Blossom XXIV: Amaryllis in Summer

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Like seeing an old friend, in an unexpected place, our winter Amaryllis bravely blooms again in the midst of early summer perennials.  How often do we assume that the stately Amaryllis we buy for a holiday gift or decoration is simply a disposable house plant?

As their pale leaves stretch and flop in January, most of would gladly chuck the whole thing once its blooms have finished.  But a gardener’s patience is usually rewarded, and so it is for that Amaryllis bulb that we care for through the winter.

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Bulbs always have some months of awkward growth when their leaves fortify the bulb for the next season’s bloom.  You probably are wondering what to do with the floppy foliage of spring’s daffodils right about now, just as we’re still letting it rest in annoying disarray.

An Amaryllis is no different. If you allow its leaves to grow for several months, and then force it to go dormant; it will reward you with even more blooms the following year.  And like other bulbs, Amaryllis form offsets as they mature.  Read that, “Free bulbs!”

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Amaryllis bulbs, freshly dug up from the garden last December.  After allowing these to rest for several weeks, I potted these up to bring them back into growth.

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Amaryllis, more properly called  Hippeastrum reginae, come to us from the southern hemisphere.  That is one reason they are so popular during our winter; they still believe it is early summer, and time to bloom!  And however huge and exotic an Amaryllis may appear, they are very easy to grow.   All they require is water, light, and space to grow.

Once the weather warms enough and frosts have finished in mid-spring, simply plant the Amaryllis into good garden soil in full or partial sun.  Leave any remaining leaves intact.  They will soon be replaced with sturdier, brighter leaves anyway.

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Hippeastrum ‘Tres Chic’

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Planting depth depends on your plan.  If you plan to bring your Amaryllis back inside in August, cut away the foliage, and let it rest dormant until late autumn; go ahead and plant it so the leaves emerge right at soil level.  When potted, most Amaryllis are planted shallow.  So dig a hole large enough to accept the root mass, and plant it only slightly deeper than it was in its pot.

If you live in Zone 7 or south, chances are you may be able to leave your Amaryllis outside permanently.  Check the zone of your bulb to make sure it is hardy to at least Zone 8.  Then plant the bulb a few inches deeper than it was in its pot, and mulch with another inch or so of whatever mulch you use.

Like with so many bulbs, you will likely forget where you planted the Amaryllis once it goes dormant.  And then one early summer day, “Surprise!”  Your Amaryllis will sprout thick, sturdy stalks topped with large buds, and you will be thrilled with its beautiful blooms.

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H. ‘Tres Chic’ in bud in late April

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Plant in rich, well drained soil.  Bulbs don’t like to sit in wet, soupy soil; especially when they are dormant.  I like to add a little Espoma Bulb Tone, dug into the surrounding soil, when I plant the Amaryllis out in a perennial bed.  Use a little when you pot up a new Amaryllis, too.

Since Amaryllis are poisonous, they won’t be bothered by grazing rabbits or deer.  Finally, a lily we can grow that won’t become ‘deer candy!’    Once their blooms have finished, cut back the bloom stalk, and let the leaves grow on.  They won’t require much space, and will provide structural foliage during the rest of the season for whatever else you have going on in that perennial bed.

I find an Amaryllis’s summer blooms to be even more spectacular than its winter show.  We may appreciate them more in winter, when most flowers have finished for the year.  But little else grab’s one’s attention quite like the elegant trumpet shaped blossoms of an Amaryllis.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Love of Iris

Iris ‘Stairway to Heaven’

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I fell in love with Iris as a child.  My parents accepted a gift of Iris rhizomes from a retired friend, who happened to hybridize and grow German bearded Iris.  Dad came home one summer evening with his trunk loaded with paper grocery bags, each containing the mud caked rhizomes his friend had dug and discarded from his working garden.  He needed to repurpose the  space for his new seedlings.

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I’ve been searching for those intensely colored and perfumed Iris cultivars I remember from childhood. This is one of the closest I’ve found.  Iris ‘Medici Prince’ available from Brecks.com

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My mother looked at the sheer volume of gifted plants. A conversation followed about what to do with them all.  And then, Dad started digging.  He dug long borders in our sunny Danville, Virginia back yard.  Full sun and good loam were just what those Iris needed.

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The first spring after that, we were all speechless at the absolute beauty of them.  And the fragrance!  I don’t know whether my parents’ friend was selecting for fragrance, but these were the most fragrant flowers my young nose had ever discovered.

The colors of these special Iris ranged from white to intense reds and nearly black shades of purple.  They bloomed orange and pink and many shades of blue.  I was smitten, and have loved Iris since the day these Iris first bloomed in our back yard.

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When we moved, a few years later, we labeled the Iris by color while they were in bloom so we could dig some of each variety.  Back into grocery bags, we carried this legacy to our new home.  The new place had a shadier yard, and yet we set to work digging a new Iris bed, even while still unpacking boxes and settling into the house.

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I. ‘Echo Location’

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That began a new ritual around our family’s moving.  Each time after, we would try to dig and move as many Iris as we could.  As each of us left home, and our parents aged, that became a little more challenging with each move.

Even though I dug divisions for each of my gardens over the years, we still lost many of the cultivars along the way.

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But I never lost my enthusiasm for growing Iris.  And when I learned about re-blooming German bearded Iris a few years back, I began collecting and digging new beds for Iris in sunny spots in our Forest Garden.  I bought several varieties from local breeder Mike Lockatelle, and have ordered others from online catalogs.  Now, it is as common for us to enjoy Iris in bloom in November or December as it is to enjoy them in May.

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‘Rosalie Figge’ remains my favorite of our re-blooming Iris.

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We now grow many types of Iris, ranging from the earliest winter blooming cultivars which grow only a few inches tall, to our beautiful Bearded Iris which may grow to 4′ if they are happy.  We plant a few more each year.  There is a shallow pool filled with bright yellow flag Iris in our front yard, inherited with the garden.

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A master gardener friend gave me divisions of an antique variety of bearded Iris grown in Colonial Williamsburg, and all over this area, from her own garden.  Other friends have also given us beautiful gifts of Iris over the years, and each remains special to me.  The blooming Iris remind me of friendships and loved ones; other times and places in my life.

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The ‘Williamsburg Iris’ is an antique variety found growing around Colonial Williamsburg, and in private gardens throughout our area.  Ours were a gift from a Williamsburg Master Gardener friend.

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Iris can be grown successfully and enjoyed even if you have deer grazing in your garden.  Deer will not bother them.  This is one of the reasons why we find Iris to be a good investment.  They grow quickly, and can be easily divided and spread around the garden.  They pay amazing dividends as they get better and better each year.

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Iris can be easy to grow, if you can give them hot, sunny space to spread. They are heavy feeders and perform best when grown in rich soil and are fed once or twice a year.  But without sun and space, many varieties will just fizzle out. Make sure bearded Iris get at least six hours of direct sun; more if possible.

Iris want soil that drains after a rain.  Most established Iris can tolerate fairly dry soil after they bloom, which makes them a good selection for hot climates, like ours.  Japanese Iris and Louisiana Iris species require moist soil year round, and are happy growing in standing water.

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Winter blooming Iris histrioides in January

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Sometimes, their foliage will die back; but the roots remain alive and ready to grow new leaves when conditions improve.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find these beautiful miniature Iris growing this spring.

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Iris cristata ‘Vein Mountain’ is available from Plantdelights.com. This is a North American native Crested Woodland Iris.

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I though we had lost them during last summer’s drought, when they disappeared.  I’m still waiting for our Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ to reappear, which struggled last summer, too.

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Dutch Iris, always fun to cut for a vase, grow each spring and then, like so many other bulbs, die back.  They come in an amazing array of colors and can be ordered for pennies a bulb.

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Dutch Iris can be planted alongside bearded Iris to extend the season.

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Showy Louisiana Iris don’t have a place in our garden.  They grow best with their roots always wet, usually at the edge of a pond.  I admire them, but don’t have the right conditions to grow them.  But I am always happy to grab a shovel and make a spot for more bearded Iris. 

I’ve been moving Iris around my parents’ garden, the last few years, to bring shaded plants out into the sun.  I hope to salvage and increase what is left of their collection. We are enjoying the fruits of that effort this week, as they have gorgeous Iris blooming here and there around their home.

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These yellow flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

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We discussed plans for a new Iris bed when I was there last weekend.  While I’m moving them, I plan to cull a few divisions for myself, too.  And, I will take them a few roots from our garden, too.

Sharing is one of the nicest things about growing Iris.  No matter how many roots you give away, more will grow.  Each division of rhizome needs at least one leaf and root.  Plant the division in amended soil, with the top of the rhizome visible.

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Siberian Iris

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Cover all roots well with good earth, and mulch lightly around the newly planted roots, without covering the exposed rhizome.  Water the plant in, and then keep the soil moist until new growth appears.  I feed our Iris Espoma Rose Tone each spring when I feed the roses.  A light application of dolomitic lime or Epsom salts makes for stronger, faster growth.

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This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ was new to the garden last year.

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Once each flower blooms and collapses, gently cut it away from the main stem.  A single stem may carry 5 or 6 buds, each opening at a slightly different time.

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I. ‘Immortality’

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Once all of the buds have finished, cut the stem back to its base.  Remove browned or withered leaves a few times each year, as needed.  With a minimal investment of effort, Iris give structure to the garden year round.

And when they bloom, oh, the fragrance and color they give…..

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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?

 

Late Summer Golden Haze

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Like living sunshine, waves of golden flowers splash across the meadows at the Yorktown battlefields.  We found a quintessential meadow planting, windsown, as we drove through this patchwork of fields and fences, earthworks and reminders of the battles where the British finally surrendered to the Americans in October of 1781.

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Tall native grasses grow in an Oudolph style matrix, punctuated by native  Solidago catching and reflecting the late summer sunlight.  Peaceful now, these fields stand empty as a silent memorial to the passions which bought liberty for our United States.

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The Yorktown battlefields lie at the Eastern end of the Colonial Parkway.  Beyond the fields one finds the little village of Yorktown on the Southern bank of the York River.   We visit from time to time, enjoying the waterfront which hosts concerts, craft fairs, sailing ships and a pleasing variety of restaurants and shops.  Families relax along its sandy beach.

Here, time blurs.  Present day life blends seamlessly with artifacts and memories of the past.

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We enjoy the peace which permeates this place now.  And we enjoy seeing the seasons painting their colors across the fields and trees; the gardens in the village; the river and sky.

Goldenrod is one of the highlights of late summer and autumn here.  This is the wild, native Goldenrod.  While gardeners can purchase several more refined hybrids for their gardens, this is the same Goldenrod the early colonists and Native Americans would have known.

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It grows freely, still, along roadsides throughout our area.  Like so many ‘native perennials,’ Solidago may be seen as a wildflower by some, a weed by others.

It seeds take root in unexpected places.  In fact, native Solidago grows in one of our shrub borders.  Once I realized what it was, I began leaving it to grow undisturbed each year.  It grows very tall in this shaded area.

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While a bit weedy, it feeds many pollinators now at the end of the season, and its beautiful clear golden flowers brighten even the dullest autumn day.

In large masses, Goldenrod creates a lovely late summer golden haze; living, growing sunshine which  brightens the last few weeks of the season.

More on growing Goldenrod

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day: June

Our overwintered geranium basket has finally come into beautiful bloom.

Our overwintered geranium basket has finally come into beautiful bloom.

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Carol Michel, an horticulturalist and Indiana garden writer, sponsors a wonderful meme called “Garden Bloggers Bloom Day” on the 15th of each month from her blog, “May Dreams Gardens.”

I dipped in for a visit last evening. What a wonderful way to share our gardens with one another!

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I enjoyed hopping around from garden blogger to garden blogger seeing what is in bloom.  Here is another opportunity to visit gardens and gardeners not only around the country, but around the planet, from the comfort of one’s armchair.

After a long hot day of deadheading and weeding, what a treat to enjoy what is blooming in others’ gardens!   Sadly, I wasn’t doing either again today; too hot again.  But that is beside the point, isn’t it?

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Our Allium flowers remain popular with the insects.  These from onion sets planted last year to protect other things growing in our stump garden.

Our Allium flowers remain popular with the insects. These from onion sets planted last year to protect other things growing in our stump garden.

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I finally suited up and ducked outside  this evening, once the sun committed to setting, admiring the flowers filling our garden tonight.  I’ve been looking forward to doing this all day.

Actually, my mind is spinning with gardening “to-do’s” which have gone undone.  Maybe tomorrow, when it’s cooler?

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The Foxglove has given us several weeks of bloom, and is winding down.  It is still lovely.

The Foxglove has given us several weeks of bloom, and is finally winding down. Considering how frozen it looked in March, I’ve been delighted with its performance.

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April, May and June bring rapid change in our garden as spring perennials burst into bloom and fade.  As much as I try to plan color to last the entire season, mid-April to early June remain a high point for us.

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Finally, at this point in June, we begin to see the flowering perennials, annuals and shrubs with staying power.  These same plants will bloom nearly continuously for the next three to four months; many until frost.

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This has been a week of firsts.  Our first Canna lilies bloomed; our first day lily and  our first Echinacea flowers opened; and our first Rose of Sharon shrubs broke into bloom today.

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I love this time of year when the planning and labor of the last many months come to fruition!

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Long time gardeners understand that a different garden grows in each passing season.  Last year’s lovely shrub might have died over winter.  Last year’s small new perennial has its roots and takes over the bed this year.  Things grow bigger and spread.  Beds fill in, or fill with unanticipated weeds.  The process of growing a garden remains perennially dynamic.

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We are celebrating our daylilies this year.  We celebrate them, because they have actually bloomed.  Although many grow in our garden, most years the deer have grazed them before a single blossom opened.  Last year our Echinacea were grazed early on and our only flowers came late, on stunted plants.

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The Canna roots we planted in 2013 are vigorously spreading now.  They look naturalized.

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The few small Colocasia starts from last season also multiplied over winter, or died.  We lost a few varieties, but C. “Pink China” has thrived and still needs more dividing.

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We’ve started several  new garden areas this summer, and our collection of pitcher plants has grown. We purchased a pot of our native yellow pitcher plant, Sarracenia flava, from Alan Wubbels at Forest Lane Botanicals several weeks ago for our new bog garden.  They offer an interesting variety of pitcher plants, Iris, and other marginal plants at their center in York County.

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It is hard to tell the bloom from the bright pitchers, which actually are leaves.  These flowers remind me a child’s drawing of a fantasy flower.

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We also choose to change things up from year to year.  Ivy geraniums grow this year in a series of pots where Basil has grown in the past.  Last year’s crop disappointed me, so I chose color over flavor this season.

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This Lantana returned for its fourth season in our garden.

This Lantana returned for its fourth season in our garden.

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Many of our lovely Lantana didn’t make it this past winter.  I’ve replaced some of  them with new plants, and planted other things where some Lantana once grew.

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We finally planted a few Penta plants last week, raised by the Patton family at Homestead Garden Center. We plant a few of these each summer for the hummingbirds.  The Pattons raise these lovely annuals from seed each spring in several different colors.

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Both this ornamental pepper, and the Petunia growing with it, came up as volunteers from seeds dropped by last year's annuals in pots.

Both this ornamental pepper, and the Petunia growing with it, came up as volunteers from seeds dropped by last year’s annuals in pots.

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The Zinnias I planted from seed in early May have not come in as expected.  Re-planting is on that long “to-do” list.  I would love to have Zinnias to cut for vases in August.

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There are other flowers coming in down in the lower garden, and on the patio and deck.  Perhaps we’ll visit other areas to see what is blooming in July.  Walking around the garden, morning and evening, always brings surprises.

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One of the perennial geraniums I planted in spring, growing with dusty miller, which survives winter here.

One of the perennial Geraniums I planted in spring, growing with dusty miller, which survives winter here.

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We watch for new flowers opening, and for the shy appearance of our wild companions.  One of our beautiful golden box turtles allowed me to take his portrait this evening as he strolled across the lawn.  We are glad the turtles enjoy living in the garden, and always thank them for allowing us to see them.

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I appreciate Carol’s encouragement to document what is blooming in the garden each month, and to share those photos with others.  I enjoy learning from other gardeners’ experiences, and always enjoy seeing how plants are used by others.

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I hope you will enjoy this quick look at some of what is in bloom in our forest garden today. 

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Parsley is ready to bloom with the geraniums near our back steps.

Parsley is ready to bloom with the geraniums near our back steps.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Hidden Jewels: Hellebores

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Hellebores shyly begin to grow in the middle of winter, sending up fresh new leaves and flower scapes under cover of their sturdy, evergreen leaves left standing from the previous season.    These thick, protective leaves offer cover from freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and winter winds.

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Hellebores in late January, finally emerging from several inches of snow.

Although they may begin to look a bit ragged by February, hellebores leaves are still vibrantly green in our garden.  It is only when these long, thick  leaves are finally cut away that the dazzling jewel like buds of the new season’s flowers finally shine.

Within just a few days of taking away the cover of old leaves, light reaches the new growth causing it to lengthen and the buds to open.  With the old foliage gone, the new flowers and leaves can fill out the display.

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Hellebores are hardy perennials, growing in moist shady spots in zones 5-8.  Native to much of Northern Europe from the British Isles eastwards to Turkey, the original species have been heavily hybridized to produce countless different combinations of form and color.

Although often called “Christmas Rose” and “Lenten Rose” for their season of bloom, the 20 or so species of Helleborus are not related at all to roses.  Rather, their common name refers to the open rosette shape of their bloom when fully open.

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Hellebore blossoms are only fully appreciated when viewed up close.  Most cultivars hold their blossoms facing downwards.  One must come in close and lift each blossom to see its face. 

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Most Helleborus blossoms are found in shades of white, cream, pink, peach, lilac, burgundy, or dark purple.  Many have “freckles” on their faces.  Some Helleborus flowers are entirely green, including H. odorus.  Others may be a shade of green with pink or purple markings.

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Although hellebores are widely available through mail order nurseries, this is one plant I prefer to buy in person, when it is in bloom.  I want to see the flower I’m buying and buy a sturdy, well developed plant.  The Patton family at Homestead Garden Center already has a nice selection of Hellebores available for sale.

I’ve planted hellebores in pots during the winter, with Violas and evergreen fern, in full sun areas.  It is important to lift and transplant these hellebores to mostly shady areas before the middle of May, in our area, so the plant isn’t burned by the summer sun.

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Another plant which does well under deciduous trees, hellebores enjoy winter and spring sunshine, but appreciate the leafy canopy of trees during the summer.

If planted under a tree, make sure the plant gets sufficient moisture all summer.  Thirsty tree roots often grow up into plantings and rob the perennials of needed moisture when the beds aren’t kept well watered.

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I lost two beautiful hellebores last year by transplanting them in late spring, under trees, and not keeping them well watered through the entire season.  I also planted them a little too high.  The crown of the plant should be at, or slightly below ground level, and the area around the roots well mulched.

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

Many of the hellebores available at nurseries are hybrids, and so the seedlings won’t match the parent plants.  Hellebores do set great quantities of viable seeds, and so you’ll find hundreds of little seedlings coming up nearby.  These can be transplanted in spring, cared for, and grown out to see what flowers will develop.

Don’t expect seedlings to reproduce the  flowers on an expensive hybrid, but do give the plant a chance.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the flowers which do develop.  There are so many seedlings from a mature plant that you have plenty to generously share with gardening friends and to expand your own collection.

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Every part of a Helleborus plant is poisonous, from flower to root.  This means they won’t be nibbled by voles or deer. Spread their cut older leaves on the ground anywhere you are troubled by moles or voles, and the poisonous alkaloids will be transferred to the soil.  It is wise to wear gloves when planting hellebores, trimming their leaves, or cutting their flowers.

Freshly cut hellebores leaves spread as a poisonous "mulch" under a fig tree.  This area is frequented by voles, so we are "ammending" the soil to stop them.

Freshly cut hellebores leaves spread as a poisonous “mulch” under a fig tree.  This area is frequented by voles, so we are “ammending” the soil to stop them.

My first Hellebores were a gift from a dear friend who grows a yard full of them.  We dug dozens of seedlings from her garden one day in early summer, and I brought them home and tucked them into new raised beds I was building.  They took off in the rich compost, quickly filling the bed.

Sadly, where I tucked seedlings into the ground without first building up a new bed of compost, they struggled.  The seedlings planted into a well prepared bed bloomed the following spring.  Those planted in other areas did not.

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Hellebores tend to be more expensive than some other perennials because they don’t bloom their first year.  When you buy a plant in bloom, it is already several years old.  If transplanting your own seedlings, expect a few years of foliage only before the first flowers appear.

Hellebores form wonderful ground cover in shady areas, and require very little care.  Although they look unremarkable during much of the year, their winter and early spring bloom make them well worth the effort.  By planting several different varieties you can enjoy Helleborus blooms from December through May.

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I’ve noticed that most of the best gardeners in our community grow hellebores. 

Many cultivars of Helleborus, especially H. odoratus, grow well in the conditions our gardens offer.  In fact, they are on the “short list” of flowering perennials which thrive here.

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Mix hellebores with ferns, mosses, Hostas, Epimediums, Brunnera,  and other shade loving perennials.  Once past their bloom, the hellebores leaves will form a solid backdrop for other plants throughout the summer.

Cut, hellebores last for a long time in the vase.  One of the few cut flowers we can grow here in Zone 7b during the winter, they work well in arrangements with early daffodils and forced flowering branches of shrubs or fruit trees.

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Hellebores are another heritage plant which continue year to year with little effort from the gardener.  Trimming their old leaves, keeping them watered, and feeding once or twice each year with a mulch of compost is all they really require if planted in the proper spot in the garden.

They reward this little effort with lovely jewel like flowers when we most need them, during these last few frosty weeks of late winter and earliest spring.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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