Late Summer Nectar

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden feasts on annual Cleome, which flowers exuberantly for several months each summer in full sun and reseeds itself each year.

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I had an interesting chat with a local beekeeper on Saturday morning.  We were both at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  He was there as a part of the annual August Butterfly Count, and I was there wishing I was joining them.  I had my to-do list and a schedule to keep, but we spent a few minutes discussing some of the most generous and reliable nectar plants growing in that part of the garden.

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A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Verbena bonariensis in the Iris border of the WBG.  This South American native Verbena is a pollinator magnet, feeding many species from late spring until frost.  It is hardy in our area and also reseeds.

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I am absolutely delighted to learn that the team counted 25 different species of butterflies on Saturday morning in and around the Botanical garden.

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Pollinators find plentiful nectar in annual Zinnias, even after the petals fall.  Zinnas withstand full sun, heat and drought, lasting until frost.

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Whether you have bee hives to feed or simply want to support the wild pollinators in your area, planting late summer nectar plants in your pots and borders proves a win-win for you as the gardener and for the hungry creatures in search of a reliable buffet.

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This sunny spot in our Forest Garden supports many species of pollinators and birds.  Black-eyed Susans are just opening beneath this mixed planting of fennel, Verbena bonariensis and butterfly bush.

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Some beekeepers rent out their hives, moving them from place to place to take advantage of seasonal bloom.  The hives might be in an apple orchard for a few weeks, then in a peach orchard or near an agricultural field.  The bees follow the path of seasonal flowers.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.  This native herb has been developed into many colorful cultivars and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators.  Agastache is one of my top picks for a long season of bloom and high quality nectar.

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A beekeeper who wants to keep their hives at home must plan for that succession of bloom nearby so the bees are fed on local nectar year round.  That includes late summer, fall and winter when flowers grow more scarce.

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Many pollinators feast on the rich nectar of Buddleia, butterfly bush.  Newer hybrids are smaller than the species and many are sterile.  I started this one by sticking a pruned branch into the soil a few springs ago.  They are very easy to root from stem cuttings.  Butterfly bush is drought tolerant, grows in full or partial sun and blooms non-stop until late autumn.

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We are always delighted to watch butterflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths and many sorts of bees and wasps feasting in our garden.  We get just as much pleasure from watching a cloud of goldfinches rise up from the upper perennial beds as we draw near, or listening to the songbirds calling to one another as they glide from shrub to tree.  I saw a cardinal balancing on the swaying stem of a tall Verbena bonariensis on Friday, clearly finding something there tasty to eat.

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Goldfinches and other birds find as much joy here as the pollinators. After the nectar lovers enjoy the flowers, birds follow along to enjoy the seeds, especially Rudbeckia seeds.

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Selecting plants that will bloom reliably through the heat and dry spells of July and August rewards the gardener with ongoing color and garden interest.  Choosing nectar rich plants that prove both colorful and highly attractive to wildlife keeps the garden alive with flight and song.

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Tubular flowers, like these from Hosta ‘Fire Island’ please hummingbirds.  The Coleus, growing in the background, produces spikes of flowers loved by pollinators and hummingbirds, too,

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A diversity of plant species attracts a diversity of animal species.   By growing a diverse combination of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous annual and perennial flowering plants, including herbs, it is possible to provide nectar rich plants throughout the year.  A reliable food source is key to attracting wildlife and encouraging them to raise their young in the garden.

Cultivating such a wide variety of plants is as much about ‘selecting’ as it is about ‘allowing.’  Many of the plant species growing in our garden were planted by a previous owner, or simply appeared; wild sown, and we chose to allow them to grow.  A few were gifts from gardening friends.  There are many sources for plant material at little or no cost.

When a plant doesn’t perform well or fit into the overall garden scheme, it should be removed to make room for something better.

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Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, grows into a large shrub or small tree. Planted near windows, they invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to feed near the house, where you can observe them in comfort.  These bloom continuously from mid-spring until late fall, and produce tasty seeds to tempt birds through the winter.

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It may take a few years of close observation to develop a useful list of late summer nectar plants appropriate for your own climate.  What blooms happily in one area may prematurely shrivel and fry in another.

Or, there may not be enough hot sunny days to bring a particular plant to its full potential.

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Canna flowers thrill both humans and nectar lovers. They bloom reliably over a long season.  These heat lovers grow in full to partial sun, but like moist soil.  Many insects, including larvae of some moths, attack their leaves.  They may be a bit too messy for some gardeners to enjoy them.

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As our summers heat up, and precipitation patterns grow more erratic, we discover that popular plants may not do as well here as they once did.  A drive around town shows many commercially landscaped spaces looking derelict in mid-August.

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Lantana is one of my top picks for attracting pollinators. It blooms continuously from mid-spring until frost in full sun. It keeps pumping out flowers even during dry spells. Lantana develops woody stems and deep roots. Some varieties prove hardy and return bigger and better each year here in Zone 7.  It is native in warmer areas of the Southeastern United States, but is also considered invasive along the Gulf Coast.

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Our pollinators’ lives depend on a steady supply of nectar rich flowers.  Their lives depend on it, and future generations of them depend on habitat, host plants, and a steady food supply.  If you want to have a more active role in supporting the butterflies observed frequenting your area, spend some time poking around https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org

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This established stand of Lantana in our front garden breaks my resolve to control it every year. There used to be roses and Iris here, and I planted out lots of annuals this spring. Once things heat up, the Lantana and morning glory vines just get ahead of me, but the butterflies flock here on hot afternoons.

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From the main page, click on ‘Regional Species Checklists.’ In the box on the left of the screen, click under region.  Choose your country, and then as menus appear keep choosing your own state, local, etc. until you land on the list of butterflies observed in your own area. 

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As you then click on any species name, you’ll learn about host plants required for its larvae to mature and nectar plants that feed the adults.  By providing nectar plants, you invite the adults.  Also providing host plants, allows you to support that species as it lays eggs in your garden for its next generation.  

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Fennel, an edible herb, serves as a host plant for swallowtails and its flowers attract many different types of pollinators. Parsley, a biennial, is another swallowtail host plant that produces similar flowers in its second year. Both produce seeds for the birds.

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Some gardeners prefer a professional, groomed appearance to their yards.  There is mulched space between carefully trimmed individual plants.  The plan is serene and green, with large blocks of a single plant species and few flowers.  That style might invite compliments from neighbors, but doesn’t necessarily invite wildlife or nurture species diversity.

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There are hundreds of different types of Salvia available.  Some are hardy in our area, some need warmer winters. All delight pollinators and hummingbirds while blooming in difficult conditions over many months.

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Butterflies, bees, wasps, and birds need a richer landscape that provides for their basic needs of shelter, water, secure movement and diverse food sources.  They’ll also seek out the native plants that sustain them and their young.

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Cutleaf coneflower, native Rudbeckia laciniata, draws in many different pollinators. Each plant grows to 6′ or more tall and wide, producing many flowers over a long season. it is just getting started in our garden, but will bloom from now until frost. Bees and wasps love it.

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The mulch in a wildlife friendly garden quickly disappears as plants grow together, coming and going as the season progresses.  There is a rich diversity of species with native trees, shrubs and perennials mixed in among the gardener’s choice of non-native plant species.

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Crape myrtle isn’t a native plant in Virginia, but it naturalizes here and is widely grown in our coastal region. It feeds pollinators and birds while brightening up the summer garden. Keep in mind that many butterflies use native trees as host plants. Allowing native hardwood trees to colonize is a way to support our butterfly and moth populations.  Many other insects shelter in hardwood trees.

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The list of late summer nectar plants offered here isn’t exhaustive.  But it is a good core list that offers choice and variety for gardeners in our region.  I hope you will perhaps find an idea here of something you’d like to try as you grow the buffet for pollinators in your area.

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Native mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, blooms over a long season in late summer and fall.  This easy native perennials spreads itself around and requires very little from the gardener.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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When allowed to bloom, Coleus provides abundant nectar and attracts many pollinators.

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Basil attracts many pollinators when allowed to bloom.  Goldfinches love its seeds.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of many pollinators attracted to native purple Coneflowers.  All of the Echinacea cultivars bloom over a long period during the hottest, driest part of summer.

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A bumblebee enjoys native Monarda fistulosa.  There are many types of Monarda available that perennialize here, blooming over many weeks. 

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Tiger Swallowtail on Monarda.

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Native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa is one of many Asclepias species that perform well in our climate.  Monarch butterflies use Asclepias as their only host plant.

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Monarch feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.

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Asclepias incarnata, milkweed.

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Clerodendrum trichotomum, Harlequin gloryblower, is a small tree which attracts many pollinators to its nectar rich flowers.  It gets its common name from the electric colors of its blue seeds a few weeks later. (below)

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed.  This tough, native perennial feeds many sorts of bees and wasps alongside the butterflies.  The species grows quite tall, but there are shorter cultivars available.

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Alliums, like these garlic chives, are wonderful nectar plants. These edible herbs perennialize in our garden. You may also enjoy the flowers or the leaves in salads and other summer dishes.

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Most herbs, and certainly all of the types of mints, reliably feed pollinators. This Nepeta, cat mint,  blooms continually from mid-spring until frost.  If the flowers slow down, simply cut it back and let it regrow.

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‘Black and Blue’ Salvia is a special favorite of hummingbirds.

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are both native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and seeds they drop. 

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Six on Saturdays: In Leaf

Some new Rex Begonias with A. ‘Ghost’ and have found their place in the shade.  This is a piece of the A. ‘Ghost’ that I divided a few weeks ago.  It has been growing on in a nursery pot and now has a home of its own.

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August is perhaps the leafiest month of all.  Have you ever thought about it?

The trees are not only fully clothed in leaves, they are also in active growth, pushing out new tender, leafy branches in all directions.  Shrubs sit plump and leafy, their woody skeletons obscured beneath a thick cloud of green.

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Every sort of grass and herb and herbaceous blooming stem bursts out of the ground, some taunting us to come and tame them with mowers, string trimmers and secateurs.

And then there are the beautiful, whimsical leaves which simply delight.  Leaves with swirls of color, spots, stripes, and wavy edges.

Leaves that shimmer and shine in their iridescent beauty.  Leaves that grow to gargantuan proportions, regal and proud.

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When we brought our large Begonias out of the house and garage in late May, many had lost most of their leaves.  Their long, woody stems held only a few stragglers and looked rather awkward.

We cleaned them up, cut them back, watered and fed them and set them in bright shade.  Most have finally grown a new summer cloak of beautiful leaves and are beginning to push out panicles of flowers.  Their beauty has returned in time to luxuriate in August’s heat.

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Our garden shimmers in the light and rustles in the breeze, leaves giving shade as they hungrily soak up summer’s sunlight.

As we consider how our changing, warming climate might affect the planet’s future, and our own, we might consider the leaf; that bio-factory that absorbs not only sunlight, but also breathes in air.  It filters, it cleans, and it produces pure oxygen.  And it takes all of those carbon bits floating in the air and transforms them into the very cellulose of its own growing body.

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Forests of trees, big trees, long-lived trees offer a potential strategy to help clean the carbon out of our atmosphere, eventually reversing our planet’s warming.

If we can’t plant a forest, perhaps we can plant a tree.  If not a tree, then perhaps a pot of leafy plants.

Every shrub and tree and beautiful leaf does its own small part towards healing and enlivening us all.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“The journey may be fraught with challenges,
yet it continues,
for even the smallest leaf must embrace destiny…
Persistence is the key…”
 Virginia Alison
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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

Hibiscus Summer

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Hibiscus of many sizes, shapes and colors fill our garden this week to the delight of butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.  Actually, to our delight, as well, as we enjoy their bold colors and beautiful forms.

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Hibiscus flowers call across the garden, inviting closer inspection of their sculptural beauty.

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Our herbaceous Hibiscus are natives or native cultivars.  Native Hibiscus delighted us during our first summer in this garden, and they still thrill as they bloom each year.

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Hibiscus moscheutos

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As natives, they ask little beyond sunlight, moisture and a place to grow.  Long after their flowers fade, they continue giving sustenance to birds and structure to the garden as their woody stems and seed pods ripen and split.  Cut them in early December, sow the seeds and spray them gold for a bit of glitter in holiday decorations.  Or leave them to catch winter’s ice and snow, feeding those birds who remain in the garden into the new year.

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Hibiscus coccineus

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I wrote about our native red Hibiscus coccineus last August, when it normally blooms.  It has already been blooming this year for almost a week; yet another indication of phenological shifts in response to our warming climate.

We love seeing these scarlet flowers nodding above the garden, perched atop their distinctive and beautiful foliage.  I try to collect and spread their seeds as the season wanes, to encourage more plants to emerge each year.

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The tree Hibiscus, Hybiscus syriaca, are widely naturalized, though they originally came from Asia.  Drought and pollution tolerant, they are easy to grow and easily hybridize in an ever expanding selection of cultivars.  Beloved by bees and butterflies, they bloom over many weeks from early summer until autumn.  These fast growing trees reseed themselves in our garden and I often have seedlings to share.

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Hibsicus syriaca

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Hibiscus mark the height of summer in our garden.  They bloom over a long period, and we feel a subtle shift into another, late-summer season when they finally begin to fade.

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Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Sunday Dinner: Celebrating Summer

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“It was only a sunny smile,
and little it cost in the giving,
but like morning light it scattered the night
and made the day worth living.”
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F. Scott Fitzgerald
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“People of our time are losing the power of celebration.
Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained.
Celebration is an active state,
an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.
To be entertained is a passive state-
-it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle….
Celebration is a confrontation,
giving attention
to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.
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Abraham Joshua Heschel
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“And so with the sunshine
and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies,
I had that familiar conviction
that life was beginning over again
with the summer.”
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F. Scott Fitzgerald
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“To live is to be marked.
To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story,
and that is the only celebration
we mortals really know.”
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Barbara Kingsolver
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“Take the time to celebrate stillness and silence
and see the joy that the world can bring,
simply.”
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Tony Curl
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“Shall we walk through the woods;
dance through the meadows;
and celebrate the miracle
of this garden world?”
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Leland Lewis
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“I almost wish we were butterflies
and liv’d but three summer days –
three such days with you
I could fill with more delight
than fifty common years
could ever contain.”
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John Keats
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“Summertime. It was a song.
It was a season.
I wondered if that season
would ever live inside of me.”
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Benjamin Alire Sáenz
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“What life expects of us is that we celebrate.”
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José Eduardo Agualusa
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019 
from The Williamsburg Botanical Garden and the Colonial Parkway

Sunday Dinner: Aspirations

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“Faith is the bird
that feels the light and sings
when the dawn is still dark.”
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Rabindranath Tagore

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“Dreams are what guide us,
art is what defines us,
math is what makes it all possible,
and love is what lights our way.”
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Mike Norton

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden bathed in morning light.

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“Rome was not built in one day;
But one day Rome was built.”
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Kayambila Mpulamasaka

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“We never know what we can be or do
until the need is there
and we are tested by it.”
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Terry Brooks

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“If you trust in yourself. . .
and believe in your dreams. . .
and follow your star. . .
you’ll still get beaten
by people who spent their time
working hard and learning things
and weren’t so lazy.”
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Terry Pratchett

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Monarch butterfly feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.

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“The heights charm us,
but the steps do not;
with the mountain in our view
we love to walk the plains.”
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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Clouds come floating into my life,
no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add color to my sunset sky.”
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Rabindranath Tagore

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A female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Martagon lily at the Stonehouse Elementary School garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Our deep aspiration
is an immense source of energy.”
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Thich Nhat Hanh

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“Imagination grows by exercise
and contrary to common belief
is more powerful in the mature
than in the young.”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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Our Forest Garden as June draws to its close.

Six on Saturday: Shimmer and Shine

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When morning brings only a slight lightening of the darkness, sky hung with low, grey clouds; and nighttime’s staccato soundtrack of raindrops on the roof plays on and on; a certain reluctance to greet the new day may be overlooked.

But the new day still dawns and clocks tick on in their steady counting.  And so with determined optimism I stepped out this morning to see what could be seen of the garden without stepping off the stone patio.

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Inches of rain poured from the sky from Friday noon until evening, from evening into the night, and all night through the melting darkness and into this reluctantly dawning Saturday.

Staying in bed, the most logical course of action, wasn’t an option.  I had plans to travel and promises to keep.  But the prospects for the day seemed dim.

And when I’m feeling unenthusiastic, the best antidote is a walk, however short, to survey the garden.

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Raindrops gilded every leafy surface, reflecting morning’s pale grey light.  Puddles collected on the stones and in the leaves.  The air smelled clean and alive.

The front garden, cloaked in cool fog and wet trees, enclosed my timid explorations.  It felt like spring again, even as the blooming Hydrangeas and Hibiscus and extravagant tropical leaves proved it is early summer.

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Water gives life and fuels growth.  The garden trembled with shimmer and shine in the slight breeze, even as misty rain filled the air and seeped into my light clothing.

I could hear our toads singing their approval of this fine wet morning.

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It is on days like this that I most appreciate the beautiful leaves that fill our garden.  Texture takes over when delicate flowers melt in a steady rain.  What might be overlooked on a brighter day reveals its beauty under the glamour of raindrops, in the thin light of a wet morning in June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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“But here, the rain was just another part of the landscape.

Like it was the thing that lived here

and we were merely visitors.”
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Megan Miranda

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

Six on Saturday: Elegance

Peruvian daffodil, Hymenocallis festalis

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A gift of bulbs this spring from a gardening friend finally unfolded yesterday into unexpected elegance.

A catalog photograph simply doesn’t convey the intricate beauty of these members of the Amaryllis family called ‘Peruvian daffodils.’  Native in South America and hardy only to Zone 8, their large bulbs quickly sent up Amaryllis style robust leaves and an Amaryllis style bloom stalk, topped with multiple tight buds.  I am enjoying the show as bud after bud unfolds to reveal its beauty.

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Dry summer heat has finally given way to cooling rains.  I watched newly planted starts wilting under the unrelenting sun earlier in the week, and I’m relieved to see them reinvigorated and growing again after a series of thunderstorms and a welcome cold front brought us relief from the heat.  We nearly broke the record set in 2018 for hottest May since weather data has been recorded.  We only missed it here by a hair.

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Zantedeschia ‘White Giant’ with buds of Daucus carota and Nepeta

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And so I wasn’t surprise to notice the first white buds opening on crape myrtle trees planted along the road yesterday morning.  I noted that this is the earliest I’ve seen crape myrtles bloom, as they normally wait until at least mid-June to appear.  And then I noticed one of our new hybrid crapes last evening, the first pink fluffy flowers open in its crown.

Crape myrtles are beautiful trees in our region, one of the pleasures of summer that blooms for a hundred days or more until early fall.  They love heat, tolerate drought once established, and grow into tidy, elegant trees with interesting bark and form.  I love our crapes as much in winter for their form as I do in summer for their flowers.

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Butterflies love crape myrtles for their nectar, but not as much as butterflies love Verbena.

We’ve had a strong population of Zebra Swallowtail butterflies this month and they are found most often sipping from the Verbena bonariensis, both in our own forest garden and at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  I’ve photographed them sipping nectar in both gardens this week.

Yes, we’re also seeing Tiger Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails and Painted Ladies, along with other smaller butterflies.  We are delighted with how many individuals we are spotting around the area this year.  The efforts of so many area gardeners to provide host as well as nectar plants, and to create safe spaces for them to grow, is showing beautiful results.

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Our garden continues filling up with newly blooming flowers as summer’s heat builds and the days grow longer.  We are only a few weeks away from Summer Soltice now.

Each plant in the garden unfolds and grows with its own unique elegance, filling its niche; offering up its botanical gifts with nature’s boundless generosity.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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

Sunday Dinner: Relaxed

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“I want to put the ever-rushing world on pause
Slow it down, so that I can breathe.
These bones are aching to tell me something
But I cannot hear them.”

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Lucy H. Pearce

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“Just breathing can be such a luxury sometimes.”

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Walter Kirn

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“The secret of relaxation is in these three words:

‘Let it go”!”

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Dada J. P. Vaswani

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“The attitude of Tao is of cooperation, not conflict.

The attitude of Tao is not to be against nature

but to be with it, to allow nature,

to let it have its way, to cooperate with it,

to go with it.

The attitude of Tao is of great relaxation.”

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Osho

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“Your calm mind

is the ultimate weapon

against your challenges.

So relax.”

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Bryant McGill

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“Now this relaxation of the mind from work

consists on playful words or deeds.

Therefore it becomes a wise and virtuous man

to have recourse to such things at times.”

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Thomas Aquinas

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“Man is so made that

he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor

by taking up another. ”

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Anatole France

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“I wish you water.”

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Wallace J. Nichols 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.”
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John Lennon

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Plants Want to Live

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis

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The snow fell so fast and wet, that it was already bending the branches of our large dogwood tree so low they nearly touched the deck.   By the time I realized what was happening, I could hear cracks and crashes where trees all around us were having branches ripped off under the weight of such a heavy snow, in mid-December, before the trees had a chance to harden up for winter.

I grabbed a coat, hat and broom and went to work, knocking globs of snow off the dogwood’s branches, allowing them to spring back to a more normal posture.  After knocking off all the snow I could reach from the deck, I headed out into the yard to do the same on trees and shrubs all around the garden.

I could hear sirens in the distance that afternoon, and took a call from a neighbor telling me our neighborhood entrance was blocked by fallen trees. We listened to the groans and snaps of trees into the night, and the following day, under the weight of that unusual snow.

We lost three trees that day and our tall bamboo was bent to the ground, where it froze in place and remained for more than a week.  Bamboo stalks fell across our fig tree and across the fern garden, like an icy roof.  It took a few weeks, after the thaw, to clean up enough to truly assess the damage.

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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 get to them for several days because everything was frozen solid.

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Our great old redbud tree was bent even further by the weight of the snow-laden bamboo.  Already  leaning towards the sun, the tree leaned at a precipitous angle up hill, its roots nearly in the ravine at the bottom of the yard, and its major branches now resting in the fern garden.  Many branches broke, others needed drastic pruning.  But the roots held, and we cleaned up the tree as well as we could and determined to wait for spring to see how it responded.

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New growth emerges from our broken redbud tree.

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Well, plants want to live.  And this tree is determined to make the best of an awkward situation.  We have been amazed to see how much new growth the tree has produced since March.

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There is a rhythm to tending a garden.  We plant, we tend, we prune, and we stand in awe as our plants become established and take off to grow according to their own patterns.  Like watching a young adult child find their way in the world, our woodies and perennials often have a mind of their own as they claim their space in the garden, reproduce, and grow into their potential.

Sometimes that is a wonderful thing and we admire the maturing plant’s beauty.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Sometimes that is a terrifying thing as we see a plant rapidly claim the garden’s real estate, shading and crowding out the many other (more?) desirable plants we want to grow.

Kindness can turn against us, sometimes, when we welcome a little gift plant from a well meaning friend, finding a spot for it in our garden and tending it through its first year or two.

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Rudbeckia laciniata, a native that feeds wildlife, and an unapologetic thug that has taken over our ‘butterfly garden.’  This came as an uninvited guest with a gift of Monarda from a gardening friend.

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Sometimes the plant gifts itself to us as a windblown or bird-sown seed.  It grows, and we give it a chance to show us what it can become.  And then, Wham!  Suddenly, it has become an outsized monster and we do battle with it to keep it in bounds, or sometimes eradicate it entirely.

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Mid-September 2018, and the Solidago, goldenrod, had just begun to bloom.

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I am way too kind when it comes to such plants.  My curiosity gets the better of my good sense.  I let that little plant grow out just to watch it, and then it has seeded all over the place and I’m spending time trying to get it back under control, and rescue plants about to be completely strangled and starved by this newcomer.

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The Devil’s Walking Stick, , Aralia spinosa, in full bloom and covered by bees in late summer.  This native tree will grow tall, with it trunk covered in sharp thorns.

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The first of the Solidago showed up two summers ago.  It was a novelty.  I had just joined the Virginia Native Plant Society and I was trying to reform my natural preference for pretty imported hybrids and welcome more natives to the garden.  I let it grow.

Then last summer, I was amazed at how many very tall goldenrods grew up.  But I was busy.  I didn’t have much time in my own garden, and I let them grow.

My partner grumbled as they topped 6′ high, but I felt smugly virtuous for giving space to these native plants and supporting the pollinators.  We enjoyed the butterflies and they were pretty once they bloomed golden and lush.  I cut them down in December, but not soon enough.  By then there were seeds, everywhere.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Edgeworthia, Camellia, Rudbeckia, Solidago and the surrounding trees create layers of texture in early September 2018.

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And just in the last two weeks, those little goldenrods have grown inches a day, it seems.  My partner came to me on Monday with that look of determination I know so well.  They were growing out into our ever narrowing paths.  A deer had gotten into the front garden, and we couldn’t even see where it was hiding for the lush growth.  I had to do something….

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The new stand of Solidago, cut back to allow black eyed Susans and other perennials space to grow….

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And that is how it came to be that I was taking the string trimmer to my perennial beds Monday evening, under observation, cutting down as many of those Solidago plants as I could until the battery gave out.  Our neighbors paused on the street, wondering if I’d lost my mind, cutting down every plant in sight.

We were back at it early Tuesday morning, and the day I’d planned to spend planting pots went to cutting, pulling, pruning, and generally editing our front garden to remove not only the Solidago, but also the small forest of devil’s walking stick trees growing up from a frighteningly wide network of roots.

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Another little Aralia, looking for space to grow…

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That was another volunteer that I let grow ‘to see what it would do.’  The summer flowers attract clouds of butterflies and bees.  The lovely purple berries are favorites of our song birds.  The huge, palm frond like leaves grow quickly as the tree shoots up, several feet per year.  Its trunk is covered in long, sharp spines.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looked rather tropical as its first leaves emerged in April of 2017.

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This Virginia native is a great tree for wildlife.  But our neighbor warned me, when I offered him one, about its roots.  He told of having to hack it back each summer at his family home when he was a teen.  I listened politely, and let our Aralia spinosa grow on, a novelty in the front garden.

But it fell in our October hurricane and my partner took that opportunity, which I was away, to cut away the main tree entirely.  And I’ve been cutting out a dozen or more sprouts every week since mid-March.

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Yet another goldenrod or obedient plant, growing up under one of our Hydrangea shrubs.  It takes a sharp eye to spot them all, and a bit of balance and agility to reach them all!

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Some were hiding in the goldenrod forest, nestled between other shrubs and cozying up to our emerging Cannas.  What the weed eater couldn’t reach, I managed to cut with my secateurs.  Like a weird game of twister, I found footing among the Cannas and goldenrod stubble and cut those thorny stalks back as close to the ground as I could reach.

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A part of our fern garden, where ferns are filling in as a complete ground cover on a steep bank. 

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Plants just want to live.  Their business is to reproduce, grow, and make as many seeds as possible.  This is a basic principle that every gardener has to face.

The wilder the plant, usually the more determined it will be.  Like the Japanese stilt grass I pull out by the handfuls every year from April to December.  Like the bamboo that tries to march up the hill from the ravine every spring, and that we find growing feet in a day sometimes, until we discover it and break it back to the ground.  We’ve learned the squirrels love gnoshing on fresh bamboo shoots.

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The march of the bamboo up the hill back in early May of 2014.  We have to control the growth up towards the garden each spring.

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To make a garden is to offer a weird sort of universal hospitality.  Whatever you think you might want to grow, nature has its own ideas.   Weeds happen. 

I chuckle to myself at native plant sales to see plants I pulled as ‘weeds’ the first few years we lived here, sold as desirable ‘native plants’ at a respectable price.  There is wild Ageratum, and Indian strawberry, wax myrtle and golden ragwort.  Our front yard hosts a growing patch of fleabane, Erigeron annus, each spring.  It crowds out the ‘grass’ and blooms for a solid month, around the time the daffodils are fading.

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Native fleabane, probably Erigeron pulchellus, grow in our front lawn. A short lived perennial, this patch grows a bit larger each year. After it finishes flowering, we mow this part of the ‘lawn’ once again.

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Each of us has to make our own peace with the native plants our area supports.  Last year, I decided the pokeweed had to go.  I pulled and cut for months, but I prevented that from going to seed.  I’ve found one huge plant so far this year and a few small seedlings.  They will soon be eradicated, too.

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Pokeweed has overgrown the Salvia, Colocasia and Hibiscus that have grown here for the last several summers. They are just holding on beneath its shade in August 2017.  We lost the Salvia that year, but the Colocasias remain.

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I walk among the growing oaks that I ‘allowed’ to grow when they were only inches tall.  Every seedling demands a decision from the gardener.  Can it grow here?  How will this change the rest of the garden?

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are also native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and the seeds they drop.  They are great for pollinators, last many weeks, and make nice cut flowers.  By cutting back the Solidago this week, I hope these will fill in this part of the garden once again.

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Those are the sorts of questions one must ask every month of every year, to keep a garden in balance.  Those are the questions to keep in mind when shopping at the nursery, or the plant sale, too.

Curiosity is a good thing.  But wisdom and a bit of self-discipline are even better.

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The ferns I planted in the hollow stump of this peach tree, lost to the December storm, are growing well.  And, the stump itself is sending up new growth. from its living roots.  Plants just want to live

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Seedling redbud trees continue to grow at the base of the stump.

Sunday Dinner: Flow

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Mist to mist, drops to drops.

For water thou art,

and unto water shalt thou return.”

.

Kamand Kojouri

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They both listened silently to the water,

which to them was not just water,

but the voice of life,

the voice of Being,

the voice of perpetual Becoming.”

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Hermann Hesse

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“To them, as to Magnus,

time was like rain, glittering as it fell,

changing the world,

but something that could also

be taken for granted.”

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Cassandra Clare

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“…I keep looking for one more teacher,

only to find that fish learn from the water

and birds learn from the sky.”

.

Mark Nepo

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“Water is the most perfect traveller

because when it travels

it becomes the path itself!”

.

Mehmet Murat ildan

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“Water is the driving force in nature.”

.

Leonardo da Vinci

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“Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape,

so in warfare

there are no constant conditions.”

.

Sun Tzu

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“Empty your mind,

be formless, shapeless, like water.

Be water, my friend.”

.

Bruce Lee

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2019
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