Shade Haven

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As June fades towards July, we appreciate every speck of shade our garden offers.  Summer days in Virginia routinely heat up to over 90F.  And it’s a moist heat, here near the coast.  Some days we have nearly 100% humidity.

When I was growing up in Virginia, we somehow survived it, often without any air conditioning.  The first few schools where I taught didn’t have air conditioning, either.  Maybe that is why I love the shade and know the value of a cool breeze on a summer day.

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Japanese painted fern’s silvery fronds make it especially cooling on a sultry summer day.

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The lowest slope at the back of our garden enjoys a lot of shade.  It is steep, and erosion remains a concern.  This is one of the first areas where we began planting ferns in our first year of tending this garden.  A dense stand of bamboo grows just beyond, where our garden falls off into the ravine.

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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I add a few more ferns and shade-loving plants to this area each year.  I began a new planting bed around the stump of a newly fallen tree, at the base of the slope, several years ago.  It began with a transplanted Hellebore seedling and some  little autumn ferns, planted into a mound of compost poured in and around the stump.  Well, they  survived into the next year, and so I made the circle of compost a little wider and added a few more plants.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns planted are  in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade.   June 2013

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I’ve added a few more plants each year, including some Sauromatum venosum, or  Voodoo Lily tubers, in 2015.

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I thought I might have ruined this ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.  July 2016

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We finally decided this spring to extend this whole area and give it a proper border.  This was very early on when I was studying rain gardens, and thinking about places on our property where we needed to do more to catch and use run-off from storms.

This shady slope has fairly good soil, but is ridden with roots.  So I simply outlined the new dimensions of the bed, laid an outline of landscaping bricks, and set to work eliminating the existing  weedy growth.

Some of the weeds, near existing perennials, needed pulling.  Some areas where moss was well established, I wanted to simply leave alone.  But much of the new garden could be covered with brown paper grocery bags, and topped off with a few inches of compost.  This is the best method I’ve found for creating new planting beds in this garden.

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I chose a selection of ferns and shade loving perennials to harmonize with the ferns, Hellebores, and voodoo lily already growing here.  Although I’ve planted mostly hardy ferns, there are a few more tender ferns that I potted up last fall, and returned to this bed after danger of frost.  Others are planted into containers and  displayed in this area.

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Bamboo leaves drift down on every breeze.  I clear them, occasionally, off of the larger plants in this bed.  One day, when I’ve nothing else to do, I plan to grab our leaf blower and blow all of the bamboo leaves away from the garden and back towards the ravine.  I’m sure the moss establishing here would be better for it, and so would my character.  How I admire fastidious gardeners!  Perhaps one day I’ll join their ranks….

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Ken Druse has written a delightful book entirely about gardening in shade.

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His The New Shade Garden is one of those beautiful books I lusted after for more than a year, before I finally ordered it this past winter.  The luscious photos and useful information and encouragement on every page left me wondering why I waited so long to read it.  This book is a treasure, and I highly recommend it to you if you share my affinity for finding cool haven in the shade.  You’ll find whole chapters devoted to shade loving trees, shrubs, perennials and ferns; along with useful lists and recommendations for plants for particular situations.

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All we need now, to complete this beautiful shade haven in our back garden, is a little patio and a place to sit.  That may still be a few years off, though.  Somehow I’m always more interested in plants than hardscape, and rarely find time to just sit in the garden.

There is always more to do…. something waiting for me to plant….

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Winter Gardening

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

January 9, when we had more than 10 inches of snow in our garden.

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Yes, it’s January, but there is still plenty to do in the garden.  When we get a fairly nice day, like today, you might feel the itch to get outside and get gardening again.  Even when the weather isn’t fine, there are still preps for the season ahead that can be done indoors, while the pace remains decidedly unhurried.

The most important winter gardening work can be accomplished from an armchair:  planning ahead.  Every year we tweak and revise; opening new ground, moving plants, refining the design.  This is a good time of year to photograph every part of the garden with an eye to its bones.  Study those photos for inspiration and instruction.  Look with fresh eyes to see new possibilities in your familiar turf.

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I also spend quite a bit of time studying plant catalogs as they come in.  I read about newly introduced cultivars of familiar plants.   I consider what perennials or shrubs I might want to add, and  plan designs for our  pots and baskets.

I try to keep notes and drawings from these winter musings.  Ideally, a binder proves helpful over time to track the evolution of one’s garden.  Include photos, receipts, tags, a site plan and notes of what is planted, and when.

January through early March prove the best months for pruning woody plants here in Williamsburg.  There is less shock when a tree is dormant, and spring growth, when it breaks, will prove more vigorous.

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Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

Crepe Myrtles appreciate careful pruning each winter to thin and shape the tree.

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Some shrubs, like Beautyberry, Callipcarpa,  respond well to very hard pruning.  Cut these back by 30% or more and they will reward you with abundant growth and heavy fruiting the following year.    I make the rounds of our Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia; Buddleia, roses, fruit trees and small ornamental trees like Japanese Maples in winter when it is easiest to see their structure.  All of these bloom on new wood.

Remove crossed or crowded branches.  Thin and direct growth.  Remove suckers growing straight up from a mostly horizontal branch, and cut back long branches to encourage bushier growth.  Thinning, to allow sunlight and air to circulate through the plant both controls diseases before they can take hold, but also produces a stronger plant.

Wait to prune shrubs like Hydrangea and Lilac, which bloom on old wood, until after they bloom each summer.  If you remove old Hydrangea blossoms before spring, carefully cut above the first dormant bud.

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Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring's growth.

Trim spent Hydrangea flowers carefully to avoid damaging the dormant buds of next spring’s growth.  Any serious pruning can remove next season’s flowers.

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Remove any perennial stems still standing in the garden before new growth begins in early spring.  Emerging growth, especially spring  bulbs, looks neater after last year’s perennial remains have been cut and composted.

Some of us leave our Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Lantana and other late flowering seed heads to feed the birds over winter.  These will be mostly picked clean by early February and their time has passed.  Remove old leaves from Hellebores as new ones emerge to rejuvenate the plant.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 115

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Building the soil can be done year round.  Adding organic matter, especially when working with heavy clay, brings the soil, and the garden, to life.   Whether you keep a compost pile, add mulch,  or simply sheet compost fallen and shredded leaves; do something each season to improve the soil in some part of the garden.  We save our coffee grounds and spread them on beds or around shrubs every few weeks.   Feeding the soil pays dividends much longer than does spreading any chemical fertilizer.

If you are starting a new planting area, consider building a raised bed with cardboard, brown paper, newspaper, or even fallen wood as a base.  “Sheet compost” the area over the winter months by adding coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, shredded leaves, and fruit and vegetable trimmings as they come available.  Keep adding layers of materials, topping the bed with straw or even bagged compost or topsoil from the garden center.  There are many, many ways to do this.

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Earthworms, drawn to the organic matter on the soil, begin to work their way through the pile, speeding the process and enriching the ground with their castings.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfectly crumbled into humus before you plant in spring.  If necessary, pile a few inches of bagged soil on top of your pile and plant directly into this finished soil, confident that the composting layers will break down in the weeks ahead.

This is a better way to begin a new bed than tilling or digging because it leaves the organisms already living in the soil intact.  The roots of your newly planted garden will stretch and grow, loosening the soil as they expand.  Earthworms and other soil dwelling creatures will also loosen its structure over time.

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Chipped up wood and leaves spread over the foundation of wood will rot into good compost over time.

Chipped up wood and leaves spread over a foundation of broken limbs will rot into good compost over time.  We built this raised Hugelkulture bed in July of 2013, and it has been productive ever since.

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Winter is also a good time for building new garden structures.  Whether you are adding walls, steps, raised beds, pergolas, paths or a patio, consider beginning in late winter before the trees leaf out.  You can see the structure of things better, and your construction mess won’t detract from the beauty of your spring or summer garden.

Finally, begin planting for the coming season.  Although autumn is the best time for planting new trees and perennials in our area so they can establish during the cool and wet winter months; we find our best selection at local garden centers in the spring.  The selection of shrubs, fruiting vines, annuals, perennials trees and summer bulbs at local garden centers can feel dizzying by late March.  Ride the crest of this wave, seeking out small perennial starts and bare root nursery stock in late February or March.

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Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by may.

Begonia Rex divisions started in late winter will grow into nice plants by May.

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Many garden centers will offer popular perennials in 2″-3″ pots at very low prices in early spring.  These will establish and grow to full sized plants by summer.  Planting early on will give your new plants a chance to establish and expand their root system before summer’s heat and drought.

If you’ve ordered bulbs, tubers, or bare root stock from catalogs, you can plant these up in nursery pots and keep them in a garage or basement for a few weeks until it is warm enough to set them out.   For example, many tropical tubers,  ordered in early spring, can be gotten at much lower prices than you’ll find for the leafed out plants in early summer.  Order Caladiums, Colocasia, Canna, Alocasia, Dahlias and many other beautiful plants early for the best selection of cultivars.  You can easily pot these up yourself in soil and have them ready to plant out when it warms enough for them in May.

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Caladium

Caladium

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Seedling trees from mail order nurseries may also be potted up and allowed to grow in a protected area of your garden for the summer, and then planted into their permanent spot in the garden next autumn.

As our summers grow hotter each year, I’ve come to appreciate the winter months even more.   A lot can be accomplished in relative comfort, without the distraction of biting insects or broiling sun, on warmish winter days.  It feels good to get out of doors and work in the garden.

Whether you are cleaning up, building up, planting up, or pruning; enjoy the time you spend preparing for spring’s beauty to unfold.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #7: Experiment!

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A sense of curiosity and wonder drive ‘normal people’ to transform themselves into dedicated gardeners.  We take pleasure in watching how plants grow.  Now, that isn’t a punch-line; it is a confession …

When I learn about a new plant, or a new (to me) cultivar of a more common plant; I often want to grow it myself to watch the process of is unfolding.  And I generally want to grow several in differing conditions to learn for myself how it performs, what makes thrive, and what it needs to look its best.  But most importantly, I’m curious whether I’ll like the plant; whether it is worth my investment of time and energy to grow in our garden.

We ‘click’ with some plants and dislike others.  It’s human nature.  But it’s hard to learn what we like and glimpse new possibilities for our garden space unless we are willing to take a chance growing new plants.  We learn much of what we know as gardeners through experimentation.

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Echinacea 'Green Envy,' which we planted for the first time last summer. All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

Echinacea ‘Green Jewel,’ which we planted for the first time last July.  All three plants returned and are doing well this summer.

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Saying we’re “Watching the grass grow” is a joke simply because grass is both predictable and inevitable.  Why would we watch something like that?  We all pretty much understand grass.

Yet many good gardeners love it and can deliver a long monologue on which types are best and how to properly care for a healthy lawn.  That is their thing. 

Others of us delight with each patch of grass/weeds we convert into a bed for more beautiful plants….  And still other gardeners love growing the new cultivars of ornamental grasses coming to market each year.  They take pleasure in watching the wind set their Miscanthus and Carex dancing in the changing light.  But how will we ever take pleasure in the beauty of Carex mixing among other perennials, unless we are willing to experiment with planting a few?

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Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn't sold as 'Thailand Giant,' but I'm beginning to wonder.....

Colocasia esculenta in its third summer has grown much larger than I expected. This wasn’t sold as ‘Thailand Giant,’ but I’m beginning to wonder…..

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Many frustrated gardeners who boast of their ‘brown thumb’ may be growing the wrong plants.  They may not feel confident in buying plants they haven’t already seen neighbors and friends growing in their gardens.  Or maybe they are growing familiar plants in the wrong conditions or with inconsistent care.  A more pleasing garden will result when they begin to experiment with fresh ways of doing things.

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This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

This experimental raised bed is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia, Hellebores and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

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Experiments help us learn.  We observe more closely.  Perhaps we do a little reading to guide us.  We take chances we might otherwise avoid.  We learn from the results of our experiments without blaming ourselves if the results aren’t what we hoped.  After all, it was an experiment, not a commitment!

After a few experiments we’ll have a little more experience to guide us in our gardening decisions.  Eventually, after years of trial and error, we will shape our outdoor spaces into places which please us and bring us joy.  That is the point of gardening, isn’t it?

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Colocasia 'Coffee Cups' sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3' and 4' high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ sparkles in the morning light. New leaves now grow to between 3′ and 4′ high, but will likely grow larger as summer progresses.

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Our garden remains an ongoing experiment.  We experiment with various ways to keep deer out of the garden.  And nothing so far has proven 100% effective….   Thus, we also experiment with growing beautiful plants the deer won’t graze when they find a way inside.  Our list continues to grow….

We experiment with how to grow perennials on heavy clay soil, how to protect shrubs from the ever hungry voles tunneling through much of the garden, how to adjust to our changing climate and how to preserve tender plants through four or five months of freezing weather.  We continue to experiment with new ways to construct simple, inexpensive raised beds

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We also experiment with several new plants each year.  This year we’re growing Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ and Alocasia ‘Stingray’ for the first time.  We’ve been experimenting with various Colocasia since the summer of 2014, and have six different varieties growing this year.  We’ve discovered at least two which will survive our winters outdoors.  This year I’ve added four different Alocasia cultivars to the mix, and I’m very pleased with how they are performing.  These plants all love intense heat so long as they are hydrated.  Some will take full sun, while others need shade.

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I thought I might have ruined this 'Voodoo Lily' tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better. Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

I thought I might have ruined this Sauromatum venosum or ‘Voodoo Lily’ tuber when my spade hit it early this spring. Rather, it is better.  Instead of one or two stems, it has sent up many, producing a much better plant.

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Another experiment hasn’t gone so well.  I admire Begonia boliviensis, but have had little success with it in past years.  This year I began with seven huge, healthy tubers of Begonia boliviensis, ‘Bertini’, a cultivar said to do well in our hot, humid summers, which can take partial sun without burning, and that might overwinter.  I planted some in pots, another in a hanging basket, and set those containers in areas with various amounts of light.  None so far have pleased me.  Most, in fact, look abysmal, and there are zero photos to share.

When the soil is too wet, and the humidity to high, this plant collapses.  Native to the Andes Mountains, these plants naturally grow in a cooler climate on much thinner soil.  They cascade down the rocky slopes, roots tucked into a small crevice, thriving in thin, cool mountain air.  Our hot, humid Virginia summer stresses them out.  Even though they are blooming prolifically, the stems often rot and simply fall away.  I haven’t yet figured out the formula to keep them growing strong….

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Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This baskets spends the winter months in our garage.

Three different Begonia cultivars share this basket with a rabbits foot fern. The Begonia Boliviensis usually dies back by late summer, but returns from its tuber the following spring. This basket spends the winter months in our garage.

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We have several more ‘new to us’ plants just getting established in our garden this year.  Besides the C. ‘Desert Sunset’ we found last week, we are also enjoying Verbena ‘Lollipop;’  native Pycanthemum or Mountain Mint; some pretty Crocosmia given to us by a friend; a Cryptomeria ‘Black Dragon’ bought on impulse last fall;  several new Hydrangeas; and two little native Live Oak trees, Quercus virginiana, ordered from the Arbor Day Foundation.  It may take a few years for some of these to make an impact,  but I enjoy watching them sink their roots and begin to grow.

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Alocasia 'Stingray' is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray's tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.

Alocasia ‘Stingray’ is a fun Alocasia whose leaf grows with a tip shaped like a stingray’s tail. These prefer partial shade and will grow to several feet tall as the tuber matures. Here it is in a mixed planting with tuberous Begonias, Coleus, Oxalis and ivy.  The blue pot behind holds a Begonia Boliviensis tuber just gone bust…. I’ve transplanted some little Colocasia ‘Blue Hawaii’ divisions, wilting in our heat, to fill it while I hope for the Begonia to recover.

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Like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, some of us view our garden as a work in progress, constantly thinking of ways to renovate and make it better.  I would soon lose interest in a garden where I couldn’t experiment and try out new ideas year to year; where I wasn’t always learning and discovering new details of nature.

A garden grows into a unique ecosystem, alive and ever evolving.  Gardeners earn their green thumb by taking an active hand in guiding the many changes taking place each season.  We plant and we prune.  We enrich the soil, irrigate, feed; but also pull the weeds and remove the plants we don’t like.  We attract pollinators while eliminating pests and disease through careful management.

None of us has all the answers to the many questions which present themselves over time; but good gardeners set out to find those answers through their own experience and experimentation.

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Woodland Gnome’s Caveat:  It is wise to remain open to others’ experiences to save oneself a little frustration and pain.  A little research before welcoming a new plant can help avoid unfortunate and costly mistakes. 

Be careful of introducing invasive species just because they come cheap from a mail-order nursery.  Know whether a new plant will survive in your climate and what its needs are before making an investment.  Understand how quickly and how far that new perennial or shrub might spread.  Some ‘experiments’ we don’t need to repeat.  Others will tell us what we need to know if we’ll just do a little reading and research.

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Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

Hardy Begonia grandis has naturalized in our garden. It spreads, but is never invasive.

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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.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

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

Green Thumb Tip #5: Keep Planting!

Green Thumb Tip #6: Size Matters!

Green Thumb Tip #8:  Observe!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9: Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

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Woodland Gnome 2016

The Blessing of Shade

Hydrangea, Macrophylla

Hydrangea, Macrophylla remains one of my favorite shrubs for shade.  Deer candy, we grow it now in pots on the deck, where it can’t be grazed.

 

A Forest Garden offers the blessing of cool, relaxing shade.

Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun,, while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.

Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun  while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.

 

Even on the hottest July day, we step into the refuge of shade, appreciate what breeze there might be,  and gather the energy to continue with whatever tasks come to hand in the rest of the garden.

 

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Our shade here is spotty.  A previous owner cut several large trees, and we have lost several  more to storms.

So the area nearest our home gets more direct sunshine than we’d wish at the height of summer.

A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck.  Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.

A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck. Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.

 

The trade off, of course, comes during the rest of the year.

We get solar heating in winter, and we have enough light coming through the windows to grow our garden indoors during the cooler months.

But when it stays consistently hot, for days at a time, we appreciate every bit of shade we have.

 

Colocasia enjoys sun to part shade.  Here it enjoys late afternoon shade from nearby shrubs.

Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii”  enjoys sun to part shade. Here it receives  late afternoon shade cast by nearby shrubs.

 

And we enjoy  a variety of plants which grow beautiful leaves and flowers with very little sun.

 

Begonia, "Gryphon" enjoys morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio.  Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is gfowing a new crop of leaves.

Begonia, “Gryphon” grows well in  morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio. Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is growing a new crop of leaves.

 

Shade vs. sun is another of the vagaries of gardening.

Very few areas are all one or the other.

 

Many "shade loving" ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated.  These grow in a bank in partial shade.

Many “shade loving” ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated. These grow on a bank in partial shade.

 

Most fall somewhere between “part shade” and “part sun” depending on the time of day and time of year.

The very nature of a “forest garden'” also allows for sun to shine through the bare branches of trees during the winter; and the trees’ canopies to catch and use the sunshine all summer, giving shade to the garden below.

 

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Hydrangea Macrophylla. Purchased on sale in a 4″ pot in late spring, this shrub grows happily in a pot on the deck.

 

This can make selecting and siting plants even more challenging.  What may work for a plant in May might be too much sun by August.

A plant which could never survive in a full sun area in June might thrive in the same spot in November.

 

This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we've still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.

This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we’ve still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.

 

I’ve worked out a fairly successful system over the years to keep shade loving plants happy.

And the secret?  Watering.

 

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.

 

Not really a secret, you’re thinking?  Too obvious?

Probably…. But the secret of frequent watering is frequent observation.

Well hydrated plants can tolerate far more direct sun than dry ones, at least among the shade lovers.

 

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And frequent attention to watering allows changes in a a stressed plant’s position before a condition goes too far.

 

These pots live right "on the edge" of how much sun they can tolerate.  They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade.

These  plants live right “on the edge” of how much sun they can tolerate. They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade.  Known to be relatively sun-tolerant cultivars of Begonia and Caladium, they still need daily water and watching.

 

In our garden, moving a plant a few feet in one direction or the other can make a tremendous difference in how much sun it receives.

Some need a little more sun to encourage flowering.

Yet too much sun can burn their leaves.  It is a fine balance.

After finding this Staghorn fern on the clearance rack at Lowe's, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, "No direct sun."  Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day.  I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size.

After buying this Kangaraoo fern, Microsorum pustulatum, from the clearance rack at Lowe’s, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, “No direct sun.” Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day. I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size.  You can see a little scorch on some of its leaves, however.

 

Morning sun affects plants differently than mid-day or afternoon sun.  Some plants can thrive in an Eastern exposure which would fry on the Western side of the garden.

Many of our shade lovers live in pots and baskets which  can be moved around as the seasons progress each year.

 

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And we move plants as often as needed to keep them, and us,  happy.

We also practice “layering,” just as nature does.

This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome again.  It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome once again.   It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.

 

Shade loving plants can live in hanging baskets hung in trees.  A particularly delicate plant can live underneath another, enjoying shade provided by its companions.

 

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Plants, like people, thrive in communities.

Building a community, where each plant’s needs are met, is an ongoing challenge.

But when it works out well, it multiplies the beauty of the individuals.

 

Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?

Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?

 

You see, a “green thumb” is actually just a matter of attentiveness.  Observation is an honest teacher.

Once a gardener understands a plant’s needs, it is simply a matter of providing the correct amount of light and water, nutrition and protection to allow that plant to grow into its potential for beauty.

 

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And then there is the small blessing of summer shade… for the garden and the gardener.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Gift of Iris and Another New Raised Bed

Our newly planted clump of Siberian Iris, a gift from Barbara and her husband who visited on Saturday.

Our newly planted clump of Siberian Iris; a gift from Barbara and her husband, who visited on Saturday.  Planted here with a variegated Salvia and Comphrey, 

When Barbara and her husband visited the garden on Saturday, they left a clump of Siberian Iris, dug from their own garden, as a gift.

Barbara knows how much I love Iris, and her intuition must have whispered that I’ve been wanting to establish a clump of Siberian Iris in the garden.

She brought a perfect, and much appreciated gift.

The area between our two Afghan figs will be planted to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.

The area between our two Afghan figs will be planted to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.  Blooming chives and Salvias  guard the little fig trees as they emerge this spring.

But the area where I want them has very compacted, clay soil.  I planted some very tough Comphrey and Dusty Miller in this area several weeks ago, but realized the soil is not ready for much else.

And so I’ve built a super-quick, no nonsense raised bed is this slight depression between our new Afghan figs.

Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area without digging into the clay.  A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting and makes the new bed visually "disappear."

Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting and makes the new bed visually “disappear.”

I’ve been watching the figs closely.  New last fall, they are supposed to be fast growers.

Afghan fig, “Silver Lyre,” is on the northern edge of its hardiness zone here in Williamsburg.   And like all of our other fig trees, they’ve taken their own sweet time in breaking dormancy this spring.

Our severe winter was almost too much, but new growth has finally come from the roots.

New Afghan fig foliage has  finally begun to grow.

New Afghan fig foliage has finally begun to grow.

This new bed, in full sun, will tie the two fig trees together as they fill in.   I’ve chosen plants to accent their silver green foliage.

I want it to be a hub of activity  on sunny days, and have chosen deer resistant plants which will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

The Siberian Iris will add height, structure, and beautiful blooms each spring.  Since they spread quickly, this bed will be awash in iris in just a few short years.

The varegated plant on the left is a hummingird "magnet" with bright red flowers.  Comphrey, right, will bloom all summer and keep bees and butterflies coming to this new garden.

The variegated plant on the left is a hummingbird “magnet” with bright red flowers. Comphrey, right, will bloom all summer and keep bees and butterflies coming to this new garden.

 Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Silver in the Barn

And Then It Got Complicated….

 

May 20, 2014 Garden 006

An inspiration, when it first flits into one’s mind, is beautifully simple.  In its purist form, the idea is more powerful than the forces which will conspire to prevent its materialization.

At least in my experience….

A vivid imagination is both gift and curse; tool and trap.

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A gardener’s winter dreams of pots and beds and borders sometimes get translated into actuality; sometimes not.  Rarely do they grow as first imagined.

There is the small matter of reality standing between the vision and its accomplishment.

May 20, 2014 Garden 001

My original idea was quite simple:  I saw a raised bed growing at the base of a young Dogwood tree.

The tree, badly damaged when our trees fell last summer, would become the center point of a cool and shady four season garden in the edge of our forest near the street.

Populated with Cinnamon Fern and Helebores, this perennial bed would be impervious to deer, low maintenance, and provide winter blooms.

Simple, right?

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When imagining what to use  to build the raised bed, I decided to use Hypertufa troughs.  A gorgeous cardboard box shipped from Plant Delights became the mold for long window box shaped planters.

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The first two un-molded perfectly and went to the drying shelves.  Then the third cracked as I turned it out of the box.

Heavy, and not quite dry enough, I realized I had rushed it; and made a patch.  After another week in the mold, I gingerly turned it out, and the patch held.

A second very large trough also cracked.  I must not have had the mix quite right that day.

 

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch.  Can you spot the patch on the pot's rim?

This large and heavy trough also cracked when I lifted it from its mold, but it was a clean enough break to patch. Can you spot the patch on the pot’s rim?  A chunk of another broken trough, which couldn’t be repaired, rests nearby.

I wasn’t as lucky with that attempt to “fix it,” and it ended up in a dozen jagged pieces tucked into a shadowy corner of the basement.  It gets complicated…

That temporarily halted work on the new raised bed.  With only two of the four planned troughs ready to use, I wasn’t ready to move forward.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.

Caladiums fill the hypertufa troughs used to border this raised bed.  The apparently empty pot is filled with perennial hardy Begonia, which will emerge by early June.

And I didn’t have time by then to start the fourth trough.

But, I already had three potted Helebores and three Lady Ferns languishing in holding areas, ready to sink their roots into a permanent spot in the garden.

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Lady Ferns, you ask?  Wasn’t the original idea to grow large, stately Cinnamon Ferns in this bed?  Well, it got complicated…

On one shopping expedition after another this spring, my search for Cinnamon Ferns was in vain.

Yes, Plant Delights had them, but I wanted to purchase them locally.  I’ve learned my lesson waiting for bare root ferns from the big box stores to sprout, and I was hoping to score them in the tiny pots Homestead Garden Center offered all last season.  But, no tiny pots appeared…

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the peremiter of this new raised bed.  Broken pot pieces help form a low "wall" to hold soil behind them.

A few badly grazed Azaleas fall along the perimeter of this new raised bed. Broken pot pieces help form a low “wall” to hold soil behind them.

It gets complicated. 

Our long, cold spring made things very difficult for the growers this year, and many items came late, in short supply, or not at all.

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So during my tour of Forest Lane Botanicals, I purchased three beautiful Lady Ferns to use in the garden… just before that third trough broke.  And they’ve been sitting ever since….

With the art festival completed over the weekend, it was decided that today I would work with the universe to bring this new raised bed into reality.

One way or another, something would be built today.

An experimental "stepping stone" holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

An experimental “stepping stone” holds back the soil behind a second Azalea shrub, forming more border for the garden.

Armed with three potted Helebores, three Lady Ferns, two Autumn Brilliance Ferns, four bags of compost, more Caladiums than I care to admit to having, an almost murdered Begonia which got too dry last week and lost its leaves, a tray full of broken Hypertufa trough pieces, some old plastic pots, and some 6″ clay pots left from the weekend- I set to work.

Some might call this a scrounger’s garden.  I see it as a fortuitous opportunity for some serious recycling.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 030

With three now completed troughs, already planted in Caladiums,   the outline of the new raised bed was already sketched in.

A larger free-form  hypertufa trough, again broken in unmolding but patched, joined the group two weeks ago when I decided not to offer the  patched pot for sale.  It also holds Caladiums.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 005

With the fourth trough a minimum of two weeks away, if I cast it today; I decided to border the bed with other materials- if only temporarily.

So a pile of new 6″ terra cotta pots, scored at the Re-store for a children’s art project, got filled with soil, planted with Begonia semperflorens, and pressed into service as a border.

A few old plastic pots, filled and planted up, helped plug the gaps.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Sedum planted into a pocket made from a piece of the broken pot.

Large pieces of the broken hypertufa and a few experimental stepping stones work to camouflage this motley mix of bordering materials.

Borders in place, compost poured in and smoothed, it was finally time to plant.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 032

The bed is far from completed.  That fourth trough will materialize over the next few weeks to complete the outline.

I don’t have much faith in small terra cotta pots on our hottest summer days.  They dry too quickly.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

The third hypertufa trough, which cracked, now holds Caladiums.

So I’ll replace as many of the small pots as I can with hypertufa planters, which keep roots cool, moist, and happy even in the heat of summer.

I found a 4″ Cinnamon Fern this afternoon, finally, and planted it among the Lady Ferns.

Over the next few days I’ll transplant some Hellebores seedlings from other beds, add a few more Caladiums, and possibly even plant some Spikemoss, a new favorite, as a frilly ground cover.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 002

Time, the essential ingredient in gardening, will transform this motley conglomeration of bits and pieces into a beautiful garden within a few weeks.

Once the plants settle in and begin weaving themselves together, it will take on a life and vision of its own.

Gardens, like people, evolve in their own time from one form to the next.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

Rooted Begonia cuttings join sprouting Caladiums in this newly planted recycled plastic pot.

We might plant a seed, push a cutting into the soil, or tuck a transplant into a new bed.  But that is only a gesture.  It is the concrete expression of a wish.

Magic happens after we water in our intention and wander away. 

As the roots take hold, and the plant unfolds itself in new growth, something entirely new evolves.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

Newly planted in 2013, this perennial bed has grown into a vibrant community of plants.

A community comes together as roots intertwine in the soil.

Vines stretch, branches form.  Flowers open.  Our wish takes on a life of its own.

It gets very complicated, but also very beautiful.

May 19, 2014 new raised bed fern garden 019

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Clematis

Clematis

 

Hidden Jewels: Hellebores

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Hellebores shyly begin to grow in the middle of winter, sending up fresh new leaves and flower scapes under cover of their sturdy, evergreen leaves left standing from the previous season.    These thick, protective leaves offer cover from freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and winter winds.

January 26 2014 ice 004

Hellebores in late January, finally emerging from several inches of snow.

Although they may begin to look a bit ragged by February, hellebores leaves are still vibrantly green in our garden.  It is only when these long, thick  leaves are finally cut away that the dazzling jewel like buds of the new season’s flowers finally shine.

Within just a few days of taking away the cover of old leaves, light reaches the new growth causing it to lengthen and the buds to open.  With the old foliage gone, the new flowers and leaves can fill out the display.

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Hellebores are hardy perennials, growing in moist shady spots in zones 5-8.  Native to much of Northern Europe from the British Isles eastwards to Turkey, the original species have been heavily hybridized to produce countless different combinations of form and color.

Although often called “Christmas Rose” and “Lenten Rose” for their season of bloom, the 20 or so species of Helleborus are not related at all to roses.  Rather, their common name refers to the open rosette shape of their bloom when fully open.

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Hellebore blossoms are only fully appreciated when viewed up close.  Most cultivars hold their blossoms facing downwards.  One must come in close and lift each blossom to see its face. 

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Most Helleborus blossoms are found in shades of white, cream, pink, peach, lilac, burgundy, or dark purple.  Many have “freckles” on their faces.  Some Helleborus flowers are entirely green, including H. odorus.  Others may be a shade of green with pink or purple markings.

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Although hellebores are widely available through mail order nurseries, this is one plant I prefer to buy in person, when it is in bloom.  I want to see the flower I’m buying and buy a sturdy, well developed plant.  The Patton family at Homestead Garden Center already has a nice selection of Hellebores available for sale.

I’ve planted hellebores in pots during the winter, with Violas and evergreen fern, in full sun areas.  It is important to lift and transplant these hellebores to mostly shady areas before the middle of May, in our area, so the plant isn’t burned by the summer sun.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 025

Another plant which does well under deciduous trees, hellebores enjoy winter and spring sunshine, but appreciate the leafy canopy of trees during the summer.

If planted under a tree, make sure the plant gets sufficient moisture all summer.  Thirsty tree roots often grow up into plantings and rob the perennials of needed moisture when the beds aren’t kept well watered.

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I lost two beautiful hellebores last year by transplanting them in late spring, under trees, and not keeping them well watered through the entire season.  I also planted them a little too high.  The crown of the plant should be at, or slightly below ground level, and the area around the roots well mulched.

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

This two year old seedling was transplanted into a fern bed last summer.

Many of the hellebores available at nurseries are hybrids, and so the seedlings won’t match the parent plants.  Hellebores do set great quantities of viable seeds, and so you’ll find hundreds of little seedlings coming up nearby.  These can be transplanted in spring, cared for, and grown out to see what flowers will develop.

Don’t expect seedlings to reproduce the  flowers on an expensive hybrid, but do give the plant a chance.  You may be pleasantly surprised with the flowers which do develop.  There are so many seedlings from a mature plant that you have plenty to generously share with gardening friends and to expand your own collection.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 026

Every part of a Helleborus plant is poisonous, from flower to root.  This means they won’t be nibbled by voles or deer. Spread their cut older leaves on the ground anywhere you are troubled by moles or voles, and the poisonous alkaloids will be transferred to the soil.  It is wise to wear gloves when planting hellebores, trimming their leaves, or cutting their flowers.

Freshly cut hellebores leaves spread as a poisonous "mulch" under a fig tree.  This area is frequented by voles, so we are "ammending" the soil to stop them.

Freshly cut hellebores leaves spread as a poisonous “mulch” under a fig tree.  This area is frequented by voles, so we are “ammending” the soil to stop them.

My first Hellebores were a gift from a dear friend who grows a yard full of them.  We dug dozens of seedlings from her garden one day in early summer, and I brought them home and tucked them into new raised beds I was building.  They took off in the rich compost, quickly filling the bed.

Sadly, where I tucked seedlings into the ground without first building up a new bed of compost, they struggled.  The seedlings planted into a well prepared bed bloomed the following spring.  Those planted in other areas did not.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 022

Hellebores tend to be more expensive than some other perennials because they don’t bloom their first year.  When you buy a plant in bloom, it is already several years old.  If transplanting your own seedlings, expect a few years of foliage only before the first flowers appear.

Hellebores form wonderful ground cover in shady areas, and require very little care.  Although they look unremarkable during much of the year, their winter and early spring bloom make them well worth the effort.  By planting several different varieties you can enjoy Helleborus blooms from December through May.

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I’ve noticed that most of the best gardeners in our community grow hellebores. 

Many cultivars of Helleborus, especially H. odoratus, grow well in the conditions our gardens offer.  In fact, they are on the “short list” of flowering perennials which thrive here.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 012

Mix hellebores with ferns, mosses, Hostas, Epimediums, Brunnera,  and other shade loving perennials.  Once past their bloom, the hellebores leaves will form a solid backdrop for other plants throughout the summer.

Cut, hellebores last for a long time in the vase.  One of the few cut flowers we can grow here in Zone 7b during the winter, they work well in arrangements with early daffodils and forced flowering branches of shrubs or fruit trees.

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Hellebores are another heritage plant which continue year to year with little effort from the gardener.  Trimming their old leaves, keeping them watered, and feeding once or twice each year with a mulch of compost is all they really require if planted in the proper spot in the garden.

They reward this little effort with lovely jewel like flowers when we most need them, during these last few frosty weeks of late winter and earliest spring.

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Savor the Successes

Success is always sweetly appreciated. Whenever we set a goal for ourselves, and work towards accomplishing something of importance, the moment when we know we have achieved our goal is one to celebrate. We gardeners have such high hopes… As the catalogs pore in all winter, I plot such wonderful plans for the pots, beds, … Continue reading

Visiting Friends

My closest friends are also gardeners.  Although we have many shared interests, the conversation usually gets back around to how our gardens are doing. We share plants, we share ideas for how to grow things better, we share ideas for how to foil the neighborhood deer and squirrels, and we often share our harvests with … Continue reading

Perma Culture

 

tree of life 3A forest, by its very nature, is very old.  The largest trees may have grown in the same spot for more than a century.  The Earth around these trees has been disturbed very little over the years, allowing a complex colony of fungi, bacteria, insects, worms, snails, reptiles, and even small mammals to live peacefully among the roots of the trees. Sept 11, 2011 after the storm 007 A wise gardener tends the garden while disrupting these ancient communities as little as possible.

stump and amyth

Mushrooms, bacteria, and small insects help this stump decay back into the Earth.

The roto-tiller has no place in a forest garden.   Gardening is done more around the edges of things than in rows; either with individual plants tucked into their own planting holes, or raised beds constructed on top of the existing soil.  In a forest garden, the roots of existing trees and shrubs fill the soil in their own lacy network.  Every attempt to dig will be met with resistance. Every new hole must be carved out between existing roots, or the roots running through that hole must be sacrificed to make room for the new addition.

Garden Oct. 21, 2012 032

Ginger lilies, lavender, and roses grow in a new bed along the edge of an established forest.

The gardener seeks balance between the old and the new, adding new plants gently into the existing forest community.  fern and hostaWith that in mind, it is wise to add plants that will live more than a season, plants with strong roots that will branch out and seek their own spaces and sustenance.  The essence of “perma-culture” is based on this idea of introducing useful plants who will dig in, find their own way, live indefinitely, and provide an on-going benefit to the gardener.

A newly planted fig tree is surrounded by Rosemary and Iris.  Planted once, these will grow happily here for years.

A newly planted fig tree is surrounded by Rosemary and Iris. Planted once, these will grow happily here for years.

The most obvious choice, if there is space and sunlight, is a fruit or nut bearing tree.  A tree which is beautiful, adds to the landscape, and produces a useful crop is a good investment.  Care must be taken to give each new plant the space it needs to mature and get adequate sunlight.  In the tropics, trees produce staples such as coconuts, dates, breadfruit, mangoes, papayas, and avocados.  These crops are reliable year after year and provide a steady food source.

In Zone 7b, there is still a wide range trees to plant in a forest garden which produce a reliable edible crop.  For an initial investment of $10.00 to $30.00, healthy, well grown trees can be purchased either bare-root or in pots.  Most will produce a first crop within 1-3 years of planting, depending on the variety and maturity of the sapling.

The Passion Fruit vine can grow up to 50' a year and produces edible fruit.  Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

The Passion Fruit vine can grow up to 50′ a year and produces edible fruit. Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

Good choices include fig, apple, pear, peach, pomegranate, persimmon, plum, paw-paw, cherry, pecan, walnut, hazelnut, and hickory. 

A peach tree grows in the edge of the forest.

A peach tree grows in the edge of the forest.

Orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees are hardy further south, but can be grown in large pots and kept inside during the coldest months in winter.  Banana trees can similarly be grown outside in summer, dug and stored inside in winter.  Choose varieties carefully, as fruit trees often require a companion of another variety for cross-pollination.

While some of these trees, like fig, will produce a crop with minimal care, others, like apples and peaches, do require spraying.  All benefit from an annual gift of finished compost sprinkled around their roots.   The biggest problem I’ve experienced is loss to birds and squirrels, which begin attacking the fruit long before it is ripe.  Netting offers some protection.

A forest grows in layers, and many understory shrubs also produce fruit while thriving in partial shade.  Cherries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and currants can be planted in full sun or partial shade.    Many of these can also live permanently in large pots.  Vining crops such as grapes and kiwi can be grown on pergolas or trellises in patches of sun.  Most of these need a male and a female plant for fruit production, but cover large areas with beautiful vines which also provide shade.

A raised bed garden with herbs, perennials, peppers, and tomatoes.

A raised bed garden with herbs, perennials, peppers, and tomatoes.

Peaches and figs grow along the edge of the forest

Peaches and figs grow along the edge of the forest

Finally, if there is space for a raised bed in a sunny spot, crops like asparagus, rhubarb, running onions, and Jerusalem artichoke bear for many years after planting and offer a reliable crop with little labor.  Perennial herbs, like Comfrey, Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, Oregano, Marjoram, Chives, Bay, Thyme, Monarda, and Mint will come back bigger and better each year. This is an understatement in the case of mints, which grow aggressively by underground stems and can become invasive.  They are best planted where they can spread without harming other crops.

Mint

Pineapple mint and lavender are planted together on a slope to hold the soil against erosion.

Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Bay, and some Lavender remain evergreen in zone 7b and south and can be harvested for cooking all winter.

Weeding, watering during dry spells, an annual topdressing of compost, and careful harvesting after the plants are established sums up the needed maintenance.  Some crops will need more protection from hungry wild life than others. Crops like asparagus and rhubarb should be allowed to grow for at least 2 summers before any harvest.   If space is left in the raised bed for annual herbs and flowers, any harmful insects will mostly get eaten up by birds or other insects.

This raised bed garden is edged with chunks of rock and cement.

This raised bed garden is edged with chunks of rock and cement.

Raised beds can be built from a variety of materials, including bricks, stones, hay bales, fallen branches, logs, and the prunings from trees.  A method of building raised beds, pioneered in Europe, actually begins the bed with a thick layer of logs, branches, and leaves.  Similar to sheet composting, this layer of wood is expected to break down slowly over several years.  It absorbs available water from rain and watering, holds the moisture like a sponge, and releases it to thirsty roots as needed.  The wood is covered with leaves and grass clippings, along with other compostable materials, and finally topped with two to three inches of topsoil or finished compost.  The bed can be allowed to settle or season, or can be planted immediately in pockets of deeper soil.  The building materials slowly decompose into compost, making the soil richer and deeper each year.hugelkulture

This Hugelkultur method, (http://www.diynatural.com/hugelkultur-raised-garden-beds/) is the ultimate form of recycling in the garden.  Leaves, grass clippings, branches, and fallen trees can be used in building beautiful raised beds which bear abundant crops for many years.

Stump garden

A “stump garden” in its fourth season. New plants have been added each year in an ever widening circle. A small Camellia is planted at the center, shielded from hungry deer by other, less desirable plants.

A variation of this method is my “stump garden”.  My garden is dotted with large stumps from a former owner’s efforts to remove large trees near the house after Hurricane Isabelle, and smaller stumps left from where a neighbor’s oak fell across my orchard during Hurricane Irene.  Each of these stumps has become the nucleus around which I’ve built a raised bed.

The stump which serves as the nucleus of this garden is still just visible in the center of the bed.  Compost was spread around the stump, and then plants were added each season in an ever widening circle

The stump which serves as the nucleus of this garden is still just visible in the center of the bed. Compost was spread around the stump, and then plants were added each season in an ever widening circle

The method is simple.  I spread a few inches of finished compost around the stump, and plant.  The stump breaks down in the center of the bed; holding moisture; providing food and cover for the worms and insects who enrich the soil; and initially creating a focal point.  Eventually the plants grow up higher than the stump, and it disappears as it returns to the Earth.

I’ve also used this method for recycling the still living contents of pots when time comes to plant for a new season.  Plants and their soil can be emptied and “replanted” around stumps, or in depressions in the ground which need filling.  The plant, if perennial will continue to grow, sinking its roots ever deeper.  If an annual, the roots and soil remain after the plant itself dies back.  Over several seasons, this builds into a new planting bed.

These ferns grew in pots last summer, but died back over the winter.  They were planted along the edge of a bank in depressions to help hold the bank against erosion.

These ferns grew in pots last summer, but died back over the winter. They were planted along the edge of a bank in depressions to help hold the bank against erosion.

I normally plant shallowly to avoid established roots.  In other words, I dig a small hole for the new plant, usually only deep enough to accommodate half to three-quarters of the depth of the root ball.  Often the roots of the new plant can be untangled a bit and spread out to cover more space but use less depth.  I settle the root ball into the new hole, and then mound compost around the root ball to cover it.

Rosemary can be harvested year round.  It is evergreen, and has small blue flowers in late winter.

Rosemary can be harvested year round. It is evergreen, and has small blue flowers in late winter.

A newly planted Camellia, surrounded by compost.  Violas and sea shells will help hold the compost in place as the shrub grows.

A newly planted Camellia, surrounded by compost. Violas and sea shells will help hold the compost in place as the shrub grows.

When planting into a new raised bed, the entire bed is covered in several inches of compost so the top of the new bed is level after planting.  When planting a specimen shrub, like a camellia, the compost around the root ball is extended out a foot or more from the trunk, and can be planted with bulbs, ferns, and small annuals to hold the compost in place as the shrub gets established.

Perma-culture is an economical, sustainable approach to gardening in a forest.  Fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and fruiting vines not only produce an edible crop, but are beautiful “bones” in the landscape.  They attract all sorts of wildlife, including beautiful butterflies, and bees.  They offer a food source for wild bees and other nectar seekers.

Tri-colored sage is a tender perennial which usually survives the winter in Zone 7b

Tri-colored sage is a tender perennial which usually survives the winter in Zone 7b

Of course, “perma-culture” can be practiced as easily with ornamental plants as with food producing ones.  New trees and shrubs don’t need to produce an edible crop to provide beauty and stabilize the soil.  Raised beds can be planted with perennials, ornamental shrubs, ferns, and herbs which aren’t intended to end up on the dinner table.

This approach requires less labor from the gardener, and more watchful appreciation.  We do less digging, and more “helping along”.  An initial investment pays off over many years.  The harvest, once it comes, is reliable, and grows more abundant year after year.  We have food for ourselves, food to store, and food to share with friends and loved ones.

A few good sources for information and plants:

http://homesteadgardencenter.com/

www.starkbros.com

http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection

Another stump garden with iris, a Rugosa rose, thyme, Lantana, Lavender, and coleus.

Another stump garden with iris, a Rugosa rose, thyme, Lantana, Lavender, and coleus.

www.gurneys.com

UPDATE:  Since initially posting this article, I found a reference in something I was reading online to a recently published book on Perma Culture by Rick Austin called, Secret Garden of Survival.

Mr. Austin’s book is full of interesting ideas and useful tips, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to explore Perma Culture in more depth.  His approach is very different from mine.  He appears to be living in a wooded rural area in the mountains somewhere on the east coast of the United States, and wants a sustainable food supply on his own property which is camouflaged from visitors. I am living in a suburban neighborhood, on an established property, with close neighbors.

Mr. Austin clear cut a portion of his land and brought in heavy equipment to build terraces, a water filtration system, and a large pond stocked with fish.  He is raising small animals for meat, keeping bees, and growing a huge variety of food.  His goal is to grow and preserve all the food his family needs.  This entire process is explained and illustrated in the book.

While I am not re-configuring my land or trying to create a survival garden hidden away from the world, I found lots of useful ideas for protecting plants from hungry animals and for companion planting.  Mr. Austin illustrates how grapes grown up fruit trees grow much more strongly and bear better than grapes grown on fences and trellises.  He uses blackberry bushes as a fence to protect his garden, and offers many useful suggestions for organic gardening and companion planting.

His system of planting circular gardens in concentric rights around fruit and nut trees is a fresh approach to companion planting.  These “guilds” of plants include both perennials and annual crops, trees, shrubs, vines, root crops, herbs, and vegetables.  I appreciate Mr. Austin’s reflection on the nature of “weeds” as the closest of any author’s to my own, and I appreciate his courage to publish the truth.

This is a short book, but is packed with information, useful illustrations, and the sort of wisdom only born of hands on experience.

Secret Garden Of Survival- How to Grow a Camouflaged Food- Forestby Rick Austin

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Garden-Survival-camouflaged-forest/dp/1481839772

Seek and you will find….

Another excellent resource for growing permanent, food producing gardens in a forest or a suburban lot:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gaias-garden-second-edition-toby-hemenway/1103622562?ean=9781603582230

 

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