Garden Magic

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“They were full of mysteries and secrets,

like… like poems turned into landscapes.”

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Jaclyn Dolamore

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“Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.”

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F.T. McKinstry

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“Entering a garden like Bomarzo

was like succumbing to a dream.

Every detail was intended

to produce a specific effect on the mind and body,

to excite and soothe the senses like a drug.

To awaken the unconscious self.”

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Linda Lappin

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“Gardens and chocolate

both have mystical qualities.”

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Edward Flaherty

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“Magic exists. Who can doubt it,

when there are rainbows and wildflowers,

the music of the wind

and the silence of the stars?

Anyone who has loved has been touched by magic.

It is such a simple

and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live.”

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Nora Roberts

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The older a wizard grows, the more silent he becomes,

like a woody vine growing over time

to choke a garden path, deep

and full of moss and snakes,

running everywhere, impenetrable.”

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F.T. McKinstry,

For the Love of Iris

Iris ‘Stairway to Heaven’

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I fell in love with Iris as a child.  My parents accepted a gift of Iris rhizomes from a retired friend, who happened to hybridize and grow German bearded Iris.  Dad came home one summer evening with his trunk loaded with paper grocery bags, each containing the mud caked rhizomes his friend had dug and discarded from his working garden.  He needed to repurpose the  space for his new seedlings.

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I’ve been searching for those intensely colored and perfumed Iris cultivars I remember from childhood. This is one of the closest I’ve found.  Iris ‘Medici Prince’ available from Brecks.com

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My mother looked at the sheer volume of gifted plants. A conversation followed about what to do with them all.  And then, Dad started digging.  He dug long borders in our sunny Danville, Virginia back yard.  Full sun and good loam were just what those Iris needed.

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The first spring after that, we were all speechless at the absolute beauty of them.  And the fragrance!  I don’t know whether my parents’ friend was selecting for fragrance, but these were the most fragrant flowers my young nose had ever discovered.

The colors of these special Iris ranged from white to intense reds and nearly black shades of purple.  They bloomed orange and pink and many shades of blue.  I was smitten, and have loved Iris since the day these Iris first bloomed in our back yard.

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When we moved, a few years later, we labeled the Iris by color while they were in bloom so we could dig some of each variety.  Back into grocery bags, we carried this legacy to our new home.  The new place had a shadier yard, and yet we set to work digging a new Iris bed, even while still unpacking boxes and settling into the house.

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I. ‘Echo Location’

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That began a new ritual around our family’s moving.  Each time after, we would try to dig and move as many Iris as we could.  As each of us left home, and our parents aged, that became a little more challenging with each move.

Even though I dug divisions for each of my gardens over the years, we still lost many of the cultivars along the way.

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But I never lost my enthusiasm for growing Iris.  And when I learned about re-blooming German bearded Iris a few years back, I began collecting and digging new beds for Iris in sunny spots in our Forest Garden.  I bought several varieties from local breeder Mike Lockatelle, and have ordered others from online catalogs.  Now, it is as common for us to enjoy Iris in bloom in November or December as it is to enjoy them in May.

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‘Rosalie Figge’ remains my favorite of our re-blooming Iris.

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We now grow many types of Iris, ranging from the earliest winter blooming cultivars which grow only a few inches tall, to our beautiful Bearded Iris which may grow to 4′ if they are happy.  We plant a few more each year.  There is a shallow pool filled with bright yellow flag Iris in our front yard, inherited with the garden.

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A master gardener friend gave me divisions of an antique variety of bearded Iris grown in Colonial Williamsburg, and all over this area, from her own garden.  Other friends have also given us beautiful gifts of Iris over the years, and each remains special to me.  The blooming Iris remind me of friendships and loved ones; other times and places in my life.

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The ‘Williamsburg Iris’ is an antique variety found growing around Colonial Williamsburg, and in private gardens throughout our area.  Ours were a gift from a Williamsburg Master Gardener friend.

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Iris can be grown successfully and enjoyed even if you have deer grazing in your garden.  Deer will not bother them.  This is one of the reasons why we find Iris to be a good investment.  They grow quickly, and can be easily divided and spread around the garden.  They pay amazing dividends as they get better and better each year.

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Iris can be easy to grow, if you can give them hot, sunny space to spread. They are heavy feeders and perform best when grown in rich soil and are fed once or twice a year.  But without sun and space, many varieties will just fizzle out. Make sure bearded Iris get at least six hours of direct sun; more if possible.

Iris want soil that drains after a rain.  Most established Iris can tolerate fairly dry soil after they bloom, which makes them a good selection for hot climates, like ours.  Japanese Iris and Louisiana Iris species require moist soil year round, and are happy growing in standing water.

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Winter blooming Iris histrioides in January

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Sometimes, their foliage will die back; but the roots remain alive and ready to grow new leaves when conditions improve.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find these beautiful miniature Iris growing this spring.

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Iris cristata ‘Vein Mountain’ is available from Plantdelights.com. This is a North American native Crested Woodland Iris.

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I though we had lost them during last summer’s drought, when they disappeared.  I’m still waiting for our Iris pallida ‘Variegata’ to reappear, which struggled last summer, too.

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Dutch Iris, always fun to cut for a vase, grow each spring and then, like so many other bulbs, die back.  They come in an amazing array of colors and can be ordered for pennies a bulb.

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Dutch Iris can be planted alongside bearded Iris to extend the season.

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Showy Louisiana Iris don’t have a place in our garden.  They grow best with their roots always wet, usually at the edge of a pond.  I admire them, but don’t have the right conditions to grow them.  But I am always happy to grab a shovel and make a spot for more bearded Iris. 

I’ve been moving Iris around my parents’ garden, the last few years, to bring shaded plants out into the sun.  I hope to salvage and increase what is left of their collection. We are enjoying the fruits of that effort this week, as they have gorgeous Iris blooming here and there around their home.

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These yellow flag Iris grow wild along marshes and creeks in our area, as well as in our garden. They go on year after year with minimal care and maximum beauty.

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We discussed plans for a new Iris bed when I was there last weekend.  While I’m moving them, I plan to cull a few divisions for myself, too.  And, I will take them a few roots from our garden, too.

Sharing is one of the nicest things about growing Iris.  No matter how many roots you give away, more will grow.  Each division of rhizome needs at least one leaf and root.  Plant the division in amended soil, with the top of the rhizome visible.

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Siberian Iris

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Cover all roots well with good earth, and mulch lightly around the newly planted roots, without covering the exposed rhizome.  Water the plant in, and then keep the soil moist until new growth appears.  I feed our Iris Espoma Rose Tone each spring when I feed the roses.  A light application of dolomitic lime or Epsom salts makes for stronger, faster growth.

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This Iris, ‘Secret Rites,’ was new to the garden last year.

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Once each flower blooms and collapses, gently cut it away from the main stem.  A single stem may carry 5 or 6 buds, each opening at a slightly different time.

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I. ‘Immortality’

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Once all of the buds have finished, cut the stem back to its base.  Remove browned or withered leaves a few times each year, as needed.  With a minimal investment of effort, Iris give structure to the garden year round.

And when they bloom, oh, the fragrance and color they give…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Enveloped in Fragrance

May 15, 2015 roses 057

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We are enveloped in the warm sweet fragrance of roses.

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May 15, 2015 roses 057

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The Weekly Photo Challenge:  Enveloped

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May 15, 2015 roses 051

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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May 15, 2015 roses 050

In A Vase on Monday: Harvest of Roses

R. "Crown Princess Margareta"

R. “Crown Princess Margareta”

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Roses.  Sweetly fragrant, full-petaled, vividly colored roses.

What more is there to say?

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R. "Golden Celebration" to the left, and R. "Lady of Shallott" to the right.  Perennial Geranium in the center

R. “Golden Celebration” to the left, and R. “Lady of Shallott” to the right

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Ten months of the year, you might hear me nattering on about the importance of interesting foliage in a garden.  I’ll tell you that flowers are short lived and that unusually colorful leaves and interesting structure carry us through the gardening year.  I’ll go on about Caladiums and Begonias, Hosta and Coleus.

But then the Iris, roses, peonies and geraniums open in May; their perfume carried on the warm morning breezes; and I know the truth of it.  

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May 11, 2015 vase 008~

I love these fragrant beauties, and savor our early summer days when they fill the garden with beautiful abundance.  These roses are all English shrub roses,  bred and marketed by Englishman David Austin and his family.

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R. "Lady of Shallott" yesterday afternoon

R. “Lady of Shallott” yesterday afternoon

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When adding a rose to the garden I nearly always choose one of David Austin’s introductions because they outperform other roses in every way.  The shrubs resist disease and need virtually no spraying; they grow prolifically; bloom generously; and retain strong, delicious old-world rose fragrances.  Many can be purchased growing on their own roots.   And the forms of the fully opened roses are gorgeous.  These plump buds full of petals open into intricate patterns and last for many days.

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May 11, 2015 vase 005

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Today’s vase holds R. “Golden Celebration,”   R. “Crown Princess Margareta”  and R. “Lady of Shallott.”

Last May Barbara, of Silver in the Barn, brought me a clump of Siberian Iris from her garden, and now they are covered in blooms.

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May 11, 2015 vase 006

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I cut three for today’s vase. Barbara is one of my true gardening sisters.  And like a good sister, she knows what I need without me even speaking of it.

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Siberian Iris given to us by Barbara and her husband last May; now blooming abundantly.

Siberian Iris given to us by Barbara and her husband last May; now blooming abundantly.

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She brought me these beautiful Iris  which perfectly replace some favorite Siberian Iris left behind in a former garden.

I’ve missed them sorely, and am thrilled to have these transplanted from her garden to mine.

A few stems of perennial Geranium found their way into the vase today, because I loved their violet pink flowers against today’s roses.  There is also Artemesia and some lovely anise scented fennel leaves tucked in around the other stems.

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May 11, 2015 vase 002

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Today’s vase is an heirloom family piece which normally sits empty on top of the china cabinet.  It was dusted off and pressed into service to hold the roses today. Today’s mineral is an unusual cluster  of Amethyst spirit quartz.

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May 11, 2015 vase 008

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Another gardening sister visited yesterday, and after coffee we went together out into the garden to cut roses for her for Mother’s Day.   We were celebrating the healthy birth of her newest grandson, only a day old yesterday.  This morning, she sent me photos of the lovely arrangement she made with the roses, which you will enjoy, too.

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FullSizeRender~

Many thanks to Cathy for hosting In A Vase On Monday each week.  She has returned from her travels, and I hope you will visit her to see what is blooming in her garden this week and to follow the links in her comments to many other beautiful May arrangements.

Cathy has gone all “raspberry” on us today, and the results are truly spectacular!

We’ve had off and on rain for nearly two days now, thanks to Ana off the  East Coast.  It is working its way northwards and then out to sea.

It was raining as I cut these stems today, and the skies opened once I was finished and back inside.  Drops of rain still lingered as I took photos of today’s vase.

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May 11, 2015 vase 007

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We’ve such an abundance of flowers now that I may be inspired to cut and arrange more than once a week for a while.

One day the technology will progress enough that I can record the wonderful fragrance of this vase as easily as I can attach a clip of background music today.

Until then, I hope your imagination will supply the fragrance… or better yet, that you are enjoying roses in your own garden today, too.

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May 10, 2015 Roses 005

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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A Gift of Iris and Another New Raised Bed

Our newly planted clump of Siberian Iris, a gift from Barbara and her husband who visited on Saturday.

Our newly planted clump of Siberian Iris; a gift from Barbara and her husband, who visited on Saturday.  Planted here with a variegated Salvia and Comphrey, 

When Barbara and her husband visited the garden on Saturday, they left a clump of Siberian Iris, dug from their own garden, as a gift.

Barbara knows how much I love Iris, and her intuition must have whispered that I’ve been wanting to establish a clump of Siberian Iris in the garden.

She brought a perfect, and much appreciated gift.

The area between our two Afghan figs will be planted to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.

The area between our two Afghan figs will be planted to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.  Blooming chives and Salvias  guard the little fig trees as they emerge this spring.

But the area where I want them has very compacted, clay soil.  I planted some very tough Comphrey and Dusty Miller in this area several weeks ago, but realized the soil is not ready for much else.

And so I’ve built a super-quick, no nonsense raised bed is this slight depression between our new Afghan figs.

Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area without digging into the clay.  A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting and makes the new bed visually "disappear."

Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting and makes the new bed visually “disappear.”

I’ve been watching the figs closely.  New last fall, they are supposed to be fast growers.

Afghan fig, “Silver Lyre,” is on the northern edge of its hardiness zone here in Williamsburg.   And like all of our other fig trees, they’ve taken their own sweet time in breaking dormancy this spring.

Our severe winter was almost too much, but new growth has finally come from the roots.

New Afghan fig foliage has  finally begun to grow.

New Afghan fig foliage has finally begun to grow.

This new bed, in full sun, will tie the two fig trees together as they fill in.   I’ve chosen plants to accent their silver green foliage.

I want it to be a hub of activity  on sunny days, and have chosen deer resistant plants which will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.

The Siberian Iris will add height, structure, and beautiful blooms each spring.  Since they spread quickly, this bed will be awash in iris in just a few short years.

The varegated plant on the left is a hummingird "magnet" with bright red flowers.  Comphrey, right, will bloom all summer and keep bees and butterflies coming to this new garden.

The variegated plant on the left is a hummingbird “magnet” with bright red flowers. Comphrey, right, will bloom all summer and keep bees and butterflies coming to this new garden.

 Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Silver in the Barn

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