Every year I’m working against the clock to have the yard looking at its peak when the cherry tree blooms. This year we have had an inordinate number of warm days, and I have almost finished — well, at least the front yard. It’s hard work, but the weeding, edging, mulching (90 bags!) and lots and lots of pruning are almost completed. We have lots of people who drive by and a few who take Easter pictures here when the tree blooms coincide with Bunny Day. I think this year I was lucky that this tree is a little behind the Tidal Basin cherry trees in D.C. The cold snap and late ice and snow storm that collided with them didn’t harm mine, just delayed it a few days. For those who are as in love with these trees as I am, this is a Kwansan variety. Its double flowers are magical!
The “Charleston pink” phlox that surrounds the tree is at its peak right now, and the tree is hours away from exploding with color, so this is just a teaser and I will post another photo when the tree is blooming — until then, Happy Spring!
Update, April 6th - The tree has started to open. I’ll post a photo each day until it’s fully open. We had an incredible Spring storm that blasted through here just now with intense wind and the darkest clouds I’ve ever seen. Everyone in its path — stay safe!
Update, April 7th – She is now in all her glory! It’s always worth the wait. I feel so happy to have her in my garden.
Each year on George Washington’s Birthday, the Mount Vernon Estate opens its gates to the public for free. As you might imagine, it is filled with people coming to celebrate the day. Since it’s right down the street from my home, I try to go every year. There is always something that is undergoing a renovation, and it’s great to see what’s newly been uncovered with all the advancements in technology they have. The mansion house has now been painted with colors that have been discovered to be the original — very different from the colors we all thought for years to be accurate. For at least the last century, it has been painted white and it’s bright red roof shown against the blue sky. Now the colors are much softer and more muted. A golden tan is on the field of the house, and the roof is a much softer red. It’s very pretty, but for those of us who see it everyday, quite a change!
The “back yard” of the house it is still just as it was when President Washington lived there. Believe it or not, the view from the veranda has been protected in a way that you cannot see any other structures across the Potomac River — 80 square miles of protection to be exact! I think that’s an amazing accomplishment. All the lawn that you see is trimmed by a scythe, no mowers used here. It’s quite impressive to watch. The estate’s team of gardeners have a wealth of knowledge about the colonial era tools, and there are special tours where they will demonstrate many of them. If you get a chance to visit, you might want to call ahead and request a special tour!
This year I went specifically to see the orangery and it’s surrounding garden. This area was used in housing the small citrus trees that they grew in planters. The trees would be outside in the warm months and moved indoors into the orangery in the winter. It has a dark colored slate floor, and masonry walls which would soak up all the warmth from the sun during the day through the south facing, floor to ceiling windows. Then in the evening, the shutters would be closed, and the floor would radiate it’s heat back into the room, keeping it above freezing, and all it’s tender trees and plants would be kept alive. They have not quite finished this renovation and the plants are not inside yet, but soon it will be full of tender plants.
On the outside of the building there is a large garden surrounded by brick walls to protect against nibbling deer and other animals. This area was mainly used to start new plants for transplant into the other landscaped areas and was used as sort of a colonial era plant nursery. President Washington was the recipient of many gifts of plants and new varieties of seeds and, according to his journals, enjoyed experimenting with them.
The walls of the garden have many different varieties of espallied trees — mostly fruiting trees like apple, peach, fig and cherry. They were grown against the walls for extra warmth to prolong the growing season, and also pruned to just a few feet tall, to make harvesting the fruit easy. The colonial people were very clever in their farming practices!
Along the brick lined paths they additionally would grow herbs and medicinal plants. A very diverse variety of plants grew there. The tiny little boxwood plants that you see edging the walk, figs trees, herbs and many other plants and seeds are sold in the annual plant sale fundraiser, coming up in Garden Week, another really fun event!
There is a huge vegetable garden on the other side of the mansion as well. With hundreds of mouths to feed, this was a most important garden, and it was in constant rotation of crops. Lettuces, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, melon and many more things grew here. This season the early spring onions and cabbages were looking great.
I always hate to leave Mt. Vernon estate, but the afternoon was coming to an end. So until I am back there next year, Happy Birthday George Washington! And happy gardening to the rest of us-
We are having some truly crazy weather here in Mount Vernon. Over the last week, we have had a daily high of 74 degrees and a daily high 38 degrees; snow, hail, sun, and rain; and three or four days with 60+ mile an hour winds! It seems like we are having records broken every day. You never know what will be in store from one minute to the next.
I’ve been making the most of the nice days and getting lots done in the garden. There have been some interesting things — and some not so — but it’s been great to just be outside soaking it all in. Here are a few things that I’m doing here that I hope will be a useful reminder to you in your gardens.
When we’ve had a nice afternoon here and there, I managed to get at least one or two ornamental grasses trimmed down. With more than a dozen out in the garden, this is the most time consuming of all of the cutting-back tasks. Mature grasses always start to die back in the middle after a few years, and it can start to look like a doughnut with all the growth around the edge and bare in the center. I have a tip for working with these: If you have a saws-all you can use a long blade to cut around the inner circle and remove it. This will dull the blade, but just keep it for this duty — makes it so much easier to cut out the fibrous, tough center. The bare center then can be then easily be filled in with a chunk of fresh, new growth from the outer edge, making the plant good as new.
These grasses can grow to be more than three feet in diameter in just a few years, so an alternative would be to divide it in fourths (or more) and turn one plant into many. Gardener’s gold! I have seven of them trimmed down now, so I’m well on my way. And — once you have finished trimming down the tops, don’t forget to clean out the old leaves and debris that settle in to the center during the course of the previous year. It will make the crown of the plant much healthier, and as a bonus it will look much nicer, too.
Now that we are starting to have warmer days, I like to stir up the mulch. It can become so compacted over the winter when it freezes and thaws. By stirring it up, it is much more porous so the spring rains can more easily soak in. It also makes the mulch look fresh and nice.
This is also the perfect time to check on emerging bulbs and perennials. I like to take the time to clear out the branches and leaves that have blown in, and give the garden beds a good edge for the upcoming growing season. Another tip — use your senses to evaluate your soil. It should have a beautiful fresh earth scent, as you stir it up. If it doesn’t, remember where and return with some nice compost to stir in when the soil has warmed. Ditto that if you see an area where rain ponds up, or there is moss or heavy clay.
Right now is the perfect time of the year to trim up rose bushes. Leave five or so main branches, and cut out any that cross. Make your cut about 12-18″ up the branch just above an outward facing leaf bud.
Last year I heard a new tip and really like it: sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surrounding the rosebush about a foot in diameter. It keeps fungus at bay. It really works. I had no black spot at all on the leaves of the bushes where I did this.
On to a reminder about some of the ugly necessities in the garden. After 17 years, we are replacing the A/C system. I wish they lasted longer, but even though we have ours serviced every year, there are only so many years of life in them. Here’s a tip I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating: make sure to trim any bushes or hedging back so that the unit has at least a couple of feet of breathing room around it. You will have perfect air circulation around the unit and the technicians will have room to service it. Thank goodness for that invention, makes life so much more enjoyable!
I also made some progress clearing out a space to dedicate for storing my recycling bins and trashcan. It’s a little more visible than I’d like, so I’m still thinking about what I might do differently to improve on it.
In between some more wild weather, we had a beautiful day to take a field trip to George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. I’ll be writing the next blog on some really inventive gardening tips from there that are still valid today!
I hope you’ve been able to get out in the garden on your good days, and may we have many more to come. Enjoy!
I always feel like my house looks so bare after I take down the Christmas decorations. The outside, too, seems so bleak and beige. It gives me a case of the blaahs. Here are a few simple things I’m doing to counteract those winter doldrums at my home.
I like to have colorful flowers to give some warmth to the home. For me, that means using tropical flowers and colors. I love the way tropical flowers work with so many furniture styles, too. From modern contemporary, to coastal, to traditional, they look wonderful.
I’m a practical lady and, as you know, and I like to grow a lot of the plants I use for decorating. But tropical flowers don’t grow around here unless you have a greenhouse, so my choices are purchasing them from a floral supply shop (very expensive!), or using silk replicas. Well, you know what this budget-minded lady is going to use! There are some amazingly realistic silks available now, too.
With many tropical flowers, you get wonderful impact with one or just a few flowers, especially with the larger flowers. The key is color — the more saturated the better, in my opinion. Luckily, readily-available square and round cylinder vases are great with almost everyone’s personal style.
Here are a couple of my favorite ways to display arrangements made for console tables or floor arrangements. These are tall so they are better positioned near a wall rather than as a centerpiece, which you would want to be low enough you could see across the table for conversation.
It’s also nice to have small “minis” that you can scatter around on side tables, or on a tray with other things, or even in multiples down a mantle or dining table. I’d suggest trying orchids or succulent plants that require very little care, great for busy lifestyles or those who travel.
Here’s a fun tip to give some extra zip to your floral creation: take advantage of the base of the clear vases by using interesting things to dress them up. Some favorite fillers are shells, beach glass, stones, wine corks, small fruit, moss or lining the vase with leaves.
When I was last at my wholesaler with a friend, we discovered that there is now a 4″ wide ribbon that is made exactly for this, and looks like a variegated leaf — pretty clever! We picked some up for her daughter’s upcoming wedding.
Another tip when using silk flowers in a clear vase is to add a couple of inches of water. This might seem funny to some, but it seals the deal, makes faux flowers seem real! And one more tip when using faux: make sure to keep them dusted.
Outside, I love to have a few pots of pansies for color, and I add branches of boxwood or juniper for some background. I also do the same with bare branches from the curly willow for some interest and height.
Well, these are a few of my favorite ways to combat the blaahs. Hope you find them interesting, and please share with me what you do in your home!
Hi there! It’s been a hard few months for me, trying to not worry too much about the future, but I’m doing my best to re-focus on what I can do. I urge all to stay aware of clean gardening practices and what we can do for the environment: not using chemicals, recycling/composting, participating in clean-up efforts in our communities, and last but not least, sending your Senators and Representatives a call or an email asking them to keep as many environmental protections in place as they can. You can reach them all at (202) 224-3121. The Capitol operators can help you find your Senators or Representatives, even if you don’t know their names.
We have a lot of work ahead of us! I don’t mean to rant on, but really, who doesn’t want a clean and healthy world? I think we can all agree on that! I think that is my biggest dream. I hope we can curb our losses at the EPA. Climate change is real!
Here in my little corner of the world, I managed to get quite a lot finished up in 2016, but I still have so much to do. This year’s main focus is on improving the areas under and around the deck.
Here are my goals: I’ll make an designated area to place the trash can and recycling bins that is both out of sight, but still easy to roll out to the curb. This also will improve the area where I store my flower pots, extra hoses, etc. And, there is one area I couldn’t work on last fall because I ran out of time — I need to lift some of the bricks on the back walkway and level them. After sixteen years, the ground has sunk around the plexi pipe that carries the runoff water from the downspout — should be an easy fix! Third, I will use my brick saw to cleanup the edge of the walkway where it connects to the driveway.
All the cosmetic work will boost the curb appeal, too — always a plus. When spring arrives, the garden around the base of the deck will get some annuals to really fill out the space and give some added color. Looking at the winter garden, when most everything is bare or died back to the ground for the season, things look bleak, so I will post a picture when everything has sprung back to beautiful life and show some before and after shots in a few months.
When I manage to finish all of that, the upper trim around the house and gutter system needs a complete cleaning and painting. Lots of the basics — weeding, mulching, trimming, mowing and edging — go on pretty much year round. Here’s a winter tip to make quick work of a messy, windswept yard: We find that it is much easier to run the mower over the grassy areas every month or so even in winter to pick up the leaves that blow in and smooth out the clumps of grass than it is to rake the whole yard over and over.
Last fall I did manage to finish re-making the planters and arbors and reinstall them. Using the leftover lumber from other jobs that I had stored in the garage, I added extra posts so that the planters could be used as privacy panels (hiding the less-than-pretty necessities that are stored under the deck). Then I planted the rose bushes, which had been in pots before, and divided and replanted the liriope to fill out the garden. Also, five other areas of the garden were edited and simplified. Plants had grown so out of bounds over the years, and it was time to selectively remove and transplant many to new locations. Now there is some breathing room, with nothing crowded. I added another three cubic yards of mulch to spruce up the beds, and then the cold weather set in.
On the creative side of things, I’m looking forward to making some stepping stones to access some of the deeper garden beds more easily.
Lastly, I received a really fun garden ornament from my sister, and it adds so much personality to the garden. Thank you, Tracy! It makes me want to incorporate a few more special things to spice things up! More on that later…
What are your goals for 2017 out in the garden? I’d love to hear!
Wishing a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to one and all-
Here in the mid-Atlantic, this has been a really rough summer, and the climate change has been very pronounced. Officially, it is the second hottest summer on record. With well over 50 days of temps in the mid-90′s and higher, the plants and trees are struggling — so much so that I am rethinking the location of many different plants in my garden. The micro-climate in my yard is hotter than the officially recorded temps by usually around five degrees. I think that is mostly due to the fact that we don’t have many shade trees on the property.
It’s a good time to take inventory of how the plants are faring. I think it’s interesting to compare how the same variety of plants do on various sides of the house, getting sun at different times of the day.
I am concerned about a row of euonymous that I planted along the front walk. Each spring, they start off looking amazing and full but lose their leaves by the end of summer, leaving them looking like bare stalks — not pretty. Those will be removed, and in their place I will add more liriope, and just fill the walkway garden with it, since it has done exceptionally well in that exposure.
The other hits in the front garden are the Hyacinth bean vine that I started from seed from last year’s winner, and also this gorgeous lemon/lime coleus with purple flower stalks. Both of these have been attracting butterflies and hummingbirds!
On the other side of the house in the east garden, I have a huge amount of beautiful white iris that are struggling in the intense amount of afternoon sun, as well as lamb’s ears that are always looking bedraggled. They will both be removed as well. The garden on that side is now getting established, and the crepe myrtle trees have grown to a point that they are blocking an unappealing view, so I couldn’t be happier about that! I might not even install anything else in that garden, and leave them some extra space. Deep watering has kept them in good health, so just adding some extra mulch is all that is needed.
In the back yard, I have some renovating to do. After 20 plus years, and even a move from our old house to this one, the planters we built from pressure treated wood are on borrowed time. I am rethinking how we might rework a privacy screen for under the deck, and then add to the flowering bounty underneath. The knockout roses and beautiful peonies that I currently have in pots, as well as some of the white iris I am removing from the east garden will be planted there. I’ll increase the garden’s size to accommodate them as needed. They’re my “green children” after all!
I have a couple of beautiful photos to share of the Labor Day weekend’s sunset here, and a last photo of this summer’s front door — next time you see it, it will be decked out for autumn, and hopefully a lot cooler! Until then — Happy gardening!
The outside chores are done, and now it’s time for a nice cold iced tea. I’m going through photos from this summer’s garden and want to share some of the plants and flowers that are thriving in my garden in this heat wave. These are my picks for this season’s best here — please let me know what your favorites have been in your corner of the world!
It’s summer, all right! With temperatures approaching 100° here, there is no more comfortable place to be than in my basement at the computer, blogging without feeling guilty that I should be out working the garden. We have just passed the 4th of July, and now we move on to the “3H” time of summer: Hazy, Hot and Humid. No matter how long you live in the D.C. area, you never really get used to it. Water of all kinds is your friend — whether it’s the beach, pool, sprinkler or hose! And, please make sure to drink your eight glasses a day; it’s not fun to get dehydrated.
With the exception of a couple of weeks in early June, this has been a very rainy season for us, and that has caused not only extreme growth on established bushes and trees, but also annuals and vegetables to rot because of heat and moisture. I had to replace all of mine, but they are looking fantastic now.
After losing the first set of annuals at the front door due to too much rain, I put in coleus. Sometimes I see plants in the nursery that seem to be doing so much better than others, so that’s what I bought. I love the huge colorful leaves! I have more of it growing on the back deck and in the window box — love it there, too.
I want to put out a reminder in this heat to please keep your bird baths filled with fresh water and a dish or two of water ideally in a shady spot for the wildlife. It’s sometimes hard to find clean water this time of the year for them, and it’s much appreciated!
I find myself just trying to keep up with the weeds when it gets hot like this even though I use a weed preventer in the garden beds. I’ve been adding some extra mulch here and there where it’s become thin and stirred it with a rake in other spots for good airflow to soil. This is a good practice to get into this time of year, and it boosts the curb appeal, too!
And while I was edging the other day, I found this wonderful heart shaped rock, nature’s gift!
I’m noticing about 100 brown spots in the grassy areas. They can be caused by so many things: fungus from too much rain, or a dull mower blade, pet spots or grubs like fire flies. I’m not sure what is causing mine, but I’m leaning towards the grubs idea. I’ll report more on this soon, and have a remedy for you, too, when I do.
Until then, try to stay cool — Happy Summer!
I just had a most fun weekend with my high school friends for an all-class reunion. It has been more years that I want to count, but it seems we always pick up where we left off, and we always love getting together! Since I’m still a “local”, I love opening up the house to my out of town friends. I was bestowed with some very creative and lovely gifts and want to share some pictures, because I thought that if you are like me, then you are always looking for ideas for great gifts! These ladies came up with some fantastic and thoughtful ones that you could tailor to your own lucky recipient!
I love this windsock. I hung it out off the deck railing right away to signal that the party had begun, and not only is it colorful and cute, but after a couple of days we realized it had a hidden benefit! I have a wide deck railing that the birds like to perch on, and every day I would need to wash it off due to the bird’s leaving something unwanted behind — if you know what I mean. The motion of the windsock hanging so close to the rail kept them from perching there, or doing their “business” there. Yay! Hidden benefit!!!! Don’t worry though, there are plenty of close by spots for them to perch, and for us to enjoy them in the garden.
Here’s another creative, pretty and very useful gift that any gardening lady or gent would love! These are specially-made hand and foot scrubs — sugar for your hands, and salt for your feet. There are many recipes to make these online and you can even color them with food dye to match the personality of your lucky recipient. And really, who doesn’t like to pamper themselves after a long day’s gardening? Perfect! Of course, these containers are just right, too!
I thought this was truly fantastic: an Earthgirl statue bestowed on yours truly — I’m humbled! This was a very inventive gift for me, of course, but there are so many interesting statues out there, that I’m sure you could find the perfect one for your gardener as well! Also, I included a couple of other things I have received over the years in the photo. Watering cans are classic, fun and useful, and I’ve always loved this stained glass panel of Monet’s Waterlily garden.
And last, but not least — what a perfect way to end the day: to sit back to view your garden, but with a glass of wine in a hand-painted wineglass! There was a different glass for each of us. How special is that??
I hope these imaginative ideas will help you to choose a great gift next time you are looking for one. Thank you again to my lovely house guests, I will treasure these always! And you shouldn’t have!
Soaking as a sponge doesn’t even come close to how damp the garden has been here in the mid-Atlantic region. With more than a month of rainy days and only a few sunny ones mixed in, some extreme measures are needed here. Almost half of the flowers that I planted ended up rotting from it all. On the other hand, it caused a lot of the established plants to grow a ton of wimpy new growth because they were growing so fast. So here’s my 911 to help manage this crazy season’s issues.
First, if you have heavy rain in the forecast and have flower pots or planters go ahead and remove the drain dishes so that the rain will drain through and not become soggy. This is also a good idea in general, with so many mosquito-borne diseases this year. If the flower pots are not too heavy and you have some overhead coverage, like a porch or under a deck, carry the pots underneath before the rain so that the blooms do not get damaged or rot. I did this with my roses, and was very glad I did. Open blooms will be destroyed by the heavy rains. If this happens, deadhead the plants as soon as possible.
If your grass is thoroughly soaked, try to stay off of it until it dries. When it’s walked on with standing water, it crushes the soil, compacting it which can then lead to other problems and weeds down the road. Clover is really difficult to get rid of and seems to love compacted soil, as do dandelions, and many of the weeds that we try so hard to keep away.
It’s also not a good idea to mow when the lawn is wet. That rips the blades of grass, instead of cutting them, so you will get brown tips to your lawn- not a good look! Beware of using the mulching option on your mower when there has been this much rain, it is better to collect and compost the clippings until the soil has had some time to dry out. Mulching the lawn clippings right now can cause fungus and mold issues.
Where extremely fast growth has occurred on plants you may need to either stake the plants to give them some extra time to strengthen, or trim them up some. This is the time of year when azalea and rhododendron bushes should be trimmed anyway, now that they are done blooming. And with all this rain that we’ve had, a granular slow release fertilizer can be helpful. Keep an eye out for wilting, and trim it out, ASAP. That will hopefully halt any further disease.
One last thing: if you do see wilting and fungus that need to be trimmed out, please have a small container of rubbing alcohol that you can dip the blades of your trimmer into between cuts, so you won’t spread infection from plant to plant.
I hope that you won’t have much damage in your garden, like I did, but it can’t help to know some plant CPR just in case! Happy gardening!
Hi, everyone! I’m about ready to start building an ark. We have smashed through a century-old record for the most rainy days in a row. The previous record was 13 days, and we are now in our 16th day of rain! The street lights are staying on all day, because it’s so drab and dark. I, for one, need some springtime cheer, so I thought I’d post some bright spots from the garden on this rainy day…
Well, that does it for today, a new downpour has started up! The upshot is no watering will be needed around here for a looooong time. Rain, rain, go away! I know later on in the year I’ll want some more, but for now I’d like some sunshine, please!
Here it is — the second half of spring already! The garden here is bursting with activity, both flora and fauna. We recently spent a leisurely morning with our fox friend, our feral kitty, the crazy squirrel, duck family, chipmunks and many songbirds to name a few. It’s always an adventure around here!
With the nice weather warming the soil, the garden is growing quickly now, despite the fluke ice storm that deposited an inch of slushy ice two weekends ago. The trees are blooming all out of sync again. Strangely enough, the dogwood was the first to bloom and has held on to her flowers for almost a month.
We have finally turned the corner on frost and freeze warnings, so I’ve been planting herbs and veggies. It makes me so happy to see how many heirloom varieties are now being offered in the garden centers! I’m trying out many old fashioned varieties this year, so I will have some fun things to report back on.
I’m so glad that the trees came through the winter alright in this region. We had such a strange autumn that many of the National Cherry Blossom trees bloomed around Christmas, about 1/4 of them! The affected trees didn’t rebloom, but thankfully they are all okay.
The same happened with many of the bulb flowers. The hyacinths that I have in my garden had sprouted at Christmastime, so they became freezer burned by the cold of winter and their flowers were all deformed this time around. Thankfully the daffodils had not gotten as big and were fine. On a better note, the patch of lily of the valley is looking the best that it ever has, and I’m so glad to report that it is covered in fabulously scented flowers. This is a fantastic ground cover with tons of old fashioned appeal, and will grow nearly anywhere, so keep that in mind if you are looking for something to fill a tough spot.
The allium bulbs are getting so huge as well. They were a gift at Christmas, so this is their first year. I will post some pictures when they start to bloom. I love how interesting the flowers are, and I planted them in a wave, between masses of iris, daylily, lamb’s ear and coreopsis. It’s getting so full that it should look amazing when they are all in bloom. While they are newly emerging, this is the perfect time to round up the edges on hosta, grasses, liriope, and lily to get them in shape for the new growing season. I like to do this now, rather than in autumn because they send out shoots underground over the winter months, and can start to look a bit messy otherwise.
On other fronts, I’m continuing to work on the storm window project, and I have a tip for you on fixing discolored brick. Years ago, way before we bought this house, someone had used some crummy paint on the trim work. It left long streaks of ugliness on the brick. I had tried all kinds of things to remove it short of sandblasting, and nothing could clean it off. My solution — more paint! I picked up half a dozen exterior craft paints in different brick colors and blended them. Just dab them into the offending areas and like magic the stained areas look fresh and clean. I have done this before on the front stairs and many other places on the house. If you didn’t know a stain was there, you never would. I won’t tell, if you won’t! Works like a charm. Give it a try!
I hope you are having a wonderful springtime and getting time in the garden. Here is one last photo, a bird’s eye view picture from the upper window looking out on the neighborhood trees. I just love how many bloomed all at once again this year!
Today we have the honor of celebrating our beloved Earth. Try to do something special for her! Even one small gesture is important-
This has been a very strange spring so far, with weather not being able to make up its mind between winter, spring or summer. There have been some really turbulent wind storms as well. Even still, I’m doing my best to get the garden and house in tip-top shape. There are many projects underway and inspections taking place. I will walk you through a few of the big ones that you might find helpful in relation to your own home and garden.
While I’ve been getting the perennials and bushes trimmed up and ready for new growth, the cleaning outside has started from the top down.
It’s been five years since we had our roof cleaned, and it had developed black streaks from algae and air pollution again. Last time only the north-facing front was grungy, but this time there were streaks on all four sides. The method of cleaning has improved greatly since the last time. Now the technicians spray the roof with a special soaking nozzle using a detergent that makes quick work of cleaning the shingles. This is far better because it does not damage or wear the roof like the machine scrubber of the past.
They also did an inspection and discovered 3 spots where squirrels had chewed up the shingles trying to get inside. We quickly had that fixed. I recommend that everyone have their roof inspected each year. The damage on ours wasn’t visible from below, so we would not have even known until water damage became visible inside. That would have been much more expensive to fix!
Many roofing companies will inspect at no cost and take pictures to show you damage that they find. Many thanks to the A Team Roof Cleaners, and Marshall Roofing for the repairs.
I am also back on track replacing ten of the storm windows on the main level of the house. I’m always a “bring the outside in” kind of girl, so having proper windows is important to me. The former storm windows didn’t match up with the style of window in the house, so instead of looking out of a pretty wooden window, we had been looking at an ugly metal bar in the middle of our view. The new windows are great, and even come with a new coating that helps them stay clean — YAY!!!! I love that feature.
Anyone who is considering window replacement look at this option first. The new storms provide great R-value, and in our case were 1/10th the cost of a window replacement.
That’s a fantastic savings! We chose Larsen Gold Series Storm windows — I’m not a paid spokesperson, but I do believe in sharing my sources.
I also still need to scrub down the north steps in front of the house. I like using oxygen bleach and then rinsing it well. Makes the stones and the grout look like new. And this year, I’m determined to actually finish power washing the sidewalk. There’s always some touch up paint needed on the trim work. It all takes time, but in the end, it makes everything so much nicer.
Those of us who live in the Washington, D.C. area are very happily watching our national cherry trees blooming, and that means mine are not far behind. So as I wait on my beautiful cherry tree to start opening up, I’m checking off things on my to-do list for this spring — hope that yours is on its way, too. Happy gardening!
Goodbye ice and snow! Spring is popping! We shattered high temperature records already, and went from heat to A/C in the house on the same day. The groundhog was right — it’s an early spring. I’m ready, or at least I’m try to keep up. This last week I managed to get a lot of grasses, sedum, liriope, iris, rose bushes and some of the straggly nandina trimmed up and ready for the new growth. I’m more than half done, but this year many of them are already showing signs of new growth. Normally that doesn’t happen until much later in March or April around here. Mother Nature has been confused, most definitely.
We also had some pretty awful rot in the arbors that we built only a few years ago. Before we installed them, I primed them, put on two coats of paint, and then annually gave them another coat of paint, but they completely failed anyway, full of rot — very discouraging! So this time around, we used PVC instead of wood, and there will be no chance of rot again. It looks great! We were rushing to get this project finished because this is one of the arbors that the wisteria is trained on, and we wanted to get it finished before it started to open up for spring. Just made it!
This is really my favorite time to be outside in the garden. I love getting the plants ready for the season. Things grow so fast you can almost see it happening, and it feels so fresh after being couped up during the winter. The robins have been coming through en mass, and I have already seen nests being built, so I know I’m not the only one ready for spring! Here are some of the early blooms already making their debut in garden:
We dodged a big one this week and are getting rain instead, but lately we have been using a four-letter word a little too much — SNOW! And a three-letter word, too — ICE!
Winter storms can really do some damage, and it didn’t surprise me that winter storm “Jonas” left some nasty damage in his wake a few weeks ago. I’ve got some ways to fix some of the worst damage, and ways to prevent damage in the future, as well as some interesting snow clearing tips for my readers. Hope you don’t have to use them anytime soon, but here they are just in case.
When you have really deep snow and drifts, it’s important to give first priority to clearing away the snow from your doors, and shovel a pathway out just in case you need to get out in an emergency.
Here’s my favorite new tip that I just tried out on my front porch. It is so easy to do, and I bet it saved an hour of shoveling! Before a snow storm, just spread out a plastic tarp over your stairs and porch leaving a foot or two of extra length at your door. Weigh down the edges with bricks or large rocks to keep it from blowing away. When the storm is over, slowly lift the tarp from both sides. It is like teflon — the snow simply slides off leaving a clean and dry porch and stairs underneath. I wish I had known this trick years ago; what a time saver!
I get lots of questions about snow pack on plants, and whether or not to remove it. In most cases my best advice is to leave it alone, and let it melt away naturally. Most plants have an amazing ability of springing back to normal all by themselves, but there are some tips I want to share which help them stay strong in the face of heavy snow pack. Starting from the base of a plant, loosely spiral some string or wire up through the branches to the top of the plant. I like to use this black plastic coated wire because it disappears into the branches, and is virtually invisible. This will help the plant to hold together and not split open under the weight of the snow. If you have extremely heavy wet snow you can very carefully lift it off with a spading fork or your hands. But, if the snow is frozen to the branches, it is best to leave it alone, it can easily tear the branches off.
Be mindful not to toss heavy shovels full of snow onto your plants when you are clearing your walkways and drives. It can be so heavy that it crushes the plants under the weight of the snow. If you have any broken branches, cut them off as soon as you can safely do so. To leave the broken/torn branches attached could cause disease to set in. Try to remember which plants those were and give them a really good pruning in the early spring to prevent damage in future winters.
We learned a lot from this deep snow, and can’t say this enough: work slowly, take lots of breaks, hydrate often, keep your back straight and lift with your legs. This is such heavy work, and it gives your heart a real workout! Be careful out there! And, as the groundhog predicted, spring will arrive soon… CAN’T WAIT!!!!
There is a winter storm on the way, and it is forecasted to be of historic proportions.
I am scrambling to get the last of my Christmas decorations and greenery taken down and stored away so I can focus on snow shoveling when Mother Nature is finished giving us a frosty layer of the white stuff. Possibly 2 to 3 feet of it.
As you know, I love my Christmas things and have some really good tips for storing them so they will last for years and years. I have also come up with some space saving ways of storing them and will share a few of those tips as well. For me, I feel like so many of the ornaments remind me of long ago Christmases, friends and family members, and so keeping them preserved and safe is very important.
I have purchased plastic bins over the last few years, and I highly recommend using them. They are stackable, moisture proof and with a little bit of thought you can find the perfect size for almost every item. Here are some of my favorite storage ideas:
For the garlands, I like the 3 foot long, trunk sized bins. Most garlands are either 6 feet or 9 feet long, so if you coil them back and forth you only need to bend them once or twice. You can pile 6 or 8 of them in each bin, depending on how thick the garland is. I have three of this style bin for my garlands. They are also good for storing Christmas trees, if you have an artificial tree that comes apart in sections. For my trees, which fold up umbrella style, I just wrap them in a plastic drop cloth and store them standing up.
For my ornaments, especially the glass ones, I recommend saving the boxes that they came in. I find that they perfectly stack in the smaller sized 2 foot long bins. (I think mine are 18 gallon size.) For ornaments which have no box, I reuse egg cartons, and even plastic berry containers to store them in. I have also found that shoe boxes work great for larger things — nutcrackers and candles for example. Also, I like to put one or two of the little silica pouches that come in shoe boxes with the fabric ornaments, to keep moisture away.
For the wreaths, I usually remove the bows and decorations before storing. I coil up the ribbon and store it with other fabric items. By doing that, it flattens itself out and doesn’t need to be ironed before using it again. (I will do almost anything to not have to iron!) I like to flatten out the wreaths and stack them. It takes only a half a minute to rake your fingers through the greenery to each side to flatten them, and they take up only a fraction of the amount of storage space that way. I can store 25 wreaths in the same space as 6!
I really like to store all of this together inside the house, instead of up in my attic, where temps can be well into the 100′s in the summer months. The heat can fade and even melt some things, so be careful what you store in your attic. This closet in the basement works perfectly, so now it’s so long to Christmas decorations until next December.
The only thing I haven’t come up with a good storage solution for yet is this pinecone tree I made years ago. It’s fairly large and heavy, so I might have to make a crate on my own. For now, I wrap it in plastic bubble wrap.
Now that that’s packed away I’m going to use some lemon oil on all my tabletops. Wow, what a difference! Happy Winter everyone!
Well, it’s January 3rd and I’m already gardening! You know I can’t stay away from it for more than a few days.
We have had such a warm start to winter. Even when it has gotten cold overnight, the days are pleasant — so pleasant that here in the mid-Atlantic region, we have daffodils sprouting and cherry blossom trees flowering. Although it’s warm now, we will pay for it in February and March, according to the weather people. A classic El Niño with ice storms to come, so until then, I am getting as much done as I can and enjoying every minute in the garden!
I was a lucky gardener and received some fun gardening-oriented gifts for Christmas, too. A really nice gardening seat and tool tote, a pointsettia, a rosemary topiary and some beautiful allium bulbs. These were such thoughtful gifts! I spent this weekend planting the allium bulbs. Normally one would not do that this time of year, but because our temperatures have remained in the range you would expect an October day to be (between 50-70 degrees), I went ahead and got them planted. I just know they will be gorgeous this spring!
I also finished getting the roses ready for winter. They were still blooming until just this week! The last of the leaves dropped, so I scooped them all up. Its a good practice to always do that, as the leaves can harbor diseases which can cause black spot on the next year’s growth if left on the soil below the plant. Better safe than sorry, so I collect them. I had a little bit of it on my older roses this last summer and tried something new: a spray of half water/ half spoiled milk, and much to my surprise, it worked! I removed the affected leaves, sprayed, and within a couple of weeks new growth had sprouted showing no signs of the black spot. Remember this for next year in case you see any. I love it when there are simple home remedies that work! And have no harsh chemicals, either.
Inside the house, I re-potted my rosemary topiary and lightly watered the pointsettia. They both really don’t need much water this time of year, and both like bright light. I have the perfect east facing window that I keep the pointsettia next to, and in previous years this has proven to be just the right exposure. It even kept color long into March. I love to have the rosemary in my kitchen, and can’t resist brushing by it to release the wonderful scent. I often use it in cooking, and it is just so pretty, too! These are also natural air fresheners.
Looking forward to seeing what kind of weather tomorrow brings, but I’m hoping to get back out there in the garden. Hope to see you!
I’m finishing the last of the winterizing and want to share a few tips that will add polish to the holiday curb appeal, and make the perfect backdrop for seasonal decorations. These will make a big difference for just a weekend’s worth of effort. And as an added bonus, it’s also a great way to work off some of that turkey with all the trimmings that we love so much!
First up is finishing the leaf raking and weed removal. Reach in and pick out all the leaves that have gotten stuck in the bushes and then do a final pass in the mulched areas of the garden and your lawn. This alone will make a huge difference in the appearance, but we aren’t going to stop there! Next, give the mulch a rake to loosen it up, and add extra if needed. Winter mulch tip: As you are stirring up the mulch, make sure to leave a space of a few inches between the mulch and the wall of your home. This will discourage the unwanted “guests” (mice!) from burrowing there.
Now that you have pulled out the spent summer flowers and have areas that might be looking a bit too spare, here’s one of my favorite tricks of the trade: I trim the bushes in the yard and use those trimmings to create “instant plants.” Just take the branches and push them into the soil about 6 to 8 inches. I use about a dozen small branches to create each “plant.” On either side of the driveway where I grow vinca in the summer, there are now juniper. They look great, you’d never know they weren’t actually growing. I also do this in the pots and window boxes to create small boxwood “plants.” This trick lasts for months, usually into February, and since I trimmed the branches from my own yard, its free!
Speaking of planters and pots, this is the perfect time to give the clay pots a scrub and dry them in the sun before putting them away for the winter months. I like to use a scrub brush or a kitchen scrubbie with regular dish soap for this job. They easily get rid of the grime on the pots and make quick work of the job. Find a good place for winter storage where they won’t freeze. The clay can be very susceptible to cracking apart when it freezes. The same scrub is perfect for all the yard tools as well. A tip for the shovels and rakes: Once they have been cleaned, a light coating of cooking oil or spray will help guard against rust over the winter.
The final crowning jewel to get your home ready is clean windows. Now that your yard looks so nice you will want to have fresh, sparkling windows to view all your hard work!
Time for a nice hot cider…
What a beautiful day it was Friday! It is hard to believe that the weather is going to turn FREEZING in the next few days. Just a quick reminder to turn off your outside water spigots this weekend before the extended winter cold sets in. My Dad used to always call me and remind me to do this, so in his memory I want to send out this reminder.
Turn the valve off from inside your home, remove the hose, then drain the remainder of the water out of the outside spigot. Remove and drain your watering wand or nozzle from the hose. Drain and coil your hose. This way if you want to use your hose in the winter it won’t be full of ice!
What a busy summer it was! We had such a great start — with a perfect amount of rain and moderate temperature days — and then a completely different ending to the season. I’d like to say something nice about what happened the last half of summer, but can’t think of anything! Such a bad drought, terribly hot, very deep mud cracks filled the gardens, and almost all my perennials had to be cut down just to survive. I’ve never had to do that before — ever! Even still, there were high notes for the summer to report on, and some really fabulous new plants that I tried. On a better note, thankfully, this fall has had some beneficial rains, and things are green once again.
Remember in the spring I talked about adding lawn clippings into the garden to renovate it and lighten up the soil? In the veggie area where I did this, I planted a few basil plants and a jalapeno pepper. I had promised that if the soil was improved with amendments like these, that it would pay off in a big way, and did it ever! I harvested 125 jalapenos from just one plant! Believe it or not, I am still getting new growth, with no sign of slowing down. The cooler fall temperature will eventually end its growing streak, but what a testament to simple soil amendments and how they can make such a difference in your garden.
I gauge my garden “hits” on how many people who are passing by ask the name of a plant or comment about them, and this year’s biggest winner was the hyacinth vine I planted in the front yard. (It was purchased early in the spring at the River Farm Horticultural Center’s annual plant sale, and if you are ever in the Washington D.C. area when it’s going on, I highly recommend going to it.) This vine was gorgeous throughout the summer and was covered in beautiful purple flowers, which then became purple pods. It thrived in the heat and the drought and grew like crazy. By crazy, I mean growing 2-3 feet a week! It reminded me of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk the way it grew so fast. I saved many of the pods, which are filled with seeds, and plan on giving them away to friends and starting a few vines for myself next year. It had an old fashioned appeal, and I think it would be a show stopper in almost any garden!
I also received a lot of comments on the caladium plants on the front porch. I had never grown them before at the house. I was very pleased with how well they grew and what a beautiful focal point they became. They held their color and did well in the heat all summer and early fall. I have saved the bulbs and will see if I can re-grow them again next summer. I’m hoping to have plenty of these to share too.
The other plants that did fantastically well this Summer were the coleus, vinca, ivy, herbs, roses and my “pet” fav — the curly willows!
As we approach the midpoint of fall, this area is having an Indian summer. There was a frost a couple of weeks ago, and now the temperature is back up to almost 80 degrees. I am really looking forward to the beautiful autumn leaves and reporting back on some new varieties of fall flowers that I’m growing. Until then — hope you are enjoying the season!
It has been so hot here in the D.C. area that we decided to escape the heat and go up to Maine to explore the Scarborough area, where eleven generations ago my husband’s ancestors first settled in the early 1600′s. The heat followed us, but it was a fabulous trip anyway.
We stayed on Black Point in the Prout’s Neck area, which was the home to the famous American painter Winslow Homer, and the inspiration for so many of his gorgeous nautical works.
There is a cliff walk all the way around the point to take in the amazing views. The rocky coastline is just gorgeous.
There are lots of small islands and lighthouses — all picturesque, but what struck me most were the beautiful gardens. I never would never have guessed that the summer gardens would be so nice in Maine, having such harsh winters.
Many of the same things grow here as in my region of the mid-Atlantic, but the star of the show has to be the rugosa roses that are everywhere. They were all at the stage where the spent roses turn to rosehips, and it was gorgeous. Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that rosehip tea has more vitamin C than orange juice?
I set about looking for heart shaped rocks and found several in no time. There are some really nice beach areas with benches made of driftwood, where people have placed stacks of stones in remembrance of others.
I will miss the slow pace up there, and sitting in the Adirondack chairs in front of the Black Point Inn watching the tide roll out in the setting sun after a long hike. I hope I get back to see it again!
Here are a few more photos of some of the highlights…
With the temperatures in the triple digits these days, I am seeing lots of weeds coming out of the cracks in the pavement, especially along the gap where the curbing meets the asphalt.
I have a super easy, inexpensive and totally earth friendly way of getting rid of them — VINEGAR! In the heat of the day (the hotter and sunnier the better), just spray it on the weeds. The weeds will be dead the next day. (I buy a huge jug from the warehouse store — about $2.99 — which lasts the whole summer.) I prefer to scrape them out with the edge of a shovel, never to see them again. If you choose not to remove them, they will eventually disintegrate on their own.
The alternative is expensive weed killer, which is very toxic to wildlife and the waterways, so I urge everyone to give vinegar a try. It works great for me, and I hope it will for you, too.
Now if I could just find a great way to keep the wire grass from growing into my garden without having to dig it out — that would be fantastic!
It’s a beautiful summer day here in the Washington Metro area. The humidity is low, and the temperature is mild — time for a stroll through the garden! Enjoy the tour….
We are having the most beautiful light rain and mild temperature this week. It makes me feel like I’m in the British Isles. It seems the plants are just as happy about it as I am. They are literally growing like a jungle, and I almost can’t keep up. I love this time of the year, with so many plants at their most beautiful with fresh growth. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “The garden is like a ballet, with each flower having their moment to shine.”
This year I am so happy to report that the work I did on the garden which surrounds, or should I say “disguises” the meters and A/C units, is really filling in. It’s always my intent to make these ugly necessities as invisible as I can without blocking access to them for repairs and maintenance. The nandinas are soft and easy to pass by. I try to always leave a couple of feet clearance for good air flow, too!
This year, I am trying something new on the shady, north side of the house. In my planters I am using caladium, vinca vine and new guinea impatiens, staying true to the old adage: “thriller, spiller and filler” — and so far, I love it. Everything is growing well, and the caladium seems to be receiving enough shade. I have tried to replicate the same feeling of these shade plants with flowers and foliage that do well in the sun for the planters on the deck, which faces due south. I used coleus, and flowering vinca, and will add in some potato vine when that comes in at the nursery. They are all doing amazingly well. The chipmunks have been leaving them alone so far, too!
I feel so inspired with this lovely, gentle rain and mist — I guess it’s time to get back out there! Enjoy your day!
First of all, I would like to say that I hope all the Moms out there had a very Happy Mother’s Day! Did you know that there are more flowers sent for Mother’s Day than Valentine’s Day — interesting statistic!
The old adage “April showers bring May flowers” is very true this year. Suddenly, the gardens have sprung to life around here. We went from a freeze warning to 90-degree days in less than a week, and that brought on an amazing array of beautiful flowers overnight! The grass is growing about six to seven inches in a week. I hope that you are enjoying the warmer weather, and I have some tips for how to manage some of the spring tasks ahead.
This season came on so fast that almost all of my spring blooming plants are flowering all at once, creating fun combinations that almost never happen. Right now, the periwinkle, rhododendron and azalea are blooming together, and before that the Pear, Cherry and Dogwood trees all bloomed at the same time. Normally these are all spaced about two weeks apart, so it has created a magical display. The pollen is out in force, too, but we won’t talk about that… A-choo!
Since the overnight temps were still dipping too low to mulch the grass clippings (the overnight lows need to be above 55 degrees), I want to share a tip that your flowers are going to love. Just take the grass clippings and spread them on your flower beds about 3 to 4 inches thick, then turn them into the soil with a spading fork. This will lighten the soil and nourish the bed.
Let the garden rest for a couple of weeks until the clippings turn brown and it’s warm enough to plant your summer annuals. If you do this, I promise you will be rewarded with flowers that grow twice as big. I like to top dress the beds with a little mulch after the flowers are planted to help keep the moisture in the soil, too. In garden beds that have been established/planted you might stir in some leaf compost around the base of the plants instead.
We had a pretty harsh winter for this region and I lost a few plants, but I’m having fun filling in the spots with some transplants from other areas. Seems there is always change in the air around here, but that is what keeps it interesting.
Hope you enjoy!
There are all the other garden tours, but in the Washington, D.C. area, the “Golden Ticket” of Springtime events is the White House Garden Tour. I was so lucky to get an invitation from a friend (thank you, Karen!) who got some of these hard-to-get, wonderful tickets, and want to share some highlights here on the blog.
We had perfect weather — sunny and blue sky — and the gardens were beautiful. We were restricted to the pathways for security concerns, but even still, the views were breathtaking.
We had a great view of the Oval Office/press podium area which is bordered with the most beautiful tulip garden. No sighting of the President, but the White House Correspondents Dinner, otherwise known as the “Nerd Prom”, was held just the night before our tour.
Of course, some of the newer highlights are the First Lady’s vegetable garden, and the first daughters’ swingset area. These were especially fun to see. I hadn’t been on this tour since way back in the 1980′s; this was all new to me!
And the views of the monuments in the distance are so magnificent from the White House gardens….
There’s a beautiful light spring rain keeping me inside today, so I will take a moment to catch up with the blog. Whenever I have a few hours of nice weather, I have been outside working my way around the garden, cutting back old growth in anticipation of beautiful new spring growth. Well — just like that — everything is turning green! And despite my efforts to get everything done and picture-worthy, it’s spring! I still have five large grasses to trim and 50 more bags of mulch to spread out, but I’m enjoying every minute of it! I promise to have everything in place by my next set of photos, but until then, here’s where I am now. Hope you will get outside and enjoy this season too, and feel the warm sun after this long winter.
I’m back — sorry to have been gone for so long. This has been a challenging winter. I am never sick, but this year the flu struck, and took me out of commission for way too long. Then we were hit with ice and snow, wild wind, and some of the coldest temperatures this area has ever recorded! It makes me really appreciative of central heat. You won’t hear me say this too often, but it was too frigid to be out in the garden for any length of time. So I did what any snowbound, earth loving person would do: perch in the window, camera in hand, to photograph the wildlife and snow scenes outside. I know I’m going to love looking at them in July when it’s 100 degrees!
We have broken many of the record low overnight temperatures this last month. Many days have been colder here than in Alaska, and windchill has made it almost unbearable to be out. I have been filling the birdfeeder daily, and trying to keep clean water outside for all my wildlife friends. We have a fox that lives in the yard, and possibly a small kit of hers as well. She is very timid, so we were so pleased to finally get a good picture one morning.
The robins have been swarming the feeder, and I have set up a suet basket as well. I am hoping to lure some bluebirds here with it, but so far it has been visited by a starling and several cardinals.
For about two weeks the entire Potomac River has been frozen as far as can be seen. No winter boating around here, even the Coast Guard ice cutters have not come through, so barges with supplies have not been able to venture up towards D.C. — I wouldn’t recommend ice skating though!
We have had so many different types of snow this year — everything form the lightest powdery stuff that looks like sparkling sugar falling from the clouds, to wet snows which stick to all the tree branches. I have to admit that I do love to watch it fall, and swirl around in the wind, but after this winter I am going to really be grateful for the warmth of spring!
One last thing: if you are like me and want a touch of life in your home to usher in spring, this is the perfect time to cut some flowering tree branches to bring inside. Place them in water in a cool room, and in no time you will see buds appear. When you start to see color bring them into a warm room and watch them bloom!
From the frosty mid-Atlantic, wishing you a beautiful winter, and a much warmer spring!
The last glorious leaves of the season are at peak. Wishing a wonderful Thanksgiving to all-
What a beautiful day it is to take some time to be outside, even if only for a quick trip around the house. I love the colors of the fall! Here’s what’s going on in my garden:
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the greatest impact. This time of the year I like to give some extra attention to some of the detail in the yard and on the house before the holiday season starts. These last few days before the cold weather sets in can be busy, so I want to share a few things you can do for some maximum impact and added curb appeal.
First and foremost: Give your entire yard a good edging. This makes everything look great, and you don’t need to buy anything fancy. I use a scallop edger about every five years – really! Then, I edge by hand a couple of times each summer. No weed-whackers needed! Personally, I like the look of my natural edges better, and weed-whackers can cause so much damage to tree trunks and bushes if not carefully handled.
I like to spruce up the walkways by giving a good sweeping after I edge and pulling the weeds that have grown between sections. Don’t forget to clean up curbs and gutters as well, so all that “stuff” doesn’t wash into the storm drains. If I had time I’d pull out the power washer, but I know that’s going to have to wait.
Next, it’s the time of the year to trim down the spring/summer blooming perennials, and tidy the garden beds for winter. I do just the trimming now and clean out the leaves when the last have fallen. Follow that with a sprinkle of pre-emergent weed control, and you will have very few weeds come spring.
It’s also a good time to bring in house plants before we have a frost. And speaking of frost — don’t forget to turn off the water to your outside spigots, drain the hoses, and buried irrigation lines. So much to get done!!
Now, sit back and watch the beauty of Autumn unfold!
It’s that time of the year when all of the nurseries are full of gorgeous
Chrysanthemums, and I’ve just gotten back from the store with one of the best ideas that I have seen in a long time!
First, the problem: I am always trying to stake up certain flowers (Mums, Daisies, Sedums, etc.) that seem prone to split open in wind and rain, only to end up with string showing, and the flowers breaking anyway.
The solution: covering plants with green plastic mesh as they are growing. The flower buds grow through the mesh and hide it, but the mesh keeps them nicely spaced and completely safe from splitting open. Such a simple idea! This gardener is going to use it a lot from now on!
I’m surprised that I’d never seen this done before. Also nice because you can use the mesh over and over, not to mention it’s really inexpensive. Win, win!
After 33 years of hard use, the garage doors and openers needed replacing, and I am so happy at the great new choices available now. Our garage has to serve many functions, as do most garages these days, so we opted for a new door that is maintenance free, double walled steel with insulation sandwiched between. This will keep the garage much warmer in the winter, which is great since one of those functions is doubling as a greenhouse to keep some of the potted plants safe in the winter months.
Someday I would love to have a greenhouse, but until then the plants will have to share space with Snowflake and Silver (our cars – LOL!), and my old bike, lawnmower, and you know – all the other stuff that ends up in garages! I am very happy with the installation company and would be very glad to send information to anyone interested in replacing their garage doors.
I have been asked again what I used to topcoat the driveway, so I’m adding a picture of the container. This is a reminder that now is a perfect time of year to do this chore. Also, as a gauge, it takes about two containers for my driveway, which is approximately 25′ x40′. I have tried so many different types of coating, but I recommend the thinnest variety. I find it sinks into the hairline cracks and divots best to seal them.
With the summer coming to an end, I am giving my award for this year’s “Plant of the Summer”: to the coleus I grew in planters. It has looked amazing even in the heat, and the colors are so vivid. I am always interested in trying new colors and combinations, and I love the look with this sweet potato vine.
Speaking of vines, my pumpkins were mostly eaten by the chipmunks, but I did manage to harvest two last week.
What has been your favorite plant this summer?
I love all things vintage. I was getting my daily fix online of wonderful vintage calendars and seed packages and want to share this beautiful one with edible flowers. I love to grow nasturtiums, pansy, even chive blossoms to add to salads for some flair as well as flavor.
This summer I have once again planted some veggies. I try each year, but usually they are enjoyed by my family of chipmunks before we can get to them. But, it’s still fun to watch the produce grow.
This season I have a pumpkin patch that Linus would be proud to sit in and wait for the great pumpkin to rise. It has taken over about 20 feet of garden space, with giant leaves and golden flowers that look quite magical, if I do say so myself. So far, I have only one pumpkin that has survived, but I have high hopes for many more! I have sprinkled red pepper into the soil surrounding it to act as a deterrent to my little garden buddies, and fingers crossed it will continue to work.
I also have jalapeno peppers which are looking beautiful and in the past have done exceptionally well. No need to add anything to the soil around them. I’m guessing the chipmunks aren’t fans of Mexican food — LOL!
I was saddened this spring to see my prized fig tree was not sprouting new leaves and that many of the branches had withered and died. I cut it back severely, and gave it a boost of slow release food anyway. In mid-June, just as I was on my way to dig it up, I was surprised to see that there was life! Miraculously, it has come back looking healthier than ever. It changed my opinion on when to toss plants with winter damage. I encourage gardeners to wait a year before tossing. Hopefully, you will be pleasantly surprised like I was.
Here are some photos of what’s looking good here in my little corner. What’s growing best for you this summer? I’d love to hear!
With summer here, it was time to hit the road and see some of the beautiful sights this country has to offer. We hadn’t been to New England for a while, so we packed our cameras and took off. In eight days we covered a lot of territory: we took the train to Boston, rented a car and drove the coastline through Plymouth, Cape Cod, Newport, Mystic and more. The weather was fantastic, and we walked all over the place. There is so much of our country’s history stemming from New England, and we had fun seeing the sights.
I was impressed by what beautiful flowers were spilling from containers all over the city in Boston. I love the hanging boxes that so many of the North End restaurants and shops had above their entrances. The flowers were all so healthy, and you could tell a lot of effort had been put into taking care of the wonderful pocket parks all over the city.
I have a special love of beautiful entrances and enjoyed seeing how many fabulous carved doors had been lovingly restored in the historic district of Beacon Hill. It seemed each one was different, adorned with gorgeous topiary or some other equally special planter of flowers. Here are some of the highlights from a massive amount of photos — ENJOY!
Next week is the summer solstice, which means we now have the longest days of the year. That means more gardening time! The flowers in my garden are looking fabulous this year due to the incredible amount of rain we’ve had so far. We’ve been very lucky — I haven’t even had to water anything yet, except for the transplants and annuals. We are expecting a heatwave though, so that’s about to change.
I want to bring you up to date on some things I’ve been up to lately. First, I’d like to say thank you to Karen, a friend who included me in her office plant swap. It was so good, we had another, just to share some more! I love to see what plants people bring to these events, because it shows what is growing best in our region. I was lucky to swap for some elephant ear, black-eyed Susan and a Jalapeno seedling. Karen also brought some prized delights from her garden — orchid, snow on the mountain, begonias and more! Thankfully all are doing well.
I brought lots of white iris and ornamental grass, and have a long list of items I will divide in the fall to share. Plant swaps are truly great ways to try new plants and to give away your extras — and they are always fun. Good tip: It helps to print out a picture of the plants you are giving away if they aren’t in bloom. (I have found that I have forgotten what color something is when I’m back home, so I think others probably have, too.) It also helps to wrap small plants in damp newspaper if they are prone to drying out quickly. I always water everything as soon as I’m home, and try to get everything planted quickly thereafter.
This is also the time of the year that I like to tackle the maintenance of the hardscape around the property. The driveway was in need of a new coat of sealer, the front door needed varnishing, and the front porch needed some repair and new mortar. Those were big jobs, and I’m a little worse for the wear, but what a difference it makes to have them freshened up! I will leave you with some photos of the after-shots, and don’t forget to set your sundials to the correct time on the 21st at Noon!
The daffodils are all kaput, but now we have the second phase of gorgeous Spring blooms upon us. The azaleas, rhododendrons and roses are blooming in abundance. How picturesque! I just love to see how things change every day in the garden. Even the greenery is beautiful now with its flush of bright new growth. I don’t even mind the occasional sneeze from pollen when things are this beautiful outside.
I’m often asked when is the best time to trim these flowering beauties. It’s right after they have finished their blooms. This is also the best time to fertilize. Roses are heavy hitters, and will need a boost of food throughout the growing season for their repeat blooms. Azaleas and rhododendron are best fed just once, right after blooming. I prefer a slow release fertilizer, but there are so many varieties out there that you can find one to fit the needs of every gardener. Hydrangea is best cut now, just above the third set of leaf buds. This is also the time you can alter the soil to get either blue or pink flowers. To get blue flowers add coffee grounds for more acidic soil, and to get pink flowers add some slow release lime to the soil to make it more alkaline.
This year we have so many nests that I’m having a hard time keeping up with which nest belongs to which bird. This cardinal nest is right outside my living room window and has been so much fun to watch. It has three eggs, and I think they will be hatching this weekend. I’m hoping to get some photos of the new baby birds to share. The mahonia bush is filling out now with new growth, and it’s getting a little more difficult to spy! We have many robin nests and a few catbird and dove nests as well.
The perimeter garden is really filling out this year with its fresh new growth. Loosely based on a Japanese style, it has been a work in progress for about a decade. I have been adding to it, and going for variety in color and texture to add interest throughout the seasons. There are three kinds of junipers, silver king and emerald euonymus, choke cherry, cardinal holly, variegated and solid green ornamental grass, lariope, curly willow and several different perennials planted in groupings.
This is the lowest spot in the yard and the garden serves to stop rainwater from leaving the yard, and with that, any fertilizers I use in the grass. So, form and function both prevail here — and why not, with so many possible choices for us to select from these days? My best tip on selection is to see what grows best in neighboring yards, and always choose native plants when you can.
This is also the time to check all your plants for remnants of winter’s damage, and prune out what is cracked, torn or dead. With any luck the holes will fill in with new growth quickly. In a few weeks some additional pruning will probably be necessary to even up, or thin out the new growth, but it’s better to get rid of the bad so that disease doesn’t have a chance to set in. Another thing to start thinking about is how many of your plants may need staking up so that you can get supplies in before they sell out. I usually stake some of the perennials here – sedums, daisies, and ornamental grasses, too. It helps to prevent breakage in heavy rainstorms.
Now, back out to enjoy this beautiful spring weather – hope everyone is doing the same!
This time each year as I browse the local nurseries I am drawn to the pink flowers. The color is just so soothing in the garden. When it comes to my house, which is kind of a muddy red brick with white trim, the pinks seem to show up nicely against it. So, I guess I’m choosing pink for my color scheme this Spring — again! What color are you using?
Here is my Spring tour of some of the highlights so far:
Happy Earth Day to all! I love this time of the year here in my garden with everything springing back green and healthy. With that comes a few challenges in the “beat the clock” arena as well: fungus, mildew, slugs and hungry deer to name a few. I have some great Earth friendly and inexpensive ways to thwart these challenges before they even start — can’t beat that! Here are a few of my favorites.
Chamomile tea is a cure-all for fungal diseases. It has antibacterial and fungicidal properties. Mix a really strong brew of 16 chamomile tea bags in 1/2 gallon of water, simmer for 20 minutes, and allow the tea bags to steep for several hours. Use as a spray.
Another easy home remedy for fungus: 2 dissolved aspirin (325 milligrams each) in 1 quart of water, used as a spray. I haven’t tried this one, but I am going to — simplest remedy of the bunch!
A spray for black spot and powdery mildew on roses is 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of dish soap per 1/2 gallon of water. Shake the bottle before spraying to keep the baking soda mixed in. Use this throughout the season for beautiful, healthy rose foliage.
The next four tips I’ve talked about before, but they really work great:
• Vinegar or hydrogen peroxide sprayed on weeds kills them in hours.
• Borax for ant control.
• Epsom salt to soften up stumps for removal.
• Red pepper sprinkled around flower beds to keep squirrels at bay.
If you can stand the smell this next one works well. 12 rotten eggs and 4 beef bullion cubes in a gallon of water (left to spoil for a week), then sprayed on plants to keep deer (and probably everything else) away.
Used coffee grounds spread around the base of hostas, or other leafy plants, like lettuce and cabbage will deter slugs. Also, the grounds are high in nitrogen, so they will provide a nice slow release of nutrient. This is one of my favorite tips. I spread the coffee grounds around a different plant in the yard every morning, works great!
There are so many of these easy home remedies for plants that are very Earth friendly. Why not try a few rather than spread harmful store-bought chemicals into the environment? Your wallet will thank you, too.
Enjoy these beautiful days!
It seems that spring really is trying to arrive. When the weather has cooperated, I have gotten out in the garden a few times for an hour or so. The tiniest leaf and flower buds on trees are starting to appear, and small daffodil foliage is sprouting up from the frozen ground. Just two days ago, the last of the snow melted away in my yard — I can’t tell you how happy that makes me!
Now, I am in process cutting down last year’s growth on the ornamental grasses, sedum and liriope, as they are ready to re-sprout new growth. I have been spreading leaf compost as I move from one garden area to another.
I like to give the compost a month to work it’s way into the soil on its own. If it does not, a little spading will incorporate it into the soil, and then I will give the entire yard another layer of shredded mulch. With this exceptionally harsh winter that we’ve just had, I’m expecting a hot and dry summer to follow. This has been the pattern lately — you heard it here first!
Another thing to check on now is the lawn. You may want to send a core sample to be analyzed. This is the time of the year for adding lime, if needed, and also a weed pre-emergent specifically for crabgrass and dandelions. If you apply these right now you will (hopefully) not have any of those nasty weeds!
I’m also looking forward to adding some spring flowers in pots on the deck and front porch to banish the last of the drab from winter. Bring on the green! Soon the bulbs will be blooming, and maybe this year my wisteria will finally flower! What beauties will you plant this season?
We have really had our share of the white stuff this year. There is nothing more exciting and beautiful than snow, especially when it starts falling on Christmas Eve. Everything looks as though it is dusted with sugar, and the world seems like a snow globe. Then it keeps falling, and falling, and soon enough you are smack dab in the middle of Siberia, or so it seems.
Here’s some tips on dealing with those mountains of snow. We all hope we are nearing the end of it this season, but with another polar vortex on the way for next week, you never know!
My first tip is all about being ready – buy that snow shovel early in the season before the stores are sold out. Some of us are lucky enough to have a snow blower – if you are one of those, make sure it’s serviced, and have a supply of gasoline on hand. I’m old-school, so I’m out there with a shovel!
My next tip is to prioritize your snow removal. We come and go through our garage, so I like to start with the driveway, then move on to the walkways. If you are really, really lucky (yeah, right!) the snow will be powder and you can simply broom it away. That doesn’t usually happen, so the shovel is next. If you can, use the shovel like a plow and push the snow from the center of the driveway to the edge. This will save lots of wear and tear on your arms, back, and legs. If it’s heavy snow you will have to pick up the snow shovel by shovel and throw it out beyond the edge of your drive. The more snow you can get over the edge the better, because as it melts you don’t want it running down your drive and refreezing!
The kind of shovel can also make a huge difference in how easy or hard it is to use. My favorite kind is plastic with a glossy surface. The snow will slide right off like Teflon! If yours is metal, or non shiny plastic, spray it with cooking spray and it will help a great deal. It’s amazing how the simplest things can make such a difference!
Also, be sure to clear the openings to the storm drains and access to fire hydrants. And if there has been an exceptionally deep snow, you will want to make sure that your deck is not unsafe from the extra weight of the snow.
Take it slow, stand up and stretch every once in a while, and when you’re done shoveling, don’t forget the aspirin. Best of all — Spring is right around the corner!
I am dreaming of Spring in the garden while I’m writing this blog. We are in the midst of a snowstorm, which is at the leading edge of another blast of extreme cold called the “Polar Vortex”. Not my favorite time for being outside! There are many “official” weather collecting stations in the D.C. metro area, but they all seem to vary widely compared to what I witness right here. We can be in the clear, and just nine miles north at National Airport (where the Weather Service collects the official Washington, D.C. data), it can be pouring. So, last year I decided to keep track of the snow/rainfall in my own garden to compare.
The National Weather Service reported 44.24″ of annual rain/snow at National Airport for 2013, and 45.34″ at Dulles — surprisingly similar totals. However, I recorded 76.75″ in my own garden — wow, what a difference! Maybe it’s because so many storms hit us from the south. Or maybe it’s because the Potomac is wider where we live. Or maybe it’s just luck. Clearly, we have very distinct micro-climates throughout our region.
Here were my monthly rain totals for 2013. Our only low rainfall months were August and September, which caused a mini-drought.
It’s easy to keep track of the rain in your own yard. I use a rain gauge with the measuring guide on it, but really, any glass with straight sides will do. Kind of fun and interesting in a geeky sort of way!
If we had 1″ of rain each week, that would be perfect. While we usually don’t receive that much rain, it was nice not to have to water so often in 2013. I will keep track again this year to see what differences a year can make. Let’s see if Mother Nature will help us keep green in 2014!
I love the great pictures that can be taken in the Fall. The harsh angle of the sun can cast some very interesting shadows and highlight colors and textures. I was outside right after a storm pushed through and captured this shot.
The weather has definitely turned crisp around here. The days are shorter, which has made for some pretty color shifts. I love the red of this dogwood tree against the ornamental grasses. The Autumnal shades have been scarce this season around here, and most of the trees in my yard are still green, so this is welcome.
This tree is right across the hedgerow and is always one of the first to change color. It’s striking shade of gold makes it one of my most favorites. It doesn’t last long, so I always photograph it as soon as it turns.
Starting to get dark outside, so just one more parting shot before sunset:
I don’t know about you, but I love to craft, and especially with recycled items. I have been on a recent trip to Philadelphia and while there went to an amazing place called the Magic Garden. It’s filled with mosaics covering pretty much everything. There are about 150 properties in and around the city with mosaics from this prolific artist and it really got my creative juices flowing. I definitely have a mosaic or two in my future — maybe a birdbath or a garden table. What a fun way to show your own personality in a garden!
I like the idea of having useful items that double as Art. The internet is an amazing place for inspiration. I have become a huge fan of Pinterest for craft ideas. I think this chair from Pinterest is so terrific. Anything that I can make with rescued, or broken-beyond-repair things is high on my list! I love the ability to switch things around, so small projects, like a birdbath or a pretty flower pot with shells glued on, are fun to create and fill in gaps when the flowers are not in season.
There are such cute things for every level and age of artist/gardener. I saw these cute little rocks painted up like M&M’s, (again on Pinterest,) and thought what a great project for kids! It’s always nice to have some ideas that really can’t be done wrong to make even the most timid feel like an artist!
Another useful art project that I very much want to make are a few of these topiary forms, made with harvested vines and a few branches. The more natural the better in my garden! I love creating ivy topiaries, but you can grow any number of things on them — small gourds, cucumbers, clematis — sky’s the limit!
For those who like to attract garden fairies into your life, how about a charming little dwelling on the side of a garden path? I think I’d take it one step further and disguise a light inside to mark the edge of the pathway at night.
It seems there are so many great ways to recycle cans these days. I love this tin man! And if he can help with the watering, then I’d really like to have him in my garden!
So much inspiration, and I’d love to credit to the creative people who made these items, but it’s impossible to trace the originator on photos that don’t have a watermark. These (except the top picture, which I took) are all from Pinterest. Well — I think I have enough winter projects to keep me busy for a long time. I love to recycle! What projects do you have in store?
I am getting the gardens ready for Fall, and it has been a beautiful weekend for doing the last bit of weeding and edging. Although the chores are not much fun, I rewarded myself by getting some gorgeous additions for the front entrance: ornamental kale, mums, violas, eucalyptus and some variegated ivy that I will use to add some punch.
This year there are some very interesting colors in the selections at the nurseries. I was inspired by a really beautiful kale, and I am pulling various shades of purples, deep pinks and a teal green from it and adding some bright accents with the ivy and the violas.
As the season progresses, I will add pumpkins and gourds for Halloween, and for Thanksgiving I’ll add some Indian corn. Here again, the choices are amazing — the gourds I’ve seen have so many beautiful greens and ivories, not just the traditional oranges and yellows of yesteryear.
It seems that we are having a very late Autumn in the mid-Atlantic region. Barely anything has changed color, and most of the summer annuals are still blooming well. Because of this, I am going to break one of my cardinal rules. I am normally not one for mixing seasons, and I like to give each season its special time to shine, but it makes it hard for me to remove the summer flowers when they are all still looking so pretty. (I know, I get too attached to my babies… I mean my flowers, LOL!) In order to make the summer flowers work in the design, I bring in texture and color that will coordinate with the vinca and the mandevilla vine which are still thriving. They are both deep pink, so I especially like the combination with the kale! This is normally where I would have installed pansies, so when the frost arrives (and the vincas pass on to flower heaven), I will replace them with some pansies or violas. I love to have some flowers on each side of the driveway to welcome us home year ’round since that is the entrance most used.
I have been so taken with gorgeous candle lanterns from magazines and in pictures that I have seen lately. I love to make the garden come alive with light especially on Halloween and when guests are expected, so I will be adding all my lanterns here and there along the walkways. In addition, there is some beautiful uplighting in the trees and against the house, which have been in place now for many years. I just love the look, and it really shows off the trees at night in a very interesting way! If safety is a concern, battery-powered candles can be substituted in lanterns for real ones. Another easy way of adding lighting is with solar lights, no wiring involved. It seems technology is really improving at a rapid clip in this field, and there are some really pretty styles now, unlike the clunkers of a decade ago.
Fall is a season full of beauty, and it’s so nice to have some cool fresh air again. I hope you can find some time to get out and enjoy what Mother Nature is giving us. Please let me know what is inspiring you this season. Happy gardening!
It’s almost that time of the year again — the mornings are refreshing, and the afternoons mild. I’ve been working on all sorts of house projects, but just wanted to stop and take in some of the beautiful things happening in the garden.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Time to go purchase some pansies and mums. I’ll be back soon with some more Autumn glories- until then enjoy your day!
I have family and friends in real estate and am a bit of a real estate junkie myself, so I love keeping up with what’s important to maximize the value of one’s house. I have just read a fantastic newsletter sent by a very top-notch realtor friend, Kim. Her newsletter had an article regarding how much appearance and quality landscaping can improve the overall value of your home – about 15%! In very simple math, that’s $150,000 for a $1 million home. That’s a lot of $$$$$! If that doesn’t make you want to run for a shovel, I don’t know what would!
It would not surprise anyone to know that neat and tidy are prerequisites before putting a house on the market, but why wait? Why not enjoy the beauty all along? Most of what Kim discussed is quite simple — even those people who consider themselves “plant killers” with “black thumbs” can do these things which translate into BIG dividends down the road. With no further ado, here they are:
1. Wash down your front walk, front porch, mailbox and polish address numbers.
2. Put out a new front door mat.
3. Put a fresh coat of paint or stain on your front door.
4. Replace all dead bushes, and trim others which are in need.
5. Edge and mulch existing gardens.
6. Mow grass.
7. Place a seasonal pot of flowers next to the door for a splash of color.
I would also add this: When choosing your plants, think about your design. Most people who would be potential buyers are likely to first drive by to check out the neighborhood. If a “drive by” takes no more than 15 to 20 seconds, an uncomplicated design that draws your eye to the front door is best. It has been proven that great landscaping will not only sell a house for more money, but also up to six weeks faster!
Here’s another interesting tip from the newsletter for making your property look more spacious: Put a flower bed in each of the corners of your lot. It makes the center of your property appear larger.
These are the basics for making the most of your curb appeal. None of them are hard to do, and just think of how much you have just increased the value of your property! Now you can just sit back and enjoy!
A big thank you to Kim Peele of Century 21 Alexandria office for the inspirational newsletter, and to Tracy Whitley of Long & Foster Glen Allen Office for the photo.
I’ve been asked what it’s like to garden in the Washington, D.C. metro area, and in a word I’ll say — interesting! We are in the middle of the Atlantic seaboard, so we experience the weather extremes of both North and South and everything in between. The weather seems constantly changing, so much so that we locals joke: “If you don’t like the weather, just turn around!” It is rarely the same two days in a row.
I live and garden in the Mt. Vernon section of Alexandria, in Fairfax County, Virginia (what a mouthful!), on property once owned and farmed by George Washington. My home is by the banks of the Potomac River, just 1 1/2 miles from the estate’s main house. This is now the eighth house I have lived in since moving to Alexandria in 1969, and each has had its own distinct micro climate!
We are most famously known for our cherry blossom trees, but there is an amazing bounty of other beautiful natives: azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, to name a few. We take pride in having a large number of flowering tree varieties. Many have been brought in by people from all over the world to represent their home cities, making for a stunningly beautiful springtime! In addition to many home garden tours throughout the year, we have the amazing U.S. Arboretum and the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C.
This region is filled with history buffs (myself included!) who enjoy planting our gardens with some of the same plants as those of our country’s forefathers.
Colonial gardens were much more than ornamental; they served practical needs. Fruit trees lined walkways and often were grown in an espalier style (attaching the branches to walls or fencing) for convenience in harvesting. By growing fruit trees against brick walls, or lining herb and vegetable rows with brick paths, colonial gardeners would add warmth to the plants in cool months, extending their growing season — very important when one’s survival depended on your crop! In the picture below is a fig tree which I have been pruning to develop sideways branches for espalier. I will attach it to my east facing fireplace wall when it grows a little larger.
Many of the varieties of heirloom flowers, fruits and vegetables from those days are still very popular in today’s gardens. I have collected several for my own garden from the Virginia estates of two of our former presidents. My blackberry lily is from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, in Charlottesville, and I have a special variety of boxwood from Mt. Vernon. And of course, my favorite little fig tree started as a cutting from there, too.
We have diverse architectural styles, from the quaint row houses of Old Town Alexandria dating back to the mid-1700′s, to the contemporary home designs of Hollin Hills (which was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in late June and has been recommended to the National Park Service for addition to the National Register of Historic Places), each with their own unique gardening styles ranging from practical to formal to natural. So, no matter what style appeals to you personally, we have it here!
If you happen to be visiting Washington, D.C., why not tour the surrounding neighborhoods to observe the pretty gardens? If you see me tending mine, please stop and say hi and tell me about yours. Happy gardening!
Update- Here is a photo of the blackberry lily with it’s “blackberries” in bloom. The seedpods really do look like blackberries!
Wow! What a wet summer we have had this year. I can’t remember a time when everything was so green in July. Pruning in the middle of summer is not something that I would normally recommend for most plants, but some, like the holly bushes, have grown to extremes in the wet season we have been experiencing. I have several in my garden that were planted by the builder 30+ years ago. These were unfortunately planted too close to the house and front porch to let them grow to their natural size, so they require a pruning 4 or 5 times a year to keep them in check. (I had actually cut them down to the ground when we first purchased the house because they were so out of control. They regenerated in about a year!) The good news is that if you know the proper way to prune them, hollies can be terrific foundation plants and showy all year. Here’s how-
First, always inspect the interior closely. I have birds that build nests in mine, and I don’t want to just start trimming away! The birds love evergreen bushes for nests, so always check each bush before pruning or spraying.
Next, set the height that you want. In my case, I have a bush on either side of my front door and want them to match, so I use a mortar line in the brick as my guide to determine where to make that first cut. Using sharp pruners, make a cut just above a leaf to establish the height.
Then determine how wide the bush should be, and what sort of shape you want. I like a more natural look, so I chose a cone shape. If you have trouble keeping the shape, a handy tip is to tie a string from top to bottom to use as a cutting guide moving it around the bottom edge as you go. I don’t like the look of anything too crisply trimmed; I prefer a more fringe-like or loose shape. I then trim up the sides to the top being careful not to trim the leaves in half. They will brown and look unhealthy if you do. For that reason, never use a hedge trimmer — EVER! Sharp pruning shears are the right tool for this job.
Once you have gotten the basic shape, trim back every third branch several inches inside the bush. This will encourage lots of leaves to grow throughout the plant, not just on the tips. It will also allow air circulation and light to get inside the plant, lessening the chances of disease and insects. One final step is to make sure that you have pruned far enough back from the walls of your house. Try to keep all bushes at least a 12 to 18 inches away from your house to allow some breathing space, and also trimmed away from under windows for views and security.
This is also a good time to give attention to the new growth on boxwoods. Just trimming the really heavy branches, by removing them down to the base of the branch, is all that is needed. This is something I do only about every other year because they are fairly slow growing. For the juniper and euonymus, I only trim the branches that have grown too far out of bounds right now; they will get a more substantial shaping when the weather cools.
I hope you are having a wonderful summer in your garden! Let me know what is your favorite plant this growing season — I’d love to hear! I will leave you with my favorite right now: a view of my daylilly garden in full bloom.
At the end of the day we love to relax on the deck and look at the garden, watch the clouds or the setting sun. I say that because our deck was in awful shape — definitely wouldn’t want to look at it. We just finished a long process of renewal which I will walk through step by step. It’s done now and we couldn’t be happier at how it turned out.
The deck is on the south-facing side of the house, which means it is exposed to really damaging sun, intense storms and wind. On the positive side, the view of the Potomac River is beautiful, and the elevation is good for an evening breeze.
The top item on our long list of decisions was how we wanted to finish the deck surface. For years, we just used clear deck sealer which would result in a pretty, weathered gray finish, although didn’t provide the wood with enough protection from the elements, which resulted in the need to replace the wood after only 10 years. This time around, we decided to use a combination of finishes to give the deck a more smooth, “boat deck” finish. We chose a color that is close to the color of the front door, our teak outdoor furniture, and the hardwood flooring in the home for a more cohesive look.
First, we replaced the deck surface with premium grade pressure-treated pine. The wood that we received from the lumber yard was, well, not of premium quality, but with lots of work, it was cut and laid into place, screwed down, and gave us a fresh new surface to work with. I let it cure over the winter while I worked on some of the other elements in the project.
Our deck has a significant amount of railings, undercarriage and arbors, which all got a thorough scrubbing and painting. Next, I turned to the coach lights by the doors. They had been a bright brass but had tarnished badly over the years, so I painted them a beautiful black, which looks great!
By Spring, the deck had been through a dramatically harsh winter – Snowmageddon as it was called around here! A power washing got it prepped, and a layer of sealer/toner in a deep shade of Canyon Brown was applied — the first of two layers. The second application evened out imperfections, and the colored pigment in the toner gave the deck a good basis for protecting the wood.
After letting the sealer/toner cure for about a month, the final topcoat was applied. We used a product that is a marine-grade “teak color” varnish for coating boat decks. We have used it on our outdoor furniture for a decade, but never on the deck surface. It took the deck from “nice” to “WOW”! The deck now has a beautiful surface that repels the rain and has a depth of sheen similar to a fine grade of teak. All in all, I have to admit it was a HUGE undertaking, but the end result is great. Time will tell how long it lasts, but if the deck holds the finish like the furniture has, it will be good for years to come.
I have to say this was a really physical project and I am so glad it’s finished! Time to drink in the scenery now from the deck chairs — only this time I might be looking AT the deck instead of the garden!
Hi readers! I’m devoting this segment to some questions that I think a lot of us can relate to and some terrific garden tips I have received.
First up: Getting rid of those nagging little (and sometimes BIG) mushrooms that crop up in the yard after a rain. Wearing gloves (because some of them can be poisonous!), remove the mushroom cap and discard. Then, with a pointy trowel or weeder, dig out the little stump and roots completely. Lastly, sprinkle some powdered or granulated lime where the mushrooms appear. This will help to make the soil more alkaline and banish the mushrooms for good. This has always worked well for me.
Next up: I had a friend with a patch of Ivy which had lost all of its leaves and was just a patch of bare stems and not so pretty anymore. This can happen for lots of reasons — someone walking on the ground cover, doggies doing their business, or like in my friend’s case, a tree had fallen on it.
There is a really easy fix for this! Simply take your snippers and cut the stems here and there in the bare areas. That’s it – the Ivy will sprout new leaves quickly and will fill back out in a week or two with lots of fresh new leaves. This works on most of the other “sprawling” types of ground cover, like periwinkle and pachysandra too.
Be sure to give it good watering if you know it to be a (ahem!) “doggie spot” to neutralize the remains. ‘Nuff said on that, but this brings me to a related tip. If you are a dog owner and have those bright green patches in your grass, I have a tasty way of making sure those spots don’t happen anymore. Give your dog a few ounces of tomato juice a couple of times a week (most dogs LOVE it!), it will change the acidity of their urine so as not to create a spot. So easy!
As you might remember from a previous blog, I have had several trees that were destroyed in recent storms, leaving unsightly stumps in the front lawn. A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me an email that had a stump rotting remedy which I am going to try (Yay!- and thank you so much!). Drill holes in the stump then fill them with epsom salt. In about a month it rots the stump making removal easy. I will report back on the success of this tip, but several people have said it works well.
This brings me to my last little tip for this segment. A friend just posted a terrific way to keep the bugs away from patios/decks, and said it worked great. Take limes or tangerines, and poke some holes in them with an icepick, and fill the holes with cloves. (Similar to the pomanders many of us make at Christmastime!) Place them in a bowl on your outdoor table, and enjoy your bug free patio. Lasts for a couple of weeks at least!
I would like to thank Michaelanne, Terri and Laura for their questions and tips. I hope you are enjoying this Spring to Summer transition in your yard. It seems there are always things to be done around mine. I have just finished replacing my Springtime Pansies with Vinca and Geraniums for the hotter Summer days ahead. I have repotted the Ivy topiaries with fresh soil. (I love to use them along the front walk.) A gentle reminder for those of you with Azaleas, Rhododendron, Hollies, Junipers, or other acid loving plants, that this is the time to feed them. Let me know what you are planning for your gardens this year, I always love to hear!
Update on the stump– Epsom salts works! It is now November, and the stump had softened up to the point where it was easily chipped away. Now I will fill in with some soil and sod. Thank you Terri for the tip!
With the heat of the Summer right around the corner, I have some tips on how to make the most of the rain Mother Nature bestows on our gardens. There are many simple things that many of us can do to improve our ability to “tap” into this free resource. I have been working on installing many of these in my own garden over the years, and will say that they have made a huge difference in the health of plants and trees.
The picture to the right shows a border that I planted right next to the street where my yard is graded downhill away from my house. By installing this garden on the perimeter of the property it absorbs the rainwater keeping it in the yard, and preventing it from spilling out to the road, or going down the storm drains. With all the pollution that gets into the streams and rivers from residential yards, this tip alone can be one of the most beneficial things we can all do.
Groundcovers of all types are a wonderful way to filter the rainwater and slow it down. Especially on hillsides this is important. Not only will it hold the soil in place, but they will absorb the nutrients from the fertilizers so they will not become a problem elsewhere. The runoff of nitrogen from fertilizers has caused damage in most of this nation’s streams, rivers and tributaries. It is also very important to regularly sweep out curbing to make sure that any sediment which collects doesn’t make it’s way into the stormdrains. The other terrific benefit of groundcover is that they shelter the soil from the sun, so the roots of all surrounding plants have more time to drink in the rain, again- less run-off. With so many groundcovers to choose from there is one for every need- flowering, evergreen, shade/sun tolerant, wet/dry conditions- there is one for you! I must have at least a dozen varieties in my garden, they are a true workhorse. Here are some pictures of some of my favorites.
O.K., enough about groundcovers. Another way to slow down and divert rain is with rocks of all types. Whether it’s gravel, boulders or cobblestones, they are all terrific to manage water. I have replaced my downspout splashguards with cobblestones which diverts the rain over a larger area. At the last house I lived in, I dug pits in all four corners of the yard and filled them in with large gravel to create drywells. These drywells were then covered with mulch so that they were not visible. When it would rain, the excess would naturally seep into them and slowly absorb into the earth. We had no storm drains there so this was a great solution. There are fantastic rain gardens created in a similar way with water loving plants installed around the border. Drywells and rain gardens can be configured into what ever size you need to contain the excess water you receive in your yard. Larger boulders can also be used to slow water on steep hillsides, and retaining the soil to keep the ground stable. Here is an example from my yard right after a storm showing how well these cobblestones hold the soil on the hill under my deck. These are just set in sand and compressed. Of course for smaller needs there are also rainbarrels and rain bladders. Their extra bonus is that they store the water for future use.
One last tip for holding the water in place where it will do the most good is simply keeping the soil loose by incorporating lots of compost and then topdressing it with mulch. In my own experience even in a flat yard, this can collect more than an inch of rain- all on it’s own- in a single storm!
Now if we could just add a few more hours to each day to get it all done! I wasn’t kidding when I said these steps took me a few years to complete, but I have to say it was worth all the effort! Hope you all have a fantastic Summer out in the garden. Enjoy!
This winter has been so drab, windy and cold, I have been spending time on one of my favorite activities: indoor gardening. My holiday poinsettia is still doing wonderfully, and a beautiful amaryllis is only now finishing its bloom. But now it is time to change the seasons inside the house, because spring will be here soon and I want to get a jump on it. I have some fun projects in store, and hope they will inspire you to give a couple of them a try.
I have always wanted a greenhouse, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. My solution to that is to create a coffee table terrarium. I found a nice apothecary-style jar at a local thrift shop to use, but really any big jar will work well for this. First, wash your container well with dish soap and rinse thoroughly. Next, add an inch or two of small gravel, shells or even glass beads for drainage. Be creative — you can see this layer from the sides so have fun with it.
Cut a small piece of coffee filter or fabric to cover this layer and provide a barrier, then add about 2-3 inches of potting soil. Add your plants and whatever small decorative items you wish to embellish with your own style. Add a little water and the lid. Now enjoy your new “mini-greenhouse.”
Gift tip: Terrariums make super gifts for people who travel because you almost never need to add water! So make two and spread some fun.
Another easy and stylish centerpiece is a grass dish garden. All you need is a shallow container that is waterproof (so that you don’t wreck your tabletop), a small amount of gravel to fill the bottom and some sod cut to fit. It will be the perfect place to rest a few Easter eggs, or just leave plain for a more contemporary look. This is a fun way to utilize those small little trimmings when you edge your garden beds!
This is also a great time to re-pot existing houseplants, before they start to grow for the new season. It is best to only go up one pot size though, and always use fresh new potting soil. Once replanted, I give mine a covering of moss over the soil for a special touch.
With any luck from Mother Nature we will have a mild Spring and be back outside soon. Until then — happy indoor gardening!
In January, I like to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked in my overall plan for enjoyment in the garden. I’m always looking for ways to make things more functional and easily accessible where they are used. I love trying new ideas that reuse and recycle salvaged items. Here’s a look at some of the projects we have done to solve common issues that many of us have with our gardens and decks.
We installed a bay window in the kitchen where there had been three flat windows. This created a new exterior space underneath that was the perfect size to store patio umbrellas. Wooden panels were attached to the deck with angle brackets with one on a hinge to serve as the door. We designed a cart on small casters to easily roll the umbrellas in and out of the space. No more lugging the umbrellas all the way to the garage anymore; they are right where we need them.
For more storage on the deck, we made a deck box to hold the chair cushions when not in use. We used salvaged wood from a fence that had fallen, so it was also a great reuse of materials. The deck box doubles as seating or as a serving/bar surface when entertaining. Whenever possible, try to double up on function for every piece of furniture. That way if you decide to change things around you won’t be left with something that has only one purpose, and no longer has a function.
The deck on our house is visible from the street and has little shade. To help with both of these issues we designed an arbor that works well for many reasons. Also, I have a wisteria growing upon one side so it needed to be very strong. We take on quite heavy winds here during storms, being close to the water. Our answer to these issues was to double up on the supports for extra strength, and make the lattice privacy panels easily removable (they just lift out). Now we are covered for sun, privacy, and winds!
When sitting in our Adirondack chairs on the deck, we used to have the water view ruined by the (legally-required) rail which is right at eye level. We came up with an idea which works great: a floating-deck raised platform for two of the deck chairs. Now, we have a perfect view of the water. This platform was also built with scrap lumber. As it is just one step up and floats on the deck, it can be moved around for the deck’s annual deck wash/seal.
This coming year I hope to add several more improvements: I would like to incorporate a coldframe to grow lettuce and other veggies year round, using the windows which were removed when we installed the kitchen bay. Also in the works: A re-vamp of the underground irrigation system with more efficient, better-located sprinkler heads. I am hoping to save countless hours of watering in the heat of the summer. More on these in future blogs.
I hope some of these ideas might be solutions for you, and as always I’d love to hear what new things you have dreamed up for your gardens in the new year.
I have been so glad that milder air returned this fall. With so many things that need attention in the garden, I’ve been very busy. I have a step-by-step list of what to do when in the garden, and this autumn brings us to the end of the growing season. Lawn renovation is a top priority, but there are also many other needs: cutting back perennials, transplanting and removing bushes, and painting.
First, I found these lovely asters in the garden center. I put them on my front porch front door to inspire me — so vibrant! – and got to work on the front lawn renovation.
This year, being intensely hot, wreaked havoc on the grass. It was completely brown and dormant with terrible bare patches. It takes real work to bring back grass that has been that damaged. I am a believer in dethatching with a hand rake – it is less damaging to the roots and gets all the compacted trimmings out. My father gave me his rake a few years ago. It has an adjustable handle which makes the task a little bit easier. Even so, it was several hard days work to finish (wear gloves!).
Next, soak the ground with the sprinkler for a day or so. Using a hand spreader, layer starter fertilizer and an overcast of grass seed. Lightly scratch the surface to bury the seed. Be diligent about watering everyday for a couple of weeks, and you’ll have a gorgeous fall lawn!
In my growing zone (Northern Virginia), I put down new seed by mid-October. That gives the new grass a good chance at developing hardy roots before frost. Check http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/ to find the statistics for your local zone.
I also removed some Japanese hollies which became diseased due to the snow damage of a couple of years ago and am replacing them with some variegated euonymus along the front walk. I like to do all bush transplanting in the fall whenever possible, but no later than Thanksgiving. That is also the magic date for planting bulbs. You want to give them time to spread their roots to anchor themselves against winter winds and heaving from frost.
This is also the time of the year to cut back the perennials after they die. I cut to ground level the daylillies, hostas, coreopsis, and other summer flowering varieties. I also neaten up some of the ones that I don’t cut back until spring, like the butterfly bushes, and rake out the lamb’s ears of the dead undergrowth.
To give a nice backdrop to it all, I gave the trimwork, railings, windows and arbors a scrub and a coat or two of paint. The mild weather helps the paint to cure properly and last a few years.
Well, that takes us full circle in the garden for this 2012 growing season. I hope you all have had a wonderful autumn, filled with the colors of the season.
It’s time for the Summer Olympics! Garden Olympics that is, and this summer had some clear winners despite the tough climate. There were gold medal winners in many categories – bushes, herbs, tropicals, vines, ground covers and annuals. I am going to show you what excelled this season in my garden.
In the tropical category, I give the gold medal to this beautiful mango colored hibiscus. It has maintained beautiful deep green glossy foliage, and has at least half a dozen flowers every day. There are so many varieties of hibiscus, both tropical and hardy, and a wide choice of colors to boot, it makes them a terrific choice wherever you want a splash of color. I find that mine do best when in the morning sun, with filtered shade in the afternoon.
Where bushes are concerned, it is hard to deny that the mahonia is quite amazing. It is also sometimes called a false grape because of the clusters that you see in the picture here. The display of “grape clusters” was beautiful in the early summer, and the striking contrast in texture that it provides to the foundation plants is beautiful in comparison to the small leaves of the boxwood and azalea bushes in the garden. One note of caution: they have very sharp leaves, so use gloves when working on them. In the early part of the year there are sprays of tiny yellow flowers which are scented like lily of the valley, and that alone might get my gold medal award. Other very noteworthy bushes were the knockout roses and the nandinas, both of which were exceptionally gorgeous this summer.
I give this year’s annual and ground cover awards to the geranium and variegated ivy. They have both done exceptionally well despite the fact that they are in the full sun and in a container. They remain my number one choice in a hot dry climate and are very showy even from a distance. This is the second year for these very hardy ivies. I have left them in the pot throughout the year, just changing out the flowers seasonally. The geraniums will be lifted out at the end of summer and stored in trays in the garage, where the temperature remains above freezing over the winter. I have used the same geraniums for many years, so they are also winners in the budget friendly category!
In the “edible” category I give the nod to the Catnip in my herb garden. I grow it each year in the same pot. It self seeds, so once you have it you never need to purchase it again. This year was a banner year, the leaves were huge, and were very much enjoyed by the kitties. I must also say that all the herbs in the garden both annual and perennial have been spectacular this season, but none as absolutely noteworthy as the Catnip.
Last but not least, the plant which drew the most compliments this summer was the mandevilla vine that I grew on a tall lantern post near the front walk. It was constantly covered in soft pink flowers, and twined itself around the lantern post with no human help. People walking by asked about it, and I did see many others being planted and thriving in my neighborhood. It’s always nice to have a carefree, reliable, beautifully flowering specimen to welcome you home. Let me know what deserved the gold medal in your garden this year, I’d love to hear!