Beginning a New ‘Stump Garden’

Tree damage in our area after the October 2018 hurricane swept through.

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This has been a very bad year for our trees.  Our community sustained major tree damage when a hurricane blew through in October, and even more damage when heavy wet snow fell very quickly in early December, before the trees were prepared for winter.

There appeared to be just as much, maybe more damage, from the December snow.  At least that was the case in our yard, where we lost two old peach trees.

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December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even work with them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

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We found trees and limbs down all over our area again today, after a severe line of thunderstorms pass over us around 3 this morning.  There were tornadoes in the area, and we were extremely fortunate.  We had a mess to clean up, but no major damage to our trees.

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I know many people whose beautiful trees have been reduced to stumps over the past several months.  Depending on how the tree breaks, you may have a neat platform, sawed off cleanly, or you may have a jagged stump left where the tree broke.

A stump is still another opportunity to respond to a challenge with resilience, seeing an opportunity instead of a tragedy.  There is nothing personal about a tree knocked over by gnarly weather and so there is no cause to sulk or lament.  Once the shock of it has passed, and the mess cleaned up, it’s time to formulate a plan.

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Our peaches in bloom in 2017

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Maybe easier said, than done.  I’ve pondered the jagged stumps left by our beautiful peach trees for the last four months.  The trees hadn’t given us peaches for many years, although they bloomed and produced fruits.

The squirrels always got them first, and the trees had some health issues.  Now we see that the stumps were hollow, which is probably why they splintered when they fell.  But we loved their spring time flowers and their summer shade.

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The jagged remains of a once beautiful peach tree, that once shaded our fern garden and anchored the bottom of a path.

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Now, not only do I have a stump at the bottom of our hillside path, but the main shade for our fern garden is gone.  I’m wondering how the ferns will do this summer and whether other nearby trees and the bamboo will provide enough shade.  A garden is always changing.  We just have to keep our balance as we surf the waves of change.

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Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.

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Stumps are a fact of life in this garden, and I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with them.  The underlying roots hold water, and they will eventually decay, releasing nutrients back into the soil.  I consider it an opportunity to build a raised bed, maybe to use the hollow stump as a natural ‘container,’ and certainly an anchor for a new planting area.

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I planted ‘Autumn Brilliance’ ferns in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner, packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade in 2015.  This area has grown to anchor a major part of our present fern garden.

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This particular new stump forms the corner of our fern garden, and I very much want trees here again.  And so I gathered up some found materials over the weekend and began reconstructing a new planting.  First, I found some year old seedlings from our redbud tree growing in nearby beds, just leafing out for spring.  I didn’t want the seedlings to grow on where they had sprouted, because they would shade areas planted for sun.

Tiny though these seedlings may be, redbuds grow fairly quickly.  I transplanted two little trees to grow together right beside the stump.  They will replace the fallen peach with springtime color, summer shade, and all year round structure.  Eventually, they will also form a new living ‘wall’ for the jagged opening of the stump.

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I planted two small redbud tree seedlings near the opening of the stump.

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I had two deciduous ferns, left from the A. ‘Branford Rambler’ ferns I divided last fall, and still in their pots.  I filled the bottom of the stump with a little fresh soil, and pushed both of these fern root balls into the opening of the stump, topping them off with some more potting soil, mixed with gravel, pilfered from one of last summer’s hanging baskets.

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This is a fairly fragile planting, still open to one side.  It will be several years before the redbuds grow large enough to close off the opening in the stump.  And so I pulled up some sheets of our indigenous fern moss and used those to both close off the opening, and also to ‘mulch’ the torn up area around the new tree seedlings.  Fern moss always grows in this spot.

But fern moss also grows on some shaded bricks in another bed.  It is like a little ‘moss nursery,’ and I can pull off sheets to use in various projects every few weeks.  It renews itself on the bricks relatively quickly, and so I transplanted fresh moss from the bricks to this new stump garden.

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After pushing the moss firmly into the soil, I wrapped some plastic mesh, cut from a bulb bag, over the opening in the stump, and tied it in place with twine.  I was hoping for a ‘kokedama’ effect, but the rough contours of the stump thwarted every effort at neatness.

I’ll leave the mesh in place for a few weeks, like a band-aid, until the moss grows in and naturally holds the soil around the roots of the fern.  Something is needed to protect the soil during our frequent, heavy rains.

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I will very likely add some more ferns or other ground cover perennials around the unplanted side of this stump over the next few weeks, just to cover the wound and turn this eye-sore into a beauty spot.

The ulterior motive is to make sure that foot traffic remains far enough away from the stump that no one gets hurt on the jagged edges.  Could I even them out with a saw?  Maybe-  The wood is very hard, still, and I’ve not been successful with hand tools thus far.  Better for now to cover them with fresh greenery from the ferns.

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The second peach stump stands waiting for care.  I noticed, in taking its photo, that it is still alive and throwing out new growth.  It is also in a semi-shaded area, and I plan to plant a fern in this stump, too.

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The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it looked in May of 2018. The tall ‘Autumn Beauty’ ferns in the center are the originals, shown in the previous photo.

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Quite often the stumps disappear entirely after such treatment.  The new perennials grow up as the old stump decays, enriching the soil and holding moisture to anchor the bed.  And of course all sorts of creatures find food and shelter in the decaying stump and around the new planting.

This is a gentle way of working with nature rather than fighting against it.  It calls on our creativity and patience, allows the garden to evolve, and offers opportunities to re-cycle plants and materials we might otherwise discard.  It allows us to transform chaos into beauty; loss into joy.

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Woodland Gnome  2019

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose
comes round in another form.”
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Rumi
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The fern garden in late April, 2018

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Weathered: A Forest Garden

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You may wonder why we leave this old, weathered, decaying stump as a centerpiece in our garden.

It was a living tree as recently as June 2013, when it was broken a dozen feet above the ground in a thunderstorm.   A double oak tree, growing nearby, was hit with a gust of wind and blew over completely, taking this tree and a companion dogwood tree with it on its way down.

What a mess it all made! 

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A freak June thunderstorm spawned waterspouts from the creek, which felled three great oak trees from our forest.

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Many more trees and established shrubs were also broken and crushed by the sheer weight of the trees.  This was such a sudden blow to our woodland garden, that it took us a while to get over the shock of it all.

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As we cleaned up over the next week, we decided to keep a portion of the stump of this beloved old oak as a reminder of the tree.  We asked our tree guys to cut what was left of the tree several feet above the ground, leaving a taller than usual stump.

I covered the exposed cut in hypertufa and tried to transform it into a bit of folk art as well as a useful pedestal for potted plants.

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A forest garden must continually recycle itself.  The trees’ leaves and branches were mulched and left in place on the newly exposed forest floor.  The roots and trunk of the double oak were buried in place.  We kept as much of the trees as we reasonably could to nurture the garden.

We collected all of the odd bits of branch and bark left behind by our tree guys, and used them to build a Hugelkulture bed around this stump.  We called it ‘the stump garden’ and began all of our gardening efforts to re-plant this entire area from this one bed.

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That was nearly five years ago, now.  While our vision of this remaining stump might have been as a bit of garden art, the creatures here saw it differently.  It didn’t take long for the stump to become a wildlife condo.

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We’ve seen skinks skittering around beneath the remaining bark in summer’s heat.  Squirrels explore it, pushing back on the loose bark, and beetles and other insects find shelter here.  Birds visit this spot to search for insects, and there is cool shade for toads.

At first, most of the bark was left intact.  There was a scar on the side that I patched with hypertufa.  With each passing year the remaining bark pulls away a little more and falls to the bed below.  Virginia Creeper climbs the stump each summer, though I prune it back from the pot.

Finally, this autumn, I’ve planted our large blue pot atop the stump with a vigorous English ivy.  I’ll let it grow on and eventually re-clothe the stump.

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Yes, it is weathered now, and ragged.  You might glance askance and think to yourself, ‘What an eyesore…’ 

I”m sure you wouldn’t say such a thing, but you might wonder why we leave the stump in its disheveled state.

There is beauty of form, and their is beauty of function.  Sometimes, the two can be as one.  We see the stump as useful and as beneficial to the web of life in our forest garden.  It may not please the eye anymore, but it is still a thing of beauty.

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Woodland gardeners are wise to leave fallen trees and branches, fallen cones and pine tags, and all of the other accumulated detrius of a forest in place, as much as possible.  These by products of trees form an important component of woodland soil.

As they slowly decay, they feed billions of microorganisms which keep the soil fertile.  They shelter insects, which feed birds, which keep the woodland animated and fill it with song.  They prevent erosion, cool the roots of growing plants and balance the PH of the soil.

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An ancient mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, renews itself  in our garden.  I dump our chopped up leaves around these shrubs during spring clean up to feed the soil and keep their roots cool.

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Mosses and fungi grow on decaying wood.  Small animals find shelter around stumps and branches.

Now, we don’t leave every fallen branch where it lands.  We gather them and use them elsewhere on the property.  We didn’t leave the fallen oaks where they landed, either.  But we re-used what we could of their canopy, ground up and spread as thick mulch.

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We have been rewarded for this effort with a lush re-growth on the forest floor.  The raw wood chips created an environment where seeds for new trees could sprout.  We have at least 15 new native holly trees growing now that are more than a foot high, with many more seedlings coming along.

Can we let them all grow?  Maybe, maybe not.  We have to decide for each seedling, as these little hollies can eventually grow into prodigious, full sized trees.

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Native holly, dogwood, magnolia, cedar, buckeye and blueberry have sprung up from seeds lying dormant on the forest floor.

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We also have newly sprouted dogwoods to replace those lost, and some self-sown Magnolia seedlings coming along.  There is Eastern red cedar, and a huge crop of volunteer native blueberry shrubs that have grown in as a wildlife friendly ground cover.  I didn’t purchase or plant any of these.  There are always little oak seedlings coming along, and choices must be made whether to let them grow or to prune them out.

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Our land wants to be a forest.  When our trees fell, allowing the sunshine back in, it hastened new growth of seeds which may have lain dormant in the soil for many years.  Now, all of those little plants are racing with one another, and with those we’ve planted, to see who gets the sun.

We can prune and pull and plant and try to sort it all out somehow, but that is only a temporary aberration from the garden’s eventual course.

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We found many stumps, when we first came to the garden, from where a previous gardener cut some of the greatest trees.  He wanted light for his fruit trees, and safety for the house.  Some of those stumps are decaying now back into the earth, but a few re-sprouted with new limbs.

He is long gone, as one day we will be, too. Other gardeners will come here and will either disturb the land for their own schemes, or will let the forest continue to fill the garden.

A forest weathers over time, but that time is long; longer than the awareness of any one human.  And we are wise to find the beauty and the wisdom of its ways, and to work in harmony with the land.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Sentinels of trees
breathe life into bodies of earthly flesh
As their mighty arms reach to the stars
we join in their quest for Helios’s mighty power
Like sentinels, we seek our place
in the forest of nature’s gentle breath”
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Ramon Ravenswood

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For the Daily Post’s:

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Weathered

For more about allowing  forests to regenerate and managing a woodland garden, please read:

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4: Get the Light Right!

July 3, 2016 wet garden 043

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Giving each plant the right amount of light, without burning it or starving it, determines how well that plant performs.  Because plants ‘eat’ light, they must have enough to power photosynthesis and to accomplish all of their life processes.

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Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

Many flowering perennials, like Iris, Lavender, and Cannas, want full sunlight for at least 6-8 hours each day.

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Give a plant too little light and it grows leggy and pale.  The stems between its leaves s t r e t c h, reaching for the light.  Flower production slows and it looks a bit ‘sickly.’ It grows more susceptible to pests and to disease, fungal infections and general rot.

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This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.

This Calla, grown in partial shade last summer, grows better in full sun. The elongated petioles of the leaves are reaching up for the light.  It was also crowded after several years growing in the pot.  I divided the tubers, after this photo, and had five separate plants to grow on in better light.

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But too much light can fry fragile leaves and delicate flowers; especially hot summer sun.  Even ‘full sun’ plants appreciate some shade during summer afternoons in the southern United States.  It is harder to keep plants hydrated in full sun and hot weather.

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White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennail Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

White and light colored leaves often want more shade than dark green ones. Here, Caladium, fern and perennial Begonia grow in shade cast by a Dogwood tree.

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How do we navigate both the weather, and the needs of our many different plants?

The MOST important question to ask when acquiring a new plant is, ‘How much light does it need?

Most nursery grown plants and seeds now come with little informational tags which indicate: full sun, partial sun, partial shade or shade.    That bit of information provides a start, but most of us need the experience of trial and error to master getting the light right!

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Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. 'Stuttgart' wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.

Though most Canna lilies prefer full sun, this variegated C. ‘Stuttgart’ wants partial shade and lots of moisture. The more sun it gets, the more moisture it wants. Notice the burned leaves? It probably wants more shade than this spot offers.  The nursery sent a note of warning about its needs when I purchased it this spring.

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Like everything else about gardening, the light is ever changing from morning to evening and spring thorough winter.  And of course, these conditions change in our garden as trees and shrubs grow, perennials expand, and of course when plants are lost.  Good gardeners learn through observation, and remain flexible.

When trying a plant for the first time, especially an expensive one, I think it is wise to start it off in a pot.  Why?  Pots are portable.  Unless you are absolutely sure you know where to plant something for it to get proper light, like planting Daffodil bulbs in the sun, starting off with a pot allows for easy experimentation.

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Our 'bog garden' got more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.

Our ‘bog garden’ got a little more sun last year than it does this year. The plants all started in pots, though I moved a few into the soil as the summer progressed.  Colocasia will grow in sun or shade, but want more moisture in full sun.

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Although gardening books can be helpful guides to knowing how much light or shade a particular plant requires, the latitude and altitude of one’s garden determines the ferocity of the sun.  Climate also plays an important part in knowing how much ‘full sun’ a plant needs and can endure.  If most days are cloudy and rain falls frequently, less shade from buildings and trees will be required.  But if it rarely rains and day after day passes hot and clear, anything but a cactus will likely need a little afternoon shade!

Providing more moisture can help a plant survive a spot that is a bit too sunny and hot for its liking.

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Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.

Foxtail ferns growing in an open area beside the path to Beverly Beach, OR.  They grow in full sun in this cool, moist climate.

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A fern growing in ‘full sun’ in coastal Oregon might burn up in a day or two in my Virginia garden, if not given some afternoon shade.

That is one reason why many experienced gardeners give themselves at least a year to come to understand a new garden before starting renovations.  It takes a full year of observation to understand how light moves through the garden during the course of a day and from month to month.

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Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

Older varieties of Coleus prefer partial shade, but these newer hybrids can take several hours of full sun each day.

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Even a single year isn’t enough to understand the subtleties of microclimates and exposures relative to structures; the prevailing winds; where water flows during a rainstorm; and where heat  lingers during the winter.  That is why patient observation is a gardener’s best ally when placing plants.

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This first bloom on Canna 'Stuttgart' is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.

This first bloom on Canna ‘Stuttgart’ is an unusual color for a Canna. Still growing in a pot, I will look for a permanent spot with more shade since the leaves have scorched in this location.  This variety enjoys moist soil.

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Here is an experiment for you:  If there is a new plant you want to introduce to your garden, begin with several.  Plant them in different spots in your garden, give each the best care you can, and observe how they grow.  Within just a few weeks you may notice some doing better than others.  Why?

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Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden. The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will have to be moved as the Star Magnolia grows into a tree over the next few years.

Echinacea grow well with a little afternoon shade in our garden.  It is planted in several different beds with varying degrees of sun.  The Calla has much better color here than it did last year in its pot. All of these sun-loving perennials will need to be moved as the Star Magnolia (right) grows into a tree over the next few years.

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I quickly noticed that two identical pots, one on either side of our front porch, grew differently.  Why?

One side of the porch has more sunshine each day than the other, more shady side.  I can trade out pots every few weeks to keep them even, or experiment to find plants indifferent to the subtle difference in light.

After learning about each plant’s needs and preferences, and understanding what resources each zone of a gardener can offer, it becomes clearer how to design successful plantings.  It takes time; maybe years; to earn this knowledge.  We all make mistakes along the way, and hopefully count them as part of our education.

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This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery. They grow in a little more shade and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias prefer partial shade, they need a filtered or morning sun to bloom well.

This tuberous Begonia grows in a pot 10 feet away from identical Begonias purchased the same day from the same nursery, and potted up with the same fertilizers. But the other plants grow in a little more shade, and have not yet bloomed. Although tuberous Begonias need partial shade, they still want plenty of  filtered light or morning sun to bloom well.  Moving the pot a little into more light might help the other Begonias bloom, too.

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And this is why observation and flexibility make the difference between great ‘green thumb’ gardeners and mediocre ones.

When we realize that a plant isn’t happy where it is growing, we must either move the plant, or somehow change the conditions.  Knowing a plant’s needs and preferences up front helps us make educated guesses about how to grow it well.  When it shows stress, we can give it more favorable conditions, or discard it.

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These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit 'ratty,' don't you think? I should move them.....

These Echinacea plants need a little bit more sun than they are getting. Their bed has grown shadier over the years. Though blooming, they look a bit ‘ratty,’ don’t you think? I should move them….. and plant something else which appreciates the shade…..

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Likewise, if we realize that we have very little sun in our garden, or very little shade; we choose only plants that can thrive in our conditions.  Why watch a tomato plant languish in a shady, tree filled garden?  Tomatoes like all the sun you can give them, and require 6-8 hours of full sun each day to produce good fruit.  If you garden in a forest, as we do, it pays to make friends with the local farmers and frequent their farm stands!

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These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

These white Monarda are performing well in partial sun. A friend gave me several clumps last year, and I spread them around in different parts of the garden to see where they would do well. These in partial sun, near mature Lilac shrubs, have done the best.

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Shade gardeners learn to take pleasure in ferns and Hostas, Azaleas, Caladiums and Begonias.  Those with sunnier gardens have better experiences with most herbs and vegetables, flowers for cutting, conifers and fruit trees.  Sometimes we have to adapt our expectations and desires to the growing conditions our present garden can provide!

We were startled, a few years ago, to lose several mature oak trees in a summer thunderstorm.  In the blink of an eye, much of our shady garden was transformed to an open, sunny, mulch covered field.  What to do? 

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Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed.

Bits of branch and bark form a foundation for the new raised bed which became our ‘stump garden’ after losing our oaks.  Nearly full shade was transformed to ‘full sun’ in a moment, with the loss of three mature oak trees.

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Challenges grow into opportunities, don’t they?  But the available light in a garden determines everything else about plant selection and vigor.  Moving a plant just a foot or so one way or another may change the amount of sun it receives each day.

That is why it is crucial to ‘get the light right!’  when designing our garden, and protecting our investment in the plants we grow.

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Herbs hold the power to heal us. Our own garden in July-

Herbs hold the power to heal us. The ‘stump garden,’  two years later, planted with sun loving herbs and perennials.

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“Green Thumb” Tips:  Many of you who visit Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help you grow the garden of your dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.  If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.

Many thanks to Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios, who posted her first tip:  ‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots!  Please visit her post for beautiful instructions on how to prepare roots for re-potting.

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead

‘Green Thumb’ Tip #10: Understand the Rhythm

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July 3, 2016 wet garden 018

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015-2016

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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches

is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum,

and that as long as the sun still shines

and people still can plan and plant, think and do,

we can, if we bother to try, find ways

to provide for ourselves

without diminishing the world. ”

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Michael Pollan

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July 3, 2016 wet garden 039

 

Looking Good on Friday

June 3, 2016 Jamestown 027

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This pot has been going continuously for three years now.  We make minor changes season to season, adding plants, moving things around, and removing spent annuals.  Last summer it held a seedling Japanese Maple, which has since been moved out into the garden to grow in its permanent spot!

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June 3, 2016 Jamestown 028~

The fern is in its second season now.  Daffodil leaves are ready to die back for summer, and a newly planted Colocasia ‘Coffee Cups’ stands poised to take off in the coming summer heat.

A few Zantedeschia tubers will send up leaves any time now.  The first batch I planted in late March fizzled, we think.  Perhaps our long spring was too cool.  But new ones should show growth soon, and will fill this planter with elegant flowers by July.

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Zantedeschia offer deliciously elegant flowers and foliage.

Zantedeschia offer deliciously elegant flowers and foliage.

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Warm days make all the difference with tropical heat loving plants.  Our Cannas and Colocasias have all begun to really grow, filling our garden with vibrant color and movement.

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Finally, the garden is looking good again!

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Rhubarb commands attention in this large pot on our 'pedestal.'

Rhubarb commands attention in this large pot on our ‘pedestal’ in the ‘stump garden.’

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia.

Autumn fern harmonizes with Creeping Jenny and Ajuga. We planted this combo last fall while re-doing a bed beneath our Camellia.

Small Beginnings

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“The chief beauty about time
is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
You can turn over a new leaf every hour
if you choose.”

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Arnold Bennett

The small efforts we make now in the garden will still have plenty of time to grow before autumn sets in, in Virginia.  We still have at least ten weeks, probably more in most parts of the state, to enjoy our gardens.

It amazes me, sometimes, how quickly plants grow when the conditions are right for them.  This little pot grows in the shade of our Azalea hedge, beside the driveway.

Ferns love these sheltered, shady spots.  I planted this Cretan brake fern from a 1″ nursery pot early in June.  Now it has settled in and given beautiful new leaves.  I added the hardy Begonia division about two weeks ago now.  There was a stand of them elsewhere, which needed thinning.  I dug up about a dozen babies and spread them around to see where they will take off and grow.

Hardy Begonias also grow quickly once they find the right spot and dig in their roots.  I hope to show you this one in bloom by early August.  It will grow to at least 12″ tall by then.  Even better, it will form a little bud at each leaf joint which can grow into a new plant next season.

The new leaf in front is from a rhizome left in the pot from another season, just now showing its first leaf.  We’ll see what it has in store for us this year.

Whatever early summer held for you, please keep your optimism and keep planting.  Whether you sow a fresh crop of seeds for fall vegetables, or whether you adopt some of the late season offerings at your local nursery, there is still time to make small beginnings and watch them grow into something beautiful this season.

All you truly need is the desire, a vision, and a small pot of good soil to get started.

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Here is my magical Begonia, which dies back to its rhizome from time to time.  From its sad start when I set it out in May, it has now grown its summer crop of new leaves in a shady bed of ferns.

Here is my magical Begonia, which dies back to its rhizome from time to time. From its sad start when I set it out in May, it has now grown its summer crop of new leaves in a shady bed of ferns.

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“In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life,

the roots of something new frequently lie

in the decaying husks of something old.”

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Craig D. Lounsbrough

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This is one of our small 'stump gardens.'   We've planted a seedling Hellebore, an Autumn Brilliance fern, and a Voodoo Lily in compost around the stump of a fruit tree lost to a storm.  Each season we add a little compost as this tiny shade garden expands.

This is one of our small ‘stump gardens.’ We’ve planted a seedling Hellebore, an Autumn Brilliance fern, and a Voodoo Lily in compost around the stump of a fruit tree lost to a storm. Each season we add a little compost as this tiny shade garden expands.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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The same stump garden, from a different perspective....

The same stump garden, from a different perspective….

Switching It Up

This planting needs

This planting needs some  ‘switching up’ to renew it for summer.  I went to work last night removing all of the plants and finding new spots for them to grow.

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When the weather finally warms up, late April or early May, those winter and early spring pots we planted so lovingly last autumn just don’t look so good anymore.

Between plants which never quite recovered from winter’s bite, and early season annuals gasping in the heat; there comes a day when you really look at a pot and say to yourself, “Enough! Time for a change.”

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"Enough!"  Monday afternoon this poor planting looked ragged enough I was determined to change it out.

“Enough!” Monday afternoon this poor planting looked so ragged I was determined to switch it out for something fresh.

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That day was yesterday for the large hypertufa tub installed on the ‘pedastal’ in our ‘stump garden’ last spring.

I like the idea of ‘four season’ pots which drift from season to season in the garden with only minor adjustments.  While that is an nice idea, it doesn’t always work out as planned.

The original Dusty Miller planted in this pot last spring lived, but was seriously burned by the cold.  I’ve moved it out of the pot now to a less conspicuous place in the garden where it can continue growing.

The Violas, still blooming, will not last much longer in full sun.  They have been moved to a bed in partial shade.  The snaps could have grown on here for quite a while.  Planted a few months ago in earliest spring, they often make it through our winters.  I’ve moved them to a bed in full sun where they should perform well this summer.

After a full year of watching this pot, I decided to populate it with plants which thrive in hot and often dry conditions.  I want a large and showy display which won’t need regular care of any sort to continue looking great.  Mission impossible?

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May 25, 2013, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

May 25, 2014, before the Brugmansia gained much height.

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The original planting last summer included Coleus, Dusty Miller, a Brugmansia, some golden Sedum and Creeping Jenny.  I expected the Brugmansia to grow several feet and bloom with huge pendulous flowers in late summer.

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July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

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Although it grew, it never performed as expected.  Everything else in the pot looked great all summer, but required nearly daily watering to avoid the late afternoon wilts.

So I’ve chosen a new group of plants this summer in hopes of an even more vibrant display, even on those days when I don’t have the opportunity to water this trough.

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May 5, 2015 garden 002

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The headliner is a pink Mulla Mulla, Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey,’ which will grow to 15″ in full sun.  This tender perennial (Zone 9) loves neutral to chalky soil with sharp drainage.  Beside the Mulla Mulla grows a very large leaved variety of culinary Sage.  Sage thrives in full sun and well drained, even rocky soil.

There is a very subdued palette of color in the pot this year, moderated by two fresh new Dusty Miller plants.  Only a recent fan of Dusty Miller, I like the lacy texture of their leaves and their ability to withstand drought and sun.  I expect texture and scale to make this planting interesting as the season unfolds.

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This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

This heat tolerant Verbena will fill an area almost two feet in diameter.

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The only concession to soft trailing flowers comes from the Lanai Twister Purple Improved Verbena draping over one end of the pot.  I hope it will spread to soften the entire top of the ‘pedestal.’

Finally, I added several clumps of the golden Sedum back into the pot since it obviously thrives here year round and makes a nice pop of chartreuse against the silvery foliage and lavender flowers.  The entire pot is mulched in fine, light colored pea gravel.

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The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset.  All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

The newly planted pot on its pedestal, this evening just before sunset. All of these newly planted varieties will grow quite large over the summer with very little attention.

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The Creeping Jenny and remaining Sedum removed from the pot is already earmarked for use in a new bed I’m ready to construct tomorrow.  It will grow alongside Oxalis triangularis in the back garden.

This is my first experience growing Ptilotus exaltatus and the Lanai Twister hybrids of Verbena.  It is good to try new things each year, and the Mulla Mulla is known as a good flower for cutting and for drying.  I am looking forward to growing them on and seeing how these varieties grow together over the coming months.

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I plant to "switch up" this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil.  The tiny plant on the far right is a "Kent's Beauty" Oregano which survived the winter.

I plant to “switch up” this pot tomorrow adding Salvia, Ivy Geraniums, and maybe even some Basil. The tiny plant on the far right is a “Kent’s Beauty” Oregano, which survived the winter.  The bare stump is from the Brugmansia I tried to over-winter outside.

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There are still lots of pots with actively growing Violas around the garden.  I’ll be moving them to shady spots this week as I continue re-planting containers for summer.  I purposely waited this long both to enjoy them, and to give time for some of the dormant plants in the same pots to awaken.  While patience is a virtue, at some point patience creeps into procrastination.

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May 5, 2015 garden 012

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I’ve collected several trays of new plants this week, and I’m ready to work with them over the next few days.  There are lots of geraniums this year, a fair lot of Salvias, a good assortment of fragrant Basils, a few more Dusty Miller plants, now a half-dozen large white Marigold plants I’ve been waiting for the Patton family to offer for sale at their Homestead Garden Center near Toano.  They grow the marigolds, and many other annuals, organically in their own greenhouse each spring. If one has patience to wait for them; healthier, more affordable plants simply cannot be found in this area.

Planting pots for the coming season, or switching up established pots, requires the vision, energy and creativity needed for all of the other art forms.  Like painting a canvas, all of the elements have to come together harmoniously.  But as in music, time is the essential element.  Only as plants grow and weave themselves together does the gardener’s vision materialize.

Whether it takes weeks or years, our gardens remain works in progress.

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May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Winter Annuals

January 15, 2015 ice garden 028

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Ice and light snow covered our “stump garden” Thursday morning when we were wandering about admiring winter’s artistry.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 029~

Our stump, left from an oak blown over in a summer storm, has been transformed into a “pedestal” with a little hypertufa and some glass.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 032

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Topped with a hypertufa trough planted with winter hardy annuals and perennials, our stump garden still looks interesting even though most of the plants around it have died back for the season.  Winter’s cold had barely touched the dusty miller, ornamental kale, and Violas  until our ice storm.  The ice coating actually protects them during the coldest weather.  Cold winds can’t strip their moisture.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 035

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The ice is only a memory now.  We’ve had two days of bright sunshine, with a “spring-like” heat wave up to the low 40’s.

That is all that was needed for the Violas, dusty miller, ornamental kale, and Sedum to perk up again.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 039

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We are so happy that our climate allows winter annuals to thrive right through until spring.  We can enjoy their beauty during our coldest months.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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With special appreciation to Patricia for all of your love and efforts today. 

You are an angel, and we love you very much. 

Thank you especially for bringing the amazing croissants…

 

What remains of summer's African Blue Basil.  There are still seeds, and our songbirds find shelter in the branches.

What remains of summer’s African Blue Basil. There are still seeds, and our songbirds find shelter in the branches.

Cool August Morning

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This morning found us out in the garden watering, pulling grass, deadheading spent flowers, and generally admiring the beauty around us.

Morning sun shines through the Hibiscus and Cannas, illuminating their leaves like stained glass.

Morning sun shines through the Hibiscus and Cannas, illuminating their leaves like stained glass.

It was the sort of cool, breezy morning which invited one out of doors to enjoy the day; and to look around for things which need doing while enjoying it.

I’ve finally had a stretch of days at home, and have turned to pulling grass and weeds in preparation for some late summer planting and sprucing up.

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The first warning to go gently came from friend turtle. 

One of our Eastern Box turtles had sought shelter at the base of a Dogwood tree, under the lacy canopy of grasses.

As I worked steadily closer to him, he made no noise and gave no sign of his presence.

When I finally pulled out the grasses sheltering him, he turned to look up at me, but stood his ground.  Our turtles know us by now, as the lizards do, and know there is nothing to fear so long as we see them.

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Finally turning my attention to the stump garden, after a good watering, I worked my way around the bed trimming  spent Gladiolus stems, pruning the Catnip,  pulling the odd vagrant weedy growth, and trimming the Comfrey.

My attention was on the plants, and I almost didn’t see the delicate web of this  black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia.

 

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The sparkling drops of water caught on its strands caught my attention just before I cut one of the stems anchoring it.  What beauty!

 

The male spider

The male spider

 

My partner came over and we admired the web and two resident spiders for a while.

 

The larger female spider, with yellow markings, is joined on the web by a more slender male spider.  These non-poisonous spiders garden spiders are common throughout most of the United States.

The larger female spider, with yellow markings, is joined on the web by a more slender male spider. These non-poisonous spiders garden spiders are common throughout most of the United States.

 

Large spiders like these begin to show themselves and cover the garden with their webs in late summer, here in Virginia.  It is nothing to find webs several feet across from  shrub to shrub sparkling with dew in the early mornings.

 

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So long as our butterflies don’t end up trapped in the webs, we try to leave them alone and bless the spiders for each mosquito they can eat.

So after photographing the spiders and their web, I gathered my tools and moved on, leaving the spiders in peace.

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Butterfly tree this morning.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Butterfly tree this morning.

 

The signs of autumn have appeared all around us here in Williamsburg.

These cool nights and mornings feel more like late September than mid- August.  Dogwood trees along the Colonial Parkway have taken on a rosy hue as the chlorophyll fades from their leaves.

 

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Sweet Autumn Clematis came into bloom this week, and our Tulip Poplar trees have begun to turn bright yellow and to drop their leaves.

It will be an early  and cool autumn across much of the United States.  Summer has been compressed this year between a late spring and an early fall.

 

The Devil's Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, is in full bloom now, and is covered by bees.  Notice the leaves beginning to change colors.

The Devil’s Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, is in full bloom now, and is covered by bees. Notice the leaves beginning to change colors.

 

We have enjoyed the cooler summer, and we’ve had enough rain to make things green and lush here.

But this is not the year to sow late crops and expect to harvest them before frost.

 

Our mild weather has been kind to the roses this summer.

Our mild weather has been kind to the roses this summer.

 

Cold winds will blow down from Canada and the Great Lakes with frost much earlier than most expect them.

But not for a while yet.  At the moment we are still celebrating the butterflies and hummingbirds who find our garden.

 

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We’re encouraging the lizards to gorge themselves on insects, watching out for the turtles, and admiring the spiders’ weaving.

And planting….

 

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But I’ll show you the garden bed I’m rehabilitating in another post.

For now, let’s just enjoy this beautiful August weekend, and celebrate summer in our Forest Garden.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Beautiful Birthday Gift

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

A very special friend brought me a very special birthday gift  earlier this year.

She brought me a sack of Gladiolus bulbs.

We share bits and pieces from our gardens with one another all of the time.  In fact, we hardly ever get together without sharing cuttings and discussing our gardens.

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Yet this was a special gift. 

Although our friend loves and grows Gladiolus  in her own garden, these were bulbs she had selected especially as a gift for me.  She brought two colors; a blue and a violet.

But this gift was also a challenge, because I haven’t grown Glads in the past.  She was inviting me to explore a new genus not yet in the garden.

The weather was still cold and wet when she brought them, and I had no idea where they would best grow.

I also had to do a little research before feeling confident enough to plant them.

July 15, 2014 garden 003

I just took the time to enjoy them for a little while, and consider all of the possibilities before the day came to plant them in the garden.

In retrospect, there was only one proper place to enjoy these beautiful glads:  The new stump garden. 

It receives full sun, and the plants already growing are lush and large enough to help provide support to these very tall flowers.

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And now they are coming into glorious bloom.

What a wonderful gift of love and beauty!

As the blossoms open, it is  a new gift  to enjoy each day!

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And a reminder of our very special friend….

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

The First Rose of Summer

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The first roses of summer were blooming when we came outside this morning.

I’m always happy to greet these first fragrant opening blossoms.

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It is a sign that we are entering the most flower filled season of the year when spring has not quite yet melted into summer.

We are still enjoying cool nights, and the occasional cool day.  We made it to 90 in Williamsburg today, according to the thermometer in the car, as we drove out on afternoon errands.

Although it feels like “instant July,” we know more wonderfully cool days lie ahead before the heat settles in for high summer in late June.

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Irises are in full bloom in many neighbors’ yards, and late blooming Azaleas are hitting their peak as the Rhododendron shrubs begin to bloom.

Our next door neighbors have a new Rhododendron growing near our Azaleas.   We noticed its buds opening this morning, and noticed that our shrubs match perfectly in a lovely, deep rosy pink.

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Roses always bloom in coastal Virginia for Mother’s Day.

Their blossoms lend an extra, fragrant,  note of celebration during this special weekend.  The College of William and Mary holds its commencement on Sunday, and our community is full of visitors.

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The air is sweet with the smell of flowers, and ripe with the love of families celebrating their special days together.  The aroma of freshly cut and trimmed grass wafts through our neighborhood.

But my attention is held, today, by the unfolding roses. 

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One May, nearly 20 years ago now, I was asked to choose what I would like to receive for Mother’s Day that year.  I chose a climbing rose shrub to plant by the front door.

I knew that whatever else might be happening in my life, I would have a gift of fresh roses for Mother’s Day every year from then on.

That Mother’s Day gift was an “Eden” rose, still a favorite for its fragrance.  I literally filled that garden with roses over the years.

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Antique Bourbon roses climbed up into the nearby Crepe Myrtle tree, and pegged themselves to put down roots and grow new shrubs throughout a large border filled with herbs, Irises, and more roses.

That garden has passed on to other hands, now, and I hope they enjoy the roses (and care for them) as I did.  That garden didn’t have deer visiting from time to time to graze on tasty flower buds.

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This one does, and so each rose which blooms holds a special gift.  Against all odds, it survived in this Forest Garden. 

All of my partner’s work on fences to keep out the deer, and all my efforts to improve the soil, plant and prune come together in the fragrance and beauty of each opening bud.

Our shrubs are full of buds at the moment, so we may enjoy roses for many weeks to come.

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Or not.  I’ve learned to not count my roses before they bloom around here.  But for today, they are lovely, and I hope you enjoy sharing them with me.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who has survived the joys and trials of parenthood. 

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Remember, especially if your children are still quite young:  All of the effort, pain, hard work, sacrifice, and time will find their reward in those sweet moments when you, “Smell the roses.”

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Whether at a kindergarten program, a first communion, an athletic triumph, a commencement ceremony, or a special weekend spent together; the fragrance of the rose allows us to overlook the thorns.

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The magic of unfolding  beauty is its own reward for the time and love invested in nurturing it.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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