Green Thumb Tip #24: Always Just Beginning….

Coleus leaves, trimmed from the bottom of a stem cutting, have rooted in their vase.

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There is a certain exuberance, a fresh burst of energy in beginnings.  Youth has glamour, vitality. 

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Most plants allow us to tap into that youthful energy as we ‘re-new’ them.

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Cutting back stems stimulates new growth.  Remove flower stems (on plants grown primarily for their foliage) as they develop to keep the plant youthful, compact and vigorous.

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As we approach mid-June, you might assume that spring’s fresh beginnings are behind us for another year.  Not so.  We are always just beginning in the garden.

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This Caladium leaf broke away from the tuber as I was transplanting it into a pot. Caladium leaves with even just a bit of the tuber still on the petiole will root in water.  A new leaf is already beginning to grow (underwater) and once planted into soil, this rooted leaf will soon grow into a beautiful new plant.  A flower is beginning to grow on the left, which I’ll remove before potting up the leaf.

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I am still planting up pots and still planting perennials and herbs out into the garden.

Garden centers still have a pretty good selection of herbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs.  As you might expect, many of the starts sitting in greenhouses and garden centers are getting overgrown and pot-bound.  They demand a bit of skillful handling to perform their best.

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I bought several pots of oregano a few weeks back.  They were already overgrown, leggy, and some already had flower buds forming.  I didn’t get to use them for my intended purpose at the time, and they’ve been sitting in the nursery.

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Do you see the new growth emerging from below the cuts on some of the stems?

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But I did cut a few stems from each plant, not quite two weeks ago, to share in an arrangement.  And where I trimmed them back, new growth is already bursting forth.  New growth has appeared lower on the remaining stems, and new growth has popped up from the roots.

Now, I expect that the cut stems may have sprouted a few roots in their vase, too.  They can be tucked into a pot of soil or a prepared bed and allowed to grow on.  Stems that have already formed flower buds may root more slowly or may not at all.  But oregano grows in the mint family.  All of the mints are immensely robust.

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If you have the chance to pick up a few late season plants at the nursery, then consider cutting back those leggy stems right away.  Root them if you wish, discard them if you must.  But understand that by cutting away the top growth, you stimulate the plant to immediately send out fresh new growth.

Cutting back, or pinching back, stimulates growth hormones at all of the leaf nodes below each cut.  The plant needs its leaves to produce food, and is anxious to replace those lost.

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In the garden, old growth is always falling away and returning to the soil even as new growth emerges. It is a continuing cycle of growth,  and the decay that fuels new growth.

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When you plant the start, notice if it is already ‘root-bound.’  If the roots have grown into the contours of the pot you know they have been crowded and stressed.

Water the plant well, and then take a moment to tease out the crossed roots on the bottom of the root ball.  Gently tug some of the roots along the sides loose so they can begin to grow out into the soil.  Without being rough,  understand that pulling the roots out a bit, even trimming off the bottom inch of the root ball if it is congested, will stimulate new root growth.

Just be careful to water the plant in well,  offer some nutrition,  protect it from fierce sun for a few days, and let it establish itself.

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Ready to grow on, this oregano has found a new home.

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I bought a beautiful but leggy coleus and immediately took cuttings last week.  It is wise to trim the bottom pair of leaves from the stem before rooting it in water, but the leaves were so beautiful I hated to throw them away.  So, I stuck them into a tiny jar of water to enjoy until they either rooted or faded.  I’ve had to refill the jar with drips from the sink twice a day as the leaves have proven thirsty.  But they rewarded me with roots!

I am often re-working established pots and don’t have room to dig a hole large enough for a big root ball.  Cuttings are a perfect solution.  A much smaller hole will embrace the smaller root system of a newly rooted cutting or recently rooted tuber.

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New Caladium roots; this leaf is ready to plant into a potted arrangement where I want a little color in the shade.

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You might also try dividing up a newly purchased plant.  As long as you can cut or pull apart rooted stems, those rooted stems will soon grow back into full plants.

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I pulled apart 4″ pots of Dichondra and Verbena into several divisions when planting up this basket.  Annual Verbena often grows new roots from any stem in contact with the soil and can be snipped away, its roots pulled out of the pot, and planted separately.  Each division will now take off and grow into a full sized plant.

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A stem cutting from an old plant, rooted, becomes a new plant.  A division of an old perennial, replanted, becomes a fresh new perennial.

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Larger potted perennials can often be split into divisions and planted in much smaller holes.

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Yes, it seems counter-intuitive, paradoxical, maniacal and cruel.  All of that cutting, pulling apart, breaking pieces away and gouging out the ‘eyes’ of tubers leads to a plant’s re-invigoration and renewal.

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Keep planting, keep coaxing your plants to grow to their full potential, and keep your own gardener’s eye and outlook fresh, too.  Try a new plant, or a new combination of old plants.

Try a new gardening skill.  Empty out some old pots and begin again with fresh soil and fresh ideas.

We keep our excitement alive when we are always just beginning.

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Can you spot the dragonfly?

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,

but in the expert’s there are few”
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Shunryu Suzuki

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Daucus carota subsp. sativus, flowers grown from a grocery store carrot ‘planted’ this spring.

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“Moment after moment,

everyone comes out from nothingness.

This is the true joy of life.”
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Shunryu Suzuki

 

Green Thumb Tip # 22: Do the Math

Green Thumb Tip # 21: The Mid-Summer Snack 

Green Thumb Tip # 23: From Small Beginnings

 

 

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Sunday Dinner: Decided

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“Once you make a decision,

the universe conspires

to make it happen.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“It had long since come to my attention

that people of accomplishment

rarely sat back and let things happen to them.

They went out and happened to things.”

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Leonardo da Vinci

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“The difference between a successful person

and others is not a lack of strength,

not a lack of knowledge,

but rather a lack in will.”

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Vince Lombardi

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“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance.

The wise grows it under his feet.”

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James Oppenheim

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“Determine that the thing

can and shall be done

and then… find the way.”

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Abraham Lincoln

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“Ordinary People Promise To Do More.

Extraordinary People Just Do More.”

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Wesam Fawzi

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“If you think what you tried

and couldn’t achieve yesterday

isn’t possible, think again.

Today’s a new day.

You’re stronger.

It’s another opportunity to rise

and get things done.”
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Wesam Fawzi

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Six on Saturday: Elegance

Peruvian daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis

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A gift of bulbs this spring from a gardening friend finally unfolded yesterday into unexpected elegance.

A catalog photograph simply doesn’t convey the intricate beauty of these members of the Amaryllis family called ‘Peruvian daffodils.’  Native in South America and hardy only to Zone 8, their large bulbs quickly sent up Amaryllis style robust leaves and an Amaryllis style bloom stalk, topped with multiple tight buds.  I am enjoying the show as bud after bud unfolds to reveal its beauty.

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Dry summer heat has finally given way to cooling rains.  I watched newly planted starts wilting under the unrelenting sun earlier in the week, and I’m relieved to see them reinvigorated and growing again after a series of thunderstorms and a welcome cold front brought us relief from the heat.  We nearly broke the record set in 2018 for hottest May since weather data has been recorded.  We only missed it here by a hair.

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Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’ with buds of Daucus carota and Nepeta

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And so I wasn’t surprise to notice the first white buds opening on crape myrtle trees planted along the road yesterday morning.  I noted that this is the earliest I’ve seen crape myrtles bloom, as they normally wait until at least mid-June to appear.  And then I noticed one of our new hybrid crapes last evening, the first pink fluffy flowers open in its crown.

Crape myrtles are beautiful trees in our region, one of the pleasures of summer that blooms for a hundred days or more until early fall.  They love heat, tolerate drought once established, and grow into tidy, elegant trees with interesting bark and form.  I love our crapes as much in winter for their form as I do in summer for their flowers.

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Butterflies love crape myrtles for their nectar, but not as much as butterflies love Verbena.

We’ve had a strong population of Zebra Swallowtail butterflies this month and they are found most often sipping from the Verbena bonariensis, both in our own forest garden and at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I’ve photographed them sipping nectar in both gardens this week.

Yes, we’re also seeing Tiger Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails and Painted Ladies, along with other smaller butterflies.  We are delighted with how many individuals we are spotting around the area this year.  The efforts of so many area gardeners to provide host as well as nectar plants, and to create safe spaces for them to grow, is showing beautiful results.

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Our garden continues filling up with newly blooming flowers as summer’s heat builds and the days grow longer.  We are only a few weeks away from Summer Soltice now.

Each plant in the garden unfolds and grows with its own unique elegance, filling its niche; offering up its botanical gifts with nature’s boundless generosity.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Fun With Plants: Avocado Seeds

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Plants and their growth patterns entertain and fascinate.  You may find this nearly as ‘geeky’ as Sheldon Cooper’s ‘Fun With Flags’ on the hit TV series, “The Big Bang Theory.”  Feel free to have a good laugh and then try these methods for seed sprouting yourself!

Once upon a time, the accepted method for sprouting avocado seeds involved a jar of water, three or four wooden toothpicks, and a fresh avocado pit.  The method occasionally worked, but I lost my fair share of seeds to rot and forgetfulness.  If the seed didn’t rot where it was pierced by the toothpicks, then chances were I’d forget to top off the water and it would dry out.

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One can rarely raise an avocado tree, Persea americana, to actually generate avocado fruits in our climate.  The trees, and yes you need at least two to increase the chance that its flowers can be fertilized, must have winter protection.  Trees normally don’t flower or produce fruit until they are close to five years old, and may take longer than that.

A few hybrids have been developed that grow in Florida, and can withstand temperatures down to around 20F in winter.  But most varieties of avocado don’t respond well to any frost.  These subtropical trees will eventually grow to nearly 60′, which makes it a bit challenging to bring them in for our winter months.

Yet the young trees are very attractive, and some homes with large windows and high ceilings can accommodate at least a young tree.  Native to Mexico and Central America, Persea americana technically produces berries, not fruits.  Each avocado ‘berry’ has a single seed.  Flowers are produced in a panicle, like blackberry flowers, and so a whole group of avocados develop together from a central stem.

Commercially, avocado trees are grown from cuttings grafted onto various rootstocks because the hybrid parent won’t produce seeds true to itself.  It is still worthwhile to grow an avocado tree from a seed at home, for the fun of it, and to enjoy the tree as a winter houseplant and summer time potted patio plant.

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We ate a lot of avocados in late winter and early spring.  What can I say?  Avocado on toast, topped with a slice of tomato, sustained us through our cold, wet spring.  And those seeds were just too good to throw away.   I decided to try out a few different ways to sprout them.

I’ve been starting cuttings, especially broken pieces from our Christmas cactus plants, in wine glasses partially filled with fine aquarium gravel for a while.  One day, I decided to plop a particularly fine looking avocado pit into one of those glasses to see what would happen.

When starting an avocado seed partially suspended in water, the idea is to have the water cover only the bottom third to half of the seed.  The pointed end of the seed is its top, where a stem will eventually emerge.  The rounded end is the bottom, which should be kept wet to stimulate root growth.  It made perfect sense to me to simply set the seed on the gravel, partially fill the glass with water, and see whether a root would emerge.

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This root comes out of the very bottom of the seed, directly into the aquarium gravel, and isn’t visible through the glass.

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Avocado pits are clunky things, and the initial root is thick and sturdy.  The pit must first crack before the root will emerge from the center of the seed.   It’s also from the crack in the seed that a stem will eventually emerge, weeks later, as the new plant begins to grow.  Perhaps the long duration of this initial germination is what invites rot when the seed is pierced by toothpicks and then suspended over a jar of water.  I changed out the water in the glasses frequently to  keep everything fresh.

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While I was waiting for these seeds to germinate (and my counter space was filling with wine glasses) I was inspired to try the same method I’d used earlier for date seeds, to see whether avocado seeds would respond.

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This seed has been wrapped and bagged for more than a month now, and is beginning to show a root. I’ll pot it up in another week or two.

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After cleaning up the seed of any clinging avocado fruit, I simply wrapped up the seed in a damp paper towel, sealed it into a zip lock sandwich bag, and popped it into a cupboard.  Yes, into a cupboard.  I used a cupboard over the stove, where I knew the seeds would stay warm as they germinated.  Check on them as you think about it.  Sealed into the bag, the seeds will stay moist enough to begin to germinate without rotting in standing water.  After a month or more, you will see a root begin to emerge.

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Once the seed’s root has emerged, pot up the seed in good potting soil, and keep it just damp while waiting for the stem.  I potted up a group of seeds and left them in my basement work area until their stems emerged, which is why the stem is pink and not green!  Now, I’ll bring it out into the light as it continues to grow.

Please notice that the seed should be planted at the soil surface, not completely buried in the soil.  You can get some interesting effects by planting the seed very shallowly, leaving most of the seed visible as the tree begins to grow.

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The one green stem has been growing up in the garage, where it gets some light. I’ll move all of these pots out onto the deck by the weekend.  Only partially bury the seed in soil when you initially pot it up.

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If your seeds germinate in spring, you can grow them outside, in a protected location, for their first season.  Remember to bring them inside before frost, giving them as much light as you can.  If your seeds germinate before outside temperatures remain at least in the 50s, then keep the growing trees indoors until the weather is settled.

Give the tree good potting soil, feed with a time released fertilizer like Osmacote or use a product like Neptune’s Harvest every few weeks during the growing season.  Re-pot the trees as their roots fill the pot, or trim the roots and prune the canopy to dwarf the plant.

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This is a great activity to do with any botanically inclined young person in your life.   It allows for a close-up examination, in very slow motion, of the germination process and the initial growth of roots and stems.

Allow young people to experiment with the germination process,  draw the seed in various stages of growth, photograph the growing plant, and write about their sprouting tree.  Home school parents can bring in lots of interesting history, geography, food preparation and math to add depth to the botany.

Or, one can simply start the seeds for the sheer joy of it, and have a bit of fun with avocado plants!

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Nature is messy. Don’t worry so much about always getting it ‘right.’   Have fun and watch the process unfold….

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Wildlife Wednesday: Life Everywhere

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There is always excitement in the air as families gather, greetings as each group arrives,  hugs all around, and plenty of stories to share.   Early summer carries that same vibe for me as all of the various creatures who share our garden make their seasonal debut.

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This same turtle who visited on our patio earlier this week turned up again in the upper garden this morning.  She was laying her eggs near a rose of Sharon tree in a shaded and protected place.  I happened upon her while out watering, and greeted her warmly.

I always feel a bit honored when turtles choose to lay their eggs in our garden and hope to be out and about when the baby turtles emerge from the earth several weeks on.

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August 2014

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A Monarch fluttered past while I was watering this morning, too.  And I noticed our first hummingbirds on Monday.  The lizards have been active for several weeks already, sunning by the kitchen door and skittering under vines or through the grass with our approach.

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A group of three Tiger Swallowtails enjoyed these Ligustrum flowers last Sunday.

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Our garden is filled with birds and alive with squirrels.  The birdsong begins before dawn most days, and I often catch a cardinal perched outside our kitchen window, keeping watch over what is happening inside.  The birds love to nest in shrubs near the house, and we watch over their comings and goings as they watch over ours.

Our garden has filled with life: dragonflies, butterflies, bats at dusk and owls calling from the ravine.

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Lizards love to hide under the vines and around the pots, where they find plenty to drink.

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It’s not all good.  Squirrels and deer bring ticks.  Mayflies haunt our every mid-day move, mosquitoes angle for a bit of skin, and  the chiggers have also returned.  Deer are finding ways into the garden and munching despite our best efforts with deterrents.

I love the sweet surprise of a turquoise dragonfly hovering nearby, or a hummingbird buzzing in close in search of nectar.  We hear more creatures than we see, and know others are lurking in the shadows of the ravine.

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Ours is a wild garden, made to supply the wild things’ needs for food and water, shelter and places to nest.  There are no poisons or traps, no noxious chemicals washing into the water or soil.  There is sanctuary and peace; most of the time…. 

(I’ll leave it to your imagination what happens when we happen to notice a deer grazing on a shrub….  But families are noisy and annoying, too, sometimes.)

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August 2016

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Every creature has its place in the web of life.  And especially us, who have the wisdom to protect and the power to destroy this fragile place that is our own home.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Butterflies on Asclepias syriaca along the Colonial Parkway (and below)

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“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments —

there are consequences.”
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Robert G. Ingersoll

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Sunday Dinner: Relaxed

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“I want to put the ever-rushing world on pause
Slow it down, so that I can breathe.
These bones are aching to tell me something
But I cannot hear them.”

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Lucy H. Pearce

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“Just breathing can be such a luxury sometimes.”

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Walter Kirn

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“The secret of relaxation is in these three words:

‘Let it go”!”

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Dada J. P. Vaswani

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“The attitude of Tao is of cooperation, not conflict.

The attitude of Tao is not to be against nature

but to be with it, to allow nature,

to let it have its way, to cooperate with it,

to go with it.

The attitude of Tao is of great relaxation.”

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Osho

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“Your calm mind

is the ultimate weapon

against your challenges.

So relax.”

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Bryant McGill

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“Now this relaxation of the mind from work

consists on playful words or deeds.

Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man

to have recourse to such things at times.”

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Thomas Aquinas

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“Man is so made that

he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor

by taking up another. ”

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Anatole France

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“I wish you water.”

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Wallace J. Nichols 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.”
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John Lennon

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Six On Saturday: In Leaf

Zantedeschia catches the setting sun in our upper garden.

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Brightly colored flowers always catch my eye at the nursery.  We all respond in our own peculiar way to color.

But more and more, when I’m choosing plants for my own garden, I’m more drawn to the intricate details of beautiful leaves.

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Hosta leafs out amid wild violets and ferns.

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Anyone who assumes that leaves are just monotonous green may find a new world waiting once they open their eyes and notice the wonderful colors, shapes, and texture available with foliage.  Combining leaf textures and shape can be even more interesting than designing with flowers.

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Colocasias with dwarf pomegranate

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Leaves grow in countless shades of green.  They surprise us with many other brilliant colors, too.  Most any color found in a flower may find its echo in a leaf.

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Caladium ‘Southern Charm’ is a new introduction from Classic Caladiums this year.  This new Caladium will thrive in full to partial sun.

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Beautiful veins, interesting shapes, crinkled surfaces, variegation and surprising textures can make foliage as ornamental as flowers.  Leaves emerge and persist for weeks or months, while most flowers fade in just a few days.

Foliage forms and fills a garden, while flowers appear briefly as highlights.

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Many of my favorite foliage plants are returning, expanding, and filling our garden with interest and beauty this week.  I greet them like old friends, delighting in their fresh new leaves.

Many that overwintered inside as tubers or dormant in pots are awaking, and waiting in their nursery pots for me to plant them out in their summer spaces.  Sometimes it takes time to discern the best spot for each plant, and to group good companions together.

Like smearing paints on canvas, I plant living colors and forms in garden soil.    Unlike paint, which mostly stays where it’s put, plants move, expand, intermingle and respond to moisture, light and heat.  Their colors change with the weather; they arise and wither with time’s changing winds.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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Just a peak into the shady nursery, where my plants grow on and wait their turn for planting out.

 

Sunday Dinner: Early Summer’s Golden Rays

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“We went down into the silent garden.

Dawn is the time when nothing breathes,

the hour of silence.

Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.”

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Leonora Carrington

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“I had forgotten how much light

there is in the world,

till you gave it back to me.”

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Ursula K. Le Guin

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.

Because he believes in miracles,

miracles begin to happen.

Because he is sure that his thoughts can change his life,

his life begins to change.

Because he is certain that he will find love,

love appears.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“I am part of a light, and it is the music.

The Light fills my six senses: I see it, hear, feel,

smell, touch and think.

Thinking of it means my sixth sense.

Particles of Light are written notes.

One bolt of lightning can be an entire sonata.

A thousand balls of lightening is a concert.

For this concert I have created a Ball Lightning,

which can be heard on the icy peaks of the Himalayas.”

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Nikola Tesla

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“One does not become enlightened

by imagining figures of light,

but by making the darkness conscious.

The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable

and therefore not popular.”

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C.G. Jung

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“Whatever you are physically…male or female,

strong or weak, ill or healthy-

-all those things matter less

than what your heart contains.

If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior.

All those other things, they are the glass

that contains the lamp,

but you are the light inside.”

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Cassandra Clare

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“Oh phosphorescence.

Now there’s a word to lift your hat to…

To find that phosphorescence, that light within —

is the genius behind poetry.”

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William Luce

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“It may be that you are not yourself luminous,

but that you are a conductor of light.

Some people without possessing genius

have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“You have to be transparent
so you no longer cast a shadow
but instead let the light pass through you.”
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Kamand Kojouri

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Six On Saturday: Flowers In Bloom

Our first white coneflowers, Echinacea, opened yesterday.  Each flower lasts for a very long time. Pollinators frequent the flowers over several weeks. Once the petals finally drop, goldfinches delight in picking out the tasty seeds. Coneflower remains a presence in our garden all summer, producing new flowers deep into the season.

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The few weeks after Azaleas fade and Iris finish bring a brief lull in the garden.  Our trees are fully covered now in deep green and shrubs cover themselves with tender new growth.  Now is a good time to take softwood cuttings, if you want to clone any woodies.

Most gardeners keep secateurs close at hand as we deadhead spent flowers and sometimes need to clip a path for ourselves through vigorous new growth.

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African blue basil remains one of my favorite annual flowering herbs. I grow it for the sweetly scented flowers and rarely cut it for cooking. Once the flowers finish, goldfinches swoop in to claim the seeds. This basil continue flowering and growing all summer long.

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I’ve done more trimming than planting this week as I continue to tame the rampant goldenrod and obedient plant claiming too much real estate in our front perennial beds and the thuggish cutleaf coneflower shading out its companions in the butterfly garden.  Abundant rain and warm weather fuels this early summer growth spurt, as plants increase by inches a day.

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Verbena bonariensis, a South American native Verbena, is one of my favorite perennials at the moment. I have planted it in beds and pots this year. I’ve learned that it self-sows generously, and returns more vigorously with each passing year. I saw a friend’s plant that had grown into a small woody shrub and fooled me, as I thought it was a butterfly bush leafing out last month!  All Verbenas prove magnets for butterflies and other pollinators.

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But looking across the front garden I don’t see as much color this week.  And so I walked our garden paths, camera in hand, to see what new flowers have appeared as we transition from spring ephemerals to summer’s perennials.

Most of these flowers will continue for several weeks more, if not for several months.  Some will bloom on from now until frost.  Spring’s exuberance settles now into summer’s steadiness.

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Garlic chives are always the first of our Alliums to bloom in May. They spread a bit more each year. These are an edible herb, a good pollinator plant, and add color during early summer.

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I brought home a new rose colored Salvia today and a beautiful new coral Agastache.  I am looking forward to their bold color shining in the garden for many weeks ahead.

Spring is all about the flowers, but summer color comes more reliably from interesting foliage.  Flowers come and go, bloom and fade and fall.  They bring in the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, but they fade all too quickly.

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Spiraea japonica blooms reliably each May, and will re-bloom if deadheaded. This is a very traditional shrub, left by a previous gardener, and may be cut for the vase.

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I’m most excited this week about all of the deep red Canna plants growing by the day, tubs of Caladiums and Alocasias ready to take their places throughout the garden, and a growing collection of beautiful coleus.  But our winter Violas are still going strong in their pots, and they are so colorful I am loathe to pull them before they fade.  Our summer foliage plants continue to wait on the Violas and snaps for their turn in our summer pots.

Another steamy summer settles over the garden, and the garden is transforming itself yet again, as our perennials emerge and grow.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ keeps these deep ruby leaves all year long, even through winter.  It is a special treat when its flowers emerge in early summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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“At last came the golden month of the wild folk-

– honey-sweet May,

when the birds come back,

and the flowers come out,

and the air is full of the sunrise scents

and songs of the dawning year.”
.

Samuel Scoville Jr

Plants Want to Live

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis

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The snow fell so fast and wet, that it was already bending the branches of our large dogwood tree so low they nearly touched the deck.   By the time I realized what was happening, I could hear cracks and crashes where trees all around us were having branches ripped off under the weight of such a heavy snow, in mid-December, before the trees had a chance to harden up for winter.

I grabbed a coat, hat and broom and went to work, knocking globs of snow off the dogwood’s branches, allowing them to spring back to a more normal posture.  After knocking off all the snow I could reach from the deck, I headed out into the yard to do the same on trees and shrubs all around the garden.

I could hear sirens in the distance that afternoon, and took a call from a neighbor telling me our neighborhood entrance was blocked by fallen trees. We listened to the groans and snaps of trees into the night, and the following day, under the weight of that unusual snow.

We lost three trees that day and our tall bamboo was bent to the ground, where it froze in place and remained for more than a week.  Bamboo stalks fell across our fig tree and across the fern garden, like an icy roof.  It took a few weeks, after the thaw, to clean up enough to truly assess the damage.

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December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even get to them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

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Our great old redbud tree was bent even further by the weight of the snow-laden bamboo.  Already  leaning towards the sun, the tree leaned at a precipitous angle up hill, its roots nearly in the ravine at the bottom of the yard, and its major branches now resting in the fern garden.  Many branches broke, others needed drastic pruning.  But the roots held, and we cleaned up the tree as well as we could and determined to wait for spring to see how it responded.

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New growth emerges from our broken redbud tree.

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Well, plants want to live.  And this tree is determined to make the best of an awkward situation.  We have been amazed to see how much new growth the tree has produced since March.

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There is a rhythm to tending a garden.  We plant, we tend, we prune, and we stand in awe as our plants become established and take off to grow according to their own patterns.  Like watching a young adult child find their way in the world, our woodies and perennials often have a mind of their own as they claim their space in the garden, reproduce, and grow into their potential.

Sometimes that is a wonderful thing and we admire the maturing plant’s beauty.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Sometimes that is a terrifying thing as we see a plant rapidly claim the garden’s real estate, shading and crowding out the many other (more?) desirable plants we want to grow.

Kindness can turn against us, sometimes, when we welcome a little gift plant from a well meaning friend, finding a spot for it in our garden and tending it through its first year or two.

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Rudbeckia laciniata, a native that feeds wildlife, and an unapologetic thug that has taken over our ‘butterfly garden.’  This came as an uninvited guest with a gift of Monarda from a gardening friend.

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Sometimes the plant gifts itself to us as a windblown or bird-sown seed.  It grows, and we give it a chance to show us what it can become.  And then, Wham!  Suddenly, it has become an outsized monster and we do battle with it to keep it in bounds, or sometimes eradicate it entirely.

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Mid-September 2018, and the Solidago, goldenrod, had just begun to bloom.

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I am way too kind when it comes to such plants.  My curiosity gets the better of my good sense.  I let that little plant grow out just to watch it, and then it has seeded all over the place and I’m spending time trying to get it back under control, and rescue plants about to be completely strangled and starved by this newcomer.

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The Devil’s Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, in full bloom and covered by bees in late summer.  This native tree will grow tall, with it trunk covered in sharp thorns.

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The first of the Solidago showed up two summers ago.  It was a novelty.  I had just joined the Virginia Native Plant Society and I was trying to reform my natural preference for pretty imported hybrids and welcome more natives to the garden.  I let it grow.

Then last summer, I was amazed at how many very tall goldenrods grew up.  But I was busy.  I didn’t have much time in my own garden, and I let them grow.

My partner grumbled as they topped 6′ high, but I felt smugly virtuous for giving space to these native plants and supporting the pollinators.  We enjoyed the butterflies and they were pretty once they bloomed golden and lush.  I cut them down in December, but not soon enough.  By then there were seeds, everywhere.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Edgeworthia, Camellia, Rudbeckia, Solidago and the surrounding trees create layers of texture in early September 2018.

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And just in the last two weeks, those little goldenrods have grown inches a day, it seems.  My partner came to me on Monday with that look of determination I know so well.  They were growing out into our ever narrowing paths.  A deer had gotten into the front garden, and we couldn’t even see where it was hiding for the lush growth.  I had to do something….

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The new stand of Solidago, cut back to allow black eyed Susans and other perennials space to grow….

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And that is how it came to be that I was taking the string trimmer to my perennial beds Monday evening, under observation, cutting down as many of those Solidago plants as I could until the battery gave out.  Our neighbors paused on the street, wondering if I’d lost my mind, cutting down every plant in sight.

We were back at it early Tuesday morning, and the day I’d planned to spend planting pots went to cutting, pulling, pruning, and generally editing our front garden to remove not only the Solidago, but also the small forest of devil’s walking stick trees growing up from a frighteningly wide network of roots.

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Another little Aralia, looking for space to grow…

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That was another volunteer that I let grow ‘to see what it would do.’  The summer flowers attract clouds of butterflies and bees.  The lovely purple berries are favorites of our song birds.  The huge, palm frond like leaves grow quickly as the tree shoots up, several feet per year.  Its trunk is covered in long, sharp spines.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looked rather tropical as its first leaves emerged in April of 2017.

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This Virginia native is a great tree for wildlife.  But our neighbor warned me, when I offered him one, about its roots.  He told of having to hack it back each summer at his family home when he was a teen.  I listened politely, and let our Aralia spinosa grow on, a novelty in the front garden.

But it fell in our October hurricane and my partner took that opportunity, which I was away, to cut away the main tree entirely.  And I’ve been cutting out a dozen or more sprouts every week since mid-March.

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Yet another goldenrod or obedient plant, growing up under one of our Hydrangea shrubs.  It takes a sharp eye to spot them all, and a bit of balance and agility to reach them all!

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Some were hiding in the goldenrod forest, nestled between other shrubs and cozying up to our emerging Cannas.  What the weed eater couldn’t reach, I managed to cut with my secateurs.  Like a weird game of twister, I found footing among the Cannas and goldenrod stubble and cut those thorny stalks back as close to the ground as I could reach.

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A part of our fern garden, where ferns are filling in as a complete ground cover on a steep bank. 

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Plants just want to live.  Their business is to reproduce, grow, and make as many seeds as possible.  This is a basic principle that every gardener has to face.

The wilder the plant, usually the more determined it will be.  Like the Japanese stilt grass I pull out by the handfuls every year from April to December.  Like the bamboo that tries to march up the hill from the ravine every spring, and that we find growing feet in a day sometimes, until we discover it and break it back to the ground.  We’ve learned the squirrels love gnoshing on fresh bamboo shoots.

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The march of the bamboo up the hill back in early May of 2014.  We have to control the growth up towards the garden each spring.

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To make a garden is to offer a weird sort of universal hospitality.  Whatever you think you might want to grow, nature has its own ideas.   Weeds happen. 

I chuckle to myself at native plant sales to see plants I pulled as ‘weeds’ the first few years we lived here, sold as desirable ‘native plants’ at a respectable price.  There is wild Ageratum, and Indian strawberry, wax myrtle and golden ragwort.  Our front yard hosts a growing patch of fleabane, Erigeron annus, each spring.  It crowds out the ‘grass’ and blooms for a solid month, around the time the daffodils are fading.

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Native fleabane, probably Erigeron pulchellus, grow in our front lawn. A short lived perennial, this patch grows a bit larger each year. After it finishes flowering, we mow this part of the ‘lawn’ once again.

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Each of us has to make our own peace with the native plants our area supports.  Last year, I decided the pokeweed had to go.  I pulled and cut for months, but I prevented that from going to seed.  I’ve found one huge plant so far this year and a few small seedlings.  They will soon be eradicated, too.

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Pokeweed has overgrown the Salvia, Colocasia and Hibiscus that have grown here for the last several summers. They are just holding on beneath its shade in August 2017.  We lost the Salvia that year, but the Colocasias remain.

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I walk among the growing oaks that I ‘allowed’ to grow when they were only inches tall.  Every seedling demands a decision from the gardener.  Can it grow here?  How will this change the rest of the garden?

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are also native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and the seeds they drop.  They are great for pollinators, last many weeks, and make nice cut flowers.  By cutting back the Solidago this week, I hope these will fill in this part of the garden once again.

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Those are the sorts of questions one must ask every month of every year, to keep a garden in balance.  Those are the questions to keep in mind when shopping at the nursery, or the plant sale, too.

Curiosity is a good thing.  But wisdom and a bit of self-discipline are even better.

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The ferns I planted in the hollow stump of this peach tree, lost to the December storm, are growing well.  And, the stump itself is sending up new growth. from its living roots.  Plants just want to live

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Seedling redbud trees continue to grow at the base of the stump.

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