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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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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.”
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Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“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
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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

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

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Monarch on Zinnia at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Hibiscus coccineus

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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.

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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

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Fabulous Friday: 
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
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Fabulous Friday: Our Garden Is Full

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: The Delight’s In the Details

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Sometimes looking at the whole garden can feel a bit overwhelming; especially in mid-July when there has been a dry spell and the heat is clicked on ‘high.’  Leaf tips have browned, things may look a bit wilted.  There are weeds to pull and spent flowers to clip.

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This is where casual gardeners may get a little discouraged.  It is easy enough to retreat back into the air conditioning, pour a cool glass of tea, and determine to work on the garden when the weather improves.  I say that from first personal experience on seriously hot and muggy Virginia summer days.

Sometimes we retreat to garden another day, don’t we?

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And yet, July and August in the garden bring some of the most exquisite delights of the entire year.  This is when we’re most likely to spot a hummingbird casually visiting the Canna lilies, or spot butterflies happily feeding on the coneflowers.

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Our most audacious flowers bloom, and most of our plants have plumped up their volume to ‘Wow!‘  We can’t enjoy these special pleasures if we’re indoors waiting for September, or loading the car for some time on the beach.

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As in all things, we find the balance.  I like to go out to the garden in the early morning or just before sunset when there is a breeze, and the light is slanted at a more hospitable angle.  That is when it’s easiest for me to water and keep up with garden chores.

But often, if I just stick my nose out of the door in the middle of the day to do one simple thing, something flits by, grabs my attention, and I’m off to the garden.   A small bit of effort here and there to water or clip something back really does go a long way in the grand scheme of things.

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The pleasure we take from spotting a turtle burrowed into a shady spot, or a tiny toad resting behind (or maybe even tucked into) a pot is what makes the day memorable.  We plant those flowers to enjoy, after all, and warm days bring out the wonderful fragrances of summer. This is the season when nature sings to us from morning until night, if we only stop and listen.

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It is important to focus on the details, sometimes, and let our delight in their beauty distract us from larger worries.  It is happiness that fuels us, after all.  We are energized, enthused, when we are engaged with something that gives us joy.

 

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Let’s all make a point of moving our focus from the big picture, that can sometimes feel overwhelming, and find opportunities to delight in the details we notice in our garden, and in our lives.  The big picture will still be there; trust me.  But we can make more progress when we have built up enough joyful energy to make a dent in whatever obstacles might lie before us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another.

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“Chaos is peaceful when you stand quietly & watch –
we are eternal observers,
reflecting both tiny & vast,
singing infinitely within.”
.
Jay Woodman

Fabulous Friday: Hide and Seek With the Butterflies

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I’ve been playing ‘Hide and Seek’ with the butterflies at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden at Freedom Park, trying to spot as many different pollinators and butterflies as I can among the lush growth of flowers.

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Silver-spotted Skipper on a Zinnia

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It feels like the entire garden is designed to welcome every beautiful winged creature that frequents our area.  Flowers grow everywhere, interspersed with those host plants butterflies need to raise their next generation.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden grows lush with summer flowers.

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There is the widest possible selection of native flowering plants, augmented with many bright nursery trade annuals and perennials filled with sweet nectar.

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Can you spot the bee, coming to share the nectar?

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There are places for caterpillars to find shelter as they gorge themselves on delicious leaves and grow towards their future as bright butterflies, spots for butterflies and other pollinators to find a drink, and lots of shelter for them to rest.

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One might expect the air to be thick with butterfly wings above this tempting wildlife banquet.  Where are they all this week?

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Common Sootywing butterfly on Basil

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I stopped by all of their favorite nectar plants, watching for the fleetest glimpse of wing.  There was the Tiger Swallowtail that flew away before I could focus the camera and the Black Swallowtail spotted by a friend.

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Pearl Crescent butterfly on Lantana

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I’ve no photo to offer you of either of these beauties, just one from a few weeks ago of a lovely Zebra Swallowtail.

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Zebra Swallowtail butterfly on Agastache June 15, 2018

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Lantana proves a butterfly magnet, and there is plenty of Lantana growing now in the garden.  If you want butterflies to visit your garden, planting Lantana, still available in local garden centers, is a reliable way to attract them.

Zinnias also prove popular, and our native purple coneflowers.  Please be careful to avoid using insecticides if you want to attract butterflies and pollinators.

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A Common Buckeye butterfly feeds in this bed of Lantana, with bronze fennel growing nearby.

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I like to plant nectar plants together with herbal host plants such as parsley, fennel, and dill.  Many gardeners also plant Asclepias, the preferred host plant of the Monarch.  Butterflies also feed on native trees or shrubs.  These may already be growing in or near your garden.

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Some gardeners might think it strange to grow plants intended as food for insects. Others recognize the beauty of participating in this magical web of life.  Asclepias incarnata grows here in our Forest Garden.

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By this time in the summer, the hunt is on for caterpillars. 

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This instructional garden stone was crafted by a Master Gardener custodian of the Botanical garden, and rests in the pollinator garden.

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You may notice ragged foliage before you see them, as they start off very tiny from their eggs.

I wonder sometimes, do butterflies remember their days spent munching leaves as caterpillars?  Do they fly back to their host plants, only to get distracted by nearby flowers, instead?

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It is fabulous to find ourselves enjoying the magical beauties of summer, once again.

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A bumblebee enjoys native Monarda fistulosa.

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I trust you will find those creatures you are hunting for, and enjoy their rare beauty as we celebrate summer together.

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Male Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on a button bush flower, June 14

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious… Let’s infect one another!
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Woodland Gnome 2018

Most photos were taken in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden

at Freedom Park in James City County, VA

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“There are times to stay put,

and what you want will come to you,

and there are times to go out into the world

and find such a thing for yourself.”

.

Lemony Snicket

Fabulous Friday: Rain and Lizards

Hosta in (soggy) bloom

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Our garden is thoroughly watered, I’m happy to share!  And it’s unlikely that any of my gardening friends will be spending chunks of their weekend with a hose in their hand watering after the several inches of rain that we’ve had this week.

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Zantedeschia ‘Memories’

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In fact, the sound of pouring rain roused me well before sunrise this morning.  Downpours have come and gone today, interspersed with glimpses of blue sky and brilliant sunshine.

I appreciate the rain, of course; but am well aware of the flash flooding many have to deal with this week.  It has snarled the local airport with delays as the runway and access roads flooded early this morning.  Local roads flooded out again, and the chocolate milk brown James River is churning very high against its banks.  It is a good day to stay at home!

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Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ after this morning’s rain

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Plants hate too much rain, and may perish from their roots up when the soil stays saturated for very long.  I’ve emptied saucers under a few of our pots twice already today, and know I should do the tour and check them all again this evening.

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Artemisia prefers dry conditions. I have potted this one up from its nursery pot into a small ceramic pot just until I can prepare its new place in the garden. 

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All of the small creatures must cope with too much rain, as well.  While there is plenty of fresh water to drink, there is also the small matter of flooding in the nooks and crannies where they generally hide.

We came home mid-day to find our resident lizards enjoying their privacy, sunning themselves on our side porch.  One after another scampered away for cover as we approached.  They know us, and that we bring them no harm.  The boldest held her place on the step making eye contact as I greeted her.  She didn’t scamper into the vines until my shoe touched her step.

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These small lizards are known as skinks.

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Lizards crave warmth and laze about on all of the hardscapes around the house and garden.  Since they gladly eat up insects, spiders, slugs and worms wherever they can find them, I am quite happy to see them hanging around our potted plants.  We have an understanding, as these little guys are quite harmless.  Our cat is in on the bargain and watches them closely, but leaves the lizzies strictly alone.

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It is challenging to plant for the weather and our ever variable ‘climate.’  Those of us who planted drought tolerant perennials, like lavenders, Yucca, and other succulents are watching them try to cope with the saturated soil.  Sometimes herbs will get moldy or turn to mush in our steamy wet spells in summer.

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Spanish lavender wants great drainage and bright sun to thrive.

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That is why it is smart to consider drainage when planting them in the first place.  Plant a bit high, on a bit of a mound, and incorporate sharp sand or small gravel into the surrounding soil to improve drainage.  Mulch with grit, crushed oyster shells or gravel to keep soil and pathogens from splashing up onto their lower leaves in heavy rain.

Sun reflecting off of the gravel mulch will also help dry the plant’s inner foliage more quickly.

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A tiny dragonfly happily hovered around the pots on the patio during a break in the rain this afternoon.

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On the other hand, we have plenty of plants just loving the reliably moist soil.  The Caladiums and Colocasias like even moisture, though even they may rot if the soil stays too wet too long.  When the weather turns dry, these want watering most days to keep them growing happily.

They have a system:  Their large leaves, covered with tiny openings called stomata, allow water transported up from their roots to evaporate into the surrounding air.  So long as their leaves are growing and working in the sunlight, their roots can pump large amounts of water out of the soil and into the air.  Trees do this on an industrial scale!

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Caladium ‘Carolyn Wharton’ and Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ both enjoy moist soil.

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The smaller or more protected a plant’s leaves, the less water they will release from soil to atmosphere, and the better they tolerate drought.

It is smart to learn about a plant’s tolerance for wet soil and humidity just as we learn about its needs for sunlight, warmth, PH, and trace minerals in the surrounding soil.  That way, we can give them the conditions they need and keep them growing.

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Succulents with thick, waxy leaves release very little water into the air. They are built for hot, dry conditions and may rot of their soil remains saturated for too long.

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A plant with particular needs, or one that doesn’t thrive in local conditions may still be grown well in a pot.  And of course, pots can be set back under the eaves when the skies open and a downpour comes.

And believe me, our little lizards and toads find lodging in the pots sometimes.  Somehow, it seems to work out pretty well, no matter what strangeness the summer brings.

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“Breathe deep…
The rain falls but a moment,
and in a moment, gives life to another day.”
.
Laurence Overmire

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

*

Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ above and right

Fabulous Friday: Shadows and Shade

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When the sun is shining and the temperature is climbing, it is time to seek shadows and shade.

Our temps here have been running 10 degrees or more above our historical ‘normal’ for better than a month.  Although school is just getting out and our high school seniors in the community graduate this weekend, it already feels like mid-summer.  You feel the burn quickly when caught out in the full sun.  And so the smartest place to spend one’s time is in the shade.

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The fern garden at the bottom of the yard holds the cool and shade we seek.  There is usually a nice breeze, and it is quiet, save for the calls of our resident birds and the hum of bees.  With tall bamboo making a dense wall on one side, and several good sized trees for shelter, we have a beautiful spot that is nearly always sheltered and shaded.

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This is where we have been planting ferns, Hellebores,  and other shade loving perennials for the past eight or so years.  It fills in a little better each year as the plants grow and spread, and as I plant up new parts of the hillside.  In fact, I just developed a large new bed this spring and the ferns are just taking hold and beginning to show new growth.

This shady area gives a great deal of textural interest, but nearly everything here grows in shades of green.  Beyond the early season Helleborus flowers and later daffodils, our shade garden glows in many shades of green, with little touches  of silver sheen on the Japanese painted fern, and the occasional burgundy stem.

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This week, the our huge voodoo lilies, Sauromatum venosum, rise over the garden so their huge, showy leaves may catch every ray of sunlight penetrating the canopy.

Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, these unique plants belong to the family of Araceae, like our own native Jack in the Pulpit.  I didn’t really intend to plant Voodoo lily in our garden.  It chose me…

On a late spring trip to Brent and Becky’s Gloucester bulb shop several years ago, the voodoo lily had already begun to grow, their elongated flower stalks breaking free of both their mesh bags and their bottom shelf bin.  A flower stalk caught my ankle as I walked by, drawing my attention.  It reminded me of past trips to the animal shelter when a kitten reaches through the bars of their cage to invite you to play with them.

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A deal was struck, and I bought a large sack full of the poor lilies, straining to escape their bags and grow.  I had to cut each plant out of its mesh bag carefully with sharp scissors to avoid damaging its bloom stalk.  I planted them in many different shady spots.

Each year they catch me by surprise, either with their huge purple flowers early, or these gargantuan leaves in early summer.  The leaves last a few weeks and then fade away.  The bulbs often divide and spread a little between one season and the next.

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I wonder, sometimes, why I don’t spend more time lingering in the shade of our wonderful fern garden.

It may be that I burn up my gardening hours watering the thirsty sun-drenched upper garden.  It may be that I get distracted photographing our pollinator visitors elsewhere, or tending to some much needed weeding or pruning where the growth is more rampant.

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There is always a long to-do list on my mind, and I feel responsible to take care of the garden chores before allowing myself to wander down here  to relax and enjoy the cool, calm beauty of it all.

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But when I finally slip down the hill to the shade, usually hose in hand, I am delighted to spend some time in the shadows, watching for turtles and enjoying the coolness and the beauty of it all.

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

Fabulous Friday: Summertime Blues

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ blooms for several weeks, beginning in early June.

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Summertime blues in the garden make us feel a little cooler on the muggiest days.  Their colors are soothing and peaceful.

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Hardy Geranium weaves itself through the airy foliage of Daucus carota.

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Blues sparkle and shine against the sea of early summer green, and enliven the many white flowers of our garden.

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Blue may not be every gardener’s first choice for summer flowers.  There are those who gravitate to bright orange and yellow daylilies,  red roses and petunias, and every other warm and vibrant shade and hue.  But as our summers heat up, I find myself turning more towards cool colors for our summer garden.

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This week our ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangeas are finally opening; a relief that they made it through this past winter.

Last summer the blooms were sparse because the season’s new growth was zapped by a late freeze.  It is good to see these very old shrubs, planted by our home’s original owner, covering themselves in flowers once again.

They want more shade than they get, but their roots are strong and bent on survival.

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The hardy Geraniums are blooming, too.  Our native Geraniums come in shades of white, pink, purples and blues, and percolate along year to year with little fuss or care.

This is probably G. ‘Johnson’s Blue,’ though G. ‘Rozanne looks very similar and is a newer, better (and more expensive) cultivar.  Perennial Geraniums are good ground cover plants, and weave themselves up and through taller perennials.

Between our voles and rabbits, only a few we have planted have actually survived, and so we are especially happy to see them in bloom!

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Of hardier stock is Verbena bonariensis.  This very tall, lean, drought tolerant perennial blooms for several months with tiny flowers seeming to float in mid-air above the garden.  You might want to observe that these flowers are more violet than blue; but I say they are close enough to have the same cooling affect on a muggy  Virginia summer day.

Lavender flowers also slide along the color wheel between blues and violets, depending on the cultivar.  I especially appreciate their grey foliage whether they happen to be in bloom, or not.

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Finally, the last of the blue-violet flowers, as we enter the second week of June, is Comphrey.  These dainty flowers attract pollinators and make for beautiful combinations with other leaves and flowers.

As coarse and floppy and annoying as their enthusiastic habits may become, my gardener’s heart softens when I watch the pollinators flock to their sweet little flowers.  I only rip out a few at a time, allowing more to crop up to keep the flowers coming throughout the summer.

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There are other blues and purples available this time of year in both foliage and flower.  From Petunias to Clematis, Columbine to Hosta and Heliotrope; you will find lots of choices when you seek them out.

The blues never scream for our attention.  Rather, they weave their color magic more subtly, waiting for us to breathe deeply and relax into their beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Heliotrope

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

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