Six on Saturday: ‘Garden Bathing’

Caladium ‘Berries and Burgundy’ grows enthusiastically in this shady spot.

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Maybe I’m too easily entertained.  Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty leaf.  We’ve reached the time of the year when I can happily circumambulate the garden admiring the newest, brightest leaves appearing on our Caladiums and other ‘Elephant Ear’ plants and noting how many different flowers may be in bloom.

Now, let’s be honest here:  there isn’t a great deal of happiness in our public lives at the moment.  We watch every dystopian plot line play out in the daily news, even as we plan how to avoid viral contamination in the mundane acts of collecting our mail, picking up the groceries or taking a walk.  I find a good antidote to the general anxiety of our age in ‘garden bathing.

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Alocasia ‘Plumbea’ with orbs

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Maybe you’ve heard of ‘Forest Bathing,’ or shinrin-yoku?  This Japanese practice of spending time out of doors under the canopy of trees can be brought right home to our own gardens, as we soak in the atmosphere through all of our senses.  The Japanese scientists who study these things found greater happiness, well-being, and good health among those who devote some time to soaking in the sights, sounds, scents and sensations of nature.

I’m happy knowing that 40 years of research has proven what gardeners already know:  we feel better when we spend time outside in a garden.  Curiously, it doesn’t matter so much whether we are in our own garden or a friend’s; a public garden or a park.  Time spent under trees and surrounded by plants helps us feel better in measurable ways.

And not just plants, either.  Spotting a turtle or a dragonfly feels like a gift.  Watching butterflies feed or birds glide around the garden brings its own peaceful contentment.

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Alocasia with Caladiums

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Maybe that is why I awaken each morning with a gardening ‘to do’ list already percolating in my waking thoughts.  Whether my list includes tasks at home, at the local botanical garden, or both; I awake with purpose and the intent to invest some early morning time out of doors working in a garden.

Whether I’m pulling weeds, watering, or just monitoring how the plants are growing, I can blissfully disconnect from the day’s narrative of outrage and gloom.  Every opening flower and bit of new growth gets counted as a worthy accomplishment.

There are many ways to express compassion for others and ourselves.  There are many ways to assist others in experiencing happiness.  We each do what we can.  I read about an artist who painted a flower for every staff member of a distant hospital, over 1000 in all.  His paintings were framed and presented to each person as a ‘thank you’ gesture for their healing and sustaining work.

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There are those who cook and deliver meals or loaves of bread to those in need.  Others sew and deliver masks, or check on lonely neighbors.  There is a task waiting for every willing heart and hand.

What could be more life-affirming and joy inducing than planting and tending a garden?  We need beauty, tranquility and inspiration now in ways we may have not needed them before. They are an antidote to the darker feelings that bubble up in our thoughts each day.

So I reach out to all of my gardening friends and to everyone who nurtures a plot of growing things.  Let us continue the work and know that it is good, and purposeful and that our efforts make a positive difference in this crazy world.  Let’s sow beauty and reap happiness, for ourselves and for our communities.

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Caladium ‘Splash of Wine’ is new in our garden this year. This is the first leaf opened from the tuber.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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Caladium ‘Debutante’

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

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

Six on Saturday: Summer’s Spell

Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ opened its first flower of the summer on Thursday morning.

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By mid-July, finally, the garden unfolds its best treasures.  All of the daffodils and tulips, Iris and Clematis served as prologue; while time, heat, rain and sunlight worked their annual magic to bring the summer garden to fruition.  And right on schedule, our garden has filled once again with butterflies and hummingbirds.

July feels like the garden’s natural state.  All of the weeks leading from winter to high summer are only preparation for this magical time. Lantana shrubs have covered themselves in nectar filled flowers, tiny magnets for every pollinator who happens by.  Huge panicles of Buddleia tower over our heads and golden yellow black-eyed Susans open around our knees.  But the best and the biggest, the most enticing to our hummers and butterflies, the Hibiscus, open their wide flowers for the first time only in the humid heat of a July morning.

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Native Vitis vultina, the frost grape, winds and stretches out new growth every day, as our Rose of Sharon trees fill with flowers.

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Now, the Hibiscus syriacus, the woody Rose of Sharon trees, began to bloom in mid-June, right as I was finally pulling out the last if the Violas and Gardenias perfumed the air.   They signal that hot weather has settled in and spring has faded into summer.  Bumble bees fill their flowers, almost white sometimes from all of the pollen they collect while sipping nectar deep inside the safety of their huge petals.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower, hovering by each open blossom before diving in for a sip.

But the larger Hibiscus moscheutos, with flowers as large as dessert plates, are still growing in June.  Each herbaceous stem is still extending towards the sun, topped with a cluster of tight green buds.  The Hibiscus stems grow taller and taller each day.  Their leaves grow larger than my hand.  The anticipation builds.

And then finally, one hot, muggy morning the first one of the season opens, and you know that summer has settled in for a few magical weeks of astounding beauty.

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Native Hibiscus moscheutos blooms beside Caladium ‘Burning Heart.’  Holes in their leaves prove that both are feeding our garden insects.

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I saw the first one open on Thursday.  I was just home from an early morning errand.   It caught my eye as soon as I pulled into the drive, and I was astounded, (as I am every year) at its size and brilliance.  Hibiscus open early in the morning and close again each night.  Some flowers may last only a day, some may last a few days, depending on the weather.  But they always appear suddenly, expanding and opening as if by some natural magic that the human eye can’t see.

Later in the morning, while watering in other parts of the garden, I found a second and a third clump of Hibiscus that have finally come into bloom.  These are native plants and spread their own seeds around the garden each year.  I own one hybrid clump, bought some years ago from a dealer at the farmer’s market.  The rest of our Hibiscus planted themselves and tend themselves.  I only make sure they have water when it’s time to set buds and bloom, and then cut their woody stalks back to the ground sometime in winter.

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This is the fourth stalk of blossoms our Crinum lily has put up so far this year. It takes these Amaryllis relatives a few seasons to settle in and grow productive, in full sun.  These are growing at the northern end of their range here in Zone 7.

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The flamboyant Hibiscus coccineus aren’t quite ready to bloom.  I watch their progress each day, give them a good watering to encourage them, and wait.  It won’t be long until their first huge, red blossoms open amid the tall red flowers of the Canna lilies.  The Cannas wait for July to bloom, too.  First one, and soon a clique of scarlet flowers tower over the perennials around them.  They also attract hummingbirds and butterflies to their flower covered stems.

What has been a mass of green erupts in gold, red, pink, purple and white:  Hibiscus, Rudbeckia, Eupatorium, Hedychium, Solidago, Crinum, Physostegia, Conoclinium, Salvia, Verbena and Alliums.  It is our garden’s own summer fireworks show of nectar laden flowers.  A visual feast for us, and a perpetual feast of nectar and seeds for our winged neighbors who float and fly and buzz through it from sunrise until deep into the evening.  For as long as high summer lasts, that is. 

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Ironically, this is the least likely time of the year that we will just wander out to enjoy it all.  Mid-July always brings stretches of scorching heat and oppressive humidity in coastal Virginia.  The day is best enjoyed in early morning or late evening.  And time spent in the garden includes watering the pots and deadheading flowers as they fade, to encourage new ones to take their places.  It is the busiest time of our gardening year, and the most rewarding.

A hummingbird buzzed close to my ear this morning as I photographed a bee sipping Lantana nectar.  He was considering whether to come in for a sip when I straightened up to admire him.  Shy as always, he turned and flew up through the trees and into the upper garden.   Perhaps I’ll catch his portrait another morning.  And if not his, there will be no shortage of winged neighbors so long as summer’s spell lingers in our garden.

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Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly feeds on our Lantana.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

Sunday Dinner: “A Discipline With a Deadline”

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“Butterflies used to reproduce

on the native plants that grew in our yards

before the plants were bulldozed and replaced with lawn.

To have butterflies in our future,

we need to replace those lost host plants,

no if’s, and’s or but’s.

If we do not, butterfly populations

will continue to decline

with every new house that is built.”

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Douglas Tallamy

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“We were the product and beneficiary

of a vibrant natural world,

rather than its master.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“Knowledge generates interest,

and interest generates compassion.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“We can no longer afford

to consider air and water common property,

free to be abused by anyone

without regard to the consequences.

Instead, we should begin now

to treat them as scarce resources,

which we are no more free to contaminate

than we are free to throw garbage

into our neighbor’s yard.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“Our privately owned land

and the ecosystems upon it are essential

to everyone’s well-being, not just our own.

Abusing land anywhere has negative ramifications

for people everywhere.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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“My point is this:

each of the acres we have developed for specific human goals

is an opportunity to add to Homegrown National Park.

We already are actively managing

nearly all of our privately owned lands

and much of the public spaces in the United States.

We simply need to include ecological function

in our management plans

to keep the sixth mass extinction at bay.”

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  Douglas W. Tallamy

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“Conservation biology . . .

[is] a discipline with a deadline.”

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E. O. Wilson

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To Learn More (These books should top the reading list of every serious naturalist and gardener…. Woodland Gnome)

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy

Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy

 

 

Six on Saturday: Our Forest Garden

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Most times when you hear someone talk about creating a ‘forest garden,’ they are designing a complex environment to generate fresh, healthy food for as many weeks of the year as their growing season permits.  Forest gardens are built around trees, of course, and the food producing plants come in many different layers from tree-tops to ground covers.

I began working with this idea in the 1990’s on another, suburban property where I grew a great deal of food.  In fact, most summer evenings I’d wander around our yard, basket and clippers in hand, and gather a basketful of produce to cook for our evening meal.  There were beans and squash, tomatoes, okra, various leafy greens, potatoes, apples, peaches, berries, various herbs and more.  I experimented a great deal with mixing edibles with flowering plants so the garden was both productive and beautiful.

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Vitis vulpina, a native grape, cascades through the tree tops on the sunny edges of our garden.  Can you see the ripening grapes?

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I wanted to take that to the next level on this property, where I had more space and had several species of fruit trees established when we arrived.  We all have dreams, don’t we? 

It took only a few years to understand that my best attempts would yield more frustration than success…. or dinner.  My old neighborhood had major roads all around and not a single deer for miles.  We had squirrels and the occasional raccoon.  This community is home to herds of roaming deer, a warren of rabbits lives and breeds nearby, and there are squirrels everywhere.  I’ve come to love the wildlife, especially the many species of birds who live with us, but have mostly given up my plans of growing produce at home.

Actually, I pivoted somewhere  along the way from trying every edible plant I could to cultivating as many poisonous plants as I can.  They last longer….

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You see squirrels eat peaches, pears and apples before they ripen.  Deer eat tomato plants and snack on squash and beans.  Even the container garden I tried on the deck fed our acrobatic squirrels before we could harvest the tomatoes.  We never harvest a single nut, even though there is a huge hazelnut patch right beside our deck.  Now we have a few hickory trees maturing, and I’ll be curious to see whether any nuts are left for us.

A forest garden is built around a few carefully selected fruit or nut bearing trees.   Vegetable plants are planted between and under the trees, depending on how much sun each plant requires.  Fruiting shrubs, like blueberries and brambles grow along the perimeter, and one finds room for a few elderberries, gooseberries, figs, currants, and grapes.  This is a sustainable garden, and so one tries to plant perennial crops like asparagus, sun chokes, perennial herbs and the woodies.  It is very elegant and productive when it is well planned on a fertile site.

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Figs are growing on this fig tree that I planted from a cutting of another tree in our garden.  When a branch broke off in a storm, I cut it into pieces and ‘planted’ them where I wanted new trees to grow.  Figs are great ‘forest garden’ plants.

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We’ve had some small successes.  I can grow herbs here and expect to harvest them myself.  The critters don’t bother our rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, or mints.  In fact, fragrant herbs also help deter herbivores from other delicious plants. We’ve grown rhubarb, which has poisonous leaves that the deer won’t graze.  Rhubarb prefers a cooler climate, and isn’t long-lived in our garden.

We have an Italian fig variety that doesn’t darken as it ripens.  They remain light green, and swell until they burst.  We’ve enjoyed some fine fig harvests over the years.  And grapes love our garden.  I grow a delicious Muscadine that bears well, if ‘we’ don’t prune it too hard while it is in flower.

I started our Muscadines from seed after a particularly good purchase at the farmer’s market.  But we have wild grapes, too.   Not that we ever taste them, but large clusters of other native grapes hang down from the canopy through the summer months, until birds decide they are ready to harvest.

We have Vitis aestivalis, the summer grape or pigeon grape with its beautiful trident shaped leaf; and Vitis vulpina, the wild grape or fox grape.   V. vulpina is bitter until very late into the season, and by then the wild things have claimed them.  These vines crop up as volunteers, as they do throughout most of Virginia.  They scamper up and over trees and shrubs and every gardener must decide whether to allow them or to ignore them.  By the time I decided that our forest garden is at heart a wildlife garden, I welcomed the grape vines.

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Fennel may be used fresh, the flowers are edible, and the seeds may be harvested for cooking.

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There is actually quite a lot here one could eat if one were hungry.  We could harvest the bamboo shoots in spring, but we throw them to the squirrels.  We could use many of our native flowers and other herbs for teas.  We have the full cast of edible herbs, beech nuts, acorns, figs and fiddleheads.

I could try harder.  If Trader Joe’s weren’t so conveniently close, I surely could grow potatoes, at least.  Maybe one year I’ll plant some of the seed potatoes I always save.

But quite honestly, foraging for one’s food in the garden takes planning and commitment.   It is a wonderfully interesting undertaking, and very good for both the wallet and the planet.  But it also takes really good fences and barriers.  After all, the wild things have nothing else to do all day except find their food.  Who am I to stop them?

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Monarda provides excellent forage for pollinators. Its leaves may be dried and used to flavor tea.  Its flowers are edible.  This is the distinctive flavor in Earl Gray tea.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

 

Sunday Dinner: Bloom Where You Are Planted

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“To accomplish great things we must not only act,
but also dream;
not only plan, but also believe.
.
Anatole France

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“Only those who attempt the absurd
can achieve the impossible.”
,
Albert Einstein

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“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion,
which is life,
by artificial means and hold it fixed
so that a hundred years later,
when a stranger looks at it,
it moves again since it is life.”
.
William Faulkner

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“People pretend not to like grapes
when the vines are too high
for them to reach.”
.
Marguerite de Navarre

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“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing
unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…
I have never in my life envied a human being
who led an easy life.
I have envied a great many people
who led difficult lives and led them well.”
.
Theodore Roosevelt

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“Not much happens without a dream.
And for something great to happen,
there must be a great dream.
Behind every great achievement
is a dreamer of great dreams.
Much more than a dreamer is required
to bring it to reality;
but the dream must be there first.”
.
Robert K. Greenleaf

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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“One bulb at a time.
There was no other way to do it.
No shortcuts–simply loving the slow process of planting.
Loving the work as it unfolded.
Loving an achievement that grew slowly
and bloomed for only three weeks each year.”
.
Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

Six on Saturday: A Gracious Plenty

Perennial hardy Begonias spread a bit more each year by seed, rhizomes, and little bulblets that form where each leaf meets the stem. These drop in the fall and grow as  new plants the following spring.  Begonias mix here with ferns and Caladiums.

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Some plants have generosity baked into their DNA.  Generosity, or an energetic compulsion to survive and multiply.  As I often tell gardening friends, “Plants just want to live.”

Whether you are just naturally thrifty, or have a large space to paint with plants, or like a coordinated design with large expanses of the same plant; it helps to know which plants are easy to propagate and spread around, and which are likely to simply sit in their spot and wait for you to feed and water them.

Are there extroverts in the plant kingdom?  ‘Super-spreader’ plants just assume you appreciate their company and welcome more of their kind.  Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.  Gardeners tend to share those ‘extras’ freely with one another.

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Silver marked Lamium grows along the edges of this mixed planting. Native ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum, spreads itself around by dropping seeds each summer to crop up in unexpected places the following year.

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Please don’t be naive about it, either.  If I’m offering you a pot or a bag of something and urging you to take it, maybe it is because I’ve had to thin (read: rip) some out of my garden space and would rather give it to you than toss it on the compost.  I have ‘received’ a few of these gifts that went on to boldly colonize huge spaces in our garden.

I just found several baby Canna lily plants growing out into a path.  I say ‘baby’ because they were only a few inches tall.  These beauties will be taller than me in another month.  I had to dig them or give up that little path forever.  The first of their kind made to my garden seven years ago in a friend’s grocery bag; a generous and much appreciated gift.

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Canna lillies die back to the ground each winter, to re-emerge by early summer, spreading a bit further each season. They attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Native Hibiscus grows behind this Canna.

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They have spread themselves about ever since, which I’ve allowed because I like them and the hummingbirds they feed.  But there was nowhere left to move these stragglers, and so I began trying to give them away.   And two weeks later, I’m content in knowing their roots are happily sunk into good rich earth in a garden nearby.

Cannas, like many Iris and some ferns, grow underground stems called ‘rhizomes,’ to spread themselves around.  A new leaf and stalk will just grow along the way as the rhizome keeps on creeping further and further afield.  Roots grow from the bottom and sides of the rhizome.  Separate a hunk that has a few roots attached and at least one ‘eye’ for new leaf growth, and you have an independent plant ready to go out into the world.

Other creepers that just keep expanding into new space include many Colocasia, which have both rhizomes and runners; many grasses; the beautiful groundcover Lamium, also known as deadnettle; all of the many mints and many native wildflowers like obedient plant and goldenrod.  If you want a large, luxurious expanse of this plant, go ahead and invite it home to your garden.  It will reward you by multiplying in short order.

Other beautiful perennials beget seedlings in abundance.  Rudbeckia are famous for this, but aren’t the only ones.  Hibiscus seed freely, and I find new little Rose of Sharon trees popping up every spring.  Some of the newer, named varieties may be sterile, as some newer crape myrtle varieties are sterile.  But every flower will likely produce dozens of seeds, and the math of their propagation is beyond my attention span.

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‘Annual’ Verbena creeps and fills pots and baskets nicely. The stems root easily in soil or water. Verbena flowers from mid-spring through frost.  Coleus (behind) and Dichondra (left) also root easily from nodes along their stems.

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Many stems easily root in either soil or water.  Knowing this, you can clone as many plants as you want just like your original.  Specialized cells at each node where leaf joins stems, called meristematic tissue, can differentiate to grow into new stems, leaves or roots as needed.

When I buy pots of ‘annual’ Verbena, I always examine the stems, where they touch the soil, to look for roots.  If there are little roots already, I snip that stem close to the crown and gently tug the little tangle of new roots away from the root ball.  This rooted stem we call a ‘division.’  Now, if there aren’t any rooted stems, you can easily get a stem to root by pegging it down to the soil with a small stone or a bit of wire.    Once some roots have grown, cut the stem away and gently lift its little roots.  Plant it back into the same pot nearby, or spread the plant to another spot.

Many plants root from their stems.  Most will root if you just cut them away at a node and plop them into moist soil.  Give a little shade from the mid-day sun while those new roots grow, keep the soil watered, and you’ll soon notice new growth.

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Colocasia and Iris; both grow from underground rhizomes and spread more each year. They are very easy to separate and any piece of rhizome with roots and an eye will grow into a new plant.  Grow these in containers to limit their spread.

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Other plants grow in circles, with expanding ‘crowns.’  The crown is where new leaves arise each spring and is normally right at, or right below soil level.  Hostas and Heucheras grow this way.  Lift them and divide them into pieces in the spring, cutting apart ‘sections’ that have both roots and new clumps of emerging leaves.  One Hosta may become several after this simple surgery, each section ready to replant and continue to grow.

With a little patience and planning, you can also have ‘a gracious plenty’ of favorite plants in your garden without buying out the garden center every spring.  Once you grow a little bit infatuated with a plant, you’ll likely want more just like it.  Learn its ways and offer a little encouragement.  Soon it will reward you with enthusiastic growth.

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Hostas may be knocked out of their pot and divided so that each clump of leaves has roots attached. Replant each clump and it will continue to grow and expand.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

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

Sunday Dinner: Living With Purpose

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“The mystery of human existence

lies not in just staying alive,

but in finding something to live for.”

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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“Your purpose in life

is to find your purpose

and give your whole heart and soul to it”

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Guatama Buddha

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“A small change can make a big difference.

You are the only one who can make

our world a better place to inhabit.

So, don’t be afraid to take a stand .”

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Ankita Singhal

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“The purpose of life is to live it,

to taste experience to the utmost,

to reach out eagerly and without fear

for newer and richer experience.”

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Eleanor Roosevelt

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“True glory consists

in doing what deserves to be written,

in writing what deserves to be read,

and in so living

as to make the world happier and better

for our living in it.”

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Pliny the Elder

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“Awareness is the power

that is concealed within the present moment. …

The ultimate purpose of human existence,

which is to say, your purpose,

is to bring that power into this world.”

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Eckhart Tolle

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“Following your inner guidance

has a unique power all its own.

Even when others can’t understand it,

you can feel your soul being pulled

to the place it truly belongs.”

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Kianu Starr

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2020

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Things don’t have purposes,

as if the universe were a machine,

where every part has a useful function.

What’s the function of a galaxy?

I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters.

What does matter is that we’re a part.

Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field.

It is and we are.

What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”
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Ursula K. Le Guin

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Visit Illuminations, for a daily photo of something beautiful.

 

Six on Saturday: Flowers for Mother’s Day

Rosa ‘Crown Princess Margareta’

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Many years ago now, when my daughter was still at home, I was asked one May what I would like for Mother’s Day.  My wish that year was for a rose bush to plant beside the front porch.  I knew that a rose bush would give me roses each and every year in May; the Mother’s Day gift that returns year after year.  We went together as a family to my favorite garden center and I came home with a beautiful rose covered with  large, red flowers.

And my Mother’s Day rose grew into a beautiful, tall shrub that bloomed extravagantly every year after.   It was a climber, and I got these special, soft little metal attachers that I could hammer into the mortar between the bricks to permanently anchor it to the front of the house.

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I left that garden and that Mother’s Day rose behind more than a decade ago, to move to this Forest Garden.  But our first year here, once again  I was seeking out roses.  I love roses.  I particularly love heirloom roses, climbing roses, and deliciously scented roses.  The English Shrub Roses bred by David Austin’s team are among my all-time favorites.

Roses have been a real challenge to grow in this garden, between the weather, the surrounding forest and the deer.  I’ve lost more than I’ve kept alive, which makes every blossom on every surviving rose shrub that much more special to me.

Rosa ‘Crown Princess Margareta’ is a climber bred by the Austin family.  Its rich apricot color and warm fruity fragrance remind me every spring why I love roses so much.  This one has grown up through a rose of Sharon shrub and it has blessed me this Mother’s Day weekend with more than two dozen blossoms.

The climbers are able to scramble up tall enough that the deer can’t munch the blossoms and prune all of the new growth.  Those that stay smaller have little chance to survive, but one I thought was a gonner last summer has come back from its roots and has already given us several flowers.  Every spring I read the new David Austin catalog wistfully, admiring the new introductions and old friends I’ve grown in the past.

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An heirloom peony planted by an earlier gardener in this space.

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I don’t give much time to such nostalgia, though.  And I certainly won’t even try to establish any new rose shrubs in this very wild garden.  This garden has ‘allowed’ me to expand my gardening tastes to include beautiful plants the deer will leave alone.  Some, like our Iris, are long-time favorites I’ve grown everywhere I’ve lived.  But I’ve learned to appreciate lots of other plants that I might not have tried, if necessity hadn’t inspired me to try new species.

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Iris pseudacorus, the yellow flag Iris, also left here by a previous gardener.  Deer leave our Iris alone.

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Mother’s Day is a moment to pause and remember the long line of strong women who have loved us and made our lives possible.  Some of these women might be special aunts and grandmothers, others family friends, teachers, neighbors, and others who have helped us along the way.  This year many of us are connecting with our mothers through phone calls and video chats.  Our greeting cards may be digital and our gifts delayed.

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Siberian Iris, a gift from a friend.

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But it is the remembering and expressions of love that matter, not the form they take.

Just as a rose shrub will give us a special Mother’s Day gift year after year, into an uncertain and often transformed future; so a garden helps us put down our own roots and grow into something new.  Each of us is growing and transforming, too.  Let us grow stronger each year; more generous and more appreciative of all life gives us.

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Iris ‘Rosalie Figge’

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Happy Mother’s Day to all of those who mother others

 

Please visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

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

Six On Saturday: When Wood Breaks Into Bloom

Redbud is the earliest tree in our garden to bloom, followed within another week or two by the dogwoods.

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When stark woody limbs suddenly burst open to liberate soft, fragrant flowers, we live, once again, the mystery play of spring.

We witness sudden and transformative change initiated by some small fluctuation in the status quo.  Days grow a few minutes longer; temperatures rise.  The Earth tilts a bit more in this direction or that, and the winds bring a new season as every branch, bulb, seed and root respond.

It is natural magic, and needs no assistance.  Every tree responds to its own cue of light and warmth while the gardener sits back with a cup of tea to appreciate the spectacle.

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Redbud flowers emerge directly from woody stems.  A member of the pea family, redbud, Cercis, trees store nitrogen on their roots, directly fertilizing the soil where they grow.  The nitrogen is filtered out of the air by their leaves, along with carbon.  Other plants can draw on this nitrogen in the soil for their own growth.

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I’m becoming more aware, with each passing season, of the silent cues leading me on my own journey as a gardener.  I’m looking for value when I invest in planting some new thing in the garden.  How many seasons will it grow?  How much return will it yield for my investment in planting?

A potted geranium will give six or eight months of interest, perhaps another season or two if you are both lucky and skilled.  A potted Camellia will outlive the gardener, assuming it survives its first seasons of hungry deer and unexpected drought.  The Camellia can produce hundreds of flowers in a single season, and more with each passing year.  A dogwood or Magnolia tree fills the garden with even more flowers, then feeds the birds months later as their seeds mature.

Gardening, like all transcendent pursuits, may be neatly reduced to mathematics when choices must be made.

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From left: new leaves emerge red on this hybrid crape myrtle; small Acer palmatum leaves emerge red and hold their color into summer; red buckeye, Aesculus pavia is naturalized in our area and volunteers in unlikely places, blooming scarlet each spring. In the distance, dogwood blooms in clouds of white.

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Yesterday afternoon I planted the Hydrangea paniculata I bought one Saturday afternoon almost two years ago, while taking my mother shopping.  A dozen potted shrubs were piled in front of her Wal-Mart store that late summer afternoon, reduced by half to move them.  They were clearing out the nursery area in preparation for holiday stock and impulsively, I grabbed a nice one and piled it in my cart.

“What are you going to do with that?”  she asked, cautiously, maybe wondering whether I intended to plant it in her yard somewhere.  She is housebound now, and can’t get out to garden as she once did.

“I don’t know yet,”  I responded, “but I’m sure I’ll find a spot for it at home.”  And the place I found was in a sheltered spot behind the house while I figured out where to plant it.  And it seemed quite content there, though it didn’t bloom last summer.  And it lived through two winters in its nursery pot while I dithered about where to plant it.

And finally, with a twinge of guilt for not letting its roots spread into good earth and its limbs reach into the sunlight, I chose a spot this week on our back slope, near other Hydrangeas, where we lost some lilac shrubs and their absence left an empty space to fill.  The Hydrangea will appreciate our acidic soil and the partial shade that has grown in there, where the lilac shrubs did not.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea also produces panicles of flowers in May, and the flowers persist into early winter. Many Hydrangeas bloom on new wood, while others set their buds in autumn. It pays to know your shrub.

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And as I plant, I can see its spindly little branches growing stout and long, reaching up and out for light and air.  Since it blooms on new wood, not old, every summer it will have the opportunity to stretch, and grow, and fill its corner of the garden with large pale panicles of flowers for months at a time.  Its roots will hold the bank against erosion and its woody body will welcome birds and support heavy flowers.  Each branch has the power to root and grow into a new shrub, even as each flower will support a cloud of humming insects on summer days.

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On March 1, 2017 our Magnolia liliflora trees were already in full bloom.

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There is tremendous potential in every woody plant.  They weave the fabric of the garden as days become weeks and weeks knit themselves into years.  Knowing them closely allows one to choose wisely, creating a flowering patchwork of trees and shrubs that shine each in their own season, and ornament the garden, each in its own way, every day of each passing year.

When leaves turn bright, then brown, and begin to swirl on autumn’s chilling winds, leaving stark woody skeletons where our soft green trees swayed so shortly ago; we watch with confidence that spring is but another breath away.

The only constant is change, as they say.  And knowing that, we know how to plan and plant to enjoy every moment.

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Mountain Laurel grows wild across much of Virginia on large shrubs, sometimes growing into small trees.  Its buds are already swelling to bloom by early May.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

Fabulous Friday:  Flowers From Wood, Forest Garden, March 2017

Visit my new website, Illuminations, for a photo from our garden and a thought provoking quotation each day.

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

Six On Saturday: For the Love of Trees

Native redbud, Cercis canadensis, glows against white dogwood flowers and emerging green leaves on nearby trees.

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In youth we plant annuals.  By middle age fill our gardens with perennials.  As we grow more keenly aware of passing time we turn to trees.  There is comfort in trees, and economy.  A single flowering tree can bear hundreds, thousands of flowers all opening over a few fleeting days.

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Magnolia liliflora holds elegant pink flowers against a backdrop of white dogwood blossoms.  Our several trees were young saplings when we came to this garden, left by the previous owner.   Now each has grown into a magnificent, flower covered tree.

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I’ve been very focused on trees lately.  I took an intensive three month Tree Steward course this winter, which has given me new tools to observe, identify and appreciate a wider variety of trees.   I’ve learned more about what trees need to thrive and how they grow.  I’ve been planting tree seeds, rooting cuttings of twigs, and watching for emerging volunteer seedlings of desirable trees.

It sounds trite to say that, ‘trees are a gift of nature.’  We can all acknowledge this, particularly when we pause to think of their many environmental benefits.  Trees hold the earth against erosion, help process excess ground water after a heavy rain, filter pollutants out of the air and refresh it with fresh oxygen.  They provide shade on hot sunny days, offer privacy, and improve the soil.  Trees feed and shelter birds, butterflies and many other insects.  Many also provide food and medicines for us.  So many benefits from these incredible plants!

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Our friends at Homestead Garden Center gave me this hybrid redbud tree one cold November day, when it was maybe 10″ tall. I grew it in a pot with spring bulbs for a season, and then moved it to its permanent spot on a hill in our back garden.  This is its first spring to bloom.

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But many of our trees quite literally are gifts.    They either were handed to us by a friend, while quite small and growing in a pot, or they have popped up in the garden where their seed was dropped by a bird or squirrel.  How exciting to find a desirable tree growing in the garden where it can live for decades to come.

A few years ago I was searching for native holly, Ilex opaca, through all of the local nurseries.  I wanted some for a project I was working on at the time and absolutely couldn’t find a single one for sale.  I ended up buying six hybrid hollies instead.

But this winter, I was out walking in our garden and noticed holly seedlings literally everywhere!  If we allow all of these to grow, our garden will become a holly forest in just a few years.   We’ve found many seedlings of other favorite trees:  dogwood, redbud, Magnolia and oak.   Who needs to hire a landscaper or shop the garden center when nature provides the perfect trees for our site?

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Our neighbor helped us dig this beautiful Magnolia grandiflora out of his yard one summer after we lost many backyard trees to a storm.  It was a little seedling of his own Magnolia, and is now growing into its beauty. I’m hoping for flowers one summer soon.  Southern Magnolias once only grew as far north as the Carolina state line.  Now, they have naturalized throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

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I’ve been propagating native trees this winter to sell through our local plant sales, to make natives available to people in our community who want them.  There are so many wildlife benefits to growing native plants, but they also grow very independently, without much fuss or care from the gardener.

I discovered that buying native tree species isn’t as easy as you might like.  Most garden centers and nurseries carry the latest and greatest hybrid ‘nativar,’ or ornamental from Asia.  Finding good, solid native Virginia trees commercially is a challenge.  And so I’m hoping to fill that niche and increase interest in native trees within my own community.  Our plant sales have been rescheduled from April and May to October, but that just gives these baby trees a bit longer to grow.

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This native red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, volunteered in our yard. It was broken to the ground in our 2013 storm, and has regrown from its roots. It is spectacular in bloom, and attracts many pollinators to its beautiful red flowers. Sometimes, the hummingbirds return early enough to enjoy it.  Like the Magnolia, the buckeye was once native to our south, but has naturalized further north in recent years.

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Have you planted a tree lately?  I grow trees in pots as well as in the ground.  Whey they outgrow their pots, I often transplant them into the garden.  But one can just get a larger pot, or begin to prune their roots and keep them small.

At the moment, I have a few acorns just emerging in paper cups.  I’ll soon tear the bottom of the cup a bit to make easy passage for their roots, and plant the tree, still in its cup, into a gallon pot and grow it on.

For the love of trees leads one to want to share them, as well as propagate and nurture them.  Trees make superb garden companions; constant, patient, easy to live with, and always surprising us with something new.

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I dug these two red maples from my parents yard when they were tiny seedlings, and grew them in pots on the deck for several years before planting them out into the garden. Deer will nibble young maples, so it is wise to protect them until they mature.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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An easy way to root hardwood cuttings over winter is to simply trim them and stick them in a potted plant outdoors.   By mid-spring, most will have enough roots to support some leaves.  The nearest cutting is of the red buckeye, and will soon be potted up and offered at our autumn plant sale.

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Please visit my new website, Illuminations: Walking In Beauty Every Day

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

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