Sunday Dinner: Telling the Truth

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“A lie can travel half way around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
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Mark Twain
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“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing,
and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
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J.K. Rowling
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“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
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Oscar Wilde
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“Never be afraid to raise your voice
for honesty and truth and compassion
against injustice and lying and greed.
If people all over the world…would do this,
it would change the earth.”
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William Faulkner

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“Above all, don’t lie to yourself.
The man who lies to himself
and listens to his own lie
comes to a point that he cannot
distinguish the truth within him, or around him,
and so loses all respect for himself and for others.
And having no respect
he ceases to love.”
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Fyodor Dostoevsky
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“The truth does not change
according to our ability to stomach it.”

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Flannery O’Connor
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“When I despair, I remember
that all through history
the way of truth and love have always won.
There have been tyrants and murderers,
and for a time, they can seem invincible,
but in the end, they always fall.
Think of it–always.
.
Mahatma Gandhi

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“In a time of deceit
telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
.
George Orwell

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“Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.”
.
Roy T. Bennett
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Six on Saturday: In Transition

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Some days, the most interesting topic of conversation turns out to be the weather.  Today we noted the pros and cons of what it wasn’t: it wasn’t the least bit warm, wasn’t ever sunny, and it wasn’t at all spring-like.  But we also noted our gratitude that at least it wasn’t snowy or stormy in our little corner of Virginia.  It was a day for shivering in the wind while searching the landscape for any and every sign of spring.

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A few bulbs have appeared beside my mother’s driveway.

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I ventured a hundred odd miles northwest today, and a week or more back in meteorological time.

Open faces on daffodils were scarce, though we spotted buds here and there.   Japanese quince shone a muted red through the misty gloom.

But I was cheered to see potted Camellia shrubs and the first of the early perennials have arrived at my favorite Richmond greenhouse and nursery.  They were stocking the seed packet racks and unpacking Aroid tubers, while a cheerful group of Master Gardeners conferred with customers and handed out  fact sheets to those ready to start the season better prepared with good advice.

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The daffodils are much further along in my Williamsburg garden, than any I saw around Richmond today.

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Today we could feel the gears clicking together a little roughly in this reluctant transition from winter to spring.   Winter still has a very firm grip on the situation, and we’re feeling a bit rebellious.  We’re ready to relax a little into a sunny day, sow some seeds, and maybe plant out a pot or two.  Why fight the inevitable, especially now that we can see the trees are preparing to cooperate as their buds swell and color?

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Magnolia stellata

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My self-control was weak; and you couldn’t blame me.  The jazzy blooming lilies and flamingo pink Hydrangeas nearly pushed me over the edge, and that was before we circled the orchid display at least three times.

Spring was in the air, if only inside the glass house packed with blooms.   And of course I filled a little basket with fresh flower pots and a blooming Begonia, a few cute little ferns and a bag of summer bulbs.  It was a small extravagance and did more to lift my mood than I care to admit.

The girls at the register were all smiles and happy talk as people streamed through with carts piled high.  We all needed to take a piece of spring home with us, some little bright something to distract us from the day’s winter gloom, a living promise of brighter days just ahead.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

That myth is more potent than history.

That dreams are more powerful than facts.

That hope always triumphs over experience.

That laughter is the only cure for grief.

And I believe that love

is stronger than death.”
.

Robert Fulghum

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

Blossom XXXVII: Daffodils, Variations On A Theme

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A daffodil is such a simple flower.  Most bloom yellow or white, or some combination of these colors.  They have six petals, or perianth, and a corona in the middle.  Each grows on a long, slender herbaceous stem alongside long narrow leaves. Yet nature has made thousands of variations from these simplest of elements.

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It is March, and our garden blooms in daffodils.  Newly planted singles emerge from the Earth alongside clumps planted some years ago.

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These simple, charming flowers greet us as we venture out on cool windy days to get on with the springtime chores.  Their toughness and tenacity encourage us as we prepare for the season ahead.

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Through sleet and rain, and springtime snow, daffodils nod cheerfully in the wind.  They shrug off late frosts and spring storms, remaining as placidly beautiful as on a warm and sunny afternoon.

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Narcissus is a delightful genus to collect and celebrate.  From the tiniest miniature to the largest trumpet daffodil, each blooms with beauty and grace.  They come on, one cultivar after another, as the garden beds warm and the other perennials oh so slowly wake from their winter slumber.

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Early, middle, and late season; single or double; white or pink, cream or golden, orange or pure white; I want to grow them all.

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Each autumn our catalog comes.  And I sit down with a fresh mug of coffee and a pen to begin making selections.  I study them all, and note which ones we already grow.  Order more of these…  Try these this year…. Which to order of the new ones?  And where to plant them this time?

One can only choose so many in a season, and the choosing may take a while.

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We are a community of daffodil lovers here, and most neighbors grow at least a little patch somewhere near the street. Some of us collect them, filling our gardens with magical flowers that pop up under the huge old trees, through the duff of leaves, as winter fades into spring.

Roadsides are lined with them, and they even crop up in the wild places near the creeks and in the woods.

Patches of golden daffodil yellow catch our eye on the dullest days, reminders that at some time, someone cared enough to drop their bulbs in the moist soil.

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Our neighbors plant a few more bulbs each year, as do we.  We share this camaraderie and high hope each autumn.

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And when it’s spring again, we celebrate the waves of flowers from first to last.

Beautiful daffodils fill our gardens and remind us that life is sweet.   It takes such little effort to bring such joy

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“She turned to the sunlight
    And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
    “Winter is dead.”
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A.A. Milne

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Blossom XXXVI: Crocus

Blossom XXXV: In The Forest

 

Snow Surprise

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Did I say surprise?  Little should surprise us anymore.  We live in such a ‘land of confusion’ these days that I’ve started taking a lot of what I hear, including weather forecasts, with a grain of salt.  Which is probably why I didn’t expect it to snow, at least not here, despite the forecasts on every wavelength and website. We decided it was as good a day as any to venture out to Toano for some shopping, and chose to ignore the sputtering rain as we headed out on our errands just before noon.

We listened to the sleet bouncing off the car as we returned in the early afternoon from our foray to the Tractor Supply Co.  It is one of our favorite stops in early spring, and we took some time browsing among the boots and hats before heading off to see what was new and interesting.

I was interested in the tools and shrubs and baby chicks huddling under heat lamps in the middle of the store.  There was an ‘instant flower garden’ seed mix complete with mulch and fertilizer; just sprinkle and add water.  I contented myself with a giant bag of potting soil, and we headed back out into the rain and darkening skies.

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After one more stop at a big box store to pick up some bags of bare-root ferns, we hastened home as the storm picked up.  I still expected hours of mixed precipitation with just barely above freezing temperatures through the rest of the afternoon.  The staccato tinkling of sleet sounded oddly comforting, and I turned my attention to pulling together something warm for lunch.

It was only an hour or so later, when I looked up from what I was reading, that I noticed huge flakes of snow falling past the windows.  The cat was asleep beside me and took no notice of our world gone oddly white.  I can’t remember when I’ve ever seen snowflakes the size of eggs, but that is what filled the sky and was already sticking to the deck.

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I quickly pulled up a radar weather map to get the latest guess on what was happening.  Right.  Our whole region still registered as heavy rain according to the NWS map on my screen.  Nothing is quite what it seems these days, but I sort of still hope that at least the radar map will reflect reality.

I looked back to the window, and put the map in motion.  It clearly showed the blue and pink clouds moving over the state well to our west, and we were under dark green and yellow.  Maybe there was still some rain mixed in with these gargantuan snowflakes?

I grabbed my camera and headed for the deck to see for myself what was actually falling.  The budding pear tree, now covered in snow, was shaking strangely.

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At first I thought that two large birds had settled into its upper branches.  I focused carefully and snapped, determined to get a closer look at what had landed in our tree.  And then they moved again, oddly for a bird, and I saw the give-away furry tails of a trio of squirrels happily snacking on our opening flower blossoms despite the falling snow.  And no, there was no rain mixed in; it was pure, fluffy wet snow falling in our yard.

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It felt far colder than the windowsill thermometer reported.  We decided that we should retrieve the mail before the box had a chance to freeze, and so I found boots and something warm and hooded for the hike to the box.  It was only an excuse, of course, to get a better look at our snow filled garden.

It looked absolutely surreal to see pops of bright springtime yellow and fresh green under the white and brown and grey of a snow covered garden.  The pavement was already slippery under almost an inch of snow; the sky thick and white and filled with falling blobs of crystallized wetness; the garden bent under the weight of this spring time ‘snow surprise’.

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Well, for my friends in the northeast, my smugness has been knocked down a notch today.    I’ve been showing you flowers and sunshine, while knowing you were getting hammered up there with winter storms.  Your gracious admiration of my springtime flower photos is appreciated.  Now, I hope you get a good chuckle seeing our snow covered garden this afternoon.

Of course, we wonder how much damage this may cause.  Last spring the Magnolia liliiflora had already bloomed when we got a hard freeze, and all of those buds and blossoms were lost.   A second flush came a few weeks later, but the damage was done.

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Our roses are showing new stems and leaves, despite my reluctance to prune them back yet.  And the redbud trees were just showing their first blossoms this weekend.  The Camellias along the street are covered in red rose-like blossoms.  The fruit trees are beginning to bloom, and the first of the Japanese painted ferns were just showing their earliest fiddle heads yesterday morning.  We’ll know what comes through unharmed tomorrow, won’t we? 

A gardener comes to accept uncertainty.  We keep on planting and tending with some measure of confidence that it will ‘all be OK.’  There is always the chance of a late freeze or snow, a summer storm, a flood, drought, earthquake or even an asteroid, I suppose.  Yet, we keep tending the soil and planting and pruning and protecting tender things when it’s cold like this.

In four months, when the ground is parched, we’ll water and mulch.  And tonight, we’ll linger by the window and find beauty in this last (?) taste of winter before spring settles in for good.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Were you around in 1986, in the early years of MTV, when this song filled the air?  Somehow it still sounds fresh and true today….  We can still take comfort in our tunes, especially when the weirdness of the day’s news feels like a bit too much.

Land of Confusion

Genesis 1986

I must’ve dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear their marching feet
Moving into the street

Now, did you read the news today?
They say the danger’s gone away
Well, I can see the fire’s still alight
Burning into the night

Too many men, too many people
Giving too many problems
And not much love to go around
Can’t you see this is the land of confusion?

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

Oh, Superman, where are you now?
When everything’s gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour

This is the time, this is the place
So we look for the future
There’s not much love to go around
Tell me why this is the land of confusion

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

Make it a place oh, yeah

This is the world we live in (oh, I remember long ago)
This is the world we live in (oh, the sun was shining)

Songwriters: ANTHONY BANKS, MICHAEL RUTHERFORD, PHILLIP COLLINS
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Fabulous Friday

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As the garden fills up with flowers, I am ready to begin celebrating ‘Fabulous Friday’ once again.   It’s been a month since we last celebrated Friday in the garden, and a cold, wet month it’s been!

Today dawned bright and sunny, yet still windy and deceptively cool.

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We headed out after lunch to see what we could see.  I carried my camera and my partner carried heavy pruners.  I was in search of beauty, but he intended to tackle some stubborn bamboo climbing up from the ravine into the garden.  Even in the relative shelter of the back garden, the cutting wind found us and made us wish we had grabbed more layers on the way out.

We have layered clumps of daffodils all the way down the slope, from the edge of the drive as far as we know the sun can reach them.  We plant more bulbs each fall.  Each spring, once the special ones have finished in their pots, I transplant them ‘in the green’ to still empty spots in the garden.

Seeing them shining in the bright sunshine today makes us very glad for the small effort to plant them.

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I convinced my partner that we should fill the garden with daffies by reminding him that every part of the Narcissus plant is poisonous, even its roots.  We began to plant them in areas once relentlessly dug up by voles.  Over the years that strategy has proven effective, and where there are daffies there are no vole tunnels.  Now we plant them generously around new shrubs and trees, working to create a ‘curtain’ of poisonous roots to protect our newly planted treasures.

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It’s elegant, in a somewhat warped and twisted way, to realize that while Narcissus and Hellebores look lovely together, they are equally effective in stopping voles ‘dead’ in their tunnels. This association continues as the tall Hellebores help to hide the daffodil foliage as  it gradually dies back, feeding the bulb for several weeks after the flowers finish.

We have an endless supply of seedling Hellebores to transplant each spring now, and I dutifully dig them up and move them to where we need them.  Hellebores are tough plants.  They will hold a bank.  They will ring a shrub.  They will fill a bed or a pot or crop up spontaneously where you most need one to grow!  Sold as shade plants, some of ours continue to thrive in nearly full sun through our long hot summers.

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I’m seduced to buy a new cultivar or two each winter when the garden centers offer little else.  Yes, oysters to Kilmarnock, I know.  But do you blame me?

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We admire their bright and ever changing faces during these last weeks of winter when spring can’t make up its mind whether or not to linger.  They fill the garden with flowers when little else beside the daffies and the Vinca dare to bloom.

I’ve been enrolled in a gardening class since early January, and yesterday we sat in rapt attention as a local landscape designer shared slide after slide of gorgeous gardens she has designed.   She shared with us her favorite annuals and perennials that grow well around Williamsburg.

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The shot that stole my heart was a bowl filled with Hellebore blossoms, snipped from a garden she designed.

When I noticed how many different Hellebores have come into bloom in our garden this week, I couldn’t resist clipping a collection of our flowers, too, to try to replicate that picture for you.

Hellebores bloom in waves, over four or five months here in coastal Virginia.  The earliest may open in late December.  We often still have a few Hellebores in bloom in mid-May.

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More are still on their way, including a particularly sassy dark purple cultivar that I just planted last week.  When it finally blooms, it may rate a Fabulous Friday post all on its own.

This fabulous sunny Friday offered us a respite to get outside and check on spring’s progress, as we wait for the rains to return here early next week.

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Pear blossoms have just begun to open in our garden.

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Forecasters shout the ‘S’ word, threatening us with another round of storms.  I don’t plan to give that much thought or worry, though.

Spring is well underway here with the annual progression of flowers.  And our gorgeous Hellebores highlight the beds, promising that the season is now mostly here  to stay.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious.  Let’s infect one another!

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Wonders

Magnolia stellata

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“A man should hear a little music,
read a little poetry,
and see a fine picture every day of his life,
in order that worldly cares
may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful
which God has implanted in the human soul.”
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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”
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Socrates

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“It is a happiness to wonder; –
– it is a happiness to dream.”
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Edgar Allan Poe

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else
in the universe.
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John Muir

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“The invariable mark of wisdom
is to see the miraculous in the common.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“When you don’t cover up the world
with words and labels,
a sense of the miraculous returns to your life
that was lost a long time ago
when humanity, instead of using thought,
became possessed by thought.”
.
Eckhart Tolle

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Incidentally, the world is magical. 
Magic is simply
what’s off our human scale…
at the moment.”
.
Vera Nazarian

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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

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Virginia In Bloom

Narcissus ‘Art Design’

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Springtime in Virginia is simply fabulous.  So fabulous, that garden clubs all over the Commonwealth open public and private gardens to celebrate Historic Garden Week while our dogwoods, azaleas, daffodils, tulips and redbuds burst into bloom.

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Newly opened leaves blur in a haze of color around the crowns of tall trees and the stately boxwood, a fixture in so many historic and public gardens, glow with new, green growth.  It is a sight worth celebrating.

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Our garden on Wednesday morning

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We are celebrating April in our own Forest Garden as dogwoods and azaleas bloom and the landscape wakes up for the new season.  Our Iris have produced scapes covered with buds, seemingly overnight.  Leaves emerge from bare branches.   Perennials keep breaking ground with new growth, reminding us that they, too, survived the winter.

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Brunnera

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Historic Garden Week traditionally falls the week after Easter, here in Virginia.  With a late Easter this year, Garden Week gets an  especially late start.  Combined with an early spring, gardening friends and I have been wondering what may still be in bloom by then to entice visitors.  Surely there will still be Iris, and probably Rhododendron.  But tulips, dogwoods and azaleas are coming into their prime, at least in coastal Virginia, right now.

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Tulips and daffodils blooming in a public garden in Gloucester Courthouse for their Daffodil Festival last weekend.

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One of the strangest sights to celebrate this Fabulous Friday is our blooming rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum.  Rhubarb is best known as a tasty filling in spring in pies.  Its long petioles are stewed with sugar and spices to make a tart seasonal treat.  But I’ve noticed Rheum used as an ornamental, especially in Pacific Northwest gardens.  I decided to give it a try in our garden, especially since its poisonous leaves leave it impervious to grazing.

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Rhubarb in bloom

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This is the second year for this plant, which I grew in a pot last summer and planted into the garden in September.  I’ve enjoyed watching its progress, but was amazed to see flower buds emerge a few weeks ago.  I’ve never before watched rhubarb bloom, and thought you might enjoy its unusual flowers, too.

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We are still enjoying daffodils as the late season varieties continue to open.  These hybrids all carry interesting names, and I keep my Brent and Becky’s Bulbs catalog handy to look them up and try to remember them.  Handily, we received the new fall catalog in the mail last week, so we can begin penciling in a fall order, while this year’s crop still fills the garden.

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Every tree and shrub in our garden dances in the wind as a cold front blows through today.  Often, a particularly strong gust carries flower petals as it blows spring flowers from the greening trees.  We expect temperatures back into the 30s tonight, and a much cooler day tomorrow.

We find ourselves ‘dancing’ back and forth, too, as we move pots and baskets in and out of the garage with the fluctuating weather.  We keep telling ourselves it’s good exercise, but I will be quite happy when we can finally leave everything out in its summer spot.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge this week.

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But even if we weren’t carrying our pots back and forth, we would still find excuses to head back out into the garden.  We eavesdrop on avian conversations as they happily build their nests and find their mates.  They are as energized as we feel with the warmth of spring and the fresh opportunities it brings.

We watched lizards skitter across our back porch for the first time on Wednesday, a sure sign of the garden’s awakening.  Butterflies dance with one another in mid-air before floating off for another sip of nectar.  It is good to live in Virginia in the springtime, when it seems the whole world is in bloom.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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I’ve  set an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to photograph each Friday.   If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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Dogwood, our state flower

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Soil Security

Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia

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Gardens offer endless surprises and seemingly endless challenges.  One hopes to discover most of the challenges in the first year or two.  Better to address them right off and be done with it, right?  But that’s not how this business works…. things change….

Ours is a very steep property.  Our bit of James City County spreads across ridges and ravines.  We happen to live and garden on the slope of a ravine.  Water drains down across the yard to a creek running through the ravine, which flows to a pond and then out to College Creek.   Managing all of that water during a heavy rain remains a challenge for us.

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This area suffers serious erosion in heavy rain, and is frequented by voles.  It is hard to get anything much to grow here.  We have just added the stones to offer some protection and planted a dozen seedling Hellebores to help hold the bank.

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Our county’s division of  storm water management staff advise:  “Plant more plants!”  I take that advice to heart, regularly, and have struck up a working relationship with one of the staffers.  They work with the local Master Gardeners to help homeowners design rain gardens to catch some of the run-off after a heavy rain, and offer grants for those who install them.

I like that proactive, cooperative approach.  This spring, I’ve done a bit of reading about how to construct a rain garden.  And one of the first things I realized is that steeply sloping land isn’t a very good place to site one, unless you are prepared for a major project of earth moving and engineering to construct a berm on the down slope side.

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This was our steep, eroding slope before our work began this spring.

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As I thought about rain gardens, and walked our property looking for a place to catch run off and use it in a new planting bed, my partner pointed out a new erosion problem on the very shaded and inaccessible slope beside and below our driveway.

This is an area we’ve largely neglected over the years.  Towering, mature Ligustrum shrubs cast deep shade across this slope.  Their leaves drop here year round, and the ground has been covered in a tangle of Vinca vines and wild growth.  Where there is bare earth, it has been covered with fallen leaves. I planted  some Mahonia and Hydrangea in this area when we first took over the garden, and they have expanded, but never bloomed.

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Daffodils have replaced Caladiums here at the base of our driveway, where a great deal of water runs off when it rains.  An Autumn fern has thrived here for five years or more, and I decided to expand the planting last summer.

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But last summer, I began clearing some of this strip, nearer to the drive, and planted it in Caladiums, Zantedeschia, Ajuga, Oxalis, some transplanted Liriope and a few ferns.  We enjoyed it enough that when we dug the Caladiums in October I planted Daffodils and Arum in their place.

Below this planted area, we noticed a new area of erosion a few weeks ago.  Storm water had found its way into a vole tunnel, and a whole piece of the bank had collapsed.  There was a gorge, partially filled with leaves and other debris.  Finding that bit of erosion sealed the deal that we would invest our time, energy, and gardening dollars in fixing this neglected, and now crumbling, bit of the garden.

Too steep for a single ‘rain garden,’ we decided to create several terraces to catch and slow the flow of water down the slope, directing the run-off from one planted area to another.  We found several Rhododendron shrubs to anchor each terrace, and planted the first right into that nasty gorge to stabilize it.  We found some sturdy trapezoidal concrete blocks for building the terraces.  They fit together snugly to make a secure wall.  We installed the first ones below that Rhododendron to hold it in place.

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The first Rhododendron we planted to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. We planted in the hole and stabilized the area with two concrete blocks.

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We trimmed up the lowest Ligustrum branches to let in light and make the area more accessible and raked back the leaves and debris.  Then, we studied the area for several days to decide where to place our blocks to form natural terraces.

After building the terraces, and planting three more of the shrubs, I began filling each terrace with plants.   I selected a variety of perennials which will thrive in shade, tolerate a lot of moisture, hold and cover the soil by spreading, put down extensive root systems, and stop voles with their poisonous roots. Oh, and did I mention they also must repel deer?

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The terraces before today’s torrential rain.

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Remember our mantra:  “Plant more plants!”  It was going to take a lot of plants to fill these spaces.  Luckily, we have a pretty steady supply now of a few perennials which fill these criteria.  They are ours to dig, divide, and transplant as needed.

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Divisions of Strawberry Begonia transplanted from another part of our garden. Each division will send out numerous stems, with a tiny plant growing at the tip of each.  They will form a thick mat over time. 

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I was able to transplant Hellebore seedlings, Ajuga and Saxifraga stolonifera in nearly unlimited quantities from other parts of the garden.  The Hellebores have  poisonous roots, and so I planted them around each of the Rhododendrons to protect their roots from curious voles.  I also planted them below the lowest row of blocks to form an additional vegetative barrier for any run-off.

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This Rhododendron is ringed with seedling Hellebores.

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I purchased holly ferns, Japanese painted ferns and Autumn Brilliance fern.  Although the Japanese painted ferns aren’t evergreen, they spread wonderfully and give about 7 months of presence here.  I also purchased some little 2″ Columbine and Heuchera and a couple of quart sized Tiarella .

I prefer to buy the smallest pots of perennials I can find to  minimize the size of the holes we must dig.  Living on a slope, we dig as little as possible.

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Tiarella is a shade loving native perennial which runs and spreads over time. It blooms each spring, feeding hungry pollinators early in the season. It resembles Heuchera, but proves more deer resistant.

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Heuchera is the only perennial in our palette for this new bed which may be grazed from time to time.  I am willing to take the chance for its beautiful foliage.  The rest of these plants have already proven themselves in our garden and I have confidence in using them here.  They are tough and thrive in our climate and soil.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ anchor the end of this terrace. I will add Caladiums next month when the weather is settled.

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And this was surprisingly good soil!  While we have clay in other parts of the garden, this was good, rich dirt.  Although I had stocked up on compost, I was able to build these beds without adding a great deal.

The key to planting on sloping ground is a good gravel mulch.  We’ve learned over the years to minimize digging, top dress and even out the ground with compost, and then mulch heavily with gravel. Finally, we pack this all down firmly with hands and feet.

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Columbine and Tiarella anchor this terrace. Two tiny lady ferns, grown from bare root starts, will one day flourish in this moist bed.

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We discovered that the first gardener on this property often used a large stone or hunk of concrete or brick to anchor shrubs he planted on slopes.  I’ve followed his lead and often anchor a newly planted shrub or perennial with something heavy to hold it in place until it establishes.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ will eventually grow to three feet. This evergreen fern has interesting spring color on new growth. We have anchored it with stones as it sits at the top of the slope.

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We’ve been working on this new area over the past week or so.  We have been trying to fix the erosion ahead of the heavy weather forecast for this week.  The rains have shown us the weak spots, and where more work was required.  We had to go back and re-pack the area around the first Rhodie’s roots, for example.  And we also placed some stones above it to divert the flow of water around it from the slope above.

A front came through mid-day today, with torrential rain, about an hour after I finished the last of the planting and gravel mulch.  We were pleased that the terraces held.

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Additional erosion after today’s rain left roots exposed. It showed us additional engineering was needed where water pours off of the driveway.  The terra cotta pots helped anchor plastic bags to protect the Hydrangea on the right during freezing weather in March.  It is slowly recovering and finally pushing out new leaves.

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There were only a few spots of erosion, and only one Hellebore partially washed out on a terrace this time.  But the path along this slope was badly eroded.  Ligustrum roots were exposed where the path was washing away.

We studied the path the water took from driveway to ravine, noted where the gravel had washed out, and re-engineered parts of the project.  Translation: Back to Lowes for more concrete blocks, a few more bags of gravel and a bag of topsoil.

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Additional engineering should slow the run-off flowing into the path from heavy rain.  My partner placed the blocks to divert the water’s flow.  We’ve added topsoil and gravel over the Ligustrum’s exposed roots in the path.  Sadly, some daffies may be sacrificed in the process….

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We aren’t quite sure why the erosion on this bank suddenly got worse in the last year.  We must have made some small change in how the water flows, without even realizing it, when I planted the Caladiums last summer.  But whatever the cause, the problem was getting worse with each heavy rain.

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“Soil security”

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When you live on a slope, stable soil is a measure of security as heavy weather blows through.

We’ve created terraced beds throughout the garden, planted lots of shrubs and perennials, and dumped hundreds of bags of pea gravel on this property over the years.   We rarely visit our favorite garden center without adding a bag or two of gravel or compost to our order. It is an investment in holding the soil in place and keeping our home’s foundation stable.

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We trust that these new terraced beds, and the reinforced path we’ve created for water to flow down our sloping garden, will meet the challenge of heavy rain and the run-off it generates.  But more than that, we trust they will grow into beautiful additions which bring us many years of enjoyment.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Note: I don’t often like to show parts of our garden that aren’t ‘beautiful.’   We have a lot of rough edges here in our Forest Garden.  It is a work in progress. I hope the techniques we use to hold the slope and garden on uneven land will help others trying to garden in similar circumstances.

I’ll show you this bed again as the plants grow in.  We trust that it will soon be one of our most beautiful areas, filled with photo-worthy foliage and flowers.  We expect it will attract the attention of our turtles, lizards and toads as the season progresses, too.  

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

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Columbine

 

 

Wednesday Vignette: Perseverance

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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Nelson Mandela

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

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Seneca

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“Many of life’s failures

are people who did not realize

how close they were to success

when they gave up.”

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Thomas A. Edison

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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