Six On Saturday: When Wood Breaks Into Bloom

Redbud is the earliest tree in our garden to bloom, followed within another week or two by the dogwoods.

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When stark woody limbs suddenly burst open to liberate soft, fragrant flowers, we live, once again, the mystery play of spring.

We witness sudden and transformative change initiated by some small fluctuation in the status quo.  Days grow a few minutes longer; temperatures rise.  The Earth tilts a bit more in this direction or that, and the winds bring a new season as every branch, bulb, seed and root respond.

It is natural magic, and needs no assistance.  Every tree responds to its own cue of light and warmth while the gardener sits back with a cup of tea to appreciate the spectacle.

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Redbud flowers emerge directly from woody stems.  A member of the pea family, redbud, Cercis, trees store nitrogen on their roots, directly fertilizing the soil where they grow.  The nitrogen is filtered out of the air by their leaves, along with carbon.  Other plants can draw on this nitrogen in the soil for their own growth.

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I’m becoming more aware, with each passing season, of the silent cues leading me on my own journey as a gardener.  I’m looking for value when I invest in planting some new thing in the garden.  How many seasons will it grow?  How much return will it yield for my investment in planting?

A potted geranium will give six or eight months of interest, perhaps another season or two if you are both lucky and skilled.  A potted Camellia will outlive the gardener, assuming it survives its first seasons of hungry deer and unexpected drought.  The Camellia can produce hundreds of flowers in a single season, and more with each passing year.  A dogwood or Magnolia tree fills the garden with even more flowers, then feeds the birds months later as their seeds mature.

Gardening, like all transcendent pursuits, may be neatly reduced to mathematics when choices must be made.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle; small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer; red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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Yesterday afternoon I planted the Hydrangea paniculata I bought one Saturday afternoon almost two years ago, while taking my mother shopping.  A dozen potted shrubs were piled in front of her Wal-Mart store that late summer afternoon, reduced by half to move them.  They were clearing out the nursery area in preparation for holiday stock and impulsively, I grabbed a nice one and piled it in my cart.

“What are you going to do with that?”  she asked, cautiously, maybe wondering whether I intended to plant it in her yard somewhere.  She is housebound now, and can’t get out to garden as she once did.

“I don’t know yet,”  I responded, “but I’m sure I’ll find a spot for it at home.”  And the place I found was in a sheltered spot behind the house while I figured out where to plant it.  And it seemed quite content there, though it didn’t bloom last summer.  And it lived through two winters in its nursery pot while I dithered about where to plant it.

And finally, with a twinge of guilt for not letting its roots spread into good earth and its limbs reach into the sunlight, I chose a spot this week on our back slope, near other Hydrangeas, where we lost some lilac shrubs and their absence left an empty space to fill.  The Hydrangea will appreciate our acidic soil and the partial shade that has grown in there, where the lilac shrubs did not.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea also produces panicles of flowers in May, and the flowers persist into early winter. Many Hydrangeas bloom on new wood, while others set their buds in autumn. It pays to know your shrub.

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And as I plant, I can see its spindly little branches growing stout and long, reaching up and out for light and air.  Since it blooms on new wood, not old, every summer it will have the opportunity to stretch, and grow, and fill its corner of the garden with large pale panicles of flowers for months at a time.  Its roots will hold the bank against erosion and its woody body will welcome birds and support heavy flowers.  Each branch has the power to root and grow into a new shrub, even as each flower will support a cloud of humming insects on summer days.

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On March 1, 2017 our Magnolia liliflora trees were already in full bloom.

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There is tremendous potential in every woody plant.  They weave the fabric of the garden as days become weeks and weeks knit themselves into years.  Knowing them closely allows one to choose wisely, creating a flowering patchwork of trees and shrubs that shine each in their own season, and ornament the garden, each in its own way, every day of each passing year.

When leaves turn bright, then brown, and begin to swirl on autumn’s chilling winds, leaving stark woody skeletons where our soft green trees swayed so shortly ago; we watch with confidence that spring is but another breath away.

The only constant is change, as they say.  And knowing that, we know how to plan and plant to enjoy every moment.

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Mountain Laurel grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  Its buds are already swelling to bloom by early May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Fabulous Friday:  Flowers From Wood, Forest Garden, March 2017

Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

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

Fabulous Friday: Changes in the Air

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Do you remember stories from your childhood about ‘Jack Frost’ turning the leaves bright colors ?  I remember stories and poems about Jack Frost, and making Crayola drawings with a wild assortment of brightly colored leaves on my brown stick trees.  It seems a ‘given’ that leaves change their colors when the nights begin to turn cool.

But neither our nights nor our days have cooled substantially, and yet the community is definitely taking on autumn’s hues.

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We noticed it as we drove across College Creek today, admiring the first hints of yellow and gold in the trees along the opposite bank.  But we also see it in our own garden, as scarlet creeps across some dogwood leaves and the crape myrtle leaves begin to turn, even as the trees still bloom.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden shows its autumn colors.

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We are running 12 to 13 degrees above our ‘normal’ temperatures most days lately, and it is a rare night that has dropped even into the 60s.  And yet the plants are responding to the change of season.   Perhaps they sense the days growing shorter; perhaps they are just getting tired.

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I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ has just come back into bloom in our garden.

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Our ‘re-blooming’ Iris have sent up their first autumn stalks.  We’ve been blessed with plenty of rain, recently, and so the Iris will have a good second season.  Some of our neighbors have Encore Azaleas covered in flowers

I was dumbfounded to see how gigantic some of the Colocasias, Alocasias and Caladiums grew in the catalog garden at the Bulb Shop in Gloucester.  I can’t remember ever seeing these plants grow so huge in Virginia.

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The catalog garden at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop is filled with some of the largest Colocasias I’ve ever seen. Do you recognize C. ‘Tea Cups’?

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But with good soil and near constant moisture, these amazing tropicals have shown us their potential for growth when they get all the warmth and moisture and nutrition they could possibly want.  I spoke with some of the staff there about how popular tropical ‘elephant ears’ have become in recent years, as coastal Virginia becomes ever more hospitable to them.

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We ventured up to Gloucester this week to pick up our order of fall bulbs.  It is admittedly too warm, still, to plant most spring bulbs.  But I retrieved our order, shared with friends, and now will simply hold most of the bulbs for another few weeks until the nights finally cool.

There are a few bulbs that need to get in the ground right away, like dog tooth violets and our Italian Arum.  Both are actually tubers, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.  Our Muscari, left in pots over the summer, are already in leaf.

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I’ve planted the first of my autumn four season pots filled with bulbs and mulched with moss.  This one will begin with autumn Crocus and Cyclamen in a few weeks, and then begin the early spring with snowdrops, Crocus, Muscari and dog tooth violet.  Finally, it will finish the season with late daffodils. The pot is anchored with an oak leaf Hydrangea and a deciduous lady fern. 

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If the daffodils and tulips get planted too early, they might grow too much before the really cold weather finds us.  We can continue planting spring bulbs here into late December, maybe even early January.  I’d much rather do it in October though, wouldn’t you?

As the weather cools down a bit, I’m wanting to get back out in the garden to do a bit of tidying up before the fall planting begins.

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Pineapple Sage is already blooming in our garden. I have several still in 4″ pots I need to plant one day soon.

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I’ve got a backlog of plants sheltering in pots, just waiting for their chance to grow.  I visited a friend today who was weeding and digging her Caladiums to store for next summer.   Some of our Caladiums are beginning to die back a little, so she was probably wise to dig them while she can see a few leaves and find their roots.

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This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room, and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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Bright orange wreathes are showing up on neighbor’s doors, and by Monday, the calendar will say ‘October.’  I suppose it is time to get on with it and embrace the changing seasons.

While I believe we will have another month, or two, of ‘Indian Summer’ before our first frost; I suppose we all just assume it is time for pumpkin lattes and chrysanthemums.  Some of my friends are already setting out huge mums and pulling their annuals.

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Hardy Begonias are at their peak, blooming and so beautiful this week.

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I’m not there, yet.  I’m still admiring our many ‘elephant ears’ and Begonias and watching for butterflies.  In fact, I came home from Gloucester with a sweet little Alocasia ‘Zebrina,‘ that  I’ve had my eye on all season.  They had just two left, and then they had one….

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Alocasia grown huge at the catalog garden

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The display plant, growing out in the catalog garden, was a bit taller than me.  Its leaves were absolutely huge!

I don’t know that my pot grown aroids will ever get quite that impressive, especially when they are forced to nap all winter in the basement.  But we enjoy them in their season, and their season will soon close.

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We found both Monarchs and a few chrysalis at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this week.

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I have been admiring our garden today, and celebrating the successes we’ve enjoyed this year.  I am intentionally procrastinating on any chores that hasten our passage into autumn.

That said, the pumpkin bagels that showed up at Trader Joes this week are truly delicious.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

Sunday Dinner: The Journey

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“Change is in the air.

This change reminds us

that we are made

and beautifully sculpted

by the same power

that orchestrates the change of season.

Let this be the season you embrace

and align yourself with this change.”

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Steve Maraboli

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“Learn to adapt.

Things change, circumstances change.

Adjust yourself and your efforts

to what it is presented to you

so you can respond accordingly.

Never see change as a threat,

because it can be an opportunity to learn,

to grow, evolve and become a better person.”

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Rodolfo Costa

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“Joy is sometimes a blessing,

but it is often a conquest.

Our magic moment help us to change

and sends us off in search of our dreams.

Yes, we are going to suffer,

we will have difficult times,

and we will experience many disappointments —

but all of this is transitory.

it leaves no permanent mark.

And one day we will look back

with pride and faith

at the journey we have taken.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“Peace is a daily, a weekly,

a monthly process,

gradually changing opinions,

slowly eroding old barriers,

quietly building new structures.

And however undramatic the pursuit of peace,

that pursuit must go on.”

John F. Kennedy

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“Times change, as do our wills.

What we are – is ever changing;

all the world is made of change,

and is forever attaining new qualities.”

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Luís de Camões

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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In nature nothing is created,

nothing is lost,

everything changes.”

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Antoine Lavoisier

Changes

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We treasure these fragrant autumn roses, still opening in our garden.   Our ‘Indian Summer’ has begun its inevitable shift towards winter.  The trees here grow more vibrant with each passing day; scarlet, orange, gold and clear yellow leaves dance in the wind and ornament our windshields and drive.  Finally, autumn.

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We’re engaged in the long, slow minuet of change, sped along by storms and cold fronts sweeping across us from elsewhere.  It hit 80 here yesterday as I worked in our garden.  I planted the last of our stash of spring bulbs, and moved an Hydrangea shrub from its pot into good garden soil.  The sun shone brightly as butterflies danced among the Pineapple Sage and flower laden Lantana in the upper garden.

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We had a good, soaking rain over night, waking up to winds from the north and temperatures a good 25 degrees lower than yesterday’s high.  From here on, our nights will dip back into the 40’s again, and I worry about our tender plants.  When  to bring them in?

Last year I carried pots in, and then back out of the garage, for weeks as the temperatures danced up and down.  This year, I”m trying to have a bit more faith and patience, leaving those precious Begonias and ferns in place as long as possible.

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Most of our Caladiums are inside now, but not all.  I’ve left a few out in pots, and am amazed to see new leaves still opening.  Warm sunshine and fresh breezes day after day seem a reward well worth the slight risk of a sudden freeze.

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This is how ‘climate change’ looks in our garden.

We were well into December before our first freeze last year.  It was balmy on Christmas, way too warm to wear holiday sweaters.  One felt more like  having a Margarita  than hot cocoa.  But why complain when the roads are clear and the heat’s not running?

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And I expect more of the same in the weeks ahead.  Our  great ‘pot’ migration from garden to house is delayed a few weeks, with the Begonias and Bougainvillea blooming their hearts out in the garden, still.    The autumn Iris keep throwing up new flower stalks, the Lantana have grown to epic proportions, and the Basil and Rosemary remain covered in flowers.

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But the garden, flower filled as it may be, grows through a growing blanket of fallen leaves.  Heavy dew bejewels each petal and leaf at dawn.  Squirrels gather and chase and chatter as they prepare their nests for the cold coming.

And the roses….

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Their flowers concentrate the last bits of color and fragrance into every precious petal.  They’ve grown sweeter and darker as the nights grow more chilled.

I”m loathe to trim them, this late in the season, and so hips have begun to swell and soon will glow orange, a reminder both of what has passed, and what is yet to come…

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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High Summer

Geraniums and Bronze Fennel

Geraniums and Bronze Fennel

We find ourselves at the Summer Solstice again; the high point of our solar year.

It is the official astronomical beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

But for most of us, the transitions from one season to the next are somewhat blurred.

This rabbit is a frequent guest in our garden, relaxing on our lawn like a pet.  I've only found him eating grass and clover.

This rabbit is a frequent guest in our garden, relaxing on our lawn like a pet. I’ve only found him eating grass and clover.

We listened to a discussion on our local news last night about when summer, and summer heat, actually begins.

The conversation came in the context of  our brutally high temperatures this week, coming days before the “official” start of summer at the Solstice on June 21.

What signals “summer” to you?

Hydrangea Macrophylla always speaks of summer to me.  It has been a favorite since I was a small child.

Hydrangea Macrophylla always speaks of summer to me. It has been a favorite since I was a small child.

Is it the onset of uncomfortable heat?  The end of the public school year?  Memorial Day weekend?  Graduation?

Traditionally, the Summer Solstice falls on the longest day of the year.

That is, the longest period of time between sunrise and sunset.

It was almost 9 PM when I took these photos of our rabbit on Wednesday evening.  A long day, indeed.

It was almost 9 PM when I took these photos of our rabbit on Wednesday evening. A long day, indeed.

Although day length varies with latitude and altitude, most of us still count on our “longest day” falling around June 21 (or December 21) each year.

And, it stands to reason that when our hemisphere of the planet is tilted towards the sun on our annual circuit through space, we experience our warmest weather.

But our planet is in transition.  Our seasons, like our weather, are shifting.

Abundant holly berries speak to a possibly intense winter ahead.

Abundant holly berries speak to a possibly intense winter ahead.  This holly shrub has never produced a crop of berries like this since we’ve been in the garden.

Partly due to strong earthquakes which have shifted the angle of our planet’s axis, and partly due to the ongoing movement of our magnetic poles; our climate is not what it was even ten years ago.

I’ve noticed that the “astronomical” equinoxes and solstices have been shifting these last few years, too.

Generally they occur earlier than their official dates.

Our Rose of Sharon shrubs have burst into blossom this week, a sure sign of summer.

Our Rose of Sharon shrubs have burst into blossom this week, a sure sign of summer.

So, I looked up the actual times of sunrise and sunset for our latitude to see what is happening this year.  (Follow the link for your location in many parts of the world.)

Here is what I found:

On June 1, 2014, our sun rose at 5:48 AM and set at 8:21 PM.  Our sunrise reached its earliest time on June 7 at 5:46 AM, and sunrise will stay at that hour until Saturday, June 21, when it will rise at 5:47 AM.

So our time of sunrise doesn’t change at all for 14 days from June 7 through June 20.

This is Begonia, "Flamingo" coming into its first flush of blooms this summer.

This is Begonia, “Flamingo” coming into its first flush of blooms this summer.

On June 1, our sun set at 8:21 PM.  Sunset came a minute later about every two days until June 18, when sunset came at 8:30 PM.

Now, here is what is strange.  June 18, Wednesday, was 14 hours and 44 minutes long.  But so is today, and tomorrow.  June 18-June 20 are exactly the same length with the same hours of sunrise and sunset in Williamsburg Virgina. 

So, we have a three day summer solstice this year, and we are experiencing measured temperatures in the high 90s, with heat indexes over 100 nearly every day this week.

This is our rose scented geranium finally in bloom.

This is our rose scented geranium finally in bloom.

In Norfolk yesterday, the Berkley Bridge wouldn’t close properly due to the heat, and traffic backed up for over an hour.  We had warnings on our local news of “heat health emergencies” all over the area.

On Saturday, our day will be a single minute shorter as sunrise moves to 5:47 AM, but sunset remains at 8:30 PM.

But on Sunday, sunset comes at 8:31, so we are right back to  a 14 hour and 44 minute day- the same length of daylight we are experiencing now at the Summer Solstice.

Sunrise will come at 5:47 AM on June 21 through June 24.  And, sunset remains at 8:31 PM through July 6.  There is no change in the time of astronomical sunset  for a total of 15 days.

Ivy Geranium

Ivy Geranium

Please check your own tables for sunrise and sunset, and see what is happening in your neighborhood.  Here, we will have three more days of “longest day of the year” on June 22, 23, and 24.  Sunrise and sunset will both be one minute later than June 18, 19, and 20; but the total number of minutes of daylight will be exactly the same.

Our time of sunrise returns to a more normal pattern around the first of July, where we will finally have sunrise time stay the same for two days at a time, then shift to a minute later on the following day.

Our Canna, "Australia" came as a bare root tuber this spring.  I hope it will bloom by the first of July.

Our Canna, “Australia” came as a bare root tuber this spring. I hope it will bloom by the first of July.  Hibiscus in the background is showing buds, as is the Butterfly bush to the left.

So, the year turns yet again.  After June 24 our days will continue to grow shorter by a minute or two each day until the Fall Equinox, in September.

Summer weather generally lasts well into October in our part of Virginia, long past the start of school, the “first day of fall” and the Labor Day holiday, which is the official close of summer in the United States.

June 19 garden 012

Perhaps because I’m outside in the garden nearly every day, I’m keenly aware of the weather, and the rhythms of our Earth.  In this time of transition, please stay in touch with what is happening in your part of the planet, also.  These larger rhthms affect us all in so many ways, large and small.

Asian Magnolia generally blooms in early spring, before the leaves come out.  This shrub is ready to bloom a second time.  The photo was taken this morning.

Asian Magnolia generally blooms in early spring, before the leaves come out. This shrub is ready to bloom a second time. The photo was taken this morning.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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