James River, After the Rain

June 30, 2016 rainbow 014~

We had a golden hour after the rain, as the sun set, illuminating the world with its long gilding rays.

We’d left home in the pouring rain with thunder rumbling in the distance.  But by the time errands were accomplished and dinner had, the sun shone again on a much cooler and softer evening.

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June 30, 2016 rainbow 001~

Mist rose from ground and pavement to rejoin the mighty storm clouds still scuttling across the evening sky.

When we turned onto the Parkway at last, a rainbow greeted us, rising up from the dark pines into the iridescent clouds above.

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June 30, 2016 rainbow 006

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We saw a thick column of color rising nearly straight up.  And then we played tag, watching for it to reappear as we drove through the forest along this winding riverside road.  I hopped out of the car to capture it time and again from different angles and with different backdrops.

The clouds over the river, rising in tall shimmering, gilded mounds, competed in this celestial pageant.

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June 30, 2016 rainbow 012

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It is all a play of angles, this sunset beauty, unfolding against the cadence of the sun’s dropping towards the horizon.

The evening grows dimmer and cooler by the minute, rainbow light fading back into darkening clouds.  More rain creeps ever closer.  By the time I reach the beach, our rainbow is gone.

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The James is high.  Days of rain upriver have filled its banks to their brim and beyond.  Familiar logs and branches are lost below its gentle windblown waves lapping at the sandy shore.

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June 30, 2016 rainbow 020~

We hear frog song and birds calling out as evening closes around us.   Dark clouds hug the horizon now, and we head home in the wetness of this summer evening.

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June 30, 2016 rainbow 017

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But the rainbow lives on, in these photos and in our hearts.

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June 30, 2016 rainbow 021

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Woodland Gnome 2016
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June 30, 2016 rainbow 013

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The Herd

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Our neighbor took these photos of “The Herd,” which hangs around our bit of the neighborhood.

Many of our neighbors enjoy sighting the deer.  Some even feed them.

Our wooded neighborhood hosts several family groups who wander the ravines and gather around the ponds.

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Although the deer are beautiful creatures, they are extremely destructive to our gardens.

And worse, deer roaming through the area bring deer ticks, which harbor Lyme’s disease.

Our neighbor took these photos near our homes, in mid-morning.  Not a bit shy, this group was happy to rest in full view in the middle of the day.

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Other neighborhood friends describe deer who regularly rest in their yards during the day, like a pet dog might.

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We began the conversation, which resulted in the gift of these photos, when my neighbor called to ask what is growing in our new pot on the driveway.

It seems this group was grazing their way down the street, but completely by-passed our new planting.

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Watching the deer leave our  pot  untouched,  our neighbor wanted to know what flowers are so  immune to grazing.  And the answer is, zonal geraniums.

The odor of geraniums is distasteful to deer.  I suspect they don’t care for the thickness and texture of geranium leaves, either.

Zonal geraniums are distasteful to deer both for their odor and the texture of their leaves.  They protect the Coleus, Begonia, and ivy in this pot.  The Caladiums are poisonous.

Zonal geraniums are distasteful to deer both for their odor and the texture of their leaves. They protect the Coleus, Begonia, and ivy in this pot. The Caladiums are poisonous. The Lamium vine  is also distasteful to deer and has not been grazed in other locations in our garden.  It has a purple or blue flower earlier in the spring.

Other plants in this group, like the Coleus, have been grazed other years.  I suspect the geraniums deter interest in the entire pot.

Deer nibble our coleus from time to time, depending on where they find it.  Petunias, in the rear, are distasteful and rarely bothered.

Deer nibble our Coleus from time to time, depending on where they find it. Petunias, in the rear, are distasteful and rarely bothered.

We are growing five different varieties of zonal geraniums this year, in addition to ivy geraniums, and several varieties of scented geraniums (Pelargoniums).

Not only are they left untouched, the deer pass the other plants in pots where they grow.

Ivy geraniums (white flowers) and a rose scented Pelargonium share this pot with Eucalyptus.  Artemisia grows behind the pot.  All are scented and distasteful to deer.

Ivy geraniums (white flowers) and a rose scented Pelargonium share this pot with Eucalyptus. Artemesia grows behind the pot. All are scented and distasteful to deer.

If you live where deer graze frequently, you can still grow beautiful flowers. 

The trick is to know what the deer will leave alone, and only invest in plants which will have a chance to grow.

This Lantana is blooming for its third season here.  It survived our winter.  Here, Lantana, "Miss Huff" which is hardy to Zone 7.

This Lantana is blooming for its third season here on the street. It survived our winter. This is  Lantana, “Miss Huff” which is hardy to Zone 7.

“Deer Resistant” has lost its meaning for me.  I’ve purchased too many “deer resistant” plants which were grazed within the first week.

This same sage, sold in 4 packs this spring, also comes with white flowers.

Our Catnip, with white flowers.

I prefer “poisonous” plants, like Daffodils, Caladiums, and Hellebores; but will settle for “totally distasteful” plants like Geraniums and most herbs.

A perennial sage grows here with Dusty Miller.  Both have gone untouched for several years in our garden.

A perennial sage grows here with Dusty Miller. Both have lived untouched for several years in our garden.

For more information on “deer proofing” your garden, please look back at some of my previous posts:

Deer Resistant Plants for Our Area- Revised Annotated list

Living With A Herd of Deer

Pick Your Poison

Tick Season Is Here

Scented Geraniums

 

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If you just want to bring home something pretty which will survive on your deck or porch through the season, make sure to include some geraniums and herbs in your pot.

I hope your herd of deer will walk right past it, on the way to someone else’s garden.

Deer photos by Denis Orton 2014

Plant photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

 

Learning to Garden in a Forest

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Just starting out…

When we purchased a home and moved to a neighborhood near Williamsburg, Virginia, several years ago, I was filled to the brim with ideas for gardening on our beautiful property.  It appeared that we had a wonderful combination of shady woodland areas, a deeply shaded ravine, and a meadow which enjoys full sun for most of the day.  We could see that the original owners had loved flowers and left behind “good bones” of camellias, dogwood, now struggling azaleas, drifts of daffodils, and mature peonies and hibiscus.

April

My last garden was a level, fenced suburban lot with a high water table in zone 8.  It was originally a dairy farm, and I could practically throw a shrub or a handful of seeds out of the door and know they would grow. So, I was disgustingly confident in my ability to create a lush garden of roses, herbs, perennials, and flowering shrubs on our new property.  That was before we had met many of our new neighbors, and learned it just isn’t that easy here…

New flower bed

As soon as we unpacked, we began making trips to the local garden centers. Over those first few months we spent hundreds of dollars and many happy hours planting away in our new garden.  As I got to know folks, the older and wiser residents of our neighborhood tried to warn me with a gentle smile, but I was determined that I could make roses grow in a desert.

Reality sets in…

Hardy Hibiscus and Rose of Sharon shrubs dominate this border in late July.

Hardy Hibiscus and Rose of Sharon shrubs dominate this border in late July.

Well, our first clue that something was amiss came the morning we admired our new hedge of camellias along the street, and realized all of the buds were missing.  By the onset of winter, most of the leaves had followed into the mouths of hungry marauding deer.  Now I’ve learned that flower buds are really “deer candy”, and the Bambis are delighted to nibble the buds off of roses, camellias, lilies, impatiens, violas; or most anything else that blooms.   We were lucky that the camellias had a strong will to live, and threw out new leaves in the spring.  They were too cautious to produce new flower buds that fall, and we’re still waiting to see them bloom.  The dozen or so hybrid hollies we planted weren’t as hardy.  The deer must have been starving to strip the hollies of leaves, but they did, and all were dead by April.

Azaleas badly pruned by hungry deer.

Azaleas badly pruned by hungry deer.

The voles love to tunnel under newly planted areas to feast on the roots of plants.

In addition to the deer who cruise the yard, there is also a thriving colony of voles. Deer nibble leaves and flowers; the voles devour roots.  That first spring, as I planted new herbs and perennials, within a day or so many were struggling.  Regular watering and generous soil amendments weren’t enough to get them off to a good start.  I soon noticed the raised, cracked earth leading to each dying plant.  The voles were happily tunneling everywhere I had dug and then noshing away on the tender tasty roots.  Some plants just disappeared completely, leaving only a large gaping hole leading to a tunnel.

Butterflies and hummingbird moths love this beautiful tree in the edge of our ravine.

Butterflies and hummingbird moths love this beautiful tree in the edge of our ravine.

Our acre of forest also hosts rabbits, whose appetites lead them beyond the grass to the flower beds and low pots, and thousands of digging squirrels. A healthy population of ticks and chiggers, who prefer the very blood of the gardeners to the smorgasbord of the garden, hitchhike in on the deer from May until September.  Turtles dig in the soft ground to lay their eggs, frogs hide in flower pots, and skinks sun themselves on the sidewalk.

Mountain Lauren in our front yard in May.

Mountain Lauren in our front yard in May.

It’s the journey…

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea, feeds hungry bees and butterflies.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea, feeds hungry bees and butterflies.

I’m not relating this tale from self-pity, but rather to help all of those other aspiring gardeners who move to similar properties.  We have such a beautiful wooded neighborhood full of hummingbirds and butterflies, waterfowl, skinks, frogs and song birds that the urge to go out and make a garden is strong.  After nearly five years of experience on this property, I’ve finally learned to work with the steep slope; poor soil, erosion, hungry animals, and shade to grow a productive garden full of plants I love.  Now I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned about Gardening in a Forest with others, in hopes that I’ll continue to learn more in return.

"Josee" re-blooming lilac, in its second flush of bloom in late June, is appreciated by all the nectar lovers in the garden.

“Josee” re-blooming lilac, in its second flush of bloom in late June, is appreciated by all the nectar lovers in the garden.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Buddleia in the butterfly garden.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeding on Buddleia in the butterfly garden.

A large box turtle visits each summer.

Walking the quiet streets of our neighborhood, it’s clear that there are those who have learned to cope, who have learned the secrets of creating beautiful gardens, even in this very challenging environment.  I learned to seek out these generous gardeners as my friends.  And so now I’ll share a little of what I’ve learned from neighbors, a little study, and from making lots of mistakes.  I hope you will find a useful idea, and perhaps leave a comment with your own creative solutions to our common challenges.

The beauty is worth the effort.

The beauty is worth the effort.

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