Fabulous Friday: Changes in the Air

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Do you remember stories from your childhood about ‘Jack Frost’ turning the leaves bright colors ?  I remember stories and poems about Jack Frost, and making Crayola drawings with a wild assortment of brightly colored leaves on my brown stick trees.  It seems a ‘given’ that leaves change their colors when the nights begin to turn cool.

But neither our nights nor our days have cooled substantially, and yet the community is definitely taking on autumn’s hues.

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We noticed it as we drove across College Creek today, admiring the first hints of yellow and gold in the trees along the opposite bank.  But we also see it in our own garden, as scarlet creeps across some dogwood leaves and the crape myrtle leaves begin to turn, even as the trees still bloom.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden shows its autumn colors.

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We are running 12 to 13 degrees above our ‘normal’ temperatures most days lately, and it is a rare night that has dropped even into the 60s.  And yet the plants are responding to the change of season.   Perhaps they sense the days growing shorter; perhaps they are just getting tired.

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I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ has just come back into bloom in our garden.

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Our ‘re-blooming’ Iris have sent up their first autumn stalks.  We’ve been blessed with plenty of rain, recently, and so the Iris will have a good second season.  Some of our neighbors have Encore Azaleas covered in flowers

I was dumbfounded to see how gigantic some of the Colocasias, Alocasias and Caladiums grew in the catalog garden at the Bulb Shop in Gloucester.  I can’t remember ever seeing these plants grow so huge in Virginia.

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The catalog garden at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop is filled with some of the largest Colocasias I’ve ever seen. Do you recognize C. ‘Tea Cups’?

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But with good soil and near constant moisture, these amazing tropicals have shown us their potential for growth when they get all the warmth and moisture and nutrition they could possibly want.  I spoke with some of the staff there about how popular tropical ‘elephant ears’ have become in recent years, as coastal Virginia becomes ever more hospitable to them.

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We ventured up to Gloucester this week to pick up our order of fall bulbs.  It is admittedly too warm, still, to plant most spring bulbs.  But I retrieved our order, shared with friends, and now will simply hold most of the bulbs for another few weeks until the nights finally cool.

There are a few bulbs that need to get in the ground right away, like dog tooth violets and our Italian Arum.  Both are actually tubers, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.  Our Muscari, left in pots over the summer, are already in leaf.

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I’ve planted the first of my autumn four season pots filled with bulbs and mulched with moss.  This one will begin with autumn Crocus and Cyclamen in a few weeks, and then begin the early spring with snowdrops, Crocus, Muscari and dog tooth violet.  Finally, it will finish the season with late daffodils. The pot is anchored with an oak leaf Hydrangea and a deciduous lady fern. 

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If the daffodils and tulips get planted too early, they might grow too much before the really cold weather finds us.  We can continue planting spring bulbs here into late December, maybe even early January.  I’d much rather do it in October though, wouldn’t you?

As the weather cools down a bit, I’m wanting to get back out in the garden to do a bit of tidying up before the fall planting begins.

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Pineapple Sage is already blooming in our garden. I have several still in 4″ pots I need to plant one day soon.

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I’ve got a backlog of plants sheltering in pots, just waiting for their chance to grow.  I visited a friend today who was weeding and digging her Caladiums to store for next summer.   Some of our Caladiums are beginning to die back a little, so she was probably wise to dig them while she can see a few leaves and find their roots.

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This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room, and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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Bright orange wreathes are showing up on neighbor’s doors, and by Monday, the calendar will say ‘October.’  I suppose it is time to get on with it and embrace the changing seasons.

While I believe we will have another month, or two, of ‘Indian Summer’ before our first frost; I suppose we all just assume it is time for pumpkin lattes and chrysanthemums.  Some of my friends are already setting out huge mums and pulling their annuals.

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Hardy Begonias are at their peak, blooming and so beautiful this week.

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I’m not there, yet.  I’m still admiring our many ‘elephant ears’ and Begonias and watching for butterflies.  In fact, I came home from Gloucester with a sweet little Alocasia ‘Zebrina,‘ that  I’ve had my eye on all season.  They had just two left, and then they had one….

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Alocasia grown huge at the catalog garden

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The display plant, growing out in the catalog garden, was a bit taller than me.  Its leaves were absolutely huge!

I don’t know that my pot grown aroids will ever get quite that impressive, especially when they are forced to nap all winter in the basement.  But we enjoy them in their season, and their season will soon close.

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We found both Monarchs and a few chrysalis at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this week.

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I have been admiring our garden today, and celebrating the successes we’ve enjoyed this year.  I am intentionally procrastinating on any chores that hasten our passage into autumn.

That said, the pumpkin bagels that showed up at Trader Joes this week are truly delicious.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!
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Pot Shots I: Viola and Fern

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This glazed ceramic pot sits by our drive and transitions through the seasons with an ever changing array of players.

The mainstay is the Japanese painted fern, which grows a bit bigger each year.  A deciduous perennial, it emerges in early April but disappears by Halloween.  I plant the Violas in early October as the fern is fading, but they will fry in early summer’s heat.  Muscari, from fall planted bulbs, join the arrangement for a brief appearance.

The pot is surrounded by Vinca minor, English ivy and Mayapples, all here of their own accord.  I’ll pop a Caladium into the pot by mid-May to carry us through the summer.

Conditions:  partial shade, enriched potting soil, gravel mulch

Woodland Gnome 2018

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

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Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

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Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

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The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

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Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

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Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

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When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

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Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

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

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I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Caladiums Year to Year

Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grown from a single bulb we dug last fall and overwintered.

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Caladiums are tender perennials, growing bigger and better each year in warm climates where they may be left undisturbed.  The catch is that they are tropical by nature, and want to stay warm, even when dormant.

The general rule of thumb tells us to store them at 60F or warmer, even when the tuber is dormant.  Certainly, one would want to bring them indoors in any climate where the soil temperature dips below 60F, right?  Not necessarily…

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Admiring my friend’s Caladium bed last week, she told me that they had overwintered in place.  She’d never gotten around to digging them, and just piled some leaves on their bed at the base of a small tree.  Voila!  They emerged this spring, bigger and better than they had been in 2016.

Now, understand that my friend is a gifted gardener.  She always amazes me with what she grows and how she does it so artfully.  She is the friend who inspired me with a rooted Caladium leaf sprouting new leaves while growing in a glass of water on her kitchen windowsill.

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Inspired by my friend, I successfully rooted this Caladium leaf last month.  I pulled it accidentally when weeding a bed at my parents’ home, and placed it in water right away.  If the Caladium’s petiole has a bit of the tuber attached, then it has the potential to root, regrow a new tuber, and produce additional leaves.  Once the roots were several inches long, I planted this rooted leaf in moist peat and sand.

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This same friend showed me Caladiums growing in a half whiskey barrel last summer, which she explained had overwintered in place.  She had thrown some mulch in the barrel in fall. The Caladiums surprised her when they emerged the following May.  This encourages me to re-think the art of keeping Caladiums going year to year.

My friend and I both garden in a suburb of Williasmburg, Virginia, on the cusp between USDA Zone 7b and 8.  We generally get at least a week or two of very cold weather, with night time temperatures in the teens, or lower.  We get quite a few nights in the 20s over a period of at least four months.

Our climate allows frost from mid-October through until late April.  We definitely get winter, and we are by no means tropical here; though I would argue that we have tropical heat and humidity for several months in the summer.

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Caladium ‘White Christmas’ and C. ‘Florida Sweetheart’ share the pot. 

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Most gardeners in our area grow Caladiums as annuals.  We don’t really expect to keep them year to year.  This is good business for the growers and garden centers who sell us gorgeous Caladiums in 6″ pots each summer.  But it also causes some to shy away from investing in these sometimes pricey foliage plants.  They would rather buy annual packs each spring, or invest in hardy perennials.

Yet Caladiums are surprisingly easy to keep from year to year.  The benefit is not only the savings, but also the superior tubers developed by an older plant.  You see, the underground tuber, from which the individual leaves grow, gets a bit bigger and beefier each year.  More eyes develop, allowing more points of growth for leaves to emerge.  This beautiful Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ grew from a single tuber dug last autumn, kept overwinter, and re-planted in April.

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When you order Caladium tubers, the grower often offers anything from a tiny dime sized ‘starter’ tuber, up to a ‘jumbo’ or even ‘colossal’ tuber.  Once the tubers sprout, you’ll see the difference in how many leaves each tuber can produce.

Each leaf’s height is determined largely by the characteristics of the variety.  But the number of leaves produced, and the density of the plant, is determined by the size of the tuber.

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Caladium tubers as they arrive from the grower, ready to plant.  An eye has already sprouted on the tuber on the right.  This is the point from which new leaves will grow.

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This is why growing a tuber for several years allows it to grow larger, and more spectacular, with each year’s additional growth.  You can order a ‘jumbo’ tuber from the grower, or you can eventually grow it yourself from a small starter.

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Expect each Caladium leaf to last for many months. New leaves continue to emerge when the plant is well watered and well fed.  A perennial Begonia shares the  pot with this Caladium.

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There are several tricks to growing beautiful Caladiums.  They prefer consistently moist soil, they appreciate a steady supply of nutrition, and they want space to expand.  I often grow them in mixed planters, but a Caladium develops more of its potential if it isn’t competing too much with other plants.

Older Caladium varieties wanted shade.  The newer cultivars are bred to grow in brighter light, with some even tolerating full sun.  The leaves develop with slightly different coloration depending on the light, and the ready availability of water and minerals in the soil.  Caladiums grown in bright light will remain a little more compact.  Grown in shade, the leaves will grow a bit taller and lankier.

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Most Caladiums perform well in hanging baskets.  This is C. ‘Postman Joyner.’  Postman F. M. Joyner bred many varieties of Caladiums in the late 1930s and early 40s.  He lived and worked in Tampa, Florida, and named this one for himself.

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When the nights grow cool in autumn, it is time to plan for each Caladium’s winter vacation.  You might have success with simply mulching the bed, as did my friend.  But if you want to save a special Caladium, try the grower’s approach:

  1.  Dig each Caladium tuber, being careful not to damage it.  Rinse the soil off the tuber and roots, and remove the remaining leaves.  ( I often put the best leaves in a vase of water indoors.)  Sort the tubers by variety if that matters to you.
  2. Allow the tubers to air dry for several weeks in a fairly warm spot.  I lay them in paper lined flats in our garage.  Turn them occasionally so that all surfaces dry.
  3. Growers often dust the tubers with an anti-fungal powder, especially if there are broken or exposed places on the tuber.
  4. Remove any remaining bits of root or stem, and pack the dried tubers loosely into a mesh bag or cardboard box with rice hulls, wood shavings, or dry peat.  I pile my mesh bags of tubers into a paper grocery bag, and store the bag in a closet.  Indoors, the tubers stay above 65F all winter.

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I moved this cluster of Caladiums from a very shallow pot to this basket in mid-August. C. ‘White Delight’ is bred for full sun, which it receives in this location.  Notice that in bright light the plant has stayed very compact.  Leaves vary from soft green in deep shade to bright white in sun.  The tubers were tiny in April,  just dime-sized bits that had fallen off larger tubers in transit.

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I’ve also had good success bringing potted Caladiums indoors.  Although they may lose their leaves over winter, the tubers sprout the following spring and grow on.  They perform best kept in our living room, near large windows, where they may sprout new leaves in late January or February.

But I also have fair luck with potted Caladiums kept overwinter in our frost-free attached garage.  I keep potted Colocasia and Alocasia tubers overwinter in the basement, and believe I could do the same with potted Caladiums.

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C. “Carolyn Wharton” grew from a tuber we overwintered for my parents, and replanted this spring.  This variety can grow exceptionally large leaves on long stems.  This variety is old enough that it isn’t patented, and so new plants may be produced from leaf cuttings or division.

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I’ve learned that Caladiums perform better if given fresh, enriched soil each spring.  Although they will keep growing in soil left from the previous season, their growth is less spectacular.

I mix some Espoma organic fertilizer with the fresh potting soil, pot up the sprouted tubers, and then top dress with time release Osmocote.  I’ll also add some fish emulsion, or other water soluble fertilizer, once a month or so when I water them.  Caladiums are heavy feeders and produce more leaves when well-fed.

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If you enjoy growing an abundance of Caladiums, as we do, it certainly pays to make the small efforts required to keep them going year to year.   These are very versatile plants which may be used for hanging baskets, pots, bedding, mass displays, and mixed planters.  Shorter varieties are good ‘socks and shoes’ ground cover for larger plants.  They come in a wide range of colors and leaf patterns, and are one of the few plants to grow reliably in the shade.

Preserve your favorites from season to season, even as you sample a few new varieties each year.  You will be so happy to see your tubers grow and increase with each passing year.

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‘Florida Moonlight’ Caladiums grow with perennial Begonia in this pot devoted, during the winter, to Hellebores.  The Hellebore is peeking out, along with a Columbine. Dormant daffodil and Muscari bulbs rest in the soil.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Blossom XXIX: Buddleia

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Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, hosts many hungry pollinators on its abundant, nectar filled blossoms each summer.    I enjoy the beautiful creatures it attracts as much as I enjoy its brilliant blossoms.

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Hummingbird moths are especially drawn to Buddleia.

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These deciduous shrubs tend to be short lived.  They want plenty of sun and prefer rich, moist soil.  We lost several over the last few years, and had only one remaining last fall.

Buddleia want to be frequently pruned.  The bloom on new growth, and produce abundant blooms until frost if you faithfully dead head their spent blossoms.

They also need to be cut back very hard each winter.  If left to grow unpruned, they can soon grow too tall and gangling, falling this way and that from their own weight.  That said, I’ve never had one grazed by deer.

When I pruned our butterfly bush  in the late fall, I was inspired to stick lengths of the pruned stems into a large pot, around a winter blooming Helleborus.  I wasn’t confident that these woody stem cuttings would root, but decided to take the chance.  By early spring, we noticed new buds and leaves appearing and we could tell roots had formed.

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I transplanted most of the rooted cuttings out into the front garden when I refreshed the pot in late spring.  But we left the largest and strongest in place to grow on this summer in the pot.

All of the rooted cuttings have put on abundant growth this summer and are now well-established and blooming.  A seedling Rudbeckia has also appeared in the pot along with a Caladium  I tucked in this May, some Verbena cuttings I planted in June, and a division of Dichondra argentea. 

If this sounds like shamefully haphazard planting, well…. what can I say?

The Hellebore took a long time to die back, as did the foliage of the daffodil bulbs still nestled deep in the pot.  Spreading Colocasia plants have sprung up all around, hugging the pot with their huge leaves.  It may look a bit wild and woolly, but I can promise you that the many hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and this lovely hummingbird moth are happy with the abundance.

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Plants basically want to live.  The magic of simple propagation, whether from stem cuttings, division or saved seeds; is their will to survive against all odds.

The next time you find yourself pruning, consider whether you have space or desire for more of the plant you’re trimming back.  Green stems generally root well in water.  Woody stems will root in soil or a soil-less medium like vermiculite or sand.

There are finer points to it, depending on the time of year you take your cuttings.  But why not take a chance and give those pruning an opportunity to root?  Look at the beauty you have to gain! This is an easy and inexpensive way to give yourself impressive small shrubs for your large pots, too.

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Propagate your way into a full, lush garden filled with plants that you like, and that grow well in your conditions.  Doesn’t it seem a bit magical that a blossom this beautiful will grow from a pruned stem, that would otherwise have been tossed away?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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A blossom from the mother plant, still growing strong and covered in flowers.

 

Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 

 

Switching It Up

This planting needs

This planting needs some  ‘switching up’ to renew it for summer.  I went to work last night removing all of the plants and finding new spots for them to grow.

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When the weather finally warms up, late April or early May, those winter and early spring pots we planted so lovingly last autumn just don’t look so good anymore.

Between plants which never quite recovered from winter’s bite, and early season annuals gasping in the heat; there comes a day when you really look at a pot and say to yourself, “Enough! Time for a change.”

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"Enough!"  Monday afternoon this poor planting looked ragged enough I was determined to change it out.

“Enough!” Monday afternoon this poor planting looked so ragged I was determined to switch it out for something fresh.

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That day was yesterday for the large hypertufa tub installed on the ‘pedastal’ in our ‘stump garden’ last spring.

I like the idea of ‘four season’ pots which drift from season to season in the garden with only minor adjustments.  While that is an nice idea, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

The original Dusty Miller planted in this pot last spring lived, but was seriously burned by the cold.  I’ve moved it out of the pot now to a less conspicuous place in the garden where it can continue growing.

The Violas, still blooming, will not last much longer in full sun.  They have been moved to a bed in partial shade.  The snaps could have grown on here for quite a while.  Planted a few months ago in earliest spring, they often make it through our winters.  I’ve moved them to a bed in full sun where they should perform well this summer.

After a full year of watching this pot, I decided to populate it with plants which thrive in hot and often dry conditions.  I want a large and showy display which won’t need regular care of any sort to continue looking great.  Mission impossible?

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May 25, 2013, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

May 25, 2014, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

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The original planting last summer included Coleus, Dusty Miller, a Brugmansia, some golden Sedum and Creeping Jenny.  I expected the Brugmansia to grow several feet and bloom with huge pendulous flowers in late summer.

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July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

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Although it grew, it never performed as expected.  Everything else in the pot looked great all summer, but required nearly daily watering to avoid the late afternoon wilts.

So I’ve chosen a new group of plants this summer in hopes of an even more vibrant display, even on those days when I don’t have the opportunity to water this trough.

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May 5, 2015 garden 002

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The headliner is a pink Mulla Mulla, Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey,’ which will grow to 15″ in full sun.  This tender perennial (Zone 9) loves neutral to chalky soil with sharp drainage.  Beside the Mulla Mulla grows a very large leaved variety of culinary Sage.  Sage thrives in full sun and well drained, even rocky soil.

There is a very subdued palette of color in the pot this year, moderated by two fresh new Dusty Miller plants.  Only a recent fan of Dusty Miller, I like the lacy texture of their leaves and their ability to withstand drought and sun.  I expect texture and scale to make this planting interesting as the season unfolds.

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This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

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The only concession to soft trailing flowers comes from the Lanai Twister Purple Improved Verbena draping over one end of the pot.  I hope it will spread to soften the entire top of the ‘pedestal.’

Finally, I added several clumps of the golden Sedum back into the pot since it obviously thrives here year round and makes a nice pop of chartreuse against the silvery foliage and lavender flowers.  The entire pot is mulched in fine, light colored pea gravel.

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The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset.  All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset. All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

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The Creeping Jenny and remaining Sedum removed from the pot is already earmarked for use in a new bed I’m ready to construct tomorrow.  It will grow alongside Oxalis triangularis in the back garden.

This is my first experience growing Ptilotus exaltatus and the Lanai Twister hybrids of Verbena.  It is good to try new things each year, and the Mulla Mulla is known as a good flower for cutting and for drying.  I am looking forward to growing them on and seeing how these varieties grow together over the coming months.

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I plant to "switch up" this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil.  The tiny plant on the far right is a "Kent's Beauty" Oregano which survived the winter.

I plant to “switch up” this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil. The tiny plant on the far right is a “Kent’s Beauty” Oregano, which survived the winter.  The bare stump is from the Brugmansia I tried to over-winter outside.

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There are still lots of pots with actively growing Violas around the garden.  I’ll be moving them to shady spots this week as I continue re-planting containers for summer.  I purposely waited this long both to enjoy them, and to give time for some of the dormant plants in the same pots to awaken.  While patience is a virtue, at some point patience creeps into procrastination.

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May 5, 2015 garden 012

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I’ve collected several trays of new plants this week, and I’m ready to work with them over the next few days.  There are lots of geraniums this year, a fair lot of Salvias, a good assortment of fragrant Basils, a few more Dusty Miller plants, now a half-dozen large white Marigold plants I’ve been waiting for the Patton family to offer for sale at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.  They grow the marigolds, and many other annuals, organically in their own greenhouse each spring. If one has patience to wait for them; healthier, more affordable plants simply cannot be found in this area.

Planting pots for the coming season, or switching up established pots, requires the vision, energy and creativity needed for all of the other art forms.  Like painting a canvas, all of the elements have to come together harmoniously.  But as in music, time is the essential element.  Only as plants grow and weave themselves together does the gardener’s vision materialize.

Whether it takes weeks or years, our gardens remain works in progress.

~

May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

A Four Season Pot In the Springtime

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A Four Season Pot changes seasonally, remaining attractive throughout all four seasons of the year.

It requires a little thinking ahead to pull this together, but is well worth it.  I prefer to begin a Four Season Pot in the autumn, when spring bulbs come on the market.

Bulbs are an important part of this ever changing display.  Ephemeral spring bulbs keep the arrangement fresh and interesting from late winter through early summer as the bulbs develop, bloom, and then begin to fade.  when the foliage is finished and begins to brown, it can finally be removed as the pot settles into summer.

A Four Season Pot can be designed to last for several years with only minor changes.  Begin with a large pot, of at least 18 inches, in a material which may stay outside year round in all sorts of weather.

The primary element of the planting is a shrub or small tree.  This is where the design gets interesting. 

You may choose an evergreen or a deciduous shrub.  You may select for interesting foliage, flowers, or both.  This primary plant stays in the pot as annuals come and go throughout the next several seasons.

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The Four Season pot in autumn, very soon after it was planted. Notice the Heuchera leaves are a different color here than in the spring photos.

When the shrub outgrows the pot you may choose to prune it, pot up to a larger container, or plant the shrub out into the garden and begin again with a new shrub.

Within the potting philosophy of , “thriller, filler, spiller;”  your shrub will usually be the  “thriller” or largest and tallest element.

Although I’ve done this scheme with evergreen shrubs, I prefer to create a Four Season planting design using a deciduous, spring blooming shrub or small tree.

Bringing attention to a lovely shrub, up close to daily traffic, so it can be observed as it transforms itself season to season is far more interesting to me than watching geraniums bloom.

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New spring Heuchera leaves are touched with copper, as will be the new fronds of the Autumn Brilliance fern when new growth begins.

This little design, constructed last autumn, is built around a tiny hybrid Redbud tree , Cercis canadensis, which Jonathan Patton and Dustin  gave me at the end of the season last year.  Homestead  Garden Center was closing out its deciduous stock and they didn’t want to store this little shrub over the winter.  A tiny little shrub in a small pot,  with its golden fall leaves still clinging to its branches, it was perfect for my needs.

Underplanted with a combination of daffodil and grape hyacinth bulbs,  I filled the pot with a perennial Heuchera and annual Violas.  The Violas have bloomed all winter long, bringing color to the pot long after the Redbud’s leaves blew away.  The Heuchera also kept its color all winter, escaping the deer who found other Heuchera  plants around the winter garden.

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The only plant in the pot which has not yet filled in is the Autumn Brilliance fern planted from a tiny 2.5″ pot.  It didn’t get established before cold set in, and its few leaves are rather bedraggled from winter yet.   New fronds will unfurl any day now, and will grow perhaps as tall as 18″.

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So the total expenditure on plants for this pot was a little under $15.00. Constructed in late autumn, the pot has been  attractive for a little more than six months already.

The only plant I’ll remove and switch out will be the Viola, when the heat gets too much for it.

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I could replace it with an Ajuga division from the garden; a small annual like Ageratumn from a six-pack, or even a Caladium tuber or rooted cutting.  For a little or no additional investment, this pot will keep growing and changing throughout the remainder of the season.

My hope was to see the Redbud bloom this year before its leaves emerged.  It seems it is too young to bloom.  Even without blooms, its tiny chartruese heart shaped leaves are still a lovely addition to the pot.  This arrangement can survive at least one more winter in place.  The annual will get switched out for a fresh Viola next November, and this pot will continue growing in partial sun, with only regular watering and light feeding, into 2015 and beyond.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Violas For Winter Blooms

October 4 shopping 016Violas are finally here, ready to plant in our pots and beds to enjoy all winter.  Even as we watch weather reports of 20+ inches of snow falling in early winter storm Atlas over six states in the upper mid-west of the US, I’m planning our winter flower garden.

Violas, a huge genus of between 500 and 600 species, love cool weather.  The perennial Viola odorata is a naturalized wildflower in our garden.   These small, edible flowers begin blooming in early spring and continue until the weather warms.  These are different from the Viola cultivars showing up in garden centers now.

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Violas purchased in a six pack cost less than fifty cents per plant. An excellent invest in winter color!

Sometimes called pansies, Viola cultivars bring welcome color to winter days.  Pansies are the large flowered members of this beautiful group of winter bedding plant.  Violas, the smaller flowered selections; and Panolas, new in-between hybrids; are somewhat tougher and more cold hardy.  While pansies may take a break during the coldest weeks of winter, Panolas and Violas, sometimes known as “Johnny Jump-Ups,” keep blooming all winter long in Zone 7.

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

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

It is possible to have flowers blooming 365 days each year by planting Violas in autumn.  They make for beautiful combinations in pots, planted with Heuchera, ferns, kales and cabbages, shrubs, mosses, and late flowering perennials.  Underplant the Violas with various spring flowering bulbs, and the show continues through late winter and into early summer with flowers coming and going continuously.

Violas can also be used as edging around flower beds and borders.  They keep the bed alive and attractive throughout the fall and winter.  They fill in nicely around spring bulbs, and keep the bed interesting after the bulbs fade.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,.  They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true Pansies.  These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,. They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true pansies. These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Violas are an excellent investment.  Purchased now in six-packs, they can be had for less than fifty cents per plant.  They are easy to grow, spread to cover a large area, and can be counted on for non-stop color well into May.  The only thing that stops Violas is summer heat.

A seedling Viola, growing from a seed dropped in early spring.

A seedling Viola, growing from a seed dropped in early spring.

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari.  Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

Sun loving in winter, the life of a Viola plant can be extended by moving it into the shade in late April or early May.  I frequently move mine out of featured pots and into shaded beds in late spring.  Often they drop seeds, and new plants appear over the summer.  Some of these survive the summer heat; others give up in July or August.  In more northern areas Violas can live happily all summer long.  Many species and cultivars are perennial.

Violas border a bed with Iris, Heuchera, Columbine

Violas border a bed with Iris, Heuchera, Columbine, Daffodils, Rosemary, and Azalea.

Plant Violas now in rich potting mix or amended garden soil.  They grow equally well in pots or in the ground so long as they have sunshine and steady moisture.  They are heavy feeders to maintain their continuous bloom.  Sprinkle Osmocote over the planting.  If planting in the ground, work in compost and Plant Tone as you plant, or topdress the planting with Osmocote.  I also add a pea gravel mulch both to hold in moisture and keep the plants clean in the rain.  Pea gravel will also to slow down the squirrels who love to dig in my pots.March 25-28 013

Deer and rabbits will graze unprotected Violas.  If you have hungry deer as we do, use Plant Skydd or another product to protect them.  You might also plant garlic, chives, or onions with them, sprinkle the planting with human hair, or use another deterrent such as moth balls.  In pots, near the house or on a deck, the deer are much less likely to find them.  If voles are a problem in your beds, Daffodil bulbs will offer some protection as their roots are poisonous.

Homestead Garden Center has a single well grown plant in a 4" pot for only a dollar.

Homestead Garden Center has a single well grown plant in a 4″ pot for only a dollar.

Joel Patton and his family share our love of Violas.  It may be Joel’s favorite flower, and he plants more varieties each season than anyone else in the area.  He and his family grow between 40 and 50 different varieties of pansy, Panola, and Viola each year, in almost any color you can imagine.  The plants are grown organically, without harmful chemicals of any sort, and are cared for lovingly until adopted by the customer.  Their plants are available in six packs, 4” pots, three to a 6” pot, and already planted into containers with a mix other plants.

Panolas in late March

Panolas in late March

We are never tempted to buy them early at a big box store.  Homestead Garden Center keeps them protected until it is time to set them outside in the fall.  Planted too early, the heat will get them.  It is best to wait until October or even November to plant them out.October 4 shopping 014

If you have never grown Violas, please give them a try.  Although pansies are common and easy to find, the smaller Viola species give a much better show over the season.  Although the flower is smaller, there are generally more blooming at any given time on a single plant.  They stand up better in freezing weather, and also last a few weeks longer in the spring than pansies will.

During winter, when nature’s palette has faded to shades of brown and grey, Violas give that sparkle of bright color we all crave.  Their vivid blooms brighten the coldest winter day, and remind us it is always spring, somewhere.

A display at Homestead Garden Center.

A display at Homestead Garden Center.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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