Searching for Spring

February 18, 2016 spring flowers 009

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“Woods were ringed with a colour so soft, so subtle

that it could scarcely be said to be a colour at all.

It was more the idea of a colour –

as if the trees were dreaming green dreams

or thinking green thoughts.”

.

Susanna Clarke 

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February 16,2016 sunset 039

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It is still winter here.  It only takes a single step out on the porch to prove this.  I still reach for a chunky sweater each day, and huge pots of home made soup offer us warmth and comfort.  I keep reminding us both of March snowstorms in years passed.

And yet we, and everyone we know, are waiting for spring.  We’re watching for the earliest signs of nature’s shifting.    All it takes is a few hours of warmth and sunshine to draw us outside.

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Flowers from our garden, finally in their vase.

Flowers from our garden, finally in their vase.

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Yesterday, we drove out to visit our friends at Homestead Garden Center.   They are weather watchers, too, of course.  I was curious to see what signs of spring they might have on offer.

Aside from freshly delivered pallets of compost, we found precious little.  They know that winter’s not yet finished with us, too.

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February 17, 2016 primroses 003

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They did have a cart of gorgeous bright primroses, raised since autumn in their greenhouses.  They time the first ones to arrive just before Valentine’s Day.  What joy to simply gaze at them and soak in the colors!

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And inside the shop, we found sprouting Hyacinth bulbs.  Our first sweet breath of spring.  I always bless those whose planning makes these late winter flowers possible.

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These precious winter flowers get us through February.

We left with a tray of little bulbs in their forcing glasses, some compost, and a set of empty pots.  The compost is ready for that next warm day when I’m itching to work in the garden.  The pots stand ready to move the olive trees up for the season ahead.

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And the bulbs are for sharing spring with a few loved ones who need it as much as  we….

 

Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’

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I was given a pot of Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’ last week to trial in our garden by friend and horticulturalist Joel Patton, who owns our local Homestead Garden Center.  Joel knows that I love trying new plants.  Joel also knows that I especially love Lantana for its butterfly magnet blooms. We have steered several friends his way to find Lantana plants for their own gardens.

Joel told me this plant is a new introduction in the series of hardy, perennial Lantana developed by plantsman Mike Dirr of Plant Introductions, Inc.  Mike found the Lantana cultivar now known as ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ growing in his daughter’s garden in Chapel Hill, NC in 2005, and took notice when it returned, covered in golden yellow blooms in 2006.  After finding L. ‘Chapel Hill Yellow,’ he has been working with hybrid crosses using the cold hardy L. ‘Miss Huff,’ maternal parent of ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’, to develop even more cold hardy Lantana hybrids.  It is a good story, especially for those of us interested in how new plants come to the trade.

Mike’s story is a good story, too.  You can read about his work to develop better ornamental plants at an abandoned hog farm, now converted to a nursery, in Watkinsville, Georgia.  His company  now offers seven new Lantana cultivars, all of which prove drought tolerant, cold hardy, and offer a superior number of blooms with attractive foliage.

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Newly planted Lantana, 'Sunny Side Up' near our new Crepe Myrtle, 'Delta Jazz.' It has been a busy weekend in the garden.

Newly planted Lantana, ‘Sunny Side Up’ near our new Crepe Myrtle, ‘Delta Jazz.’ It has been a busy weekend in the garden.

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I am excited to grow out this gift of L. ‘Sunny Side Up’ to see how it performs in our garden.  This is considered a ground cover Lantana, growing to only  about 18″ but forming a wide, 3′ clump each year.  After debating for a day whether to plant it in a large pot or in the ground, I opted to plant it in a new bed I constructed yesterday for some Iris starts.  As pretty as I know it would look in a pot, I wanted to give the Lantana the best possible chance to establish and survive our coming winter.

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We began this area in the spring with the additional of a new Magnolia shrub, surrounded with perennials. I've just extended the bed another 15' or so to accept some new Iris, perennials picked up at the Heath's nursery in Gloucester two weeks ago, and now the beautiful Lantana. The shrub in the middle is an Afghan fig transplanted a month ago for failure to thrive in its original spot. It likes the soil here better is now growing well.

We began this area in the spring with the addition of a new Magnolia shrub, surrounded with perennials. I’ve just extended the bed another 15′ or so to accept some new Iris, perennials picked up at the Heath’s nursery in Gloucester two weeks ago, and now the beautiful Lantana. The shrub in the middle is an Afghan fig transplanted a month ago for failure to thrive in its original spot. It likes the soil here better, and  now is growing well.

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We have had such great performance from most of the Lantana plants we’ve planted in this garden.  Although they don’t all return, those planted in the warmer, sunnier front garden have come back faithfully now over several growing seasons.

Deciduous, the leaves and flowers soon shrivel and drop after a hard frost.  We leave the woody plants in place over winter, waiting until early spring to prune back the old wood to less than a foot.  It may be that we could just leave last year’s structure to leaf out anew.  I may experiment with that this coming season.  The woody skeleton provides shelter for the birds all winter long as they play among the branches and search for those few remaining seeds.

The plants leaf out a little late; it is sometimes late April or early May before you can see the life still in the branches beginning to push out new leaves.  We have flowers by June and the plants grow prolifically on through frost.

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I stood by a single Lantana shrub earlier today which has already topped 6′ with another month or so left to grow.  It was covered in butterflies, with more coming and flying off continually as I took photos.  I don’t remember this one’s cultivar name, but I know it has returned faithfully each year since at least 2011.

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L. 'Sunny Side Up'

L. ‘Sunny Side Up’ has very deeply green leaves to set off it cream and yellow flowers.

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L. ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ and L. ‘Sunny Side Up’ are only rated to Zone 7.  If you want to grow these beautiful plants as perennials further north give them a favorable micro-climate.  Plant them on the southern side of a wall or near slates, stones, or concrete paths; which will trap and reflect heat during the winter.

We appreciate that our Lantana have never been grazed by deer or affected by any insect pests or fungal disease.  In fact, we’ve planted a line of L. ‘Miss Huff’ at the front edge of our garden along the street.  They have survived several winters now, and are shoulder high this year.  We love watching the butterflies hovering around them as we come and go.

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'Miss Huff' Lantana growing along the street at the front of our garden in mid-August. 'Miss Huff' was one of the parents of 'Chapel Hill Yellow' and passsed on her cold hardiness to this new line of plants.

Miss Huff’ Lantana growing along the street at the front of our garden in mid-August. ‘Miss Huff’ was one of the parents of ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’ and passed on her cold hardiness to this new Lantana series.

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This plant addresses several needs of gardeners in our area, while also attracting butterflies and hummingbirds, and feeding birds from late summer through early spring with its abundant seeds.  It prefers full sun, though it will grow and flower with some partial shade.

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So please keep an eye out for Lantana as you shop your local garden center.

This is a very good plant to pot up now as you revive your planters for fall.  The rich reds, oranges, yellows and golds of its flowers combine well with fall color schemes.  It will flower non-stop until a hard frost, then continue to give your planter structure through the winter months.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Our Lantana and rose bed last January after an ice storm.

Our Lantana and rose bed last January after an ice storm.  Even after a long harsh winter, nearly all of the Lantana plants survived to bloom this summer.

A Bed for Salvias

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I wanted a bed dedicated primarily to perennial Salvia, and other sun-loving, heat tolerant perennials which appreciate good drainage.

And I didn’t want to dig.

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The bed is located in full sun on sloping land near the bottom of our garden.  Our bamboo forest grows out of the ravine to the left in this photo.  The leaves littering the ground have fallen from the bamboo in our recent hot weather.

The bed is located in full sun on sloping land near the bottom of our garden. Our bamboo forest grows out of the ravine to the left in this photo. The leaves littering the ground have fallen from the bamboo in our recent hot weather.

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I’ve been fantasizing about a bed here for more than a year, but the 12’x12′ enclosed raised bed I drew back in February remains on the legal pad.  I didn’t marshal the necessary resources; beginning with my own energy, to build it.

But I have made a start. 

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That is the secret, you know, to all worthwhile accomplishments:  Begin!  Once you begin, things fall into place in delightfully surprising ways.

So I led my partner to the spot, one afternoon a few weeks ago, and explained what I wanted to grow here.  And we agreed on the boundaries (the lawn is his, remember) before heading out to visit our friends at Homestead Garden Center to buy compost and gravel.

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Bamboo tried to poke up into the new bed here.  We break the new growth off at the surface.  Eventually, I'll bring compost down to topdress this entire bed, covering the intruder.

Bamboo tried to poke up into the new bed here. We break the new growth off at the surface. Eventually, I’ll bring more compost down to top dress this entire bed, covering the intruder.

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Now, it is simply not practical to dig on this sharply graded hillside.  Not only do we constantly fight erosion, but this area is laced with hefty bamboo shoots and runners just below the surface.  I realized that the area is too steeply graded to simply lay blocks or timbers to “build” a raised bed.  No hugelkultur here, either, unfortunately.

But there is  an easy and inexpensive way to establish a new planting bed which requires little more than paper and soil…. and time….

After agreeing on the dimension and boundaries of the new perennial bed, my partner marked its edges.  I used the string trimmer to cut back the existing ‘grasses’ to the ground.   We cut open brown paper grocery bags, and laid them within those boundaries to completely cover the existing soil, anchoring them with handfuls of compost as we worked.  There is some overlap, but not a great deal.  I covered the paper grocery bags with several inches of compost, mounding it a little deeper where the first plants were to go.

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After the entire bed was covered in compost, and the outer edges of the bed marked with handfuls of pea gravel, I began planting the Salvias and Lavenders I had collected for this bed directly into the compost, on top of the paper.

When using this method, it is especially important to loosen the outer roots on the rootball before planting, to encourage them to grow into the surrounding soil more quickly.

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Two weeks of growth in this bed, taken from the same spot as the previous photo.

Two weeks of growth in this bed, shown  from the same spot as the previous photo.

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The Iris have had the most trouble with this planting method, since they are division, and didn’t have large root systems when they were moved.

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Now, you might think this is “extreme gardening.”  Extremely lazy, you’re thinking? 

Don’t worry, I’ve done my time “double digging” beds and borders in previous gardens.  And since then, I’ve learned that it is much smarter to be kind to the soil, and its complex web of life, by disturbing it as little as possible.  Like cats and children, soil will find its own way if we just remember to feed it regularly….

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This  large creamy Marigold is one of my favorite varieties.  The Patton family grow these from seed each year to offer at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.

This large creamy Marigold is one of my favorite varieties. The Patton family grow these from seed each year to offer at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.

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The soil is actually pretty good here.  While there is solid clay at the top of the property, there is pretty good loam on this slope.  It is more than sufficient to feed the flowering perennials I intend to grow here.

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As the paper decomposes, and earthworms gather beneath it, the paper and compost will be carried deeper into the Earth, mixing  into the existing soil along with the earthworm castings through their life processes.  It is an elegant system, designed by nature millions of years ago.  All I need to do is understand it and work with it.

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The toughest time for this scheme is the first month, as the plants begin to grow.  You see, we’ve had a heatwave these last few weeks.  The perennials didn’t really get a chance to sink their roots through the paper and into the Earth below before the weather shifted from gentle spring to full-on summer.   But with a little  watering, and a good rain or two, they are all showing growth.

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The bed now holds four varieties of Salvia, including a golden culinary sage; two varieties of Basil; two Lavender plants;  Asclepias incarnata; Rosemary; Coreopsis; Santalina; German re-blooming Iris dug and transplanted from other parts of the garden; and some beautiful cream marigolds.  I selected these plants to attract and feed butterflies and hummingbirds.  All of these varieties remain unattractive to deer, and should not entice them into the garden from the nearby ravine.

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This is an extension of the  ‘butterfly and hummingbird garden’ growing further up the slope.

I expect all of these plants to show a lot of growth in June, and this bed should bloom from now until frost in various shades of blues, purples, creams, and gold.

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I will re-evaluate its progress this fall to decide whether or not we will move any closer to those grand plans I drew back in the winter.

I have some mail order Gooseberry shrubs growing in pots, which were ordered for the original plan.  They may find a home here, yet.  And the Okra?  There is still time to plant some seeds…. maybe when it rains….

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May 20, the morning after this bed was planted.  The plants have shown good growth in the two weeks they have been adjusting to this new bed.

May 20, the morning after this bed was planted. The plants have shown good growth in the two weeks they have been adjusting to this new bed.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2015 flower basket 002~

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.

The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.

And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Elie Wiesel

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, and thank you for spending a moment of it with me today. 

Today is a perfect day for me to say thank you for all of your visits, your likes, and your comments.  I appreciate you so very much, as we touch from time to time using this wonderful link of our technology.

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Is Valentine’s Day an important day for you? 

I have loved it ever since little paper cards and candy began appearing by my childhood breakfast plate.  My parents always made Valentine’s Day special for our entire family.  We celebrated where I went to school, and I always did a little something for my middle school students to make them feel remembered.  Honestly, I believe that chocolate is one of my favorite parts of the celebrations each year!

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This quotation has been weighing on my mind for some time now.  And it reminds me that the energy of love flows through the attention we give to those we love.  Our feelings of warmth and kinship strengthen each time we focus, listen, observe, and re-affirm our connections with those dear to us.

Likewise, not seeing, not listening, not touching, not feeling kinship with another is what deepens the distance between us.  And as that continues for too long, relationships fall apart.  ‘Indifference,’ not paying attention, and not feeling a sense of kinship, is a powerful force which erodes every sort of relationship.

I see this as keeping a relationship ‘watered,’ just as a plant must be watered and appreciated to continue to thrive.  Neglected, they quickly fade.

And that is why I appreciate the opportunity on Valentine’s Day to re-focus my attention on those I love.  Not that we need a special day on the calendar for this.  My partner and I try to live as though every day is Valentine’s Day, every day is Christmas, and every day is a new year. 

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February 14, 2015 flower basket 001

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This lovely basket is a gift for my mother this Valentine’s Day. 

Constructed by Joel Patton at Homestead Garden Center in Williamsburg, it is filled with English primroses from his green houses in Lanexa.  The Patton family has grown a gorgeous crop of primroses to welcome spring, and I’m happy to share these with her today.

I hope you will share special moments today with those you hold most dear. 

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Woodland Gnome 2015

The Day Before Thanksgiving

November 25, 2014 moss garden 003

 

It is the day before Thanksgiving and the house is warm and fragrant.  I’ve been cooking since shortly after noon.

The nor’easter which blew in late yesterday has almost pulled away.

We had heavy rain and wind all night long.  And our initial plan was to just stay inside all day; off the roads and out of the storm.

Which was fine, until I remembered our promise to pick up the Christmas wreath we ordered weeks ago from the Patton Family at the Homestead Garden Center.  It is a gift I had planned to take tomorrow to the host and hostess of our Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Once we made up our mind to get out into the storm, and had on enough clothing, the rest was easy.  Made even easier by the nearly empty roads around Williamsburg today.

 

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In truth, we saw at least three accidents and one speeding trooper along our way.  But we still enjoyed a short visit at the garden center and came home with an exquisite, freshly made wreath.  The Pattons have been preparing for wreath season since Halloween.  They make fragrantly beautiful evergreen Christmas decorations of all shapes and sizes, and each is custom made to order.

And then the cooking began in earnest.  First up was a pot of vegetable soup.  Then I began washing the cranberries and oranges for a beautiful chutney to contribute tomorrow.

As soon as the pots were happily  gurgling I mixed up a batch of cheddar cornbread for muffins.  And last, but not least, I scrubbed the sweet potatoes and carrots and got them into the oven to bake to sweet perfection.

They will end up sliced into a casserole with orange slices, butter, maple syrup and spices for tomorrow’s dinner.

There is some lovely sweet potato bread dough in the refrigerator, and I’ll set that out to rise so it can go into the oven by sundown.  Not that there is any sun to go down, mind you.

We’ve had a heavy low sky all day.  Thick clouds have blocked most of the sun and left us in grey twilight since morning.  We know that were it only a few degrees cooler, we would be shoveling snow.

Which makes Thanksgiving even more fun, if you ask me.  This is the perfect weather for cooking.  And it has me in the mood to string twinkle lights and break out the first of the Christmas decor.

Every red bow and evergreen wreath is a welcome sight on this cold, wet day.

 

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And now I’m ready to curl up on the couch with the cat and a good book, looking forward to what I would argue is the coziest and most enjoyable holiday of the year.

Here is my cranberry chutney recipe for this year, should you have a bag of cranberries lurking in the fridge and you’re looking for inspiration:

Wash and pick over a 12 oz. bag of cranberries and add to a heavy saucepan with a cup of sugar, 1/4 c. of water, the juice of an orange, and 3 tsp. of red wine vinegar.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of ground cloves, and 1/2 tsp. of ground (or freshly grated) ginger.

Turn the heat to medium low while you dice a medium apple, washed but with skin left on.  Add the apple to the pot and stir.

Remove both ends from a washed medium seedless orange.  Slice the orange as thinly as you’re able, reserving the juice.  Stack a few slices at a time, and cut them into tiny bits so that no piece of the orange peel is more than 1/2 inch wide.  Add all of the orange, peel, pulp and juice to the cranberry mixture.

Cook over low heat as the berries pop and  the sauce reduces and thickens, stirring occasionally.  I keep the lid on the pot as it cooks.

Turn off the heat after about 45 minutes and let the cranberries stand for another hour or so, undisturbed.  Stir, and turn the heat back on to medium low for another half hour.

Package in clean hot jars, and process in a hot water bath if you plan to keep the chutney for more than a week or so.  I skipped that step, and mine is cooling in the pot.  I”m going to assume we’ll eat it up quickly

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your travels be safe, your meal taste  delicious, and your loved ones come within hugging distance.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg, 2013

Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

Unusual Leaves: More Texture

'Silver Lyre' Afghan Fig

‘Silver Lyre’ Afghan Fig

Unusual leaves bring a wonderful texture, as well as interesting colors, to the garden.

Coleus

Coleus

 

The variety available to an adventurous gardener feels infinite… and probably is infinite when one considers how many interesting new cultivars of plants like Coleus,   Heuchera, Begonia, Hosta, fern, and Caladium come on the market each year.

 

Heuchera

Heuchera

In addition to these perennials, there are a few new introductions of trees and shrubs with interesting variegation or unusual leaf color each season.

‘Black Lace’  Eldeberry, Sambucus nigra; ‘Ruby Falls’ Redbud, Cerceis canadensis; and ‘Maculata’ Lacecap Hydrangea come to mind immediately.

‘Black Lace’ Elderberry is on my “wish list” at the moment.

 

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

 

Some of these perennials, trees, and shrubs also offer beautiful flowers.

But the flowers are just a little something “extra,” compared to their beautiful leaves.

And while the flowers may add interest in their season, the fabulous foliage brings beauty to the garden month after month.

 

Buddleia, "Harlequin" sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

Buddleia davidii, “Harlequin” sports beautiful variegated foliage all season long.

 

Do you experiment with unusual  foliage in your garden?

So many residential gardens rely on a few standard, well known plants commonly available in “big box” shops.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar to Plant Delight's "Pewterware" Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

This Begonia, purchased from The Homestead Garden Center several seasons ago, is similar in appearance  to Plant Delight’s “Pewterware” Begonia, hardy to Zone 8B.

 

These commonly used plants are easy to find, and we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from them.

They bring their own beauty, but overuse can also dull our appreciation of them.  Like white paint on a wall, we hardly ever notice them after a while.

 

A Begonia Rex, with fern.

A Begonia Rex, with fern and other Begonias.

 

Searching out a variety of plants with interesting foliage adds novelty and a touch of the unexpected to our garden.

 

Scented Pelargonium

Scented Pelargonium graveolens

 

Most any gardening “need” can be filled, whether we are creating a drought tolerant garden nourished only by a few inches of rain each  year, or a Forest Garden, unappetizing to deer and rabbits!

 

Collection of succulents.

Collection of succulents.

Small local nurseries, web nurseries, and specialty nurseries offer the most interesting varieties.

( I’m writing this within just a day or so of receiving Plant Delights Nursery’s fall 2014 catalog!  Yes, I’ve been closely studying it!)

 

 

It is the thrill of the hunt, and the fun of curating a collection, which fuels my search for unusual foliage plants.

 

This interesting Sedum, which I've not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.

This beautiful Sedum, which I’ve not noticed before this year, was purchased at The Homestead Garden Center.  It will grow much like an Autumn Sedum, but with more interesting leaf color.

Plants with unusual leaves often grow best in  shady gardens.

Heuchera, ferns, Hosta, and Hydrangeas generally perform best in partial shade.

 

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Newer cultivars can often withstand more direct sun than older varieties; but shade, especially during the heat of the day, is lit up by the outrageous foliage of these  flamboyant plants.

 

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Layering them creates interesting and complex compositions; dynamic living sculpture in the garden.

 

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But wonderful foliage plants grow in full sun, also.

 

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, in a sunny garden

Siberian Iris, a gift from a dear friend, grow in a sunny garden area with Lavender, Comfrey, variegated iris, Eucalyptus, Artemisia, and other herbs.  Planted this season, the area is still filling in.

 

All of the amazing varieties of succulents enjoy sun to partial shade.

 

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Variegated  Cannas, Hibiscus cultivars like ‘Kopper King” and nearly all of the herbs thrive in sunny beds.

 

Sage Officinallis, "Tricolor"

Sage Officinalis, “Tricolor”

 

Whether you search out the most interesting varieties of a particular group of plants, like Hostas or Ferns; or amass a collection of silver foliage plans, variegated plants, or purple leaved plants; you may discover that the more you work with foliage in your own garden, the more satisfied you feel with your efforts.

Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it.

Author Unknown

 

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

Staghorn Fern with Begonia

 

As for any artist, an expanded palette of plant possibilities inspires new ideas and presents novel solutions to site based problems.

 

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

Caladiums and other poisonous plants can grow mostly in peace in gardens plagued by deer.

 

It helps me to remember that,  “Gardening is the slowest art form.”

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Wonderful effects can be created in the garden using just foliage; and they just keep getting better and more fully developed over time.

 

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.

Georgia O’Keeffe

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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WPC: Containers II

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When we want to take care of something special, we put it into a special container of some sort.

Michael included an extra plant with the Lemon Lime Hosta he traded with me for some re-blooming German Iris. 

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He send me a beautiful Japanese Iris division.

Yesterday I potted up the Hosta divisions, and they are snuggled safely in a shady spot on the deck while they recover from their Fed-Exed journey in a cardboard box.

The plants as they appeared when I opened the box this morning.  They look healthy and ready to grow!

The plants as they appeared when I opened the box.   They look healthy and ready to grow!

And I decided to start this beautiful Iris division off properly in a container as well.

We have too many hungry voles, and the weather is too variable in summer, to start these  Japanese Iris off in the ground.

Growing perennials in a container is a little trickier than growing annuals.

Although it is easier to move a container around until you find the perfect spot for the right amount of light during the annual cycle of the plant, perennials offer special challenges.

For one thing, most have a fairly short season of bloom.  These Iris for example, bloom once in the spring for a few weeks, and then they rest.

Although their leaves will grow during the summer, storing up energy for spring, they won’t be ready to command “center stage” in a container until next May.

But in the meantime, perennials are heavy feeders.  They grow extensive root systems, and their need for moisture in the soil varies according to whether or not they are in active growth.

So before settling on a planting plan, I went to consult an expert:  Joel Patton of the Homestead Garden Center.

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There I found the perfect deep pot which will accommodate the massive root system perennials grow, and there Joel helped me select appropriate companion plants for the Japanese Iris.

Iris with the other perennials Joel Patton helped me select for this container.

Iris with the other perennials Joel Patton helped me select for this container.

We settled on three: a Salvia, an Artemesia, and an annual Penta; all of which will appreciate the partial sun and moist soil enjoyed by the Iris during a southern summer.

Since there won’t be any Iris flowers during the remainder of the season, I wanted something which would provide flowers in this container garden from now until frost.

The Salvia nemorosa, “New Dimension Blue” is a sturdy bloomer which will keep sending up blue,  bee-satisfying blossoms over the next three months.  A compact grower , this Salvia will bloom happily in partial sun.

These Penta still have small root systems, so I could tuck one into the pot without crowding the other plants.

These Pentas still have small root systems, so I could tuck one into the pot without crowding the other plants.  Pentas attract all nectar loving wildlife.  The Artemesia, to the left, has insignificant blooms.

The annual Penta will also stay in bloom, provide nectar, and will continue to grow taller until taken down by frost in November.  Joel offered these blooming Pentas in a six-pack, so the root ball was quite small.

Finally, this beautiful Artemesia, reduced here at the end of the season, has plenty of light blue foliage to serve as “filler” as the other plants take off.

As the Iris grows in its new leaves, they will become the tall “thriller” in this pot for the remainder of the season.

I purchased the next to the largest pot Homestead had in stock today, to provide plenty of room for growth.

Recycled soil, in the base of the pot, is enriched with a handful of PlantTone to feed the perennials as they grow.

Recycled soil, in the base of the pot, is enriched with a handful of Plant Tone to feed the perennials as they grow.

It is fine to recycle used potting soil in the bottom of large containers such as this.  Potting soil doesn’t really “wear out” over time.  Its nutrients can be replaced easily enough.  The main problem with old potting soil would be the roots of former plants, which should be removed.

I filled the bottom of the container 2/3 full of recycled compost, and then amended it with Plant Tone to provide food, minerals, and beneficial bacteria.

The Homestead Garden Center is a valuable local resource for organic gardeners.  They only offer organic products and use mostly organic methods with the plants they raise in their greenhouse in Lanexa.

The Homestead Garden Center is a valuable local resource for organic gardeners. They only offer organic products and use organic methods with the plants they raise in their greenhouse in Lanexa.

All of the extra rich soil which Michael sent with his Hosta and Iris went into the mix, and then I topped off the pot with fresh, good quality potting mix.

One thing to keep in mind when planting nursery perennials in mid-summer is that these older plants will generally have become root-bound.    Good garden centers, like Homestead, will re-pot their stock into larger containers as the season progresses.

Gently break up the root ball of pot-bound perennials like this Artemesia before planting in fresh compost.

Gently break up the root ball of pot-bound perennials like this Artemesia before planting in fresh compost.

I chose perennials today from their clearance table; those they would rather move out than re-pot again.

So I was careful to loosen and “rough up” the roots a bit before tucking the root balls into their fresh container.  Over the next week or so, these roots will grow into the fresh soil, and will probably fill this container before frost.

This is a “Four Season pot.”

July 19, 2014 Container 012

The only plant I’ll need to replace during the next year should be the Penta.  I’ll switch it out for a Viola in autumn.

I’ll probably tuck a few  Daffodil bulbs into the center of the pot in November, and possibly some Crocus bulbs around the rim for early spring color.

July 19, 2014 Container 014

The bulbs will wake up first, followed by fresh leaves on the Iris and Artemesia.  The Salvia will show new growth by April, just before the Iris comes into bloom.  As the Iris blossoms fade, the Salvia will come into bloom again next spring.

Micheal’s gift Japanese Iris can live in this pot indefinitely.  They will eventually crowd out the other perennials, or will need dividing.

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That is the trade off with perennials:  although they may offer a fairly short season of active bloom, they return again and again, year after year, for so long as their needs are met.

In a Forest Garden like ours, growing special perennials in containers allows them to reach their potential for beauty and growth, which might not otherwise be possible without the controlled conditions a container garden makes possible.

Thank you again, Michael, for these beautiful Iris.  I can’t wait to see them bloom next spring!

July 19, 2014 Container 017

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Container

WPC: Container I

WPC: Container III

 

 

 

 

Planting Pots

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.  Please notice the contrasting colors and shapes of these sun loving plants.

Pots are the easiest way to garden.

If you have only one  square foot of sunlight where something might grow, you can grow your garden in a pot.

Gardening in a pot allows you to be spontaneously creative…  and outrageously unconventional in your plant choices and design.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.  It is planted with Zonal Geraniums, Caladium, Lamium, Ivy, Coleus, and Cane Begonia.

 

Pots are  the “trial and error” notebook of a gardener’s education.

 

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant.  Once I learn how to grow it, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant. Once I learn how to grow it successfully, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

 

A friend was telling me yesterday that she’d love to find a class to teach her about designing potted plantings.

This brilliant and creative friend, an artist by profession,  could definitely teach such a class !

I asked her to please let me know if she found one, because I would come with her…

These aquatic or bog arrangement is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

This aquatic,  or bog arrangement, is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

But I’ve never taken a class on making pots.  I have studied thousands of photographs of others’  pots in gardening books and magazines.  And I’ve grown plants in pots since I was a child.

Maybe a local garden center offered such a class, once upon a time, and I just missed it.  Hard to say…

An experiment:  Do you see the vase "neck" embedded in this hypertufa pot?  It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grow out of the neck.

An experiment: Do you see the vase “neck” embedded in this hypertufa pot? It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grows out of the neck.  A friend generously gave me the pieces of her broken vase to use in this pot.

 

But here is what I’ve already learned about growing potted plants, by long years of trial and error;  and  what I can share with you:

1.  Choose the largest pot your space and budget allows.  From a design perspective, big pots have impact.

A few big pots make a much better statement than two dozen tiny ones; unless they all match and are grouped artistically  together somehow.

This large hypertufa pot is home made.  It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

This large hypertufa pot is home made. It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

 

Big pots allow plants to grow lush and healthy.  There is more room for the roots to grow and it is easier to keep the planting mix hydrated in a large pot.  A larger mass of pot and soil helps moderate soil temperature  in extreme weather, too.

2.  Feed the soil with compost; organic amendments like Plant Tone and Osmocote; coffee grounds (high in nitrogen), and organic liquid feeds like Neptune’s Harvest.  Most potting mixes are nutritionally sterile, so the plants must be fed to perform well.

 

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis.  This pot hasnt' moved in the four years since we placed it here.

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis. This pot hasn’t moved in the four years since we placed it here.

3.  Site the pot, then choose the plants.  Know first of all where your new pot will go in your home or landscape; then select plants which will grow with the level of light and exposure to the weather that location offers.

You may have the same pot in the same spot for many years, but the plantings will switch in and out seasonally.

4.  Select a ” community of plants” which will grow together harmoniously for each pot.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Choose plants which share similiar needs for light and water, but  will “fill” different spaces so they weave together into a pleasing composition.

5  Select plants for contrast.  Choose plants whose differences create an interesting composition.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.  This planting was inspired by Becca Given‘s comment on the “Eggplant” post about her sister in law’s eggplant and turquoise kitchen  color scheme.

 

Contrast color of foliage and bloom to create an interesting, and maybe a dramatic, visual statement.

 

Geraniums and Fennel.  Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.

Geraniums and Fennel. Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.  Variegated, textured  foliage also creates contrast and interest.

Contrast foliage texture and shape, and choose plants which will grow to different heights and proportions so there is a balance of tall, trailing, airy, flat, round, and spiky.

6.  Study nature for inspiration.  Analyze how plants blend into communities in the wild.    Notice what you like, and what you don’t. 

June 3, 2014 Parkway 010

Do you enjoy wide expanses of a single species growing to a fairly uniform size?  Do you like  grasses mixed in among the flowers?

Do you like lush vines covering structure?  Do you want a classically symmetrical static look, or an asymmetrical spontaneously evolving look?

These differences matter, and you can achieve them all in pots.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large over the summer.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large and fill out this pot  over the summer.

7.  Develop a mental image of what you hope to create in the pot before going to the garden center to purchase the plants.

Have an idea of what you hope to create, and which plants you want to use.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

I often take a list with me.  Others take photos.  With a smart phone, you might even bookmark some photos online which are similiar to what you hope to purchase.

Now, it is a rare treat when the garden center actually has in stock everything on my list.

But, if you know your parameters for light, moisture, size, color and price; you can often make brilliant substitutions.

 

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter.  It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter. It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

 

8.  Be realistic about what you can grow.  Apologies here for the downer… but realism at the beginning saves later disappointment.

Know, in advance, what you can sustain.

This simple, neat basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.

This simple basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.   We grow Fuschia to draw the hummingbirds close to our windows.  The only safe place to grow these plants is on our deck, where the deer can’t reach them.

I know I can’t grow certain plants where deer or squirrels can reach them.  I learned that I can plant tomatoes all I want, but no net or screen will prevent squirrels from stealing them as they ripen, even on the deck.  I know that certain plants, like impatiens, left in reach of deer will be grazed.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care.  I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be "deer resistant." This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care. I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be “deer resistant.” This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Maybe you can’t water hanging baskets of Petunias every day in summer, or you don’t have enough light to keep them in bloom where you have space to hang baskets.

Once you learn and accept the parameters of your current gardening situation,  it allows you to find beautiful  alternatives.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical.  Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical. Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

 

9.  Let time be your ally.  Plant slowly and carefully, leaving sufficient room for each plant to grow.

Remember to use some combination of rooted cuttings, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and actively growing plants.

Unless you’re planting for an immediate show or competition, plan for the arrangement to evolve during the season as the plants grow, peak, and fade.

 

This basket of Petunias requires daily water.  Someone who travels during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive.  Like a pet, it requires daily care.

This basket of Petunias requires daily water. Someone who travels  a lot during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive. Like a pet, it requires daily care.

 

Different plants will take over as “stars of the pot” at different times during the season.

Plants will grow at different rates, and some will try to muscle out others.  You will have to referee with your pruners from time to time.  That is OK, and makes it more interesting.

10.  Treat your potted plants like pets.   K now their names, know their needs, and give consistent loving care.  Expect to learn continuously when you garden.    There is always more to know; and the more you know about each plant you grow, the better care you can take of it.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5' tall.  It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago.  Gradually, it will grow to  dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5′ tall. It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago. Gradually, it will grow to dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

Plants need to be appreciated to grow well.  Visit each regularly, and take care of its needs.  Whether it needs water, pinching, training on a support, turning, or simply a kind word; remember that is a responsive living being.

And, a bonus:

Our plants love for us to share with them.  You give your dog toys, don’t you?  Plants respond to our love just as animals will.

June 15, 2014 Father's Day 048

What can you share with a plant?  I dilute leftover tea and coffee, and use it to water potted plants.  Tea and coffee are high in nitrogen and other phyto-chemicals.  (The same pot doesn’t always get the tea, and there are plenty of “plain water” waterings so the soil doesn’t get too acid.)   I use finished coffee grounds and rinsed egg shells  as mulch in large pots around fruits or vegetables.

When making a pea gravel mulch, I often include something beautiful such as a shell, agate, glass marble, or crystal resting on top of the soil.

A friend scatters trimmed hair around her plants, which also helps keep deer away.

June 20 Between 061

As you work with each of the plants in your potted garden, you will learn to know what it needs, and to provide for those needs.  You also learn which plants grow well together, and which will not.

The real difference between someone with a “brown thumb” and someone with a “green thumb” comes down to how much attention the gardener pays to providing what each plant needs to fulfill its potential for beauty and productivity.

Each pot, each season, teaches us something new.  

We continue to grow, just as our plants do.

 

A hanging basket of various Begonias.  Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

A hanging basket of various Begonias. Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 025

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

 

Spring Annuals

Petunia

Petunia

Now although my favorite plant catalog has as its motto, “Friends don’t let friends buy annuals;”  we have been shopping for annuals this month.

I love the little starts, already blooming themselves silly, in bright fresh colors.

Salvia and Ageratum

Salvia and Ageratum

Annuals are the “over-achievers” of the plant kingdom, living their short lives with great beauty and gusto!

annual Ageratum

annual Ageratum

Choosing annuals each year is a little like re-painting a room, or choosing a new comforter for an old bed.  It is  an easy way to “redecorate” the patio and the deck with a fresh palette of color in pots and baskets.

So long as they remain well fed and watered, they will bloom from now until frost kills them in late autumn.

May 5 2014 garden 062

On our last two trips to our favorite Homestead Garden Center, owner Joel Patton has been there, and has most generously given me some little annuals to grow out and trial for him.  So I will definitely be showing you those little plants as the season progresses.

Petunias

Petunias and Bacopa on the right, one of the plants given to me to trial

The Patton family grow many of the herbs, annuals, and perennials they offer at their nursery in far western James City County.  Everything is organically and loving grown, and absolutely fresh and healthy.

The selection is just mind-boggling at this time of the year, and the Pattons stock cultivars you can not find anywhere else in the area.

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 054

And so my great fun at the moment is to construct fresh arrangements of annuals and hang them out onto the empty hooks on the deck, celebrating a new season of growth.

Such amazing colors surrounding us now that the weather has warmed!  I have a  tired back, but a happy heart!

May 3 2014 afternoon garden 056

Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

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