“Only keep still, wait, and hear, and the world will open.”
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016
“And suddenly you know:
It’s time to start something new
and trust the magic of beginnings.”
Tips, tricks, and tools for gardening in a forest community
Is it possible to grow “underwater” plants in a terrarium? I’ve been playing with this idea for some time now.
I’m not thinking of an “aquarium,” with fish or snails or frogs. I’m wondering how the principals of making a “little world in a bottle” can be transferred to making a watery environment.
Books on terrariums seem to group their projects into three or four main categories. There are the ‘desert’ terrariums constructed from sand, rock, and succulent plants. These require very little water and need bright light.
There are the “jungle’ terrariums made for rooted plants which prefer high humidity. These have soil, moss, ferns, tropical plants, and often bits of lichens, wood, and stones.
There are those terrariums which hold air plants balanced on stone, wood, or sand; and the so called “fantasy” terrariums which may have only reindeer moss and decorative items.
The ‘water-world’ I was imagining wasn’t anywhere to be found in books on miniature gardens or terrariums.
And so I’m experimenting with one.
It made sense to look for water-loving plants at a nearby Petco. There is a decent selection, even in January. These tiny plants come packed in water absorbing gel in little clear plastic sleeves. I chose two ferns, Microsorium pteropus, ‘Windelov,’ commonly known as ‘Crested Java Fern’ and Trichomanes javanicum, or Aqua Fern.
I’ve trained myself to take a moment to search for information about new acquisitions, and it’s a good thing that I did a little research on both of these plants before planting them. Although aqua fern is commonly sold for use in aquariums, it is a terrestrial fern in nature. There is a lot of criticism in the articles I read of pet shops which sell this fern for aquarium use.
It can tolerate water up to a point, but prefers to grow in the air. Grown entirely underwater, it dies within a year or so.
The crested Java fern is not so picky. It can grow on land, partially submerged, or completely underwater.
But it should never be “planted” with its roots under soil. It grows from creeping rhizomes and must be anchored to a rock or piece of driftwood, and allowed to grow above the soil line of its environment.
All of this was useful information in thinking about how to plant my “aqua-terrarium.”
I realized that although the crested Java fern needs no soil, the aqua fern would benefit from having its roots anchored in soil and its leaves at least partially exposed to the air.
A base layer of glass shards and polished stones forms the base layer of this terrarium.
I topped this with a fairly thick layer of reindeer moss to hold the soil from shifting down among these stones.
The trick of this construction is to encase the soil as much as possible, to keep it from muddying the water. There is some leakage of soil, but I expect it to settle out over time.
I wrapped a large, attractive stone with gold plated jewelry wire, constructing a little spiral to anchor the roots of the crested Java fern. Rhizomes should eventually grow over the rock, and potentially spread across the gravel.
I covered the little bit of fresh potting soil as much as possible with large flat stones, and then pushed the roots of the aqua fern into a hole left in the soil. More small stones secure that fern in place.
Finally, I poured a thin layer of quartz sand over everything to seal and cover the soil, added bottled spring water, and added a few mineral specimens as accents.
As with all first attempts, I’m already considering how this could be better.
The container is perhaps a little small for two ferns. Maybe I should have skipped the potting soil entirely, and used only the crested Java fern in this construction. I may still pull it back out and give it its own container.
I”m also wondering whether the water is too high for the aqua fern. Maybe it should grow in a boggy environment with mosses instead of in this ‘aqua-terrarium.”
And of course, I would love to add one of those cute little frogs we spotted at Petco… But that presents its own challenges, and questions, doesn’t it?
I’ve placed this new ‘aqua-terrarium in bright but indirect light and will just observe it for a while.
I’m hoping you have an opinion or some advice in all of this…
What do you think about this genre of terrarium? How would you proceed? Is this an interesting little indoor winter garden?
I have mixed feelings about it.
I’m not sure that either fern is shown off to advantage with this configuration, but as they relax and adapt, they continue to improve in appearance.
I especially like the tips of the little crested Java fern as seen underwater. They somehow resemble frogs’ hands…
Posted in Aquatic Garden, Container gardening, Crafting with plant materials, Ferns, Garden planning, Gardening addiction, Gardening How-To, Nature art, Nature Photography, Plant photos, rhizome, Terrarium, Tips, Tools, and Techniques
Autumn is a time to come to terms with both the fantasy and the reality of gardening.
We fantasize about the beautiful garden we can create. We intend to grow delicious fruits and healthy vegetables. We see visions of beauty in areas of bareness, and imagine the great shrub which can grow from our tiny potted start.
I’ve come to understand that gardeners, like me, are buoyed on season to season and year to year by our fantasies of beauty.
I spend many hours pouring through plant catalogs and gardening books; especially in February.
And I spend days, sometimes, making lists of plants to acquire, shopping for them, and making sketches of where they will grow.
As far as fantasies go, I suppose that dreaming up gardens rates as a fairly harmless one. Expensive sometimes, but harmless in the grand scheme of things.
But there are times for planning and imagining; and there are times for dealing with the realities a growing garden presents.
I spent time bumping up against the realities, this morning, as I worked around the property; preparing for the cold front blowing in from the west.
I spent the first hour walking around with a pack of Double Mint chewing gum dealing with the vole tunnels. This is our new favorite way to limit the damage the ever-present voles can do.
Recent rain left the ground soft. My partner spent several hours and three packs of gum feeding the little fellas on Tuesday. So the damage I found today was much reduced, and I only used a pack and a half. Much of the tunneling was in the lawns, but I also found it around some of the roses.
Another hour was invested in deadheading, cutting away insect damage on the Cannas, pulling grasses out of beds and digging up weeds.
I wandered about noticing which plants have grown extremely well this year, and which never really fulfilled my expectations.
As well as our Colocasias and Cannas have done, the little “Silver Lyre” figs planted a year ago remain a disappointment.
Sold as a fast growing variety, these barely reach my knees. Between heavy clay soil which obviously needed more amendment and effort on my part at planting, and our very cold winter; they have gotten off to a very slow start.
I hope that they will catch up next year and eventually fulfill their potential as large, beautiful shrubs.
I admired the beautiful Caladiums, and procrastinated yet again on digging them to bring them inside. Maybe tomorrow….
Even knowing the weather forecast, I don’t want to accept that cold weather is so close at hand. I am reluctant to disturb plantings which are still beautiful.
I did begin bringing in Begonias today. And, I’m starting to make decisions about which plants can’t be brought inside.
Space is limited, and my collection of tender plants expands each year.
Each season brings its own challenges. There are the difficult conditions brought by heat and cold, too much rain and drought.
Then there are the challenges brought on by the rhythms of our lives.
I’ve been away from the garden a great deal this spring and summer. And when I’ve been home, I’ve often been too tired to do the tasks which have other years become routine.
What I was doing with loved ones was far more important than trimming, weeding and fertilizing in the garden.
And my partner has helped a great deal with the watering this year. But the neglect shows.
I am surveying the reality of which plants were strong and soldiered on without much coddling; and which didn’t make it.
I pulled the dead skeletons of some of them today.
This is a garden which forces one to face the facts of life… and death. It is probably a good garden for me to work during this decade of my life.
At times effort brings its own rewards. Other times, effort gets rewarded with naked stems and the stubble of chewed leaves.
It forces one to push past the fantasies which can’t make room for disappointment and difficulties; for evolution and hard-won success.
The wise tell us that all of the suffering in our lives results from our attachments.
That may be true. And yet, I find joy even in this autumnal mood of putting the garden to bed for the season.
Even as I plan for the coming frost, and accept that plants blooming today soon will wither in the cold; I find joy in the beauty which still fills the garden.
I am deeply contented with how I have grown in understanding and skill, while gardening here, even as my garden has grown in leaf and stalk.
And I am filled with anticipation for how the garden will grow and evolve in the year to come.
It is a work in progress, as are we all.
While fantasies may lead us onwards and motivate us to make fresh efforts each day; so reality is a true teacher and guide.
Our challenge remains to see things just as they are. To be honest with ourselves, learn from our experience, and find strength to make fresh beginnings as often as necessary as we cultivate the garden of our lives.
Posted in Ageratum, Annuals, Autumn, Autumn Garden, Beautyberry, Begonia, Caladium, Coleus, Colocasia, Container flower gardening, Environmental Preservation, Ferns, fig tree, Fuschia, Garden planning, Gardening addiction, Gardening How-To, Gardening in Williamsburg, Holly, James City Co. VA, Lycoris, Nature art, Perennials, Perma Culture, Plant photos, Shade Gardening, Use of Native Plants, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Snow began falling late yesterday afternoon, after a day of wind and plummeting temperatures.
It began in the half-light an an early dusk, and continued on into the night. Our lawn turned shiny white within the first hour.
We chose to leave up the Christmas lights on the deck and front shrubbery in hopes of snow, and were not disappointed. They illuminated the snowy night.
All trace of clouds cleared out sometime after midnight, and the sun rose early over a snow covered garden.
A coastal storm, this snow stretches down into the outer banks of North Carolina much farther than usual, and up the coast to Maine. We ended up with about four inches here.
The bright sun is helping us clear walks and drive, but it won’t warm out of the 20s today.
A general snow day has been declared across the entire area, with everyone cautioned to stay at home when possible. Virginia is like that, at least here near the coast. Since we don’t have snow every winter, and rarely have much fall at a time, we just aren’t prepared to handle it the way other communities might be.
So, today is an extra day of vacation for many families . A beautiful snow day!
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014
Posted in animals, Beautyberry, birds, Ferns, Four Season Garden, Gardening addiction, Gardening in Williamsburg, Lantana, Nature art, Oregon Grape Holly, Perma-culture, Plant photos, Plants which feed birds, Trees, Use of Native Plants, VA, Zone 7B Cultural Information
Early in the spring of 2013, friends invited me over to see their Hellebores in bloom. We had discovered our common interest in these beautiful winter blooming perennials.
This was a special treat since they had just redone their garden, and they gave me a complete tour. As we walked around, an unusually beautiful shrub, in full bloom, drew my attention. “What is that? I’ve never seen anything quite like it!”
Elegant smooth branches glowed in the afternoon light, each holding clusters of tiny creamy flowers. This large, sculptural shrub commanded attention in the center of a network of pathways.
This was the day I fell in love with Edgeworthia chrysantha. We encountered one another again, only a few weeks later, at Homestead Garden Center. They helped me find the Edgeworthia among the huge variety of shrubs in the nursery.
As much as I wanted to grow one, I hesitated. I couldn’t visualize where it would have the correct growing conditions and place of honor it deserved in my garden.
It is a very good thing I hesitated back in April. Little did I know then how completely a June storm would transform my front “woods”, or that I would soon have heavy equipment rolling through my yard day after day disassembling our forest. Now the work is finished, and I”m getting used to the changes, including the change in light.
Which brings us back to Edgeworthia.
It likes a mix of sun and shade, and now it can grow well in any number of spots along the edges of the big, sunny open space where my Afghan figs will soon be growing.
Back at Homestead on Friday, when Dustin and I were looking at shrubs for the pot garden, we found three Edgeworthia left in stock. Even better, these shrubs were grown locally by the Patton family, and all three were healthy and beautifully shaped.
We chose one for the pot I was planting for This Century Art Gallery, and one for me to plant in our garden.
When I plant a shrub out in the garden, I generally plant it as the centerpiece of a new little garden bed.
Like constructing a quilt, I expect that one day these little islands of beauty will flow into one another to make something grand and beautiful. It is also a pragmatic approach.
Once I learned that every part of a daffodil is poisonous, including the roots, I began planting them around every new shrub.
The garden has been infested with voles since at least the day I planted the first anything in the ground here. I’ve lost too many new plants down their tunnels, and had too many shrubs stunted by voracious gnawing on their roots to put anything in the ground without protection. Daffodils are my insurance policy. I plant a ring of them around everything these days.
So once deciding where the new Edworthia would be most admired and enjoyed, near the drive, and shifting that spot several times to avoid major roots, I dug a hole large enough to accommodate the shrub and a ring of daffodils.
There are so many different views on how to prepare a planting hole. When I first began gardening, I learned, “Dig a $5 hole for a $1 plant”. Advice was to dig an area at least twice the size of the root ball, half again as deep, and generously amend the soil with compost and fertilizer.
Lately I’ve read experts who say that is unnecessary, and in some cases harmful. They recommend digging a hole just the right size, using the same soil taken out as back fill, and going lightly on the fertilizer. I think it depends a lot on the growing conditions in your own particular garden, and also on what you are planting.
For bare root roses, I dig a huge hole, tinker with the soil quite a bit, and do all sorts of interesting things. It can take half a day!
The many roots in this garden settle the question for me. I dig the biggest hole I can, remove the fewest established roots I can get by with, build up a little hill of compost on top of the ground around the root ball, which is generally high, and hope for the best. Somehow it works out.
This Edgeworthia got lucky. The spot I finally found allowed me to dig a hole 4″-5″ deeper than the root ball, and a bit wider. After cutting out the displaced roots, I poured in a generous serving of pea gravel, to greet the voles’ little hungry mouths, and a generous serving of Plant Tone.
All of this got mixed into the loose soil at the bottom of the hole, and then mixed again with a good bit of compost. Just like planting a pot, I smoothed this amended soil up the sides of the planting hole, and adjusted the depth so the root ball sat level with the surrounding ground.
This Edgeworthia had more root growth than the one which went in the pot, and a lot of roots were showing on top of the root ball. Since the weather is still warm, and its buds are forming, I didn’t want to shock it by pruning the roots back, but I did lift them gently away from the ball with the tip of my pocket knife.
“Roughing them up” a bit is actually a good thing as it encourages new growth out into the surrounding soil. Breaking up the roots on the bottom of the ball is as important as loosening the roots on the sides. All of this is done in the shade, of course, and just before planting.
Once the shrub was set in the hole, I added a little more gravel, and then began back-filling.
The soil that came out of the hole was surprisingly good: a nice mix of loose clay and dark rich dirt. I layered the soil with gravel and compost to a depth of about 6″ from the top, and then planted the first ring of bulbs.
Their bottoms need to be about 8″ deep, and so each was pushed down into the loose back fill. Once they were planted and covered, I watered the hole well to allow this much of the soil to settle and wash out any air pockets.
When the water drains, the rest of the hole can be filled, again in layers, ending with a light layer of compost covering the exposed roots on top of the root ball. A shrub should be planted at the level it grew in the pot, but when the roots are exposed, I put a light covering of compost over them as a mulch.
Next, I circled this initial hole with a second ring of daffodil bulbs; an Autumn Fern ready to move from the pot its grown in for a year to a more spacious accommodation in the ground; and the ground cover Creeping Jenny growing with it.
I dug a fairly large hole beside the shrub for the first two bulbs and the fern, backfilling with compost and the original soil. Then I spaced additional bulbs wherever I could dig a large enough hole, about every 8″ around the entire shrub. All of those lovely poisonous daffodil roots will grow together to make a protective ring around the shrub’s roots while it establishes.
Finally, I broke up the remaining root ball of Creeping Jenny, put hunks of it on top of the outer ring of bulbs, and covered the whole outer ring with additional compost.
Now, this is a totally unorthodox planting method- planting on top of the ground. But it works. Creeping Jenny are very tough. They root from every leaf node along the stem. I’ll keep this watered until they take hold, and soon they will form a beautiful chartreuse ground cover around this entire area.
After watering everything well one more time, I left the new planting to settle. In a few weeks, I’ll come back with 6 packs of violas and small bulbs of Grape Hyacinths, Crocuses, perhaps some Siberian Squill; and develop the area around the shrub a bit more. By the end of October, this entire area along the drive will be planted in violas ready to bloom their hearts out all winter and into next spring.
All photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013-2014
Posted in Bulbs, Daffodils, Deer management, Early spring garden, Edgeworthia, Ferns, Garden planning, Gardening addiction, Gardening How-To, Gardening in Williamsburg, Organic Gardening, Perennials, Perma Culture, Perma-culture, Plant photos, Plants which attract butterflies, Plants which attract pollinating insects, Spring, Tips, Tools, and Techniques, VA, Vole management, Zone 7B Cultural Information