Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

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Re-Inventing A Wreath

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Making a wreath for the door is always fun.  Coming up with ideas, gathering the materials, pulling it all together, and finally hanging the finished wreath is one way I celebrate the change of seasons.  And not just at Christmas; I make wreathes throughout the year.

I remember many cold December days, when I wandered around the garden with clippers and a large bucket of water, pruning the evergreens in preparation for making Christmas wreathes.  I usually attach bundles of mixed greens to straw wreath forms with U shaped wire pins.  And oh, my hands get so cold and sticky and scratched in the process, though the evergreen branches smell wonderful!

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Holly

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Today has been sun-drenched and passably warm, after the morning’s frost burned off.  As the day wore on, I decided it was a pretty good day for the annual cutting of the greens, and went in search of my supplies.

A spur of the moment decision to make our wreathes ended up demanding yet another trip to the craft store.  I need two wreathes for our front porch, and could only find a single straw form.  This of course drew comment from my partner about the dozen or so retired wreathes hanging in the garage.

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A finished wreath from 2013

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But we headed out to the store anyway, and I searched aisle after aisle for the forms I had in mind.  Finally, in the back corner of the place I found three sizes of straw wreath:  huge, small, and tiny.  None matched the medium wreath form waiting at home.  What to do? 

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A wreath in progress…. 2013

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We walked around the store for another 10 minutes or so with two large straw wreath forms in the cart.  And all the while I was weighing the effort it would take to rehabilitate some not-so-gently-used retired grapevine wreathes resting in the basement, against the too many dollars it would require to buy these jumbo straw hoops.

A look at the long line waiting for check-out clinched the deal.  We left the new wreath forms for someone else, and headed home to see what could be done with what we had.

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Now, the grapevine wreathes waiting for us in the basement  were lovely when they were new.  And I have remade them at least once since.

But the hot glue which once held them together was pulling loose, the bright green reindeer moss had faded to grey, and they were a sad lot, to be kind.  I pulled the remaining shells away and cleaned them up a bit, before taking them out to a patch of sunshine in the front yard.  It was barely warm enough to gild them, but gild them we did.

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2014

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Gold paint makes most things a bit better, or at least a bit more interesting.   I left the wreathes to dry in the sunlight, while I set off with the clippers for a bit of green.

My first stop was the Eucalyptus.  It froze back to the ground last winter, but has come out strong again this year.  Knowing that it might be ruined again by cold weather, I didn’t hesitate to cut quite a bit of the newest growth.

Next, I pruned the lowest branches from a rogue seedling of Virginia red cedar.  The tree is about 6′ tall now and a bit of limbing up did it no harm.

Finally, I gave the large old Rosemary in our front garden a good trim.  The cold will darken this summer’s leaves soon enough.  I cut a generous portion for our wreathes.

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That was plenty of greenery for the design I had in mind, which would allow some of the grapevine and original decorations to show as well.

That said, I quickly realized that the pins I’d gotten last month for the wreathes were going to be a challenge to use on the grapevine frame.  Basically, there is nothing to grip them.  But a bit of tweaking with needle nosed pliers soon bent the ends around the strands of vine, at least enough to hold my bundles of greenery in place.

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If you are making this sort of wreath, simply combine 6 or 7 sprigs into a bundle, wrap it with a bit of wire, and secure it to the form.  Each bundle should be about 5″-7″ long, depending on the circumference of your frame.   I used the same three plants in each bundle, in the same order, for a fairly uniform appearance.  But you might also alternate the bundles for a different effect.

I covered about two-thirds of the form with greenery, leaving the original wreath to show in the open space.  I re-attached some of the gilded moss and woody flowers, and also glued the shells back to the wreath before finishing with a fresh sparkly gold ribbon bow.

I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, and even more pleased that I recycled, rather than retailed, for this project.

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Have you made your holiday wreathes yet?  If not, I hope that you draw some inspiration from this little effort, and craft your own this year.

I ended up buying our front door wreathes last year.  They were beautiful, but I also missed the DIY Christmas I’ve grown to love.

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Making a wreath is simple and satisfying.  I challenge you to DIY this year, and create something uniquely yours.   Once you’ve made your holiday wreathes, please photograph them and share their beauty with the rest of us.  Please post photos on your site, and leave a link in the comments so I can enjoy them too!

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My second wreath today

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We will enjoy a walk through Colonial Williamsburg one day soon to enjoy their beautiful seasonal wreathes.  When we do, I’ll take lots of photos to share with you again this year.  I am always delighted by the fresh takes on using fruit and greens, nuts, cones, shells and other natural (and manufactured) items in the wreathes in the historic district of Williamsburg.

Whether you love glitz and glam at the holidays, or prefer something handcrafted or inspired by nature, there are a million ways to express your holiday spirit.

I hope you will join the holiday wreath challenge this year!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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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.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Merry Christmas !

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.

To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy,

is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

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Calvin Coolidge

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“Are you willing to stoop down and consider

the needs and desires of little children;

to remember the weaknesses and loneliness

of people who are growing old;

to stop asking how much your friends love you,

and to ask yourself if you love them enough;

to bear in mind the things that other people

have to bear on their hearts;

to trim your lamp so that it will give more light

and less smoke, and to carry it in front

so that your shadow will fall behind you;

to make a grave for your ugly thoughts

and a garden for your kindly feelings,

with the gate open?

Are you willing to do these things for a day?

Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

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Henry Van Dyke

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“Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

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Dale Evans Rogers

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“Learn to light a candle

in the darkest moments of someone’s life.

Be the light that helps others see;

it is what gives life its deepest significance.”

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Roy T. Bennett

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“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell,

but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them.

Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer

hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old,

the bell still rings for me,

as it does for all who truly believe.”

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Chris Van Allsburg

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.

Because he believes in miracles,

miracles begin to happen.

Because he is sure that his thoughts

can change his life, his life begins to change.

Because he is certain that he will find love,

love appears.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit

in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

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Harlan Miller

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

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Sunday Dinner: Expecting Christmas

Holiday decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

Holiday decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

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“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,

and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ”

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Norman Vincent Peale

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“Blessed is the season

which engages the whole world

in a conspiracy of love.”
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Hamilton Wright Mabie

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“He who has not Christmas in his heart

will never find it under a tree.”
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Roy L. Smith

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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