Sleeping In

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It was still cool and wet when we first came out into the garden this morning.

It  had been raining again overnight, and drops of rain still clung to every surface.

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I came out with the camera to explore the new Hibiscus flowers which had opened.

And as we padded silently around the garden, my partner drew my attention to one tiny creature after another.

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It looked as though they were still asleep, resting peacefully in the spots they had chosen last night.

First a lizard, and then a butterfly slumbered on while we took their photos.

 

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The bees were not so peaceful.

 

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They were already busily gathering nectar and pollen from the thousands of Hibiscus blossoms open to their approach.

 

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In fact, we laughed to watch the bees fly into the very blossoms I was photographing while I framed and focused each shot.

 

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It was as if they were little camera hogs- like young teens who push into as many photos as possible with waggling fingers and wide grins.

 

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Some of the bumblies were already white powder covered scavengers, greedily gathering more and more of the largesse of the garden.

 

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Our garden was alive this morning with creatures large and small.

The only one missing was the cat.  He had chosen to stake out his position in a sunny spot on the deck, aloof from the activity below.

 

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Opening

The first every buds opening on a "volunteer" Crepe Myrtle which has finally grown large enough to bloom this season.

The first ever buds opening on a “volunteer” Crepe Myrtle which has finally grown large enough to bloom this season.

Hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into seasons;  as we drift through the unfolding year something new  always opens up for us, even as something spent is crumpling and falling away.

Gardenia

Gardenia

The first week of July, well into the summer, hosts a fresh round of openings and beginnings here in our forest garden.

Buddleia, "Harlequin" has come into bloom.

Buddleia, “Harlequin” has come into bloom this weekend.

Hibiscus and Buddleia, Dill and Crepe Myrtle are all opening and unfolding the first of their flowers at the moment.

The first bud of the season ready to open on our hardy Hibiscus, H. moscheutos moscheutos

The first bud of the season ready to open on our hardy Hibiscus, H. moscheutosJapanese beetles have been active eating its leaves this summer.

I love to find a plant covered in buds; full of potential and beauty, ready to open itself to the garden.

Tiny grapevines have sprouted from the Muscadine seeds I planted last fall.

Tiny grapevines have sprouted from the Muscadine seeds I planted last fall.

 

July, as flower-filled as May in our garden, also offers up an incalculable array of shades and hues of green.

 

Canna, gift from a friend's garden, survived our harsh winter.

Canna, gift from a friend’s garden, survived our harsh winter.

 

When rain has been plentiful, as it is this year, greens are fresh and vibrant.

 

Redbud "volunteer" has grown well this season.  Perhaps next spring it will bloom.

Redbud “volunteer” has grown well this season. Perhaps next spring it will bloom.

Greenness generates the energy needed for growth; and one may almost hear the whispers of unfolding leaves and lengthening stems on a warm summer evening.

 

Joe Pye Weed planted about a month ago is growing well now.

Joe Pye Weed planted about a month ago is growing well now.

Change comes minute upon minute in the garden during deep summer.

Abundant moisture and  constant heat provide the hothouse for outrageous growth.

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

Vines stretch and new seeds germinate.

Shrubs magically expand and ferns fill in the open spaces.

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Buds constantly opening fill every breeze with sweetness.

First Crepe Myrtle blooms of the season open on this favorite tree>

First Crepe Myrtle blooms of the season open on this favorite tree>

 

Every part of the garden glows with color.

 

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A garden serves as a reliable text book for life.

 

Fungus are key to opening the fertility of soil to plants.

Fungi  are key to opening the fertility of soil to plants.

 

Lessons trivial and profound are written daily in the sky and soil.

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Pruned hard exactly a year ago, this beautiful old oak shows strong new growth.

 

Every creature and plant is a willing tutor to those who engage with them with mind and heart open to their wisdom.

 

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The changing light weaves a new story each day; a faithful Scheherazade for those who will listen and take pleasure in the tale.

 

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In July, the garden’s theme is abundance and profound love.

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Source is generous with its gifts, nourishing through its fruits, and rich in its beauty.

 

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Nature is ever at work building and pulling down,

creating and destroying,

keeping everything whirling and flowing,

allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion,

chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

John Muir

 

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

One Word Photo Challenge: Maroon

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Maroon:  Somewhere between brown and red, or perhaps chocolate and rose; with a little purple hue thrown in for good measure.

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When I think of “maroon,” I think of team colors, 1950’s cars, and lipstick.

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From the French and Italian words for  “chestnut,”  maroon reminds me of cinnamon and dried chilies; good red wine and mole’ sauce.

It looks delicious, smells of old roses, and feels like satin.

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But here it is in the garden! 

Have you ever seen a flower advertised as “maroon” in a nursery catalog?  Who would order a “maroon” plant or  flower?

 

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But un-named, it is a deep and intriguing color, a good foil for cream and pink. 

It plays well against all shades of green, and gives an illusion of coolness and shadow.

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And now I’m seeing it everywhere…

Maroon.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

With appreciation  to Jennifer Nichole Wells for her One Word Photo Challenge:  Maroon

One World Photo Challenge: Gold

One World Photo Challenge: Gold   Golden Turtle

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The Butterfly Ballet

Zebra Swallowtail on Lantana

Zebra Swallowtail on Lantana

The stage is set.  A symphony of birds and frogs fills the garden with song.

Now we watch for the flying ballet of butterflies and hummingbirds to begin their annual performance.

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This lone Zebra Swallowtail visited the Lantana yesterday morning as I watered the garden.

We’ve spotted her a few times over the last few days, and I was happy to find her close enough to share photos with you.

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Our butterflies frequently visit Lantana, Hibiscus,  and the Butterfly Tree ready to bloom near the ravine.

Tree Hibiscus, Rose of Sharon

Tree Hibiscus, Rose of Sharon, a favorite of our swallowtails.

 

Our Joe Pye Weed opened its first blossom yesterday, and we have several patches of Salvia in bloom.

 

Hibiscus, "Kopper King" opening its first bloom this season.

Hibiscus, “Kopper King” opening its first bloom this season.

July and August find our garden full of butterflies.

We hope these luscious Canna blossoms will entice the hummingbirds.

We hope these luscious Canna blossoms will entice the hummingbirds.

Let the show begin!  The audience is filled with anticipation. . .

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast

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Contrast– The art of bringing unlike things together

with an intent to heighten the appreciation of each element.

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Contrast is an essential principle of good design, whether we are cooking a meal, decorating a room, building  a life, or constructing a garden.

We enjoy sweet with salty; creamy with bitter… 

 

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We bring disparate elements together in fresh ways so the element of surprise wakes us up, invites us to see what might otherwise be overlooked.

Contrast jars us into thinking, sometimes.   It invites us to make choices; to see the relative values of things.

 

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Our garden is one of sharp contrast:  We move from cool shade to bright sun in  a single step.

We have areas of dense growth and areas of lawn.  Areas carefully curated, and areas sown by nature.

 

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Skillful contrast helps us frame  the view to tell our story.

 

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“Happiness ain’t a thing in itself;

it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.

And so, as soon as the novelty is over

and the force of the contrast dulled,

it ain’t happiness any longer,

and you have to get something fresh.”

 

Mark Twain

 

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Contrast

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Abandoned: Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge:

Abandoned

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This abandoned seed pod still clings to our Rose of Sharon shrub. 

Empty now of seeds, eaten by birds or spread to the wind, it is a mere husk of its former vibrant, green, verdant self. 

One day soon I’ll get to the pruning, and this abandoned seed pod will join other abandoned bits in the compost, ready to dissolve into the rich loam of fresh beginnings.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Rose of Sharon in July, at its peak of beauty.

Rose of Sharon in July, at its peak of beauty.

Weekly photo challenge:  Abandoned

July Remembered…..

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana

Here we are in the second week of February, with another major winter storm sweeping across the United States.  Every weather forecast sounds more dire, with snow projections rising and temperatures dropping.

Our neighbors to the south, across Georgia, and the Carolinas, are bracing for another blow of winter snow and ice, having just dug out from the storm two weeks ago.  Normally temperatures are moderating for us here in the Southeast by mid-February.

But, we still had leftover snow in Williamsburg until today, sulking in shady spots and parking lots.  We have two fresh bags of ice-melt stacked in the garage, ready for what is apparently on its way.

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It is time to remember July.  It is time to dig out photos of summer flowers and butterflies, green, leafy trees and a garden alive with activity.  Spring feels very far away at the moment, and I just need a reminder of what lies ahead.  Perhaps, you do too.

A volunteer sunflower, growing happily in a pot from, feeds a happy bee.

A volunteer sunflower, growing happily in a pot from, feeds a happy bee.

So here are some of my favorite photos from last July.  I hope you enjoy a brief  “summer vacation” as much as I do, even as we shiver through this very frigid February.

Stay warm! 

Pentagonal Flowers

Have you ever noticed the beautiful geometry of plants? Some wise men and women in the past looked closely at the world around us, and intuited that The Creator of All must be a mathematician, and that The Creator specifically expresses itself through the geometry of nature.  A great wisdom tradition, which traces its roots … Continue reading

Bringing Birds To the Garden

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Do you feed the birds?  Most of us gardeners do.  Unless you are protecting a crop of blueberries or blackberries, you probably enjoy the energy and joy birds bring to the garden with their antics and songs.

Birds also vacuum up thousands of flying, crawling, and burrowing insects.  Even hummingbirds eat an enormous number of insects as they fly around from blossom to blossom seeking sweet nectar.  Birds are an important part of a balanced garden community.

We have everything from owls and red tailed hawks to hummingbirds visiting our garden, and we enjoy the occasional brood of chicks raised in shrubs near the house. There is an extended family of red “guard-inals” who keep a vigilant watch on our coming and goings and all of the activities of the garden.  There are tufted titmice who pull apart the coco liners in our hanging baskets to build their nests.

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Mistletoe, growing in many trees, produces winter berries enjoyed by many birds. But it also offers sheltered areas for nesting, collects water when it rains and attracts a variety of insects.

Mistletoe, growing in many hard wood trees, produces winter berries enjoyed by many birds. But it also offers sheltered areas for nesting, collects water when it rains and attracts a variety of insects.

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A forest garden welcomes many types of birds.  During the frozen months especially, a lawn full of robins proves endlessly entertaining.  The bright yellow flash of goldfinches brightens the dullest winter day.  Some birds make our garden their year round home, others come and go with the seasons.

There was a time when I kept feeders stocked with seed during much of the year.  I felt a sense of obligation, almost, to provide for the back yard flock.  What a mess!

As much as I love watching the endless parade of birds and food tray drama, There was always the pile of empty sunflower husks and spilled millet seed, and the rodents it attracts.  Our first winter or two in this particular garden I put out pounds and pounds of food in the deep winter.  Many times we watched as huge flocks of grackles swooped down, and  emptied our feeders  in less than half a day.

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Well, grackles weren’t what we had hoped to attract.  We were looking for the cute and colorful birds who eat a little at a time, and chirp their appreciation on the shrubs by the windows.

That brought some rather brutal soul searching about the true nature of generosity.  Did it really matter whether one type of bird or another ate the seeds I freely offered?  Did it matter how many came at once, or whether the life-giving seeds were consumed by bird or squirrel?  Or a raccoon at night?

It did matter.  I mattered to me, and to those who share the garden, the birds, and the bill for the bird feeder with me.

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bird feeder

A sack of Niger seed and a tube of seed  hang in a Hazelnut shrub to attract finches, cardinals, and other small colorful birds. Squirrels soon learned to tear into both feeders to liberate the seed for themselves.

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So, I tried a different approach;  I targeted my offerings to those birds I most wanted to attract.  We bought skinny stockings full of Niger seed.  Niger seed attracts goldfinches, purple finches, tufted titmice, and cardinals.

After the first frost or two, when the garden was largely empty of other food, we hung the Niger seed feeders in a shrubby Hazel near the living room window where we would see them easily.

This worked beautifully, until the very hungry and very determined squirrels learned to tear holes in the feeder bags and gobble up the seed like it was Chicklets gum.  After a year or so of making repairs and frequent re-filling,  I finally realized the birds were living in the garden whether my little offering of purchased seed was there, or not.

Maybe we don’t need to keep buying better feeders, bigger baffles, more seed, and all sorts of other gizmos to invite birds into our garden.  In fact, biologists tell us that birds need insects in their diets much more than they need seeds and the other treats we like to offer.

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the ravine in fall

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Bringing birds to the garden, and keeping them as residents, simply requires providing for their needs.

Birds chiefly need shelter, safe perches, varied food sources, and water to choose a garden as their home.  They also like their privacy.  A feeder rig out in a lawn, without shrubbery and trees nearby, actually makes the  birds vulnerable to all sorts of predators and competitors while they eat.

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Trees

A Magnolia tree, a gift from my neighbor’s garden, will offer abundant food and shelter to birds in years to come. Planted here near a Red Cedar and a Mimosa.

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Begin by considering which birds you most want to attract, learn their preferences, and then provide those things in the garden.

For example, large predatory birds, like hawks and owls, like to perch in the branches of large trees, well off the ground.  They prefer to eat small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.  By leaving areas of old forest with tall trees intact, and wild areas where the small animals they hunt can live, we have families of these beautiful birds living around us.  We hear the hawks calling to one another by day, and the owls by night.

Cardinals, robins, and grosbeaks come for the many berries provided by our shrubs; and goldfinches appear in late summer to feed on ripening seeds of Basil, Echinacea, and Rudbeckia.

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Pokeweed

American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, is a shrubby herbaceous perennial which grows to 8′ in our garden.  Birds love its nutritious berries, which ripen over several months.

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A forest garden is built in layers.  There are the tall pines and hardwoods, the shorter under story trees, various shrubs, annual and perennial herbaceous plants, grasses and finally ground covers.  Each of these layers has something to offer to wildlife, whether food, shelter, nesting areas, perches or playgrounds.

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Barmboo, technically a grass, not a tree, attracts huge numbers of birds to live in the shelter it provides.

Bamboo, technically a grass, not a tree, attracts huge numbers of birds to live in the shelter it provides. American Beautyberry shrubs grow nearby.

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The trick then, to attracting birds to the garden, is simply to cultivate plants which not only meet the needs of the gardener, but also meet the needs of the gardener’s favorite avian companions.

To bring colorful finches up close, leave some flowers to go to seed, and they will swoop in for the feast.  Expect  Dogwood trees to fill with a variety of birds in the autumn when their berries ripen, and the Pyracantha will lure cardinals and grosbeaks a few weeks later when their berries are ready for harvest.

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Eastern Redbud produces abundant, nutritious seeds. They may be eaten while still green like peas, or left to feed birds and other wildlife as they ripen.

Eastern Redbud produces abundant, nutritious seeds. Their pods may be eaten while still green like peas, or left to feed birds and other wildlife as they ripen.

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Beginning with whatever trees or shrubs already grow in your garden, plant additional useful varieties, keeping an eye to what is best suited to your climate.  Plan mixed borders where  species of different heights, textures, colors and forms blend together.

Just as most people are happiest among friends and family, most trees and shrubs enjoy growing in community with others.  This is how they grow in natural areas.

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Provide shelter, water, food, and nesting areas and birds will make your garden their home.

Provide shelter, water, food, and nesting areas and many different birds will make your garden their home.

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Avian visitors actually help spread seeds of the fruits and berries they love from one garden to another.   Over time, seedlings  pop up in odd spots, and you can encourage the ones you want, and remove the rest.   The more different species your garden offers, the more interest it will hold for you, and the birds you welcome to your garden.

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Flowers have grown into seeds on this butterfly tree.

Butterfly tree, Clerodendrum trichotomum, attracts many butterflies when in bloom, but feeds the birds as its berries ripen.  This small tree has naturalized in our neighborhood.

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Here is a list of trees, and a few shrubs, native or naturalized in Eastern Virginia (Zone 7B), which attract multiple species of birds.  Although those shrubs and  trees listed below are either native, or naturalized, in Eastern Virginia;  most grow throughout much of North America. They are specifically chosen for this list because they attract birds to the garden.

They all provide food in one form or another, in addition to the myriad insects crawling and buzzing around them.  But trees and shrubs offer so much more than just food.  They provide shade, privacy, perches and nesting spots.  They allow birds to move about the garden safely in short swoops from one to the next.

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Dogwood berries feed many species of song birds.

Dogwood berries feed many species of song birds.

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The Devil’s Walking Stick, Aralia spinosa Deciduous native shrub with a very thorny trunk, crowns itself with a huge spray of flowers each summer, quickly followed by inky purple berries. 

This plant spreads with runners and readily self-seeds.  It grows along the edges of roads where it leans in to the sun.  It is striking when in bloom in berry, but grows best in low-traffic areas where the gardener won’t get caught on its thorns!  Long compound leaves give this tree a tropical appearance.

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"The Devil's Walking Stick" berries ripen at the end of summer.

“The Devil’s Walking Stick” berries ripen at the end of summer.

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Beautyberry Callicarpa americana Deciduous ornamental shrub to around 8′ which blooms through the summer months, with small berries quickly following each blossom.  The berries turn an unusual shade of violet as they ripen.  Native to the Southeastern United states, it forms clumps and thickets and easily spreads from dropped seeds.

Beautyberry attracts nectar loving insects all summer.  Birds enjoy this shrub for its ready food supply and dense growth, which gives them cover.  Berries persist for many weeds, even after the leaves fall after frost.  This shrub responds well to hard pruning in late winter.

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Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is. These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer. Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is. These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer. Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

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Butterfly Tree Clerodendrum trichotomum Deciduous ornamental shrub to 30’ which blooms with clusters of white flowers July-September and forms bright seeds well into the autumn.  Native to Asia, naturalized in our area.

Butterfly tree attracts butterflies and other nectar loving insects.  Many birds are attracted to Butterfly tree for the dense shade and shelter provided by its huge, heart shaped leaves, the insects it attracts, and its berries in autumn.

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Butterfly Tree

Butterfly Tree

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Red Buckeye, Firecracker Plant Aesculus pavia Dedicous ornamental shrub or tree to 30’ which produces clusters of red flowers in spring important as a food source for hummingbirds and bees, and seeds in the fall.

Red Buckeye attracts hummingbirds and nectar loving insects when in bloom.  Many species of birds are attracted to feed on the insects, nest, find shelter under its large leaves, and eat its seeds.

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Ligustrum

Ligustrum produces abundant dark purple berries, which feed birds through the coldest months of winter and into early spring.

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 Birch Betula species Deciduous, beautiful bark, grows to 80’ depending on variety

Birch attracts many different birds who nest, eat its seeds and buds, or eat insects in its foliage or bark.  Incl. dark eyed juncos, blue jays, pine siskins, titmice, chickadees, cedar waxwings, goldfinches, purple finches, towhees, bobwhites, wood ducks, orioles, vireos, warblers, grouse.

Catalpa Catalpa speciosa, deciduous ornamental tree to 100’ or more with very showy spring flowers important as a food source for hummingbirds and bees.

Catalpa provides secure nesting and roosting sites for many birds, shade and shelter under its large leaves, nectar in spring for hummingbirds, and a huge variety of insects for other birds throughout the season.  In fall its seeds are produced in long “cigar like” pods which are an important source of food for many species of birds and other wildlife. 

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Birds enjoy the Euonymus berries, and we enjoy its scarlet leaves.

Many different birds enjoy these Euonymus berries, and we enjoy its scarlet leaves.  This shrub earns its name, ‘Burning Bush’ when it turns bright scarlet each autumn.

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Burning Bush Euonymus americanus, Euonymus alatus Deciduous ornamental shrub which turns scarlet in early autumn before dropping its leaves to reveal highly textured bark and scarlet red berries. It may grow wider than it is tall, and the native species can top out around 20′.  Dwarf varieties are widely available.

This shrub, whether the native species or a hybrid, feeds and shelters wildlife while remaining highly prized by gardeners  for its stunning fall foliage.

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White Crepe Myrtle tree is a popular spot for birds to rest, and provides seeds all winter.

White Crepe Myrtle tree is a popular spot for birds to rest, and provides seeds all winter.

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Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia indica Deciduous ornamental tree or shrub to 30’ but most smaller, cultivated for its bright flowers in shades of red, pink, lavender, and white which last approximately 100 days from July through September.  Crepe Myrtle was brought to North America from Asia in 1790, and has been widely grown ever since.

Crepe Myrtle flowers attract hummingbirds, as well as insects which hummingbirds and other birds eat.  Many different birds eat the seeds which remain available all winter. Birds use Crepe Myrtles for shelter and nesting.

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Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

Catalpa, or Monkey Cigar tree, on the Palace Green at Colonial Williamsburg. The lawn is lined with Catalpa trees of various ages, and they are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

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Eastern Cottonwood Populus deltoids Deciduous landscape tree to 100’ or more

Cottonwood attracts birds who nest, find shelter, eat its seeds, and eat the insects in its bark Incl. goldfinches, grosbeaks, grouse, and great blue herons

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Holly

Holly provides high-value nesting sites for many birds, including our cardinals who remain in the garden through the winter.

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Crab Apple Malus species Deciduous ornamental tree or shrub with spring blossoms, colorful fruit, and fall color to 30’

Crab Apple provides secure nesting and roosting sites for many birds, nectar in spring for a variety of insects, including bees, and fruit for many species of birds. Incl. cedar waxwing, robin, mockingbird, finches, bobwhite, woodpecker, flicker, grosbeak

Dogwood Cornus florida Deciduous ornamental spring blooming tree with colorful fall foliage and berries to 40’

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Dogwoods, scarlet in November, frame a view of the ravine.

Dogwoods, scarlet in November, frame a view of the ravine.

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Dogwood attracts many different types of birds who nest, eat its berries, or eat insects from the bark. 98 different species of birds eat Dogwood berries incl. flickers, tanagers, woodpeckers, catbird, thrashers, bluebirds, cardinals,

 Hawthorn Crataegus crus-galli A deciduous ornamental spreading tree with spines which produces beautiful berries. Grows to 30’

Hawthorn attracts over 39 different types of birds who nest, eat its fruit, or eat insects from its foliage.  Incl. robin, purple finch, several different grosbeaks, cedar waxwing, blue jay, mockingbird, chickadees, warblers, cardinals, and hummingbirds.

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Perennial Lantana, 'Miss Huff'

Perennial Lantana, ‘Miss Huff’

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Lantana camara  Lantana may be sold as an annual in our area, but often survives winter and grow into a 6’+ tall perennial shrub.  Its summer blooms feed pollinators, but tiny green berries follow each flower to the delight of a wide variety of birds.

Frost kills its flowers and leaves, but the berries last for many months on Lantana’s woody branches.  Small birds take shelter in these branches through the winter. Certain cultivars, like L. ‘Miss Huff’ and related varieties, have proven hardy through our Zone 7 winters.  Cut this plant back in late winter, and it will leaf out and begin its new season of growth by May.

 Ligustrum japonicum An evergreen shrub or small tree which covers itself with white flowers each spring, and produces abundant purple berries each autumn.  This tough shrub forms a good windbreak.  It self-seeds easily to the point it is considered invasive in some areas.

Ligustrum provides secure shelter nesting and a steady supply of food for many species of song birds.  It is strong enough to support vines such as honeysuckle, grape and Virginia creeper, which also produce berries. 

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American Holly trees come male and female. Both are required for the female to produce red berries. This seedling is only a few years old.

American Holly trees come male and female. Both are required for the female to produce red berries. This seedling, one of many volunteers in our garden,  is only a few years old.

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Maple Acer rubrum or A. saccharum Deciduous landscape tree, grows to 70’

Maple attracts many different types of birds who nest, eat its seeds, or eat insects from the bark. Incl: grosbeaks, finches, pine siskins, cardinals, nuthatches, bobwhites, orioles, wrens, warblers, chickadees Excellent shade tree.

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Maple

Maple

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 Mulberry Morus Rubra Deciduous ornamental tree which produces edible berries to 60’

Leaves are valuable food for caterpillars, including silk worm caterpillars.  Fruits are delicious in pies and over ice cream.  Mulberry attracts many different birds who nest, 59 species who eat its berries and others who eat insects on its bark.  Incl. bluebird, cedar waxwing, orioles, cardinal, blue jay, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, yellow billed cuckoo, kingbird, warblers, robin, titmouse, and mockingbird

Holly Ilex opaca and other species  Evergreen, grows to 50’, covered in red berries in winter.

Holly provides shelter during bad weather and protected nesting sites for many birds.  Over 49 species enjoy its fruits.  Incl. cardinal, mockingbird, catbird, brown thrasher, bluebirds, cedar waxwing, and robin

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Live Oak

Live Oak on the banks of the York River.  This Southeastern native tree grows to huge proportions and remains evergreen, producing abundant acorns.

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 Oak Quercus species Decidous or evergreen landscape trees to 100’ or more depending on species

Oak is one of the most important wildlife and landscape trees.  It attracts birds who nest, find shelter, eat its acorns, and eat insects in its bark and foliage Incl. woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, flickers, grouse, blue jays, meadowlarks, nuthatches, doves, thrushes, ducks, bobwhites, quail, grosbeaks, and scarlet tanagers

 Oregon Grape Holly Mahonia aquifolium Ornamental evergreen shrub to 5’

Mahonia offers flowers for nectar loving insects and hummingbirds and dark purple clusters of berries. Its dense cover, when established, offers shelter from the weather and protected nesting areas.  Mahonia has naturalized in central and eastern Virginia.

Pine Pinus strobus Evergreen tree to 100’ or more which produces seeds in large cones.

Pine attracts birds to nest, roost, eat its seeds, and even eat its needles.  Birds also eat the many insects attracted to pine trees.  Pine is one of the most important trees for wildlife.  Species attracted Incl. woodpeckers, chickadees, grosbeaks, nuthatches, jays, dark eyed juncos, pine siskins, meadowlarks, woodpeckers, thrashers, warblers, grouse, robins, doves, cardinals, and finches.

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Mahonia blooming in January. Each golden flower grows into a deep purple, edible berry. Evergreen leaves sometimes turn yellow or red in the cold.

Mahonia blooming in January. Each golden flower grows into a deep purple, edible berry. Evergreen leaves sometimes turn yellow or red in the cold.

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 Prunus various species including plums and cherries Deciduous ornamental trees to 30’ grown for beautiful flowers in spring and edible fruit in summer

Cherries and plums attract 84 species of birds to nest, eat insects, and eat their fruits Incl. grosbeaks, cedar waxwing, finches, blackbirds, jays, orioles, robins, bluebirds, woodpeckers, catbirds, sparrows, mockingbirds, cardinals, and  thrushes.

Pyracantha various species and hybrids (Firethorn) Thorn covered evergreen shrub to 20’ native to Europe and Asia, and now naturalized across large areas of the US grown for its white spring flowers and abundant red or orange berries in autumn.

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Pyracantha berries

Pyracantha berries turn bright orange in October.

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Pyracantha shrubs attract many species of birds to nest, roost, eat its berries in early winter and eat the insects living in and around it year round.  It is an important source of nectar for bees and other nectar loving insects in spring Incl. bluebird, cedar waxwing, orioles, cardinal, blue jay, grosbeaks, warblers, robin, titmouse, and mockingbird

 Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana Evergreen tree to 50’ with aromatic leaves and blue berries.  Foliage is good for holiday decorations and its aromatic wood for storing clothing.

Cedar provides shelter during bad weather, protected nesting and roosting sites for many birds, and over 54 species eat its fruit. Incl. cedar waxwing, purple finch, robin, evening grosbeak, warblers, flickers, mockingbird, bluebird, bobwhite, swallows, eastern kingbirds, jays, and cardinals.

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Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

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Rose of Sharon Hibiscus syriacus, Deciduous ornamental shrub or tree growing to 12’ with large flowers which attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and nectar loving insects

Rose of Sharon provides nectar for hummingbirds and attracts insects eaten by many species of birds.  Capsules of seeds  feed many species of birds all winter.   More information on Hibiscus here

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Sumac

Sumac

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 Sumac Rhus species Deciduous shrub or tree to 30’ with brilliant fall foliage and abundant berries. 

Sumac trees are an important winter food source for nearly a hundred species of birds.

 American Sycamore Platanus occidentalis Deciduous landscape tree to over 100’ with excellent fall color

American Sycamore provides shelter during bad weather, protected nesting and roosting sites, and seeds and insects for many bird species

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Trees

Tree on the far right is the beautiful Tulip Poplar, a very important tree for wildlife. Bees need it as an early, reliable source for nectar.  Dogwood grows to the left, with Ligustrum taking center stage in this mixed woody border.

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Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera Deciduous landscape tree to well over 100’ tall.  Its spring blossoms are an important source of nectar for bees.  This is an especially beautiful tree with interest year round.

Tulip Poplar provides shelter during bad weather, protected nesting and roosting sites for many birds, and many species eat its seeds and the insects living in it.  Hummingbirds use it as a nectar source in spring.

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Evergreen Wax Myrtle provides dense cover as well as fall berries loved by many species of birds.

Evergreen Wax Myrtle provides dense cover as well as fall berries loved by many species of birds.

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Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera and M. pensylvanica Evergreen shrub to 40’ with small blue berries covered in wax.  Small flowers in spring attract nectar loving insects.

Wax Myrtle berries are eaten by 86 species of birds Incl. robins, tufted titmouse, finches, chickadee, bluebirds, bobwhite, swallow, woodpeckers, cardinals, and finches

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Woody perennial vines

 Virginia Creeper

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2016

For more detailed information, especially on the habits of many much loved “backyard birds”, see Birdscaping Your Garden: A Practical Guide to Backyard Birds and the Plants That Attract Them by George Adams,  Rodale Press 1994

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American Holly

American Holly growing among mature pines

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Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

Hibiscus moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

 

Hibiscus flowers are a quintessential joy of summer gardens.  One of the largest, brightest flowers we’ll find in our garden, ever, Hibiscus takes its place beside the Magnolia grandiflora for flowers the size of luncheon plates. Hibiscus flowers make us think of tropical vacations, aloha shirts, and rum drinks. They bloom during the hottest, muggiest part of our summer, taunting us out into the garden from our air conditioned shade indoors.

 

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

Loved by hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies, hardy hibiscus are always the center of activity in the garden. Not only are they an important source of nectar for hummingbirds, but they also attract small nectar loving insects which hummingbirds love to eat. Once the flowers fade in autumn, and their seed pods ripen, hardy Hibiscus  feed goldfinches, cardinals, tufted titmice, wrens, and other songbirds looking for nutritious  seeds all  winter.

 

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

Hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow

Although big box stores and garden centers offer potted tropical Hibiscus plants each summer, there are several varieties of hardy hibiscus native or naturalized right here in coastal Virginia.  In fact, you’ll see many hibiscus, or Rose Mallow, plants blooming in July along the James and York Rivers, and in the marshes along the Colonial Parkway.  Our native and naturalized varieties need no pots, no coddling, readily self-seed, and come with an agreeable price tag.  The tropical varieties must be brought in before frost or left outside to die; the natives are deciduous, but reliably return the following spring.

Hardy hibiscus comes in two forms:  herbaceous perennial and deciduous shrub.  Both leaf out quite late in the spring.

 

July 6 2013 garden 010

 

Hibiscus syriacus, also called Rose of Sharon, or Althea, is a deciduous woody shrub.  Its first leaves appear in late spring, and it begins flowering in mid June.  Flowers continue into September.  The leaves turn yellow in autumn and linger until after frost. The herbaceous perennials, which begin sending up their green stems and leaves in mid June, bloom in mid-July and August.

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon, is a favorite nectar plant for hummingbirds and bees.

Rose of Sharon is native to eastern Asia, and is the national flower of South Korea.  It is so beautiful that it was carried all over Asia and Europe by traders in the 16th century before coming to North America with the English colonists in the 18th century, where it was called Althea Frutex.  The flowers are edible, and the Koreans also use the leaves.  Growing 8’-10’ tall, and 6’-8’ wide, it is hardy to Zone 5.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

July 29, 2012 garden photos 019

Rose of Sharon is best used as a back drop for a perennial bed, as a screen, or in a border of mixed shrubs. Here several Althea shrubs form a backdrop for the butterfly garden.

This vase shaped shrub flowers from June through September in our area.  Its flowers are 2”-4” wide, with five petals forming a deep throated flower with pronounced pistol and stamens.  The throat is often a dark maroon, and the flowers come in shades of white, pink, and lavender.  Some double forms are available, but most of the flowers are single.  Each flower lasts a single day, but buds are produced prolifically throughout the season.  Flowers form on new wood so the plant can be pruned in autumn or spring.

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon shrubs tend to grow very tall and leggy, and so annual pruning helps the plant to bush out and become a more substantial shrub.  Mine are sometimes blown over in strong winds, but can be set upright, staked, and they will continue to thrive.  Although reasonably drought tolerant, Rose of Sharon doesn’t appreciate too much water or too much fertilizer.  Some of my shrubs have simply died over the winter for no apparent reason, while their sisters two feet away survived just fine.  Rose of Sharon often doesn’t even leaf out until after the Azaleas have bloomed, so patience is important.  Their flowers are worth waiting for, especially if you enjoy watching the beautiful creatures they attract.

 

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus flowers.

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon.

That being said, Rose of Sharon is not a good candidate for a “specimen shrub” in the landscape.  They are good as the backdrop for perennial borders, although tall ones will sometimes droop over from the weight of their blooms and shade the plants growing in front.  They are good planted as a mass, used for a screen, or even used as a foundation planting along a back wall where windows are quite high.  Rose of Sharon work best in a mixed shrub and perennial border.  They will carry the hottest part of mid summer when the hydrangeas have faded out but the Camellias haven’t yet come into bloom.

 

Rose of Sharon

An Althea with double flowers

 

Rose of Sharon produces millions of seeds, and these seeds self-sow wherever they can.  It is considered invasive in CT, but not in VA.  This is a benefit if you want more Rose of Sharon shrubs in your landscape, or have friends who do.  They are large enough to identify and pull up by May if you want to discard the seedlings.  New plants can also be started by layering or taking green cuttings of new wood in early summer.

 

Rose of Sharon

Japanese beetles will eat Rose of Sharon buds, but can be picked off easily.

These tough shrubs will grow in full sun to partial shade in a variety of soils.  They grow as well on slopes as on flat ground, compete well with other shrubs, and have very few pests.  I’ve seen Japanese beetles munching their flowers, and occasionally a caterpillar snacking on a leaf.  The damage done was minor and didn’t detract from the beauty of the shrub.

There are actually several herbaceous perennial Hibiscus plants which grow will in our area, although only two are considered natives.

 

July 17 hibiscus 007

Hibiscus Mutabilis, also called Confederate Rose, is native to China, and most commonly grows in the Gulf Coast states in North America.  This is a huge plant, sometimes growing to 10’ or more in a single season, especially in frost free areas.  Even if it dies back to the ground in the winter, it comes back strong the following summer.  It has white blossoms about 6” across which gradually turn pink, and in some cultivars red, over a period of several days before dropping off.  Flowers on the same plant will appear in these different colors all at the same time.  Flowers can be single or double depending on the cultivar.

Hibiscus coccineus

Hibiscus coccineus, native in the Deep South, is hardy to Zone 6b and grows with little fuss or care.  Also known as Swamp Mallow or Scarlet Mallow, it can grow in normal garden conditions.

This plant has large, coarse, deeply lobed leaves which open late in the season.  Hibiscus Mutabilis is hardy to Zone 7, and is commonly found in Zones 7-9.  It works best in a shrub border as it is inconspicuous when dormant, and quite large and showy in mid-summer.

 

July 16 2013 Hibiscus 001

Rose Mallow, or Swamp Mallow, is native to Virginia and naturalizes easily in sunny areas with moist soil.

Hibiscus grandiflora has the largest flowers at 8”-10” across.  The flowers are a delicate light pink.   It is a very large plant topping out at 8’, and prefers to grow in the wet soil of swamps and the edges of ponds.  Hardy in Zones 6-9, it sends up new stems each spring covered in fuzzy, five lobed grayish green leaves.  This plant is native to the southeastern United States and is most commonly found growing in full sun in wetlands.

July 17 hibiscus 002

 

The hardy Hibiscus growing in my garden is Hibiscus moscheutos, also called Rose Mallow or Swamp Rose Mallow.

 

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

Numerous stems appear each year in early summer, rapidly growing from the crown, which expands each year.  Leaves are heart shaped, medium green, and slightly fuzzy.  Plants grow from 2’ to over 6’ high, depending on how well their needs are met.  Plants prefer moist soil in full sun, but will grow in drier conditions and partial shade.  This shrubby perennial is native to the Eastern United States from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf Coast.

Flowers have five long petals, usually with a dark red throat, and come in shades of white and pink.  Flowers are generally 6” across and may be 5”-6” deep, with a large stamen and pistols loved by hummingbirds and bees.  Flowers open in the late afternoon, and close again in the morning.  Many hybrid cultivars are available.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos

To encourage the best performance, water this Hibiscus during dry spells, and top dress each spring with an inch or two of finished compost.  The plant does best in moist, rich soil. Collect the seeds once the seed heads open in autumn.  These plants readily self-sow in the garden.  I cut back the dried stems from the previous year in winter or early spring.

Other hardy Hibiscus plants are available, and those interested might enjoy looking at the selections available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.  http://www.plantdelights.com/searchprods.asp  They also carry a number of hybrids with beautiful colors.  Most online and mail order nurseries carry a number of selections of hardy Hibiscus.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Locally, Homestead Garden Center carries a dozen or more varieties each spring.  Several colors are still available now in mid-July, and have been reduced in price.  Homestead always has healthy, beautiful plants and a very knowledgeable  family staff to help answer questions.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

 

Hardy Hibiscus are tough and forgiving plants, easy to grow, welcoming to wildlife, beautiful in season, and good additions to sunny areas in a forest garden.

 

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

July 17 hibiscus 009

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Scarlet Mallow

 

Wild Hibiscus

 

 

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