Fabulous Friday: First Iris

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Spring has settled over our garden for another year, as the daffies give way to the rest of their perennial cousins.  The comphrey, one of the first to awaken with fresh leaves each spring, burst into bloom with week with its wine colored flowers.

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Our Iris are all stretching for the sky, and the first golden yellow blossoms are opening.  This is an exciting time in the garden as the beds begin to fill in with new foliage and we re-discover loved perennials who made it through this brutal winter, just ending.

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That isn’t to say that spring is settled.  It was in the mid-30s when I headed out this morning, still dressed in winter wear.  But the sun was golden, gilding every blooming shrub and tree in the garden.

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The North wind gusted all day, like a bored toddler determined to attract one’s attention.   Choosing to ignore it, I stayed out in the sunshine.

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All in all, a fabulous Friday as spring’s promises begin to come true.

Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious… Let’s infect one another!

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Re-Weaving the Web

Viola papilionacea

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Our ‘lawn’ hosts many wildflowers, including the always beautiful violet, Viola papilionacea.  I’m happy to see these lovely wildflowers bloom each spring.  They are so common, and so elegant.  And I’ve always assumed that their nectar is a welcome source of nourishment for bees and other pollinators in early spring.

But I was surprised to learn, when browsing recently on the National Wildlife Federation’s website, that the common, native violet is a larval host to 30 different species of moth and butterfly.   By simply allowing these pretty spring wildflowers, rather than stopping their growth with a ‘broadleaf weed’ herbicide, I’ve been helping to support moths and butterflies.

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Monarch butterfly on hybrid Lantana, an excellent source of nectar.

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Once we begin to understand our own lawns and gardens as part of an intricate web of life; the daily decisions we make, and the actions we do, or don’t take assume an entirely new and more meaningful context.

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Spiders often weave large webs in our autumn garden.

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I certified our garden as a wildlife habitat some years ago.  Ever since, I get regular mailings and emails from the National Wildlife Federation offering me things if I’ll only send a bit more money to them.  I respect their work and detest the constant fundraising.  But an email last week somehow caught my attention, and in a spare moment I began clicking through to find a personalized list of native plants that thrive in our zip code and also support wildlife.

Imagine that!  A personalized plant list just for me and my neighbors to assist us in preserving habitat!

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Our native redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, supports 25 species of butterfly and moth larvae.  Our dogwood tree supports 110 larval species.

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Also on my list: Fragaria, Solidago, Aster, Geranium, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Achillea and good old Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium.  It’s the first plant on this list, Fragaria, that nudges that guilty sense that maybe I’m not as good as I want to be.

Common (weedy) ground strawberries, Fragaria virginiana, thrive in our garden.  They thrive and spread themselves over and around every bed I start and every other thing I plant.  Along with the ubiquitous Vinca minor vines, Fragaria are the plants I find myself pulling up and throwing away the most.  And to think that this common and enthusiastic plant; which feeds pollinators, songbirds, small mammals and reptiles; also supports 73 different species of larval moths and butterflies.  How did I ever miss that?

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Wild strawberries, Fragaria, mix with other wildflowers as ground cover at the base of this stand of Narcissus. Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens, Gloucester VA.

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You may have read Dr. Doug Tallamy’s revolutionary manual, Bringing Nature Home.   Dr. Tallamy makes a clear argument for why including native plants in our home landscape matters, and offers simple advise about how to do this in the most practical and easy to understand terms possible.

The National Wildlife Federation has based their Native Plant Finder on his work, and will give anyone an individualized list of native plants that form the basis of the ecosystem in their particular area, down to their zip code.

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The American Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, supports 43 species of larvae, including the beautiful Luna moth..

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The change in my sensibility came when I realized that I don’t really have to do anything special to grow a garden of native plants.  Rather, I need to allow it to happen, by understanding and respecting the natural processes already at work in our garden.

We modern American gardeners are often conditioned to feel like we need to go and buy something in order to be gardening.  Dr. Tallamy helps us to understand that going to our local garden center or nursery may not be the best way to heal our local ecosystem.

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How many of us already have an oak tree (or two or three) growing in our garden?  They are handsome shade trees, and I’ve always admired oaks.  Did you know that in addition to producing acorns, oak leaves support over 500 species of larval butterflies and moths?  A birch tree supports over 320 species.  That is a lot of mileage from a single tree, when it comes to supporting the insect world!

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Virginia Creeper, a native vine which crops up in many areas of our garden, provides nectar, berries, and it also supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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Keep in mind that this is only a counting of butterflies and moths, and doesn’t even consider the hundreds of other insect species which live on our native trees.  Even a pine tree supports over 200 species, and the simple mistletoe already growing in several trees around our yard will support 3 species of moth larvae.

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 Zebra Swallowtail feeding on Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester .

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I keep returning to this conundrum about native vs. ‘exotic’ plants. I listen closely when experts, like the erudite speakers at our local chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, speak on this matter.  I have also been doing a bit of reading about the balance between natives and non-native plants in our home gardens.

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Hibiscus syriacus is not our native Hibiscus… but our bees and butterflies love it anyway.  It has naturalized in our area.

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Some landscape designers suggest planting exotic plants near our house and native plants towards the edges of our property.  This assumes, I think, that the native plants may not be beautiful enough or refined enough to plant along our daily paths.  Somehow, I know there must be a better way….

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Purists try to demonstrate to us that ‘native’ means the plants that have grown in our particular location for centuries, maybe even millennia.  It is the particularly adapted sub-species that have grown in symbiotic relationships with the local fauna and geo-forms which matter most.  They are adapted to our soil, climate and may not be truly ‘native’ 30 miles down the road.

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Asclepias incarnata, July 2017

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The problem with this analysis comes from understanding that there was a lot of movement of people and spreading of plants in North America before the earliest recorded European inhabitants.  It doesn’t matter whether you take that back to the Vikings, Sir Henry Sinclair, The Templar fleets or Captain Chris; the truth is that many different groups of native Americans carried plants around from place to place and established agriculture long before there was a European around to observe and record their activities.

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Muscadines are a native North American grape.  Vitis species support 69 larval species, and were cultivated long before the European migration to our continent.

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Many of us mail order an Asclepias or two and know we have done a good thing for the Monarchs.  But Asclepias only supports twelve larval species, while the Rudbeckia systematically colonizing our entire front garden support 20!

But Rudbeckia don’t feed Monarch larvae.  And neither do many of the Asclepias I’ve planted in recent years.  Their leaves remain pristine.  It is not just what we plant, but many factors in the environment that determine whether or not a butterfly will choose a particular plant to lay their eggs.

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I am happiest when I realize that the plants I want to grow anyway also qualify as ‘native’ and benefit wildlife.

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Native Hibiscus moscheutos grows in our garden, and has naturalized in many wetlands in our area.  Sadly, non-native Japanese Beetles feasted on its leaves.  Hibiscus supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

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I am content when the ‘exotic’ plants I want growing in our garden also offer some benefit to wildlife, whether it is their nectar or their seeds.  And I still stubbornly assert my rights as The Gardener, when I commandeer real-estate for those non-natives that I passionately want to grow, like our beloved Caladiums. 

As long as I find hummingbirds buzzing around our canna lilies and ginger lilies each summer, and find the garden filled with song birds and butterflies, I feel like we are doing our small part to support wildlife.

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Many of us enjoy watching pollinators gather nectar and pollen from the flowers in our garden.  We enjoy a variety of birds attracted to seeds, berries, and insect life in our gardens, too.  But how many of us relish watching caterpillars nibble the leaves of our garden plants?

We see nibbled leaves as damaged leaves, without taking into consideration that before we have butterflies flitting from flower to flower, we must shelter and support their larvae.

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Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

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Assuming that you have read Doug Tallamy’s work, let me invite you to take the next step by reading Larry Weaner’s thought provoking new book,    Garden Revolution:  How Our Landscapes Can Be A Source of Environmental Change.  Where Doug Tallamy writes about plant choice, Larry Weaner is all about ecological landscape design.  He teaches how to begin with a tract of land and restore an ecosystem.  Weaner teaches us how to work with the processes of nature to have plants present their best selves, with minimum inputs from us.

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Restoring our environment, preserving our ecosystem, are holistic, systemic endeavors worthy of our energy and attention.  As we develop a deeper understanding and sympathy for these matters, our aesthetic, and our understanding of our own role in the garden’s evolution, also evolve.

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The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species. A volunteer in our garden, it is one of the most spectacular trees we grow.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“The wild is where you find it,
not in some distant world
relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future;
its presence is not black or white,
bad or good, corrupted or innocent…
We are of that nature, not apart from it.
We survive because of it,
not instead of it.”
.
Renee Askins
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Hummingbird moth on a hybrid butterfly bush growing among native Rudbeckia. 

Reducing Damage From Moles and Voles

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Are moles or voles tunneling through your lawn?  Are your newly planted perennials disappearing into a vole tunnel?

We have been doing quite a bit of stomping on tunnels and filling of holes this spring.  In fact, a pesky little vole ate half the roots of a newly planted Columbine earlier this week, before I saw the damage and rescued it to a pot!  I planted a lovely Hellebore seedling in its place, only to find the opening of the tunnel widened the next morning, the rejected Hellebore lying beside it.

You know why the vole didn’t want the Hellebore, don’t you?  It is poisonous!  Planting poisonous bulbs and perennials seems to be our “go to strategy” in this wild garden, to foil the wildlife.  But there are a few other tricks that work as well.

Our spring time battle with the voles inspired me to update one of my first 2013 posts to Forest Garden, about our battles with the voles and moles we found here.  If you missed it then, let me invite you to take a dive into the Forest Garden archives and read it now.  You may find a useful idea that works for you, too.

When Your Garden Looks Like Swiss Cheese:  Living With Moles and Voles
Woodland Gnome 2018

Sunday Dinner: Curious

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“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds,
the first passion and the last.”
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Samuel Johnson

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“Enjoy every step you take.
If you’re curious, there is always something new
to be discovered in the backdrop
of your daily life.”
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Roy T. Bennett

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“I set out to discover the why of it,
and to transform my pleasure
into knowledge.”
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Charles Baudelaire

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“The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existence.
One cannot help but be in awe
when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life,
of the marvelous structure of reality.
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend
a little of this mystery each day.
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Albert Einstein
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“Study hard what interests you the most
in the most undisciplined, irreverent
and original manner possible.”
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Richard Feynman

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“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.
Try to make sense of what you see
and wonder about what makes the universe exist.
Be curious.
And however difficult life may seem,
there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.”
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Stephen Hawking

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“The mind is not a vessel to be filled,
but a fire to be kindled.”
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Plutarch

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Re-Awakening

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Life is a constant series of awakenings,
Beginning again,
Having a fresh go at it.

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Every dawn brings with it a fresh opportunity
for happiness,
Every season another cycle of growth.

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The old and finished falls away,
Duff, always feeding the soil of creativity. 

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The new bursts into becoming,
Being, finding its own way.

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The roots may grow old,
But the leaf and blossom
Continually re-new themselves.

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Cloaked in pristine promise,
After slumber, comes a new awakening.
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Woodland Gnome 2018

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Awakening

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“The universe is always delivering to us
what we need
for a spiritual awakening.”
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Erin Fall Haskell

 

WPC: Awakening

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“The world is exploding in emerald, sage,
and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it.
It is an explosive green that,
if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day,
would grow in every dimension.”
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Amy Seidl

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“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone.
The shell cracks, its insides come out
and everything changes.
To someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.”
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Cynthia Occelli

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Meaning is only found
when you go beyond meaning.
Life only makes sense
when you perceive it as mystery
and it makes no sense
to the conceptualizing mind.”
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Anthony de Mello

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“Waking up from a deep sleep,
I always seem to be discovering life
for the first time.”
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Marty Rubin

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“A single event
can awaken within us
a stranger totally unknown to us.
To live is to be slowly born.”
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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Awakening

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“My speaking is meant to shake you awake,
not to tell you how to dream better.”
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Adyashanti

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Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time

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We are just finishing a harsh winter, and find ourselves in the midst of a chilly, slow spring.  Most of our woodies and perennials are a little behind the times in showing new growth, according to our experience with them in recent years.  Understandable!

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The Camellias didn’t do well in our cold, windy winter weather.

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We had a few nights in January when the lows dipped a little below 0 degrees F, which is rare here.  We had winter temperatures more like Zone 6, found several hundred miles to the west.  Our woodies and perennials rated for Zones 7 or 8 suffered from the deep, prolonged cold.  And it shows.

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Normally evergreen shrubs, now show extensive leaf damage, with brown and curling leaves.  Bark on some trunks and branches split and some stand now with bare branches.   Those woody shrubs that can easily withstand winter in Zones 6a or colder generally look OK.  But those that normally grow to our south, that we coddle along here in the edge or warmer climates, took a hit.

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I needed to cut back far more dead wood from our roses than any year in memory.  It is a very sad sight to see established shrubs looking so bad here in the second week of April.  Our cool temperatures through March and early April, with a little snow recently, have slowed the whole process of new spring growth, too.

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Some gardeners may be struggling with a decision about whether to replace these badly damaged plants.  Now that the garden centers are finally allowing deliveries of fresh stock, it is certainly tempting to rip out the shabby and re-plant with a vigorous plant covered in fresh growth.

I will counsel patience, which is the advice I am also giving to myself this week!  We invest in woodies and perennials mainly because they are able to survive harsh winters.  While leaves and some branches may be lost, there is still life in the wood and in the roots.

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I was out doing the ‘scratch test’ on a completely bare lilac shrub this morning.  Its condition is still a troubling mystery to us, as several other lilacs, of the same cultivar, are leafing out and are covered in budding flowers.  But this one, on the end of the row, sits completely bare without a swelling bud to be seen.  I scratched a little with my fingernail one of the major branches, and found green just below its thin bark.  So long as there is green, there is life.

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This lilac survived our winter in a pot near the kitchen door. We are delighted to see it in bloom so early. I’ll plant this shrub out in the garden once the blooms are finished. It has been in this pot for several years, after arriving as a bare root twig in the mail in early 2015.

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I want to prune this one back pretty severely, mostly because it is becoming an eyesore.  But my Master Gardener friend strongly advises to give it more time.  She suggests waiting until early June to make life and death decisions on trees and shrubs, to give them time to recover.

I may prune the lilac a little, now that the freezing weather here is likely over for the year, and hope that stimulates some fresh growth.

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Japanese Maples have finally allowed their leaves to unfold this week.

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That is what we’ve done with the roses.  We pruned, hard, and we see new shoots coming from the roots on all of our roses now.

There are a few good reasons to nurse our winter damaged woodies back to health instead of replacing them now.  First, our tree or shrub is established and has a developed root system.  Even if all of its trunks and stems are dead, new ones will soon appear from the roots.  This seems to happen every single year with my Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’.  It keeps the shrub a manageable size, and the plant looks pretty good again by early summer.

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F. ‘Silver Lyre’s’ stems are visible beside the Iris leaves. Rated to Zone 7b, it always returns, sometime in May, from its roots.  A Sweetbay Magnolia waits behind it, in a nursery pot.  I want to see some sign of life before planting it.

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Another reason to rejuvenate an established shrub, rather than plant a new one, is economic.  Finding a good sized shrub to replace the old one is a bit of an investment.  Weather and higher fuel prices are definitely reflected in shrub prices this spring.  I’ve felt a little bit of ‘sticker shock’ when looking at prices at area nurseries.

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These Viburnums show cold damage, even while still at a local nursery.

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And even if you buy a new shrub, it is likely to sustain damage during its adjustment time, if you live in deer country.  Shrubs fresh from the grower have been heavily fertilized to induce quick growth.  This extra nitrogen in the plant’s tissue tastes a little ‘salty’ to grazing deer, and makes the shrub that much more delicious and attractive to them.  It takes a year or so of growth before the tastiness of new shrubs seems to decline, and they are ignored by grazing deer.

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I’ve just watched a major investment in new holly trees get nibbled down nearly to the branches by deer in our area.  It is very discouraging, especially if your new shrub is replacing one damaged by winter’s weather!

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This Eucalyptus sometimes sprouts new leaves from its existing trunks in spring. Last winter it was killed back to its roots, but then grew about 6′ during the season.  I expect it to send up new growth from its roots by early May.

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All things considered, I am planning to give our woodies another six to eight weeks, and every possible chance, before declaring them and cutting them out.  It is the humane and sensible approach.  Even though the selection at garden centers this month is tempting, I will wait.

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The view this week at the top of our garden. Still looks rather wintery, doesn’t it?  The southern wax myrtles which normally screen our view, were hit hard by the cold, and a new flush of leaves have not yet opened.

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In this climate, it is generally better to plant in fall, anyway.  Fall planted shrubs get a good start in cooler weather, so their roots can grow and establish the plant in the surrounding soil before summer’s heat sets in.  The selection may be a little more sparse by October or November, but the prices are often better, as nurseries try to clear their stock before winter.

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This English holly, purchased last November, lived in a container over winter, and may be too far gone to save. I planted it out in the garden last month in hope it may recover….

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And of course, you might try propagating replacement shrubs yourself, from cuttings.  I have pretty good luck rooting hardwood cuttings over winter, or greenwood cuttings in spring and summer.  It isn’t hard to do, if you are willing to wait a few years for the shrub to grow to maturity.

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As with so many thing in the garden, it takes time and patience to achieve our goals.  They say that ‘time heals all things.’

That may not be true 100% of the time, but patience allows us to achieve many things that others may believe impossible!

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Our red buckeye tree was knocked back to the ground in a summer 2013 storm.  It lived and has grown to about 5′ high in the years since.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

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

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

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

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

Sunday Dinner: Complex

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“Abandon the urge to simplify everything,
to look for formulas and easy answers,
and to begin to think multidimensionally,
to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life;
not to be dismayed by the multitude
of causes and consequences
that are inherent in each experience –
– to appreciate the fact that life is complex.”
.
M. Scott Peck

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“This is the time for every artist in every genre
to do what he or she does loudly and consistently.
It doesn’t matter to me what your position is.
You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity
and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it,
and the facets of it.
This is about being a complex human being in the world,
not about finding a villain.
This is no time for anything else
than the best that you’ve got.”
.
Toni Morrison

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“Today the network of relationships
linking the human race to itself
and to the rest of the biosphere
is so complex that all aspects affect all others
to an extraordinary degree.
Someone should be studying the whole system,
however crudely that has to be done,
because no gluing together of partial studies
of a complex nonlinear system
can give a good idea of the behavior of the whole. ”
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Murray Gell-Mann

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“Simplicities are enormously complex.
Consider the sentence “I love you”.”
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Richard O. Moore 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Complexity is the blending of perfect symmetry and pure randomness.
This is where the arrow of time lives.
I think these two extremes are elusive ideals.”
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R.A.Delmonico

April Sunrise

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“Every sunrise is a blessing,
it’s a opportunity to learn something new
and to create something that can benefit others.
It also gives a chance to make amends.
Use it wisely before sunset.”
.
Euginia Herlihy

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“Nature unfolds her treasure
at the first ray of sunrise.”
.
Kishore Bansal

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“That time of day when the sun hasn’t come up yet,
but you can already feel it coming.
It’s an elusive warmth,
like a subtle promise whispered in your ear
and you can go on with your day knowing
you’ve been given another chance
to get it right.”
.
Cassia Leo
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

Sunday Dinner: Foolishness

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“I have great faith in fools –
self-confidence my friends will call it.”
.
Edgar Allan Poe

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“Any darn fool can make something complex;
it takes a genius to make something simple.”
.
Pete Seeger

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“If you are not willing to be a fool,
you can’t become a master.”
.
Jordan B. Peterson

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“The first thing every mage should learn
is that magic makes fools of us.
Now you may call yourself a mage.
You have learned the most important lesson.”
.
Tamora Pierce

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“Every man is a divinity in disguise,
a god playing the fool.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“If it is ones lot to be cast among fools,
one must learn foolishness.”
.
Alexandre Dumas

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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Happy April!  Happy Easter!  Happy Spring!

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“Dare to be a fool in the face of impossibilities.”
.
Temit Ope Ibrahim”

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April Fool’s Day 2018

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