Weathered: A Forest Garden

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You may wonder why we leave this old, weathered, decaying stump as a centerpiece in our garden.

It was a living tree as recently as June 2013, when it was broken a dozen feet above the ground in a thunderstorm.   A double oak tree, growing nearby, was hit with a gust of wind and blew over completely, taking this tree and a companion dogwood tree with it on its way down.

What a mess it all made! 

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A freak June thunderstorm spawned waterspouts from the creek, which felled three great oak trees from our forest.

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Many more trees and established shrubs were also broken and crushed by the sheer weight of the trees.  This was such a sudden blow to our woodland garden, that it took us a while to get over the shock of it all.

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As we cleaned up over the next week, we decided to keep a portion of the stump of this beloved old oak as a reminder of the tree.  We asked our tree guys to cut what was left of the tree several feet above the ground, leaving a taller than usual stump.

I covered the exposed cut in hypertufa and tried to transform it into a bit of folk art as well as a useful pedestal for potted plants.

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A forest garden must continually recycle itself.  The trees’ leaves and branches were mulched and left in place on the newly exposed forest floor.  The roots and trunk of the double oak were buried in place.  We kept as much of the trees as we reasonably could to nurture the garden.

We collected all of the odd bits of branch and bark left behind by our tree guys, and used them to build a Hugelkulture bed around this stump.  We called it ‘the stump garden’ and began all of our gardening efforts to re-plant this entire area from this one bed.

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That was nearly five years ago, now.  While our vision of this remaining stump might have been as a bit of garden art, the creatures here saw it differently.  It didn’t take long for the stump to become a wildlife condo.

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We’ve seen skinks skittering around beneath the remaining bark in summer’s heat.  Squirrels explore it, pushing back on the loose bark, and beetles and other insects find shelter here.  Birds visit this spot to search for insects, and there is cool shade for toads.

At first, most of the bark was left intact.  There was a scar on the side that I patched with hypertufa.  With each passing year the remaining bark pulls away a little more and falls to the bed below.  Virginia Creeper climbs the stump each summer, though I prune it back from the pot.

Finally, this autumn, I’ve planted our large blue pot atop the stump with a vigorous English ivy.  I’ll let it grow on and eventually re-clothe the stump.

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Yes, it is weathered now, and ragged.  You might glance askance and think to yourself, ‘What an eyesore…’ 

I”m sure you wouldn’t say such a thing, but you might wonder why we leave the stump in its disheveled state.

There is beauty of form, and their is beauty of function.  Sometimes, the two can be as one.  We see the stump as useful and as beneficial to the web of life in our forest garden.  It may not please the eye anymore, but it is still a thing of beauty.

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Woodland gardeners are wise to leave fallen trees and branches, fallen cones and pine tags, and all of the other accumulated detrius of a forest in place, as much as possible.  These by products of trees form an important component of woodland soil.

As they slowly decay, they feed billions of microorganisms which keep the soil fertile.  They shelter insects, which feed birds, which keep the woodland animated and fill it with song.  They prevent erosion, cool the roots of growing plants and balance the PH of the soil.

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An ancient mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, renews itself  in our garden.  I dump our chopped up leaves around these shrubs during spring clean up to feed the soil and keep their roots cool.

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Mosses and fungi grow on decaying wood.  Small animals find shelter around stumps and branches.

Now, we don’t leave every fallen branch where it lands.  We gather them and use them elsewhere on the property.  We didn’t leave the fallen oaks where they landed, either.  But we re-used what we could of their canopy, ground up and spread as thick mulch.

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We have been rewarded for this effort with a lush re-growth on the forest floor.  The raw wood chips created an environment where seeds for new trees could sprout.  We have at least 15 new native holly trees growing now that are more than a foot high, with many more seedlings coming along.

Can we let them all grow?  Maybe, maybe not.  We have to decide for each seedling, as these little hollies can eventually grow into prodigious, full sized trees.

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Native holly, dogwood, magnolia, cedar, buckeye and blueberry have sprung up from seeds lying dormant on the forest floor.

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We also have newly sprouted dogwoods to replace those lost, and some self-sown Magnolia seedlings coming along.  There is Eastern red cedar, and a huge crop of volunteer native blueberry shrubs that have grown in as a wildlife friendly ground cover.  I didn’t purchase or plant any of these.  There are always little oak seedlings coming along, and choices must be made whether to let them grow or to prune them out.

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Our land wants to be a forest.  When our trees fell, allowing the sunshine back in, it hastened new growth of seeds which may have lain dormant in the soil for many years.  Now, all of those little plants are racing with one another, and with those we’ve planted, to see who gets the sun.

We can prune and pull and plant and try to sort it all out somehow, but that is only a temporary aberration from the garden’s eventual course.

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We found many stumps, when we first came to the garden, from where a previous gardener cut some of the greatest trees.  He wanted light for his fruit trees, and safety for the house.  Some of those stumps are decaying now back into the earth, but a few re-sprouted with new limbs.

He is long gone, as one day we will be, too. Other gardeners will come here and will either disturb the land for their own schemes, or will let the forest continue to fill the garden.

A forest weathers over time, but that time is long; longer than the awareness of any one human.  And we are wise to find the beauty and the wisdom of its ways, and to work in harmony with the land.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Sentinels of trees
breathe life into bodies of earthly flesh
As their mighty arms reach to the stars
we join in their quest for Helios’s mighty power
Like sentinels, we seek our place
in the forest of nature’s gentle breath”
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Ramon Ravenswood

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

For more about allowing  forests to regenerate and managing a woodland garden, please read:

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The Arum Affair

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My new-found friends at the Native Plant Society might not approve, but I’m still falling in love with this beautiful Italian Arum.   After six days under the snow, with temperatures falling near zero at night, it still looks this fresh and crisp as the snow melts around it!

Arum leaves hold their vibrant green throughout the winter, as though unaffected by the ice and freezing cold.  The beautiful geometric patterns traced on their leaves in softest cream remain elegant from autumn through to early summer.  They remind me a little of a cold hardy Alocasia.

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Arum growing with our daffodils last February

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Native to Southern Europe and North Africa, Arum originated in a much warmer climate.  But it has a superpower: Arum italicum is thermogenic, capable of producing heat from its leaves and from its unusual flower.  The mitochondria in each cell produce excess heat, which gives the plant some protection from the cold.

A member of the Araceae family, it also has calcium oxalate crystals in its leaves.  These crystals are very irritating to skin and soft tissue… like the tender mouths of hungry deer.   All parts of the Arum are poisonous, including the corm from which it grows; which is the other reason I love these beautiful foliage plants.

Deer, squirrels, voles and rabbits won’t touch them.

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Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum last March.

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These are a useful ground cover species in our woodland garden.  They grow best in shade and though drought tolerant, grow more prolifically in moist and fertile soil.

While I am thrilled to see these beautiful plants spread through our garden by seed and division, their prolific growth and nearly indestructible nature make them problematic in other regions of the United States.  Areas like the Pacific Northwest consider them invasive and ask home gardeners not to plant them.

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But Arum remain my cold-weather guilty pleasure.  I ordered over 200 of them this fall from Brent and Becky Heath, sharing a little more than half with my gardening friends.

I’ve planted them in beds and pots, beneath shrubs and amongst spring bulbs.  Interplant them with Hosta to keep a beautiful foliage presence in your Hosta beds year round.  Pair them with either hardy or deciduous ferns for delicious spring time associations.

I use them in parts of the garden where we grow Caladiums in the summer.  As we lift the Caladiums in fall, the Arum emerge from their summer dormant period.  Arum die back in early summer as the Caladiums fill in.

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Exotic as they may be, Arum still fill a niche in a North American woodland garden.  They hold and protect the ground against erosion.  They produce both nectar and pollen for pollinators each spring.  Birds eat their seeds in mid-summer.  And, their beautiful leaves make this gardener very happy. 

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Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, VA,  feature many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heath’s call Arum italicum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well as a ground cover beneath shrubs.

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I’m still wavering up and down the native plant/exotic imported plant continuum.  I’m hanging out more these days with the native plant enthusiasts and reading the literature.  I understand the nativist point of view, and yet I still believe that there is space in our garden for a population of exotic ‘come here’ plants, too.

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How would I garden without our Camellias and Rhododendrons, Alocasias, Narcissus, Caladiums and Mediterranean herbs?

Basically, if it will grow here and not end up as breakfast for a deer, I’m willing to entertain most any plant for at least a season or two.  And when it makes me happy, I just might explore a more lasting relationship.  Which perhaps explains the Arum affair….

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Arum italicum blooming in our garden last April

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Knowing Winter

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“One can follow the sun, of course,
but I have always thought that it is best
to know some winter, too,
so that the summer, when it arrives,
is the more gratefully received.”
Beatriz Williams

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Much of North America lies frozen this week beneath a layer of icy whiteness.  Weather maps on TV are clothed in shades of blue, purple and white.  It is a respite from this year’s heat, perhaps, and a novelty for those who enjoy winter.

Here in Williamsburg, in coastal Virginia, we see temperatures drop below the mid-twenties only occasionally, and not every year.  But we are also in the midst of this Arctic cold snap at the moment.  There is a chance for snow tomorrow evening.

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The garden, and the larger world are frozen tight and hard this week.  Those winter faring plants I potted up so carefully last month sit brittle, a bit limp and desiccated in their pots today despite the brilliant sun shining on them.  I gave each pot a bit of tap water yesterday afternoon, hoping to thaw the soil long enough for roots to draw a bit of moisture in to the thirsty plants.

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We’ve wrapped our olive trees in clear plastic bags and set them in the warmest corner of our front patio, where they capture the mid-day sun.  They’ve grown too large now to bring indoors each winter.  We hope they make it through to warmer days ahead.

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But there is only so much anyone can do when such bitter cold blows in to one’s neighborhood.  The lowest temperature we’ve seen here since Christmas was 12F.  It feels a bit odd to cheer on the mercury to climb through the 20s, hoping it might actually make it up to 32F before the evening chill returns.

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But such is our life at the moment, and so we have decided to enjoy the novelty of it.  It is the season to trot out one’s heavy sweaters and gloves, and possibly even a jacket.  I had forgotten which drawer our gloves got put away in last spring, and needed a reminder.  A pair now live in my bag, ready to pull on whenever I step outside into this frosty world.

But clad in hat and gloves, wool and pashmina and jeans, I set off to capture photos of ice today.  My partner kept the car warm and idling while I scampered about on the banks of Mill Creek and the James River in search of ice sculptures.

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The wind was almost quiet, and the sun blazing bright and glinting off the frozen marshes.  It was nearly 24F as I captured these photos today.

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We were delighted to find eagles flying in lazy circles above us and large congregations of geese gathered along the roadsides.  I could hear waterfowl splashing into the creek in search of lunch as I picked my way down the frozen trail to the water’s edge.

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A heron clung to a branch along the bank, watching as gulls dove into the creek and ducks cavorted along its glassy surface.

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Halves of minnows, cut up by some intrepid fisher-person for bait, lay scattered about on the sandy beach.  Frozen hard, they held no appeal for the foraging birds around us.

I marvel at the sight of spray cloaked grasses and ice glazed stones.  The river and creeks here are tidal, and the rising and falling water and windblown spray make for ever-changing textures along their banks.

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Sheets of ice get pushed up in the marshes on the incoming tide, and slushy brackish water takes on odd hues in the wintery light.

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Our oddly frozen world dreams this week in weirdly grotesque forms.  Frozen soil pushes up in the garden, heaving fragile root balls not properly mulched and insulated against the cold.  Ice crystals sprout from stems and leaves in the first light of morning.

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Only the birds appear impervious to the cold.  Small flocks of blackbirds gather on the frozen grass.  Songbirds hop about in the trees as we pass.  I wonder at the mysteries of nature which allow them to survive such frigid weather.

Whether sitting on the ground, swimming in the frozen creeks or gliding on a current of air, they appear almost comfortable.  This is a great gift they enjoy, and that we do not.

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We are mostly watching through the window panes to see how the rest of this month unfolds.  Our cat spends long hours dozing, curled up in a blanket on the couch.  He shows no interest in exploration beyond his food bowl at the moment.

Surely the world will soon be slick and white if the forecast is to be believed, and our garden will slumber on under a bit more insulation as we dream of spring.

Yet, in this moment, we know winter; and see its beauties all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation,
a closure that assumes the order of completion.
Winter is a season unto itself.”
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Haruki Murakami

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Houseplant Hacks: Schlumbergera Propagation

Shlumbergera blooming  in our living room in February 2015.

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Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus plants may become another family heirloom.  Long lived and easy to care for, this is a quintessential ‘pass along plant’  you may be gifted with during the holidays.

Whether someone gives you one in full bloom in a little foil wrapped pot, or a well-meaning aunt insists on sending a cutting home with you, this is the season when many families enjoy a blooming cactus as a part of their holiday.

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A neighbor gave us this beautiful Christmas cactus covered in buds, last week.

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I can’t remember a time when my own mother didn’t have a Christmas cactus.  Her first one began as a gifted cutting from someone in the extended family.  At one time it had grown to a monstrous size, maybe 20″ or more around in a  large clay pot.  I never gave this ugly duckling house plant much consideration in those years, probably because hers didn’t often bloom.

Once you’ve enjoyed the vivid, decidedly odd blooms of a Schlumbergera on a wintery day, you may develop an appetite for these unusual plants just as I have.  Their extravagant flowers are meant to attract hummingbirds to pollinate them.  I love to have one in full bloom indoors when its snowing outside.

The ‘off’ bloom schedule of these beautiful tropical cacti may have something to do with their country and hemisphere of origin.  They were originally collected from the mountainous coastal forests of southeastern Brazil, where they grow in bright, humid shade.  They may be found growing high up in trees on moss covered branches, or in small pockets of soil in rocky areas at high altitudes.

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They were in cultivation in Europe by the early 19th Century, where breeders developed new cultivars for the market.  They were enjoyed both in homes and in fashionable heated greenhouses.

Although a cactus, these plants have no spines to stick you.   A succulent, they don’t require a great deal of care.  They offer a bulky green presence year round, bursting into abundant vivid bloom  between late October and late February each year.

Schlumbergera commonly turn up in grocery stores and garden centers blooming in shades of red, pink and purple.  Sometimes you may find one with white blooms touched with vivid rose.  More rarely, they can be found blooming  in shades of salmon, yellow or orange.

This is one reason it pays to know how to root a Christmas cactus.  Once you find one of the rarer colors, you might want to produce more to share, or for your own collection.

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Light pink Christmas cactus with a tiny white poinsettia on offer at a local garden center.

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Another reason is that the stems, which look like flat leaves, can sometimes be a bit fragile.  A section may break off while you are moving the plant or while you are moving around the plant.  When this happens, it feels nicer to root the broken piece than to discard it.

I’ve tried many different ways to root these odd green stems over the years.  The stems don’t really like to sit in water, though I’ve seen my mother root them this way.  They also don’t root reliably when simply stuck into some potting soil, though this sometimes works OK.  If the stars don’t align, or the temperature and humidity aren’t just right, then your efforts may be rewarded with a shriveled or mushy bit of stem with no roots to sustain it.

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I experimented with a new technique for rooting a Christmas cactus stem in extremely shallow water, on moist rocks.

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I was understandably excited when I saw a pin on Pinterest a few months ago, offering a novel way to root Schlumbergera.  The key to the wet rock method is to understand that Schlumbergera  naturally grow in a humid, coastal forest, high up in the mountains.  High humidity is the key, along with keeping the stem mostly dry, with only the growing tip in water.

Begin with a glass or small jar, and add a few inches of clean, attractive rocks.  Fill your glass with just enough fresh, cool water, to barely cover most of the rocks.  Then add your cuttings so that they rest on the rocks in very shallow water.  It works best to ‘twist’ the cutting from the parent plant rather than using scissors to remove it.

You will need at least 1 full stem section, though you may take a cutting a few inches long, like this one.  If the cutting already has flower buds, they will continue to grow as your cutting roots.

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Place your container and cuttings into a bright, cool window sill, where the cuttings will get bright light, but minimal direct sunlight.  Keep the water replenished every few days, and watch for those roots to grow.

Once the roots are at least 1/4″ long, you can pot up your rooted cutting in a peat based soil mix with a little grit.  The soil needs to drain easily.  Keep the soil just moist, but never really wet and never bone dry.

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This cutting is ready to pot up in good quality peat based potting mix.  Add a little fine grit to improve drainage.  If you plant into a container without drainage holes, be sure to begin with a few inches of gravel in the bottom of the container for drainage.

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I  feed my Christmas cactus monthly, during their season of bloom, with diluted orchid fertilizer; which keeps the buds coming.  Mine live near a large window where they get bright light during the daytime, but they also get natural darkness in late afternoon.  They like long nights and shorter days during their season of bloom.  The long nights help trigger bud formation. Shlumbergera also use more water when they are blooming, and of course thrive in a humid environment.

If your home has very dry air in winter, then try grouping them together, and consider setting the pots on trays of pebbles with a bit of standing water in the tray.

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This cutting rooted in the glass on moist rocks. After a few weeks, I planted it in its own little container to grow on until spring.

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In our climate, Christmas cactus thrive in bright shade on the deck all summer long.  I move them out in late April, once danger of frost has passed.  They love our humidity and grow lush with very little attention until time to bring them in ahead of the first fall frosts in late October.  By then, they have covered themselves in flower buds.

Keep your plants large and lush by adding rooted cuttings to your established pots of Christmas cactus.  They like a tight fit for their roots in the pot, but do pot them up every few years and give them some fresh, fertile soil.

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If your space allows, plant Christmas cactus in hanging planters, or set the pots up on plant stands where their drooping branches and long, pendulous flowers may be admired.   I’ve even seen a grouping of Christmas cactus pots arranged on a plant stand with layers of shelves, to give the illusion of a blooming Christmas tree.

These odd houseplants are extremely easy and rewarding to grow, once you know a few hacks to make your efforts more successful.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Allow for Success

Alyssum maritimum

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Truth be told, I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in fragile little annuals like sweet Alyssum these days.  They come in such tiny cell packs each spring, bright and full of promise, but oh so tender looking.  Once summer’s heat sets in, it is anyone’s guess which annuals planted with such hope in early spring will survive through until the heat fades again in September.

I’ve lost quite a few to summer drought and distracted neglect over the years.  This spring, I didn’t even buy any sweet Alyssum until they went on sale in late May.  I’m partial to this purple variety, and planted four to dress this pot holding a Clematis vine.  The pot sits by our kitchen door and was looked after all summer.  When the first frosts came last month, I made no move to either save these little plants, or pull them out.  And look at them now!

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Here we are in the second half of December, and the sweet Alyssum still blooms in its pot by the door.  You have to smile at that, and admire this hardy little plant that not only survived our Virginia summer, but also hung on through a few nights that have  dipped down into the 20s.

These tiny purple flowers blooming this morning inspire me beyond what words can convey.

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How often do we let our low expectations snuff out the possibility of success?  How often do we choose not to make the effort, or allow for someone else’s effort, when stunning success is within easy reach?

I will try to always remember these tiny, fragile purple blossoms greeting us this December morning.  We must allow for success before we can savor the pleasure it brings.

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June, when the Clematis vine first bloomed, and the Alyssum was in its prime

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Green Thumb Tip #13: Breaching Your Zone

It is time to save our favorite Alocasia before our first freeze of the season, tonight.

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We expect frost tonight, the first of the season.   In fact, the forecast suggests that we may have temperatures in the 20s overnight; the result of an approaching cold front and gusty winds from the north all day.

We can’t complain.  Here in Zone 7, we know that frost is possible any time from October 15 on.  We’ve escaped the inevitable for nearly an extra month, and tonight is the night.

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Alocosia ‘Stingray’ in August, with Begonia ‘Griffin’ behind.  Both came inside today for the winter.

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Bringing tender plants in for winter remains one of our annual rituals here in our forest garden.   We procrastinate as long as possible, to give the plants every day possible out in the air and sunshine.   We’ve found that even tender tropicals will survive a few nights in the 40s better than a few days in the garage, and so have learned to wait until we are sure that we have a freeze warning before we gather them back indoors.  Moving them back and forth several times over our long fall really isn’t practical; we wait for the last possible moment to commit.

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Colocasia ‘Mohito’ is marginally hardy in our area. I couldn’t lift this pot, but brought all of the divisions of the plant indoors today.

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Preparations for the ‘great migration’ included doing a little homework to refresh my memory about the lowest temperatures some of our plants can tolerate, before they turn to mush.  Nearly all of our Begonias won’t tolerate any freezing at all.  The hardy ones are mostly dormant, already.

But the Aroids, the Alocasias and Colocasias, have different degrees of cold tolerance.  Unlike Caladiums, which like to stay cozy at 50F or above, some Colocasias remain hardy to Zone 6.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ has proven hardy in our garden. It spreads a little more each year and grows lush and reliable from May until November. I expect to find this whole stand knocked down by frost when we come out tomorrow morning.

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When we talk about  USDA agricultural zones, there are three variables in play; all very important for which plants you may grow.  First, dates of first and last frost are pretty standard across a given Zone.  For example, here in Zone 7, we expect our first frost around October 15, and our last freeze around April 15.  That gives us a solid six months of outdoor growing season, which means we can raise lots of different sorts of crops in our zone.  There is sufficient time for a plant to develop, bloom, and ripen fruit.  A few miles to the southeast, nearer the Atlantic, Zone 8 begins.  Zone 8 has later first frosts (November 15) and earlier last frosts (March 15).

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Colocasia have runners, and each runner will create a new little plant. These special stems run just at ground level. This is how a dense stand develops from a single plant. Were you to visit my garden, I’d offer you as many of these little Colocasia plants as you would take!

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So knowing your Zone (updated in 2012,) not only tells you how many weeks of the year you have a 50% chance or greater of having freezing temperatures, at least overnight; it also tells you how cold those temperatures may go.   Here in Zone 7b, we may experience a low between 5F-10F.  Most winters we never drop below the teens, here, but it is possible.  Zone 8 may have temperatures down to 10F, but Zone 9 wouldn’t expect temperatures to drop below 20F.

Knowing this helps me make choices about what to bring inside, where  to keep overwintering plants, and what to take a chance on leaving outside until spring.  When space is limited, hard choices must be made if one wants to share the house with the plants for the next six months!

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ is hardy to Zone 7b. I still brought many of these plants in to hedge my bets, since we are right on the edge….

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If a plant is hardy to Zone 8, we sometimes have success keeping it outdoors when we provide mulch or significant shelter.  In a mild winter, we may not dip below 10F to begin with.   Plants with deep roots may be mulched, or may have a little shelter built around it with most anything that will trap and hold heat on those few cold nights.  Our patio is a great place to offer potted plants shelter through the winter.  It offers shelter from the wind, and also absorbs and holds a bit of heat on sunny days.

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A plant rated to Zone 9 or 10 will definitely need to come indoors in our area.  But because Aroids have a dormant period over winter, we can keep them in our low light but frost free basement.

As Colocasias and Alocasias grow more popular, enthusiasts are left deciding whether to try to save them for another season, or whether to start next season with fresh plants.   Sometimes space determines our choices, other times our budget.  That said, I’ve found four ways to keep these beautiful plants from one season to the next.

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Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ is hardy to Zone 8. We were fortunate to have one overwinter in a protected area, and this is an off-set I dug up in August to grow on. It is now safely tucked into our garage for the winter.

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I found two of our most spectacular Alocasias back in February, at Trader Joe’s.  They were right inside the door, with a few other pots of ‘tropical’ plants.  Because I recognized their leaf, I bought two, intending to use them in large pots to frame our front door all summer.  What came home in a 4″ pot, grew over summer into a huge and beautiful plant.  I learned today that their roots had completely filled the 20″ pots they have grown in since early May.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled when I bought it last winter. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.

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I can barely slide those pots when they are well-watered.  And, I plan to re-plant them for winter interest.  There was no question of trying to move them into our home or garage to overwinter the plants.

But last night I did my homework, and spent a while searching out how others have managed to overwinter large Alocasias.  Since the plant goes dormant, it can be kept, barely moist, out of its pot in a frost free basement or garage.    So I pried each of my beautiful Alocasias  out of their pots this morning, and lowered each, root ball intact, into a large paper grocery bag.  I’ve set the bags into shallow plastic storage boxes in our basement.  The leaves will wither; the soil will dry.  But life will remain in the plant, and I can pot it up again in spring for it to continue growing.

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How many plants? I didn’t count…. But here are four grocery bags filled with Aroids to sleep through winter in the basement.

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I decided to hedge my bets again this winter by storing our Aroids in a variety of ways.  While I’ve brought a few indoors in smaller pots to either keep growing in our living room, or slowly go dormant in our garage or basement; a great many got yanked from their pots this morning and stuffed into grocery bags.  Now the Alocasias will mingle for the next few months with A. ‘Stingray,’ C. ‘Mohito’, and C. ‘Tea Cups.’

C. ‘Tea Cups’ is supposed to be hardy in Zone 7.  Actually, we had one overwinter in a very large pot last year, but it was slow to emerge and never grew with much vigor over summer.  So again, I hedged my bets.

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A. ‘Stingray’ came home in a 4′ pot this spring. It has grown prodigiously, and there were several small off-sets. I pried these out of the wet soil, and am storing them in the grocery bags for winter.

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Remember, all of these plants create off-sets.  So, I left a few plants growing in the circular bed we began in spring.  But I pulled up enough to replant the bed next spring, if those don’t survive winter for whatever reason.  I have a few C. ‘Tea Cups’ overwintering in moist soil in pots, and others set to go dormant in paper grocery bags.

The very small divisions of Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ that I potted up in late summer came in to the living area in their pots, along with  A. ‘Sarian’ and a few A. ‘Amazonica‘.   I can give them window-sill space and keep them growing.  Even if you don’t have space to keep the largest of your Aroids, chances are good that there will be a small off-set that you can save over winter.

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For plants like Begonias and Brugmansias, which don’t create off-sets, consider taking cuttings if you need to conserve space. If you don’t have room for the whole pot or basket, cut a few vigorous branches to root in a vase or jar near a window.

Cuttings placed in water now will root, and may be potted up in early spring.  I always have Begonia cuttings rooting in vases of water, but I brought a few more cuttings in today.  We just have too many pots of Begonias to save them all.  But I am careful to save some of each variety.  Because plants like Begonias root so easily in water,  once you have a variety, you can keep it going indefinitely.

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Many, many plants will root in water.  I’ve experimented over the years with keeping many genus of plants going, because the nursery trade just isn’t that dependable when there is a particular variety you want to buy in spring.   Maybe you’ll find it, but maybe its shelf space will be given over to something newer or more fashionable, and your favored cultivar just won’t be available in your area.

My friends know that even if I had a good sized greenhouse, I’d soon fill it to the rafters like some botanical Noah’s Ark.  As it is, our living space is filled, once again, with my coterie of plants.  My partner is blessedly patient with my horticultural obsessions.

~

Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ is an angel wing Begonia which performs well in a hanging basket.  A perennial in Zone 10,  you can overwinter it in its pot, or as a cutting.

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There is no shame in letting ‘annuals’ perish when winter finally blows into your garden.  But your Zone doesn’t have to limit what you can grow, and winter doesn’t have to destroy your beautiful collection of plants.

Master a few handy hacks, and you can keep your favorite warm-weather plants growing (and multiplying) indefinitely.

~

A. ‘Amazonica’, also known as ‘African Mask’, grows vigorously in a large pot. I’ve kept this pot going for several years by letting it over winter in our living room..

~
Woodland Gnome 2017
“Green Thumb” Tips: 
Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

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

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

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

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

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm

Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy

Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More of That! 

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

 

Sunday Dinner: The Journey

~

“Change is in the air.

This change reminds us

that we are made

and beautifully sculpted

by the same power

that orchestrates the change of season.

Let this be the season you embrace

and align yourself with this change.”

.

Steve Maraboli

~

~

“Learn to adapt.

Things change, circumstances change.

Adjust yourself and your efforts

to what it is presented to you

so you can respond accordingly.

Never see change as a threat,

because it can be an opportunity to learn,

to grow, evolve and become a better person.”

.

Rodolfo Costa

~

~

“Joy is sometimes a blessing,

but it is often a conquest.

Our magic moment help us to change

and sends us off in search of our dreams.

Yes, we are going to suffer,

we will have difficult times,

and we will experience many disappointments —

but all of this is transitory.

it leaves no permanent mark.

And one day we will look back

with pride and faith

at the journey we have taken.”

.

Paulo Coelho

~

~

“Peace is a daily, a weekly,

a monthly process,

gradually changing opinions,

slowly eroding old barriers,

quietly building new structures.

And however undramatic the pursuit of peace,

that pursuit must go on.”

John F. Kennedy

~

~

“Times change, as do our wills.

What we are – is ever changing;

all the world is made of change,

and is forever attaining new qualities.”

.

Luís de Camões

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

~

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In nature nothing is created,

nothing is lost,

everything changes.”

.

Antoine Lavoisier

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

~

Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

~

Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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~

Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

~

Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

~

The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

~

Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

~

Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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~

The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

~

When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

~

Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

~

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

~

I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

~

Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

~

If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Nostalgia

~

“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
.
William Faulkner
~
~
“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily the remembrance of things
as they were.”
.
Marcel Proust
~
~
“The ‘what should be’ never did exist,
but people keep trying to live up to it.
There is no ‘what should be,’
there is only what is.”
.
Lenny Bruce
~
~
“There comes a time in your life
when you have to choose to turn the page,
write another book
or simply close it.”
.
Shannon L. Alder
~
~
“We are homesick most
for the places we have never known.”
.
Carson McCullers
~
~
“It is strange how we
hold on to the pieces of the past
while we wait for our futures.”
.
Ally Condie
*
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017 
For my friend, Janet, who I miss often, and learn from, always
~
~
 
“Nostalgia in reverse,
the longing for yet another strange land,
grew especially strong in spring.”
.
Vladimir Nabokov
~
~
“For children, childhood is timeless.  It is always the present.
Everything is in the present tense.
Of course, they have memories.
Of course, time shifts a little for them
and Christmas comes round in the end.
But they don’t feel it.
Today is what they feel,
and when they say ‘When I grow up,’
there is always an edge of disbelief—
how could they ever be other than what they are?”
  .
Ian McEwan
~

Fabulous Friday: ‘Black Magic’

Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’

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It has been a few years since I ordered Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic,’ and so it puzzled me a little when I noticed a few dark purple leaves peeking out among a stand of Colocasia, ‘Pink China’ around our bog garden.  Never one to quibble with gifts of nature, I said a silent ‘thank you!’ to the universe and let it be.

Its leaves were quite small, beneath the towering canopies of C. ‘Pink China,’ and they never particularly took off.  What with my extended absences from the garden in late June and July, and the punishing drought of July and early August, it is a wonder this remnant survived at all.

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Our bog garden in July, with  C. ‘Pink China’  backlit to show its beautiful color.

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But it did.  And it stubbornly kept pushing up leaf after leaf, despite everything.

It was mid-August before I followed through on my determination to rescue this plant from its less than hospitable spot.  It is the least I could do, considering that it has hung on through at least two winters and survived the crowding of our very rambunctious and energetic C. ‘Pink China’ growing all around it.

~

After about 10 days in the pot, I was ready to move our little C. ‘Black Magic’ out into the sun of our perennial garden at the end of August.

~

See what a little horticultural love can do?  From a single leaf on a bit of rhizome and root, our C. ‘Black Magic’ has not only rapidly grown in its pot, it has already grown an offset!  A second little plant has emerged inches away from the first.

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September 15, 2017,  C. ‘Black Magic has already grown an offset.

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It is a genuinely magical experience to watch this little guy grow!  At first, I set it in a shady spot for about 10 days to establish.  Once I saw evidence of new growth, I knew it wanted sun, and moved it out to this choice spot where I would keep it well-watered.  I expect to leave this Colocasia out in the garden until late October or early November.

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September 20

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Now that I know  it is winter hardy here, we can decide whether to move it to a sheltered spot on our patio, or into the basement when nights grow cold.

I have been watching for new leaves to emerge around the bog garden, too.  Surely, there are still a few of  its roots in that bed.  In fact, I dug two more tiny starts, each less than 3″ tall, earlier this week.  I’ve potted them up and set them in shady, sheltered spots to grow on.

I like this beautiful, dark purple leaf, and C. ‘Black Magic’ is known for growing into a spectacularly large plant.  Plant Delights Nursery, which offers this variety, reports that the plant will grow to 5′-6′ tall and wide when given rich, moist soil and plenty of sun.   They also suggest that it can stand winter temperatures down to 0F when grown in a sunny spot, well-mulched through winter.

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This variety is known to spread quickly, as many Colocasias will, with lateral stems which run just above or just below the soil.  New plants will spring up from the nodes, rooting  into whatever soil is available; eventually forming a thick patch of plants.

I have to say that didn’t happen in the areas where I planted this variety originally.  My guess is that the part of the garden where I first planted it was too dry for it to thrive.  I moved an offset from the original plant down to the bog garden a couple of years ago, where it eventually survived.

C. ‘Black Magic’ may be grown with its pot submerged or in a wet, boggy spot in the garden.  In fact, I’m growing C. ‘Mojito’ and C. ‘Tea Cups’ most successfully with their pots partially submerged.  These are thirsty plants, needing a  lot of water to hydrate their huge leaves on hot summer days.

But I’ve learned my lesson now, and will make sure to offer plenty of water from here on to keep these rescued plants growing strong!

~

Colocasias love rich, moist soil. They will grow into a dramatic display when their needs are met.  Allow plenty of space, as most cultivars will grow to 4′- 5′.   From left:  C. ‘Pink China’, C. ‘Tea Cups’, C. ‘Mojito’, C. ‘Pink China’

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C. ‘Black Magic’ was originally spotted growing in the Philippines.  It was collected, grown on, and eventually introduced to the nursery trade.  It is a dramatic plant; a touch of the tropics which will thrive in a more temperate garden if simply given a little consideration and care.

I’m happy to have another chance to get it right with this beautiful plant.  Every season we learn a bit more, don’t we?  That is one of the fabulous gifts gardening gives us, always another chance to grow our gardens well.

Woodland Gnome 2017
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September 22 …  It is Fabulous how much this Colocasia has grown since we moved it to its pot about six weeks ago.  (Why the plastic dish?  The wet sand is there for the butterflies, who frequent this part of our garden.)

~

Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

 

 

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