space to plant.

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Planning a garden is a lot like working a very large jigsaw puzzle.  Consider one of the 1200 piece puzzles you buy to work with family or close friends, where you spend hours and hours just sorting pieces and making the frame before ever beginning to fill in the body of the puzzle.  Maybe you work in small sections, completing a bit here and there, then fitting those vignettes into their proper place in the whole at the right time.

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Planning for winter color, and more specifically for winter flowers, is just one of those chunks to fit into the bigger picture.

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Hellebores blooming in mid-February

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As you begin to think about winter flowers, it is helpful to think about winter blooming shrubs, winter blooming geophytes, winter blooming perennials, and finally winter blooming ‘annuals.’  Each have their own niche in the whole picture, and their own level of expense and commitment.

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This weekend I’ve visited three garden centers and have been delighted to find plants on my own ‘winter wish list’ at all three.  In all cases, the plants I wanted were marked down on clearance.  Even looking a bit rough and scraggly, giving them the right care now guarantees flowers in a few months, when we’ll need them.

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Violas of all sorts our still widely available in our area and still sold at full price at most locations.  There are hundreds of varieties, and the hardest part about planting Violas is deciding which ones to grow.  Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.  Use Osmacote or another time-release fertilizer at planting time, and feed them again with a liquid feed in February or March for best bloom.  Cut them back with scissors to remove bad foliage or leggy stems, and they will reward you with lush growth until summer.

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This is the easiest, least expensive way to enjoy winter flowers, and carries the least commitment.  Violas thrive here until sometime in May, when it gets too hot for them.  I’m usually pulling them out of their spots by mid-May to replant for summer, anyway.  Gardeners in cooler climates can keep them going year to year, but here we treat them like annuals.  Pansies have the largest, brightest flowers.  There are both singles and doubles in a wide variety of colors and color combinations.

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Panolas are a nice compromise between Pansies and the tiny Violas like ‘Johnny Jump-Ups.’  Again, there is a variety of color combinations available, solid flowers, and both single and double blossoms.  Little Violas have flowers about the size of a penny or a nickle, but they are very sweet and saturated color.  Although the plants look tiny now, they grow and spread throughout the winter.  By spring, when they begin to bloom again in earnest, they are covered in many, many small, but bright flowers.  We have a grower near us who specializes in little Violas, and I always end up with a flat or two and put them in pots and baskets on our patio and deck.

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Since deer find these little guys very tasty (most of the flowers are edible for humans, too) I generally don’t plant out Violas in beds or borders.  But I have, and as long as they are kept sprayed with animal repellent, they grow beautifully.

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Hardy Cyclamen leaves with blue Vinca flowers and emerging Crocus in February.

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A notch up from the Violas are Snapdragons, Antirrhinum species.  These are perennials, though many people pull them out and replace them by mid-spring.  I have several plants still going strong planted more than a year ago.  They are short-lived perennials, but will bloom profusely well into early summer, and then sporadically during our hot season.  The secret to keeping these covered in flowers is to dead-head the spent blooms before they set seeds, keep them moist, and feed the plants every month or so to keep them healthy and productive.  Give snaps some shade in the summer, but they are happy in full sun through the winter months.  You will find Antirrhinum varieties in small, medium or tall plants, and in a range of beautiful colors from bold to soft pastels.

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An equally easy, but often overlooked winter blooming perennial is Dianthus chinensis.  Often sold in cell packs in early spring, Dianthus is a tough, dependable easy perennial in our area that isn’t ever grazed.  It blooms sporadically in winter and summer, but really shines in spring and fall on evergreen plants.   I often use it in potted arrangements because it is versatile, bright, and the flowers remain the size of quarters in shades of white, pink, purple or crimson.  Flowers may be solid or bi-color.  Cuttings root easily.  Deadhead this plant regularly to keep it looking neat, and to keep the flowers coming.

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Requiring a bit more time and commitment are the Hellebores.  I had never paid Hellebores any attention until I moved to Williamsburg, but they are very popular here.  Probably because they are very poisonous, and won’t be bothered by deer, rabbits, squirrels, moles, voles, or ground-hogs.  It take about three to four years from seedling to blooming plant, but blooming plants are readily available in gallon pots at our garden centers, for around $25.00 each.

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Preferring shade, some of my plants grow in full to partial sun and do fine, as long as I water them during dry spells.  Hellebores begin blooming between December and February, depending on the species and variety, and them bloom continuously for another 3 to 4 months.  They are evergreen, serve as background foliage during the warm months, and are very tough and easy plants to grow.

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I was given a few dozen seedling plants by a neighbor years ago, and they continue to bloom each year and multiply, naturally spreading to form a dense ground cover.  I also buy one or two new varieties each year.  I grow them in pots and in the ground, and delight in their beautiful flowers through the winter months when little else blooms.

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Violas and ivy make fora beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate. This photo from early January 2017.

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When most people think of winter flowers, they think about winter blooming bulbs.  Bulbs are easy and most are inexpensive.  This is prime time to find bulb sales from online dealers, who can be very good, and also to find reduced bags of bulbs at garden centers.

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Be wary, if buying bulbs locally, that the bulbs still look plump and healthy and have no discoloration.  If they look shriveled or have anything grey or green on them, pass them by.  They probably won’t bloom well, or they may not grow at all and infect your soil with bacterial rot.

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Snowdrops, Galanthus species, bloom in January or February most years.  Although they are very small and white or white and green, by the time they bloom, they are a welcome sign of spring.  Miniature Iris bloom from bulbs at just about the same time, but come in a broader range of colors with larger flowers.  Early daffodils begin to bloom most years in February, and Crocus can bloom very early, before there is much else color in the garden.  Muscari also bloom in very early spring.  All of these are called geophytes because they are bulbs, and can be stored dry during their dormant time each year.

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Other geophytes, or ‘Earth plants’ grow from corms, tubers, or rhizomes.   Some hardy Cyclamen tubers begin to bloom in autumn and bloom until early winter.  Their beautifully patterned leaves persist much longer than their delicate flowers in pinks or white.  Other Cyclamen species begin to bloom in the middle of winter, and bloom through mid-spring.  Buy tubers based on when they bloom, the color of their flowers or the color and pattern of their leaves.  Cyclamen may be grown from seeds, but it takes several years for their tubers to grow large enough to bloom.  Leave the tuber in place and it will keep growing larger, giving a wider area of bloom each year.

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Iris reticulata ‘Sunshine’ on March 2, 2019.

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Finally, shrubs can be a great source of winter flowers.  If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow Camellias.  Some Camellia varieties are hardier than others, and you may find species to grow in Zone 6 or cooler.  We grow both fall blooming and spring blooming Camellias, so we have them from October through until April, whenever the weather has a bit of a warm enough stretch to allow buds to bloom.

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Daphne can bloom very early, but is also a very difficult shrub to keep happy.  I’ve never had one for very long.

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Our favorite winter bloomer is Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese paperbush.  It is already in bud, and those flower buds keep steadily swelling and growing larger until they finally open into blossoms. There are two or three different varieties, and flowers may be white with yellow centers, or all yellow. They have a very sweet and strong fragrance, so the garden is perfumed on warmish days.

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Now, if you want to grow this gorgeous shrub, you will make a bit of an investment.  I saw one today in a 3 gal. pot for nearly $80.  Shop around, and you will likely find a much better deal.  One of our local nurseries carries them at a more reasonable price, but they never order very many.  You have to seek this one out.

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A shining star through the winter months, the shrub is rather non-descript with medium green, deciduous leaved through the summer.  The leaves turn yellow in fall, as the flowers appear on the branches.  It is a very sculptural shrub once the leaves fall, and is a real focal point.

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Mahonia, a northwest native shrub, blooms in November- January.   Japanese Pieris will also begin to bloom as winter fades into spring.  Both of these shrubs have evergreen foliage and bees and other small pollinators love them.   They support native bees when there is little else available for forage.

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Native redbud trees, Cercis Canadensis, sprout tiny flowers that break out of their bark along twigs, limbs and sometimes even the trunk!  I’ve seen them bloom here as early as mid-February, when they cover themselves in a cloud of deep magenta pink.  Some of the cultivars available now offer other color choices, but most are shades of pink/purple/red and even white.  Each tree hosts hundreds (thousands on a mature tree) of tiny flowers to the delight of every hungry pollinator in the area.  Birds follow to feed on the insects, and so redbud trees become hubs of activity when in bloom.

Heart shaped leaves follow, which turn beautiful yellow in fall.  Seed pods look like snow peas, and are edible.  Our trees are covered in seed pods, still, and they feed a variety of wildlife in winter.  Cut branches may be forced inside in early spring, in a vase of water.  Designers may also cut branches covered in seed pods now to add drama to their arrangements.

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Some Magnolia trees, like Magnolia stellata and Magnolia lilliflora may break into bloom in February.  Deciduous Magnolia trees bloom earlier than the evergreens and generally stay much smaller.  These are easy to grow in sun to part shade, and come in a variety of flower forms and colors.

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Finally, Forsythia shrubs often begin blooming for us in February with golden yellow flowers.  They are one of the earliest blooming shrubs in late winter.  You can force branches to bloom indoors several weeks earlier than they bloom outside.   And Japanese quince blooms in bright scarlet or pink soon after.

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These are just the high points of winter blooming plants that we grow, and that easily come to mind.  You may have other favorites.  We have to consider climate, available sun or shade, and what will or won’t be grazed by the animals who visit our garden.

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Many gardeners are quite happy with evergreens, a few bright berries, and maybe some variegated ivy or a variegated shrub.  We all crave a bit of color in the winter time, and it is worth planning for and making a bit of an investment to keep the garden interesting during the darkest months of the year.

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February 2017 Magnolia stellata

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Six on Saturday: Color Winter Beautiful

Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum in early March.

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Autumn colors our world with vivid hues of scarlet, orange, yellow and purple for a few short weeks as deep green summer fades into the browns and greys of late autumn and winter.  We distract ourselves for a while with bright and colorful holiday decorations.  But once past Boxing Day in late December, we wake up to the bare bones of our winter gardens.

Of all the year, this may be the stretch when we most keenly wish we had planned ahead for some color and interest in the garden.  Once the trees stand as skeletons against wintery skies, we look with fresh appreciation at every evergreen shrub and colorful berry left behind.

Many of our lawns lose their luster after first frost.  Most herbaceous plants die back and weather to shades of duff and brown, if they haven’t already turned to mush as Cannas and Hedychium so quickly do.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.  This photo was taken in late December 2016.

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Winter beauty relies on a subtler, more sophisticated sense of color and form.  We are called on to appreciate the wabi-sabi aesthetic of well-worn objects past their prime, like the weathered stalks and seed pods of perennials left standing in the borders and twigs etched against a cloudy sky.

Even woody vines add interest snaking through the trees or over rocks with delicately curled tendrils, or a few stalwarts, like our native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, still blooming late into January.  Native Carolina jessamine keeps its green leaves as it scrambles through roadside trees and over fences.

When planning for a beautiful winter garden, woody plants give us that consistent structure to bridge the seasons.  Interesting bark, beautiful form and early buds and bloom can turn an ordinary summer shrub into something spectacular and entertaining in a winter garden.

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Hellebores bloom reliably throughout winter. Here buds are already visible in early January of 2018.

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Evergreen shrubs like Camellias will bloom profusely both late into the season, and again in earliest early spring.  Camellia sasanqua bloom into January in our area, while Camellia japonicas will begin blooming in late February or March.   Mahonia offers yellow flowers for hungry bees in late autumn and  winter, and then plump purple berries for the birds in late spring.

Other early bloomers, like Forsythia and some Magnolias take our breath away before most other woody plants awaken.  Trees like alder and hazel ornament themselves with catkins that grow longer and more dramatic from October, before the leaves even fall, through until March.

There are also cold-loving herbaceous perennials and geophytes.  Arum italicum is already sending up its first beautiful leaves in our garden.  It will continue sending up new leaves throughout the winter filling otherwise empty borders with fresh and vibrant green.  These aroids produce their own chemical heat, melting any snow and ice that fall on them without turning crisp or brown.  They will bloom in April and May, then fade away again by June for a summer-time rest.

Hellebores are already sending up new leaves, too.  Their first flower buds will appear in December, and they will bloom prolifically until May.  Epimediums, sometimes called fairy wings, prove evergreen in our garden, with their often holly or heart shaped leaves.   Then they  burst into growth with new leaves and delicate flowers in earliest spring.

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Galanthus, snowdrops. often bloom through mid-winter snows.

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By February, the early Crocus, Galanthus and early dwarf Iris will break ground with delicate leaves and vivid flowers.  Plant Crocus tommasinianus, or Tommies, for earliest bloom.  The bulbs of this Crocus species have a taste unpleasant to rodents, and so won’t be dug up as squirrel or vole snacks.  It is always smart to spray new bulbs with an animal repellent as you plant them, anyway, and maybe to spray the bed or pot after planting, too, to discourage squirrels from digging.

Iris reticulata or Iris histrioides sometimes emerge in late January to bloom in February through March.  Plant them in a pot in a sunny spot on the patio for earliest bloom.  You might also plant clumps in a border for winter interest, and they thrive in a rock garden.  Like many other spring blooming geophytes, dwarf Iris bulbs appreciate hot dry conditions through the summer months. They usually bloom with the early snowdrops, Galanthus, and as the leaves of early Cyclamen coum emerge.  Plant them against a back drop of Cyclamen, Arum or Hellebore to make them pop.

Hardy Cyclamen form a beautiful and spreading groundcover during the winter months.  C. hederifolium emerge in October and persist past frost.  C. Coum emerge in February and persist until May.  They are very small, but their finely marked evergreen leaves and tiny pink or white flowers are exquisite.   Plant them in patio pots or under trees and shrubs.  Placement below trees is especially good as the ground will stay drier there during their summer dormancy.

Evergreen ferns, like the Christmas fern, autumn ferns and holly fern give winter color, too.  They may get a bit beaten down after a heavy snow, but their texture remains beautiful throughout the winter months.  When their new fronds appear in early spring, they add interest and drama when little else is going on in the garden.  Cut back older fronds as the new ones emerge.

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Evergreen mistletoe lives anchored to the branches of the trees, adding color to our garden once the leaves fall each autumn.

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Finally, even a tree’s bark becomes a thing of beauty in the winter landscape.  Exfoliating barks like those of crape myrtles and birch trees provide interesting texture as well as color.  Many Cornus species boast bright red or yellow winter stems, especially on new growth.  Red maples have red stems when young.  Some gum trees boast ‘wings’ in their smaller branches and twigs, and poplar and sycamore trees both have beautiful, light colored often mottled bark that shines on a bright winter day.  Oakleaf Hydrangeas hold onto their flowers and scarlet leaves, on beautifully shaped woody stems with peeling bark, until new buds emerge.

When we notice these small details, we find beauty in unlikely places.  The sparseness and subtlety of a winter landscape balances the exuberance of summer.  We go back to bare bones.  There is much less competition for our attention and much less to do in the garden.  We can breathe.  We can enjoy a few months of peace and quiet before we greet another spring.

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Camellia sasanqua blooms from November through January in our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

 

Visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Sunday Dinner: Never Assume….

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“Advances are made by answering questions.
Discoveries are made by questioning answers.
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Bernard Haisch

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“Your assumptions are your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in a while,
or the light won’t come in.”
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Isaac Asimov

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“It is useless to attempt
to reason a man out of a thing
he was never reasoned into.”
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Jonathan Swift

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“Assumptions are maintained by the hug of history.
Yet, history does not guarantee their validity,
nor does it ever reassess their validity.”
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Michael Michalko

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“You think you know this story.
You do not.”
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Jane Yolen

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“Don’t build roadblocks out of assumptions.”
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Lorii Myers

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“The surface of the earth is soft
and impressible by the feet of men;
and so with the paths which the mind travels.
How worn and dusty, then,
must be the highways of the world,
how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
I did not wish to take a cabin passage,
but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world,
for there I could best see the moonlight
amid the mountains.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“There was no Jedi so wise
that he could not be undone
by his own assumptions.”
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Claudia Gray

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“Assumptions close doors.
Intrigue opens them.”
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Sam Owen

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“You find the magic of the world in the margin for error.”
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Heart of Dixie

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Sunday Dinner: Symmetrical

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“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birds’ wings.”
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Jelaluddin Rumi

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“There are moments when i wish i could roll back the clock
and take all the sadness away,
but i have a feeling that if i did,
the joy would be gone as well.
So i take the memories as they come,
accepting them all,
letting them guide me whenever i can.”
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Nicholas Sparks

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“He felt that there is a loose balance of good and evil,
and that the art of living
consists in getting the greatest good
out of the greatest evil.”
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Machado de Assis

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“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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“Mathematics expresses values that reflect the cosmos,
including orderliness, balance, harmony,
logic, and abstract beauty.”
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Deepak Chopra

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“what is joy without sorrow?
what is success without failure?
what is a win without a loss?
what is health without illness?
you have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other.
there is always going to be suffering.
it’s how you look at your suffering,
how you deal with it, that will define you.”
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mark twain

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Photos by Woodand Gnome 2020

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“You must let what happens happen.
Everything must be equal in your eyes,
good and evil, beautiful and ugly,
foolish and wise.”
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Michael Ende

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In memory of Robert Nowak 1941-2020

and for those he’s left behind

Sunday Dinner: Allies

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“Trees in fog stand without leaves,
dark stems in a maze of inexhaustible intricacy.
Patterns laid upon patterns in a seeming randomness
that gives way to a single beautiful scene.” 
Akiva Silver

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“We all have a lot to learn about living on this Earth. 
It is a strange and wild place
with endless nuance and variation. 
As soon as we learn something, we find more questions.”
Akiva Silver

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“When I look at the sky, what I see there is not simply blue. 
There’s a radiance, an energy, a power. 
It is from this power that trees feed. 
Literally building their bodies out of the radiant sky,
trees of power are strong beings to ally ourselves with.”
Akiva Silver

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“Trees speak to our souls because they offer life to our bodies,
a timeless proposition that predates and outlasts us. 
Trees connect us to forever.”
Samuel Thayer from the foreword to
Trees of Power- Ten Essential Arboreal Allies by Akiva Silver

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“Trees beckon us to sit at their feet, humbly, and listen. 
They speak of the supposedly distant past,
reminding us that it was scarcely more than yesterday. 
They link us to a future that becomes, through them,
imaginable, almost palpable. 
Perhaps we cannot guess what the future holds,
but we can plant it.”
Samuel Thayer

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Trees are the answer to many of our ills,
and the ladder to many of our dreams. 
They are the arms and hands of the Earth,
reaching up to the heavens on our behalf,
grasping the slippery currency of sunlight and rendering it,
through their wondrous alchemy,
in to the stuff of life –
our life and theirs.”
Samuel Thayer

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“We breathe these trees through our lungs,
shelter ourselves with their wood,
and fill our bodies with the energy of their fruit.
Akiva Silver

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“We live at a time where there is widespread disturbance all around us. 
The ground is open and waiting for seeds. 
We can bemoan the tragedies that nature has endured
or we can cast seeds and plant a future.” 
Akiva Silver

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Every seed, cutting or small tree that you ever hold in your hands
wants to live.  It wants the same thing you do. 
You are its ally, as much as it, yours. 
You are able to see and do things that are not possible for the plant. 
Humans can be amazing helpers to the plants we choose to work with. 
Alliances work both ways.”
Akiva Silver

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

~

~

“Partnering with trees is as natural as breathing. 
We inhale their exhalations and they inhale ours. 
We are designed to work with each other.”
Akiva Silver

~~

The Trees of Power cover

Six on Saturday: Evergreen

Helleborus

~

By January autumn’s leaves have mostly fallen and anything evergreen dazzles in the fleeting winter sun.  I anticipate this quiet time of the year when one can see deeply into the roadside woods, admiring the stands of pines, hollies, Magnolias and myrtles normally hidden from view by the leafy, growing forest.

~

American Holly surrounded by pines.

~

After the year’s many colorful extravagances, the restful simplicity of bared bark, buff leaf litter and glowing evergreens stands in elegant contrast to the other seasons’ beauties.

At home, too, evergreen perennials peek through the fallen leaves, a deep emerald green.  Pointy ivy leaves scramble across the ground and spill from pots on the patio.  Fresh, wrinkled Helleborus leaves emerge from the chilled earth embracing stems of unfolding flowers.

What a delight to see these winter treasures braving the worst weather of the year, unflinching under a frosty glaze.

~

Mahonia aquifolium

~

Our Mahohias stand crowned with golden flowers this week.  Filled with nectar, they feed native bees and other pollinators who venture out on warmish days.  As we admired a particularly lush stand of Mahonia this morning, a brilliant red cardinal dropped out of the sky to land on its uppermost branch.  Perhaps it was looking for its breakfast, too.

~

Camellia sasanqua

~

Yucca and German Iris, rosemary, parsley, thyme, Arum and tiny Cyclamen leaves soak up the sun and stand resolute in the face of winter.  A well planned garden needs these touches of evergreen to carry us through until spring.

~

Thyme

~

No blazing summer Dahlia will ever touch me in the same way as richly green Arum, melting the snow around itself, its leaves unmarred by ice.

These loyalest of garden plants remain with us through the difficulties of winter, inspiring us with their fortitude and blessing us with their beauty.

~

Arum italicum shines from late autumn into May, when it quietly fades away. This European native produces enough heat to attract insects and protect itself in freezing weather.  Here, with emerging daffodil leaves, Vinca minor and Saxifraga stolonifera.

~

Woodland Gnome 2020

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

Sunday Dinner: Pass It On

~

“What are you planting today
to harvest tomorrow?”
.
Lailah Gifty Akita

~

~

“Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas.
Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection,
despite its ugliness.
I take it for granted that to create a tree
I condemn a seed to rot.
If the first act of resistance comes too late
it is doomed to defeat. But it is, nevertheless,
the awakening of resistance.
Life may grow from it as from a seed.”
.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

~

~

“Seeds have the power to preserve species,
to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity,
to counter economic monopoly
and to check the advance of conformity
on all its many fronts.”
.
Michael Pollan

~

~

“Plants do not speak,
but their silence is alive with change.”
.
May Sarton

~

~

“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds
and think of the rainbows in ’em,” said Captain Jim.
“When I ponder on them seeds I don’t find it nowise hard to believe
that we’ve got souls that’ll live in other worlds.
You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things,
some no bigger than grains of dust,
let alone colour and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?”
.
L.M. Montgomery

~

~

“Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution.
If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds.”
.
Norman Vincent Peale

~

~

“Remember to be conscious of what seeds you plant,
as the garden of your mind is like the world.
The longer seeds grow, the more likely they are to become trees.
Trees often block the sun’s rays from reaching other seeds,
allowing only plants that are acclimated
to the shadow of the tree to grow—
keeping you stuck with that one reality.”
.
Natasha Potter

~

~

“Take the time to plant seeds
even if you’re unsure if they’ll grow; who knows,
maybe all it takes is for someone else
to come along and water it.”
.
Kai Mann

~

~

“Every gift from a friend
is a wish for your happiness.”
.
Richard Bach

~

~

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant.”
.
Robert Louis Stevenson
~

Six on Saturday: Unexpected Pleasures

Scarlet oakleaf Hydrangea leaves brighten up a foggy, January garden. Edgeworthia flowers hang like tiny snowballs, opening very slowly over winter. Our Camellias remain in full bloom.

~

January presents as a quiet month on all fronts.  After a good six weeks of holiday indulgences, most of us are ready to go home and rest a while.  Especially for a gardener, expectations are low.  So low that a new seed catalog in the mail presents a thrill of color and possibility.

Which is why I’m feeling exceptionally appreciative for the unexpected pleasures in our garden this week.  It is wet and almost warm out there, since Christmas.  We had some freezing weather early on, but not enough to kill the geraniums on the front porch or slow down the Verbena and Allysum blooming on the patio.

~

Allysum blooms on the patio, enticing the occasional bee. Germander leaves remain deeply green all winter, finally blooming by late April.

~

And the Iris!  Ohh la la!  Blooming since New Year’s Eve, we are into our fifth day now of a beautiful blue and white scented Iris.  This is why I love the re-bloomers so very much.

Our rosemary is in bloom, and some daffodils have already broken ground with the first green tips of leaves.  It can’t be spring, in the first week of the new year, and we know there will be cold days and nights ahead.  But this interlude of curious cardinals, an occasional bee, mild afternoons and fragrant flowers charms us with its promise of spring now on the horizon.

~

Iris and Verbena bloom together this week on our patio.  The Verbena has remained in bloom since I bought it last April.

~

In our climate, one can easily plan for year-round flowers and plenty of interest in the garden on every day of the year.  There is no true ‘down time’ anymore.  I’ve finished my first round of clearing and cleaning in the perennial beds, but am not yet ready to cut down the beautiful seedheads of our native perennials.  Besides, the birds aren’t yet finished with them.

There is still that crate of daffodil bulbs in the garage, too, waiting for me to dedicate an afternoon to finally committing them to the Earth.

~

~

I was delighted to discover, while cutting down the Cannas and ginger lilies and generally surveying the garden,  several dozen seedling Ilex opaca shining through the fallen leaves.  I had wished for some native holly to transplant for a project a few years back.  And the multiverse clearly heard my wish and granted it in abundance.  Were I to allow them all to grow, our garden would soon become a holly forest.

~

Rosemary blooms during winter here in Williamsburg. I sometimes cut it to use in Christmas wreathes or winter arrangements.

~

So the task at hand is to dig and pot most of those little holly trees in the week ahead.  I’ll likely throw a daffodil bulb in each hole before I fill it with compost or bark mulch, and call it job well done.  The seemingly random daffies will remind me of this beautiful gift of native trees, sown by the birds, and filling our garden this month with vibrant green poking through the wet fallen leaves.

As the final bulbs go into the ground, the first snowdrops and Hellebores have bloomed.  There is always an unexpected pleasure waiting if one will only take a moment to see what is already there.

~

Hellebores bloom in our garden from late December through early May, giving flowers during the greyest days of the year.

~

Woodland Gnome 2020

~

Mahonia prepares to bloom, to the delight of our native bees still foraging on warm days. The Egeworthia, covered in silvery flowers, grows more spectacular each year.  We’re so grateful to our friend who introduced it to me years ago.

~

 

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

 

Sunday Dinner: Here and Now

~

“Here we are,
trapped in the amber of the moment.
There is no why.”
.
Kurt Vonnegut

~

~

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees,
you see all these different trees.
And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight,
and some of them are evergreens,
and some of them are whatever.
And you look at the tree and you allow it.
You see why it is the way it is.
You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light,
and so it turned that way.
And you don’t get all emotional about it.
You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that.

And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’
That judgment mind comes in.
And so I practice turning people into trees.
Which means appreciating them
just the way they are.”
.
Ram Dass

~

~

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion.
What you perceive as precious is not time
but the one point that is out of time: the Now.
That is precious indeed.
The more you are focused on time—past and future—
the more you miss the Now,
the most precious thing there is.”
.
Eckhart Tolle

~

~

“You and I are the force for transformation in the world.
We are the consciousness
that will define the nature of the reality we are moving into.”
.
Ram Dass

~

~

“It’s being here now that’s important.
There’s no past and there’s no future.
Time is a very misleading thing.
All there is ever, is the now.
We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it;
and we can hope for the future,
but we don’t know if there is one.”
.
George Harrison

~

~

“Remember, we are all affecting the world every moment,
whether we mean to or not.
Our actions and states of mind matter,
because we’re so deeply interconnected with one another.
Working on our own consciousness
is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment,
and being love is the supreme creative act.”
.
Ram Dass

~

~

“Time is the longest distance between two places.”
.
Tennessee Williams

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019 

In appreciation for the life of Richard Alpert:

Teacher, writer, explorer, visionary

April 6, 1931- December 22, 2019

~

~

“Prolong not the past
Invite not the future
Do not alter your innate wakefulness
Fear not appearances
There is nothing more than this”
.
Ram Dass

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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