Unraveling the Mystery of Growing Ferns from Spore

Baby ferns, growing from spores, have begun to colonize this pot.

Fern reproduction remains a bit of a mystery to me.  A mystery that borders on the ‘magical’ when tiny ferns appear growing out of the mosses along the paths of our back garden.  This two-step sexual reproduction appeared on Earth untold millions of years ago, allowing the first plants to recombine their genetic materials to produce new generations of some algae, mosses, liverworts, and finally ferns, the earliest vascular plants.

Most of our familiar plants produce seeds after fertilization of their flowers or cones with pollen.  The pollen may be carried from one plant to another by a pollinating insect or other animal, or by the wind.  Ferns, and other simple plants, don’t produce seeds.  The microscopic activities of their spores are all but invisible to our eye.  So, I am curious, and am studying others’ successes with fern propagation so I might learn to propagate my favorite ferns, too.

I have been studying the Hardy Fern Foundations Spring 1998 Special Publication on Fern Propagation where a dozen experienced growers describe their methods for propagating ferns.  Their essays explain reproduction from spore, and they also describe their own methods for collecting and sowing spore to successfully raise a crop of ferns.

Ferns have successfully propagated themselves in nature, with no human assistance, for millennia.  So it shouldn’t be too complicated, right?  These very knowledgeable writers describe strategies that lead to success, and also explain how inattention to detail can lead to failure.

My first successes in growing baby ferns from spore were entirely accidental.  Spore from potted ferns on my deck fell onto potting soil that I sealed up in a zip-lock bag for the winter while I waited for some seeds I’d sown in that shallow container of potting soil to germinate.  At first, I thought a nice crop of moss was growing on the soil.  As I kept checking the container every few weeks this spring, I was amazed and delighted to recognize tiny ferns growing from the green structures on the soil I had thought would become mosses.

Read more here on my new website, Our Forest Garden, which is a continuation of A Forest Garden. I hope you will follow the new site so you don’t miss any new posts.

The ‘Fern Table,’ My Way

There is an inspiring feature about fern tables in the current Horticulture Magazine, written by Richie Steffen. Steffen is the Executive Director of the Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington and President of the Hardy Fern Foundation. I’ve read the article through a few times now and studied the illustrations for ideas. It is an excellent overview of fern tables and I highly recommend reading it if you love ferns and enjoy container gardening.

A fern table is a representation of the forest floor, built up from a flat surface. The arrangement typically includes small to medium sized ferns, mosses, shade loving woodland perennials, small shrubs, vines, bits of old wood and rocks. Fern tables may be built directly on a tabletop, on a concrete paver, or on a tray.

These fern tables are designed as permanent outdoor installations, built on concrete bases and measuring several feet square. They are very natural and rustic. They may be used indoors or on a porch or patio, as a centerpiece or runner on a table, or may be placed in the garden as a focal point.

This form takes elements from bonsai, from kokedama balls, and from container gardening to create something new and different. Built up from a solid but flat surface, these displays look a bit illogical and perhaps a bit dangerous. One must break a few gardening ‘rules’ to create them. But they are also whimsical and fun. I wanted to try to create arrangements in this style.

Before investing in concrete blocks and pavers and building something permanent in the garden as a gift for my squirrel friends, I decided to experiment on a smaller scale. So I found some simple Bonsai trays to use as a base. These are entirely portable and may be used indoors or out on our deck. My rectangular trays are 8″ x 10″ and have a shallow side, perhaps a half inch deep. Perhaps I should call my arrangements ‘Fern Trays’ rather than ‘Fern Tables.’

Read more about how to construct a Fern Table on Our Forest Garden

Have you followed my new website? All new posts are now on Our Forest Garden. Please click over and follow today.

WG

Building a Fern Bed to Reduce Erosion

Rainy weather and frequent storms over the past few years have presented a particular challenge.  We are situated on a sloping bit of land on the side of a ravine.  A creek runs through the ravine below us and empties into a small lake.

Working with the continual erosion has remained a constant theme of our gardening here.  Our challenge is to slow the flow of water to increase opportunities for rain to soak into the soil for later use, while reducing the amount of flowing water that erodes the soil and runs off into the ravine.

Read more about the construction of this new series of raised beds, and see photos of some of the ferns we’ve chosen at my new site, Our Forest Garden.

If you enjoy these posts. please follow my new site, Our Forest Garden, so you remain up to date with all of the activity in our garden.

-WG 2021

Providing Habitat for Native Bees

The original Pollinator Palace at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden has been renovated this month. Read more here

Did you know the majority of bees that pollinate our food crops and wildflowers do not live in hives and do not produce honey? 

Hive-dwelling honey-producing bees did not even exist in North America until they were brought here by European immigrants in the early 1600’s.  That means the honeybee, which has become important to commercial agriculture and has captured press attention due to hive collapse, is not a native insect species.   

There are roughly 4,000 species of native bees and they are all in grave peril because all of them are in population decline. 

Informed  gardeners know and love native bumble bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, leaf cutter bees and sweat bees, to name only a few.  This branch of entomology is still expanding as scientists are now beginning to understand just how important native bee are to healthy ecosystems.  Many native bee species haven’t yet been thoroughly studied.

There are things that gardeners and enthusiasts can easily do to support our native bees.  A gardener’s  most important role in protecting and supporting bees (and other pollinators) is to grow plenty of flowers to provide them with nectar and pollen.  Bees come out earlier in the springtime now than in previous years, and so it is helpful to provide early blooms to feed them.

 Flowers vary in the quality and nutritional value of their pollen.  Native plants provide the highest quality food for native bees.

Any gardener who supports wildlife simply must not use pesticides or other chemicals in the garden that will poison them.  Pesticides and herbicides get into the ecosystem of the garden and have a profound impact on pollinators, birds and small mammals, in addition to the problem insects they target.

Bumble bees are probably the largest and most recognizable of our native bees because they are large and easily observed.  They are ‘generalists’ and will visit almost any blooming flower.  While other bee species will only forage from one type of plant at a time and may prefer certain flower species or flower forms, bumblebees will freely visit most flowers in bloom.   Bumblebees often live in communities underground with a queen and her daughters managing the hive and caring for the young.

While some native bees prefer to live in the ground, many other species are solitary, and make nests to lay their eggs in wood or the dried stems of plants.  When we thoroughly clean up our gardens each fall, cutting the drying, dying stems of perennials, picking up all the sticks and raking all the leaves, we also dispose of many larval bees and other important insects.

Read more at Our Forest Garden

Six on Saturday: Fruits of the Season

Figs

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Gardens teach us many things.  Like any other education, you might want to believe you’ve learned everything there is to know; but the next week, the next semester, the next season, the next garden proves how much we still have to discover.  Gardening is a slow study; more than a lifetime can master.  And it can not be rushed.

One of the first lessons one grasps, an understanding that shades and colors all others, comes when one understands the nature of passing time.  Like a precisely choreographed dance routine, a garden unfolds and ripens within the context of time.

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Begonia grandis, perennial Begonia finally blooms by late summer.

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The wisdom of all the ancient schools is written within a season in the garden.  It is all there for those who will read it.  But only those who pause, and observe, and look for it will find it.  Like a ripening grape hidden under a leaf, knowledge grows in plain sight and yet also remains cloaked to a casual glance.

This is the season of fruition and ripening.  All of the promises and hopes that built through the winter and spring are maturing, now, into reality.

The hazelnut tree dances and shakes as squirrels scamper through its branches.  The ripening nuts satisfy with loud pops and crackles as a squirrel’s strong jaws crush them and the pieces rain down to the ground.  The nuts will be gone before they ripen, crushed into green fragments, snacks lying there waiting for other small animals to find.  A single huge buckeye pod swells in the upper garden.  all the others have been carried away already, or fallen, not quite mature.

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Muscadine grapes will soon turn dark purple as they ripen. These grow near the back door, in easy reach.

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Green figs ripen high in the branches of our fig tree and swelling fox grapes hang in curtains from their vines stretching across the canopy.  It is that time of year when golden Black-eyed Susans finally open and tight buds swell atop stalks of butterfly ginger lilies.  The perennial Begonias have finally bloomed, and branches of beautyberry are thick with tiny green fruits.  In another few weeks they will ripen to brilliant purple before they, too, disappear to feed the animals who make our garden their home.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily will begin its season of bloom this week.

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For as everything ripens, so it also will fade in time.   The first hints of autumn have already brought a scarlet tinge to the dogwood leaves.  Collapsed Hibiscus flowers lie crumpled on the ground.  moonflowers bloom for a night, filling the patio with radiant white flowers and their intoxicating perfume.  By noon of the following day they have finished.   Time measures the rhythm of each growing thing in the garden, just as time measures our rhythms, too.

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Abundant rain has made this a good growing season here in Coastal Virginia.  Leaves are large and lush.  Japanese stilt grass fills in any space not cultivated, mown or mulched with its exotic, bamboo like leaves.  I was wandering through the paths today and discovered a rare surprise:  nature sown ferns.  There in the path, arising from a clump of moss, was a perfect little fern I never planted.  What a gift; what a little miracle of chance and opportunity and exuberance.  Later, camera in hand, I found some more.  I wonder now how many more little ferns may be growing in hidden, moist places, growing in their own rhythms from spore to frond.

This week the garden has grown nearly to its peak of lushness.  Paths have closed as plants reach from one side to the other to touch one another, and perhaps to soak in a bit more sunlight.  Late summer flowers come into bloom, vines stretch themselves ever further, some sprouting new leaves to replace ones lost in July.  Cuttings root, buds form and shrubs expand.  Goldfinches harvest seeds from faded flowers even as fallen leaves litter the street.

Every ending balances a beginning.  Time’s pendulum swings in a never ending cadence, marking nature’s pulse.  After long years we finally feel it and harmonize to its beat, at long last learning to see each moment as fully perfect and perfectly ripe.

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Moonflowers, Ipomoea alba

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Beautyberry, Callicarpa hybrid

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Sunday Dinner: What Light We Have

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“There are two ways to be fooled.

One is to believe what isn’t true;

the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

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Soren Kierkegaard

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“Just because you don’t understand it

doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

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Lemony Snicket

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“If you look for truth,

you may find comfort in the end;

if you look for comfort

you will not get neither comfort or truth

only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin,

and in the end, despair.”

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  C.S. Lewis

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“There’s a world of difference between truth and facts.

Facts can obscure truth.”

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Maya Angelou

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“The truth is not always beautiful,

nor beautiful words the truth.”

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  Lao Tzu

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“If someone is able to show me

that what I think or do is not right,

I will happily change, for I seek the truth,

by which no one was ever truly harmed.

It is the person who continues

in his self-deception and ignorance

who is harmed.”

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  Marcus Aurelius

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“A thinker sees his own actions

as experiments and questions-

-as attempts to find out something.

Success and failure are for him

answers above all.”

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  Friedrich Nietzsche

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“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is

than to persist in delusion,

however satisfying and reassuring.”

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  Carl Sagan

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.

I am not bound to succeed,

but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

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Abraham Lincoln


Six on Saturday: Texture and Form

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’

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A bright flash of darting yellow caught our eye this morning as we were backing out of the drive.  The first two goldfinches of the season, startled by our movement, took off and flew across the garden to a low branch, where they could observe us in safety.

Color excites.  It attracts our attention and directs our eye from one colorful thing to the next.  We were delighted to notice the goldfinches, and my eye lingered on the royal purple panicles of Buddleia just opened and white calla lily blossoms shining in the morning sunlight.

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Zantedeschia began to bloom this week in a sea of native perennials.

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But too much color, especially if the color mix is random and uncoordinated, sometimes makes us feel a little anxious.   We might feel annoyed or turn away if it doesn’t feel harmonious.  We might need to buffer bright flowers within a frame of green to appreciate them.

And sometimes, I enjoy the restful and calming beauty wrought more of texture than of color.  There are uncounted shades of green.  Especially if one includes the blends of grey-green, silver, chartreuse green, blue-green, and green tinged white.

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When one begins to notice the intricate shapes of green leaves, their posture on a stem, and their degree of matte or shiny finish; wonderful compositions grow together from these living brush strokes.  Ferns of all sizes, textures and shades serve as both composition and frame.

I have been seeking out beautiful leaves lately.  I found a new Artemesia ‘Sea Salt’ this week, and am trying it in both a hanging basket and in a rock garden.  Artemesia likes it hot and dry, thrives in full sun and needs little attention.  This one is low growing, and I hope it won’t get washed out in our summer rain.  Its leaves are silvery white.

So many of our foliage plants like ferns and Hosta, Caladiums and Heuchera want shade, that it is good to find interesting foliage plants for full sun.  Calla lily leaves like the sun, and won’t end up chewed by caterpillars the way our Cannas often do.  Stachys is another great silvery grey leaf that thrives in bright parts of the garden.

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Gardenia shrubs bloom in full to part sun.

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I planted a basket this week for a shady spot, with just an emerald green shield fern in the center, and silvery Dichondra around the edges.  I expect it to be stunning as the Dichondra fills in and drapes over the basket’s sides.  I have some little Begonia semperflorens stems rooting in water, and I’m debating whether to add them around the fern, or just leave the basket in shades of green.  The flowers are a soft pink and the leaves variegated chartreuse and light green.  Too much?

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A little bright color cheers us up.  But all things in moderation, right?  This summer I am enjoying the calmer corners of our garden, those bits that invite close observation to fully appreciate their beauty.

The flowers will come and go, as they  always do.  But the tapestry woven by these interesting leaves will last all season.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

Sunday Dinner: Acceptance

 

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“For after all, the best thing one can do

when it is raining

is let it rain.”

 

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“No person is your friend

who demands your silence,

or denies your right to grow.”

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Alice Walker

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“Sometimes people let the same problem

make them miserable for years

when they could just say, So what.

That’s one of my favorite things to say.

So what.

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Andy Warhol

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“The ache for home lives in all of us.

The safe place where we can go as we are

and not be questioned.”

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Maya Angelou

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“IT happened.

There is no avoiding it, no forgetting.

No running away, or flying,

or burying, or hiding.”

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Laurie Halse Anderson

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“Nothing brings down walls

as surely as acceptance.”

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Deepak Chopra

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“The moment that judgement stops

through acceptance of what it is,

you are free of the mind.

You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.”

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Eckhart Tolle

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“Don’t look for peace.

Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now;

otherwise, you will set up inner conflict

and unconscious resistance.

Forgive yourself for not being at peace.

The moment you completely accept your non-peace,

your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace.

Anything you accept fully will get you there,

will take you into peace.

This is the miracle of surrender”

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Eckhart Tolle

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“Everything that has a beginning has an ending.

Make your peace with that

and all will be well.”
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Jack Kornfield

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Please visit Illuminations, for a daily photo from our garden.

Sunday Dinner: Bathed in Light

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“It is not we who seek the Way,

but the Way which seeks us.

That is why you are faithful to it,

even while you stand waiting,

so long as you are prepared,

and act the moment you are confronted

by its demands.”

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Dag Hammarskjöld

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“True morality consists not in following the beaten track,

but in finding the true path for ourselves,

and fearlessly following it.”

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Mahatma Gandhi

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“Does the walker choose the path,

or the path the walker?”

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Garth Nix

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“Water is the most perfect traveler

because when it travels

it becomes the path itself!”

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Mehmet Murat ildan

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“Don’t keep forever on the public road,

going only where others have gone.”

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Alexander Graham Bell

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“As one gets older

one sees many more paths that could be taken.

Artists sense within their own work

that kind of swelling of possibilities,

which may seem a confusion, or a freedom.”

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Jasper Johns

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“Who said it was a path?

It could have just been artfully strewn cookies.

You made it a path by following it,

and assuming it had any intention.”

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Roshani Chokshi

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“Let the path that you follow

be bathed in light.”

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Anthony T. Hincks

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“They aren’t roadblocks.

They’re signposts.”
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Richie Norton

Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a daily photo from our garden.

 

 

Six on Saturday: Textured Tapestry

Siberian Iris just began to bloom here this week.

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We’ve had a wet week here in coastal Virginia.  It always rains on the Irises here.  I keep waiting to be proven wrong on that maxim, but I can’t remember a year when my beautiful tall German Iris haven’t been beaten down under heavy rain and wind.  Brave and hardy as Iris prove in our garden, those 4′ tall stalks covered in buds and bloom can only take so much before they crumple in the rain.  I’ve been cutting away those soggy, crumpled blooms between showers, and propping up fallen stems.

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Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia is native to our region

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I believe most all of us gardeners still feel excitement when our favorite flowers bloom.  Some years that excitement lasts a nice long while.  Other times the weather grows erratic and the blooms are cut short by too much heat or cold, rain or drought.  Flowers come in so many novel shapes and sizes that we might never grow them all.  But for me, it is the intense pop of color that I crave most.

It is hard to pick a favorite as most every color becomes my favorite in its own place and season.  When the flowers fade and drop (and they always do,) we’re left with the rest of the plant: stems and leaves.  And so that had better be somehow attractive, too.

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Purple Violas bloom with a lady fern. Wild strawberries and Vinca hide their pot and  fill the bed around fading daffodil leaves.

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At some point in our garden planning each of us turns our attention from the bright excitement of flowers to the textured tapestry of beautiful foliage.  And I don’t mean the ‘restful’ monotony of solid green meatball shrubs growing out of a grassy green carpet.  I’m thinking more of the extravagant textures and intricate color patterns found on many leaves.  Leaves are long-lived.  Most will grow on for many months before fading away.

Some plants we grow for their leaves alone, never expecting or wanting their flowers.  There are thousands of ferns that never bloom.  Shade gardeners also love Hosta, and generally have strong opinions on whether to allow them to bloom or not.  Other easy choices include Heuchera, coleus, Begonias, Caladiums, the many beautiful ornamental grasses, and Liriope.

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Autumn fern ‘Brilliance’ grows larger and better each year. Strawberry Begonia fills the pots surrounding this bed of ferns and Hellebores.

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For pure texture, without much variegation or shading, I love herbs.  But oh, the wonderful colors in the herbal palette!  There are so many silvery, shimmery greys, deep green rosemary, purple basil leaves and every color of green mint.  Most herbs are easy to grow with very little thought or care.  They can take heat and drought and are ignored by pests and pesky grazers.  Too much rain and humidity are the only things that stop their performance.

And honestly, I’m developing a new appreciation of those wild volunteer plants commonly called ‘weeds.’  Some indigenous to this garden I’ve since realized are native wildflowers.  Others were once cultivated but now run wild.  When you just look at them for their texture, shape and color, many have their own beauty.  They may be thugs and crowd out something you planted, and may need pulling and thinning at times.  But that remains true of many perennials we plant, too.

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The humble strawberry begonia, that I cultivated as a hanging houseplant in the 70’s, is actually a hardy perennial here in Williamsburg.  I started a few years ago with just a few small pots.  And as they multiplied (one of the plants known as ‘mother of thousands,’ by the way) I have used them in more pots and beds.  What was innocently planted last year as an accent plant will soon enough take over the entire pot or bed.  But what a beautiful groundcover!  And now, in May, when they bloom with stalks of tiny white fairy shaped flowers, I am glad that I’ve let it run.

These are aren’t members of the ‘Begonia’ genus.  They are a Saxifraga and perform especially well in rock gardens and pots.  But the leaf is silvery and bright like some Begonias, and it runs like a strawberry with new plants growing at the ends of long stolons.  Saxifraga stolonifera is hardy in Zones 6-9 and remains evergreen if left outside here over winter.

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Native muscadine grape produce good edible grapes, when allowed to bloom. Many gardeners clear these away as they quickly grow huge if left unpruned.

 

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Once we find ourselves in May, and perennials grow again and woody’s leaves unfold, the many interesting textures of our garden weave themselves together in beautiful and novel ways.  It is a little different every year.  Once I can get past the novelty of bright flowers blooming again, I settle in to enjoy the every changing tapestry of stems and leaves that reliably furnish the garden from now until first frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a garden photo and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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