Snow Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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

Land of Confusion

Genesis 1986

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it a place oh, yeah

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

Songwriters: ANTHONY BANKS, MICHAEL RUTHERFORD, PHILLIP COLLINS
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Where the “Wild Things” Are: TGBGH

 

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Personally, I think enough is enough.

Enough cold rain, already.  Enough frozen over puddles and stuck car doors when we get up and out in the early mornings.  Enough chill and windy afternoons that just can’t warm up despite the clear and sunny skies.  And certainly, enough winter damage to our marginal evergreens.

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After a long and frosty January, I’m ready to see a little actionHorticultural action, that is.

I want to see healthy, green growth and vividly bright flowers.  I want to see unfolding leaves and creeping, snaking rhizomes claiming fresh real estate for a wildly healthy fern.

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My patience with winter weather has grown a bit brittle and threadbare.  It was 18F when I arose this morning, and only a meager 28 when I pulled out of the driveway, wrapped in sweaters and a wool jacket and scarves and hat, for my journey through the countryside to my mother’s estate South of the James today.

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It was only 5 degrees warmer when I arrived, a little before 11 this morning; but she was game to head out adventuring with me while my car was still a little warm.  After wrapping her up warmly, I hoisted her rolling chair into the back end and we set off for Richmond’s treasure:  The Great Big Greenhouse.

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She was a little stir-crazy too, perhaps.  After a week indoors, she was ready for big sky and a change of scenery.

She was happy to ride around in the balmy warmth and brightness of the greenhouse while I examined every Begonia, Philodendron, orchid, Cyclamen and fern.  We chatted about cultivars we’ve grown over the years, examined the bonsai on offer, admired the bright and unusual pots, and watched all the special goings on to kick off Houseplant Month at the greenhouse today.

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There is no happier place for me to spend time, especially this first Saturday of February, than in a gorgeous, bright greenhouse.  The happiness was freely shared among customers, vendors, and the GBGH staff as we all basked in the exuberant energy of happy tropical plants.

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Mother found a gorgeous purple Oxalis regnellii var. triangularis ‘Mijke’ already in bloom.  She loves Oxalis, and I brought it home for her.

One of the staff gave me a tiny, seedling Tradescantia zebrina that he had just plucked out of the gravel under the fern benches.  I’ve potted that up tonight, and look forward to planting it out in a basket once the weather settles in spring.

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What wonderful ‘weeds’ the guys were plucking out of the gravel this morning. The Tradescantia I was gifted with was a miniature version of this one.

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If you need a little respite from winter, as much as I do, you may find it here.   Assuming a trip to warmer climes isn’t already in your diary, you might just stop in at a nearby greenhouse for a breath of spring.

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The ground was still hard frozen when mother and I got back to her place this afternoon, the grass a sickly shade of beige.  At least her evergreens don’t look quite as burned and harried as ours.  She has a good crop of bright green moss covering bald patches in her lawn.  Her Mahonias are covered in buds and the first green tips of daffy leaves have emerged in the barrel by her door.

A happy red Cyclamen grows in the middle of her kitchen table, now joined by a purple leafed Oxalis. 

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I drove home admiring bare branches against a sunset sky, dreaming of bud-break and the first breaths of spring.

We find ourselves in full-on winter mode again tonight.  We expect a cold rain to begin overnight, and tiny snowflakes still turn up in our AccuWeather forecast app.

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But I found the wild things, today; growing happily despite winter’s worst.  It was just the fix I needed to remain calm through the weeks of winter yet ahead.  There is a little ‘wild’ in all of us, perhaps.  We just need to know where to find our kindred spirits…

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Knowing Winter

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“One can follow the sun, of course,
but I have always thought that it is best
to know some winter, too,
so that the summer, when it arrives,
is the more gratefully received.”
Beatriz Williams

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Much of North America lies frozen this week beneath a layer of icy whiteness.  Weather maps on TV are clothed in shades of blue, purple and white.  It is a respite from this year’s heat, perhaps, and a novelty for those who enjoy winter.

Here in Williamsburg, in coastal Virginia, we see temperatures drop below the mid-twenties only occasionally, and not every year.  But we are also in the midst of this Arctic cold snap at the moment.  There is a chance for snow tomorrow evening.

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The garden, and the larger world are frozen tight and hard this week.  Those winter faring plants I potted up so carefully last month sit brittle, a bit limp and desiccated in their pots today despite the brilliant sun shining on them.  I gave each pot a bit of tap water yesterday afternoon, hoping to thaw the soil long enough for roots to draw a bit of moisture in to the thirsty plants.

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We’ve wrapped our olive trees in clear plastic bags and set them in the warmest corner of our front patio, where they capture the mid-day sun.  They’ve grown too large now to bring indoors each winter.  We hope they make it through to warmer days ahead.

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But there is only so much anyone can do when such bitter cold blows in to one’s neighborhood.  The lowest temperature we’ve seen here since Christmas was 12F.  It feels a bit odd to cheer on the mercury to climb through the 20s, hoping it might actually make it up to 32F before the evening chill returns.

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But such is our life at the moment, and so we have decided to enjoy the novelty of it.  It is the season to trot out one’s heavy sweaters and gloves, and possibly even a jacket.  I had forgotten which drawer our gloves got put away in last spring, and needed a reminder.  A pair now live in my bag, ready to pull on whenever I step outside into this frosty world.

But clad in hat and gloves, wool and pashmina and jeans, I set off to capture photos of ice today.  My partner kept the car warm and idling while I scampered about on the banks of Mill Creek and the James River in search of ice sculptures.

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The wind was almost quiet, and the sun blazing bright and glinting off the frozen marshes.  It was nearly 24F as I captured these photos today.

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We were delighted to find eagles flying in lazy circles above us and large congregations of geese gathered along the roadsides.  I could hear waterfowl splashing into the creek in search of lunch as I picked my way down the frozen trail to the water’s edge.

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A heron clung to a branch along the bank, watching as gulls dove into the creek and ducks cavorted along its glassy surface.

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Halves of minnows, cut up by some intrepid fisher-person for bait, lay scattered about on the sandy beach.  Frozen hard, they held no appeal for the foraging birds around us.

I marvel at the sight of spray cloaked grasses and ice glazed stones.  The river and creeks here are tidal, and the rising and falling water and windblown spray make for ever-changing textures along their banks.

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Sheets of ice get pushed up in the marshes on the incoming tide, and slushy brackish water takes on odd hues in the wintery light.

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Our oddly frozen world dreams this week in weirdly grotesque forms.  Frozen soil pushes up in the garden, heaving fragile root balls not properly mulched and insulated against the cold.  Ice crystals sprout from stems and leaves in the first light of morning.

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Only the birds appear impervious to the cold.  Small flocks of blackbirds gather on the frozen grass.  Songbirds hop about in the trees as we pass.  I wonder at the mysteries of nature which allow them to survive such frigid weather.

Whether sitting on the ground, swimming in the frozen creeks or gliding on a current of air, they appear almost comfortable.  This is a great gift they enjoy, and that we do not.

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We are mostly watching through the window panes to see how the rest of this month unfolds.  Our cat spends long hours dozing, curled up in a blanket on the couch.  He shows no interest in exploration beyond his food bowl at the moment.

Surely the world will soon be slick and white if the forecast is to be believed, and our garden will slumber on under a bit more insulation as we dream of spring.

Yet, in this moment, we know winter; and see its beauties all around us.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“There is an instinctive withdrawal for the sake of preservation,
a closure that assumes the order of completion.
Winter is a season unto itself.”
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Haruki Murakami

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Golden February

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Have you noticed that certain colors predominate in the landscape each month?  August here is always very green.  January is a study in brownish grey.  April is awash with Azalea pinks and reds.

And February is golden.

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Yes, there are white snowdrops and rosy Hellebores in our garden now.  Purple and blue Violas bloom in pots and baskets.

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Mahonia aquifolium

Mahonia aquifolium, blooming through our winter, provides nectar for early pollinators.  By summer each flower will have grown into a plump purple berry, loved by our birds.  These tough shrubs, native to western North America, have naturalized across much of Virginia.

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But the flowers highlighting our garden now, blooming fiercely against a still wintery brown backdrop; are the first golden Daffodils of spring, showering cascades of yellow Mahonia flowers, the occasional sunshiny Dandelion, and hundreds of thousands of yellow Forsythia buds.

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Forsythia greets each spring with thousands of tiny yellow flowers.

Forsythia greets each spring with thousands of tiny yellow flowers. An Asian native, Forsythia naturalized in North America more than a century ago.  An important source of nectar, these large, suckering shrubs provide shelter for many species of birds and insects.

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Forsythia and Daffodils line many of our public roads, too.  We found a huge stand of blooming yellow Daffodils in the median of Jamestown Road, near the ferry, last week.  Their cheerful promise of spring feels almost defiant as we weather the last few weeks of a Virginia winter.

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Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese Paperbush, fills our front garden with fragrance now that its blossoms have opened. We found happy bees feeding on these flowers on Sunday afternoon.

Edgeworthia chrysantha, or Chinese Paperbush, fills our front garden with fragrance now that its blossoms have opened. We found happy bees feeding on these flowers on Sunday afternoon.

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Touches of gold may also be found in the bright stamens of Hellebores, the warm centers of Edgeworthia flowers, and the bright Crocus which will bloom any day now.

These golden flowers of February prove a perfect foil to bare trees, fallen leaves and late winter storms.

What a lovely way for our garden to awaken to spring.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Growth

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Bits of energy dissipate and coalesce, eternally, reshaping our world.

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Where does matter come from?  How does it organize itself into ever greater complexity?

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What guides the subtle patterns of its becoming?

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Gardeners ponder these mysteries as we watch seeds become plants become flowers and fruits.

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We ponder the wonder of it all as we eat the fruit and save its seeds for the coming seasons.

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In winter, we ponder these mysteries anew as the sky crumbles into snowflakes.

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We watch the formation of icy stalagmites and fragile ice crystals.

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Moisture, drawn from the air, materializes before us in the most intricate patterns.

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We watch reality crystallize around us. 

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Sometimes slowly, sometimes in a single breath; energy moves from form to form in its endless dance of life.

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Porcelain bowl by Denis Orton, filled with paperwhites stirring into growth and wild moss from the garden.

Porcelain bowl by Denis Orton, is filled with paperwhites stirring into growth and wild moss from the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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Water has a memory and carries within it

our thoughts and prayers.

As you yourself are water,

no matter where you are,

your prayers will be carried to the rest of the world.

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Dr. Masaru Emoto

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Sunday Dinner: Fire and Ice

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Fire and Ice

 

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate.

To say that for destruction ice,
Is also great

And would suffice.

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Robert Frost

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“Ice contains no future , just the past, sealed away.

As if they’re alive, everything in the world

is sealed up inside, clear and distinct.

Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way-

cleanly, clearly.

That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”


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Haruki Murakami

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“Keep a little fire burning;

however small, however hidden.”

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Cormac McCarthy

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“The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time.

Time to think or not think, read or not read,

scribble or not scribble –

– to sleep and cook and walk in the woods,

to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills.

I produce nothing but words;

I consume nothing but food, a little propane,

a little firewood. By being utterly useless

in the calculations of the culture at large

I become useful, at last, to myself.”


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Philip Connors

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“Everybody has a little bit of the sun and moon in them.

Everybody has a little bit of man, woman,

and animal in them.  Darks and lights in them.

Everyone is part of a connected cosmic system.

Part earth and sea, wind and fire,

with some salt and dust swimming in them.

We have a universe within ourselves

that mimics the universe outside.

None of us are just black or white,

or never wrong and always right. No one.

No one exists without polarities.

Everybody has good and bad forces working with them,

against them, and within them.

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Suzy Kassem

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“Fire tests gold, suffering tests brave men.”

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Seneca

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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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Color Your World: Mandala

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“Whoever uses the spirit

that is in him creatively is an artist.

To make living itself an art,

that is the goal.”

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Henry Miller

It has been many years since I first heard of a bit of sacred geometry called, “The Flower of Life.” It is demonstrated and explained in detail in books by philosopher Drunvalo Melchizedek. This design is based on simple, but profound geometry and has been in use for millennia.  I believe it appeals to me because it is a floral design.  It reminds me of our Clematis flowers which bloom each summer.

But there are many levels of understanding in this design, which shows the interconnectedness of life.  It illustrates patterns of growth and change.

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Clematis

Clematis

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I’ve wanted to work with this design for a very long time, and finally began,  back last summer, experimenting with translating it onto a grid to make a counted cross stitch pattern.  My design is not a strict interpretation of The Flower of Life.  I’ve taken some liberties with the geometry to make the design more ‘floral.’

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February 2 and 6: Eggplant and Fuschia

February 1, 2 and 6: Desert sand, Eggplant and Fuchsia

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This is one of the first stitched mandalas I’ve designed without drawing out the whole pattern, first.   I drew just the center flower, and three petals of an adjacent flower, before selecting colors and beginning to stitch.  The rest of this piece grew organically from that small beginning as I’ve worked.

It has taken a little more than six months to bring it to completion.  I was so happy to make the last stitches in the frame on Sunday evening.

We love the vibrant colors of these stitched mandalas.  I’m showing you this one today in part because it reflects many of the colors of Jennifer Nichole Wells’s “Color My World” challenge this week.

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This week’s colors include Denim, Desert Sand, Eggplant, Electric Lime, Fern, Forest Green and Fuschia.

I was quite happy, last week, discover Jenny’s new “Color My World: One Hundred Days of Crayola” photo challenge.  She is working from the Crayola Crayon chart of colors, and offers a new color challenge each day for 120 days, beginning January 1.   I am happy to tag along once again, and will aim for one post each week, sharing photos of as many of that week’s colors as I’m able.

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Jan. 1: Denim This pot lives on the front porch, except during the coldest winter months.

Jan. 1: Denim This pot lives on the front porch, except during the coldest winter months.

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Please visit Jenny and explore links to other photographers participating in this Color Your World challenge.

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Feb. 1: A Hellebore flower nearly the color of Desert Sand

Feb. 1: A Hellebore flower nearly the color of Desert Sand

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Today dawned clear and brilliantly sunny.  The sun was so strong, pouring in through our southern windows, that it felt like May or early June rather than February 2.

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Feb. 3: Electric lime describes the fresh green at the heart of this Amaryllis blossom

Feb. 3: Electric lime describes the fresh green at the heart of this Amaryllis blossom

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I captured photos of some of our plants overwintering in the house before heading out to the garden for more pruning.  Some of our photos today are of our indoor garden, others from the garden outside.

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Feb. 4 Fern green on the buds just opening today on our Autumn Olive shrubs.

Feb. 4 Fern green on the buds just opening today on our Autumn Olive shrubs.

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Most years, I would consider this first week of February too early to prune back our woody shrubs.  But the warmth is already waking up many plants which should still be dormant.

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Feb 5 So many greens in this wonderful pot near the street, surely Forest Green is among them?

Feb 5 So many greens in this wonderful pot near the street, surely Forest Green is among them?

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I’m taking my chances and beginning with the latest budding trees and shrubs, like our Crepe Myrtles and Rose of Sharon first.  I don’t dare touch the roses for at least another two weeks, just in case we get another winter storm.

They are already throwing out new leaves, ready to begin another cycle of growth.

We find growth and budding everywhere in our February garden.

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Here is a cutting of my favorite Begonia of the moment. Stems root quickly in these tiny bottles.

Here is a cutting of my favorite Begonia of the moment. Stems root quickly in these tiny bottles.  There will be plenty of rooted cuttings for hanging baskets by April.

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“There is a fountain of youth:

it is your mind, your talents,

the creativity you bring to your life

and the lives of people you love.

When you learn to tap this source,

you will truly have defeated age.”

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Sophia Loren

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Another view of this wonderful Begonia.

Another view of this wonderful Begonia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Another favorite Begonia enjoying our living room windowsill this winter.

Another favorite Begonia enjoying our living room windowsill this winter.  Aren’t the colors in its leaves wonderful?

Be Real….

January 28, 2016 garden 005

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Let’s be real….. January is a messy month.

Whether you’re contemplating grime covered snow along the roadside, or frozen limp plants in your flower pots; January offers a little disappointment for everyone.  We know this, and yet we push through it.

Did you read my post, Sunday Dinner: First Snow” where I described some super “squirrel proof” suet cake and showed you some hand crafted bird feeders holding it?  I made up the suet recipe in mid-January and had three new feeders filled with it before our first snow of the season.

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January 23, 2016 Optimistic 010

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And as it snowed, I brushed away the accumulating ice and added little piles of Cayenne laced fresh seeds on top of the feeders to entice our birds.  They rewarded us with lots of action, gathering in the nearby shrubs and trees awaiting their turns to eat.

But all of that easy food attracted the attention of our cold and hungry squirrels as well.  You may know them well:  those pesky little guys who dig holes in the pots in search of tasty bulbs or hidden acorns.   Like deer, they also carry ticks.   You may be a fan of squirrels, but we are not.  Thus, my excitement at the Cayenne laced suet recipe in the first place…..

And in honesty to each of you who read that post, and especially to anyone who may have tried the recipe for yourself: It didn’t deter the squirrels for even a moment.

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The birds did enjoy the feeder, between visits from the squirrels....

The birds did enjoy the feeder, between visits from the squirrels….

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My partner was skeptical from the very beginning.  No amount of explaining about the Cayenne made a bit of difference.  He wisely knew that hungry squirrels would come anyway.  Their little squirrel eyes might be streaming with tears from the hot pepper; (do squirrels have tears?) but they would smell the food and come marauding anyway.

And as usual, he was right.  The blue cup and saucer, carefully hung  in the Dogwood tree by my office window, on a fragile branch way too slender to support a squirrel, was emptied first.

I watched the little guy gingerly explore the branch and find his way to the chain, where he hung upside down while feasting.  No amount of noise I made from inside caused him the least distress.  He simply looked at me with that stoic look of a feasting squirrel, and kept eating.

It was only when I appeared outside, moments later, with a huge shaker of Cayenne pepper in hand that he took off to the neighbor’s yard.  I shook pepper all over the remaining suet, and the glass cup and saucer for good measure.  But the squirrels didn’t mind the pepper, or the swaying chain, and within days cleaned all the suet from the cup.

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January 28, 2016 garden 001

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That is when they discovered the other feeders left in potted plants, one in the front and the other on the deck.  Yesterday we noticed their persistence had broken the one on the deck in two.  The suet filled suet cup landed on the ground a story below.   We rescued it, and set it where the birds can still find it, and the squirrels will do no more damage.

The delicate porcelain bowl I’d placed in front had a worse fate, and cracked when the squirrels’ enthusiasm knocked it out of its pot.  What a mess!

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January 28, 2016 garden 008

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As I said, January is a messy month; and often filled with disappointment.  I say this, having taken stock of the sorry state my pots are in today.  Even the most ‘winter hardy’ ornamentals suffer from days beneath ice, their roots in frozen soil.

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Sorry, no grooming here yet.... We just lifted off its ice dome and freed it yesterday. But the Heuchera shrugs off the cold!

Sorry, no grooming here yet…. We just lifted off its ice dome and freed it yesterday. But the Heuchera shrugs off the cold!

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A few noticeably perked up once their soil thawed a little yesterday, so their  roots could absorb some water.  Even the toughest can dehydrate in the wind, when the soil remains a block of ice.

But all one can do is tidy them up a little and hope for the best.  I’ve spent the last few days lifting off remaining chunks of ice, deadheading and pinching off spent leaves and stems.

My faith is in their roots….  Soon, I expect to see new leaves and plump buds appear again.

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January 28, 2016 garden 009

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But let’s be real.  There are a few more weeks of wicked winter weather left before us.  Even as we turn the first calendar page of 2016 this weekend, there is a lot of cleaning up left to do before we welcome spring.

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January 24, 2016 snowday 009

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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January 28, 2016 garden 003

 

 

Life-Force

January 25, 2016 snow 006

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“All things were formed of energy,

arrangements of bundled light

that were subject to natural law.

The awareness of this truth,

defined to absolute perfection,

granted the mage-trained their influence.

To know a thing, to encompass its full measure

in respect was to hold its secrets in mastery.

Life-force was the basis of all power.”

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Janny Wurts

There is no mistaking the sun’s power on a day like today.

Waking up, yet again, to a frozen world; we watched our world thaw under the sun’s golden touch.  The long icicles which greeted us this morning dripped and evaporated to nothingness.  We hear dripping everywhere, now, as snow gathered on the roof and tree limbs melts.

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January 24, 2016 snowday 001

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Today was given to digging out.  Every shovelful of frozen snow moved gave that much more space for the sun to heat.  It was almost balmy after lunch, a promise of spring in the air, even as snow still covers the garden.

I lifted huge drifts of snow from the chairs on the deck, then let the shovel nibble bites of frozen snow from its surface.  The sun hadn’t yet reached our shady deck, and the snow sat,  solidly frozen.

My energy wasn’t equal to its heavy inertia.   Birds watched intently from the trees, wondering how much seed would be left behind from my efforts.

 

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January 25, 2016 snow 008

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This Arum italicum caught my attention this morning, its life force determinedly melting the snow from around its leaves, drawing the sun’s light and heat towards itself like a magnet.  It keeps growing this winter, sending up a new leaf every few weeks.

What a wonderful plant.  How have I missed it before now?  Every garden center in our area should offer this Arum, as it is proving tough, as well as beautiful, in our garden.

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January 25, 2016 snow 009

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Tough is good, on a day like today.  It is good insurance of one’s survival.  We watch that eternal dance between ice and fire playing out on the stage of our garden.  Today, it appears the sun is winning.

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January 24, 2016 snowday 005

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“If you want to find the secrets of the universe,

think in terms of energy,

frequency and vibration.”

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Nikola Tesla

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January 25, 2016 snow 003

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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