The Violet Fern

Creating Art & Gardens


What’s Blooming: Fall Forsythia

There really isn’t such a plant as a Fall Forsythia, but mine seems to blooming in spite of several hard frosts and a snowfall. Tomorrow, highs are expected at sixty degrees fahrenheit, but I don’t believe temperature is the reason for the unexpected fall blooms.


Apparently a period of stress, followed by improved growing conditions will cause a Forsythia to bloom “off key.” My Forsythia has grown enormous and is in need of a good pruning (which I am waiting for until early spring so I can actually see the structure of this shrub even though I will sacrifice some of those spring blooms). I am sure this shrub stressed during an August dryspell in very crowded conditions. The Forsythia anchors the first bed I created (the Bird & Butterfly Garden), and the entire bed is in need of dividing and thinning. It is also the site of the Black-Eyed Susan Gang Takeover. A rival Joe Pye Gang is also gaining a lot of ground. (I’m thinking I will have a big haul of nice, native plants to offer our cooperative extension for the Master Gardener Plant Sale!)

Aside from Forsythia blooms, it is difficult to believe I do not have much of anything blooming outdoors in the garden at this time. Seems to me it is much too early in the winter season. I did find a brave little Calendula bloom among some Lambs Ear. The honeysuckle has bloomed into December in years past.



There are other things going on, however – berries! My young Winterberry shrubs are in “full-berry” – the red on Ilex verticillata ‘Oosterwijk’ already picked over by birds. The Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ still sporting a beautiful orange spray of berries. These shrubs will  be up to 8 feet tall when full grown. They are pollinated by Ilex verticillata ‘Southern Gentleman.’ I have a young Hicks Yew, Taxus x media ‘Hicksii,’ as a backdrop. I am waiting for the day when these plants “come together.”



My Cranberry Viburnum along the Nice Driveway is also displaying its berries.


The star of the garden currently is the Pin Oak, Quercus Palustris, which has grown another two feet this year at least! It is still holding most of its leaves and they are a beautiful shade of dark red – a contender for Pam’s (at Digging) Foliage Follow Up. (I remember its first winter in the garden it was nearly girdled by a rabbit.)


I have installed a copper rain chain instead of a downspout off our back porch (if you can make it out from the ugly green board). Now I have two copper-topped bird feeders (the other a small suet feeder hanging by the chain), and the chain – I love these warm, glowing copper accents in the winter garden – “blooms” if you will.


Indoors plants are fairing well. Violets are in bloom. The Thanksgiving Cactus is in bud in the succulent table top garden. My current favorite succulent is Flapjacks, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora. Its leaves remind me of a large flower bud.






Thank you for joining me for yet another Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting.


Going Native: Holly By Golly

I confess I don’t actually have this plant growing in my garden yet, but I will be ordering it for spring delivery. Aside from decking halls, holly is a valuable plant for wildlife. Where I live, hollies associated with the traditional decor of Christmas are not quite hardy. They are also usually European in origin. But the Common Winterberry is native, and it is a holly though it will lose its leaves. In fact its leaves don’t resemble the usual toothy shape of holly leaves at all, but the berries, oh the berries, DO – they appear in bright sprays of red come winter.

Photo by Stefan Bloodworth

And the berries are what the birds relish. Robins tend to stay the winter here and would much appreciate dining on some winterberry. Other birds known to eat winterberry include: Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Chickadee, Northern Flicker, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Song Sparrow, and Wood Thrush. There are over 40 species of bird known to eat its berries. These shrubs also provide cover and nesting sites.

Common Winterberry (also called Black Alder) is the host plant for Henry’s Elfin Butterfly.

My holiday decor has inspired me to write about holly. My decor tends to reflect the magic of the Northern woods. It has confirmed yet again my decision to include Winterberry in my new woodland edge border.

The spot I have in mind will receive unobstructed Southern exposure but will eventually have a canopy of mature Serviceberry and Dogwood trees. The soil tends to stay moist. I will most likely end up planting a cultivar such as ILEX verticillata Oosterwijk. The native Common Winterberry is often not sold sexed. Female Winterberry requires a male to produce berries. There is also a gold colored berry cultivar available, ILEX verticillata Winter Gold. Wouldn’t it be nice to have both colors? I am pretty certain there is not a nearby male for pollination. So if I buy three plant cultivars, I can be certain to have two females and one male for pollinating. If I had more space, I believe I would buy five plants of the Common Winterberry to ensure that I would receive both sexes.

Photos above belong to Bluestone Perrenials but were slightly edited.

So, there is yet another dilemma to going native … true native species, or cultivar? Just how native are you? I believe these cultivars will still offer wildlife value, so in my garden they go.