Sunday Dinner: In the Shadows

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“There is strong shadow

where there is much light.”

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.

For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly

as when one longs to taste it,

and when is the taste refracted

into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth,

and when do our senses know any thing so utterly

as when we lack it?

And here again is a foreshadowing –

– the world will be made whole.

For to wish for a hand on one’s hair

is all but to feel it.

So whatever we may lose,

very craving gives it back to us again.”

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Marilynne Robinson

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“One realized all sorts of things.

The value of an illusion, for instance,

and that the shadow

can be more important than the substance.

All sorts of things.”

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Jean Rhys

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“A garden should make you feel

you’ve entered privileged space –

– a place not just set apart but reverberant –

– and it seems to me that, to achieve this,

the gardener must put some kind of twist

on the existing landscape,

turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”

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Michael Pollan

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“It was such a pleasure

to sink one’s hands into the warm earth,

to feel at one’s fingertips

the possibilities of the new season.”

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Kate Morton

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“If you wish to make anything grow,

you must understand it,

and understand it in a very real sense.

‘Green fingers’ are a fact,

and a mystery only to the unpracticed.

But green fingers

are the extensions of a verdant heart.”

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Russell Page

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“The green thumb is equable

in the face of nature’s uncertainties;

he moves among her mysteries

without feeling the need for control

or explanations or once-and-for-all solutions.

To garden well is to be happy

amid the babble of the objective world,

untroubled by its refusal to be reduced

by our ideas of it,

its indomitable rankness.”

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Michael Pollan

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“To love a swamp, however,

is to love what is muted and marginal,

what exists in the shadows,

what shoulders its way out of mud

and scurries along the damp edges

of what is most commonly praised.

And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing.

Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth,

breeding grounds,

experimental labs where organisms and ideas

have the luxury of being out of the spotlight,

where the imagination can mutate and mate,

send tendrils into and out of the water.”

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Barbara Hurd

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“It is not hard to start a small garden,

all you need is a sapling, a planting pot,

a small bag of soil,

and regular watering.

There you go,

you helped cooling the earth down by one plant.”
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Noora Ahmed Alsuwaidi

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Dry Shade Solutions

Epimedium blooms in late April and May.  These leaves often persist through winter.

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How do you turn the dry, shady areas beneath trees and large shrubs into beautiful garden spots lush with color and texture?  That is one of the toughest challenges for many gardeners.  Most ornamental plants want plenty of sunlight and moisture to thrive.  What to do when the thirsty roots of large woodies soak up the moisture from the soil, and their dense canopy cuts off the sun?

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Athyrium niponicum grows with Saxifraga stolonifera in dry shade under a hedge of large shrubs, just a few inches from our driveway.

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Many of us gardening in established neighborhoods face this challenge.  Our shady spots may be under trees, near foundations, in the shade of a neighbor’s home, or around overgrown shrubs.  If we try to maintain a lawn, it’s thin and patchy.  Weeds invade where grass is slow to grow.

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Gravel makes for a very good mulch over newly planted areas, especially on sloping ground.

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If we give up and do nothing, then we’re left with these ugly, bare spots in our yard that may even begin to erode after heavy rains.   There are ways to work with these areas to transform them from bare to beautiful.

Luckily, there are some reliable perennials that will grow well in dry shade if we give them just a little encouragement.  A useful garden mantra, ‘Right plant, right place!’ is the first key to success in dry shade.  We can also make the spot a little more accommodating and dress it up a bit with some simple infrastructure.

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Have you ever noticed how the ground under a rock is cool and moist?  Rocks, bricks, pavers and gravel all help hold moisture in the soil.  Using these to border and build your planting area will help conserve moisture and provide cool, moist places for the roots of your shade perennials.

Simply laying a single layer of landscaping bricks around the area you plan to cultivate begins the garden making process.  You can also use large rocks,  cinder blocks, wood, or even shallow pots.  If you use cinder blocks or pots, fill the openings with compost or potting soil and plant them up, too!

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The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it was in May of 2018. Once begun, gardens tend to expand.

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After you outline the new bed, spread a few inches of compost to improve the soil, hold moisture and provide a little more depth for planting the roots of new plants.  You can’t dig it in if you are planting over the roots of a tree or large shrub, but don’ worry.

Earthworms and other invertebrates in the soil will appreciate the compost and move it down into deeper layers of soil for you.  Adding an inch or so of fresh compost each spring will help improve the soil further with each passing year.  If there are weeds or grass in the area already, then lay some paper grocery bags or several layers of newsprint over the existing vegetation and then cover the paper in compost.

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Butterfly garden in March 2012, trimmed, weeded, and with a fresh topping of compost.

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Care must be taken to not bury the woody roots too deeply.  They don’t like that!  You also can’t pile compost or mulch up the woody trunk of a tree without harming it.  ‘Mulch volcanoes’ climbing tree trunks and burying roots invite disease and weaken a tree.    Keep your new layer of compost a few inches away from the root collar and trunk of any nearby trees or large shrubs.

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If you can only dig a few inches deep in an area where you want to place a well rooted plant, consider partially burying an attractive clay pot.  If you can enlarge the drainage holes without breaking the pot, do so and allow the plant’s roots room to escape and find their own way deeper into the soil.  Planting this way can also protect tasty plants from moles and voles.  I sometimes use this strategy for tender Hostas and Caladiums, that want to stay moist all of the time.

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This experimental raised bed under a dogwood tree is bordered with hypertufa planters and planted with a combination of hardy Begonia and ferns, with a few Caladiums planted each spring.

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The pot helps you create a soil ‘microclimate’ for these particular plants.  Those pots also help other plants near them.  Unglazed terra cotta can absorb and hold water, releasing it back to the soil and roots as needed.  Likewise, if you place decorative pavers, stones, planters, etc. within the bed, they will also help to hold moisture and roots can grow under them.

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“Soil security”

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If you are planting on a dry, shady slope, use this idea to create terraces.  Each terrace will hold some of the rain water that otherwise would simply run off.  Planting behind the pavers or timbers used to create each terrace offers a moist spot for roots.  I’ve also used pieces of broken pots to create planting niches on  a slope.  Once the roots grow in, after a season or two, you can often remove the broken pot to use elsewhere.

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The terraces help stop erosion, holding moisture behind the stones long enough that it sinks in rather than just runnimg off.

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Choose plants in small pots.  Given a choice between a 2″ pot and an 8″ pot, choose the smallest size available.  You may not be able to dig a very large hole, and the smaller root balls will be easier to plant.  Sometimes you can knock a new plant out of its pot and divide it, then plant the smaller sections, with their roots.  Check to make sure that each crown or stem has some roots attached before separating it from the parent plant.  This will work with many vines, with Hostas and with many ferns.   You can cover more ground initially with fewer new plants by dividing as you plant.

Use a sharp, narrow digging tool.  You might use a butcher knife, a hori hori, or a narrow trowel to dig out small areas between roots for new plants.

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Larger potted perennials can often be split into divisions and planted in much smaller holes.

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Also choose a couple of plants that will quickly spread out as ground cover.  Some plants, like Lamium, or dead-nettles, will grow quickly and strike roots at the leaf nodes.  This is a good strategy for plants to survive in dry shade, because they have lots of roots supporting their stems, leaves and flowers.  Once you have this established, you can easily dig up divisions, with roots, to move around.  Vinca minor will also grow this way and bloom each spring.  These plants can become invasive, so plan to keep their growth contained so they don’t overwhelm other plants in your scheme.

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Ferns and Lamium grow in one of the shadiest areas of our garden, below a stand of hazel trees.  From this small beginning in 2014, the Lamium spread out to cover a very large area. It grows a bit further each year, carpeting a dry, shady area where its needs are met.

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Plants like Ajuga and Saxifraga spread by stolons.  Each rosette of leaves strikes its own roots, but several stolons, or runners, will radiate out from each plant, forming a new little plant at the end of each of these creeping ‘stems.’  A thick mat of plants will form within a few years.  You can dig up any rosette, once it has a few leaves, and transplant it to another area.

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The Lamium spread to cover the entire area after just a few years.

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There are a surprisingly large number of flowering plants that will grow in ‘dry shade.’  Some will need moist soil for the first year or two as they establish, and then once their roots grow deep, they can survive on their own without a lot of extra water during dry spells.  Native gingers, hardy Cyclamens, ivies, Hellebores, Pachysandra, Liriope, Epimedium, perennial Geranium macrorrhizum, and some spring bulbs like Hycinthoides (Spanish bluebells) and Muscari will thrive.

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Saxifraga spreads by stolons

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Italian Arum thrives in dry shade from September through May, but will disappear during the summer.  You might balance it with Hostas , which will emerge just a few weeks before the Arum fades, or with Caladiums.  Mayapples, Podophyllum, will appear in March and disappear by July.  But their striking leaves add drama to a planting in the shade.  Highly poisonous, deer and rabbits won’t touch them.

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Mayapples and Vinca cover the ground in this narrow area under large Azalea shrubs.

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Hostas will grow well once established, thought they can’t stay dry for extended periods of time.  Heucheras and Tiarellas will also grow well in partial shade.  They will bloom better if they get some sun in the early spring.  If you have rabbits or deer browsing in your garden, you will need to protect the Hostas and Heucheras with animal deterrents.

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Although we may think of ferns as plants for moist areas, some will perform well in dry shade, too.  Native Christmas ferns, Polystichum acrostichoides, Japanese painted ferns, Athyrium niponicum, and autumn fern, ‘Brilliance’ are among those that do very well in dry shade.

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Plants growing in dry shade will most commonly bloom in late winter and early spring, before the leaves on deciduous trees grow back into a thick canopy.  During the rest of the year, the garden depends on foliage color and texture for its interest.

When designing for dry shade, consider the various leaf colors, textures, plant heights, and shapes to design a harmonious composition.  You might create a very restful, harmonious scene by repeating the same limited palette of plants over the entire area.  You can also create drama with dramatic foliage plants like Caladiums and Hosta.

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Many dry shade plants are evergreen, holding their places throughout the year.  But plan for winter when deciduous ferns die back, and also for the months after spring ephemerals disappear.  As in other parts of the garden, a little pre-planning allows the display of flowers and foliage to shift and change throughout the gardening year.

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As our climate shifts and summers grow hotter, shade gardening will become more important for maintaining our own health and comfort.  Large trees help shelter our homes and gardens from summer’s sun.  We may not be able to grow velvety lawns beneath the trees, but we can certainly create beautiful plantings in their shelter.

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As you find tough and beautiful plants that work well in your own microclimate, use them again and again to create a sense of unity throughout your garden.  If these are plants that you can easily propagate or divide, you soon realize that this is a thrifty way to create beauty in those challenging spots in your garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Beginning a New ‘Stump Garden’

Tree damage in our area after the October 2018 hurricane swept through.

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This has been a very bad year for our trees.  Our community sustained major tree damage when a hurricane blew through in October, and even more damage when heavy wet snow fell very quickly in early December, before the trees were prepared for winter.

There appeared to be just as much, maybe more damage, from the December snow.  At least that was the case in our yard, where we lost two old peach trees.

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December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even work with them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

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We found trees and limbs down all over our area again today, after a severe line of thunderstorms pass over us around 3 this morning.  There were tornadoes in the area, and we were extremely fortunate.  We had a mess to clean up, but no major damage to our trees.

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I know many people whose beautiful trees have been reduced to stumps over the past several months.  Depending on how the tree breaks, you may have a neat platform, sawed off cleanly, or you may have a jagged stump left where the tree broke.

A stump is still another opportunity to respond to a challenge with resilience, seeing an opportunity instead of a tragedy.  There is nothing personal about a tree knocked over by gnarly weather and so there is no cause to sulk or lament.  Once the shock of it has passed, and the mess cleaned up, it’s time to formulate a plan.

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Our peaches in bloom in 2017

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Maybe easier said, than done.  I’ve pondered the jagged stumps left by our beautiful peach trees for the last four months.  The trees hadn’t given us peaches for many years, although they bloomed and produced fruits.

The squirrels always got them first, and the trees had some health issues.  Now we see that the stumps were hollow, which is probably why they splintered when they fell.  But we loved their spring time flowers and their summer shade.

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The jagged remains of a once beautiful peach tree, that once shaded our fern garden and anchored the bottom of a path.

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Now, not only do I have a stump at the bottom of our hillside path, but the main shade for our fern garden is gone.  I’m wondering how the ferns will do this summer and whether other nearby trees and the bamboo will provide enough shade.  A garden is always changing.  We just have to keep our balance as we surf the waves of change.

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Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

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Stumps are a fact of life in this garden, and I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with them.  The underlying roots hold water, and they will eventually decay, releasing nutrients back into the soil.  I consider it an opportunity to build a raised bed, maybe to use the hollow stump as a natural ‘container,’ and certainly an anchor for a new planting area.

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I planted ‘Autumn Brilliance’ ferns in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner, packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade in 2015.  This area has grown to anchor a major part of our present fern garden.

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This particular new stump forms the corner of our fern garden, and I very much want trees here again.  And so I gathered up some found materials over the weekend and began reconstructing a new planting.  First, I found some year old seedlings from our redbud tree growing in nearby beds, just leafing out for spring.  I didn’t want the seedlings to grow on where they had sprouted, because they would shade areas planted for sun.

Tiny though these seedlings may be, redbuds grow fairly quickly.  I transplanted two little trees to grow together right beside the stump.  They will replace the fallen peach with springtime color, summer shade, and all year round structure.  Eventually, they will also form a new living ‘wall’ for the jagged opening of the stump.

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I planted two small redbud tree seedlings near the opening of the stump.

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I had two deciduous ferns, left from the A. ‘Branford Rambler’ ferns I divided last fall, and still in their pots.  I filled the bottom of the stump with a little fresh soil, and pushed both of these fern root balls into the opening of the stump, topping them off with some more potting soil, mixed with gravel, pilfered from one of last summer’s hanging baskets.

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This is a fairly fragile planting, still open to one side.  It will be several years before the redbuds grow large enough to close off the opening in the stump.  And so I pulled up some sheets of our indigenous fern moss and used those to both close off the opening, and also to ‘mulch’ the torn up area around the new tree seedlings.  Fern moss always grows in this spot.

But fern moss also grows on some shaded bricks in another bed.  It is like a little ‘moss nursery,’ and I can pull off sheets to use in various projects every few weeks.  It renews itself on the bricks relatively quickly, and so I transplanted fresh moss from the bricks to this new stump garden.

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After pushing the moss firmly into the soil, I wrapped some plastic mesh, cut from a bulb bag, over the opening in the stump, and tied it in place with twine.  I was hoping for a ‘kokedama’ effect, but the rough contours of the stump thwarted every effort at neatness.

I’ll leave the mesh in place for a few weeks, like a band-aid, until the moss grows in and naturally holds the soil around the roots of the fern.  Something is needed to protect the soil during our frequent, heavy rains.

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I will very likely add some more ferns or other ground cover perennials around the unplanted side of this stump over the next few weeks, just to cover the wound and turn this eye-sore into a beauty spot.

The ulterior motive is to make sure that foot traffic remains far enough away from the stump that no one gets hurt on the jagged edges.  Could I even them out with a saw?  Maybe-  The wood is very hard, still, and I’ve not been successful with hand tools thus far.  Better for now to cover them with fresh greenery from the ferns.

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The second peach stump stands waiting for care.  I noticed, in taking its photo, that it is still alive and throwing out new growth.  It is also in a semi-shaded area, and I plan to plant a fern in this stump, too.

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The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it looked in May of 2018. The tall ‘Autumn Beauty’ ferns in the center are the originals, shown in the previous photo.

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Quite often the stumps disappear entirely after such treatment.  The new perennials grow up as the old stump decays, enriching the soil and holding moisture to anchor the bed.  And of course all sorts of creatures find food and shelter in the decaying stump and around the new planting.

This is a gentle way of working with nature rather than fighting against it.  It calls on our creativity and patience, allows the garden to evolve, and offers opportunities to re-cycle plants and materials we might otherwise discard.  It allows us to transform chaos into beauty; loss into joy.

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Woodland Gnome  2019

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose
comes round in another form.”
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Rumi
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The fern garden in late April, 2018

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!

Crazy (For) Ferns

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum  ‘Applecourt’

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Who would dare find ferns boring?  Ferns are some of the craziest and most bodacious plants you’ll ever grow!  You just need an idea of which ones to choose.

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Native maidenhair fern, Adiantum x mairisii

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I enjoy all ferns, to be perfectly honest.  Even the relatively ‘plain Jane’ native Christmas ferns grow with a certain peaceful confidence that I admire.

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Polystichum acrostichoides, our native Christmas fern, earned its name because it remains green and beautiful past Christmas and into the winter months. This is a very hardy (zones 3-9), dependable fern that can tolerate a fair amount of sun, once established, and will survive a our hot, dry summers.

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And I am sure that there are those fern lovers who prefer these for their neat, regular, evenly green fronds.

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Sensitive fern. Onoclea sensibilis, peeks out from around a clump of native Mayapples.  This deciduous fern is very sensitive to cold weather, and dies back each autumn with the first frost.  Not to worry, because each year it spreads and gets a bit better in the garden.

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And that is all fine, but I am partial to ferns with interesting colors and forms.  I enjoy ferns that are a bit variable from frond to frond and plant to plant; full of surprises, you might say!

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Athyrium niponicum var. pictum

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The Japanese painted ferns fill the bill on both counts.  A hybrid of the ‘Lady Ferns,’ it interbreeds with other ferns fairly easily to produce some very interesting color patterns and beautifully ruffled and crested fronds.

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Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’

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Growing from just a few inches to more than several feet tall, these wonderfully surprising ferns can fill many different garden niches.

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There are lots of crazy ferns on the market these days.  There are ruffled ferns, footed ferns, staghorn ferns, hart’s tongue ferns, and even a hybrid named A. ‘Godzilla.’

I found and planted A. ‘Godzilla’ last summer, and I’m keeping a close eye on it.   It has not yet grown into its gargantuan potential.  It’s still sinking its roots and trying to feel at home in the garden.

But believe, me, when it does begin to grow crazy-big, I’ll post a photo for you.

Woodland Gnome 2018
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Reliable Beauty: Ferns

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Once the first few fronds of our hardy ferns poke through the warming soil, and begin to unfurl themselves, I finally trust the change of season to spring.  Tight fiddleheads are appearing in pots and beds, under shrubs, and along the bank, and we always celebrate their appearance.

Emerging fronds show up so subtly; one might not even notice them at first.

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Japanese painted fern emerges deep red, and lightens to show some green with silver markings as the season progresses.

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Especially those coming along under larger plants, or in secluded corners of the garden, may escape my notice until I go in search of them.  But like a child hunting Easter eggs, I make my rounds of the garden in search of my favorite ferns, re-emerging after their winter’s rest.

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Christmas ferns emerge among Hellebores in our back garden.

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Some hardy ferns remain evergreen.  The Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides; holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum; and our Autumn Brilliance fern, Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’,  maintain a presence through the winter.  They are growing a bit raggedy by April and I sometimes cut off their old fronds as they break or fall.  But you never lose track of them.

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D. ‘Brilliance’ emerges a beautiful copper, but its fronds eventually fade to medium green.

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While D. ‘Brilliance’ is a hybrid, the Christmas fern is one of our most common native ferns.  D. ‘Brilliance’ can be found easily in most garden centers each spring.  It can be a little harder to locate starts of the Christmas fern, however.  This spring I found them, bare root, at a big-box store and stocked up.  I have about a dozen of them started in little pots, ready to plant out when I find a spare hour for planting.

Holly fern is also easy to find at garden centers and big box stores either bare root in late winter, or already growing in a pot in the spring.

These are all clumping ferns.  While they will grow a bit wider and taller over the years, they won’t go wandering through your garden without your assistance.

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D. ‘Brilliance’ in June

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Like other perennials, ferns have their own sequence for when they first appear each spring.  One of the earliest ferns to emerge is the beautiful hybrid Athyrium niponicum, ‘Pictum.’ 

Known as the Japanese painted fern, there are now several beautiful hybrids with various color patterns and with beautifully curled and divided fronds.  These are such a dark shade of burgundy as they emerge, you might not even notice their fiddleheads at first.

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I keep a clump growing in a low trough by the kitchen door, and watch it daily each spring, waiting for the first signs of life.  These fronds have often fallen away by early spring, and unless you remember where they are planted, they will surprise you as they unfold.

The Athyriums, known as ‘lady ferns,’ may spread year by year.  They have good manners, however.  Chances are you will divide them before they move beyond where you want them to grow.  I particularly enjoy the hybrid A. ‘Ghost,’ which is a lovely silver grey.

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There are many beautiful ferns that grow well in coastal Virginia.  We have an interesting selection of native ferns here, and we grow several of them.  Maidenhair fern, royal fern, cinnamon fern and sensitive fern are a few easily grown natives.

But we also collect several imported ferns, hybrids and cultivars, as well.  Can one grow too many ferns?

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Although ferns generally appreciate at least partial shade and consistently moist soil, they are much tougher than they appear.  Once established, many varieties can stand up to some sun and survive, with mulch and a little supplemental water, during drought.

Do your homework before you plant, however, and keep in mind the gardener’s mantra, “Right plant, right place.”

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It is easy to grow most ferns, if only you site them to meet their needs.  Given good soil, a bit of shade, and sufficient moisture, they happily grow on year after year.  In fact, if they are sited in their ‘happy place,’ you will see new ferns crop up nearby from either spore or spreading.

If a fern seems to be struggling, then simply dig it up and move it.  Often, a fern will go into dormancy during summer’s heat in order to survive if it is getting too dry or too much sun.

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September 2017

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I tend to buy the smallest pots of ferns that I can find.  In  our wooded garden, with so many roots everywhere, I like to start ferns small and let them grow and find their own way among the already established plant community.  This nearly always works. 

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It is also kind to build a raised bed for your fern installation, as long as you keep it hydrated.  I also grow some in pots, and keep them going year to year.

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Hardy ferns can stay outside in their pots all winter.  I bring the tender ferns in to the house each fall and set them out again when the weather has settled in spring.

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Emerging holly fern in early March.

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Ferns are beautiful just by themselves, and I am cultivating a collection of them on a steep bank in the shade in our back garden.  But they also add a graceful note when grow with bulbs and perennials or under shrubs.  Medium sized ferns are a good ‘shoes and socks’ ground cover in the front of a shrub border and under trees.

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Ferns lend a peacefulness and serenity to the garden.  These easy plants hold the soil against erosion, require minimal fuss or maintenance, and have a long season of beauty.  Deer and rabbits rarely touch them.

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They make me happy, and I keep planting more with each passing year.

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Athyrium ‘Branford Beauty’

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Sunday Dinner: Observers

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“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.”

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Paul Valéry

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“Chaos is peaceful

when you stand quietly & watch –

we are eternal observers,

reflecting both tiny & vast,

singing infinitely within.”

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Jay Woodman

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“Observation is, at its core, an expression of love

which doesn’t get caught up in sentiment.”

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Takashi Hiraide

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“Keep your eyes open

and you’ll see more than you ever dreamed of.”

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Marty Rubin

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“Learn to see what you are looking at.”

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Christopher Paolini

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“The world was beautiful

when looked at in this way—

without any seeking, so simple, so childlike.”

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Hermann Hesse

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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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!

 

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.”

.

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

The Gift: H. ‘Lemon Lime’ In Bloom

June 23, 2015 004

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“Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them,

not the merits of who receives them.”

  Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Last July, Michael Laico offered to trade plants with those who follow his woodworking blog.  Michael maintains a lovely woodland garden on his mountain in South Carolina, and listed the plants he could offer as divisions.

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June 23, 2015 002~

I was interested, and soon we moved from his comments to emails negotiating our trade.  Michael sent me a division of his yellow Japanese Iris along with a bonus gift of his Hosta ‘Lemon Lime.’

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June 23, 2015 003

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I learned that Michael loves Hosta, and grows many varieties in his garden.  I also love Hosta, but discoverd early on that those I plant out in this garden are subject to grazing by rabbits and deer.

I now grow some Hostas in  pots on the deck to protect them.  And Michael promised me these H. ‘Lemon Lime’ are miniatures, and perfect for culture in a pot.

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June 23, 2015 001~

We exchanged plants in late July, with an eye to the weather.  I planted both Iris and Hosta in containers to protect them while they established.  The Iris went into a garden bed this spring and are growing on well.

The Hosta still grow in their original pots.  And their growth this spring has been spectacular!

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June 23, 2015 005

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Hosta make a good ground cover.  When not in bloom, they often recede into the background of a planting scheme.  These miniature Hostas, especially, don’t scream for your attention, like my Begonia Rex and showy Coleus.

But now that they have bloomed, I see they are truly stunning in their own way. Hostas attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.  I expect to see hummingbirds hovering around these blossoms any day now.

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June 23, 2015 013

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Their delicate flowers show exquisite markings.

Michael sent enough divisions that I divided them between two pots.  After putting as many as I dared in the decorative glazed pot, the remainder went into a spare nursery pot with a rooted Begonia cutting.  Somehow a bit of hardy Begonia grandis found its way into the pot as well.

I like the Hosta on its own merits, but also as a ground cover under a larger potted plant.  Both pots of Hosta would probably benefit from division after they bloom, they’ve grown so well.

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June 23, 2015 008

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“Give freely to the world these gifts of love and compassion.

Do not concern yourself with how much

you receive in return,

just know in your heart it will be returned.”

Steve Maraboli

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June 23, 2015 011~

This post is to thank Michael once again for his gift of healthy plants, and to reinvigorate the notion of garden bloggers sharing plants with one another.

Gwennie recently made the generous offer to send me a start of her Begonia, ‘Muddy Waters,’ which I covet.  As much as I would love to accept her offer, I believe border inspections might prevent it from reaching me from her home in Belgium.  I’ve thanked her and continue my search to locate this stunning Begonia in the United States.

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This cane Begonia has been with us for many years now.  It roots easily in water, and I've shared cuttings with many friends.

This cane Begonia has been with us for many years now. It roots easily in water, and I’ve shared cuttings with many friends.

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But I enjoy sharing plants with blogging friends and neighbors.  The Pelargonium cuttings Eliza recently shared continue to root on my kitchen counter.  I planning to send her some of our re-blooming German Iris when this heat finally breaks!

Neighborhood friends pass plants among ourselves routinely, and always learn something interesting as we share.  My garden is populated with beautiful living gifts, constant reminders of loved ones and friends.

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June 23, 2015 010~

“A gift consists not in what is done or given,

but in the intention of the giver or doer.”

 Seneca

 

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June 23, 2015 018

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Deb, at Unexpected In Common Hours,  passed on another gift of sorts, yesterday, when she asked me to participate in the ” Three Days Three Quotes” blogging challenge.  I enjoy sharing quotations in my posts, so this challenge is a pleasure to accept.

I’ve learned that when sharing plants with someone, it is important to make sure they can accept the plants, first. Can they provide the conditions a plant needs to thrive?  How much space is needed?  Is this a plant they will enjoy growing?

A surprise gift can become a burden, especially when that gift is alive.  As with any other gift, there has to be a certain “fit” between the gift and the one who receives.

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These odd 'Under the Sea' Coleus may be an acquired taste.  I love them, but would not offer a cutting unless a friend admired them first.  They grow here with Oxalis triangularis, which I've shared with many friends.

These odd ‘Under the Sea’ Coleus may be an acquired taste. I love them, but would not offer a cutting unless a friend admired them first. They grow here with Oxalis triangularis, which I’ve shared with many friends.

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Which brings us back to this latest blogging challenge.  I’ve recently read some interesting essays by fellow bloggers  about these awards and challenges which make the rounds.  To some, they have the icky feel of chain letters.

Maybe there are just too many lately.  Maybe they pressure bloggers to reveal more about themselves than they wish, or to post more frequently than they comfortably can.  I don’t want to pass on something which makes another uncomfortable.

That is why I have decided to participate in this three day challenge, but not to pass it on this time.

However, if you would like to take part in this simple three day challenge, please let me know and I will be delighted to invite you.  I’m happy to pass on the invitation to those happy to receive it!

Let gifts always be those things which bring our loved ones joy, like this beautiful Hosta, and so many other beautiful creatures growing in our garden.

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June 23, 2015 009

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“It is a tremendous gift

to simply and truly listen to another.

  Bryant McGill

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June 20, 2015 garden 037

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

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