Fabulous Friday: Awakening

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On our days off, when there’s no appointment to make or task to complete, it’s a pleasure to awaken slowly and gently.  With no urgency to stay on schedule, no insistent alarm, no pet or child in need of immediate attention, we can relax a bit more and gather our thoughts before starting the day’s routines.

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Cercis chinensis, Chinese redbud, blooming this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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This springtime feels like it is awakening slowly, without haste or urgency.  Cool temperatures have slowed down the natural progression of spring’s business this year.  Each blossom and bud is relaxing and taking its time to open, and once open, lasting a few more days than more warmth would allow.

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College Creek

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We’ve had yet another day of cool, soaking rain in our region.  Its rained steadily enough to keep me indoors and it has remained cool enough to slow down the buds on our dogwood trees.  They are still just uncurling, tentatively, and remain more green than white.

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A day like today encourages the fine art of procrastination.  There are a half dozen good reasons to delay most of the tasks on my ‘to-do’ list, especially those tasks that involve waking up more seeds, or tubers, or waking up more beds and borders by removing their blankets of leafy mulch.

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I’ve already delayed many spring time tasks, out of respect for cold nights, cool days and abundant rain.  It’s unwise to work in the soil when it remains so wet.  It’s even unwise to walk around too much on soggy ground, knowing that every step compacts it.

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Dogwood

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But there is balance, over the long view, and I suspect that warmer days are upon us soon.  I saw one of our lizards skitter under a pot when I opened the kitchen door unexpectedly yesterday, and the yard has filled with song birds.  We hear frogs singing now on warm evenings and bees come out whenever it warms in the afternoon sunlight.

They know its time to awaken for another year, and are doing their best to get on with life despite the weather.

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N. ‘Tahiti’

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It is good to rest when one can, storing up energy to spring into action when the time is ripe.  The garage is filled with plants needing to get back outside into the light, to cover themselves with fresh leaves and get on with their growth.  And I need their space for sprouting Caladiums and the small plants and tubers I plan to pick up in Gloucester next week from the Heaths.

There are Zantedeschias in the basement bravely reaching out their fresh leaves towards the windows, and I’m ready to divide and pot up our stored Colocasias and let them get a jump on summer.

And then there is the small matter of packs of seed whose time has come to awaken and grow…

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N. ‘Katie Heath’

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All these plants are waiting for their wake-up call.  I hope the relaxed and gentle start of their new season means they will bring renewed energy and enthusiasm to their growth when the weather is finally settled and warm.

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Japanese painted ferns re-appeared this week, and I have been weeding out early spring weeds wanting to compete with them.

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Until then, I’m enjoying watching the slow progress of spring.

There is time to savor the opening buds, emerging perennials, and slowly expanding vines as they stake their claims for the season.  There is time to relax and gather our thoughts.

There is time to listen to the chattering birds, and to appreciate the sweet gift of unscheduled time.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ wakes up for its first season in our garden.

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“Why had he assumed time was some sort of infinite resource?

Now the hourglass had busted open,

and what he’d always assumed was just a bunch of sand

turned out to be a million tiny diamonds.”
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Tommy Wallach

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“There is no Space or Time
Only intensity,
And tame things
Have no immensity”
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Mina Loy

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious; 

Let’s Infect One Another!

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Fabulous Friday: Savoring Spring

A newly planted Japanese Pieris blooms in our garden.

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We stood together near a display of Japanese Pieris this afternoon, at the Homestead Garden Center, listening to to the melodies of spring as huge bumblebees feasted on their banquet of plump, sweet flowers.  There were perhaps a half dozen shrubs there in five gallon pots, each laden with ivory flowers and surrounded with happily humming bees.  There were more bees than we could count, zipping from flower to flower, shrub to shrub; each nearly the size of a young hummingbird.

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Tulips bloom in the morning sunlight at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.

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Moments  of such pure beauty reassure us of better times ahead.

We savor the sounds and colors of spring, deeply inhale the sweet fragrance around us, and enjoy the renewed warmth seeping back into our lives.

We treasure this transition, even as we will treasure the transition to cooler, crisper days a half-year on.  But happiness comes from staying in the moment, and this beautiful, golden Friday has been a string of such moments infused with spring’s promises.

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My hands pushed and prodded and planted in fragrant moist earth for much of the day.  I tend to wake up with a list of garden chores pushing and shoving one another for their place in line as I plan the day ahead.  I worked out in the sunshine, losing all sense of time, until my layers became too steamy and I realized it was well past time for lunch.

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But I’d also visited with old friends and new by then, watched a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly float past, taken a few dozen photos, watered in my work and tidied up.

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I found Homestead’s email as I was fixing our lunch, and their promises of early annuals, herbs, shrubs and a growing inventory of perennials proved irresistible.

A friend gave me three fat Hymenocallis bulbs this week.  These beautiful white spider lilies, or Peruvian daffodils, have always intrigued me.  But it is a summer bulb I’ve not yet grown.   The bulbs sit on a table in our sitting room taunting me, challenging me to do something interesting with them in a pot.

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I like growing new plants first in pots where I can control their growing conditions, moving them, giving more or less water as I learn their ways.  Pots set special plants apart, elevate them literally and figuratively and help me not lose track of them as the garden fills in!

So I’ve been reading about how to grow these huge bulbs, big as Amaryllis and just as special, and also exploring what might grow well in a pot with them.  And when I read that Homestead has their first Verbena plants in stock, my plans fell into place.

Verbena grows vigorously here, blooms until Christmas, makes a sturdy ground cover and spills beautifully from a pot.  It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies like a magnet.  I’ll pot up the white spider lily bulbs with a soft peachy Verbena, and observe them as they grow.

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Verbena with Caladium, 2017

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Do you work jigsaw puzzles?  I enjoyed them once upon a time on family vacations.

There is that  moment when you turn the pieces out of the box, and begin to sort them by their color and their shape.  Little bits of the puzzle start to come together as you find pieces that match, and at some point those bits fit together, and then you have the frame complete.    The rest may come swiftly or slowly,  but your sense of teamwork and accomplishment grows along with the completed parts of the puzzle until the last piece goes in, and you’re finally done.

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That is a good metaphor for spring in the garden.  At first, there are bags of bulbs, flats of plants, and perhaps a potted shrub or two all waiting for me to fit them together into their pots and beds and borders.  A few more things get started or potted or planted each day, each making their way outside as the weather warms enough to sustain them.

And the weather is no steady, settled thing!

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White Camellia japonica blooms in our garden today.

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We see much of the country still dealing with snow and ice, flood and cold.  And a day like today makes us a bit smug, maybe; but certainly very grateful, too!  But it won’t last…

We know that wintery cold and winter storms return here by Sunday evening.  And knowing that, every moment of warmth and sunshine today felt that much sweeter.  We wanted each moment to count, used to its fullest and deeply savored.

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Forsythia still blazes golden yellow in our garden and around town.  It has been cool enough this March that we’ve had a very long season to enjoy it.

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This March has roared quite a bit.  We’ve had wind and rain, storms and cold.  It came in that way, and it looks as though April will dawn stormy, too.  But today we enjoyed the gentle aspect of March;  garden filled with flowers, and leaves appearing as a colorful haze around most of the trees and woodies.

This spring has proven a slow tease.  And when its unfolding is this beautiful, what’s the rush?

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Woodland Gnome 2019
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious,
Let’s Infect One Another!
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Fabulous Friday: Timing is Everything

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A common topic of conversation among gardeners this time of year resolves to timing.   We try to gauge where we are in the annual rite of spring, and guess what the weather might still do in the weeks ahead.  Of course, we’re eager to get a jump on the new season.  We want to clean up the beds and begin planting.  We want to get the season off to a good start and enjoy the fruits of our efforts as early as possible.

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Yet, we have all experienced the disappointments that come with beginning too early…

Many favorite plants won’t grow until the soil has warmed enough, and until night time temperatures remain reasonably warm, too.  It’s not just the rare late freeze that worries us, either.

A long list of plants, from tomatoes to Caladiums want night time temperatures above 50F.   Begin too early, and a plant’s growth may be stunted for the entire season.

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I just shake my head when I see tomatoes shivering on grocery and big-box store plant racks in March or early April.  The soil is still too cold here, for summer vegetables, and we can still have a freeze or late snow deep into April.

And every year unfolds differently.  We ride a metaphorical meteorological roller coaster through this most changeable of seasons.  Today, we had warm southwest winds ahead of a line of thunderstorms and it was nearly 80F by 2 PM.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha blooms abundantly in late winter, filling the garden with sweet fragrance.

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We have several nights of freezing temperatures forecast for the coming week.  There was mention of the ‘S’ word for Tuesday, and I am hoping that is rubbed from the forecast before frosty flakes can touch our Magnolia blossoms.

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We were just amazed to notice our neighbor’s tulip Magnolia tree in full, glorious bloom yesterday afternoon.  When did that happen? It only takes a few hours of warmth to wake up the garden, when the dormant time is nearly done.

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I believe that most of us are as interested in phenology as we are in the actual weather forecast.  Especially in this time when our climate patterns seem to be shifting, we need  a better compass to navigate the seasons.

Phenology, literally, is the study of appearance.  In other words, studying when things in the natural world appear or disappear; when various things happen in relation to other things.  Phenology is the study of how biological changes in plants and animals correspond with changes in climate and seasons.

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Magnolia stellata buds are opening this week, in our garden.

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“You may delay,
but time will not.”
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Benjamin Franklin

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This is very old wisdom, dating to long before most folks had computers, watches, or even reliable calendars.  How do you know when to plant corn?  When oak leaves are as big as a mouse’s ears.

Noticing the arrival of the first robins is a sign of spring.  Watching geese gather and fly overhead in large flocks is a sign of approaching winter.

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As our climate warms, spring continues to arrive a bit earlier, and fall lingers a bit later each year.  But we still look for indicators of these changes in real time, and try to adjust our gardening schedules to make the most of the growing season.

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An approaching storm darkened our skies, even as temperatures soared here this afternoon.

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I’m feeling pretty confident about spring, finally.  Confident enough to do a bit of shopping for perennials yesterday.  Our friends at The Homestead Garden Center got in their annual shipment of 2″ perennials this week, and we went for a visit to celebrate the opening of another spring season with them.  Sweetness filled the air from rows of blooming bulbs, shelves of primroses, , flats of bright pansies and an impromptu alle’ of Camellia shrubs covered in huge pink flowers.

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I went straight for the shelves of plump green perennials, fresh out of their greenhouse, to match up my wish-list with the bounty of the offerings.

It may be a little premature to plant them… After a conversation with a Master Gardener friend, yesterday morning, about whether or not the soil has warmed enough to plant; I disciplined my urge to plant yesterday afternoon.  It certainly was warm enough to enjoy every moment out of doors.

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N. ‘Katie Heath,’ one of Brent Heath’s most beautiful introductions, and named for his mother.

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But I recalled the forecast for next week, and left the little perennials snug in their flat, in the shade and shelter of a hedge.  Better to bring them indoors should cold come calling once again, than to let them get frost kissed outside.  Oh, I chafe against the indecision of it all!

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But I did buy carrots today.  No, not for roasting or soup… for flowers It has become an annual tradition to seek out the most beautiful organic carrots I can find to plant in the garden.

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I experimented with planting carrots for the first time in late winter of 2017.  We enjoyed them so much, that I planted carrots again last spring.  For only pennies per plant, we enjoy months of flowers.  More importantly, Daucus carota, or common carrot, proves a useful host plant for our Black Swallowtail butterflies.

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Daucus carota subsp. sativus attracts many beneficial insects to the garden.

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I sorted through the bag of colorful carrots from Trader Joe’s today to find the best ones for planting.  I was looking for a reasonable length of healthy root with the promise of fresh leaves from an intact crown.  I have those resting on the counter in a shallow pan of water, and will plant them out in the coming days.

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Our little Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar was growing fast, happily munching on the Daucus carota last summer.

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It is simple:  open the earth with a spade and slip the carrot, vertically, into the opening.  Leave the crown just at ground level, and mulch lightly.

I know we lost a fair amount of the carrots I planted last year, probably to rabbits or voles.  I plan to give these a good squirt with Repels All before I plant them, just as I protected some of our bulbs last fall,  as a bit of insurance.  I expect that it is warm enough now that these carrots will send out new feeder roots in short order, and we’ll see new growth by mid-April.

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The garden is moist and ready for planting….

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Have you started any seeds yet?  It’s that time of year. 

Puzzling out the best time for each step towards our summer garden takes a bit of planning, a fair bit of remembering past years, and also a bit of trust that our efforts will flourish.

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 Woodland Gnome 2019

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“It’s being here now that’s important.
There’s no past and there’s no future.
Time is a very misleading thing.
All there is ever, is the now.
We can gain experience from the past,
but we can’t relive it;
and we can hope for the future,
but we don’t know if there is one.”

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George Harrison

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Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

Fabulous Friday: Something Borrowed, Something New

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’.

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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.

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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.

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Hellebores touched with frost

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Seedlings blooming in their first year.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

Fabulous Friday: Undeniable Signs of Spring

Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis

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Although it looks and feels like winter again here today, I see undeniable signs of spring approaching.  Snow may, or may not be in our forecast.  The responsible parties keep changing their minds….

Last I opened the kitchen door, the rain had that hard, metallic sound that told me there may have been a little sleet mixed in.

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Violas with Italian Arum

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No matter, the earliest daffies won’t mind, and neither do I.  I’m in for the day, and just up from the basement where I’ve been potting up rooted Begonia cuttings.

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I’m in that happy state of mulling over various planting schemes for summer pots and baskets, imagining my cuttings as full grown, blooming, and partnered with various ‘fillers and spillers.’   Gorgeous cane Begonias will always be the ‘thrillers’ to me.

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Iris histrioides ‘George’

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I’ve a pot of coffee and a stack of hard bound gardening books waiting.  After years of tablet reading, I’m re-discovering the thrill of full sized color photos in hard bound books.  I have a Beth Chatto, a Noel Kingsbury, and a Rick Darke all in progress.  There is always more to learn, and these writers inspire me to try new ideas.

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Forsythia

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No matter the momentary weather, new growth swells everywhere from the tips of woody branches to the herbaceous growth popping up through our muddy yard.  Bright blue wildflowers emerge in the grass alongside golden daffodils.  Flowering quince and Forsythia blossoms shine against bare wood along neighborhood streets.

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Double Take ‘Scarlet Storm’ flowering quince prepares to bloom

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I see the tightly curled buds of the first Hyacinths popping up between their early leaves, and new green growth is appearing, as if by magic, from our withered looking Clematis vines.

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Camellia japonica open so early they are often touched by late frosts.

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The miracle of spring is upon us here, in coastal Virginia.

Birds are returning from their travels, huddling together in mated pairs.  The first lizard of the year appeared on the back porch this week.  And on our rare sunny days, it is easy to believe that winter will soon be only a distant memory.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.”
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Ovid

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Fabulous Friday: Mystery Visitor

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“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion
that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
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Albert Einstein

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Its shape first caught my eye, a different shape and size than other butterflies we’ve enjoyed all summer.  But it was moving so fast, and far enough away that I couldn’t quite see it clearly.

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At first, I wondered whether it might be a sphinx moth.   As I drew closer, it would fly up and away.  And then when my attention turned elsewhere, I’d soon find it sipping nectar nearby.  It was quick and agile, wary and focused on the important business of survival.

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This mystery visitor seemed alone, elegantly formed but unfamiliar to my gardener’s eye.  Later, looking at its portraits, I decided it must be a butterfly because of the shape of its antennae.  I am hoping that one of my Master Naturalist friends will recognize our mystery visitor and supply its name.

Other more common pollinators fed nearby.  A Buckeye, bumblebees, skippers and other small feeders enjoying the Solidago and Verbena, Buddleia and Rudbeckia that drift in tangles in the upper garden.

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“The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existence.
One cannot help but be in awe
when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity,
of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend
a little of this mystery each day.
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Albert Einstein

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This morning was the first in a while that I dedicated to spending in the garden.  And it shows….

I’ve been timid about going outside to work after a sting that took weeks to heal.   And there have been things to do, and people to meet, and promises to keep.

I lost the rhythm of it, and the garden has grown on without taking any notice of my absence.

Rain and heavy dew has kept it well watered.  Wildness has grown dense and beautiful and has filled the paths.

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Flowers bloom and seeds ripen.  The beautyberries have turned deep purple.  Vines twine where they will, and everywhere bees and all manner of small winged creatures have their way with the flowers.  Plumes of intensely gold Solidago sway in every breeze, leaning under the weight of their blossom.  And the greenness is so intense I can almost taste its cool and pungent bite.

February’s dreams are made of this.

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I was torn, this morning, between photographing every beautiful thing and getting down to the business at hand.  Japanese stilt grass has claimed more real estate than I care to admit, and all the pots wanted a drink of water.  There is an ever growing collection of pots with plants wanting their roots freed into the soil.  There is some dead wood to prune away and Caladiums to dig.

Oh, so much to do before this warmth fades into November’s chill! 

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But I chose the meandering path of a dilettante.  Up the hill and down the hill, hose in one hand and rake in the other.  I took inventory of the tasks at hand.  One must get one’s thoughts in order before accomplishing much of value.

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Re-blooming Iris ‘Rosalie Figge’ has returned, so fragrant and beautiful.

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But it is too soon to disrupt the magic of our autumn garden with digging and trimming back, and too warm, still, to begin planting the bulbs waiting in the garage.

I’d rather watch the butterflies, secure in the knowing that the first hard frost will do much of the work of weeding and clearing for us.

Soon enough, the garden will appear cleaned and tidied by the elements, soothed and covered in a blanket of fallen leaves.  And then there will be plenty of sunny mornings to prune and plant, tidy things up and mulch, undistracted by the flowers.

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Better to appreciate it now, and celebrate its tremendous growth on this Fabulous Friday.  And wonder about our mysterious visitor, who shared the garden with us this morning.

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“Love is an endless mystery,
because there is no reasonable cause
that could explain it
.
Rabindranath Tagore

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Update: 

Many, many thanks to Master Naturalist Joanne Sheffield, who identified our mystery butterfly as a Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus.  Native to South and Central America, this butterfly does turn up in the Southern United States and can be sighted up into the Northeast. 

Its host plants include beans and other vine legumes, hog peanuts and Wisteria.  Its caterpillar is considered a pest when it feeds on snap beans.  We grow none of these, but this individual must have been attracted by the nectar rich flowers we offer.

What a great treat to see him today!  I will be curious to see whether more individuals show up this fall, and whether the Long-tailed Skipper becomes a regular visitor in our area.

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious,  Let’s Infect One Another!

Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

~

Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

~

The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

~

Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

~

Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

~

Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

~

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*

Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

~

Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
.
Orson Scott Card
~

The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

~
“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
.
Isaac Asimov
~

Fabulous Friday: Gifts from Friends

Obedient Plant, Physotegia virginiana

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In our neighborhood, we celebrate the plants the deer leave alone.  And many of us share with our neighborhood friends when we have the opportunity to dig and divide.  We are so happy to have found something beautiful that will grow un-grazed and un-molested, that we just naturally want to ‘spread the joy.’

I am very fortunate to have a Master Gardener friend who has been tending her acre for many years and has developed many garden rooms of trees, ferns, and perennials.  She gave me a tour of her beautiful garden a few years back, and will share a perennial with me from time to time.  Last spring, 2017, she offered me some divisions of a native commonly called ‘obedient plant.’

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You may know this beautiful perennial as Physotegia virginiana, or false dragonhead.  I think it looks a little like a summer foxglove or snapdragon, don’t you?  It comes in shades of pink, lavendar and white.  I was very happy to receive this special gift, and she brought enough that I could plant quite a few divisions and still share some further with friends.

I was determined to take care of these so they would survive last summer.  And even through the excessive heat and my extended absences from the garden, somehow they pulled through and even gave a few late summer blooms.  And when they reappeared this spring, and I recognized that my few plants had not only taken hold but spread, there was real cause to celebrate.

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Now, what you need to know, if you think you might want a little P. virginiana in your own garden, is that this perennial belongs to the mint family.  That’s a good thing if you want a plant that will quickly grow and fill in a large space.  That maybe isn’t such a good thing if your garden is already pretty full, and you don’t want your precious perennials crowded out by a newcomer.  In its first spring,  my new stand of obedient plant immediately required ‘the discipline of the spade.’  But no worries, that just gave me a few more clumps to share, right?

This plant quickly forms clumps as its rhizomes spread around.  The plants grow fairly tall, in sun or part sun, and can manage with average soil.  They are considered drought tolerant and are much loved by hummingbirds and other pollinators.  They make lovely cut flowers, and help the garden gracefully bridge the transition to fall.

I planted them in several spots to see what they would prefer, and most of those initial clumps are either in bud or bloom.  I am enjoying these elegant flowers as they bloom this year.  They continually remind me how the kindness of others enriches our lives so much.

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Some gardeners recommend planting obedient plant in a large, bottomless pot sunk into the garden to contain the rhizomes.  This advice is often given for members of the mint family, and it may work for you.

I’m a bit more laissez-faire with our Forest Garden, and still feel very grateful to those plants who can make it through the season with their leaves, stems, and roots still intact.  What the deer don’t get around here, the voles often claim.  Please just keep in mind that the moniker ‘obedient’ refers to the flowers, who will hold a curve if you try to shape their stem, but not the roots and rhizomes of this vigorous plant.

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We have enjoyed abundant rain and a short spell of cooler weather this week.  We’ve had some cool, crisp mornings to remind us that September is a breath away.  I’m always a little surprised to feel how much energy we have when the humidity and temps drop towards the end of summer!

We have used these cool mornings in the garden, and have actually done some productive tasks when not chasing butterflies!

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The change of seasons always brings a bit of excitement and fresh energy.  The colors in the garden shift as new perennials come into bloom and some of the trees are beginning to blush with the first hints of fall color.

Our garden turns purple and gold as autumn approaches, and white with clumps of chives popping up in unexpected places.  Even as we prepare to welcome our long Virginia autumn, I’m already ordering bulbs to plant this fall and thinking ahead to spring.  And yes, finding spare clumps of perennials to share with our neighbors and friends.

~

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Woodland Gnome 2018

.

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious;
Let’s infect one another!

~

Monarch on Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

~

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge

to test our courage and willingness to change;

at such a moment, there is no point in pretending

that nothing has happened

or in saying that we are not yet ready.

The challenge will not wait.

Life does not look back.

A week is more than enough time

for us to decide whether or not

to accept our destiny.”
.

Paulo Coelho

 

Fabulous Friday: Appreciating Small Successes

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Every smitten gardener learns these two life lessons:  patience and appreciation.  Patience  helps one bide one’s time while nature’s processes unfold.  Sometimes the greatest skill in gardening is to simply wait and see what will happen.

I’ve been writing about the Alocasia plants that I saved over winter in the basement.  I didn’t have space to overwinter these huge plants indoors, and so allowed them to die back to just their tuber and roots in a paper grocery bag in our frost free basement.

When I brought them back outdoors and repotted them in May, it took quite a while for them to show new growth.  But, they finally  both awakened from winter dormancy and are back in gorgeous leaf again.

~

Alocasia ‘Regal Shields’ grew beside our front porch last summer, and moved into this pretty new pot a few weeks ago. The little one beside it was also slow to return this summer, even though it overwintered in its pot in the garage. I was ready to dump out the contents and re-plant its pot with something new, when I noticed the Alocasia leaves beginning to emerge in mid-June.  Alocasia are jungle plants and need summer’s heat and humidity to thrive.

~

I had potted them, this spring,  in black plastic nursery pots.  And then I found a great deal on a beautiful blue ceramic pot a few weeks back, and potted up the slower, smaller of the two plants in the pot and brought it out where we would enjoy it and it would be encouraged to take off.  Now it’s growing so fast, we can notice daily changes as it enjoys our Virginia summer heat and humidity.

I left the larger, more developed Alocasia in its nursery pot, tucked back into a stand of Canna lilies.  And my patience paid off on Saturday when I discovered the ‘scratch and dent’ pots at one of my favorite Richmond area nurseries.  The perfect blue pot sat there waiting for me, shining in the sunlight, with only a little chip out of its rim.

~

Checking the fit, to make sure Alocasia ‘Regal Shields’ root ball will fit into its new pot.

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It is a good thing that I finally found the right pot and took care of re-potting our larger Alocasia, as its roots were already growing out of the drainage holes of its nursery pot.  Funny how quickly they grow, once they get started and have moisture and heat!

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I always like to line my pots before planting them up.  I’ll use anything from coffee filters to paper towels, plastic mesh, fine wire screens, or burlap.  Lining the pot keeps fresh soil from washing out of the drainage holes before the roots can fill in to hold it.

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A scrap of burlap lines the pot to prevent loose soil from washing out of the drainage holes before the roots can grow in.

~

The lining also serves as a barrier against the small creatures who might want to crawl up into the pot and make their home among the roots.  How often have you unpotted a plant and found the soil rife with pill bugs, ants, or even earthworms?  All sorts of creatures can find shelter in a pot, given the chance.

~

The soil in the bottom of the pot is important. I like to mix some gravel or perlite into the bottom inch or so for drainage, and mix fertilizer into all of the extra soil added to the pot around the root ball, to empower new growth.

~

Burlap lasts longer than paper. And it also absorbs excess water, holding it, and then releasing it back into the soil as the soil begins to dry.  It is especially useful in a pot that doesn’t have drainage, as it helps to keep the whole pot evenly hydrated.  I’ll often cover the burlap with a shallow layer of perlite or gravel, to make a little reservoir in the bottom of a solid bottomed container.

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Remember to finish a pot with a mulch of pea gravel.  This helps keep the plant clean on rainy days, reflects the sunlight up into the plant and holds moisture in the soil.  I transplanted cuttings of Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ to add a little graceful ‘spiller’ around the edges of the pot.

~

Eventually, even the burlap will break down.  Use the plastic mesh or metal screen to hold roots in and creatures out on a more lasting basis.  This is a good way to recycle those mesh bags our bulbs come packaged in each fall.

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Patience nearly always pays off in the garden.  We watch and wait as our plants grow and the creatures come and go among them.  And that is where we also learn appreciation.  I’ve come to notice that the more we slow down, the more appreciation we can savor.

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I was ready for the butterflies and hummingbirds this morning, camera in hand, and stood waiting in the front garden near the Lantana patch to see who might visit.

I noticed a friendly little Silver Spotted Skipper watching me from the highest point of the Lantana, and she let me take her photo.

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We played for a while, with her flying around a bit before coming back to rest on the Lantana, a little closer each time.  She paused while I snapped, and then took to the air once again.

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I heard the buzzing beside me even before turning my head to see the female hummingbird hovering near my shoulder, watching us.  She was very interested in our play, and waited until I began to turn my camera her way, before looping up and away, back to the comfort of a large Rose of Sharon.

Again, no photo of a hummingbird!

~

Hibiscus coccineus

~

But she and her partner have been hovering nearby most of the day.  They came to play in the spray of my hose this morning, and have been making the rounds of our garden’s Hibiscus offerings.  She paused to sip from the Salvia while I was working nearby.  Perhaps she and her partner can feel how much I delight in seeing them nearby.

~

Our hummingbirds visit these blue Salvia flowers regularly. Conventional wisdom tells us that hummingbirds prefer red flowers, but that isn’t always the case.

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Why else would we expend such effort to tend a garden, if not for an August morning such as this, to stand in the midst of it all and appreciate its beauty?  We can savor the fragrances of herb and flowers, listen for the birds and watch the progress of each plant’s unfolding.

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It is when we slow down to appreciate such rare beauty, that we may notice the  creatures who share it observing us, in return.  The skinks skitter away as we approach, watching us from beneath and behind their shelter.  Later, we may notice them peering in through the glass doors to the deck.

The birds follow us around from shrub to tree to see what tasty bit we may dig up and leave behind for them.  And now even the butterflies want to play, posing for the camera, and waiting patiently for us to see them.

Woodland Gnome 2018

~

~

Fabulous Friday: 
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
~

 

 

 

 

Fabulous Friday: Our Garden Is Full

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

~

It was just a little goldfinch.  Yet I was so delighted to notice it gracefully balanced on a yellow black-eyed Susan flower near the drive, when we returned from our morning errands.  He concentrated his full attention on pecking at the flower’s center.  Though the seeds aren’t yet ripe, he was clearly hoping for a morsel to eat.

Once I took a step too close, he lifted into the air on outstretched wings, disappearing behind a stand of goldenrod.

~

‘Green Envy’ Echinacea mixes with basil and more Rudbeckia, a feast for goldfinches and butterflies.

~

Goldfinches and cardinals catch our eye with their bright feathers, but there are all of the other grey and brown and occasionally blue birds flitting from grass to shrub and flowering mass from before dawn until their final songs long past dusk.  And then we listen for the owls’ conversations through the night.

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I heard a wonderful speaker yesterday morning, who pulled back the curtain a bit on the world of insects in our gardens.  He is a former student of Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home , and is now an assistant professor of Biology at nearby Hampton University.  Dr. Shawn Dash is a gifted teacher, keeping us all laughing and learning as he shared his insights into the importance of the insects of the planet in maintaining the web of life.

~

Joe Pye Weed attracts more insects than any other flower in the garden this month.

~

I am a total novice in this mysterious world of insects.  But I will say that I am learning to look at them with admiration and respect… so long as they remain out of doors in the garden!

Joe Pye Weed is the best wildlife attractor blooming in our garden at the moment.  It is simply covered with every sort of wasp and bee and butterfly and moth and sci-fi ready insect you can imagine.  The ‘buzz’ around it mesmerizes.

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Our garden hums and buzzes and clicks with life as July finally melts into August.  Dr. Dash talked about the musical chorus of insects as one of the wonderful benefits of a full garden; a diverse garden that includes some percentage of native plants to support them.

Creating a layered garden with an abundance of plant life from the hardwood canopy all the way down through smaller trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines and ground cover offers many niches to harbor a huge array of insects.  All of those juicy insects attract song birds and small mammals, turtles, frogs, lizards and yes, maybe also a snake or two.

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A fairly sterile suburban lawn may be transformed into a wild life oasis, a rich ecosystem filled with color, movement and song.  And the whole process begins with planting more native trees and shrubs to offer food and shelter to scores of species.

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But even more fundamentally, the process begins when we value the entire web of life in our particular ecosystem and allow it to unfold.

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Hardy blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, grows wild in our garden.  I stopped weeding it out after a few plants survived deep enough into the summer to bloom with these gorgeous blue flowers.

~

I quickly learned that I don’t really need to go out and buy a lot of native plants.  I only have to allow them to grow when they sprout from the seeds already in our soil.  I have to allow the seeds that wildlife drop in our garden to have a bit of real-estate to take hold.  And nature magically fills the space.

We guide, nurture, and yes edit.  But as soon as we allow it and offer the least encouragement, nature becomes our partner and our guide.

~

The goldenrod want to claim this entire area as their own… time to give some to friends!

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If you’ve already read Bringing Nature Home, let me invite you to also read, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden, co-authored by Dr. Tallamy and landscape designer and photographer, Rick Darke.

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden by [Darke, Rick, Tallamy, Douglas W.]

This translates the science into the practical planning of an ecologically balanced home landscape, and is richly illustrated and laced with wonderful stories.  It inspires one to go plant something and make one’s garden even more diverse.

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Our little Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar is growing fast, happily munching on the Daucus carota.

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Our garden is filled to overflowing, this Fabulous Friday.  It is filled with flowers and foliage, birds, squirrels, butterflies and scampering lizards.  Our garden is filled with tweets and twitters of the natural kind, the sounds of wind blowing through the trees and rain dripping on the pavement.

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fennel

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Our world is wet this week, as storm after storm trains up the East Coast.  I’m grateful for the rain even as I’m swatting at the mosquitoes biting any exposed bit of skin, while I focus my camera on the butterflies.

I hope that your summer is unfolding rich in happiness and beautiful experiences.  I hope you are getting enough rain, but not too much; that your garden is doing well and that you are, too.

~

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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

~

 

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