The Last Day Before Frost

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We definitely expect a freeze by tomorrow night.

We feel it coming in the wind blowing through the garden.  With our high for today in the low 50s, we know it will drop quickly from here on.

The winter storm which has so much of the country in its icy grip is blowing into Williamsburg this weekend.

 

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

Many of the pots have been replanted now with Violas and ornamental kale.

 

With so much of the country under snow, and threat of snow, we can hardly complain about a mid-November frost.

But the day is still tinged with a bit of  sadness.  Sadness, and motivation to take care of everything we possibly can before the cold settles in this evening.

 

The African Blue Basil may be tough,but it isn't cold hardy.  it will die with when it freezes here.

The African Blue Basil may be tough, but it isn’t cold hardy.  It will die with the first heavy frost.  We still see bees and butterflies.  We hope they find shelter or fly south today.

 

After making the coffee this morning, I set about bringing in those last few pots of tender perennials.

I’ve filled every possible spot now in the house and garage with overwintering plants.  The main body of them in the garage  got re-arranged this morning to make room for a few more pots.

 

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

This Begonia has been lifted from its pot by the door and brought inside to the garage for the winter.

 

Even the brave Bougainvillea, which only started blooming in mid- October, finally made the journey from patio to garage this morning.

 

Our three year old Bouganvillia has waited until this week to begin its season of bloom.

Our three year old Bougainvillea has waited until October to bloom.  It came back into the garage this morning, covered in bright cherry flowers.

 

And the supposedly hardy “Pewter” Begonia got brought in to the garage, as well.  Its leaves are so pretty, I hate to let it go to the frost.

A pot of tender ferns, a few more pots of tender succulents, and a final mish-mash pot of Begonia cuttings completed the morning’s efforts.

 

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns have a snug spot by a basement window.

The last pot to come in this morning, these tender ferns now have a snug spot by a basement window.

 

My ever patient partner assisted (supervised) this final effort until getting called away to assist a neighbor.  And from there to another neighbor’s yard, and then to another.

His work out may have been more strenuous than mine, but we all now have covered outside faucets, covered foundation vents, and we’re as ready as we can be for the prolonged stretch of  cold ahead.

 

This winter I'm using watering globes to care for the indoor plants.  Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.

This winter I’m using watering globes to care for the indoor plants. Neater, they offer a nearly constant supply of moisture.  The fern hasn’t yet adjusted to the drier inside air.

 

And at noon our local weather guy confided that we may have some “Bay effect snow” by Saturday morning.

That seems to be the way our forecasts evolve around here.  They prepare you for a little change, and then the forecast continues to shift towards the extremes as the system progresses.

We are promised only rain this evening.  And I can feel the falling barometer and approaching storm in all of the usual places….

 

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

A final photo of our roses before I cut them.

 

 

But we have today to enjoy the garden before Frost’s icy fingers have their way with it.  I’ve moved all those things for which there is simply no spot inside up against a brick wall on the patio.

Petunias survived there two winters ago.

Our sheltered patio provides a microclimate which stays warmer during the winter.  Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

Our sheltered patio provides a micro-climate which stays warmer during the winter. Petunias survived all winter here in 2012, and I hope tender plants will survive here this winter, also.

 

They began blooming again in February, and just kept going right on through the following summer.  That gives me hope that the few geraniums and succulents I couldn’t bring in have a chance to survive.

And the little olive trees I’ve been nurturing along in pots should make it there, too.

 

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies have managed fine in our cool nights.  They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

Although the Colocasias look unhappy, the ginger lilies and Canna lilies have managed fine in our cool nights. They will all crumple when hit with freezing temperatures this weekend.

 

I’ve read they are growing olives in parts of England, now.  I hope these are hardy enough to survive our winter outside, in this sheltered spot.

They traveled in and out, as the weather shifted, last winter.  It got to be quite a chore, but the olive trees  were in much smaller pots then, too.

 

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And the many Violas we’ve planted will be fine.  They will shrug off the cold.

We’ve planted lots of ornamental kale, a pot of Swiss chard, hardy ferns, bulbs, and our beloved Violas.

Our garden will continue through the winter, even though much will go with  the coming  frost.

 

Camellia

Camellia

 

 

So, we are bracing ourselves for what we’ll find Saturday morning.

The landscape continue to edit and simplify itself.  As the brilliant leaves  fall from their branches, so will our Ginger lilies and Cannas also crumple to the ground.

 

Iris "Rosalie Figge" normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg.  This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

Iris “Rosalie Figge” normally blooms into December for us in Williamsburg. This is our favorite, and most prolific, re-blooming Iris.

 

 

The bright Salvias will shrivel back to the soil.  The Lantana will lose its leaves, though the berries will remain until cleaned up by the birds.

Basil will freeze beside the stalwart Rosemary, which grows and blooms all winter long.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won't survive a freeze.  But its roots are hardy.  It should return in this pot by early summer.

Mexican Petunia, a consistent bloomer all summer, won’t survive a freeze. But its roots are hardy. It should return in this pot early next summer.

 

The last of autumn’s roses will soon freeze, but the Camellias will continue to bloom until spring.

 

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold.  We'll enjoy them a few more days inside.

I harvested roses and Basil, scented Pelargonium and ivy ahead of the coming rain and cold. We’ll enjoy them a few more days inside.

 

It is the way of things, this annual turning of the seasons. 

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds.  Only a few remain.

Butterfly tree produces wonderful turquoise blue seeds, which are much loved by the birds. Only a few remain.

 

Something is always coming on, and something is always fading in the garden.    And we are endlessly fascinated as we witness the changes which come each and every day.

 

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Holiday Wreath Challenge

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Monarchs in the Garden

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

 

Monarchs have returned to our garden.  In the past three days I’ve seen Monarch butterflies feeding on several different occasions.

The first time wasn’t in our garden at all.  It was Sunday afternoon in far western Chesterfield County.

I was driving out towards Amelia, and made a “U” turn to return to a little roadside nursery.   There was a small stand of goldenrod growing in the median, and to our delight, a beautiful Monarch was hovering over the goldenrod.  I was thrilled to finally see one again after watching for them all summer.

 

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And then this morning, a Monarch flew past our porch, and lit in the upper branches of our pear tree.  We watched it until it took off again.  We took it as a very good omen.

Especially since my partner had found, and shared with me, an article about cooperative preservation efforts involving Canada, The United States and Mexico in the current Scientific American magazine yesterday morning.

 

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It is always good when our nations cooperate. 

To find a high level of dedication and coordination in an effort to save the Monarch butterfly is astounding.

One idea mentioned in the article, which shows a lot of promise, is to establish corridors of native plants, especially milkweed species, along certain north-south interstate highways.

Monarchs need habitat and food all along the way of their annual migration.

 

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This is such a good idea, it begs the question:  Why not establish native plant habitat along ALL of our interstate highways? 

I know that many states have planted wildflowers and allowed native plants to grow along their highways.  To me, this is not only common sense, but also a beautiful approach to highway maintenance.

It certainly makes a trip more interesting for the traveler to have wide swaths of beautiful flowers and trees to enjoy along the roadside.

 

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It helps travelers get a better “sense of place,” too, to see how native vegetation varies form region to region.

But it also would save each Department of Transportation money that in currently spent mowing the roadsides and medians every few weeks.

Our butterfly and songbird populations both would benefit from corridors of native plants all along our major highways.

I hope that efforts to preserve habitat in Mexico, and efforts to curtail the use of insecticides and herbicides  in all three nations prove successful.

This is the patch of roses and Lantana where I found the Monarch this morning.  It now reaches well over our heads.  The Lantana are several years old, but still die back to the ground each winter.  So this is one season's growth....

This is the patch of roses and Lantana where I found the Monarch this morning. It now reaches well over our heads. The Lantana are several years old, but still die back to the ground each winter. So this is one season’s growth….

 

Efforts to plant more milkweed should be encouraged and supported by individuals and institutions, in addition to  government agencies planting milkweed along the roadsides.

We can all make a small effort towards providing a supportive habitat for wildlife and the specific plants our butterflies need to reproduce.

 

Many of us plant exotic plants and purely ornamental plants, like these roses, instead of Milkweed and other host plants for butterfly larvae.  The dill, fennel and parsley we grew this year, host for swallowtails and other butterflies, weren't eaten by larvae this season.  We have been concerned at how few larvae and butterflies we've spotted since spring.

Many of us plant exotic plants and purely ornamental plants, like these roses, instead of Milkweed and other host plants for butterfly larvae. The dill, fennel and parsley we grew this year, host for swallowtails and other butterflies, weren’t eaten by larvae this season. We have been concerned at how few larvae and butterflies we’ve spotted since spring.

 

The third Monarch butterfly was feeding on our Lantana when I came out to work in the garden this morning.  I was thrilled to find it there, and even happier that it was still blissed out on Lantana nectar when I returned with the camera.  It  kept peacefully feeding as I joyfully photographed its progress.

 

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When it finally fluttered off, it was to another patch of Lantana a few yards away.

Although Lantana won’t support Monarch larvae, it offers a good food source to fuel the mature Monarchs’ migration this month.

 

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I hope you have recently spotted Monarchs feeding in your community. 

October is the time when they gather together for the long trip back to Mexico, where they will spend the winter.

We also hope this winter is gentler to them than last, and that this beautiful species will not only survive, but will respond to our conservation efforts (as many eagles have) and become a common sight in our summer gardens once more.

(All of the links today will take you to interesting and current information on Monarchs and efforts to preserve them.)

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Crown Princess Margareta

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This beautiful English shrub rose, “Crown Princess Margareta”, bred by David Austin, bloomed yesterday for the first time this season.

David Austin’s roses have the delicious scents and colors of  antique roses.  How I wish I could post the fragrance for you, but until technology evolves, we will have to manage with only the photo.

The garden is full of roses and Iris this week, and the peonies began opening today.

May is the month of sweet fragrances and beautiful flowers in the garden.

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Photos  by Woodland Gnome 2014

Plants Through the Post

Roses from a well known rose company arrived with an infestation of black spot.

Roses from a well known rose company arrived with an infestation of black spot in 2010.  They recovered, and are beautiful in the butterfly garden.

Specialty nurseries in North America offer most any plant one might hope to find.  I am amazed each year with the new ones I discover.  And I appreciate the ease of ordering online or over the phone to shop from home.

Sometimes I feel almost guilty about the volume of catalogs our postman must bring us, especially in spring and fall.

Roses already in growth take off much faster than bare root roses.

Roses already in growth take off much faster than bare root roses.

The catalogs certainly stack up quickly, and are filled with such an amazing variety of plants.  I love reading informative catalogs like the ones published by Wayside Gardens, Gardener’s Supply Company and Plant Delights Nursery.  They allow me to stay current with new introductions, new trends, and new products.  I can also compare prices for a product across several different companies to get a better idea of fair market value before ordering.

David Austin's English shrub roses offer wonderful fragrance.

David Austin’s English shrub roses offer wonderful fragrance.

There are some plants I nearly always order.  I prefer David Austin’s English roses for their form, color, and disease resistance and vigor.  McDonald Garden Center is the closest vendor  in this area, but they don’t carry the full catalog.  I find it easier to order directly from the catalog, using the spring promotions they always offer in gardening magazines to get a substantial discount on the plants.  David Austin roses are vigorous and healthy upon arrival, and they have a good customer service department.

Caladiums puchased as tuers ae economical, an deasy to start indoors.

Caladiums purchased as tubers are economical, and easy to start indoors.

I order Caladium tubers from one of the growers in Florida.  They offer a substantial discount on lots of 25 tubers or more of a given variety.  I always receive a few extra tubers, and end up paying less than $1 per plant.  Compared to the average of $8 per plant in early summer at most area nurseries, there is a substantial savings, in addition to the tremendous selection the growers offer.

I also order most of my Begonia plants from Garden Harvest Supply Company.   They have a huge selection from which to choose, send healthy, well rooted plants, and offer wonderful customer service.  They have such a huge variety of plants, one could outfit an entire garden right from the catalog and get great value on the purchase. Cane Begonias are hard to find in this area.  The Homestead Garden Center stocks more Begonias since I’ve been requesting them, but they still don’t have a large selection of unusual varieties.

The Homestead Garden Center stocks a huge selection of beautiful plants.

The Homestead Garden Center stocks a huge selection of beautiful plants.

I realize that we are very fortunate to live reasonably close to several good local nurseries.  We have a huge selection of plants and products available within easy driving distance.  That isn’t true everywhere, and so mail order nurseries, especially specialty nurseries; provide an important service to this nation of gardeners.

That said, I grow more cautious about purchasing plants through the mail each season.   I’ve done a lot of ordering over the years, with mixed results.  I’ve wasted a lot of money on plants that didn’t grow well, or ended up costing more than locally available equivalents would cost.  And, some once respected companies have been bought out by shady operations.  Operating under the familiar name, the company no longer lives up to its reputation and will not stand behind promises made.

A friend ordered this beautiful ginger lilywhe n weco mbined orders this spring.

A friend ordered this beautiful ginger lily from Easy To Grow Bulbs when we combined orders this spring.

As we begin a new gardening season, here are a few cautions I’d like to offer based on my own experiences, in hopes they might help someone just beginning to plant a garden of their own.

1.  Begin with an idea of what plants you want to grow, and then shop based on that list.  I started off doing it backwards.  I looked through the catalogs, and then tried to figure out where I could plant the things I wanted.   Like a child in a candy store, I wanted to order every beautiful blossom, leaf, and berry.  Not only is the garden rather chaotic using that approach, but one wastes money on plants that never quite fit in.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, "Blue Hawaii" , is a plant I shopped for extensively this spring.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii,”  is a plant I shopped for extensively this spring.

2.  Once you’ve made a list of plants to acquire, shop around for the best deal.   In general, catalog prices are inflated.  Many companies start out with extremely high prices, and then lower them through a variety of special deals and offers.  I rarely pay full price for any mail order plant, because many of these nurseries offer serious discounts throughout the season.

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Iris and roses dominate this end of the butterfly garden in May. Iris form large clumps, and may be spaced widely when planted.

Internet searches for a given plant will show you the different vendors which offer it, and you can begin the comparison shopping from there.  Waiting until late in the season to place an order also yields a better price, in most cases.  Since shipping times are fixed by the seasons, this doesn’t cause you to get the plant much later than you otherwise would.

3.  Order in multiples.  Not only will you generally pay less per plant, but your garden will look more cohesive with a greater number of fewer plants.  Planting in clumps, or sweeps, of a single variety makes a much greater impact.  A hedge, or an allee, is an elegant way to plant trees and large shrubs.  Most vendors offer price breaks and promotional offers for larger orders.

This hardy Begonia from Plant Delights Nursery arrived in bloom.

This hardy Begonia from Plant Delights Nursery arrived in bloom.

4.  Pay attention to how a plant is shipped from a prospective vendor.  Will you receive a rooted cutting; a dormant, bare root plant; a potted and growing plant; a dormant bulb or tuber; or a packet of seeds?  The age of the plant and what form it takes affects its price, but also how long it will take for you to enjoy the plant’s beauty.

Roses normally come bare root, but can be purchased in small pots, actively growing, from some vendors.  Both forms can give flowers the first year they are planted.  Bare root roses can be planted earlier in the spring, but take longer to establish.

Fruit trees give spring a beautiful, early, start in the garden.

Fruit trees give spring a beautiful, early, start in the garden.

Fruit trees normally come as bare root whips.  Most reputable vendors allow you to select the size and age you prefer.  These must be soaked and planted soon after they arrive, and will take several years to mature enough to produce fruit.  Stark Bros. offers a great selection of healthy trees.

I once ordered a dozen very cheap Nanking cherry bushes from a popular discount nursery.  They were only a foot or so tall when they arrived, but were healthy.  I planted them as a hedge against a chain link fence to screen off the neighbor’s yard.  They grew quickly and filled in within a few years.  All of those rooted cuttings lived, bore cherries within a few years, and were covered in beautiful flowers each spring.  A great bargain!

Bare root perennials and ferns are often dried out bits of root which must be soaked and planted.  They may take weeks to show any growth, and a percentage may not survive at all.  Live plants from local nurseries are usually much better deals.

This David Austin rose was new in 2012, and really took off with growth this year.

This David Austin rose was new in 2012, and really took off with growth this year.

Rare vegetables and flowers may only be available as seeds.  The best selection of cultivars, especially heirloom varieties, usually comes from specialty seed companies.  If growing from seed, make sure you can offer the seedlings enough light and warmth indoors to get off to a good start.

5.  Research a plant thoroughly before ordering it, to make sure you can grow it successfully.  The more you know about an individual plant, the more success you can expect.  Especially when ordering trees, shrubs, and vines, know how large the plant will grow.  Visit the space where you’ll plant it.  Will it still fit in 15 years?  Will it get the correct light?  Do you have enough sun for it to grow well?  Will it get too much sun or wind?

Fuchsias need shade, protection from wind, and abundant moisture to survive a Virginia summer.

Fuchsias need shade, protection from wind, and abundant moisture to survive a Virginia summer.  These were ordered from Garden Harvest Supply Co., which offers an extensive collection.

Check the plant’s cultural requirements carefully to determine whether it will survive both winter and summer in your climate.  Determine whether you’ll need to provide an arbor, trellis, stakes, fencing, or other supports to properly grow the plant, and whether you need to order multiples for cross pollination.

6.  Check out the vendor’s reputation.  I was ready to place a large combined order for some friends and myself from one of the only nurseries offering muscadine grape vines, when I found some poor customer service reviews about the company.  I hadn’t ordered from this company before, and so did some digging.  It didn’t take long to realize that this little Mom and Pop operation had disappointed a lot of people.  We decided not to order.  It pays to do an internet search on any nursery to get the latest scoop.  Even well known, established companies change hands and let their customer service slip from time to time.  The information is out there and easy to find, and can save a lot of stress.

Document and contact the company if it doesn't arrive in prime condition.  This hydrangea eventually grew, but the vendor offered to replace it.

Document the condition of the shipment and contact the company if it doesn’t arrive in prime condition. This hydrangea eventually grew, but the vendor offered to replace it.

7.  Get answers to your questions before you place that order!  When will the order ship?  Will the company honor your request for an earlier or later shipping date?  When will your card be charged?  What will the company do if you are unhappy with the condition of your plants?  You will learn a lot by calling the companies customer service number to talk with the staff before placing an order.  In fact, you might learn that there is no regular staff to talk with customers….

Be cautions of a company which charges you for a plant when the order is placed, but won’t ship the plant for many months to come.  Your money is tied up for a long time with nothing to show for it.  Seeds and supplies are generally shipped year round, but living plants will be shipped only during certain windows in spring and fall depending on the weather.  I’ve had some frustrating experiences with a well known company who insisted on waiting too late into the early summer to ship out an order placed in late winter.

Most of the plants in this photo came in the mail only a few months before this photo, taken in June.

Most of the plants in this photo came in the mail only a few months before this photo, taken in late June.

8.  Remember to count the postage and handling charges into the order’s final price.  Again, the costs vary wildly from vendor to vendor.  If you are ordering a rare plant or cultivar, it may be worth it to you to pay whatever handling charges the vendor charges.  This is the case with Plant Delights Nursery.  They will ship up to three plants for a flat charge, and then charge per plant for each additional item.

Sometimes you’ll avoid shipping charges altogether by placing a larger order.  I love to work with gardening friends to place a combined order to reduce or eliminate shipping charges.  Often calculating the shipping is all it takes to convince me to be patient and shop locally for the plants I want to grow.

Specialty seeds must nearly always come from catalogs.

Specialty seeds must nearly always come from catalogs.

9.  Communicate with the vendor!  I generally send an email to confirm that I’ve received a shipment, and comment on its condition.  If it has arrived in good shape, I offer thanks.  If there is a problem, I document that problem immediately with photos.  Plants are a big investment, and reputable nurseries stand behind their products.  Once you’ve had a plant for a few weeks, it becomes more questionable whether a problem came with the plant or is due to your handling of it.

When you buy a plant locally, you take your choice of what is offered, finding the healthiest, largest, and best formed plants available.  When a garden center knows you, they may even hold back the best plants in a shipment for you if you ask.  Mail order nurseries simply pull stock, wrap and ship it.  Whether you get the best of the lot is pure chance, and you’re at the mercy of the nursery.

Hosta and ferns, always tempting in catalogs, perform best when purchased locally.

Hosta and ferns, always tempting in catalogs, perform best when purchased already in growth.  When purchased bare root, they take a long time- perhaps a year or more- to look good.

I’ve had mixed results in reporting problems.  Some nurseries will replace the plant immediately, some never will.  I’ve found that documenting the condition of plants on arrival increases the likelihood that the nursery will stand behind their products.

If there is an opportunity to rate the product or level of customer service online, remember to do so to help others.

I hope these suggestions and observations prove helpful to you.  All of this was learned the hard way, for good or for ill.

If you have had great experience with a vendor I’ve failed to mention, please tell me in the comments section.  I’m always looking for great new nurseries to try!

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