Beloved Begonias

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Beloved Begonias,
Bejeweled, bold;
Bewildering in their variety,
Exotic,  erotic, esoteric, ephemeral
Phenomenally fantastic;
Tropical travelers,
Insidiously intrepid.
Comforting companions,
Hairy, huge and hard to find;
Beautiful Begonias!
Woodland Gnome 2016

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Unusual Leaves: More Texture

'Silver Lyre' Afghan Fig

‘Silver Lyre’ Afghan Fig

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




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




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

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

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


A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea

A variegated Lacecap Hydrangea


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

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

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


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

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


Do you experiment with unusual  foliage in your garden?

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

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

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


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

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


A Begonia Rex, with fern.

A Begonia Rex, with fern and other Begonias.


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


Scented Pelargonium

Scented Pelargonium graveolens


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


Collection of succulents.

Collection of succulents.

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

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



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


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

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

Plants with unusual leaves often grow best in  shady gardens.

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


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


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


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But wonderful foliage plants grow in full sun, also.


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

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


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


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


Sage Officinallis, "Tricolor"

Sage Officinalis, “Tricolor”


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

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

Author Unknown


Staghorn Fern with Begonia

Staghorn Fern with Begonia


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


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

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


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

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


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

Georgia O’Keeffe


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Living Centerpiece

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Early December is often spent sprucing up our inside spaces for the holidays.  Not only do we spend more time indoors, but many of us will have family, friends, and house guests visiting this month and next.  We clean up, freshen up, and bring out our Christmas decorations in anticipation.


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All of the components for this arrangement


I love to have a beautiful holiday centerpiece on the dining room table, because that is where we gather with friends with our cups of tea or coffee.   A beautiful centerpiece brings a smile and lightens the spirit even when it is just us enjoying it.

This year I found a beautiful bowl I wanted to use as the base for a living floral design.   Living, so there are no dropping needles or berries  from cut greens to clean up late in the month.  I hope this looks even better in February and March than it does today.  Eventually I’ll move these ferns out to other pots and reclaim the bowl for the kitchen.


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Frosty Moss Fern, Selaginella kraussiana


The frosty moss fern, found at Trader Joe’s, is a tough little houseplant.  I bought my first ones  this time last year, and they lived in the window sill all winter.  Moved into a larger pot in the spring and grown out on the deck; they tripled in size, growing happily in the shade.  These cascade as they grow and send out aerial roots.  They like humidity and constant moisture.

The bird’s nest fern, found at Lowe’s, is another excellent house plant which enjoys the same growing conditions.  I moved the little Rex Begonia and fern planted a few months ago into the edges of this arrangement.  Their bowl was too little for them to grow long term.  I hope the Begonia will bounce back to fill in the edges of this arrangement.  I know the fern will grow well here.  Finally, I added one more tiny Rex found at Lowe’s in a 1″ pot to the edge of this design for some immediate color and contrast.  The ivy is a rooted cutting from ivy growing outside.

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When planting in a pot with no drainage, it’s important to add a few inches of coarse material to serve as a reservoir for water.  This helps prevent the soil from getting waterlogged if you over water.  I used a few inches of sea shells and gravel, and then added good potting soil with food mixed in.  Next came the plants, more soil to fill in the spaces around them, and finally a layer of gravel to dress the soil on top.  Always break up the root balls slightly and splay the bottom few inches of root to encourage their growth out into the surrounding soil.

Finally, I gave the entire arrangement a light spray at the kitchen sink to settle the soil and to rinse off the gravel.  These ferns appreciate the moisture on their foliage and will enjoy getting sprayed with cool water from time to time.   All of these plants enjoy high humidity and will dry out quickly.  It is important to check them every few days by touching the soil.  The top dressing helps conserve moisture.  Observing the color and texture of the foliage is another clue to the health and happiness of the plants.



When choosing plants to enjoy indoors during the winter, make sure to choose plants which can thrive in low to medium light.  If they begin to stretch out for light, move them to an area closer to your windows during the daytime and  when you aren’t at home, then move them back to the dining table in the evening or when you’re entertaining.


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Another small fern, and a Rex Begonia are planted on the back side, where they should begin to fill in within a few weeks.


Other excellent choices to work in a similiar container would be poinsettias, orchids, cyclamen, and ivy.  All of these tough and beautiful houseplants offer color and beautiful form, bloom during the winter, and are widely available in December.  Christmas cactus doesn’t make my list because it demands brighter light, and the flowers are messy when they drop.  I grow them, but keep them closer to the windows and grouped with other plants.


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So go ahead and construct a living holiday centerpiece now with an expectation to enjoy it for at least the next six to eight weeks.  Let its beauty and color add to your enjoyment of the holiday season.  It is not huge investment at all, especially if you use a container you already own.  This arrangement, including the $10.00 bowl, came in at about $22.00.  Every piece of it will be used again in another way after the holidays.

What a beautiful gift for your own family, or for a loved one.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome.

“If you really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile?…Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding…Smile with your whole being. ”

Thich Nhat Hanh


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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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