Winter Planting

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Winter weather is forecast to hit us hard this weekend.  Snow will begin to accumulate here on Friday evening and we expect snow most of the day on Saturday.

If the forecast holds, we’ll have a low of 12F on Sunday night.  Now that is very unusual for us here in coastal Virginia.   We aren’t generally prepared for such cold, and many of our garden plants don’t respond well to cold.

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Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant thorughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.

Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant throughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.  TheViolas will fade in early summer’s heat, but eventually, the ivy will fill the basket and persist indefinitely. 

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Because our winters tend towards mild temperatures, many of us keep on gardening between November and March.  Although we get an occasional blast of  freezing rain or snow, and often have night time temps down into the 20s; we also enjoy long stretches of days in the 40s and 50s.

Occasionally we enjoy days, like today, with temperatures into the 60s.   We have lots of song birds and squirrels playing around the garden, owls hooting from the ravines, hawks hunting from the tallest oaks, and even a moth clinging to the windows now and again.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weatehr in our garden.

Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.

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And I’m just in from transplanting a few of the first seedlings appearing from the bright red Arum italicum berries I planted into a protected spot last August.  Tiny curled leaves have appeared, poking above the soil, since Christmas.  And I moved a couple of them to a pot on our porch to keep a closer watch over them.

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As Arum itallicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Calladiums will fill its place for the summer.

As Arum italicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring.

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Arum italicum appears in autumn and grows beautifully here all through the winter.  Its leaves produce their own heat, melting ice and snow from around themselves, emerging brilliantly green and unharmed from a snowfall.

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The leaves remain pristine and provide a lovely ground cover under shrubs and around spring bulbs through early summer.  They bloom and fruit, and finally begin to fade away at the height of summer when one barely notices.  They remain dormant until the show begins again the following autumn.

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I can’t imagine why these beautiful and useful plants aren’t already wildly popular in our region.  They fill an important niche in the garden year, are too poisonous to interest deer, spread easily, prove hardy and easy to grow, and provide three seasons of interest.  What’s not to like?

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Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

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But I’ve never found them at a garden center potted and growing.  I’ve only seen them offered in catalogs as dry tubers, and have gotten ours from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.

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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 Heath’s display garden features many fall and winter blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heaths call Arum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well around shrubs.  After a few years, it spreads and forms a beautiful ground cover.

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Another useful, but often maligned, evergreen for winter gardening is ivy.  Like Arum italicum, ivy owns a spot on the ‘invasive plant’ list in our state.   But I’ve always appreciated the elegance ivy will lend to a pot or basket.  Although it can eventually swallow a tree, if left undisturbed, its growth is slow enough that an attentive gardener can manage it.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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Ivy, Hedera species,  can tolerate very cold temperatures and emerge from snow and ice unharmed in most cases.  There are many beautiful cultivars with variegated and beautifully shaped leaves from which to choose.  Shade tolerant, it can also manage in sun, and eventually produces both flowers and small berries for wildlife.

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Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

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I like ivy as a ground cover, too, and it is used extensively at Colonial Williamsburg in the gardens around historic homes.    It will eventually crowd out other plants, if left unchecked, much like Vinca minor.  It roots from each leaf node and produces a prodigious root system over time.

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Beech Tree With Ivy, August

Beech Tree With Ivy, August

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Hellebores have become a  third indispensable plant in our winter garden.  Also evergreen, like ivy, they maintain a presence throughout the entire year.  But they grow best during the cool months, awakening again in late autumn with fresh new leaves.

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Hellebore

Hellebore

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As the older leaves begin to look shabby, it is good to cut these away to make room for their emerging flowers.  Although the root system continues growing larger each year, the plants themselves may be renewed with annual cutting back of their old leaves in early winter.

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

In February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern and strawberry begonia, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

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Hellebores, also poisonous, will not be affected by grazing deer or rabbits.  Early pollinators appreciate their winter flowers, as do we.  I grow these in pots and in beds, pairing them with spring bulbs, Violas, ferns, Heuchera, moss and ivy.

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By choosing plants wisely, we have found ways to garden year round here in Williamsburg, enjoying beautiful foliage and  flowers each and every day of the year.  Even as we get an occasional snow or Arctic blast, these hardy plants bounce back quickly and keep giving throughout the season.

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New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. These shrubs bloom between December and February, providing nectar for pollinators during winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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WPC: Opposites

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“If we can stay with the tension of opposites

long enough —sustain it, be true to it—

we can sometimes become vessels

within which the divine opposites come together

and give birth to a new reality.”

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Marie-Louise von Franz

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“God created… light and dark, heaven and hell—


science claims the same thing as religion,

that the Big Bang created everything in the universe

with an opposite;

including matter itself, antimatter”


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Dan Brown

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Depot Bay, Oregon

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challege:  Opposites

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Caladium 'Miss Muffett' in a mixed planter with Heuchera 'Glowing Embers' and ferns.

Caladium ‘Miss Muffett’ in a mixed planter with Heuchera ‘Glowing Embers,’ ivy and ferns.

Plant Now For Spring Living Flower Arrangements

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Who wants to look at empty pots for the next four months?  I am as interested in planting attractive pots for the winter season as I am interested in replanting those pots for summer.  And each fall, I keep an eye and and ear open for new ideas.

Brent Heath offered a workshop last month at his Bulb Shop in Gloucester that I sorely wanted to attend.  He even offered to bring his workshop across the river if I could pull a group together in our community.  And how I wish my time and energy had stretched far enough to invite him!

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Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

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Brent, a master horticulturalist, teaches the finer points of loading containers with bulbs.  Now even though he and his wife Becky are known internationally for their prodigious offering of Daffodils; they sell hundreds of different bulbs and perennials.  Brent’s workshop teaches how to layer several different species of bulbs into a single pot to create a “Living Flower Arrangement” which changes over time as different bulbs appear, bloom, and fade.

I wanted to attend Brent’s workshop to learn a new trick or two.  I’ve used various bulbs in containers for many years now, but there is always a better way, when one is open to learn from someone more experienced.  But the stars haven’t aligned this season, and so I’ve been experimenting on my own with the bulbs we’ve been collecting.

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Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

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The idea is elegantly simple:  since one plants bulbs at different depths depending on the size of the bulb, and since new growth from most bulbs is very narrow before it reaches the light,  one can plant one ‘layer’ of bulbs on top of another, allowing the emerging stems to sort out the spacing as they grow upwards towards the light.  In fact, three or four ‘layers’ of different types of bulbs may be planted into a single large pot.   This very crowded planting works for a single season, but must be unpacked by early summer.  The bulbs may be transplanted ‘in the green’ into garden beds, to allow the leaves to fully recharge the bulb for the next season of flowers.

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 Containers for sale at the Heath's Bulb Shop last April

Containers on display at the Heath’s Bulb Shop last April

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I modify this idea to include annuals, perennials, woodies and moss so the planting has immediate interest while we wait for the bulbs to emerge in the spring.

Begin with a clean pot.  I use coffee filters or a paper towel over the drainage holes to hold the soil while the roots are growing.  The filters will soon decompose.  Choose a good quality, light, commercial potting soil with nutrition already mixed in.  The annuals and perennials are heavy feeders, and the bulbs will perform better in rich soil.  Many of the ‘organic’ potting soils now come pre-loaded with worm castings!

Now one must  ‘do the math.’  Having chosen 2-5 species of bulbs, depending on the size and depth of the pot, first study the proper planting depth of each.  If you are using Daffodils, for instance, which are planted at a depth of 6″, then fill the pot with soil to within about 7″ of the rim.    Set the first ‘layer’ of Daffodil bulbs on the soil by pushing the root end slightly into the soil so that the tip points upwards.  Space these Daffodils 3″-4″ apart from one another and at least an inch or two inwards from the sides of the pot.  Carefully fill in around these bulbs with more potting soil so they are barely covered, and firm the soil with your palm.

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Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted Redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and Daffodils early last spring.

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Choose your next bulb, adding just enough soil so it is planted at its correct depth, and arrange these bulbs by lightly pushing them into the soil.  Try to avoid setting a new bulb directly over top of a deeper one.  Lightly top with soil to hold this layer in place, and add an additional layer or two of bulbs.  I like to select a few bulbs, like Crocus, Muscari, or Galanthus nivalis, which will emerge in late winter.  These will often be the ones planted most shallow.

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Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I've tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I’ve tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

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If your living flower arrangement will contain only bulbs, then simply top off the soil with a layer of living moss, water in, place the pot, and wait.  You can certainly add a few branches, pods, stones or cones to the pot to catch the eye while you wait for spring.

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Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with Creeping Jenny and a hardy Sedum ‘Angelina’ last April.

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But I want a living flower arrangement which goes to work right away.  I always add some annuals or perennials to the mix, which complicates the bulb planting a bit, as you don’t want bulbs directly under the huge root ball of a perennial or shrub.   I tend to place  a shrub or perennial in the pot first, then plant the bulbs around it.  This is a good use for those clearance shrubs with tiny root balls so easy to find in late October or November.  Or, for the many evergreen shrubs showing up now in tiny quart or 1 gallon pots.

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Many vines and some perennials root easily from cuttings.  Simply tuck bits of Creeping Jenny, hardy Sedum, or divisions of Ivy or Ajuga into the soil of your finished pot.  These will grow in place.  Consider sprinkling seeds for perennials like Columbine, which like to overwinter out of doors.  They will begin to sprout next spring as the bulbs emerge.

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Creeping Jenny last March

Creeping Jenny last March

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You might complete your design with some winter annuals.  You can pot up the deeper layers of bulbs, and then plant a few Violas, Pansies or snaps in the top three inches of the pot.  Layer in your Crocus and Muscari bulbs around them.

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I still finish the pot with moss or pebbles.   This topdressing not only looks more attractive than plain dirt; it helps hold moisture, insulates the roots as temperatures dive, and it offers some protection from digging squirrels.  If I were using Tulips in the pot, I would be tempted to lay some chicken wire, with large openings, over that layer of bulbs for further protection from marauding rodents.  Tuck in a few cloves of garlic or onion sets to protect your Violas from grazing deer and rabbits.

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Now, the ultimate ‘multi-tasking’ for this sort of planting:  hardwood cuttings.  Many of our woodies will root over winter if stuck into moist soil and left alone for several months.  If you have some shrubs you would like to propagate, take your cuttings and push them artistically into the finished pot.  If they root, fine.  If they don’t, you have still enjoyed the extra sculptural elements they lend over winter while the bulbs are sleeping.

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I've added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

I’ve added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

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This sort of winter ‘living flower arrangement’ takes a bit of planning.  There are lots of choices to make about timing and color schemes, size and scale, costs and placement.  You have to imagine how the bulbs will look when they emerge, so the tall ones are more to the center and the shorter ones nearer the edges; unless the shorter ones will finish before the tall ones emerge.  And the container must be large enough to contain all of those robust roots without cracking; and of material which will hold up to your winter weather.

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This is an excellent way to showcase miniature Daffodils and other delicate, small flowering bulbs.  You might combine several types of daffies to include those which flower early, mid- and late season.  Daffodils with blue Muscari always look great together.

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Ornamental cabbage with Heuchera in a newly planted pot.

Ornamental cabbage with Hellebore in a newly planted pot.

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You might also compose an arrangement of various Iris.  Include some combination of Iris unguicularis, Iris bucharica, Iris histrioides, Iris reticulata, Dutch Iris, and perhaps even a root of German Bearded Iris for a long season of beautiful Iris blooms.

If your winter is especially harsh, plant your container now, water it in, but leave it in an unheated garage or shed until February.  Bring it out into the spring sunshine and enjoy the bulbs when the worst of winter has passed.

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Newly planted Violas with Heuchera

Newly planted Violas with Hellebores.  Bulbs are tucked into the soil, waiting for spring.

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We enjoy the luxury of  Zone 7b, which allows us to grow winter annuals which would die a few states to the north, and also bulbs which wouldn’t survive in the warmer winters to our south.  We also have many winter or early spring  flowering shrubs to plant in our container gardens.

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Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.  Foliage will fill this pot all winter, with flowers appearing in the spring.

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Here are some of the plants I choose most often for these dynamic pots:

Perennials:  Hellebores, Heucheras, Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, Iris unguicularis, evergreen ferns, culinary Sage, Rosemary, Ivy, Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny), Sedum rupestre, ‘Angelina’ and other hardy Sedums, Ajuga, Vinca Minor (Periwinkle), hardy Oxalis, Columbine, Dianthus

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Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

Pansies will soon respond to warmer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

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Annuals:  Violas, Panolas, Pansies, Snapdragons, Allysum, ornamental kale or cabbage

Whatever combination of plants you choose, think of these living flower arrangements as narratives which unfold over time.

Time truly is the magical ingredient for baking bread, raising children, and creating beautiful gardens.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Let The Planting Begin!

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We had a taste of spring here yesterday and this morning.  We actually hit 70 F yesterday afternoon!  It was the perfect day for a drive out to the country, and so some loved ones and I took off for destinations west after lunch.

Just over the county line, in the eastern edge of Amelia, Clay Hudgins of  Hudgins Landscape and Nursery, Inc., is preparing for his first spring in his new location. We had visited last fall and been impressed with the excellent condition of the plants and friendliness of his staff.

What else to do on the first 70 degree day of the new year, but go wander through a nursery?  Although I was in search of potted Hellebores, Clay interested me in shrubs instead.   Many of his shrubs were on sale, and most of his Espoma products.  So I stocked up on Holly Tone and Rose Tone; and adopted a gorgeous Rhododendron.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 001~

Our neighbors have successfully grown Rhododendron, even without fencing out the deer; and so we are going to try this one in a spot where a Camellia failed this autumn.  The poor Camellia had been nibbled by deer multiple times during its short life.  Sadly, most of its roots had also been eaten by the voles.  It was too abused to even take a photo of it.

But I’ve learned a trick or two to protect new shrubs since that Camellia went into the ground in 2011.  Today I planted both the Rhodie, and a potted dwarf  Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, which was already growing with Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ spring bulbs, and an Autumn Brilliance fern.

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This is a cool and partially shaded area, part of our fern gardens behind the house.  These plants will get afternoon sun, and should grow very happily here.

The first line of defense to protect a shrub’s roots from vole damage is gravel in the planting hole.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 004

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I dug this hole about 4″ deeper than needed, and about 6-7″ wider.  You may notice a clam shell stuck to the side of the planting hole in the photo.  That is plugging up the main vole tunnel, which is now back-filled with gravel behind that shell.

Like earthworms, voles dig and tunnel through the soil.  My job is to make that as difficult and hazardous as possible.  In addition to gravel, I like to surround the new shrub with poisonous roots.  There were already a few daffodil bulbs growing in front of the deceased Camellia.  You can see their leaves just poking through the soil in the bottom left corner of the photo, if you look closely.  I’ve added a few more daffodils now, planted near the new Redbud, a few feet behind the Rhodie.

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These roots are beautiful; not potbound at all.  I still scored vertical lines in several places around the rootball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any 'girdling' of the roots .

These roots are beautiful; not pot bound at all. I still scored vertical lines in several places around the root ball with the tip of a knife to stimulate growth and prevent any ‘girdling’ of the roots as they grow .

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I’ll plan to plant more daffodils in this area when they come on the market again in fall.  But, until then, I’ve surrounded the Rhodie with seedling Hellebores, spaced about 12″ apart.  Hellebores are one of the most toxic plants we grow.  Every part, including the roots, is highly poisonous.  Once these roots begin to grow and fill in, they will form a poisonous “curtain” of plant matter around the Rhodie’s roots, protecting the root ball as the shrub establishes.  Just for good measure, I’ve laid a light ‘mulch’ of the old Hellebore leaves we pruned this morning.  They will quickly decompose into the soil, and their toxins will offer this area additional protection.

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From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, 'Caramel," a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

From top left: Yucca leaves, Heuchera, ‘Caramel,” a tiny Redbud tree, emerging bulbs, seedling Hellebores, Hellebore leaves, Rhododendron Purpureum Elegans, daffodil leaves, and a mature Autumn Brilliance fern.

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Japanese Painted Ferns are already established in this area.  Their first fronds will unfurl over the next six weeks.  I’ll add additional ferns, and most likely some Wood Anemones to this planting.  It is mulched in pea gravel and some shells at the moment, to further thwart creatures who might want to dig here.

A little Holly Tone is mixed into the bottom of the planting holes and is also dusted over the mulched ground.  Mushroom compost is mixed with the soil used to fill in around the root balls.  Finally, I watered in all of the plants with a generous wash of Neptune’s Harvest.  It smells so foul that hungry creatures give it wide berth.  Just for good measure, I also sprayed the Heuchera and Rhododendron with deer repellent just before going back inside.

Overkill?  Not at all!  I want these plants to get off to a good and healthy start!  I’ll show you the progress here from time to time.  This gorgeous Rhodie is absolutely covered in buds, which will open in a beautiful shade of lavender later in the spring.   I’m so pleased with this shrub, having seen its beautiful roots and abundant growth, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a few more Rhododendrons from this same lot while they are available, and still on sale.

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February 9, 2015 Rhodie 013

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

Hellebore with a bud emerging in another part of the fern garden.

One Word Photo Challenge: Marsala

Heuchera

Heuchera

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Marsala,

Brownish pink, rosy brown,

Color chosen for 2015.

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Color of ivy stems, winter blossoms, dried blood,

Wine, pomegranates, terra cotta, grapes.

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January 6, 2015  marsala 001

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Cooly warm, this hue.

Color of Earth, not sky;

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Begonia

Begonia

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Muddy water, not fire.

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January 6, 2015  marsala 012

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Color of life,

New leaves, new growth, winter survival.

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Philodendron

Philodendron

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Marsala purrs softness, comfort, calm.

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Hellebores

Hellebores

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It promises spring.

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March 27, 2014 parkway 025

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It verifies vitality

It witnesses winter’s defeat.

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Hellebore

Hellebore

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Marsala:  taste the good taste of new.

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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

 

A Four Season Pot In the Springtime

April 16, 2014 dogwood 001

A Four Season Pot changes seasonally, remaining attractive throughout all four seasons of the year.

It requires a little thinking ahead to pull this together, but is well worth it.  I prefer to begin a Four Season Pot in the autumn, when spring bulbs come on the market.

Bulbs are an important part of this ever changing display.  Ephemeral spring bulbs keep the arrangement fresh and interesting from late winter through early summer as the bulbs develop, bloom, and then begin to fade.  when the foliage is finished and begins to brown, it can finally be removed as the pot settles into summer.

A Four Season Pot can be designed to last for several years with only minor changes.  Begin with a large pot, of at least 18 inches, in a material which may stay outside year round in all sorts of weather.

The primary element of the planting is a shrub or small tree.  This is where the design gets interesting. 

You may choose an evergreen or a deciduous shrub.  You may select for interesting foliage, flowers, or both.  This primary plant stays in the pot as annuals come and go throughout the next several seasons.

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The Four Season pot in autumn, very soon after it was planted. Notice the Heuchera leaves are a different color here than in the spring photos.

When the shrub outgrows the pot you may choose to prune it, pot up to a larger container, or plant the shrub out into the garden and begin again with a new shrub.

Within the potting philosophy of , “thriller, filler, spiller;”  your shrub will usually be the  “thriller” or largest and tallest element.

Although I’ve done this scheme with evergreen shrubs, I prefer to create a Four Season planting design using a deciduous, spring blooming shrub or small tree.

Bringing attention to a lovely shrub, up close to daily traffic, so it can be observed as it transforms itself season to season is far more interesting to me than watching geraniums bloom.

April 16, 2014 flowers 005

New spring Heuchera leaves are touched with copper, as will be the new fronds of the Autumn Brilliance fern when new growth begins.

This little design, constructed last autumn, is built around a tiny hybrid Redbud tree , Cercis canadensis, which Jonathan Patton and Dustin  gave me at the end of the season last year.  Homestead  Garden Center was closing out its deciduous stock and they didn’t want to store this little shrub over the winter.  A tiny little shrub in a small pot,  with its golden fall leaves still clinging to its branches, it was perfect for my needs.

Underplanted with a combination of daffodil and grape hyacinth bulbs,  I filled the pot with a perennial Heuchera and annual Violas.  The Violas have bloomed all winter long, bringing color to the pot long after the Redbud’s leaves blew away.  The Heuchera also kept its color all winter, escaping the deer who found other Heuchera  plants around the winter garden.

April 16, 2014 flowers 003

The only plant in the pot which has not yet filled in is the Autumn Brilliance fern planted from a tiny 2.5″ pot.  It didn’t get established before cold set in, and its few leaves are rather bedraggled from winter yet.   New fronds will unfurl any day now, and will grow perhaps as tall as 18″.

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So the total expenditure on plants for this pot was a little under $15.00. Constructed in late autumn, the pot has been  attractive for a little more than six months already.

The only plant I’ll remove and switch out will be the Viola, when the heat gets too much for it.

April 16, 2014 flowers 002

I could replace it with an Ajuga division from the garden; a small annual like Ageratumn from a six-pack, or even a Caladium tuber or rooted cutting.  For a little or no additional investment, this pot will keep growing and changing throughout the remainder of the season.

My hope was to see the Redbud bloom this year before its leaves emerged.  It seems it is too young to bloom.  Even without blooms, its tiny chartruese heart shaped leaves are still a lovely addition to the pot.  This arrangement can survive at least one more winter in place.  The annual will get switched out for a fresh Viola next November, and this pot will continue growing in partial sun, with only regular watering and light feeding, into 2015 and beyond.

April 16, 2014 dogwood 002

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Renewal

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A beautiful “Caramel”  Heuchera begins it s fourth season in this large pot, this spring.

Last summer it was covered with blooms.  It filled the pot and spilled over the sides.

MId-June, and the Heucheara was huge and healthy.  See it behind the other pots.

MId-June, and the Heuchera was huge and healthy.   See it behind the other pots.

Until the night of the deer.  One morning  in October we came out to discover a rangy mass of stems, with most of the leaves eaten in the night.

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October, the morning after the deer feasted on our Heuchera

We planted Violas around the root mass, and tidied it up as much as we could.

We fertilize pots with Osmocote for long term feeding, and always sprinkle some on the soil after adding new plants, like these Violas.  We also water every few weeks with a solution of Neptune’s Harvest from early spring through the season, and into the autumn.

Late December

Late December

A few more leaves were nipped along the way, until I finally planted a few garlic cloves around the plant, between the Violas.

So far the garlic has offered some protection.

March 2, 2014

March 2, 2014

Now, in early April, I’m thrilled to see new leaves beginning to fill out.

Some of the gifts of spring are fresh opportunities for growth, renewal, and hope for the coming season.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Deer.... in our neighbors' garden.

Deer…. in our neighbors’ garden.

Time To Come In

Caladiums beginning to look faded at the end of their season outside.

Caladiums beginning to look faded at the end of their season outside.

The Caladiums have about reached the limit of how much cold they will tolerate.  We love their huge colorful leaves, and wait as late into the season as we can before disturbing them.  But, it is time to come indoors for the winter.

The first few Caladiums already lifted, it is easier to see what is growing in the pot.

With the first few Caladiums already lifted, it is easier to see what is growing in the pot.

Some gardeners bring them in and successfully dry the tubers.  I’ve not had a high success rate with packing the tubers away in peat moss or sawdust for the winter, and so I prefer to leave the plants growing in pots, and bring the pots inside.  When brought into the living room, they will normally die back for a few weeks to rest, and then sprout new leaves early in the new year.  This makes it easy to keep up with them, and then transplant them back outside the following May when the weather has warmed up for good.  It is just a little too cold in Virginia to leave Caladiums outside all winter.  They will freeze and die.

This pot was spectacular all summer with its red Begonia Rex and a red leaved cane Begonia.  Both need to come inside now that night time temperatures dip into the 40s.

This pot was spectacular all summer with its red Begonia Rex and a red leaved cane Begonia. Both need to come inside now that night time temperatures dip into the 40s.

Our large pots tend to be temporary homes for a variety of plants.  The pots stay in place and the plants come and go with the seasons.  So this afternoon I tackled the Caladiums and some of the Rex Begonias.   When the Caladium leaves begin to fade, and several nights in a row dip below 50, its best to lift the tubers and find them a winter home.

Begonia Rex, purchased in a 1" pot in April has grown beautifully in this protected pot on the patio.

Begonia Rex, purchased in a 1″ pot in April has grown beautifully in this protected pot on the patio.

Anything we can do for tender plants is better than doing nothing.  Lifting them, and losing some roots and leaves, to bring them inside at least gives them a chance to survive.  Some will thrive, some will languish.  It is a chance we take.  We can only be as gentle as we can be, minimizing the time roots are exposed to the air.   This is different than standard re-potting since plants are dug out individually.  Its good to do this on a fairly warm, overcast day.  Assemble pots, fresh soil, trowel, clippers, fertilizer, bulbs, transplants, gloves, and water before beginning to dig.  Once started, try to move each plant as quickly and gently as possible, watering it into its new pot so the roots settle firmly into place.October 26 potting 012

I recycled some pots which held Coleus this summer.  The Coleus has grown leggy and is fading in the cooler temperatures.  Coleus cuttings will survive the winter in vases of water.  It is best to start with fresh plants each summer anyway, so this year’s plants are discarded when they fade.

Transplanted Caladiums and Begonias now share this 14" shallow pot.  They will live in our living room this winter.  The Caladiums will die back, but will send out fresh leaves in early spring.  They can remain together or get divided up and replanted outside when spring 2014 is settled and warm.

Transplanted Caladiums and Begonias now share this 14″ shallow pot. They will live in our living room this winter. The Caladiums will die back, but will send out fresh leaves in early spring. They can remain together or get divided up and replanted outside when spring 2014 is settled and warm.

Prepare the pots by mixing some Plant Tone into the recycled soil, or begin with all new potting soil.  Scoop out a bowl shaped depression to receive the transplants.  Probe around each Caladium tuber with the trowel.  It’s hard to know how large the tubers have grown, but expect them to be larger than what was planted in spring.  Begin a few inches away from the living stems, and scoop under the tuber from 3 or 4 different angles to loosen the roots.

Settle the roots of each caladium into the pot, spacing them a few inches apart.

Settle the roots of each Caladium into the pot, spacing them a few inches apart.

Reach under the entire tuber and lift the plant in the palm of your hand, gently shaking some of the soil back into the summer pot.  Place the tuber into the new pot, settling the roots, and push the first few tubers towards the edges.  Make sure there is soil between the side of the pot and the tuber.  Continue lifting tubers one at a time.  October 26 potting 018They should be spaced several inches apart.  Expect that the leaves will die back, and unless you add another plant or two, the pot will appear to be empty for much of the winter.  Since the pot is coming into the living room I pot up Caladiums with something else that will live all winter indoors.   I mixed these Caladiums with three of the Begonia Rex who have been outside in this same area.  Gently probe around each Begonia plant, and gently lift it in the same way, shaking away excess soil.  You want a fairly compact bit of soil and roots to transplant.

One Beonia is leggy and should be pruned back, the other already pruned by hungry deer.  Both will spend the winter in the warm living room.

One Begonia is leggy and should be pruned back, the other was already pruned by hungry deer. Both will spend the winter in the warm living room.

Settle these in between the Caladium tubers, and fill in around each plant with fresh potting soil, as needed.  Finally top off the soil with a layer of gravel mulch, and spray gently with a fine mist of water to rinse the leaves and pot and settle the roots into place.    This pot is now ready to come inside for the winter and will do well in bright but indirect light.

A Heuchera anchors the newly planted Panola and several Violas.  Grape Hyacinth and miniature Daffodils will fill the pot out in spring.

A Heuchera anchors the newly planted Panola and several Violas. Grape Hyacinths and miniature Daffodils will fill the pot out in spring.  Last year’s Grape Hyacinth bulbs have already grown leaves.

The pots which will over winter should be stripped of all tender plants, leaving only those hardy enough to survive the cold.  I’ve left a fern and a Clematis in one pot, and a Heuchera, sprouting Grape Hyacinth bulbs, and a cutting of Begonia Gryphon in the other.  Both of these pots will receive Violas and bulbs for winter and early spring blooms.  Since both are heavy feeders, and will be expected to bloom all winter, it is smart to begin by digging in some Plant Tone.  Next plant any bulbs.  I’ve added some additional Grape Hyacinths and miniature Daffodils.  I used the same bulbs in both pots I replanted today, so they will bloom together and look similiar next spring.  Finally, I transplanted the Violas, topped off the pots with some fresh gravel mulch, and watered with a fine mist to wash away stray potting soil and settle the roots into their new pot.

Beautiful Panolas with their ruffled petals fill this pot, underplanted with Grape Hyacinths and miniature Daffodils.  A fern, planted last autumn, is beginning to spread.  A Clematis vine, new this spring, will spend the winter in the pot ready to grow again in the spring.

Beautiful Panolas with their ruffled petals fill this pot, underplanted with Grape Hyacinths and miniature Daffodils. A fern, planted last autumn, is beginning to spread. A Clematis vine, new this spring, will spend the winter in the pot ready to grow again in a few months.

Both pots look much better now that they are cleaned up and replanted for the winter.  The large, leggy Begonia has more room to grow in its new pot, and is partnered with what is left of a Begonia Boliviensis which was badly grazed by deer.  Safely inside, I expect it to leaf out again and possibly bloom over the winter.  The large Begonia will drop a few leaves as it adjusts.  I can cut back each of the branches to stimulate fresh growth lower on the stem.  Sometimes I share these cuttings with friends, and sometimes give them the mother plant.  These Begonias root so easily I always have more plants than I can reasonably bring in for the winter.  This one was a rooted cutting when it went outside in late April, and has grown quite huge over the season.

A Begonia Rex remains in the pot with the new Camellia, now protected with cuttings  of scented geranium.

A Begonia Rex remains in the pot with the new Camellia, now protected from grazing deer with cuttings of scented geranium.

Finally, the Coleus protecting the new C. “Jingle Bells” had to go today, too. It was hit by cold last week, was dropping leaves, and looked pretty ratty.  I lifted one of the Rex Begonias in this pot, but left the other in place a while longer.  Sometime soon I’ll lift it and plant the entire pot in Violas.  I’m concerned about deer attracted to the Violas also eating the Camellia buds, so the change over for this pot is gradual.  Today I took large cuttings of some leggy scented geraniums.  I’ve read some accounts lately of other gardeners successfully protecting plants with the highly fragrant scented Pelargonium.  Although I hope these cuttings root, if they don’t, they will remain fragrant and continue to protect the Camellia for many months.  These particular Pelargonium normally aren’t hardy in Zone 7, but several survived last winter.  Although the leaves eventually died back in an extended bit of frigid weather, the roots lived and the plants grew back this spring.

It is a luxury to have space indoors to keep plants through the winter.  It also takes consistent attention to keep each pot properly watered, the leaves picked up, and the plants rotated so they get sufficient light.  It is an investment of time and love, but the reward of much loved plants surviving from one summer to the next makes it worth the effort to bring in as many plants as one can when autumn nights grow cold.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,.  They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true Pansies.  These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,. They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true Pansies. These “Violet Picotee” are some of my  favorites with their ruffled petals.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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All of these Panolas and Violas were raised by the Patton family and sold at their Homestead Garden Center in James City Co., Virginia.

Violas For Winter Blooms

October 4 shopping 016Violas are finally here, ready to plant in our pots and beds to enjoy all winter.  Even as we watch weather reports of 20+ inches of snow falling in early winter storm Atlas over six states in the upper mid-west of the US, I’m planning our winter flower garden.

Violas, a huge genus of between 500 and 600 species, love cool weather.  The perennial Viola odorata is a naturalized wildflower in our garden.   These small, edible flowers begin blooming in early spring and continue until the weather warms.  These are different from the Viola cultivars showing up in garden centers now.

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Violas purchased in a six pack cost less than fifty cents per plant. An excellent invest in winter color!

Sometimes called pansies, Viola cultivars bring welcome color to winter days.  Pansies are the large flowered members of this beautiful group of winter bedding plant.  Violas, the smaller flowered selections; and Panolas, new in-between hybrids; are somewhat tougher and more cold hardy.  While pansies may take a break during the coldest weeks of winter, Panolas and Violas, sometimes known as “Johnny Jump-Ups,” keep blooming all winter long in Zone 7.

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

It is possible to have flowers blooming 365 days each year by planting Violas in autumn.  They make for beautiful combinations in pots, planted with Heuchera, ferns, kales and cabbages, shrubs, mosses, and late flowering perennials.  Underplant the Violas with various spring flowering bulbs, and the show continues through late winter and into early summer with flowers coming and going continuously.

Violas can also be used as edging around flower beds and borders.  They keep the bed alive and attractive throughout the fall and winter.  They fill in nicely around spring bulbs, and keep the bed interesting after the bulbs fade.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,.  They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true Pansies.  These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,. They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true pansies. These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Violas are an excellent investment.  Purchased now in six-packs, they can be had for less than fifty cents per plant.  They are easy to grow, spread to cover a large area, and can be counted on for non-stop color well into May.  The only thing that stops Violas is summer heat.

A seedling Viola, growing from a seed dropped in early spring.

A seedling Viola, growing from a seed dropped in early spring.

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari.  Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

Sun loving in winter, the life of a Viola plant can be extended by moving it into the shade in late April or early May.  I frequently move mine out of featured pots and into shaded beds in late spring.  Often they drop seeds, and new plants appear over the summer.  Some of these survive the summer heat; others give up in July or August.  In more northern areas Violas can live happily all summer long.  Many species and cultivars are perennial.

Violas border a bed with Iris, Heuchera, Columbine

Violas border a bed with Iris, Heuchera, Columbine, Daffodils, Rosemary, and Azalea.

Plant Violas now in rich potting mix or amended garden soil.  They grow equally well in pots or in the ground so long as they have sunshine and steady moisture.  They are heavy feeders to maintain their continuous bloom.  Sprinkle Osmocote over the planting.  If planting in the ground, work in compost and Plant Tone as you plant, or topdress the planting with Osmocote.  I also add a pea gravel mulch both to hold in moisture and keep the plants clean in the rain.  Pea gravel will also to slow down the squirrels who love to dig in my pots.March 25-28 013

Deer and rabbits will graze unprotected Violas.  If you have hungry deer as we do, use Plant Skydd or another product to protect them.  You might also plant garlic, chives, or onions with them, sprinkle the planting with human hair, or use another deterrent such as moth balls.  In pots, near the house or on a deck, the deer are much less likely to find them.  If voles are a problem in your beds, Daffodil bulbs will offer some protection as their roots are poisonous.

Homestead Garden Center has a single well grown plant in a 4" pot for only a dollar.

Homestead Garden Center has a single well grown plant in a 4″ pot for only a dollar.

Joel Patton and his family share our love of Violas.  It may be Joel’s favorite flower, and he plants more varieties each season than anyone else in the area.  He and his family grow between 40 and 50 different varieties of pansy, Panola, and Viola each year, in almost any color you can imagine.  The plants are grown organically, without harmful chemicals of any sort, and are cared for lovingly until adopted by the customer.  Their plants are available in six packs, 4” pots, three to a 6” pot, and already planted into containers with a mix other plants.

Panolas in late March

Panolas in late March

We are never tempted to buy them early at a big box store.  Homestead Garden Center keeps them protected until it is time to set them outside in the fall.  Planted too early, the heat will get them.  It is best to wait until October or even November to plant them out.October 4 shopping 014

If you have never grown Violas, please give them a try.  Although pansies are common and easy to find, the smaller Viola species give a much better show over the season.  Although the flower is smaller, there are generally more blooming at any given time on a single plant.  They stand up better in freezing weather, and also last a few weeks longer in the spring than pansies will.

During winter, when nature’s palette has faded to shades of brown and grey, Violas give that sparkle of bright color we all crave.  Their vivid blooms brighten the coldest winter day, and remind us it is always spring, somewhere.

A display at Homestead Garden Center.

A display at Homestead Garden Center.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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