My Final Plant Order

The second part of an order as it arrived on April 11, 2014. Michigan bulb did replace these plants when notified of their condition on arrival.

Back in the day, I loved finding a plant or seed catalog in the mail.  I studied each one carefully, marking up my wish list and then winnowing it down to something almost reasonable.  I read the descriptions on each shrub and perennial, compared tomato, bean and squash varieties, and stayed abreast of all the latest and greatest plant introductions.

Over the past thirty years (plus or minus) I have ordered everything from fruit trees to roses, ferns, geraniums, tomato seeds and Caladium bulbs.

I have received some fine, healthy plants that grew well, and I’ve received some duds.  Like you probably have over the years, too.  I used to collect heirloom roses and fruit trees.  There weren’t deer or rabbits in that garden, and I could grow vegetables and strawberries, too.  I grew at least six varieties of apples and three different peaches, all purchased through the mail.

I remember those days fondly.  The mail came every day, efficiently and without long delays.  Prices were fair and nursery companies were honorable and cared about their reputations.

July 2014

But things change over time, don’t they?  For the last few years, most of the nursery catalogs that make it to my mailbox go straight to the recycling can, just as soon as I can remove and shred my address label.  A quick glance shows me how ridiculously overpriced the most common perennial can be when ordered through the mail.  What I can buy locally for $5 suddenly becomes a $20 a plant before tacking on the postage.

It has been a long time since I have found a good deal on anything other than my favorite Caladium tubers.  A few years ago, I took a chance on ordering a rare, hard to locate Iris.  I ordered from a huge national company that advertises heavily, used a coupon code, and waited excitedly for my Iris to arrive.  The stock looked good on arrival and I potted up the several I had purchased.  They didn’t bloom the first year, and so I had an entire year to anticipate these inky, almost black, species Iris flowers. 

And then there were buds, and finally the buds opened…. blue.  What had been sold as an Iris chrysographes bloomed as a pale blue Japanese Iris.  It was a pretty enough Iris, but not what I had ordered.  And so instead of refunding my purchase, the company sent me a letter promising store credit on my next order.  That letter sat in my filing cabinet for a couple of years, because I truly wasn’t interested in buying anything else from them.

And then temptation struck me this past February.  February does strange things to an otherwise sensible gardener’s sensibility.  I found this fern I just had to have, and this company had it at a fair enough price.  And so one freezing February day I ordered the golden fern and a couple of Calla lily bulbs, and paid for it with my letter of credit, plus a few extra dollars to cover the difference.

We are fortunate to have Brent and Becky’s Bulbs close enough to shop with them in person.

Well, the fern arrived just fine in early March, but no bulbs.  They said the bulbs would be along shortly.  And so I waited patiently through the time frame they indicated, and still no Calla bulbs.  When I called customer service last week, the sweet lady apologized profusely while telling me that the next time frame for mailing them would be mid-May.  No thank you.

I cancelled the order, scolding myself the entire time, and requested a refund.  Well, I’m still waiting for that refund.  Are you surprised?

I tried a new company last February, too.  The Tennessee Wholesale Nursery has a professional looking website and carries a large selection of bare root ferns.  I was in fern bliss ordering species never found in stores.   The order arrived a few weeks later in March, and I was pleased with what I received.

Pleased enough that I had the botanical garden where I volunteer place an order for a project I was planting there.  We were a bit shocked to pay around $30 for postage for a few packages of bare root ferns, but there was no stated shipping policy on the website other than a statement that they would determine the shipping on each order.  Those ferns were shipped the same day they were ordered, and I was a very happy gardener to open that order, too.

The silvery underside of each frond is this fern’s distinguishing feature. I brought this fern home from Oregon in my luggage in 2019.

Perhaps I should have been satisfied and left it at that.  But no, I wanted a few more ferns for my spring projects, so I placed the third order with Tennessee Wholesale Nursery in mid-March.  The website indicated it would ship out in March, and my credit card was charged on March 20.

And I’m still waiting for that order a month later in mid-April, while getting nothing helpful or encouraging from their customer service agent.  When they told me last Monday that they wouldn’t be able to dig my ferns for several more weeks, I asked that the order be cancelled if they couldn’t ship by today. Numerous attempts to call the available numbers led only through the phone tree to full voice mailboxes.

Well, the order wasn’t prepared last week, and so on Friday, I requested that it be cancelled, and my payment refunded. No acknowledgement, just an apology.  It is getting too late in the season here for me to want to start off with bare root plants.  Our cool spring is history, and it is stressful for plants to have to grow new roots in our heat.

I requested again today that the order be cancelled.  And I followed up with an email to the owner.  Still, no acknowledgment that it has been cancelled, or that my refund is in process, even after writing to the owner.   Instead of happily planting my ferns, I am left pondering next steps . . .

2013, An Afghan Fig, newly arrived in the mail, ready to plant. It is still thriving in our garden today.

I have one more plant order ‘out there’ that is supposed to ship this week from Plant Delights in North Carolina.  This will be my first order with them in several years.  Once their shipping costs went above $30 for even a single plant, it cooled my plant lust considerably.  All it took was a few moments of ‘doing the math’ to figure out the actual cost of the plant to convince me that I didn’t need it that badly.

But I was given a gift of cash and asked to get something I had been wanting for a while.  And after several days of thinking about it, I decided to support the work that Plant Delights does for the horticultural community with a purchase/donation.  I say donation because the prices are so high.  But they are quite honest and let you know that your purchase helps support their botanical garden where the plants are trialed and cultivated.  Fair enough.

These three Colocasia plants were all purchased through the mail. The tall Colocasia “Black Runner” arrived from Plant Delights Nursery on April 2, 2014, in perfect condition. The tiny Colocasia, “Pink China” plants arrived from another company in poor condition. You get what you pay for!

I am waiting to hear that the order has shipped.  Plant Delights has a good track record of customer service.  If you don’t mind paying $20-$30 a plant for a little something in a 3.5” pot, you can source plants from them unavailable from anyone else.  And, the plants are healthy and correctly labeled.

Buying new plants should be joyous.  We all want to be treated fairly and to receive good value for our expenditure.  The plants we receive should be healthy, arrive at the correct time, and we should be able to communicate with the nursery staff if problems arise.

Many of the old names in the mail-order nursery business have gone under in recent years.  Others have consolidated.  This past year has presented special challenges for every sort of business, including mail-order nurseries.  I appreciate the work they do and the opportunity to purchase unusual plants few others carry.

This past week I unsubscribed from the emails of all but two nursery companies.  Why read the emails and see the sales when I’ve decided to stop ordering from them?  I am still allowing emails from Plant Delights, because I enjoy seeing their new introductions.  And I am still impressed with the quality, service and selection at Classic Caladiums, in Avon Park, Florida.

Beyond that, I have placed my final plant order.  I will shop locally or find happiness with whatever wildflower or sapling pops up in my yard.  Because peace of mind is priceless.

Native dogwood is our state flower, and the Virginia Native Wildflower of the Year for 2018. Best of all, it seeds itself around our garden for free.

Slow to Grow: Elephant Ears

Colocasia esculenta


It has been agonizingly slow this spring, watching and waiting for our elephant ears to grow.  I blame the weather.  Wouldn’t you?

After all, we enjoyed 80F days in February, and then retreated back to wintery grey days through most of March.  We’ve been on a climatic roller-coaster since.

Gardeners, and our plants, appreciate a smooth transition from one season to another.  Let it be cold in winter, then warm gradually through early, mid and late spring until we enjoy a few weeks of perfect summer in late May and early June.  We know to expect heat in June, July and August, with moderating temperatures and humidity by mid-September.


I started working on this new bed in March, bringing the still potted Colocasias in doors and back out with the weather. Although I planted them weeks ago, they are still sulking a bit in our cool, rainy weather this month.


But lately, our seasons feel rather muddled.  That smooth crescendo from season to season has gone all rag-time on us.  We’ve already lost a potted Hydrangea Macrophylla teased into leaf too early, and then frozen a time too many.  Those early leaves dissolved in mush, but new growth started again from the crown.

I’ve watched the poor shrub try at least 3 times to grow this spring, and now it sits, bare, in its pot while I hold out hope for either a horticultural miracle, or a clone on sale; whichever comes first.


Colocasia ‘Pink China’ loves our climate and spreads a bit each year. Its pink spot and pink stem inspired its name. This is the Colocasia I happily dig up to share with gardening friends. These will be a little more than 5′ tall by late summer.


I hedged my bets last fall with the elephant ears.  I left some in situ in the garden, some in their pots, but pulled up close to the house on the patio, and I brought a few pots of Alocasia and Colocasia into our basement or garage.

I dug most of our Caladiums and dried them for several weeks in the garage, and then boxed and bagged them with rice hulls before storing them in a closet through the winter.  I left a few special ones in their pots and kept the pots in our sunny garage.


Caladium ‘Florida Sweetheart’ overwintered for us  dried and stored in a box with rice hulls. I planted the tuber again in early April.


And I waited until April before trying to rouse any of them.  But by early April, while I was organizing a Caladium order for 2017, I also planted all of those stored Caladium tubers in fresh potting soil and set them in our guest room to grow.  Eventually, after our last frost date in mid-April, I also retrieved the pots from the basement and brought them out to the warmth of our patio.  They all got a drink of Neptune’s Harvest and a chance to awaken for summer.


Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ didn’t survive winter in our garage. (This photo from summer 2016)  I left them in their pot, but it must have gotten too cold for them.  Happily, I ordered new tubers this spring.


Around this time I gingerly began to feel around in those Caladium pots kept in the garage, for signs of life.  I thought I’d divide and replant the tubers and get them going again.  But, to my great disappointment, not a single tuber survived.   The Caladiums succumbed to the chill of our garage sometime during the winter, and I had three generous sized, empty pots to recycle with fresh plantings.


C. ‘Desert Sunset’ didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ve recycled the pot for other plants. Calla lily has a form similar to some Alocasia, and is more tolerant of cold weather. These are hardy in Zone 7.


By the time our new Caladium order arrived in mid- April, the tubers I’d dried, stored, and replanted were in growth.  I moved them to the garage to get more light and actually planted the first batch of Caladiums outside by the first week of May.

I planted most of the new Caladiums into potting soil filled boxes and sent them off to the guest room to awaken, but chanced planting a few bare tubers into pots outside.  Mistake.


These saved Caladiums, started indoors in April, moved outside to their permanent bed in early May. Still a little slow to grow, they have weathered a few cool  nights this month.


Because for all the promising balmy days we’ve had this spring, we’ve had our share of dreary cool ones, too.  We even had a few nights in the 40s earlier this month!  It’s generally safe here to plant out tomatoes, Basil and Caladiums by mid-May.  Sadly, this year, these heat lovers have been left stunted by the late cool weather.

The new Caladium tubers planted indoors are still mostly sulking, too, with little to show for themselves.  The ones I planted directly outside in pots remain invisible.  I just hope they didn’t rot in our cool, rainy weather.


Colocasia ‘Black Coral,’ started in a greenhouse this spring, has been growing outdoors for nearly a month now. This one can get to more than 4′ tall in full sun to part shade.


Of the saved Colocasias and Alocasias, C. ‘Mohito’ has done the best.   I brought a large pot of them into the basement last fall, and knocked the plant out of its pot when I brought it back outdoors in April.   I divided the tubers and ended up with several plants.  They are all growing nicely, though they are still rather small.


Colocasia ‘Mojito’ has been in the family a few years now. It overwinters, dormant in its pot, in our basement. This is one of 5 divisions I made at re-potting time this spring.


I dug up our large C. ‘Tea Cups’ in October and brought it indoors in a pot, leaving behind its runners.  The main plant began vigorous growth again by late April, but none of the runners seem to have made it through the winter outdoors.


Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ also overwintered in the basement.  New last year, this plant has really taken off in the last few weeks and is many times larger than our new C. ‘Tea Cups’ plants.  It catches rain in its concave leaves, thus its name.


I brought one of our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ into the garage in its pot, where it continued to grow until after Christmas.  By then the last leaf withered, and it remained dormant until we brought it back out in April.  It has made tiny new leaves ever so slowly, and those new leaves remain less than 6″ tall.


Alocasia ‘Sting Ray’ spent winter in our garage.  It has been very slow to grow this spring, but already has many more leaves than last year.  It will eventually grow to about 6′.  Zone 8-11


But that is better than the potted A. ‘Stingray‘ that overwintered on the patio.  We’ve been watching and waiting all spring, and I finally gave up and dug through the potting soil last week looking for any sign of the tuber.  I found nothing.

But, fearing the worst, we already bought two new A. ‘Stingray’ from the bulb shop in Gloucester in early May, and those are growing vigorously.   They enjoyed the greenhouse treatment through our sulky spring, of course.


Our new A. ‘Stingray’ grows in the blue pot in front of where another A. ‘Stingray’ grew last year. I left the black pot out on the patio over winter, and the Alocasia hasn’t returned. I finally planted some of our new Caladiums in the empty pot last week.


I have two more pots of Alocasia in que:  A. ‘Plumbea’ has shown two tiny leaves thus far, so I know it is alive.  A. ‘Sarian’ has slept in the sun for weeks now, its tuber still visible and firm.  Finally, just over this weekend, the first tiny leaf has appeared.  I expect it to grow into an even more  beautiful plant than last summer since.  It came to us in a tiny 4″ pot, and ended summer at around 5′ tall.  I can’t wait to see how large it grows by August!


Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ isn’t’ available for order from Brent and Becky’s bulbs this year. I am very happy this one survived winter, because it is a beautiful plant.  Hardy in zones 3-10, this will grow to 5′.


But the pot of Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii,’ that overwintered on the patio, has shown nothing so far, either.  Hardy to Zone 8, I hoped the shelter of our patio might allow this two year old plant to survive.  Now, I’m about ready to refresh the soil and fill that pot with some of the Caladiums still growing in our garage.

C. ‘Blue Hawaii’ is marginal here.  A few have survived past winters planted in the ground; but thus far, I’m not recognizing any coming back in the garden this year.

I’ve planted a few C. ‘Mojito’ in the ground this spring, and plan to leave them in the fall to see whether they return next year.  But I will also hedge my bet and bring a potted C. ‘Mojito’ inside again so I’ll have plants to begin with next spring.


C. ‘Mojito’ in our bog garden will soon get potted up to a larger container.  I planted a few of the smaller divisions of this plant directly into the ground to see if they will survive the winter coming. (Zone 8)


Every year I learn a little more about growing elephant ears.  I know now that Colocasia ‘China Pink’ is vigorous and dependable in our garden.  There is no worry about them making it through winter, and I dig and spread those a bit each year.

The huge Colocasia esculenta I planted a few years ago with our Cannas dependably return.  These are the species, not a fancy cultivar.  But they seem to manage fine with nothing more than some fallen leaves for mulch.



These gorgeous tropical elephant ears put on a great show for four to six months each year in our zone.  Deer and rabbits don’t touch them, and they rarely have any problem with insects or disease.   Our muggy, hot summers suit them fine.  They love, and need, heat to thrive.

Any temperate zone gardener who wants to grow them, needs to also plan for their winter dormancy.  And each plant’s needs are unique.  Some Colocasia might be hardy north to Zone 6.  A few Alocasia cultivars are hardy to zone 7b or 8, but most require zone 9 to remain outdoors in the winter.  Caladiums want a lot more warmth, and prefer Zone 10.  Caladiums can rot in wet soil below 60F.


Hardy Begonias are naturalizing in this lively bed transitioning to summer.  I planted the Caladiums about a month ago, and they have slowly begun to grow.  See also fading daffodil leaves, Japanese painted ferns, Arum Italicum, and creeping Jenny.


If you don’t have space to store elephant ears over winter, you can still grow them as annuals, of course.    That requires a bit of an investment if you like them a lot, and want to fill your garden!

My favorite source for Colocasia and Alocasia elephant ears, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs,  has put all of their summer bulbs, including Caladium tubers,  on clearance now through Monday, June 5.   This is a good time to try something new, if you’re curious about how these beautiful plants would perform in your own garden, because all these plants are half off their usual price.  The Colocasia and Alocasia plants they’re selling now come straight to you from their greenhouses.


Alocasia ‘Sarian’ emerged over the weekend. This is a very welcome sight!


I order our Caladiums direct from the grower at Classic Caladiums in Avon Park, Florida (see below).  There is still plenty of time for you to grow these from tubers this summer, as long as your summer nights will be mostly above 60F for a couple of months.  Potted Caladiums make nice houseplants, too, when autumn chills return.  (Brent and Becky’s Bulbs buy their Caladiums from Classic Caladiums, too.  You will find a much larger selection when you buy direct from the grower.  Classic Caladiums sells to both wholesale and retail customers.)



Slow to grow, this year, but so worth the wait.  We are always fascinated while watching our elephant ears grow each year, filling our garden with their huge, luscious leaves.  Once they get growing, they grow so fast you can see the difference sometimes from morning to afternoon!

Our summer officially begins today.  Now we can settle in to watch the annual spectacle unfold.



Woodland Gnome 2017

Is your region too cool for tropical Elephant Ears? Get a similar effect with rhubarb. This rhubarb ‘Victoria,’ in its second year, emerges in early spring. Leaves have the same basic size and shape as Alocasia leaves without the shiny texture. There are a number of ornamental rhubarbs available, some of them quite large.  These are easy to grow,  perennial north into Canada, and grow into a beautiful focal point in the garden.

Summer Love: Caladiums

'Florida Sweetheart' Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia 'Richmondensis' offers the perfect summer Valentine.

‘Florida Sweetheart’ Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ offers the perfect summer Valentine.


I love the bright, bold Caladium leaves of summer.  These huge tropical beauties, often called ‘elephant ears’ for both their size and their shape, remind me of living Valentines.   Their form, their red and pink coloring, and their wild patterns remind me of February’s little expressions of love, grown huge summer’s muggy heat.


C. 'Gypsy Rose' was among the first Caladiums we planted out in early May.

C. ‘Gypsy Rose’ was among the first Caladiums we planted out in May.


Ours got a late start this year.  It was too cold to put them outside until well into May.  Caladiums love heat!

Plant them out too early and they will sulk along, and maybe even rot before rooting and sending up their beautiful leaves.  Growers counsel us to wait until it is 65F outside at night, consistently, before planting them in the ground.

That is why I start them indoors, in potting soil, and have them ready to go outside when the weather has warmed enough to grow them.


These 'Florida' series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

These ‘Florida’ series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.


I planted out the last of our sprouted tubers just last week, believe it or not!  These last were some of the tiniest tubers which came with our order, and they were planted in a plastic box, waiting in the garage for me to decide where they were to go.  (Sometimes small pieces break off of larger tubers during shipping.  Though they are small, they will still root and grow!)


These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.

These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are only the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.  The largest is C. ‘Florida Red Ruffle.’


These were the last to finally grow leaves.  I planted them in the shade of some shrubs, where we’ve not had Caladiums in years past.  They are near the top of our drive, planted in a shallow layer of compost, where we can see and enjoy them every time we come and go.  With this new bed started, I’ll begin adding companions after the Caladiums establish, to fill it out.

The Caladiums I ordered last February, from a grower in Florida, arrived huge and healthy.  I was amazed to unpack them and discover a few  Caladium tubers the size of baking potatoes!


C. 'Florida Fantasy' remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

C. ‘Florida Fantasy’ remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.


But some from a ‘starter pack’ we also ordered from the grower, weren’t that large at all; maybe the size of a large grape.  Not to worry.  The tuber size doesn’t affect the leaf size or height.  This is a genetic thing.  The tuber size determines how many leaves will grow from the one plant.  And of course, the tuber expands over the course of the season.

I also picked up a pack of C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ tubers at the ‘end of season’ sale from a local nursery.


C. 'Florida Moonlight' grows here with hardy Begonia.

C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ grows here with hardy Begonia grandis.


These were about the size of a half dollar, and it was warm enough to plant them directly outside.  After nearly a month in the ground, they are just beginning to send up leaves now.  I have high hopes that they will fill out and look stunning by August.

The earliest tubers to go out, in May, all survived, despite our cool nights lasting well into early summer. After a slow start,  they are responding to our heat and making lots of new leaves.  Watching each huge new leaf unroll brings its own pleasure!  Our hot, humid summers offer the tropical climate these lovely beauties crave.


This is a single plant from one of those 'baked potato' sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the afternoon.

This Caladium  is a single plant from one of those ‘baked potato’ sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the day.


Grown in dappled shade, Caladiums never scorch or wilt.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them, as their leaves are mildly poisonous to eat.  Their color is as bright as any flower, and far more long lasting and reliable.  They beautifully fill a pot or bed.

They are neat and require very little care, beyond keeping them watered when there is a break in the summer rain.  Caladiums are raised on sandy soils in Florida, but they appreciate compost in their soil, and a little feeding to keep them going strong.


Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.

Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.  I love these wildly patterned leaves of C. ‘Lance Wharton’!


New Caladium varieties are introduced each year.  Some of the newer ones are the “Florida” series, bred at the University of Florida after 1988, to give better leaf production, larger tubers and to tolerate more direct sun.  Look for those Caladiums with ‘Florida’ in their name, such as C. Florida Red Ruffles and C. Florida Fantasy if you want an improved, relatively sun tolerant Caladium plant.

Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums in Zolfo Springs and Avon Park, FL; is introducing several exciting new, improved Caladium varieties each year.  Most of these new varieties can tolerate full sun with proper hydration.  I am looking forward to growing a few of these varieties in the coming months, and will post photos as they grow.  One in particular, a 2016 introduction called C. ‘Desert Sunset’ has piqued my interest for its beautiful salmon and copper coloring and ruffled form.


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I like to mix Caladiums with ferns and Begonias.  I tend to use them as an accent plant in a pot or bed.  Others may prefer to grow a solid bed of Caladiums for a massed effect.  Use low ferns, Ajuga, Oxalis, Vinca, or other low ground cover plants to fill in the bed.  You can select Caladium varieties by size, with heights between just a few inches and several feet.  As with most plants, they tend to grow taller in the shade, and more compact in the sun.


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Two other plants, often confused with Caladiums, are also called ‘elephant ears.’  Also tropical, Colocasia and Alocasia have similar leaf shapes, but different coloration and texture. All three of these bloom, but those blooms are insignificant.  Many gardeners simply cut them away.  ‘Elephant ears’ are all grown for their beautiful leaves.


Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.


All ‘elephant ears’ love warmth, and nearly all must be brought inside before frost.  They may be dug up and the tubers stored, or they may be kept in pots indoors through the winter.  But only a few cultivars of Colocasia are hardy in our Zone 7.


Colocasia generally have the largest of the 'elephant ear' leaves. This is C. 'Pink China,' and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden. This prolific plant spreads each season and may be easily transplanted.

Colocasia generally have the largest of the ‘elephant ear’ leaves. This is C. ‘Pink China,’ and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden.  C. ‘Mojito,’ behind, is supposed to be hardy here, but overwintered in our basement.  These prolific plants spread each season and may be easily transplanted.


These gorgeous tropical plants, with their heart shaped leaves, are one of my true loves of summer.


C. 'White Queen'

C. ‘White Queen’


Big, bold, surprisingly beautiful; elephant ears fill the garden with mass, texture, and movement as they swish and sway in the breeze.  Carefree and attractive, rely on them to look great during the heat of summer.


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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Nature Challenge Day 2: Lilies and Koi at the Heath’s Gloucester Gardens

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We returned to Gloucester today, with my gardening sister, to visit Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens and pick up our ‘end of season’ order of plants and tubers.  Brilliant sunshine and warm fragrant breezes off the river made for a perfect day to wander around their acres of display gardens.

Every plant the Heath family offers is showcased somewhere in the gardens, grown against a backdrop of ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials and Virginia natives.  We learn so much by observing these thousands of plants grown in optimal conditions by professionals who truly love the many plants they nurture.  I am continually surprised with an unexpected combination of plants, and by familiar plants grown in unusual and beautiful new ways.


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The garden was punctuated today with hundreds of Amaryllis bulbs grown out in the beds with other perennials.  You probably know Amaryllis as one of those bulbs sold in the autumn, and grown in a pot during the winter holidays.  Well, come spring, one can plant those bulbs outside in a flower bed.  Many of them are hardy in our coastal Virginia winters and can be left to naturalize, blooming in early summer.


The Heath's gardens, where Amaryllis grow beside perennials.

The Heath’s gardens, where Amaryllis grow beside other perennials.


Jay Heath, attacking weeds along the main path, encouraged us by pointing out that our wet spring has brought abundant growth of ‘natives,’ or weeds to some, to everyone’s garden.  Even with a dedicated staff, they are still challenged to stay ahead of this spring’s abundant growth.

Side by side, both the nurtured and the ‘self-sown’ sprawled and bloomed, a banquet for their bees and butterflies.   The ground was wet, saturated by recent storms.  And everywhere were signs of the change of season and evolution of their garden.


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I was captivated by the first water lily blooms of the season.  The Koi here were nearly hidden by the many water plants.  Imagine having to weed the water garden, too!  But that is just what is planned for later this week, along with a re-do of the planters surrounding the fountain and pool.


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We were fortunate to find owner Brent Heath consulting on the water garden as we wandered back to the shop.  I am always delighted to find Brent in the garden because he so generously shares his deep knowledge of plants with interested visitors.

My friend and I had questions, and he guided us around some of the beds to demonstrate answers and to give useful advice.  He points out plants like the old friends they are, teaching us all the while.


This is the meadow garden where Brent showed us Mountain Mint and other native perennials we might grow in our own gardens.

This is the meadow garden where Brent Heath showed us Mountain Mint and other native perennials we might grow in our own gardens.  Some, but not all of these plants are listed in the summer catalog.


We each accepted a generous clump of Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum virginianum, pulled from the meadow, with advice to plant it in a bed with deep borders to keep it in check.  This native medicinal herb can be used in numerous ways, both in herbal medicine and in a perennial border.  But Brent introduced us to its strong delicious fragrance, and advised that rubbing it against one’s skin keeps flying insects like gnats and mosquitoes far away.

Mountain mint is very hard to find for sale.  Brent and Becky Heath don’t sell it at their garden.  But I had been looking for a source ever since reading about its use in perennial plantings in Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury’s new book, Planting:  A New Perspective This is one of their ‘go to’ plants for long-lived perennial plantings which carry through all of the seasons of the year with minimal maintenance.  For Brent to spontaneously offer us each a well rooted clump was a tremendous blessing for us both.


May 25, 2016 Brent & Beckys 026


If you still have an empty spot in your garden, and would like to fill it with something gorgeous and unusual, please take a look at the Heath’s online summer catalog of plants.  Their end of season, 50% off sale lasts through Saturday, and their offerings can’t be beat for quality and value. We filled the back of our car and look forward to happy planting days ahead!


May 25, 2016 Brent & Beckys 001~

Blogging friend, Y,  invited me to join the Seven Day Nature Challenge last Saturday.  Thank you for your invitation Y., at In the Zone, and for sharing your fascinating photos taken around our shared state of Virginia.  Y and I know many of the same places and share a love for the quirky and beautiful, the fun and poignant.  I appreciate her invitation and will follow her lead to capture the spirit, if not the exact parameters of the challenge.

Not only is one asked to post a nature photo for seven days running, but to also invite another blogger to join in each day.

For this second day of the challenge, I’ll invite you again to join in.  This challenge has been out there for a while, and many nature photographers have already participated.  If you would like to take up the challenge, please accept in the comments and I’ll link back to you tomorrow.

Although I try to take photos in our garden each day, friends and followers may have noticed that it has been a very long time since I’ve been able to post daily.  Life has gotten quite busy over the past year, and the garden is always calling me out of doors!

But in the spirit of the challenge I’ll set the intention to post a photo or three daily.  If you decide to accept this challenge, too, I’ll look forward to seeing what surprises May has brought to your corner of the world, even as I share the beauty of ours.


All photos in today's post were taken at the Heath family display gardens in Gloucester, VA, which are open to the public during much of the year.

All photos in today’s post were taken at the Heath family display gardens in Gloucester, VA, which are open to the public during much of the year.  Please check their schedule if you are planning a trip to visit the shop and gardens.


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016




In Appreciation


Three Elephant Ears finally arrived today.  Here they are after being unpacked and watered.  Elephant Ears love moist soil, and their roots need a constant supply of moisture to support their large leaves.

Three Elephant Ears finally arrived today. Here they are after being unpacked and watered. Elephant Ears love moist soil, and their roots need a constant supply of moisture to support their large leaves.


“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not,

but rejoices for those which he has.”


I am very grateful today that our spring order from The Michigan Bulb Company is now complete.

A large box arrived this afternoon; many times larger than  a box to hold the three tubers for Colocasia “Black Magic” Elephant Ears that I ordered on March 4.

And in the box were three reasonably healthy Elephant Ear plants

I am grateful they are finally here.

June 6 elephant ears 002

“Go to foreign countries

and you will get to know the good things

one possesses at home.”

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

The Michigan Bulb Co. and I have become regular correspondents over the 14 weeks it has taken to fill my order.  We started off well with the order confirmation and a promise to ship the Elephant Ears so they would arrive between April 10 and 15.

They made it clear from the beginning that my order would ship out in stages, with the onion sets and Lilac shrub arriving first.

Everything else in the order was set to arrive right around our normal frost free date, which was appropriate.

On April 4, an email informed me that the order processing was complete, and the remaining plants would still arrive between April 10 and 15.

The second part of the order as it arrived on April 11.  Michigan bulb did replace these plants when notified of their condition on arrival.

The second part of the order as it arrived on April 11. Michigan bulb did replace these plants when notified of their condition on arrival.

But, when the next part of the order arrived, the Black Magic Elephant Ears were missing.

Michigan Bulb said they were temporarily out of stock  and were on back order.  Disappointing, but fair enough.

So they wrote a note again on April 17 to inform me that my new delivery window was April 24-27.  But that didn’t happen, either.

Then on May 6 Michigan Bulb assured me the missing Elephant Ears would arrive between May 15 and 20, but….. You guessed it!  No plants.

But they are faithful correspondents.  I heard from customer service again on May 27 with the promise of my already paid for Elephant Ears sometime between May 30 and June 4.

The three wooden stakes are a nice bonus, and I'm grateful to have them.

The three wooden stakes are a nice bonus, and I’m grateful to have them.  I can also reuse the twist ties on the Clematis…..

Somewhere in here I found time to take their customer service  “Satisfaction Survey.”

Was I a happy customer?  No.

Would I recommend Michigan Bulb Company to a friend?  What do you think?

Maybe someone read my survey.  Who knows?  But, they faithfully stayed in touch.  A “Shipping Confirmation” showed up in my email on June 3.  Did I dare to believe the plants might be on their way?

What is a leaf here and there among friends?  If the tuber is healthy, it will grow lots of new leaves this summer.  Would you bring this plant home from a nursery?

What is a leaf here and there among friends? If the tuber is healthy, it will grow lots of new leaves this summer. Would you bring this plant home from a nursery?


“Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.”
  John Henry Jowett

Well, they arrived today, June 6, 2014.  I’ve made a note on my desk calender.

Although I ordered dormant tubers, I received plants.  Yes, there are tiny little tubers in the pots.  Each plant cost $7.49 plus the shipping, but without any sales tax.

Now, I’ve been watching the stock at Homestead Garden Center.  They’ve had Colocasia esculenta plants for several weeks now.  They offer a healthy plant three times this size, in a much larger pot, for $9.95.

(And yes I’m especially grateful for the very honest and reputable Patton family, who have become an important resource  to gardeners in our community.)

This is the quality of plant you'll routinely bring home from the Homestead Garden Center.

This is the quality of plant you’ll routinely bring home from the Homestead Garden Center.  Begonia Richmondensis

I can’t tell you how often I’ve been tempted to simply buy their Elephant Ear plants and attempt to cancel this order.

But, I was beyond another series of interactions with Michigan Bulb to even attempt  a cancellation.  They money was already spent….

So, I waited it out.  And I am grateful the plants arrived today in good shape.

June 6 elephant ears 001

Is there a moral to my story?

If you live in a very rural area with no good nursery nearby, and want a plant unavailable locally, your alternative is to order what you want to grow.  I mail ordered Colocasia in early spring because I wanted certain cultivars which aren’t commonly offered by local nurseries.

If you enjoy hunting for “bargains”, there are certainly bargains available from many mail order nurseries.

But there are also scams.  I often find plants listed at “sale prices” in catalogs from several well known mail order nurseries, which are actually three times higher than what the same plant retails for locally .

You have to know the going rate, or you will pay way too much for many popular mail order  plants.

So, as with so many other things, “Buyer Beware.”  What appears to be a deal, may just end up as a headache.


Remember to shop locally whenever possible.  Rose Scented Geranium.

Remember to shop locally whenever possible. Rose Scented Geranium purchased at the Homestead Garden Center this spring.


“Develop an attitude of gratitude,

and give thanks for everything that happens to you,

knowing that every step forward

is a step toward achieving

something bigger and better than your current situation.”
Brian Tracy


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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