Fabulous Friday: Bonus Days

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Winter is already closing in on so many parts of the country, bringing snow to areas where the leaves haven’t even fallen.  With less than a week left in October, every soft, warm, late autumn day feels like a bonus day on the season.

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It has looked like rain all day, with only an occasional glimpse of sunshine breaking through the gloom; perfect weather to putter around outside.  And ‘putter’ is a good description of the bits and pieces I’ve strung together to make a day.

I’m in process of digging Caladiums.  It is always tricky to catch them before they fade away, leaving no trace of where their plump rhizomes lie buried.  But just as they leaf out on their own varietal schedules, so they fade according to their own rhythms, too.

While many in pots still look very presentable, and I’m procrastinating on digging them, others have already slipped away.  I need to sit awhile and study photos of their plantings to dig in the right places to recover them.

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A gardening friend and I were puttering together yesterday, at the Botanical Garden.  I was digging Caladiums as she was planting Violas.  I was digging Caladiums from her bed, and she gently suggested that I not waste too much energy digging until I knew I was in the ‘right’ spot.  That was good advice, and gave me a good reason to dig less and chat more.

Today hasn’t been much more productive, I’m afraid.  Until the forecast calls for colder night time temps, I won’t feel motivated to begin hauling in the pots and baskets.

And yet the signs of autumn are all around in the brown, crinkly leaves skirting the drive and softly gathering on the lawn.  Bare branches come into view all around the garden, as their leafy garments slip away for another season.

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Instead, I’m watering, admiring.  I spent a while potting up Arum tubers in the basement, and planting Violas from their 6 packs into little pots, to grow them on.

These are the bonus days when I can daydream about where I’ll plant them, even as summer’s geraniums and Verbena shine again with their vivid cool weather blooms.

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It is a relief, quite honestly.  The plants have perked up in the cooler, damper weather of the last two weeks.  The Alocasias are sending up new, crisp leaves.  The Mexican Petunias bloom purple as the pineapple sage proudly unfurls scarlet bloom after scarlet bloom.

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Every sort of little bee and wasp covered the Salvias yesterday, reveling in warm sunshine and abundant nectar.  A brilliant yellow Sulphur butterfly lazed its way from plant to plant, bed to bed, and I found some fresh cats here and there.

The Monarchs are still here, though I’ve not seen a hummingbird since early October.  Perhaps they have already flown south.

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Like a band playing one more encore, reluctant for the evening to end, and then leaving the stage to party on with friends; I’m reluctant to admit the season is nearly done.  I don’t want to rush it away, in my haste to prepare for the coming winter.

It is a calculation of how many hours, days, weeks might be left of bonus time, before the first frost destroys all of the tenderness of our autumn garden.

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I’ve been content to admire it all today, and make a few efforts to prepare for the changes to come.

Flocks of goldfinches gather in the upper garden, feasting on ripe black-eyed Susan and basil seeds left standing.  Pairs of cardinals gather in the shrubs, sometimes peering in the kitchen window or searching for tasty morsels in the pots on the patio; sociable and familiar now in these shorter, cooler days.

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We rarely have frost until November, here in coastal Virginia.  But colder weather is on its way.  Snow this week in Texas, and Oklahoma, and a cold front on the move promise changes ahead.   I’m hoping that we’ll have a few more sweet bonus days, before ice transforms our garden’s beauty into its bony, frost kissed shadow.

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Begonias and ferns sparkle in today’s dim sun, enjoying another day in the garden before coming indoors for winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“The strangeness of Time.

Not in its passing, which can seem infinite,

like a tunnel whose end you can’t see,

whose beginning you’ve forgotten,

but in the sudden realization

that something finite, has passed,

and is irretrievable.”

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Joyce Carol Oates

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious. Let’s infect one another.

Sunday Dinner: In Passing

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“Sit here,
so I may write
you into a poem
and make you
eternal.”
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Kamand Kojouri

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“Everything passes.
Joy. Pain. The moment of triumph;
the sigh of despair.
Nothing lasts forever –
not even this.”
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Paul Stewart

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“The only way to make sense out of change
is to plunge into it, move with it,
and join the dance.”
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Alan Wilson Watts

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“No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river
and he’s not the same man.”
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Heraclitus

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“We think of life as solid and are haunted
when time tells us it is a fluid.
Old Heraclitus couldn’t have stepped in the same river once,
let alone twice.”
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Jim Harrison

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“Being temporary doesn’t make something matter any less,
because the point isn’t for how long,
the point is that it happened.”
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Robyn Schneider

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“Nothing in the world is permanent,
and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last,
but surely we’re still more foolish
not to take delight in it
while we have it.”
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W. Somerset Maugham

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“Of what is the body made?
It is made of emptiness and rhythm.
At the ultimate heart of the body,
at the heart of the world,
there is no solidity…
there is only the dance.”
.
George Leonard

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

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“The passage of time.
That is what is eternal, that is what has no end.
And it shows itself only in the effect it has on everything else,
so that everything else embodies,
in its own impermanence,
the one thing that never ends.”
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David Szalay

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Pot Shots: Rescue Plants

Hosta ‘Halcyon’

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Maybe your soft spot is homeless dogs at the Humane Society.  My soft spot is clearance shelf rescue plants.  It is hard for me to walk past that clearance shelf without pausing to assess what is on offer.

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I went to Lowes in late August for gravel, potting soil and landscaping blocks, and happened upon hundreds of struggling plants loaded on rack after rolling rack out in the full sun.  Oh, the indignity of once beautiful plants ending up in such straits after just a few short weeks in a big-box store.

I couldn’t avert my eyes.  I couldn’t just walk past.  I had to scan the shelves to see what I might salvage.  That is where I turned up two Fortune’s holly ferns that I planted to help control erosion, a flat of mixed Sedums, and this poor little Hosta.  Marked down to only a dollar, how could I not give it another chance at life?

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The Hosta has grow several new leaves over the past three weeks. It could be divided next spring.

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The day it came home with me, it had exactly three leaves left, and those were scalded from sitting in full sun with dried up soil.  That’s not a promising start.  But I knew that if those three leaves were alive, then the roots were alive.  And you buy a perennial for its roots.

Before adopting a dog or a plant, there are a few questions one must address:  Does it have fleas, or other insect infestation?  Any signs of disease?  Will it fit in with the family?  Can it be saved?

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Two Athyrium ‘Bradford’s Rambler’ that I picked up on an August clearance in 2018 yielded several plants, after division.

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With a plant, my next question is its expected life-span.  Only the perennials are worth the effort, to me.  An annual is only expected to live a few months, anyway.  Late in the season, it usually isn’t worth it to purchase and rescue an annual plant.

Now, a marginally hardy perennial might be an exception.  I recently bought a couple of flats of stressed Salvia coccinea, a native perennial to our south.  This red hummingbird Salvia is hardy at least to Zone 8, and might make it here with a good mulch.  The plants were still in 1″ cell packs, root bound, and stunted.  I took a chance.

I freed each one’s roots, loosened the root balls, and planted them into rich potting mix in larger pots.  After a good feeding and watering, I set them into a protected spot in partial sun to recover and begin to grow.  After giving away more than half of those I bought, I still had a few Salvia plants left to use in a bed, and others left for pots.

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Salvia coccinea, Hummingbird Salvia, have prospered now that they have room to grow and reasonable care.

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The key to reviving a rescue plant is to meet its needs and give it space and time to recover.  Rescue plants have sat in a shop for too long.  They may have gotten too much or too little light, been allowed to dry out, and they are almost certainly root bound.  Most have lost a lot of their leaves and may have stopped growing due to extreme stress.

So the first thing I do with a plant, after looking it over carefully for any sign of hitch-hiking insects or disease, is to water the root ball.  First thing, before I even go in the house.  I may even water the plant before I leave the nursery, if I have some water in the car.  Water is life for a plant, and it can’t carry out any of its life functions if it doesn’t have moisture.

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I enjoy miniature Hostas, but they can be pricey. All of mine came as gifts or as clearance plants. I found this one in late July, with its own culture of moss, and simply repotted and fed it.

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Next, I usually cut away and throw away any broken or dead stems and leaves.  Pruning stimulates new growth, and the plant needs healthy new tissue to begin producing sugars and cellulose again so it can recover.

If a plant has grown way too much top growth, for the size of its roots, you might cut it back by a third to a half to stimulate new growth.  It is possible that the stems you cut away will root, given a chance, to give you even more new plants.

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After several weeks of care, it is producing new leaves and may fill the pot before frost.

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If a plant is severely root bound, with roots showing on top of the rootball and hanging out of the pot, it needs repotting or planting as soon as possible.  Gently tease out the roots, trim away any that look damaged or dried up, and give the plant a new, larger pot.  I usually pot up all rescue plants and leave them in shade to partial sun, away from other plants, until they show signs of growth.  This allows the plants a rest, a chance to convalesce, before I expect them to perform.  While they all need light, placing them in a little more shade than they would normally grow in gives them a chance to recover without the stress of full sun exposure.

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This little Alocasia was a rescue plant last summer. It has many beautiful leaves, but is still much shorter than most cultivars of this species.

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Finally, I give a good foliar feed with fish emulsion, such as Neptune’s Harvest.  Drench the plant’s remaining leaves and root ball with this gentle, mineral rich fertilizer.  Do it once every week or so, and watch the life return to the plant as it sends up new leaves.

Remember, with a perennial, you are buying the root system.  If there are some leaves or buds, that is just a bonus.  After working with bare root starts for a while, one comes to realize that the roots and crown are the main things required for a plant’s survival.  Most perennials die back to just their roots and crown during the winter, or their period of dormancy anyway.  A stressed plant may go dormant in the summer, too, and will reawaken with new growth when conditions become favorable once again.

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Late summer and early fall are prime time to find good rescue plants.  Discounts may range from 15% up to %75.  Sometimes I’m even given plants for free, where I have a relationship with the staff, especially if the plants are already destined for the compost pile.

This is a good way to acquire plants when you want to experiment with a new cultivar, when you need a large quantity of a specific plant, or when you’re on a budget.   A little TLC and a lot of patience make those horticultural dreams come true, as plants bounce back and grow in your care for many, many years to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Sunday Dinner: The Work

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“True freedom is impossible
without a mind made free by discipline.”
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Mortimer J. Adler

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“We must do our work for its own sake,
not for fortune or attention or applause.”
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Steven Pressfield
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“Always listen to experts.
They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why.
Then do it.”
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Robert A. Heinlein

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“Everything has boundaries.
The same holds true with thought.
You shouldn’t fear boundaries,
but you should not be afraid of destroying them.
That’s what is most important
if you want to be free:
respect for and exasperation with boundaries.”
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Haruki Murakami
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“Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas.
Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection,
despite its ugliness.
I take it for granted that to create a tree I condemn a seed to rot.
If the first act of resistance comes too late
it is doomed to defeat.
But it is, nevertheless, the awakening of resistance.
Life may grow from it as from a seed.”
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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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“Believe me, for I know,
you will find something far greater in the woods
than in books. Stones and trees will teach you
that which you cannot learn from the masters.”
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Bernard of Clairvaux
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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Trees styled by members of the Richmond Bonsai Society
and displayed at The Great Big Greenhouse, Richmond Virginia 9.14-15.2019
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“And the forest perfume —
trees and earth —
it’s like incense in a shrine.
You fall into a state of… prayer.”
.
Keiichi Sigsawa
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Six on Saturday: Silver Lining

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Sometimes it’s a real challenge to find the ‘silver lining’ in difficult events.  I was taught, growing up, to always look for the good in people, the opportunity within a challenge, and the silver lining in whatever events may come.  This sort of thinking helps us remain optimistic and resilient, and perhaps gives us a little more happiness and peace of mind along the way.

But the slow swirling menace of Hurricane Dorian’s approach over the last few weeks has cast its long shadow across those of us living near the Atlantic coast, as we’ve watched its destructive progress.  We saw the utter devastation it caused as it chewed its way across the islands in its path.

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We watched the updates to its track, strength and speed.  We wondered just how a mighty storm was supposed to make a 90 degree turn from moving west to moving northeastwards, as it pivoted off of the Florida coast.  But it did, just in time to ‘save’ certain luxury properties along the southern Florida coast.  We live in an amazing age, don’t we?

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We watched the eye of the storm slowly skirt along the coast, just offshore, as its long rain bands and dangerous winds reached inland to rake across Georgia, South and North Carolina, and finally reach into Virginia yesterday morning.

We know so many people living in its path, and so many of those places that it touched from happy summers spent on beautiful island beaches along the coast.  We’ve taken the ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke and driven through the National Park to spend happy days in Ocracoke village.  The hospitable people who live there spent yesterday watching the tide rise and overwash their island home as they moved up into attics and out onto roofs, waiting for rescue from the mainland to arrive.

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Hurricane Dorian made a brief landfall at Cape Hatteras, a tiny sliver of sand miles off the mainland coast, before turning further out to sea and away from our home along the James River.  It is still swirling along, a monster storm, bringing wind and rain to everyone within miles of the Atlantic coast, as it heads ever further northwards towards Canada.

We’ve watched the reports in fascination and horror, as weather journalists reported along the path of the storm.  Our hearts are touched by the resilience of people who weather these monster storms year after year, rebuilding their homes and their lives to live along the coast.

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The windswept beaches of our Atlantic coast feel timeless because they survive these devastating challenges time and again.  The landscape is forever changed by the passage of such storms, but the land and sea and sky remain, and return to calm within hours of the storm’s passing.  The people focus on what is saved and their relationships with one another, rather than focus on what they have lost.

By dinner time the winds had subsided, patches of blue sky appeared, and the remaining clouds took on soft, pastel sunset colors.  The air was cool, fall-like.  We heard birds and chirping insects before dusk, and the sounds of children finally let out to play in the street.

Another storm finally passed, and life is returning to its normal rhythms.  Perhaps ‘normal’ is the silver-lining we all hope for in the passing storms of life.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Another Chance at ‘Spring’

A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly enjoys nectar from garlic chives.

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Just in case you didn’t get to everything you had planned this spring, before the heat and humidity set in, we are stepping into a beautiful gardening window that I like to call, ‘second spring.’  This is perhaps the very best time of year for planting in our region.

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As days grow shorter we feel tremendous relief.  Daytime temperatures don’t go quite so high, and nights grow deliciously cooler again.  Our plants are showing signs of relief:  new growth and improved color.  Even trees around town indicate that autumn is near, as a few leaves here and there begin to fade out to yellow, orange and red.

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Now is a good time to plant because we’ll have many weeks of cooler, moist weather for new roots to establish before the first freeze arrives in November or December.  Yes, there will likely be a few hot days ahead.  But they will give way to cool evenings.  Our gardens, and our bodies, will have a break.

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This is a great time to take cuttings from perennials like Tradescantia. Break (or cut) the stem at a node, and set it an inch or two deep in moist soil to root.

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If you still want to take cuttings and grow a few plants on to either add clones to your garden, or start plants for spring 2020, now is the time.  Plants still want to grow and you’ll have time to get a good root system going before frost.  It is humid enough here that softwood cuttings simply stuck into a pot of moist earth will likely root with no special attention.

I’ve been doing a little pruning on woodies this week, and have just stuck some of those trimmed down stems into pots.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have a new plant.  If it doesn’t take, what have I lost?

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New woody growth, like on this rose of Sharon, will strike roots in moist soil. Remove all flowers and flower buds to send the cutting’s energy to root production.  Leave the leaves, as they are still powering the new plant.

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I’m going to dig a few hardy Colocasia later this afternoon to share with a friend.  They can be transplanted most any time from when growth begins until frost.  Even dug in November, they can live on in a pot through the winter in a basement.  Since these Colocasias spread each year, I’m always so appreciative of friends who will accept a few plants, so I can thin the elephant ears!

But this is a really good time to plant any perennials out into the garden.  If there is any question as to hardiness, a few handfuls of mulch over the roots should help those new roots survive the first winter.

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Colocasia, ‘Pink China’ have grow up around these Lycoris bulbs. The flowers continue to bloom despite the crowding.

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Garden centers want to clear out old stock to make way for their fall offerings.  I shopped two this morning, picking up tremendous deals at both.  Lowe’s had some plants marked down to $1.00 or $0.50, just to save them the trouble of throwing them away.  Now, you have to be reasonable, of course.  But a still living perennial, even a raggedy one, has its roots.  Remember, you are really buying the roots, which will shoot up new leaves and live for many years to come.

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Sedums I picked up on clearance today at a local big box store will establish before winter sets in and start growing again in earliest spring.

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I was searching for holly ferns today, to plant in some areas where erosion is still a problem.  Those ferns will strike deep roots and grow into emerald beauties by next summer.  The most I paid for any of them was $3.00.  I also scored a blue Hosta, a Jasmine vine, three blooming Salvias and a beautiful tray of Sedums that I’m donating to a special project.

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This is the time to start seeds for fall veggie crops.  Little plugs have begun to show up in some of our shops.  Planting collards, kale, or other veggies now gives them time to grow good roots.  We have time in Williamsburg to get another crop of any leafy green that will grow in 90 days, or less.

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Black Swallowtail cats enjoy the parsley.  Find end of season parsley on sale now. A biennial, it will return next spring.

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The only thing I won’t plant now is bulbs.  They’ll be turning up in shops soon, but it is too early to plant most bulbs in coastal Virginia.  It is better to wait until at least late October, so they don’t start growing too soon.  Our ground is much to warm still to plant spring blooming bulbs.  In fact, some of our grape hyacinths, planted in previous years, have begun to grow new leaves.

That said, go ahead and buy bulbs as you find them, then store them in a cool, dark place with good air circulation until time to plant.

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Hardy Begonia and fern will overwinter just fine and return next spring.  These have grown in pots since May, but I’ll plant them into the garden one day soon.

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We’ve learned that fall is the perfect time to plant new woodies.  In fact, they tend to grow faster planted in fall than spring, because their roots will grow into the surrounding soil all winter long, giving them a much better foundation for next summer’s weather.  While some nurseries are running sales and trying to clear out remaining trees and shrubs, some of the big box stores are stocking up.  They have figured out that there is a market this time of year for trees and are willing to take the risk that there may be stock left in December.

September and October feel like the best part of the summer to me.  There’s a sense of relief that July is past and August nearly over.  The air feels good again, fresh and encouraging.  Cooler days mean that I’m feeling more ambitious to pick up my shovel again.  I’ve kept a potted Hydrangea alive all summer, and will finally commit to a spot and plant it one day soon.

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The garden is filled with bees, birds and butterflies, with new butterflies emerging all the time from their chrysalides.  New flowers open each day, and flowers we’ve waited for all summer, like pineapple sage, will open their first blossoms any day now.

Spring is filled with optimism and hope.   So is September, our ‘second spring.’

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“That’s what is was to be young —
to be enthusiastic rather than envious
about the good work
other people could do.”
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Kurt Vonnegut

Pot Shots: Caladiums and Lady Fern ‘Queen of Green’

Caladium ‘Starburst,’ with white veins, and Caladium ‘White Delight’ share this pot with a hybrid lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae.’  Both of these new hybrid Caladium varieties can take full sun.  The fern can take partial sun.  This is a shady spot for most of the day; bright shade, and I expect them all to be very happy here until at least the end of October.

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I have been looking for a good pot for an  A. ‘Victoriae’ lady fern and some Caladiums, still waiting for their permanent spot.

I was delighted to find this green pot, that had room for both a fern and several Caladiums, at The Great Big Greenhouse this weekend.  The Great Big Greenhouse is my favorite source for beautiful and interesting pots of all shapes and sizes.

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I started several hundred Caladiums this spring and still have some in nursery pots.  I ordered several new varieties, and also had great success saving Caladiums that grew last summer.

Part of the fun of trying new Caladium hybrids is to observe as each develops its full colors and patterns.  Each leaf is unique, but the leaves change as they emerge and grow, their colors becoming more intense with age.  I have grown C. ‘White Delight’ for the last few summers, appreciating its tough, beautiful leaves that last well into the fall.  I am trying C. ‘Starburst’ for the first time this year.

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Caladium ‘Starburst,’ a Caladium for full sun that was developed by Dr. Robert Hartman at Classic Caladiums.

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In addition to the pot, the GBGH also had a lovely Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’, also called ‘Queen of Green’ lady fern, which has divided tips on each frond.  I have been holding another A. ‘Victoriae’ in its original nursery pot since last fall, waiting for the right pot to transplant it out of its nursery pot into something more permanent.

I was very glad that I had picked up the additional ‘Queen of Green’ fern on Saturday, which fits this more shallow pot;  because the other’s roots were deeper than this little green pot allowed.

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This unusual lady fern is sometimes hard to find.  I first noticed it on Tony Avent’s Plant Delights site several years ago, ordered one, and lost it within its first year.  I am always happy to buy larger plants of interesting cultivars, locally.

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The larger A. ‘Victoriae,’ that I kept in a nursery pot over winter, ended up going into a pot where a Helleborus had been growing.

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I ended up switching the larger lady fern out with a Helleborus that can spend the rest of the summer in a plain plastic pot, while it rests and gets ready to bloom next winter. 

The lady ferns, hardy to Zone 4, can stay in their ceramic pots through the winter.  They are deciduous, and so will go dormant as winter approaches.  The Caladiums will need to go dormant too.  Hardy only to Zone 10, the Caladiums will spend the winter inside.

I can fill out their spaces in the pots with spring bulbs, pansies, Italian Arum, hardy Cyclamen, or even ivy.  These will be ‘four season pots’ with the lady ferns as anchor plants that remain in place year round.

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C. ‘White Delight’

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Even at the end of July, I am still planting out new arrangements and switching out plants in older ones.  We still have a good three months of good growing weather here in Williamsburg.

Spring planted pots may be looking a little tired by now.  After the intense heat earlier this month, most pots and baskets need a boost to see them through until fall.

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The displaced Hellebore will have a chance to recover for the next few months in deep shade. They really don’t like our summer heat…

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If your pots are looking a bit tired and shabby, please don’t give up in the face of August.  Sometimes a good pruning, a foliar feed of fish emulsion, and attention to hydration is all a potted plant needs to bounce back.

Other times, you know its time has come and gone.  Just dig it out and replace it with something fresh and interesting.  This is the time to find some excellent deals at your local garden center.

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Late July and early August are still great times to plant.  Just keep an eye on those pots during our remaining hot summer days, site them carefully, and enjoy the many pleasures these plant treasures will give.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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This is one of our Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on a Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  Enjoy the Butterfly Festival at the Garden this coming Saturday and Sunday, 9-4.

 

Sunday Dinner: Resilience

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“A good half of the art of living
is resilience.”
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Alain de Botton
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“No matter how you define success,
you will need to be resilient,
empowered, authentic,
and limber to get there.”
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Joanie Connell
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“I will not be another flower,
picked for my beauty and left to die.
I will be wild,
difficult to find,
and impossible to forget.”
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Erin Van Vuren
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“Never say that you can’t do something,
or that something seems impossible,
or that something can’t be done,
no matter how discouraging
or harrowing it may be;
human beings are limited only
by what we allow ourselves to be limited by:
our own minds.
We are each the masters of our own reality;
when we become self-aware to this:
absolutely anything in the world is possible.

Master yourself,

and become king of the world around you.
Let no odds, chastisement, exile,
doubt, fear, or ANY mental virii
prevent you from accomplishing your dreams.
Never be a victim of life;
be it’s conqueror.”
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Mike Norton
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“to be successful,
you have to be out there,
you have to hit the ground running”
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Richard Branson
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“One’s doing well
if age improves even slightly
one’s capacity to hold on to that vital truism:
“This too shall pass.”
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Alain de Botton
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“In the face of adversity,
we have a choice.
We can be bitter, or we can be better.
Those words are my North Star.”
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Caryn Sullivan
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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“Grief and resilience live together.”
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Michelle Obama
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“On the other side of a storm
is the strength
that comes from having navigated through it.
Raise your sail and begin.”
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Gregory S. Williams

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A Cool Fern for Shady Spots: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

Anthyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’

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There’s a new Japanese painted fern available to light up a dark corner in your garden.  I read about it this spring, and was very pleased to find it at a local nursery.

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Metallicum’ in a mixed planting with Caladiums. This photo was taken just after planting.  I expect everything will fill in for a lush effect by later in the season.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’ sports a pale green frond with silver highlights.  It is bi-pinnate, with the center of each pinnule light and silvery, fading to a more medium green along its edges.  Like many related cultivars, ‘Metallicum’ has a beautiful red rib down the middle of each deeply divided frond.  New fronds emerge in a rosette, and several of these small clumps may fill a pot.

Each clump will eventually grow to around 18″ tall, growing a bit wider and fuller each year.   Expect this fern to die back after frost, to return larger and stronger in mid-spring.

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‘Metallicum’ with Caladium.  Both are very small divisions yet, nowhere near their mature size.

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Hardy in zones 4-9, this very hardy fern may be left in a pot through the winter in our Zone 7 garden, with high confidence that it will return in spring.  It will benefit from shade and shelter on our sweltering summer afternoons.

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum in a mixed planting

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Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum,  are very hardy, deciduous perennials that clump and spread.   They can be grown in rich moist soil in a garden bed, below shrubs, or in pots and baskets.

They make a nice ground cover under small trees, and I especially like them under a Japanese Maple.  Grow them in deep shade if you need to, but they will take partial sun.  Native to Asia, they will hybridize with other lady fern species.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea shares a pot with Japanese painted fern. Vinca and Mayapples carpet the ground under Camellia shrubs and deciduous trees.

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In fact, a very similar fern is the hybrid Athyrium ‘Ghost,’ which is a cross between our North American native  Athyrium felix-femina and Athyrium niponicum var. pictumA. ‘Ghost‘ can grow to 30″ after it is established and is hardy in Zones 4-8b.  Lady ferns tend to spread over time, and so this will form an expanding clump in moist soil in partial shade.  Easy to grow, the main rule is to never let the roots dry out completely.

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This is ‘Ghost’ in its second year in this bed, growing with Ajuga, Lamium and an autumn fern.

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I like the pale silvery glow of A. ‘Ghost,’ and have planted several of them over the years.  I always look for this particular fern at end of season clearance sales, and was very happy to find two in a flat of mixed potted ferns at our friends’ Homestead Garden Center a few weeks ago.  They sat in my holding area for the better part of two weeks, which accounts for the slight browning on some of the fronds.  Nursery pots generally need daily watering, especially with ferns.

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Here I am dividing a new acquisition of ‘Ghost’ into two parts before planting the smaller division into this hypertufa pot.  Notice the stems of each frond are a lovely burgundy, which contrasts so well with the fronds.

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Now that I’m able to plant them out, I am dividing the clumps growing in each nursery pot and spreading them about in larger pots with mixed plantings.  As each clump grows, I’ll eventually re-pot it or plant it out in the garden.

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This newly divided little Athyrium ‘Ghost’ is ready to grow in an old, hypertufa pot with a division of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls.’

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The entire collection of Japanese painted fern cultivars, native to Asia, perform extremely well in our garden.  I have collected a variety of them over the years.  They differ a little in color and size.  They vary from perhaps 12″ tall to about 36″ tall.  Some have more burgundy coloration; there is one I’ve not grown, A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ that is almost a creamy yellow.  The color of each frond shifts and changes as it ages, but all have a slightly silvery sheen.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Branford Beauty’

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I was very excited to find Athyrium naponicum var. pictum ‘Godzilla’ at a shop last summer.  As you might guess from its name, this is a large cultivar that  introduced by Plant Delights Nursery about 10 years ago.  Their catalog claims it spread into a clump 36″ tall and nearly 7′ wide.  I can only wonder how long growth of this vigor takes; it hasn’t yet happened in our garden.

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The difference in coloration and form between ‘Ghost’ on the right and ‘Metallicum’ on the left is subtle, but noticeable.  “Ghost’ will grow a bit taller (2′) than will ‘Metallicum’ (12″-18”).

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The most interesting differences among the various Japanese pained ferns come in how their fronds are shaped and further divided.  Some have forked tips to their fronds, and the axis of each frond may twist and curl.  Some cultivars spread a little more aggressively than others, but all of them send up new clumps from their rhizomes and will continue to multiply and renew themselves as the years go by.

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Athyrium niponicum “Apple Court”

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Not only do the painted ferns grow well for us, but they can grow and prosper without getting grazed by rabbits and deer.  Ferns are generally safe from grazing, though I miss a frond of other varieties from time to time when deer have gotten into our garden.  But not from our Japanese painted fern cultivars.  They just keep growing and getting better throughout the season and better from year to year.  It may take a year or two for them to begin to bulk up and establish, but once they do, they are very persistent.

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I am looking forward to growing ‘Metallicum’ and seeing how it performs compared to our other varieties.  I am in a bit of a gardening lull at the moment as I wait for a recently discovered case of Lyme’s disease to clear up.  It took a few weeks from bite to rash before I realized that the slow to heal bite was causing my health concerns, and slowing down my progress on the usual early summer gardening tasks.  Our early and intense summer heat played their part too.

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I appreciate the doc who prescribed aggressively for me and expect to be back up to speed sometime soon.   But until then, I find myself giving plants away, or simply planting them into larger pots, until I can return to normal gardening.  I’m sure these hardy ferns will soon be growing in glowing good health and give a long season of enjoyment.

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Japanese painted ferns are a good choice for gardeners who want to enjoy their plants year after year without having to fuss with them.  Mulch them, water them, and let them grow…. 

I am sure that this newest cultivar in the collection, ‘Metallicum,’ will prove a beautiful highlight in our forest garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Here is another division of ‘Metallicum,’ ready to grow on in the shade of the larger autumn fern.

 

Wordless Wednesday: After the Rain

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“They both listened silently to the water,

which to them was not just water,

but the voice of life, the voice of Being,

the voice of perpetual Becoming.”
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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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