Hanging Basket Hacks: Hydration

A two year old planting, ready for rejuvenation

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Considering I’d originally planted the basket a couple of years ago, and that the ‘annual’ Verbena survived two Williamsburg winters to return and bloom the following spring,  I can’t complain.

Add to that poor soil (compost I found on-site at the garden) and those daffodil bulbs I planted in there for spring interest.  By early summer 2020, the basket was struggling.   It hung in full sun at the botanical garden where it got irregular, but loving attention.  The Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, had grown in lushly.  But the basket was no longer beautiful, and the Verbena was fading.  We just couldn’t keep the plants properly watered in July’s unrelenting heat.

Do you have a hanging basket that is struggling in summer’s heat?  Do you have plants under-performing because you can’t keep their container sufficiently watered?

The ongoing challenge with any container planting, especially baskets and window boxes, is to keep the plants supplied with nutrients and enough water that they don’t frequently wilt.  Some climates make container gardening easier than others.  Many municipal plantings get daily, professional attention from a team of horticulturalists.  Some plants adapt better to growing crowded into baskets with just a few inches of soil, than others.

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When you think about it, a hanging basket is a pretty extreme environment for many plants.  That said, there are some reasonably simple and inexpensive hacks that anyone can use to make that basket more comfortable for living, blooming plants.

It is smart to begin with the largest basket your space, and the support it will hang from, can accommodate.  Larger baskets mean more soil to hold moisture, and more space for roots to grow.  A 14″-16″ basket is a good size to work with.  If you are working with a window box rather than a basket, look for ones at minimum 6″ deep.

Next, use good, fresh potting soil.  You might add additional perlite to equal a quarter of the total soil volume, which improves drainage and makes the finished basket much lighter.  Mix this in well, along with some slow release fertilizer like Epsoma’s Plant Tone or Osmocote.  To keep plants actively growing and blooming, they need nutrients.  Most potting mixes are sterile, without the nutrients commonly found in garden soil (which is too dense and heavy for a hanging basket or container).  Adding slow release fertilizer helps bring out the best performance in your chosen plants.

Mix up enough amended soil to fill the basket in a separate container, and then use a scoop to transfer a little at a time to fill in around each plant as you place it.

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This wire basket has a fresh coir liner and an inner liner of a plastic bag. A sponge cut into small bits will help conserve water.

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I generally prefer wire baskets with a coco or coir liner.   Baskets will dry out exceptionally fast when the heat index is over 100F and there isn’t a cloud in the sky for hour after hour on a summer day.  Even baskets watered generously before 8 AM may be dry again by mid-afternoon.  Coir makes a better liner than the traditional sphagnum moss, but is still exceptionally porous.

My first hack is to line the basket with an additional plastic liner to aid water retention.  You might use a large plastic shopping bag, a dry cleaner bag, or similar light-weight sheet of plastic.  If there aren’t holes in the plastic already, use the point of your scissors to poke a few holes so the basket will drain in heavy rain.   I used a shopping bag disqualified from cat-litter duty due to a few large holes already poked in the bottom.  The bag probably won’t fit into your basket perfectly, and you’ll likely need to cut some vertical darts to allow it to open wide enough to lie smoothly against the sides of your liner.

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My second hack involves a cellulose kitchen sponge.  I have a bag of new, dehydrated and pressed Trader Joe’s brand sponges and am giving this brainstorm a trial to see how well it works.  If you don’t have dried pressed sponges available, try any cellulose sponge that doesn’t have any chemical or soap products pre-loaded on it.  Just cut the sponge up into small pieces.  Use most of them in the bottom of the basket between the plastic liner and the soil.  I partially filled the liner with soil, and then added a few more fragments of sponge around the outside edge of the basket.

The sponges will serves as little reservoirs to soak up excess water when it is available and release it later to the soil and roots when it is needed.  I placed several sponge fragments around those holes in the bag to soak up water before it drains out.

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Use fresh potting mix amended with slow release fertilizer like Osmocote (here). If the mix is dense, add additional perlite, up to a quarter of the total volume.  Here additional pieces of sponge are added around the edges of the basket.  These will plump up once the basket is watered for the first time.

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Fill your container about 1/2 full of fresh potting soil and then begin placing plants, and filling back around each one with prepared potting soil.

I placed the entire soil ball from my old basket planting in a plastic box before using my hori hori knife to begin prying the various plants apart.  I saved and re-used all of the pieces of the Verbena that I could find and the rooted bits of Dichondra,which had filled the basket last summer.  Only a few bits of it survived the winter and have been competing with the Lysimachia for resources.

A lot of cleaning up may be needed to remove old, withered leaves and stems.  A pair of sharp scissors is my favorite gardening tool.

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Break apart the individual plants into smaller hunks, discarding most of the old soil.  Clean out old and withered stems and leaves as you re-plant each division.

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I settled the divisions with Verbena in the center and added a few chunks of Lysimachia around the edges.  Creeping Jenny grows quickly and will fill in within a few weeks.  I want the Dichondra to have a chance here to re-establish itself.  I’ll reserve the remaining parts of the old planting, including those dormant bulbs, for another use.

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Settle the divisions you want to re-use into fresh soil

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Finally, I still had a few rooted cuttings of Portulaca on hand.  I brought home a generous portion of cuttings from my favorite grower a few weeks ago and have had them rooting on the deck in a box of vermiculite and potting soil.  I’ve been planting them out in various places for the last few weeks,  but had enough still on hand to add seven or eight rooted stems to empty spots in this new planting.

Rooted cuttings can be worked in to established basket arrangements to refresh and update them.  They are easier to work in than nursery plants since they have a smaller root ball.  Keep well watered as they grow in.

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Rooted Portulaca cuttings ready to transplant

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Using very drought tolerant plants is the next hack for planting drought tolerant basket arrangements.  Succulents, like Portulaca or Sedums, have the ability to absorb and store water when it is available and then go for long periods of time without additional watering.  They have a waxy coating on the epidermis of each leaf and stem to reduce evaporation.  They can remain plump and vital when other plants are crisping up in the sun.

When selecting plants for baskets, pay attention to their water needs and their resilience to drought.  As more beautiful succulents come to market, choosing appropriate succulent and drought tolerant plants for container arrangements becomes easier.

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Lysimachia, Creeping Jenny, is a drought tolerant vine that tolerates full sun. It roots at every node and can take over a planting. Here, I’ve used a few divisions and left the remainder for another use later.

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The final hack for hanging baskets involves applying a mulch.  Bare soil loses moisture much faster than does mulched soil.  The best mulch in our climate is fine gravel, like aquarium gravel.  Pea gravel is another choice.  Both choices do add some weight to the basket, but they reduce evaporation, keep the plants clean and healthy without soil splashing up on them, cool the soil, and provide some protection to roots and geophytes you may plant in the basket.  We have curious squirrels who sometimes dig in pots and baskets if not discouraged by a gravel mulch.  Other choices include larger stones, small seashells, flat glass beads, marbles or glass chips, moss, and vines that fill in as a ground cover, like the Lysimachia.

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I have used a few rocks, glass beads and shells to anchor rooted cuttings in this new arrangement and have sprinkled additional Osmocote on top of the planting.  use rocks or shells to hide the raw, trimmed edges of the plastic liner.  I still need to apply some fine, gravel mulch before this basket is ready to return to the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Once the basket is planted, and potting soil worked in firmly around all of the roots, add your mulch, and then water the basket well.  I like to water the basket with plain water first to wet everything, and then come back a short time later with a foliar feed of fish and seaweed emulsion to help the plants adjust and to provide trace minerals to the soil.

In spring, you can get by with hanging that basket into its permanent place right away.  In summer, I like to give a day or two for the plants to settle in and adjust in the shade before moving the basket to its permanent spot.  A stretch of cloudy, wet weather is best for a new basket.  But when there is a lot of sun, I like to give the plants a head start on settling their roots into their new home in a shady spot before putting them under stress in full sun.

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A Portulaca cutting has been growing in the edge of this basket for a few weeks now. Once established, they grow quickly and bloom prolifically in full or partial sun.

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Each gardener has to understand their own micro climate and preferred plants to come up with solutions that work for them.  If I were gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I might not need to line my basket with plastic or add cut up sponges to the soil.  The more realistic we are about our own growing conditions, the better job we can do with our plantings for lasting beauty.

If your hanging baskets have been less than spectacular, you might try some of these hacks to see how they work for you.  Don’t be afraid to re-work an established basket with an eye to improving it.  Changing out some of the plants, removing some of the more agressive plants, fertilizing and refreshing the soil may make all the difference in how well your planting performs.

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The basket rests in a shady spot before being returned to its place at the garden.  The Portulaca and Verbena will fill in and begin to bloom again by the end of July.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Six on Saturday: Return of the Caladiums

Caladium ‘Pink Beauty’

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Some things are worth the wait.  The stars have to align and summer has to heat up to its steamy, sultry best before that familiar, happy satisfaction fills my heart as I walk around our garden admiring the Caladiums.

I love Caladiums.  I love their pure colors, their intricate patterns, their tough beauty, their easy way of popping out leaf after gorgeous leaf from early summer until deep into fall.  I love them enough to care for them through the coldest months of winter and early spring, all to watch them live to grow another year.

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’

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When I dug and dried our Caladiums late last year, as nights grew chilly and days grew short,  I was a little overwhelmed with our harvest.  I had crate after crate of plants drying out in the basement.  By the time they were dried and I was ready to pack them up for the winter, it was time to prepare for the holidays.

But no, I was more interested in putting the Caladiums properly to bed.  Each bulb needs its own TLC to clean it up and pack it gently away.  I pack mesh bags with bulbs graded by size and cushioned with packing material, stack them together in a paper grocery bag, and then store that bag in a warm dry spot in the house to rest for the next several moths.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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By early March, I’m dreaming about our Caladiums again, itching to bring them out of storage and plant them in flats to sprout.  And we had so many bulbs packed away that I didn’t order any new ones, for the first year in several.

I waited, this year, about two weeks later than usual to start our Caladiums, and they were eager to grow.  We knew we had a cool, late spring coming, and so I waited until late March.  Most already had little sprouts when I brought them out of storage.

I planted the tubers in large plastic boxes, watered them in, put the lids back on, and then stacked the boxes indoors until the Caldiums rooted and began to grow..  This year I had 8 big storage boxes planted densely with Caladiums.

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Caladium ‘Berries ‘N Burgundy’

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It was so cool in April, that I tried to keep them indoors in their boxes even later than usual.  One day I glanced at my stack of plastic boxes and saw some leaves reaching out, lifting the lids, in their bid to escape and find the light.  What strong leaves!  I almost waited too long.

It was time to open up the boxes to give them space to grow, ready or not.  Our nights were still in the 40s, which is much too cool for Caladiums.  So I began moving the boxes out to our sunny garage in hopes I could keep them growing, but protected for a few more weeks, out there.

It was Mother’s Day before it was warm enough to move our Caladiums outside, and I moved the boxes out into some sheltered shade.  By then many of the first leaves had stretched tall and lanky.  But after a day or two outside, their colors developed and I happily greeted many favorite varieties from years gone by.  They were growing too large for their boxes, and so I spent several days lifting them and potting them individually to grow on.

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This Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ has grown some of the largest leaves I’ve ever seen on a Caladium!

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I’ve spent June potting and planting Caladiums throughout the yard in all of our shady or partly shady beds.  I’ve sorted them more by color than by variety, sometimes guessing from a first little leaf or two what the plant might be.  Often the first leaf or two to open isn’t true to the mature coloration of a variety.  It takes a bit of time, and heat, and light for the leaves to grow into the fullness of their potential.

Older Caladium bicolor varieties were strictly shade plants.  Many of the newer hybrids can stand full or partial sun.  Finding the right spot for each variety is a little like working a very complicated puzzle.  This year, I’ve planted mostly in pots to make the autumn operation a little easier.  I lost track of some last fall that lost their leaves before I got around to digging them up.  These tropical beauties can’t take our winters out of doors.

But bringing the whole pot in has its advantages, too.  I was surprised and delighted to find Caladiums sprouting in several of the pots that I overwintered in our garage, with other tender plants, like ferns and Begonias.  When I bring potted Caladiums into the living areas of our house, they will often begin to grow again by January or February, and we enjoy them indoors as houseplants.  Those left undisturbed are growing lush, and full again now.

Finally, this first week of July, our Caladiums are all growing vigorously and filling in with their spectacular leaves.  The hours invested in their care have given a rich return in beauty.

You might think that I’d be growing tired of the Caladiums by now, and my attention would turn to other things.  But no… an email from Classic Caladiums broke my resolve to grow only our saved tubers this year.

There was this newly introduced variety that caught my eye, and they are all marked down for the end of season clearance.  I just had to try something new, and so ordered a bag.  When the tubers arrived just a few days later, I eagerly planted them into pots wherever I thought they would grow.  We’ll soon see what new beauty they bring.

Caladiums will brighten our garden through the hottest, most humid days of summer, until the seasons turn yet again. Each leaf is a bit different, endlessly fascinating and lovely.

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Caladium ‘Moonlight’ grows best in deep shade, lighting it like a beacon well into a long, summer evening.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

Six on Saturday: A Gracious Plenty

Perennial hardy Begonias spread a bit more each year by seed, rhizomes, and little bulblets that form where each leaf meets the stem. These drop in the fall and grow as  new plants the following spring.  Begonias mix here with ferns and Caladiums.

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Some plants have generosity baked into their DNA.  Generosity, or an energetic compulsion to survive and multiply.  As I often tell gardening friends, “Plants just want to live.”

Whether you are just naturally thrifty, or have a large space to paint with plants, or like a coordinated design with large expanses of the same plant; it helps to know which plants are easy to propagate and spread around, and which are likely to simply sit in their spot and wait for you to feed and water them.

Are there extroverts in the plant kingdom?  ‘Super-spreader’ plants just assume you appreciate their company and welcome more of their kind.  Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.  Gardeners tend to share those ‘extras’ freely with one another.

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Silver marked Lamium grows along the edges of this mixed planting. Native ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum, spreads itself around by dropping seeds each summer to crop up in unexpected places the following year.

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Please don’t be naive about it, either.  If I’m offering you a pot or a bag of something and urging you to take it, maybe it is because I’ve had to thin (read: rip) some out of my garden space and would rather give it to you than toss it on the compost.  I have ‘received’ a few of these gifts that went on to boldly colonize huge spaces in our garden.

I just found several baby Canna lily plants growing out into a path.  I say ‘baby’ because they were only a few inches tall.  These beauties will be taller than me in another month.  I had to dig them or give up that little path forever.  The first of their kind made to my garden seven years ago in a friend’s grocery bag; a generous and much appreciated gift.

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Canna lillies die back to the ground each winter, to re-emerge by early summer, spreading a bit further each season. They attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Native Hibiscus grows behind this Canna.

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They have spread themselves about ever since, which I’ve allowed because I like them and the hummingbirds they feed.  But there was nowhere left to move these stragglers, and so I began trying to give them away.   And two weeks later, I’m content in knowing their roots are happily sunk into good rich earth in a garden nearby.

Cannas, like many Iris and some ferns, grow underground stems called ‘rhizomes,’ to spread themselves around.  A new leaf and stalk will just grow along the way as the rhizome keeps on creeping further and further afield.  Roots grow from the bottom and sides of the rhizome.  Separate a hunk that has a few roots attached and at least one ‘eye’ for new leaf growth, and you have an independent plant ready to go out into the world.

Other creepers that just keep expanding into new space include many Colocasia, which have both rhizomes and runners; many grasses; the beautiful groundcover Lamium, also known as deadnettle; all of the many mints and many native wildflowers like obedient plant and goldenrod.  If you want a large, luxurious expanse of this plant, go ahead and invite it home to your garden.  It will reward you by multiplying in short order.

Other beautiful perennials beget seedlings in abundance.  Rudbeckia are famous for this, but aren’t the only ones.  Hibiscus seed freely, and I find new little Rose of Sharon trees popping up every spring.  Some of the newer, named varieties may be sterile, as some newer crape myrtle varieties are sterile.  But every flower will likely produce dozens of seeds, and the math of their propagation is beyond my attention span.

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‘Annual’ Verbena creeps and fills pots and baskets nicely. The stems root easily in soil or water. Verbena flowers from mid-spring through frost.  Coleus (behind) and Dichondra (left) also root easily from nodes along their stems.

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Many stems easily root in either soil or water.  Knowing this, you can clone as many plants as you want just like your original.  Specialized cells at each node where leaf joins stems, called meristematic tissue, can differentiate to grow into new stems, leaves or roots as needed.

When I buy pots of ‘annual’ Verbena, I always examine the stems, where they touch the soil, to look for roots.  If there are little roots already, I snip that stem close to the crown and gently tug the little tangle of new roots away from the root ball.  This rooted stem we call a ‘division.’  Now, if there aren’t any rooted stems, you can easily get a stem to root by pegging it down to the soil with a small stone or a bit of wire.    Once some roots have grown, cut the stem away and gently lift its little roots.  Plant it back into the same pot nearby, or spread the plant to another spot.

Many plants root from their stems.  Most will root if you just cut them away at a node and plop them into moist soil.  Give a little shade from the mid-day sun while those new roots grow, keep the soil watered, and you’ll soon notice new growth.

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Colocasia and Iris; both grow from underground rhizomes and spread more each year. They are very easy to separate and any piece of rhizome with roots and an eye will grow into a new plant.  Grow these in containers to limit their spread.

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Other plants grow in circles, with expanding ‘crowns.’  The crown is where new leaves arise each spring and is normally right at, or right below soil level.  Hostas and Heucheras grow this way.  Lift them and divide them into pieces in the spring, cutting apart ‘sections’ that have both roots and new clumps of emerging leaves.  One Hosta may become several after this simple surgery, each section ready to replant and continue to grow.

With a little patience and planning, you can also have ‘a gracious plenty’ of favorite plants in your garden without buying out the garden center every spring.  Once you grow a little bit infatuated with a plant, you’ll likely want more just like it.  Learn its ways and offer a little encouragement.  Soon it will reward you with enthusiastic growth.

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Hostas may be knocked out of their pot and divided so that each clump of leaves has roots attached. Replant each clump and it will continue to grow and expand.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

Sunday Dinner: Pass It On

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“What are you planting today
to harvest tomorrow?”
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Lailah Gifty Akita

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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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“Seeds have the power to preserve species,
to enhance cultural as well as genetic diversity,
to counter economic monopoly
and to check the advance of conformity
on all its many fronts.”
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Michael Pollan

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“Plants do not speak,
but their silence is alive with change.”
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May Sarton

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“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds
and think of the rainbows in ’em,” said Captain Jim.
“When I ponder on them seeds I don’t find it nowise hard to believe
that we’ve got souls that’ll live in other worlds.
You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things,
some no bigger than grains of dust,
let alone colour and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?”
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L.M. Montgomery

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“Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution.
If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds.”
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Norman Vincent Peale

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“Remember to be conscious of what seeds you plant,
as the garden of your mind is like the world.
The longer seeds grow, the more likely they are to become trees.
Trees often block the sun’s rays from reaching other seeds,
allowing only plants that are acclimated
to the shadow of the tree to grow—
keeping you stuck with that one reality.”
.
Natasha Potter

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“Take the time to plant seeds
even if you’re unsure if they’ll grow; who knows,
maybe all it takes is for someone else
to come along and water it.”
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Kai Mann

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“Every gift from a friend
is a wish for your happiness.”
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Richard Bach

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant.”
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Robert Louis Stevenson
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Silent Sunday: December 1

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“It is December,

and nobody asked if I was ready.”

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Sarah Kay

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“I followed the footprints

until they stopped in front of a very old mysterious tree

– a grandfather tree”

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James Barbato

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“Find the sweetness in this holiday season.

Embrace the endless love that surrounds you.”

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Amy Leigh Mercree

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“A gift for the holidays?

A holiday is a gift in itself.”


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Ljupka Cvetanova

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“I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.

A magical thing. And sweet to remember.

We are nearer to Spring than we were in September.

I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.”

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Oliver Herford

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“Now is the time of fresh starts.

This is the season that makes everything new.

There is a longstanding rumor that Spring is the time of renewal….

Spring is too busy, too full of itself, too much like a 20-year-old

to be the best time for reflection, re-grouping, and starting fresh.

For that you need December. …

December has the clarity, the simplicity,

and the silence you need

for the best FRESH START of your life.”

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Vivian Swift

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Photos by Woodland Gnome
the orchid tree can be found at The Great Big Greenhouse
at Huguenot and Robious Roads, Chesterfield County VA

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“From a little spark may burst a flame.”
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Dante Alighieri

 

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.”

.

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.”
.
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.”
.
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.”
.
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.”
.
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.”
.
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.”
.
Mortimer J. Adler

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

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