Shade Haven

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

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

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

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

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Ferns emerging on our sloped fern garden in early April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Sunday Dinner: Small Worlds

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“The world is awash with colours unseen

and abuzz with unheard frequencies.

Undetected and disregarded.

The wise have always known that these inaccessible realms,

these dimensions that cannot be breached

by our beautifully blunt senses,

hold the very codes to our existence,

the invisible, electromagnetic foundations

upon which our gross reality clumsily rests.”

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Russell Brand

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“Infinity is before and after an infinite plane.”

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RJ Clawso

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“It is frightfully difficult

to know much about the fairies,

and almost the only thing for certain

is that there are fairies

wherever there are children.”

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J.M. Barrie

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“It didn’t seem possible to gain so much happiness

from so little.”

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Peter Lerangis

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Do the little things.

In the future when you look back,

they’d have made the greatest change.”

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Nike Thaddeus

 

Wednesday Vignette: Intricacies

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“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind:
Study the science of art.
Study the art of science.
Develop your senses-
especially learn how to see.
Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci
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“The artist is the confidant of nature,
flowers carry on dialogues with him
through the graceful bending of their stems
and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms.
Every flower has a cordial word
which nature directs towards him.”
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Auguste Rodin
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“All sciences are vain and full of errors
that are not born of Experience,
the mother of all Knowledge.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“Patience is also a form of action.”
.
Auguste Rodin
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“While human ingenuity may devise
various inventions to the same ends,
it will never devise anything more beautiful,
nor more simple,
nor more to the purpose than nature does,
because in her inventions nothing is lacking
and nothing is superfluous.”
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Leonardo da Vinci
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“If you paint the leaf on a tree without using a model,
your imagination will only supply you with a few leaves;
but Nature offers you millions, all on the same tree.
No two leaves are exactly the same.
The artist who paints only what is in his mind
must very soon repeat himself.”
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
of Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia,
a  North American native shrub
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“Details make perfection,
and perfection is not a detail.”
.
Leonardo da Vinci

WPC: Surprise

Athyrium niponicum ‘Joy Ride’

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The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge this week invites us to explore the often overlooked details in form.  A ‘macro-lens view’ opens up new worlds of beauty.

Often, in the hurry of our daily lives, we glance around us and take the world into consciousness in chunks of meaning.  We register the traffic moving around us, the child moving towards us, the inventory of our fridge. Even in the garden, we register our landscape in chunks of form and color.

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It takes undistracted time to focus the lens of our mind on the tiniest of details, like the uncurling fronds opening on our ferns this week.  This annual springtime show might otherwise be overlooked as the garden explodes in color and fragrance.

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’

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Who can pass a fragrant Iris to contemplate a tiny fern?  Only the child or the gardener!  Our eyes train on those tiniest of details as we pace the paths of our garden each day, documenting what changes have unfolded since our last visit.

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Fiddlehead of Brilliance autumn fern

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I had a few minutes to wander this morning, camera in hand, as I waited for a friend’s arrival.  And although I couldn’t pass the Iris without capturing another shot or two, I also spent time with several of our ferns.

Jen kindly crafted a challenge this week especially for us craven gardeners, who must photograph our flowers in minute detail.  But because that was the model she set, I decided to leave flowers to others this time, (well, almost….) and instead focus on the elegant and fascinating details found only in the leaves of ferns.

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The Japanese Painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum, have just emerged from their winter dormancy.  Their fragile fronds disappear after a heavy frost each autumn, to reappear quite suddenly and surprisingly some warm spring day.

They are one of the most beautiful surprises our garden offers us each spring.  I realized today, in sharing our garden with friends, that we have something of a collection now of Athyrium niponicum cultivars.

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Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

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Not that I intended to make a collection of them, I simply like them and wanted to watch some of the different varieties grow out.  I have ordered a few, like A. ‘Joy Ride’, A. ‘Branford Beauty,’ and A. ‘Burgundy Lace’ from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC, in years past.  They carry a staggering and surprisingly wonderful variety of ferns and other unusual perennials which do well in our Zone 7 climate.

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I am still lusting after A. ‘Lemon Cream,’ A. ‘Godzilla’ and A. ‘Thrill Seeker.’  And that lust will go unrequited for the foreseeable future, it seems, as their shipping charges just keep climbing each year.  Now that the minimum shipping charge is nearly $30, I am seeking out these wonderful cultivars locally, and asking our nearby nurseries to consider stocking these beautiful new varieties.

I was absolutely thrilled to find a beautiful pot of A. ‘Ghost’ at Green Planters, Inc., in Gloucester earlier this week.  I will be returning, as they carry a satisfying selection of native ferns in addition to their various Japanese Painted ferns and other cultivars.

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The best ferns in our garden, year round, are our Autumn Brilliance, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’.  Their tough, but graceful fronds weather sun, rain, drought wind and winter.  Who could ask for more?

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These sturdy clumps expand a bit each year, and each new year’s fronds seem a few inches taller than the last.  We’re not talking tree ferns, of course, but the older ferns make a substantial presence.  What I admire in these ferns is their wonderful bronze color as  new fronds emerge each spring.

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As each frond unfolds, the hairy brown fiddleheads relax into soft, shiny fresh rose-gold leaves.  It is quite a show and goes on for several weeks.  By mid-summer, each leaf will have relaxed further into a soft medium green.  It’s not until winter that the same fiddlehead brown begins to frost the edges of the mature fronds once again.

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It is the surprising beauty of leaves which carries our garden through the seasons.  Flowers come and go all too quickly.  They may delight with a bold color or enticing scent.  But flowers prove ephemeral by nature.

They are only there long enough to lure a bee, butterfly or hummingbird to pollinate them. so they can get down to their real business of seed production.  Even the hybrids seem confused on this point, and fade far too quickly despite their sterility.  Like kids gone off to college, what is left behind is none too pleasant to look at, oftentimes….

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But leaves prove their worth and loyalty; offering sum and substance, color, drama and incredible detail.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Surprise!

 

Soil Security

Saxifraga stolonifera, Strawberry Begonia

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Gardens offer endless surprises and seemingly endless challenges.  One hopes to discover most of the challenges in the first year or two.  Better to address them right off and be done with it, right?  But that’s not how this business works…. things change….

Ours is a very steep property.  Our bit of James City County spreads across ridges and ravines.  We happen to live and garden on the slope of a ravine.  Water drains down across the yard to a creek running through the ravine, which flows to a pond and then out to College Creek.   Managing all of that water during a heavy rain remains a challenge for us.

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This area suffers serious erosion in heavy rain, and is frequented by voles.  It is hard to get anything much to grow here.  We have just added the stones to offer some protection and planted a dozen seedling Hellebores to help hold the bank.

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Our county’s division of  storm water management staff advise:  “Plant more plants!”  I take that advice to heart, regularly, and have struck up a working relationship with one of the staffers.  They work with the local Master Gardeners to help homeowners design rain gardens to catch some of the run-off after a heavy rain, and offer grants for those who install them.

I like that proactive, cooperative approach.  This spring, I’ve done a bit of reading about how to construct a rain garden.  And one of the first things I realized is that steeply sloping land isn’t a very good place to site one, unless you are prepared for a major project of earth moving and engineering to construct a berm on the down slope side.

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This was our steep, eroding slope before our work began this spring.

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As I thought about rain gardens, and walked our property looking for a place to catch run off and use it in a new planting bed, my partner pointed out a new erosion problem on the very shaded and inaccessible slope beside and below our driveway.

This is an area we’ve largely neglected over the years.  Towering, mature Ligustrum shrubs cast deep shade across this slope.  Their leaves drop here year round, and the ground has been covered in a tangle of Vinca vines and wild growth.  Where there is bare earth, it has been covered with fallen leaves. I planted  some Mahonia and Hydrangea in this area when we first took over the garden, and they have expanded, but never bloomed.

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Daffodils have replaced Caladiums here at the base of our driveway, where a great deal of water runs off when it rains.  An Autumn fern has thrived here for five years or more, and I decided to expand the planting last summer.

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But last summer, I began clearing some of this strip, nearer to the drive, and planted it in Caladiums, Zantedeschia, Ajuga, Oxalis, some transplanted Liriope and a few ferns.  We enjoyed it enough that when we dug the Caladiums in October I planted Daffodils and Arum in their place.

Below this planted area, we noticed a new area of erosion a few weeks ago.  Storm water had found its way into a vole tunnel, and a whole piece of the bank had collapsed.  There was a gorge, partially filled with leaves and other debris.  Finding that bit of erosion sealed the deal that we would invest our time, energy, and gardening dollars in fixing this neglected, and now crumbling, bit of the garden.

Too steep for a single ‘rain garden,’ we decided to create several terraces to catch and slow the flow of water down the slope, directing the run-off from one planted area to another.  We found several Rhododendron shrubs to anchor each terrace, and planted the first right into that nasty gorge to stabilize it.  We found some sturdy trapezoidal concrete blocks for building the terraces.  They fit together snugly to make a secure wall.  We installed the first ones below that Rhododendron to hold it in place.

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The first Rhododendron we planted to stabilize a gorge caused by erosion over a vole tunnel. We planted in the hole and stabilized the area with two concrete blocks.

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We trimmed up the lowest Ligustrum branches to let in light and make the area more accessible and raked back the leaves and debris.  Then, we studied the area for several days to decide where to place our blocks to form natural terraces.

After building the terraces, and planting three more of the shrubs, I began filling each terrace with plants.   I selected a variety of perennials which will thrive in shade, tolerate a lot of moisture, hold and cover the soil by spreading, put down extensive root systems, and stop voles with their poisonous roots. Oh, and did I mention they also must repel deer?

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The terraces before today’s torrential rain.

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Remember our mantra:  “Plant more plants!”  It was going to take a lot of plants to fill these spaces.  Luckily, we have a pretty steady supply now of a few perennials which fill these criteria.  They are ours to dig, divide, and transplant as needed.

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Divisions of Strawberry Begonia transplanted from another part of our garden. Each division will send out numerous stems, with a tiny plant growing at the tip of each.  They will form a thick mat over time. 

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I was able to transplant Hellebore seedlings, Ajuga and Saxifraga stolonifera in nearly unlimited quantities from other parts of the garden.  The Hellebores have  poisonous roots, and so I planted them around each of the Rhododendrons to protect their roots from curious voles.  I also planted them below the lowest row of blocks to form an additional vegetative barrier for any run-off.

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This Rhododendron is ringed with seedling Hellebores.

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I purchased holly ferns, Japanese painted ferns and Autumn Brilliance fern.  Although the Japanese painted ferns aren’t evergreen, they spread wonderfully and give about 7 months of presence here.  I also purchased some little 2″ Columbine and Heuchera and a couple of quart sized Tiarella .

I prefer to buy the smallest pots of perennials I can find to  minimize the size of the holes we must dig.  Living on a slope, we dig as little as possible.

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Tiarella is a shade loving native perennial which runs and spreads over time. It blooms each spring, feeding hungry pollinators early in the season. It resembles Heuchera, but proves more deer resistant.

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Heuchera is the only perennial in our palette for this new bed which may be grazed from time to time.  I am willing to take the chance for its beautiful foliage.  The rest of these plants have already proven themselves in our garden and I have confidence in using them here.  They are tough and thrive in our climate and soil.

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Heuchera ‘Melting Fire’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ anchor the end of this terrace. I will add Caladiums next month when the weather is settled.

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And this was surprisingly good soil!  While we have clay in other parts of the garden, this was good, rich dirt.  Although I had stocked up on compost, I was able to build these beds without adding a great deal.

The key to planting on sloping ground is a good gravel mulch.  We’ve learned over the years to minimize digging, top dress and even out the ground with compost, and then mulch heavily with gravel. Finally, we pack this all down firmly with hands and feet.

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Columbine and Tiarella anchor this terrace. Two tiny lady ferns, grown from bare root starts, will one day flourish in this moist bed.

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We discovered that the first gardener on this property often used a large stone or hunk of concrete or brick to anchor shrubs he planted on slopes.  I’ve followed his lead and often anchor a newly planted shrub or perennial with something heavy to hold it in place until it establishes.

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Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ will eventually grow to three feet. This evergreen fern has interesting spring color on new growth. We have anchored it with stones as it sits at the top of the slope.

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We’ve been working on this new area over the past week or so.  We have been trying to fix the erosion ahead of the heavy weather forecast for this week.  The rains have shown us the weak spots, and where more work was required.  We had to go back and re-pack the area around the first Rhodie’s roots, for example.  And we also placed some stones above it to divert the flow of water around it from the slope above.

A front came through mid-day today, with torrential rain, about an hour after I finished the last of the planting and gravel mulch.  We were pleased that the terraces held.

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Additional erosion after today’s rain left roots exposed. It showed us additional engineering was needed where water pours off of the driveway.  The terra cotta pots helped anchor plastic bags to protect the Hydrangea on the right during freezing weather in March.  It is slowly recovering and finally pushing out new leaves.

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There were only a few spots of erosion, and only one Hellebore partially washed out on a terrace this time.  But the path along this slope was badly eroded.  Ligustrum roots were exposed where the path was washing away.

We studied the path the water took from driveway to ravine, noted where the gravel had washed out, and re-engineered parts of the project.  Translation: Back to Lowes for more concrete blocks, a few more bags of gravel and a bag of topsoil.

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Additional engineering should slow the run-off flowing into the path from heavy rain.  My partner placed the blocks to divert the water’s flow.  We’ve added topsoil and gravel over the Ligustrum’s exposed roots in the path.  Sadly, some daffies may be sacrificed in the process….

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We aren’t quite sure why the erosion on this bank suddenly got worse in the last year.  We must have made some small change in how the water flows, without even realizing it, when I planted the Caladiums last summer.  But whatever the cause, the problem was getting worse with each heavy rain.

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“Soil security”

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When you live on a slope, stable soil is a measure of security as heavy weather blows through.

We’ve created terraced beds throughout the garden, planted lots of shrubs and perennials, and dumped hundreds of bags of pea gravel on this property over the years.   We rarely visit our favorite garden center without adding a bag or two of gravel or compost to our order. It is an investment in holding the soil in place and keeping our home’s foundation stable.

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We trust that these new terraced beds, and the reinforced path we’ve created for water to flow down our sloping garden, will meet the challenge of heavy rain and the run-off it generates.  But more than that, we trust they will grow into beautiful additions which bring us many years of enjoyment.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Note: I don’t often like to show parts of our garden that aren’t ‘beautiful.’   We have a lot of rough edges here in our Forest Garden.  It is a work in progress. I hope the techniques we use to hold the slope and garden on uneven land will help others trying to garden in similar circumstances.

I’ll show you this bed again as the plants grow in.  We trust that it will soon be one of our most beautiful areas, filled with photo-worthy foliage and flowers.  We expect it will attract the attention of our turtles, lizards and toads as the season progresses, too.  

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Security

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Columbine

 

 

Ordering Caladiums For Our Summer Garden

Caladium 'Desert Sunset,' introduced last season by Classic Caladiums.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset,’ introduced last season by Classic Caladiums.

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Again this year, I am organizing a large Caladium order for friends, neighbors  and family.  By combining our orders, we can buy large lots of 25-50 tubers of each variety which gives us a lower price per plant.  We also save on shipping costs.  I’ve selected a dozen different varieties to order this year.

Six varieties are new hybrids on offer from Classic Caladiums.  All of these were  developed by Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums,  to withstand more direct sun and produce more leaves than older Caladium cultivars.  These six varieties have only been available commercially in the last few years.

I grew C. ‘Desert Sunset’ last summer, and was very happy with how it looked and how it performed.    One of the benefits of these new Caladiums is the introduction of some new patterns and even new colors into the world of Caladiums.

I am most interested in growing out  the new C. ‘Peppermint’ this year.

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Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ sports chartreuse leaves and bright rose pink spots.  C. ‘Miss Muffett’ was a  parent of this new hybrid.

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You might have seen my posts last summer about C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’  I’ve saved the tubers I grew last summer and hope they survived winter in our garage.  That cultivar isn’t on the list, although the Caladium proved to be a strong grower.

Our friends who grew the tubers I shared with them weren’t very enthusiastic about it; likely because of its truly unusual appearance.

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Caladium, 'Cherry Tart'

Caladium, ‘Cherry Tart’ is a fairly short variety, but produces lots of intense, red leaves.  These plants were vigorous and vibrant until frost.

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They were much happier with C. ‘Cherry Tart.’  A gorgeous deep red Caladium, I would recommend it to anyone.  You won’t find it on this list because I want to see the new 2017 red Caladiums C. ‘Fireworks’ and C. ‘Flare.’

Here are the varieties I plan to order for 2017:

New Caladium Hybrids from ClassicCaladiums.com 

(Please follow the links for photos)

White Delight   ( part sun 18”-24”)

White Star  ( full sun/part shade 12”-18”)

Peppermint  ( shade/part sun 12”-18”)

Desert Sunset ( sun/part shade 12”-18”

Fireworks  ( full sun/part shade 18”-24” )

Flare  ( full sun/part shade 12”-18” )

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C. Florida Fantasy appreciates a little afternoon shade, but performs well in morning sun.

C. Florida Fantasy appreciates a little afternoon shade, but performs well in morning sun.

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Older Caladium Hybrids

Florida Sweetheart ( sun/ part sun 12”-18”)

 Lance Wharton ( sun/ part sun 12”-18”)

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C. Florida Roselight

C. Florida Sweetheart

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 Florida Fantasy (shade/ part sun 12”-15”)

 Florida Moonlight ( shade/ part sun 18”-24”)

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Caladium 'White Christmas'

Caladium ‘White Christmas’

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 Florida Roselight ( shade/ part sun 18”-24”)

 Miss Muffet ( shade/ part sun 12”-18”)

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Caladium 'Miss Muffett"

Caladium ‘Miss Muffett”

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All six of these older varieties are beautiful, strong growers.  It is very hard for me to choose a favorite.  Thankfully, we enjoy them all in different parts of our garden. 

All four varieties with ‘Florida’ in the name were developed at the University of Florida. They are fairly new hybrids with pretty good sun tolerance, vigor, and good health.  C. ‘Miss Muffett’ is a gorgeous Caladium, and one of the parents of the improved C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’

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Floriday Moonlight really lights up a shady spot!

Caladium ‘Florida Moonlight’ really lights up a shady spot!

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Although I shared an email invitation last week with a few friends and neighbors to join this year’s Caladium order, I am posting the list of Caladiums, and a few photos,  again here.  Some folks had trouble opening the page I sent with photos of all six varieties.

If you live in the Williamsburg area, and would like to participate this year, then please contact me sometime this week by email.  We will get in touch with one another and you can join our order anytime between now and next weekend.

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Caladium 'Lance whorton

Caladium ‘Lance Wharton’

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Caladiums prove a great plant for our hot Virginia summers.  They thrive in our heat and humidity!  Once they get going in May or early June, they keep giving and just grow better with each passing month until the weather cools in October.  Whether grown in a pot or in a bed, Caladiums have few problems and generally are left alone by deer and other wildlife.

These are a good choice for busy gardeners who don’t have time to fuss around with high maintenance plants.  Foliage plants have staying power in the garden.  These are some of the easiest and most interesting foliage plants we’ve found.

And now is the time to plan for the coming season.  Order yours now, while the selection is still good.

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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!

 Caladiums love our summer weather!

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2015- 2016

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Caladium 'Desert Sunset' develped by Dr. Robert Hartman of Classic Caladiums LLC.

Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’

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CC banner-1

 

Worth the Wait

Helleborus

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever”

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“It is said there are flowers that bloom

only once in a hundred years.

Why should there not be some

that bloom once in a thousand,

in ten thousand years?

Perhaps we never know about them

simply because this “once in a thousand years”

has come today.”

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Yevgeny Zamyatin

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february-9-2017-daffodils-010

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The Helleborus ‘Snow Fever,’ which we planted earlier this winter, have come into bloom.  We’ve been watching their progress daily.  We’ve marveled at the delicate new growth emerging from the center of its lovely white splattered leaves, wondering at the flowers yet to emerge.

Here is the first of the opening blossoms.  Its new leaves, behind the buds, are creamy white with the most delicate edging of  red.  This unusually elegant Helleborus has been worth the wait.

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february-9-2017-daffodils-011

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

‘Sweet Carolina’ Charms

Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ on September 22, 2016, about seven weeks after planting the tubers.

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‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladium takes the prize for the most entertaining Caladium I’ve grown; maybe the most entertaining foliage plant of any sort I’ve grown.  Why?  Because no two leaves unfold the same.

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september-23-2016-sweet-carolina-005

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There is so much going on with this plant!   First, there is the background color of the leaf.  Will it be cream or green?  How chartreuse will it turn?  How much darker green, and where?

Then, there are the blotches of cherry pink.  How many will appear?  How light or dark might they be?  What shape and patterns will they take?

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september-23-2016-sweet-carolina-019

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And finally, there are the veins.  Will they be pink, red, or white?  Will the edges of the leaf have a pink stain, too?

Thus far, no two leaves have come the same.

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september-23-2016-sweet-carolina-016

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‘Sweet Carolina’  is bred to take full sun, which is very unusual for a Caladium.  Ours grow in several different places with varying amounts of light.  I wanted to see how the plants would perform in everything from mostly sunny to partly shady.  I’m growing four plants directly in the ground, others in pots.

I’m also watching to see how tall the plants will grow.  Breeder Dr. Robert Hartman reports they grow into large, bushy uniform plants.  The Classic Caladium website indicates they will grow to over 36″ tall.  This hybrid is know for its large, broad leaves.

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There are four tubers growing together in this pot.

There are four tubers growing together in this pot.

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Ours have been growing now for between 5 and 7 weeks.  The pot started the first week of August is doing the best, and the tallest leaf is at around 18″ growing in only partial sun.  Fed with both Osmocote and regular feedings of Neptune’s Harvest, these plants are very well nourished.

Caladium tubers planted directly in the soil have not performed as well as those in pots.  They are shorter and have fewer leaves, and got a slightly later start.  I expect them to show a great deal of new growth now that there is plenty of moisture in the soil again.

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Caladiums delight us with their beautiful colors, patterns and forms.  They also satisfy us because they suffer little or no damage from grazing animals.  This makes them a good value for us.

The exception here is some insect damage to a few leaves of our ‘Sweet Carolina.’  Caterpillars ate a few leaves of a single potted plant.  Removing the caterpillar solved that problem.

But some of the plants in the ground have lost their tips to some other sort of grazing insect.  I’ve not noticed this problem with other Caladium varieties.

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This pot holds Begonia 'Arabian Sunset' and Begonia 'Richmondensis along with a single Caladium.

This pot holds Begonia ‘Arabian Sunset’ and Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ along with a single Caladium tuber.

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We expect to enjoy our Caladiums outside for about another month.  We will see how these plants develop now that they are all in active growth.

Our nights are dropping into the 60s now, a little on the cool side for Caladiums.  But we are still enjoying warm days.  With the warmer than average weather we’ve had so far this year, we may get to enjoy Caladiums into early November.

I hope you find these plants as interesting as we find them.  They are different from the more standard Caladiums in several ways, but that is part of their charm.  Their colors blend beautifully with other plants we enjoy.

All in all ‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladiums are an excellent addition to our forest garden.

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Woodland  Gnome 2016

Bright Christmas

August 3, 2016 Oxalis 005

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Caladium ‘White Christmas’ simply glows, illuminated by our August afternoon sun.  These grow beneath a white Crepe Myrtle tree.   You might notice a few white blossoms fallen to the ground beside the Caladiums.

This is a good pairing because the Crepe Myrtle offers filtered shade for our Caladium bed, and the Caladiums fill the space beneath the tree with movement, color and interest.

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August 2, 2016 Crepe Myrtle 004

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Both Crepe Myrtles and Caladiums grow happily and easily in our garden.  Neither suffers from munching or pests and they require minimal care, while giving maximum pleasure.  This is a great gift for Virginia gardeners; a gift of beauty which lasts for many weeks.

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Calaldiums also pair well with impatiens. These C. 'White Christmas' grow in my parents' garden.

Calaldiums also pair well with impatiens. These C. ‘White Christmas’ grow in my parents’ garden.

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It is good to have reliable plants in your gardener’s ‘palette’ which you can turn to again and again.  These beautiful white leaves, and white flowers, keep the garden bright during the toughest months of our summer season.

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C. 'White Christmas' looks crisp and cool planted with ferns.

C. ‘White Christmas’ looks crisp and cool planted with ferns.

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They create an illusion of coolness.  And the Caladiums will maintain their beauty until hit by frost.  Crepe Myrtles generally offer us at least 100 days of flowers each year.

Are these plants you can grow in your garden?  Do you share our August  ‘Bright, white Christmas’ ?

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August 2, 2016 entrance 005

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Lagerstroemia indica 'Natchez' grows to 30' high in our area. These beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees naturalize and grow with little assistance or cultivation. I prefer to prune and shape our trees in late winter to direct their strong growth and promote abundant summer flowers.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’ grows to 30′ high in our area. These beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees naturalize and grow with little assistance or cultivation.  I prefer to prune and shape our trees in late winter to direct their strong growth and promote abundant summer flowers.  Their peeling bark and sculptural form looks beautiful in the landscape through the winter.  Leaves turn bright orange-red in autumn.

 

 

Summer Love: Caladiums

'Florida Sweetheart' Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia 'Richmondensis' offers the perfect summer Valentine.

‘Florida Sweetheart’ Caladium growing in a basket with Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ offers the perfect summer Valentine.

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I love the bright, bold Caladium leaves of summer.  These huge tropical beauties, often called ‘elephant ears’ for both their size and their shape, remind me of living Valentines.   Their form, their red and pink coloring, and their wild patterns remind me of February’s little expressions of love, grown huge summer’s muggy heat.

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C. 'Gypsy Rose' was among the first Caladiums we planted out in early May.

C. ‘Gypsy Rose’ was among the first Caladiums we planted out in May.

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Ours got a late start this year.  It was too cold to put them outside until well into May.  Caladiums love heat!

Plant them out too early and they will sulk along, and maybe even rot before rooting and sending up their beautiful leaves.  Growers counsel us to wait until it is 65F outside at night, consistently, before planting them in the ground.

That is why I start them indoors, in potting soil, and have them ready to go outside when the weather has warmed enough to grow them.

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These 'Florida' series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

These ‘Florida’ series Caladiums, developed at the University of Florida, can take more sun than many other varieties will tolerate.

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I planted out the last of our sprouted tubers just last week, believe it or not!  These last were some of the tiniest tubers which came with our order, and they were planted in a plastic box, waiting in the garage for me to decide where they were to go.  (Sometimes small pieces break off of larger tubers during shipping.  Though they are small, they will still root and grow!)

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These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.

These are the last stragglers of this season, planted out about a week ago. Their tubers are only the size of grapes, but I expect them to fill out in the coming weeks.  The largest is C. ‘Florida Red Ruffle.’

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These were the last to finally grow leaves.  I planted them in the shade of some shrubs, where we’ve not had Caladiums in years past.  They are near the top of our drive, planted in a shallow layer of compost, where we can see and enjoy them every time we come and go.  With this new bed started, I’ll begin adding companions after the Caladiums establish, to fill it out.

The Caladiums I ordered last February, from a grower in Florida, arrived huge and healthy.  I was amazed to unpack them and discover a few  Caladium tubers the size of baking potatoes!

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C. 'Florida Fantasy' remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

C. ‘Florida Fantasy’ remains one of my all-time favorite Caladiums. They are surprisingly sun tolerant to have such a delicate, white leaf. This one grows in full shade.

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But some from a ‘starter pack’ we also ordered from the grower, weren’t that large at all; maybe the size of a large grape.  Not to worry.  The tuber size doesn’t affect the leaf size or height.  This is a genetic thing.  The tuber size determines how many leaves will grow from the one plant.  And of course, the tuber expands over the course of the season.

I also picked up a pack of C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ tubers at the ‘end of season’ sale from a local nursery.

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C. 'Florida Moonlight' grows here with hardy Begonia.

C. ‘Florida Moonlight’ grows here with hardy Begonia grandis.

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These were about the size of a half dollar, and it was warm enough to plant them directly outside.  After nearly a month in the ground, they are just beginning to send up leaves now.  I have high hopes that they will fill out and look stunning by August.

The earliest tubers to go out, in May, all survived, despite our cool nights lasting well into early summer. After a slow start,  they are responding to our heat and making lots of new leaves.  Watching each huge new leaf unroll brings its own pleasure!  Our hot, humid summers offer the tropical climate these lovely beauties crave.

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This is a single plant from one of those 'baked potato' sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the afternoon.

This Caladium  is a single plant from one of those ‘baked potato’ sized tubers. The photo was taken after 6 this evening, and you can see how bright the sun remained even late in the day.

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Grown in dappled shade, Caladiums never scorch or wilt.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them, as their leaves are mildly poisonous to eat.  Their color is as bright as any flower, and far more long lasting and reliable.  They beautifully fill a pot or bed.

They are neat and require very little care, beyond keeping them watered when there is a break in the summer rain.  Caladiums are raised on sandy soils in Florida, but they appreciate compost in their soil, and a little feeding to keep them going strong.

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Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.

Here is the same plant, photographed a few hours later.  I love these wildly patterned leaves of C. ‘Lance Wharton’!

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New Caladium varieties are introduced each year.  Some of the newer ones are the “Florida” series, bred at the University of Florida after 1988, to give better leaf production, larger tubers and to tolerate more direct sun.  Look for those Caladiums with ‘Florida’ in their name, such as C. Florida Red Ruffles and C. Florida Fantasy if you want an improved, relatively sun tolerant Caladium plant.

Dr. Robert Hartman, CEO of Classic Caladiums in Zolfo Springs and Avon Park, FL; is introducing several exciting new, improved Caladium varieties each year.  Most of these new varieties can tolerate full sun with proper hydration.  I am looking forward to growing a few of these varieties in the coming months, and will post photos as they grow.  One in particular, a 2016 introduction called C. ‘Desert Sunset’ has piqued my interest for its beautiful salmon and copper coloring and ruffled form.

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July 7, 2016 Evening garden 013

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I like to mix Caladiums with ferns and Begonias.  I tend to use them as an accent plant in a pot or bed.  Others may prefer to grow a solid bed of Caladiums for a massed effect.  Use low ferns, Ajuga, Oxalis, Vinca, or other low ground cover plants to fill in the bed.  You can select Caladium varieties by size, with heights between just a few inches and several feet.  As with most plants, they tend to grow taller in the shade, and more compact in the sun.

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July 7, 2016 Evening garden 014

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Two other plants, often confused with Caladiums, are also called ‘elephant ears.’  Also tropical, Colocasia and Alocasia have similar leaf shapes, but different coloration and texture. All three of these bloom, but those blooms are insignificant.  Many gardeners simply cut them away.  ‘Elephant ears’ are all grown for their beautiful leaves.

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Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

Alocosia have a thicker, waxier leaf than Caladium. Often, their leaf tips point up towards the sky.

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All ‘elephant ears’ love warmth, and nearly all must be brought inside before frost.  They may be dug up and the tubers stored, or they may be kept in pots indoors through the winter.  But only a few cultivars of Colocasia are hardy in our Zone 7.

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Colocasia generally have the largest of the 'elephant ear' leaves. This is C. 'Pink China,' and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden. This prolific plant spreads each season and may be easily transplanted.

Colocasia generally have the largest of the ‘elephant ear’ leaves. This is C. ‘Pink China,’ and has proven hardy in our Zone 7 garden.  C. ‘Mojito,’ behind, is supposed to be hardy here, but overwintered in our basement.  These prolific plants spread each season and may be easily transplanted.

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These gorgeous tropical plants, with their heart shaped leaves, are one of my true loves of summer.

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C. 'White Queen'

C. ‘White Queen’

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Big, bold, surprisingly beautiful; elephant ears fill the garden with mass, texture, and movement as they swish and sway in the breeze.  Carefree and attractive, rely on them to look great during the heat of summer.

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July 7, 2016 Caladiums 011

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Woodland Gnome 2016
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July 7, 2016 Evening garden 011

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