Pot Shots: Unity

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ began blooming this week.

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Repetition creates unity.  As one of the most basic principles of design, it’s one often overlooked by enthusiastic plant collectors like me!

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The dark purple leaves of the Ajuga are repeated in this Japanese painted fern.  this is one of several containers I made from hypertufa in 2014.

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I’m often tempted to grow the new and novel plant; something I’ve not grown out before.  We’re lucky to have space enough that I can indulge that interest while also repeating successful plants enough to create a sense of unity.

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Each Ajuga plant sends out multiple runners, with a new plant growing at the tip of each, often forming roots in the air. The plants are easy to break off and casually plant in a new spot. I often use Ajuga both for groundcover and in pots.  Here, Ajuga and Sedum angelina form a groundcover under a potted shrub.

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What should one repeat?  There are many design tricks based on repetition that are very subtle, but create a sense of harmony and peacefulness.

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I plant a lot of Muscari bulbs in pots each fall, waiting for just this effect the following spring. Muscari may be left in the pot or transplanted ‘in the green’ elsewhere in the garden when the pot is replanted for summer.

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The most obvious consideration is to use the same or similar plants again and again.  Repeating the same plant across several pots within a grouping creates unity.  Repeating the same plant again elsewhere in the garden ties that grouping of pots to other elements of the landscape.

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I like to choose a plant that grows well in the conditions of an area of the garden, and then use that plant in several different pots within a group.  Maybe I’ll plant a group of basil plants, or a group of lavender and rosemary, accented with sage or thyme.  Some years I plant a group of different geraniums.  The individual plants may be different cultivars with slightly different leaf or flower colors, but there are unifying elements to tie them together.

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Buying multiples of the same cultivar of Viola each autumn, and then planting them across several different pots creates a sense of unity.

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It’s helpful to use perennials that grow fairly quickly, that may be divided easily or that self-seed, and that are fairly easy to find and inexpensive to buy.  Once I find a plant that grows well in our conditions I like to repeat it again and again.

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I plant divisions of Ajuga, creeping Jenny and Sedum in various areas as ground cover.  They spread and cover more fully each year. Native strawberries occur here naturally, and quickly spread each spring.  I will eventually weed these out, even though they are good plants for wildlife.

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Because perennials often shine for a few weeks and then take a background role, or even go dormant for a few months, a gardener can eventually design a garden that changes every few weeks, but still has interest over a very long season, by using perennials thoughtfully.

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Japanese painted fern, Italian Arum and creeping Jenny repeat in this bed near the arrangement of pots.  The color scheme is basically the same (at the moment) in both this bed and the grouping of pots.

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Another way to create unity is to choose pots of the same or similar material, color and design.  Perhaps they are the same color, but varying sizes.

You may own thirty pots, but if they are all in the same limited color palette, there is unity.  Some designers will use a set of identical pots, evenly spaced, to create repetition along a porch, path, deck, or balcony.    This is a very formal approach, and would probably look best with the same rather formal planting in each pot.

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I favor blue glazed pots. This one held a lavender all winter, which is still a bit scraggly before its new growth comes on.  A native violet grows here instead of a hybrid Viola, but the color scheme remains the same.

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Combinations of colors also creates unity.  The plants themselves may be different, but if you use the same colors again and again whether in a group of pots, or throughout the garden as a whole, the eye perceives harmony and consistency:  unity.

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Annual Alyssum covers the soil beneath the Clematis.

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Whether we are making gardens, paintings, food, poetry or music, setting ourselves some parameters allows for creativity and expression within those self-imposed boundaries.  It may actually guide us into being more creative.

By removing some options prima facie, we are left to improvise with more focus among those choices we have left.  What we create will perhaps be more pleasing, more interesting, and perhaps even more beautiful than if we took a laissez-faire, scattershot approach to design.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage

New growth on Mahonia

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A garden built from woody trunks, stems, branches and beautiful leaves will last through the seasons.  Abundant foliage offers cool shade and privacy.  It screens the view, cleans the air, muffles outside sounds and protects the soil, all while offering a sense of enclosure.

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Crape Myrtle

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Flowers can be exciting, for a while.  But they fade or explode into a heap of petals all too quickly.  Their perfumes entice us, but flowers aren’t enough to create a lasting garden.

Better to focus on foliage plants for a garden’s flesh and bones, and appreciate ephemeral flowers as seasonal accents.

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Once one gets past wanting a garden filled with fragrant flowers, there is a beautiful palette of foliage waiting for the curious garden designer.  In fact, I’ve been reading an intriguing book on garden design by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz  called Gardening With Foliage First:  127 Dazzling Combinations That Pair the Beauty of Leaves With Flowers, Bark, Berries and More.

The authors have photographed and described associations of shrubs, perennials, vines, ferns and grasses that will grow well together for a variety of climate zones and locations.  The color combinations are striking, and the authors discuss how the association will change as the four seasons unfold.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ in August

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One of the nicest things about designing with foliage is the wide selection of colors and textures in the plant palette.  And with woodies and perennials, the plants grow larger and more complex with each passing year.

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A native redbud tree seedling has appeared by our drive. This tree can eventually grow to 20′ or more.

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We plan and plant our gardens in at least four dimensions.  We create out door ‘rooms’ by creating ‘walls’ with large shrubs and trees, or perhaps vines growing on a pergola or trellis.  Our carpet is a selection of low-growing plants and ground covers.   Some of us cultivate a simple carpet of moss.

The leafy canopy of trees offers us a bit of shelter and shade, enclosing our garden from above.   So we are planting foliage plants of varying heights to serve different purposes.

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Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is a native, deciduous tree in coastal Virginia that will grow to about 25 feet.  It often grows as a multi-stemmed shrub, growing a bit broader with each passing year.

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Perennials tend to also spread, growing wider with each passing year.  A plant or two this year may propagate itself into two dozen plants within just a season or two.  Even within the short span of a single season, a small tropical plant purchased in a 3″ pot may grow to be 5′ tall and wide before frost.

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Our garden is also constantly changing over time, the fourth dimension.  Sculptural stems and branches cover themselves in buds, then ever expanding leaves.  The leaves grow and change colors as the season progresses, often developing intricate veins or spotted markings as they mature.

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Begonia

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Eventually, we are enclosed in leaves and woody growth before winter sweeps the season’s tender growth away.  Leaves glow with autumn color, then fall.  Perennials die back to ground level, harboring the promise of next year’s growth in their roots and crowns.

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It is this foliage framework which demands a garden designer’s attention. This is where we make our main investment of time and treasure. 

When beginning a new garden, one selects and plants the trees first to give a head start on growth.  When renovating a garden, it is wise to replace tired shrubs, or rejuvenate them with heavy pruning before the season’s new growth begins.

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Once we have good woody ‘bones’ in place, then we fill in the ground covers and herbaceous plants to occupy the mid-level spaces .

Flowers are the ephemeral elements which can come- and go- with the seasons. Whether we choose blooming shrubs, perennials with a short season of bloom like Iris, or even if we plant annuals for several months of bloom;  the flowers themselves are very short-lived.

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Japanese painted fern emerges among the Arum italicum, and is interlaced with creeping Jenny.  Bulb foliage will die back soon.  You can just see the new leaf of a hardy Begonia catching sunlight like a stained glass window to the right.  They will grow to about 18″ tall before their tiny pink flowers emerge.

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Many traditional gardens rely on foliage for all of their seasonal interest.  This is easy to do with herbaceous perennial foliage plants like ferns, Heucheras and Colocasia.  But a ‘foliage only’ garden doesn’t mean a monochromatic garden.  Beautiful contrasts and color combinations may be painted with colorful leaves.

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And stunning beauty may be created with little more than variations of texture and form.  Leafy plants swaying in the breeze bring life and movement to the garden.

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Lamb’s Ears, Stachys Byzantina. is grown more for its velvety gray leaves than for its flowers. In fact, many gardeners remove the flower stalks before they can bloom. Bees love it, so I leave them.

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As you plan and plant your pots and garden borders, remember to focus first on the foliage framework.   This will last over many months or years and will grow better with time.

The flowers will come and go, but your garden’s leafy presence will make the lasting impression.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!

 

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“Spillers”

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Good garden design challenges us to think in many dimensions at once.  We plan for how the plants we use will fill the space, and for how those plants will change over time.  I am still intrigued by Jennifer Smith’s article in Horticulture Magazine, The Secret to Great Garden Design, in which she describes the design principles of ‘earth, man and sky.”

In that February article, she challenges gardeners to evaluate the layers of their landscape.  There should be interest at ground level, at the height of a man, and also at the ‘ceiling’ of the garden, creating a sense of enclosure.  Finding those layers harmoniously in scale with one another, even in the winter garden, constitutes the framework of a good design.

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While this is a useful way to analyze each of the ‘rooms’ of our garden as a whole, I believe it can be applied to container plantings and container groupings as well.  Any time we choose to plant more than one plant in a container, we create a miniature landscape of sorts.  And remaining mindful of ‘earth, man and sky’ can guide us towards a more pleasing design.

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In this newly planted container, the Alocasia 'Stingray' will give several feet of height, representing 'sky.' The tuberous Begonias will grow to a medium height and constitute 'man.' Creeping Jenny and Ajuga will cover the soil and spill over the side, giving us 'Earth.'

In this newly planted container, the Alocasia ‘Stingray’ and Caladium will give several feet of height, representing ‘sky.’ The tuberous Begonias and Coleus will grow to a medium height and constitute ‘man.’ Creeping Jenny and Ajuga will cover the soil and spill over the side, giving us ‘Earth.’

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Some designers advise grouping ‘thrillers, fillers and spillers’ in a container garden design.  I’ve always found this a little confusing.  What if your thrillers also spill?  Why would I want to plant a plant which merely ‘fills’ space?  What if I want to plant a single plant in a pot:  should it simply fill, or must it thrill ?

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Another newly planted pot features Zantedeschia for 'sky,' Pelargonium and Heuchera for 'man,' and Dichondra for 'Earth.'

Another newly planted pot features Zantedeschia for ‘sky,’ Pelargonium and Heuchera for ‘man,’ and Dichondra for ‘Earth.’

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Maybe you, like me, often put one plant in a pot and happily let it grow.  Over the years, I’ve moved towards planting slightly larger pots, and combining several plants in a single pot for more interesting compositions. And in composing groups of plants, I’ve given ever more attention to ground cover plants and ‘spillers.’

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There are several good reasons to include a ground cover in a landscape, as well as in a container planting.  First, it presents a more ‘finished’ appearance.  Beyond that, it protects the soil in heavy rain or overhead watering so the soil isn’t compacted or splashed up onto the plant’s foliage.  A ground cover shields the soil from direct sunlight and slows evaporation.  It also can discourage squirrels tempted to dig in your finished bed or pot!

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This low pot includes both moss and Creeping Jenny as ground cover. Spring's bulbs are dying back. I've tucked a Pelargonium into the established pot for summer interest.

This low pot includes moss, Sedum, and Creeping Jenny as ground cover. Spring’s bulbs are dying back. I’ve tucked a Pelargonium into the established pot for summer interest.

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I nearly always finish off a newly planted basket or pot with a light covering of fine gravel.  Beyond that, I’ll also place larger decorative stones, marbles, minerals or glass in the pot.  Sometimes I’ll place these over the roots of newly planted cuttings to protect them and hold them in place as the plant begins to grow.

In recent years, I frequently establish a living ground cover, as well.  Whether moss, a low growing succulent, or a vining ‘spiller,’ this living ground cover adds color and interest to the planting.

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Repeatedly using a limited palette of color and plant material helps establish unity in a garden design.  Even a non-gardener can ‘read’ the design and understand it more easily when elements repeat.  Using a few ground covers and ‘spillers’ across many different containers helps to establish that unity.  It is economical, as well, since most of these plants root quickly and easily.  A small division will soon take off and grow into its new spot.

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Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia, and have repeated it in other areas of the garden, including pots.

Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia, and have repeated it in other areas of the garden, including pots.

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I’ve used golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘aurea’, for several years now.  It grows so prolifically that I haven’t needed to purchase a plant since that first season.  This is a hardy perennial in our area, often turning red in cold weather.

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Creeping Jenny now surrounds our water feature. This photo from the end of April shows its growth in the stony pond.

Creeping Jenny now surrounds our water feature. This photo from the end of April shows its growth in the shallow, stony pond.

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It overwinters easily in pots or growing on the ground.  New roots grow at every leaf junction.  It will scamper up and over obstacles, and forms a thick mat, dripping down the sides of pots in golden beauty.

Another easy perennial favorite in our climate is Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina.’ 

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S. ‘Angelina’ pokes up through Ajuga in this pot. Ajuga holds its good looks all year round, blooming in mid-spring.

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Any little piece of this plant which breaks off can quickly root on moist soil.  It holds its golden color throughout the year.  It also forms a thick mat and cascades over the sides of pots.  Drought tolerant and happy in full sun, it ‘volunteers’ and grows happily on in unlikely spaces.

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S. 'Angelina' has escaped its pot and fills the poor soil beside our street. Here it grows with Ajuga, and Ivy.

S. ‘Angelina’ has escaped its pot and fills the poor soil beside our street. Here it grows with Ajuga, Germander, Senecio cineraria and Ivy.

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I noticed a beautiful silvery grey ‘spiller’ flowing from hanging baskets in Gloucester Court House last summer.  Shimmery curtains of silver hung down  several feet below the edges of their bright summer baskets along the main street of town.  From a distance, it looked almost like Spanish Moss.  But Spanish Moss is rare in our area and isn’t used in hanging baskets!

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Dichondra spills from this pot, only a few weeks after planting.

Dichondra argentea spills from this pot, only a few weeks after planting.

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I learned the designer had planted Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ around the edges of those beautiful baskets.  And oh, how cool and elegant the baskets looked hanging from the light polls along the street of this historic village!

Dichondra is grown as an annual in our Zone 7 region.  Native to the southwestern United States, it grows in full sun to part shade, and is reasonably drought tolerant.  Further south, Dichondra repens, a green leafed relative native to Australia and New Zealand,  is used as a lawn substitute ground cover.  It is a perennial in zones 10 and south.

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I’ve bought several small pots of Dichondra argentea this spring.  Each clump is easily divided into four or five smaller clumps, which may be planted around the perimeter of a pot or basket.

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These have grown very quickly for us, filling in on top of the soil, as well as draping gracefully over the container’s edge.  I intend to keep this plant in our repertoire for future years.

Other good ground covers for pots include the many Ajuga cultivars; and for shade, ivy, moss, and Leptinella.   Each of these plants gives a finished look and added elegance to an otherwise ordinary container planting.  Most will happily fill the container all winter.

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Lept

Leptinella grows in the foreground, with mosses and ferns.  It will eventually form a thick mat and can be used as a ground cover in place of grass.

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A beautifully glazed pot brimming with golden Lysimachia or purple Ajuga remains lovely through our mild winter months.  In fact, the only caveat for using these ground cover plants remains their hardy exuberance.  At some point, you either give them the pot, or empty it and start over with fresh potting soil.

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S. 'Angelina' in March grows as ground cover for a Clematis vine and early bulbs.

S. ‘Angelina’ in March grows as ground cover for a Clematis vine and early bulbs.

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I’ve had to empty several pots this spring, clogged with roots from the ground cover plant.  I divide the ground cover and either add little bits back in to begin growing again around my new ‘thriller’ plant, or find places to plant it out in the garden as a permanent ground cover.

Either way it is a ‘win-win’ as these beautiful plants continue to expand and fill their niche of covering the Earth.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Vinca grows prolifically in our garden, blooming in early spring with the Daffodils.  We let it run through much of the garden.  Here, a few volunteer Colocasia plants have begun to grow.  Could this be C. 'Blue Hawaii,' back after our mild winter?

Vinca grows prolifically in our garden, blooming in early spring with the Daffodils. We let it run in many areas, where it eventually grows thick and dense. Here, a few volunteer Colocasia plants have begun to grow. Could this be C. ‘Blue Hawaii,’ back after our mild winter?

 

 

 

Always Evolving

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Why do you choose certain plants to add to your garden, and not others?  What drives your selections?

My answer shifts from garden to garden, year to year, and even season to season.  Perhaps your priorities for your garden shift, also.

 

Basil, "African Blue" grows in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

Basil, “African Blue,” Catmint, and scented Pelargoniums  grow in a bed of plants chosen to be distasteful to deer.

 

We garden to fill a need.  Some of us need to produce some portion of our own food.  Some of us want to grow particular ingredients or specialty crops, like hops or basil.

Some of us want to harvest our own flowers for arrangements, or produce our own fruit or nuts for cooking.

 

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Once upon a time I focused on growing flowers, and am still struggling to grow decent roses in this wild place.

And our garden is filled with flowers; some already growing here, some that we’ve introduced.

But our current inventory of flowers is driven more by the wildlife they will attract  than by their usefulness as cut flowers.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

Lantana attracts many species of nectar loving wildlife to our garden.

 

Although I could still walk around and clip a decent bouquet most any day from February to November, we rarely harvest our flowers.  We prefer to leave them growing out of doors for the creatures who visit them whether for nectar or later for their seeds.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

Purple Coneflower, a useful cut flower, will feed the goldfinches if left in place once the flowers fade.

 

Our gardening  focus is shifting here.  It began our first month on the property.  I moved in ready to cut out the “weedy” looking Rose of Sharon trees growing all over the garden.

I planned to replace them  with something more interesting… to me, that is.

And it was during that first scorching August here, sitting inside in the air conditioning and nursing along our chigger and tick bites, that we noticed the hummingbirds.

 

 

Hummingbirds hovered right outside our living room windows, because they were feeding from the very tall, lanky Rose of Sharon shrubs blooming there.

The shrubs didn’t look like much, but their individual flowers spread the welcome mat for our community of hummingbirds.

And watching those hummingbirds convinced us we could learn to love this Forest Garden.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

This butterfly tree and Crepe Myrtle, volunteers growing along the ravine, normally attract dozens of butterflies each day during the weeks they bloom each summer.

 

Our decision to not only leave the Rose of Sharon shrubs, but to carefully prune, feed, and nurture all of them on the property marked a shift away from what we wanted to grow for our own purposes, and what we chose to grow as part of a wild-life friendly garden.

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After a year or two of frustration and failure, hundreds of dollars wasted, and a catastrophe or two; we realized that we had to adapt and adjust our expectations to the realities of this place.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb's Ears.

A dragonfly and Five Line Skink meet on a leaf of Lamb’s Ears.  Lamb’s Ears is one of the ornamental plants we grow which is never touched by deer.

 

What had worked in the past became irrelevant as we had to learn new ways to manage this bit of land.

And how to live in a garden filled with animals large and small.

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The other major shift in my plant selection has been towards interesting foliage, and away from flowers.

Fig, "Silvre Lyre" and Sage

Fig, “Silvre Lyre” and Sage

 

Although the garden is filled with flowers loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees of all sorts, wasps, moths, and who knows what else; the ornamentals we choose for our own pleasure run more towards plants with beautiful and unusual leaves.

 

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

Huge Cannas and Colocasia chosen as a screen between home and road have interesting leaves.  The Cannas also produce wildlife friendly red flowers.

 

If they produce flowers, those are secondary to the foliage.

There is such a wonderfully complex variety of foliage colors and patterns now available.

 

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

Begonias in a hanging basket are grown mostly for their beautiful leaves.

 

And leaves are far more durable than flowers.  While flowers may last for a few days before they fade, leaves retain their health and vitality for many  months.

Begonia foliage

Begonia foliage

 

We enjoy red and purple leaves; leaves with  stripes and spots; variegated leaves; leaves with beautifully colored veins; ruffled leaves; deeply lobed leaves; fragrant leaves; even white leaves.

 

"Harlequin" is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

“Harlequin” is one of the few variegated varieties of Butterfly bush.

 

While all of these beautiful leaves may not have any direct benefit for wildlife- other than cleansing the air, of course –  they do become food now and again.

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer.... But something ate them....

These Caladiums are supposed to be poisonous, and therefore left alone by deer…. But something ate them….

 

It’s easier to find plants with distasteful or poisonous leaves, than with unappetizing flowers.

Our efforts to grow plants the deer won’t devour may also drive our move towards foliage plants and away from flowering ones.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them.  This pepper has survived to ripeness.

Scented Pelargoniums offer pretty good protection to plants near them. This pepper has survived to ripeness.

 

Our interests, and our selections, continue to evolve.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck.

Gloriosa Lily, new in the garden this year, is hanging down off of the deck, still out of reach of hungry deer.

 

We choose a few new plants each year to try; and we still seek out a few successful  varieties of annuals each spring and fall.

The garden never remains the same two seasons in a row.

 

Spikemoss is a plant we've just begun using as groudcover in pots and beds.

Spikemoss is a plant we’ve just begun using as ground cover in pots and beds.

 

It is always evolving into some newer, better version of itself.

As I hope we are, as well.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast

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Contrast– The art of bringing unlike things together

with an intent to heighten the appreciation of each element.

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Contrast is an essential principle of good design, whether we are cooking a meal, decorating a room, building  a life, or constructing a garden.

We enjoy sweet with salty; creamy with bitter… 

 

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We bring disparate elements together in fresh ways so the element of surprise wakes us up, invites us to see what might otherwise be overlooked.

Contrast jars us into thinking, sometimes.   It invites us to make choices; to see the relative values of things.

 

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Our garden is one of sharp contrast:  We move from cool shade to bright sun in  a single step.

We have areas of dense growth and areas of lawn.  Areas carefully curated, and areas sown by nature.

 

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Skillful contrast helps us frame  the view to tell our story.

 

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“Happiness ain’t a thing in itself;

it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.

And so, as soon as the novelty is over

and the force of the contrast dulled,

it ain’t happiness any longer,

and you have to get something fresh.”

 

Mark Twain

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Contrast

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Conscious Seeing

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A friend invited me to an event for gardeners and artists today held at our College of William and Mary, and sponsored by the Williamsburg Garden Club.  Mr. Gordon Hayward spoke on “Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design.”

You may know Mr. Hayward’s work from his many articles over the years  in Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Organic Gardening, and other publications.  The author of many books on garden design, he is well known as the designer of many lovely gardens here in the United States and in Europe.

Several friends and I had the privilege of  spending some time this afternoon hearing his thoughts on the principles of good design in the garden.

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It was the perfect time for us to hear him speak, here in the depths of January. We are clearing out the last of the old in our gardens while making plans for what we will change, and what we will grow in the new year.

The suggestions offered today are quite simple and straightforward, and yet the effects of applying them make a profound difference in the appearance and “feel” of the garden.

We examined paintings by Renoir, O’Keeffe, Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, and many other artists to see what principles can then be applied to design, plant selection, and even pruning in our gardens.  Mr. Hayward illustrated these principles with side by side slides of  paintings paired with  photos of gardens, including many he designed.

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If this interests you, I recommend that you read Mr. Hayward’s gorgeous book, dedicated to his wife, Mary; Art and the Gardener:  Fine Paintings as Inspiration for Garden Design.Art and the Gardener: Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design

The starting point of today’s talk was Rene Magritte’s “The Eye,” and a conversation about “conscious seeing.”

We Americans, perennially in a hurry as we tend to be, rarely take time to simply observe, over an extended period of time.

We see superficially, but rarely allow ourselves the unstructured time to see deeply; to visually explore something in any depth.

As there is a “slow food” movement today, so there is also “slow art,” where we take significant time to view and converse with someone else about the art we’re viewing.  We may also choose to engage in “slow gardening.”

Mr. Hayward described gardening as the slowest of the performing arts.  He urged us to take our time  in appreciating the garden as a whole, as well as the individual plants in the garden; and also to allow time for a garden to evolve.

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A good garden has an aura of timelessness, and in one you may lose track of time as you become absorbed in the beauty and mood of the space.

And so I would offer you the opportunity to begin, here and now, with the photos in this post, to slow down and “see” consciously.  To spend more than a few seconds with each.

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Go beyond the superficial recognition and naming of what you see, to an appreciation of its color, its form, the geometric shapes you might recognize, and awareness of both positive and negative space.  How do you feel while looking at each of the photos?

By seeing beyond the obvious, we uncover layer after layer of beauty and meaning in the world around us. 

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As we slow down, we deepen our experience.  We enrich our appreciation, and in the process, we feel a little bit better ourselves.  Our energy increases, our happiness expands, and we are filled with the peace that a lovely garden offers.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
January 26 2014 ice 076

Color in the Garden

Forest

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Green is the color in the plant kingdom we think of first.  Green grass, green leaves, shrubs, and trees.  We’re told green vegetables are good for us, and encouraged to “think green” when buying a car or handling our trash.  We hope the grass is greener on our own side of the fence.

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A patch of hardy Begonia growing with Creeping Jenny, ivy, and ferns.

A patch of hardy Begonia growing with Creeping Jenny, ivy, and ferns.

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Green is the color of vitality, of growth and goodness. 

It is the color of abundance and self-sufficiency.

Plants can turn sunlight into sugar because of the green chlorophyll living in their cells.  And yet, many of us plan our gardens around the colors of flowers, and tend to ignore the rest of the plant.

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Hosta

Hosta and Autumn Brilliance Fern

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We think of a forest landscape as green and brown.

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July 2 2013 trees 005

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But it is so much more.

In elementary school, we needed only two crayons to draw a tree.  We may have colored in green grass underneath, and then what?

Did you add a pink tulip to the scene?  A red bird?  A blue pond? Or did you add some green balls as shrubs?

Look again.  Is a tree all one color of green?  And is the trunk just brown?  We must learn to see what really is – to look past our idea of what something might be, and see the multicolored reality before us.

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Forest

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Color in a landscape, in a garden, is a very personal subject.

Formal gardens are mostly green with wide expanses of lawn, hedges of box or yew, great oaks and ivy growing on a wall or tree.  Color comes in blocks, like a bed full of yellow tulips beside the walkway.  We associate a minimalist approach in the formal garden with sophistication and refinement.  These gardens have the feel of a public place, a garden for display, for entertaining guests, for showcasing our home and perhaps some sculpture.

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"Queen Lime" Zinnia growing with a FIg tree.

Queen Lime” Zinnia growing with a FIg tree.

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Cottage gardens are imagined in bold, kaleidoscopic color.   Pink roses grow by orange daylilies and purple sage.  Tall white phlox shimmies in the breeze near lavender irises, and huge white peonies.  Yellow daffodils welcome spring and pots of orange chrysanthemums celebrate the last days of autumn.

We imagine a free spirit planting every flower she loves- randomly, in a huge back yard garden, a very personal space.  But a cacophony of color can be too much in competition for attention.  Nothing flows smoothly or compliments its neighbor, and we’re left on edge.

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Chili Pepper

Chili Pepper

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We often take green as the given, the canvas on which we plant our garden.  We load our cart at the garden center with lots of colorful flowers.  The shrubbery and trees don’t grab our attention in the same way, and yet they are the “bones” of any good garden plan.

Where is the beauty, and the balance?

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June 21 Lanai 022

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had to learn to see, really see, green.

In a box of 64 Crayola crayons, how many greens do you get?  How many synonyms for green can you name?  Do you know the difference between chartreuse and lime?  Apple green and teal?  How many different shades of green can you find in your own garden?

Normally, we think of leaves as green, and flowers as colorful.  We’re drawn to big bright flowers, especially in summer.

That is fine, and I certainly love flowers, but as we create our gardens year after year, eventually there is a time to look beyond the flowers to the beauty of everything else in our landscape.

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August 3, 2014 butterflies 099

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We notice the wonderful shapes and textures of the leaves of things.  We see that leaves and stems come in grey, and white, and purple, and yellow, and burgundy and teal, and in a hundred different shades of green. Leaves can be solid, or variegated.  They change color as the season progresses.  Working with the shapes, the different sizes, and the different colors of leaves takes us to another level in creating our gardens.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea and oxalis

Oakleaf Hydrangea and Oxalis

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When our focus shifts away from the flowers a plant produces, and we focus on the foliage, real magic occurs.  Because flowers are ephemeral, and some may last for only a day.

Some plants may produce flowers for only a week or two out of an entire year.  Some flowers open beautifully, and then get destroyed by rain, or too much sun, and end up a soggy brown mess.

What is left standing in our pots or beds once the flowers have faded?  That is where our focus shifts when we move up a notch to the next level of creating our gardens.

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Lavender,  Autumn Brilliance fern, dusty miller, Sage, Lantana, and Dianthus blend many colors and shapes of foliage.

Lavender, dusty miller, Sage, and Lantana

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I like the approach of “green, and…”

In other words, when you select a tree, shrub, perennial, annual, or herb; what are you getting each and every day of the next year?   Do you get “green in summer and great bark in winter”?  Maybe you’re getting “green all year but orange berries in November”.  Or perhaps, you’re getting “blue green leaves all summer, a few weeks of outstanding flowers, and a repeat performance next year.”

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Begonia

Rex Begonia

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An interesting garden needs an interesting mix of plants which shift and evolve as the year progresses.  If you plant only evergreens and grass, the landscape changes very little from April to October, unless a drought comes in summer and the lawn turns brown.

If you plant only bright annual flowers, what do you look at all winter?  I want something in bloom every day of the year in my garden, and that is easy to do in Zone 7b, but I don’t need everything in bloom every day.  The garden needs to shift and change from week to week and season to season.

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August 3, 2014 butterflies 101

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Our plants need to look good even when they’re not in bloom.  And, I think flowers look better when they are accents, pops of color, against a beautiful background of foliage.

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Camellias in fall

Camellia Sasanqua and Dogwood anchor this border of shrubs and trees.

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Trees and shrubs need to turn bright colors in autumn.  Summer annuals need to bite the frost and be replaced with Violas.  Evergreen Camellias and hollies need to shine in the winter sunshine among the bare trees.

Moss needs to glisten in the winter rain, and ferns need to send up bronze and green fronds in spring beside the yellow daffodils. 

And mostly, my eyes need somewhere to rest.  After I’ve admired the red Monarda and yellow Lantana, I want a tranquil bed or border of a green, which is anything but boring.

Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

Variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

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