Blossom XXIII: Iris

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“…Every day I discover even more beautiful things.

It is intoxicating me, and I want to paint it all –

my head is bursting…”

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Claude Monet

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“The priceless lesson in the New Year

is that endings birth beginnings and beginnings birth endings.

And in this elegantly choreographed dance of life,

neither ever find an end in the other.”

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Craig D. Lounsbrough

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The best is yet to be.”
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Robert Browning

Blossom XXII:  ” …and Spring After Winter…”

Wednesday Vignette: Meditations

Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris

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“The soul becomes dyed

with the colour of its thoughts.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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“Accept the things to which fate binds you,

and love the people with whom fate

brings you together,

but do so with all your heart.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority,

but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit.

The second is to look things in the face

and know them for what they are.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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“Very little is needed to make a happy life;

it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

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Marcus Aurelius

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do not act

as if you were going to live ten thousand years.

Death hangs over you.

While you live, while it is in your power,

be good.”

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Marcus Aurelius

quotations from The Meditations

 

“Will Deer Eat It?”

Polka Dot plant takes center stage in this fairy garden. It comes in white, pink and red.

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The lady checking out in front of me at McDonald’s Garden Center on Jamestown Road had two cute little pots of ‘Polka Dot Plant,’ Hypoestes phyllostachya, and she had a single question for the clerk: “Will deer eat it?”  For those of us living among free-roaming herds of deer, that is always the question!

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Hydrangea macrophylla attract deer, who eat both leaves and flowers.

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Do deer graze in your garden?  It seems that ever growing herds of deer continue moving into more and more areas across the United States.  Even suburbs and small town now have a problem with deer.  So many are born each year, and they have no natural predator.  There is no longer enough hunting to keep their population in check, and so they have learned to live among us.

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Maybe you, like some of our neighbors, enjoy seeing ‘The Bambis.’  But maybe you, like many of our friends, want to grow a garden around your home to please you and your family- not to offer a free dinner to the local herd.

It is a constant struggle here, in our forested community.  Each doe can have up to five fawns a year.  Triplets aren’t uncommon.  Each buck may have a harem of six or more does in his family group.  We saw a group of more than 20 running across our neighbor’s yard one day in late January.

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Plants with poisonous leaves, like these Colocasia, won’t be grazed by deer.

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Even if you are content to let nature take its course in your yard, and you aren’t an avid gardener; you may be concerned about deer ticks and the diseases they carry.  Ticks lurk in places frequented by deer.  They wait on grasses, shrubs, anywhere they can until a warm blooded comes near enough for them to jump on and catch a ride and a meal.

The last time we were at the doctor getting an antibiotic script for a tick bite, the doctor offered up some comforting news.  She told us that the tick must be attached for 24 hours to transmit Lyme’s disease.  That is reason enough to thoroughly check for ticks after a day of gardening!

We have so many neighbors who have contracted Lyme’s disease, and we have had so many tick bites, that we do everything in our power to keep deer out of our garden.

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Ticks linger in overgrown grasses and on shrubs and trees, waiting for a ride and a meal.

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And that is not an easy thing.  Unless you are ready to construct a 10′ high chain link fence around the perimeter of your yard, maybe adding a little razor wire on top, they will likely find a way in from time to time.  And so we do everything in our power to discourage the deer from coming in to start with.  And if they do sneak in, we dispatch them and encourage them to stay in the ravine in future!

Which brings us back to buying ‘deer resistant’ plants.  The McDonald’s clerk didn’t know whether annual Polka Dot Plant was deer resistant or not.  But she looked it up somehow in her system, and told her customer that she believed it was.  She was right.  Hypoestes is considered deer resistant.

But that is a very loose term.  When hungry enough, deer will try grazing many things they shouldn’t.

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Rose scented Pelargonium with Pineapple Sage and Rose.  Herbs with a strong fragrance can offer some protection to tasty shrubs, like this rose.

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We’ve had to learn a lot about what deer won’t eat in order to garden in our community.  My last garden was enclosed with a 7′ fence in a suburb which had no deer.  My azaleas were 8′ high and I could grow anything I wanted without a second thought.  But the past is the past, and we live in the present, right?

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Azaleas once grew abundantly in our forest garden, before the deer population skyrocketed. Ours are now badly grazed and misshapen.  Some barely hang on from year to year.

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So unless you have an eidetic memory, it might be easier to remember some basic principles of what plants deer avoid than trying to memorize a list!  I’ve read lots of lists over the years and listened to a few experts speak on the topic.  No one is 100% accurate. in part because deer develop different preferences.

But here are a few guidelines which might prove useful as you plan your garden this spring:

  1.  Deer don’t like strongly scented or strongly flavored foliage.  This means that almost any herb is ‘safe’ and won’t be grazed.  This includes plants you might not think of as herbs, including annual geraniums, scented geraniums, Artemisias, and some perennials related to the mint family.  All Alliums, including garlic, scallions and onions, repel deer.
  2. Deer don’t like thick, tough and textured leaves.  Your Yucca is safe, as is prickly pear cactus, Iris and Lantana.  I’ve never seen lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina,  grazed, either.
  3. Many plants are naturally poisonous, and others have oxalic acid crystals in their leaves which irritate deer mouths.  Caladiums and their relatives are ‘safe’ due to the irritating crystals in their leaves.  That said, two friends told me their Caladiums were grazed during a summer drought last year.  We lose a leaf from time to time, but never a whole plant.  Colocasia and Alocasia, Arum italicum, and Zantedeschia all fall into this group.  If a plant is known as poisonous, like Helleborus and daffodils,  you can plant it with confidence.
  4. Deer avoid eating ferns.
  5. Deer avoid grey foliage.

    ~

    Lavender has both a strong fragrance and tough, thick leaves. Deer never touch them and they are helpful as screening plants around tasty plants you want to protect.

    ~

Now, here is what they do enjoy eating:

  1.  Any new shrub from the nursery, which has been grown with lots of fertilizer, looks delicious!  Even a shrub they wouldn’t think of grazing when it is mature will be tasty when young.  Nitrogen, a salt, makes the foliage taste good.  Think salt on french fries….. Give those newly planted shrubs and trees a bit of extra protection until they are at least 2 years old.
  2. Any plant you might eat, especially in your vegetable garden, will attract deer.  We’ve had fruit trees grazed, tomatoes devastated, bean vines harvested, and lettuce made to disappear in the blink of an eye.
  3. Any tender, soft, succulent, beautiful leaf, like a Hosta, Heuchera, Coleus, or Hydrangea, will interest a deer.  They also like flowers, otherwise known as ‘deer candy.’  You wouldn’t think deer would graze roses, but they do.  They adore eating any lily, especially daylily leaves and flowers.

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Grow tasty annuals, like sweet potato vine, in pots or baskets out of reach of deer.  Grown where they can get to it, expect it to be grazed from time to time.

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What can you do?  Like the lady with the Polka Dot plant, consider whether or not a new plant will attract deer before you bring it home to your garden.  Let the majority of your new plants be those the deer won’t graze.  I’ve learned how to create an interesting garden by growing lots of herbs and poisonous plants!

But I grow my favorites, too.  We gave up on a veggie garden, but we still have roses, a few Hosta, and Hydrangeas.  I defiantly grow a few tasty annuals in pots and baskets out of the reach of deer, or in pots right up against the house.  You would be amazed how brazen hungry deer can be!  And yes, I’ve had sweet potato vines and Coleus plants eaten off my front patio.

That is why the perimeter of our property is mostly planted with shrubs and trees that deer won’t graze.  We have wax myrtle, crepe myrtle, bamboo, red cedar, Ligustrum and Yucca along  the outer edges, somewhat hiding the more delicious plants in the center of our garden.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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I generally surround tender tasty plants with highly scented ones the deer will avoid.  We grow garlic, chives and onions in random places to protect certain plants.  Highly scented herbs can often give some protection, too, if planted around a shrub you want to protect.  I throw garlic cloves in pots of annuals.

We also regularly spread Milorganite around the perimeter of our property and around shrubs, like azaleas, we want to protect from deer.  You need at least a 4′ swath of this smelly fertilizer to fend off deer.  An interesting benefit is the drastic reduction in ticks we’ve found since we began using Milorganite last spring.

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Scented Pelargoniums and Zantedeschia prove a winning, and deer proof, combination.

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I keep a spray bottle of ‘Repels-All’ and spray the Hosta and Heuchera as they emerge; the roses and Hydrangeas as they leaf out.  Rain washes this product away, eventually, and so one needs to use it every few weeks.  Plants are more vulnerable in spring than in late summer, so you don’t have to make a life-time commitment to spraying this stuff.

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Hibiscus prove deer resistant.

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No one of us can solve the deer problem alone.  We’ve recently heard of some research in New York with contraceptive injections good for 22 months for an adult doe.  But this program is very expensive and labor intensive.  Hunting remains very controversial.  There are few ideas out there for a humane solution to this growing problem.

As undeveloped habitat disappears deer move in to our neighborhoods, sharing the land with us. And so it is up to us, as the brainier species, to adapt.  One way to co-exist with these gentle creatures is to design our gardens with plants they won’t eat.

Let them eat elsewhere!” becomes our motto, and  constant vigilance our practice.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Our ‘deer resistant’ garden, filled with poisonous plants and herbs,  in early spring

Sunday Dinner: Details

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“Everything made by human hands

looks terrible under magnification-

-crude, rough, and asymmetrical.

But in nature every bit of life is lovely.

And the more magnification we use,

the more details are brought out,

perfectly formed,

like endless sets of boxes within boxes.”

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Roman Vishniac

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…  pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein

and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself

and all that dwells therein.”

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Frederick Buechner

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It is imperative, whether consciously or not,

that one observe the vast

as well as the infinitesimal

in order to create the image

or choose accurate words that ring true.”

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Elizabeth Winder

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“Tiny details imperceptible to us decide everything!”

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W.G. Sebald

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“To pay attention,

this is our endless and proper work.”

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Mary Oliver

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.

If you are attentive, you will see it.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

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

… healing power coming suddenly near us from afar

but upon our perceptions being made finer,

so that, for a moment, our eyes can see

and our ears can hear

what is there around us always.”

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Willa Cather

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WPC: Security

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“If we feel secure
In the depths of our heart,
We shall not challenge anybody,
For inner confidence
Is nothing short of
Complete satisfaction.”

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Sri Chinmoy

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“True happiness is to enjoy the present,

without anxious dependence upon the future,

not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears

but to rest satisfied with what we have,

which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.

The greatest blessings of mankind are within us

and within our reach. A wise man

is content with his lot, whatever it may be,

without wishing for what he has not.”

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Seneca

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Wetlands near the York River, Gloucester Point, Virginia

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Virginia In Bloom

Narcissus ‘Art Design’

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Springtime in Virginia is simply fabulous.  So fabulous, that garden clubs all over the Commonwealth open public and private gardens to celebrate Historic Garden Week while our dogwoods, azaleas, daffodils, tulips and redbuds burst into bloom.

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Newly opened leaves blur in a haze of color around the crowns of tall trees and the stately boxwood, a fixture in so many historic and public gardens, glow with new, green growth.  It is a sight worth celebrating.

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Our garden on Wednesday morning

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We are celebrating April in our own Forest Garden as dogwoods and azaleas bloom and the landscape wakes up for the new season.  Our Iris have produced scapes covered with buds, seemingly overnight.  Leaves emerge from bare branches.   Perennials keep breaking ground with new growth, reminding us that they, too, survived the winter.

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Brunnera

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Historic Garden Week traditionally falls the week after Easter, here in Virginia.  With a late Easter this year, Garden Week gets an  especially late start.  Combined with an early spring, gardening friends and I have been wondering what may still be in bloom by then to entice visitors.  Surely there will still be Iris, and probably Rhododendron.  But tulips, dogwoods and azaleas are coming into their prime, at least in coastal Virginia, right now.

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Tulips and daffodils blooming in a public garden in Gloucester Courthouse for their Daffodil Festival last weekend.

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One of the strangest sights to celebrate this Fabulous Friday is our blooming rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum.  Rhubarb is best known as a tasty filling in spring in pies.  Its long petioles are stewed with sugar and spices to make a tart seasonal treat.  But I’ve noticed Rheum used as an ornamental, especially in Pacific Northwest gardens.  I decided to give it a try in our garden, especially since its poisonous leaves leave it impervious to grazing.

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Rhubarb in bloom

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This is the second year for this plant, which I grew in a pot last summer and planted into the garden in September.  I’ve enjoyed watching its progress, but was amazed to see flower buds emerge a few weeks ago.  I’ve never before watched rhubarb bloom, and thought you might enjoy its unusual flowers, too.

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We are still enjoying daffodils as the late season varieties continue to open.  These hybrids all carry interesting names, and I keep my Brent and Becky’s Bulbs catalog handy to look them up and try to remember them.  Handily, we received the new fall catalog in the mail last week, so we can begin penciling in a fall order, while this year’s crop still fills the garden.

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Every tree and shrub in our garden dances in the wind as a cold front blows through today.  Often, a particularly strong gust carries flower petals as it blows spring flowers from the greening trees.  We expect temperatures back into the 30s tonight, and a much cooler day tomorrow.

We find ourselves ‘dancing’ back and forth, too, as we move pots and baskets in and out of the garage with the fluctuating weather.  We keep telling ourselves it’s good exercise, but I will be quite happy when we can finally leave everything out in its summer spot.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge this week.

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But even if we weren’t carrying our pots back and forth, we would still find excuses to head back out into the garden.  We eavesdrop on avian conversations as they happily build their nests and find their mates.  They are as energized as we feel with the warmth of spring and the fresh opportunities it brings.

We watched lizards skitter across our back porch for the first time on Wednesday, a sure sign of the garden’s awakening.  Butterflies dance with one another in mid-air before floating off for another sip of nectar.  It is good to live in Virginia in the springtime, when it seems the whole world is in bloom.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to photograph each Friday.   If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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Dogwood, our state flower

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Soil Security

Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia

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Gardens offer endless surprises and seemingly endless challenges.  One hopes to discover most of the challenges in the first year or two.  Better to address them right off and be done with it, right?  But that’s not how this business works…. things change….

Ours is a very steep property.  Our bit of James City County spreads across ridges and ravines.  We happen to live and garden on the slope of a ravine.  Water drains down across the yard to a creek running through the ravine, which flows to a pond and then out to College Creek.   Managing all of that water during a heavy rain remains a challenge for us.

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This area suffers serious erosion in heavy rain, and is frequented by voles.  It is hard to get anything much to grow here.  We have just added the stones to offer some protection and planted a dozen seedling Hellebores to help hold the bank.

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Our county’s division of  storm water management staff advise:  “Plant more plants!”  I take that advice to heart, regularly, and have struck up a working relationship with one of the staffers.  They work with the local Master Gardeners to help homeowners design rain gardens to catch some of the run-off after a heavy rain, and offer grants for those who install them.

I like that proactive, cooperative approach.  This spring, I’ve done a bit of reading about how to construct a rain garden.  And one of the first things I realized is that steeply sloping land isn’t a very good place to site one, unless you are prepared for a major project of earth moving and engineering to construct a berm on the down slope side.

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This was our steep, eroding slope before our work began this spring.

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As I thought about rain gardens, and walked our property looking for a place to catch run off and use it in a new planting bed, my partner pointed out a new erosion problem on the very shaded and inaccessible slope beside and below our driveway.

This is an area we’ve largely neglected over the years.  Towering, mature Ligustrum shrubs cast deep shade across this slope.  Their leaves drop here year round, and the ground has been covered in a tangle of Vinca vines and wild growth.  Where there is bare earth, it has been covered with fallen leaves. I planted  some Mahonia and Hydrangea in this area when we first took over the garden, and they have expanded, but never bloomed.

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Daffodils have replaced Caladiums here at the base of our driveway, where a great deal of water runs off when it rains.  An Autumn fern has thrived here for five years or more, and I decided to expand the planting last summer.

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But last summer, I began clearing some of this strip, nearer to the drive, and planted it in Caladiums, Zantedeschia, Ajuga, Oxalis, some transplanted Liriope and a few ferns.  We enjoyed it enough that when we dug the Caladiums in October I planted Daffodils and Arum in their place.

Below this planted area, we noticed a new area of erosion a few weeks ago.  Storm water had found its way into a vole tunnel, and a whole piece of the bank had collapsed.  There was a gorge, partially filled with leaves and other debris.  Finding that bit of erosion sealed the deal that we would invest our time, energy, and gardening dollars in fixing this neglected, and now crumbling, bit of the garden.

Too steep for a single ‘rain garden,’ we decided to create several terraces to catch and slow the flow of water down the slope, directing the run-off from one planted area to another.  We found several Rhododendron shrubs to anchor each terrace, and planted the first right into that nasty gorge to stabilize it.  We found some sturdy trapezoidal concrete blocks for building the terraces.  They fit together snugly to make a secure wall.  We installed the first ones below that Rhododendron to hold it in place.

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The first Rhododendron we planted to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. We planted in the hole and stabilized the area with two concrete blocks.

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We trimmed up the lowest Ligustrum branches to let in light and make the area more accessible and raked back the leaves and debris.  Then, we studied the area for several days to decide where to place our blocks to form natural terraces.

After building the terraces, and planting three more of the shrubs, I began filling each terrace with plants.   I selected a variety of perennials which will thrive in shade, tolerate a lot of moisture, hold and cover the soil by spreading, put down extensive root systems, and stop voles with their poisonous roots. Oh, and did I mention they also must repel deer?

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The terraces before today’s torrential rain.

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Remember our mantra:  “Plant more plants!”  It was going to take a lot of plants to fill these spaces.  Luckily, we have a pretty steady supply now of a few perennials which fill these criteria.  They are ours to dig, divide, and transplant as needed.

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Divisions of Strawberry Begonia transplanted from another part of our garden. Each division will send out numerous stems, with a tiny plant growing at the tip of each.  They will form a thick mat over time. 

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I was able to transplant Hellebore seedlings, Ajuga and Saxifraga stolonifera in nearly unlimited quantities from other parts of the garden.  The Hellebores have  poisonous roots, and so I planted them around each of the Rhododendrons to protect their roots from curious voles.  I also planted them below the lowest row of blocks to form an additional vegetative barrier for any run-off.

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This Rhododendron is ringed with seedling Hellebores.

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I purchased holly ferns, Japanese painted ferns and Autumn Brilliance fern.  Although the Japanese painted ferns aren’t evergreen, they spread wonderfully and give about 7 months of presence here.  I also purchased some little 2″ Columbine and Heuchera and a couple of quart sized Tiarella from Homestead Garden Center.  Homestead has an extensive inventory of perennials and shrubs which thrive in our area, and always carry 2″ starter perennials at reasonable prices in March.

I prefer to buy the smallest pots of perennials I can find to  minimize the size of the holes we must dig.  Living on a slope, we dig as little as possible.

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Tiarella is a shade loving native perennial which runs and spreads over time. It blooms each spring, feeding hungry pollinators early in the season. It resembles Heuchera, but proves more deer resistant.

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Heuchera is the only perennial in our palette for this new bed which may be grazed from time to time.  I am willing to take the chance for its beautiful foliage.  The rest of these plants have already proven themselves in our garden and I have confidence in using them here.  They are tough and thrive in our climate and soil.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ anchor the end of this terrace. I will add Caladiums next month when the weather is settled.

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And this was surprisingly good soil!  While we have clay in other parts of the garden, this was good, rich dirt.  Although I had stocked up on compost, I was able to build these beds without adding a great deal.

The key to planting on sloping ground is a good gravel mulch.  We’ve learned over the years to minimize digging, top dress and even out the ground with compost, and then mulch heavily with gravel. Finally, we pack this all down firmly with hands and feet.

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Columbine and Tiarella anchor this terrace. Two tiny lady ferns, grown from bare root starts, will one day flourish in this moist bed.

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We discovered that the first gardener on this property often used a large stone or hunk of concrete or brick to anchor shrubs he planted on slopes.  I’ve followed his lead and often anchor a newly planted shrub or perennial with something heavy to hold it in place until it establishes.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ will eventually grow to three feet. This evergreen fern has interesting spring color on new growth. We have anchored it with stones as it sits at the top of the slope.

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We’ve been working on this new area over the past week or so.  We have been trying to fix the erosion ahead of the heavy weather forecast for this week.  The rains have shown us the weak spots, and where more work was required.  We had to go back and re-pack the area around the first Rhodie’s roots, for example.  And we also placed some stones above it to divert the flow of water around it from the slope above.

A front came through mid-day today, with torrential rain, about an hour after I finished the last of the planting and gravel mulch.  We were pleased that the terraces held.

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Additional erosion after today’s rain left roots exposed. It showed us additional engineering was needed where water pours off of the driveway.  The terra cotta pots helped anchor plastic bags to protect the Hydrangea on the right during freezing weather in March.  It is slowly recovering and finally pushing out new leaves.

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There were only a few spots of erosion, and only one Hellebore partially washed out on a terrace this time.  But the path along this slope was badly eroded.  Ligustrum roots were exposed where the path was washing away.

We studied the path the water took from driveway to ravine, noted where the gravel had washed out, and re-engineered parts of the project.  Translation: Back to Lowes for more concrete blocks, a few more bags of gravel and a bag of topsoil.

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Additional engineering should slow the run-off flowing into the path from heavy rain.  My partner placed the blocks to divert the water’s flow.  We’ve added topsoil and gravel over the Ligustrum’s exposed roots in the path.  Sadly, some daffies may be sacrificed in the process….

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We aren’t quite sure why the erosion on this bank suddenly got worse in the last year.  We must have made some small change in how the water flows, without even realizing it, when I planted the Caladiums last summer.  But whatever the cause, the problem was getting worse with each heavy rain.

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“Soil security”

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When you live on a slope, stable soil is a measure of security as heavy weather blows through.

We’ve created terraced beds throughout the garden, planted lots of shrubs and perennials, and dumped hundreds of bags of pea gravel on this property over the years.   We rarely visit our favorite garden center without adding a bag or two of gravel or compost to our order. It is an investment in holding the soil in place and keeping our home’s foundation stable.

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We trust that these new terraced beds, and the reinforced path we’ve created for water to flow down our sloping garden, will meet the challenge of heavy rain and the run-off it generates.  But more than that, we trust they will grow into beautiful additions which bring us many years of enjoyment.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Note: I don’t often like to show parts of our garden that aren’t ‘beautiful.’   We have a lot of rough edges here in our Forest Garden.  It is a work in progress. I hope the techniques we use to hold the slope and garden on uneven land will help others trying to garden in similar circumstances.

I’ll show you this bed again as the plants grow in.  We trust that it will soon be one of our most beautiful areas, filled with photo-worthy foliage and flowers.  We expect it will attract the attention of our turtles, lizards and toads as the season progresses, too.  

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

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Columbine

 

 

Wednesday Vignette: Perseverance

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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Nelson Mandela

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

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Seneca

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“Many of life’s failures

are people who did not realize

how close they were to success

when they gave up.”

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Thomas A. Edison

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall at Homestead Garden Center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Expect the Best

On March 1, 2017  it hit 82F, and our Magnolias were already in full bloom.  Temperatures plummeted later that week, and frost hit them a few days after this photo.

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Our Magnolias were in full bloom when spring morphed back into winter last month.  Unusual, early warmth teased them into bloom weeks ahead of their usual awakening.  But 80 degree days in February will tease all sorts of things into early awakening, won’t they?

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Magnolia liliiflora

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As much as we enjoyed the early spring blossoms, we held our breath, wondering whether the nice weather would hold out.  And of course, it didn’t.  Quite suddenly, the temperatures plummeted back to ‘normal.’

We had a string of nights in the 20s which brightened into frosty mornings and cool grey days.  That slowed down the progression of spring in our garden, a bit; but devastated the Magnolias blossoms.

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April 3, and our Magnolia is blooming once again.

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What had been hundreds of richly purple delicate blossoms one day were reduced to these sad, drooping brown husks of their former beauty the next.  If I’m getting too personal here, forgive me, please.  It is one of the ironies of our lives here on this Earth that such things can happen, and so quickly.

We wondered what the prolonged cold would do to our Magnolias.  They are well established, but we wondered whether their frozen buds would recover.

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Our Magnolias have finally grown both leaves and new blossoms.

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When that happened last spring, to our emerging Ficus “Silver Lyre,’ most of the stems died, too.  We had to wait for new growth from the shrub’s roots.  It recovered, but very slowly; they didn’t make much new growth and remained a bit stunted all last year.

But our 2017 cold snap ended about a week ago.  Our temperatures have been moderate, near normal, and we’ve had no nights in the 30s for about 10 days.  And so we see spring progressing in our garden, despite the frosty hiccup in mid-March.

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Azaleas fill our garden this week, but the Hydrangea macrophylla also took a hit from the cold last month.  They are slowly trying again with fresh leaves.

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I’m still holding my breath a bit, quite honestly.  Our frost free date remains two weeks into the future, and I’m working to restrain my natural urge to plant and move our pots and baskets back out to their summer spots in the garden.

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Acer palmatum

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I moved the hanging baskets out of our garage early last week, and massed them against the foundation, on the backside of our home, near the spigot.  I gave them all a good drenching and left them out during the torrential rains last week.

I worry a little about the afternoon sun there, but am reluctant to rehang them in the trees until I’m sure we won’t need to move them back inside for shelter should we get a rogue snowstorm.  More likely, hail and wind, from the week’s forecast!  Tornadoes ripped through southern Virginia on Friday.

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Columbine, ready to bloom.

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I finally fed the roses their breakfast of Rose Tone and Epsom salts last week, just before the rains came.  I’ve done a little pruning, and need to do more.  Prune too early, and the new growth you encourage will die back in a hard freeze.  That happened to a few of our roses last month.

The roses are ready to grow!  All sport new red leaves, and I know that the longer I wait, the harder it will be for me to do the necessary spring shaping.  Our first roses bloomed in April last year.  It was another early spring….

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Gardening, like any good board game, leaves a lot to chance.  And we gardeners must swallow our feelings, sometimes, and just be good sports.  Whoever wrote the “Serenity Prayer” must have been a gardener.  There are always things in our control that we can change, do, not do, encourage, or ignore.

And then there are those things that we can’t change:  like the small herd of deer we found grazing in our garden when we returned home yesterday afternoon from our day at the Daffodil Festival in Gloucester.  I saw the back of one, calmly grazing our butterfly garden, as I climbed out of the car.  I was off, laden with bags and my coffee cup, in hot pursuit.  Seven brown little heads turned and magically ran right through the deer fences.

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The Oakleaf Hydrangeas made it through March just fine. The cold slowed their leaves opening, but there was no damage. Autumn Brilliance ferns emerge this week.

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And we can’t necessarily change the weather, either.  We can remain mindful of the calendar and the forecast and do our best to work with the changing of the seasons.  But storms will come and the mercury will dance when it should remain slow and steady.  Which brings us back to our frozen Magnolias….

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Which, I’m happy to tell you, recovered.  What joy to notice both green and purple emerging from their tolerant stems.  New flowers are blooming, and leaves continue to emerge.  I expect they will fully recover from their trauma this spring.

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My parents always taught me, growing up, to “Expect the best.”  That has been good advice.

Oftentimes, our attitude, our expectations, our thoughts and even our feelings will influence how things will turn out.  Yes, there are exceptions.  But in general, we can find a silver lining when we go looking for one.

And even through the inevitable disappointments and challenges we encounter along the way; a hopeful, joyful attitude makes the journey a lot more pleasant.  When we expect the best, the best inevitably comes our way.

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We discovered this beautiful Heron in a wetland near the York River yesterday. We stopped to enjoy the beach near VIMS as we left Gloucester, and he was wading nearby.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“At times what you expect and what happens don’t match.
The faster you accept and adapt to what happened
and work towards creating what you believed,
that what you expected gets created
in a whole new way..!”
.
Sujit Lalwani

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