Fabulous Friday: Hurricane Lilies

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August often proves to be awkward and uncomfortable here in coastal Virginia.  If it’s not the heat and humidity chasing us back inside, it’s the torrential rain.  Many mornings, when we first open the kitchen door to step outside, the air is so thick with humidity that we wish we had scuba gear.

Afternoon thunderstorms insure I won’t need to stand out in the mugginess with a hose to water, but they also keep the humidity and ‘ick’ factor high.

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Lycoris radiata, Hurricane lilies, appear after heavy rain some time in mid-to late August.

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The last morning I stood outside to water was Tuesday.  By the time I finished my ‘to do’ list, every stitch I wore, including my hat, was soaked with perspiration.  But I felt quite proud of myself for making the effort, as the forecast called for another hot and sunny day, with no rain until evening.

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Parts of the garden are looking a bit worn by mid-August. But I look past them to the beauties of our visitors.

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Well, by 11:30 that morning the skies opened and torrential rain caught us out on the roads, returning from the grocery store.  And every day since Tuesday we’ve been treated to the passing drama of rolling thunder, bright flashes of lightening, gusty winds and pelting rain.  We count ourselves lucky as the hail has mostly avoided our little bend in the river, but we know others nearby have endured hail and broken trees this week.

Sometimes, the storm passes quickly and allows the sun to burn through the clouds once again.  Curtains of steam rise from every paved surface and temperatures rise after the passing cool of the thunderstorm.

And then, yes, you guessed it:  another storm forms and passes over a few hours later.  We listen to thunder rolling in the distance during the night, and awaken to find the world wet from pre-dawn showers.

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Garlic chives and an emerald green fly.

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August proves a very wet month, most years.  It is a month of transition, preparing us for the first breath of autumn in September.

Along with the transition from summer to fall, we often have a hurricane or two blowing in from the Atlantic or up from the Gulf.  (Knock on wood) we have been very lucky thus far, this year.  May the blowing sands of the Sahara continue to keep things calm off the coast.

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For all of the inconveniences of August, there are also some treats and treasures.  I always look forward to our black-eyed Susans coming into bloom, filling our upper garden with their cheery golden faces.  I love watching the comings and goings of our butterflies and listening for the rare blessing of a visit from one of our hummingbirds.  And I especially love the unexpected surprise of seeing the bright red flowers of our Hurricane lilies, Lycoris radiata, when they suddenly pop into bloom.

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Lycoris burst into bloom after sudden, heavy rains; thus their moniker.  While spring bulbs are pretty predictable, these late summer bulbs time their bloom to the amount of heat and moisture in the soil.

One of those summer bulbs also known as ‘naked ladies,’ the bloom stalks appear suddenly, long before their leaves.  If you want to know more about Lycoris, you might enjoy this post about them from 2014.

I’ve never planted a whole bed of Lycoris, though I’m sure that would be stunning.  Rather, I plant a few here and there, just little accents and exclamation points to delight us and revive our spirits in August.  We only have the red, though they come in white, pink and yellow, too.

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I’m enjoying ours through the front windows, where a zipper spider has spun an enormous web, and on my occasional walks up the driveway.

The rain this week has ended up a blessing, as I’m still recovering from Lyme’s disease and wanting to stay indoors and away from the possibility of any more insect bites.  The rain and humidity have added another reason to stay in and do quiet things this week; and I’m grateful.

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But when I do wander outside, there are always new developments to enjoy.  There’s fresh growth to admire, new flowers blooming, a cutting that has struck roots, or a new spider web to examine.  The wonders unfold all on their own, a satisfying counterpoint to the inconveniences of August.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious- Let’s infect one another.

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Fabulous Friday: Floods of Rain

Native sweetbay Magnolia virginiana, in bloom this week at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, fills the garden entrance with its musky perfume.

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This Friday dawned humid and grey, and I set out as soon as we finished a quick breakfast to meet a friend at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  While I am all about the plants, she is all about the cats and butterflies.  Today, she was hunting for a few special cats to use in her upcoming program  at our local library  about protecting butterflies and providing habitat for their next generations.

We checked all of the usual host plants: Asclepias,, spicebush, Wisteria, fennel, Passiflora vines, and parsley.  We weren’t equipped to check out the canopies of the garden’s host trees, like the paw paw or the oaks, but we were left empty-handed. There were no caterpillars that we could find today.

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A Zebra Swallowtail butterfly enjoys the Verbena bonariensis at the WBG last week.  Its host plant is the native paw paw tree.

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In this peaceful nectar and host plant rich environment, where are the butterflies and their young?  We both happily snapped photos of interesting views and blooms as we searched, took care of a few chores together, and then she was off.

By then the first Master Naturalist gardeners had arrived.  All of us had one eye to the sky and another on our ‘to-do’ lists.

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Native Asclepias tuberosa is one of the Asclepias varieties that Monarch butterflies seek out as a host plant to lay their eggs.

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I have great admiration and affection for the Master Naturalists who work at the WBG, and I appreciate the opportunity to ask questions when they are around.  I hope to join their ranks one year soon.  The course is rigorous and the standards high, and the volunteer work they do throughout our area is invaluable.

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This is our native Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia caroliniensis, that blooms near the gate at the WBG. 

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One of the Master Naturalists was also working on an inventory of butterflies in the garden today.   He checked out all of the tempting nectar plants from Verbena to Lantana, the Asclepias to his blooming herbs, the pollinator beds of native flowers, the various Salvias and Agastache.  Where were the butterflies today?

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Native spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, also grows near the garden’s gate.

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I had the constant company of bees buzzing around my knees and ankles as I climbed into a border to weed and deadhead.

But no Zebra Swallowtails danced among the Verbena.  Not a single butterfly fed on the Salvias where I was working.  A Monarch showed itself briefly and promptly disappeared.  We observed the heavy, humid air and decided they must be sheltering against the coming rain.

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Native Iris virginica blooming last week at the WBG.

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But as the storm grew closer, there wasn’t much time for sociability today.  We could hear the thunder rumbling off in the distance as we weeded, cut enthusiastic plants back, potted and chatted with garden visitors.

My partner kept an eye on the radar maps at home and phoned in updates.  When he gave the final ‘five minute warning!’ it was nearly noon, and the rain began as I headed back to my car.  It was a good morning’s work and I left with the ‘to do’ list completed.

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Seedpods ripen on the sweetbay Magnolia

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But the rain has been a constant presence this afternoon, falling loudly and insistently all around us.  There are flood warnings, the ground is saturated, and I am wondering how high the water might rise on local roads and along the banks of the James and its feeder creeks.  It has been a wet year for many.

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The James River last week, before this last heavy rain brought it even higher.

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There was a timely message from the James River Association in my inbox.  The river is brown with run-off, and has been for a while now.  They are encouraging folks to address run-off issues on their properties.  The best advice there is, “Plant more plants!”  But of course, the right plants in the right places!  Successful plants help manage stormwater; dying ones, not so much.

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I use both rock and hardwood mulch in our garden at home to help protect the soil during heavy rains. This is a native oakleaf Hydrangea in bloom.

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Rain gardens are encouraged to catch the run-off and allow it to slowly percolate into the earth instead of running off so quickly.  There are programs available that help plan and fund new rain gardens to protect local water  quality.

Where there is no good spot for a rain garden, then terraces help on slopes like ours, and solid plantings of shrubs and perennials help to slow the flow of water downhill towards the creeks.

Most anything that covers the bare soil helps with erosion.  But deeply rooted plants help hold the soil while also soaking up the water and allowing it to evaporate back into the atmosphere through their leaves.

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Groundcover plants, like this golden creeping Jenny, also hold and protect the soil.  Our Crinum lily is ready to bloom.  This hardy Amaryllis relative gets a bit larger each year as its already huge bulb calves off pups.

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We’ve been watching flooding news roll in from all over the region this afternoon.  Streets and sidewalks underwater, cars floating away, and families chased indoors by the weather.  It looks like a wet stretch coming, too.

I’m glad have a new garden book, The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom waiting for me; the prose is as inspiring as the photographs.  I love seeing how other gardeners plant and how they think about their planting.  There is always more to learn.

Once these flooding rains subside and the soil drains a bit, I expect to be back outside and “Planting more plants!”

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

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Echinacea, purple coneflower, delights pollinators and goldfinches  in our forest garden.

Fabulous Friday: Time Marching On

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I am delighted with how many of last summer’s marginal perennials survived winter to bloom again this spring.  It satisfies my thrifty nature to enjoy another season’s blooms from a plant sold as an ‘annual.’  Actually, quite a few of our ‘annuals’ are perennial a zone or two to our south.

With a little thought and effort, and a bit of grace, we can shelter them over winter and enjoy them again.

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Last year’s Lantana blooms for another season in one of our patio pots, alongside a favorite Clematis vine.

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I leafed through a book on container gardening this week which offered the sage advice to empty all of one’s pots before the first frost, composting the contents and storing the pots indoors.  I’m sure many gardeners swear by a clean pot and fresh compost each spring, planted up with brand new plants from the nursery.  If I had nothing to do with my time and loose change but garden, I might enjoy that approach, too.

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Dianthus and Saxifraga thrive in their pots near the back door, growing larger and giving more flowers every year.

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But I am hooked on the ‘Four Season Pot’ approach, and try to keep something interesting growing in most of my pots year round.  Some may be growing in the garage, but quite a few weather the season outside with small trees or shrubs, bulbs, violets, perennials, and herbs.

I change out some of the upper layer of compost in some a few times a year, fertilize generously, and re-do the entire pot rarely.  Our climate is mild enough that the plants generally live through the winter, and the pots don’t crack in the cold!

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‘Annual’ Verbena returns this spring from its roots, quickly filling its pot before I’ve had time to even plant most of my new starts from the nursery.

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And as we near the middle of May new plants are blooming even as earlier beauties fade.  Our heat this week has taken the Iris sooner than I’d hoped.  In fact, the heat has put a serious crimp in my plans to move pots back outside, and to re-plant many of our pots with summer herbs and perennials!

It has been too hot and the sun too intense to spend much time outside in the middle of the day.  I’ve had to ration my morning and afternoon hours among several different ‘to-do’ lists.

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But time marches on, as native perennials grow at lightening speed, demanding a firm hand on the clippers or string trimmer to cut them back.  Irises need trimming as their flowers fade, perennials need pinching back to make them bush out, and I have rows of sprouting Caladiums wanting to sink their roots into a permanent home.

Having a few marginal perennials return and fill their pots once again pleases me so much, as those pots burst into flower with little from me beyond an approving smile.

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The first Lantana bloomed this week, and all of our Clematis have covered themselves in flowers.  What more could I reasonably hope for?  Watching perennials emerge and bloom feels like greeting old friends after a while apart.  I’m surprised all over again by their beauty and character.

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It will be June before we know it; solstice lurks on the horizon.  I appreciate the longer evenings to wander in the garden, water a bit, and do a few more gardening tasks.

The sweet fragrance of blooming Ligustrum thickens the evening breeze, even as bats fly low over the garden catching their dinner.  There are huge buds on the Magnolia trees, ready to open one day soon, releasing their nostalgic perfume.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea blooms with the foxglove.

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Time seems to evaporate when I’m engaged with the garden; and yet time governs its unfolding, the rise and fall of every creature and leaf.

Timelessness permeates the relentless waves of change, eternity lives in root and rhizome.  Each flower opens in its own unique color and form, synchronized to the deeper rhythms that govern us all.

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Yellow flag Iris pseudacorus blooms this week.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!

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“Time doesn’t seem to pass here:
it just is.”
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J.R.R. Tolkien

Fabulous Friday: Each Magical Moment

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The last of the daffodils have finally finished, and I’m feeling impatient for their foliage to fade.  The pansies are a bit overblown now and starting to flop in most of the pots.  I’m ready to move those out, too, in favor of summer treasures.

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The first roses of summer….

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We’re in that awkward transition when summer is ready to begin, but spring is still lingering here and there.  The heat hasn’t helped.  We suddenly find ourselves in ‘instant July’ with our daytime temperatures in the high 80s and nights staying humid and warm.

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Dutch Iris are in full bloom this week. Spanish lavender blooms behind them, mingling with the foliage of spent daffodils.

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I find myself the guardian of eight large boxes of sprouting Caladiums, and now all need the light.  I moved two more out onto the deck today and am trying to cluster the last three planted near an inside window.  There is only so much ‘bright shade’ available where they are also protected from the rain.

I moved nearly 20 Caladium plants into individual pots today and barely made a dent in a single box of sprouting bulbs.  I expect to be planting a lot of Caladiums over the next few weeks!

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But I finally got to work on the hanging baskets on our deck today.  I’ve been waiting to see whether any of the Lantana, Pelargoniums or Verbena from last summer survived the winter.  There is always hope, and a few plants in the pots on the front patio have growing survivors!

It may be a bit early to write off the Lantana, but I’m tired of looking at the sad remains of last summer’s beauty.  I didn’t plant up the baskets last fall with Violas, and the baskets have been looking a bit rough.

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I accomplished a gentle replanting, cleaning the baskets and removing only those remains I was sure had given up during the winter.  A few plants showed signs of life from their roots, and I left them to re-grow, tucking the roots of fresh Verbenas, Lantana and scented Pelargoniums around them.

I added some pineapple mint this year, some beautiful Dichondra, and a Cuban Oregano.  I believe in adding a few new touches, even while staying with tried and true plants for our full-sun hanging baskets.  The few that get some shade are planted in ferns, Begonia and a Caladium.

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Siberian Iris also began to bloom this week.  Our other perennials are growing so tall so fast!

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The sun is fierce these days, and once the heat builds it is hard to keep the hanging baskets hydrated and happy.  I toyed with the idea of planting only succulents this year.

Herbs do better than most plants.  In fact a gorgeous Spanish lavender that I planted last year grew all winter, bloomed last month and now fills its large basket in a beautiful display of deep purple flowers.  I couldn’t be more pleased with how it has performed.  Who would expect a sub-shrub like lavender to thrive in a hanging basket?

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Despite the heat today, I managed to accomplish a fair amount of my home ‘to-do’ list, and I’m satisfied we made good use of the day.  I moved another of our new Alocasias into its permanent pot and took time to admire (and dead-head) all of the beautiful Iris.  I try to guard against getting so busy in May that I don’t take time to simply enjoy the beautiful flowers and fragrances of the season.  It all happens so fast!

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Mountain Laurel is blooming in our garden this week.

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Even as spring draws to its inevitable close, summer sights and sounds fill the garden.  The Cannas are growing  inches each day and the hardy Colocasias appeared this week.  Birds begin their conversations before dawn and we listen to the mayflies whine whenever we step outside.

Daylight lingers deep into the evening.  I remind myself to breathe in the sweetness, relax a little, and enjoy each magical moment of our garden’s unfolding.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ planted last spring, survived our winter beautifully in its hanging basket.  Spanish lavender performs extremely well in our climate and is the first to bloom each spring.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another

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!

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.”

.

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

.

“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.”
.

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.”
.
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.
.
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.

*

Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is Contagious,  Let’s Infect One Another!

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