Fabulous Friday: Summer Rain

Colocasia ‘Black Coral’ glows after a rain shower.

~

As the early summer rain continues to fall in fits, drizzles and passing storms, I am enjoying a rare quiet day at home, chased inside from any major gardening tasks by the weather.  The forays outside have been brief thus far today, and usually ended with me left feeling soggy from the humidity or a sudden shower.

~

Ferns and hardy Begonias enjoy our damp weather.

~

I woke this morning concerned about all of the little plants in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted out.  I thought of how soggy their roots must be and rushed outside to move them as needed and empty standing water that had collected overnight.

Soggy roots can mean sudden death for many plants that need a bit of air in their soil.  That set me to puttering about with pots and baskets and a few strategic transplanting jobs.

~

Rose scented Pelargonium likes room for its roots to breathe.

~

I am especially concerned for the Caladiums still growing on in their bins.  It is one of those tasks that gets more difficult the longer one procrastinates.  While I wait for the new ones, ordered this spring to emerge, the ones grown from over-wintered bulbs have gotten huge and leggy; their roots entangled.  But the wet soil and frequent showers give me reason to wait another day for more transplanting.

~

~

What won’t wait is our annual dance with the bamboo grove in the ravine.  Bamboo is considered a grass, but what a stubborn and determined force of nature it as proven to be in our garden!  Though we didn’t plant it, we admire it and appreciate its beauty.

But that beauty is expected to stay within reasonable bounds.  The bamboo disagrees, determinedly marching up the slope of our garden towards the house.  It sends out small scouting sprouts ahead of its main force.  We must stay on top of these year round, as they seek to colonize every bed and pathway.  The bamboo’s main assault begins in late April, as its new stalks emerge.

~

~

We allow a certain number of these to grow each spring, and it seems that we give up another few feet of garden to the ‘bamboo forest’ with each passing year.  What would happen if we were away in May?  Could we find the house when we returned?

Every day we seek out and remove the new bamboo stalks growing in spots we cannot allow.  The squirrels appreciate our efforts, and feast on the broken shoots we leave for them.

~

~

And so it was that we were out early this morning, me with the pots and saucers, and attacking the new bamboo that emerged over night.  This constant stream of moisture has encouraged its audacity.

As we made another tour of the garden during a break in the rain this afternoon, my partner called me over to see one of our garden visitors.

~

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~

She was hiding under a very large sage plant.  At least I hope she was hiding, and had not dug a nest to lay her eggs.

The turtles like our garden.  We find them resting in the greenness of forgotten places, and try to always give them their peace.  They repay us by eating their share of bugs each day.

~

~

But just as I settled in to re-plant another pot or two with Caladiums, the brief sunshine was blotted out by another passing, rain soaked cloud.  Large cold drops of rain splattered down much quicker than I expected, leaving me all wet once again.

~

~

And so there is nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of a rainy afternoon indoors.  The coffee is made, and I’ll soon be off to enjoy a good book with the cat curled up by my feet.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

*

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious; let’s infect one another!
Advertisements

Blossom XXXIX: Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Snow Queen’

~

Watching the Hydrangeas bloom can keep me entertained for a long time.  This is a slow-motion feast for the eyes as the flowers unfold and subtly change over a period of weeks each spring.

~

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a smaller shrub, and its flowers turn a rosy dusky pink in summer.

~

The flowers are barely noticeable as they begin to appear, small, tight and creamy green against the shrub’s large leaves.

~

H. quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ four years on from planting.

~

As the panicles lengthen and swell, the buds open, one by one,  into pure white flowers.

~

~

Even as they open, the flowers remain subtle in early summer, allowing the shrub’s beautiful leaves to garner equal admiration.

~

~

Texture remains more interesting than color in these early stages of the oakleaf Hydrangea’s annual show.

As the flowers mature, they will become more noticeably white before fading to shades of cream, pink, mauve, and finally caramel.  By October, the leaves will still command our attention as they turn scarlet.

~

~

But in May, these beautiful native Hydrangeas emerge lush and green, blending into the lush, leafy enveloping green of our early summer garden.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally.
Make it the object of pursuit,
and it leads us a wild-goose chase,
and is never attained.”
.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

~

~

“At last came the golden month of the wild folk-
– honey-sweet May,
when the birds come back, and the flowers come out,
and the air is full of the sunrise scents and songs
of the dawning year.”
.
Samuel Scoville Jr.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

~

When you think of Hydrangeas, do you think of the blue or pink poofy flowers growing in your grandmother’s garden?  Those mop-head Hydrangeas are still popular with many, and we have a few left by a previous owner.  But there are many other sorts of Hydrangeas available that offer a bit more character and a longer season of interest.

~

~

The oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is native to the Southeastern United States.   It is a tall, woody deciduous shrub; hardy, drought tolerant, and somewhat deer resistant.  I say ‘somewhat’ because we have had newly planted ones grazed in our garden.  But there are other, more tasty shrubs the deer prefer!  Once established, these Hydrangeas will only rarely be touched by deer.

~

Oakleaf Hydrangea in early June

~

The oakleaf Hydrangea was first noted by Pennsylvania botanist William Bartram as he explored the area now known as the Carolinas, south to Florida, in the 1770s.  It is one of the plants he collected and exported back to England for the nursery trade.

This is a tall, understory shrub with coarse foliage.  The flowers are white, sometimes fading to cream or pink as they age.  The flowers are good in a vase fresh or dried.

I like the oakleaf Hydrangea because once its huge, cone shaped flowers emerge in early May, they remain beautiful for many months.

~

~

Even into winter, the flowers dry on the shrub and add interest.  Once the leaves finally fall, the remains of the flowers cling to the woody frame of the plant.

The oakleaf Hydrangea’s large, interesting leaves turn vivid scarlet and remain vibrant for many weeks before they eventually fall.

~

Oakleaf Hydrangea in October

~

There are several interesting cultivars of the native species, and we grow H. ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which is a dwarf variety with pinkish flowers, and H. ‘Snow Queen.’  Most Hydrangeas are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, by digging up a new shoot with roots attached, or by layering.  Oakleaf Hydrangea looks good as a specimen, a hedge, or even as an alle’e, on a large property.

~

Oakleaf Hydrangea December 2017

~

There are a number of beautiful species and cultivars within the Hydrangea genus, and all have great character.  I’ve grown many of them over the years, including the H. macrophylla that bloom in pretty pinks and blues and purples.  Some are quite fussy and challenging to grow, requiring plenty of moisture and shade to thrive.

~

~

But the oakleaf Hydrangea is as tough and sturdy as its name implies.  Hardy to Zone 5, it can adapt to a variety of soils and light.  Happiest in partial shade, growing under the canopy of mature trees, it can manage with full sun, too.  You can even grow a new shrub in a pot for a year or two before moving it out into the garden, as it grows larger.

If you’ve not yet grown Hydrangea quercifolia, you might consider adding this elegant, hardy shrub to your garden.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

Arbor Day: Planting a Beautiful Future

~

If you want to create a lasting legacy of beauty, plant a tree.  If you want to heal the planet and counteract climate change, plant a tree.  If you want to improve the quality of life for yourself, your family and your immediate neighbors, plant a tree.

~

~

Trees change the world.  They create shade, sequester carbon,  produce oxygen, humidify the air, hold and feed the soil, create habitat for wildlife, support the entire ecosystem, and give a place character.  And in their spare time, they sway in the wind; helping forecast the weather and making musical, soothing sounds.

~

~

Trees inspire awe and wonder.  Some survive to extreme old age; experiencing centuries of life and service.  Trees feed us, shelter us, and mark the passing of the seasons with their annual changes.

~

~

Today is Arbor Day.  First celebrated in the United States in Nebraska, when a million trees were planted in 1872, this remarkable day is observed all over the United States and around the world.  Some call it ‘Tree Planting Day.”  It is a day to reflect on the importance of trees, and to add a tree or two to our environment.

~

~

Other than loving and teaching a child, planting and protecting trees is one of the most satisfying pursuits of a lifetime. Both require faith that our simple acts today will resonate far into the future, creating positive change, and shaping how our community transforms itself for good.

~

A potted Ginko tree that I adoped in early spring, represents one of the earliest trees on the planet, still growing today.  Fossils of this tree’s leaves date to 270 million years ago. Its leaves turn vibrant golden yellow in late autumn.

~

So please celebrate Arbor Day this weekend in a way that feels fitting to you.  Commit an “Act of Green” to somehow enrich your life and community.

~

~

I have been planting Japanese Maple trees this spring.  You might say I’m collecting them at the moment. Japanese Maple trees, with their exquisite leaves, add a bit of elegance to our wild garden.

~

~

The first two I came across were small enough to plant into interesting pots to keep on our deck this summer.  The third, as tall as I am, came to me last weekend at a community plant sale.  I have tucked its roots into a moist and sheltered spot beside the Butterfly Garden.  And so I have committed my “Act of Green” this Arbor Day, and I trust you have, as well.

~

~

If you’ve not had a chance, there is plenty of time this weekend to get outside, visit a park or garden center, plant up a pot of something, and find your own special way to make our planet a big healthier, a bit greener, and a lot more beautiful.

~

~

A tiny investment today can yield a lifetime of satisfaction and beauty.

*
Woodland Gnome 2018

~

~

“The planting of a tree,
especially one of the long-living hardwood trees,
is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost
and with almost no trouble,
and if the tree takes root
it will far outlive the visible effect
of any of your other actions,
good or evil.”

.
George Orwell
~

 

 

 

 

A Profusion of Flowers: Dogwood

~

There is nothing quite like a flowering tree to fill the garden with a profusion of flowers.  Our native dogwood, Corunus florida, which explodes with flowers each April, remains my favorite.

~

~

Chosen by the Virginia Native Plant Society as their Wildflower of the Year for 2018, flowering dogwood is an easy to grow understory tree which adapts to sun or partial shade.

Native across most of the Eastern half of the United States, from Florida to New Hampshire and west to Texas in zones 5-9, dogwood adapts to many soils and climates.  They prefer neutral to slightly acidic, moist soil and afternoon shade.

~

~

Dogwoods are found growing along the edges of deciduous forests, but are also popular trees for parks and neighborhoods.  Their clouds of white or pink flowers, when in bloom, show up through shady woods or down winding neighborhood streets.  They grow to only about 30′, which makes dogwood a good landscape choice close to one’s home.

~

~

Dogwoods are one of our most wildlife friendly native trees.  They offer nectar to pollinators early in the season, and their canopy supports over 100 species of butterfly and moth larvae in summer.  Many other insects find shelter in their branches, which makes them a prime feeding spot for song birds all summer long.  Birds find shelter and nesting spots in their branches, and in autumn  their plump scarlet fruits ripen; a feast for dozens of species of birds and small mammals.

~

~

The beautiful white ‘petals’ which surround a dogwood’s flowers are actually bracts.  The flowers are small, almost unnoticeable and yellow green, in the center of four bracts.  A cluster of drupes emerges by September, rosy red and beautiful against a dogwood’s scarlet autumn leaves.

Birds distribute dogwood seeds over a wide area, and they grow easily from seed in the garden or the wild.  Young trees grow relatively quickly and are seldom grazed by deer.

~

~

I am always happy to notice a dogwood seedling crop up in our garden and astounded at how quickly they develop.  A seedling dogwood will most likely bloom by its fourth or fifth spring.

Dogwood trees may also be started from cuttings, especially if more trees of a particular form or color are needed.  Their seeds may be gathered and planted outside in a prepared bed in autumn.  They need cold stratification to germinate, and so an outdoor seedbed is a reliable method to grow new trees from gathered seeds.

~

~

There are many dogwood cultivars and trees found with white, pink or red bracts.  There are also several other native and Asian species in the Cornus genus, some with beautiful variegated foliage or colorful stems.

All are relatively pest free and graceful plants.  The Anthracnose virus is a problem for dogwood trees in some areas.  Good hygiene, removing and destroying any affected plant tissue, is important in controlling this fungal disease.  Keeping the tree in good health, especially irrigating during drought, helps to prevent disease problems.

~

~

The last time I counted, we had at least 15 native dogwood trees around our garden, filling it, this month, with billowing clouds of flowers.  It nearly takes my breath away when the sun is shining and we see them against a colorful backdrop of budding trees and clear blue sky.

There is such prolific beauty in April, how can one person take it all in?

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018
For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Prolific

Re-Weaving the Web

Viola papilionacea

~

Our ‘lawn’ hosts many wildflowers, including the always beautiful violet, Viola papilionacea.  I’m happy to see these lovely wildflowers bloom each spring.  They are so common, and so elegant.  And I’ve always assumed that their nectar is a welcome source of nourishment for bees and other pollinators in early spring.

But I was surprised to learn, when browsing recently on the National Wildlife Federation’s website, that the common, native violet is a larval host to 30 different species of moth and butterfly.   By simply allowing these pretty spring wildflowers, rather than stopping their growth with a ‘broadleaf weed’ herbicide, I’ve been helping to support moths and butterflies.

~

Monarch butterfly on hybrid Lantana, an excellent source of nectar.

~

Once we begin to understand our own lawns and gardens as part of an intricate web of life; the daily decisions we make, and the actions we do, or don’t take assume an entirely new and more meaningful context.

~

Spiders often weave large webs in our autumn garden.

~

I certified our garden as a wildlife habitat some years ago.  Ever since, I get regular mailings and emails from the National Wildlife Federation offering me things if I’ll only send a bit more money to them.  I respect their work and detest the constant fundraising.  But an email last week somehow caught my attention, and in a spare moment I began clicking through to find a personalized list of native plants that thrive in our zip code and also support wildlife.

Imagine that!  A personalized plant list just for me and my neighbors to assist us in preserving habitat!

~

Our native redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, supports 25 species of butterfly and moth larvae.  Our dogwood tree supports 110 larval species.

~

Also on my list: Fragaria, Solidago, Aster, Geranium, Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Achillea and good old Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium.  It’s the first plant on this list, Fragaria, that nudges that guilty sense that maybe I’m not as good as I want to be.

Common (weedy) ground strawberries, Fragaria virginiana, thrive in our garden.  They thrive and spread themselves over and around every bed I start and every other thing I plant.  Along with the ubiquitous Vinca minor vines, Fragaria are the plants I find myself pulling up and throwing away the most.  And to think that this common and enthusiastic plant; which feeds pollinators, songbirds, small mammals and reptiles; also supports 73 different species of larval moths and butterflies.  How did I ever miss that?

~

Wild strawberries, Fragaria, mix with other wildflowers as ground cover at the base of this stand of Narcissus. Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens, Gloucester VA.

~

You may have read Dr. Doug Tallamy’s revolutionary manual, Bringing Nature Home.   Dr. Tallamy makes a clear argument for why including native plants in our home landscape matters, and offers simple advise about how to do this in the most practical and easy to understand terms possible.

The National Wildlife Federation has based their Native Plant Finder on his work, and will give anyone an individualized list of native plants that form the basis of the ecosystem in their particular area, down to their zip code.

~

The American Sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, supports 43 species of larvae, including the beautiful Luna moth..

~

The change in my sensibility came when I realized that I don’t really have to do anything special to grow a garden of native plants.  Rather, I need to allow it to happen, by understanding and respecting the natural processes already at work in our garden.

We modern American gardeners are often conditioned to feel like we need to go and buy something in order to be gardening.  Dr. Tallamy helps us to understand that going to our local garden center or nursery may not be the best way to heal our local ecosystem.

~

~

How many of us already have an oak tree (or two or three) growing in our garden?  They are handsome shade trees, and I’ve always admired oaks.  Did you know that in addition to producing acorns, oak leaves support over 500 species of larval butterflies and moths?  A birch tree supports over 320 species.  That is a lot of mileage from a single tree, when it comes to supporting the insect world!

~

Virginia Creeper, a native vine which crops up in many areas of our garden, provides nectar, berries, and it also supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

~

Keep in mind that this is only a counting of butterflies and moths, and doesn’t even consider the hundreds of other insect species which live on our native trees.  Even a pine tree supports over 200 species, and the simple mistletoe already growing in several trees around our yard will support 3 species of moth larvae.

~

 Zebra Swallowtail feeding on Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’ at Brent and Becky Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester .

~

I keep returning to this conundrum about native vs. ‘exotic’ plants. I listen closely when experts, like the erudite speakers at our local chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, speak on this matter.  I have also been doing a bit of reading about the balance between natives and non-native plants in our home gardens.

~

Hibiscus syriacus is not our native Hibiscus… but our bees and butterflies love it anyway.  It has naturalized in our area.

~

Some landscape designers suggest planting exotic plants near our house and native plants towards the edges of our property.  This assumes, I think, that the native plants may not be beautiful enough or refined enough to plant along our daily paths.  Somehow, I know there must be a better way….

~

~

Purists try to demonstrate to us that ‘native’ means the plants that have grown in our particular location for centuries, maybe even millennia.  It is the particularly adapted sub-species that have grown in symbiotic relationships with the local fauna and geo-forms which matter most.  They are adapted to our soil, climate and may not be truly ‘native’ 30 miles down the road.

~

Asclepias incarnata, July 2017

~

The problem with this analysis comes from understanding that there was a lot of movement of people and spreading of plants in North America before the earliest recorded European inhabitants.  It doesn’t matter whether you take that back to the Vikings, Sir Henry Sinclair, The Templar fleets or Captain Chris; the truth is that many different groups of native Americans carried plants around from place to place and established agriculture long before there was a European around to observe and record their activities.

~

Muscadines are a native North American grape.  Vitis species support 69 larval species, and were cultivated long before the European migration to our continent.

~

Many of us mail order an Asclepias or two and know we have done a good thing for the Monarchs.  But Asclepias only supports twelve larval species, while the Rudbeckia systematically colonizing our entire front garden support 20!

But Rudbeckia don’t feed Monarch larvae.  And neither do many of the Asclepias I’ve planted in recent years.  Their leaves remain pristine.  It is not just what we plant, but many factors in the environment that determine whether or not a butterfly will choose a particular plant to lay their eggs.

~

~

I am happiest when I realize that the plants I want to grow anyway also qualify as ‘native’ and benefit wildlife.

~

Native Hibiscus moscheutos grows in our garden, and has naturalized in many wetlands in our area.  Sadly, non-native Japanese Beetles feasted on its leaves.  Hibiscus supports 29 species of butterfly and moth larvae.

~

I am content when the ‘exotic’ plants I want growing in our garden also offer some benefit to wildlife, whether it is their nectar or their seeds.  And I still stubbornly assert my rights as The Gardener, when I commandeer real-estate for those non-natives that I passionately want to grow, like our beloved Caladiums. 

As long as I find hummingbirds buzzing around our canna lilies and ginger lilies each summer, and find the garden filled with song birds and butterflies, I feel like we are doing our small part to support wildlife.

~

~

Many of us enjoy watching pollinators gather nectar and pollen from the flowers in our garden.  We enjoy a variety of birds attracted to seeds, berries, and insect life in our gardens, too.  But how many of us relish watching caterpillars nibble the leaves of our garden plants?

We see nibbled leaves as damaged leaves, without taking into consideration that before we have butterflies flitting from flower to flower, we must shelter and support their larvae.

~

Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

~

Assuming that you have read Doug Tallamy’s work, let me invite you to take the next step by reading Larry Weaner’s thought provoking new book,    Garden Revolution:  How Our Landscapes Can Be A Source of Environmental Change.  Where Doug Tallamy writes about plant choice, Larry Weaner is all about ecological landscape design.  He teaches how to begin with a tract of land and restore an ecosystem.  Weaner teaches us how to work with the processes of nature to have plants present their best selves, with minimum inputs from us.

~

~

Restoring our environment, preserving our ecosystem, are holistic, systemic endeavors worthy of our energy and attention.  As we develop a deeper understanding and sympathy for these matters, our aesthetic, and our understanding of our own role in the garden’s evolution, also evolve.

~

The Devil’s Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa provides nectar when in bloom, and thousands of tasty berries in the autumn.  It also supports 7 larval species. A volunteer in our garden, it is one of the most spectacular trees we grow.

~

Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“The wild is where you find it,
not in some distant world
relegated to a nostalgic past or an idealized future;
its presence is not black or white,
bad or good, corrupted or innocent…
We are of that nature, not apart from it.
We survive because of it,
not instead of it.”
.
Renee Askins
~

Hummingbird moth on a hybrid butterfly bush growing among native Rudbeckia. 

Reducing Damage From Moles and Voles

~

Are moles or voles tunneling through your lawn?  Are your newly planted perennials disappearing into a vole tunnel?

We have been doing quite a bit of stomping on tunnels and filling of holes this spring.  In fact, a pesky little vole ate half the roots of a newly planted Columbine earlier this week, before I saw the damage and rescued it to a pot!  I planted a lovely Hellebore seedling in its place, only to find the opening of the tunnel widened the next morning, the rejected Hellebore lying beside it.

You know why the vole didn’t want the Hellebore, don’t you?  It is poisonous!  Planting poisonous bulbs and perennials seems to be our “go to strategy” in this wild garden, to foil the wildlife.  But there are a few other tricks that work as well.

Our spring time battle with the voles inspired me to update one of my first 2013 posts to Forest Garden, about our battles with the voles and moles we found here.  If you missed it then, let me invite you to take a dive into the Forest Garden archives and read it now.  You may find a useful idea that works for you, too.

When Your Garden Looks Like Swiss Cheese:  Living With Moles and Voles
Woodland Gnome 2018

Sunday Dinner: Energized!

~

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe,
think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
.
Nikola Tesla

~

~

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop away from you
like the leaves of Autumn.”
.
John Muir

~

~

“Earth, water, fire, and wind.
Where there is energy there is life.”
.
Suzy Kassem

~

~

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people
when they feel seen, heard, and valued;
when they can give and receive without judgment;
and when they derive sustenance and strength
from the relationship.”
.
Brené Brown

~

~

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”
.
Aristotle

~

~

“…The human perception of this energy
first begins with a heightened sensitivity to beauty.”
.
James Redfield

~

~

“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

~

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“Never forget that you are not in the world; the world is in you.
When anything happens to you, take the experience inward.
Creation is set up to bring you constant hints and clues
about your role as co-creator.
Your soul is metabolizing experience
as surely as your body is metabolizing food”
.
Deepak Chopra

~

Snow Surprise

~

Did I say surprise?  Little should surprise us anymore.  We live in such a ‘land of confusion’ these days that I’ve started taking a lot of what I hear, including weather forecasts, with a grain of salt.  Which is probably why I didn’t expect it to snow, at least not here, despite the forecasts on every wavelength and website. We decided it was as good a day as any to venture out to Toano for some shopping, and chose to ignore the sputtering rain as we headed out on our errands just before noon.

We listened to the sleet bouncing off the car as we returned in the early afternoon from our foray to the Tractor Supply Co.  It is one of our favorite stops in early spring, and we took some time browsing among the boots and hats before heading off to see what was new and interesting.

I was interested in the tools and shrubs and baby chicks huddling under heat lamps in the middle of the store.  There was an ‘instant flower garden’ seed mix complete with mulch and fertilizer; just sprinkle and add water.  I contented myself with a giant bag of potting soil, and we headed back out into the rain and darkening skies.

~

~

After one more stop at a big box store to pick up some bags of bare-root ferns, we hastened home as the storm picked up.  I still expected hours of mixed precipitation with just barely above freezing temperatures through the rest of the afternoon.  The staccato tinkling of sleet sounded oddly comforting, and I turned my attention to pulling together something warm for lunch.

It was only an hour or so later, when I looked up from what I was reading, that I noticed huge flakes of snow falling past the windows.  The cat was asleep beside me and took no notice of our world gone oddly white.  I can’t remember when I’ve ever seen snowflakes the size of eggs, but that is what filled the sky and was already sticking to the deck.

~

~

I quickly pulled up a radar weather map to get the latest guess on what was happening.  Right.  Our whole region still registered as heavy rain according to the NWS map on my screen.  Nothing is quite what it seems these days, but I sort of still hope that at least the radar map will reflect reality.

I looked back to the window, and put the map in motion.  It clearly showed the blue and pink clouds moving over the state well to our west, and we were under dark green and yellow.  Maybe there was still some rain mixed in with these gargantuan snowflakes?

I grabbed my camera and headed for the deck to see for myself what was actually falling.  The budding pear tree, now covered in snow, was shaking strangely.

~

~

At first I thought that two large birds had settled into its upper branches.  I focused carefully and snapped, determined to get a closer look at what had landed in our tree.  And then they moved again, oddly for a bird, and I saw the give-away furry tails of a trio of squirrels happily snacking on our opening flower blossoms despite the falling snow.  And no, there was no rain mixed in; it was pure, fluffy wet snow falling in our yard.

~

~

It felt far colder than the windowsill thermometer reported.  We decided that we should retrieve the mail before the box had a chance to freeze, and so I found boots and something warm and hooded for the hike to the box.  It was only an excuse, of course, to get a better look at our snow filled garden.

It looked absolutely surreal to see pops of bright springtime yellow and fresh green under the white and brown and grey of a snow covered garden.  The pavement was already slippery under almost an inch of snow; the sky thick and white and filled with falling blobs of crystallized wetness; the garden bent under the weight of this spring time ‘snow surprise’.

~

~

Well, for my friends in the northeast, my smugness has been knocked down a notch today.    I’ve been showing you flowers and sunshine, while knowing you were getting hammered up there with winter storms.  Your gracious admiration of my springtime flower photos is appreciated.  Now, I hope you get a good chuckle seeing our snow covered garden this afternoon.

Of course, we wonder how much damage this may cause.  Last spring the Magnolia liliiflora had already bloomed when we got a hard freeze, and all of those buds and blossoms were lost.   A second flush came a few weeks later, but the damage was done.

~

~

Our roses are showing new stems and leaves, despite my reluctance to prune them back yet.  And the redbud trees were just showing their first blossoms this weekend.  The Camellias along the street are covered in red rose-like blossoms.  The fruit trees are beginning to bloom, and the first of the Japanese painted ferns were just showing their earliest fiddle heads yesterday morning.  We’ll know what comes through unharmed tomorrow, won’t we? 

A gardener comes to accept uncertainty.  We keep on planting and tending with some measure of confidence that it will ‘all be OK.’  There is always the chance of a late freeze or snow, a summer storm, a flood, drought, earthquake or even an asteroid, I suppose.  Yet, we keep tending the soil and planting and pruning and protecting tender things when it’s cold like this.

In four months, when the ground is parched, we’ll water and mulch.  And tonight, we’ll linger by the window and find beauty in this last (?) taste of winter before spring settles in for good.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

Were you around in 1986, in the early years of MTV, when this song filled the air?  Somehow it still sounds fresh and true today….  We can still take comfort in our tunes, especially when the weirdness of the day’s news feels like a bit too much.

Land of Confusion

Genesis 1986

I must’ve dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear their marching feet
Moving into the street

Now, did you read the news today?
They say the danger’s gone away
Well, I can see the fire’s still alight
Burning into the night

Too many men, too many people
Giving too many problems
And not much love to go around
Can’t you see this is the land of confusion?

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

Oh, Superman, where are you now?
When everything’s gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour

This is the time, this is the place
So we look for the future
There’s not much love to go around
Tell me why this is the land of confusion

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we’re given
Use them and let’s start trying
To make this a place worth living in

Make it a place oh, yeah

This is the world we live in (oh, I remember long ago)
This is the world we live in (oh, the sun was shining)

Songwriters: ANTHONY BANKS, MICHAEL RUTHERFORD, PHILLIP COLLINS
~

Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!

~

Strange but true:  Gardening can become political, too.

This disturbing notion is reflected in our gardening styles.  Consider the traditional scheme of evergreen shrubs and lawn.  Maybe there is an urn filled with bright annuals, somewhere.

~

~

A ‘monoculture’ garden where the same plant, or small number of plants is repeated over and over, lacks diversity.  Most everything in the garden is green.

Now, where there is a limited palette of plants, there will also be a very limited number of insects, birds and small mammals supported.  What will they eat?  Where will they rest?  Other than a few robins pulling worms from the lawn, there will be a very small number of species observed.

~

~

This common scheme, repeated over and again in neighborhoods across the country, gives us a clue as to why native birds, butterflies, amphibians and other small animals have been in decline for some time.  We have transformed woods and prairie and farms and natural riparian communities into suburbs.  Suburbs of lawn and largely imported shrubs and trees.

Once we introduce a larger palette of plants, providing more ‘niches’ for both plants and animals, the diversity and interest increases exponentially.  And interestingly, our garden comes alive with synergistic abundance.

~

~

For example:  A single oak tree can support over 250 different species of insects.  It serves as a host for many common butterfly larvae, too.  The insects it harbors attract songbirds who will visit to eat, but will also use the tree for cover and nesting.  Every native tree and large shrub will provide food and shelter to wildlife, and will become a hub of life in the garden.

~

Native Live Oak in Colonial Williamsburg

~

Trees form the backbone of our garden and of our ecosystem.  They offer us shade.  They freshen the air, fix carbon, and may even bloom in the spring.

~

Dogwood was chosen as the Virginia Native Plant Society’s Wildflower of the Year for 2018.  Its spring blossoms support pollinators, and fall berries feed birds.  Many sorts of insects, including caterpillars, live in its canopy each summer

~

Native trees support more animal species than do exotic imports, but all trees have value.  Willow, Magnolias, poplars, sycamore, black cherry, beech and redbud all enrich the lives of wildlife and of gardeners!

~

March 2017, with the flowering Magnolia trees in our garden covered in blossoms.

~

Deciduous trees mark the passing months, providing different sorts of beauty in each season.  Evergreen trees anchor the landscape, serve as windbreaks, and give us bright green structure through winter.  Many, like hollies, also produce berries to feed wildlife when little else can be found.

~

American Holly

~

As we add various layers to the garden with ground covers, ferns, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, vines and trees; the number of wildlife species our garden can support increases exponentially.  But even more importantly, it comes alive as an interesting and intriguing habitat for us humans as well!

~

~

A dynamic cast of horticultural characters come and go with the seasons.  They grow and change, transforming the character of our outdoor space as well.  We bring color, fragrance, texture and maybe even delicious flavor to our garden as we diversify our planting scheme.

~

~

We can begin with what we have, converting turf into habitat a little at a time.  Plant ground covers under existing shrubs to form a living mulch; plant large shrubs to anchor new planting beds, or begin to cultivate wide borders beside walls or fences.  Early spring is the perfect time to plan and establish new plantings.

~

Brent and Becky Heath’s Gloucester display garden December 4, 2015

~

A tidy benefit of this approach comes with reducing the amount of turf we need to maintain each year.  Consider the savings when there is less grass to water, fertilizer, treat with chemicals and to mow.  Turf is the most expensive landscape plant, per square foot, of any commonly grown plant in North America.  It demands the most effort and gives the least return.

~

The Heath’s display gardens in Gloucester, October 2015.

~

It is our adventurous spirit which motivates us to try new plants each year.  As our gardens evolve, we evolve with them; building a wealth of experience and appreciation with our ever expanding community of plants and wildlife.  We add beauty to our home and to our neighborhood.

We help preserve species for future generations, sustaining the wildlife that sustain the web of our own existence on planet Earth.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018

~

~

Gardening for Wildlife

Butterfly Garden Plants

Bringing Nature Home by Dr. Douglas Tallamy

~

Black Swallowtail butterfly and caterpillars on fennel, August 2017

~

“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 will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.
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:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 590 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest