A Gorgeous Afternoon

PIneapple Sage, Pineapple Mint, Rosemary, and Lantana at their peak in late October.

PIneapple Sage, Pineapple Mint, Rosemary, and Lantana at their peak in late October.

What a gorgeous day it’s been here in Williamsburg.  After our first really cold night, down into the 30s, the morning dawned clear and brisk.  We’ve had cool wind all day and bright sunshine.  It is that time of the year to watch the weather and decide what needs to come inside for the night.  Will it freeze tonight?  Can the Begonias stay outside another day?

Dragon Wing Begonias love these cool bright days.

Dragon Wing Begonias love these cool bright days.

I have areas prepared to bring everything in, and we even bought a number of fresh, clean plastic disks for bringing potted plants into the house for the winter.  Everything is ready to go…. but the plants.  It looks like they are loving this weather!

It is a horticultural game of “chicken”, balancing the late night low temperatures against the chance to soak up another day of sunshine and fresh air.

A tiny bee uses a Camellia as a "bed and breakfast" inn.

A tiny bee uses a Camellia as a “bed and breakfast” inn.

We finally brought the Norfolk Island Pine in late last night after doing the research online to determine how much cold it can withstand:  not much.  If temps go back up next week it will go back out to its spot on the patio.

Many of our Begonias are huddled together, out of the wind, where the house and patio will keep them insulated by a few degrees at least.  We brought a few inside after watching the 5 PM weather- just to make sure a few have extra protection should it get even colder than the forecast.

The Ginger lilies are covered in bloom.

The Ginger lilies are covered in bloom.

The flowers rooted into the Earth are taking the changes in stride.  If anything, the Ginger lilies are giving more flowers than ever before.  The Rosemary have broken out into bloom.

The Camellias unfold new buds each day, and give shelter to the tiny insects who come for their nectar.

Camellia Sasanqua

Camellia Sasanqua

Pineapple Sage is at its peak, covered in scarlet, reaching for the sky.  The Bouganvilliea finally bloomed, after a summer of waiting for flowers, at the end of September.

Mexican Petunia, a tender perennial, has taken root in a pot where it might make it through a Virginia winter.

Mexican Petunia, a tender perennial, has taken root in a pot where it might make it through a Virginia winter.

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Dill and African Blue Basil are still in bloom. The Basil has grown huge this year.

This in between time is awash in color as flowers, berries, leaves, stems, air and sun vie with each other for the brightest most sparkling hues.  A day like today is a gift, a golden moment out of the ever changing year.  Knowing that the first frost can come any night, maybe even tonight, we wander the garden with appreciation; enjoying the gorgeous afternoon.

We’ve learned  that autumn in Virginia mixes all of the seasons together in an unpredictable jumble.  We’ve had 80 degree days in December, October snow, tropical storms at Halloween, and “endless summer” days after frosty breath mornings.  To see all of the buds and flowers in the garden today, you might think it May.

The Bougainvillea has only been blooming a few weeks.  I hope it can stay outside a few weeks longer in a sheltered spot.

The Bougainvillea has only been blooming a few weeks. I hope it can stay outside a few weeks longer in a sheltered spot.

But, it’s late October.  And I’m still procrastinating.  There are Caladium tubers to dig, but I hate to disturb them.  Rex Begonias to pot and move indoors, and Coleus to dig out and replace with Violas.  And it may turn warm again next week.  I’ll save those chores for another, gorgeous afternoon.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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Small Beginnings

All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy,

and great things in that which is small. 

Lao Tzu

Pansies

Tiny pots of Pansies grow into large beautiful plants in just a few weeks time.

Autumn is a good season for beginnings in the garden.  Although some may see autumn as a season of endings; of falling leaves, falling temperatures, decreasing harvests, and shorter days; gardeners know that it is actually the season to begin the next year’s garden.

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

Fall is the time to plant spring bulbs.

A tiny Redbud tree planted with Autumn Brilliance fern, Heuchera, and Violas to give interest all winter and into the spring.  Bulbs planted under the perennials will bloom after the Redbud's flowers have finished next April.

A tiny Redbud tree planted with Autumn Brilliance fern, Heuchera, and Violas to give interest all winter and into the spring. Bulbs planted under the perennials will bloom after the Redbud’s flowers have finished next April.

Fall is the best time to plant shrubs and trees in many parts of North America so their roots can establish in the cool moist weather and get a head start on the next growing season.

Fall is the time to plant a garden of winter vegetables.

Fall is a good time to sow some seeds, especially wildflowers and sweet peas, for early spring flowers.

And fall is a good time to take cuttings.

In Zone 7, where we have occasional freezes, but temperatures remain moderate through much of the winter, we can enjoy certain annuals and perennials all winter long.  We can plant evergreen ferns, Heucheras, Violas, snapdragons, Dianthus, ornamental kale, and herbs now, expecting them to not only survive the winter, but to look good through all but the coldest stormy days.

Cuttings of hardy Begonia were dipped in rooting hormone and pushed into this pot to root.  In spring, the whole pot can be planted out in the garden where the fern and Begonia will colonize.  The tiny bulbs in the leaf joints will each grow into a new Begonia.  This is how the plant spreads year to year.

Cuttings of hardy Begonia were dipped in rooting hormone and pushed into this pot to root. In spring, the whole pot can be planted out in the garden where the fern and Begonia will colonize. The tiny bulbs in the leaf joints will each grow into a new Begonia. This is how the plant spreads year to year.

So October is prime planting season.

An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to pot up.

An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail in August, ready to pot up.

Here are the Afghan figs, Ficus afghanistanica, “Silver Lyre,” I ordered from Plant Delights Nursery several months ago.  I potted them up into gallon pots and let them grow in good potting soil on the deck in partial sun until roots began to poke through the drainage holes.  They grew a few inches in height, and put out some new leaves.    Last week I decided to plant them out into the garden.

These fast growing figs with ornamental grey leaves will  soon fill in an area of full sun where we lost three oak trees in mid- June.  The figs will grow to perhaps 20′ tall over the next few years, so they won’t replace the high canopy of the oaks.  They will provide a little shade, though, and will fill in the empty space left by the tress, providing some privacy for the front yard.  Most importantly, they will never threaten the house should a future storm blow them over.

I’ve protected these small shrubs from the voles by surrounding them with Daffodil bulbs.  Since all parts of a Daffodil are poisonous, I’m counting on the roots to fill in around the root ball of the figs to offer some protection.  I also mixed pea gravel into the soil, along with compost and a handful of Plant Tone.  The gravel offers some protection from hungry voles who will be unhappy to bite down on gravel.

Afghan fig surrounded with Sage and garlic chives.

Afghan fig surrounded with Sage and garlic chives.  Six weeks after transplanting into gallon pots, they were ready to plant out into the garden.

A potted scented geranium stands guard over the new Afghan fig.

A potted scented geranium stands guard over the new Afghan fig.  Golden sage, moved out of another pot, protects the other side.

Taking a lesson from the “guild” system of planting small communities of plants around new fruit trees, I dug the planting hole large enough to accommodate not only the fig trees and Daffodil bulbs, but to also hold Sage and garlic chives.  The sage and chives are there to offer some protection against hungry Bambis who might think of snacking on the figs’ few little leaves.  You may notice some dried seed heads of chives poked into the soil around them for extra protection.  Finally, I sprayed the whole planting with Plant Skydd  to render the leaves unpalatable should a determined deer choose to ignore the herbs.  I’m considering adding yet another ring around these little plantings with some divisions of Iris dug from other beds.

The two new Afghan figs look tiny in the garden, but will each by 10' around and 20' tall in a few years.

The two new Afghan figs look tiny in the garden, but will each grow to be 10′ around and 20′ tall in a few years.

These little figs look tiny now, and that is fine.  Their roots will grow over the next several months to support their growth this coming spring.  Good beginnings, steady care, and patience are the principles of effective gardeners.  Better to plant a small seed or cutting, and let it sink its roots deeply into place; than to bring in a huge, nearly mature plant, and then expect it to adjust to the garden.

That is why nature begins with tiny seeds, bulbs, corms, and roots.

Small beginnings grow into great things, given time, and room to grow.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

This Camellia and Autumn Brilliance fern, planted a year ago, have established and will take off with growth this coming spring.

This Camellia and Autumn Brilliance fern, planted a year ago, have established and will take off with growth this coming spring.

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