“Why Does It Always Rain On The Iris?” and Other Gardening Conundrums

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Our Iris are in full, glorious bloom, and its raining…

Ironic, that just as soon as these gorgeous blooms open, they are inundated.  Petals turn to mush; stems fall over under their waterlogged weight.

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Same with the roses, if you must know.  The first gorgeous buds began to open on Saturday morning.  The rains started on Saturday, too, with more on the way.

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Now, I am always grateful for rain, please don’t misunderstand.  It is much easier to garden in rain than drought.  But I can’t help but noticing these beautiful flowers, with such a short period of bloom, blooming in the rain.

How many of us gardeners plan with the ‘worst case’ scenario in mind?  Very few, I’d bet.

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Gardeners must be optimists.  Otherwise, we’d be living in rented flats in a tall building somewhere, enjoying the local parks instead of puttering in our own unruly gardens.  We tend to expect the best and overlook the rest.

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Our stump garden has finally taken off from bare mulch, four summers ago.

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But real life is full of quirks and challenge.  We must make long range plans and then hope that we get to enjoy them.  Like the Iris, which take nearly a full year, or more, from when you plant their rhizome until they bloom.  We just plant them with a sprinkling of faith that eventually we’ll enjoy a few days of their delicious flowers.

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I have a packet of ‘Ten Free Flowering Trees’ from Arbor Day which arrived in Friday’s mail.  They arrived late in the day, while I was finishing up other projects, with no energy left to plant them.

They are still lying there in the garage, waiting for me.  We may still get a break in the rain, at least enough to get some of them in the ground today, I hope.  We have room for only a few.  The rest I hope to give to friends.

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Our front garden, yesterday in the rain, filled with blooming Mountain Laurel.

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It takes faith to plant a rooted twig, only a foot high, and envision the tree which will eventually manifest.  If one stops to consider the many things which may happen along the way, one might never even consider planting a tree of one’s own.

Two Live Oaks I planted last spring ended up broken off by something over the winter.  A very hungry deer, maybe?  (I gathered up the broken tops, and thrust them into pots hoping they might root.)

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A new Live Oak ended the summer at around 15″ tall, but was broken over the winter. It has begun growing again this spring.

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But consider our wild Scarlet Buck-Eye, Aesculus pavia.  This lovely tree began life as a volunteer seedling, before it was crushed by fallen oak trees four summers ago.  It was broken to a 4″ stump, and we could only hope it would recover.

I think that its strong roots helped it come back so quickly.  What you see is four years of growth, and its best bloom yet.  A gift of nature, it draws every eye in our garden this week.

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Scarlet Buckeye, also called ‘Firecracker Tree’ grows wild in our garden.

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A gardener learns to suspend judgement after a while.  Calling a happening ‘good’ or ‘bad’ proves one short-sighted, all too often.  Better to keep an open mind, and find ways to work with events as they arise.

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But that still doesn’t explain why this rogue, self-planted ‘Firecracker Tree’ looks stupendous today, even in the pouring rain, while our expensive and carefully tended Iris are melting before our eyes.

Maybe all of those purists who urge us to plant more native plants have a point, when you look at things dispassionately.  Did I mention that hummingbirds love those gorgeous red flowers?  Should any find our garden, their buffet lies waiting for them…..

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A gardener’s life comes filled with conundrums.  So many choices, so little time…. And yet, we get a fresh go at it with each passing season.

I’ve come to look at life in our garden as some sort of ongoing science experiment.  We try this, we try that.  When something succeeds, that is very gratifying.  When something fails, we have learned something new.

I’ll try it differently next time.

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And does that mean I’m going to rip out the Iris and plant something else; something that will stand up to our rainy springs?  Not a chance.

I’ll just grab my jacket and a hat and enjoy our garden in the pouring rain, and perhaps even find spots to add a few more Iris ….

Virginia Historic Garden Week April 22-29

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“When you find your path, you must not be afraid.

You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes.

Disappointment, defeat, and despair

are the tools God uses to show us the way.”

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Paulo Coelho

“Will Deer Eat It?”

Polka Dot plant takes center stage in this fairy garden. It comes in white, pink and red.

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The lady checking out in front of me at McDonald’s Garden Center on Jamestown Road had two cute little pots of ‘Polka Dot Plant,’ Hypoestes phyllostachya, and she had a single question for the clerk: “Will deer eat it?”  For those of us living among free-roaming herds of deer, that is always the question!

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Hydrangea macrophylla attract deer, who eat both leaves and flowers.

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Do deer graze in your garden?  It seems that ever growing herds of deer continue moving into more and more areas across the United States.  Even suburbs and small town now have a problem with deer.  So many are born each year, and they have no natural predator.  There is no longer enough hunting to keep their population in check, and so they have learned to live among us.

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Maybe you, like some of our neighbors, enjoy seeing ‘The Bambis.’  But maybe you, like many of our friends, want to grow a garden around your home to please you and your family- not to offer a free dinner to the local herd.

It is a constant struggle here, in our forested community.  Each doe can have up to five fawns a year.  Triplets aren’t uncommon.  Each buck may have a harem of six or more does in his family group.  We saw a group of more than 20 running across our neighbor’s yard one day in late January.

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Plants with poisonous leaves, like these Colocasia, won’t be grazed by deer.

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Even if you are content to let nature take its course in your yard, and you aren’t an avid gardener; you may be concerned about deer ticks and the diseases they carry.  Ticks lurk in places frequented by deer.  They wait on grasses, shrubs, anywhere they can until a warm blooded comes near enough for them to jump on and catch a ride and a meal.

The last time we were at the doctor getting an antibiotic script for a tick bite, the doctor offered up some comforting news.  She told us that the tick must be attached for 24 hours to transmit Lyme’s disease.  That is reason enough to thoroughly check for ticks after a day of gardening!

We have so many neighbors who have contracted Lyme’s disease, and we have had so many tick bites, that we do everything in our power to keep deer out of our garden.

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Ticks linger in overgrown grasses and on shrubs and trees, waiting for a ride and a meal.

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And that is not an easy thing.  Unless you are ready to construct a 10′ high chain link fence around the perimeter of your yard, maybe adding a little razor wire on top, they will likely find a way in from time to time.  And so we do everything in our power to discourage the deer from coming in to start with.  And if they do sneak in, we dispatch them and encourage them to stay in the ravine in future!

Which brings us back to buying ‘deer resistant’ plants.  The McDonald’s clerk didn’t know whether annual Polka Dot Plant was deer resistant or not.  But she looked it up somehow in her system, and told her customer that she believed it was.  She was right.  Hypoestes is considered deer resistant.

But that is a very loose term.  When hungry enough, deer will try grazing many things they shouldn’t.

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Rose scented Pelargonium with Pineapple Sage and Rose.  Herbs with a strong fragrance can offer some protection to tasty shrubs, like this rose.

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We’ve had to learn a lot about what deer won’t eat in order to garden in our community.  My last garden was enclosed with a 7′ fence in a suburb which had no deer.  My azaleas were 8′ high and I could grow anything I wanted without a second thought.  But the past is the past, and we live in the present, right?

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Azaleas once grew abundantly in our forest garden, before the deer population skyrocketed. Ours are now badly grazed and misshapen.  Some barely hang on from year to year.

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So unless you have an eidetic memory, it might be easier to remember some basic principles of what plants deer avoid than trying to memorize a list!  I’ve read lots of lists over the years and listened to a few experts speak on the topic.  No one is 100% accurate. in part because deer develop different preferences.

But here are a few guidelines which might prove useful as you plan your garden this spring:

  1.  Deer don’t like strongly scented or strongly flavored foliage.  This means that almost any herb is ‘safe’ and won’t be grazed.  This includes plants you might not think of as herbs, including annual geraniums, scented geraniums, Artemisias, and some perennials related to the mint family.  All Alliums, including garlic, scallions and onions, repel deer.
  2. Deer don’t like thick, tough and textured leaves.  Your Yucca is safe, as is prickly pear cactus, Iris and Lantana.  I’ve never seen lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina,  grazed, either.
  3. Many plants are naturally poisonous, and others have oxalic acid crystals in their leaves which irritate deer mouths.  Caladiums and their relatives are ‘safe’ due to the irritating crystals in their leaves.  That said, two friends told me their Caladiums were grazed during a summer drought last year.  We lose a leaf from time to time, but never a whole plant.  Colocasia and Alocasia, Arum italicum, and Zantedeschia all fall into this group.  If a plant is known as poisonous, like Helleborus and daffodils,  you can plant it with confidence.
  4. Deer avoid eating ferns.
  5. Deer avoid grey foliage.

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    Lavender has both a strong fragrance and tough, thick leaves. Deer never touch them and they are helpful as screening plants around tasty plants you want to protect.

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Now, here is what they do enjoy eating:

  1.  Any new shrub from the nursery, which has been grown with lots of fertilizer, looks delicious!  Even a shrub they wouldn’t think of grazing when it is mature will be tasty when young.  Nitrogen, a salt, makes the foliage taste good.  Think salt on french fries….. Give those newly planted shrubs and trees a bit of extra protection until they are at least 2 years old.
  2. Any plant you might eat, especially in your vegetable garden, will attract deer.  We’ve had fruit trees grazed, tomatoes devastated, bean vines harvested, and lettuce made to disappear in the blink of an eye.
  3. Any tender, soft, succulent, beautiful leaf, like a Hosta, Heuchera, Coleus, or Hydrangea, will interest a deer.  They also like flowers, otherwise known as ‘deer candy.’  You wouldn’t think deer would graze roses, but they do.  They adore eating any lily, especially daylily leaves and flowers.

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Grow tasty annuals, like sweet potato vine, in pots or baskets out of reach of deer.  Grown where they can get to it, expect it to be grazed from time to time.

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What can you do?  Like the lady with the Polka Dot plant, consider whether or not a new plant will attract deer before you bring it home to your garden.  Let the majority of your new plants be those the deer won’t graze.  I’ve learned how to create an interesting garden by growing lots of herbs and poisonous plants!

But I grow my favorites, too.  We gave up on a veggie garden, but we still have roses, a few Hosta, and Hydrangeas.  I defiantly grow a few tasty annuals in pots and baskets out of the reach of deer, or in pots right up against the house.  You would be amazed how brazen hungry deer can be!  And yes, I’ve had sweet potato vines and Coleus plants eaten off my front patio.

That is why the perimeter of our property is mostly planted with shrubs and trees that deer won’t graze.  We have wax myrtle, crepe myrtle, bamboo, red cedar, Ligustrum and Yucca along  the outer edges, somewhat hiding the more delicious plants in the center of our garden.

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Echinacea, or Purple Coneflower, is a favorite of nectar loving insects. A perennial, it is rarely touched by deer and grows more vigorous each year.

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I generally surround tender tasty plants with highly scented ones the deer will avoid.  We grow garlic, chives and onions in random places to protect certain plants.  Highly scented herbs can often give some protection, too, if planted around a shrub you want to protect.  I throw garlic cloves in pots of annuals.

We also regularly spread Milorganite around the perimeter of our property and around shrubs, like azaleas, we want to protect from deer.  You need at least a 4′ swath of this smelly fertilizer to fend off deer.  An interesting benefit is the drastic reduction in ticks we’ve found since we began using Milorganite last spring.

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Scented Pelargoniums and Zantedeschia prove a winning, and deer proof, combination.

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I keep a spray bottle of ‘Repels-All’ and spray the Hosta and Heuchera as they emerge; the roses and Hydrangeas as they leaf out.  Rain washes this product away, eventually, and so one needs to use it every few weeks.  Plants are more vulnerable in spring than in late summer, so you don’t have to make a life-time commitment to spraying this stuff.

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Hibiscus prove deer resistant.

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No one of us can solve the deer problem alone.  We’ve recently heard of some research in New York with contraceptive injections good for 22 months for an adult doe.  But this program is very expensive and labor intensive.  Hunting remains very controversial.  There are few ideas out there for a humane solution to this growing problem.

As undeveloped habitat disappears deer move in to our neighborhoods, sharing the land with us. And so it is up to us, as the brainier species, to adapt.  One way to co-exist with these gentle creatures is to design our gardens with plants they won’t eat.

Let them eat elsewhere!” becomes our motto, and  constant vigilance our practice.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Our ‘deer resistant’ garden, filled with poisonous plants and herbs,  in early spring

Golden February

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Have you noticed that certain colors predominate in the landscape each month?  August here is always very green.  January is a study in brownish grey.  April is awash with Azalea pinks and reds.

And February is golden.

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Yes, there are white snowdrops and rosy Hellebores in our garden now.  Purple and blue Violas bloom in pots and baskets.

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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium, blooming through our winter, provides nectar for early pollinators.  By summer each flower will have grown into a plump purple berry, loved by our birds.  These tough shrubs, native to western North America, have naturalized across much of Virginia.

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But the flowers highlighting our garden now, blooming fiercely against a still wintery brown backdrop; are the first golden Daffodils of spring, showering cascades of yellow Mahonia flowers, the occasional sunshiny Dandelion, and hundreds of thousands of yellow Forsythia buds.

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Forsythia greets each spring with thousands of tiny yellow flowers.

Forsythia greets each spring with thousands of tiny yellow flowers. An Asian native, Forsythia naturalized in North America more than a century ago.  An important source of nectar, these large, suckering shrubs provide shelter for many species of birds and insects.

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Forsythia and Daffodils line many of our public roads, too.  We found a huge stand of blooming yellow Daffodils in the median of Jamestown Road, near the ferry, last week.  Their cheerful promise of spring feels almost defiant as we weather the last few weeks of a Virginia winter.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese Paperbush, fills our front garden with fragrance now that its blossoms have opened. We found happy bees feeding on these flowers on Sunday afternoon.

Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese Paperbush, fills our front garden with fragrance now that its blossoms have opened. We found happy bees feeding on these flowers on Sunday afternoon.

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Touches of gold may also be found in the bright stamens of Hellebores, the warm centers of Edgeworthia flowers, and the bright Crocus which will bloom any day now.

These golden flowers of February prove a perfect foil to bare trees, fallen leaves and late winter storms.

What a lovely way for our garden to awaken to spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Golden

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering

for want of gold. I have seen a little of it.

I know that it is very malleable,

but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”

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Henry David Thoreau

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“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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Helleborus

Helleborus orientalis

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“But Nature granted to gold and silver

no function with which we cannot easily dispense.

Human folly has made them precious

because they are rare.

In contrast, Nature, like a most indulgent mother,

has placed her best gifts out in the open,

like air, water and the earth itself;

vain and unprofitable things

she has hidden away in remote places.”

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Thomas More

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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”


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Roman Payne

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“Very soon nations will understand

that in reality water is the most expensive

natural resource for their survivals.

Not Middle East oil neither African gold.”

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M.F. Moonzajer

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Times of adversity are golden moments.”

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Lailah Akita

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Magnolia stellata buds

Magnolia stellata buds

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The Unexpected Visitor

Eastern Worm Snake, Carphophis amoenus amoenus

Eastern Worm Snake, Carphophis amoenus amoenus

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We found an unexpected visitor  sunning himself on a stone today.  The Eastern Worm Snake rarely allows itself to be seen.  They burrow in rotted logs, underground and in leaf litter most of the time.  We were amazed to find it even active in January!

But we’ve had a rapid melt, yesterday and today.  We had a sunny day today with temperatures over 70F.  This, after single digit nights early in the week!

Our snow melted away in yesterday’s heat and only the big piles, left from plowing and shoveling remain.  As you might imagine, the ground is completely saturated!  My guess is this little guy came out of his winter hiding place for a breath of air.

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And so we found him, enjoying the winter sun.  He never even twitched as I approached and photographed him.  Probably still winter-sleepy, he hung around for a few hours before disappearing once again.  Do you see the tiny white spider on his back?  We were amazed at how many little creatures woke up in today’s heat.

His facial features are very small.  You may just barely make out his tiny eyes and mouth.  Believe it or not, there are 9-12 teeth in that tiny mouth!

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These totally harmless snakes are native to the Eastern US from Massachusetts to Alabama and west as far as Illinois.  They eat what invertebrates they can find while burrowing.  They earn the name ‘Worm Snake’ both for their worm-like appearance, but also because worms make up a large part of their diet.  They don’t have much color or interesting markings, probably because they spend much of their life underground.

I’ve found them in the garden before, in autumn, while I was digging in an area covered with leaves.  This is the first time we’ve seen one in winter.

This is an adult and near the top of the chart in size.  The longest one ever found was only around 13″.  We hope he found his way back to cover before the cardinals or owls found him.  I’m sure he would be a tasty treat for our winter hungry birds.  But I’m sure he’s far too clever for that to happen, even in the midst of winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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After 5 days under a heavy snow cover, this pot of Ajuga and moss has recovered nicely in the warmth and sunshine today.

After 4 days under a heavy cover of snow, this pot of Ajuga and moss has recovered nicely in the warmth and sunshine today.  You would hardly know they just thawed out!

Wednesday Vignettes: Resilience

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“Step into the center of the center of the center –

right into your Now – and see:

how elegant and honest this moment is.

Just being yourself, a world to hold your feet,

a universe to lift your gaze, a heart beating –

constant, in the center of it all.”

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Laurie Perez

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Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly

Mahonia, Oregon Grape Holly

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“I did not tell you that it would be okay,

because I have never believed it would be okay.

What I told you is what your grandparents

tried to tell me: that this is your country,

that this is your world, that this is your body,

and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Arum itallicum

Arum itallicum

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“In life you find pleasure.

In life you find pain.

Pain and pleasure is an example

of the duality in life. Enjoy them both,

they are part of the ride.

The key is to not turn the pain

into something else – regret.”

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J.R. Rim

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“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.”

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Shane Koyczan

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Camellia

Camellia

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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“For many years a tree might wage a slow and silent

warfare against an encumbering wall,

without making any visible progress.

One day the wall would topple-

-not because the tree had suddenly

laid hold upon some supernormal energy,

but because its patient work of self-defense

and self release had reached fulfillment.

The long-imprisoned tree had freed itself.

Nature had had her way.”

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Lloyd C. Douglas

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A Forest Garden 2017 garden calendar is now available.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

Helleborus argutifolius

Helleborus argutifolius “Snow Fever’ still in its nursery pot.

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Here is a tasty treat for Helleborus lovers: H. ‘Snow Fever.’ 

Known as a Corsican Lenten Rose, this beauty isn’t as cold hardy as some Lenten Rose varieties.  Its parents are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica, and it is rated for USDA zones 6-9.

The Helleborus argutifolius varieties may also be termed Corsican Hellebore or even holly leaf Hellebore.  They are large, bold plants with evergreen leaves which persist year round.  These leaves are thick, with toothed edges; but may grow tattered in severe winter winds and weather.  This beautiful H. ‘Snow Fever’ has variegated foliage with a touch of dark red on its stems and the edges of the leaves.  It is a lovely plant, even right out of the pot, and I was delighted to find it last week at our local Homestead Garden Center.

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Hellebores have found their way into my gardener’s heart because they not only look good year round, but they give a good long season of bloom when little else is actively growing, let alone blooming in our garden!  We already have flower buds on a few of our Helleborus plants, believe it or not.

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Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

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Though most come into bloom sometime in February or March here, some bloom right through from late autumn until spring.  Our last Hellebores stop pumping out flowers sometime in late April or May.

Corsican Helleborus is known for its abundant clusters of  green flowers.  But this hybrid promises white flowers, with a shadow of green and lovely pink edges to each petal.  It will grow to around 12″ tall, a bit short for the species, but will expand to a wide clump of around 15″.

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Mid-March 2015

Mid-March 2015

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I’ve come to love growing Hellebores in pots surrounded with bulbs and Violas.  Sometimes I’ll tuck in an evergreen vine.  But these pots look good and remain in dynamic growth all through winter.  The plants still look good through the summer months long after the bulbs have died back and the Violas have finished.  Last summer I simply moved my best pot into the shade and planted some Caladium tubers around the Hellebore, and had a nice display through most of the summer.

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July 2016

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Alternatively,  if I want the pot for something else in late spring;  I’ll move a Helleborus out of its pot and into the ground where it can sink its roots into a permanent home.

These are close to ‘care-free’ perennials.  First, deer and rabbits won’t bother them.  Their leaves are not only tough, they are poisonous.  Every part of a Helleborus is poisonous, so they make a nice underground ‘fence’ of roots if you want to protect an area from voles or moles.

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But Hellebores also prove drought tolerant, tolerate mediocre soil, have few disease issues, need only annual pruning of older leaves, and tend to keep going year after year.  Although common advice dictates they grow best in shade, I’ve had a few keep going strong through the summer in nearly full sun.  That was a pleasant surprise!

The main drawback, for most Helleborus cultivars, is that their leaves aren’t that spectacular.  We grow them for their flowers and as a dependable ground cover plant.  As much as we gardeners love the flowers, pollinators depend on them as an important food source.  These flowers are ready to greet the first of the bees and other insects each year.

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Hellebores

Hellebores given to us as seedlings by a gardening friend.

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But just look at this beauty!  What unusual and eye-catching leaves!

My first one went into a favorite white pot which held geraniums all summer.  The geranium held out through the first frost, and so I rewarded it by re-potting it and bringing it into the garage for the winter.  I like spunky, tough plants!

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I’ve not finished dressing this pot yet, because I want to pick up a few Muscari bulbs to sink into the soil around the Helleborus’s roots before I finish it off with either moss or gravel.  At the moment, there is a bit of Creeping Jenny and  a few Viola starts taking root, which will soon begin to fill the pot with flowers.

I bought a second H. ‘Snow Fever’  on Saturday, and have now planted it in the huge pot where C. ‘Tea Cups’ grew all summer in the front garden.  The Colocasia’s roots will overwinter in a smaller pot indoors, waiting for their chance to head back outdoors next April.

I’ll find a permanent spot for both H. ‘Snow Fever’ in the garden in the spring;  but for now, I want to really enjoy them, up close and featured in  pots.

I’ve surrounded the second one with some starts of Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ some Creeping Jenny vines, and the Daffodil bulbs I left in the pot  last spring.  The Ajuga will keep growing all winter, give blue flowers in early spring, and end up transplanted into a garden bed in early summer.

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February 2016

February 2016

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I expect these two pots to give us a great deal of joy over these next few months.  You’ll probably see lots of photos of these special Hellebores as they grow and eventually bloom.

If you love Hellebores,  or are curious to know more about them, I recommend the excellent and beautifully illustrated article in the December Gardens Illustrated on new Helleborus cultivars.  Gardens Illustrated is an UK magazine, but is absolutely the best source for information on plants and horticulture I’ve found.  It doesn’t matter that it is UK based, as much of the information translates just fine to our East coast USA garden!  I like it even better than Fine Gardening, which also offers solid information and advice on garden design, and is based here in the United States.

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February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn 'Brilliance' fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern, which also remain evergreen through our winters. Some of the Helleborus foliage shows wind and cold burn, and these older leaves should be removed in early spring to make room for new growth. 

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This is the time of year to shop for Hellebores.  You may not find any blooming, but you will definitely find them available in many garden centers in December.  They are pricey, and named cultivars generally have been grown on in greenhouses for at least a couple of years from tissue culture.  Variegated cultivars, like H. ‘Snow Fever’ may not be easy to find in all parts of the country.  But if you live in Zone 6 or warmer, you might want to try ordering from an online source to give this beautiful plant a try.

To simply get started with Hellebores, though, find a friend or  neighbor who has a patch growing in their garden, and ask whether they might like your help in thinning them.  Hellebores seed their offspring generously, and many gardeners are happy to share seedlings.  You may have to wait a season to see them bloom, but the wait is well worth the reward.

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Hellebores

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendars are available now

First Frost

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The first frost of the season touched our garden last night.  After a windy, cold day, the temperatures dropped quickly through the 30s and into the mid-twenties here.  What a quick transition!  We awoke to a front garden sparkling in the morning sunshine, the ground covered in frost.

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Ollie, our cat, asked to go out around supper time.  He had spent the day basking in the sunshine on a thick rug, watching the trees swaying and the birds flying through a large glass door nearby.  Even with his thickening fur coat, it was a bit much.  He was at the door, ready to come back inside, in short order.

I know.  I was out there, too.  A rumble at the street alerted me that a truck was at the top of our drive well after nightfall.  I stepped outside to find a new UPS driver struggling to find us in the dark.  I called to him, an invisible voice in the night; confirmed the delivery was for us, and then started the long climb up the drive to meet him.   Oh, the wind was cold!

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Cold comes swiftly to our region, once it finally does.  Week after week of lingering  warmth, sunshine, and generally happy weather don’t just fade into fall.  It was 80F her on Saturday!  And now, after a couple of windy days on the downside of the mercurial climate roller coaster, we find ourselves waking up to a frost covered garden.

Ah, change!

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You just know, sometimes, when it is time to move on.  And living in Virginia we learn early that change is the only real constant.   Summer must come to a close.  Autumn leaves must fall on the frosty wind even as perennials fade, annuals freeze, and the clearest blue sky imaginable glows through newly bare branches.

We find beauty and happiness in each season’s progress.

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It is time for winter to settle over our garden.  We have returned to a season of rest and contemplation; a time to meditate on the ‘bare bones’ of things as we make way for something new.

Winter cleans the garden in ways I never would.  The winds, like a cadre of frosty maids, sweep and scour, straighten and put away what has grown perhaps a bit shabby with time.

We appreciate nature’s gesture, even as we appreciate the beauty and richness of the season’s passing.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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A Forest Garden 2017 garden calendar is now available

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‘Sweet Carolina’ Charms

Caladium 'Sweet Carolina'

Caladium ‘Sweet Carolina’ on September 22, 2016, about seven weeks after planting the tubers.

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‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladium takes the prize for the most entertaining Caladium I’ve grown; maybe the most entertaining foliage plant of any sort I’ve grown.  Why?  Because no two leaves unfold the same.

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There is so much going on with this plant!   First, there is the background color of the leaf.  Will it be cream or green?  How chartreuse will it turn?  How much darker green, and where?

Then, there are the blotches of cherry pink.  How many will appear?  How light or dark might they be?  What shape and patterns will they take?

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And finally, there are the veins.  Will they be pink, red, or white?  Will the edges of the leaf have a pink stain, too?

Thus far, no two leaves have come the same.

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‘Sweet Carolina’  is bred to take full sun, which is very unusual for a Caladium.  Ours grow in several different places with varying amounts of light.  I wanted to see how the plants would perform in everything from mostly sunny to partly shady.  I’m growing four plants directly in the ground, others in pots.

I’m also watching to see how tall the plants will grow.  Breeder Dr. Robert Hartman reports they grow into large, bushy uniform plants.  The Classic Caladium website indicates they will grow to over 36″ tall.  This hybrid is know for its large, broad leaves.

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There are four tubers growing together in this pot.

There are four tubers growing together in this pot.

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Ours have been growing now for between 5 and 7 weeks.  The pot started the first week of August is doing the best, and the tallest leaf is at around 18″ growing in only partial sun.  Fed with both Osmocote and regular feedings of Neptune’s Harvest, these plants are very well nourished.

Caladium tubers planted directly in the soil have not performed as well as those in pots.  They are shorter and have fewer leaves, and got a slightly later start.  I expect them to show a great deal of new growth now that there is plenty of moisture in the soil again.

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Caladiums delight us with their beautiful colors, patterns and forms.  They also satisfy us because they suffer little or no damage from grazing animals.  This makes them a good value for us.

The exception here is some insect damage to a few leaves of our ‘Sweet Carolina.’  Caterpillars ate a few leaves of a single potted plant.  Removing the caterpillar solved that problem.

But some of the plants in the ground have lost their tips to some other sort of grazing insect.  I’ve not noticed this problem with other Caladium varieties.

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This pot holds Begonia 'Arabian Sunset' and Begonia 'Richmondensis along with a single Caladium.

This pot holds Begonia ‘Arabian Sunset’ and Begonia ‘Richmondensis’ along with a single Caladium tuber.

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We expect to enjoy our Caladiums outside for about another month.  We will see how these plants develop now that they are all in active growth.

Our nights are dropping into the 60s now, a little on the cool side for Caladiums.  But we are still enjoying warm days.  With the warmer than average weather we’ve had so far this year, we may get to enjoy Caladiums into early November.

I hope you find these plants as interesting as we find them.  They are different from the more standard Caladiums in several ways, but that is part of their charm.  Their colors blend beautifully with other plants we enjoy.

All in all ‘Sweet Carolina’ Caladiums are an excellent addition to our forest garden.

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Woodland  Gnome 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Dreaming Trees

Ficus afghanistanica 'Silver Lyre' 2014

Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’ planted 2014

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“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world

would go to pieces,

I would still plant my apple tree.”

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Martin Luther

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Star Magnolia 2015

Star Magnolia planted 2015

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“My own heroes are the dreamers,

those men and women who tried to make the world

a better place than when they found it,

whether in small ways or great ones.

Some succeeded, some failed,

most had mixed results…

but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it.

Win or lose,

I admire those who fight the good fight.”

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George R.R. Martin

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Crepe Myrtel 2015

Crepe Myrtle planted 2015

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“Most of the important things in the world

have been accomplished

by people who have kept on trying

when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

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Dale Carnegie

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Do you plant trees?  Planting a tree, whether for yourself or someone else, is one of the most powerful gestures one can make to assure a happy and healthy future.  Here are just a few of the trees we’ve planted over the last five years.

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The Arbor  Day Foundation sponsors several worthwhile programs to ensure that more community trees are planted each year.  The one which has my interest right now is “Neighborwoods Month.” October is a great time of year for planting trees in our region.   

Perhaps you will consider planting a tree or two of your own between now and the end of October. 

Here is the child’s tree dedication prayer recited in Philadelphia at the planting of a new community tree: 

” We dedicate this tree to beauty, usefulness, and comfort. 

May our lives grow in beauty, usefulness, and comfort to others

even as these trees expand their leafy boughs. 

Let us strive to protect and care for them

and they may so be enjoyed by all people…”

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