Six on Saturday: Always Another Surprise

This old redbud tree fell over in a storm last year, yet is covered in new growth this spring. Its roots are strongly planted in the earth even as its trunk lies nearly horizontal along the slope of the garden.

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We weren’t expecting to get between 3 and 5 inches of rain yesterday afternoon.  Sure, we knew it might rain; there might even be a little thunder.  It’s nearly June, the start of Hurricane Season.  Storms come and go in coastal Virginia, and we’ve had a lot of that wet traffic lately.

But the storms seemed to be going around us for much of the day.  And even when the wispy little edge of a system brushed over us on radar, we expected only a passing shower.  But no.  It lingered, grew, intensified, roiled around a while.  It filled the ditch by our street and turned the creek in the ravine into a rushing river of run-off as a flash-flood warning pinged on my phone.  We began to hear about local roads flooding as heavy rain pounded on the roof and patio, our trees bending and swaying under such an unexpected watery attack.

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Some parts of the garden love the rain.

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Does it make sense to say that you’re surprised, while not being really surprised at all?  We’ve had so many fast, unexpected storms roll over our area in recent years that nothing from the sky should surprise us anymore.  And yet when they sneak up in mid-afternoon, without proper warning from the weather-guessers, and then leave a changed landscape behind, it does leave a scuff-mark on one’s psyche.

Of course we are in these already surreal and surprising months of 2020, so nothing should surprise us too much at this point.  Weather seems the least of it, honestly.

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Athyrium ‘Ghost’

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But when I went out early this morning, camera in hand, to spy on the rabbits munching the front ‘lawn’ and to see what I could see in the garden, I was greeted with more little surprises in the garden.

Maybe what I really love most about gardening is the novelty of tending a living system and all of the surprises, both pleasant and not, which greet one each day.  What’s changed?  What’s in bloom?  What’s grown?  What’s been eaten overnight by the deer?  What young tree has just fallen over after the voles ate its roots?  You get my drift….

The very back of our garden is sheltered by a small ‘bamboo forest’ which shields it from the ravine.  Now, you likely know that bamboo, even when it’s 40′ tall and as big around as a large grapefruit, is a grass.  And grass grows from underground rhizomes, which spread as far as they possibly can.  We love the bamboo and the cool privacy it gives us.

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That said, every May we must police its new shoots daily to keep it in bounds.  You see, it really, really would like to claim more of the garden and so marches right up the hill towards our home every spring.  It sends up new shoots hourly over several weeks, and then it gives up until next year.  Sometimes the shoots are chopstick thin and actually look like a respectable grass.  They’re rather artistic and I’d be tempted to leave them, emerging in the midst of a flower border or my fernery, if I didn’t know their intent.

Other shoots come up thick and strong, like fast growing baseball bats claiming their right to seek the sun above the garden.  It’s a good thing that the squirrels love fresh bamboo shoots so much, because they quickly clean up the stray shoots we must knock over each day.

Well, when I wandered into the back garden this morning, I was greeted with unexpectedly prodigious new bamboo shoots thrusting up through shrubs, ferns, perennials and grass.  How can they grow that fast?  I wasn’t in my boots yet, so I made their portraits and left them to grow another few hours until my partner could deal with them.

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The ground was soft and squishy, still completely saturated from another early morning rain.  Fig branches were bent and touching the ground.  The lamb’s ears flower stalks I’d been allowing to grow for the bees lay flat in the mulch.  Only the ferns looked truly happy this morning.  The ferns, pushing out abundant new fronds, and a lone Japanese Iris that just bloomed for the first time in our garden.

A fresh Iris blossom always elicits a smile from me.  Like a deep breath of fresh spring air, it fills me with unreasonable happiness.  What is this magic some flowers work in our gnarly, jaded hearts?  I can turn away from two score bamboo shoots invading the garden to admire a single Iris blossom, and let that beautiful surprise buoy me back inside to pour my morning coffee.

Yes, we garden as much for the surprises as for the known rhythms of our gardening year.  There’s always something new to enjoy and always some new chore to do.  What more could one hope for?

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Iris ensata, ‘Temple Bells,’ blooming for the first time in our garden this morning.  It was a gift from a friend last summer.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a daily photo from our garden.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six on Saturday: Flowers for Mother’s Day

Rosa ‘Crown Princess Margareta’

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Many years ago now, when my daughter was still at home, I was asked one May what I would like for Mother’s Day.  My wish that year was for a rose bush to plant beside the front porch.  I knew that a rose bush would give me roses each and every year in May; the Mother’s Day gift that returns year after year.  We went together as a family to my favorite garden center and I came home with a beautiful rose covered with  large, red flowers.

And my Mother’s Day rose grew into a beautiful, tall shrub that bloomed extravagantly every year after.   It was a climber, and I got these special, soft little metal attachers that I could hammer into the mortar between the bricks to permanently anchor it to the front of the house.

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I left that garden and that Mother’s Day rose behind more than a decade ago, to move to this Forest Garden.  But our first year here, once again  I was seeking out roses.  I love roses.  I particularly love heirloom roses, climbing roses, and deliciously scented roses.  The English Shrub Roses bred by David Austin’s team are among my all-time favorites.

Roses have been a real challenge to grow in this garden, between the weather, the surrounding forest and the deer.  I’ve lost more than I’ve kept alive, which makes every blossom on every surviving rose shrub that much more special to me.

Rosa ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ is a climber bred by the Austin family.  Its rich apricot color and warm fruity fragrance remind me every spring why I love roses so much.  This one has grown up through a rose of Sharon shrub and it has blessed me this Mother’s Day weekend with more than two dozen blossoms.

The climbers are able to scramble up tall enough that the deer can’t munch the blossoms and prune all of the new growth.  Those that stay smaller have little chance to survive, but one I thought was a gonner last summer has come back from its roots and has already given us several flowers.  Every spring I read the new David Austin catalog wistfully, admiring the new introductions and old friends I’ve grown in the past.

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An heirloom peony planted by an earlier gardener in this space.

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I don’t give much time to such nostalgia, though.  And I certainly won’t even try to establish any new rose shrubs in this very wild garden.  This garden has ‘allowed’ me to expand my gardening tastes to include beautiful plants the deer will leave alone.  Some, like our Iris, are long-time favorites I’ve grown everywhere I’ve lived.  But I’ve learned to appreciate lots of other plants that I might not have tried, if necessity hadn’t inspired me to try new species.

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Iris pseudacorus, the yellow flag Iris, also left here by a previous gardener.  Deer leave our Iris alone.

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Mother’s Day is a moment to pause and remember the long line of strong women who have loved us and made our lives possible.  Some of these women might be special aunts and grandmothers, others family friends, teachers, neighbors, and others who have helped us along the way.  This year many of us are connecting with our mothers through phone calls and video chats.  Our greeting cards may be digital and our gifts delayed.

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Siberian Iris, a gift from a friend.

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But it is the remembering and expressions of love that matter, not the form they take.

Just as a rose shrub will give us a special Mother’s Day gift year after year, into an uncertain and often transformed future; so a garden helps us put down our own roots and grow into something new.  Each of us is growing and transforming, too.  Let us grow stronger each year; more generous and more appreciative of all life gives us.

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Iris ‘Rosalie Figge’

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Happy Mother’s Day to all of those who mother others

 

Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six on Saturday: Textured Tapestry

Siberian Iris just began to bloom here this week.

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We’ve had a wet week here in coastal Virginia.  It always rains on the Irises here.  I keep waiting to be proven wrong on that maxim, but I can’t remember a year when my beautiful tall German Iris haven’t been beaten down under heavy rain and wind.  Brave and hardy as Iris prove in our garden, those 4′ tall stalks covered in buds and bloom can only take so much before they crumple in the rain.  I’ve been cutting away those soggy, crumpled blooms between showers, and propping up fallen stems.

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Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia is native to our region

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I believe most all of us gardeners still feel excitement when our favorite flowers bloom.  Some years that excitement lasts a nice long while.  Other times the weather grows erratic and the blooms are cut short by too much heat or cold, rain or drought.  Flowers come in so many novel shapes and sizes that we might never grow them all.  But for me, it is the intense pop of color that I crave most.

It is hard to pick a favorite as most every color becomes my favorite in its own place and season.  When the flowers fade and drop (and they always do,) we’re left with the rest of the plant: stems and leaves.  And so that had better be somehow attractive, too.

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Purple Violas bloom with a lady fern. Wild strawberries and Vinca hide their pot and  fill the bed around fading daffodil leaves.

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At some point in our garden planning each of us turns our attention from the bright excitement of flowers to the textured tapestry of beautiful foliage.  And I don’t mean the ‘restful’ monotony of solid green meatball shrubs growing out of a grassy green carpet.  I’m thinking more of the extravagant textures and intricate color patterns found on many leaves.  Leaves are long-lived.  Most will grow on for many months before fading away.

Some plants we grow for their leaves alone, never expecting or wanting their flowers.  There are thousands of ferns that never bloom.  Shade gardeners also love Hosta, and generally have strong opinions on whether to allow them to bloom or not.  Other easy choices include Heuchera, coleus, Begonias, Caladiums, the many beautiful ornamental grasses, and Liriope.

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Autumn fern ‘Brilliance’ grows larger and better each year. Strawberry Begonia fills the pots surrounding this bed of ferns and Hellebores.

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For pure texture, without much variegation or shading, I love herbs.  But oh, the wonderful colors in the herbal palette!  There are so many silvery, shimmery greys, deep green rosemary, purple basil leaves and every color of green mint.  Most herbs are easy to grow with very little thought or care.  They can take heat and drought and are ignored by pests and pesky grazers.  Too much rain and humidity are the only things that stop their performance.

And honestly, I’m developing a new appreciation of those wild volunteer plants commonly called ‘weeds.’  Some indigenous to this garden I’ve since realized are native wildflowers.  Others were once cultivated but now run wild.  When you just look at them for their texture, shape and color, many have their own beauty.  They may be thugs and crowd out something you planted, and may need pulling and thinning at times.  But that remains true of many perennials we plant, too.

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The humble strawberry begonia, that I cultivated as a hanging houseplant in the 70’s, is actually a hardy perennial here in Williamsburg.  I started a few years ago with just a few small pots.  And as they multiplied (one of the plants known as ‘mother of thousands,’ by the way) I have used them in more pots and beds.  What was innocently planted last year as an accent plant will soon enough take over the entire pot or bed.  But what a beautiful groundcover!  And now, in May, when they bloom with stalks of tiny white fairy shaped flowers, I am glad that I’ve let it run.

These are aren’t members of the ‘Begonia’ genus.  They are a Saxifraga and perform especially well in rock gardens and pots.  But the leaf is silvery and bright like some Begonias, and it runs like a strawberry with new plants growing at the ends of long stolons.  Saxifraga stolonifera is hardy in Zones 6-9 and remains evergreen if left outside here over winter.

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Native muscadine grape produce good edible grapes, when allowed to bloom. Many gardeners clear these away as they quickly grow huge if left unpruned.

 

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Once we find ourselves in May, and perennials grow again and woody’s leaves unfold, the many interesting textures of our garden weave themselves together in beautiful and novel ways.  It is a little different every year.  Once I can get past the novelty of bright flowers blooming again, I settle in to enjoy the every changing tapestry of stems and leaves that reliably furnish the garden from now until first frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a garden photo and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six On Saturday: When Wood Breaks Into Bloom

Redbud is the earliest tree in our garden to bloom, followed within another week or two by the dogwoods.

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When stark woody limbs suddenly burst open to liberate soft, fragrant flowers, we live, once again, the mystery play of spring.

We witness sudden and transformative change initiated by some small fluctuation in the status quo.  Days grow a few minutes longer; temperatures rise.  The Earth tilts a bit more in this direction or that, and the winds bring a new season as every branch, bulb, seed and root respond.

It is natural magic, and needs no assistance.  Every tree responds to its own cue of light and warmth while the gardener sits back with a cup of tea to appreciate the spectacle.

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Redbud flowers emerge directly from woody stems.  A member of the pea family, redbud, Cercis, trees store nitrogen on their roots, directly fertilizing the soil where they grow.  The nitrogen is filtered out of the air by their leaves, along with carbon.  Other plants can draw on this nitrogen in the soil for their own growth.

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I’m becoming more aware, with each passing season, of the silent cues leading me on my own journey as a gardener.  I’m looking for value when I invest in planting some new thing in the garden.  How many seasons will it grow?  How much return will it yield for my investment in planting?

A potted geranium will give six or eight months of interest, perhaps another season or two if you are both lucky and skilled.  A potted Camellia will outlive the gardener, assuming it survives its first seasons of hungry deer and unexpected drought.  The Camellia can produce hundreds of flowers in a single season, and more with each passing year.  A dogwood or Magnolia tree fills the garden with even more flowers, then feeds the birds months later as their seeds mature.

Gardening, like all transcendent pursuits, may be neatly reduced to mathematics when choices must be made.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle; small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer; red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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Yesterday afternoon I planted the Hydrangea paniculata I bought one Saturday afternoon almost two years ago, while taking my mother shopping.  A dozen potted shrubs were piled in front of her Wal-Mart store that late summer afternoon, reduced by half to move them.  They were clearing out the nursery area in preparation for holiday stock and impulsively, I grabbed a nice one and piled it in my cart.

“What are you going to do with that?”  she asked, cautiously, maybe wondering whether I intended to plant it in her yard somewhere.  She is housebound now, and can’t get out to garden as she once did.

“I don’t know yet,”  I responded, “but I’m sure I’ll find a spot for it at home.”  And the place I found was in a sheltered spot behind the house while I figured out where to plant it.  And it seemed quite content there, though it didn’t bloom last summer.  And it lived through two winters in its nursery pot while I dithered about where to plant it.

And finally, with a twinge of guilt for not letting its roots spread into good earth and its limbs reach into the sunlight, I chose a spot this week on our back slope, near other Hydrangeas, where we lost some lilac shrubs and their absence left an empty space to fill.  The Hydrangea will appreciate our acidic soil and the partial shade that has grown in there, where the lilac shrubs did not.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea also produces panicles of flowers in May, and the flowers persist into early winter. Many Hydrangeas bloom on new wood, while others set their buds in autumn. It pays to know your shrub.

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And as I plant, I can see its spindly little branches growing stout and long, reaching up and out for light and air.  Since it blooms on new wood, not old, every summer it will have the opportunity to stretch, and grow, and fill its corner of the garden with large pale panicles of flowers for months at a time.  Its roots will hold the bank against erosion and its woody body will welcome birds and support heavy flowers.  Each branch has the power to root and grow into a new shrub, even as each flower will support a cloud of humming insects on summer days.

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On March 1, 2017 our Magnolia liliflora trees were already in full bloom.

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There is tremendous potential in every woody plant.  They weave the fabric of the garden as days become weeks and weeks knit themselves into years.  Knowing them closely allows one to choose wisely, creating a flowering patchwork of trees and shrubs that shine each in their own season, and ornament the garden, each in its own way, every day of each passing year.

When leaves turn bright, then brown, and begin to swirl on autumn’s chilling winds, leaving stark woody skeletons where our soft green trees swayed so shortly ago; we watch with confidence that spring is but another breath away.

The only constant is change, as they say.  And knowing that, we know how to plan and plant to enjoy every moment.

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Mountain Laurel grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  Its buds are already swelling to bloom by early May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Fabulous Friday:  Flowers From Wood, Forest Garden, March 2017

Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six On Saturday: Meeting the Challenge

Cuttings taken this spring from a saucer Magnolia branch, and from my potted Ginko tree root on our deck.

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As much as I love to shop for plants, and as much as I love the family who runs our local garden center,  I’m staying at home this spring.

Oh, it is so tempting to run out for a few trays of springtime happiness in the form of little geraniums and herbs, a few pots of perennials and a bag of fresh potting soil, or two.  In Virginia, garden centers and hardware stores are considered essential, and so they are open every day welcoming customers.

But every time I’m tempted to pick up those car keys and go, I think about all of the people I love and the very good reasons to stay at home and stay well , making sure that I don’t become a link in that chain of virus transmission.

But it’s April, and my fingers are itching to play in the dirt and grow something beautiful.  I’m sure you understand.

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An oak seedling emerges from an acorn I picked up in December.

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And so I’m challenging myself to work with what I have and keep purchases to a minimum.  And as I wander around our garden, I am filled with gratitude for each emerging perennial and fern, every seedling and living, growing cutting.

My neighbor shared a bag of Lycoris bulbs she had dug from her own garden.  I planted those today.  Another neighbor brought me packs of vegetable seeds, and I shared several tree seedlings I’d dug from ours.

I’ve been taking cuttings from some tender perennials we overwintered in the garage.  I’m rooting slips of scented geranium, Begonias and some coleus.  Last year’s plants may look a little tired, but the rooted cuttings will perform like new ones from the garden center.

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This hanging basket springs back to life as last year’s herbs and ‘annuals’ re-emerge for another season.

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We had a mild winter, and so I’ve been finding little plants emerging in pots and baskets on the porch and patio.  Thus far we have Verbena, Lantana, geraniums, scented Pelargoniums, some pineapple mint, Dichondra and lots of ferns!  I plan to divide some, and to take more cuttings from these, too.  I’m challenging myself to have a garden just as full and beautiful as ever, without needing to buy so much this spring.

I did succumb to plant lust and ordered some lotus seeds, Nelumbo nucifera, the sacred tropical lotus grown throughout Asia, to grow in pots on my patio this summer.  I’ve been reading a bit about how to grow these beautiful plants and studying the posts of lotus in pots and water gardens in Pinterest.

When my seeds arrived, they were already prepared to germinate.  They came with their shells already pierced so the warm water I soaked them in could penetrate.  I kept them in a jelly jar on the stove, changing their water a few times a day, as they began to grow.

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Lotus seeds begin to grow as first stems emerge and stretch for the light.  Keep the seeds and plants in several inches of warm water as they grow.

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Caring for baby emerging lotus plants is a lot like looking after little tadpoles, if you did that as a kid.  They grow so quickly!

After the first week, as their stems elongated, I moved them up into a deeper clear dish and let them grow on near a window.  Finally, I ‘potted’ up most of them into 24 oz clear plastic tumblers to give each lengthening stem more room to stretch and grow.  Most of them have a second stem emerging now, and soon they will put down roots into the soil and gravel at the bottom of each tumbler.  I expect to grow the lotus on in the tumblers for a few more weeks, at least until it warms up here enough to put them outside!

I actually ordered seed from two different vendors, hedging my bets, and every seed but one germinated.  So now I have quite a few lotus plants to tend…   another challenge.

Some of my gardening friends are finding a casual offer to share a lotus embedded in my email messages of late.  I am hoping to find adoptive homes for most of these lotus, and I hope they will prove as entertaining and happiness inspiring for friends as they’ve been for me.

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Our tall Iris began blooming this week.  This is a species Iris pallida brought to Virginia from Europe during Colonial times .

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We are enjoying a beautiful spring here in Virginia.  The dogwoods and Azaleas are blooming and the Wisteria drapes from tree to tree like lavender swag draperies.  Our first tall Iris of the season are opening and buds swell on the roses.  Late Narcissus stand tall and bright in the upper garden as trees clothe themselves in ever expanding leaves.

We are finding plenty to do here at home.  I expect that it will be our best garden yet, as we focus on gratitude for what we have.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo of something beautiful and a thought provoking quotation each day.

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six On Saturday: For the Love of Trees

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis, glows against white dogwood flowers and emerging green leaves on nearby trees.

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In youth we plant annuals.  By middle age fill our gardens with perennials.  As we grow more keenly aware of passing time we turn to trees.  There is comfort in trees, and economy.  A single flowering tree can bear hundreds, thousands of flowers all opening over a few fleeting days.

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Magnolia liliflora holds elegant pink flowers against a backdrop of white dogwood blossoms.  Our several trees were young saplings when we came to this garden, left by the previous owner.   Now each has grown into a magnificent, flower covered tree.

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I’ve been very focused on trees lately.  I took an intensive three month Tree Steward course this winter, which has given me new tools to observe, identify and appreciate a wider variety of trees.   I’ve learned more about what trees need to thrive and how they grow.  I’ve been planting tree seeds, rooting cuttings of twigs, and watching for emerging volunteer seedlings of desirable trees.

It sounds trite to say that, ‘trees are a gift of nature.’  We can all acknowledge this, particularly when we pause to think of their many environmental benefits.  Trees hold the earth against erosion, help process excess ground water after a heavy rain, filter pollutants out of the air and refresh it with fresh oxygen.  They provide shade on hot sunny days, offer privacy, and improve the soil.  Trees feed and shelter birds, butterflies and many other insects.  Many also provide food and medicines for us.  So many benefits from these incredible plants!

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Our friends at Homestead Garden Center gave me this hybrid redbud tree one cold November day, when it was maybe 10″ tall. I grew it in a pot with spring bulbs for a season, and then moved it to its permanent spot on a hill in our back garden.  This is its first spring to bloom.

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But many of our trees quite literally are gifts.    They either were handed to us by a friend, while quite small and growing in a pot, or they have popped up in the garden where their seed was dropped by a bird or squirrel.  How exciting to find a desirable tree growing in the garden where it can live for decades to come.

A few years ago I was searching for native holly, Ilex opaca, through all of the local nurseries.  I wanted some for a project I was working on at the time and absolutely couldn’t find a single one for sale.  I ended up buying six hybrid hollies instead.

But this winter, I was out walking in our garden and noticed holly seedlings literally everywhere!  If we allow all of these to grow, our garden will become a holly forest in just a few years.   We’ve found many seedlings of other favorite trees:  dogwood, redbud, Magnolia and oak.   Who needs to hire a landscaper or shop the garden center when nature provides the perfect trees for our site?

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Our neighbor helped us dig this beautiful Magnolia grandiflora out of his yard one summer after we lost many backyard trees to a storm.  It was a little seedling of his own Magnolia, and is now growing into its beauty. I’m hoping for flowers one summer soon.  Southern Magnolias once only grew as far north as the Carolina state line.  Now, they have naturalized throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

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I’ve been propagating native trees this winter to sell through our local plant sales, to make natives available to people in our community who want them.  There are so many wildlife benefits to growing native plants, but they also grow very independently, without much fuss or care from the gardener.

I discovered that buying native tree species isn’t as easy as you might like.  Most garden centers and nurseries carry the latest and greatest hybrid ‘nativar,’ or ornamental from Asia.  Finding good, solid native Virginia trees commercially is a challenge.  And so I’m hoping to fill that niche and increase interest in native trees within my own community.  Our plant sales have been rescheduled from April and May to October, but that just gives these baby trees a bit longer to grow.

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This native red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, volunteered in our yard. It was broken to the ground in our 2013 storm, and has regrown from its roots. It is spectacular in bloom, and attracts many pollinators to its beautiful red flowers. Sometimes, the hummingbirds return early enough to enjoy it.  Like the Magnolia, the buckeye was once native to our south, but has naturalized further north in recent years.

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Have you planted a tree lately?  I grow trees in pots as well as in the ground.  Whey they outgrow their pots, I often transplant them into the garden.  But one can just get a larger pot, or begin to prune their roots and keep them small.

At the moment, I have a few acorns just emerging in paper cups.  I’ll soon tear the bottom of the cup a bit to make easy passage for their roots, and plant the tree, still in its cup, into a gallon pot and grow it on.

For the love of trees leads one to want to share them, as well as propagate and nurture them.  Trees make superb garden companions; constant, patient, easy to live with, and always surprising us with something new.

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I dug these two red maples from my parents yard when they were tiny seedlings, and grew them in pots on the deck for several years before planting them out into the garden. Deer will nibble young maples, so it is wise to protect them until they mature.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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An easy way to root hardwood cuttings over winter is to simply trim them and stick them in a potted plant outdoors.   By mid-spring, most will have enough roots to support some leaves.  The nearest cutting is of the red buckeye, and will soon be potted up and offered at our autumn plant sale.

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations: Walking In Beauty Every Day

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six on Saturday: Evergreen

Helleborus

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By January autumn’s leaves have mostly fallen and anything evergreen dazzles in the fleeting winter sun.  I anticipate this quiet time of the year when one can see deeply into the roadside woods, admiring the stands of pines, hollies, Magnolias and myrtles normally hidden from view by the leafy, growing forest.

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American Holly surrounded by pines.

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After the year’s many colorful extravagances, the restful simplicity of bared bark, buff leaf litter and glowing evergreens stands in elegant contrast to the other seasons’ beauties.

At home, too, evergreen perennials peek through the fallen leaves, a deep emerald green.  Pointy ivy leaves scramble across the ground and spill from pots on the patio.  Fresh, wrinkled Helleborus leaves emerge from the chilled earth embracing stems of unfolding flowers.

What a delight to see these winter treasures braving the worst weather of the year, unflinching under a frosty glaze.

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Mahonia aquifolium

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Our Mahohias stand crowned with golden flowers this week.  Filled with nectar, they feed native bees and other pollinators who venture out on warmish days.  As we admired a particularly lush stand of Mahonia this morning, a brilliant red cardinal dropped out of the sky to land on its uppermost branch.  Perhaps it was looking for its breakfast, too.

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Camellia sasanqua

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Yucca and German Iris, rosemary, parsley, thyme, Arum and tiny Cyclamen leaves soak up the sun and stand resolute in the face of winter.  A well planned garden needs these touches of evergreen to carry us through until spring.

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Thyme

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No blazing summer Dahlia will ever touch me in the same way as richly green Arum, melting the snow around itself, its leaves unmarred by ice.

These loyalest of garden plants remain with us through the difficulties of winter, inspiring us with their fortitude and blessing us with their beauty.

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Arum italicum shines from late autumn into May, when it quietly fades away. This European native produces enough heat to attract insects and protect itself in freezing weather.  Here, with emerging daffodil leaves, Vinca minor and Saxifraga stolonifera.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six on Saturday: Unexpected Pleasures

Scarlet oakleaf Hydrangea leaves brighten up a foggy, January garden. Edgeworthia flowers hang like tiny snowballs, opening very slowly over winter. Our Camellias remain in full bloom.

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January presents as a quiet month on all fronts.  After a good six weeks of holiday indulgences, most of us are ready to go home and rest a while.  Especially for a gardener, expectations are low.  So low that a new seed catalog in the mail presents a thrill of color and possibility.

Which is why I’m feeling exceptionally appreciative for the unexpected pleasures in our garden this week.  It is wet and almost warm out there, since Christmas.  We had some freezing weather early on, but not enough to kill the geraniums on the front porch or slow down the Verbena and Allysum blooming on the patio.

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Allysum blooms on the patio, enticing the occasional bee. Germander leaves remain deeply green all winter, finally blooming by late April.

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And the Iris!  Ohh la la!  Blooming since New Year’s Eve, we are into our fifth day now of a beautiful blue and white scented Iris.  This is why I love the re-bloomers so very much.

Our rosemary is in bloom, and some daffodils have already broken ground with the first green tips of leaves.  It can’t be spring, in the first week of the new year, and we know there will be cold days and nights ahead.  But this interlude of curious cardinals, an occasional bee, mild afternoons and fragrant flowers charms us with its promise of spring now on the horizon.

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Iris and Verbena bloom together this week on our patio.  The Verbena has remained in bloom since I bought it last April.

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In our climate, one can easily plan for year-round flowers and plenty of interest in the garden on every day of the year.  There is no true ‘down time’ anymore.  I’ve finished my first round of clearing and cleaning in the perennial beds, but am not yet ready to cut down the beautiful seedheads of our native perennials.  Besides, the birds aren’t yet finished with them.

There is still that crate of daffodil bulbs in the garage, too, waiting for me to dedicate an afternoon to finally committing them to the Earth.

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I was delighted to discover, while cutting down the Cannas and ginger lilies and generally surveying the garden,  several dozen seedling Ilex opaca shining through the fallen leaves.  I had wished for some native holly to transplant for a project a few years back.  And the multiverse clearly heard my wish and granted it in abundance.  Were I to allow them all to grow, our garden would soon become a holly forest.

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Rosemary blooms during winter here in Williamsburg. I sometimes cut it to use in Christmas wreathes or winter arrangements.

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So the task at hand is to dig and pot most of those little holly trees in the week ahead.  I’ll likely throw a daffodil bulb in each hole before I fill it with compost or bark mulch, and call it job well done.  The seemingly random daffies will remind me of this beautiful gift of native trees, sown by the birds, and filling our garden this month with vibrant green poking through the wet fallen leaves.

As the final bulbs go into the ground, the first snowdrops and Hellebores have bloomed.  There is always an unexpected pleasure waiting if one will only take a moment to see what is already there.

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Hellebores bloom in our garden from late December through early May, giving flowers during the greyest days of the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Mahonia prepares to bloom, to the delight of our native bees still foraging on warm days. The Egeworthia, covered in silvery flowers, grows more spectacular each year.  We’re so grateful to our friend who introduced it to me years ago.

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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

 

Six On Saturday: Time for a Change

Geraniums bloom in the midst of scented Pelargoniums and other herbs, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and ivy.

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Color touches and excites us.  Of all the reasons for cultivating a garden, enjoying beautiful color throughout the year inspires me more than most.

Color ebbs and flows in waves through the seasons, with beautiful oranges, reds and golds reaching an autumn crescendo some time in October, most years, with colors steadily fading to browns and greys in November .

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Camellia ‘Yuletide’ bloomed this week, a bit earlier than usual.

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Cooler weather brings us renewed, intense color in late season flowers and bright autumn leaves.   Autumn’s flowers celebrate  gentler, wetter weather with a vibrancy they’ve not shown since spring.

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Oakleaf hydrangea holds its colorful leaves deep into winter.  Behind it, the Camellias bloom and flower buds have formed on the Edgeworthia.

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We noticed the first changing leaves in late August.  Maples and sycamores began to turn in late summer, followed in September by the first hits of red on the dogwoods.  Holly berries began to fade from green to orange in early October, and still aren’t fully red.

Our long, warm autumn has held off the usual brilliant autumn foliage of hardwood trees deep into the season, and many trees have dropped their leaves already, lost to wind and drought.  Those that have hung onto their branches long enough to shine, brilliant for a while before falling, are enjoyed all the more this year.

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Purple beautyberries shine against the shrub’s changing leaves.  This isn’t the native, and I don’t recall this particular shrub’s provenance.  But I like its smaller leaves.   ‘African Blue’ and ‘Thai’ basil still bloom prolifically and will continue through the first heavy frost.

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Goldenrod fills our upper garden beds.   A Virginia native, its golden yellow flowers feed the late pollinators and offer a last wash of soft color among stands of brown seedheads and withering perennials.  Our garden remains alive with every sort of little bee, a few Sulphur butterflies and a late Monarch or two.

We came home after dark this week to the rare and magical sight of a lone hummingbird feeding on the ginger lilies.  A hummingbird glows in the wash of headlights, reflecting a bright pin-point of light from its little eye and sparkling in its movement from flower to flower.  One might mistake it for a little fairy moving among the flowers after dusk.

We had thought the hummingbirds had already flown south, and sat for a long time at the top of the drive just watching its progress from flower to flower.

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Butterfly ginger lily is a favorite late nectar source for hummingbirds.

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And so we celebrate the colors of the season, even as the garden fades for another year.  This week I’ve dug Caladiums and replaced them with spring flowering bulbs, Violas, snaps and sprouting Arum lily tubers.

I’m taking up our collection of Alocasias and Colocasias, re-potting them and bringing them inside before our colder nights bite them, too.  We now have low temperatures in the 30s predicted for the next few nights, and they won’t like that.  It’s time to bring in the Begonias, as well, and I’m not looking forward to all the heavy lifting this day will require.

From an afternoon high near 80F on Thursday, we’re suddenly expecting winter-time temperatures at night.  Change is in the air this week.

But even as we turn back our clocks this weekend, so we dial back the garden, too.  Winter is a simpler, starker season, but still beautiful.  And as leaves fall and perennials die back, the Camellias shine.  Every sort of berry brightens to tempt the hungry birds, and we notice the color and texture of all of the different barks on our woodies.

A little planning and thoughtful planting now will insure color in the garden through until spring.  A gardener always has something to enjoy, and something interesting to do while enjoying the beauty surrounding us.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Six On Saturday: Autumn’s Passing Beauty

The Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy, Lincoln City, OR

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Autumn’s passing beauty shines for such a short time.  Like the green flash of a sunset, you must watch for it; wait for it, celebrate it.

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Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, blooms at Bear Valley Nursery, Lincoln City, OR.

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The allee of crimson maple trees lining Rt. 18 that had thrilled me as I passed McMinnville, Oregon, on my way to the coast, had already dropped many of their leaves, and were left standing in their bare, structural glory, by the time I returned by the same way, a little more than a week later.

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Rose hips ripen near Siletz Bay

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But a bit further down the road, the richly green tunnel of trees I drove through near the Salmon River had transformed into a shimmering golden stretch, where hardwoods mixed in with the ubiquitous conifers had turned from green to gold during my visit.

It was raining the morning I left.  A storm was moving in, bringing cold winds where I had enjoyed calm sunny days.  I wonder whether those golden leaves still cloak the trees?

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The Connie Hansen Garden

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I found rich color everywhere I went, from orange rose-hips to crimson viburnum offering up a final flush of blooms.  Browning ferns rose above blackberry vines, some with the last ripe berries of the season still clinging to their canes.

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The garden at Mossy Creek Pottery

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How much beauty do we pass by every day, lost in our thoughts and our routines?

When we take a moment, take a breath and see; we find our world richly colored and filled with beauty.  It feels all the sweeter in late October, in the brief moment before it is swept away by winter’s chilling winds.

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Viburnum blooms one last time for the year at the Connie Hansen Garden

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

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Viburnum mariesii

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All photos from Lincoln City, OR

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