Fabulous Friday: Flowers From Wood

Native Dogwood, Cornus florida


There is something totally magical about flowers blooming on woody stems.  Flowers, so fragile and soft, breaking out of weathered bark as winter draws to a cold and windy close will always fascinate me.



Since I was a child, these natural wonders have held my attention.  Now, living in a Forest Garden, we have surrounded ourselves with flowering shrubs and trees.  They are sturdy yet beautiful, easy to maintain, and remain a lasting presence from year to year.  Their early flowers feed hungry pollinators when there is little else available.


“Double Take Scarlet” Japanese Quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Scarlet Storm’ in its second year in our garden. It has proven hardy and deer resistant, so I am watching the local garden centers for more of these shrubs to appear.  I would like to plant at least one more.


After a cold and wintery week, we are happy to greet the sun and its warmth today.  We have uncovered the Hydrangeas again, lifted sheltering pots off of our new perennials, assessed the damage wrought by nearly a week of nights in the 20s, and done a little more pruning. 
But mostly, we have admired the many flowers opening now in the garden on this Fabulous Friday.

The peach blossoms weathered the cold without damage.

Although the Magnolia blossoms and Camellia blossoms turned brown in the cold this week, there are still buds left to open.  The damaged flowers will drop away soon enough.  And the fruit trees are just getting started! 


Redbud flowers erupt directly from the trunk and branches of the tree. This is the species, Cercis canadensis, which grows wild here. Newer cultivars offer flowers in several shades of pink and lavender or white. Some also offer variegated or burgundy foliage.


If I were asked for advice by someone just starting in their garden, I would steer them towards flowering woodies. 
The shrubs, or trees, themselves provide great garden structure year round.  They provide a permanent presence over decades, with little input from the gardener once they are established.  
And when they bloom, Wow!  What amazing ‘bang for your buck’ when a flowering tree covers itself with thousands of perfect blossoms.  It may last for a few weeks only, but what ‘gorgeosity’ in the garden when they bloom! 
Even when the blooms are finished, there is still much to enjoy from their beautiful bark, leaves, fruits and berries.  Many flowering trees return with gorgeous fall color to end the season.


March 1, when the flowering Magnolia trees were covered in blossoms.


There are great flowering woodies to enjoy in a mid-zone garden (6-9) through  the entire year.  When you might expect a short break in late January through mid-February, while even our hardy Camellias stop blooming, the Mahonia, Forsythia and Edgeworthia fill the garden with fragrance and color.
Now that the annual show has begun, we await the Azaleas and Rhododendrons; Lilacs; several species of Hydrangeas; Mountain Laurel; Rose of Sharon; Roses;  Crepe Myrtles, which easily bloom here for 100 days; until we finally return to our fall Camellias.


From Left: Mahonia aquifolium, Edgeworthia chrysantha, and Magnolia stellata blooming in late February in our front garden.


This garden was already planted, by the original gardeners, with wonderful flowering trees and shrubs which we continue to enjoy. We have added many more, and continue to plant more flowering trees and shrubs each year.  I just received a new Sweet Bay Magnolia from the Arbor Day Foundation, and have potted it up to grow in a protected place for its first year or two.
Most flowering shrubs perform well in partial sun to shade and can tolerate many types of soil and moisture conditions;  which makes them good candidates for forested and shaded gardens. 
Flowering woodies remain truly fabulous in our garden!


Magnolia stellata, March 1 of this year


I am setting an intention to find some wonderful, beautiful, and happiness inducing thing to write about each Friday. 

Now that the Weekly Photo Challenge has moved to Wednesdays, I am starting  “Fabulous Friday” on Forest Garden. 

If you’re moved to find something Fabulous to share on Fridays as well, please tag your post “Fabulous Friday” and link your post back to mine. 

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017


Magnolia stellata


For the Love of May

Indica hybrid Azalea "Formosa"

Indica hybrid Azalea “Formosa”


May brings perfume to the garden and joy to the soul. 

It is the happiest month of the whole year to me.  Spring’s warmth has settled comfortably over the garden so the last of the shrubs and perennials finally stir from their winter slumber to send out their first green leaves, which let you know they have survived winter.





Taxes are completed and forgotten for another year.  The first fresh local strawberries ripen, tomatoes may be planted, songbirds are nesting, and school is nearly out.

May is for proms, graduations, Mother’s Day, births and weddings.  It is a month for successfully completing long lived goals.   Happiness is almost a tangible fragrance in the air.


May 7, 2015 garden 021


Our roses always bloom by Mother’s Day, but our first bud opened in all of its warm beauty yesterday!

Our shrubs are absolutely covered in buds this year, by the way.  The air is soft and filled with the fragrance of sweet iris and freshly cut grass.  The mint has grown tall enough to harvest, and I’m finally planting this summer’s crop of Basil.


May 7, 2015 garden 002


I spotted a hummingbird for the first time today flitting from one Columbine blossom to another.  A snapping turtle chose a quiet area to dig a nest and lay her eggs this morning.


May 7, 2015 garden 022


The closing weeks of May serve as a “soft opening” for summer. 

May is for switching over to the summer wardrobe and buying new sandals.  We greet May with Cinco de Mayo and bid it farewell with Memorial Day and the opening of community pools.

May is for the first beach trips of the season, enjoying long twilit evenings on the deck, and catching up with the farmers who run the local farm stand.  We re-arrange the deck for a new season, re-plant the pots, and remember our summer routines.


May 7, 2015 garden 009


My summer routine finds me in the garden most mornings watering, observing, trimming, and taking photos.  Listening to the chatter of birds and the whirr of hummingbird wings, I take note of what needs attention that day.  And we celebrate each new wonder as it unfolds.

Yesterday brought the Mountain Laurel opening the first of its flowers.


Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel


Today brought more roses opening and more Iris.  And today I finally installed that new planting bed that I’ve been contemplating since February.


May 7, 2015 garden 017


Of course May also brings Mayflies and sunburn, summer heat and higher gas prices.  Every month has its stresses, its true.

Yet May holds more happiness than most.  And I’m partial to any month which brings me iris and  roses…


May 5, 2015 garden 009


Woodland Gnome 2015



Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

May 1 2014 iris 011

The climatic changes we experience during spring are sometimes soft, gentle and sunny.  Other times, not.

The last week of April brought violent storms with tornadoes, torrential rain, hail and lightening to much of our region.

May 1 2014 iris 013

For many in our country, “spring” came with destructive force this year, washing out roads and leveling neighborhoods.

May 1 2014 iris 025

We experienced flooding rain and wind, but were so fortunate that truly violent storms stayed mostly to our south.   April went out like a hungry lion this year.

May 1 2014 iris 001

May first dawned muggy, with tropical air masses blowing up from the Gulf.  Storm clouds and hot sun alternated all day.

Dogwood petals lay scattered across the still soggy garden like souvenirs of the previous day’s storms .

May 1 2014 iris 022

Soft warm  Earth yielded willingly to my spade, accepting the roots of transplants tucked into worm filled pockets.

May 1 2014 iris 026

They will get a good start under cloudy skies, with more gentle rain coming in the days ahead to water them in and speed their growth.

May 2 2014 Azaleas 001

Spring, always unpredictable, feels more untrustworthy this year.  Perhaps it was the lingering winter which delayed everything for weeks.

May 1 2014 iris 021

Perhaps it was the harshly hot sun which so quickly blasted the apple and cherry blossoms; bringing us from wintery overnight temperatures into early summer by the afternoons, before temperatures quickly fell back into the 40s overnight.

May 2 2014 Azaleas 003

This spring has a wildness to it.  An unpredictable edge which bears watching.

May 1 2014 iris 024

Even so, beauty continues to cautiously unfold all around us.

May 1 2014 iris 005

Spring can  never be ignored. 

The elements all in play, doing what they will, there is life to be celebrated and enjoyed.


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

April 28, 2014 azaleas 001

 Weekly Photo Challenge:  Spring

Only Two Months Away

Valentine's Day along College Creek

Valentine’s Day along College Creek

Although it’s hard to imagine on this cold February day, with skies low and white; we are only two months away from our frost free date of April 15.

Two months:  eight weeks:  maybe 56 days.  April 15 is the published “frost free” in our part of Virginia, here in Zone 7b.  Mid-April is the earliest for us to move tender annuals and perennials back outside to start the summer garden.

The last few winters have been so mild, tomatoes and herbs have shown up at the big box stores by mid-March.  Most gardeners know that vegetable plants set outside before the weather settles can get stunted from the cold, but they are very hard to resist.

March 2012 in the back garden

March 2012 in the back garden

Our friends, the Pattons, over at the Homestead Garden Center, try to explain to eager gardeners each spring that one must wait until the weather warms to set out tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and Basil.  It seems many of us want to get ahead of the season and plant as early as we can.

It is important to wait until the soil warms up considerably before planting anything in the ground.  We also need to wait for the soil to dry some, after all of this winter rain and snow, before working with it to prepare beds for planting.  Working with garden soil when it’s too wet will compact it, which makes it hard for roots later in the season.  The soil will have a much different texture once it warms and dries out a bit.

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

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

Last year, with a beautiful warm and early spring, I began planting pots and baskets way too early.  We got some late cold weather, and I had to haul all back inside the garage; more than once.  At least nothing got frost bitten, but I did try to rush the season.  It is so hard to be patient once we get a whiff of spring!

An early March planting of Rununculus and Alyssum, both able to stand up to cold, but not freezing temperatures.

An early March planting of Ranunculus and Alyssum, both able to stand up to cold, but not freezing temperatures.

There are things we can do to get a jump on the season, even when early spring still feels like winter.  Here are gardening tasks I’ll begin working on during the rest of February and into early March:

1.  It is time to look over the various pots, baskets, tools, soil, and seed starting equipment left from last season.  We can inventory, clean, organize, and make a shopping list of what we need to begin the gardening year.

Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth.   Here with miniature Daffodils.

2.  By now, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to grow this spring.  With no orders yet placed, it is time to get busy ordering seeds, tubers, and plugs.  Seed displays will show up soon in many stores, and always tempt.  This is a good time to look through any packets left from last season, and decide what needs to be purchased.

3.  Most seedlings started indoors need about 6 weeks before they are ready to acclimate to the out of doors.  That means we can begin planting them indoors most any time now.  It is important to have strong light for seedlings.  We either need good space near a window or a set up with lights so they grow stocky and compact.

Caladiums growing with cane Begonia.

Caladiums growing with cane Begonia.

4.  Caladium tubers can also be planted this month indoors.  I plant them in plastic shoe boxes.  Line the shoe box with paper towel to wick the moisture evenly through the soil, and add about 4″ of good potting mix.  Plant each tuber, eyes up, shallowly so it is just covered, and water in .  Space tubers at least 2″-3″ apart, depending on the size of the tuber, to allow for root growth.  Cover the box with the lid, and put it somewhere warm and out of the way.  Begin checking for growth after the first 2 weeks.

Once the Caladium leaves begin to grow, uncover the box and bring it into the light.   Plant individual Caladium plants into their permanent pots, or into the ground, once they have at least one leaf.  Caladiums do best if kept warm inside until late April or early May.  They grow best when nights stay above 65F.  Caladiums, ordered in bulk from growers in Florida, can be had for around a dollar a tuber.  Purchased at the garden center in leaf, they cost many times that.

5.  Although its too early to work the soil, one can spread a fresh layer of compost of top of established beds.

Rose of Sharon should be trimmed back now to remove last year's seed heads and twiggy growth.  Blooms come on new wood.

Rose of Sharon should be trimmed back now to remove last year’s seed heads and twiggy growth. Blooms come on new wood.

6.  It is also time to tackle winter pruning.  Once we have several days in the 40s, and several nights in a row that don’t freeze, I’ll oil my pruning shears and head out to work on the Rose of Sharon, Crepe Myrtle, roses, vines, and fruit trees.  I will still wait to cut back the Lantana until after the first of March.  With our very cold winter, it is hard to know whether many survived, but I’m going to give them a better chance by waiting a while before cutting them back.

7.  I want to trim back the Hellebores.  All of the leaves left from last season need to come off so the new growth and flowers can shine.  Those old leaves are poisonous, so it is important to wear gloves when trimming them back.  They can be recycled as a mulch in areas plagued by voles.  As they break down in the soil, the poisonous compounds will settle in the soil as well.



8.  Winter has been very hard on my pots this year.  Many Violas look hopelessly ratty, where they have frozen repeatedly, and browned in the sun when the soil was frozen.  I need to do a lot of cutting back and cleaning up to make the pots look presentable, and replace  a few of the Violas with fresh ones.  Bulbs are beginning to poke up through the soil, and I want the pots to look good as they begin to bloom.

9.  Pots of summer flowers stored over winter in the garage are getting leggy.  It is time to cut them back, and pot up the cuttings so they can root before I want to set them outside in mid-April.  Scented Geraniums, Begonias, Fuschia, and Coleus will all grow easily from cuttings.

Tuberous Begonias may be started in plastic boxes in the same way as Caladium tubers are started.  Started by late February, they are ready top plant outside in late April.  Blooming here in June.

Tuberous Begonias may be started in plastic boxes in the same way as Caladium tubers are started. Started by late February, they are ready to plant outside in late April. Blooming here in June.

10.  It is nearly time to plant cold hardy herbs and spring vegetables.  Parsley is one of the earliest herbs we can plant out doors.  It can stand up to snow and freezing nights fairly well.  We can also plant seeds for peas, sweet peas, spinach, and a few other vegetables within the next few weeks.

Parsley can grow outside all winter long in our area, and is the first herb to plant in spring.

Parsley can grow outside all winter long in our area, and is the first herb to plant in spring.  Growing here with chives and Violas

11.  We need to do a spring clean up of leaves which have fallen or blown into the garden this winter.  They lurk on the patio, in borders, and on the lawn.  One dry day in the 60s I’ll head out with a rake and leaf blower to tidy up.  I reverse the blower to suck the leaves up and mulch them.  The mulch then gets added to the soil under shrubs.

12.  It is finally time for our first spring trip to the Homestead Garden Center to see what has come in.  Joel Patton has been growing a crop of English Primroses in his greenhouses, and they are already available along with  overwintered Violas.  I hope to find Ranunculus, and an early selection of perennial starts.  We found great deals on perennials and ferns in little 2″ pots last spring.   Early spring is the second best time to plant trees and shrubs so they can establish their roots before the heat comes in May.   It must be a long and lonely winter for those in the nursery trade, and we look forward to a visit one day soon…. when it’s not snowing.

At the moment, the rain has turned back to snow outside my window, and the temperature is plunging back down towards another night in the 20s.  It feels quite wintery here today.  But we know that it can all change overnight.  As the jet stream returns to its usual northern route and the clouds blow out to sea, the sunshine and warmth will return one day very  soon.

I plan to be ready to greet spring when it finally settles back into the garden.

March 25-28 013

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2010-2014

I order Caladium tubers from Caladiums For Less, and am delighted with their product and service.

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