Six on Saturday: In Transition

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Some days, the most interesting topic of conversation turns out to be the weather.  Today we noted the pros and cons of what it wasn’t: it wasn’t the least bit warm, wasn’t ever sunny, and it wasn’t at all spring-like.  But we also noted our gratitude that at least it wasn’t snowy or stormy in our little corner of Virginia.  It was a day for shivering in the wind while searching the landscape for any and every sign of spring.

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A few bulbs have appeared beside my mother’s driveway.

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I ventured a hundred odd miles northwest today, and a week or more back in meteorological time.

Open faces on daffodils were scarce, though we spotted buds here and there.   Japanese quince shone a muted red through the misty gloom.

But I was cheered to see potted Camellia shrubs and the first of the early perennials have arrived at my favorite Richmond greenhouse and nursery.  They were stocking the seed packet racks and unpacking Aroid tubers, while a cheerful group of Master Gardeners conferred with customers and handed out  fact sheets to those ready to start the season better prepared with good advice.

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The daffodils are much further along in my Williamsburg garden, than any I saw around Richmond today.

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Today we could feel the gears clicking together a little roughly in this reluctant transition from winter to spring.   Winter still has a very firm grip on the situation, and we’re feeling a bit rebellious.  We’re ready to relax a little into a sunny day, sow some seeds, and maybe plant out a pot or two.  Why fight the inevitable, especially now that we can see the trees are preparing to cooperate as their buds swell and color?

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Magnolia stellata

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My self-control was weak; and you couldn’t blame me.  The jazzy blooming lilies and flamingo pink Hydrangeas nearly pushed me over the edge, and that was before we circled the orchid display at least three times.

Spring was in the air, if only inside the glass house packed with blooms.   And of course I filled a little basket with fresh flower pots and a blooming Begonia, a few cute little ferns and a bag of summer bulbs.  It was a small extravagance and did more to lift my mood than I care to admit.

The girls at the register were all smiles and happy talk as people streamed through with carts piled high.  We all needed to take a piece of spring home with us, some little bright something to distract us from the day’s winter gloom, a living promise of brighter days just ahead.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

That myth is more potent than history.

That dreams are more powerful than facts.

That hope always triumphs over experience.

That laughter is the only cure for grief.

And I believe that love

is stronger than death.”
.

Robert Fulghum

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

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Six New Things On Saturday

Japanese Pieris

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The novelty of emerging spring draws me outside to tromp around our garden on the rawest of late winter days, when most reasonable people would busy themselves inside.

“What’s new today?” I wonder, slipping into my muddy shoes and pocketing my camera.  There are changes now hour to hour, let alone day to day.

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Iris reticulata ‘Sunshine’

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Yesterday, I noticed the first two of our yellow Iris reticulata in bloom.  The skies opened up with more rain before I made it back outside to photograph them.  I wondered how they would hold up in heavy rain, as I listened to it pounding on the roof and coursing through the gutters last night.   And in answer they still stand smartly this morning, petals holding strong, if splashed a bit with soil.

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Helleborus orientalis seedling, in its first season of bloom

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The passage from February into March is measured by emerging colors, in our garden.  Brighter, fresher greens, yellow, pinks, purples, blue, white and sometimes red,  appear with Disney-like synchronicity.  Of all the colors of spring, yellow feels the warmest and most penetrating.

I can see the yellow Forsythia exploding like fireworks, and dafffodils appearing, like flickering growing flames, beneath the shrubs.  Yellow is the color I can see from across the yard, through the window as I wait indoors for the latest storm to pass.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea buds began to open this week.

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Like a litter of kittens awakening one by one from their naps, so the shrubs awaken one by one, all in their proper time.  Forsythia leads them all, with flowering quince buds swelling and unfolding a few days later.

This morning I found the first of the Japanese Pieris opening, Magnolia stellata buds finally glowing white instead of fuzzy grey, and the first white carnation like Camellias opening on a juvenile shrub.  We added this Camellia in autumn 2016, and this is its first spring covered in buds.

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Camellia japonica

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Such is the rhythm of making a garden.  We make small gestures, a bulb here, a perennial there.  A new shrub or two each year, perhaps a tree.  We plant and build, shape, prune and plan with some idea of the shape of things to come.

But maybe sometimes we forget, as the months and seasons follow one after the other, while we wait for our small gestures to root and grow.  And then suddenly it’s spring, again.  And the garden awakens, and our investments mature into beauty beyond imagination.

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Hyacinth

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Six on Saturday: The Greening of the World

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“I can breathe where there is green.

Green grows hope.

It keeps my heart beating

and helps me remember

who I am.”
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Courtney M. Privett

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The first daffodils of spring opened in our forest garden yesterday.

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Watching the greening of the world each spring never fails to fill me with appreciation to live in such a beautiful place.  How many people live in cities or arid lands that remain clothed in shades of grey and brown throughout the year?

Without winter, I’m not sure that I would appreciate the living greens of February so much.  At the moment, every emerging leaf and stem excites me.

I want to photograph them and watch their daily progress as new growth emerges from woody stems and muddy earth.

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Green is the color of life, of growth, of change.  The simple chemistry of transforming sunlight into living bio-energy happens only in the green.  The alchemy of transforming polluted air into pure; the creation of oxygen to fill our every breath requires green leaves to filter every inhalation of breath we take.  Green sustains our lives even as it soothes our spirit.

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This is the season when the first tentative bits of green re-appear from the warming Earth.  Perennials re-awaken and stretch folded leaves and lengthening stems, reaching for sunlight and warmth.  Moss plumps and spreads,  tiny weeds and blades of grass sprout from patient seeds.

I am glad to find them all, encouraged at the stubbornness and determination of greening life to prevail over the forces of darkness.  The old and rotting will be swept away to return to the compost pile of history, releasing its remaining energy to fuel what is vital and new.

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“Pursue some path,

however narrow and crooked,

in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
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Henry David Thoreau

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Green is the soul of Spring.

Summer may be dappled with yellow,

Autumn with orange and Winter with white

but Spring is drenched with the colour green.”
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Paul Kortepeter

Six (or more?) Surprises on Saturday

Scilla

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This past week has been filled with surprises.  We swept right out of the fringe and frigid edges of the so-called ‘Polar Vortex’ into a few days of balmy spring weather.  The last three days have been as near to perfect weather as one could possibly hope for in February in Virginia.

Its been warm, dry, and sometimes a little sunny these past few days.  Signs of spring are literally bursting out of ground, buds on trees are swelling and those of us already itching to get busy for spring have heeded the call to come out of the cozy house and outdoors to make use of these unexpected days.

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The first of our red Camellia japonica bloomed this week.

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I’ve spent many happy hours outside these past several days flitting like some crazed butterfly from one part of the garden to the next, looking for growth even as I got on with the business of pruning and clearing beds.   We actually spotted a butterfly on Wednesday afternoon.

We don’t know whether it awoke from its chrysalis too soon, or migrated too far north too early.  Its orange and brown wings caught our eye as it fluttered around some old cedar trees, an unusual color to find in the garden in February.  It may have been a Fritillary; we didn’t get close enough to do more than determine it wasn’t an early Monarch.  We were both very surprised to see it, and wish it well and safe shelter as we return to more seasonable temperatures this weekend.

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Our first Iris reticulata of the season. This cultivar is ‘Pauline.’ Squirrels have been digging around this patch of bulbs and I’ve repaired their damage several times. I’m happily surprised to discover these blooming.

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The butterfly turned up a day after we found a honeybee feeding on the Mahonia, and the same day we found a colony of ground bees awake and foraging near the ravine.  I was glad to notice the ground bees buzzing around as I headed their way with a cart full of pruned branches…. before they noticed me!  I didn’t stumble into them and they didn’t feel a need to warn me off.

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The first leaves of daffodils remind us where we’ve planted in years gone by, and entice us with the promise of flowers on their way.

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We saw our first blooming daffodils of the year, blooming beside the fence at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  We discovered the first blooming Iris histrioides of the year, the first dandelion of the season shining golden in our ‘lawn,’ and the first ruby red Camellia japonica flowers on the shrubs near the street.

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Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ planted out several years ago, after devastating damage from caterpillars one summer.  It has been very slow to recover and slow to grow.  Its beautiful leaves make it worth the effort.

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The most interesting surprise came yesterday afternoon when I placed a cutting of our Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’, that has been growing in our garden for the last several years, into a one of the little shrubs I believed to be a variegated English holly.

We bought these shrubs as English holly in November of 2017 at a chain home improvement store and sporting a big name plant tag.  I never questioned the label and have written about them as English holly over the past few years.

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Can you spot the cutting taken from our Osmanthus growing in the upper garden?

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But them California horticulturalist Tony Tomeo called me out.  He commented on the post about taking stem cuttings, saw the little holly cuttings with the eyes of experience, and told me that what I was calling variegated English holly was, in fact, variegated false holly, Osmanthus ‘Goshiki.’

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Now you see it… an exact match …

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It took me a day to process what was so plain to him.  I photographed my shrubs, took a cutting from an older Osmanthus and set it seamlessly into the holly in a pot by our kitchen door.  Their leaves were identical.  Tony was correct and I had missed it in my own garden.

This is actually very good news.  At maturity, the Osmanthus will grow to only half the size of an English holly.  It has softer leaves and tolerates full shade.  An English holly wants full sun, which is hard to find in our garden.  Correctly identifying the shrub has proven a happy surprise for us.

Today we settle back into winter clothes and winter routines, but my heart is awake to the energy of spring.  I’m motivated to continue the clean-up and pruning; polishing the garden stage for the next act waiting in the wings: spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.

Six on Saturday: Camping Out Indoors

This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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We love big and colorful leaves in our summer garden, and we end up growing a pretty good collection of tropical plants each year that can’t make it through our coldest winter nights outdoors.  By the end of October, we are deciding which plants will get to camp out inside for the winter, and where (and how) they will overwinter.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.  It died back to its tuber in the basement last winter.  This winter it is still in growth in our sunny garage.

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Some plants get to grow on in their pots in our sunny living spaces.  They will stay comfortably warm from November through April or May.  Aside from living with a little less light than they’d like, they have a good winter of continued growth and minimal disruption.  I continue to fertilize many of these plants to encourage winter blooms.

Others come into the garage.  It is a good deal chillier, and they get even less light.  But they remain active, with very little new growth, and most manage to survive the winter.  I water these only as needed to keep their soil barely moist, and don’t apply any fertilizer until the weeks before they move back outdoors.

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Begonias live in our garage and living room through the winter.  Some may lose their leaves, but often return from their rhizomes in the spring.  this one is growing well this winter and is still producing new leaves.

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A few sturdier plants, Alocasias, Zantedeschias and Colocasias, are re-potted into much smaller quarters and overwinter in the basement near a window.  Most of those that get this treatment have a dormant period built into their annual life cycle and are at least marginally hardy here in Zone 7.

I spare them a real period of freezing temperatures and make sure that they stay barely moist through winter.  They lose most, or all of their leaves and may survive as a tuber with a few active roots.  The Zantedeschias we are overwintering this way have continued to throw out sturdy new leaves, reaching for the feeble winter light from our basement windows.

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Begonias with Caladium ‘Moonlight’. Cane Begonias can be overwintered in vases of water as cuttings. Once the stem has roots, it can be potted up in a much smaller pot, indoors, until time to plant it outside in late April.  Cuttings of this Begonia rest on my kitchen counter, waiting for spring.

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Finally, most of the Caladiums and some Zantedeschias go fully dormant in November, with all leaves and roots dying back.  Once their tubers have dried out, I pack them away in rice hulls, in bags, and put them in an out of the way spot indoors for the winter.

They slumber through winter without any moisture or light, and must be re-awakened each spring by planting them in moist soil.  They send out all new growth each spring and are ready to back out doors in May or June.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ was a newcomer to our garden this summer.  Its tubers are resting, waiting for me to wake them up next month.

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The alternative to going to all of this trouble would be to treat our beautiful summer tropical plants like annuals, allowing the frost to kill them each fall and starting over with new plants each spring.  Some gardeners may go this route, especially if you don’t have the space indoors to let the plants camp out in comfort for a few months.

It would be an outrageous expense for us, and there isn’t a guarantee that you will even find the plants in spring to replace those lost.  We lost our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ last winter, and then didn’t find it in any catalogs for spring.  We were delighted to find A. ‘Stingray’ in Brent and Becky Heath’s spring catalog, and have several on order.

So every fall we bring as many as we can indoors, care for them through the winter, and then begin moving them all back outside again in April.  They may look a bit worse for the winter in doors, but all soon grow new foliage and perk up in the sunshine to enjoy another summer of beauty and growth.

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Zantedeschia, calla lily, blooming last June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.

 

 

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