Sunday Dinner: Choosing Happiness

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“The most courageous act
is still to think for yourself.
Aloud.”
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Coco Chanel
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“Freedom is not worth having
if it does not include the freedom
to make mistakes.”
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Mahatma Gandhi
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Rudbeckia laciniata, a beautiful native plant, grows to 10′ tall and spreads each year. Here, cozy with pineapple mint.

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“Those who deny freedom to others,
deserve it not for themselves”
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Abraham Lincoln
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“Letting go gives us freedom,
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
anger, anxiety, or possessions –
we cannot be free.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.
The obedient must be slaves.”
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Henry David Thoreau
 
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Summer Valentines

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“You know you’re in love
when you can’t fall asleep
because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
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Theodor Seuss Geisel
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“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
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William Shakespeare
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“We’re all a little weird.
And life is a little weird.
And when we find someone whose weirdness
is compatible with ours, we join up with them
and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—
and call it love—true love.”
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Robert Fulghum
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“I want
To do with you
what spring does
with the cherry trees.”
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Pablo Neruda
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“Have enough courage to trust love one more time
and always one more time.”
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Maya Angelou
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Fabulous Friday: Growing Herbs

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One of the nicest things about summer is the garden filled with fresh herbs.  Most herbs prove very easy to grow.  They enjoy full sun, can stand a little dry weather, naturally repel pests, and smell delicious.

Herbs have such beautiful and interesting foliage, that I enjoy using them in containers and in the perennial garden. They also add an interesting touch in a vase.

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Rose scented Pelargonium grows with parsley and fennel.

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Evergreen perennial herbs, like rosemary, often maintain a presence through the winter.  Even when frost damaged, most will begin to recover and grow again by early spring. Although many Mediterranean herbs are marginally hardy in our climate, we’ve had enough success overwintering them that it is well worth making the effort.

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Overwintered Lavender and Artemesia. Artemesia propagates easily from stem cuttings in early spring.

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Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Artemesia, culinary sage, Santolina, germander, oregano, chocolate mint and many varieties of Lavender remain evergreen in our garden.  Other herbs, like comphrey, dill and fennel, return with fresh growth once the weather warms.

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Comphrey is one of our earliest herbs to bloom each spring.

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We’ve had mixed experience in overwintering one of my favorite herbs, scented Pelargoniums.   I’m always thrilled to see tiny leaves emerge in early spring where one has survived the winter.  Perennials, they aren’t fond of winter indoors, unless you have a spot to keep them in bright light.

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Thyme provides lots of early nectar for pollinators. It grows into an attractive edging for perennial beds and borders.

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Scented Pelargoniums rank high on my spring shopping list, as I scout out choice varieties wherever herbs are sold.  P. ‘Citronella,’ sold to ward off mosquitoes, can be found in many garden centers and big box plant departments.  But I am always watching for the rose scented varieties and an especially pretty plant called P. ‘Chocolate Mint.’ 

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Pelargonium ‘Lady Plymouth’ has the scent of roses

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Basil grows particularly well for us here in coastal Virginia.  It really takes off quickly in our late spring and summer heat.  Sometimes I begin with seeds, but most often watch for my favorite varieties at herb sales.  Some varieties, like African Blue Basil, are hybrids and can’t be grown true from seeds.

African Blue and Thai Basil quickly grow into small, fragrant shrubs.   I let them flower, and then enjoy the many pollinators they attract all summer.  Their seeds attract goldfinches and usually stand in my garden until after the holidays, when I finally pull the plants once the seeds are gone.

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Basil gone to seed, delighted our goldfinches and other small birds last September.

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Our garden is filling up again with growing herbs, now that we are into mid-May.  Taking some time to enjoy our herbs makes this rainy Friday fabulous.  The perennial herbs are into active growth now, and I’m finding and planting choice varieties of Basil, Salvia and Pelargonium.

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Newly planted Santolina and purple Basil will grow in quickly.

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We experimented with a relatively new Lavender cultivar last year:  L. ‘Phenomenal.’  This very hardy (Zones 5-9) and disease resistant cultivar was introduced by Peace Tree Farms in 2012. Hybrid ‘Phenomenal’ can take our muggy summers, so long as it has reasonably good drainage, and doesn’t die back during the winter.  It will eventually grow to a little more than 2 feet high and wide.  I was curious to see how it would grow for us, and bought a few plugs through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last spring.

I was so pleased with how fresh they looked all winter, that I ordered new plugs this spring.   The plugs are still growing on in pots, but I look forward to planting them out before the end of May.

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Culinary purple sage grows well with German Iris and other perennials.

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If you have faced challenges in past years overwintering your Lavender, or losing them during a muggy summer; you might want to give L. ‘Phenomenal’ a try.  These will work nicely in a good sized pot if your space is limited.  Add a little lime to the potting mix or garden soil, and try mulching around newly planted Lavender plants with light colored gravel to reflect the heat and protect the foliage from splattered soil.

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Spanish Lavender also proves very hardy and overwinters in our garden.  This is my favorite Lavendula stoechas ‘Otto Quast.’

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Herbs prove such useful plants.  They nourish, they heal, they repel pests, and they thrive in challenging garden conditions.  Their unique leaves and healing scents add beauty to our lives.

Do you rely on herbs in your garden?  Wild at heart, they simply want a place to grow.  Why not try one this summer you’ve not grown before?

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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August herbs in a vase

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Wednesday Vignette: Perseverance

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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Nelson Mandela

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

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Seneca

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“Many of life’s failures

are people who did not realize

how close they were to success

when they gave up.”

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Thomas A. Edison

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

Helleborus argutifolius

Helleborus argutifolius “Snow Fever’ still in its nursery pot.

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Here is a tasty treat for Helleborus lovers: H. ‘Snow Fever.’ 

Known as a Corsican Lenten Rose, this beauty isn’t as cold hardy as some Lenten Rose varieties.  Its parents are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and it is rated for USDA zones 6-9.

The Helleborus argutifolius varieties may also be termed Corsican Hellebore or even holly leaf Hellebore.  They are large, bold plants with evergreen leaves which persist year round.  These leaves are thick, with toothed edges; but may grow tattered in severe winter winds and weather.  This beautiful H. ‘Snow Fever’ has variegated foliage with a touch of dark red on its stems and the edges of the leaves.  It is a lovely plant, even right out of the pot, and I was delighted to find it last week at a local garden center.

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Hellebores have found their way into my gardener’s heart because they not only look good year round, but they give a good long season of bloom when little else is actively growing, let alone blooming in our garden!  We already have flower buds on a few of our Helleborus plants, believe it or not.

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Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

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Though most come into bloom sometime in February or March here, some bloom right through from late autumn until spring.  Our last Hellebores stop pumping out flowers sometime in late April or May.

Corsican Helleborus is known for its abundant clusters of  green flowers.  But this hybrid promises white flowers, with a shadow of green and lovely pink edges to each petal.  It will grow to around 12″ tall, a bit short for the species, but will expand to a wide clump of around 15″.

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Mid-March 2015

Mid-March 2015

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I’ve come to love growing Hellebores in pots surrounded with bulbs and Violas.  Sometimes I’ll tuck in an evergreen vine.  But these pots look good and remain in dynamic growth all through winter.  The plants still look good through the summer months long after the bulbs have died back and the Violas have finished.  Last summer I simply moved my best pot into the shade and planted some Caladium tubers around the Hellebore, and had a nice display through most of the summer.

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July 2016

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Alternatively,  if I want the pot for something else in late spring;  I’ll move a Helleborus out of its pot and into the ground where it can sink its roots into a permanent home.

These are close to ‘care-free’ perennials.  First, deer and rabbits won’t bother them.  Their leaves are not only tough, they are poisonous.  Every part of a Helleborus is poisonous, so they make a nice underground ‘fence’ of roots if you want to protect an area from voles or moles.

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But Hellebores also prove drought tolerant, tolerate mediocre soil, have few disease issues, need only annual pruning of older leaves, and tend to keep going year after year.  Although common advice dictates they grow best in shade, I’ve had a few keep going strong through the summer in nearly full sun.  That was a pleasant surprise!

The main drawback, for most Helleborus cultivars, is that their leaves aren’t that spectacular.  We grow them for their flowers and as a dependable ground cover plant.  As much as we gardeners love the flowers, pollinators depend on them as an important food source.  These flowers are ready to greet the first of the bees and other insects each year.

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Hellebores

Hellebores given to us as seedlings by a gardening friend.

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But just look at this beauty!  What unusual and eye-catching leaves!

My first one went into a favorite white pot which held geraniums all summer.  The geranium held out through the first frost, and so I rewarded it by re-potting it and bringing it into the garage for the winter.  I like spunky, tough plants!

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I’ve not finished dressing this pot yet, because I want to pick up a few Muscari bulbs to sink into the soil around the Helleborus’s roots before I finish it off with either moss or gravel.  At the moment, there is a bit of Creeping Jenny and  a few Viola starts taking root, which will soon begin to fill the pot with flowers.

I bought a second H. ‘Snow Fever’  on Saturday, and have now planted it in the huge pot where C. ‘Tea Cups’ grew all summer in the front garden.  The Colocasia’s roots will overwinter in a smaller pot indoors, waiting for their chance to head back outdoors next April.

I’ll find a permanent spot for both H. ‘Snow Fever’ in the garden in the spring;  but for now, I want to really enjoy them, up close and featured in  pots.

I’ve surrounded the second one with some starts of Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ some Creeping Jenny vines, and the Daffodil bulbs I left in the pot  last spring.  The Ajuga will keep growing all winter, give blue flowers in early spring, and end up transplanted into a garden bed in early summer.

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February 2016

February 2016

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I expect these two pots to give us a great deal of joy over these next few months.  You’ll probably see lots of photos of these special Hellebores as they grow and eventually bloom.

If you love Hellebores,  or are curious to know more about them, I recommend the excellent and beautifully illustrated article in the December Gardens Illustrated on new Helleborus cultivars.  Gardens Illustrated is an UK magazine, but is absolutely the best source for information on plants and horticulture I’ve found.  It doesn’t matter that it is UK based, as much of the information translates just fine to our East coast USA garden!  I like it even better than Fine Gardening, which also offers solid information and advice on garden design, and is based here in the United States.

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February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn 'Brilliance' fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters. Some of the Helleborus foliage shows wind and cold burn, and these older leaves should be removed in early spring to make room for new growth. 

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This is the time of year to shop for Hellebores.  You may not find any blooming, but you will definitely find them available in many garden centers in December.  They are pricey, and named cultivars generally have been grown on in greenhouses for at least a couple of years from tissue culture.  Variegated cultivars, like H. ‘Snow Fever’ may not be easy to find in all parts of the country.  But if you live in Zone 6 or warmer, you might want to try ordering from an online source to give this beautiful plant a try.

To simply get started with Hellebores, though, find a friend or  neighbor who has a patch growing in their garden, and ask whether they might like your help in thinning them.  Hellebores seed their offspring generously, and many gardeners are happy to share seedlings.  You may have to wait a season to see them bloom, but the wait is well worth the reward.

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Hellebores

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Naturalized

Naturalized Cyclamen at the Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, OR

Naturalized Cyclamen at the Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City, OR

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“…the creative potential of disorderly randomness…” 

Ben Huberman

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Ben invites us to show photos of  ‘chaos’ in this week’s Photo Challenge. 

I’m not a great fan of  ‘chaos;’  however much it might invite creativity.  Perhaps there is that much conditioning left from my teaching days…. But I think it runs a bit deeper in my psyche.

Mother nature has her own sense of order, realized or not by the human mind, and those of us who work with her grow a bit lenient with her exuberance in our gardens.  Especially when the plant spreading in all directions is so lovely!

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If you grow potted florists’ Cyclamen on your windowsill each winter, as do I, you may love these little winter blooming hardy Cyclamen coum  and Cyclamen hederifolium, and excuse their untidiness.   Planted as little bulbs, and hardy in zones 6-9, these lovely plants emerge in autumn to grow and spread all winter.  They self-seed easily and form beautiful expanding clumps as the years pass.  Once planted, they naturalize and basically take care of themselves.

These grow in an island bed between the entrance drive and the exit drive at the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy in Lincoln City, Oregon.  My daughter and I were there to let my granddaughter run around a bit.  Two year olds have a lot of energy to burn, and life around a toddler always feels a bit chaotic… unless they are sleeping.

With two of us, we just managed to keep up with her, and I managed to still click off a few shots.  This one may give you a better idea of that visit:

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Yes, those are my Sebagos before my fateful walk on the beach when a sleeper wave caught me.....

Yes, those are my Sebagos before my fateful walk on the beach when a sleeper wave caught me…..

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As we were herding her back to the car, this beautiful stand of Cyclamen, mulched in falling pine tags, caught my eye.  These have been growing and spreading for quite a few years, by the looks of this  lush coverage filling the little traffic island bed.

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I believe we can always find a bit of order out of chaos, once we take a deep breath and concentrate a bit.  The patterns begin to emerge.  We can understand each burst of unruly, exuberant energy in the context of the whole.  And so while little one was buckled into her booster seat, I framed and shot as many images of the Cyclamen bed as the moment allowed.

Exuberant energy seems to be the rule along the Pacific coast.  Whether rolling waves, moss covered trees, thick rain forests, or creative people; the energy is contagious.  And this special garden captures the vibe beautifully, only a few blocks from the beach.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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for the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Chaos

My Current Crush: Arum Italicum

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Just as most garden perennials begin to die back and prepare themselves for a ‘long winter’s nap,’ Arum Italicum begins to grow.  Its fresh green leaves push up through the moist autumn soil and fallen leaves to begin their nearly nine months of gorgeousity.

Last winter’s experiment has grown into this autumn’s crush.  These beautiful plants performed so well, for so long, that I bought 50 more tubers in September to ensure masses of them for the coming season.  With such a royal horde of the beauties, I also shared about a dozen with friends, in hopes they will find them useful and beautiful in their own gardens.

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This Mediterranean and European native, hardy in zones 5-9, begins its annual growth in the fall with huge, gorgeously marked leaves.

Now please understand that these leaves will look just this pristine until they begin to die back next summer.  We saw absolutely no damage from frosty nights or icy blankets of snow.  And all of our Arum spent at least a few days under snow last winter.   Because they are thermogenic, the snow melted first around these plants, allowing them to emerge, undamaged.  New leaves kept emerging, from time to time, until mid-spring.

Like Colocasias, Alocasias, and Caladiums; Arum Italicum belongs to the family Araceae.  And like these other beautiful foliage plants, their flower is rather plain.  The tall, narrow spadix is partially enclosed in a modified cream colored  leaf called a spathe.  This elegant, but unremarkable bloom lasts for a few days in early May before the spathe fades away, leaving the spadix.

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The spadix will stand tall for the next couple of months as green berries swell and ripen along the top several inches.  They become far more interesting than was the flower, especially as they begin to turn bright crimson.  By late July or August, as the berries fully ripen, the leaves begin to wilt.  By mid-August the plant has faded away for its late summer dormancy.

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July 22, 2016 sunset 008

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Like other members of the Araceae family, Arums grow from a tuber.  These tubers grow and multiply each year, so that a single plant soon forms a small colony.  These colonies look especially nice growing under and around shrubs and small ornamental trees.  They form a bright, vibrant ground cover, and also work well in beds where spring bulbs will emerge in late winter.

After growing Arum italicum for nearly a year, I came across a warning that they can become invasive in some areas.  The National Park Service issued an invasive plant alert in 2012 because birds and animals disperse the plants seeds, and the tubers spread easily if you try to lift or remove a plant.  It is prolific….

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Brent and Becky Heath's Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

Arum italicum grow beneath a blooming Mahonia in Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

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I shared this bit with a Master Gardener friend as I was giving her a few tubers last month.  Her face brightened, and she said, “That’s wonderful!”  We’re neighbors, and share the same challenges with gardening in this forest filled with hungry deer.  This has proven to be a ‘bullet proof’ perennial in our garden, untouched by deer, rabbit, or squirrels.  Many members of the Aracea family, including this one, contain toxic calcium oxalate crystals.

If you are now interested in adding a few of these beautiful and tough plants to your garden, you will have to seek them out.  This isn’t a garden center favorite.  In fact, I’ve never seen these for sale already in leaf.

You will find them in some catalogs, but the price varies wildly from company to company.

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Brent and Becky's display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camelia. The Heath's call Arum and 'shoes and socks' plant because it works so well around shrubs.

Brent and Becky’s display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heath’s call Arum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well as a ground cover around shrubs.

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We bought ours from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs last autumn, and I ordered my new bag of 50 from them in September.  They offer large, healthy tubers at an exceptionally good price.  But I’m glad I ordered early, because they have already sold out for the year.  They sold out early last year, too.

I’m mystified as to why this wonderful plant hasn’t entered the garden center trade in our area.  It is beautiful, easy to grow, tough, deer proof, and fills the winter niche in the garden.  These beauties should prove popular and profitable.

You will find its cousins, Anthurium, Dieffenbachia, and Philodendron on offer wherever ‘tropical’ houseplants are sold.  You’ll find Calla lily, another cousin, in most grocery store florists these days.  Why not the hardy perennial Arum?

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January 3, 2015 Arum with Violas in our garden

January 3, 2015 Arum with Violas and hardy Geranium foliage  in our garden

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If you’ve grown Arum italicum, I hope you’ll leave a comment with your experience of them.  If you’ve not yet tried them, they grow well in many different places.  They are perennial over much of the United States and tolerate many different types of soil.  They grow well in most anything from nearly full sun to nearly full shade, preferring partial shade at our latitude.

Because they will naturalize, you don’t need to be overly fussy with amending the soil, fertilizing, or mulching.  Doing these things will of course result in lusher, larger leaves… but they will survive on benign neglect.  I do water ours during a dry spell, especially during these last few weeks of unusually warm and dry weather.  I want to get them off to a good start as they emerge.

They grow as well in pots as in the ground.  I’ve added a few tubers to my autumn pot designs.  Thus far, my crush on our Arum has only grown stronger.  I can’t tell you a single annoying thing about them, yet.

I harvested last summer’s seeds and have them planted out, waiting to see how the seedlings emerge and grow.  But so far as I’m concerned, more is better; and I will happily spread them to every gardening friend interested in giving them a try.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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Blossom XIV

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“Patience is the calm acceptance

that things can happen in a different order

than the one you have in mind.”

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David G. Allen

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Blossom I
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Green Thumb Tip # 6: Size Matters!

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

Magnolia grandiflora growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jametown, VA.

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Have you ever planted a sweet little plant that you fell in love with, only to find yourself in pitched battle to control it a few years later?  It has happened to most of us at one time or another.  Sitting at the nursery in its little pot, it looked so charming.  You knew the perfect place for it….

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But just like babies and puppies, plants grow when they’re happy.  And quickly! 

I believe that many people hate ‘gardening’ because of their many battles trying to control a gargantuan shrub or spreading perennial which has gotten out of control.  ‘Mature size’ matters!  Both the expected height and the expected spread of an adoptive plant need to be considered before you invite it home to your garden.  And this information isn’t always accurate on the tag or easy to track down!

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Crepe Myrtle begins to bloom in our garden, and will fill the garden with flowers until early September.

Crepe Myrtle grows very fast and most varieties will send up suckers beside the main stem, gradually growing into a wider and wider clump. 

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It is wise to consider, before the purchase, the size of your space.  How wide can this plant comfortably grow without hitting the house or bumping into other structural plants?  How high will be too high?  Will a shrub eventually block windows or grow out into your driveway?  Will an herb or perennial take off and steal the entire garden with its runners?

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Cannas spread by underground rhizomes and grow thicker each year.

Cannas spread by underground rhizomes and grow thicker each year.  A few plants quickly spread to form a solid stand.

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I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen ignorant ‘landscapers’ plant Magnolia trees as foundation plantings for office buildings.  Now, understand that our native Magnolia grandiflora will grow more than 100′ tall and 30′-40′ across at maturity.  Somebody didn’t think something through when they plant a young tree of this size less than 10′ from a brick wall….

So before you purchase and before you dig that hole, do a little research into what that plant will be 2, 5, and 20 years from now.

Maybe you’re thinking, “But I have electric hedge trimmers… it doesn’t really matter.”  Yes, and no.  Some plants will respond to regular trimming with more growth and can be maintained at a certain height indefinitely.  But others, like many conifers, will never recover from a shearing or improper pruning.  Others will just grow so fast, once established, you’ll lose the race!  I’ve never enjoyed cutting back shrubs on a hot summer day.  Have you?

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This Rose of Sharon has grown from a shrub to a large tree. Although it has overgrown its intended space, we prune only the lower branches and simply enjoy the show!

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Better to select a plant to fit the space you have.  While tags are good guides, you will find much more useful information from a quick internet search.  Often you’ll find university studies comparing cultivars of a plant to help you select the best one for your situation.  For example, if you want to plant an Azalea, you can choose from a dwarf variety which won’t ever grow more than 3′ high or one of the tall ‘Indica’ hybrids which may reach 10′ in just a few years. Often you’ll learn that expected height and spread depend on your climate.

Another important consideration is whether a plant will ‘sucker’ and spread.  This means that rather than growing from a single stem, new stems will keep growing out of the ground year after year, making your plant wider and wider with each passing season.  Some native plants, ferns, perennials, and even trees will just keep growing outwards like a rapacious bamboo!

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A new bamboo 'shoot' emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

A new bamboo ‘shoot’ emerged far from the bamboo forest, right in front of a fig tree. We cut this down after taking a photo.

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Always check so you know what to expect, and how many plants may be needed to cover your real estate with a nice stand of these willing plants.  If you don’t want wide coverage, you may find yourself on the business end of a shovel digging up the new growth for many years to come.

So do a little research before you introduce a new plant to your garden, even if that new plant is a ‘gift.’  A professional plantsman once showed me a towering Rhododendron which covered half of the side wall of his home and reached for the roof line.  This monster, lovely as it was, originally came to the garden in a little gallon pot as a gift from a Rhododendron enthusiast friend.

There were originally two little shrubs in that pot, and they are planted side by side, one nearly twice as tall as the other.  Stunning for the weeks when they bloom each May, these two shrubs have grown completely out of control and remain on my friend’s ‘get around to it’ list for heavy pruning…..

The best of intentions can lead to later problems when you don’t pause to do your homework.

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The march of the bamboo up the hill back in early May. We have had to control the growth up towards the garden.

The march of the bamboo up the hill in early May. We have had to control the growth up towards the rest of the garden each spring.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  When a friend offers me a plant I nearly always accept it.  But I wait to plant it out until I first figure out what it is and then learn something about it.  If necessary, I’ll pot it up for a while as I do the research.  If I can’t use it, then I’ll find a gardening friend who can.  Since we all have different gardening goals and conditions there is generally someone glad to get it.  

And, when sharing plants from my garden with others I try to give full disclosure.  I want my friends smiling with fond memories as they admire the plants I’ve given, not mumbling unhappy things while they wrestle with the ‘gifted’ plant!  A little understanding goes a long way to siting a plant properly for years of enjoyment.

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These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

A friend gave me these beautiful white Monarda last year. I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well, and shared a few clumps with friends.  Monarda spread quickly with underground stems.

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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.

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The reddish orange flowers, Crocosmia, are another gift from a gardening friend. I've since learned that these are Iris relatives and form clumps, expanding each year. Lovely flowers, they are spread in different beds around our garden.

The reddish orange flowers, Crocosmia, are another gift from a gardening friend. I’ve since learned that these are Iris relatives and form clumps, expanding each year. Lovely flowers, and tough, they are spread in different beds around our garden.

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Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

‘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 # 7:  Experiment!

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 015

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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July 13, 2016 garden close ups 012

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

July 3, 2016 wet garden 043

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Giving each plant the right amount of light, without burning it or starving it, determines how well that plant performs.  Because plants ‘eat’ light, they must have enough to power photosynthesis and to accomplish all of their life processes.

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Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

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Give a plant too little light and it grows leggy and pale.  The stems between its leaves s t r e t c h, reaching for the light.  Flower production slows and it looks a bit ‘sickly.’ It grows more susceptible to pests and to disease, fungal infections and general rot.

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This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.

This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.  It was also crowded after several years growing in the pot.  I divided the tubers, after this photo, and had five separate plants to grow on in better light.

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But too much light can fry fragile leaves and delicate flowers; especially hot summer sun.  Even ‘full sun’ plants appreciate some shade during summer afternoons in the southern United States.  It is harder to keep plants hydrated in full sun and hot weather.

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White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennail Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennial Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

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How do we navigate both the weather, and the needs of our many different plants?

The MOST important question to ask when acquiring a new plant is, ‘How much light does it need?

Most nursery grown plants and seeds now come with little informational tags which indicate: full sun, partial sun, partial shade or shade.    That bit of information provides a start, but most of us need the experience of trial and error to master getting the light right!

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Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. 'Stuttgart' wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.

Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. ‘Stuttgart’ wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.  The nursery sent a note of warning about its needs when I purchased it this spring.

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Like everything else about gardening, the light is ever changing from morning to evening and spring thorough winter.  And of course, these conditions change in our garden as trees and shrubs grow, perennials expand, and of course when plants are lost.  Good gardeners learn through observation, and remain flexible.

When trying a plant for the first time, especially an expensive one, I think it is wise to start it off in a pot.  Why?  Pots are portable.  Unless you are absolutely sure you know where to plant something for it to get proper light, like planting Daffodil bulbs in the sun, starting off with a pot allows for easy experimentation.

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Our 'bog garden' got more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.

Our ‘bog garden’ got a little more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.  Colocasia will grow in sun or shade, but want more moisture in full sun.

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Although gardening books can be helpful guides to knowing how much light or shade a particular plant requires, the latitude and altitude of one’s garden determines the ferocity of the sun.  Climate also plays an important part in knowing how much ‘full sun’ a plant needs and can endure.  If most days are cloudy and rain falls frequently, less shade from buildings and trees will be required.  But if it rarely rains and day after day passes hot and clear, anything but a cactus will likely need a little afternoon shade!

Providing more moisture can help a plant survive a spot that is a bit too sunny and hot for its liking.

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Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.

Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.  They grow in full sun in this cool, moist climate.

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A fern growing in ‘full sun’ in coastal Oregon might burn up in a day or two in my Virginia garden, if not given some afternoon shade.

That is one reason why many experienced gardeners give themselves at least a year to come to understand a new garden before starting renovations.  It takes a full year of observation to understand how light moves through the garden during the course of a day and from month to month.

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Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

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Even a single year isn’t enough to understand the subtleties of microclimates and exposures relative to structures; the prevailing winds; where water flows during a rainstorm; and where heat  lingers during the winter.  That is why patient observation is a gardener’s best ally when placing plants.

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This first bloom on Canna 'Stuttgart' is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.

This first bloom on Canna ‘Stuttgart’ is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.  This variety enjoys moist soil.

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Here is an experiment for you:  If there is a new plant you want to introduce to your garden, begin with several.  Plant them in different spots in your garden, give each the best care you can, and observe how they grow.  Within just a few weeks you may notice some doing better than others.  Why?

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Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden. The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will have to be moved as the Star Magnolia grows into a tree over the next few years.

Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden.  It is planted in several different beds with varying degrees of sun.  The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will need to be moved as the Star Magnolia (right) grows into a tree over the next few years.

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I quickly noticed that two identical pots, one on either side of our front porch, grew differently.  Why?

One side of the porch has more sunshine each day than the other, more shady side.  I can trade out pots every few weeks to keep them even, or experiment to find plants indifferent to the subtle difference in light.

After learning about each plant’s needs and preferences, and understanding what resources each zone of a gardener can offer, it becomes clearer how to design successful plantings.  It takes time; maybe years; to earn this knowledge.  We all make mistakes along the way, and hopefully count them as part of our education.

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This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery. They grow in a little more shade and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias prefer partial shade, they need a filtered or morning sun to bloom well.

This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery, and potted up with the same fertilizers. But the other plants grow in a little more shade, and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias need partial shade, they still want plenty of  filtered light or morning sun to bloom well.  Moving the pot a little into more light might help the other Begonias bloom, too.

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And this is why observation and flexibility make the difference between great ‘green thumb’ gardeners and mediocre ones.

When we realize that a plant isn’t happy where it is growing, we must either move the plant, or somehow change the conditions.  Knowing a plant’s needs and preferences up front helps us make educated guesses about how to grow it well.  When it shows stress, we can give it more favorable conditions, or discard it.

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These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit 'ratty,' don't you think? I should move them.....

These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit ‘ratty,’ don’t you think? I should move them….. and plant something else which appreciates the shade…..

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Likewise, if we realize that we have very little sun in our garden, or very little shade; we choose only plants that can thrive in our conditions.  Why watch a tomato plant languish in a shady, tree filled garden?  Tomatoes like all the sun you can give them, and require 6-8 hours of full sun each day to produce good fruit.  If you garden in a forest, as we do, it pays to make friends with the local farmers and frequent their farm stands!

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These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

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Shade gardeners learn to take pleasure in ferns and Hostas, Azaleas, Caladiums and Begonias.  Those with sunnier gardens have better experiences with most herbs and vegetables, flowers for cutting, conifers and fruit trees.  Sometimes we have to adapt our expectations and desires to the growing conditions our present garden can provide!

We were startled, a few years ago, to lose several mature oak trees in a summer thunderstorm.  In the blink of an eye, much of our shady garden was transformed to an open, sunny, mulch covered field.  What to do? 

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Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed.

Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed which became our ‘stump garden’ after losing our oaks.  Nearly full shade was transformed to ‘full sun’ in a moment, with the loss of three mature oak trees.

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Challenges grow into opportunities, don’t they?  But the available light in a garden determines everything else about plant selection and vigor.  Moving a plant just a foot or so one way or another may change the amount of sun it receives each day.

That is why it is crucial to ‘get the light right!’  when designing our garden, and protecting our investment in the plants we grow.

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Herbs hold the power to heal us. Our own garden in July-

Herbs hold the power to heal us. The ‘stump garden,’  two years later, planted with sun loving herbs and perennials.

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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.

Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘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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July 3, 2016 wet garden 018

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015-2016

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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches

is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum,

and that as long as the sun still shines

and people still can plan and plant, think and do,

we can, if we bother to try, find ways

to provide for ourselves

without diminishing the world. ”

.

Michael Pollan

~

July 3, 2016 wet garden 039

 

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