Fabulous Friday: Something Borrowed, Something New

~

Until I’d struggled with this ‘new’ garden for a couple of years, watching my familiar favorite plants disappear from the garden to feed assorted voles, rabbits, squirrels and deer, I’d never given Hellebores more than a passing thought.  They simply weren’t on my radar in those days when I was busy growing roses and Hydrangeas, berries, beans, tomatoes and every Begonia I could find.

~

~

And then a friend offered to dig a few Hellebores from her garden to share with me.  We had been consoling each other, probably over cups of coffee, as we both told our stories of plants loved and lost in this forested community.  Our houses are nearby, and each of us has a ravine and a pond beyond our back yards, favorite haunts of large herds of deer.

~

~

She’s been here a year or so longer than we; long enough to learn a trick or two.  Long enough to learn to treasure her Hellebores.

~

Our first patch of Hellebores, given to us by a friend,  as they were in April of 2012. These perennials look good in every season, thrive in dry shade, and bloom for several months in late winter and early spring.

~

Her broad front yard is carpeted with beautiful Hellebores.  Through the warmer months, Hellebores cover the ground, especially in shady spots, with a beautiful, textured deep emerald green.  And then sometime between November and January they begin to bloom.  And they keep producing flowers until things heat up again in April or May.

~

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’.

~

Hellebore flowers come in shades of white, cream, light green, pinks, purples, and reds.  Heavily hybridized, there is a huge variety of size and form available through nurseries and catalogs.

Which is fun for collectors, but almost doesn’t matter anymore once you have a plant or three.  Because Hellebores easily set seed, and those seeds easily germinate.  And a few Hellebores easily becomes an ever widening patch of them, all a bit different since they have hybridized with one another.

~

~

I’m reminded of generosity and friendship every spring as we admire our Hellebores.  Those few early plants did so well for us, some even in full sun, that I dig and re-plant seedlings in more areas of the yard each spring.  Hellebores are just the trick to solve several of the challenges we face.

~

Hellebores touched with frost

~

Because they are highly poisonous, the local wild things leave Hellebores strictly alone.  This makes them valuable for planting around newly planted trees, shrubs, ferns and perennials that need a bit of protection from hungry voles.  The voles avoid the Hellebore roots and so avoid the tasties you need to protect, as well.

Simply plant a circle of seedlings, spaced every 8″-10″, around the new plant.  Those roots very soon grow into a solid mass of protection, and the Hellebores will thrive in dry shade as the shrubs grow.

~

Hellebores and Narcissus protect the roots of this Camellia sasanqua, blooming for several months after the Camellia flowers have faded.

~

Deer don’t much like to walk through Hellebores, and certainly never nibble them.  Plant them in a mass along property lines, or disrupt deer runs through the garden with a living barrier of Hellebores.

~

Hellebore seedlings bloom for the first time on this slope, where I planted them last spring.  This area gets a lot of erosion and several other plants have failed here.  The daffodils and Hellebores may prove the solution to hold the bank.

~

Hellebores also serve as a beautiful ground cover on slopes and other areas where you don’t want grass.  They hold the soil against erosion and suppress weeds.  They can take drought and need very little care, other than removing old and damaged leaves in late winter.

I like to mix Hellebores with ferns and spring bulbs, like daffodils or early summer bloomers like Iris.  They make great companions.

~

Seedlings blooming in their first year.

~

And finally, I still want a few large pots of Hellebores each winter.  I pick out new cultivars at the nursery, looking for interesting leaves as well as striking flowers.  Maybe one day I’ll just dig a few seedlings for the pots.  But I find the new cultivars interesting enough to seek out special ones with variegated foliage or double flowers.

~

~

I was very inspired by a planting featured in a recent issue of Gardens Illustrated.  A very large round stone planter was filled with the earlier blooming Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose, interplanted with Galanthus and Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum. The whole confection was white flowers against beautiful green and silver foliage.   It was elegantly simple and absolutely aglow on the dull day it was photographed.

Hellebores make wonderful companion plants for spring bulbs in winter pots, and the whole thing can be transplanted into the garden in April, when you want to re-plant the pot for summer.  You know the arrangement will come back even bigger and better next winter.

~

~

Which brings me to the main reason I’m celebrating our Hellebores on this Fabulous Friday:  they give abundant winter flowers.  Whether cut for a vase, floated in a bowl, or simply admired while walking through the garden; Hellebores defy winter with flowers of vibrant color and delicate beauty.

~

~

We have enough seedling Hellebores appearing each spring that I’m always happy to share with other gardeners.  Especially gardeners making the hard adjustment to gardening in our challenging area, who are just looking for something, anything, they can grow without having to spray it with deer repellents every time it rains.

~

~

Something borrowed, something new… a gardener’s happiness always grows when friends share their botanical treasures, and when success finally blooms from challenge.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2019
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
Advertisements

Our Latest Experiment: Milorganite

Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City Oregon

The Connie Hansen Garden, in Lincoln City, Oregon, where deer roam freely through the beach front community.  This beautiful garden remains open to the public – and the deer- year round.

~

A friend and neighbor, allies in our battle against hungry deer, first mentioned Milorganite several years back.  I’d never heard of the stuff.  She said she was trying it as a deer deterrent with some success.

She and her partner garden on one of the most exposed water front lots in our part of the community.  We collaborated together on our list of deer resistant plants, but I never followed up on her suggestion to try Milorganite.  Now I wish we had…..milorganite

A year or so later, a Gloucester based landscaper suggested it to me again.  He recommended creating a barrier around one’s entire garden by broadcasting a 3′-4′ wide strip of the smelly stuff around the perimeter of any area you need to protect.  He swore deer wouldn’t cross it.  Sounded like a good idea; which I filed away to explore in more detail later.

Meanwhile, our personal battle to protect our garden from the deer continues.  It’s not just the plants we want to protect from their grazing.  Deer carry ticks, and ticks carry Lyme’s disease and other nasty infections.  We’ve both had several bites over the years followed by expensive visits to the doctor, tests, and prescriptions.

Lyme’s disease is one of those infections one never truly gets over; it can linger in the body and flare up later in unexpected ways.  It changes people’s lives in unpleasant ways; another reason to stay away from deer and ticks.  We figured this out, of course, only after we fell in love with the community  and bought our little forest garden.  We’ve learned a great deal since then.

~

August 27, 2014 Parkway 021

~

After nearly seven years of finding ways to foil the deer, a few somehow still slip into the garden from time to time.  And once in, they find tasties to nibble while spreading ticks and leaving their little ‘gifts.’   We’ve both had ticks latch onto us this spring, already.

~

By mid-August of 2014 surrounding shrubs shade the actual raised bed..

By mid-August, our garden grows in with plenty of temptations for grazing deer.

~

But a casual conversation with one of the garden experts at Lowes, earlier this week, reminded me of Milorganite.  She gardens on the Northern Neck, along the Piankatank River slightly north of Williamsburg.  And she contends with herds of deer, too.  She highly recommended Milorganite as a deer repellent in the garden.

~

August 7, 2014 garden 040

~

Now, before we go any further in this story, I need to share with you our real reason for avoiding Milorganite all these years.  I was all set to try it years ago until we learned its true nature:  municipal sewage sludge.  Somehow we just didn’t want to spread dried sewage all around our garden, despite its potential benefits.

Since 1926, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has processed the sludge from its sewage treatment plant to produce a 5-2-0 natural fertilizer known as Milorganite. Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen” was devised to reduce material in landfills while recycling this natural source of nitrogen as a safe fertilizer for lawns, golf courses, and agriculture.  The dried sewage is heat dried to kill bacteria and other pathogens, then pelletized to produce an easy to apply, dust free organic fertilizer.  But all the processing doesn’t completely remove the odor, which is why Milorganite repels deer.

~

Rose scented Geranium

Rose scented geranium has proven a more pleasant deer repellent than sprays.  We plant scented Pelargoniums all around the garden to protect tasty shrubs and perennials.  They also repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects.

~

If you’ve bought a spray bottle of deer repellent lately, you know it’s very pricey.  Whether you buy Plantskydd , Repells- All, or some other product; you make an investment which often washes away in the next thunderstorm.

After resisting Milorganite these last few years, we finally decided to try it earlier this week.  The little guys have been slipping through our ‘deer fences’ and have already grazed some favorite roses and Camellias just as they leafed out this spring.  We are weary of chasing them out of the garden with no clue as to how they get in or out….

A 36 pound bag of Milorganite, enough to treat 2500 square feet, was only around $13.00 at Lowes.  On Monday afternoon we decided to give it a try, and bought a bag. Produced as a ‘slow release’ fertilizer, it lasts a long time before it completely dissolves into the soil.  How long will it work for us?  That is part of our experiment….

~

April 5, 2016 070

~

I suited up in my usual garden ‘get up,’ covered head to toe, with hat and gloves; and broadcast the first strip of Milorganite along our street.  Using a recycled plastic quart food container, I shook a light application in the spaces between our shrubs, and especially around the Camellias, from the pavement back to our deer fence behind the shrubs.

It wasn’t bad, really.  It didn’t smell as bad as the sprays we use, and was so much easier to apply.  Our single bag proved sufficient to broadcast a 4′ perimeter around our entire garden, and also to make barriers around vulnerable beds of Azaleas, roses, Hydrangeas, and perennials.  I laid a stripe everywhere we know the deer frequent in our garden.

~

Azaleas once filed our front garden. In recent years, a growing herd of deer graze on what little remains.

Azaleas once filed our front garden. In recent years, a growing herd of deer graze on what little remains.

~

Although the University of Georgia has published studies on Milorganite as a deer repellent, it isn’t marketed as one.  Its use to repel animals is a ‘word of mouth’ sort of thing between gardeners.  And how long a single application will last depends on any number of variables.  We plan to spread it again by the middle of June, then again in September.  Based on what we’ve read, it should last close to 90 days during the growing season.

Now we watch and wait.  My daydreams of full, lush Azalea shrubs and un-grazed roses may finally come true.  Our hopes to finally watch our Hostas mature, un-nibbled and full, may be realized this year.  Faith, hope and love wax strongest in a gardener’s heart in early spring, before realities set in.

~

June 21 Lanai 022~

I’ll let you know how it works, of course.  If Milorganite performs as well as other gardeners have promised, we might actually plant a few vegetables later in the season with hope to harvest a cucumber or two!  I’m curious to learn whether it deters squirrels, rabbits, voles, and other mammals, in addition to deer.  If it does, we will use it faithfully from now on.

~

May 15, 2015 roses 010~

We may be holding our noses, metaphorically speaking, but we’ll gladly support the city of Milwaukee in their recycling efforts.  And we’ll spread the word as broadly as we spread the Milorganite!

Have you tried Milorganite in your garden?  If you have, how well does  it work for you?

~

It was almost 9 PM when I took these photos of our rabbit on Wednesday evening. A long day, indeed.

~

Woodland Gnome 2016

In recognition of Wildlife Wednesday

(Tina has posted some lovely photos of birds visiting her garden this month. 

Please visit her for links to other Wildlife Wednesday posts this April.)

 

~

April 5, 2016 051

A mother Cardinal built her nest by our kitchen door. We feel honored by her trust.

 

Let The Planting Begin!

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 010

~

We had a taste of spring here yesterday and this morning.  We actually hit 70 F yesterday afternoon!  It was the perfect day for a drive out to the country, and so some loved ones and I took off for destinations west after lunch.

Just over the county line, in the eastern edge of Amelia, Clay Hudgins of  Hudgins Landscape and Nursery, Inc., is preparing for his first spring in his new location. We had visited last fall and been impressed with the excellent condition of the plants and friendliness of his staff.

What else to do on the first 70 degree day of the new year, but go wander through a nursery?  Although I was in search of potted Hellebores, Clay interested me in shrubs instead.   Many of his shrubs were on sale, and most of his Espoma products.  So I stocked up on Holly Tone and Rose Tone; and adopted a gorgeous Rhododendron.

~

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 001~

Our neighbors have successfully grown Rhododendron, even without fencing out the deer; and so we are going to try this one in a spot where a Camellia failed this autumn.  The poor Camellia had been nibbled by deer multiple times during its short life.  Sadly, most of its roots had also been eaten by the voles.  It was too abused to even take a photo of it.

But I’ve learned a trick or two to protect new shrubs since that Camellia went into the ground in 2011.  Today I planted both the Rhodie, and a potted dwarf  Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, which was already growing with Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ spring bulbs, and an Autumn Brilliance fern.

~

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 003

~

This is a cool and partially shaded area, part of our fern gardens behind the house.  These plants will get afternoon sun, and should grow very happily here.

The first line of defense to protect a shrub’s roots from vole damage is gravel in the planting hole.

~

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 004

~

I dug this hole about 4″ deeper than needed, and about 6-7″ wider.  You may notice a clam shell stuck to the side of the planting hole in the photo.  That is plugging up the main vole tunnel, which is now back-filled with gravel behind that shell.

Like earthworms, voles dig and tunnel through the soil.  My job is to make that as difficult and hazardous as possible.  In addition to gravel, I like to surround the new shrub with poisonous roots.  There were already a few daffodil bulbs growing in front of the deceased Camellia.  You can see their leaves just poking through the soil in the bottom left corner of the photo, if you look closely.  I’ve added a few more daffodils now, planted near the new Redbud, a few feet behind the Rhodie.

~

These roots are beautiful; not potbound at all.  I still scored vertical lines in several places around the rootball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any 'girdling' of the roots .

These roots are beautiful; not pot bound at all. I still scored vertical lines in several places around the root ball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any ‘girdling’ of the roots as they grow .

~

I’ll plan to plant more daffodils in this area when they come on the market again in fall.  But, until then, I’ve surrounded the Rhodie with seedling Hellebores, spaced about 12″ apart.  Hellebores are one of the most toxic plants we grow.  Every part, including the roots, is highly poisonous.  Once these roots begin to grow and fill in, they will form a poisonous “curtain” of plant matter around the Rhodie’s roots, protecting the root ball as the shrub establishes.  Just for good measure, I’ve laid a light ‘mulch’ of the old Hellebore leaves we pruned this morning.  They will quickly decompose into the soil, and their toxins will offer this area additional protection.

~

From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, 'Caramel," a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, ‘Caramel,” a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

~

Japanese Painted Ferns are already established in this area.  Their first fronds will unfurl over the next six weeks.  I’ll add additional ferns, and most likely some Wood Anemones to this planting.  It is mulched in pea gravel and some shells at the moment, to further thwart creatures who might want to dig here.

A little Holly Tone is mixed into the bottom of the planting holes and is also dusted over the mulched ground.  Mushroom compost is mixed with the soil used to fill in around the root balls.  Finally, I watered in all of the plants with a generous wash of Neptune’s Harvest.  It smells so foul that hungry creatures give it wide berth.  Just for good measure, I also sprayed the Heuchera and Rhododendron with deer repellent just before going back inside.

Overkill?  Not at all!  I want these plants to get off to a good and healthy start!  I’ll show you the progress here from time to time.  This gorgeous Rhodie is absolutely covered in buds, which will open in a beautiful shade of lavender later in the spring.   I’m so pleased with this shrub, having seen its beautiful roots and abundant growth, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a few more Rhododendrons from this same lot while they are available, and still on sale.

~

February 9, 2015 Rhodie 013

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

~

Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Garlic With Pansies?

Violas with Heuchera, April 2014

Violas with Heuchera, April 2014

 

Every autumn we plant pansies and Violas. 

These colorful little plants brighten our outdoor pots and beds for a good six months.  They are usually still going strong when we need to pull them out to plant spring and summer annuals.

 

Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.  April 2014

 

When the days begin to warm in February and March, the plants expand and come into their glory, covered in bright blossoms.

Paired with bulbs, ferns, Hellebores, evergreen shrubs, and ornamental kale or cabbage; they create a stunning display for the cooler half of our gardening year.

 

Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.   April 2014

 

The only problem we have, is that these pretty flowers also taste good… to any passing deer.

We’ve tried various ways to protect them over the years.  And the method which works best (so far), and  which we are using again this season, involves garlic.

 

A newly planted Panola, with its personal garlic clove nestled in the soil near its roots.

A newly planted Panola, with its personal garlic clove nestled in the soil near its roots.

 

We plant cloves of garlic interspersed with our pansy starts.

Our freshly planted Violas were grazed last fall before I tried the garlic.  A few plants never recovered.  Others bounced back in late winter.

A fresh head of garlic with garlic cloves, already broken a part and ready to plant.

A fresh head of garlic with garlic cloves, already broken apart and ready to plant.  The “flat” end goes down, where roots will grow.  The pointy end sticks up, ready for its leaves to emerge.

 

Only the Violas planted out of reach on our back deck went unscathed.

But last year, after the first grazing, I tried simply tossing some cloves on top of the soil around the plants.  It worked:  No more grazing in the garlic laced pots.

But something else happened, too:  the garlic cloves sprouted!  Roots busily grew out of the business end of each clove, seeking soil and moisture.

 

These little Panola starts we purchased yesterday will go out into pots on our next warm, dry day.

These little Panola starts we purchased yesterday will go out into pots on our next warm, dry day.

 

Plants always amaze me with their determination to live and grow.  When I notice the cloves rooting into the pots, I helped them out with a gentle nudge into the soil.  Each clove grew long green leaves, which we could have snipped to eat.

When I dug the Violas to transplant out into beds at spring potting time, the garlic went with them.

These Violas have been growing in their new pot for a few weeks.  Do you see the garlic leaves growing near them?

These Violas have been growing in their new pot for a few weeks. Do you see the garlic leaves growing near them?

 

So I’m starting off right this year. 

Little cloves are going into the soil around ever Viola, Panola and pansy we plant.  Some have already sprouted leaves.

They look like ornamental bulbs beginning to sprout, and don’t detract from the beauty at all, to us.

 

Viola here with garlic under a Brugmansia.  We also push cuttings of scented Pelargonium into the soil for extra protection.  Some will root.

Viola here with garlic under a Brugmansia. We also push cuttings of scented Pelargonium into the soil for extra protection. Some will root.

 

We look at them as “green insurance” for our Violas, Panolas and pansies to last through the winter, ungrazed.

March 20 2014 spring 006

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

*

 

 

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003

Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

 

Herbs: Scented Geraniums

April 7 2014 006

 

This morning Linda Lucas, a Williamsburg Master Gardener, talked to our neighborhood  garden club about herbs.  We all discussed what a terribly rough winter it has been here for herbs.  Rosemary and Lavender plants which have weathered several recent winters died out during this one.  Our Bay trees have taken a hard hit, and many need to be replaced.

I am taking a very slow and patient approach to everything  in the garden this spring.  I still believe we may have at least one more bout of extremely cold weather before warm weather settles in for good.

 

Bronze fennel overwintered in our garden, and has begun good strong growth this spring.  Not only is this a delicious herb, it is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.

Bronze fennel overwintered in our garden, and has begun good strong growth this spring.   Not only is this a delicious herb, it is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.

Many of my beds still have a light covering of leaves.  The Ginger Lily stalks still lie where they fell, mulching their tubers.  And, I haven’t cut back a single Rosemary or Lavender this season.

Cutting back herbs is an important part of their care.  Long lived herbs like Lavender live longer, and look better with two or three annual shearings, where at least a third of the plant is removed.

But, I’ve learned the hard way that cutting back too early, before the last freezing weather,  can kill a plant which has survived the winter.

Comfrey has shown itself in these last few warm days.

Comfrey has shown itself in these last few warm days.

And so I’m waiting.  And watching to see  signs of new growth on woody stems, what is poking up out of the ground.

Inspired by the conversations this morning, I headed out to the Homestead Garden Center this afternoon to look over their herbs one more time.  They have had an excellent selection this spring, and I’ve already  bought out their first shipment of a certain cultivar of scented geranium last week.

Lemon balm purchased at Homestead as a birthday gift for a friend.

Cat nip purchased at Homestead Garden Center as a birthday gift for a friend.

With a friend’s birthday later in the week, which I promised to honor with some herb plants, I had some shopping to do!

While many of the warm season annual herbs, like Basil, aren’t widely available yet; hardy herbs, like Parsley, Rosemary, Germander, Savory, and Thyme have shown up at garden centers and big-box stores.

In honor of spring, I will write a few posts featuring some of my favorite herbs.

We all grow herbs for a variety of reasons.  Most of us cook with herbs, and some use them for healing.  Many of us enjoy the fragrance living herbs bring to the garden.

This cat mint overwintered out in the garden.  It was one of the earliest perennials to awaken this spring.  With gorgeous blue flowers, this plant will grow to 3' or more if planted in the ground.

This cat mint overwintered out in the garden.   It was one of the earliest perennials to awaken this spring. With gorgeous blue flowers, this plant will grow to 3′ or more if planted in the ground.

Although most herbs need at least six hours of direct sun a day, I’ve found them a valuable part of our Forest Garden.   I don’t just grow herbs I’ll use in cooking. We also grow a variety of other herbs for their beautiful leaves, flowers, and form.

Most herbs aren’t very fussy about soil, don’t require a great deal of fertilizer to grow well, and can withstand some degree of drought and heat.  In fact the so called “Mediterranean herbs” like Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Germander, Marjoram, and Savory prefer poor, somewhat dry, alkaline soil.  They thrive in full sun, and too much water will drown their roots.

Perhaps the most pressing reason we have planted more herbs than anything else lately has to do with critter control.  You see, deer not only avoid nibbling on herbs, but the herbs’ strong fragrance often serves as a deterrent to prevent deer from grazing  other plants growing nearby.

Purple culinary sage is one of the easiest herbs to grow.  It will grow to about 18" tall and wide within a season.

Purple culinary sage is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It will grow to about 18″ tall and wide within a season.

The Lavenders and Rosemaries I planted around new roses last summer didn’t keep the deer completely away from them, but I believe it gave some measure of protection to reduce the grazing.

I learned this autumn that scented geraniums do an excellent job of keeping deer from grazing plants they protect, and over the winter I’ve had nearly 100% success with using garlic cloves in pots of flowers to keep deer from nibbling at our Violas.

As the days grow longer and warmer, you are probably browsing the garden center herb displays as avidly as am I.  So I’ll begin this series of posts on herbs with a bit of information about my current favorite, scented geraniums.

This rose scented geranium grows in a pot next to a rose bed.  Planted here with Alyssum, also strongly scented, it will fill the pot within a few weeks.

This rose scented geranium grows in a pot next to a rose bed. Planted here with Alyssum, also strongly scented, it will fill the pot within a few weeks.

Scented Geraniums

Technically known as Pelargonium species, there are over 200 cultivars of scented geraniums.   Although grown primarily for their beautiful and fragrant leaves, most have small, but delicate and lovely flowers.  Fragrances commonly available include Citronella, the most common which has a lemony smell; rose, mint, apple, ginger, nutmeg, cedar, strawberry, coconut, orange and lime.

I tend to grow mostly rose scented geraniums, and there are several different cultivars with different leaves available which smell like roses.

Rose scented geraniums often have variegated leaves.  I particularly like this large cultivar with burgundy markings.

Rose scented geraniums often have variegated leaves.  I particularly like this large cultivar with burgundy markings.

Although you purchase a little 3″ or 4″ pot in early spring, these plants can grow quite large in a single season.  Depending on the cultivar, your plant may be 4” tall and wide by September.  In our Zone 7B, and even in Zone 8, plants left outside over the winter will die back to the ground.  Plants can be overwintered in bright or medium light inside.  I have been delighted to discover those geraniums left out of doors coming back from the roots for the last several springs.

I grow scented geraniums both in pots and in garden beds.  They weave beautifully around other plants, and are especially nice grown around roses.  Work a little compost into the planting hole if planting into the ground.  Use a good quality potting mix if planting in pots.  I top dress the soil with some Osmocote, and then a mulch of gravel whether planting into a pot or into the garden.  I also feed every few weeks with a dilute solution of Neptune’s Harvest.

This summer I plan to plant up some arrangements with scented geraniums, annual zonal geraniums, and ivy geraniums all in the same pot.  This should give a beautiful mix of color, scent, and interesting foliage in a really big, but easy to maintain potted garden.

This geranium has grown large and rangy in the reduced light of our garage over the winter.  I've already taken cuttings from it once, and likely will again.

This geranium has grown large and rangy in the reduced light of our garage over the winter. I’ve already taken cuttings from it once, and likely will again.

Pelargoniums are enormously easy to root.  Cut off the tip of a branch, at a leaf node, and dip it into rooting hormone powder.  Then stick this little cutting into any good, moist potting mix, and wait for new roots to grow.

It isn’t necessary to cover the cutting, apply bottom heat, or do anything fussy and meticulous.  These are hardy plants which want to live.

I haven’t had great success rooting Pelargoniums in water.  The stems often rot before roots grow.  I’ve learned to root them in potting soil, although a mixture rich in sand or vermiculite might work even better.

Rooting cuttings

Rooting cuttings

I love cutting stems of Pelargoniums to use in summer flower arrangements.  They make wonderful filler both because they are beautiful, but they also make the bouquet more fragrant.  When they are in bloom, they are an especially nice addition to an arrangement.

The leaves can be harvested, washed, dried and used in tea and other cooking projects.  Dried leaves can be layered in an air tight container with sugar.  After a few weeks, the sugar is nicely flavored.

Use their flowers to decorate cakes.  Slice the washed leaves into small slivers to add to stir fries, rice, puddings, cakes,  or add to lemonade or cocktails.

Dried leaves make an excellent base for potpourri because the leaves lose very little volume when they dry.  Dried leaves can be stacked between linens or used in bureau drawers to scent cleaned laundry.  The volatile oils are very strong in most varieties.  While they freshen, they offer protection from moths.

April 7 2014 010

The volatile oils of scented geraniums make them a good insect repellant.  When going out into the garden, pick a leaf or two of citrus scented varieties and rub on your exposed skin as a non -toxic repellant.  Then tuck the crushed leaf into your pocket or hat for even more lasting protection.

Scented geraniums are the first herb I’ve planted this year, after parsley.  I’ve scattered them generously, especially in areas I want to protect from deer.  I’ve taken cuttings from two which overwintered in the garage, and I’ll keep my eye out for new growth coming up from the roots of scented geraniums which remained outside over the winter.

Two citronella scented geraniums planted to offer some protection to this Oakleaf hydrangea, which is just beginning to leaf out for spring.

Two citronella scented geraniums planted to offer some protection to this Oakleaf hydrangea, which is just beginning to leaf out for spring.

We had  long stretches of very cold days and nights, but these are tough plants, and I hope to see them return from the roots, for another year in our forest garden.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

April 7 2014 004

 

 

 

 

Hidden Jewels: Hellebores

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 027

~

Hellebores begin their grow in the middle of winter, sending up fresh new leaves and flower scapes under cover of their sturdy, evergreen leaves left standing from the previous season.    These thick, protective leaves offer cover from freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and winter winds.

~

January 26 2014 ice 004

Hellebores in late January, finally emerging from several inches of snow.

~

Although they may begin to look a bit ragged by February, Helleborus leaves are still vibrantly green in our garden.  It is only when these long, thick  leaves are finally cut away that the dazzling jewel like buds of the new season’s flowers finally shine.

Within just a few days of removing the cover of old leaves, light reaches the new growth, causing it to lengthen and the buds to open.  New flowers and leaves will soon fill out the display.

~

~

Hellebores are hardy perennials, growing in moist shady spots in zones 5-8.  Native to much of Northern Europe from the British Isles eastwards to Turkey, the original species have been heavily hybridized to produce countless different combinations of form and color.

Although often called “Christmas Rose” and “Lenten Rose” for their season of bloom, the 20 or so species of Helleborus are not related at all to roses.  Rather, their common name refers to the open rosette shape of their bloom when fully open.

~

~

Hellebore blossoms are only fully appreciated when viewed up close.  Most cultivars hold their blossoms facing downwards.  One must come in close and lift each blossom to see its face.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 015

~

Most Helleborus blossoms bloom in shades of white, cream, pink, peach, lilac, burgundy, or dark purple.  Many have “freckles” on their faces.  Some Helleborus flowers are entirely green, including H. odorus and the beautiful H. foetidus.  Others,  may be a shade of green with pink or purple markings.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 014~

Although Hellebores are widely available through mail order nurseries, this is one plant I prefer to buy in person, when it is in bloom.  I want to see the flower and buy a sturdy, well developed plant.

I’ve planted Hellebores in pots during the winter, with Violas and evergreen fern, in full sun areas.  It is important to lift and transplant these Hellebores to mostly shady areas before the middle of May, in our area, so the plant isn’t burned by the summer sun.

~

~

One of the prettiest Hellebores, with variegated foliage, is H. argutifolius  ‘Snow Fever.’  Its new leaves and flower buds emerge tipped in pink.  Its creamy flowers have a cast of light green.  This one has not proven as reliably hardy in a pot as H. orientalis, but it remains worth the effort.

~

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

~

Hellebores enjoy winter and spring sunshine, but appreciate the leafy canopy of trees during the summer.  They grow well in partial shade under large shrubs or deciduous trees.

If planted under a tree, make sure the plant gets sufficient moisture all summer.  Thirsty tree roots often grow up into plantings and rob the perennials of needed moisture when the beds aren’t kept well watered.

~

~

I lost two beautiful Hellebores last year by transplanting them in late spring, under trees, and not keeping them well watered through the entire season.  I also planted them a little too high.  The crown of the plant should be at, or slightly below ground level, and the area around the roots well mulched.

~

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

~

Many of the Hellebores available at nurseries are hybrids, and so the seedlings won’t match the parent plants.  Hellebores do set great quantities of viable seeds, and so you’ll find hundreds of little seedlings coming up nearby.  These can be transplanted in spring, cared for, and grown out to see what flowers will develop.

Don’t expect seedlings to reproduce the  flowers on an expensive hybrid, but do give the plant a chance.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the flowers which do develop.  There are so many seedlings from a mature plant that you have plenty to generously share with gardening friends and to expand your own collection.

~

Helleborus hybrids can be found in many unusual colors.

~

Every part of a Helleborus plant is poisonous, from flower to root.  This means they won’t be nibbled by voles or deer.

Spread the older leaves you cut away on the ground anywhere you are troubled by moles or voles, and the poisonous alkaloids will be transferred to the soil.  It is wise to wear gloves when planting Hellebores, trimming their leaves, or cutting their flowers.

~

~

My first Hellebores were a gift from a dear friend who grows a yard full of them.  We dug dozens of seedlings from her garden one day in early summer, and I brought them home and tucked them into new raised beds I was building.  They took off in the rich compost, quickly filling the bed.

Sadly, where I tucked seedlings into the ground without first building up a new bed of compost, they struggled.  The seedlings planted into a well prepared bed bloomed the following spring.  Those planted in other areas did not.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 022

~

Hellebores tend to be more expensive than some other perennials because they don’t bloom their first year.  When you buy a plant in bloom, it is already several years old.  If transplanting your own seedlings, expect a few years of foliage only before the first flowers appear.

Hellebores form wonderful ground cover in shady areas, and require very little care.  Although they look unremarkable during much of the year, their winter and early spring bloom make them well worth the effort.  By planting several different varieties you can enjoy Helleborus blooms from December through May.

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 021~

I’ve noticed that most of the best gardeners in our community grow Hellebores.

Many cultivars of Helleborus, especially H. odoratus, grow well in the conditions our gardens offer.  In fact, they are on the “short list” of flowering perennials which thrive here.

~

February 2017 Helleborus

~

Mix Hellebores with ferns, mosses, Hostas, Epimediums, Brunnera,  and other shade loving perennials.  Once past their bloom, the Hellebores leaves will form a solid backdrop for other plants throughout the summer.

Cut, Hellebores last for a long time in the vase.  One of the few cut flowers we can grow here in Zone 7b during the winter, they work well in arrangements with early daffodils and forced flowering branches of shrubs or fruit trees.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 018~

Hellebores are another heritage plant which continue year to year with little effort from the gardener.  Trimming their old leaves, keeping them watered, and feeding once or twice each year with a mulch of compost is all they really require if planted in the proper spot in the garden.

They reward this little effort with lovely jewel like flowers when we most need them, during these last few frosty weeks of late winter and earliest spring.

~

~

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2018

~

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 020
~
More about Hellebores on Forest Garden:
The Beauty of Hellebores
Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’
Why I Love Those Plants of Ill Repute
Plan Now For Winter Flowers

Pick Your Poison….

January 29 snow 025

~

The other evening, just after dusk, as I was walking from computer to kitchen; I happened to glance out of our front windows at the patio.  Gazing back was a beautiful doe, interrupted from perusing the buffet of our potted garden by my passing.  Her calm gaze told me she had snacked on our Violas before, and had every intention of finishing this meal, too.

Now, my friends know the extraordinary lengths my partner and I have gone to keep the deer out of our garden.  Deterring the deer has consumed our efforts, and resources, and become something of an ongoing conversation among our extended family.

~

These newly emerging Heuchera leaves are growing into replace the many mature leaves recently eaten off by hungry does.

These newly emerging Heuchera leaves are growing in to replace the many mature leaves recently eaten by hungry does.

~

Not yet willing to give up gardening or move elsewhere, I’ve devoted the last two gardening years to planting mostly “deer resistant” plants.  I’ve studied and compiled lists of plants the deer are “supposed” to leave alone.

We’ve surrounded vulnerable plants with smelly herbs, trialed a half dozen “deer repellents,” made the fences higher, chased the deer who have found their way in, and experimented with lighting.  My “deer resistant” Oakleaf Hydrangeas ended up nibbled to sticks. The Heuchera and Violas grown in pots at the foundation to the house have been decapitated. And, we still find hoof prints and deer scat to prove the deer’s efforts at getting in and out, on both sides of our fencing.

~

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

~

So what is a “deer resistant” plant?  There are plenty of things I perhaps don’t enjoy eating, but will in a bind.  Same with any creature bent on self-preservation.  And the overpopulation of deer in Virginia this year is at legendary levels.

~

August 27, 2014 Parkway 022

~

We’re seeing stories about them on our news.  Too many Bambis, not enough hunting, and intense pressure on the environment have left our deer especially hungry this winter.  Local drivers are encountering deer with deadly consequences here in James City County. Rutting season is now underway, and deer are running across our roads more than ever.

That is why, as I consider plant choices for the coming season, “deer resistant” is no longer good enough.

~

January 7 ice on beach 023

~

Have you ever considered how members of the Plant Kingdom defend themselves?  Some have thorns.  Some have tough bark.  And many are poisonous.

The topic of poisonous plants is not polite conversation.

We may hear whispers of Belladonna and Oleander, but most of us have left the topic strictly alone.  Until now.

~

Mountain Laurel, a small evergreen tree, blooms each May.  Since every part of it is poisonous, deer leave it alone.

Mountain Laurel, a small evergreen tree, blooms each May. Since every part of it is poisonous, deer leave it alone.

~

In my reading about plants that are “deer resistant,” more and more I’ve noticed notes about some of those plants also being- poisonous.  Sometimes just the seed is poisonous, or just the leaves.

~

Does this look poisonous to you?  The daffodils and Columbine are both highly poisonous.   The tiny periwinkle blue flowers and evergreen leaves of Vinca shine among the leaves.  Although not listed as poisonous, Vinca contains over 50 alkaloids and is never nibbled by the deer.

Does this look poisonous to you? The daffodils and Columbine are both highly poisonous. The tiny periwinkle blue flowers and evergreen leaves of Vinca shine among the leaves. Although not listed as poisonous, Vinca contains over 50 alkaloids and is never nibbled by the deer.

~

We all know that both potatoes and tomatoes were considered poisonous until fairly recently in our history.  Their leaves are highly poisonous, as are the leaves of the poinsettia plant.  Potatoes which have turned green must be peeled due to the poisonous substances in their skin.

Sometimes the poison has a mild effect, sometimes a deadly one.  One bean from the Castor plant (Ricinus communis) is said to be sufficient to kill a cow.  Some plants may have alkaloids which cause burning of the lips and tongue, or which cause nausea without being fatal.

~

Daffodils and Columbine are poisonous, and so left stricltly alone by the deer.  Daffodils are useful planted around other plants as their roots are also poisonous, and offer protection from voles.

Daffodils and Columbine survive in our garden.  The pink Phlox to the left didn’t survive the season.  It is too tasty…

~

So, as I work on plans for the spring garden, I’m also compiling a list of poisonous ornamental plants which will grow in our region.  But not out of a malevolent desire to inflict harm on our beautiful and gentle woodland creatures, mind you.

Some of my best friends are Bambi lovers, and I hope to keep their friendship.  In fact, some of those friends and I have commiserated over their grazed flower beds.  Rather, I want the plants in our garden to actually have a chance at survival.

~

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat.  The coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

Elephant Ear, Colocasia, contains poisonous compounds which irritate the lips, mouth, and throat. The Coleus and sweet potato vine behind it are, sadly, tasty.

~

Whereas birds will nibble a seed here and there, and bees will suck nectar and collect pollen; deer graze a plant to oblivion.  Deer will eat every scrap of edible material, and walk away looking for more.  They have no sense of conservation or sharing.

They have no awareness of the cost of the plant they just grazed, or our anticipation at watching it actually live, and perhaps grow.  Worse, many of the plants destroyed by deer would have benefited other creatures in the forest, had they been allowed to grow.

~

Every part of Hellebores are poisonous from root to flower.

Every part of Hellebores are poisonous from root to flower.

~

And so it’s come to this.  Your gentle Woodland Gnome is compiling a list of poisonous plants in the hopes of making our garden a shade less appetizing and alluring.

Our hope is that the deer are canny enough to leave these lethal buds and twigs strictly alone.  This list I’m preparing is not exhaustive.  It’s culled from ornamental plants suited to our climate.  And there are probably a few plants you can add, that I’ve overlooked.

~

Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and Canna lilies are never grazed by deer.

Elephant Ears, Colocasia, and Canna lilies are never grazed by deer.

~

If you know of others, or can make suggestions for your own region, please be kind enough to leave a note in the comments.  At least these plants will stand a chance to survive in our forest garden this year.

~

January 24 ice 008

Ligustrum leaves are poisonous to deer, although the berries sustain birds each winter.

~

Poisonous ornamental shrubs: 

Angel’s Trumpet:  Brugmansia and Datura

Daphne

European Holly Ilex aquifolium

Elder Sambucus

Ligustrum

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia

Oleander

Rhododendron

Yew

Some species of Oak are poisonous

~

July 24 2013 garden photos 007

Artemesia, also called Wormwood.

~

Poisonous Perennials and Bulbs

Artemesia

Wolfsbane, Monkshood Aconitum

Columbine

Caladium

Daffodil

Bleeding Heart  Dicentra cucullaria

Elephant’s Ear Colocasia

Foxglove Digitalis

Hellebore

Hyacinth

Lily of the Valley  Convallaria majalis

Larkspur Delphinium

Plumeria

Sauromatum venosum, Voodoo Lily

 ~

The Passionflower vine is poisonous, and strictly ignored by deer, although its fruit is edible.

The Passionflower vine is poisonous, and strictly ignored by deer, although its fruit are edible.

 ~

Poisonous Annuals

Castor Bean Ricinus communis

Tomato leaves (though the deer have grazed my tomatoes)

Potato leaves

Poisonous Vines

Ivy Hedera

 

Passion Flower Passiflora Caerulea (leaves)

Many of these plants, like daffodils and Mountain Laurel, already grow in our garden, and have for decades.  They pose no problems for pets or people.

I was frankly surprised to learn some of these are poisonous.  But these are the plants left growing, untouched, as their less lethal neighbors suddenly are eaten.  Handled carefully, and with awareness, all of these plants can be used to create a beautiful garden, even in areas, like ours, with ever growing herds of deer.

 ~

August 27, 2014 Parkway 024

 ~

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2015

Deer Resistant Plant List

Keeping Deer Out of the Garden

Pyracantha

Pyracantha

Pyracantha berries in October

Pyracantha:  Love it or hate it.   Most of us have a strong opinion about this fast growing shrub.

We love Pyracantha  for its beautiful fall berries, more correctly called “pomes”, which turn bright red, red orange, orange, or yellow, depending on the cultivar, in autumn.  The berries are beautiful in the landscape, in cut flower arrangements and wreathes; and they attract songbirds.  Cedar waxwings, cardinals, blue jays, and many other back yard birds feast on the berries in late autumn.   Considered poisonous for humans, the berries are mildly hallucinogenic for birds.

Pyracantha

This Pyracantha shrub is over 15 feet tall and wide.

Pyracantha, closely related to Cottoneaster, is beautiful espaliered against a wall;  grown as a hedge or against a privacy fence;  or even grown as ground cover on a bank.  Its beautiful white spring flowers are an important source of nectar for bees and other nectar loving insects.  Its evergreen leaves are neat and look good year round.  Its dense, thorny habit provides great cover for birds and gives them very secure nesting sites.

These are Pyracantha’s good qualities, and reasons why I like having it in the garden.

Now, the bad:  Pyracantha is very large; is covered with very long, sharp thorns; and grows with a mind of its own.  It is a fast grower, and so may need trimming back several times in a season to keep it in check if grown near your home.  Since it blooms and sets fruit on old wood, hard pruning may mean sacrificing the berry crop for the coming year.  Once pruned, it sends up new growth in many directions at once.  You almost need “staff” to look after it properly if you want to keep it manicured.  Some varieties will reseed around the garden.  If grown near pathways, its thorns may reach out to grab you, which brings us back to its positive qualities.

October 17 2013 monarch bf 014Those same thorns which make it difficult to prune, also make it an excellent hedging plant.  If you want extra security around the perimeter of your property, Pyracantha is an excellent choice.  I once had a garden which backed along a busy neighborhood thoroughfare.  Although I had an 8′ privacy fence, I also planted shrubs on both the inner and outer sides of that fence.  Azaleas and Camellias went on the outside visible from the street, but I  grew some Pyracantha on the inside where it might be tempting to climb across.  Pyracantha grown along fences and property lines can reinforce boundaries against humans, deer, neighborhood dogs, and others you might want to discourage.

Hardy in Zones 5-9, Pyracantha grows well in a variety of soils and in anything from full sun to partial shade.  There is more berry production in good sunlight, but the plant tolerates a wide range of conditions.  Native to parts of Europe and Asia, Pyracantha is definitely an import in the United States.  It is one of those plants where many hybrids and cultivars are available to suit your need for size, growth habit, and berry color.  Once it is established, it’s drought tolerant and hardy, with few problems from disease or insects.  It doesn’t need fertilizer or any special care.

Pyrancantha berries, just beginning to turn color.

Pyrancantha berries, just beginning to turn color.

One of the nicest things is the ease with which Pyracantha roots.  I’ve taken stem cuttings in late spring (also called “prunings”), dipped the lower cut into rooting hormone, and simply stuck them a few inches into the soil where I wanted a new shrub to grow.   This is how I cultivated a hedge along that privacy fence.  After watering them in, I just kept an eye on them until new growth appeared.  Not every cutting rooted, but enough did that the purpose was served.   Keep in mind that most commonly available cultivars will grow to between 10′ and 20′ tall within five years.  If left alone, most will also get quite wide.  In fact, I am planning to take cuttings from my current plants, and hope to establish a lovely thorny hedge in the areas of the garden where the Bambis still try to penetrate our barriers.  Pyracantha is one of those shrubs we haven’t seen them grazing.

So we choose to love Pyracantha, but also keep a healthy distance from it.  I’m not a native plant purist, and so appreciate its benefits in a wildlife friendly forest garden.  We love its beautiful berries, and we love seeing the crazed antics of the birds eating them.  It is an utterly undemanding, unfussy, dependable shrub; and it shines in autumn when its berries brighten and its green leaves hang on tight into the winter.

A branch of Pyracantha berries which will ripen for the birds and turn orange in late October.

A branch of Pyracantha berries in mid-summer.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 654 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest