Six on Saturday: Color Winter Beautiful

Columbine emerges through a winter ground cover of Arum italicum in early March.

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Autumn colors our world with vivid hues of scarlet, orange, yellow and purple for a few short weeks as deep green summer fades into the browns and greys of late autumn and winter.  We distract ourselves for a while with bright and colorful holiday decorations.  But once past Boxing Day in late December, we wake up to the bare bones of our winter gardens.

Of all the year, this may be the stretch when we most keenly wish we had planned ahead for some color and interest in the garden.  Once the trees stand as skeletons against wintery skies, we look with fresh appreciation at every evergreen shrub and colorful berry left behind.

Many of our lawns lose their luster after first frost.  Most herbaceous plants die back and weather to shades of duff and brown, if they haven’t already turned to mush as Cannas and Hedychium so quickly do.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.  This photo was taken in late December 2016.

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Winter beauty relies on a subtler, more sophisticated sense of color and form.  We are called on to appreciate the wabi-sabi aesthetic of well-worn objects past their prime, like the weathered stalks and seed pods of perennials left standing in the borders and twigs etched against a cloudy sky.

Even woody vines add interest snaking through the trees or over rocks with delicately curled tendrils, or a few stalwarts, like our native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, still blooming late into January.  Native Carolina jessamine keeps its green leaves as it scrambles through roadside trees and over fences.

When planning for a beautiful winter garden, woody plants give us that consistent structure to bridge the seasons.  Interesting bark, beautiful form and early buds and bloom can turn an ordinary summer shrub into something spectacular and entertaining in a winter garden.

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Hellebores bloom reliably throughout winter. Here buds are already visible in early January of 2018.

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Evergreen shrubs like Camellias will bloom profusely both late into the season, and again in earliest early spring.  Camellia sasanqua bloom into January in our area, while Camellia japonicas will begin blooming in late February or March.   Mahonia offers yellow flowers for hungry bees in late autumn and  winter, and then plump purple berries for the birds in late spring.

Other early bloomers, like Forsythia and some Magnolias take our breath away before most other woody plants awaken.  Trees like alder and hazel ornament themselves with catkins that grow longer and more dramatic from October, before the leaves even fall, through until March.

There are also cold-loving herbaceous perennials and geophytes.  Arum italicum is already sending up its first beautiful leaves in our garden.  It will continue sending up new leaves throughout the winter filling otherwise empty borders with fresh and vibrant green.  These aroids produce their own chemical heat, melting any snow and ice that fall on them without turning crisp or brown.  They will bloom in April and May, then fade away again by June for a summer-time rest.

Hellebores are already sending up new leaves, too.  Their first flower buds will appear in December, and they will bloom prolifically until May.  Epimediums, sometimes called fairy wings, prove evergreen in our garden, with their often holly or heart shaped leaves.   Then they  burst into growth with new leaves and delicate flowers in earliest spring.

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Galanthus, snowdrops. often bloom through mid-winter snows.

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By February, the early Crocus, Galanthus and early dwarf Iris will break ground with delicate leaves and vivid flowers.  Plant Crocus tommasinianus, or Tommies, for earliest bloom.  The bulbs of this Crocus species have a taste unpleasant to rodents, and so won’t be dug up as squirrel or vole snacks.  It is always smart to spray new bulbs with an animal repellent as you plant them, anyway, and maybe to spray the bed or pot after planting, too, to discourage squirrels from digging.

Iris reticulata or Iris histrioides sometimes emerge in late January to bloom in February through March.  Plant them in a pot in a sunny spot on the patio for earliest bloom.  You might also plant clumps in a border for winter interest, and they thrive in a rock garden.  Like many other spring blooming geophytes, dwarf Iris bulbs appreciate hot dry conditions through the summer months. They usually bloom with the early snowdrops, Galanthus, and as the leaves of early Cyclamen coum emerge.  Plant them against a back drop of Cyclamen, Arum or Hellebore to make them pop.

Hardy Cyclamen form a beautiful and spreading groundcover during the winter months.  C. hederifolium emerge in October and persist past frost.  C. Coum emerge in February and persist until May.  They are very small, but their finely marked evergreen leaves and tiny pink or white flowers are exquisite.   Plant them in patio pots or under trees and shrubs.  Placement below trees is especially good as the ground will stay drier there during their summer dormancy.

Evergreen ferns, like the Christmas fern, autumn ferns and holly fern give winter color, too.  They may get a bit beaten down after a heavy snow, but their texture remains beautiful throughout the winter months.  When their new fronds appear in early spring, they add interest and drama when little else is going on in the garden.  Cut back older fronds as the new ones emerge.

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Evergreen mistletoe lives anchored to the branches of the trees, adding color to our garden once the leaves fall each autumn.

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Finally, even a tree’s bark becomes a thing of beauty in the winter landscape.  Exfoliating barks like those of crape myrtles and birch trees provide interesting texture as well as color.  Many Cornus species boast bright red or yellow winter stems, especially on new growth.  Red maples have red stems when young.  Some gum trees boast ‘wings’ in their smaller branches and twigs, and poplar and sycamore trees both have beautiful, light colored often mottled bark that shines on a bright winter day.  Oakleaf Hydrangeas hold onto their flowers and scarlet leaves, on beautifully shaped woody stems with peeling bark, until new buds emerge.

When we notice these small details, we find beauty in unlikely places.  The sparseness and subtlety of a winter landscape balances the exuberance of summer.  We go back to bare bones.  There is much less competition for our attention and much less to do in the garden.  We can breathe.  We can enjoy a few months of peace and quiet before we greet another spring.

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Camellia sasanqua blooms from November through January in our garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

 

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

Sunday Dinner: Golden

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

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“I did not know that mankind were suffering

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

I know that it is very malleable,

but not so malleable as wit.

A grain of gold will gild a great surface,

but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”

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Henry David Thoreau

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

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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Helleborus

Helleborus orientalis

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“But Nature granted to gold and silver

no function with which we cannot easily dispense.

Human folly has made them precious

because they are rare.

In contrast, Nature, like a most indulgent mother,

has placed her best gifts out in the open,

like air, water and the earth itself;

vain and unprofitable things

she has hidden away in remote places.”

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Thomas More

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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium

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“Ô, Sunlight!

The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”


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Roman Payne

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“Very soon nations will understand

that in reality water is the most expensive

natural resource for their survivals.

Not Middle East oil neither African gold.”

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M.F. Moonzajer

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Times of adversity are golden moments.”

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Lailah Akita

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Magnolia stellata buds

Magnolia stellata buds

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Wednesday Vignettes: Winter Beginnings

Helleborus argutifolius 'Snow Fever' offering its first flowers of the season.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ offering its first flowers of the season.

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“Those who love much, do much

and accomplish much,

and whatever is done with love is done well….

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“… Love is the best and noblest thing

in the human heart, especially

when it is tested by life

as gold is tested by fire. …

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Magnolia stellata in bud

Magnolia stellata in bud

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“… Happy is he who has loved much,

and although he may have wavered and doubted,

he has kept that divine spark alive

and returned to what

was in the beginning and ever shall be….

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Mahonia aquifolia

Mahonia aquifolium coming into bloom with Magnolia liliiflora in bud

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“… If only one keeps loving faithfully

what is truly worth loving

and does not squander one’s love

on trivial and insignificant and meaningless things

then one will gradually

obtain more light and grow stronger.”

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Vincent Van Gogh

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Helleborus

Helleborus

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Cercis canadensis seedpod left by the wind

Cercis canadensis seedpod left by the wind

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“Go out in the woods, go out.

If  you don’t go out in the woods

nothing will ever happen

and your life will never begin.”

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Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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“Imagination makes the world
and all the wonders in it.
The seed of every dream unfurls
as you with love begin it!”

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Eric Micha’el Leventhal

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Winter Solstice: “Let There Be Light!”

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“Namaste.

It was a Nepalese greeting.

It meant: The light within me bows to the light within you.”

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Jennifer Donnelly

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december-21-2016-winter-solstice-010

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“Find the light. Reach for it.

Live for it. Pull yourself up by it.

Gratitude always makes for straighter, taller trees.”

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Al  Young

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december-21-2016-winter-solstice-002

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“It may be that you are not yourself luminous,

but that you are a conductor of light.

Some people without possessing genius

have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”

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Arthur Conan Doyle

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“Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.”

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F.T. McKinstry

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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“May every sunrise hold more promise

and every sunset hold more peace…”

.

Umair Siddiqui

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Merry Yule!

Happy Solstice! 

And the Blessings of Yalda to you and yours!

 

A Breath of Spring

January 7, 2015 winter flowers 004

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“We may not know whether our understanding is correct,

or whether our sentiments are noble,

but the air of the day surrounds us  like spring

which spreads over the land

without our aid or notice.”

.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

We’ve not yet had a proper winter; and here is the first snowdrop.  It caught me by surprise.  I noticed it earlier, as I headed  inside laden with groceries.  There nodded a perfect white flower, harbinger of spring, on this January day.

Thus far we’ve imbibed real winter only from the Weather Channel.  Our cold has come in short two or three day bursts, interspersed with days which leave us wondering whether it is November or May.

We did have two hard freezes earlier this week.  The stalwart Geraniums, left behind near the backdoor when their cousins came inside, finally succumbed; or almost.  “….. Not dead yet!”  Damaged leaves cloak still living stems and roots.

But the bulbs are awakening.  Tentative green leaves have shown themselves in all parts of the garden now; just as the last of this year’s lot were buried in the still  malleable soil.

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January 7, 2015 winter flowers 005

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And the Hellebores!  Like precocious schoolgirls, they are flirting with the sun as though it were March already.

It’s January, but we haven’t seen a flake of snow.  The front lawn has sparkled with frost a time or two, so pretty in the morning sun.  But who can argue with spring?  No matter how late or how early, swelling buds and fresh green leaves never fail to make me smile.

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Looks a little like a Marigold or Dahlia, doesn't it? Can you name this winter 'flower?"

Looks a little like a Marigold or a Dahlia, doesn’t it? Can you name this winter ‘flower?”

Solstice in Blossoms

Daffodils blooming here on December 20....

Daffodils blooming here on December 20….

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Happy Winter Solstice to you!

Our morning was filled with bright sunshine and blue skies.  It has been unusually warm here today.   The clouds moved in this afternoon, but the nearly full moon rose early, and is shining brightly in a huge corona through the misty, drifting haze.

It was still in the mid-50s at 7 PM  here; a little above the usual mid-day high for us in December.  But the garden is loving it!

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December 21, 2015 flowers 018

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Yesterday morning, my partner told me about an odd flower he had spotted.  He had picked it up where the rain had beaten it down into the lawn.  He said it looked a little like a Daffodil.  But isn’t it much too early for Daffodils in December?

And he was right; on both counts.  When I finally went out to look in the afternoon, the setting sun illuminated those yellow blossoms so sweetly.

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We had gone out to chase a few rogue deer who somehow snuck into the garden.  And rounding the corner, there were golden roses proudly blooming on a climber which normally blooms only in the spring.  It had re-awakened to share a few special winter blossoms with us.

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Even after a cold snap this weekend and frost on Saturday morning, the flowers keep coming all over the garden.  We have Camellias and Violas, Snaps and roses.  And now this golden Daffodil, too….

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This Camellia normally blooms each spring. Do you see the open Forsythia blossom in the photo? If it is 80 here on Christmas Eve, as is forecast, I expect this shrub to begin leafing out by New Year's Day....

This Camellia normally blooms each spring.  Do you see the open Forsythia blossom in the photo? If it is 80 here on Christmas Eve, as is forecast, I expect this shrub to begin leafing out by New Year’s Day….

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Indoors, our Amaryllis has bloomed in record time.  And such blossoms! 

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This is the special, huge, bulb I brought home form The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond.  What flowers!  Only the first stem has bloomed so far, so we have at least four more blossoms to open this week.

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It was fine, until I moved it for better photographs.  That upset the balance, and the stem and leaves were flopping over by early evening.  Hindsight, right…?

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But now I’ve staked it with a coil of copper wire and a green stake from a peony cage.   The flowers are standing up proudly again, so pretty in the morning sun.

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These final ‘blossoms’ are not flowers at all; they are our ornamental cabbages, with their outrageously ornate leaves.  They appear quite happy with our mild December weather.  They will hold up to snow, but too many bitterly cold nights will show up on the leaves.

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December 21, 2015 flowers 021

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This afternoon, we  finally brought  our Christmas tree indoors, and its fresh aroma has begun to fill our home with that special fragrance of Christmas.  I hope to get lights on it later this evening.

But these last days before Christmas are full ones. 

The beauty of our Solstice blossoms invites us to slow down; to appreciate the beauty, and not get completely lost in the flurry of  endless tasks and errands.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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December 21, 2015 flowers 009

Winter Rainbow

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Part of a “sun dog” rainbow in the afternoon sky over College Creek on New Year’s Day.

Winter’s palette turns to shades of grey, blue, green, brown and white; a much quieter, more restful world of color than what surrounds us the rest of the year.

The view from our deck this morning.  The temperature was up to about 15 F by the time we ventured out of doors.

The view from our deck this morning. The temperature was up to about 15 degrees by the time we ventured out of doors.

When the sun is shining from a brilliantly clear winter sky, everything is touched with gold and silver sparkles of light.  It is almost blinding reflected from ice and water.

Our Violas are solidly frozen this morning but will bounce back once they thaw out sometime tomorrow.

Our Violas are solidly frozen this morning, but will bounce back once they thaw out sometime tomorrow.

Although some areas remain blanketed in snow for much of winter, we never see it for more than a few days here and there- if at all.  “Snow day” is still synonymous with “holiday” in my mind, as it  has meant an unexpected day off to enjoy as I pleased for much of my life.

We wait for it, hope for it, and celebrate the snow if it comes.  Many winters we never see anything more than flurries.   And so color remains with us throughout winter.   Beauty is everywhere.

Birds, berries, and the occasional Camellia blossom add pops of red in our winter gardens.

The Swiss chard looked good enough to eat on New Year's Eve.

The Swiss chard looked good enough to eat on New Year’s Eve.

Violas, Mahonia, Helleborus, and Crocus offer blossoms in purples, oranges, yellows, pinks, white and red through the coldest winter days.  We can enjoy something blooming in the garden every single day of the year.

What delicious luxury.  We only have to look for it, and we are still surrounded by all of the colors of the rainbow.  The shades, tints, and hues have shifted subtly, winter paints in a different palette, but color never leaves us entirely.

American holly berries glow red in the winter sunshine. They will all be enjoyed by hungry birds and squirrels over the next few weeks.

American holly berries glow red in the winter sunshine. They will all be enjoyed by hungry birds and squirrels over the next few weeks.

So here is our winter rainbow from Williamsburg, Virginia.  I’ve stretched the rules a bit for Tuesday Snapshots today.  One photo was taken inside to capture the beautiful red of a bowl, and a few photos are a little more than a week old now, though they would look nearly the same if taken today.

I hope you are warm, and well, and able to enjoy this beautiful day.  It looks like a fine day to finish off the fruitcake left from Christmas, if there is any, and to settle in with a wonderful new novel penned by a friend.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

ROY G. BIV (Forestgarden)

Tuesday Snapshots:

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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