WPC: Vivid

Queen Anne's Lace

Achillea millefolium, not Queen Anne’s Lace


“Colours are brighter when the mind is open.”


Adriana Alarcon





Vivid, adjective:

Bright, eye catching,







Full of life,










Clearly perceptible;





Strong, distinct,






Creating clear mental images,


Coleus with Colocasia

Coleus with Colocasia









June 5, 2015 flowers 038~

Woodland Gnome 2015

For the Weekly Photo Challenge: Vivid

.  .  .




“Vivid images are like a beautiful melody

that speaks to you on an emotional level.

It bypasses your logic centers

and even your intellect

and goes to a different part of the brain.


Steven Bochco

Sleeping In

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It was still cool and wet when we first came out into the garden this morning.

It  had been raining again overnight, and drops of rain still clung to every surface.

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I came out with the camera to explore the new Hibiscus flowers which had opened.

And as we padded silently around the garden, my partner drew my attention to one tiny creature after another.

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It looked as though they were still asleep, resting peacefully in the spots they had chosen last night.

First a lizard, and then a butterfly slumbered on while we took their photos.


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The bees were not so peaceful.


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They were already busily gathering nectar and pollen from the thousands of Hibiscus blossoms open to their approach.


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In fact, we laughed to watch the bees fly into the very blossoms I was photographing while I framed and focused each shot.


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It was as if they were little camera hogs- like young teens who push into as many photos as possible with waggling fingers and wide grins.


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Some of the bumblies were already white powder covered scavengers, greedily gathering more and more of the largesse of the garden.


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Our garden was alive this morning with creatures large and small.

The only one missing was the cat.  He had chosen to stake out his position in a sunny spot on the deck, aloof from the activity below.


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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Garden At Dusk

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We love the garden at dusk, as the sun is dropping below the trees and the evening breezes begin to blow through the forest.


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The light is soft and the air is cool.


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Dusk is when our bats begin to fly.  They come up from the ravine to feed; zig-zagging across the garden, across the rooftop, inhaling insects as they fly.


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They come in twos and threes at first, and then little by little more fly up from the ravine  as stars appear and the sky darkens.

The frogs begin to sing to one another around the pond.

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It sounds like a cello and bass playing a slightly out of tune duet.

The cardinals’ staccato calls to one another provide the melody as they settle into the bamboo before nightfall.


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Lightning bugs appear in the shrubs and tree lines first, then gradually venture out onto the lawn as night deepens.

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They twinkle through the gathering darkness, a ballet of golden lights filling the air as trees recede into shadow.


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We inhale the evening sweetness as gardenias and roses release their perfume.

The garden comes to life as darkness falls. 

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Bats replace birds; moths replace butterflies; toads replace the sleeping lizards, and dragonflies give way to lightning bugs.

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The day’s work finished, we can simply walk through the garden one last time and enjoy the magic and beauty of it all.


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Seven Little Pumpkins All In a Row, and Pumpkin Bread Sandwiches Ready to Go…

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Do you remember the story of Cinderella?  It is a story about transformation, and kindness, and about seeing magical possibilities in our everyday surroundings.  Cinderella’s fairy godmother offers her the opportunity to fulfill her dreams of attending the ball and meeting the prince.  To take her there, a pumpkin is transformed into a gilded coach, mice into horses, and a rat into a coachmen.  Everyone gets a fresh chance at life.November 17 pumpkins 003

I love sharing this story with children because it encourages us to take a fresh look at our circumstances to see the possibilities we might otherwise overlook.  It invites us to step out of whatever limitations we perceive for ourselves, and find the path which will lead us to a more fulfilling and enriching future.

Pumpkins are a symbol of abundance.  Full of plump, tasty seeds, they remind us to plant the seeds of possibility  in our own lives, which will bear fruit for us over time.  Whether we make new friends, read useful books, join an organization, continue our education, learn a new skill, or volunteer in our community; we can all take small actions now which will bring us happiness and greater opportunities to live our dreams.November 17 pumpkins 026

These little pumpkin arrangements are also about seeing fresh possibilities in everyday materials.  They are constructed from locally grown pumpkins we have been enjoying on our mantle since September.  I clipped Nandina leaves and berries, sprigs of Kalanchoe, some Echeveria rosettes, garlic chive seed heads, and Hibiscus seed pods from the garden.  The Hibiscus have a lovely shape, but aren’t a very festive color at the moment.  A quick spray of metallic gold paint allows them to bring a little sparkle to the arrangement.  The only purchased materials are the reindeer moss, and the hot glue, which holds the arrangements together.

The pumpkin stems are left in place.  I began by gluing the heaviest living materials, the Kalanchoe and Echeveria, to the pumpkin and pumpkin stem with hot glue.  I don’t expect these to take root in this much lighter moss, but will take the arrangements apart after Thanksgiving and plant these pieces in potting soil.  The Nandina berry sprigs and leaves were the next items glued, then the garlic chives and Hibiscus.  Moss is used to cover the stems and visually anchor the arrangement onto the pumpkin.  It can be pushed into place on the still hot glue on the stems, or glued directly onto the pumpkins.  I haven’t put any water on these arrangements.

These little pumpkins will complete the decorations for our community event on Tuesday.  Afterwards I’ll most likely give a few of them to friends, and bring the others home to enjoy through the end of November.  They will complement the large pumpkin and succulent arrangements I made a few days ago.

Pumpkin bread has been baking this morning as I type, and the whole house smells sweet and spicy.

If you would like to bake some for yourself, here is the recipe for two loaves.  I’ll slice this bread fairly thinly, spread on the cheese filling, and make tiny sandwiches for the refreshment table on Tuesday.  It is a healthy and delicious late autumn treat, and I hope you will enjoy making it.

Pumpkin Bread  350FNovember 17 2013 pumpkin bread 002

(Roast 1 c. of walnut meats at 350F while gathering the other ingredients)

Prepare two loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray and a narrow sheet of waxed paper on the bottom of each pan.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl:

6 c. self-rising flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. grated nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. ground cloves,  1/2 tsp. ground cardamon, 1 c. dried cranberries and 1 c. roasted, chopped walnuts.

Mix together in a large stand mixer at low speed:

2 eggs, 3/4 c. sour cream, 3/4 c. melted butter, 1 1/2 c. light brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. orange extract.

Add 1 can of pumpkin puree.  (read the label and make sure you are buying pure pumpkin with no added sugar)

Mix at low speed until smooth.

Stop the mixer and add 3 cups of the mixed dry ingredients and 1/2 c. apple cider.  Mix at low speed until nearly combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and repeat with another 3 cups of dry ingredients and another 1/2  cider.  Mix at the lowest speed until just combined.  Scrape down the bowl again, and pour in the remaining dry ingredients.  Stream in apple cider slowly as you mix the ingredients at the lowest speed until the batter is moist and all of the flour is combined (about another 1/2 c. of cider).

Remove and clean the beater.  Fill each loaf pan 1/2 full.  Scrape down the mixing bowl again to incorporate any ingredients at the bottom, dividing the remaining batter between the pans so they  are equally full.  Bake at 350F for an hour, and then begin checking on the loaves.  They will probably need about 75 – 80 minutes total cooking time to be done all the way through.

Allow the loaves to cool completely on racks.  Turn out of the loaf pans after the first 10 minutes.  Wrap each loaf in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before trying to slice it thinly.

Cheese Spread

Combine in the bowl of  a food processor fitted with the blade:

1 large container whipped cream cheese, softened; 1 tsp. onion powder; 1/2 tsp. garlic powder; 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper; 1/2 tsp. sea salt; 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary; 1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese; 1/4 c. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.  For a little more heat, add a teaspoon of chopped hot peppers.

Process until smooth.  Scrape into a lidded plastic container and use immediately to fill the sandwiches.  If making ahead, store in the refrigerator, but allow to soften before spreading.

Make the sandwiches ahead and chill before serving.  Each loaf should make 2-3 dozen small sandwiches, depending on how thickly the bread is sliced, when every slice is cut into 4 small squares.

What’s Blooming Now?

Just as in the springtime we watch the landscape erupt into Forsythia and daffodils; then Magnolias, fruit trees, Dogwoods, Azaleas, and tulips; so the autumn also has its own progression of color and bloom. We have  passed  the midpoint of August, and goldenrod paints the roadsides and empty places golden.  Staghorn Sumac has grown its … Continue reading

Pentagonal Flowers

Have you ever noticed the beautiful geometry of plants? Some wise men and women in the past looked closely at the world around us, and intuited that The Creator of All must be a mathematician, and that The Creator specifically expresses itself through the geometry of nature.  A great wisdom tradition, which traces its roots … Continue reading

Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

Hibiscus moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July


Hibiscus flowers are a quintessential joy of summer gardens.  One of the largest, brightest flowers we’ll find in our garden, ever, Hibiscus takes its place beside the Magnolia grandiflora for flowers the size of luncheon plates. Hibiscus flowers make us think of tropical vacations, aloha shirts, and rum drinks. They bloom during the hottest, muggiest part of our summer, taunting us out into the garden from our air conditioned shade indoors.


A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

Loved by hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies, hardy hibiscus are always the center of activity in the garden. Not only are they an important source of nectar for hummingbirds, but they also attract small nectar loving insects which hummingbirds love to eat. Once the flowers fade in autumn, and their seed pods ripen, hardy Hibiscus  feed goldfinches, cardinals, tufted titmice, wrens, and other songbirds looking for nutritious  seeds all  winter.


A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom


Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow

Although big box stores and garden centers offer potted tropical Hibiscus plants each summer, there are several varieties of hardy hibiscus native or naturalized right here in coastal Virginia.  In fact, you’ll see many hibiscus, or Rose Mallow, plants blooming in July along the James and York Rivers, and in the marshes along the Colonial Parkway.  Our native and naturalized varieties need no pots, no coddling, readily self-seed, and come with an agreeable price tag.  The tropical varieties must be brought in before frost or left outside to die; the natives are deciduous, but reliably return the following spring.

Hardy hibiscus comes in two forms:  herbaceous perennial and deciduous shrub.  Both leaf out quite late in the spring.


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Hibiscus syriacus, also called Rose of Sharon, or Althea, is a deciduous woody shrub.  Its first leaves appear in late spring, and it begins flowering in mid June.  Flowers continue into September.  The leaves turn yellow in autumn and linger until after frost. The herbaceous perennials, which begin sending up their green stems and leaves in mid June, bloom in mid-July and August.

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon, is a favorite nectar plant for hummingbirds and bees.

Rose of Sharon is native to eastern Asia, and is the national flower of South Korea.  It is so beautiful that it was carried all over Asia and Europe by traders in the 16th century before coming to North America with the English colonists in the 18th century, where it was called Althea Frutex.  The flowers are edible, and the Koreans also use the leaves.  Growing 8’-10’ tall, and 6’-8’ wide, it is hardy to Zone 5.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

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Rose of Sharon is best used as a back drop for a perennial bed, as a screen, or in a border of mixed shrubs. Here several Althea shrubs form a backdrop for the butterfly garden.

This vase shaped shrub flowers from June through September in our area.  Its flowers are 2”-4” wide, with five petals forming a deep throated flower with pronounced pistol and stamens.  The throat is often a dark maroon, and the flowers come in shades of white, pink, and lavender.  Some double forms are available, but most of the flowers are single.  Each flower lasts a single day, but buds are produced prolifically throughout the season.  Flowers form on new wood so the plant can be pruned in autumn or spring.

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon shrubs tend to grow very tall and leggy, and so annual pruning helps the plant to bush out and become a more substantial shrub.  Mine are sometimes blown over in strong winds, but can be set upright, staked, and they will continue to thrive.  Although reasonably drought tolerant, Rose of Sharon doesn’t appreciate too much water or too much fertilizer.  Some of my shrubs have simply died over the winter for no apparent reason, while their sisters two feet away survived just fine.  Rose of Sharon often doesn’t even leaf out until after the Azaleas have bloomed, so patience is important.  Their flowers are worth waiting for, especially if you enjoy watching the beautiful creatures they attract.


A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus flowers.

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon.

That being said, Rose of Sharon is not a good candidate for a “specimen shrub” in the landscape.  They are good as the backdrop for perennial borders, although tall ones will sometimes droop over from the weight of their blooms and shade the plants growing in front.  They are good planted as a mass, used for a screen, or even used as a foundation planting along a back wall where windows are quite high.  Rose of Sharon work best in a mixed shrub and perennial border.  They will carry the hottest part of mid summer when the hydrangeas have faded out but the Camellias haven’t yet come into bloom.


Rose of Sharon

An Althea with double flowers


Rose of Sharon produces millions of seeds, and these seeds self-sow wherever they can.  It is considered invasive in CT, but not in VA.  This is a benefit if you want more Rose of Sharon shrubs in your landscape, or have friends who do.  They are large enough to identify and pull up by May if you want to discard the seedlings.  New plants can also be started by layering or taking green cuttings of new wood in early summer.


Rose of Sharon

Japanese beetles will eat Rose of Sharon buds, but can be picked off easily.

These tough shrubs will grow in full sun to partial shade in a variety of soils.  They grow as well on slopes as on flat ground, compete well with other shrubs, and have very few pests.  I’ve seen Japanese beetles munching their flowers, and occasionally a caterpillar snacking on a leaf.  The damage done was minor and didn’t detract from the beauty of the shrub.

There are actually several herbaceous perennial Hibiscus plants which grow will in our area, although only two are considered natives.


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Hibiscus Mutabilis, also called Confederate Rose, is native to China, and most commonly grows in the Gulf Coast states in North America.  This is a huge plant, sometimes growing to 10’ or more in a single season, especially in frost free areas.  Even if it dies back to the ground in the winter, it comes back strong the following summer.  It has white blossoms about 6” across which gradually turn pink, and in some cultivars red, over a period of several days before dropping off.  Flowers on the same plant will appear in these different colors all at the same time.  Flowers can be single or double depending on the cultivar.

Hibiscus coccineus

Hibiscus coccineus, native in the Deep South, is hardy to Zone 6b and grows with little fuss or care.  Also known as Swamp Mallow or Scarlet Mallow, it can grow in normal garden conditions.

This plant has large, coarse, deeply lobed leaves which open late in the season.  Hibiscus Mutabilis is hardy to Zone 7, and is commonly found in Zones 7-9.  It works best in a shrub border as it is inconspicuous when dormant, and quite large and showy in mid-summer.


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Rose Mallow, or Swamp Mallow, is native to Virginia and naturalizes easily in sunny areas with moist soil.

Hibiscus grandiflora has the largest flowers at 8”-10” across.  The flowers are a delicate light pink.   It is a very large plant topping out at 8’, and prefers to grow in the wet soil of swamps and the edges of ponds.  Hardy in Zones 6-9, it sends up new stems each spring covered in fuzzy, five lobed grayish green leaves.  This plant is native to the southeastern United States and is most commonly found growing in full sun in wetlands.

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The hardy Hibiscus growing in my garden is Hibiscus moscheutos, also called Rose Mallow or Swamp Rose Mallow.


HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

Numerous stems appear each year in early summer, rapidly growing from the crown, which expands each year.  Leaves are heart shaped, medium green, and slightly fuzzy.  Plants grow from 2’ to over 6’ high, depending on how well their needs are met.  Plants prefer moist soil in full sun, but will grow in drier conditions and partial shade.  This shrubby perennial is native to the Eastern United States from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf Coast.

Flowers have five long petals, usually with a dark red throat, and come in shades of white and pink.  Flowers are generally 6” across and may be 5”-6” deep, with a large stamen and pistols loved by hummingbirds and bees.  Flowers open in the late afternoon, and close again in the morning.  Many hybrid cultivars are available.


Hibiscus Moscheutos

To encourage the best performance, water this Hibiscus during dry spells, and top dress each spring with an inch or two of finished compost.  The plant does best in moist, rich soil. Collect the seeds once the seed heads open in autumn.  These plants readily self-sow in the garden.  I cut back the dried stems from the previous year in winter or early spring.

Other hardy Hibiscus plants are available, and those interested might enjoy looking at the selections available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.  http://www.plantdelights.com/searchprods.asp  They also carry a number of hybrids with beautiful colors.  Most online and mail order nurseries carry a number of selections of hardy Hibiscus.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Locally, Homestead Garden Center carries a dozen or more varieties each spring.  Several colors are still available now in mid-July, and have been reduced in price.  Homestead always has healthy, beautiful plants and a very knowledgeable  family staff to help answer questions.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.


Hardy Hibiscus are tough and forgiving plants, easy to grow, welcoming to wildlife, beautiful in season, and good additions to sunny areas in a forest garden.


Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Scarlet Mallow


Wild Hibiscus



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