A Touch of Gold

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Rudbeckia fills our garden in late August, blooming in a rich tapestry of gold.

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This native Rudbeckia hirta, which first seeded itself here more than five years ago, attracts golden bees, butterflies and goldfinches to its tasty nectar and abundant seeds.

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Rosettes of Rudbeckia leaves emerge in mid-March all across the garden.  They sprout wherever a seed has fallen or an underground root has spread.

There are always plenty to dig and share, especially those that emerge in the pathways.  The plants remain in the background througout spring and early summer, biding their time as they bulk up in the warming sun.

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How much is too much?” I sometimes wonder…

Native plants are enthusiastic growers, determined to survive.  They take every available advantage to thrive.  In full sun and over tree roots, clumps sometimes get wilty when days grow hot and rain is scarce.  I sometimes revive them with a drink from the hose.

But those that are well established, in deep soil and partial shade, care for themselves.  All we do is clear the paths and set the boundaries….

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Their opening comes slowly; not all at once.  Accustomed to sharing their space, they mix well with others.

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Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant

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Native obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, creeps and spreads in the same way.  It has spread even faster and more aggressively than the Rudbeckia. 

This spring, I took the string trimmer to many areas where these two grow among a growing spread of goldenrod, Solidago.  I decided last year that those huge, waving plumes of gold were a bit over the top for our little woodland garden, and I’ve been cutting back the goldenrod to give other perennials a better chance.

The Rudbeckia and Physotegia took that trimming in their stride and came back bushier and stronger than ever.

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Now native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum, is also growing in the mix, offering a subtle touch of periwinkle contrast.  I didn’t plan and intentionally plant this mix of native perennials to create a ‘meadow style’ planting.  I only recognize what nature is doing, and guide it a bit.

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And our rich reward is a touch of gold gilding these late summer days, delighting us as we await the rich color and welcome coolness of autumn.

Our garden remains dynamic, changing from year to year.  Some plants persist and expand while others decline.

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We plant a few new things each season and other turn up on their own.

Each new year’s unfolding remains a grand surprise, guided by nature and the seasons; a golden opportunity to learn and grow as a gardener.

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Another native Rudbeckia, cutleaf coneflower, also fills our late summer garden with pure gold.  With a much larger habit and larger flowers, it is equally attractive to many pollinators and birds.

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Woodland Gnome 2010

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold.

I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
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Roman Payne

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Wild Life Wednesday: All Calm Before the Storm

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It was gently raining when we awakened this morning, but the sun was breaking through along the horizon by the time we made it outside into the new day.

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An early morning bumbly enjoys the sweetness of Rudbeckia laciniata.

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We are all very conscious of the weather here in coastal Virginia this week as we watch the updates on the progress of Hurricane Florence.  We are on high ground and so flooding isn’t a concern.  But we live in a forest, and any amount of wind can change the landscape here; especially when the ground is saturated.

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The Solidago, goldenrod, has just begun to bloom.

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It looks as though the storm will make landfall far to our south, and the track no longer suggests it might travel northwards into Central Virginia.  Yet Florence remains a dangerous storm, and is absolutely huge.  We may start feeling its outer bands of rain and wind sometime tomorrow or Friday.

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Rose of Sharon

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Which made today all the sweeter.  Do you know the Japanese term, Wabi-Sabi?  The Japanese find beauty in the transience and ultimate imperfection of all phenomena.  The impermanence and changeability of the world around us heightens our appreciation of its beauty.  We can appreciate things while feeling a deep tenderness for their inherent imperfection.

I was pondering these things this morning as I wandered through our upper garden, wondering how it might appear in a day or so after wind and heavy rain have their way with it.  Already, our tall goldenrod and black-eyed Susans lean over into the paths, making them almost disappear in the abundance of growth.

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It is my first time wandering through the garden like this since I got a nasty insect bite last Friday afternoon.  It is still a mystery what bit me, as I was fully armored to work outdoors.  It was a small bite at first, but quickly blistered and swelled up to a massive angry red blotch that stretched several inches away from the original bite on my knee.  It has been a slow process of tending it, and I stayed indoors until yesterday, hoping to avoid another until this one was resolved.

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Ginger lily with orbs

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But today I was out in the early morning wetness, capturing the beauty of it, and trying to ignore the mosquitoes greeting me along the way.  I wanted to see everything and admire everything on the chance that the coming storm will shatter its early September magnificence.  It was the beautiful calm before the storm, and we have taken today to celebrate it.

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The rain was past and the day gilded with golden September sunshine when we set out along the Colonial Parkway to see the sky and watch the rising waters along the James and York Rivers.  If you’ve never seen the sky filled with enormous, rain shadowed clouds in the day or two before a hurricane approaches, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful spectacles of atmospheric art.

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Yorktown Beach, looking northwards towards Gloucester Point and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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The clouds are arrayed in regular, rhythmic patterns, punctuated here and there with towering, monstrous storm clouds.  The sky is blue and clear beyond them.  They float rapidly across the sky, these outer bands of the approaching storm.  These days of waiting are moody, morphing quickly from dull to golden and clear blue to stormy grey.

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One keeps an eye on the sky while pacing through the rituals of preparing.   There is an edge to the mood as highways fill with strangers moving northwards, inland, away from home and into an uncertain future.  We encountered one today at the next gas pump who needed to tell us he was traveling, just passing through, on his journey to somewhere safer than here.

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We found a nearby parking lot filled this morning with state police, huge generators, Klieg lights, and emergency response trailers.  The lot was filled at eight, but emptying out just a few hours later.  We’re still wondering where the equipment will ultimately end up.  We hope not here…

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Jones Mill Pond, near Yorktown on the Colonial Parkway

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I wondered whether the butterflies would move out ahead of the storm.  But we counted more than a dozen as we drove along the Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown.   We saw mostly small ones, Sulphurs, but we were glad for their happy fluttering along the roadside.  We noticed the tide is already high along the way.  Jamestown Island is closed as preparations there continue.

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The rivers lap high up into the reeds, mostly covering the narrow, sandy river beaches.  The York River is already climbing the rip rap hardened banks constructed a few summers ago to protect the shoreline.  Small Coast Guard craft patrolled the river near Yorktown, but that didn’t deter a few families here and there, determined to enjoy this bright and sultry day at the beach.

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The York River, looking eastwards towards the Bay.

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The lizards were scampering around the drive and back steps when we returned home.  They’d been basking in the mid-day sun; our return disturbed their peace.

The squirrels had been at the grapes again, and we saw a pair of hummingbirds light in a Rose of Sharon tree nearby, watching us arrive.

It was too silent, though.  We didn’t hear the usual chatter of songbirds in the trees.  It was still, too.  Though the wind was blowing off the rivers, here the air hung heavy and still.

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Our Muscadine grapes are ripening over a long season.

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I believe in luck and omens, and perhaps that is why I planted a few little pots of Baptisia seeds this morning.  I’d knicked the seed pods from a plant I’ve watched growing all summer at the Botanical garden, and carried them in my pocket for weeks.

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With the seeds tucked into little pots out on the deck, I’m already thinking of the sprouts that will soon emerge.  Life goes on.  I believe that is the wisdom of wabi-sabi.

No matter the current circumstance, change is constant.  We can’t outrun it, or stop it.  Wisdom invites us to embrace it, observe its power, and find the ever-present beauty, come what may.

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This beautiful cluster of lichens was waiting for me beneath a shrub this morning.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect
is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.”
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Alan Watts

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“But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition?
Is the plant complete when it flowers?
When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout?
When everything turns into compost?”
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Leonard Koren

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Begonia

 

Sunday Dinner: Choosing Happiness

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“The most courageous act
is still to think for yourself.
Aloud.”
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Coco Chanel
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“Freedom is not worth having
if it does not include the freedom
to make mistakes.”
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Mahatma Gandhi
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Rudbeckia laciniata, a beautiful native plant, grows to 10′ tall and spreads each year. Here, cozy with pineapple mint.

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“Those who deny freedom to others,
deserve it not for themselves”
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Abraham Lincoln
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“Letting go gives us freedom,
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
anger, anxiety, or possessions –
we cannot be free.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.
The obedient must be slaves.”
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Henry David Thoreau
 

Wednesday Vignette: Rudbeckia

August 17, 2016 garden 038

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“From a bud of the evening

a flower opens its petal in the dawn.

The world sees the bud of the last night

smiling with nectar on its lips.

No one observed the diligence

that was needed

for the opening of each petal.”

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Pratibha Ray

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August 17, 2016 garden 039

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 17, 2016 garden 043

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“Amateurs look for inspiration;

the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

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Chuck Close

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8: Observe

August 8, 2016 garden in rain 002

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In February and March, every gardening miracle seems possible.  My coffee table holds a thick stack of gardening catalogs, each filled with gorgeous photos of flowers and foliage in every size, color, pattern and form a gardener might wish for.  In winter, I sketch out plans for new planting beds and make long ‘wish lists’ of what I hope to grow in the season coming.

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Hybrid hardy Hibiscus 'Sun King' attracts every Japanese beetle within miles. Our native Hibiscus mucheotos rarely sustain damage, but these ratty leaves always distract from the beauty of its vibrant flowers.

Hybrid hardy Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ attracts every Japanese beetle within miles. Our native Hibiscus moscheutos rarely sustain damage.  But these ratty leaves always distract from the beauty of this plant’s vibrant flowers.

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But as the calendar pages turn, reality sets in with late freezes or early heat; storms and drought; insects chewing the leaves; rabbits and deer ‘pruning;’  and any number of other seasonal stressors to challenge the beauty of our garden.  The pristine beauty of a gardening catalog photo doesn’t always match the reality of how that plant may look in late summer growing in our garden.

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Rudbeckia lacniata came as an unexpected gift along with some Monarda roots. These wildflowers grow to 8'tall and require little care beyond staking.

Rudbeckia laciniata came as an unexpected gift from a gardening friend,  along with some Monarda roots. These wildflowers grow to 8′ tall and require little care beyond staking.  Butterflies love them!  These grow in our ever changing ‘Butterfly Garden.’

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The difference between gardening dreams and gardening reality can prove both disappointing and expensive!  That is why experienced gardeners notice how a plant actually weathers the long months of summer; in what conditions it thrives or disappoints; and what special care it needs; before making an investment.

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In its second season, the Rudbeckia laciniata has climbed up through our Rose of Sharon shrubs this summer. What a display!

In their second season, the Rudbeckia laciniata have climbed up through our Rose of Sharon shrubs this summer. What a display!

Many popular and commonly used plants have a very brief period when they look great.  But as flowers fade and drop and summer heat sets in they turn more brown than bright.

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August 8, 2016 garden in rain 010

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Some, like German Iris, respond to having the bloom stalks pruned back and dying leaves removed.  New growth often shows up as summer wanes.  The leaves offer a green, sculptural presence in the garden long after the flowers fade.

But other commonly used annuals and perennials, like some semperfloren Begonias and many re-blooming daylily hybrids, simply don’t do well in our Virginia mid-summer dry-spells combined with days of heat.  They soon look rather ragged.

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This bed of hybrid roses and daylilies grows along Rt. 60 near Busch Gardens. Planted with good intentions, it looks pretty dismal by early August.

This bed of hybrid roses and daylilies grows along Rt. 60 near Busch Gardens. Planted with good intentions, it looks pretty dismal by early August.

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That is why it pays to really look around and observe what looks good and what doesn’t by the middle of August in your region.  What plants thrive in your local conditions?  What proves ‘high-maintenance’ and needs a lot of attention to make it through the season?

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Canna lilies keep blooming through the worst summer weather, but may also attract insects which eat their leaves. These Canna 'Russian Red' are a new variety we're trying this year.

Canna lilies keep blooming through the worst summer weather, but may also attract insects which eat their leaves. These Canna ‘Russian Red’ are a new variety we’re trying for the first time this year.

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What plants attract Japanese beetles and other pests?  What gets eaten at night by slugs and snails?  What do you admire growing in neighbors’ yards as you drive around town?

Our star performers in August include Crepe Myrtle trees, Canna lily, Colocasia, Lantana, Black Eyed Susans, Caladiums and many herbs.  Relatively pest and disease free, these beauties shrug off the heat and remain attractive and bright through the long months of summer.

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Naturalized Black Eyed Susans in our garden

Naturalized Black Eyed Susans spread themselves further and further each year in our garden.

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What stands up to summer in your garden?  Which plants do you count on to thrive and remain attractive into the autumn months each year?  A wise person once said, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’  This is good advice for gardening and good advice for life.  It helps us focus and make good choices along the way.

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Ajuga reptans 'Black Scallop' proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ proves a hardy and beautiful ground cover in pots and planting beds. Evergreen, it blooms blue each spring. Caladiums love our summer weather!

Woodland Gnome’s caveat:  Taking photos helps me observe the garden more closely while providing a record, year to year, of what we grow.  Looking back over the development of a planting through several years of photos shows me things about the garden’s development in a way my memory might not.  Photos also help me remember successful annual plants we might want to use again. 

It is good to study photos taken from various angles, in differing light, and at different points in the season to gain a better understanding of a garden’s rhythms; its strengths and its weaknesses.

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Our 'potted garden' on the back steps evolves each season. Originally, I grew only Basil, which didn't last the entire season. Now we experiment to see which plants thrive in intense heat and full sun from late spring through autumn.

Our ‘potted garden’ on the back steps evolves each season. Originally, we grew only Basil, which didn’t last the entire season. Now we experiment to see which plants thrive in intense heat and full sun from late spring through autumn.

“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 # 7:  Experiment!

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

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Not the most attractive shrub, we soon observed that Rose of Sharon attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. We allow them to naturalize throughout the garden.

Not the most attractive shrub, we soon observed that Rose of Sharon attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. We allow them to naturalize throughout the garden because they benefit wildlife.

Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 8, 2016 garden in rain 019

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