Color Your World: Mandala

February 2, 2016 flowers 037

~

“Whoever uses the spirit

that is in him creatively is an artist.

To make living itself an art,

that is the goal.”

.

Henry Miller

It has been many years since I first heard of a bit of sacred geometry called, “The Flower of Life.” It is demonstrated and explained in detail in books by philosopher Drunvalo Melchizedek. This design is based on simple, but profound geometry and has been in use for millennia.  I believe it appeals to me because it is a floral design.  It reminds me of our Clematis flowers which bloom each summer.

But there are many levels of understanding in this design, which shows the interconnectedness of life.  It illustrates patterns of growth and change.

~

Clematis

Clematis

~

I’ve wanted to work with this design for a very long time, and finally began,  back last summer, experimenting with translating it onto a grid to make a counted cross stitch pattern.  My design is not a strict interpretation of The Flower of Life.  I’ve taken some liberties with the geometry to make the design more ‘floral.’

~

February 2 and 6: Eggplant and Fuschia

February 1, 2 and 6: Desert sand, Eggplant and Fuchsia

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This is one of the first stitched mandalas I’ve designed without drawing out the whole pattern, first.   I drew just the center flower, and three petals of an adjacent flower, before selecting colors and beginning to stitch.  The rest of this piece grew organically from that small beginning as I’ve worked.

It has taken a little more than six months to bring it to completion.  I was so happy to make the last stitches in the frame on Sunday evening.

We love the vibrant colors of these stitched mandalas.  I’m showing you this one today in part because it reflects many of the colors of Jennifer Nichole Wells’s “Color My World” challenge this week.

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This week’s colors include Denim, Desert Sand, Eggplant, Electric Lime, Fern, Forest Green and Fuschia.

I was quite happy, last week, discover Jenny’s new “Color My World: One Hundred Days of Crayola” photo challenge.  She is working from the Crayola Crayon chart of colors, and offers a new color challenge each day for 120 days, beginning January 1.   I am happy to tag along once again, and will aim for one post each week, sharing photos of as many of that week’s colors as I’m able.

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Jan. 1: Denim This pot lives on the front porch, except during the coldest winter months.

Jan. 1: Denim This pot lives on the front porch, except during the coldest winter months.

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Please visit Jenny and explore links to other photographers participating in this Color Your World challenge.

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Feb. 1: A Hellebore flower nearly the color of Desert Sand

Feb. 1: A Hellebore flower nearly the color of Desert Sand

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Today dawned clear and brilliantly sunny.  The sun was so strong, pouring in through our southern windows, that it felt like May or early June rather than February 2.

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Feb. 3: Electric lime describes the fresh green at the heart of this Amaryllis blossom

Feb. 3: Electric lime describes the fresh green at the heart of this Amaryllis blossom

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I captured photos of some of our plants overwintering in the house before heading out to the garden for more pruning.  Some of our photos today are of our indoor garden, others from the garden outside.

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Feb. 4 Fern green on the buds just opening today on our Autumn Olive shrubs.

Feb. 4 Fern green on the buds just opening today on our Autumn Olive shrubs.

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Most years, I would consider this first week of February too early to prune back our woody shrubs.  But the warmth is already waking up many plants which should still be dormant.

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Feb 5 So many greens in this wonderful pot near the street, surely Forest Green is among them?

Feb 5 So many greens in this wonderful pot near the street, surely Forest Green is among them?

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I’m taking my chances and beginning with the latest budding trees and shrubs, like our Crepe Myrtles and Rose of Sharon first.  I don’t dare touch the roses for at least another two weeks, just in case we get another winter storm.

They are already throwing out new leaves, ready to begin another cycle of growth.

We find growth and budding everywhere in our February garden.

~

Here is a cutting of my favorite Begonia of the moment. Stems root quickly in these tiny bottles.

Here is a cutting of my favorite Begonia of the moment. Stems root quickly in these tiny bottles.  There will be plenty of rooted cuttings for hanging baskets by April.

~

“There is a fountain of youth:

it is your mind, your talents,

the creativity you bring to your life

and the lives of people you love.

When you learn to tap this source,

you will truly have defeated age.”

.

Sophia Loren

~

Another view of this wonderful Begonia.

Another view of this wonderful Begonia.

~

Woodland Gnome 2016

~

Another favorite Begonia enjoying our living room windowsill this winter.

Another favorite Begonia enjoying our living room windowsill this winter.  Aren’t the colors in its leaves wonderful?

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One Word Photo Challenge: Marsala

Heuchera

Heuchera

*

Marsala,

Brownish pink, rosy brown,

Color chosen for 2015.

*

 

January 6, 2015  marsala 005

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Color of ivy stems, winter blossoms, dried blood,

Wine, pomegranates, terra cotta, grapes.

*

 

January 6, 2015  marsala 001

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Cooly warm, this hue.

Color of Earth, not sky;

*

Begonia

Begonia

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Muddy water, not fire.

*

January 6, 2015  marsala 012

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Color of life,

New leaves, new growth, winter survival.

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Philodendron

Philodendron

*

Marsala purrs softness, comfort, calm.

*

Hellebores

Hellebores

*

It promises spring.

*

March 27, 2014 parkway 025

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It verifies vitality

It witnesses winter’s defeat.

*

 

Hellebore

Hellebore

*

Marsala:  taste the good taste of new.

*

 

January 6, 2015  marsala 020

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her

One Word Photo Challenge:  Marsala

 

And Then It Got Complicated….

 

May 20, 2014 Garden 006

An inspiration, when it first flits into one’s mind, is beautifully simple.  In its purist form, the idea is more powerful than the forces which will conspire to prevent its materialization.

At least in my experience….

A vivid imagination is both gift and curse; tool and trap.

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A gardener’s winter dreams of pots and beds and borders sometimes get translated into actuality; sometimes not.  Rarely do they grow as first imagined.

There is the small matter of reality standing between the vision and its accomplishment.

May 20, 2014 Garden 001

My original idea was quite simple:  I saw a raised bed growing at the base of a young Dogwood tree.

The tree, badly damaged when our trees fell last summer, would become the center point of a cool and shady four season garden in the edge of our forest near the street.

Populated with Cinnamon Fern and Helebores, this perennial bed would be impervious to deer, low maintenance, and provide winter blooms.

Simple, right?

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 048

When imagining what to use  to build the raised bed, I decided to use Hypertufa troughs.  A gorgeous cardboard box shipped from Plant Delights became the mold for long window box shaped planters.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 049

The first two un-molded perfectly and went to the drying shelves.  Then the third cracked as I turned it out of the box.

Heavy, and not quite dry enough, I realized I had rushed it; and made a patch.  After another week in the mold, I gingerly turned it out, and the patch held.

A second very large trough also cracked.  I must not have had the mix quite right that day.

 

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch.  Can you spot the patch on the pot's rim?

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch. Can you spot the patch on the pot’s rim?  A chunk of another broken trough, which couldn’t be repaired, rests nearby.

I wasn’t as lucky with that attempt to “fix it,” and it ended up in a dozen jagged pieces tucked into a shadowy corner of the basement.  It gets complicated…

That temporarily halted work on the new raised bed.  With only two of the four planned troughs ready to use, I wasn’t ready to move forward.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.  The apparently empty pot is filled with perennial hardy Begonia, which will emerge by early June.

And I didn’t have time by then to start the fourth trough.

But, I already had three potted Helebores and three Lady Ferns languishing in holding areas, ready to sink their roots into a permanent spot in the garden.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 006

Lady Ferns, you ask?  Wasn’t the original idea to grow large, stately Cinnamon Ferns in this bed?  Well, it got complicated…

On one shopping expedition after another this spring, my search for Cinnamon Ferns was in vain.

Yes, Plant Delights had them, but I wanted to purchase them locally.  I’ve learned my lesson waiting for bare root ferns from the big box stores to sprout, and I was hoping to score them in the tiny pots Homestead Garden Center offered all last season.  But, no tiny pots appeared…

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the peremiter of this new raised bed.  Broken pot pieces help form a low "wall" to hold soil behind them.

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the perimeter of this new raised bed. Broken pot pieces help form a low “wall” to hold soil behind them.

It gets complicated. 

Our long, cold spring made things very difficult for the growers this year, and many items came late, in short supply, or not at all.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 031

So during my tour of Forest Lane Botanicals, I purchased three beautiful Lady Ferns to use in the garden… just before that third trough broke.  And they’ve been sitting ever since….

With the art festival completed over the weekend, it was decided that today I would work with the universe to bring this new raised bed into reality.

One way or another, something would be built today.

An experimental "stepping stone" holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

An experimental “stepping stone” holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

Armed with three potted Helebores, three Lady Ferns, two Autumn Brilliance Ferns, four bags of compost, more Caladiums than I care to admit to having, an almost murdered Begonia which got too dry last week and lost its leaves, a tray full of broken Hypertufa trough pieces, some old plastic pots, and some 6″ clay pots left from the weekend- I set to work.

Some might call this a scrounger’s garden.  I see it as a fortuitous opportunity for some serious recycling.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 030

With three now completed troughs, already planted in Caladiums,   the outline of the new raised bed was already sketched in.

A larger free-form  hypertufa trough, again broken in unmolding but patched, joined the group two weeks ago when I decided not to offer the  patched pot for sale.  It also holds Caladiums.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 005

With the fourth trough a minimum of two weeks away, if I cast it today; I decided to border the bed with other materials- if only temporarily.

So a pile of new 6″ terra cotta pots, scored at the Re-store for a children’s art project, got filled with soil, planted with Begonia semperflorens, and pressed into service as a border.

A few old plastic pots, filled and planted up, helped plug the gaps.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Large pieces of the broken hypertufa and a few experimental stepping stones work to camouflage this motley mix of bordering materials.

Borders in place, compost poured in and smoothed, it was finally time to plant.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 032

The bed is far from completed.  That fourth trough will materialize over the next few weeks to complete the outline.

I don’t have much faith in small terra cotta pots on our hottest summer days.  They dry too quickly.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

So I’ll replace as many of the small pots as I can with hypertufa planters, which keep roots cool, moist, and happy even in the heat of summer.

I found a 4″ Cinnamon Fern this afternoon, finally, and planted it among the Lady Ferns.

Over the next few days I’ll transplant some Hellebores seedlings from other beds, add a few more Caladiums, and possibly even plant some Spikemoss, a new favorite, as a frilly ground cover.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 002

Time, the essential ingredient in gardening, will transform this motley conglomeration of bits and pieces into a beautiful garden within a few weeks.

Once the plants settle in and begin weaving themselves together, it will take on a life and vision of its own.

Gardens, like people, evolve in their own time from one form to the next.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

We might plant a seed, push a cutting into the soil, or tuck a transplant into a new bed.  But that is only a gesture.  It is the concrete expression of a wish.

Magic happens after we water in our intention and wander away. 

As the roots take hold, and the plant unfolds itself in new growth, something entirely new evolves.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

A community comes together as roots intertwine in the soil.

Vines stretch, branches form.  Flowers open.  Our wish takes on a life of its own.

It gets very complicated, but also very beautiful.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 019

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Clematis

Clematis

 

Opening

March 15, 2014 VP 001

Buds are opening at last.  The long wintery wait for the first buds of spring is fading into satisfaction. 

March 15, 2014 VP 013

One of spring’s joys is its timing.  The opening comes little by little.

March 15, 2014 VP 002

It is tentative at first, like the first warm breezes blowing in from the southwest which bring softness to the air, and carry an earthy sweetness in them.

March 15, 2014 VP 012

Some buds open a bit, and then close again at sunset.   Their petals curl back in to protect the center.

March 15, 2014 VP 023

They open only when the day is fine and almost warm.

March 15, 2014 VP 010

Other buds open ever so slowly, but once their petals have unfurled, they are committed.  Whether they last a week, or whether the wind comes along and shatters them sooner; they remain open to what comes.

They stand  ready for every little bee and flying insect who will visit.

March 15, 2014 VP 024

Our stark wintery silhouettes are blurring.

March 12, 2014 CW 057

Spring’s lush costume pops out of hard woody stems as buds swell and suddenly burst open, releasing tiny leaves and bright petals.

March 12, 2014 CW 091

The leaves grow a bit, day by day, as the mystery play of springtime unfolds; flower by flower, sunrise after sunrise, act by act, finally climaxing in the high greenness of early summer.

March 12, 2014 CW 121

But we are still at the beginning, the opening, of the high drama of winter’s transformation into spring.

March 12, 2014 CW 029

All the beauty and magic is here.  It is happening all around us, nowWe need only remember to look, to breathe, and to enjoy the show.

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
Sitting Bull
*
March 15, 2014 VP 021

It Is Inevitable

Hellebores and emerging bulbs

Heuchera  and emerging bulbs

Our feet  are now firmly set on the long slow journey of the unfolding year. 

Crocus

Crocus

As with any journey, there may be set backs from time to time.  Yet the journey continues.  Our journey may take us to unanticipated stops along the way, and progress may be a bit slower than we wish; but the path still lies before us.

March 2 garden in snow 012

Yesterday’s snow, blowing in from the west, proved a set back for our journey towards spring.

March 3 budding 002

The intensely cold air, blowing down from the north, brought us record low morning temperatures across the Eastern half of the United States.

March 2 garden in snow 021

It was 17 here this morning at 4:30, but I’m so grateful for that bit of warmth.  Our neighbors to the north, around the Great Lakes, had a far colder morning when the sun finally rose.

March 2 garden in snow 005

Yesterday’s snow is now hardened into ice. But that ice is quickly melting and evaporating in our morning sun.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

We can find inspiration in the budding daffodils, surrounded by snow, still standing tall as they wait for their day to open.  Snow melts from around their still green leaves, watering the Earth where they grow.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

We find inspiration in buds on lilac and Forsythia shrubs, showing color, but waiting to unfurl their petals.  Unfurl they will, one day soon.  The earliest of spring’s flowers inspire me with their courage and fortitude, opening to an uncertain world.

Forsythia and lilac

Forsythia and lilac

Their timing must be correct if they are to open at the perfect time to greet the insects who must pollinate them, and for their pollinated flowers  to have the opportunity to set seeds for the coming season.

Kale

Kale

I wandered around in the falling snow yesterday, finding a thin layer of frozen whiteness  blanketing new spring growth like fragile veils of lace.  The very energy and vitality of the emerging leaves and buds seemed to shine through these icy mantillas, laid gently across the garden.

Mahonia

Mahonia

It was clear that they would  melt swiftly away, like a bridal veil, after the first kiss of sunshine.

March 2 garden in snow 022

Because spring is an inevitable force of nature.  Each day subtly lengthens in our vernal journey back towards the sun.

March 2 garden 026

With every passing day the sun’s rays probe more deeply into the cells of every bough, leaf, and bud.

No matter what winds may blow across the surface of our planet, spring unfolds as the Earth’s deep energy responds to the sun’s approach.

March 2 garden in snow 016

We can not let the illusion of winter distract us from knowing the growing presence of spring.

March 2 garden 006

Our path is set.  Followed year upon year beyond memory, our journey follows the familiar landmarks.  We are pilgrims in time, following an ancient map; making inevitable progress along the path of eternal change.

March 2 garden 016

Grape Mahonia in bud

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“A tree can be tempted out of its winter dormancy by a few hours of southerly sun—the readiness to believe in spring is stronger than sleep or sanity.”

Amy Leach

March 2 garden 007

“The hopeless hope is one of the early harbingers of spring, bespeaking an innocent belief that the world might right its wrongs and reverse its curses simply because the trees are coming into leaf.”

Aleksandar Hemon

Opening

Hellebore

Hellebore growing in my friends’ garden

What has been closed and tight is opening,

Daffodils

Daffodils

What has been cold is warming.

February 16 spring flowers 035

Galanthus nivalis

What has been still is moving at last.

February 16 spring flowers 010

Life stirs again in freshness and hope.

February 18 2014 parkway 046

Green grows to replace what is brown and brittle.

Garlic chives

Garlic chives

Hard turns soft,

Rose budding

Rose budding

Dark grows lighter

Crocus

Crocus

Days lengthen, and harsh wintery wind blows

February 24, 2014 daffodils 015

More gently now as spring’s warm breath.

Violas

Violas

Let our minds grasp this miracle of newness and growth

Hellebore in my friend's garden,

Hellebore in my friends’  garden

From the crusty remains of another season;

Hellebore in my friends' garden,

Hellebore in my friends’ garden

Let our hearts respond in love,

February 27, 2014 hellebores 008

opening to unexpected possibilities….

New plantings

New plantings

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

February 27, 2014 hellebores 002

Turning the Corner At Last

February 16 spring flowers 004

After days of snow and rain, the sun set golden last night beneath the last of the storm clouds clearing out from the west.

Sunrise this morning found our sky deeply blue and nearly clear, frosty morning air crackling with fresh energy and promise.

February 16 spring flowers 038

The sun called both of us out of doors to see what changes have come to the garden. 

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Ground spongy from days of rain, with water still puddling in low spots; the Earth shifts and oozes with every step.  Each step must be carefully placed to avoid slipping on the uneven ground.

February 16 spring flowers 010

Today brings that magical moment when we first begin to feel winter slipping away into earliest spring.  The sun is brighter than when we saw it last, and is lingering later into the evening.  We have turned the corner at last.

February 16 spring flowers 034

In the afternoon I gathered hat and coat, scarf and camera to make the walk down to the Creek, in search of evidence. 

I went looking for any sign that we have, in fact, begun the unfolding of spring, here in Williamsburg.  I wanted proof that winter’s hard shell has begun to crack, allowing new bits of living green to unfold.

February 16 spring flowers 020

The first new green always comes to the mosses, plump now with moisture and responding to the sun.

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They green as they thaw, and stretch out luxuriantly.  The moss, and brave blades of green bulb foliage determinedly poking out of the frozen mud animate winter’s muddy ground.

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Even bits of fern, and the first bits of weed populating the mulched beds of daffodils, gave ample proof of winter melting away for another year.

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Snowdrops, early Crocus, and one radiant patch of blooming Daffodils in a neighbor’s yard cheered me on my way.

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The Hellebores are thickening in their beds with new growth, buds nearly ready to open their petals to early bees who might wander by.

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Spring is returning to the garden; slowly, now at the beginning, but still an irresistible force of new unfoldings and fresh starts.

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It was the perfect day to get out into the sunshine and fill our lungs with the first breath of spring.

February 16 spring flowers 024

A perfect day for our friend to celebrate her birthday, and a perfect day for winter’s cloak to pull away, even for a moment, as sun and warmth called us back out into the garden.

February 16 spring flowers 002

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

February 16 spring flowers 003

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me
 

e. e. cummings

First Signs of Spring

January 16 new growth 023

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly beginning its winter bloom.

It began snowing this morning soon after I “got up for good.” 

Yesterday sunrise brought fog and gentle rain, but no snow.  Today the sun hid behind thick clouds as curtains of snow fell across the garden.

Yesterday sunrise brought fog and gentle rain, but no snow. Today the sun hid behind thick clouds as curtains of snow fell across the garden.

It was our first snow of the season, although promises and hints have lingered in our weather forecasts for weeks now.

Lichens growing on a budding Azalea branch.

Lichens growing on a budding Azalea branch.

When I couldn’t sleep in the wee dark early hours, there was no trace of snow yet.  But it looked really cold outside.  The cat didn’t mind; and he ran out, given the opportunity; not suspecting that I was going to fall back to sleep on the couch, leaving him out in the cold.

Heuchera

Heuchera sprouting new leaves

Sure enough, when next I awoke, it was brighter, but a thin mix of snow and rain had begun.  Ollie was parked at the back door, huddled as close to the house as possible, trying desperately to speak loudly enough to summon me.  He shot inside as soon as the door opened a crack, with all the force a very large, frosty cat can muster.

I couldn’t be sure whether the ensuing mewing was in appreciation or complaint.  He eventually settled in sullen silence in his current favorite spot under the table, and pretended to ignore any further conversation about the snow.

Lamb's Ears have begun to grow

Lamb’s Ears have begun to grow

Our first snow of the season soon filled the sky and the garden with beautiful plump snowflakes.

Fingers of Daffodil leaves have begun to push up through the mud.

Fingers of Daffodil leaves have begun to push up through the mud.

It only gathered here and there on leaves, branches, and porch furniture, since it wasn’t frosty enough this morning for snow to stick to the ground or street…  But, it kept falling  in generous curtains as I made coffee and cooked oatmeal, answered phone calls and got dressed for the day.

Buds have finally appeared on the Hellebore.

Buds have finally appeared on the Hellebores.

And in honor of our first snow, we went out to search for signs of spring. 

It is only fitting.  Now that we are deeply into our Virginia winter, past the holidays, and settled into a run of cold damp days and colder nights; I knew that signs of spring had to be lurking for anyone in search of them.

Hellebore

Hellebore

Snowflakes were still falling here and there, much more slowly than they had been, when we finally ventured out.  The snow had already passed us according to the satellite maps on TV, but the truth of it fluttered down around us in brilliant, white puffy flakes.

Buds have appeared on the stalks of last summer's daisy.

Buds have appeared on the stalks of last summer’s daisy.

I’ve been keeping a close eye out looking for Hellebores buds to poke up through the cold Earth, and watching for the first probing green fingers of  green to rise out of the mud where I remember bulbs are planted.

And so I began my rounds of the garden to see what I could see.

Hellebore coming into bud.

Hellebore coming into bud.

It takes a degree of discipline to overlook the stubby chewed off foliage of a savaged Viola, root ball lying exposed on the soil, to rejoice in the bit of Daffodil leaf poking out of the ground nearby.  But I was determined to find and record new beginnings today.

Apple mint begins to grow in its pot.

Apple mint begins to grow in its pot.

Today is a new beginning for our first granddaughter, born last night a little after 7 PM Pacific time.  She came into the world happy, healthy, and absolutely beautiful.  She has an engaging smile right from the beginning.  Her face carries  the contented wisdom of the very very young,  and the very old.   A safe and timely birth, happy parents, loving families; we are so appreciative for all the blessings that come with our newest member of the family.

Mahonia blossoms begin to open their bright yellow flowers.

Mahonia blossoms begin to open their bright yellow flowers.

And in her honor, we are convinced, the sky opened  this morning and greeted us with a fresh snowfall.

Melted snowflakes cling to the lavender.

Melted snowflakes cling to the lavender.

As a new life begins in our family, I went in search of the beginnings of new life in the garden.  And I was greeted with an unexpected richness of beauty.

January 16 new growth 027

Buds are swelling; bulbs are making their appearance; new leaves uncurling here and there; and even Forsythia is tentatively opening a bright yellow flower.  Forsythia blooming in mid-January… imagine that!  Even the moss and lichens, always winter companions, are vibrantly green and alive.  They have been enjoying all the rain.

The first Forsythia blossoms of spring time open tentatively along bare branches.

The first Forsythia blossoms of spring time open tentatively along bare branches.

And so it begins.  The first signs of spring from the depths of winter. 

New leaves sprout on a Heuchera munched by the deer around Christmas time.

New leaves sprout on a Heuchera munched by the deer around Christmas time.

I tucked the root balls of Viola back into the bed, bringing moist Earth up around them.  I covered the exposed Iris rhizomes, with their tiny green leaves poking out around the edges, and made a mental note to bring some garlic cloves out to guard the tiny plants for the rest of winter.  So far garlic cloves are working where I’ve left them in the pots near the house, grazed by deer over the holidays.

A young Hellebore, too young to blooms, thrives in this bed of fern and Daffodils.

A young Hellebore, still too young to bloom, thrives in this bed of fern and Daffodils.

The Violas look like they are beginning to recover, although flowers won’t appear again for another several weeks.  They will be lovely again by March, when spring will be firmly settled all across the garden.

Shelf fungi

Shelf fungi look like sculpture growing in the edge of the ravine.

It is wise to honor and take notice of the beginnings of things.  The more we watch, the more we learn.  The more we know, the more we can appreciate the wonder and magic of it all.

Moss, ivy, and lichens grow at the base of an old Beech tree.

Moss, ivy, and lichens grow at the base of an old Beech tree.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

January 16 new growth 032

Do the difficult things while they are easy
and do the great things while they are small.
A journey of a thousand miles
must begin with a single step.
Lao Tzu

Beginning, Again: Step By Step for Building and Planting a Raised Bed

July 27 new stump garden 016~

Before our oaks fell in a storm this past June, there was a small shaded bed around the base of one of the oaks filled with Azaleas, ferns, Hellebores, Caladiums, Begonias, Violas, and spring bulbs.  A 15’ Dogwood tree grew  beside the oak, providing additional shade to the bed.

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The bed in mid-September 2011, a few weeks after Huricane Irene.

The bed in mid-September 2011, a few weeks after Huricane Irene.  The trunk to the far right was a 15′ Dogwood, destroyed in the June 2013 storm. Filled with roots, and heavily grazed, everything struggled in this bed.

 

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When the crew cleaned up after the fallen trees, they also picked up the wood which had bordered this bed since before we bought the property.  The azaleas were broken and the Hellebores were left to bake in the full sun.  It was as bedraggled after the clean-up as the rest of the front part of our garden.

This bed is at the top of the forest in view of the street.  We drive by it coming and going, so it needs to look neat and cared for.

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Time to begin again to build a productive raised bed around the stump of this beautiful oak.

Time to begin again to build a productive raised bed around the stump of this once beautiful oak.

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Now that the remaining trees have been pruned and all of the equipment has come and gone, it’s time to begin again and restore this area.  I’d like to experiment with a modified version of European hugelkultur, or building a self- sustaining raised bed on pieces of wood and compostable materials.  In traditional hugelkultur the bed is constructed as a mound of wood several feet high, covered in organic materials and topsoil.

A good friend learned about this system and has been building beds in this style behind her house all summer.  She is having good results, and so I will experiment with this method as well.

Hugelkultur is a sustainable organic gardening practice which allows plants to grow with very little further attention from the gardener once they establish.  The biomass of the wood absorbs and holds water, then releases it slowly to the growing plants as needed.  Rainwater is absorbed and retained so little additional irrigation is needed.  As the wood and other organic materials built into the base of the bed decompose, they release nutrients to the plants.  A rich community of bacteria, fungus, worms, and insects forms in such a bed limiting the need for additional fertilizer.  Over a period of years the wood breaks down into rich soil to sustain the plants, many of them perennials, planted into a Hugelkultur bed.

Pea gravel and compost are essential when I plant anything in the ground in this garden.

Pea gravel and compost are essential when I plant anything in the ground in this garden.

Hellebores and ferns were dug out and moved to a shady fern bed.

Hellebores and ferns were dug out and moved to a shady fern bed.

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I’m building my bed around a large stump, on top of the massive root system of the tree, so I’m counting all of that biomass below the surface as the foundation for my bed.  I add to that, above the surface, bits of limbs and bark left after the clean up and the rich mixture of chipped wood and leaves left behind from grinding up the trimmed limbs.

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July 26 new bed in forest 004

Mulch raked back to expose the remaining plants.

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I began by raking back all of the material left from grinding to expose the Hellebores, bits of fern, and remaining azalea twigs.

The azaleas have been in place several years and so I’m hoping they will grow back from their roots and survive in spite of the bright sunlight.  The hellebores need to be dug and moved to a shady area in the fern garden.

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July 26 new bed in forest 007

A loose layer of pea gravel is poured first to make it more difficult for burrowing voles to get into this bed.

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Once they were all moved out, I gathered enough branches and bark to roughly cover the area I’ll convert into a raised bed.  This new bed will be a few feet wider than what was there before and I plan to eventually work some food producing plants into the mix.

The first layer of the new bed is a loose covering of pea gravel to slow down the burrowing voles a bit.  Since the roots here are dense, I don’t think they’ll have an easy time getting in, but the gravel is a good foundation.

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Bits of wood are laid to make a frame around the surviving azaleas.

Bits of wood are laid to make a frame around the surviving azaleas.

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Next the gathered wood.  I used larger pieces to frame out an area around the base of each remaining azalea so they don’t get buried.  Leaving these shrubs in place will limit the depth of the new bed.

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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.

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Once the layer of wood was in place, I topped the entire bed with a layer of the ground up wood and leaves, making it thinner around the azaleas and thicker in other areas.  This is a nice mixture of high nitrogen material (the leaves) and high carbon material (the wood).  I expect it to compost in place nicely, especially topped with the layer of finished compost.

There were only three bags of finished compost on hand, and so I spread them out in a fairly thin layer over the entire bed.  This certainly isn’t as deep as I want it, and so we’ll bring in more bags of compost over the coming weeks.

New raised beds are traditionally constructed in the winter and left for several months to season and settle before planting.  Since I’m constructing this one in late July I’ll limit the amount of new planting directly into the bed, and instead place several large planters on top of it.  I’ll move plants out of these planters and into the bed in a few months.

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Chipped up wood and leaves spread over the foundation of wood will rot into good compost over time.

Chipped up wood and leaves spread over the foundation of wood will rot into good compost over time.

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I purchased six sage plants, two Setcreasea (Purple Heart), and one Hypericum moserianum,’Tricolor’, variegated St. John’s Wort.  Three others are already growing in the pots, so a total of four will live in this bed.  All of these plants are happy in hot, dry conditions and aren’t picky about soil.  They’re deer resistant, and should be good pioneer plants as this bed is established.

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This is a very thin layer of compost, but I'll keep adding more over the next several weeks.

This is a very thin layer of compost, but I’ll keep adding more over the next several weeks.

All of the new plants are laid out where they will grow. Potting mix will help the plants get started in this shallow bed.

All of the new plants are laid out where they will grow. Potting mix will help the plants get started in this shallow bed.

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The layer of compost on top of the chipped wood and leaves is too thin to hold the plants, so I scooped out an area for each root ball into the chipped materials and filled in around the new plants with potting soil.

All of these plants are root bound this late in the season.  It is important to gently pull the roots apart a little so they will grow into the surrounding soil, and not continue to grow around in a circle, as they have been in the pot.  Roots should venture out away from the plant to soak up water and nutrients.  Roots growing in a circle aren’t able to provide a firm foundation for continued growth.  All sorts of problems can develop and kill the plant.

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These plants are root bound at the end of the season. Roots need to be gently pulled loose from the root ball before the plant is settled into some fresh potting soil.

These plants are root bound at the end of the season. Roots need to be gently pulled loose from the root ball before the plant is settled into some fresh potting soil.

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All nine new plants are now planted, and the pots set between them.  I’ll add more compost a little at a time, make sure the plants don’t dry out, and allow the bed to begin to “cook”.

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New plants are settled in the bed, and pots positioned between them. The bed will continue to settle in until autumn

New plants are settled in the bed, and pots positioned between them. The bed will continue to settle in until autumn.

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In early September I plan to plant several kale plants between the sages.  I expect the sage to protect them from any curious deer that get into the garden. Kale and sage are the first food crops added to this bed.  By late October it will be time to move the remaining Hypericum out of the pots and into the soil.

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The nearly finished bed. More compost will be added to cover the remaining wood on the border, and eventually I'll install some edging material to hold it all together.

The nearly finished bed. More compost will be added to cover the remaining wood on the border, and eventually I’ll install some edging material to hold it all together.

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  Perennial geraniums, received bare root in the mail this spring, are getting their start in the pots.  They can also be moved into the bed or planted elsewhere.  The Setcreasea will move into the garage before frost.  The sages, St. John’s Wort, and kale will look good throughout the winter, and will probably be joined by a few violas for even more color.

By spring, I can plant additional perennials, and this new raised bed will be ready to take its place as a productive part of our forest garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2013

When Your Garden Looks Like Swiss Cheese- Living with Moles and Voles

Moles have large paddle like feet to tunnel through soil. They prefer to eat invertebrates like insects and insect larvae. Image by Michael David Hill, Wikimedia

Moles and voles go wherever they want to go, and eat whatever they want to eat.   They leave raised tunnels in lawns and garden beds.  Both are small mammals, about 4″-6″ long as adults, and both live underground.  Moles prefer to eat insects, earthworms, and larvae that live in the top few inches of soil.  Voles, which look like mice, are herbivores; preferring to eat roots, grass, seeds, and whatever plant material they can drag down into their tunnels.

These destructive critters love freshly dug soil and newly planted plants; a real problem for many gardeners.  When you plant out a bed of transplants voles think you’ve prepared them a luscious buffet.  We’ve had newly purchased plants simply disappear overnight, eaten before they could even root into the surrounding soil.

As many moles or voles as you trap or kill, there seems to be a constant supply of new ones ready to take over the yard, with new ones born regularly between May and October.  There damage tends to be worse after a good rain when the ground is soft.

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A vole hole under a fern in a shaded area is only one of at least four networked holes all connected with tunnels.

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We’ve noticed that mole and vole activity seems to be worse in shaded areas than sunny, and that they go crazy under any area mulched with bark or leaves.  We’ve had whole areas dug up in a single night, and have even found them tunneling under some lawn during the day.  These guys will just destroy new plants and tear up the ground if left unchecked.  Worse, in our yard, we’ve found snakes also use the vole holes and tunnels for their own purposes.

Some people will bait the tunnels with poison, but I choose not to use poisons, especially since we have neighboring outside cats.  Some people leave traps to catch moles and voles.  But then you have to do something with the creatures once trapped.

Eliminating all moles and voles isn’t going to happen in a forested neighborhood with lots of green space, but, there are some things you can do to slow them down.

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Vole hole, through an earlier patch of gravel, and surrounding tunnels in the lawn.

Vole hole, through an earlier patch of gravel, and surrounding tunnels in the lawn.

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First, we destroy the tunnels and holes whenever and wherever we find them.  We stomp the tunnels flat, and fill the entrance holes with pea gravel.  If you find one hole, there will probably be another nearby.  Before I started filling the holes with pea gravel, we put rocks, bottle caps, moth balls, and other treasures into the tunnels to obstruct them.  Moth balls are especially effective at chasing these critters out of a particular tunnel.

Over the years, we have also stumbled across a non-poisonous way to eliminate some of the ‘activity.’  A friend tipped us off to using chewing gum as a bait.  We use sticks of Double Mint or Juicy Fruit gum, still in its wrapper, and torn into three or four portions per stick.  When we find a hole or tunnel, we simply push one of these little baits into the earth before we stomp the tunnel or fill the hole.  This method has proven helpful in reducing the population.

A product called “Milky Spore,” which is a powdered bacterium, can be sprinkled on lawns.  One application will allow this bacteria to grow in your soil, killing off the larvae of the Japanese beetle.  These larvae are a major food source for moles, and many find that using milky spore reduces the tunneling in their lawn.

Milky spore is not poisonous, won’t harm pets or other wildlife, lasts in the soil for years, and is widely available in hardware stores and garden centers.  As a bonus, it will reduce the Japanese beetle population, which may feed on your roses and other perennials in early summer.

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Gravel and Plant Tone ready to be mixed into the bottom of a  planting hole.

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When planting anything new, I mix pea gravel into the “back-fill” under and around the plant.  The gravel can improve drainage in the soil, and will slow voles down as they try to attract the roots of a plant.  I also mulch around newly planted beds with pea gravel to slow down the squirrels who may want to dig them up.

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Use pea gravel in the "back-fill" soil under and around new plantings, and then mulch around the new plant with pea grave. This discourages moles and voles from eating the roots of your new plant, and discourages squirrels from digging around it. Herbs benefit from the reflected heat and sunlight, and the soil is held in place on a slope.

Use pea gravel in the “back-fill” soil under and around new plantings, and then mulch around the new plant with pea grave. This discourages moles and voles from eating the roots of your new plant, and discourages squirrels from digging around it.  Herbs benefit from the reflected heat and sunlight, and the soil is held in place on a slope.

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You might also create a ‘living fence’ of poisonous roots around an area that you need to protect from hungry voles.  You will find that there are many plants with poisonous or irritating compounds in their roots, stems and leaves.  My favorite plants to use this way are Narcissus and Hellebores.  Plant these plants around shrubs whose roots you want to protect, in mixed borders, and as a barrier around areas of lawn.

Narcissus, planted a bulbs in the fall, are an fairly inexpensive investment and multiply over the years.  They grow all winter long and bloom in the spring.  Although their leaves die back in early summer, their roots and bulbs continue to work as a barrier year round.

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Narcissus are beautiful but poisonous. Their bulbs and roots can form a ‘living fence’ to protect other plants form hungry voles.

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Hellebores, an evergreen herbaceous perennial, are available in garden centers from late autumn through the spring.  They bloom from late December through early May, and serve as a ground cover through the summer months.  They have large, fibrous root systems.

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Hellebores bloom through the winter months, but their large root system can protect an area from voles year round.

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Once established, Hellebores produce lots of seedlings, which you can transplant to new areas you want to protect.  Most gardeners cut back the old Helleborus leaves in the spring to make way for new growth.  Consider using old, ragged Hellebores leaves you’ve trimmed back as a mulch around other plants you want to protect.  As the leaves decay, their poisonous compounds enter the soil.

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A new raised bed, bordered by recycled bricks, is filled with topsoil and compost, ready for planting.

A new raised bed, bordered by recycled bricks, is filled with topsoil and compost, ready for planting.

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The best plan to protect your garden from mole and vole damage is to grow in raised beds.  When you build the bed, put a layer of chicken wire or landscaping fabric on the ground; follow with a shallow layer of gravel, then newspaper, cardboard, or brown paper shopping bags.  This suppresses the grown of any grass or weeds up into your new bed.  It will break down quickly, and help retain moisture under the roots as it enriches the soil.   Build the walls of your bed from wood, rock or masonry as tall as you need them, and fill the bed with topsoil and compost.

Laying landscape fabric or chicken wire under a new raised bed will keep the voles from eating the roots of your plants.  You might also use the Hugelkulture method of building a new bed on top of sticks, branches, leaves, or chipped wood.  This woody barrier will also help stop tunneling moles or voles.

You may need to slice through the bed’s lining to plant shrubs or other deeply rooted perennials, but your plants will be protected.  Many plants will grow more vigorously in a raised bed, especially if your soil is compacted or depleted.  It is very easy to plant into the fresh soil.

This is also an easy bed to maintain, and will never need tilling.  Simply add a few inches of compost each spring, and move plants in and out as the season dictates.

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March raised bed

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Plants grown in raised beds and containers grow much better than plants put directly into the soil around our home.  We get larger, lusher plants, with more flowers and fruits; probably because their roots can find plenty of moisture, air and nutrition and aren’t attacked by hungry voles!

The steep grade of our yard makes traditional double digging or tilling not only impractical, but dangerous.  Building up above the present soil makes more sense, gives a better result, and allows us to put down layers of material to stop the moles and voles from digging up to get the roots of our plants.

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Our new butterfly garden in May.

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If you have been frustrated in your efforts to garden or even maintain a lawn by hungry moles and voles, take heart.  There are things you can do to reduce or eliminate the damage they cause, without resorting to poisons.  Once you understand them, you can find ways to reduce their access to the food they seek, and protect both your landscaping investment and your peace of mind.

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Daffodil bulbs planted at a depth of 8″, and about 6″ apart all around the root ball to protect it from voles.

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Woodland Gnome 2013
Updated 2018

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