Blossom XXVIII: Fennel

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Fennel produces beautiful golden flowers.  Many different pollinators feast from these tiny blossoms.  Abundant flowers and fine foliage make this a special plant in our garden over many weeks.

Bronze fennel is particularly beautiful, and may be grown in pots with other herbs and flowers for a spectacular container garden.

Considered an herb, it in an edible hardy perennial in our garden.  Use the leaves fresh as needed, or dry for winter.

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Fennel feeds both pollinators and butterfly larvae.   Finding caterpillars devouring the plant cheers us that the next generation of swallowtail butterflies are on their way.

Plant fennel in full sun for best flowers.   It will grow quite large in good sun and soil, and may need staking after its first year.  These flowers are good enough to cut for arrangements; though we prefer to leave them sparkling in the sun, offering their nectar to whatever hungry mouth might buzz buy.  Their seeds are tasty, and may be gathered to dry for cooking through the season.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry;
conquer the wicked by goodness;
conquer the stingy by generosity,
and the liar by speaking the truth.”
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Gautama Buddha

Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia

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Clusters of tiny dangling heart shaped flowers in soft pink, white, or cherry red burst into bloom on our cane Begonias in June.

New leaves have emerged over the last few weeks to replace those lost last winter.  Now that they have adjusted to their summer spots, our Begonias are coming into bloom.   Although simple, these lovely flowers create drama in their abundance.

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Often called ‘Angel Wing Begonias,’ there are so many hybrids and cultivars that it is nearly impossible to keep up with proper names for these beautiful plants. Their oddly shaped leaves in beautiful colors, often with silvery markings, are even more beautiful than their flowers.

These Begonias are sturdy plants, enjoying heat and humidity, filtered light, generous feeding when in bloom, and tight pots.

Their almost woody canes can grow to prodigious lengths when left to their own devices.  Pruning keeps the plants bushier, and those pruned canes root easily in water and filtered light.

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This plant is one of many I’ve started from rooted canes.  Bits of this cultivar, whose name I lost track of years ago, grow in dozens of pots and baskets in our summer garden.

I planted it up last summer, in a pot where I’d also planted divisions of Hosta ‘Mouse Ears.’  It outgrew that pot over winter, and was moved into this new pot in April.  I like the combination of miniature Hosta and cane Begonia, and will remember this pleasing combination for future plantings.

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Cane Begonias prove a good ‘pass along plant.’  I nearly always have canes rooting in vases of water, ready to give to willing garden visitors.  They root easily, grow easily, and mature into impressive plants.

Too tender to overwinter outdoors, they easily withstand the limited winter light indoors.  Sometimes, in a sunny spot, they can even be coaxed back into bloom in January or February.

If you’ve not grown cane Begonias, you might enjoy giving them a try.  Their blossoms, when they appear, are almost magical.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Against the Odds: Carrot Flowers

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Lunch, right?  Maybe not….

I read an interesting tip last night about planting carrots in the April 2017 issue of  Fine Gardening Magazine .

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Most of us immediately think of seeds and planting carrots in our vegetable garden to harvest and eat in a few months.  This writer, David Perry of Seattle, explains how he plants “ratty carrots from the local produce stand” at strategic places in his flower garden.

Since carrots are biennials, in their first year they put their energy into growing a fat, orange tap root.  But while that is happening, beautiful fern-like leaves fuel the delicious growth.  This is the point where most of us pull the carrot, discard its foliage, and transform it into something delicious and satisfying.

But wait, there’s more!

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Perhaps, like me, you’ve set a severed carrot top into a shallow dish of water to amuse a child.  What is left of the tap root will continue to drink, and new leaves will sprout.

The carrot leaves will grow, in a bright windowsill, for a few weeks until bacteria wins the day and you feed the project to your compost pile.   I’ve been known to amuse myself in this way through a particularly raw February!  It feels like a little horticultural miracle unfolding in the dead of winter.

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Parsnips

Parsnips

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But David goes a step beyond this to create something lasting and beautiful.   He takes a carrot, already pulled and trimmed and destined for the table, and gives it a reprieve in his garden.  Like a pardoned turkey at Thanksgiving, this joyous root rewards him with beautiful flowers and foliage for the season.

He says, “Visiting gardeners and garden designers often ask about the white umbels that appear at beautiful strategic places in my garden.  Here’s my secret: ….”

This is certainly an economical way to generate large, flowering, unusual plants.  David simply plants a carrot or two wherever he wants to enjoy their flowers later in the season.

To do this, choose a carrot which still has its top where leaves can grow.  Dig a narrow hole an inch or two deeper than your carrot is long.  You can just open the earth with a shovel or trowel to the necessary depth, slip the carrot in so the top sits flush with the top of the soil, and push the hole closed around the carrot.

Site your carrots in part or full sun, in good soil, and keep the root moist as it begins to grow again and gets established.  You may need to stake the plants as they grow, especially if you’ve planted in rich soil.  They will grow to several feet high.

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Queen's Anne's lace, or wild carrot

Queen’s Anne’s lace, or wild carrot

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Do you know the wildflower, “Queen Anne’s Lace?”  These beautiful creamy white flowers turn up on Virginia roadsides and along the edges of fields each summer.  I’ve always admired them, and they provide a rich food source for pollinators.

Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, is also known as ‘Wild Carrot.”  This may give you an idea of what to expect from planting a carrot in your garden!  And while wild Daucus carota is generally considered poisonous and not gathered for food; true carrot leaves, from the edible Daucus carota subspecies sativus can be eaten. In other words, the foliage from edible carrots in either their first year of growth, or their second, may be harvested and added to your salad. 

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Horseradish

Horseradish and parsley roots

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Like many leaf vegetables, they contain alkaloids. But they also contain many healthful vitamins and minerals.  There are some yummy carrot recipes and a full discussion of their nutrition here.

In years passed, before the convenience of packaged seeds; many gardeners left a few carrots in their garden over winter to flower and produce seeds in their second year.   Seeds from the previous year’s crop of carrots were gathered and saved every fall so there were always seeds to plant the following spring.

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Taro is also Colocasia. Plant these when the soil is warm, and huge 'Elephant Ears' will soon emerge.

Taro is also Colocasia. Plant these when the soil is warm, and huge ‘Elephant Ears’ will soon emerge.

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This also works for parsley, fennel, broccoli, celery, onions, garlic, and many other vegetables and herbs.  In fact, the flowers from all of these add to the beauty of an herb or flower garden.

Their flowers attract beneficial insects, like lacewings and lady bugs who help eradicate harmful ones.  Beneficial insects are always welcome in organic gardens and wildlife gardens were pesticides aren’t used.

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Attract beneficial insects to your garden

Garlic chives, and similar flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden.  Beneficial insects help control harmful ones, and pollinators increase yields.

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And so, if against all odds, you replant that carrot rather than eating it; you’ll reap a rich harvest of flowers, food, and other benefits in your garden.  Since carrots are biennials, each carrot you plant will give flowers over a single summer.  The flowers will eventually yield seeds, and then the entire plant will die back.  The carrot you planted will no longer be edible, after this second year of growth.

But carrots aren’t the only produce market find you can plant and enjoy.  Try parsnips, another biennial, as well.

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Frrom lower right

Clockwise, from lower right:  Garlic, Tumeric root, Jerusalem artichoke, carrot and ginger root.  Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, produces very tall yellow flowers in summer, like small sunflowers, and edible tubers.

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Ginger and tumeric, tropical and tasty rhizomes, will root and grow beautiful foliage in a pot or garden bed.  You can’t leave them outside over winter in our climate, but they will add to the garden’s beauty while the rhizomes grow larger over the season, and can be saved indoors from year to year.

Heads of garlic may be broken into individual cloves and planted in rich garden soil in full sun in autumn.   Each clove will grow into a new head of garlic the following summer.  Garlic and garlic chives also produces beneficial flowers.

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Go ahead and plant a piece of that horseradish root in your garden to produce more.  These grow into large plants, so you need to leave a few feet in all directions for it to grow.  Horseradish is a perennial and is  grown from root cuttings, not seed.

Green onion roots may be planted even if you’ve sliced and diced their tops onto your dinner.  Often hydroponic lettuce heads come with roots still attached.  Harvest some of the leaves and plant the roots and crown.

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Potatoes may be cut into chunks, each with an eye, and replanted to grow a new potato vine.  Many gardeners recommend buying certified seed potatoes to avoid spreading certain potato diseases, but in a pinch….

Buy a sweet potato now, and coax it into growth in a shallow pan of moist soil or even suspended in a jar of water.  New green shoots will soon begin to grow.

These luscious vines may be grown for their own sake.  They are both beautiful and edible.  But if you break the starts away from the potato when the soil has warmed in May, each may be planted out in the garden (or a pot) to grow into a new, productive,  sweet potato plant.  You can produce a garden full of sweet potatoes from the shoots of a single ‘mother’ potato.

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Some markets offer prickly pear cactus pads.  Each may be rooted and grown in full sun to a prodigious size over the years.  Your new plant will begin producing fruit in just a few years.  You might also plant the seed in your avocado to grow your own tree.

Beautiful pineapple plants may be grown from the crown of a fruit.   I even have a potted grapefruit tree which grew from a sprouted seed I found in my Ruby Red one day!

It is easy to save seeds from pumpkins and winter squash to plant the following spring.  Even raw peanuts are seeds, remember, and each will grow into a productive peanut plant!

Against all odds, you can create a beautiful and productive garden from  what might otherwise be eaten or thrown away.

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This week, I’ve been reading Ken Druse’s book, Making More Plants. book-5a

What a wonderful read in February!  Druse explains, in well-illustrated detail, how to grow new plants from stems, seeds, leaves and roots.  Whatever you might be lacking in propagation skills, you will find guidance and ideas to create new plants for your garden from the tiniest bit of leaf or root.  He shows how to build or find the equipment you need, explains the botany, and demonstrates how to become more successful at multiplying your plants.

 

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Relax, daydream a bit, and notice what might have a second life if given a chance.  Consider how to use all of the resources at hand….

This is how our ancestors supported themselves and their families in the days before supermarkets and garden centers.

There is always more to discover and to learn…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Wild carrot flowers

Wild carrot flowers

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for the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Against The  Odds

And with appreciation to our local Harris Teeter for allowing me to take photos in their produce department.

May Update:  Carrot Flowers?

 

Golden February

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Have you noticed that certain colors predominate in the landscape each month?  August here is always very green.  January is a study in brownish grey.  April is awash with Azalea pinks and reds.

And February is golden.

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Yes, there are white snowdrops and rosy Hellebores in our garden now.  Purple and blue Violas bloom in pots and baskets.

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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium, blooming through our winter, provides nectar for early pollinators.  By summer each flower will have grown into a plump purple berry, loved by our birds.  These tough shrubs, native to western North America, have naturalized across much of Virginia.

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But the flowers highlighting our garden now, blooming fiercely against a still wintery brown backdrop; are the first golden Daffodils of spring, showering cascades of yellow Mahonia flowers, the occasional sunshiny Dandelion, and hundreds of thousands of yellow Forsythia buds.

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Forsythia greets each spring with thousands of tiny yellow flowers.

Forsythia greets each spring with thousands of tiny yellow flowers. An Asian native, Forsythia naturalized in North America more than a century ago.  An important source of nectar, these large, suckering shrubs provide shelter for many species of birds and insects.

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Forsythia and Daffodils line many of our public roads, too.  We found a huge stand of blooming yellow Daffodils in the median of Jamestown Road, near the ferry, last week.  Their cheerful promise of spring feels almost defiant as we weather the last few weeks of a Virginia winter.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese Paperbush, fills our front garden with fragrance now that its blossoms have opened. We found happy bees feeding on these flowers on Sunday afternoon.

Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese Paperbush, fills our front garden with fragrance now that its blossoms have opened. We found happy bees feeding on these flowers on Sunday afternoon.

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Touches of gold may also be found in the bright stamens of Hellebores, the warm centers of Edgeworthia flowers, and the bright Crocus which will bloom any day now.

These golden flowers of February prove a perfect foil to bare trees, fallen leaves and late winter storms.

What a lovely way for our garden to awaken to spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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A Garden Mystery: The Case of the Vanished Helleborus

Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever' blooming a week ago.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’  opening its first blooms a week ago, on February 9.

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Pretty, wasn’t it?  Now it’s vanished…. poof!

This beautiful Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’ grew in a very large pot in our front garden, surrounded with Violas, Ajuga, and some Creeping Jenny.  I planted it there in late autumn to keep the pot interesting through the winter months.  There is a dormant fern, and a few spring bulbs tucked in around its roots.

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I’ve been photographing the Hellebore’s progress every week or so as its beautiful new leaves and flowers emerged.  Its first flowers opened last week.  It is the sort of interesting plant that I like to visit whenever I’m out in the garden, just to see its progress.

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January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017

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That said, a friend and I were touring the front garden on Sunday afternoon, and we wandered over to the pot so she could see this unusual Helleborus up close.  She is just getting started gardening at her new home in our community, and  had come over to receive a gift of Hellebore seedlings to begin her own collection.  I wanted to show her the beauty of this special cultivar with its pale new foliage and creamy flowers.

And what I saw in the pot didn’t register at first.  There were the Violas, the vines, the Ajuga and….  nothing in the center of the pot.  The large speckled centerpiece of the planting has simply vanished.

No soil was disturbed, no tell-tale clawing at the soil spoke of visiting squirrels.  There wasn’t a single dropped leaf or flower petal anywhere around.  We searched the area for some clue and found nothing.

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Helleborus argutifolius just home and still in its Nursery pot in late November.

Helleborus ‘Snow Fever’  just home and still in its nursery pot in late November.

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You probably know that Hellebores are poisonous.  Nothing eats them.

In our seven years of growing Hellebores in this garden, I’ve not once seen so much as a leaf munched by a rabbit or deer.  Hellebores are so poisonous that I always wear gloves to handle them.

And yet all that is left of this particularly charming H. ‘Snow Fever’ is its roots, and two tiny bits of red, level with the soil, where its stems were cut at their base.  The whole plant was there on Friday afternoon, and by Sunday morning, it had vanished.

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Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.

Violas left growing undisturbed in the pot where our Helleborus vanished.  A sharp eye might notice fresh compost spread to cover the spot where our missing plant once grew.

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And so I’m turning to you, my friends and fellow gardeners, for your thoughts on this most annoying mystery.

Have you seen something like this before?  Any ideas on what might have happened to the Hellebore? 

I have high hopes to see new growth emerge from the roots one day soon.  Maybe this Hellebore will prove stubborn and hardy and will amaze us with its prolific growth, to make up for what it has lost.

I’ll keep you posted….

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This H. 'Snow Fever' grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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February 9, 2017

February 9, 2017

In A Vase On Monday: April Abundance

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The sweetness in the air today wafts in whenever the door is opened. 

It envelopes one in warm enticing fragrance with each trip out of doors into the heavy, moist air.  We had storms last night with wind and rain.

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But the dogwoods held their flowers.  A few more daffodils have fallen over perhaps, and the newly leafed out roses bend nearly to the ground under the weight of their wet leaves.  Perhaps the pruning should have been more aggressive, after all.  But no matter, soon they will cover themselves in roses.  There will be time for pruning when the first flush has come and gone.

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The lilac shrubs in the butterfly garden began to open yesterday.  Last night’s rain left them sparkling and lush, and still full of buds.

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All of these shrubs came mail order over the last four years.  They are Syringa ‘Josee,’ a dwarf reblooming variety with superior disease resistance.  They came as rooted whips, and spent their first year or two in a pot.  As they outgrow their pots I plant them out where they enjoy the afternoon sun.

They have all the beauty and fragrance of traditional lilac shrubs, but won’t grow much taller or wider than 6′.  They will re-bloom sporadically through summer and into the fall.  This is one of the shrubs predictably pictured in many winter garden catalogs.  They always go on sale in spring, grow quickly, and make a lovely container planting for a season or two.

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Also in today’s vase is the first of the Columbine to break bud,  Columbine leaves, apple mint, late Narcissus, and a piece of our Akebia vine.

Rain has hovered nearby all day, with periods of bright sunshine poking through only occasionally.

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Akebia quinata growing up into the trees

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The garden is wet, and more storms are forecast for this evening.  I brought the flowers in for photos, and the cloudy day made it feel a bit dimmer than usual as I photographed this springtime vase.

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You may notice a beautiful little fairy sitting with the vase today, an original creation by Creekrose, given to me earlier this week.  This exquisite little handmade doll feels full of the happiness of springtime, and was dressed to match today’s vase.  Such a loving gift from, and so much enjoyed already.

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We can feel the transition in the garden now to late spring.  The Daffodils have nearly finished, buds cover the roses, more perennials have announced their survival, and our trees are all leafing out.  The shade will arrive just as we need it, now that temperatures continue to climb towards summer.

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Please remember to visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, who generously sponsors A Vase on Monday each week.  You’ll find links to many wonderful arrangements of spring flowers in her comments.   I’m always delighted with the beauty picked from others’ gardens.  It makes the world feel a bit smaller to see the same flowers blooming many thousands of miles away.

May you find joy in the beauty of your own garden this week, and perhaps clip a few stems to enjoy inside.  If you’re like me, you may be so busy preparing the garden for spring that you aren’t taking much time to cut and arrange.  There wasn’t much time today to fuss over arranging these, and they could have been shifted around to better advantage, perhaps…

But once a flower is cut and brought inside, it seems to subtly change somehow.  I appreciate them more, and take time to really see the unique beauty of each once they are placed in a vase.

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If you do cut a few stems from your garden, please share them in a post, and link back to the comments in Cathy’s post this week, and mine, so we can all enjoy them with you.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Pentagonal Flowers

Have you ever noticed the beautiful geometry of plants? Some wise men and women in the past looked closely at the world around us, and intuited that The Creator of All must be a mathematician, and that The Creator specifically expresses itself through the geometry of nature.  A great wisdom tradition, which traces its roots … Continue reading

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