February 12, 2018

Nature's Color Palette

moss color palette

I've been thinking about color lately. Many of us talk about color being wiped from the landscape during the winter, and it can certainly seem that way on dark days in December, January, and early February.

But the colors are still there, aren't they? They aren't as obvious because the light is low, the colors aren't as intense, and the grays and browns dominate. On many winter days, we see a lot of this:


Or more accurately, this:


Even the snow incorporates shades of gray, metallics, and even browns and blues.

Because color pops against white, and when the sun is bright, berries and the stems of Red Osier Dogwoods add shades of dramatic burgundy and maroon and red to the landscape:

maroon red

There's a certain blue-gray of a cloudy winter sky that seems to cry for brightness; while on other days, the sky sings in shades of crystal-clear, bright blues:

             gray blue    blue gray

Greens are everywhere: the dark, nearly black shades of the conifers, as well as the lighter, vibrant mossy greens:

             dark green    mossy

Of course, brown is always present, too, but oh so many shades of brown--from the dark browns of Oak leaves and soil, to the rusty, golden tones of moss sporophytes and the rainbows of browns on turkey tail fungi:

             brown    golden

When we pull together all the colors in our minds, a simple color mosaic begins to paint the picture, with snow as a central element ... when it's present:

winter color collage

But that's not enough: There are so many patterns and shadings in between. Evergreens are often blue-green, and that blue-gray sky is mixed with clouds:

Color Collage

It's insufficient and it's truly just the start of an endless panorama of color. But it helps to paint the picture of winter's colors. Winter, actually, is quite a colorful season if we care to look closely:

Winter Collage

* * * * * * * * * *

Note: In every season, I've been noticing fun color combinations and inspiring shades of color that feed my creativity. I'm not a painter, but sometimes I think, "Gosh, that chartreuse would be lovely in a sweater over a moss green blouse," or, "I've never realized how many shades of cyan are found in nature."

I've added a sidebar widget to this blog so I can record current inspiring colors around me. Do you ever feel inspired by the colors of nature?

February 04, 2018

Let's Head to the Tropical Dome

tropical dome

It's February, it's cold, and I'm trying to warm up. So let's head back to Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes).

I covered the Show Dome for a holiday post in December. The others--the Tropical Dome and the Desert Dome--don't change much with the seasons. And I learned a lesson: Start in the tropics and end in the desert, not the other way around. Moving from a dry climate to a humid one can be a little uncomfortable.

working plan

When I was there, displays described The Domes Task Force feasibility study. Currently in phase one, the task force goal is to rehabilitate the facility and provide a sustainable operating model going forward. The Domes have been a Milwaukee fixture for many decades.

cardinals guard

I hope The Domes' future will be bright; the facility's plant collection is incredible, like this stunning Cardinal's Guard (Pachystachys coccinea).

Other plants in the Tropical Dome that caught my attention included:


Many Bromeliads, including these Earth Stars (Cryptanthus spp.) clinging to rocks.

variegated ficus

Earth Stars surrounded by Variegated Creeping Ficus (F. pumila).

golden shrimp

Golden Shrimp Plant (Pachystachys lutea).

amethyst star

Amethyst Star (Pseuderanthemum laxiflorum).

bird of paradise

Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae).

orange jasmine

Orange Jasmine (Murraya paniculata). (Yes, it did smell pleasant.)

fairy garden

This fairy garden featuring tropical plants was fun. I almost missed it while focusing on eye-level plants and tall tropical trees.


I was surprised by the impressive collection of orchids in the Tropical Dome.

orchid zygo rhein

Zygopetalum Louisendorf  'Rhein Moonlight.'

orchid phal 1

Bright yellow Phalaenopsis.

orchid phal kaoda

Phalaenopsis 'Kaoda Twinkle.'

orchid phal 2

Magenta-speckled Phalaenopsis.

orchid paph aladdin

Paphiopedilum 'Aladin.'

orchid catt summit

Cattleya percivaliana 'Summit.'

orchid angraecum

Angraecum eburneum subsp. giryamae.

orchid c. horace

Cattleya Horace 'Maxima' x  C. jeamanii.

orchid paph rothschild

An unmarked cross with Paphiopedilum rothschildianum.

orchid oncidium sharry

Oncidium 'Sharry Baby.'

orchid phrag geigelstein

Phragmipedium Geigelstein.

Some of these and other beautiful orchids had lovely scents, too, although I didn't spend enough time noting the fragrances.

The Domes facility is worth a trip if you live nearby or are traveling in the area, particularly if you need a little winter break.

January 24, 2018

Plant of the Month: Virginia Bluebells

bluebells 1

It's Wildflower Wednesday, and of course there are no wildflowers blooming in my USDA zone 5a garden in January. In fact, this plant has never bloomed in my garden.

bluebells 3

I planted Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) from seed in the fall of 2013. Every year, I find more plants along the edge of our little woodland, but after five years, they haven't bloomed. Perhaps the rabbits are eating the tiny buds before they have a chance to flower, though I've read it's a rabbit-resistant plant.

bluebells 2

I won't give up, because I'm hoping eventually they'll colonize among the Trilliums, Bloodroot, Spring Beauties, and the other spring ephemerals. Virginia Bluebells are native here, and I've seen them many times in nearby forests, parks, and nature centers.

Virginia Bluebells are native to much of eastern North America--from Maine and Georgia westward through Minnesota and Kansas, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The plants emerge in early spring, and often have a slight reddish tinge to the foliage until they grow larger. Maximum height is about two feet. In the wild, they grow in moist woods and clearings and along river edges. They prefer part shade or full shade and rich soil. Buds begin pink and open to an exquisite blue, for which photos simply can't do justice.

Will this be the year Virginia Bluebells bloom in my woodland garden? Time will tell. Until then, I'll dream about them and look forward to seeing them somewhere nearby as winter fades to spring.

bluebells 4

I'm linking this post to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday meme at Clay and Limestone. Head on over to learn about other wildflowers in gardens and wild places around the world.

January 18, 2018

Dreaming of Sedona Sunshine

rocks 1

If you only have one day or a few hours to explore Sedona, Arizona, it won't be enough. But do it anyway: The memories will warm your soul on a cold winter's day.

rocks 2

Red Rock Country is visually stunning and other-worldy. Apparently the rocks are red because of the area's hematite (iron oxide) that stained the sandstone. The rock formations were formed over millions of years, through water flows, erosion, wind, and other forces, and they're always changing.

Comescu House

There's a story behind this sprawling estate surrounded by picturesque rock formations. Some think it's fabulous, while others consider it an eyesore.

By Matthew P. Del Buono (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, AZ.jpg," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phptitle=File:Chapel_of_the_Holy_Cross,_Sedona,_AZ.jpg&oldid=123792338 (accessed January 14, 2018).

When we were in Sedona, we spent a good portion of the day at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. You can see photos of the inside of the church here. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.

I didn't take any photos of the church, but I snapped several of the surrounding landscape, plants, wildlife, and the more modest features of the property.

angel statue

This little angel statue is part of a garden display, along the trail leading up to the chapel. It's very peaceful.

red yucca

One of the featured plants: a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora).

St. Francis fountain

I love this St. Francis fountain--a calming presence, surrounded by plants and moving water.


Other fountains and simple structures decorate the area adjacent to the chapel.

potted flowers

Large planters are filled with colorful annuals.

I also noticed other plants in the more naturalized areas of the property:

silverleaf nightshade

Silverleaf Nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) is a North American native--from North Carolina and Florida, through the central Midwest and west to the Pacific states.

opuntias and yuccas

These Opuntias and Yuccas form an attractive border near the parking lot.


Large Opuntia cactuses are common in the Sedona area.


They grow in cracks and crevices with grasses along the ridges and indentations of the rock formations.

little cactus

It's incredible how opportunistic little cactuses can be--putting down roots in very shallow indentations in the rock.

Gambel's quail

A Gambel's quail poses for candids.


Lizards scurry to and fro.

cactus border

The path up to the chapel features an impressive stand of cactuses.

cholla cactus

Cholla cactuses (Cylindropuntia spp.) in flower are dramatic.

Many of the local famous Sedona rock formations are visible from the Chapel of the Holy Cross, but the angles are different than the traditional views more commonly photographed.

bell rock
Bell Rock

chimney 1

You can see the strata of rock along many of the ridges.

chimney 2

These look like chimneys to me.

chimney 3

The color of the rock is striking and changeable, depending on the sun's angle at various points in the day.

cathedral rock
Cathedral Rock

Ah, Sedona, I remember you well. Until we meet again...