Crimson

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf  Hydrangea

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Crimson berries, leaves and flowers bring excitement to the garden in October.  As the weather cools, a little visual heat excites.

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Pineapple Sage

Pineapple Sage

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Shades of red in the autumn and winter garden liven up a fading landscape, infusing fresh energy at the end of the season when we most need it.

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Mixed Caladiums with Begonia.

Mixed Caladiums with Begonia “Arabian Sunset’.

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We appreciate these flashes of crimson red as days grow shorter and colder.  Soon, only the holly berries will shine brightly  in the snow.  But what a show along the way!

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Geranium

Geranium

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Caladium, 'Cherry Tart'

Caladium, ‘Cherry Tart’

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Crimson, cherry, rosy bright;

Melon, scarlet, screaming light.

Tomato, pepper, fiery hot;

Berry, rhubarb, sweet and tart.

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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme….

Culinary Sage

Culinary  Purple Sage, Salvia officinalis purpurascens

A familiar refrain all of us knew, back in the day, when we sang folk songs together and strummed our guitars.  I’m not sure any of us quite got what the song was about, beyond love found, love lost, and love fondly remembered.  It was so pretty to play and sing, especially when friends sang in harmony and remembered most of the words.

Tri-color Sage

Tri-color Sage

A traditional folk song from the north of England and Scotland, most of us learned Scarborough Fair from Simon and Garfunkle’s album in the mid-60s.  It is one of those songs which plays as background music in the psyche, never quite fading away; its longing and simple beauty a reminder of what stays the same generation to generation, century to century.

Pineapple Sage, an herbaceous perennial, dies back to the ground each winter.  Its sweet leaves taste like pineapple and can be used for cooking.  It blooms in late summer and is much loved by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Pineapple Sage, an herbaceous perennial, dies back to the ground each winter. Its sweet leaves taste like pineapple and can be used for cooking. It blooms in late summer and is much loved by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

And so it is as fresh today as it was back when. Its lyrics offer a bit of insight into how much we continue to rely on the companionship of our simple herbs, even through the changes and frustrations of our life circumstance and relationships.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme:  our companions as we tend our gardens and as we cook our meals.  They are beautiful, promote good health, and are hardy and easy to grow.  These are the herbs you can still snip outside on a wintery day and bring in for the soup pot, whether you are making soup for your love, your extended family, or just for yourself.

Rosemary can grow into a nice sized evergreen shrub over several years.

Rosemary can grow into a nice sized evergreen shrub over several years.

All they really need to be happy is Earth for their roots, full sun for their leaves, and a bit of water to keep them going.  They grow deep roots to sustain themselves and demand little from the gardener.

Parsley is the only biennial in the group; growing this year, blooming next, setting seed, and then dying back.  It must be renewed with fresh plants each year, but will sow its own seeds far and wide to produce them.

Sage is perennial in my garden.  Some forms are herbaceous perennials; others make small, woody shrubs.  When planted in a spot it likes, it spreads and thrives.  If it’s not happy, it fails to thrive and dies out after a season or two.  It doesn’t like too much water or dampness, and loves the sun.

Rosemary growing with an ornamental sage.

Rosemary growing with an ornamental sage.

Sage has been used by our indigenous people for centuries as a “smudge”.  It is dried in bundles, kindled, and its smoke used to clear, clean, and heal.  It also makes a lovely tea and helps sore throats, especially with honey dissolved in the tea.  Its leaves are delicious fried in a little butter or olive oil as used as a garnish.

Rosemary forms a beautiful shrub, blooming in winter with clear blue flowers.  It is evergreen and grows more lush each year.  It responds well to trimming back, has many medicinal uses, and has strong anti-bacterial properties.  It is the herb of remembrance, and so is a good plant to grow near the main path of our comings and goings from our home.  It is delicious baked into bread; or with potatoes, carrots, and onions.  It can be used as a skewer on the grill and to flavor a marinade.

A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly rests on a parsley plant already grazed by caterpillars.

A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly rests on a parsley plant already grazed by caterpillars.

Thyme is the smallest, lowest growing of these herbs.  It makes a wonderful ground cover, and can be grown on the edges of paths, in rock gardens, pots, and as edging for garden beds.  It comes in many different colors and fragrances, and blooms beautifully in early summer.  I like Lemon Thyme the best.  Thyme is drought tolerant, and can tolerate partial shade better than other herbs.  It responds well to cutting back, and needs to be cut back at least once a year to keep it growing fresh leaves.

Rosemary blooms with tiny blooms much loved by bees.

Rosemary blooms with tiny blooms much loved by bees.

Thyme can be enjoyed raw minced into green salads or vinaigrette salad dressings.  It is also good mixed into cream cheese and/or goat cheese, with some garlic, chives, freshly ground pepper and a little sea salt for a savory cheese spread on toast or crackers.  Thyme is a delicious addition to marinades.  Mix into lemon juice and olive oil with garlic, freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and a little Rosemary.  Toss with hunks of potato, carrot, onion, and mushrooms before roasting the vegetables.  This marinade can be used similarly for vegetable kabobs and grilled chicken.

If you have never grown herbs, these are the four with which to begin.  They grow happily in a pot beside your door, as long as that pot sits in the sun and gets water.  When you have a bit of sunny land, plant these reliable friends and clip them often for your cooking.

Parsley growing with Violas.

Parsley growing with Violas.

Sage and Rosemary help to deter deer, and so make good companions for plants which need protection.  Parsley is a wonderful host plant for butterflies, so plant enough to freely share.  It looks beautiful planted among Violas and will stay green all winter in Zone 7B and warmer.

Golden Sage in April growing with violas.

Golden Sage in April growing with violas.

Bees love to visit all of these herbs for nectar.  They can all be dried and kept in jars, if you must.  They can be infused into olive oil or wine vinegar for cooking and salads.  Add Sage and Rosemary to your Christmas wreath or swag, plant thyme in pots over your spring bulbs.  The possibilities go on and on.

Growing herbs links us to a very long tradition of gardeners.  These plants have changed little, if at all, from the herbs our distant ancestors grew.  We join a timeless community of gardeners and cooks when we make them a part of our everyday lives.

Thyme plants form a shaggy border for this bed.

Thyme plants form a shaggy border for this bed.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Beauty of Foliage

Caladium and Begonia

Caladium and Begonia

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Consider how beautiful foliage can be;  whether the brightly veined leaves of a Caladium, the dark ruffled leaves of Anglewing Begonia, or the velvety leaves of Coleus.

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Coleus

Coleus

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All of the these plants produce flowers, but the flowers aren’t the main event.  These plants produce bright, beautiful stems and leaves month after month.

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August 26, 2014 garden 030

Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii”

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Many people head to the garden center looking for flowers to plant in their gardens.  This is fine, but flowers are only a tiny aspect of what makes a garden beautiful.

Flowers open and fade- sometimes very quickly.  Many flowers last only a day.  Many perennials flower for a week or so, and then are finished until “same time, next year.”

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Angelwing Begonia leaves, larger than my hand.

Angelwing Begonia , whose leaves grow  larger than my hand

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Although perennial  flowers are often followed by interesting seedpods, somehow it isn’t the same.  Annuals give a longer season of bloom, but again are unreliable.  Many of the geraniums I planted with great hope in spring are a brown soggy mess at the moment, barely hanging on to life, because we’ve had too much rain.  They may come back in fall, or they may give up for the season.

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July 30 2013  Foliage 001

The flowering Verbena is only a foil for the beautiful lime green foliage in this planter, a gift from a master gardener friend.

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Foliage plants are far more reliable.  Even tender perennials like Caladium can be brought inside for the winter.  Although they will go dormant for a few months, they will come back with fresh leaves to amaze you.

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August 9, 2014 hummingbird moth 056

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A few years ago I left some Caladium tubers buried in a pot of other plants I’d brought into the living room for the winter.  Somehow, the Caladiums woke up and shot up bright new leaves right after New Years Day.   We enjoyed them until spring.

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Caladiums

Caladiums

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They took another rest when the pot went back outside in May, and then came back for the end of summer and fall.  Caladiums are tough and have a strong will to live.  As long as you don’t let them freeze, they are very forgiving.

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Fern, hosta, purple Oxalis

Fern, Hosta, purple Oxalis, and a Hydrangea

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Coleus have been hybridized again and again to create amazing colors and strange leaf shapes.  Many are textured, deeply ruffled or fishboned,  striped, blotched, or shaded.  No two leaves, even on the same plant, are quite alike.

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Coleus and Creeping Jenny

Coleus and Creeping Jenny

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Coleus are tough plants who prefer shade, but have been selected to tolerate sun.  The newer hybrids give much better colors in sunlight.

Their flowers are insignificant, and many of us snap them off when they appear to keep the plant branching and producing more beautiful leaves.  We have noticed that when Coleus flowers are allowed to open, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

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A favorite tender lady fern, living inside with us this winter.

A favorite tender lady fern, living inside with us this winter.

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Ferns, which never flower, are another wonderful foliage plant.

Ferns come in many sizes, forms, and colors.  They uniformly prefer shade, but will thrive in partial sunlight.  All prefer to be moist, but can live in varying degrees of dry soil.

In general, the more light ferns ge, the more moisture they will need to stay hydrated.

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Fern with Creeping Jenny.  Both plants are winter hardy.

Autumn fern with creeping Jenny. Both plants are winter hardy.

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Whether used as a filler, or as the main attraction, ferns are tough, reliable, and beautiful.  There are many hardy perennial ferns which will return year after year.

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July 7 2013 succulents 012

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Succulents are also grown for their foliage, although they produce small flowers once or twice a year.

These plants prefer bright light, warm temperatures, and like their soil on the dry side.  They can go a fairly long time between waterings.

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July 7 2013 succulents 010

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Most succulents won’t survive  freezing temperatures, and so need to come inside for winter here in Zone 7b.  In warmer climates, they put on a beautiful display year round, growing bigger and bigger as they form colonies.

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July 30 2013  Foliage 015

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In many cases, succulents look like flowers because they form rosettes in shades of blue, green, burgundy, and gold.

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succulents

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If you are looking for fresh design ideas for your pots and gardens, try designing with foliage.   Watch for interesting colors, textures, patterns, and forms in the plants you choose.  Select plants which will look fresh and healthy over a long season.

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Many of the plants in these photos will survive from one year to the next indoors.  They keep getting better with age, and are always interesting plants we want to  include in our garden.

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July 7 2013 succulents 014

 Photos by Woodland Gnome

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

Beautiful Bees and Flutterbys

Bees are always welcome in my garden for their wonderful buzzing and their help in pollination.  We have many different sorts of bees zooming around with the dragonflies, butterflies, and the humming birds.  Here are a few who stayed still long enough for me to get their photos.  The shrub “bones” of this garden are … Continue reading

Orbs of Light

Orb in snowOrbs of light in digital photos are as intriguing as they are beautiful.  As with so many things, there is a raging disagreement about what causes them and why they appear in photos.

My first remembered encounter with orbs was on a Ghost Tour of Colonial Williamsburg several years ago. http://theghosttour.com/   Towards the end of the tour our guide took us onto the campus at William and Mary, near the oldest buildings where Native American children had once lived as boarders to receive an English education, and invited us to take photographs.  It was well past 10 PM in the late summer, and quite dark.  He explained that our photos, taken towards the historic buildings, might contain these mysterious bright orbs.

0rbI hadn’t brought a camera, but was interested to see photos taken by others.  Some photos were just very dark, lit only by the street lights.  A few photos taken that night did capture bright white mysterious balls of light floating in the air in front of the buildings.  Since this was a “ghost tour”, the guide indicated that the balls of light were in fact related to the “ghosts” of the past said to still inhabit this area.Orbs

orbsAlthough I’m familiar with researchers using various methods to record the presence of disembodied human consciousness, this was a new one for me.  It was all very interesting, but I still haven’t returned to the campus after dark with a camera to try it for myself.

What I did find intriguing was these orbs of light turning up in my own photos taken at home in the garden, in broad daylight!  At first I just found them interesting, and didn’t come to any conclusions about what might be causing them.  I will often take several shots of the same subject from slightly different angles.  It is interesting to see an orb show up in one shot, but not in the next, under the exact same lighting conditions.Orbs

There are various explanations out there for “orbs”.  Digital photography is a fairly recent technological development (at least for someone of my decade) and the photographic process records information differently than it is recorded on old Kodak film. This electronic imprint allows information to be recorded which traditional film might miss.  It also allows a whole different range of reflection and refraction which can play tricks and create interesting effects in photos.Orbs

Some photographers insist that all orbs of light in digital photos are simply light reflected off of dust particles or moisture in the air.  Since there is almost always moisture and dust around in the real world, were this explanation to be accurate, I would expect to see orbs in nearly every shot.  I have some photos taken during snowstorms in which I can clearly see snowflakes reflecting the flash, but can also see what appear to be orbs.Orbs Orbs

Other photographers draw a distinction between large orbs and small, orbs that seem flat or round, colorful orbs as opposed to white, and have even recorded orbs with shadowy “faces” in them.  Some “orbs” show up in photos as tetrahedrons, ovals, or even merkabas.   My own photos show a number of different sizes and colors of orbs, and a few that repeat in photo after photo like a familiar friend.

Orbs seen in photos often congregate around a particular person, or group of people, around a garden, or around an animal, as though in some way nurturing or helping.  Some believe that orbs hovering around an individual are the energy of a departed loved one, still close and involved in family life.  These orbs are sometimes seen in photos taken at weddings and birthdays.June 16, 2013 tree clearing 011

I once read about the Scottish community of Findhorn http://www.findhorn.org/aboutus/vision/co-creation/#.Uc8zLaw9ZEU  and was captivated by their work with elemental nature spirits to aid the growth of their gardens in very difficult growing conditions.  These gardeners developed a method to communicate directly with the nature intelligences to work cooperatively in the garden.  They consulted over where to site each plant, what soil amendments were needed, and other specific details for the culture of particular plants.  And, they generated spectacular results growing huge fruits and vegetables on a seacoast in Scotland, where their soil was simply compost and sand.  Many gardeners have worked with this community over the years, and similar communities using these methods have sprouted up in the United States and elsewhere.  There is an impressive body of data to support their methods of working intentionally and cooperatively with nature.September 23, 2012 Lanai pots 003

orbs There are some who speculate that rather than ghosts, the orbs in photos are visual evidence of the presence of these nature spirits.  Some might call these beings fairies, elves, elementals, devas, or even angels.  Since most of my photos show orbs hovering around plants in my garden, this explanation makes sense to me, although I have no proof to offer to skeptics that this is the definitive explanation.Garden Oct. 21, 2012 027

I offer no answers here, only intriguing questions, and interesting photos.  I leave it to each individual to do more research if they find this interesting, and to take a few digital photos of their own to see whether they find orbs of light hovering in their own gardens.Garden Oct. 21, 2012 026

MBWA

Monarda and conefowers

Monarda and Purple Coneflowers are at their peak in late June. Butterfly bushes in the background have just begun to bloom.

Management by Walking Around is a way of life in many businesses and professions.  During all of those years teaching, I walked around and around my classroom many times each day, armed with a pen and notepad, listening, and observing my students.  I answered a question here, wrote a quick note for someone else, checked homework, and kept an eye on notebooks and computer screens.  Walking around allowed me to interact quietly and personally with each child, to offer quick praise as well as quick re-direction as problems arose.

The same approach keeps me in touch with my garden.  Things change so quickly, especially when it’s hot.  The garden is never the same one day to the next, and every perambulation brings surprises.  This week the Rose of Sharon shrubs began blooming for the summer.  Each day another bush or two burst into bloom with its special color and form of blossom.

Rose of Sharon feeding a bumble bee

Rose of Sharon feeding a bumble bee

I usually wore a jacket, when teaching, with ample pockets for pens, paperclips, hall passes, Jolly Ranchers, and a notepad.  Now I have a gardening vest, actually a Bean fishing vest, covered in pockets of all shapes and sizes.  I always carry clippers, and twist ties or twine.  My pockets also hold a handful of Moonflower seeds harvested in late winter, a few stones for pushing into vole holes, and of course my cell phone. I carry a long skinny trowel with a cutting edge which can accomplish a million small chores, from a quick transplant or division to filling in a hole.

Monarda and conefowers

Both red and purple Monarda grow happily together on a sunny bank.

Even a quick trip out to water a few pots shows me that more attention is needed here and there.  A heavy stem of coneflowers needs to be staked.  Roses need to be cut back where yesterday’s bloom has lost its petals.  A vole tunnel needs to be stomped down flat, and the hole filled with gravel.  Ten minutes quickly stretch into an hour or more, and time passes unheeded as I’m absorbed in the unfolding life around me.

I saw two golden and red skinks this late this afternoon as I watered the basil.  They expected me to keep going around the house, and I surprised them by turning around before they could skitter away.  How they have grown since they first appeared weeks ago.  They happily live close to the house where they can sun themselves and always find a drink of water. I mostly hear them running behind pots or under vines.  Today I was honored that they didn’t run from me.

Walking around, daily, shows me problems when they are small, and can be remedied with just a little effort.  I can cut back the spent blooms of annuals, pull a few blades of grass taking hold in a bed, tie up new growth on a Clematis vine, prune a lantana branch away from a rose, pinch back the growth of Chrysanthemums and Coleus to make them grow bushy.  My tour yesterday showed me that deer had hosted a party in my garden the night before and made a buffet from a hydrangea and even a Persian Shield, which I thought they were supposed to ignore.  Time to spray again with Plant Skydd, and move those pots to a safer location.

Persian Shield, the day before the deer munched it.

Persian Shield, the day before the deer munched it.

Miss a few days of the daily walk, and things can definitely get out of control.  A fast growing Zinnia can fall across a path and begin growing horizontally.  A new family of voles can move in and tunnel up a whole patch of ground where they think they can’t be seen.  A fungus can infest the leaves of a rose, and a pot left sitting in rain water can steam in the summer sun and cook the plant inside.  A garden needs to feel the gardener’s touch every day.

There is research I recently read which shows that plants actually respond to our attention.  They know when they are being admired, and react with fear (according to the scientist who hooked up sensors to a plant’s leaves to measure this) when they are about to be cut back.  Just like us, they enjoy attention and respond to admiration by growing faster and stronger.  A walk of appreciation, where you notice the blooms and new growth on the plants in your garden; where you see each plant as an individual and tend to its needs; makes a difference in their growth and health.

Coleus need regular pinching to remove their bloom stalks.  Once they bloom, leaf production suffers.

Coleus need regular pinching to remove their bloom stalks. Once they bloom, leaf production suffers.

So the need to water in the cool of the morning is usually enough to tear me away from my coffee and morning news programs to suit up and head out into the garden.  Once outside, watering leads to weeding. Flowers and vegetables are harvested while it’s cool. Supports are adjusted, flowers are sniffed, butterflies watched, photos snapped.  On very special days, our hummingbirds will fly over to play in the spray of my hose. One small chore leads to another, and in no time at all I realize the sun has gotten very hot, and it’s on towards noon.  Management by walking around brings me out each day to appreciate, assist, and learn something new about life in our forest garden.

Rose of Sharon

Why Do We Garden?

tree of life 3Why do we garden?

The simplest answer is we were created for it.  The first time we see a man and a woman in the old stories of humankind, we find them in a garden.  We find the first people recorded in the records of Sumeria, Akkadia, and Caanan in the Garden of Eden, given the responsibilities of gardening there by the Elohim, who created them.  The stories tell us that when they were turned out of the garden into the wide world they were still sent out to garden, raise crops, and shepherd flocks of animals.  Agriculture allowed the first cities to develop around the world, and allowed for the accumulation of wealth and for specialization as a few farmers fed many people doing other things- like writing.

Adam and EveThe Whole Earth is Our Garden

According to the indigenous people of the Earth, the first people weren’t turned out of the garden at all.  The whole Earth is our garden, and we are its stewards.  Their attitude towards the land is one of sacred cooperation and stewardship.  They still walk with their gods in harmony and participate in the natural cycles of our planet home.  They call the Earth “Mother”, and believe the soil is her body and the waterways her blood.  The wind is her breath, and her bounty is a gift to us, her children.

And so even today, fed as we are by big agro-business conglomerates, we still have the urge to cultivate the Earth and appreciate her beauty.  Whether tending a pot of basil and a few flowers on a small balcony, or digging up our suburban yard to plant roses and tomatoes, many of us have a deep need to garden.   Many of us want, and need, to “put our hands in the dirt” on a regular basis.  Being a part of the processes of nature brings a beautiful sense of wholeness and peace.

Survival Gardening

Our great grandparents and grandparents gardened to survive.  Many fed their families from “Victory Gardens” during the World Wars and economic depression.  Before then, families commonly raised their own meat and vegetables because there weren’t grocery stores to provide it across much of our country.

guirilla gardening

Guerrilla Gardening in Los Angeles allows residents to create gardens on abandoned and unused land.

“Guerilla Gardening”, beginning in LA, is spreading across many of our blighted cities to feed the hungry families living in “food deserts” where wholesome, fresh food in largely unavailable.  Volunteers cultivate abandoned and city owned land producing fresh fruits and vegetables for their communities.  Land once covered in trash and urban blight is made to bloom again.  What was ugly becomes beautiful and alive with bees, butterflies, birds, and gardeners.  The gardeners find nourishment for body, mind, and spirit.

Even roof gardens have been created in New York and other cities to raise crops of fresh vegetables and herbs in raised beds.  Some have their own bee hives both to pollinate the vegetables and produce fresh honey.  City dwellers buy subscriptions to support the costs, and in return receive deliveries of seasonal produce each week.  Some of these programs train urban youth to farm, work with troubled youth, and encourage their subscribers to volunteer at the roof top farm and build community.

Butterfly on Lantana

Butterfly on Lantana

Figure Out the Answer For Yourself

So, why do we garden?  This is a very personal question for each individual gardener to keep in mind.  The answer may change, subtly, season to season, and garden to garden.

While we may need to garden to provide food for ourselves and loved ones, many of us live near farmer’s markets and grocery stores, and have the ready cash to pay for the food we eat.  It may be far easier to buy our tomatoes than to raise them.  Yet we still want to garden.

The suburbs of America are filled with single family homes surrounded by lawns, foundation plantings, and a few scattered trees.  This has been the norm since the 40s and 50s, and is even enforced by covenants in some communities.  Throughout the summer months families pour chemicals onto the lawn to kill weeds and fertilize the grass, run sprinklers several times each week to keep the grass watered, and then run lawnmowers to keep the grass neatly cut.  Our waterways are polluted with chemical run off, and the air is polluted with noise and exhaust from the gasoline engines of mowers and trimmers.   This is gardening, and the green lawn and tidy bushes bring great satisfaction to many.

Beyond food, many of us crave beauty.  Some find satisfaction in the symmetrical beauty of a green lawn bordered with box or yew; others want a border of flowering shrubs, perennials, and herbs.  Others of us find beauty in the shady green or a forest, or an expanse of gravel, rock, and alpine wildflowers or succulents in a rock garden around our home.

BambooOur Own Place In the Sun(shine)

When beginning to work with the land around our home, we need to consider what we want in return for our investment of time, treasure, and attention.  Focusing on our own needs first helps us make good decisions about what to buy and how to proceed.

Perma-Culture  

This fig will live for many years, producing figs over a long season.

This fig will live for many years, producing figs over a long season.

If we want to produce some or all of our own food, we need open areas of full or partial sun.  There are a number of perma-culture crops which are planted once, and then harvested for decades to come.  These require a dedicated space, good soil preparation, and time.  Many won’t bear produce for several years after planting, but must be watered, weeded, and protected from wild life as they mature.  Many of these crops not only produce a crop, but are also beautiful “bones” in a landscape.  It is wise to plant these during the first year or two on a new property to allow them time to grow and fill in.  All require adequate space based on their mature height and spread.

Examples:  rhubarb, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, running onions, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi, fig, gooseberry, currant, apple, cherry, peach, plum, pomegranate, persimmon, pecan, walnut, hickory, hazel, orange, lemon.  Not an exhaustive list, this offers an overview of permanent landscaping plants which produce a crop.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

A cutting garden of Basil thrives on the steps in full sun.

An Every Changing Feast

To grow annual crops, we also need areas of full sun (usually 8+ hours a day).  Whether we build raised beds, grow in large pots, or till up a traditional garden, this space should be dedicated early on in garden planning.  What do we want to grow, and how much do we need?  Families who want to depend on their own organically grown produce year round will dedicate enough space to grow large quantities of food to can or freeze.  Others might only want to grow a few premium crops like fresh herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, and blueberries, or grow crops not easily found at the grocer, like Malabar spinach.

If we enjoy flowers indoors, we’ll grow a cutting garden of flowers and include shrubs for the green bones of our arrangements.  We might grow a raised bed of zinnias or tea roses for cutting, or grow flowers among our vegetables to attract pollinating insects.

Zinnias and Lantana feed hummingbirds and butterflies, but are ignored by the deer.

Zinnias and Lantana feed hummingbirds and butterflies, but are ignored by the deer.

The Beauty of It

Rose of Sharon flowers close each evening, and open fresh each morning.

Rose of Sharon flowers close each evening, and open fresh each morning.

If we are gardening to create a beautiful landscape, our choices will be different.  Maybe we don’t want to pick up an annual crop of pecans, or clean up fallen apples each fall.  The trees and shrubs we choose for the bones of our garden will be ornamentals.  We’ll fill our planting beds with collections of favorite plants like daylilies, iris, roses, Hosta, peonies, daffodils, and phlox.   We’ll include pathways to wander and comfortable chairs along the way to sit and contemplate the beauty of it all.

Our garden may become an outdoor room where we relax and entertain.  We choose tall evergreen shrubs to create a privacy screen; vines growing on a pergola for shade; flowers and herbs for their aroma; and beautiful pots and hanging baskets of flowers as living works of art.

Collectors among us will tailor our plantings to include many cultivars of a favorite genus of plants.  We want to grow lots of different types of hosta, or many different varieties of rose.  When this fits into our overall plan, like growing several different varieties of fig in our perma-culture garden, it makes sense and we enjoy it.  The plant kingdom is so large and varied that we can spend a lifetime collecting and still find new plants to catch our interest.

Figs

An early crop of figs ripens in late June. These figs remain green when ripe.

Finally, some of us garden to conserve the ecosystem.  We work within what nature has already provided to provide habitat for animals and a place of peace and beauty for ourselves.   From this perspective, we choose native plants over hybrids, leave as many trees and shrubs in place around our home as possible, reduce areas of lawn, and use non-invasive gardening techniques.

Instead of tilling the ground, we build raised beds for planting.  Rather than spraying chemical herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides, we set up natural systems to control pests and use non-chemical ways to control weeds.  We choose plants which need minimal extra watering, and manage the run off from our home and yard in ways to reduce erosion and increase habitat.

turtle in june

A box turtle explores the back yard, scouting out a place to lay eggs.

Welcoming Wild ThingsToad

Birds, bats, frogs, lizards, turtles, and predatory insects are welcome because they all eat insects and so control insect populations on crops and around the garden.  Providing safe shelter and a source of water is often all that is needed to attract them.  Growing flowering herbs and flowers increases the variety of flying insects and birds that eat them.  Birds not only enjoy the feast of insects, but choose to live in yards where there are berry bearing shrubs and cover for them to nest.

Gardening with nature can reduce the time and treasure we invest in the garden, as we leave “wild” areas of our yard to the animals, and plant perennials, trees, and shrubs where others might have lawns.  We plant things which are beautiful in all seasons, or which return reliably year after year with minimal care.  We fertilize mainly with compost.  Grass, leaves, and kitchen waste are composted to feed the soil.  We buy less and enjoy more.

“All of the Above”

These purposes for gardening aren’t mutually exclusive.  As we begin again with each new garden, with each new season, we find a fresh balance.  Our gardens change and evolve as we do.  Having a clear idea of what we want from our garden informs the choices we make.  Trial and error teaches us how to improve.  Enjoying the fruits of our garden, whether edible or ornamental, keeps us coming back again and again.

Creating A Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

July 2014, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Echinacea.

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Even before buying this home, we were  enchanted by the many butterflies and songbirds darting around from tree to tree  behind the house.  There were trees I couldn’t even name covered in sweet smelling flowers growing in the edge of the ravine, Rose of Sharon bushes behind the house, and a great Mimosa tree covered in silky pink flowers.  Butterflies flew a circuit from one to the next, and bright hummingbirds flew unbelievably close to our windows to get to the huge Rose of Sharon flowers.

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July 20, 2014 butterflies 014~

Over that first long winter, I planned for a butterfly and hummingbird garden to bring these bright creatures even closer.  We have been rewarded many times over by the beauty of both the flowers and the birds and insects drawn to them.

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October 1, 2010 044

Sages, zinnias, Lantana and roses provide a constant variety of sweet nectar in the butterfly garden.

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By nature, these animals like to stay on the move, and appreciate a variety of different locations where they can feed.  We provide several beds of nectar rich flowers, and also grow pots and baskets of flowers on the deck and patio to attract them close to our windows.  This keeps them well fed and attracts a huge variety of bees, dragonflies, and other insects in addition to the butterflies.

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Buddliea, or Butterfly Bush, attracts lots of attention in the garden and is a generous supplier of nectar.  New compact hybrids are available, but the species can grow quite large and benefits from hard pruning in February.

Buddliea, or Butterfly Bush, attracts lots of attention in the garden and is a generous supplier of nectar. New compact hybrids are available, but the species can grow quite large and benefits from hard pruning in February.

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In addition to food, butterflies and hummingbirds need safe areas to rest and sun themselves and a source of water.  A shallow dish full of sand, gravel, and fresh water serves the butterflies.  Hummingbirds enjoy flying through a gentle spray of water, whether from a fountain or a garden hose.

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Butterfly tree attracts many butterflies and hummingbird moths to the garden.  These grow wild in our neighborhood.

Butterfly tree attracts many butterflies and hummingbird moths to the garden. These grow wild in our neighborhood.

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It is important to use organic products, and avoid poisons, in areas bees, butterflies, and birds frequent. 

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August 26, 2014 garden 044

Chives

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There are high quality and affordable products widely available to fertilize and control fungal infections for the plants.  Attracting a wide variety of insects and birds keeps any insect infestations in check.

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Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

Tiger Swallowtail on Joe Pye Weed

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A huge variety of song birds will show up to feast on the many insects attracted to this garden.  Hummingbirds also eat insects.  I frequently find toads, turtles and small lizards in our butterfly gardens feasting on whatever insects crawl or fly past.   Bats visit our garden at dusk, leaving their shelters in the ravine to fly loops over our garden, devouring insects as they fly.  Using poisons of any kind will defeat the purpose of a garden planted to attract wildlife.

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Dill in our garden last July

Dill with Lantana offer an irresistible attraction for butterflies and other small pollinating insects.

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Our butterfly gardens have evolved and grown over our six summers now in this garden.  We have added a greater variety of native perennials like Joe Pye Weed, Milkweed, and hardy native Hibiscus.  We have also planted more herbs and other fragrant plants distasteful to the deer.  We always include herbs which double as host plants, such as fennel, dill and parsley.

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Baskets of Fuschia near the house keep hummingbirds happy.

Baskets of Fuchsia keep hummingbirds happy and frequent visitors.

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We have opened up new gardens in every part of the yard, leaving some natural areas for habitat.  From Crepe Myrtle and Lantana growing at the top of our garden along the street to gardens terraced down the back slope towards the ravine, there are abundant food sources to attract a variety of nectar loving creatures.

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Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

Butterfly bush with native Hibiscus

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The garden always grows more exciting after the first hummingbird and first butterfly is sighted in the springtime.  It feels very empty when they depart in the autumn.  But for those wonderful months in between, we enjoy exploring the garden each day, watching for these fascinating visitors.

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Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

Red Canna flowers and Hibiscus attract both hummingbirds and pollinating insects, including butterflies.

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Here is a list of some annuals, perennials, herbs, vines, and shrubs I grow to feed and attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and song birds.

Achillea (perennial flower)

A hummingbird moth feeds from our Lantana.

A hummingbird moth feeds from our Lantana.

Basil (annual edible herb)

Buddleia (also, “Butterfly Bush” perennial shrub)

Canna (perennial flower)

Clary Sage (annual herb)

Cleome (annual flower)

Coleus– (annual)

Comfrey (perennial medicinal herb with lavender flowers)

Crepe Myrtle (flowering tree)

This is one of the many Crepe Myrtle trees growing around our garden.

This is one of the many Crepe Myrtle trees growing around our garden.

Echinacea  (perennials flower which attracts butterflies.  The seeds attract goldfinches)

Fuchsias (tender perennial)

Jasmine (flowering vine)

Lavender (perennial edible herb)

Lilac (flowering shrub)

Heliotrope (annual herb)

Hibiscus (perennial or tender perennial shrub, depending on the variety)

Hollyhocks (biennials or perennials)

Coleus

Coleus

Honeysuckle (perennial vine)

Hyacinth Bean (annual vine)

Jasmine (perennial vine, evergreen)

Lantana (annual or tender perennial, depending on the variety, in Zone 7 B)

Marigolds (annual flower)

Mexican Blue Sage (perennial herb)

Milkweed (perennial flower which is also a host plant for Monarch butterflies)

Mimosa (flowering tree)

Monarda (also called Bergamot or Bee Balm.  This is an edible herb)

Moonflower (flowering vine)

Oregano (perennial edible herb)

Parsley (biennial herb, host for caterpillars)

Hardy Hibiscus

Hardy Hibiscus

Pelargonium (any of several types of perennial geraniums)

Pentas (annual flowers)

Petunias (tender perennial flower)

Pineapple Sage (perennial edible herb whose red flowers attract hummingbirds)

Roses (perennial shrub)

Rose of Sharon (flowering shrub)

Rudbeckia (perennial flower)

Salvia (perennial herbs, some are edible)

Yarrow (perennial flower)

Zinnias (annual flower which attracts butterflies.  The seeds attract goldfinches)

Woodland Gnome 2013-2015

 

Mexican Blue Sage and Pineapple sage are the main attraction in the butterfly garden at the end of October.

Mexican Blue Sage and Pineapple sage are the main attraction in the butterfly garden at the end of October.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recycling: The Stump Garden

Living in a forest means that sometimes our trees come down, whether by natural disaster or human choice, their loss changes the fabric of our gardens.

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Their loss also opens up fresh possibilities for change and growth.  One of the lessons gardeners experience again and again is the constancy of change.  Our gardens are never the same day to day, let alone year to year.

When we approach our gardens with an attitude of working with the change, we can see opportunities to create beauty and to restore the web of life where once there was only the remains of something now passed.

The stump of a great old tree, long gone, dominates the very bottom of our back garden.

A decaying stump from a great old tree dominates the bottom of the yard.

A decaying stump from a great old tree dominates the bottom of the yard.

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Although beautiful as a sculpture, I saw the opportunity to create beauty and also halt the erosion in this area.

This isn’t a good area for digging, and so I created a shallow raised bed using curved edging bricks from the hardware store.  They had to be carefully placed around the exposed roots of the old stump.  The bed was filled with a combination of bagged topsoil and bagged, commercial compost.  I use Leaf Grow Soil Conditioner which is produced in Maryland.  http://www.menv.com/leafgro.shtml  This particular product gives great results, and I use it almost exclusively when planting out in the garden.

A new planting bed built around a recycled stump

A new planting bed built around a recycled stump

Because the ground was sloped and uneven, I mounded the new soil higher around the base of the stump, and then tapered it down towards the edging bricks until the bed looked pleasingly full of soil and well formed.

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Hellebores are poisonous, and never grazed by deer. They prefer shade, and bloom from December until early summer. They are drought tolerant and spread once established.

A very good friend has a yard full of Hellebores, which reseed prolifically.  She had seedling growing up in areas where she wanted to grow roses and other perennials.  We worked together to dig the small plants out of areas where she didn’t want them, and I tucked them into containers of potting soil for the trip home.

I planted the transplants into the rich compost of the new bed, working around the roots, and spacing the plants 12″-18″ apart.  After watering them in, I left them to adjust to their new garden.

This whole process was done in early spring, and as the weather warmed, I was delighted to see that bits of Japanese painted fern   Image

and Epipedium had hitchhiked along attached to the roots of the Helleborus. Image

As the plants began to fill in and the soil settled, I kept adding compost as needed, and added a few more fern plants to the more deeply shaded back side of the stump garden.  A year later, I added an ivy plant which had outgrown its container, and a few more hybrid “must have” Hellebores from the garden center to fill in the last remaining empty spots.

This is now one of the most beautiful beds in my garden.  The plants have grown enough to cover themselves in flowers from December until June.  Hellebores make wonderful cut flowers and last a week or more in vases of fresh water.

Lenten Rose arrangement

Imagine that- an old stump became the anchor for a winter cutting garden, and a year round place of beauty!Stump garden in April

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The stump garden a full year after it was planted.

June 14 garden and cake 002

The stump garden in the second spring after it was planted bloomed from December until June, providing many stems of fresh winter flowers.

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A pink Hellebores is still blooming in June alongside ferns, Lamium, and ivy.

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Smaller stumps left from trees downed in a recent hurricane are surrounded by Leaf Grow Soil Conditioner, and then planted with ferns to serve as the beginnings for future beds in the shade.

Autumn Brilliance ferns planted in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.

Autumn Brilliance ferns planted in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.

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