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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

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

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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July 3, 2016 wet garden 018

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015-2016

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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches

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

and that as long as the sun still shines

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

we can, if we bother to try, find ways

to provide for ourselves

without diminishing the world. ”

.

Michael Pollan

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Sunday Dinner: Light

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January 3, 2015 Winter flowers 017

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“A painter should begin every canvas

with a wash of black,

because all things in nature are dark

except where exposed by the light.”

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Leonardo da Vinci

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January 3, 2015 Winter flowers 007

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“Dreams are what guide us,

art is what defines us,

math is what makes it all possible,

and love is what lights our way.”

.

Mike Norton

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January 3, 2015 Winter flowers 001

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“The awakening is the purpose.

The awakening of the fact that in essence

we are light, we are love.

Each cell of our body, each cell and molecule

of everything.

The power source that runs all life is light.

So to awaken to that knowledge,

and to desire to operate in that realm,

and to believe that it is possible,

are all factors that will put you there.”

.

Dolores Cannon

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January 3, 2016 pots 004

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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January 3, 2015 Winter flowers 002

 

“When In Dismay”

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” tragedy and violence are too common.  today was no exception.  it grinds down on one’s spirit.  it cannot be made to simply go away.  

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“however during these dark moments the light of hope can be relit.  find a focus and remember what is good.  remember kind and loving acts of people who will not be forgotten.

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October 23, 2015 trees 045

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 “turn off the noise and step away from darkness.  

there are many reasons and guides back into the light.  

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“i hope we all find a focus any one that works and leads however slowly back into the light.  reflect, relight, and help someone.”

John Hric, A Northeast Ohio Garden

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October 11, 2015 Parkway 008~

John published these words today, and they resonate very strongly with me.

We also watched another mass shooting unfold this afternoon; and read the pain, fear and confusion on the faces of those caught up in the moment.  These dark images broadcast over and over can take us to a very dark place.

They imprint themselves on our hearts, and we are left  wondering why anyone would plan to create this much pain for others.  What has happened in their mind and heart that they can enter into this drama, feeling justified in initiating the cycle of violence yet again?

But we remember that the point of ‘terrorist acts’ is to perpetuate darkness and fear.  These feelings weaken us, distract us, and make us pull back from engaging in the world.

We can only combat hatred with love; darkness with light; isolation with community. 

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October 15, 2015 Gloucester 045

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When we witness such things, the antidote is to re-charge our own bright light with beauty, friendship, harmony and hope for more light to penetrate into our world.

Please join in this effort to kindle a light in the darkness. 

Do something to bring a bit more light and love into the world.  Share John’s words through your own blog.  Publish an inspiring and beautiful photograph.  Reach out to a neighbor.  Comfort someone who is afraid or in despair.

Just make a conscious choice to be a bearer of light, knowing the light you radiate reflects farther than you can know; and magnifies the light of others around you.

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October 15, 2015 Gloucester 016

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“No one lights a lamp in order to hide it behind the door:

the purpose of light is to create more light,

to open people’s eyes,

to reveal the marvels around.”

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Paulo Coelho

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

WPC: Zig Zag

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Nature creates in curves and crossings;

Switchbacks, waves, ripples;

Dances of pure energy and vitality

Across the landscape of matter.

 

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The primal “OM” ripples through the

<Allness> we know as space and time,

Resonating still;

“The Word” which makes all flesh.

 

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Light, both particle and wave,

Etching the pattern of its passage,

The zig zags of its journey,

Into the excited fabric of our world.

 

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Life moves and vibrates,

Swells and subsides,

Exhales and inhales,

Wakes and sleeps;

 

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Ever flowing

In the eternal pulse

of Now.

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Zig Zag

Luminous

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“Light is creation.

Darkness is the space necessary to create.”

Erica Jasmin Cartaya

 

Peony bud

Peony bud

“May it be a light to you in dark places,

when all other lights go out.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Clematis

Clematis

 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness:

only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate:

only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Rose

Rose

“Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us;

shedding light over this world can alone help us.”

Walt Whitman

 

Perennial Geranium

Perennial Geranium

“I will love the light for it shows me the way,

yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”

  Og Mandino

 

Coreopsis

Coreopsis

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark;

the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Plato

 

Comphrey

Comphrey

 

This Memorial Day weekend, our garden in luminous. 

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It is cool enough to enjoy working out in the garden, and so we have been out there doing things from early until late.

Whether the task at hand is pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, or re-potting plants; it is done with appreciation for the opportunity to have a hand in this beautiful garden.

Rose scented Geranium

Rose scented Geranium

We  remember that the garden, like ourselves, is made of light.

The plants feed off of light, just as we draw our own energy from light.

Annual Geranium

Annual Geranium

To observe the plants as they grow, basking in the light reflected from leaf and petal, is the chief reward  a  a gardener may enjoy day to day.

Assorted Geraniums, Coleus, and Moonflower vines share a pot on the patio.

Assorted Geraniums, Coleus, and Moonflower vines share a pot on the patio.

Each new leaf unfolding itself out of a stem, each cluster of petals opening to reveal the beauty of a flower makes this light manifest as matter.

Coleus with a new Dhalia in its pot, Creeping Jenny and Sedum.

Coleus with a new Dhalia in its pot, Creeping Jenny and Sedum.

Our world is luminous, and we are also made from a fabric of light.

Heuchera

Heuchera

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Caladium

Caladium

The Path: Continuing Into 2014

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Follow the path of Light

Always finding the next spot to plant your foot

Reflecting the One light of All.

When the path ahead is lost in shadows,

Trust that it will reveal itself

Step by step.

The light inside, one with the beacon

Drawing us ever onward.

Living the journey

Step by breath by step-

Destination just past the next horizon-

Destination already within;

The Light

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Where You Shine the Light

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Light makes all the difference

After a long summer season of bright, seemingly endless days, these late autumn days feel suddenly truncated.  Now the bright midday sunshine is precious, and noticed.  Sunny days are precious, as so many now are overcast and damp.  tree  on parkwayThe sun seems to move so much more quickly as we approach December.  A sunny afternoon shifts so suddenly towards twilight, and then darkness.

Sunrise arrives so much later now.  It is a race to open the blinds and welcome every possible photon of light into the house.  Sunset follows far too soon.  “Where did the day go?” I find myself asking as darkness settles in a little earlier each evening.

A simple trip out for some shopping in mid-afternoon, begun in brightness, ends in dramatic sky gloom as heavy dark clouds gather around the setting sun.  November 18 2013 WC and Parkway 012A sky worthy of stopping to photograph, if one hasn’t left one’s camera at home.  One lonely beam of golden light found its way through both cloud and winter bare branches to say goodnight as we unlocked the side door, parcels in hand.

I am more aware of the light as we move into this darker time of the year.  I notice not only its fleeting nature, but also how it changes everything as it comes and goes.  The landscape feels almost manic-depressive  as its mood shifts depending on the angle of the sun.  It’s all in where the light is shining, and where it’s not.

Where the light is shining determines what we see, and how much.  I suddenly feel a need to stop everything and clean on sunny mornings when the bright light catches in the spider webs  that have gone unnoticed on dull days and long dark evenings.  I search out lamps to read the fine print on labels and to illuminate my crocheting.

November 18 2013 WC and Parkway 010As the days grow shorter I’m eager to dig out the holiday lights; to decorate dark corners with lighted holiday houses, light candles, and to stuff a spare vase in the hall with a string of twinkle lights.  I want to illuminate my world to make up for the gathering darkness outside.

December, now only days away,  is  the season of lights.  As each day grows shorter, we each make our little effort to bring more light into our personal world.  Whether we are preparing greeting cards for distant friends and family, setting out sparkling holiday decorations, planning gifts for loved ones, or entertaining friends; we all do our best to illuminate those people and places most dear.  We light a fire in the hearth, we bake, we light candles at dinner.November 18 2013 WC and Parkway 013

Where we shine the light of our love and attention makes all the difference in the world.  It determines what we see, how much we understand, and how we  feel.  It makes the day dull or bright.  It allows us to get things done, to accomplish goals, fulfill dreams, and makes our world sparkle with love.

As the sun grows dimmer and more distant each day, the inner light in our minds and hearts must grow ever brighter to compensate.

This is the lesson winter offers us year after year.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

“Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.  It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. 

It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.”  Michael Strassfeld

 

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