Fabulous Friday: Evergreen

Hardy Cyclamen and bulb foliage shine through the leaf litter of a perennial bed at the Heath’s display garden in Gloucester, Virginia.

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I’m appreciative today for every little scrap of green shining in our winter garden.  So much of the world is brown or grey or beige here this week.

Although I’ve spotted a few early snow drops, Galanthus, in public gardens; we haven’t seen more than the first tentative tips of green leaves from our own spring bulbs.  And yet they are utterly fascinating as they push up through the wet, nearly frozen Earth; and we celebrate every tiny tip of green.

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Early February comes, some years, gilded with early Forsythia, the first golden Crocus, and a few brave daffodils splashed across the landscape.

Other years, winter still reigns supreme. Tiny Forsythia buds shiver along the branches, swollen but wisely closed.  Bulbs wait for the sun’s warm embrace to trigger their unfolding.

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Italian Arum keeps sending up leaves despite the frosty weather.  Our first daffodils have begun to show themselves in recent days.

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This winter feels unusually determined and harsh.  It has been so cold that many of our evergreen shrubs, like the wax myrtle and Camellias, have cold-burned leaves.  Worse, many of their leaves have fallen this year, lying browned and forlorn beneath the shrubs’ bare twigs.

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Every bit of evergreen moss and leaf and blade and needle catches my grateful eye with its promise of better gardening days ahead.  I feel glad for all of those winter hardy Cyclamen and Arum blithely shining against the leaf litter and mud below them.  The effort of finding them and planting them feels like a very wise investment in horticultural happiness today.

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Ilex aquifolium argentea marginata grows in several pots in our winter garden. Generally cold hardy, even this English holly has shown damage from our frigid nights in January.

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Garden designers always admonish us to plan for all seasons in the garden.  But one season isn’t like the last, and this year isn’t like the next.  We gardeners are always improvising and experimenting, our planting often extemporaneous; the results surprisingly serendipitous.  It is through these odd cracks of chance that magic happens in our gardens.

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Hellebore leaves and hardy ferns fill the bed beneath a fall blooming Camellia shrub.

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I know it has been a harsh winter when deer even strip the Hellebore leaves and nibble the flowers from a thorny Mahonia shrub.  I caught a large herd of 20 or more gazing longingly into our garden, through the fence, from our neighbor’s yard this afternoon.  Individuals find their way in from time to time.  Hoof prints in the moist soil tell their never-sorry tale.

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Deer have even nibbled leaves from new English ivy plants in our garden this winter.

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What’s left behind and living feels all the more precious today.  I’m glad for the stray Vinca vine shining through the leaf litter.  The stray wild strawberry plant looks oddly elegant air planted in a rotting stump.  I feel that every evergreen shrub was planted as insurance against a frigid February like this one.

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Mountain Laurel will resume growth and bloom by mid-May.

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I’m happy to pause today to celebrate every ever-green and growing thing I see in the garden.

We’ll ignore the usual labels of ‘weed’ or ‘native,’ ‘exotic’ or ‘invasive.’  We’ll pay no mind to how large or unusual its eventual blooms might  be, or even consider whether or not we will still want to befriend it in June.

We’ll just let it warm our gardener’s hearts on this cold and windy February day, and follow its brave example of endurance through challenging times.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious, let’s infect one another!

 

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

The Butterfly Garden at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is beautiful, if still dormant, in early February.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a great destination for picking up ideas and observing many different sorts of plants growing here in James City County, Virginia.

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Whether you go for a quiet walk, or to participate in a class, there is always more to learn, experience and enjoy.

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The garden is a true community effort.  It brings together volunteers from many different organizations, including the Williamsburg Master Gardeners Association.

The garden is subdivided into  specialty gardens planned and maintained by different groups, and serving different purposes.  In addition to the butterfly garden, there are areas devoted to heirloom plants, native plants, wetland and woodland plants, perennials and flowering shrubs, a fernery, and an area of raised beds for therapeutic gardening.

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The Pollinator Palace

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Best practices are modeled, and new gardeners are both trained and inspired in this special space.  Even though the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is fenced to exclude deer; songbirds, pollinators and other small wildlife are welcomed and fed.

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The first stirrings of spring were evident today under bright skies.  It was only a few degrees above freezing when some gardening friends and I ventured out, tools in hand, for a pruning workshop.

Despite numb fingers and toes, we discussed proper pruning for several species of flowering woody shrubs.  Experts demonstrated the proper use of a variety of nifty pruning tools, too.

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A few of the earliest shrubs, like Spirea, showed tiny bits of green. Its buds are just tentatively opening this week.  But most of the herbs, perennials, and deciduous woodies were still slumbering through their last few weeks of dormancy.

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Daffodils have just begun to emerge, their bright blooms now only days away.

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Today served as a call to action to get out and get after the woodies in our own Forest Garden, before the season gets ahead of me this year.  I was a bit slack last year on the pruning. This year, there is a great deal of cutting and thinning and just plain lopping back waiting for us.  But it won’t wait for long; warmer, longer days will coax those buds to open all too soon.

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It is too early in the season to prune wood from early spring bloomers like Spirea and Viburnum.  However, one may always prune out wood that is Dead, Diseased, Deformed, or Damaged.

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Some gardeners grow a bit confused about what pruning to do, and when.  In general, February is a great month for pruning roses, crape myrtle, butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, and other trees and shrubs which won’t bloom before June.  If a shrub blooms on new growth only, it is safe to prune it back now.

If your shrub blooms on old wood from last year’s growth, and already has its flower buds ready to go now, then “wait to prune until after bloom.”  

All of our favorite spring shrubs like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Forsythias, and Spireas have flower buds set and ready to open on schedule, over the next several weeks.   Any pruning done now will reduce our spring blooms.

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There are great Botanical gardens all over the country, and we are very fortunate to have such a nice one here in Williamsburg.  One can’t help but feel either inspired or overwhelmed after an hour’s walk among such a beautiful collection of plants.  This is a great destination for a walking tour, even on a frosty February morning.

Once I had a cup of coffee and could feel my fingertips again, I was ready to head over to Lowes.   I wanted to have a look at some of the new nifty gadgets for pruning that I’d seen demonstrated today, while my enthusiasm was still warm.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Tour Guide

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Sunday Dinner: Potential

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“Difficulties and adversities
viciously force all their might on us
and cause us to fall apart,
but they are necessary elements of individual growth
and reveal our true potential.
We have got to endure and overcome them,
and move forward. Never lose hope.
Storms make people stronger
and never last forever.”
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Roy T. Bennett
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“Every moment has infinite potential.
Every new moment contains for you possibilities
that you can’t possibly imagine.
Every day is a blank page
that you could fill
with the most beautiful drawings.”
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John C. Parkin
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“You can dance in the storm.
Don’t wait for the rain to be over before,
because it might take too long.
You can can do it now.
Wherever you are, right now,
you can start,
right now;
this very moment.”
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Israelmore Ayivor
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Do or Do not, there is no ‘try.’
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Yoda

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“It’s so difficult to love another person
and yourself for who they are
and not what they do
or who they could be.
To stay in this moment
and know it in all its pleasure and its pain.
The world is a beautiful place.
How often do we say this aloud?”
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Vicki Forman
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“Who you are tomorrow
begins with what you do today.”
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Tim Fargo
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“Say ‘Yes’ to your life
by saying ‘Yes’ to the potential of the moment.
Seize the moment,
for the moments add up and become your life.
Every moment has a choice.
Make choices that empower and help you.
Make this moment
the best it can be by living it with love,
kindness, compassion,
forgiveness,  faith
and hope.”
.
Akiroq Brost

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“Potential has a shelf life.”
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Margaret Atwood

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“If the doors of perception were cleansed,
everything would appear to man as it is
– infinite.”
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William Blake

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WPC: Weathered Flowers

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Flowers have survived on our Hydrangea quercifolia shrubs longer this season than ever before.  From buds to these weathered remnants, we have enjoyed them daily over their season.

This is the longest they’ve ever lasted, as some years the flowers  are eaten off of our oakleaf Hydrangeas by hungry deer before the flowers fully mature.

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I see these winter wilted leaves and weathered flowers as a small sign of victory in our ongoing struggles with this garden.  Like an elderly person, a story of survival is told in every detail of their countenance.

Winter teaches us to find beauty in all stages of life.  It shows us the dignity of strength and tenacity, and serves as

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Allium flowers, gone to seed, and now with the seeds mostly blown away.  Their structure and grace remains.

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“…a reminder that there’s beauty to be found in the ephemeral and impermanent.”

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

Green Thumb Tip #14: Right Place, Right Plant

Japanese Maple shades a Hosta, “Empress Wu” in the Wubbel’s garden at Forest Lane Botanicals in neighboring York County.

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The first of the new year’s plant catalogs landed in our mailbox earlier this week.  After resisting it for a day, I finally poured a fresh cup of coffee and sat down to savor its promises of  fresh gardening adventures.  My attention was grabbed by a new Hosta introduction, H. ‘Waterslide’ on page 2.  Oh, such a pretty grey-blue Hosta, with long, wavy leaves.

I felt the first tickling sensation of plant lust inflaming my gardener’s imagination.  Before I hardly knew what was happening, I was back on the computer searching for vendors and deals on this new Hosta cultivar.  Then, barely pausing for breath, I was admiring all of the many Hosta cultivars offered by the Avents at Plant Delights Nursery, including their own new introductions this season.  Did you know that some of their Hosta will grow to nearly 4′ tall and wide?  Can you imagine?

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Hosta growing in our garden, with Autumn Brilliance fern, in  2012. The fern survived and thrives. The Hosta was grazed a few too many times, and hasn’t returned in recent years.

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That is how it begins each winter.  With little left to do outdoors, I’m planting imaginary gardens in my mind filled with roses, Hosta, ferns, fruit trees, herbs and lots of vibrant petunias.  I can spend many happy hours reading plant catalogs and gardening books, sketching out new beds and making long wish lists of new acquisitions.  I am always keenly interested in the year’s new introductions across many genera, and spend time assessing the year’s newest Proven Winners.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.  December 2016.

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Now, during the first few years on a new property, one might excuse such extravagance.  But I’m experienced enough to know better, by now, and have determined to impose even more self-discipline this year than ever before.

That, and I literally just planted the last of our spring flowering bulbs, acquired on December 15 on the clearance sale at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop.  What was I thinking?   What rational gardener loads up on an additional five dozen bulbs in mid-December, even if they are 75% off?

I used our last warmish day to find spots for every last one of them, including the last of the 50 miniature Iris bulbs ordered earlier this fall.  I rationalized ‘Christmas presents,’ at the time.  And in honesty, a few of my close gardening friends did get a dozen or so of the little guys.  But that still left me with a lot of little Iris bulbs to place.  Where to put them all?

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Winter blooming miniature Iris, February 2017.

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And that, of course, is the point.  I am a naturally curious plant collector.  I want to try growing one or two (or two dozen)  of everything! They all grow beautifully in my imagination.

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June 2017 in our front garden. The tall flowers are grown from grocery store carrots, planted in late winter.  It is nearly time to plant carrots again.  These bloomed for several months last summer.

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But reality sets in as I wander around the garden, pot and trowel in hand thinking, ‘Where can I plant this?’  And that approach regularly gets me into trouble.

Like people and pets, plants have needs.  If you meet their individual needs, they will thrive.  If you don’t plant them in the right place where their needs are met, they mope along looking ratty.

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Or worse, your investment dies.  But that’s not the end of it.  No, sometimes it is even worse when you successfully meet a plant’s needs, and it takes off and shows you its thuggish nature as it takes over all of the surrounding real-estate its hungry little roots can reach!

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Rudbeckia laciniata, a native that feeds wildlife, and an unapologetic thug that has taken over our ‘butterfly garden.’  Yes, there is work to do here before spring….

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Within a season or two, those plants near such an over-achiever get crowded or shaded out.  Without a vigilant gardener ready to prune, divide, dig out and generally keep the horticultural peace, the balance (and a season or two’s previous plantings) are lost.

So I remind myself, as we come into the 2018 gardening catalog season, of what I used to frequently remind my students:  “PPPPP.”  (or, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance)  With a bit of creativity, maybe we can work a ‘Planting’ into that maxim…

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Our stump garden has finally taken off from bare mulch, four summers ago.  This photo from spring of 2017 shows how lush it has become over just a few years.

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As our garden fills up, there are fewer and fewer places left to plant anything new.  As little starts and rooted cuttings mature and grow on and spread, there is almost no ‘good’ place left to even consider installing a new bed or planting area in this garden.

Beyond even that practical consideration, this remains a hostile environment for so many beloved garden plants that most gardeners consider ‘normal,’ or even ‘easy.’  Like Hosta.  And daylillies.  And roses and oh, so many other fruiting and flowering plants I would love to grow!

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I can certainly order and plant that beautiful $20+ newest and grooviest Hosta.  If nowhere else, I’ll stick it in a pot and grow it under a shady tree.  But NO!  Just as soon as it begins to really fill out and look great in its new spot, some hungry Bambi will squirm into our garden on a day after the rain has washed our repellents away. The next time I go out to admire and water said Hosta, it will be gnawed off at the soil.

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Native Mountain Laurel blooms here  for several weeks in May.  This small tree remains evergreen all year, with interesting bark and slender trunks.  Poisonous, deer and squirrels leave it strictly alone.

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Thus, we return to, “Right place, right plant.”  You see, I’ve been working sorta backwards all of my gardening life.  (and yes, I’ve enjoyed it, and No, I don’t regret all of those poor planting choices.  I get lucky sometimes.)

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The stump garden, with newly planted Iris, Violas, chives, and Geranium cuttings in October of 2013;  four months after several trees came down here in a summer thunderstorm.

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First, we choose the place to plant.  Then, we analyze what will grow well there, and what we want those new plants to do for us.  Do we need something flowering?  Something evergreen?  Something edible?  A visual screen for something?  Does it fit into a larger planting scheme?

I envy those highly regarded English garden designers, who are commissioned to fill many acres at a time of some posh, historical site.  They have space, and budgets, and walls to hold off the deer.  And, they have deep soil and a perfect climate to fill their garden with roses….

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Late April, 2017, and our Iris fill the front garden.

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But I’m gardening in my imagination again, which is maybe OK this last week of the year.

I’ve made a firm New Year’s resolution to make more realistic plant purchases this coming year, and fewer of them.  I intend to train a new habit of having a spot chosen in advance before any new plant may be ordered or adopted on a whim.

No more vague, “I’ll find a spot for it, I’m sure.” 

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September 2013, and I took a friend’s good advice to try this Edgeworthia.  We sited it well, and it has delighted us with its flowers each winter since.

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This will make my partner very happy.  This is a Forest Garden, and I want to make sure we leave room for the trees, and the people, and for the plants that have already sunk their roots here, to grow.

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Our ‘deer resistant’ garden in February, 2017

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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Sunday Dinner: Faith

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“All the world is made of faith,
and trust, and pixie dust.”
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J.M. Barrie
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“All I have seen
teaches me to trust the Creator
for all I have not seen.”
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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“I have come to accept the feeling
of not knowing where I am going.
And I have trained myself to love it.
Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air
with no landing in sight,
that we force our wings to unravel
and alas begin our flight.
And as we fly,
we still may not know where we are going to.
But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings.
You may not know where you’re going,
but you know that so long as you spread your wings,
the winds will carry you.”
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C. JoyBell
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“And still, after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.”

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Hafez
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“Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”
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Dante Alighieri
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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“None of us knows what might happen
even the next minute,
yet still we go forward.
Because we trust.
Because we have Faith.”
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Paulo Coelho
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Fabulous Friday: Ivy Shining in the Waning Sun

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Evergreen treasurers, often overlooked during the warmer months, grow in importance as summer’s foliage blows away on autumn breezes.

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We notice that nearby forests are filled with a small army of shining holly trees, covered in bright red berries.  Clumps of mistletoe hover in the bare branches of nearby trees.

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And, we are grateful for the beautiful green and cream leaves of our stalwart ivies growing in pots and garden beds.

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A grapevine fills this pot all summer, but ivy anchors it on our deck during the winter months.   Newly planted Violas will bloom sometime in the next few weeks.

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There are many varieties of ivy available.  Find leaves large and small, wide or very narrow, green, yellow,  cream and variegated.

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The smallest leafed ivy I’ve ever found, this lovely little cultivar was sold for terrariums and fairy gardens. It is growing indoors this winter with a little Begonia.

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Now, native plant purists positively scowl at any kind word uttered about ivy.  It is not native by any stretch of the imagination, though it has naturalized throughout much of the United States.  Worse, ivy can escape cultivation and grow invasive.  This is a problem when ivy completely enshrouds a tree.

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Ivy covers these trees in a county park near Jamestown, VA.

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This vigorous vine can shade out the tree, eventually killing it, and break it apart with the strength and weight of its growth.

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Ivy was already growing on this mature beech tree when we came to the garden. The vine grows root-like anchors, but doesn’t suck sap from the tree. Ivy keeps its roots firmly in the ground and makes its own food from photosynthesis. These aerial roots may absorb dew and rainwater, but they don’t take anything from the tree.

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The ivy you or I plant this fall likely wouldn’t kill a tree in our own lifetimes.  This takes decades.  However, our ivy may escape into the wild when we are no longer tending it for whatever reason, or, the ivy may eventually form berries, and those ivy seeds may germinate elsewhere.

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Ivy makes a popular low maintenance ground cover. Keep it trimmed back, and away from your tree trunks.

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You can puzzle out the relative morality of ivy on your own terms and in your own garden.  But I will tell you that I admire it for its tenacity and toughness.

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Ivy offers some benefits for wildlife.  It shelters many sorts of insects, and so helps attract birds to the garden.  It can produce berries, once the vine is mature.

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

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It tolerates dry soil, sun, shade, heat and cold.  It can be cut back hard and still re-grow into a lush plant in a season.

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Newly planted Hellebore and ivy will soon fill this pot with evergreen beauty. The Hellebore will begin blooming early in the new year.

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It will fill a hanging basket beautifully, and remain lovely all winter long through the worst weather we might face here in Zone 7.

Ivy is very useful as the ‘spiller’ in potted arrangements.  I especially enjoy using it in pots where the main plants are perennials, and the pot won’t be re-worked year to year.  After several years, the ivy can take the pot without worthy competition, however.

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New Year’s Day 2017, and this basket of ivy looks fabulous.

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Let it trail, or train it on a trellis or other wire form.  Ivy can be groomed into many interesting shapes, grown on wire mesh orbs as a ‘kissing ball,’ or even grown on a  privacy screen or a fence.

If you place a rooted cutting in a vial of water or plant its roots into damp moss and a little peat, you can even grow it on a living wreath enjoyed on a shaded porch.  Just keep the wreath hydrated and out of direct sun.

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Violas and ivy make a beautiful winter hanging basket in our climate.

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Just remember the Ivy rule:  The first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third, it leaps!  This is a lovely vine that takes some time to work its magic.

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In the best of possible worlds, deer generally leave ivy alone.  But we don’t live in that world, and find our ivy grazed from time to time.  Generally, it isn’t even noticeable. 

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But deer did seriously dine on a beautiful new ivy in a pot this fall.  Like with most new plants, spray it or otherwise protect it if deer frequent your garden.

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We are admiring our ivy on this Fabulous Friday.  If your green thumb is itching to grow something easy and rewarding during the cool months ahead, you might search out a beautiful ivy for your winter pots or baskets.

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Now that our stump is losing its bark, I’ve planted ivy in the pot.   Beautiful ivy will soon cover it all in a curtain of green.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious…

Let’s infect one another!

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Camellia

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“Nothing in the world is permanent,

and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last,

but surely we’re still more foolish

not to take delight in it

while we have it.”

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W. Somerset Maugham

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“There is no “the way things are.”

Every day is different,

and you live it differently.”

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Marty Rubin

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“If a beautiful thing were to remain beautiful for all eternity,
I’d be glad, but all the same I’d look at it with a colder eye.
I’d say to myself: You can look at it any time,
it doesn’t have to be today.”

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Hermann Hesse

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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Temporary

Dichotomy, or, Courageous Gardening

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“Success is not final,
failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.”
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Winston S. Churchill

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November isn’t for the faint of heart.

As chill winds blow and birds flock up to travel to gentler places, a season’s growth shrivels before our eyes, and blows away.  Much of what  we have nurtured and admired for the past several months perishes in the short span of a couple of weeks.

The changes come almost imperceptibly at first, and then overwhelming in their inevitability.

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The trees in our garden transform themselves from green to scarlet to brown or bare.  More and more branches stand naked in the morning chill each day, and we know from our years of watching this that soon enough our garden will fall away to its barest bones.

Our lush landscape will soon be made mostly of brown and grey sticks, beige grass, bare beds.

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November is when you feel deep gratitude for every vibrant green Camellia shrub you’ve planted, and wonder why you haven’t planted more.

You study the framework of evergreens; box and myrtle, Osmanthus, juniper, holly, Magnolia and hemlock.  These are the stalwart companions that sparkle in the winter sunshine, assuring us of the continuity of life through the gardens’ time of rest.

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“Have enough courage to trust love one more time
and always one more time.”
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Maya Angelou
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We dig into the cooling Earth, placing our faith in dormant bulbs and tubers; trusting that they will eventually awaken and strike new roots and greet us with fresh growth and soft flowers and bright color when the days have grown longer and warmer once again.

We know those days will come, despite the wintery months ahead.

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November shows its two faces in our garden.  Leaves fall as flowers bloom.  Birds gather and fill the air with music.  Buds swell on the Magnolias‘ newly bared branches, and berries redden among the prickly holly leaves.   One day the sky is low and white, the next it’s deepest blue.

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“You do not need to know precisely what is happening,
or exactly where it is all going.
What you need
is to recognize the possibilities and challenges
offered by the present moment,
and to embrace them
with courage, faith and hope.”
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Thomas Merton

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Yet summer lives in all the seasons of a gardener’s heart.  We watch nature’s machinations in autumn, knowing that it is only a preparation for what is to come.  We take courage in the sure knowledge of vibrant life in every root and limb.  We look past the illusions of disillusion,  putting our faith in ripening seeds and and expanding rhizomes, hungry earthworms, mycelium, and moss.

We take courage from our own determination to cultivate beauty in every circumstance.  We trust November as surely as we trust May, and so breathe deeply; knowing that all is well.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Change Is in the Air

This morning dawned balmy, damp and oh, so bright across our garden!

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Brilliant autumn color finally appeared on our trees this past week, and we are loving this annual spectacle when trees appear as blazing torches in shades of yellow, gold, orange and scarlet.   We have been watching and waiting for this pleasure since the first scarlet leaves appeared on Virginia creeper vines and the rare Sumac in early September.  But summer’s living green cloaked our trees longer than ever before in our memories,  this fall.

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I remember a particularly beautiful autumn in the late 1980s, the year my daughter was born.  I went to the hospital in the second week of October to deliver, with the still summery trees barely showing a hint or shadow of their autumn finery.  When we drove back home with her a couple of days later, I was amazed at the transformation in the landscape.  The trees were bright and gorgeous, as if to celebrate her homecoming.

Once upon a time, I believed that first frost brought color to deciduous leaves.  Our first frost date here in zone 7 is October 15.  We haven’t always had a frost by then, but there is definitely a frosty chill in the evening air by late October here.

But not this year, or last….

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Bees remain busy in our garden, gathering nectar and pollen for the winter months ahead.

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The annual Begonias are still covered with blossoms in my parents’ garden, and our Begonia plants still sit outside in their pots, blooming with enthusiasm, waiting for us to decide to bring them back indoors.  Our days are still balmy and soft; our evenings barely drop below the 50s or 60s.  There is no frost in our forecast through Thanksgiving, at least.

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Our geraniums keep getting bigger and brighter in this gentle, fall weather.

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It is lovely, really.  We are taking pleasure in these days where we need neither heat nor air conditioning.  We are happily procrastinating on the fall round-up of tender potted plants, gleefully calculating how long we can let them remain in the garden and on the deck.  I’m still harvesting herbs and admiring flowers in our fall garden.

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Of course, there are two sides to every coin, as well as its rim.  You may be interested in a fascinating description of just how much our weather patterns have changed since 1980, published by the Associated Press just last week.  Its title, “Climate Change is Shrinking Winter in the US, Scientists Say,”  immediately makes me wonder why less winter is a bad thing.  I am not a fan of winter, personally.  Its saving grace is it lets me wear turtleneck sweaters and jeans nearly every day.

Just why is winter important, unless you are a fan of snowy sports?  Well, anyone who has grown apple, pear or peach trees knows that these trees need a certain number of “chilling hours,” below freezing, to set good fruit.

Certain insects also multiply out of control when there aren’t enough freezing days to reduce their population over winter.    Winter gives agricultural fields a chance to rest, knocks down weeds and helps clear the garden for a fresh beginning every spring.

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But there are other, more important benefits of winter, too.  Slowly melting snow and ice replenish our water tables in a way summer rains, which rapidly run off, never can.  Snow and ice reflect solar energy back into space.  Bodies of water tend to absorb the sun’s energy, further warming the climate.

Methane locked into permafrost is released into the warming atmosphere when permafrost thaws.  And too much warmth during the  winter months coaxes shrubs and perennials into growth too early.  Like our poor Hydrangeas last March, those leaves will freeze and die off on the occasional below-freezing night, often killing the entire shrub.

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By March 5, 2017, our Hydrangeas had leaves and our garden had awakened for spring.  Freezes later in the month killed some of the newer shrubs, and killed most of the flower buds on older ones.

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The article states, ” The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

” The average first freeze over the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2016, is a week later than the average from 1971 to 1980, which is before Kunkel said the trend became noticeable.

“This year, about 40 percent of the Lower 48 states have had a freeze as of Oct. 23, compared to 65 percent in a normal year, according to Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private service Weather Underground.”

Not only has the first freeze of the season grown later and later with each passing year, but the last freeze of the season comes ever earlier.  According to Meteorologist Ken Kunkel, winter 2016 was a full two months shorter than normal in the Pacific Northwest.

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Coastal Oregon, in mid-October 2017, had seen no frost yet. We enjoyed time playing on the beach and visiting the Connie Hansen garden while I was there.  Very few leaves had begun to turn bright for fall, though many were already falling from the trees.

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I’ve noticed something similar with our daffodils and other spring flowers.  Because I photograph them obsessively each year, I have a good record of what should bloom when.  This past spring, the first daffodils opened around February 8 in our garden.  In 2015, we had a February snow, and the first daffodil didn’t begin to open until February 17.  In 2014, the first daffodils opened in our garden in the second week of March.  Most years, we never saw daffodils opening until early to mid- March.  We ran a little more than two weeks early on all of the spring flowers last spring, with roses in full bloom by mid-April.

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March 8, 2014

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Is this ‘shorter winter phenomena’ something we should care about?  What do you think?  Do you mind a shorter winter, an earlier spring?

As you’ve likely noticed, when we contemplate cause and effects, we rarely perceive all of the causes for something, or all of its effects.  Our planet is an intricate and complex system of interactions, striving to keep itself in balance.  We may simplistically celebrate the personal benefits we reap from a long, balmy fall like this one, without fully realizing its implications for our planet as a whole.

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February 9, 2017

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I’m guessing the folks in Ohio who had a tornado blow through their town this past weekend have an opinion.  Ordinarily, they would already be enjoying winter weather by now.

We are just beginning to feel the unusual weather patterns predicted decades ago to come along with a warming planet.  The seas are rising much faster than they were predicted to rise, and we are already seeing the extreme storms bringing catastrophic rain to communities all across our nation, and the world.  The economic losses are staggering, to say nothing of how peoples’ lives have been effected when they live in the path of these monster storms.

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Magnolia stellata blooming in late February, 2016

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Yes, change is in the air.  I’m not sure that there is anything any of us can do individually to change or ‘fix’ this unusual weather, but we certainly need to remain aware of what is happening, and have a plan for how to live with it.

My immediate plan is simple:  Plant more plants!  I reason that every plant we grow helps filter carbon and other pollutants from the air, trapping them in its leaves and stems.  Every little bit helps, right?  And if not, at least their roots are holding the soil on rainy days, and their beauty brings us joy.

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Newly planted Dianthus blooms in our autumn garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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