Celebrating Spring Indoors: Mosses and Ferns

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Greeness re-emerges each March from February’s shades of brown and grey.  We notice exquisite shades of fresh green wherever there is new growth; even if only weeds emerging in the lawn, new grass, and buds breaking open on early shrubs.

Green is alive with possibility, giving us fresh energy and enthusiasm.  Green is the color by which energy from the sun is captured and transformed into the sort of chemical food energy that fuels us all.  Whether we access it directly from a kiwi or avocado, or allow the green to be munched first by a cow before it is transformed into milk or meat; we depend on green chlorophyll to produce every calorie of energy which fuels our lives.

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Green attracts like a powerful, life-affirming magnet, especially in the spring when we are ready to move on from winter’s rest.  And in these last chilly weeks of unpredictable weather, I enjoy making a green arrangement with ferns and mosses to enjoy indoors until spring is firmly established outside in the garden.

I have been experimenting with keeping moss inside for several years.  While all goes well for a while, the moss often ends up turning brown and sometimes disappearing entirely.  Moss is the simplest of plants, yet its nurture as a ‘houseplant’ proves fickle and complex.

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Moss pairs well with ferns, as their needs are nearly the same. Lichens may also be incorporated in the design.  2014

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For all of the vibrant green kokedama covered in moss I’ve seen in books and on other’s websites, I have not yet figured out how to reliably keep moss alive for long inside.  But I keep trying…..

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There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.  January 2015

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Japanese guides suggest taking one’s potted moss outside for some portion of each day to give it fresh air and bright light.  This sounds suspiciously like walking a pet dog to me, and I’m not yet prepared to treat my moss gardens like a barking or purring pet.

I’ve also learned that closing moss up into a terrarium can be the ‘kiss of death’ because it gets too wet in the high humidity, and doesn’t get the free exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen that it requires.

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February 2015

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Let’s recall that moss has no vascular system.  There are no water carrying tubes through ‘leaves’ or ‘stems’.  Moss is so simple, structurally, that every cell absorbs water.  That means that too much water for too long will kill the cell, because it isn’t going to move the excess water on, elsewhere.

We must find balance in tending moss: the balance between light and shade, moisture and dryness, heat and cold.

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January 2018

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That is why I have chosen a tall, clear vase for this arrangement, but one without a lid.  I’ve constructed this like a terrarium, but have not enclosed it.

And for the time it stays indoors I will do my best to faithfully mist it several times a week, but will resist the temptation to pour water into it.  And, if I notice the moss struggling, I’m prepared to remove it, ‘plant’ it back outside, and start again with some fresh moss.

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This is my favorite sort of moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which is called fern moss because it looks like fine, low growing fern fronds.  This perennial moss prefers a moist, acid soil, can stand a fair amount of light, and grows prolifically in several spots in our garden.

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This is fern moss, Thuidium delicatulum, which looks like it is made of tiny, low growing ferns.

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I’ve created a base in this vase with fine aquarium gravel mixed with some fine charcoal, recycled from a water filter.  I mixed a little more of the charcoal in with the coarse potting soil mix I used for the ferns.  This is soil I’ve used earlier this winter for starting tubers and bare root plants in the basement, and it was already perfectly moist when I scooped some into the pot.  Charcoal is often used in terrariums to help purify the soil and water, keeping the plants healthier.  Without any drainage, it helps prevent water in the soil from growing stagnant.

Moss doesn’t have roots, but needs firm, continuous contact with the soil.  After planting the two tiny ferns, I simply pressed sheets of moss, with its own soil from outside still attached, on top of the potting mix.

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The taller fern is a popular houseplant called a brake fern or ribbon fern, genus Pteris.  This one is tender, though it will grow very well outside from late April through November.  The shorter one is also a tender fern, probably one of the footed ferns.

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Then I misted it well, using the mister to also clean the inside of the glass.  The pot sits a few feet away from large windows and under a lamp.  It is a bright location, and I’ll hope that both ferns and mosses grow here happily.

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March, 2018

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Plants indoors are good for us in many ways.  Plants filter the air and fill it with fresh oxygen.  Plants calm us, and bring tremendous beauty into our homes.  Plants inside in early spring also inspire us and keep that promise of spring alive, even when the weather turns cold and wintery once again.

March is a fickle month, but the overall trajectory is towards more daylight and milder weather.  As the sun returns, our garden responds with fresh growth.

But we respond, as well.  And bringing a bit of that spring time magic indoors helps us celebrate the change of seasons… in comfort.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

 

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Sunday Dinner: Winter Blossoms

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“The mind can go in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, the wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
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“Beauty is no quality in things themselves:
It exists merely in the mind
which contemplates them;
and each mind perceives a different beauty.”
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David Hume
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“Live quietly in the moment
and see the beauty of all before you.
The future will take care of itself……”
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Paramahansa Yogananda
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“All the diversity,
all the charm,
and all the beauty of life
are made up of light and shade.”
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Leo Tolstoy
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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Schlumbergera- first blossom  grown from a rooted cutting gifted to me last December.

 

Fourth Dimensional Winter Pots

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Gardeners work in the first three dimensions of height, depth and breadth with every shrub, herb, perennial or creeping ground cover that we plant.  When we plant bulbs (or tubers)  in one season to enjoy in the next,  we also work in the fourth dimension:  time. 

Planting spring flowering bulbs on a chilly, autumn day feels like an act of faith; faith in the future, and faith in the magical forces of nature which will transform these little brown lumps into something fragrant and beautiful.

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Daffodil bulbs, ready and waiting to be planted so they can awaken to new growth.

It is easy enough to dig some holes and bury a few bulbs in the ground as one contemplates the holidays.

But there is artistry in composing a floral composition which will unfold gradually, over several weeks and months.

I learned about this more interesting approach from Brent Heath, master horticulturalist and owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA.

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Spring bulbs open over a very long season, in our climate, from February through May.  When you consider the ‘winter bloomers’ that may be paired with bulbs, like Violas, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Daphne, Hellebores and Galanthus; as well as evergreen foliage plants like certain ferns, ground covers, herbs,  Arum itallicum and moss; you have an impressive palette for planting a ‘fourth dimensional’ potted arrangement.

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Hardy Cyclamen species bloom over a long season from late autumn through mid-spring, Their beautiful leaves persist for months. Purchased and planted like bulbs, these little perennial plants thrive in shade to part sun.

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The recipe is simple:  begin with a large pot (with drainage holes) and a good quality potting mix.  Amend that potting mix with additional compost or a slow release fertilizer like Espoma’s Bulb Tone.  You will have much better results if you begin with a good quality, fortified potting mix.  Make sure that there is excellent drainage, as bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet.  You might add a bit of sand or perlite if your potting mix isn’t porous.

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Naturalized Cyclamen beginning their season of bloom at the Connie Hansen garden in Oregon.

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Lay a foundation in the pot with a shallow layer of  gravel or a length of burlap laid across the drainage holes.  This helps keep moisture even and blocks creatures who might try to climb up into your pot from the drainage holes.

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The fun, creative part comes from choosing what to plant in each pot.  Keep in mind that different types of bulbs bloom at different points during spring awakening.  I try to plan for something interesting in the pot from late fall through the winter months.  Violas or pansies, ivy, moss, Arum italicum, Cyclamen, Hellebores, snaps, evergreen ferns, Saxifraga, or even evergreen Vinca will give you  some winter green in your pot, and foliage ‘filler’ and ‘spiller’ once the bulbs bloom next spring.

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When I removed a Caladium last week, I tucked a Cyclamen tuber into this pot of ivy by our kitchen door. We keep something interesting growing in this pot year round.

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Next, choose bulbs which will bloom in late winter or early spring, some for mid-spring, and possibly even something that will extend the season into late spring.   As you choose, remember that even within a given genus, like Narcissus, you will find cultivars blooming at different times.  For example, plant a very early Narcissus like ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and a later Narcissus, like ‘Obdam,’ together in the same pot to extend the season of bloom.

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Also keep in mind that there are taller and shorter flowers growing from bulbs.  A Crocus or Muscari may grow to only 3″-6″ high.  Miniature Narcissus may top out at only 6″-8″.  But a large Narcissus or tulip may grow to 18″-20″ tall.  Plan your bulb arrangement with the flowers’ heights in mind.

Mixing many different bulbs in the same pot is possible because different bulbs are planted at different depths.  You can plant in layers, with the largest bulbs near the bottom of the pot.

Once you have all of your bulbs and plant material, put about 4″ of amended soil in the bottom of your pot, and arrange the first layer of bulbs nestled into the soil so there is at least an inch or two of soil below them for their roots to develop.  Cover these bulbs with more soil, and plant another layer of bulbs.  Keep in mind spacing, so that all of your layers will have room to emerge next spring.

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If your pot will contain a small tree, shrub or perennial, like a Hellebore or holly fern, place this (not directly over any bulbs, remember) and fill in soil around it.  Likewise, plant any small annuals, like Violas or snapdragons at the correct depth.  Finally, fill your pot with soil up to within an inch or so of the rim.  Make depressions with your finger for the smallest of bulbs that are planted only an inch or so deep.  This would include tubers for Arum, Cyclamen, winter Iris, etc.

Smooth the soil with your hand, and add a shallow layer of fine gravel or a covering with living moss.  When planting mosses, firm these into the soil and keep them moist.  Fill any crevices between pieces of moss with fine gravel.

The bulbs will easily emerge through the moss, which will remain green all winter so long as you keep it moist.

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Water your finished pot with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.  Brent Heath suggests allowing the pot to drain, and then watering again another time or two so that all of your soil is well moistened.  The fish emulsion ( I use Neptune’s Harvest) has a dual purpose.  It helps establish the plants with immediate nutrition, but it also helps protect this pot from marauding squirrels or deer.  The fish smell will deter them.

If your pot is likely to be investigated by wildlife, try throwing a few cloves of raw garlic in among the gravel.  Garlic is another useful deterrent, and eventually may root in your pot.

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Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

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I planted five of these bulb filled pots on Friday, and added Cyclamen or Arum tubers to several already established pots where I had just removed Caladiums to save them over winter.  I am giving several of these newly planted pots as Christmas gifts, and so have simply set them out of the way in a protected spot outdoors.

Once watered, you can largely forget about these pots for a month or so.  They only need light if you’ve included plants already in leaf, or moss, in your design.

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When the bulbs begin to emerge in late winter, move your pots to a sunny location.  Keep the pots moist once the bulbs begin to show green above the soil, and plan to water daily once the flowers are in bud and bloom.  Bulbs grow extensive roots.  You will be amazed how much they grow, and will want to provide plenty of water to keep them going once the weather warms next spring.

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Crocus with ferns and Ajuga

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If you have planted up bulbs with perennials, hardy ferns, or a shrub with winter interest, then by all means put them out now, where you will enjoy them.  Then you can simply watch and wait as the show unfolds.

Time is the magical ingredient for these intriguing ‘fourth dimensional’ winter pots.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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WPC: Names

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We had more than 10″ of snow on the ground at first light this morning, and it has been snowing steadily all day.   It’s a good day for the simple joys of making soup, enjoying a book  and watching the snow fall.

Folks are only leaving home today if they have to, and the roads in our region are treacherous.  Schools and some offices will likely stay closed for a few days next week.

 

For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Names

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Oh, the joy of winter!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

Winter Planting

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Winter weather is forecast to hit us hard this weekend.  Snow will begin to accumulate here on Friday evening and we expect snow most of the day on Saturday.

If the forecast holds, we’ll have a low of 12F on Sunday night.  Now that is very unusual for us here in coastal Virginia.   We aren’t generally prepared for such cold, and many of our garden plants don’t respond well to cold.

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Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant thorughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.

Beautiful hybrid ivy looks fresh and elegant throughout the year. This grows with Violas in a hanging basket on our deck.  TheViolas will fade in early summer’s heat, but eventually, the ivy will fill the basket and persist indefinitely. 

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Because our winters tend towards mild temperatures, many of us keep on gardening between November and March.  Although we get an occasional blast of  freezing rain or snow, and often have night time temps down into the 20s; we also enjoy long stretches of days in the 40s and 50s.

Occasionally we enjoy days, like today, with temperatures into the 60s.   We have lots of song birds and squirrels playing around the garden, owls hooting from the ravines, hawks hunting from the tallest oaks, and even a moth clinging to the windows now and again.

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Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weatehr in our garden.

Autumn Brilliance ferns, Mahonia and Edgeworthia chrysantha maintain a beautiful presence through the worst winter weather in our garden.

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And I’m just in from transplanting a few of the first seedlings appearing from the bright red Arum italicum berries I planted into a protected spot last August.  Tiny curled leaves have appeared, poking above the soil, since Christmas.  And I moved a couple of them to a pot on our porch to keep a closer watch over them.

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As Arum itallicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring. Calladiums will fill its place for the summer.

As Arum italicum nears the end of its season, its berries redden and its leaves wilt away. It will sprout new leaves in the autumn, growing strong and green all winter and spring.

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Arum italicum appears in autumn and grows beautifully here all through the winter.  Its leaves produce their own heat, melting ice and snow from around themselves, emerging brilliantly green and unharmed from a snowfall.

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The leaves remain pristine and provide a lovely ground cover under shrubs and around spring bulbs through early summer.  They bloom and fruit, and finally begin to fade away at the height of summer when one barely notices.  They remain dormant until the show begins again the following autumn.

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I can’t imagine why these beautiful and useful plants aren’t already wildly popular in our region.  They fill an important niche in the garden year, are too poisonous to interest deer, spread easily, prove hardy and easy to grow, and provide three seasons of interest.  What’s not to like?

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Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

Arum italicum seedlings have just appeared.

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But I’ve never found them at a garden center potted and growing.  I’ve only seen them offered in catalogs as dry tubers, and have gotten ours from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester.

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Brent and Becky's display garden features many blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camelia. The Heath's call Arum and 'shoes and socks' plant because it works so well around shrubs.

Brent and Becky Heath’s display garden features many fall and winter blooming shrubs, including this lovely Camellia. The Heaths call Arum a ‘shoes and socks’ plant because it works so well around shrubs.  After a few years, it spreads and forms a beautiful ground cover.

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Another useful, but often maligned, evergreen for winter gardening is ivy.  Like Arum italicum, ivy owns a spot on the ‘invasive plant’ list in our state.   But I’ve always appreciated the elegance ivy will lend to a pot or basket.  Although it can eventually swallow a tree, if left undisturbed, its growth is slow enough that an attentive gardener can manage it.

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English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

English Ivy, Hedera helix, serves as a dense, evergreen ground cover in many Colonial Williamsburg gardens. It requires little maintenance beyond periodic trimming.

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Ivy, Hedera species,  can tolerate very cold temperatures and emerge from snow and ice unharmed in most cases.  There are many beautiful cultivars with variegated and beautifully shaped leaves from which to choose.  Shade tolerant, it can also manage in sun, and eventually produces both flowers and small berries for wildlife.

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Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

Ivy growing with Heuchera, which also grows through our winters.

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I like ivy as a ground cover, too, and it is used extensively at Colonial Williamsburg in the gardens around historic homes.    It will eventually crowd out other plants, if left unchecked, much like Vinca minor.  It roots from each leaf node and produces a prodigious root system over time.

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Beech Tree With Ivy, August

Beech Tree With Ivy, August

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Hellebores have become a  third indispensable plant in our winter garden.  Also evergreen, like ivy, they maintain a presence throughout the entire year.  But they grow best during the cool months, awakening again in late autumn with fresh new leaves.

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Hellebore

Hellebore

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As the older leaves begin to look shabby, it is good to cut these away to make room for their emerging flowers.  Although the root system continues growing larger each year, the plants themselves may be renewed with annual cutting back of their old leaves in early winter.

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

In February 2016 Hellebores grow here with Autumn ‘Brilliance’ fern and strawberry begonia, which also remain evergreen through our winters.

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Hellebores, also poisonous, will not be affected by grazing deer or rabbits.  Early pollinators appreciate their winter flowers, as do we.  I grow these in pots and in beds, pairing them with spring bulbs, Violas, ferns, Heuchera, moss and ivy.

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By choosing plants wisely, we have found ways to garden year round here in Williamsburg, enjoying beautiful foliage and  flowers each and every day of the year.  Even as we get an occasional snow or Arctic blast, these hardy plants bounce back quickly and keep giving throughout the season.

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New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. Notice the scarlet leaves? Linda explains why these leaves may turn scarlet to survive a particularly cold winter.

New growth on an Oregon Grape Holly in our front garden. These shrubs bloom between December and February, providing nectar for pollinators during winter.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Sunday Dinner: Resilient

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“Morning will come, it has no choice.”

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Marty Rubin

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“The chief beauty about time
is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day, the next hour  are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
You can turn over a new leaf every hour
if you choose.”

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Arnold Bennett

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“But there’s a beginning in an end, you know?

It’s true that you can’t reclaim what you had,

but you can lock it up behind you.

Start fresh.”

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Alexandra Bracken

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“Perhaps that is where our choice lies –

– in determining how we will meet

the inevitable end of things,

and how we will greet each new beginning.”

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  Elana K. Arnold

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“We grow up with such an idealistic view

on how our life should be; love, friendships,

a career or even the place we will live ~

only to age and realize none of it is what you expected

and reality is a little disheartening,

when you’ve reached that realization;

you have learnt the gift of all,

any new beginning can start now

and if you want anything bad enough

you’ll find the courage to pursue it with all you have.

The past doesn’t have to be the future,

stop making it so.”

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Nikki Rowe

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“New Year – a new chapter, new verse,

or just the same old story ?

Ultimately we write it.

The choice is ours.”

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Alex Morritt

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“The more you know yourself,

the less judgemental you become”

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Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Resilient

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Happy New Year!

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016-2017

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Hardy Amaryllis Flowers for the Holidays

Hippeastrum SA 'Graffiti'

Hippeastrum SA ‘Graffiti’

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Have you heard of  ‘Sonatini Hippeastrum‘  dwarf Amaryllis bulbs? This is a new discovery for us.

The Sonatini bulb is a fairly recent innovation in traditional Amaryllis plants  grown indoors at the holidays.  First, these beautiful bulbs produce smaller plants overall.  That is good news if you wrestle with your Amaryllis plants, as I wrestle with ours, to prevent their tall, heavy stems from falling over as the blooms open.  I devise all sorts of supports, but still often end up letting the flowering stem finish in a tall vase while still managing the 2’+ leaves for several months after the blooms fade.

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The Sonatini Hippeastrum, developed over the last 15 years or so in the Netherlands, grows to only 13″-18″.  This is good news for those of us growing the bulbs in table arrangements during the holidays.  But even better, these bulbs have proven hardy in Zone 7, and even in Zone 6 with some protection.  Which means that I can plant our bulbs out into a permanent place in a perennial bed this spring, and leave it there indefinitely to grow like any other perennial bulb.

We visited the Bulb Shop at Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens in late November to finish off our fall bulb purchases.  I had planned to purchase at least one Amaryllis bulb for our dining table to grow and bloom through the new year.  Imagine my delight to discover these beautiful little H. ‘Graffiti’ bulbs already in bud, and marked down by half.

I knew they were a smaller variety of Amaryllis, but since have done a little research to learn more about them. The two blooming bulbs in this arrangement are both H. ‘Graffiti’.  We also purchased the last H. ‘Trentino’ in the shop that day, also a Sonatini type Amaryllis; which has budded, but has not yet bloomed, in this arrangement.  It should also have a white flower, with a blush border around each blossom.

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I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers.  This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers. This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

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Not only are the Sonatini Amaryllis varieties bred to be smaller and hardier than earlier cultivars; they also produce lots of blooms.  Each bulb is advertised to produce multiple bloom stalks and multiple blooms per stalk over a fairly long period of time.  They also last well when cut and kept in a vase.

These bulbs came to me already under stress.  The whole crate of bulbs in the shop had already sprouted, and a few had flower buds already opening with absolutely no fresh root structure at all.  The bulbs were in growth with only the reserves in their bulb to power them.

These have probably begun rooting now, but have been in their pot for just a little more than a week.  I will be happy for whatever flowers they produce this year.  But I expect them to be even better next winter after spending the summer out in the garden.

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Potted Hippeastrum bulbs should have about the top third of the bulb showing above the soil line. But  planted outside in the garden, these Sonatini bulbs should be planted fully under the soil to remain hardy over our winter, and perhaps even mulched a bit in Zone 6.

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The bulbs are growing around a ‘Frosty Fern’ Selaginella krausiana variegatus, which isn’t really a fern at all.  This clubmoss, or spikemoss,  shows up at our local Trader Joe’s each December and makes a great winter houseplant.  It likes cool shade and moist soil, and will eventually grow quite a bit.  Growing it in this large bowl helps it, as it needs humidity and even moisture to thrive.

Under optimal conditions, Selaginella krausiana can grow to a foot tall and  creep to a foot or more wide.  It can be grown outdoors as a ground cover in cool, moist shade.  Sadly, it won’t overwinter outdoors in our Zone 7 climate, and so I haven’t kept one going for a full year, yet.  I’ll often move the overwintered plant outside into a pot come spring, but often our climate grows too hot for them by mid-summer.   Or perhaps I haven’ t found a shady enough spot for them yet outdoors?

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That isn’t to say that we don’t thoroughly enjoy watching this lovely little plant grow indoors all winter!  This combination will look great for several weeks, and I’ll have another potted Amaryllis, with another ‘Frosty Fern,’ ready to take center stage after this one finishes blooming.  Both the Selaginella and Hippeastrum are native to South Africa.

You may remember that I’ve grown and photographed Amaryllis bulbs indoors every winter for the last several.  A few of the traditional ‘florist’ varieties do prove hardy here and can survive a mild winter out of doors, re-blooming the following summer.

But not taking any chances with our collection, I dug them all up about three weeks ago, before our first frost.  They have been growing all summer in sunny perennial beds, growing great huge strapping leaves, but not showing a single flower bud.  Not to worry….

I have them all resting in the garage, bare root, and will begin potting them up again, one by one, shortly.  Online sources indicate they prefer a couple of months of dormant rest before starting their cycle of bloom and growth once again.

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I’m frankly amazed that the leaves have remained green and healthy looking this long!

If you are curious about the new, smaller Amaryllis varieties, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will continue shipping for about another week.  They still have a few of the Sonatini (designated as ‘Hippeastrum SA’ in their catalog) varieties in stock.

Whether you order these for your own enjoyment, or as gifts, this looks like a promising improvement in  Amaryllis culture.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Our A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendar is filled with photos taken in our garden over the past year. 

To order a copy, write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’

Helleborus argutifolius

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

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

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

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

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

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Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

Helleborus already in bud this autumn in our garden.

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

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

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Mid-March 2015

Mid-March 2015

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

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July 2016

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

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

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

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

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Hellebores

Hellebores given to us as seedlings by a gardening friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 2016

February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hellebores

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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