The Yorktown Onion


Locals in our area enjoy the spectacular early summer bloom of naturalized “Yorktown Onions” as they drive the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.  Thousands of brilliant magenta flowers nod and bob in the breeze from late May through mid-June.

The National Park Service leaves broad areas along the roadsides unmown each spring, so that these distinctive flowers may grow and bloom, surrounded by beautiful grasses.   By late June, these stands of wildflowers will be gone; the fields and grassy shoulders neatly mown once again.



The battlefields at Yorktown also hold broad swathes of these beautiful Alliums in early summer, to be followed by a steady progression of wildflowers, including thistle, as the months pass.  These historic Revolutionary War battlefields, now wildflower meadows, escape the mowers until fall.  But you’ll often see herds of deer grazing here in the early morning and at dusk, and clouds of wild birds feeding as the various seeds ripen.



If you’re visiting, please resist the urge to pick or pull the onions.  York County passed an ordinance protecting the Yorktown Onion many years ago.  They may not be picked or harvested on public land.

But these are a quintessential ‘pass along plant.’   If you’re lucky enough to know someone growing them on private property, you may be able to beg some seeds or sets to start your own patch.



I believe we make more drives along the Colonial Parkway when the onions bloom each year.  We marvel at their wild, random beauty.  Their tiny blossoms prove magnets for bees and other pollinators.  The Yorktown Onion is one of many beautiful wildflowers visitors enjoy along the Parkway each summer.



Native in Europe and in parts of the Near and Middle East, historians suggest that seeds were brought to Yorktown during the Colonial or Revolutionary eras.    These particular Alliums are one of many Allium species you might choose for your own garden.  The Yorktown Onion, Allium ampeloprasum, may be purchased from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs  in Gloucester, along with more than 30 other Allium cultivars.  The Yorktown Onion, like other Alliums, wants full sun.  They are drought tolerant and hardy in Zones 4-8.

Also known as ‘wild leeks’ or ‘wild garlic,’ these beautiful flowers are exceptionally easy to grow.  Basically, plant them where they’ll thrive, and then leave them alone!  They don’t like to be disturbed, and will gradually increase to a more substantial display each year.

The Heath’s grow their onion sets from seed, thus the dear price they charge for the “Yorktown” Alliums in their catalog.  If you want the general effect, without the boutique pricing, you might try the very, very similar A. ‘Summer Drummer.’  This nearly identical tall (4′ +) burgundy Allium may be purchased in groups of 5 bulbs for the same price as a single Yorktown Allium bulb.


Allium bud as it begins to open in our own garden, June 1 of this year.


If you want something a bit shorter and less likely to fall over with the weather, consider planting chives, garlic chives, or even just onion sets or garlic cloves bought at a farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocery.  You might be a bit surprised at what beautiful flowers show up in your garden!

Chives thrive in our garden.  The clumps expand, and their seeds readily self-sow each summer.  Use them in cooking and enjoy their edible flowers as garnishes.   Dried Allium flowers look very nice in dried arrangements or used to decorate wreathes or swags.


Allium buds in our garden, late May


I began planting Alliums to protect other plants from hungry deer.  I’ve learned that their strong fragrance can confuse the deer nose, and possibly deter deer from reaching across them to nibble something tasty.  Like other deer deterrents, Alliums work often, but not always, to protect the garden.

That said, why not grow Alliums for their own special beauty?  It is one of the short list of plants with a fairly iron-clad guarantee to not be nibbled.



We stopped along our drive yesterday evening at Jone’s Millpond to enjoy the view and the wildflowers.  It is one of the few places along the Parkway where you may park and get an up-close view of the Yorktown Onions.  Even at dusk, the bumblies were busily feeding on the tiny flowers which make up each globe.

There is something about seeings hundreds, or thousands of these flowers naturalized across a wild field, that mesmerizes.  This is an effect it would be difficult to duplicate in one’s own garden.

I hope you’ll find yourself in our area when the Yorktown Onions bloom some summer soon.  At the end of your trek, in old Yorktown proper, you’ll find a sandy beach and a little gift shop called “The Yorktown Onion” nestled under the Coleman Bridge.

The journey is the destination….



Woodland Gnome 2017

Nature Challenge Day 7: In Motion

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Everything we know, everything we dream, remains in motion. 


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Never a second of stillness or rest; every particle of our lives from the most distant star to the tiniest electron in our heart, remains dizzily spinning its dance of life.


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And so it is with every bird and fish, every drop of water, and everything green and growing. 

Our only response remains to dance along with life. 


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Some may wish to grasp the moment and hold it still; to stop time, if only for a little while. 

But if we ever succeed, we find that moment opening into a doorway to the deeper layers of life.  We pass through to some wider knowing, some greater vision.  But we remain in motion along the winding path of our being.


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And so we become ‘Lords and Ladies of the Dance,’ flowing along with the worlds we shape. 


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We hear the humming of insects, the crashing of waves, the crack of thunder, the whistling of wind, the call of geese, and a newborn’s cry as echoes of our own voice; the sound of life in motion.


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Woodland Gnome 2016


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Blogging friend, Y., invited me to join the Seven Day Nature Challenge last Saturday from her new site, In the Zone.  I appreciate the invitation, as it has challenged me to find something to post each day over the last week.  I have enjoyed sharing some of the beauty of a Virginia May with everyone who visits Forest Garden.  And I’ve definitely enjoyed the daily exchange in comments with Y., and everyone else who has left a comment this week.

For this seventh day and last day of the challenge, I’ll invite you again to join in. This challenge has been out there for a while, and many nature photographers have already participated.  If you would like to take up the challenge, please accept in the comments and I’ll link back to you in a follow up post.


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Life is Art

Artist at work along the Colonial Parkway

Artist at work along the Colonial Parkway

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

I am still intrigued by the metaphor of gardening as the slowest form of  art.

Just as music and dance rely on the fourth dimension of  time for their unfolding and appreciation; so a garden slowly weaves itself together from its daily rations of water and light over weeks, months, and years.

We may wait more than a decade to see our vision grow into itself as saplings grow to trees, perennials slowly expand to fill their places, and vines progress in fits and starts to cover their supports.

Even within a single season, there is waiting for the tubers to sprout and the  roses to bloom.

Patience is a gardener’s most useful attitude; along with the inner vision required of an artist to visualize the work before the paints are mixed.

The Alliums bloom for only a few days out of each year, but they are such a brilliant sight!  They bloom wild along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.

The Alliums bloom for only a few days out of each year, but they are such a brilliant sight! They bloom wild along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Henry David Thoreau


Life is art.  If only we can remember to stop and appreciate the beauty which surrounds us each day.

Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638.  It was difficult for English gardeners to keep them alive until they learned to grow them in pots of moss standing in water.

Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638.

When we take time to visit a gallery or attend a concert we make a conscious choice to schedule time out of our daily lives to appreciate the art someone else has created.

When we sit down to sketch or play  or write we make the choice to take time to create something of our own.

And yet we live and breathe our daily lives surrounded by the ultimate creation.

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All art simply imitates and interprets what already IS in nature.

All that is required of us is to stop, observe, and appreciate.  We simply  make time to actively see and hear; to stop our constant conversation with ourselves to hear the whisper of beauty.

And perhaps to participate in its unfolding…

Astilbe in bloom at Forest Lane Botanicals nursery.

Astilbe in bloom at Forest Lane Botanicals nursery.

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

Friedrich Nietzsche


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014


Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange

Alliums grow wild along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown.

Alliums  and native grasses grow wild along the Colonial Parkway near Yorktown.

Challenge is the operative word this week.

“Jennifer’s Weekly Photo Challenge”  inspires all sorts of weird and wonderful photos.  Everyone who participates may interpret it in their own way, and Jennifer is unfailing gracious to all of us who participate.

I was particularly touched by the lengths to which Jennifer herself went last week to create an interesting photo for Glow In The Dark.

Just a wonderful bit of photo-wizardry.  And I realized that she is putting tremendous effort into the little worlds she creates as her own entries.

Asclepias incarnata just coming into bloom.  Do you think the yellow orange on the bee might count as orange?

Asclepias syriaca just coming into bloom. Do you think the yellow orange on the bee might count as orange?

But I play by my own set of rules for this challenge. 

Since “Forest Garden” is about things green and growing, I prefer to meet Jennifer’s challenge with garden-themed photos.

Dandelions somehow seem a little to yellow to count for orange....

Dandelions somehow seem a little to yellow to count for orange….

And, I prefer to use fresh photos, taken within the last few days.  No stale photos here, thank you very much!

But  June is not a very good time of year for taking photos of  “orange” in the garden.

Had Jennifer offered up her “orange” challenge in October, it would have been simpler.

But here is “orange” in the first week of June, before we even have decent day lilies to photograph!

These wild daisies have "almost orange" centers....

These wild daisies have “almost orange” centers….

So my partner and I went in search of  “orange” this evening.

And we found such wildflowers as one dreams of in January- only in shades of plum and cream, yellow and pink.

White Achillea just coming into bloom among the daisies and purple milk vetch.

White Achillea just coming into bloom among the daisies and purple milk vetch.

I had hoped the Milkweed plants I had seen growing by the pond would be open in beautiful orange blossoms this evening.

But when we arrived, I realized the Asclepias was A. syriaca, not A. tuberosa as I had hoped.

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That means these lovely flowers were pink, not orange.

The Monarchs are happy with either plant.

And so the search continued up and down the Colonial Parkway, and finally into the village at Yorktown.

These lovely lilies grow in someone's yard in the historic area of Yorktown.  I hope they don't mind that I took photos with out first explaining our quest for orange....

These lovely lilies grow in someone’s yard in the historic area of Yorktown. I hope they don’t mind that I took photos with out first explaining our quest for orange….

He spotted the orange Oriental lilies growing in someone’s yard.  I realized that was the closest we would get, and quickly snapped the photo.

Still, it felt a bit like cheating…

On the way back we stopped by Indian Field Creek, where there is a safe place to park beside the York River.

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We had noticed Egrets there on the drive to Yorktown. 

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The Egrets have returned to Williamsburg, and we were delighted to spot several this evening, both flying and wading.

As I turned to leave, finally driven away from the beach by biting flies, there it was.

The perfect photo for Jennifer’s “Orange”  challenge.

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We had been spotting orange highway signs all evening.  And I had refused to photograph them because they aren’t anything to do with gardens or wildlife.

But somehow, this one seemed OK, rising majestically from a sea of lovely Alliums and native grasses, here beside the York River.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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