Fresh Start 2021: Carbon Garden

October blooming Camellia sasanqua

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Only recently have I come across the term ‘Carbon Garden’ in the current issue of Horticulture Magazine.  You may be ahead of me on this one, but the picture that came to mind when I first saw the term wasn’t very pretty.  The reality of it is much more attractive, and this garden style proves easier to maintain than many other garden styles.

Like other elements, carbon is an atom that can manifest as a solid, in a liquid, or as a gas.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) remain in the news because they contribute so much to our warming environment.  Gasses like carbon dioxide and methane (CH4) trap heat from the sun near the surface of the earth, causing warmer weather and heavier rainfalls.  Conversations around reversing the current warming trends usually focus on reducing carbon emissions and finding ways to scrub carbon out of the air.

Magically, we have living tools for removing carbon from the air right outside our windows.  You see, every green plant cell uses carbon dioxide in its daily efforts to feed itself and sustain the entire plant.  In the presence of sunlight, carbon dioxide and water transform into glucose, used to power plant growth, and the waste product oxygen, which of course we need in every breath.

When you contemplate a leafy tree, imagine each leaf inhaling polluted air and transforming that air into pure food and oxygen.

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Japanese Maple

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Glucose is further transformed into cellulose, which structures the cell wall of every plant cell.  Now, imagine a tree’s roots growing deeper and wider into the earth with each passing year.  What are those roots made from?  Cellulose:  largely, carbon.

A tree, and most any other plant, can stash carbon deep underground where it will remain for many years in solid form.  Many plants also store nitrogen, filtered out of the air, on their roots.  In fact, any plant in the pea family stores little nodules of solid nitrogen along their roots.  Knowing that nitrogen is a major component of fertilizers, you understand how this stored nitrogen increases the fertility of the soil in the area where these plants grow.

Plant leaves are also made primarily of carbon.  When the leaves fall each autumn, they hold stored, solid carbon.  If returned to the soil as compost or mulch, the carbon remains stored, or sequestered, in solid form in the soil.  This is how ordinary garden soil may be transformed into a ‘carbon sink.’

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Turkey tail mushrooms help decompose the stump of a fallen peach tree. Leaving the stump in place and allowing vegetation to cover it conserves its carbon in the soil.

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A log is made largely of stored carbon.  When you burn it in the fireplace, those chemical bonds break down, and much of the carbon rises back into the air as smoke.  If the same log is made into a cutting board or other wooden object, then the carbon remains in sold form.

Just as burning can break chemical bonds to release carbon back into the air, so will decomposition.  We’ve come to understand that bare dirt, including tilled fields and gardens, releases carbon back into the air.  But ground covered by mulch or living plants doesn’t allow that carbon to move back into the air.

All of this helps explain the science behind the principles of Carbon Gardening, whose goal is to scrub as much carbon as possible out of the air and sequester it in the earth.  Forests have done this very efficiently for untold ages.

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Only in recent times, with so much natural forest cleared and land exposed, has our planet begun its dramatic warming.  Think of all the carbon stored over the centuries as coal, petroleum, peat, and held close under a forest canopy that has been released into our atmosphere over the past century.

So, the point of Carbon Gardening is to use one’s own garden to sequester as much carbon as possible, using gardening methods that hold the carbon in the soil, without burning or releasing any more carbon than possible in the process.

Every breath we exhale contains carbon dioxide.  Our cells produce it as they produce energy.  We live in harmony with the plants we grow, taking in the oxygen they exhale while giving them back our own carbon rich breath.  That said, please don’t try to hold your breath as you make your Carbon Garden.

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Camellia sasanqua

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Here are a few principles of Carbon Gardening that may help point you in the right direction. 

The Audubon Society has a series of articles that go into far more detail.

  1. Plant intensely in layers:  The more plants in growth the more carbon will be scrubbed from the air each day.  Trees are most efficient because they support a huge volume of leaves.  Include evergreen trees that continue respiration through the winter months, and plant a shrub layer, perennial layer, and ground covers under the trees to maximize the amount of carbon absorbed by your garden.  Evergreen perennials and ground covers continue absorbing and storing carbon through the winter months.

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  1. Feed carbon (and nitrogen) back into your soil with plant materials. Use wood chips, bark, and shredded leaves as mulch to minimize bare ground.  Remember that roots sequester a large amount of carbon and nitrogen, so leave those roots in the ground.  Cut weeds or spent annuals at ground level instead of pulling them up.  Compost trimmings and leaves, kitchen waste, and unneeded cardboard, newsprint or brown paper.

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This is a very thin layer of compost covering collected branches, bark and leaves from our fallen tree.  We added additional layers of organic material to build the new planting bed.

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  1. Instead of tilling soil and exposing stored carbon, sheet compost in the winter to prepare for spring planting. Cover the garden area with cardboard or paper to protect the soil and smother any weeds.  Build up layers of composable materials, or even bagged municipal compost, and allow it to decompose in place so that planting seeds or transplants in the spring is possible without tilling or excessive digging.  Coffee grounds, tea bags, rinsed eggshells and other kitchen scraps can be ‘buried’ in the layers of a sheet compost pile, but be careful not to discard of seeds in this way unless you want them to sprout in the spring.

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Paper grocery bags covered with several inches of compost smother weeds and soften the ground for this new planting bed, eliminating the need to dig the area up first.  Pea gravel helps hold this area, which is on a slope.

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  1. Remain mindful of garden ‘inputs’ that burn carbon. This includes garden equipment that burns gas, commercial fertilizers, and maybe even those fun trips to the garden center….?

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This bin of new Caladium bulbs was ready to be planted out in mid-May.  Ordering bare root perennials, bulbs, tubers and seeds and starting them at home reduces the carbon footprint of a garden.  The red leaf is C. ‘Burning Heart,’ a 2015 introduction from Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, FL.

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  1. If you normally buy flats of annual plants each spring for pots or borders, consider how to plant those areas more sustainably. Consider all of the carbon releasing ‘inputs’ required to produce those plants, including the plastic containers they are grown in, the transportation to move them, and the chemical fertilizers and peat based potting soil used in growing them.  While all plants sequester carbon from the air, commercial nursery production of short-lived plants releases carbon into the atmosphere throughout the process and should be considered by conscientious gardeners.  What can you raise from seeds, cuttings or divisions, or obtain through trade with gardening friends?

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Saxifraga stolonifera is an evergreen ground cover that is easy to divide and share.  It grows here with Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ Hellebores and ferns.

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  1. Choose native perennials or ones that will naturalize in your climate, so your plants spread and reproduce, reducing the number of plants you need to buy each year to fill your garden. Design a sustainable garden that grows lushly with minimal ‘inputs’ and intervention from the gardener.  Native and naturalizing perennials won’t need much watering during dry spells, will make do with nutrients in the soil, and will expand and self-seed.

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  1. Woody plants sequester carbon in their roots and branches and live for many years. These are the most efficient Carbon Garden plants.   A garden made mostly from trees, shrubs, perennial ferns and groundcovers, will work most efficiently.  Some more arid areas have great success with long-lived succulents.  Consider replacing turf grass with plants that don’t require such intense maintenance.

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Mountain Laurel blooms each May, is native to our region and forms dense clumps over time.

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  1. Use the I-Tree Tool to educate yourself about the power of trees in your landscape to sequester and store carbon, reduce run-off and scrub other pollutants out of the air. Use this tool when selecting new trees to plant in your own yard.

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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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‘Carbon Gardening’ can make a significant contribution to scrubbing carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it in the earth, and the total contribution multiplies as the plants grow and the garden develops year to year.  A fully grown native tree can removed fifty or more pounds of carbon from the air annually.  While the amount varies by tree species and size, every year of growth increases the tree’s effectiveness.

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Each gardener who adopts sustainable practices makes a sizeable contribution to off-set and mitigate carbon production in their area.  Planting more plants and allowing them to grow densely also helps manage rainfall so it is stored onsite, rather than running off so rapidly.  The plants sustain wildlife and build a richly integrated ecosystem.

We reduce our own annual costs for new plants, fertilizers, other chemicals and fuel, while also reducing our time invested in garden maintenance.  It is a good approach for any of us who enjoy watching nature weave her tapestry each year, sustainably, while knowing that our gardens are part of the solution to climate warming and climate change.

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Woodland Gnome 2021

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Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful and a positive thought.

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!

Artistry of Herbs

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So much of our garden was slack and wilting yesterday evening, before the rain began.  The ground has grown drier each day, available moisture retreating deeper, away from the multitude of thirsty roots.  This time of year devolves into a contest of will between me with my trusty garden hoses, and July’s relentless heat and extended dry spells.

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Bronze fennel glows in the late afternoon paired Verbena bonareinsis and Joe Pye weed.

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Plants react differently to the many challenges that befall them in the course of the year.  Watching how plants respond to stress can guide us in the choices we make in planting.

No one enjoys a garden filled with drooping, brown tipped leaves.  And most of us don’t have the unlimited time or resources to water enough to compensate when the weather turns hot and dry for days or weeks at a time.  That is why it is smart to plant a good percentage of deep rooted, sturdy, drought tolerant plants to stand tall through July and August.

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Loose foliage of Siberian Iris and Crinum lily function like ornamental grasses through summer, setting off other flowering plants nearby.

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Herbs top my list of sturdy, dependable choices for summer structure.  Fennel, lavender, Salvias, dill, thyme, Santolina, rosemary, Germander, Artemesia, and Pelargoniums stand up and look smart with a minimum of supplemental water.  Iris, considered an herb by many, are a part of this dependably sturdy cohort.

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Rose scented Pelargonium

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And, these plants are all beautiful.  Many are fragrant, and some bloom for weeks right through the summer. Their leaves are fleshy and thick, some waxy and prepared to stand up to the relentless Mediterranean sun.  Their subtle colors and designs fascinating.

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Spanish Lavender

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As an added bonus, most can be found for a very small investment each spring.  Many herbs are offered at local big box stores and grocery stores from March through June or early July for just a few dollars a pot.

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Newly planted Rosemary ‘Tuscan Blue’ grows with tough Sedum ‘Angelina.’  This Rosemary can eventually grow into a good sized shrub.

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Perennials generally survive challenging weather better than annuals, anyway, because they have grown deeper, larger roots. Perennial herbs prove some of the most dependable.

They may need more coddling through their first few months, but once established they will hang on until conditions improve.  Like trees and shrubs, their roots can seek out moisture out of reach of many other plants.

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Keep newly planted perennials well watered while their roots grow out into the surrounding soil. Once new growth begins, you know the plants are settling in. The Monarda and Verbena hastata were planted in mid-July, a terrible time for planting!  The Pineapple sage (top right) is now well established and can handle summer weather.

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We are all discovering ways to adapt to the challenges our changing weather patterns bring.  We see all sorts of records broken month after month, and know that more change is likely ahead.

Our gardens can adapt, beautifully, and with tremendous artistry.  We just need to keep an open mind as we plant.  A willingness to experiment with new plants, ones we may not have previously considered for the perennial garden, and different ways of cultivating it opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“In a world of change,

the learners shall inherit the earth,

while the learned shall find themselves

perfectly suited

for a world that no longer exists.”
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Eric Hoffer

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Change Is in the Air

This morning dawned balmy, damp and oh, so bright across our garden!

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Brilliant autumn color finally appeared on our trees this past week, and we are loving this annual spectacle when trees appear as blazing torches in shades of yellow, gold, orange and scarlet.   We have been watching and waiting for this pleasure since the first scarlet leaves appeared on Virginia creeper vines and the rare Sumac in early September.  But summer’s living green cloaked our trees longer than ever before in our memories,  this fall.

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I remember a particularly beautiful autumn in the late 1980s, the year my daughter was born.  I went to the hospital in the second week of October to deliver, with the still summery trees barely showing a hint or shadow of their autumn finery.  When we drove back home with her a couple of days later, I was amazed at the transformation in the landscape.  The trees were bright and gorgeous, as if to celebrate her homecoming.

Once upon a time, I believed that first frost brought color to deciduous leaves.  Our first frost date here in zone 7 is October 15.  We haven’t always had a frost by then, but there is definitely a frosty chill in the evening air by late October here.

But not this year, or last….

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Bees remain busy in our garden, gathering nectar and pollen for the winter months ahead.

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The annual Begonias are still covered with blossoms in my parents’ garden, and our Begonia plants still sit outside in their pots, blooming with enthusiasm, waiting for us to decide to bring them back indoors.  Our days are still balmy and soft; our evenings barely drop below the 50s or 60s.  There is no frost in our forecast through Thanksgiving, at least.

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Our geraniums keep getting bigger and brighter in this gentle, fall weather.

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It is lovely, really.  We are taking pleasure in these days where we need neither heat nor air conditioning.  We are happily procrastinating on the fall round-up of tender potted plants, gleefully calculating how long we can let them remain in the garden and on the deck.  I’m still harvesting herbs and admiring flowers in our fall garden.

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Of course, there are two sides to every coin, as well as its rim.  You may be interested in a fascinating description of just how much our weather patterns have changed since 1980, published by the Associated Press just last week.  Its title, “Climate Change is Shrinking Winter in the US, Scientists Say,”  immediately makes me wonder why less winter is a bad thing.  I am not a fan of winter, personally.  Its saving grace is it lets me wear turtleneck sweaters and jeans nearly every day.

Just why is winter important, unless you are a fan of snowy sports?  Well, anyone who has grown apple, pear or peach trees knows that these trees need a certain number of “chilling hours,” below freezing, to set good fruit.

Certain insects also multiply out of control when there aren’t enough freezing days to reduce their population over winter.    Winter gives agricultural fields a chance to rest, knocks down weeds and helps clear the garden for a fresh beginning every spring.

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But there are other, more important benefits of winter, too.  Slowly melting snow and ice replenish our water tables in a way summer rains, which rapidly run off, never can.  Snow and ice reflect solar energy back into space.  Bodies of water tend to absorb the sun’s energy, further warming the climate.

Methane locked into permafrost is released into the warming atmosphere when permafrost thaws.  And too much warmth during the  winter months coaxes shrubs and perennials into growth too early.  Like our poor Hydrangeas last March, those leaves will freeze and die off on the occasional below-freezing night, often killing the entire shrub.

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By March 5, 2017, our Hydrangeas had leaves and our garden had awakened for spring.  Freezes later in the month killed some of the newer shrubs, and killed most of the flower buds on older ones.

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The article states, ” The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

” The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.

“This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.”

Not only has the first freeze of the season grown later and later with each passing year, but the last freeze of the season comes ever earlier.  According to Meteorologist Ken Kunkel, winter 2016 was a full two months shorter than normal in the Pacific Northwest.

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Coastal Oregon, in mid-October 2017, had seen no frost yet. We enjoyed time playing on the beach and visiting the Connie Hansen garden while I was there.  Very few leaves had begun to turn bright for fall, though many were already falling from the trees.

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I’ve noticed something similar with our daffodils and other spring flowers.  Because I photograph them obsessively each year, I have a good record of what should bloom when.  This past spring, the first daffodils opened around February 8 in our garden.  In 2015, we had a February snow, and the first daffodil didn’t begin to open until February 17.  In 2014, the first daffodils opened in our garden in the second week of March.  Most years, we never saw daffodils opening until early to mid- March.  We ran a little more than two weeks early on all of the spring flowers last spring, with roses in full bloom by mid-April.

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March 8, 2014

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Is this ‘shorter winter phenomena’ something we should care about?  What do you think?  Do you mind a shorter winter, an earlier spring?

As you’ve likely noticed, when we contemplate cause and effects, we rarely perceive all of the causes for something, or all of its effects.  Our planet is an intricate and complex system of interactions, striving to keep itself in balance.  We may simplistically celebrate the personal benefits we reap from a long, balmy fall like this one, without fully realizing its implications for our planet as a whole.

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February 9, 2017

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I’m guessing the folks in Ohio who had a tornado blow through their town this past weekend have an opinion.  Ordinarily, they would already be enjoying winter weather by now.

We are just beginning to feel the unusual weather patterns predicted decades ago to come along with a warming planet.  The seas are rising much faster than they were predicted to rise, and we are already seeing the extreme storms bringing catastrophic rain to communities all across our nation, and the world.  The economic losses are staggering, to say nothing of how peoples’ lives have been effected when they live in the path of these monster storms.

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Magnolia stellata blooming in late February, 2016

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Yes, change is in the air.  I’m not sure that there is anything any of us can do individually to change or ‘fix’ this unusual weather, but we certainly need to remain aware of what is happening, and have a plan for how to live with it.

My immediate plan is simple:  Plant more plants!  I reason that every plant we grow helps filter carbon and other pollutants from the air, trapping them in its leaves and stems.  Every little bit helps, right?  And if not, at least their roots are holding the soil on rainy days, and their beauty brings us joy.

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Newly planted Dianthus blooms in our autumn garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Sunday Dinner: New Horizons

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“When we look up, it widens our horizons.

We see what a little speck we are in the universe,

so insignificant, and we all take ourselves so seriously,

but in the sky, there are no boundaries.

No differences of caste or religion or race.”

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Julia Gregson

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“There is so much to say about a past.

It’s a vein of gold through a mountain,

leading to an incontrovertible stone heart of truth.

But the future is a horizon –

a faintly visible line that will promise much,

and always remain too far away to touch.”

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Aliya Whiteley

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“Watching the infinite horizons

gives you infinite dreams, infinite ideas,

infinite paths!

Choose a great target

and then you will see

that great instruments will appear for you

to reach that target!”

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Mehmet Murat ildan

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“Material and technical changes

are mostly quite visible.

But less visible are the changes

in the mind of the people, their way of thinking,

their conception of the world

and the quality of their fears.”

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Erik Pevernagie

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“Dreamers are mocked as impractical.

The truth is they are the most practical,

as their innovations lead to progress

and a better way of life for all of us.”

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Robin S. Sharma

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“In a world of change,

the learners shall inherit the earth,

while the learned shall find themselves

perfectly suited for a world

that no longer exists.”

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Eric Hoffer

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“We’re treating the sky as an open sewer.”

“Every night on the news

is like a nature hike

through the book of Revelation.”

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Now we have solutions to the climate crisis,

and they can create tens of millions of new jobs.” 

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Al Gore on CNN’s ‘State of The Union,’ June 4, 2017

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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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Finally, Rain

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The first fine mist of rain found us at sunset on Sunday evening.  I noticed the sweetness in the air first, that smell of wetness we’ve missed for so long.  The cool mist touched our skin as we came outside, and we saw the tiniest of water droplets on the car’s windows.

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Mexican Pegunia, Rueilla simplex

Mexican Petunia, Ruellia simplex

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Finally, rain.  After weeks of unrelenting, unnerving heat and drought, here in Williamsburg, the promise of rain felt real.

The sunset sky was filled with mounding tropical clouds.  Some heavy and grey, others white and touched with sunset pinks and golds; they were reaching for one another, but did not yet cover all the bright blue above.

We had watched their progress all day, swirling above us.  It was hot again, 90.  The forecast rain failed to appear, again.  Until sunset.

~

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana feeds songbirds for many months each fall.

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana feeds songbirds for many months each fall.  Considered a weed, I still love the color of its berries.

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And that was the beginning of this luxurious, generous, welcome rain.  The streets were wet when we drove home Sunday night, and the rain has come in fits and starts, downpours and drizzles ever since.

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Our brick hard garden, baked by weeks of dry heat, drinks in every drop.  Burned leaves still fall.  Every gust of wind carries sheets of brown leaves  from desiccated branches down to the hard earth.  Dead leaves coat every bed and gather in every pot.

Squirrels have been shredding Dogwood berries as they form; there are no acorns in our garden to feed them through the winter coming.

 

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But every bird and squirrel welcomes this rain, as do we.  A cardinal chirped and preened in the top of the Crepe Myrtle near the window yesterday, as the rain fell.  Such happiness!

But it seems every recent weather event touches the extremes.  As we watched the rain nourishing our garden, others watched it filling their streets and parking lots.

~

Oxalis

Oxalis

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A nearby high school had a foot or more of water gathered in their parking lot by afternoon, with students sloshing through standing water to their buses and flooding cars.  And inches more rain are coming as what is left of Tropical Storm Julia meanders northward past the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay today.  Not that we’re complaining….

We talked, over dinner on Sunday, about how long we can manage to adapt to the changing climate here.  If each year comes on hotter than the last, what does that mean for us in another five years? Ten? If these trends continue on, how will our lives change?

That conversation is likely unfolding around a lot of dinner tables these days.  Heat and floods, drought and extreme winter storms have insinuated themselves into our lives in odd and expensive ways.

~

Basil gone to seed, before the rains, delight our goldfinches and other small birds.

Basil gone to seed, before the rains, delights our goldfinches and other small birds.

~

I walked in the rain this afternoon, taking stock of the garden’s response.  It’s good to see the plants plump and happy again as they fill themselves with this cool rain.

It’s even better to find myself indoors watching it, rather than outside with the hose, trying to give each area enough water to survive another day.

~

Calaldium, 'Desert Sunset'

Calaldium, ‘Desert Sunset’ bathed in fresh rain

~

I’ll admit we’re  worn a bit thin at the moment, after weeks of standing in the hot sun, watering the parched earth for hours every day.  And we wonder whether next summer will bring more of the same, or worse.

My partner asks with each new plant, “Is it drought tolerant?”  

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“Well…. in normal weather, or extreme?”  

That is the question all of us gardeners  eventually ask ourselves:  “What is ‘normal’ any more, and will we experience ‘normal’ again anytime soon?”

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It may be the one thing each of us can do to help our climate, our planet really, is to plant more trees.

We can make an effort towards restoring our ecosystem, trapping carbon, filtering the air, and re-balancing the water cycle with every tree and large woody shrub we plant.

But it takes all of us, each doing what we can on many fronts, to change this equation.

~

Alocasia 'Stingray' thrive in heat and humidity. These tropical plants help filter the air and trap carbon with their huge leaves.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ thrive in heat and humidity. These tropical plants help filter the air and trap carbon with their huge leaves.

~

 

The long drought here is ended, but the challenge goes on and on.

I hope you are tuned in to this issue, and are doing what you can, where you can, to address the challenges this climate change brings to us all.

But mostly, I hope you are also finding pleasure and relief from the heat, when it finally rains.

~

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“The physical threat posed by climate change

represents a crisis that is not only material

but also profoundly spiritual at its core

because it challenges us to think seriously

about the future of the human race

and what it means to be a human being.”

.

Grace Lee Boggs

~

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“Knowledge empowers people

with our most powerful tool:

the ability to think and decide.

There is no power for change greater

than a child discovering what he or she cares about.”

.

Seymour Simon

(Speech about Global Warmingread on the National Mall
for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, 2010)

 

 

 

 

Winter’s Encore

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Lest we forget that coastal Virginia has not yet become tropical, winter returned for an encore early this morning.  Wind whipped out of the north most of the day.  At least we didn’t see snow when the sun rose this morning.

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Balmy days in March lulled us into believing the promises of springtime.  Dogwoods opened as though it were mid-April already.  Wisteria blankets the trees along country roads, and Azalea shrubs have burst into bright Easter egg colors.

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Ferns unfold their delicate fronds and tender perennials have tentatively opened their first new leaves of the season.  Our roses have produced their first flush of tiny flower buds.

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We were thrilled to discover our figs survived this winter past, new leaves and tiny fruits bursting from last year’s wood.  But that may all change over night.

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What is this sadistic weather roller coaster that has hi-jacked the jet stream?  Why the Arctic blast after weeks of sunny warmth?

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We started early this morning bringing plants back in to the relative warmth of our garage.  I went out, before the coffee was made, to investigate what had sent our wind chimes beneath the deck madly ringing.  It was a chair blown over, hitting them on the way down.  Brrr!

The wind chill had returned us to February, and we began bringing in those pots and baskets still sheltering under the deck.  Despite the blazing sun, today brought relentless wind and cold .

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It was after five when we finally covered those tender pots we couldn’t move, stretched large bags over a few tender shrubs, and agreed we had made our best efforts.

Will it freeze here tonight?  We’ll know by morning.  Then we’ll enjoy a few more days of warmth before the freezing cold returns this weekend.

Our frost free date here in Zone 7 remains April 15.  While it may be unusual to have wintery cold so deep into April, we have to remember it can happen.  April snow  rarely falls in our area, but flurries greeted neighbors to our north and west this morning.

~

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It may look like spring in our garden, but winter is making an encore this week.  We trust that those leaves and flowers unfolding now will survive her frosty touch.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Solstice in Blossoms

Daffodils blooming here on December 20....

Daffodils blooming here on December 20….

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Happy Winter Solstice to you!

Our morning was filled with bright sunshine and blue skies.  It has been unusually warm here today.   The clouds moved in this afternoon, but the nearly full moon rose early, and is shining brightly in a huge corona through the misty, drifting haze.

It was still in the mid-50s at 7 PM  here; a little above the usual mid-day high for us in December.  But the garden is loving it!

~

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Yesterday morning, my partner told me about an odd flower he had spotted.  He had picked it up where the rain had beaten it down into the lawn.  He said it looked a little like a Daffodil.  But isn’t it much too early for Daffodils in December?

And he was right; on both counts.  When I finally went out to look in the afternoon, the setting sun illuminated those yellow blossoms so sweetly.

~

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We had gone out to chase a few rogue deer who somehow snuck into the garden.  And rounding the corner, there were golden roses proudly blooming on a climber which normally blooms only in the spring.  It had re-awakened to share a few special winter blossoms with us.

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Even after a cold snap this weekend and frost on Saturday morning, the flowers keep coming all over the garden.  We have Camellias and Violas, Snaps and roses.  And now this golden Daffodil, too….

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This Camellia normally blooms each spring. Do you see the open Forsythia blossom in the photo? If it is 80 here on Christmas Eve, as is forecast, I expect this shrub to begin leafing out by New Year's Day....

This Camellia normally blooms each spring.  Do you see the open Forsythia blossom in the photo? If it is 80 here on Christmas Eve, as is forecast, I expect this shrub to begin leafing out by New Year’s Day….

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Indoors, our Amaryllis has bloomed in record time.  And such blossoms! 

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This is the special, huge, bulb I brought home form The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  What flowers!  Only the first stem has bloomed so far, so we have at least four more blossoms to open this week.

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It was fine, until I moved it for better photographs.  That upset the balance, and the stem and leaves were flopping over by early evening.  Hindsight, right…?

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But now I’ve staked it with a coil of copper wire and a green stake from a peony cage.   The flowers are standing up proudly again, so pretty in the morning sun.

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These final ‘blossoms’ are not flowers at all; they are our ornamental cabbages, with their outrageously ornate leaves.  They appear quite happy with our mild December weather.  They will hold up to snow, but too many bitterly cold nights will show up on the leaves.

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This afternoon, we  finally brought  our Christmas tree indoors, and its fresh aroma has begun to fill our home with that special fragrance of Christmas.  I hope to get lights on it later this evening.

But these last days before Christmas are full ones. 

The beauty of our Solstice blossoms invites us to slow down; to appreciate the beauty, and not get completely lost in the flurry of  endless tasks and errands.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Sunday Dinner: Climate Change

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“To thrive in this new age of hyper-change and growing uncertainty,

it is now an imperative to learn a new competency —

how to accurately anticipate the future.”

.

Dan Burrus

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“Many call this process ‘the destruction of nature.’

But it’s not really destruction, it’s change.

Nature cannot be destroyed.”

.

Yuval Noah Harari

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“There are two primary choices in life:

to accept conditions as they exist,

or accept the responsibility for changing them.”

.

Denis Waitley

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“Nothing endures but change.”

.

Heraclitus Ephesus

~

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Sea levels rise and fall along the Eastern coast of North America.  This has been going on for millions of years.  At one time, the sea lapped against the Blue Ridge Mountains, several hundred miles to our west.  Most of Virginia was underwater.  We know this from the fossil record. 

Archaeologists are finding the remains of great cities, now under water, off the coasts of Africa, India, and Southern Europe.  We know the topography of our planet changes continually. 

There is no longer any question that our climate and our landscape are changing.  I believe the important question is, “Why now?”  and “What, if anything, can we do?”

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Storms over the last two weeks are chewing up our sandy coastline.  Beaches and riverbanks continue eroding.  Flooding is widespread, and not just along the seacoast.  Heavy rain has brought flooding well inland from the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains all the way back towards the coasts from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. 

But this is insignificant compared to the effects of  Hurricane Joaquin’s winds on the islands it has attacked.   Millions of lives have been effected by severe weather this year across our planet. 

I believe there are many causes for our warming climate and increasingly severe storms.  Some may be caused by human activity.  Other causes are part of the natural rhythms of our planet.  Activity at the planet’s core controls vulcanism,  and the heat and gasses pouring into our oceans from underwater volcanoes. 

The amount of radiation from space, which makes it through to our atmosphere, has a tremendous impact on our climate and quality of life.  A weakening magnetosphere allows more of this Solar and cosmic radiation to reach our planet.  This is one of many complex factors which affects our climate and our weather patterns.

No one of us can control any of what is happening with climate change.  But we each must adapt. 

And we can do our own little part to bring our planet back into balance by the way we live our lives.  Every tree we nurture captures and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere.  Every garden we plant helps control erosion and contributes to the health of our ecosystem. 

Our choices of where to live and how much energy to consume play their part in this complex equation.

~

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And each of us has a political voice we can raise with our government representatives, demanding that they not only acknowledge this accelerated climate change on our planet, but that they take actions, based on our best research, to mitigate the effects. Our voices may be even more effective when lobbying corporations to make changes in how they manage our Earth’s resources.

I believe we are in uncharted territory now.  I don’t know if there is any precedent or model to help us understand the totality of the changes occurring now in our planet’s ecosystem.  But we can not ignore the issue and expect it to work itself out. 

I believe we are all getting a taste of what that looks like…

~

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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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