To Delight A Passerby

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A fallen tree, teeming with life, caught my eye as we were out driving last Sunday afternoon.  Lush and green, it stood out against our wintery landscape of greys and muddy browns.


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It has been fallen for a few years, from the look of it; lying where some forgotten windstorm left it, normally hidden from view in the edge of the forest.

But the leaves are down now, allowing glimpses into the hidden places.


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It is an interesting geography of ravines and ridges, creeks and fallen timber.

One glance piqued my curiosity enough that we made a point of stopping on the way home.


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The ravine is steep enough that I didn’t climb down to take photos close up.  Perhaps another day in my climbing boots I’ll make the hike.

We’ve had abundant rain for a while now, supporting luxuriant moss, lichens, and shelf fungus.


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And I can only imagine the hidden colonies of tiny insects living below this green carpet of moss, in the bark and interior of the tree.


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Such a wonder!

Nature uses every resource, allowing nothing to go to waste.  And does it in such style, creating this lovely garden on a falling tree, to delight a passerby on a cold and grey wintery day.


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“The Holy Land is everywhere”

Nicholas Black Elk


*  *  *

“Knowing nature is part of knowing God.

Faith directs us to the invisible God,

but leads us back from God

to the entire visible world.”

Arnold Albert van Ruler


Woodland Gnome 2015

Winter’s “Flowers”

Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale


Look at what is “blooming” in our garden! 

We are just past the Winter Solstice, and the coldest weeks of winter stretch before us.  Our days may be growing almost imperceptibly longer, but frigid Arctic air sweeps across the country, dipping down to bring frosty days and nights well to our south.



Shelf fungus


Our garden looks a very different place at the moment, mostly withered and brown.  But even now, we enjoy bright spots of color and healthy green leaves.


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Some we planned for, some are a gift of nature.

All are infinitely appreciated and enjoyed!


Ornamental Kale with Violas and dusty miller

Ornamental kale with Violas and dusty miller


We garden in Zone 7b, here in coastal Virginia.  We are just a little too far north and a little too far inland to enjoy the balmy 8a of Virginia Beach and Carolina’s Outer Banks.  We will have nights in the teens and days which never go above freezing… likely later this week!

But there are still many plants which not only survive our winters, but will grow and bloom right through them!


Camellia, "Jingle Bells" begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

Camellia, “Jingle Bells” begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.


I saw the first scape of Hellebore rising above its crown of leaves yesterday, topped with a cluster of tight little buds.  Our Hellebores will open their first buds later this month.


Hellebore with a new leaf emerging.  Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

Hellebore with a new leaf emerging. Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.


Snowdrops are also poking above the soil line now in several pots.  Snowdrops, named for their ability to grow right up through the snow as they come into bloom, open the season of “spring” bulbs for us each year.


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Camellias and Violas remain in bloom, and our Mahonia shrubs have crowned themselves in golden flowers, just beginning to open.

There are several other shrubs which will bloom here in January and February.  Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is on my wishlist, and I hope to add it to our garden this season.





Our Forsythia are covered in tight yellow buds, ready to open in February.  Our Edgeworthia chrysantha has tight silvery white buds dangling from every tiny branch.





They look like white wrapped Hershey’s kisses, or tiny ornaments left from Christmas.  These will open in  early March into large, fragrant flowers before the shrub’s leaves appear.

Although many of our garden plants are hibernating under ground, or are just enduring these weeks of cold until warmth wakes them up to fresh growth, we have a few hardy souls who take the weather in their stride.


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This is their time to shine. 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2015


Male flowers have appeared on our Hazel nut trees.  We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

Male pollen bearing “flowers”  have appeared on our native  Hazel nut trees. We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.



What Is It, Anyway?

How did a scallop shell find its way to the ravine?

How did a scallop shell find its way to the ravine?

As you’re out walking, do you ever stop to look at something more closely, and ask yourself, “What is it?

Did the pearl already fall out of the oyster?

Did the pearl already fall out of the oyster?

Whether you’ve spotted a bird or a leaf, a flower or a pebble, perhaps you’re engaged, for a moment, in simply looking.

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Our chameleon world loves to masquerade.

You may have noticed that one things often resembles the other.

How can coral grow in a forest?

How can coral grow in a forest?

Sometimes it’s our minds and our eyes playing tricks on us.  We catch sight of a color, a flash of movement.

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In the moment between seeing and naming, the world is wide open to new possibilities.

What do you see here?

What do you see here?

When silence is allowed, the tap of thought turned off tightly,

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Eyes engage the world in novel and unexpected ways.

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Perhaps instead of explaining the world away, our mind allows questions to burble to the top of consciousness:

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“Where did it come from?”  “What does it do?”  “Why is it here?” “What does it mean?”

“What is it, Anyway?”

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These are some of the best questions, the important questions, but …


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Simply observe, without naming, and allow the world to open up in beautiful, and unexpected ways.


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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there,

not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something,

not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone,

will you be on the right road to the Gate.”

―Huang Po

Woody Flowers? (Forest Garden)

First Signs of Spring (Forest Garden)

Woody Flowers?

Shelf Fungus

Shelf Fungi

“What are they?you might ask.  “Are they woody flowers?” “Are they sea shells?”

My partner found these while repairing the deer fences, and suggested I go find them with the camera.Octob 14 shelf fungus 014

At the bottom of the hill, in the edge of the ravine, where the garden is always in shadow; their whiteness glowed in the twilight,  a beacon to lead me in.

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A vast pile of branches lives just beyond the fence, supporting it.  They are the broken remnants of our orchard, destroyed by a neighbor’s trees falling across our garden during Hurricane Irene.  The crew  cleaned up our yard by piling them all, trunk and branch, into the ravine.

And there they sit, decaying now, barring access to hungry deer; and, sprouting, flowers?

These beautiful fungi growing from the wood are called “shelf fungi” or “bracket fungi”. Octob 14 shelf fungus 007 There are hundreds of species.  They are related to mushrooms, but different in some important ways.  Stemless, their spores are released from pores rather than from gills on the underside of a cap, like on many mushrooms.  They are also much harder than a mushroom.  In fact, these half-moon shaped “shelves” are often quite hard and woody.  Shelf fungi may also be perennial, forming “growth rings” during the seasons of active growth each spring and fall.  You may be able to count the growth rings, just as you would in the trunk of a tree to tell how old a particular growth might be.Oct 14 lichens 008

Like most fungi, their purpose is to help decompose old growth.  They will help these branches rot and become rich compost.   Hyphae from the fungus release various enzymes, chemically decomposing the tree’s cells.  Once the fungi enter the wood, they usually spread, affecting more and more of the tree.   During the process, they create a beautiful habitat for spiders, mites, and insects.  Many will find homes in their pores; especially beetles.  Found on already dead branches, these shelf fungi are beautiful.  If found on a living tree they would signal that the tree is under stress.  Eventually, they would most likely kill it.  An arborist could remove them and try to correct whatever problem the tree was experiencing to prolong its life, but without intervention the tree would soon die.

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This peach trunk still stands where it once grew. The tree is dead, but life still colonizes the bark. Do you see the “Granddaddy Long Legs”?

Oct 14 lichens 012 Fungi need moisture to grow, but are not photosynthetic, and so grow just fine in deep shade. Neither plant nor animal, fungi inhabit their own kingdom.   Shelf fungi can survive dry spells without suffering any harm, and will simply begin to grow again when the rains come.

Do you plant them?  We didn’t.  Although one can order spore for edible mushrooms to grow on fallen logs, I’ve never seen spore for shelf fungus offered for sale.  These just naturally colonized the dead wood in our ravine.  They are a gift of nature; airborne spores which settled on dead moist wood where they can grow.

The individual “shelves” are extremely hard.  Most are difficult to break off of their host branch.  They are hard to cut, and too tough to eat.  Artists have used them as canvas for their artwork.  When you etch a design on them, the design turns dark.  Very intricate designs can be etched into the surface of a large shelf fungus.  One can also paint on them as one would paint onto any wood.Octob 14 shelf fungus 016

They have been used in making jewelry.  They can be carved and whittled to form beads, or can be used as collected as a pendant or brooch.  Ground into powder, some varieties have been used as an herbal Chinese medicine and for tea.

And, if you find yourself in the woods needing light, shelf fungi can serve as a wick in an oil candle.  Pour oil into a container, and stand a shelf fungus on end, supported by some stones.  The fungus will turn dark when it has absorbed the oil and can be lit for a long lasting flame.Oct 14 lichens 006

Not only beautiful, these living organisms are also quite useful, and serve an important role in a forest garden.

Mushrooms.  These are different from shelf fungus because they are soft, have stems, and release their spores from gills, located under their caps.  These are growing nearby at the base of a Hellebore.

Mushrooms. These are different from shelf fungi because they are soft, have stems, and release their spores from gills, located under their caps. These are growing nearby at the base of a Hellebore.

All photos by Woodland Gnome

click on any photo to enlarge it

With appreciation to Tyler Pedersen for his collaboration on the biology of shelf fungi

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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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