Woodland Tableau

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Cathy, at  Rambling in the Garden, urges us to bring cut flowers indoors for a vase each Monday.  But instead of filling a vase, I’ve made my foliage arrangement today in small pots.

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My inspiration came from an intriguing photo in the fall 2016 Country Gardens magazine.  In the article, ‘The Splendor of Seedpods;” there is a log centerpiece, covered in moss, small ferns, Rex Begonias and various seedpods.  It is simply stunning. 

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But, copying this arrangement meant finding a partially hollowed out log of the right size for one’s table.  The more I thought about putting a real decaying log in my dining room, and the little bugs which might come with it, the more I searched for another way to accomplish a similar effect.

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Center pot from Mossy Creek pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

Begonia Rex in a hand thrown pot  from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

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My version uses a handmade pottery tray as the base.  The  ferns, ivy, and Rex Begonias are all potted, then their pots arranged with small animals, bits of glass and stones.  Moss pulled from the garden finishes each little pot.

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The three main pots are cast clay, shaped to look like stones.  I’ve grown succulents in them most years, but they’ve been empty for the past several months.  They recycled nicely into this arrangement.

The two glazed pots came from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.   The tray was found at a tag sale a few years ago.  But it is a signed original, and I enjoy it very much.

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The classic terra cotta pot has languished in my potting area for several years, awaiting inspiration to find it a new use.  It, and the other pots with drainage holes were lined with a sheet of burlap before I filled them with good potting soil.  Lay a layer of aggregate, like pebbles, in any pots without drainage holes, before adding the plant and its soil.

I’ve chosen two tender ‘Tabletop’ ferns (Pteris species) and a division of a tender Lady fern from one of my hanging baskets.  These little ‘tropicals’ are easy to find at big box stores which sell little houseplants, and the needlepoint ivy and Begonia came from our local Lowes.

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This is a nice, relaxed, woodsy arrangement to carry us through the autumn months.  I can add a few little pumpkins or gourds in the weeks ahead.  All of these plants should grow fine in the low light of our dining room.

If you want to copy this design, be creative with re-purposing things you already have lying around.  I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week,  collecting the materials and plants before assembling it all this afternoon.  It can be great fun to find new ways to use containers already in ‘the collection.’

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I hope that Cathy will accept this humble aberration from her floral meme.  Eventually, those Begonias will sport blossoms, after all.

But I find great beauty in foliage, too, and appreciate its longevity.  This little arrangement should be alive and growing for many weeks on our dining table.

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Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a 'houseplant..'  These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a ‘houseplant.’ These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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‘Green Thumb’ Tip #7: Experiment!

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A sense of curiosity and wonder drive ‘normal people’ to transform themselves into dedicated gardeners.  We take pleasure in watching how plants grow.  Now, that isn’t a punch-line; it is a confession …

When I learn about a new plant, or a new (to me) cultivar of a more common plant; I often want to grow it myself to watch the process of is unfolding.  And I generally want to grow several in differing conditions to learn for myself how it performs, what makes thrive, and what it needs to look its best.  But most importantly, I’m curious whether I’ll like the plant; whether it is worth my investment of time and energy to grow in our garden.

We ‘click’ with some plants and dislike others.  It’s human nature.  But it’s hard to learn what we like and glimpse new possibilities for our garden space unless we are willing to take a chance growing new plants.  We learn much of what we know as gardeners through experimentation.

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Echinacea 'Green Envy,' which we planted for the first time last summer. All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

Echinacea ‘Green Jewel,’ which we planted for the first time last July.  All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

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Saying we’re “Watching the grass grow” is a joke simply because grass is both predictable and inevitable.  Why would we watch something like that?  We all pretty much understand grass.

Yet many good gardeners love it and can deliver a long monologue on which types are best and how to properly care for a healthy lawn.  That is their thing. 

Others of us delight with each patch of grass/weeds we convert into a bed for more beautiful plants….  And still other gardeners love growing the new cultivars of ornamental grasses coming to market each year.  They take pleasure in watching the wind set their Miscanthus and Carex dancing in the changing light.  But how will we ever take pleasure in the beauty of Carex mixing among other perennials, unless we are willing to experiment with planting a few?

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Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn't sold as 'Thailand Giant,' but I'm beginning to wonder.....

Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn’t sold as ‘Thailand Giant,’ but I’m beginning to wonder…..

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Many frustrated gardeners who boast of their ‘brown thumb’ may be growing the wrong plants.  They may not feel confident in buying plants they haven’t already seen neighbors and friends growing in their gardens.  Or maybe they are growing familiar plants in the wrong conditions or with inconsistent care.  A more pleasing garden will result when they begin to experiment with fresh ways of doing things.

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This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia, Hellebores and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

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Experiments help us learn.  We observe more closely.  Perhaps we do a little reading to guide us.  We take chances we might otherwise avoid.  We learn from the results of our experiments without blaming ourselves if the results aren’t what we hoped.  After all, it was an experiment, not a commitment!

After a few experiments we’ll have a little more experience to guide us in our gardening decisions.  Eventually, after years of trial and error, we will shape our outdoor spaces into places which please us and bring us joy.  That is the point of gardening, isn’t it?

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Colocasia 'Coffee Cups' sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3' and 4' high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3′ and 4′ high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

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Our garden remains an ongoing experiment.  We experiment with various ways to keep deer out of the garden.  And nothing so far has proven 100% effective….   Thus, we also experiment with growing beautiful plants the deer won’t graze when they find a way inside.  Our list continues to grow….

We experiment with how to grow perennials on heavy clay soil, how to protect shrubs from the ever hungry voles tunneling through much of the garden, how to adjust to our changing climate and how to preserve tender plants through four or five months of freezing weather.  We continue to experiment with new ways to construct simple, inexpensive raised beds

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We also experiment with several new plants each year.  This year we’re growing Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ and Alocasia ‘Stingray’ for the first time.  We’ve been experimenting with various Colocasia since the summer of 2014, and have six different varieties growing this year.  We’ve discovered at least two which will survive our winters outdoors.  This year I’ve added four different Alocasia cultivars to the mix, and I’m very pleased with how they are performing.  These plants all love intense heat so long as they are hydrated.  Some will take full sun, while others need shade.

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I thought I might have ruined this 'Voodoo Lily' tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

I thought I might have ruined this Sauromatum venosum or ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better.  Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

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Another experiment hasn’t gone so well.  I admire Begonia boliviensis, but have had little success with it in past years.  This year I began with seven huge, healthy tubers of Begonia boliviensis, ‘Bertini’, a cultivar said to do well in our hot, humid summers, which can take partial sun without burning, and that might overwinter.  I planted some in pots, another in a hanging basket, and set those containers in areas with various amounts of light.  None so far have pleased me.  Most, in fact, look abysmal, and there are zero photos to share.

When the soil is too wet, and the humidity to high, this plant collapses.  Native to the Andes Mountains, these plants naturally grow in a cooler climate on much thinner soil.  They cascade down the rocky slopes, roots tucked into a small crevice, thriving in thin, cool mountain air.  Our hot, humid Virginia summer stresses them out.  Even though they are blooming prolifically, the stems often rot and simply fall away.  I haven’t yet figured out the formula to keep them growing strong….

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Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This baskets spends the winter months in our garage.

Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This basket spends the winter months in our garage.

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We have several more ‘new to us’ plants just getting established in our garden this year.  Besides the C. ‘Desert Sunset’ we found last week, we are also enjoying Verbena ‘Lollipop;’  native Pycanthemum or Mountain Mint; some pretty Crocosmia given to us by a friend; a Cryptomeria ‘Black Dragon’ bought on impulse last fall;  several new Hydrangeas; and two little native Live Oak trees, Quercus virginiana, ordered from the Arbor Day Foundation.  It may take a few years for some of these to make an impact,  but I enjoy watching them sink their roots and begin to grow.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray's tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray’s tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.  The blue pot behind holds a Begonia Boliviensis tuber just gone bust…. I’ve transplanted some little Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’ divisions, wilting in our heat, to fill it while I hope for the Begonia to recover.

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Like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, some of us view our garden as a work in progress, constantly thinking of ways to renovate and make it better.  I would soon lose interest in a garden where I couldn’t experiment and try out new ideas year to year; where I wasn’t always learning and discovering new details of nature.

A garden grows into a unique ecosystem, alive and ever evolving.  Gardeners earn their green thumb by taking an active hand in guiding the many changes taking place each season.  We plant and we prune.  We enrich the soil, irrigate, feed; but also pull the weeds and remove the plants we don’t like.  We attract pollinators while eliminating pests and disease through careful management.

None of us has all the answers to the many questions which present themselves over time; but good gardeners set out to find those answers through their own experience and experimentation.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  It is wise to remain open to others’ experiences to save oneself a little frustration and pain.  A little research before welcoming a new plant can help avoid unfortunate and costly mistakes. 

Be careful of introducing invasive species just because they come cheap from a mail-order nursery.  Know whether a new plant will survive in your climate and what its needs are before making an investment.  Understand how quickly and how far that new perennial or shrub might spread.  Some ‘experiments’ we don’t need to repeat.  Others will tell us what we need to know if we’ll just do a little reading and research.

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Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

Green Thumb Tip #5: Keep Planting!

Green Thumb Tip #6: Size Matters!

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Begonias: The Ultimate House Plant

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Whether choosing a pet or a house plant, most of us have criteria.

We think about shedding and noise, ease of care, how much space we have, and the general appearance of our new companion.

Long hair or short?  Leggy or compact?  And how much will I need to feed it?

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Many of us treat our indoor plants a little like pets.  We offer fresh water and food.  We groom them, probably talk to them; and we clean up behind them.

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Having kept everything from ferns to Ficus trees over the years, I have developed some preferences and prejudices.

I like interesting foliage, first of all.  I want something eye-catching and unusual.  And I want to see growth and change.

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I grew up in the era when my mother kept ‘dish gardens’ in the living room.  These florist made concoctions were uniformly boring and rarely grew at all.

Nearly all included a ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue,’ otherwise known as ‘Snakeplant.’  They thrive on total neglect.

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For my money, rhizomatous Begonias remain the best ‘house plants’ of all.

Their leaves unfold like colorful mosaics or textured silk.  Even though they produce flowers from time to time, the flowers are almost an afterthought; and nearly always tiny.

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The leaves, streaked and mottled in shades of silver, green, black, red, pink, brown, white and purple, are more colorful and interesting than any flower, with the possible exception of orchids.

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You probably know rhizomatous Begonias as ‘Rex’ Begonias.  ‘Rex’ of course is Latin for ‘king.’  All Rex Begonias are rhizomatous, but all rhizomatous Begonias are not classed as ‘Rex.’

The original species of B. Rex was found in the forests of northern India.  Since, the species has been hybridized with other rhizomatous Begonias to create the many many cultivars available around the world today.

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Rhizomatous Begonias thrive in the warm, shady environment most homes can offer.  They remain relatively small and rarely shed so much as a petal or leaf.  While these Begonias hate soggy soil, they appreciate humid air.  In areas with low humidity the will perform better when grown on a tray of moist gravel, or near other plants where humidity remains fairly high.

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Most of our Begonias spend the summer out of doors in the shade.  They love our high coastal humidity.    Once outside, the leaves become more vibrantly colored as they respond to increased levels of light.

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This is the Begonia pictured above, as it looked near the end of February.  We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2" pot about three weeks earlier.  Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

This is the same Begonia pictured 2 photos above, as it looked near the end of February. We had purchased it from Lowes in a 2″ pot about three weeks earlier. Notice how the leaf color has changed since it has been living outside on our shady deck?

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Rhizomatous Begonias send up individual leaves, on long petioles, from a special stem called a rhizome, which creeps along the surface of the soil.  This means that as these plants grow larger, they can be divided by cutting the rhizome into pieces.  Each piece should have some roots and some leaves attached so it can grow on in its new pot.

I top dress the soil with fine gravel, often aquarium gravel, to make the pot look nicer and to protect the plants’ fragile leaves.

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A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia purchased in February.

A division taken when we re-potted a new Begonia.

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Believe it or not, many rhizomatous Begonias are sold along with other ‘tropical’ plants in big box stores like Lowes and Walmart.

I scan their tropical plant displays for the distinctively beautiful leaves of Begonias.  They often come in tiny pots, 3″ or less, for just a few dollars.

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I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

I just purchased this little Begonia at the Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, an excellent source for Begonias. A little pot like this costs between $2 and $3.

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Once cleaned up, potted up, and fed; these little guys respond quickly.  Like a stray adopted from the pound, they respond to love and care to grow into beautiful companion plants!

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Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

Our new B. Rex in February, after about a month of care.

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But unlike a stray Lab or Tom cat, these beauties will not grow out of bounds.  They are extremely well behaved and tolerant of the ways of humans.  They will never reach for the ceiling like a cane Begonia, or drop vivid petals everywhere  as the tuberous Begonias will.

These are the most refined and polite Begonias of the genus.

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This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later.  Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

This is the same plant shown above, as it looks today, nearly four months later. Have you noticed how its leaves are of different sizes and colors?

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If you’ve not yet lived with one of these lovely Begonias, you might consider adopting one soon.

They will become your faithful companions for year after year if you will simply give them light, warmth, humidity, a drink when they need it (soil dry to the touch) and a light meal from time to time.

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The difficult part of the relationship is choosing a favorite from so many tempting cultivars.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

One Word Photo Challenge: Bittersweet

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Light remains the magical ingredient which colors our perception.

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Light clothes our world with beauty.

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It penetrates; it reflects.

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It animates both form and shadow.

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Light illuminates what is bitter and what is sweet.

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With Appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her

One Word Photo Challenge:  Bittersweet

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

 

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…But It Feels Like Spring In Here…..

Monday's vase of branches from the garden unfold their buds and release their pollen.

Monday’s vase of branches from the garden unfold their buds and release their pollen.

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There may be a eight inches of new snow outside, but it feels like spring in here!  The branches we brought in for Monday’s vase are unfurling in our balmy heat indoors.  And with spring comes, pollen.

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It is a timely reminder to enjoy the moment, without trying to rush things too much.  Every season has its own joys and trials, after all!

But the air outside is squeaky clean and fresh today.

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It was well-scrubbed by snow, which fell all night long and well into mid-day here.  Heavy and wet, it has done what it has done in the garden to some of our shrubs.

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I did a little bit of snow clearing on the deck before heading for my make-shift potting area in the basement.  Ignoring appearances outside, I am feeling the quickening of spring and decided to get on with it indoors.

This is a good time to find gardening supplies on clearance sales, and I picked up several beautiful ceramic pots at half-price earlier this week.  Since the last of last season’s potting soil was ‘buy one get one free,’ naturally, I stocked up.  What a huge blessing!   

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A lovely fern found at Lowe's this week can grow on in its new pot until time to go outside for the summer in a large basket.

A lovely fern found at Lowe’s this week can grow on in its new pot until time to go outside for the summer in a large basket.

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I’ve also been shopping the ultra-affordable deals at our local Lowe’s store.  I brought home a beautiful pot-bound fern this week, and had already picked up a bag of Canna lily roots a few weeks ago.  Two bags of seed potatoes, some Ranunculus roots and a bag of Gladiolus bulbs sit in our garage waiting for action.

It may be too early to start seeds without a light kit, but it is a fine day for potting up!

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Those Begonia Rex I’ve been rescuing from sale tables have proper pots this afternoon, and look much happier for it.  The footed ferns I’ve brought home this winter also have lovely ceramic pots and a spot in what little sun we have to offer.

I like to start Canna roots indoors in a large plastic  storage box half filled with potting soil.  Though hardy, it is way too early to set new plants outside.  So I’ll give this group of eight a few weeks of growth indoors before moving them outside in late April.  It was surprising to see how much their buds have grown while sitting in their package.

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Trader Joe's offered this lovely fern in early February.  Finally out of its nursery pot and into a larger ceramic pot today.

Trader Joe’s offered this lovely fern in early February. Finally, it comes  out of its nursery pot and into a larger ceramic one today.

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The tiny Ranunculus roots also went into pots today with a division of overwintering Spikemoss.  I love their bright rose-like blooms in early spring.  These can break dormancy in the garage, and their pot will go outside on fine days once they show new growth.

The list of spring garden chores will just have to wait a while longer.  The weather hasn’t settled enough for us to begin pruning back woody plants or cutting back perennials.  Given how late our last spring came, it may be wise to wait until at least the second week of March. Cutting too early leaves the pruned stems exposed to moisture and to cold.

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Another Begonia Rex, also from Lowes this winter, settles into its new pot.

Another Begonia Rex, also from Lowes this winter, settles into its new pot.  The small division I cut out of it grows on in its “seafoam” pot.

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After killing a plant or three in my eagerness to start the spring clean up too early; I’ve learned to wait for that magical time after the worst of winter’s weather has passed, but before too much new growth has begun to  sprout.  This is a hard chore to time properly, and I feel badly cutting back branches already in growth.  The roses, especially, are always eager to get on with spring several weeks before winter weather has passed.

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Once the snows melt and soak in a bit, we may start some clean up of winter’s leaves.  They can be shredded once they dry out and go back to the garden as mulch.  There is Holly Tone to spread and beautiful packets of fresh seed just waiting to begin growth.

But that may be a while yet…. It is snowing hard again this afternoon.  Temperatures are dropping, and this will all be ice by morning.

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No matter;  it is already spring for us indoors.  We are getting a bit of a head start with a little pre-positioning of resources, and a lot of love.

 

Woodland Gnome 2015

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One Word Photo Challenge: Seafoam

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Seafoam; such a soft pastel color hovering between green and blue.  This color always transports me back to the color palette of the 1950s.  It feels cool.  It tastes minty to the eyes.

Definitely a watery color, it remains far more chic than the fluffy beige foam which washes up on east coast beaches.

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Artemesia

Artemesia last October

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This color proved a challenge for me this week, in case you were wondering, Jenny.  The closest I could find in nature were the greenish greys of Artemesia and Lichens.

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Which is how this week’s challenge inspired a newly minted moss garden, using a tiny pot purchased from the artist.

The pot was probably made by local Williamsburg artist John Watters.  I can’t quite read the signature to be sure, but it was made in 2013.  John works with delicious glazes in lovely blues and greens.  There is no drainage in this little pot, but I laid a layer of gravel, sand and glass chips below the soil.

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The plant is a tiny Begonia Rex surrounded by mosses and lichens scraped from the garden.  It will grow on happily here for a few months until I can transplant it into something larger and set it outside in the shade.

Do you see the sheen of silver on its leaves?  In the bright sun earlier today it looked as though its leaves were covered in finely ground garnets.  So beautiful!

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And we had beautiful sun today.  Each sunny day now feels like a gift.  Each day brings us closer to spring, and will make it that much easier to find color in the garden once again.

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Seafoam

Seafoam

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2015

The Wonder of the Rhizome

Bird's nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex

Bird’s nest fern with a rhizomatous Begonia Rex sending up new leaves.

A rhizome, technically a stem, grows just at the surface, or slightly underground; sending roots down into the soil and leaves up into the light.

Many plants grow from rhizomes.

Have you eaten ginger?  Ginger is a rhizome, and the ginger you purchase at the grocery can be planted and grown into a new plant by placing it on the surface of some good dirt, adding just a little dusting of soil on top, and watering it in.  Within a few weeks roots will grow and leaves emerge from the piece of ginger rhizome.

Many of the most beautiful Begonias grow from rhizomes. 

And like a piece of ginger, the rhizome may go dormant for a period of time before suddenly producing new leaves and beginning to grow.

When you buy a Rex Begonia for its gorgeous leaves, it is growing from a little rhizome.

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I purchased this bird’s nest fern and a little Begonia at Lowe’s back in the winter, and potted them up in a big bowl for a winter centerpiece on my dining table.  We enjoyed them all winter, but the Begonia struggled along while the fern took off.

I moved them both into a nursery pot and set them outside in early summer.  The Begonia had lost its last leaf by this time, and I had no way to tell whether it was alive or dead.

But look!  The rhizome survived, and has begun to grow again and produce new leaves.

Here is another rhizomatous Begonia which has gone completely dormant twice now, and then has suddenly sprung back into growth.

I love the leaves on this one for their silvery sheen.

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Rhizomatous Begonias grow extremely well in the shade.  That said, they grow much better outside than inside.

Many of these special Begonias are winter bloomers, and will begin blooming, when they are happy, in January or February.  They need bright light inside to bloom, but love a shady and sheltered spot outside in the summer.

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

August 2013, with this Begonia growing under an Azalea

 

We had actually given up on this one for dead last spring, and chucked the contents of its pot under a shrub.  I was thrilled to find it alive and leafing out several weeks later.

It grew happily under an Azalea all last summer, and survived most of the winter potted, indoors by a window.

By April it looked like it was dieing back, and so I moved it outside, and out of its pot, into the Earth.  It perked up within a few weeks, and looks lush and happy again.

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Because a rhizome sends out both roots and stems, it can be broken into smaller pieces and each replanted.

The rhizome grows longer over time, as it stores food for the plant; sometimes branching out to cover more ground.  It can grow  pretty quickly into a large plant.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern.  This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot.  I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

A different rhizomatous Begonia at the bottom of the photo, growing with Japanese painted Fern. This rhizome has grown over the edge of the pot. I could break it off and set it into a new pot of soil to root.

 

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  German Iris grow from rhizomes.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend.  These can be divided and spread each spring.

Ginger lily growing from a rhizome given to us by a friend. These can be divided and spread each spring.

Canna lilies and ginger lilies grow from rhizomes.

Plants which grow from rhizomes can be easily divided to increase your stock.

 

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Each little piece of the rhizome has the potential to grow into a new plant identical to the original one.

Most plants growing from a rhizome need to dry out a little between waterings.  Too much water can cause the rhizome to rot, which will kill the plant.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes.  They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

Many ferns grow from rhizomes. They spread as the rhizome grows just under the soil level, sending out new roots and shoots as it grows.

 

Watch the leaves to know when more water is needed, but in general let the surface of the soil dry a bit between drinks.  Some, like iris, are very drought tolerant.

A rhizome is a wonderful adaptation which allows a plant to wait out poor conditions without dieing, so it can grow again when conditions improve.

And it is a wonderful thing for a gardener to realize that a plant thought dead was only dormant, and has begun to grow yet again!

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

 

The Blessing of Shade

Hydrangea, Macrophylla

Hydrangea, Macrophylla remains one of my favorite shrubs for shade.  Deer candy, we grow it now in pots on the deck, where it can’t be grazed.

 

A Forest Garden offers the blessing of cool, relaxing shade.

Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun,, while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.

Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun  while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.

 

Even on the hottest July day, we step into the refuge of shade, appreciate what breeze there might be,  and gather the energy to continue with whatever tasks come to hand in the rest of the garden.

 

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Our shade here is spotty.  A previous owner cut several large trees, and we have lost several  more to storms.

So the area nearest our home gets more direct sunshine than we’d wish at the height of summer.

A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck.  Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.

A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck. Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.

 

The trade off, of course, comes during the rest of the year.

We get solar heating in winter, and we have enough light coming through the windows to grow our garden indoors during the cooler months.

But when it stays consistently hot, for days at a time, we appreciate every bit of shade we have.

 

Colocasia enjoys sun to part shade.  Here it enjoys late afternoon shade from nearby shrubs.

Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii”  enjoys sun to part shade. Here it receives  late afternoon shade cast by nearby shrubs.

 

And we enjoy  a variety of plants which grow beautiful leaves and flowers with very little sun.

 

Begonia, "Gryphon" enjoys morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio.  Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is gfowing a new crop of leaves.

Begonia, “Gryphon” grows well in  morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio. Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is growing a new crop of leaves.

 

Shade vs. sun is another of the vagaries of gardening.

Very few areas are all one or the other.

 

Many "shade loving" ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated.  These grow in a bank in partial shade.

Many “shade loving” ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated. These grow on a bank in partial shade.

 

Most fall somewhere between “part shade” and “part sun” depending on the time of day and time of year.

The very nature of a “forest garden'” also allows for sun to shine through the bare branches of trees during the winter; and the trees’ canopies to catch and use the sunshine all summer, giving shade to the garden below.

 

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Hydrangea Macrophylla. Purchased on sale in a 4″ pot in late spring, this shrub grows happily in a pot on the deck.

 

This can make selecting and siting plants even more challenging.  What may work for a plant in May might be too much sun by August.

A plant which could never survive in a full sun area in June might thrive in the same spot in November.

 

This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we've still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.

This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we’ve still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.

 

I’ve worked out a fairly successful system over the years to keep shade loving plants happy.

And the secret?  Watering.

 

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

 

Not really a secret, you’re thinking?  Too obvious?

Probably…. But the secret of frequent watering is frequent observation.

Well hydrated plants can tolerate far more direct sun than dry ones, at least among the shade lovers.

 

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And frequent attention to watering allows changes in a a stressed plant’s position before a condition goes too far.

 

These pots live right "on the edge" of how much sun they can tolerate.  They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade.

These  plants live right “on the edge” of how much sun they can tolerate. They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade.  Known to be relatively sun-tolerant cultivars of Begonia and Caladium, they still need daily water and watching.

 

In our garden, moving a plant a few feet in one direction or the other can make a tremendous difference in how much sun it receives.

Some need a little more sun to encourage flowering.

Yet too much sun can burn their leaves.  It is a fine balance.

After finding this Staghorn fern on the clearance rack at Lowe's, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, "No direct sun."  Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day.  I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size.

After buying this Kangaraoo fern, Microsorum pustulatum, from the clearance rack at Lowe’s, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, “No direct sun.” Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day. I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size.  You can see a little scorch on some of its leaves, however.

 

Morning sun affects plants differently than mid-day or afternoon sun.  Some plants can thrive in an Eastern exposure which would fry on the Western side of the garden.

Many of our shade lovers live in pots and baskets which  can be moved around as the seasons progress each year.

 

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And we move plants as often as needed to keep them, and us,  happy.

We also practice “layering,” just as nature does.

This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome again.  It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome once again.   It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

 

Shade loving plants can live in hanging baskets hung in trees.  A particularly delicate plant can live underneath another, enjoying shade provided by its companions.

 

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Plants, like people, thrive in communities.

Building a community, where each plant’s needs are met, is an ongoing challenge.

But when it works out well, it multiplies the beauty of the individuals.

 

Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?

Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?

 

You see, a “green thumb” is actually just a matter of attentiveness.  Observation is an honest teacher.

Once a gardener understands a plant’s needs, it is simply a matter of providing the correct amount of light and water, nutrition and protection to allow that plant to grow into its potential for beauty.

 

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And then there is the small blessing of summer shade… for the garden and the gardener.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Tuesday Snapshots

November 5 garden at dusk 003

Our high temperature today came early, before 11 AM.  The TV weather folks have been warning us about this cold snap for several days now, almost giddy at the possibility of covering snow in early November.  We’ve seen lots of maps and charts, but the forecast seems to change day to day and hour to hour.  We’ve seen the snow accumulations to our west and north, but I don’t think anyone in Williamsburg has any expectation of seeing more than a brief flurry, which we had this afternoon.

The Pineapple Sage will probably freeze before morning.

The Pineapple Sage will probably freeze before morning.

The sky filled with flying leaves as the wind howled all morning.  What a beautiful sight against the increasingly brooding sky.  The temperature started to plummet around noon, and we all know that the garden will look like a very different place tomorrow.  I went out for a last visit with the vividly scarlet pineapple sage , gathered the last of the hot peppers, admired the basil one more time, and noticed a still emerging bud on a zinnia.  The garden has hung on as long as possible.  I think it would be quite happy to keep on growing and blooming for another month or so.

But we expect lows in the 20’s tonight.

Begonia Rex came out of its summer pot yesterday, leaving the Camellia to brave winter with some Violas as new companions.

Begonia Rex came out of its summer pot yesterday, leaving the Camellia to brave winter with some Violas as new companions.

We  spent all of yesterday bringing in the last of the pots to save; digging the final Rex Begonias and settling them into new pots; and  dealing with the leaves accumulating around porches and flower beds.

It was a long day, but we wanted to finish up while it was dry and sunny.  Besides, it was a gorgeous day to be outside.

The roses, iris, and lantana are blooming as though it were still September.  New buds continue to open on the ginger lilies and camellias.  It is almost surreal to see the riot of blossoms against the now nearly bare limbs of trees.

Now the Begonias will have to adjust to life inside, with drier air and less light.  They will all drop some leaves, but those will be replaced with new ones over the next few weeks.  Pinching back, and pruning over long branches will make the plants grow more thickly.

Now the Begonias will have to adjust to life inside, with drier air and less light. They will all drop some leaves, but those will be replaced with new ones over the next few weeks. Pinching back, and pruning over long branches will make the plants grow more thickly.

So the  house is officially full up.  There is even a potted Begonia on my work table in the office.  I’m clueless where I’d set even a holiday Poinsettia.  The last few ivy geraniums are going to a good home tomorrow in my friend’s guest room.

So let the frozen wind blow.  The fireplace is lit and the house smells of roasted sweet potatoes.  Autumn is upon us,  winter knocks at the windows, and we’re settled in for the season.

Here then are Tuesday’s snapshots, photos from the last week in our forest garden.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

“Powerful Stuff,” Epsom Salts

Like most serious gardeners, when I get a little “ding” I generally just keep on going and choose to ignore it.  That’s probably why I have absolutely no idea how I injured my thumb last week.  I get lots of dings between work in the garden and the kitchen.  They almost always heal right up and I stay in motion.

One of the best values of the home pharmacy!

One of the best values of the home pharmacy!

This thumb injury, right where the nail meets the skin, started out that way.  But, I made the cardinal mistake of working outside without gloves over the weekend.  Add in all of the dish washing, and general cleaning up, and I exposed the little nick in my skin to some nasty bacteria somewhere along the way.  It was sore on Saturday, worse on Sunday, but by yesterday it was throbbing as I typed.  And it kept getting worse.

If you’re like me, you do most of your own “doctoring” and avoid the AMA crowd whenever possible.  Trying to remember all of the home remedies for infections, I remembered Epsom Salts.  We try to keep some around all the time because it’s useful for so many things.  Well, I finally found a carton in the garage next to the Plant Tone, covered in cobwebs and potting soil.  Not exactly sterile looking.  The last time I had used it was on the roses in early summer.

The flower bed I reworked and bordered this weekend

The flower bed I reworked and bordered this weekend

Epsom salt, or Magnesium Sulfate, is not really salt at all.  Originally found at a mineral spring in Epsom, Surrey, England; it is a combination of Magnesium and Sulphate, both very healing to the body.  Epsom salt is an extremely versatile crystalline product (probably why it’s called “salts”) which enhances growth, bloom, and general vigor in many types of plants; greens your lawn; kills insects; soothes muscle aches and pains; reduces inflammation; and draws toxins out of the body.  (More uses for Epsom salts here)

By the time I realized that my whole thumb was red and throbbing, it was late in the day yesterday and I had no interest in heading to the store or the urgent care.  A long soak in a bowl of hot water and dissolved Epsom salts finally brought some relief.  Temporary relief that is.

I went on the offensive with mega doses of vitamin C, topical antibiotic cream, and even some colloidal silver; which was the antibiotic of choice before the pharmaceutical industry made so many  specific antibiotics available.  A full assault on the nasty microbes attacking my thumb at least kept the infection from spreading any more, and we got a few hours of sleep here and there.

You can feel the pain draining away during an Epsom salt soak.  Whether we’re talking tired muscles, infected finger, or any of a number of other maladies; Epsom salt is a powerful healing agent.  It can penetrate through the skin, across the cell membranes, to bring healing and draw out toxins.  Soaking for 20 to 30 minutes, every four hours or so, made a huge difference.

Snapdragons from Homestead Garden Center, grown by the Patton family, moved into their new bed on Saturday morning.

Snapdragons from Homestead Garden Center, grown by the Patton family, moved into their new bed on Saturday morning.

Given no other option, the finger might have healed up in a few days with the healing protocol I’d started.   But I’ve read too many stories lately about fast moving infections, and by this afternoon decided to pay the price and get the script.  The doc was great, except for the forceps under the nail to make sure nothing was still lodged there.   AND, she told me that she would have suggested the Epson salts soak had I not already initiated it.  So, with the antibiotic coursing through my system I’m beginning to feel better, but will keep soaking the thumb until at least tomorrow.

Do you have Epsom salts in your pantry?  It is basic equipment for a serious gardener.  It, along with pure water, is as good for the gardener as it is for the garden!

What have I learned from this little misadventure?  It always pays to reflect and tote up the lessons to carry forward.

Newly planted snapdragons

Newly planted snapdragons

1.  Always wear gloves when working in the garden.  Protect the skin from nicks, and the nicks from the nasties in the soil.

2.  Put a clean bandage and an alcohol wipe in the gardening vest, right next to the pocket knife.  I’ve never done that, but will going forward.

3.  Don’t ignore little injuries hoping they’ll go away.  I don’t mean to sound like a wimp, but a little more care on the front end could have prevented this infection.

4.  Spring for two packages of Epsom salts.   Leave one in the garage with the plant foods, but keep another one in the pantry for healing.

Tonight I’m still a nine fingered typist, but managed to get a few photos of the garden before dusk.

Here are Tuesday’s Snapshots from the forest garden.

Stay well, be careful in the midst of all that gardening fun, and keep the first aid kit well stocked!

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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