Fabulous Friday: Shadows and Shade

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When the sun is shining and the temperature is climbing, it is time to seek shadows and shade.

Our temps here have been running 10 degrees or more above our historical ‘normal’ for better than a month.  Although school is just getting out and our high school seniors in the community graduate this weekend, it already feels like mid-summer.  You feel the burn quickly when caught out in the full sun.  And so the smartest place to spend one’s time is in the shade.

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The fern garden at the bottom of the yard holds the cool and shade we seek.  There is usually a nice breeze, and it is quiet, save for the calls of our resident birds and the hum of bees.  With tall bamboo making a dense wall on one side, and several good sized trees for shelter, we have a beautiful spot that is nearly always sheltered and shaded.

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This is where we have been planting ferns, Hellebores,  and other shade loving perennials for the past eight or so years.  It fills in a little better each year as the plants grow and spread, and as I plant up new parts of the hillside.  In fact, I just developed a large new bed this spring and the ferns are just taking hold and beginning to show new growth.

This shady area gives a great deal of textural interest, but nearly everything here grows in shades of green.  Beyond the early season Helleborus flowers and later daffodils, our shade garden glows in many shades of green, with little touches  of silver sheen on the Japanese painted fern, and the occasional burgundy stem.

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This week, the our huge voodoo lilies, Sauromatum venosum, rise over the garden so their huge, showy leaves may catch every ray of sunlight penetrating the canopy.

Native to tropical parts of Asia and Africa, these unique plants belong to the family of Araceae, like our own native Jack in the Pulpit.  I didn’t really intend to plant Voodoo lily in our garden.  It chose me…

On a late spring trip to Brent and Becky’s Gloucester bulb shop several years ago, the voodoo lily had already begun to grow, their elongated flower stalks breaking free of both their mesh bags and their bottom shelf bin.  A flower stalk caught my ankle as I walked by, drawing my attention.  It reminded me of past trips to the animal shelter when a kitten reaches through the bars of their cage to invite you to play with them.

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A deal was struck, and I bought a large sack full of the poor lilies, straining to escape their bags and grow.  I had to cut each plant out of its mesh bag carefully with sharp scissors to avoid damaging its bloom stalk.  I planted them in many different shady spots.

Each year they catch me by surprise, either with their huge purple flowers early, or these gargantuan leaves in early summer.  The leaves last a few weeks and then fade away.  The bulbs often divide and spread a little between one season and the next.

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I wonder, sometimes, why I don’t spend more time lingering in the shade of our wonderful fern garden.

It may be that I burn up my gardening hours watering the thirsty sun-drenched upper garden.  It may be that I get distracted photographing our pollinator visitors elsewhere, or tending to some much needed weeding or pruning where the growth is more rampant.

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There is always a long to-do list on my mind, and I feel responsible to take care of the garden chores before allowing myself to wander down here  to relax and enjoy the cool, calm beauty of it all.

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But when I finally slip down the hill to the shade, usually hose in hand, I am delighted to spend some time in the shadows, watching for turtles and enjoying the coolness and the beauty of it all.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious. 
Let’s infect one another!
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‘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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July 27, 2016 morning garden 006

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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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July 27, 2016 morning garden 050

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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

Green Rain Falling

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Green rain falling.

Staccato dripping from gutters,

Broken by frog song,

Call and response from the pond;

Celebration of wet abundance.

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Ground glistens below

Jewel encrusted leaves.

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Steady patter, hour after hour.

Creek filled ditches flowing,

Flowing, flowing, where?

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Frogs shelter on  windows, hunting

By porch light.

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Turtle heaven,

Watery world

Filled with liquid shadows.

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Birds perch beneath the eaves,

Warbling,

Waiting,

Rainy week in June.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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June 3, 2015 garden in rain 013

Voodoo Lilies Rise Again

Voodoo lily, , emerging with it s first leaf this summer.

Voodoo Lily, Sauromatum venosum , emerging with it s first leaf of the season.

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The Voodoo Lily bulbs we brought home from our visit to Brent and Becky Heath’s  Gloucester garden in early April have not disappointed us.  Their first leaves of the season are emerging in weird and wonderful form.

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May 28, 2015 garden 006

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These African natives, Sauromatum venosum offer a flower first, followed in early summer by one or more large, tropical looking leaves.  The leaves will last in the garden until frost.  The first leaves are just emerging in our garden this week.  They are as odd looking, and as poisonous, as the huge flowers which preceded them.   These plants aren’t poisonous to the touch, by the way.  But they are poisonous if ingested, which protects them from grazing.  They won’t harm us,our cat, or nearby wildlife ….

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Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted in April, with its huge flower.

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Many of the bulbs had already produced flowers when we purchased them.  We planted them with their flowers lying on the ground, and only a few managed to perk up a little before withering away.  We expect next year’s blooms to be fabulous, as these tubers slowly spread, and the lilies propagate themselves from seeds, which ripen in the autumn.

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May 28, 2015 garden 005

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There are three Voodoo Lily plants spaced in a border near our driveway.  I’ve transplanted offsets of Colocasia, ‘China Pink,’ around them.  C. ‘China Pink’ grew vigorously for us last summer, and I expect this area to remain interesting as the season progresses.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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May 28, 2015 garden 017

 

Another Weird, Wonderful and Poisonous Plant

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

Sauromatum venosum, just planted last night.

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Yes, we’ve brought home another weird, wonderful and poisonous plant.

Its name says it all:  Sauromatum venosum.  Get it?  Venosum?

It is also called “Voodoo Lily” because it begins to grow, as if by some strange magic, without water or soil.

That is how we found it, actually.  It wasn’t on my shopping list per se…

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A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18" away from the first.

A second of the several tubers we purchased, planted about 18″ away from the first.

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But as we were browsing the summer flowering bulbs offered in Brent and Becky Heath’s bulb shop yesterday, there they were:  the already growing flowers of Voodoo Lily reaching out of their bin for our ankles.

They put me in mind of cats reaching through the bars of their little cages at the animal shelter, vying for attention and maybe a new home….

How could I ignore them?  Some of these flowers were already more than 18″ long, poking out of the holes in their little red mesh bags.  Phototropic, they were reaching for the light.  They were ALIVE!

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This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot... which is how I missed planting it last night.  It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

This was the only barely growing tuber of the lot… which is how I missed planting it last night.   It went into the lower fern garden this morning.

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Actually, some weird plantophiles (much like yours truly) will buy these Voodoo Lily tubers and simply set them, dry, on a shelf to watch them grow.  They will grow happily for weeks on the energy stored in their tuber.  Eventually, one must plant them up, of course.  Which is what I did with these poor little guys last night.

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See?  Not a hint of a root...

See? Not a hint of a root…  Like a Caladium, this is a tuber, not a true bulb.

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Keep in mind they’ve been growing in a bin of bulbs on the floor.  One mustn’t expect too much yet in terms in statuesque form.  The flowers will grow several feet high, open, release a putrescently musky scent for a few days, and then die back.  The scent is to attract the right insects for pollination, of course.

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This flower stalk is only just getting started. It will grow to several feet high before dying back to the ground. Leaves will follow in early summer.

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Once the flowers have died back, one or more leaf stalks emerge and add a lovely tropical note to the garden for the remainder of the season.  Native to Africa, Sauromatum venosum remain hardy from Zone 7 south.  They will spread by tuber and by seed indefinitely.  Phototropic, they will reach for the light if grown in too much shade.

I hope that as these little guys get established and sink some roots into our garden soil, the flower stalks will lift themselves and continue growing towards the sun.  Plants will do amazing things, given the opportunity.

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Plant the tuber 2" to 3" in good, moist soil in bright partial shade.  Keep moist.  I've heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

Plant the tuber 2″ to 3″ in good, moist soil in bright partial shade. Keep moist. I’ve heard these guys stay hungry, and grow better with occasional meals of compost.

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Whether the flowers right themselves or not, the leaves will still emerge properly by early summer and offer some interesting foliage in the garden for several months.  They will die back with the fall frost, but the tuber can remain in the garden, mulched, over winter.

So we’ve covered ‘weird’ and we’ve covered ‘wonderful.’  Why poisonous?

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Yes, another stump garden.  I've been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010.  That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous.  A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the 'Voodoo Lily' will complete the set.  I'll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.

Yes, another stump garden. I’ve been planting around the stump of a peach tree we lost in 2010. That is a Hellebore to the right, also poisonous. A deciduous fern will emerge soon, and the ‘Voodoo Lily’ will complete the set. I’ll add compost and extend this garden outwards bit by bit as the plants fill in.  The decaying stump retains moisture and feeds the plants as it and the tree’s roots decompose.

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Poisonous plants don’t get eaten by miscreant deer who sneak into our garden for dinner. 

I’m becoming something of an aficionado on poisonous plants.  For more on this, you might enjoy an earlier post titled, Pick Your Poison.

After losing our early investments in Phlox and lilies, roses, impatiens, holly shrubs, tomatoes and Camellias; we realized that tasty plants disappear in the night.  Poisonous plants manage to grow all season.

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These N. "Katie Heath,' growing in our garden, were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother.  These have been growing in our garden for several years.

These N. “Katie Heath’  were hybridized by Brent Heath and named for his mother. These have been growing in our garden for several years now.  We continue to plant lots of new daffodils each year to protect other plants, as every part of a daffodil is poisonous.

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So now it is a bonus when I find beautiful plants for the garden which also happen to be poisonous.  Like Hellebores and daffodils, all parts of the Voodoo lily are very poisonous.  Not only will they not get eaten to a nub; their roots offer protection from tunneling voles to nearby plants.

So there you have my take on the very weird, wonderful and poisonous Voodoo Lilies we brought home yesterday from our shopping excursion in Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop at their farm in Gloucester.

I’ll show you follow up photos of these lilies as they grow.

A pair are planted at the top of the garden, visible from the street.  If you’re in the neighborhood, you can keep a watch on them as they come along.  And if you smell something like rotting meat when you pass our garden, you’ll know they have come into full bloom.

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It's Alive!

It’s Alive!

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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