Butterfly’s Choice: Aralia spinosa

Aralia blooms mingle with wild Clematis along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

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We stopped to admire the Clematis.  It was only once we pulled in to the parking area that we noticed the butterfly.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Aralia spinosa.

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And what a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail he was, contentedly feeding on the Aralia flowers.

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Aralia spinosa is one of those wild trees we notice growing along the roadsides that appear, to our eye, rather weedy.  They grow tall and thin, eventually forming dense thickets, and sport wicked sharp thorns along their trunks and branches.  A native in our area, most sane folk would never allow them to take root in their garden.

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But their thorns can be overlooked in late summer, when the Aralia produce huge, thick clusters of tiny flowers.  The flowers bloom, and after the blossoms drop dense purple berries take their place.  Butterflies love their flowers and all sorts of song birds love the berries.  These small trees produce abundant food for wild life each summer, before their leaves drop in late autumn.

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“The Devil’s Walking Stick”, Aralia spinosa, with berries forming.  This stand grows along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

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We got to know Aralia when our neighbor’s fell over under its own weight one year, and leaned its huge flowery head into our back garden.  Perhaps it was merely reaching for the sun; I was intrigued.  Within another few years, we had one sprouting in the upper garden.  I decided to give it a chance and let it grow.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge each spring.

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It lost its top in a storm in early spring this year, and just as I hoped, more branches and flower heads sprouted lower along its trunk.  Where last year we had one large flower cluster at the very top, this year we have several.  We often find our Tiger Swallowtails winging their way up to enjoy its nectar.

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But here along the Colonial Parkway on Sunday afternoon, I was still surprised to see the swallowtail feasting only on the Aralia, and completely ignoring the Clematis.  To my eye, the Clematis flowers are far more appealing.  They fairly shimmer in the sunlight, and they are a bit larger and perhaps easier to access.

But butterflies perceive the garden differently than do we.  Something about the Aralia intrigued this butterfly and kept it satisfied.  The Aralia is a Virginia native, and this particular Clematis is a naturalized variety from Asia.

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Clematis terniflora was introduced from Asia, and has naturalized in many parts of the country, including here along the Colonial Parkway.  Its fragrance is strong and sweet.  This variety is on the invasive list in several states.

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As we garden, we have to come to terms with our purposes.   What do we intend to accomplish by planting and tending our garden?  Who is the consumer?  Who is to be pleased by it?  Are we growing food for ourselves, enjoying the latest brightest flowers, creating a peaceful green sanctuary of shrubs and trees, or are we gardening to nurture wildlife?

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We can find compromises, but we can’t do it all.

What appeals to wildlife may not be our idea of horticultural beauty.  Maintaining a garden that is immaculately beautiful won’t serve the needs of the butterflies, birds, toads and other creatures we may hope to attract.

Wildlife will impact any food crop we cultivate, for good or ill, and we need to come to terms early on with whether we will use the many chemicals that promise garden perfection.

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Native Asclepias incarnata grows wild in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

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It helps to know what wildlife need and prefer if we want to contribute to conservation efforts to protect them.  But that doesn’t mean we want all of those plants surrounding our home.  Many have a short season of beauty, or are rampant, or simply prefer to grow in wide open spaces.

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Native Pickerel weed, Pontederia cordata, may be used in water features in our garden.  Here is grows in one of the marshes on Jamestown Island, along with Phragmites.

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Maybe our homeowners association has strict standards for how our yards must be maintained.  Growing vigorous native plants may be discouraged, in favor of more traditional landscaping.

There is a tension, sometimes, in how we resolve these apparent conflicts of purpose, intent and personal needs.  But there can be creative, and beautiful compromises possible, when we stop and observe closely enough, and plan with clarity and wisdom.

Our love of the wild and beautiful world around us helps us discover those compromises, and find joy in the result.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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A wildlife friendly border, with mixed natives and exotics, in our upper garden.

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Sunday Dinner: In the Pink

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“The simplest acts of kindness
are by far more powerful
then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
,
Mahatma Gandhi

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“Do you know what people really want?  Everyone, I mean.
Everybody in the world is thinking:
I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to,
who could really understand me, who’d be kind to me.
That’s what people really want, if they’re telling the truth.”
.
Doris Lessing
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“True love is born from understanding.”
.
Gautama Buddha

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“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts,
to enter into the places of pain,
to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish.
Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery,
to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears.
Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak,
vulnerable with the vulnerable,
and powerless with the powerless.
Compassion means full immersion
in the condition of being human.”
.
Henri J.M. Nouwen

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“It is only with true love and compassion
that we can begin to mend what is broken in the world.
It is these two blessed things
that can begin to heal all broken hearts.”
.
Steve Maraboli

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“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;
it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars
needs restructuring. ”
.
Martin Luther King Jr.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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Follow the story here:

Sacred Ground, Now Reclaimed:  A Charlottesville Story

Please join with me in sending love, light, and protection to those whose compassion compels them to make the journey.  Their wounds are yet raw, and from their pain they draw both courage and power.  

Let the revolution of our generation be one of love, compassion and awakening

-WG.

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“Rage — whether in reaction to social injustice,
or to our leaders’ insanity,
or to those who threaten or harm us —
is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice,
can be transformed into fierce compassion.”
.
Bonnie Myotai Treace

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“Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”
.
Dalai Lama XIV

Green Thumb Tip #20: Go With the Flow

Bronze fennel foliage, wet from an early morning watering, with Verbena bonariensis

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There is rhythm to life in the garden.  Much like waves of warm briny water crashing along a sandy beach; so too waves of life appear in the garden, peak, and then quietly disappear.  Part of a gardener’s education, when working in a new garden, is sensing and recognizing a garden’s ‘waves’ of life.

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Wisdom teaches us that much of our frustration and unhappiness is connected to our desires.  There are things we want that we can’t have in the moment.  There are things we love that we fear losing.  There are things we care about that we see passing away before our eyes.  All of these concerns can become causes of our suffering, to some degree, as we work with our gardens.

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Japanese beetles have found the Zantedeschia.

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But our feelings can shift when we take the broader view, acknowledge the rhythms and challenges, and plan ahead to address them.

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When we plant early spring bulbs we know that we’ll be left with their foliage for a few weeks after the flowers fade, and then even that will yellow and fall away.  What will grow up in their place?

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Daffodils and Arum italicum fade as Caladiums, hardy Begonia and ferns grow in their place.

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When we plant roses, we can expect a glorious flush of blooms in May, followed by much that needs to be pruned away.  What happens if blackspot or Japanese beetles attack the leaves?  Will our shrubs bloom again during the season?

We can plan to have other perennials or shrubs nearby to take attention away from resting rose shrubs.

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Crape myrtles have just begun to bloom in our area.

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And what happens when a tender perennial fails to appear in spring?  Is there a gap in the border, or do we have something waiting to grow in its place?

We understand the larger cycles of the seasons and how they affect the life in our garden.  First frost claims much of our garden’s growth, and the beds lie fallow through the winter.

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January in our forest garden

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But there are larger cycles still, as woodies grow and shade out nearby perennials, or a tree falls and changes the light in the garden, or plants fill in, creating dense mats of growth.

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Crinum lily comes into bloom amidst Iris, Thyme and Alliums.

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Gardening teaches us flexibility and resilience.  Resistance to the cycles and happenstance of nature tightens us up inside.  We might feel anger at the voles eating through the roots of a favorite shrub, or the Japanese beetles ruining the leaves of a favorite perennial.  How dare they!

But these things are always likely to happen.  We can’t fully prevent the damages that come along when we work with nature.

I found a small Hydrangea shrub, that I’ve been nurturing along from a rooted cutting, grazed back by deer last week.  No matter how protected it might be, or how often I’ve sprayed it with repellents, a doe came along after a rain, and chewed away most of its leaves.

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Successful gardeners learn how to ‘go with the flow.’  We do the best we can, follow best practices, and have a plan or two up our sleeves to work with the natural cycles of our space.  Even so, we learn the lessons of impermanence in the garden.

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Working to thwart the voles, I am experimenting with planting Caladiums into pots sunk into the bed. I’m also doing this in another bed with tender Hostas.

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Every plant isn’t going to survive.  But we keep planting anyway, trying new things to see what will thrive.

Some things we plant will grow too much, and we’ll have to cut them back or dig them up to keep them in bounds.  Weeds come and go.  Insects chew on leaves and voles chew on roots.

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We stand by, observing this incredible ebb and flow of life, and take our place among the waves.

Gardeners feel the ebbs and flows, too.  We may feel energized in spring and plant lots of new roots and shoots, seeds and plugs.  But then summer heats up, the grounds dries out a little, and we are left scrambling to keep it all watered and tended.

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Suddenly there is stilt grass sprouting up in our beds and pots.  The lawn is growing overnight, and the shrubs need pruning.

As our own energies come and go, we find a rhythm to keep up with maintaining our gardens while also maintaining ourselves.  We can’t stop the ebb and flow in our garden any more than we can stop the waves crashing on the beach.

But we can lighten up, enjoy the scenery, and take pleasure in the ride.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

What I’m reading this week:                            

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“Enjoying the simple beauty of plant against rocks, and cultivating the distinctive forms of alpine plants, is the heart of traditional rock gardening, ranging from gardeners who obsessively recreate the look of mountaintop, to those who carefully cultivate individual specimens of plants into breathtaking peaks of loom not to be matched by anything else in the plant world.”               

Joseph Tychonievich from Rock Gardening, Reimagining a Classic Style

(Thank you, Joseph, for your entertaining talk on Saturday morning!)

“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to 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 grow the garden of their 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’ll 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 gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

The Butterfly Garden at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is beautiful, if still dormant, in early February.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a great destination for picking up ideas and observing many different sorts of plants growing here in James City County, Virginia.

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Whether you go for a quiet walk, or to participate in a class, there is always more to learn, experience and enjoy.

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The garden is a true community effort.  It brings together volunteers from many different organizations, including the Williamsburg Master Gardeners Association.

The garden is subdivided into  specialty gardens planned and maintained by different groups, and serving different purposes.  In addition to the butterfly garden, there are areas devoted to heirloom plants, native plants, wetland and woodland plants, perennials and flowering shrubs, a fernery, and an area of raised beds for therapeutic gardening.

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The Pollinator Palace

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Best practices are modeled, and new gardeners are both trained and inspired in this special space.  Even though the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is fenced to exclude deer; songbirds, pollinators and other small wildlife are welcomed and fed.

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The first stirrings of spring were evident today under bright skies.  It was only a few degrees above freezing when some gardening friends and I ventured out, tools in hand, for a pruning workshop.

Despite numb fingers and toes, we discussed proper pruning for several species of flowering woody shrubs.  Experts demonstrated the proper use of a variety of nifty pruning tools, too.

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A few of the earliest shrubs, like Spirea, showed tiny bits of green. Its buds are just tentatively opening this week.  But most of the herbs, perennials, and deciduous woodies were still slumbering through their last few weeks of dormancy.

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Daffodils have just begun to emerge, their bright blooms now only days away.

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Today served as a call to action to get out and get after the woodies in our own Forest Garden, before the season gets ahead of me this year.  I was a bit slack last year on the pruning. This year, there is a great deal of cutting and thinning and just plain lopping back waiting for us.  But it won’t wait for long; warmer, longer days will coax those buds to open all too soon.

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It is too early in the season to prune wood from early spring bloomers like Spirea and Viburnum.  However, one may always prune out wood that is Dead, Diseased, Deformed, or Damaged.

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Some gardeners grow a bit confused about what pruning to do, and when.  In general, February is a great month for pruning roses, crape myrtle, butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, and other trees and shrubs which won’t bloom before June.  If a shrub blooms on new growth only, it is safe to prune it back now.

If your shrub blooms on old wood from last year’s growth, and already has its flower buds ready to go now, then “wait to prune until after bloom.”  

All of our favorite spring shrubs like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Forsythias, and Spireas have flower buds set and ready to open on schedule, over the next several weeks.   Any pruning done now will reduce our spring blooms.

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There are great Botanical gardens all over the country, and we are very fortunate to have such a nice one here in Williamsburg.  One can’t help but feel either inspired or overwhelmed after an hour’s walk among such a beautiful collection of plants.  This is a great destination for a walking tour, even on a frosty February morning.

Once I had a cup of coffee and could feel my fingertips again, I was ready to head over to Lowes.   I wanted to have a look at some of the new nifty gadgets for pruning that I’d seen demonstrated today, while my enthusiasm was still warm.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Tour Guide

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Sunday Dinner: Courage

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“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery,

in the courage that drives one person

to stand up for another.”

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Veronica Roth

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“Your strength doesn’t come from winning.

It comes from struggles and hardship. 

Everything that you go through

prepares you for the next level.”

.

Germany Kent

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“I love to walk.

Walking is a spiritual journey

and a reflection of living.

Each of us must determine which path to take

and how far to walk;

we must find our own way,

what is right for one may not be for another.

.

Edie Littlefield Sundby

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“I am the bended, but not broken.

I am the power of the thunderstorm.

I am the beauty in the beast.

I am the strength in weakness.

I am the confidence in the midst of doubt.

I am Her!”

.

Kierra C.T. Banks

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“I know that the future seems hard and scary,

but it will get better, I promise.

It’s time for you to move on.

Get going.”

.

Asper Blurry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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In Bud

Edgeworthia chrysantha, Chinese Paperbush

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January promises limitless potential.  At the time of year when so little appears to be growing in the garden, a closer look shows us evidence of coming attractions.

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Mahonia aquifolium will soon bloom, feeding hungry pollinators through the winter months.

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Another gardening season stretches ahead of us; everything we hope for feels absolutely possible.  The first green tips of daffodil foliage poke up from the muddy soil, reminding us where clumps and drifts will soon begin the year’s progression of flowers.

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And every woody tree, shrub and vine is covering itself with plump, swelling buds.  Like colorful eggs, their protective shells shield the tiny leaves and petals within from winter’s harshness.

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Aesculus pavia, red buckeye buds contain both flowers and new leaves.

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A quick walk about reminds us how incredibly varied something even as simple as a woody bud can be.  Their colors, texture, placement on the stem, shape and form prove as varied as the flowers and leaves which will burst into growth in the months to come.

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Dogwood, Cornus florida sports round onion shaped flower buds from fall through until spring.  Leaf buds grow long and narrow.

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Even in these spare wintery months, the garden holds such a variety of interesting things to see.  Without spring’s fragrant distraction, these beautiful buds, and the stems and twigs which hold,  them claim my attention.

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Last year’s seed heads mix with next summer’s buds on crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia species.

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Next spring’s garden lives in these shivering buds today.  They are more fragile than any other exposed part of the plant when our temperatures dive and winter’s winds blow.   At times they may hold small mounds of snow, or rest encased in an icy skin.

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Magnolia stellata will be one of our first trees to burst into bloom next month.  The large bud at the end of the branch holds the developing flower, while the smaller buds along the stem will unfold as leaves.

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With luck, they will survive the elements to finally unfold into new life, at the perfect moment for their growth to accelerate.  Rapid growth at the buds will elaborate on what is already here, creating new woody growth as the weeks go by.

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Magnolia liliiflora  will bloom a few weeks later, with deep purple flowers.

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Even if a swelling bud is lost, those further down the stem will respond with accelerated growth of their own.  There is always a plan, even if an entire stem succumbs to the cold.  We will watch for shoots and buds to emerge from the roots.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia  is a native shrub hardy to Zone 5.  New growth from late opening autumn buds was frozen in our recent cold snap.  New growth will emerge next spring, and new shoots will also grow from the roots.

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Even as we celebrate our successes when the garden is fully clothed in vegetative growth; in January, we celebrate our garden’s potential.

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These are the days when we feel appreciation for every woody branch and twig, for every evergreen leaf, and especially for all of the healthy, swelling buds which sparkle in the winter sunshine.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Forsythia buds show color early, often blooming by mid-February.  In an especially cold winter, they may not open until early March.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations on a Theme

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Sunday Dinner: Retrospective

January 2017, Jones Millpond

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“That’s what pictures are for, after all:
to stand in place of the things that weren’t left behind,
to bear witness to people and places and things
that might otherwise go unnoticed.”
.
John Darnielle
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February 2017 Powhatan Creek

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“In retrospect,
we can only be thankful
to all the mistakes that we made
and to all the lessons
that we learned from them!”
.
Avijeet Das
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March 2017 James River at Black Point

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“The Naga laughed softly, ‘There’s a thin line
that separates courage
from stupidity.  And that line
is only visible in retrospect, my friend.
If I’m successful,  people will call me brave.
If I fail, I will be called foolish.
Let me do what I think is right.
I’ll leave the verdict to the future.”
.
Amish Tripathi
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April 2017 York River

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“It is a simple
but sometimes forgotten truth
that the greatest enemy
to present joy and high hopes
is the cultivation
of retrospective bitterness.”
.
Robert Menzies
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May 2017 Jones Millpond

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“Remembrance of things past
is not necessarily
the remembrance of things as they were.”
.
Marcel Proust
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June 2017

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
Believes longer than recollects,
longer than knowing even wonders.”
.
William Faulkner
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August 2017 Powhatan Creek

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“Remember your connection with the cosmos.
Remember your connection with the infinity
and that remembrance
will give you the freedom.”
.
Amit Ray
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September 2017, a waterway on Jamestown Island

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Wishing you happiness, prosperity, good health and good gardening in 2018!

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October 2017 The ‘D’ River empties into the Pacific Ocean

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“Photography is never real,
it’s merely one of many ways
of telling the truth.”
.
John Thai
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November 2017

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“Ever poised on that cusp
between past and future,
we tie memories to souvenirs
like string to trees along life’s path,
marking the trail
in case we lose ourselves
around a bend of tomorrow’s road.”
.
Susan Lendroth
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December 2017

 

Sunday Dinner: Joy

Flowers bloom on Main St. in Gloucester, earlier this week.

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“There is not one blade of grass,
there is no color in this world
that is not intended to make us rejoice.”
.
John Calvin
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“The same stream of life
that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world
and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy
through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves
of leaves and flowers.”
.
Rabindranath Tagore
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“He was mastered by the sheer surging of life,
the tidal wave of being,
the perfect joy of
each separate muscle, joint, and sinew
in that it was everything that was not death,
that it was aglow and rampant,
expressing itself in movement,
flying exultantly under the stars.”
.
Jack London
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“Sorrow prepares you for joy.
It violently sweeps everything out of your house,
so that new joy can find space to enter.
It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart,
so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place.
It pulls up the rotten roots,
so that new roots hidden beneath
have room to grow.
Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart,
far better things will take their place.”
.
Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi
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“When you do things from your soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
.
Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi
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“Joy does not simply happen to us.
We have to choose joy
and keep choosing it every day.”
.
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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From the “River City 3  Railers” Train Club train show at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, VA this weekend.

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“Joy is strength.”
.
Mother Teresa
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WPC: Elemental

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For this week’s challenge, explore the classical elements of earth, air, water, and fire.
How do you capture something invisible like air, or the movement of water? Or, more personally, is there a place you go to feel connected to the earth?
Take a moment to explore these elements, in or out of balance, together or individually, as you pick up your camera this week.”
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The ancients teach us that originally there was only one energy, one creative force.  It was, even before the light.

And from its desire to know itself, everything else was created. Every thing we know was explosively generated from the one.

This original energy still animates everything, every element that is; even our own knowingness. 

The continual joy of creation comes from the interplay of all of the elements; every bit of fire and earth, water and air.   These essential elements structure even our own imagination.

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Try to take away even one of the elements, and what is left? Some balance will be restored ….

Our life depends on the interplay of fire, water, air, minerals, and the unique animation we call spirit.

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“I’ve always known, on a purely intellectual level,
that our separateness and isolation are an illusion.
We’re all made of the same thing—
the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars.
I’d just never felt that knowledge in my bones until that moment,
there, with you, and it’s because of you.”
.
Blake Crouch
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Every particle and spark is important; a part of the whole. Every one of us is important:  a part of the whole; elemental.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Elemental

What to Grow For A Rainy Day?

Colocasia ‘Pink China’

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Have you ever found a list of plants to grow for a rainy day?  Surely there must be such a catalog, somewhere.  There are lists of plants for sun and shade, lists for arid gardens, for rock gardens and for water gardens.  There are lists of plants for attracting butterflies and for repelling deer.  Why not a list of rainy day plants, too?

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’

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Their leaves must be thick and waxy; their stems strong enough to take a pounding.  And, of course, they should hold raindrops and show them off like fine jewels.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Rainy day plants need a bit of glow about them.  They should sparkle and shine on the dullest of days.

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Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’

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And they can’t ever turn to a soggy mush when rainy days stretch into rainy weeks.  We are blessed with our share of rainy days in coastal Virginia.

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Caladium

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Some predict that climate change will bring us ever more rain, as warmer air absorbs and carries more moisture from the sea.   That has proven true these past few years, as coastal storms have brought us inches at a time.

Our soil holds it, too, like a soggy sponge.  And we need plants whose roots can luxuriate in this wet abundance.

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Muscadine grapes

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And mostly, we gardeners need some beautiful thing to admire on wet days.  Don’t you agree?

It’s good to walk out into one’s soggy garden and find it all looking fine.   To discover new layers of beauty when a plant is raindrop-clad brings us a little extra happiness.

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Daucus carota, a carrot flower

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Let’s make our own list of Rainy Day Plants.  Let’s consider what stands up well in our extreme summer weather, whatever that might be in our own garden.

For us it’s heat, humidity and rain.  Perhaps your own conditions are a bit different.  Do you have wind?  Drought?  Hail storms?  Floods?

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Crepe Myrtle

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Let’s be open to change.  Let’s plant our gardens to succeed in our current circumstance, whatever that might be.

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We can move beyond that tired old list of what we’ve always done before, and make new choices.

Let’s fill our gardens with beauty and abundance, no matter which way the wind blows, and no matter how many rainy days come our way.

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rose scented geranium, Pelargonium

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Live in moments that consume your heart and mind,

but be distracted by the music from the leaves,

birds, wind, rain, sun and people”

.

Val Uchendu

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StrawberryBegonia

 

 

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