Sunday Dinner: Solitude

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“Solitude is independence.
It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it.
It was cold. Oh, cold enough!
But it was also still, wonderfully still
and vast like the cold stillness of space
in which the stars revolve.”
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Hermann Hesse

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“We live, in fact, in a world starved
for solitude, silence, and private:
and therefore starved for meditation
and true friendship.”
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C.S. Lewis

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Jamestown Island, Virginia

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“But your solitude will be a support
and a home for you,
even in the midst
of very unfamiliar circumstances,
and from it you will find all your paths.”
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Rainer Maria Rilke

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Crabs at low tide in the marsh

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“If you’re lonely when you’re alone,
you’re in bad company.”
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Jean-Paul Sartre
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Sunday Dinner: Grace

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“Grace is a power that comes in and transforms
a moment into something better”
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Caroline Myss
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“…whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
And peace will be with you.”
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Barbara Kingsolve
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“Grace is the celebration of life,
relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.
It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way
through the streets of the universe,
flinging the sweetness of its cessations to every window,
pounding at every door in a hilarity
beyond all liking and happening,
until the prodigals come out at last and dance,
and the elder brothers
finally take their fingers out of their ears.”
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Robert Farrar Capon
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“How we fall into grace.
You can’t work or earn your way into it.
You just fall. It lies below, it lies beyond.
It comes to you,
unbidden.”
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Rick Bass
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Fabulous Friday: Visitors

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We don’t see everyone, ever.  And those we see, we never see all at once.  Often I don’t see them at all, until I spot them in a photo, later.

It fascinates me to take a photo seemingly of one thing, and spot beautiful creatures lurking in it, well camouflaged, when I study it later.

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Somewhere within the tangled mass of stems and petals, our visitors quietly go about their business.  Some, like the bumblies and hummers we may hear.

The hummers generally dart away before my camera finds its focus.  They have a special sense to know when you’re watching them, I’ve learned.

The bumblies don’t care.  They remain too focused on their serious business of gathering nectar and pollen to let my camera distract them.

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The butterflies and moths drift silently from flower to flower.  If I stand very still and quiet near a mass of flowers, I may catch their movement.  If they notice me, they may take off above the tree tops, waiting for me to move away so they can resume their sipping.

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We are spotting mostly Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies lately.

Yes, the Tiger Swallowtails and Zebra Swallowtails show up, too.  We’ve even spotted a Monarch or two.  But these beautiful black butterflies are hatching now from the caterpillars we fed earlier in the season, I believe.  I think they may be “home grown.”

Do you ever wonder whether butterflies remember their life as a caterpillar? Do they fly past the plants they grazed on earlier this season, and remember crawling there?

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We spent much of the morning out in the garden.  It was cool, and there was a breeze.

We enjoyed a ‘September sky’ today; brilliantly clear and blue, with high, bright white wisps of cloud.  It was the sort of September day which reminded me how blessed I am to be retired, and free to be outside to enjoy it.  The first week of school is still a special time for me; and I count my blessings that others have taken on that work, and I have left it behind.

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There are always things to do in the garden.  But I much prefer ‘not-doing’ in the garden.

‘Not-doing’ means wandering about to see what we can see.  I may notice what should be done later, but the point is to simply observe and enjoy.

Sometimes I leave my camera inside, or in my pocket, and just silently observe the intricate web of life unfolding around us.

But soon enough, I’m wanting to capture it all, frame it all, and share the best bits with you.

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is Contagious,

Let’s Infect One Another!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
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Lao Tzu

Attracted

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Distracted, or focused? A short walk outside, into the garden, is all it takes.

Whatever my purpose, I’m soon distracted by the life of the garden around me.  A bird zooms from shrub to limb.  A butterfly hovers, a rabbit skitters off for cover.  My eyes search out new growth and newly blooming flowers.  I check the progress of the season.

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If momentarily distracted from the business of the day, my attention is re-focused on the beauties unfolding around me.

I make a quick observation of what needs to be done:  deadheading, staking, weeding, harvesting….

I can get lost in timeless loops of doing; of nurturing the many different growing things and buzzing things and skittering things and gliding things who animate this magical world outside our doors.

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Each time I step outside the light has shifted, the players changed:  goldfinches, skinks, turtles, hawks, cardinals, swallowtails, caterpillars, dragonflies and toads.

Each passing day brings flowers budding or fading; new leaves unfurling; new stems materializing overnight.

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The earth is wet, the earth is dry, the earth has covered itself with green or turned stubbornly hard and barren.

The unfolding drama of each day captures my attention entirely.

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The phone may ring, and I may fish it out of my pocket with a muddy hand; and distractedly connect the call.  Or perhaps I’ll silence it and send the message to voicemail while I frame another shot.

Such concentration it takes, to capture it all as the light shifts and the wind blows and the butterflies float away a nanosecond before my shutter clicks.

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I am hopelessly attracted by the wonder of it all.  I will wander the paths of our garden in sun or rain, dusk or broiling mid-day sun; the air so thick with summer that it is nearly liquid and dense with life.  The scent of ginger lilies permeates the evening breeze.

I hear the furtive rustling of a lizard behind a pot, or on the backside of a trunk; the call and response of crows; the sunset clicking of cardinals settling into their shelter as darkness falls; and bats re-claim the evening sky.

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Photos By Woodland Gnome 2017
For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Ooh, Shiny!

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“We are here to love.
Everything else is distraction.”
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Scott Stabile

 

Sunday Dinner: Grow

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Patience is not the ability to wait.
Patience is to be calm no matter what happens,
constantly take action to turn it
to positive growth opportunities,
and have faith to believe
that it will all work out in the end
while you are waiting.”
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Roy T. Bennett
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Fennel

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“When life is sweet,
say thank you and celebrate.
And when life is bitter,
say thank you and grow.”
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Shauna Niequist
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“I have no right to call myself one who knows.
I was one who seeks, and I still am,
but I no longer seek in the stars or in books;
I’m beginning to hear the teachings
of my blood pulsing within me.
My story isn’t pleasant,
it’s not sweet and harmonious
like the invented stories;
it tastes of folly and bewilderment,
of madness and dream,
like the life of all people
who no longer want to lie to themselves.”
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Hermann Hesse
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“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone.
The shell cracks, its insides come out
and everything changes.
To someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.”
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Cynthia Occelli
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“There is no beauty in sadness.
No honor in suffering.
No growth in fear. No relief in hate.
It’s just a waste of perfectly good happiness.”
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Katerina Stoykova Klemer
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Fabulous Friday: Pollinators

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We love hearing the low hum of bees, feeling their subtle movements, as we move about our garden.  We admire the focused attention they give to each blossom in their relentless search for nectar and honey.

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Butterflies skim above the shrubs, silently landing on one flower, and then another, as they uncurl their straw-like tongues to sip sunwarmed nectar.  They drink intently, their bright wings opening and closing lazily, ready to instantly lift off if startled.

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Our garden hosts hundreds of species.  Some we see, others we never notice.  I’ll always remember the late summer evening we returned home well after dark.  As we pulled into our drive, we were curious about the tiny, glowing animals flying around from flower to flower among our stand of ginger lilies.  They looked like tiny fairies.  We stopped and watched them flit and hover, sip and rest in a beautifully choreographed nocturnal dance.

Finally, I got out of the car and crept closer to see if I could identify these night time pollinators.  They were hummingbirds, enjoying the cool darkness as they gorged on sweet ginger lily nectar.

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Butterfly Ginger Lily

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Gardeners curate their gardens in many ways, for many different purposes.  Depending on where we live, we work within the constraints of our space, our climate, our free time, our environment and maybe even our community’s covenants.  Most of us remain aware of our neighbors, and what they expect to see when they look across the street at our home.

Which may be why so many homeowners maintain large, well kept lawns and neat foundation plantings.  Neighborhoods across the United States strive to ‘keep up appearances’ with neatly clipped front yards.  It seems easiest to plant slow growing evergreen shrubs, a few trees, and then hire a lawn care service to take care of it for us.

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But these neatly maintained lawns and low maintenance shrubs do little to support our pollinators and other wildlife.  They are sterile, and often toxic.  The same chemicals which maintain our lawns pollute the nearby waterways and kill beneficial insects, as well as those we might want to target.  Without insects, birds lose their main source of protein and calcium.

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We curate our garden to attract as many species of birds and pollinators as we can.  We also welcome turtles, lizards, toads, frogs and the occasional snake.  We host rabbits and squirrels, and I know that other mammals, like fox, raccoon and possums roam our community by night.  We listen to owls calling to one another across the ravines.  Sometimes we’ll see a hawk swoop down to catch a vole or mouse.

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We are surrounded by wildlife.  We live in a forest bordering wetlands.  And we make a conscious decision to integrate our lives and our garden into this teeming web of life.  Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, song birds, and brightly colored wasps bring movement, life and sometimes living poetry to our garden.

We enjoy feeling their presence around us.  We enjoy watching them going about their lives.

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Wherever you live, you can make a decision to do your part to support pollinators and other wildlife, too.  The  more of us engaged in this effort, the more seamless our efforts become.  In other words, our little oasis of safe haven and food for pollinators grows larger as more and more of us wake up, and create habitat in their outdoor spaces, too.

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Here are the main principles to follow.  Each of us will interpret these individually in ways appropriate to our own circumstances:

  1.  Abstain from using toxic chemicals outdoors.  Especially, don’t use any insecticides on individual plants, in the air, or on our lawns.
  2. Allow some area to provide shelter to birds and insects.  This might be a thicket of shrubs, a brush pile, native trees, a bee hive, or even a Mason bee box.
  3. Incorporate native trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses and perennials into your planting to directly provide for the needs of wildlife in your area.  Many birds and insects have symbiotic relationships with native plants of a particular area.  Growing natives attracts and supports more of these species.
  4. Select and allow flowering plants which will produce nectar over the entire season.  If your climate is warm enough, provide nectar year round through your plant selections.  Keep in mind that some of the most beneficial ‘nectar plants,’ like clover and many wildflowers,  might appear as ‘weeds’ to humans.
  5. Provide a dependable source of fresh, clean water.

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Did you notice the repeated use of the word, ‘allow’ in these guidelines?  ‘Allowing’ is an important guiding principle for wildlife gardeners.  We relax a little, and put the needs of the native wildlife ahead of our own preoccupation with neatness and control.

We might allow a few native tree seedlings, self sown, to grow where they appear.  We might allow clover and dandelions to colonize patches of our lawn.  We might allow a stand of native goldenrod to grow in our perennial border among our carefully chosen hybrids.  We might allow vines to sprawl in some part of our landscape, offering food and shelter to many small creatures.

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The more we allow the natural web of life to re-emerge in our curated landscapes, the more diversity we will enjoy.  Insects attract birds.  Birds drop seeds.  Seeds sprout into new plants we hadn’t planned on.  New plants attract more pollinators.  It is a fascinating process to watch unfold.

How to begin?  First, make a commitment to nurture life instead of spreading death.  Stop using poisons and pesticides.

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Once your outdoor space is no longer toxic, plant a few of the most important food source plants for the pollinators you hope to attract. Find suggestions for your region at the Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation.

If  you have the space, begin by planting trees and shrubs.  These will give the most ‘bang for your buck’ because they are long lived and produce many, many flowers on each plant.  Remember, too, that many herbs, even if they aren’t native to your region, provide copious nectar all summer long.

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If you live in an apartment or condo, you might have room for a hanging basket or a few large containers on your porch or balcony.  Include a few nectar rich plants, like Lantana and herbs, in your planting.  Any outdoor space, even roofs, walls and balconies, may be enriched and enlivened with careful plant choices.

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As much as I respect those gardeners who champion native plants, I will never advice another gardener to plant only natives.  I believe a plant’s function, and how well it meets the gardener’s needs, outweighs its provenance.  If we can include some percentage of carefully selected native plants, then we can also choose wisely from the enormous variety of interesting plants on the market today.

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There are many non-native plants available which also provide shelter for birds and insects; nectar rich flowers; and fruit, seeds or berries enjoyed by birds.

Some, like Mahonia aquifolium are native on the West Coast of North America, but not here in Virginia.  They still naturalize here and grow easily, providing winter flowers for pollinators and spring berries for our birds.  Others, like Lantana cultivars, have a species form native in American tropics; but also many interesting hybrids which  grow well  in cooler regions.

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Many Mediterranean herbs provide rich sources of nectar, as do common Asian shrubs, like Pyracantha and Camellia.

And there are wildlife friendly native plants, like poison ivy, that most of us would never allow to naturalize in our own garden.  However environmentally conscious we may want to be, our garden remains our personal space and must bring us comfort and joy.  Gardens are human spaces first; enjoyed, curated and tended by people.

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It adds to our enjoyment of our garden when we invite beauty, in the form of pollinators, into our personal space.  We are like stage managers, tending a safe environment, ready for the music and drama these beautiful creatures always bring to it.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.”

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Thomas Fuller

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Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

Sunday Dinner: Exploration

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“We need the tonic of wildness…

At the same time that we are earnest to explore

and learn all things, we require

that all things be mysterious and unexplorable,

that land and sea be indefinitely wild,

unsurveyed and unfathomed by us

because unfathomable.

We can never have enough of nature.”

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Henry David Thoreau

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“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life,

but my life was never ordinary.

I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.

Likewise, I never imagined that home

might be something I would miss.”

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Ransom Riggs

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“Nothing is so dangerous

to the progress of the human mind

than to assume that our views of science are ultimate,

that there are no mysteries in nature,

that our triumphs are complete

and that there are no new worlds to conquer.”

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Humphry Davy

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Ordinary exploration begins in the juiciest sort of indecision,

in deliberate, then routine fits of absence of mind…

Exploring requires the cloak of invisibility

bicyclists and walkers take for granted.”

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John R. Stilgoe

 

Honoring Earth Day

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“Our Mother Earth is the source of all life, whether it be the plants, the two-legged, four-legged, winged ones or human beings.
“The Mother Earth is the greatest teacher, if we listen, observe and respect her.
“When we live in harmony with the Mother Earth, she will recycle the things we consume and make them available to our children and to their children.
“I must teach my children how to care for the Earth so it is there for the future generations.

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“So from now on:

“I realize the Earth is our mother. I will treat her with honor and respect.
“I will honor the interconnectedness of all things and all forms of life. I will realize the Earth does not belong to us, but we belong to the Earth.

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“The natural law is the ultimate authority upon the lands and water. I will learn the knowledge and wisdom of the natural laws. I will pass this knowledge on to my children.
“The mother Earth is a living entity that maintains life. I will speak out in a good way whenever I see someone abusing the Earth. Just as I would protect my own mother, so will I protect the Earth.
“I will ensure that the land, water, and air will be intact for my children and my children’s children – unborn.”
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Anonymous, reprinted from WhiteWolfPack.com

 

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Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970.  I was in grade school, and this new celebration felt like a very big deal to me.  I was happy for all of the efforts the ‘grown-ups’ were making to protect the air, water, land and wildlife.  It felt good. 

This new Earth Day celebration was a ray of hope, a spark of light in an otherwise very dark time in our country.  We were still using unspeakable weapons in Southeast Asia, destroying their forests with Napalm and their people with terror. Nixon and his cronies still controlled the White House.

The first nuclear weapons in modern times had been used against two Japanese cities only 25 years earlier, and the the arms race to develop and test more of these life-destroying weapons was exploding around the planet.

But, we also still had George Harrison and John Lennon in those days, and the millions of voices of the Woodstock Generation raised in song and protest.

So much has happened in these last 47 years.  Our lives have changed in unimaginable ways.  Our country has changed, too.  The Woodstock Generation has mostly spent their lives now in doing what they can, for good or for ill; before losing their voices and their mobility to the natural progression of things.

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And their legacy lives on, in the rest of us ‘youngsters.’  The battles still rage across our planet between the special interests of our age.  There is a basic philosophical divide, as I see it, between those focused on preservation of the environment, sharing and preserving our resources for generations yet to come; and those focused on using up every resource they can to make a profit.

The divide is between those focused on themselves and their own profit and pleasure, and those whose focus and concern expands to include the good of the millions of voiceless plant and animal species , generations yet unborn, and our beautiful planet.

That is a stark oversimplification, I know.  And I would bet that many who read these words disagree with my interpretation of things.

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Good people can disagree.  Well-intentioned people can see things differently.  We each have our own story to tell about life and our experiences, in our own way.

A neighbor said to me just the other day, “The Earth doesn’t have a problem.  The Earth has never had a problem with human beings.  It is the humans who want to continue living on this planet who have the problem.”

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And he is right.  Actually, the more information which leaks out about Mars, and what has happened to that once beautiful planet over the last half a million years, the more we understand how fragile our own planetary biosphere to be.  Perhaps that is why our government has tried to control the many photos of man-made structures on Mars, and evidence of water and the life once living there, so fiercely.

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So what can any of us do?  Each of us can choose something, or somethings, which are in our power to do that will make a positive impact on our biosphere’s, and our own, well-being.  And then, we can raise our own voice, and use the power of our own purse to influence our neighbors, and the greater human community, towards doing something constructive, too.

Here are a few ideas from the Earthday.org site to get us all started:

Create your own ‘Act of Green’

Plant a tree or donate a tree

Eat less meat

Stop using disposable plastic

Reduce your energy footprint

Educate others

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I invite you to celebrate Earth Day 2017 in your own personal way.  Do something positive for yourself, your family, our planet and our future.  It doesn’t have to be something big, fancy or expensive.

Just do something to commit your own “Act of Green,” your own radical act of beauty.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016-2017

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“I do not think the measure of a civilization

is how tall its buildings of concrete are,

but rather how well its people have learned

to relate to their environment and fellow man.”

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Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Earth

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“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

Expect the Best

On March 1, 2017  it hit 82F, and our Magnolias were already in full bloom.  Temperatures plummeted later that week, and frost hit them a few days after this photo.

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Our Magnolias were in full bloom when spring morphed back into winter last month.  Unusual, early warmth teased them into bloom weeks ahead of their usual awakening.  But 80 degree days in February will tease all sorts of things into early awakening, won’t they?

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Magnolia liliiflora

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As much as we enjoyed the early spring blossoms, we held our breath, wondering whether the nice weather would hold out.  And of course, it didn’t.  Quite suddenly, the temperatures plummeted back to ‘normal.’

We had a string of nights in the 20s which brightened into frosty mornings and cool grey days.  That slowed down the progression of spring in our garden, a bit; but devastated the Magnolias blossoms.

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April 3, and our Magnolia is blooming once again.

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What had been hundreds of richly purple delicate blossoms one day were reduced to these sad, drooping brown husks of their former beauty the next.  If I’m getting too personal here, forgive me, please.  It is one of the ironies of our lives here on this Earth that such things can happen, and so quickly.

We wondered what the prolonged cold would do to our Magnolias.  They are well established, but we wondered whether their frozen buds would recover.

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Our Magnolias have finally grown both leaves and new blossoms.

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When that happened last spring, to our emerging Ficus “Silver Lyre,’ most of the stems died, too.  We had to wait for new growth from the shrub’s roots.  It recovered, but very slowly; they didn’t make much new growth and remained a bit stunted all last year.

But our 2017 cold snap ended about a week ago.  Our temperatures have been moderate, near normal, and we’ve had no nights in the 30s for about 10 days.  And so we see spring progressing in our garden, despite the frosty hiccup in mid-March.

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Azaleas fill our garden this week, but the Hydrangea macrophylla also took a hit from the cold last month.  They are slowly trying again with fresh leaves.

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I’m still holding my breath a bit, quite honestly.  Our frost free date remains two weeks into the future, and I’m working to restrain my natural urge to plant and move our pots and baskets back out to their summer spots in the garden.

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Acer palmatum

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I moved the hanging baskets out of our garage early last week, and massed them against the foundation, on the backside of our home, near the spigot.  I gave them all a good drenching and left them out during the torrential rains last week.

I worry a little about the afternoon sun there, but am reluctant to rehang them in the trees until I’m sure we won’t need to move them back inside for shelter should we get a rogue snowstorm.  More likely, hail and wind, from the week’s forecast!  Tornadoes ripped through southern Virginia on Friday.

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Columbine, ready to bloom.

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I finally fed the roses their breakfast of Rose Tone and Epsom salts last week, just before the rains came.  I’ve done a little pruning, and need to do more.  Prune too early, and the new growth you encourage will die back in a hard freeze.  That happened to a few of our roses last month.

The roses are ready to grow!  All sport new red leaves, and I know that the longer I wait, the harder it will be for me to do the necessary spring shaping.  Our first roses bloomed in April last year.  It was another early spring….

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Gardening, like any good board game, leaves a lot to chance.  And we gardeners must swallow our feelings, sometimes, and just be good sports.  Whoever wrote the “Serenity Prayer” must have been a gardener.  There are always things in our control that we can change, do, not do, encourage, or ignore.

And then there are those things that we can’t change:  like the small herd of deer we found grazing in our garden when we returned home yesterday afternoon from our day at the Daffodil Festival in Gloucester.  I saw the back of one, calmly grazing our butterfly garden, as I climbed out of the car.  I was off, laden with bags and my coffee cup, in hot pursuit.  Seven brown little heads turned and magically ran right through the deer fences.

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The Oakleaf Hydrangeas made it through March just fine. The cold slowed their leaves opening, but there was no damage. Autumn Brilliance ferns emerge this week.

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And we can’t necessarily change the weather, either.  We can remain mindful of the calendar and the forecast and do our best to work with the changing of the seasons.  But storms will come and the mercury will dance when it should remain slow and steady.  Which brings us back to our frozen Magnolias….

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Which, I’m happy to tell you, recovered.  What joy to notice both green and purple emerging from their tolerant stems.  New flowers are blooming, and leaves continue to emerge.  I expect they will fully recover from their trauma this spring.

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My parents always taught me, growing up, to “Expect the best.”  That has been good advice.

Oftentimes, our attitude, our expectations, our thoughts and even our feelings will influence how things will turn out.  Yes, there are exceptions.  But in general, we can find a silver lining when we go looking for one.

And even through the inevitable disappointments and challenges we encounter along the way; a hopeful, joyful attitude makes the journey a lot more pleasant.  When we expect the best, the best inevitably comes our way.

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We discovered this beautiful Heron in a wetland near the York River yesterday. We stopped to enjoy the beach near VIMS as we left Gloucester, and he was wading nearby.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“At times what you expect and what happens don’t match.
The faster you accept and adapt to what happened
and work towards creating what you believed,
that what you expected gets created
in a whole new way..!”
.
Sujit Lalwani

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