Faith and Patience

The first tiny leaves of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups,’ which overwintered outside in a large pot, and finally showed itself this weekend to prove it is still alive.

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Fear and faith often compete for our attention.  How often do we preface a thought with, “I’m afraid….,” ? 

Faith requires great patience.  It asks us to overlook the passage of time as we wait for what we want and need to manifest.  When fear wins, we let go of faith and give up our positive attitude of hope.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ survived winter in this pot, though I feared all the tubers were lost. Here it is shooting up around the Calla lilies and annuals I planted last month.

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We may explain it away as being ‘realistic.’  We might give any number of plausible reasons for surrendering to fear.  But a hallmark of integrity and strength is one who has faith in an eventual positive outcome, who can look away from fear and remain hopeful.

I believe that gardening teaches us this lesson above all others.  The work of a gardener requires great faith, whether we are planting something in the Earth, waiting for spring to unfold, rejuvenating a shrub through heavy pruning, or simply sharing a plant with someone else who hopes to grow it on for themselves.

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In all of our work as gardeners, we maintain faith that our vision will eventually manifest, perhaps even better than we can possibly imagine it.

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Zantedeschia, which overwintered in the garden, and came back three times the size it was last year.

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I got a hard reminder of this from another gardener this week.  Earlier this spring, I admitted that I was ‘afraid’ that some Caladium tubers I’d saved and some Colocasia tubers I’d left outside over winter hadn’t made it.  I was afraid they were lost to winter’s cold, and replanted the pots with something else.  I gave up too easily….

My gardening friend chided me with a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew:  “Oh ye of little faith!” And  of course, he was right.  I wasn’t so much afraid as I was tired of waiting.  In my hurry to keep my pots productive, I gave up too soon.  I didn’t allow nature the time it needed to initiate the miracle of new growth.

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But even through my lack of faith, these tiny bits of life have grown, sprouting new leaves, and proving to me that they have endured.

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Faith can be defined as: a strongly held unshakeable belief; confidence; complete trust; an obligation of loyalty; and a belief in that which cannot be seen or proven.

It is by maintaining our faith in our aspirations that they may eventually be realized.

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The fruits of Friday’s marathon planting efforts, ready to grow into their positive potential.

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Often the difference between success in our endeavor, or failure, is only a matter of how long we can sustain our efforts and our faith.  We can give up or give in too soon!

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And so our eventual success often hinges on our ability to patiently wait for nature’s process to unfold.

When we hold on to our faith in the positive outcome we envision, we have that proverbial ‘”faith like a grain of mustard seed, …   and nothing will be impossible for you.”  Mathew 17:20

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These Cannas, given to me by a dear friend in the weeks after our front garden was devastated by a storm, encouraged me to keep faith in re-making the garden.

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Faith becomes a very practical source of strength.  It is a stubbornness which demands the best from ourselves, the best from our environment, and the best from others in our lives.

In its essence, it is an unshakeable belief in the endless positive potential of the universe.  And that is what we gardeners are always about, isn’t it?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves,
and it was completely calm.    Matthew 8:26

Slow to Grow: Elephant Ears

Colocasia esculenta

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It has been agonizingly slow this spring, watching and waiting for our elephant ears to grow.  I blame the weather.  Wouldn’t you?

After all, we enjoyed 80F days in February, and then retreated back to wintery grey days through most of March.  We’ve been on a climatic roller-coaster since.

Gardeners, and our plants, appreciate a smooth transition from one season to another.  Let it be cold in winter, then warm gradually through early, mid and late spring until we enjoy a few weeks of perfect summer in late May and early June.  We know to expect heat in June, July and August, with moderating temperatures and humidity by mid-September.

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I started working on this new bed in March, bringing the still potted Colocasias in doors and back out with the weather. Although I planted them weeks ago, they are still sulking a bit in our cool, rainy weather this month.

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But lately, our seasons feel rather muddled.  That smooth crescendo from season to season has gone all rag-time on us.  We’ve already lost a potted Hydrangea Macrophylla teased into leaf too early, and then frozen a time too many.  Those early leaves dissolved in mush, but new growth started again from the crown.

I’ve watched the poor shrub try at least 3 times to grow this spring, and now it sits, bare, in its pot while I hold out hope for either a horticultural miracle, or a clone on sale; whichever comes first.

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Colocasia ‘Pink China’ loves our climate and spreads a bit each year. Its pink spot and pink stem inspired its name. This is the Colocasia I happily dig up to share with gardening friends. These will be a little more than 5′ tall by late summer.

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I hedged my bets last fall with the elephant ears.  I left some in situ in the garden, some in their pots, but pulled up close to the house on the patio, and I brought a few pots of Alocasia and Colocasia into our basement or garage.

I dug most of our Caladiums and dried them for several weeks in the garage, and then boxed and bagged them with rice hulls before storing them in a closet through the winter.  I left a few special ones in their pots and kept the pots in our sunny garage.

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Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ overwintered for us  dried and stored in a box with rice hulls. I planted the tuber again in early April.

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And I waited until April before trying to rouse any of them.  But by early April, while I was organizing a Caladium order for 2017, I also planted all of those stored Caladium tubers in fresh potting soil and set them in our guest room to grow.  Eventually, after our last frost date in mid-April, I also retrieved the pots from the basement and brought them out to the warmth of our patio.  They all got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest and a chance to awaken for summer.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ didn’t survive winter in our garage. (This photo from summer 2016)  I left them in their pot, but it must have gotten too cold for them.  Happily, I ordered new tubers this spring.

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Around this time I gingerly began to feel around in those Caladium pots kept in the garage, for signs of life.  I thought I’d divide and replant the tubers and get them going again.  But, to my great disappointment, not a single tuber survived.   The Caladiums succumbed to the chill of our garage sometime during the winter, and I had three generous sized, empty pots to recycle with fresh plantings.

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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ve recycled the pot for other plants. Calla lily has a form similar to some Alocasia, and is more tolerant of cold weather. These are hardy in Zone 7.

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By the time our new Caladium order arrived in mid- April, the tubers I’d dried, stored, and replanted were in growth.  I moved them to the garage to get more light and actually planted the first batch of Caladiums outside by the first week of May.

I planted most of the new Caladiums into potting soil filled boxes and sent them off to the guest room to awaken, but chanced planting a few bare tubers into pots outside.  Mistake.

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These saved Caladiums, started indoors in April, moved outside to their permanent bed in early May. Still a little slow to grow, they have weathered a few cool  nights this month.

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Because for all the promising balmy days we’ve had this spring, we’ve had our share of dreary cool ones, too.  We even had a few nights in the 40s earlier this month!  It’s generally safe here to plant out tomatoes, Basil and Caladiums by mid-May.  Sadly, this year, these heat lovers have been left stunted by the late cool weather.

The new Caladium tubers planted indoors are still mostly sulking, too, with little to show for themselves.  The ones I planted directly outside in pots remain invisible.  I just hope they didn’t rot in our cool, rainy weather.

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Colocasia ‘Black Coral,’ started in a greenhouse this spring, has been growing outdoors for nearly a month now. This one can get to more than 4′ tall in full sun to part shade.

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Of the saved Colocasias and Alocasias, C. ‘Mohito’ has done the best.   I brought a large pot of them into the basement last fall, and knocked the plant out of its pot when I brought it back outdoors in April.   I divided the tubers and ended up with several plants.  They are all growing nicely, though they are still rather small.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ has been in the family a few years now. It overwinters, dormant in its pot, in our basement. This is one of 5 divisions I made at re-potting time this spring.

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I dug up our large C. ‘Tea Cups’ in October and brought it indoors in a pot, leaving behind its runners.  The main plant began vigorous growth again by late April, but none of the runners seem to have made it through the winter outdoors.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ also overwintered in the basement.  New last year, this plant has really taken off in the last few weeks and is many times larger than our new C. ‘Tea Cups’ plants.  It catches rain in its concave leaves, thus its name.

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I brought one of our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ into the garage in its pot, where it continued to grow until after Christmas.  By then the last leaf withered, and it remained dormant until we brought it back out in April.  It has made tiny new leaves ever so slowly, and those new leaves remain less than 6″ tall.

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Alocasia ‘Sting Ray’ spent winter in our garage.  It has been very slow to grow this spring, but already has many more leaves than last year.  It will eventually grow to about 6′.  Zone 8-11

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But that is better than the potted A. ‘Stingray‘ that overwintered on the patio.  We’ve been watching and waiting all spring, and I finally gave up and dug through the potting soil last week looking for any sign of the tuber.  I found nothing.

But, fearing the worst, we already bought two new A. ‘Stingray’ from the bulb shop in Gloucester in early May, and those are growing vigorously.   They enjoyed the greenhouse treatment through our sulky spring, of course.

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Our new A. ‘Stingray’ grows in the blue pot in front of where another A. ‘Stingray’ grew last year. I left the black pot out on the patio over winter, and the Alocasia hasn’t returned. I finally planted some of our new Caladiums in the empty pot last week.

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I have two more pots of Alocasia in que:  A. ‘Plumbea’ has shown two tiny leaves thus far, so I know it is alive.  A. ‘Sarian’ has slept in the sun for weeks now, its tuber still visible and firm.  Finally, just over this weekend, the first tiny leaf has appeared.  I expect it to grow into an even more  beautiful plant than last summer since.  It came to us in a tiny 4″ pot, and ended summer at around 5′ tall.  I can’t wait to see how large it grows by August!

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ isn’t’ available for order from Brent and Becky’s bulbs this year. I am very happy this one survived winter, because it is a beautiful plant.  Hardy in zones 3-10, this will grow to 5′.

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But the pot of Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ that overwintered on the patio, has shown nothing so far, either.  Hardy to Zone 8, I hoped the shelter of our patio might allow this two year old plant to survive.  Now, I’m about ready to refresh the soil and fill that pot with some of the Caladiums still growing in our garage.

C. ‘Blue Hawaii’ is marginal here.  A few have survived past winters planted in the ground; but thus far, I’m not recognizing any coming back in the garden this year.

I’ve planted a few C. ‘Mojito’ in the ground this spring, and plan to leave them in the fall to see whether they return next year.  But I will also hedge my bet and bring a potted C. ‘Mojito’ inside again so I’ll have plants to begin with next spring.

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C. ‘Mojito’ in our bog garden will soon get potted up to a larger container.  I planted a few of the smaller divisions of this plant directly into the ground to see if they will survive the winter coming. (Zone 8)

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Every year I learn a little more about growing elephant ears.  I know now that Colocasia ‘China Pink’ is vigorous and dependable in our garden.  There is no worry about them making it through winter, and I dig and spread those a bit each year.

The huge Colocasia esculenta I planted a few years ago with our Cannas dependably return.  These are the species, not a fancy cultivar.  But they seem to manage fine with nothing more than some fallen leaves for mulch.

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These gorgeous tropical elephant ears put on a great show for four to six months each year in our zone.  Deer and rabbits don’t touch them, and they rarely have any problem with insects or disease.   Our muggy, hot summers suit them fine.  They love, and need, heat to thrive.

Any temperate zone gardener who wants to grow them, needs to also plan for their winter dormancy.  And each plant’s needs are unique.  Some Colocasia might be hardy north to Zone 6.  A few Alocasia cultivars are hardy to zone 7b or 8, but most require zone 9 to remain outdoors in the winter.  Caladiums want a lot more warmth, and prefer Zone 10.  Caladiums can rot in wet soil below 60F.

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Hardy Begonias are naturalizing in this lively bed transitioning to summer.  I planted the Caladiums about a month ago, and they have slowly begun to grow.  See also fading daffodil leaves, Japanese painted ferns, Arum Italicum, and creeping Jenny.

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If you don’t have space to store elephant ears over winter, you can still grow them as annuals, of course.    That requires a bit of an investment if you like them a lot, and want to fill your garden!

My favorite source for Colocasia and Alocasia elephant ears, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,  has put all of their summer bulbs, including Caladium tubers,  on clearance now through Monday, June 5.   This is a good time to try something new, if you’re curious about how these beautiful plants would perform in your own garden, because all these plants are half off their usual price.  The Colocasia and Alocasia plants they’re selling now come straight to you from their greenhouses.

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Alocasia ‘Sarian’ emerged over the weekend. This is a very welcome sight!

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I order our Caladiums direct from the grower at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, Florida (see below).  There is still plenty of time for you to grow these from tubers this summer, as long as your summer nights will be mostly above 60F for a couple of months.  Potted Caladiums make nice houseplants, too, when autumn chills return.  (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs buy their Caladiums from Classic Caladiums, too.  You will find a much larger selection when you buy direct from the grower.  Classic Caladiums sells to both wholesale and retail customers.)

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Slow to grow, this year, but so worth the wait.  We are always fascinated while watching our elephant ears grow each year, filling our garden with their huge, luscious leaves.  Once they get growing, they grow so fast you can see the difference sometimes from morning to afternoon!

Our summer officially begins today.  Now we can settle in to watch the annual spectacle unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Is your region too cool for tropical Elephant Ears? Get a similar effect with rhubarb. This rhubarb ‘Victoria,’ in its second year, emerges in early spring. Leaves have the same basic size and shape as Alocasia leaves without the shiny texture. There are a number of ornamental rhubarbs available, some of them quite large.  These are easy to grow,  perennial north into Canada, and grow into a beautiful focal point in the garden.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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Philosophers speak of ‘The Music of the Spheres.”  Since ancient times, we have understood the musicality of nature.

Not only is the physical world based in pure mathematics, as is music; the sounds created by Earth, sea and sky flow together as a symphony.  Everywhere there is sound:  pitch, rhythm, harmony and the melodies found in the voices of whale, wind, bird, cricket and human.

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Morning Glory vines are annuals in our climate, but drop their seeds each summer. These prolific seeds germinate in early summer and the vines bloom from mid-summer until frost.

Morning Glory vines are annuals in our climate, but drop their seeds each summer. These prolific seeds germinate in early summer and the vines bloom from mid-summer until frost.

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Our gardens grow to their own rhythms, too.  And the wise gardener comes to know these rhythms as closely as their own heartbeats.

Understanding the growth rhythms of the seasons in your own region, and the rhythms of the various plants you grow, allows a gardener to work confidently with nature.

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These Morning Glory vines scamper over roses and Lantana.

These Morning Glory vines scamper over roses and Lantana.

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Not understanding these basic rhythms can set you at  cross purposes to the unfolding happening around you.  And worse, ignorance of a plant’s natural rhythms can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress for the plant and the gardener!

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These hardy Begonias share the pot with the perennial Heuchera. There are a few spring bulbs, too, which will begin growing in the months ahead. The Caladium 'Florida Moonlight' will need to come out before frost. But these plants can all share the same space and take center stage at different seasons of the year.

These hardy Begonias share the pot with the perennial Hellebore. There are a few spring bulbs, too, which will begin growing in the months ahead. The Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’ will need to come out before frost and will be replaced with Violas. But these plants can all share the same space and take center stage at different seasons of the year.

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What rhythms does an effective gardener understand?  Well, first, we must feel the rhythms of the seasons.  This is different for each place, as one season melts into the next.

The official dates of solstice and equinox, new moons and full, frost dates and summer heat help us begin to feel this rhythm.   But the fine details are learned through years of observation.

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For example, there is a great deal of ‘see-sawing’ between hot days and frosts here each autumn and each spring.  We might have roses blooming until mid-December after a brief November snowstorm.

But we might also have days over 80F in March followed by snow in April.  Temperature changes prove gradual and unpredictable here, and we have to pay attention to the daily forecast.

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Autumn roses are the best. Our shrub is recovering from summer drought and beginning to produce roses again.

Autumn roses are the best. Our shrubs are recovering from summer drought and beginning to produce roses again.

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Beyond climate, there is the rhythm of each plant we grow.  So many prove ephemeral, appearing and disappearing quite suddenly with the seasons, like our Hurricane Lilies.

It helps to know what plants are annuals in our region and are ‘gone forever’ once they die back, and which will return.  What plants grow from ever multiplying bulbs and tubers?  Which plants have perennial roots?

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Our 'Hurricane Lily,' Lycoris radiata, just suddenly appears when its time is right. We often forget where the bulbs are planted year to year so they are always a delightful surprise.

Our ‘Hurricane Lily,’ Lycoris radiata, just suddenly appears when its time is right. We often forget where the bulbs are planted year to year so they are always a delightful late summer surprise.  The vinca Minor vines growing as ground cover remain evergreen, but bloom with the Daffodils each spring.

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When rain was abundant this spring, I started a new nearly full-shade garden bed  filled with ferns,  Caladiums, and a few low perennials.

It was coming along beautifully, until our hot spell in late July and August came while I was spending a great deal of time out of town.  My watering fell behind here, and by the last week of August many of the plants appeared to be dead or dying.

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The new garden on July 18, when there still was abundant rain. All of the new plants were growing well.

The new shade garden on July 18, when there still was abundant rain. All of the Caladiums and ferns were growing well.

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I was so disappointed in myself to have allowed all of these beautiful new ferns to ‘die.’

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I started watering intensively here, and then Hermine brought us a good day and a half of cool, cloudy wet weather.

And, ‘Voila!’ Even though the fronds of my potted Athyrium niponicum may have all shriveled in the drought,  their roots survived.  And today I discovered new growth in the pots.   What relief!

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These hardy ferns aren’t evergreen and so die back each autumn.  They won’t be seen again until early spring, when their new leaves emerge.

But now I’ve learned they can survive a drought in the same way they survive freezing temperatures; they pull their life back into their roots.

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Spring bulbs have begun to grow in ths container, also recovering from August's drought.

Spring bulbs have begun to grow in this container, also recovering now from August’s drought.  The Sedum can root from any part of the stem and remains evergreen through our winters.  The Creeping Jenny is also a perennial here.

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So many plants will survive in one small part of the plant; whether seed, bulb, root, rhizome or tuber.  Knowing this lets us move from season to season with confidence, knowing how to help our favorite plants not only return, but also multiply.

When will each appear, grow and bloom?  When will they disappear again in the cycle of the year?  Which seeds can we scatter with confidence that they will germinate and grow?

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This perennial butterfly Ginger Lily will die back to the ground after frost, but its rhizomes spread each year. These will bloom from the end of August until killed by frost in November.

This perennial butterfly Ginger Lily will die back to the ground after frost, but its rhizomes spread each year.  The plants return in May and grow all summer, topping out at 7′-8′ tall.  These will bloom from the end of August until killed by frost in November.

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Plants come and go with the seasons.   The appearance of our garden may change radically from one month to another.

Learn these rhythms and time your ‘doings’ and ‘not-doings’ to work in harmony with them.  This is one of the hallmarks of a true gardener.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit 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 you grow the garden of your 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 will 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 plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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And suddenly, it is beginning to look like autumn here. Jones Mill Pond, as it looked last evening.

And suddenly, it is beginning to look like autumn here. Jones Mill Pond, as it looked last evening.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

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That title could say, ‘Plan ahead for your garden’s worst day’ and it would be even better advice.  I’ve been thinking about this these last few mornings as I stand outside for hours watering and watching our garden respond to weeks of dry heat.

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We gardeners are curators of a collection of living ever-changing organisms.  In the best conditions, when we get just enough rain and temperatures are mild, we have it easy.  But those days won’t last forever.  And so we must plan ahead for all of the challenges the gardening year brings; including August’s heat and drought.

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I've been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

I’ve been sprinkling seeds of these chives around the garden for the past few years. They are tough and pretty and their aroma discourages grazing animals.

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As change is the constant in our gardens, we plan ahead for the beauties and challenges of each season.  We make sure our garden has ‘good bones’ to offer structure and interest during winter.  We plan for evergreens, architectural structure, perhaps a few interesting perennials with seed heads left standing and a few herbaceous plants which keep going through the worst weeks of winter.

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Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May.

Violas bloom for us through most of the winter. They make a nice display from October through May and pair well with potted shrubs and spring bulbs.

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We plant bulbs and flowering woodies to greet the warmth of spring; perennials to carry us through summer; and those special late perennials and trees with colorful foliage to give us beauty lasting through the first wintry frosts.

Good gardeners are always thinking a few  months ahead to take advantage of the season coming.

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But we also think ahead to survive the special hazards of the season coming, too.    And right now, that means having a plan in place to keep the garden hydrated until the rains come again.

It can be so discouraging to watch valued plants wither and droop from too much heat and too little water.  Mulches and drip irrigation certainly help here.  But we don’t all have extensive drip systems in place.  Some of us are carrying hoses and watering cans to the most vulnerable parts of our landscape each day.

In a few short months our weather will shift.  Winter protection for overwintering perennials will be our big concern.  We’ll begin preparing for spring with thoughtful pruning and dividing, and then watch for those late freezes which can catch a gardener unawares.

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Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

Black Eyed Susans may droop in the heat, but they are survivors. Native plants like these are able to manage without a lot of special care. This patch self-seeds and spreads each season.

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Changing the plant palette in the garden to include tough, hardy, drought tolerant plants helps, too.  Finding plants with deep roots, thick fleshly leaves and a hardy constitution becomes more important with each passing year.  A too-delicate plant allowed to dry out or freeze for even a day may be a total loss.

I’ve been moving pots around quite a bit over these last few weeks, trying to offer more shelter and shade to plants which need it; moving those that succumbed while I was traveling out of sight….

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Lavender "Goodwin's Creek' and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

Lavender “Goodwin Creek’ and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ have proven a winning combination in a pot together this summer. They sit in full sun and never show stress from the heat.

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A dedicated gardening friend sometimes reminds me, “There is no right place for an ugly plant.”  I tend to be sentimental and try to coax near-gonners back to health.  He is much more practical about it.  Get rid of that ugly plant and choose something better suited to the actual conditions of the spot!

And that brings us full-circle in this conversation.  Planning ahead also means deciding not to buy those plants we know won’t make it through the season.  It doesn’t matter how much we love the plant.  If the real growing conditions of our garden won’t support a plant long term, why waste the money?

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This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.

This is one tough Begonia, taking a lot of sun and keeping its color well.  It overwintered in our garage and new plants grew quickly from cuttings.

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As we note which plants grow really well for us, we have to also note those which don’t.  I already know that the Dahlias I planted with such hope look like crap.  Several are already dead or dormant….  Most of the potted Petunias have now fried in the heat.  I cut them back hard, watered, and hope for grace. 

It doesn’t matter whether the problem is the soil, the weather, Japanese beetles, lack of time or lack of skill; let’s be honest with ourselves from the beginning.  Let’s choose more of what works for us and just stop trying to force those plants which won’t.

Let’s plan ahead for success rather than setting ourselves up for disappointment.

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Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded 'volunteers.' These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded Beautyberry in the lower right corner which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.

Many plants in our garden, like these Crepe Myrtles, are self-seeded ‘volunteers.’ These shrubs are never watered yet look fresh and healthy. There is a self-seeded native Beautyberry on the right, which soon will have bright purple berries loved by the birds.  Native and naturalized plants are dependable through all sorts of weather extremes.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:

Planning ahead also means looking for ways to do things better each season.  We should try a few new plants each year.  Let’s remain open to new possibilities both for our plant choices and for cultural practices.  Just because something doesn’t work the first time we try doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve on what we’re doing, and try again.

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These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium 'Sweet Carolina' from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction that I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for this plant in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

These are the first leaves to open on our new Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ from Classic Caladiums. This is a new 2015 introduction, which I am happy to grow out in a gardening trial for new Caladium here in coastal Virginia. So far, I like it! It has gone from dry tuber to leaf in only about 3 weeks.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit 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 you grow the garden of your 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 will 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 plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Lantana has proven a winner in our garden. I never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost. It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

Lantana has proven a winner in our garden.  It never shows stress from heat or drought because its roots grow deep. It feeds birds, hummingbirds and butterflies. It pumps out flowers non-stop from April until it is hit by frost.  It rarely has any damage from insects and never is touched by deer or rabbits.  It is one of the most dependable and attractive plants we grow.

~

Woodland Gnome 2016

 

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8: Observe

August 8, 2016 garden in rain 002

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In February and March, every gardening miracle seems possible.  My coffee table holds a thick stack of gardening catalogs, each filled with gorgeous photos of flowers and foliage in every size, color, pattern and form a gardener might wish for.  In winter, I sketch out plans for new planting beds and make long ‘wish lists’ of what I hope to grow in the season coming.

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Hybrid hardy Hibiscus 'Sun King' attracts every Japanese beetle within miles. Our native Hibiscus mucheotos rarely sustain damage, but these ratty leaves always distract from the beauty of its vibrant flowers.

Hybrid hardy Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ attracts every Japanese beetle within miles. Our native Hibiscus moscheutos rarely sustain damage.  But these ratty leaves always distract from the beauty of this plant’s vibrant flowers.

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But as the calendar pages turn, reality sets in with late freezes or early heat; storms and drought; insects chewing the leaves; rabbits and deer ‘pruning;’  and any number of other seasonal stressors to challenge the beauty of our garden.  The pristine beauty of a gardening catalog photo doesn’t always match the reality of how that plant may look in late summer growing in our garden.

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Rudbeckia lacniata came as an unexpected gift along with some Monarda roots. These wildflowers grow to 8'tall and require little care beyond staking.

Rudbeckia laciniata came as an unexpected gift from a gardening friend,  along with some Monarda roots. These wildflowers grow to 8′ tall and require little care beyond staking.  Butterflies love them!  These grow in our ever changing ‘Butterfly Garden.’

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The difference between gardening dreams and gardening reality can prove both disappointing and expensive!  That is why experienced gardeners notice how a plant actually weathers the long months of summer; in what conditions it thrives or disappoints; and what special care it needs; before making an investment.

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In its second season, the Rudbeckia laciniata has climbed up through our Rose of Sharon shrubs this summer. What a display!

In their second season, the Rudbeckia laciniata have climbed up through our Rose of Sharon shrubs this summer. What a display!

Many popular and commonly used plants have a very brief period when they look great.  But as flowers fade and drop and summer heat sets in they turn more brown than bright.

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August 8, 2016 garden in rain 010

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Some, like German Iris, respond to having the bloom stalks pruned back and dying leaves removed.  New growth often shows up as summer wanes.  The leaves offer a green, sculptural presence in the garden long after the flowers fade.

But other commonly used annuals and perennials, like some semperfloren Begonias and many re-blooming daylily hybrids, simply don’t do well in our Virginia mid-summer dry-spells combined with days of heat.  They soon look rather ragged.

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This bed of hybrid roses and daylilies grows along Rt. 60 near Busch Gardens. Planted with good intentions, it looks pretty dismal by early August.

This bed of hybrid roses and daylilies grows along Rt. 60 near Busch Gardens. Planted with good intentions, it looks pretty dismal by early August.

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That is why it pays to really look around and observe what looks good and what doesn’t by the middle of August in your region.  What plants thrive in your local conditions?  What proves ‘high-maintenance’ and needs a lot of attention to make it through the season?

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Canna lilies keep blooming through the worst summer weather, but may also attract insects which eat their leaves. These Canna 'Russian Red' are a new variety we're trying this year.

Canna lilies keep blooming through the worst summer weather, but may also attract insects which eat their leaves. These Canna ‘Russian Red’ are a new variety we’re trying for the first time this year.

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What plants attract Japanese beetles and other pests?  What gets eaten at night by slugs and snails?  What do you admire growing in neighbors’ yards as you drive around town?

Our star performers in August include Crepe Myrtle trees, Canna lily, Colocasia, Lantana, Black Eyed Susans, Caladiums and many herbs.  Relatively pest and disease free, these beauties shrug off the heat and remain attractive and bright through the long months of summer.

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Naturalized Black Eyed Susans in our garden

Naturalized Black Eyed Susans spread themselves further and further each year in our garden.

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What stands up to summer in your garden?  Which plants do you count on to thrive and remain attractive into the autumn months each year?  A wise person once said, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’  This is good advice for gardening and good advice for life.  It helps us focus and make good choices along the way.

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Ajuga reptans 'Black Scallop' proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms blue each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

Woodland Gnome’s caveat:  Taking photos helps me observe the garden more closely while providing a record, year to year, of what we grow.  Looking back over the development of a planting through several years of photos shows me things about the garden’s development in a way my memory might not.  Photos also help me remember successful annual plants we might want to use again. 

It is good to study photos taken from various angles, in differing light, and at different points in the season to gain a better understanding of a garden’s rhythms; its strengths and its weaknesses.

~

Our 'potted garden' on the back steps evolves each season. Originally, I grew only Basil, which didn't last the entire season. Now we experiment to see which plants thrive in intense heat and full sun from late spring through autumn.

Our ‘potted garden’ on the back steps evolves each season. Originally, we grew only Basil, which didn’t last the entire season. Now we experiment to see which plants thrive in intense heat and full sun from late spring through autumn.

“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit 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 you grow the garden of your 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 will 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 plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

~

Not the most attractive shrub, we soon observed that Rose of Sharon attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. We allow them to naturalize throughout the garden.

Not the most attractive shrub, we soon observed that Rose of Sharon attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. We allow them to naturalize throughout the garden because they benefit wildlife.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 8, 2016 garden in rain 019

“Green Thumb” Tip #1: Pinch!

Coleus, with new branches beginning to emerge several days after pinching.

Coleus, with new growth beginning to emerge several days after pinching.

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Pinch out the growing tips of each stem to make a plant grow more branches.  Some gardeners do this after a stem produces three sets of leaves.  Each new branch helps a plant grow ‘bushier’ and can produce more leaves and flowers.  Use this method to grow larger, more productive plants. 

Use this tip on flowering annuals and perennials, herbs, shrubs and even some vegetables with a structure of leafy stems.

Why it works:  This is an ‘hormonal thing.’  When you pinch out the growing tip of a leaf covered stem, an hormonal message is relayed to every leaf node below that point to produce a new stem.  This is how a single stem can become the framework for multiple stems growing from its sides.  Pinch each lateral stem after at least three sets of leaves form, and more lateral stems will grow from each of its leaf nodes.  Although flowering may be slightly delayed, you will be rewarded with many times more leaves and flowers from a larger plant.

Woodland Gnome’s caveat:  I try to pinch the terminal leaf from a growing stem when it is tiny and not yet fully formed.  Often, this can be done without sacrificing the tiny flowers emerging beside the new leaf.  Use small scissors to prune away emerging leaves without damage to the plant.

“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit 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 you grow the garden of your 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 will 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 plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

~

Lantana, with new stems growing from the leaf nodes.

Lantana, with new stems growing from the leaf nodes.

~

Woodland Gnome 2016

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot Bound Roots!  by J. Peggy Taylor

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3:  Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

 

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