The Best Summer Plants of 2016

Number 1 on the list are the daylilies- this variety is a double flowering beauty.

Number 1 on the list are the daylilies- this variety is a double flowering beauty. I can always count on them for at least a month’s worth of show.

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!

I took this photo while I was up on a ladder brooming down spiderwebs (which are way too plentiful this summer!). I love looking at the garden from a bird's eye view.

I took this front porch photo while I was up on a ladder brooming down spiderwebs (which are way too plentiful this summer!). I love looking at the garden from a bird’s eye view. The ivy in the flower pots has gotten huge and looks great year round. I just change the center flowers each season.

These are the caladium plants that I rescued from the rains. They have come back nicely, and are very happy in the window box under the deck.

These are the caladium plants that I rescued from the rains. They have come back nicely, and are very happy in the protected window box under the deck.

I think these "King Kong" coleus in the window box above the door are my favorites of the summer-

These “King Kong” coleus in the window box above the door are my favorites of the summer — very tropical!

The knock out roses are in their third bloom already, and always are a classic fav!

The knock out roses are in their third bloom already and always are a classic fav!

The liriope have become great border plants along the front walk. Every three years I can divide them into 4 to 6 new plants.

The liriope have become great border plants along the front walk. Every three years I can divide each one into 4 to 6 new plants. In the late summer, they will have purple blooms.

My little friend loves these boxwood- I think he's happy anywhere in the shade!

My little friend loves these boxwood — He’s happy anywhere in the shade! Boxwood have always been a wonderful walkway plant here in Mount Vernon dating back to the days of George Washington.

Up on the deck I am loving all the color from these vinca in pots. I also have these by the driveway.

Up on the deck, I am loving all the color from these vinca in pots. I also have these planted by the driveway. They love the sun and heat much more than I do!

And last but not least, I always have to include the curly willow trees. I always am happy watching their branches dance in the breeze.

And last but not least, the curly willow trees that are planted in three corners of the property. I always feel cooler watching their branches dance in the breeze.

 

 

Mid-Summer Check-In

So very hot! Almost 100 outside-

So very hot! Almost 100° outside! Stay hydrated…

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.

 

When it gets this hot it helps to keep the moisture in by stirring  up and adding some additional mulch in thin spots. Also boost the curb appeal!

When it gets this hot, it helps to keep the weeds down and moisture in by stirring up and adding some additional mulch in thin spots. Your flowers and veggies will love it, and also boosts the curb appeal!

 

 

 

 

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.

I have coleus in the planters this year. I love the bright splash of color-

I have coleus in the planters this year. I love the bright splash of color, and they are very hardy in the heat-

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Please remember to set out some water in the shade for 4 footed friends- it's greatly appreciated!

Stomper would like me to request that everyone set out some water in the shade for four-pawed friends — it’s greatly appreciated!

 

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!

Look what I found while weeding and edging!

Look what I found while weeding and edging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And while I was edging the other day, I found this wonderful heart shaped rock, nature’s gift!

I have a new lawn mystery to solve. Brown spots! I think these have been caused by lawn grubs.

I have a new lawn mystery to solve. Brown spots! I think these have been caused by lawn grubs. More on this soon.

 

 

 

 

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!

The Longest Day of the Year!

Today is the Summer Solstice- the longest day of the year! Let's all get outside and celebrate life!

Today is the Summer Solstice- the longest day of the year! Let’s all get outside and celebrate! Today’s the day to set your sundial at noon for perfect time!

Great Ideas for Gardening Gifts

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!

Windsocks and garden flags are colorful and cute, and they have a hidden benefit!!!

Windsocks and garden flags are colorful and cute, and they have a hidden benefit!!!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

How wonderful to pamper yourself with a hand and foot scrub after a long day of gardening!

How wonderful to pamper yourself with a hand and foot scrub after a long day of gardening!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Earthgirl Statue, handpainted watering can, and a stained glass panel. Love them all!

My Earthgirl statue, a hand-painted watering can, and a stained glass panel. Love them all!

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.

 

 

 

A bottle of wine is always enjoyed here- and now I have a special glass, too!

A bottle of wine is always enjoyed here with guests — and now I have a special glass, too!

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!

 

 

Some 911 for the Rain Soaked Garden

Too much rain!!!!

Enough already — Too much rain!!!!

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.

 

 

 

Remove the drain saucers from your flower pots when heavy rain is expected so that the pots do not become waterlogged.

Remove the drain saucers from your flower pots when heavy rain is expected so that the pots do not become waterlogged.

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 possible protect the open blooms from the rain, by putting them undercover. If they do become damaged by the rain, deadhead them ASAP.

If possible protect the open blooms from the rain, by putting them undercover. If they do become damaged by the rain, deadhead them ASAP.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

If you have standing water in your lawn try not to walk on it, or mow it until it has had time to dry out.

If you have standing water in your lawn, like mine, try to not walk on it or mow it until it has had time to dry out.

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.

 

 

 

 

I like to keep an extra package of garden stakes on hand. The new growth has grown way too fast, and much of it can use some extra support.

I like to keep an extra package of garden stakes on hand. The new growth has grown way too fast, and much of it can use some extra support.

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!

It might even be too damp for my favorite duck family around here- bring on some sun!

It might even be too damp for my favorite duck family around here — bring on some sun!

A Bright Spot on a Rainy Day

In the pink-

In the pink!

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…

Long shot through the azaleas to the east garden-

Long shot through the azaleas to the east garden.

The glorious white irises-

The glorious white irises.

The happy yellow flag irises- always make me smile!

The happy yellow flag irises — always make me smile!

Some beautiful cosmos from seeds a friend gave me-  P.S. this is the perfect time to sow seeds outdoors, now that the fear of frost is over.

Some beautiful cosmos started from seeds a friend gave me. P.S.: This is the perfect time to sow seeds outdoors, now that the risk of frost is over.

The pansies that I planted last fall are making a spectacular encore in this rain forest weather.

The pansies that I planted last fall are making a spectacular encore in this rain forest weather.

And drum roll, please-- the beautiful allium flowers just exploded open!

And drum roll, please — the beautiful allium flowers just exploded open!

 

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!

Happy Arbor Day!

It's Arbor Day, so go on outside and hug your favorite tree, or better yet plant one!

It’s Arbor Day, so go outside and hug your favorite tree, or better yet plant one!

A Very Busy Second Half of Spring

Our resident fox enjoying a nap and a sunbath.

Our resident fox enjoying a nap and a sunbath.

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.

This ice/slush storm was winter's last hurrah. Most plants had started to get their new Spring leaves, so this storm was most unwelcome.

This fluke ice/slush storm was winter’s last hurrah. Most plants had started to get their new spring leaves, so this storm was most unwelcome.

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.

The flowering trees were a welcome sight, and the dogwood is still blooming!

The flowering trees were a welcome sight, and the dogwood is still blooming!

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.

This patch of lily of the valley has doubled in size this last year. The scent is wonderful!

This patch of lily of the valley has doubled in size this last year. The scent is wonderful!

 

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.

 

Not in bloom yet, but this area is planted with large masses of flowers. I can't wait to see the alliums in bloom!

Not in bloom yet, but this area is planted with large masses of flowers. I can’t wait to see the allium in bloom!

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!

BEFORE- ugly white streaks on the brick.

BEFORE: ugly white streaks on the brick.

AFTER- Looks like new! Blending a few different brick colors and dabbing it on the stained bricks works great, and east to do!

AFTER: Looks like new! Blending a few different brick colors and dabbing it on the stained bricks works great, and it’s easy to do!

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!

Bird's eye view of the tapestry of colors of the blooming trees.

Bird’s eye view of the tapestry of colors of the blooming trees.

 

 

Happy Earth Day!

Today we have the honor of celebrating our beloved Earth. Try to do something special for her! Even one small gesture is important-

Our beautiful planet Earth. Photo credit to the Hubble Telescope.

Our beautiful planet Earth. Photo credit to the Hubble Telescope.

Spring Cleaning — Outside, Too!

The curly willow was the first tree to start it's new growth. This year it has doubled in size!

The curly willow was the first tree in my garden to start its new growth. This year, it has doubled in size!

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.

Here's the before picture of our roof. You can really see the black streaks appearing.

Here’s the before picture of our roof taken at the end of summer. You can see the black streaks appearing.

 

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.

 

Here's the after photo- all clean and getting some squirrel damage repaired.

Here’s the after photo — all clean now and squirrel damage repaired. Now it’s good as new!

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!

 

Here's why I think everyone should get a roof inspection. This is where a squirrel chewed a hole right on the corner. You can't see it from below, so we wouldn't have known it was there.

Here’s why I think everyone should get a roof inspection. This is where a squirrel chewed a hole right on the corner. You can’t see it from below, so we wouldn’t have known it was there.

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.

These are the 30 year old storm windows. Back then you only had one option where you could place the meeting bar, only in the middle of the window. On these windows that meant looking at it every time you looked outside- not pretty!

BEFORE— The 30 year old storm windows. Back then you only had one option of where you could place the center bar, only in the middle of the window. That meant looking at it every time you looked outside – not pretty!

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.

Here are the nice new storm windows- center meeting bar where it should be! And bonus being a special coating to help keep the windows clean!

Here are the nice new storm windows – with the center meeting bar where it should be. And bonus being a special coating to help keep the windows clean!

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.

IMG_0833Those 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!

 

And Just Like That — SPRING!

Goodbye Ice and snow- we are ready for Spring!

Goodbye Ice and snow- we are ready for spring!

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.

After just a couple of years, despite lots of maintenance, there was a huge amount of rot in the wisteria arbor. Time for replacing!

After just a couple of years, despite lots of maintenance, there was a huge amount of rot in the wisteria arbor. Time for replacing!

 

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!

 

The new and improved arbor- this one made with PVC instead of wood- no more rotting!

The new and improved arbor, this one made with PVC instead of wood — no more rotting! This one also has been made a little wider to give more sun protection below, and more room for the wisteria above.

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:

As soon as the snow melted the crocus appeared-

As soon as the snow melted the crocus appeared…

Followed quickly by the daffodils-

Followed quickly by the daffodils…

And now the hellebores are starting to bloom- so pretty!

And now the hellebores are starting to bloom — so pretty!

How to Fix Winter Storm Damage

Opening the drapery and finding more than 30 inches of snow from winter storm Jonas.

Opening the drapery and finding more than 30 inches of snow from winter storm Jonas. It was beautiful, but paralyzed the Washington region for a week!

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.

Prioritize clearing a path out from your doors first. For safety!

Prioritize clearing a path out from your doors first. For safety!

 

Spreading a plastic tarp on your porch and stairs before a snowstorm makes it easy to clear off. I cleared this in about 1 minute!

Spreading a plastic tarp on your porch and stairs before a snowstorm makes it easy to clear off. I cleared this in about one minute!

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!

If you spiral a string or wire loosely from the bottom of a plant all the way up to the top, you can help the small branches from splitting open and breaking under the weight of the snow. Especially prone to splitting are boxwood and arborvitae.

If you spiral (every 6 inches or so) a string or wire loosely from the base of a plant all the way up to the top, you can help the small branches from splitting open and breaking under the weight of the snow. Especially prone to splitting are boxwood and arborvitae.

 

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.

Here's an example of how much spiraling a wire through the boxwood can help. The one on the right has it, and the one next to it doesn't. Makes all the difference!

Here’s an example of how much spiraling a wire through the boxwood can help. The one on the right has it, and the one next to it doesn’t. Makes all the difference!

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.

Deep snow is extremely heavy 7 to 20 pounds/sq. ft. Try to stand straight while shoveling, and lift with your legs.

Deep snow is extremely heavy 7 to 20 pounds/sq. ft. Try to stand straight while shoveling, and lift with your legs.

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!!!!

 

 

 

 

Packing up Christmas

There is a winter storm on the way, and it is forecasted to be of historic proportions.

It was a beautiful Christmas, but now it's time to put it all away-

It was a beautiful Christmas, but now it’s time to put it all away.

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.

These trunk sized bins are great for storing away long items, like garlands.

These trunk sized bins are great for storing away long items, like garlands.

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.

I like to use the boxes that my ornaments came in to store them safely. Egg cartons work great, too!

I like to use the boxes that my ornaments came in to store them safely. Egg cartons work great, too!

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.

If you flatten wreaths out before storing them, they take up WAY less space.

If you flatten wreaths out before storing them, they take up WAY less space.

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 store the trees wrapped in plastic tarps in the closet. Saves time on reassembly next year!

I store the trees wrapped in plastic tarps in the closet. Saves time on reassembly next year!

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.

Still trying to think up a good storage idea for this pinecone tree. There's always something-

Still trying to think up a good storage idea for this pine cone tree. There’s always something…

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!

 

January 3rd – Is It Winter or Spring?

There is still a lot of new growth on many plants that would normally have gone dormant by now.

There is still a lot of new growth on many plants that would normally have gone dormant by now.

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!

The pointsettia doubled in size this last month, and is loving the east exposure.

The pointsettia doubled in size this last month and is loving the east exposure.

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.

Rosemary is a fantastic plant to have inside over winter, the scent is wonderful, it cleans the air and you can cook with it . How great is that!

Rosemary is a fantastic plant to have inside over winter, the scent is wonderful, it cleans the air, and you can cook with it. How great is that!

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!

Happy 2016!

Time for a fresh start in the new year. Happy Gardening!
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Merry Christmas to one and all-

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Countdown to Christmas

It seems that this Christmas season I have been playing a little too much catch up with the leaf raking. I feel like taking a moment to relax and sharing a few photos of Christmas this year at our home. Much like years past, I used lots of fruit in the Williamsburg style. There are candles and wreaths in each window, and garlands with cranberry chains around the door, stair railings and candle post. It is simple, but fitting to the history of the colonial style of architecture in this area of the east coast. And of course, I love it!

I hope each and everyone of my cherished readers has a warm and happy Christmas, and a healthy new year!  I’m looking forward to next year’s gardening, and planning for some interesting new plants to try. May you enjoy each and every new day in 2016!

The front door at night, with a Williamsburg style this year.

The front door at night, with a Williamsburg style this year. Lots of fruit and cranberry chains.

The living room tree all aglow!

The living room tree all aglow!

Here it is in a daytime shot so you can see the ornaments a little better. And this year my tree is celebrating it's 21st birthday!

Here is the tree in a daytime shot so you can see the ornaments a little better. And this year my tree is celebrating its 21st birthday!

The entry foyer with amaryllis flowers and my favorite Santa and angel chimes.

The entry foyer with amaryllis flowers,  my favorite Santa and angel chimes.

And to me the crowning touch is always Christmas bows!

And — to me — the crowning touch is always Christmas bows!

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

 

Happy Thanksgiving to All

This was the view of autumn leaves from my deck this year. They were so beautiful, but now a mountain of fallen leaves are in need of raking.

This was the view of autumn leaves from my deck this year. They were so beautiful! Now I have a lot of raking in my future.

Now that the mums have finished blooming, I have filled in the pots with boxwood trimmings from my yard. They make beautiful "plants" all winter long.

Now that the mums have finished blooming, I have filled in the pots with boxwood trimmings from my yard. They make beautiful “plants” all winter long.

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.

Fill in gaps in the garden by creating "instant plants," just push small branches into the soil- simple as that.

Fill in gaps in the garden by creating “instant plants,” just push small branches into the soil. Simple as that!

Here is a row of "instant juniper" plants, where I removed the summer annuals. You'd never know they aren't actually growing!

Here is a row of “instant juniper” plants, where I removed the summer annuals. You’d never know they aren’t actually growing!

Perfect time of the year to give the clay pots a good cleaning before storing them away for the winter months.

Perfect time of the year to give the clay pots a good cleaning before storing them away for the winter months.

Not all of the "instant" plants are used outside- the extra ivy is in a bucket of water and will root over the winter. Ivy is a really good air filter indoors, so I love to have some inside!

Not all of the “instant” plants are used outside. This extra ivy is in a bucket of water and will root over the winter. Ivy is also a good air filter, so I love to have some inside!

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!

Enjoy!

Time for a nice hot cider…

A Quick Reminder Before The Freeze

Back to an old school watering can for now. Time to shut off the outside water for the winter months.

Back to an old school watering can for now. Time to shut off the outside water for the winter months.

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.

Here’s how:

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!

Outdoor shut-off valves are usually located inside the house opposite to where they are on the outside. Remember righty tighty, lefty loosey!

Outdoor shut-off valves are usually located inside the house opposite the spigot outside. Remember righty-tighty, lefty-loosey! While you are at it, if there is space behind the water pipe, slide in some insulation batting (or a section of newspaper or cardboard) to add an extra layer of barrier from the cold and help prevent frozen pipes.

Once you've turned off the valve from the inside, open the outside spigot to drain the last drops of water.

Once you’ve turned off the valve from the inside, open the outside spigot to drain the last drops of water.

Drain the water from your hoses and nozzles so they won't be full of ice if you want to use them this winter.

Lastly, drain the water from your hoses and nozzles so they won’t be full of ice if you want to use them this winter. I like to be able to wash the car after it snows to rinse the road salts from it.

This is also the perfect time to bring in your terracotta pots and drain dishes for the winter- more on this one soon----- Have a great weekend!

This is also the perfect time to bring in your terracotta pots and drain dishes for the winter — more on this one soon…Have a great weekend!

Bringing Autumn Inside the Home

Sunflowers are one of my favorite fall flowers- I love to have them on the kitchen table to enjoy.

Sunflowers are one of my favorite fall flowers. I love to have them on the kitchen table to enjoy.

I hope this finds everyone enjoying the beauty of autumn. I feel like the rich colors of the season — golds, oranges and reds — are always so heartwarming.

It inspires me to bring those colors inside my home and display as many of my favorite pumpkins, gourds and fall flowers as I can. I use real, dried and artificial ones in bowls, baskets and flower pots all over the house. The more the merrier for me.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of an obsession for those cute little gourds. I’ve been collecting them for years and love putting them out each fall. This year’s decoration is more casual and simple here at the house. Here are some photos of some of my favorites — hope you enjoy the autumn tour!

I love to change up the weathervane for each season. This time of year I surround it with gourds.

The weather vane gets something different for each season. This time of year I surround it with gourds.

My collection of paper mache gourds are used to fill all kinds of containers which I use on tabletops and as centerpieces. Whenever I see new gourd varieties this collection grows!

My collection of paper mache gourds are used to fill containers which I use on tabletops and as centerpieces. Whenever I see new gourd varieties this collection grows!

I like to have some flowers by all the entry doors to welcome visitors. This year I used beautiful deep yellow mums by the front door. My favorite gargoyle welcoming visitors, too!

I like to have some flowers by all the entry doors to welcome visitors. This year I used beautiful deep yellow mums by the front door. My favorite gargoyle is welcoming visitors, too!

By the kitchen door I have pansies, violas & mums in yellow, plum and burgundy colors. Most of my friends and family use this door so I always like it to look cheery.

By the kitchen door, I have pansies, violas and mums in yellow, plum and burgundy colors. Most of my friends and family use this door so I always like it to look cheery.

More pansies fill containers on the deck for entertaining outside.

More pansies fill containers on the deck to look festive for entertaining outside.

Back inside on the mantle in the family room I love to display the pumpkins with lanterns, ivy and more candles.

Back inside, on the family room mantle  I love to display the pumpkins with lanterns, ivy and more candles.

Adding a few of my chubby birds in the family room, too!

Adding a few of my chubby birds into the mix in the family room, too!

The living room fireplace has a fun new twist this year with the addition of some antique spools that I'm using to display pumpkins on top of. Reminds me of my dear friend who gave them to me every time I see them!

The living room fireplace has a fun new twist this year with the addition of some antique spools on which I display small pumpkins. Reminds me of my dear friend who gave them to me every time I see them!

A grapevine pumpkin with a spray of fall leaves and berries under a garden cloche sits on the coffee table.

A grapevine pumpkin with a spray of fall leaves and berries under a garden cloche sits on the coffee table.

Simply piled on a platter to add color in the dining room.

Pumpkins piled simply on a platter add color on the dining room mantle.

Who wants soup? I love all the pumpkin bowls and tureens at home shops the last few year. These have a lid to keep things hot.  I've used them to bake pumpkin custard, too- yum!

Who wants soup? I added these to my collection a few years ago. They have a lid to keep things hot. I’ve used them to bake pumpkin custard in, too – yum!

In years past we created much more elborate arrangements- this one was made by my Mom & I for her garden club event, but I'm feeling like a simpler style this year.

In years past, we created much more elaborate arrangements. This one was made by my Mom and me for her garden club event, but this year I’m feeling like a more casual style fits my mood.

And last, but not least a favorite table runner with pumpkins, and a trifle bowl full of gourds on the dining room table. I wish everyone a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and hope this will insipe you to bring some autumn into your home!

And last, but not least a favorite table runner with a pumpkin motif, and a trifle bowl full of gourds on the dining room table. It’s not fancy, and I like the simpleness for everyday. Here’s wishing everyone a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and hope this will inspire you to bring some autumn bounty into your home!

 

Summer Wrap Up — The Best of the Best

A beautiful start to the Summer of 2015-

It was a beautiful start to the summer of 2015

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.

Close up on some of the amazing jalapeno harvst-

Just some of the amazing jalapeno harvest

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.

An amazing number of peppers- 125- were harvested off this one plant.

An amazing number of peppers – 125 – were harvested from this one plant.

This hyacinth vine gets my top prize this Summer for it's beauty and hardiness.

This hyacinth vine gets my top prize this summer for its beauty and hardiness.

Here is a close up of the interesting pods which develop after the flowers.

Here is a close up of the interesting pods which develop after the flowers.

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!

The caladium plants put on a show all Summer, and didn't mind the heat at all!

The caladium plants put on a show all summer and didn’t mind the heat at all!

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.

 

 

This is the third year I have planted vinca in this location. It does so well on either side of the driveway, and some of the previous years colors have self sown- love the mix.

This is the third year I have planted vinca by the driveway. It does so well here, and some of the previous years’ colors have self sown – love the mix.

Even the oregano was blooming and full in the early half of Summer.

This was a great summer for herbs. Even the oregano was blooming nearly half of the season.

The ivy that was growing in all of my planters had to be restarted from the the plant's crown after such a hard winter. It grew beautifully, and each one came back like new.

All of the ivy plants had to be cut back to the soil after such a hard winter. They thrived this summer and are better than ever!

If you are looking for a medium sized tree with year round beauty consider a curly willow. This has become one of my most treasured of all the plants in my garden.

If you are looking for a medium-sized tree with year-round beauty consider a curly willow. This has become one of my most treasured plants.

As always, I have to give props to the Knock-out roses. They gave constant color, and filled in beauitfully after a hard cut back in the Spring.

To close, I have to give props to the Knock-out roses. They gave constant color this summer and always make me smile!

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!

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful State of Maine

Out on Casco Bay in a 1928 Sailboat, the "Bagheera"

On Casco Bay in a 1928 schooner, the “Bagheera”

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.

Hiking the cliff walk.

Hiking the cliff walk. Winslow Homer’s studio in the distance.

 

 

Fabulous garden along the walk.

Fabulous garden along the walk.

There is a cliff walk all the way around the point to take in the amazing views. The rocky coastline is just gorgeous.

 

Stacks of stones in remembrance of others.

Stacks of stones in remembrance of others along the beaches.

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?

Another photo on the cliff walk.

Another view along the cliff walk.

The terrain is so steep that you see exposed roots like this wherever there is a large plant.

The terrain is so steep that you see exposed roots like this wherever there is a large plant.

Wild aster and goldenrod were all along the coastline

Wild aster and goldenrod were all along the coastline

Great place to sit and take it all in!

Great place to sit and take it all in!

The other side of the point- great beach club!

The other side of Prout’s Neck. Great beach club and dogs are allowed – yay!

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rugosa rose or rosehips plant is seen everywhere in Maine. So beautiful!

The rugosa rose or rosehips plant is seen everywhere in Maine. So beautiful and must be moose resistant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun sets on this trip, but I hope to be back again soon-

The sun sets on this trip, but I hope to be back again soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could look at these views forever-

I could look at these views forever…

This Heat Is Good for Something — Weeds!

With all the heat and rain, we are getting lots of unsightly weeds.

BEFORE: With all the heat and rain, we are getting lots of unsightly weeds.

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.

AFTER: One day after spraying with vinegar- all weeds are dead and gone!

AFTER: One day after spraying with vinegar — all weeds are dead and gone! Much better.

Happy Weeding!

Happy Weeding!

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!

A Walk Through the Garden on a Beautiful Summer Day

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….

The caladiums are just spectacular. Maybe my favorite new flower!

The caladiums are just spectacular; they may be my favorite new flower!

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side.

A favorite spot in the shade on the east side. The crepe myrtles have been flowering for a month and a half already!

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the "green fence" is almost solid now.

The back yard is filling out nicely, and the “green fence” is almost solid now.

This is the path up to the deck. Everything here is very full this year from all the rain we've had this month. I think we are on track to set a new record-

This is the path up to the deck. Everything is very full from all the rain we’ve had this month. I think we are on track to set a new rainfall record…

Up on the deck this year all the planters are spilling out with coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

All of the planters up on the deck are spilling out with sun-loving coleus, vinca and sweet potato vine.

Here's a close up of one of the planters. I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don't know which one I like best-

I am amazed at how many varieties of coleus there are. I don’t know which one I like best…

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

This sweet potato vine might take over the deck if I let it!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea- time for a nap!

I think my friend Stomper has the right idea — time for a nap!

 

 

It’s a Jungle Out There!

Coriopsis at it's most beautiful-

Coreopsis at its most beautiful, and lamb’s ears in bloom right next to it.

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.”

The side garden is filling in nicely, and you almost  can't notice the meters and A/C units.

The side garden is filling in nicely, and you almost can’t notice the meters and A/C units.

Long view of the "Utility garden".  Looking like the tropics!

Long view of the “Utility garden”. Looking like the tropics!

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 years choice for the window box above the front door- coladium, vinca vine and new guinea impatiens.

This year’s choice for the window box above the front door: caladium, vinca vine and new guinea impatiens.

Matching planters for each side of the front door. This is the north side.

Matching planters for each side of the front door. This is the north side.

Planters on the deck are in full sun all day, so this year I chose coleus and vinca flower.

Planters on the deck are in full sun all day, so this year I chose coleus and vinca flower.

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!

The pyracantha was filled with flowers, and is growing so quickly I need to add more brick anchors in the wall.

The pyracantha was filled with flowers, and is growing so quickly I need to add more brick anchors in the wall. Ditto for some extra support on the wisterias in the yard!

The Merry Month of May

Pansies at there fullest-

Pansies at their fullest right now – just in time for Mother’s 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.

The azalea & periwinkle bloomed at the same time this year-

The azalea and periwinkle bloomed at the same time this year.

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.

Spade in excess grass clippings now, for a terrific flower bed in a couple of weeks-

Spade-in excess grass clippings now, for a terrific flower bed in a few weeks.

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!

The rhododendron are so full of flowers. A welcome sight after a cold winter.

The rhododendron are so full of flowers. A welcome sight after a cold winter.

The white iris is even taller than usual this year- almost 4 feet tall!

The white iris is even taller than usual this year — almost four feet tall!

One more shot of the azaleas-

One more shot of the azaleas — Happy Spring!

White House Garden Tour 2015

The brochure from a fantastic day at the White House!

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.

 

Tulip border garden surrounding the press area. Oval Office in background.

Tulip border garden surrounding the press area. Oval Office in background.

 

 

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.

 

The wisteria on the stair rails of the south portico were in full bloom.

The wisteria on the stair rails of the south portico were in full bloom.

Michelle's veggie garden is thriving!

Michelle’s veggie garden is thriving!

 

 

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!

 

The first daughter's swingset is right outside the Oval office.

The first daughters’ swing set is right outside the Oval office. Must be comforting to look out and see kids playing while dealing with the country’s issues!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the views of the monuments in the distance are so magnificent from the White House gardens….

Looking from the White House south lawn at the Washington monument. This is also where the famous Easter Egg Roll Party happens the Monday after Easter.

View from the White House south lawn looking at the Washington monument. This is where the famous Easter Egg Roll happens the Monday after Easter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I leave you with one last shot of our beautiful White House on such a gorgeous day.

I’ll leave you with one last shot of our beautiful White House on such a gorgeous day.

And now on to the next special event- --hope to see you there!

And now on to the next special event- — hope to see you there!

Happy Earth Day!

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Some Long-Awaited Springtime Color

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.

The peartree is in full bloom today. The daylillies and euonymus are sporting their fresh new leaves.

The pear tree is in full bloom today. The daylilies and euonymus are sporting their fresh new leaves.

 

My sea of periwinkle blooms covers a drainage pipe from the rain gutter. With all the rain we've had this Spring, it is blooming like crazy!

My sea of periwinkle blooms covers and disguises a drainage pipe from the rain gutter. With all the rain we’ve had this spring, it is blooming like crazy!

 

If you have cement benches like these, don't forget to clean the algea from them. I like to use oxi-clean and rinse well. Doesn't hurt the plants.

If you have cement benches like these, don’t forget to clean the algae from them. Otherwise you will have a green seat from sitting on them. I like to use oxi-clean and then rinse well. Doesn’t hurt the plants.

Even the tendrils of pollen hanging from the curly willow are a daffodil yellow.

Even the tendrils of pollen hanging from the curly willow are a springtime yellow, and finally the grass is green again.

 

Even though it was damaged by heavy loads of Ice and snow this past winter the creeping phlox is starting to bloom.

Even though it was damaged by heavy loads of ice and snow this past winter, the creeping phlox is starting to bloom…

 

And very soon the cherry tree will join it!

…And very soon the cherry tree will join it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything's getting a bit of a late start this year, but stay tuned, these buds will be out soon!

Everything is getting a late start this year, but stay tuned — these buds will be out soon!

 

The roses just opened their leaves yesterday, hoping for some blooms in a couple of weeks.

The roses just opened their leaves yesterday, hoping for some blooms in a couple of weeks.

So, until then, we'll have to wait and see if the wisteria is going to bloom this year. Fingers crossed it will! Enjoy your Spring

So, until then, we’ll have to wait and see if the wisteria is going to flower this year, fingers crossed it will! Enjoy your spring!

 

 

 

 

It’s Spring!

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Photo-ops from the winter of 2015

Frozen beauty in the front yard. Winter 2015 has been colder than Alaska-

Frozen beauty in the front yard. Winter 2015 has been colder here than Alaska.

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.

This is our resident fox. She has been with us for a few years. A friend to our feral kitty, and rarely visible. We had a lucky photo op!

This is our resident fox. She has been with us for a few years. A friend to our feral kitty, and rarely visible. We had a lucky photo op!

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.

Robins sunning themselves on the window sill to stay warm they fluff out their feathers for insulation.

Robins sunning themselves on the window sill to stay warm, they fluff out their feathers for insulation.

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!

Robin surveying the snow-

Robin surveying the snow-

We have had every different type of snow this year, but this heavy snow is the most beautiful.

We have had every different type of snow this year, but this heavy snow is so beautiful the way it sticks to all the branches.

The frozen Potomac River.

The frozen Potomac River.

Goodnight 2014-

Goodnight 2014- Happy gardening to all in 2015!

Goodnight 2014- Happy gardening to all in 2015!

Wishing a wonderful Thanksgiving to all-

The last glorious leaves of the season are at peak. Wishing a wonderful Thanksgiving to all-

A brilliant blaze of color from the crepe myrtles.

A brilliant blaze of color from the crepe myrtles.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers-

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers-

A Walk Through the Garden

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:

The neon shades of the nandina always make me happy.

The neon shades of the nandina always make me smile.

The trees are really starting to show color-

The whole landscape is shifting to shades of rust and gold…

I finally had the chance to divide all the liriope, and fill in the walkway- done!

I finally had the time to divide all the liriope and fill in the walkway. Done!

I think the variegated grass this year is the best it has ever looked.

The variegated grass this year is the best it has ever looked.

Even the mahonia leaves look splashed with Fall color-

Even the mahonia leaves look splashed with fall color.

And a quick look at the new uplighting in the garden- more on this soon!

The new uplighting in the garden — more on this soon! Enjoy your evening!

It’s the Little Things — Fall Spruce Up

Front and center- adding a seasonal wreath to your front door for a welcoming touch.

Front and center — add a seasonal wreath to your front door for a welcoming touch.

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.

A fresh edging sets the tone for the walkways and gardens.

A fresh edging sets the tone for the walkways and garden beds.

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.

Give walkways a good sweeping or even a powerwashing to get them ready for holiday visitors.

Give walkways a good sweeping or even a power washing to get them ready for holiday visitors.

 

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.

The colors of Autumn- Enjoy!!!!!

The colors of Autumn- Enjoy!!!!!

 

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!

To All My Readers-

Happy Autumn!

Happy Autumn!

Great New Fall Tips and Some Reminders

It’s that time of the year when all of the nurseries are full of gorgeous

Do you love mums as much as I do? I have a great new tip for you today!

Do you love mums as much as I do? I have a great new tip for you today!

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.

By adding some plastic mesh as your mums are growing it will keep them from splitting open in the rain.

By adding some plastic mesh over the top as your mums are growing, it will keep them perfectly spaced and protect them from splitting open in the rain.

 

 

 

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!

 

The mesh can't be seen at all, even from a foot away.

The mesh can’t be seen at all, even from a foot away.

 

 

 

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!

The new garage doors will keep the garage warm enough to double as a greenhouse.

The new garage doors will keep the garage warm enough to double as a greenhouse.

 

 

 

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.

This is the brand of driveway topcoating I used to resurface this last Spring. It has held up nicely, and I like it best out of all the varieties I have tried.

This is the brand of driveway topcoating I used to resurface this last Spring. It has held up nicely.

 

 

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.

 

 

I'm naming the coleus as my favorite "Plant of the Summer." It grows exceptionally well in containers, and the color ranges are so vivid and beautiful.

Coleus — my favorite “Plant of the Summer.” It grows exceptionally well in containers, and the color ranges are so vivid and beautiful.

 

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.

One more variety of the coleus I grew in pots, this one is bright pink with lime green borders.

One more variety of the coleus I grew in pots, this one is bright pink with lime green borders.

 

 

What has been your favorite plant this summer?

My Edible Garden

Nasturshems are not only pretty, but in a salad they impart a radish flavor. Many other flowers are also edible- pansy, lavander, even squash and chive blossoms.

Nasturtiums are not only pretty, but in a salad they impart a radish flavor. Many other flowers are also edible: pansy, lavender, even squash and chive blossoms.

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!

My pumpkin- only about the size of a grapefruit right now, but hopefully will get to be giant!

My pumpkin — only about the size of a grapefruit now, but hopefully it will grow to be a giant!

If you have problems with wildlife eating your produce give jalapenos a try. I have never had a single one bothered.

If you have problems with wildlife eating your produce give jalapenos a try. I have never had a single one bothered.

Don't be too quick to toss out plants with winter kill. My fig has come back to health, although, about 2 months later than normal!

Don’t be too quick to toss out plants with winter kill. My fig has come back to health — although, about two months later than normal!

I like to bring some of my most used pots of herbs (mint and basil) up close to the kitchen door- very convenient!

I like to bring some of my most used pots of herbs (mint and basil) up close to the kitchen door — very convenient!

 

Summer Field Trip to New England

Summer blooms- golden yarrow, lamb's ears and coreopsis taking there turn in the spotlight.

Summer blooms in my garden — golden yarrow, lamb’s ears and coreopsis taking their turn in the spotlight. Before leaving for vacation, don’t forget to give your garden a deep watering!

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.

The flowers above the entrances of shop and restaurants were amazingly beautiful all over Boston.

The flowers above the entrances of shops and restaurants were amazingly beautiful all over Boston.

 

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!

Beautiful entryway in Beacon Hill.

Beautiful entryway in Beacon Hill. Lovingly restored doors flanked by urns of ivy and hydrangea.

Everywhere you looked- more beauty!

Everywhere you looked – more beauty!

The rocky coastline in Plymouth. The rock is in the impressive shelter on the beach.

The Plymouth Rock is in this impressive shelter on the Cape Cod coast.

This is a fence in Cape Cod. I love the natural element in coastal villages.

This is a fence in Cape Cod. I love the use of natural elements, wood and stone in all the coastal villages.

Although most of the really large,old trees were in great health this tree in Boston Common shows what can happen when termites attack.

Although most of the large old trees were in great health, this tree in Boston Common shows what can happen when termites attack.

Ivy topiaries were on the front porches of many homes.

Ivy topiaries were on the front porches of many homes in the historic districts.

The iron gates of "The Breakers" in Newport.

The iron gates of “The Breakers” in Newport, R.I. along the famous 10 Mile Drive.

The beautiful harbor in Hyannis. Can't wait to go back!

The beautiful harbor in Hyannis. Can’t wait to go back!

Back home again now- I did miss my pumpkin patch. Like Dorothy says- "There's no place like home."

Back home again now – I did miss my pumpkin patch. Like Dorothy says- “There’s no place like home.”

 

Summer’s Here!

Lots of rainfall this year has given us a fabulous flower display.

Lots of rainfall this year is giving us a fabulous flower display.

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.

Plant swap tip- If possible try to include a picture of the item, so that people will know what it looks like.

Plant swap tip: If possible, include a picture of the item so your “swapee” will know what it looks like.

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!

Happy Summer!

Some earthquake repair and fresh coat of sealer make the driveway look like new!

Some earthquake repair and a fresh coat of sealer make the driveway look like new!

Even the door got a fresh coat of varnish to get ready for Summer.

Even the door got a fresh coat of varnish to get ready for Summer.

Many stones and bricks were reset, and new mortar updates the front steps.

Many stones and bricks were reset, and new mortar updates the front steps.

 

Spring Flower Power!

The rhododendron is now fully in bloom!

The rhododendron is now fully in bloom!

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 like to use slow release fertilizer on my roses to make sure they are always fed.

I like to use slow release fertilizer on my roses to make sure they are always fed.

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.

What a treat! A cardinal has chosen our garden for her nest this Spring.

What a treat! A cardinal has chosen our garden for her nest this Spring.

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.

Perimeter garden creates texture while providing a barrier to keep rainwater in our yard.

Perimeter garden creates texture while providing a barrier to keep rainwater in our yard.

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.

The boxwood sustained snow damage last winter, but you'd never know it now. Trimming out the damage has lead to a lot of new spring growth.

The boxwood sustained snow damage last winter, but you’d never know it now. Trimming out the damage has lead to a lot of new spring growth.

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!

What a difference a couple of weeks make. The white iris are starting to bloom, when they get to their full height, they usually need staking, so I have green stakes the perfect height to use. They completely disappear!

What a difference a couple of weeks make. The white iris are starting to bloom, when they get to their full height, they usually need staking, so I have green stakes the perfect height to use. They completely disappear!

LisaEarthGirl News-

Hello to all my readers! In the next few days I will be switching formats which may make viewing this page difficult. Please look for me on Facebook. Thank you for your readership.6-left-side-blue-iris-768x1024 Happy gardening!

In the Pink

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:

The cherry tree was beautiful this year- even as the petals fell.

The cherry tree was beautiful this year- even as the petals fell and turned into pink snow.

I have lily of the valley under the deck which smells wonderful-

I have lily of the valley under the deck which smells wonderful.

Even the sunset at Easter glowed pink!

Even the sunset at Easter glowed pink!

This is a choke cherry bush in my back yard, now about six feet in diameter. They are native in this region, and have beautiful deep pink flowers. This one given to me by a friend which makes it even more special.

This is a choke cherry bush in my back yard, now about six feet in diameter. They are native to this region and have beautiful deep pink flowers. This one was given to me by a friend which makes it even more special.

There are lots of pink and purple pansies along the driveway.

There are lots of pink and purple pansies along the driveway.

The azaleas are just starting to open, but are loaded with flowers.

The azaleas are just starting to open, but are loaded with flowers.

OK it's not pink, but just wanted to show you how interesting the branches are getting on my smallest curly willow.

OK, it’s not pink, but I just wanted to show you how interesting the branches are getting on my smallest curly willow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The peartree was also pretty spectacular this Spring, too.

The peartree was also pretty spectacular this Spring, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One last photo with the phlox in full bloom- it really was a beautiful Spring!

One last photo with the phlox in full bloom — it really was a beautiful Spring!

Earth Friendly Home Remedies for Plants

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!

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!

Use these sprays on the rose foliage to keep them disease free through out the season.

Use these sprays on the rose foliage to keep them disease-free throughout the season.

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.

Spread coffee grounds around the base of hostas and other tender leafy plants like these lily of the valley, to keep slugs at bay.

Spread coffee grounds around the base of hostas, and other tender leafy plants like these lily of the valley, to keep slugs at bay.

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!

 

 

Without Further Ado, Please Welcome Spring!

When the ornamental grasses start to shatter apart in the Spring it's time for  their annual "haircut."

When the ornamental grasses start to shatter apart, and make a mess of your yard, it’s time for their annual spring “haircut.”

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.

Once you have trimmed down the old growth, sift through the remainder with gloved hands to remove the loose pieces.

Once you have trimmed down the old growth, sift through the remainder with gloved hands to remove the loose pieces.

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!

When trimming, leave 2-3 inches of old growth to protect the new buds.

When trimming, leave 2-3 inches of old growth to protect the newly emerging buds in the crown of the plant.

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?

Lots and Lots of Snow

The bushes look sugar coated- lovely!

The bushes look sugar coated – lovely!

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.

And all of a sudden it's a snowglobe!

And all of a sudden – Siberia!

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!

Do your best to shovel the snow all the way to the edge of the pavement to prevent the melting snow from refreezing on your drive.

Shovel the snow all the way off of the pavement to prevent the melting snow from refreezing on your drive.

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!

Be cautious on decks- the snow can be very, very heavy!

Be cautious on decks- the snow can be very, very heavy!

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!

 

Roses, Roses, Roses – It’s Almost Valentine’s Day!

Everything you ever wanted to know about Roses-

Everything you ever wanted to know about Roses

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought this might be the perfect time to blog about roses — their meanings and how to dry them, in case anyone wants to preserve their bouquets! Years ago, I was asked to be a part of putting together a series of gardening books for Time-Life Books. My floral business was really centered all around roses, so I chose to work on the Rose book in the series. It was my first chance at being a contributor to a book in my chosen craft, and I was more than happy to help them out. These books have been out of print for a long time now, but the information is timeless. My specialty was drying the roses so that they looked fresh. I had it down to a science — usually drying 1000 stems at a time, every 2 to 3 weeks. Any thing that did not meet highest standard was turned into potpourri for sachets. When you are in a very small business you learn not to waste a single bit of anything! So, here are a few of my favorite drying techniques from the Roses book, and some fun facts on rose color:

First up: Choosing the right color rose to convey your sentiment.

The rose is always the flower most associated with being a gift of romance and love. And, why not? With its beauty and beautiful scent, who wouldn’t love to receive them?

Each color has a different meaning to convey your sentiment.

Each color has a different meaning to convey your sentiment.

This colors and meanings chart will help you choose the perfect bouquet of roses for your loved one. Rose color was used as a form of communication from ancient times through the Victorian period, all but lost to us now. Here is the meaning of each:

This is a heart shaped rose arrangement I made years ago with roses that I dried myself. The colors will stay intact for a long time!

This is a heart shaped rose arrangement I made years ago with apricot colored roses and statice that I dried myself. The colors will stay intact for a long time when carefully air-dried.

Next: Enjoy your roses! Lift them out of the container each day and trim an inch from the stem, replace the water with fresh. After a few days, when the roses are half opened, is the perfect time to preserve them. Any longer in the water will cause the roses to open too much, and the effect will not be quite as good.

To dry, simply bundle the roses in small bunches of eight or ten stems at the most, and hang upside down in a room with dim light, but good air circulation. Use a fan to help if you need to. The perfect temperature is around 70, and low humidity is a must. I like to use elastic bands to bundle them, because they will hold fast to the stems as they shrink slightly when drying. The drying

Save your rosepetals, (or any buds that haven't dried as beautifully as you might like) for sachets, or potpourri. These are pomanders, sachets & hatboxes filled with rosepetal potpourri which was some of my biggest sellers.

Save your rose petals, (or any buds that haven’t dried as beautifully as you might like) for sachets, or potpourri. These are rosebud pomanders, sachets & mini hatboxes filled with rose petal potpourri that I made for craft shows and shops. Terrific for gifts, too!

process will take 2-3 weeks, and then you will have your roses for years! I like to pull the outermost petals off to expose the more vibrantly colorful ones just inside making them appear fresh. The greenery will also hold its color for at least a year when dried this way. The rose color will intensify during the drying process, and sometimes even change completely as they dry — pinks become coral, orange becomes red, white becomes more creme. Hope you will try this!

Have a beautiful Valentine’s Day!

Easy way to start a rose bush from a rose stem.

Easy way to start a rose bush from a rose stem.

Update: I just saw this great way of rooting roses from stems. Simply insert the stem in a potato before planting at about 3 inches below top of soil. In about 2 months you will have a new rose bush! What a great way of recycling a Valentine’s Day bouquet!

Microclimates in Your Garden – Keeping Track of Rainfall

Snow!

Snow and wind on the North side of my garden.

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.

January       4.75

Lots of strong storms  from the south and west this last year bumped up the annual total.

Lots of strong storms
from the south and west this last year bumped up the annual rainfall total, and kept the garden green much longer into the late summer than usual.

February     3.25

March         5.50

April           4.25

May            5.0

June          16.50

July             5.50

August         2.75

September    1.0

October       11.0

November     5.50

December     11.75

 

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!

 

 

Happy 2014-

Happy gardening in 2014 everyone!1533868_561341447292898_1015770681_n

How to Keep Your Real Christmas Tree Fresh Longer

I guess everyone knows that the tree hugger in me thinks of cutting down a tree for Christmas like the way vegetarians think of eating meat, but I admit there is nothing like the scent of a real Christmas tree in the house. Although I am a convert to artificial trees, I want to help all my friends who celebrate with a real tree have the freshest, most fragrant tree possible. I have had this recipe for many years, and if you use it, your tree will draw in eight times more water than it originally held! Really! This will make your tree safe and fragrant for weeks. So, without further ado — here it is:

 

 

One beautiful Christmas tree
2 gallons of hot water
2 cups karo syrup
1/4 cup clorox
2 tablespoons of epsom salts
1 teaspoon of borax

Cut 1 to 2 inches from the bottom of the tree. Soak the tree in the mixture for a couple of days, then cut off another inch before you put it in its stand. Save the mixture to add to the reservoir in the stand.
I highly recommend this and used it for years. You will be able to enjoy the tree for much longer, and it even helps to keep the deep green color. This is also great for the wreaths, garlands, and pieces of evergreen used in decorating, too. Just soak them in the mixture before using them. Enjoy!

It’s Definitely Fall

 

The storm that ushered in the cooler temperatures-

The passing storm that ushered in the cooler temperatures.

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.

Gorgeous golden colors of Fall

Gorgeous golden colors of Fall.

 

 

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.

The colors are almost like a tapestry.

The colors are like a tapestry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy your evening!

Enjoy your evening!

 

 

 

Starting to get dark outside, so just one more parting shot before sunset:

 

 

Recycled Garden Art

A wall of rescued tile turned into Art.

A wall of rescued tile turned into Art.

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!

Made from worn out gardening tools, this chair is a definite for my garden.

Made from worn out gardening tools, this chair is a definite for my 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.

 

Great "Kid" project- rocks painted like candy.

Great “Kid” project- rocks painted like candy.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

These topiary forms are made with harvested vines and branches.

These topiary forms are made with harvested vines and branches.

 

 

 

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!

 

Made with small stones, what a fun Fairie house-

Made with small stones, what a fun Fairy house!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Tin man made from old cans- add a hose, and he becomes a built in helper!

Tin man made from old cans. Add a hose, and he becomes a built in helper!

 

 

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?

Setting the Scene for Fall

This year's Fall colors on my porch are deep pinks, purples and teals.

This year’s Fall colors on my porch are deep pinks, purples and teals.

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.

This ornamental kale was my inspiration for the Fall colors I chose this year.

This ornamental kale was my inspiration for the Fall colors I chose this year.

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.

Normally by this time of year summer annuals would be in decline, but our strange year once again is proving to be different.

Normally by this time of year summer annuals would be in decline, but our strange year once again is proving to be different.

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.

Lanterns on sheppard's hooks are a great portable way of lighting a pathway- or anywhere else!

Lanterns on shepherd’s hooks are a great portable way of lighting a pathway — or anywhere else!

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!

 

Happy Fall!

Happy Fall!

It’s Almost Autumn!

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:

The berries are huge this year on the Pyracantha. The birds will soon notice, and gorge on them, I'm sure!

The berries are huge this year on the Pyracantha. The birds will soon notice, and gorge on them, I’m sure!

I can't get enough of the sedums when they are in bloom. I love the soft coral color.

I can’t get enough of the sedums when they are in bloom. I love the soft coral color.

The fronds on the maidenhair grass shimmer in the sun.

The fronds on the maidenhair grass shimmer in the sun, and I love to watch them dance in the breeze.

The montauk daisies are almost in full bloom!

The Montauk daisies are almost in full bloom!

And my favorite plant of the season, the nandina. With my garden buddy Stomper taking his afternoon nap underneath.

And my favorite plant of the season, the nandina. With my garden buddy Stomper taking his afternoon nap underneath.

Time to go purchase some pansies and mums. I’ll be back soon with some more Autumn glories- until then enjoy your day!

 

 

 

 

 

The Bottom Line in Curb Appeal

A beautiful pot of seasonal color will draw a buyers eye to the front door.

A beautiful pot of seasonal color on the front porch will draw a buyer’s eye to the front door.

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:

Nice landscaping will lead to a contract 6 weeks faster on average!

Nice landscaping will lead to a contract 6 weeks faster on average!

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!

For an uncomplicated look repeating plant types will improve flow and give a professional touch.

For an uncomplicated look repeating plant types will improve flow and give a professional touch.

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.

Gardening in Historic Alexandria

Rhododendren are native to Virginia. I am lucky to have this beauty in my front garden!

Rhododendron are native to Virginia. I am lucky to have this beauty in my front garden!

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!

Front left- azalea

Azalea in full bloom in my east garden. These beautiful bushes are treasured by gardeners in our region.

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 is a blackberry lilly. These were grown by Thos. Jefferson as a curiousity. The beautiful coral flowers give way to seedpods which look like blackberries.

This is a blackberry lily. These were grown by Thomas Jefferson as a “curiosity.” The beautiful coral flowers give way to seedpods which look like blackberries in late summer.

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.

This is a fig tree grown from cuttings from Mt. Vernon estate.

This is a fig tree grown from cuttings from Mt. Vernon estate.

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.

An example of the homes in the historic section of Old Town Alexandria. My little green house in the center was built in 1790.

An example of the homes in the historic section of Old Town Alexandria. My little green house in the center was built in 1790, although very tiny inside, it has a 50 ft. deep back garden!

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!

Seedpods of the blackberry lily. They look so much like real blackberries- Ican see why Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by them!

Seedpods of the blackberry lily. They look so much like real blackberries- I can see why Thomas Jefferson was so enamored by them!

Tips on Mid-Summer Evergreen Pruning

BEFORE picture- holly has overtaken the front garden. Time to reclaim!

BEFORE picture- holly has overtaken the front garden. Time to reclaim!

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-

Always check for bird's nests before pruning or spraying.

Always check for bird nests before pruning or spraying.

 

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.

I always prune with shears. They create a nice clean cut, and create a more natural look.

Always prune with shears. They create  a more natural look than a hedge trimmer. The new leaves are pretty soft, but wear gloves if you are working with the old growth — it can get very sharp!

 

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.

Always try to leave some "breathing room" behind your foundation plantings for air circulation as well as security.

Always try to leave some “breathing room” behind your foundation plantings for air circulation as well as security.

 

 

 

 

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.

Here is the "After" picture. Nice fringe-like texture, with branches full of leaves makes for a healthy Holly.

Here is the “After” picture. Nice fringe-like texture, with branches full of leaves makes for a healthy holly.

When shaping boxwood trim out the entire branch all the way to the base. It will encourage healthy new growth from the center of the plant.

When shaping boxwood trim out the entire branch all the way to the base. It will encourage healthy new growth from the center of the plant.

 

 

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.

Happy Summer! A view of my daylilly garden.

My daylilly garden in bloom right now.

 

Renewing the Deck

After a hard day's work, it's one of our favorite pastimes to enjoy the views from the deck, but the harsh exposure took its toll on the wood.

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.

When choosing a color for your deck it's nice to consider the other elements at your home. In this case, we chose a color similar to the front door.

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!

A fresh coat of paint to the white trim set off the wood tone of the deck. This photo was taken after the first layer of toner had been applied.

 

 

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.

Refreshing the old coach lamps was easy with a coat of black paint!

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.

It is so gratifying to see the rain just bead up and roll off the new finish!

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!

A close-up of the finished product. Time to mark this one off the to do list.

Ahhh! Now it's time to sit down and think about my next project. Hey, I think I need some more plants up here on the deck....

Summer Garden Spruce-up Tips!

Welcome Readers – Happy Summer!

 

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.

Let’s get rid of the mushrooms for good…..

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.

Renewing your Ivy is easy as a few well placed snips!

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!

To get rid of ugly stumps- drill holes and fill them with epsom salts!

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!

Don’t forget to refresh your topiaries, and other potted plants with some fresh soil and slow release fertilizer.

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!

 

So long for now- next time a segment on refreshing a deck!

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!

After a few months of the epsom salt treatment this stump was chipped away in about a half an hour.

After a few months of the epsom salt treatment this stump was chipped away in about a half an hour.

 

 

 

 

Managing Rain water in your Garden- Keeping it where you want it!

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.

In the flowering category creeping phlox can't be beat!

Liriope, both solid green and vareigated work in almost all sun conditions, and get beautiful sprays of purple flowers in the Autumn.

Periwinkle with it's glossy evergreen leaves is one of the toughest hillside groundcovers, and beautiful early Spring flowers to boot!

Pachysandra is a staple in many gardens because of it's soft evergreen foliage and spreads easily to cover an area quickly.

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!

From my home to yours- Happy Gardening!

 

Too Cold Outside? Time for Indoor Gardening

With a perfect filtered southern exposure, this poinsettia is still blooming.

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.

This variety of amaryllis is "peppermint stick". I was lucky that the bulb sent up two shoots, each with four flowers.

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.

For this terrarium I used mussel shells for drainage and to dress up the sides, then added a blue and white pansy.

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!

For this centerpiece, I used a 12" drainer dish as a base filled with some sod. Makes a great spot for Easter eggs!

 

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!

Fresh Ideas for a New Year

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.

It is so handy to have the patio umbrellas right where we need them.

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.

This deck box holds all the chair cushions, and doubles as party seating. The lattice panels in the arbor are easily removable to prepare for storms.

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!

A seating platform raises the area to the perfect viewing height above the rail.

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.

Decorating at Christmas – Some Tricks of the Trade from My Home to Yours

For the perfectly lit tree, use 100 lights per foot of height, winding them back and forth the length of each branch. This will create a wonderful glow from within.

This time of the year is one of my most favorite. I love to make the outdoors look as festive as the indoors. I have always loved making wreaths and garlands with greenery from my own yard, but I recommend using artificial greens as well. It may sound funny that I use artificial greens, considering how much I love plants, but there are many good reasons why I do. I  embellish them with natural greens, berries and pine cones, and of course beautiful ribbons. I like the artificial greens because  they are stronger, fireproof, and you can keep them up for as long as you want.

Add real greenery to artificial wreaths and garlands to create a full and elegant look. Here real magnolia branches and white pine boughs are mixed with garlands, roping and musical instruments.

 

 

Being a florist has its advantages – one being access to floral wholesale warehouses, where the quality is superior to retail craft stores. With a few tricks of the trade, your greenery will look just as terrific! Here are some easy ones.

 

First – shop when items have gone on sales for 50-60% off. (These days that can be right after Halloween.) You’ll want to purchase three times as many garlands as you need. I will explain this later in the blog.

Using multiple types of greenery in a garland creates a more natural look, especially when embellished with pine cones or pods. I also added bows, grapevine and cranberry strings.

 

Next, select garlands with different kinds of artificial foliage and varying branch lengths. This will make your garland full and much more realistic.

 

 

Last, look for the best color of green. Multiple shades of green on the needles will give you the most realistic look.

 

Now that you have everything you need to create the best garland, lay them all out, and “fluff” out the individual branches. Take three garlands, (ideally one of each branch length — short, medium and long) and twist them together. This will result in one beautifully full, florist-quality garland. Next, embellish to your heart’s content.

The chadelier get a Christmas makeover with a wreath adorned in fruit.

The chandelier gets a Christmas makeover with a wreath adorned in fruit.

 

For wreaths, I also combine two of types of foliage, or add picks of real greenery into the artificial base. The end result is full and strong. I also attach the wreaths with wire to the hook, this will keep them in place no matter how hard the wind blows.

 

I love the look of Christmas lights done right.  I try to not use too many lights, but always put a candle in each window, and a spotlight on the front door.  My father was a master with the Christmas lights, and always loved putting them in the trees and bushes. He taught me, and I here pass on one of his best his tips: When lighting trees or bushes, start the string of lights from the trunk and wrap each branch, back and forth, all the way to the top. This will make your job look very professional. Do your best to hide all the wires with in the branches, and plan for approximately 100 lights per foot of height on your tree.

 

My updated tip: Put lights on timers or remote control, so that you don’t even need to brave the weather to turn them on and off.

Paperwhite bulbs about to bloom. I like to dress mine up with pine cones around the base for the holidays.

 

 

For a beautiful interior touch, start paperwhite bulbs the week of Thanksgiving in containers. They will start to bloom in 3 to 6 weeks, so you will have them for Christmas. This also makes a great gift!

Add greenery to lamp posts and mailboxes.

 

 

Lamp posts and mailboxes are also fun to embellish, just be sure not to obscure the address numbers or the outgoing mail flag.

 

Now the only thing left to do is to take in the beauty of the season, and to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas!

 

Full Circle in the Garden

Fall asters come in a range of beautiful colors and have very long bloom times.

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 is a terrific thatch rake. I love the adjustable feature - very ergonomic!

 

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.

The sedums are one of the few perennials that I don't trim back in the fall. They provide seeds for the birds during winter.

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.

Gardening Olympics – 2012′s Gold Medal Winners Are…..

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.

This mango colored hibiscus is a definite gold medal winner. It has had prolific blooms and foliage all summer.

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.

 

 

 

 

The mahonia, or false grape as it is sometimes called, adds a beautiful texture in the garden.

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.

This vibrant magenta colored geranium and the variegated ivy have thrived this season.

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!

 

Some of the spectacular herbs this year, clockwise from top left: lemon balm, catnip, sage, and chives.

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.

The beautiful mandevilla vine winds itself up the post, needs almost no care, and flowers in abundance!

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!

 

Mid Summer Garden Rescue

The poor garden this summer! Extreme heat, no rain, blazing sun, then sudden torrential storms with incredible winds. All this and more have left gardens in a sad state. It’s time for a rescue. Here’s my list of fixes and tips to help reclaim their health and beauty.

Trim out all dead and diseased branches on bushes and trees. If left alone this could attract insets and/or further spread the disease.

Start by clipping out dead branches on bushes and trees. Next (depending on how much is affected), trim out the bad parts, or completely cut back perennials as well as annuals. Make sure to collect and recycle your trimmings. In the humidity which comes with late summer, it is easy for fungus and insects to infect large clippings on the ground. Adding them to a compost pile will heat them so this doesn’t happen. In my yard, I am completely cutting back the foliage on all of the daylilly, yarrow, iris, and lamb’s ears, which will resprout fresh new foliage and look terrific until frost.

I will trim out many small branches on the Japanese hollies and junipers, and a significant number of dogwood limbs, too.

I suggest raking through the mulch to make sure that it has not compacted too much, and if you are in a drought area, start watering your foundation bushes with a soaker hose if you haven’t already.

When your lawn goes into a dormant state due to severely high temperatures combined with a drought, it is best to wait until temperatures have receded before resuming watering and/or feeding.

The grass in the yard has gone completely dormant here due to the lack of rain and the heat. Rather than stress it by trying to force it to grow, I will let nature tell me when it’s time to regenerate. I must say that in all the years I’ve been gardening, I don’t remember a year that has stressed the grass so much. I caution against adding any mid-season fertilizer this year. It may help to lightly add a 1/2 inch of compost to the lawn to help protect the roots. Until the temperatures are back below the 90′s I am wary of doing much else. As soon as the temperatures are lower I will start watering unless we receive significant rainfall.

The flowers that I have in pots this year are tried and true. I planted only geraniums, which I know to be more drought tolerant than many other flowers. Tip: plant two pots for every one that you need in an exposed focal area like the front door. Put one pot on the front porch and one in a less exposed area (under the deck in my case). Rotate them back and forth each week. That way they are given a break from the harshness of the weather extremes and are able to stay healthy. Also be sure to turn your pots at least 1/4 rotation each week, so that they don’t grow crookedly towards the sun. This is especially true if you have potted evergreens that you display year round.

This is an example of "sucker" branches. They are ugly and can actually draw the nutrients out of the tree if left alone. It is best to keep them trimmed out.

Many trees will develop “sucker” shoots from the trunks or branches this time of year. They are very unattractive and provide no benefit to the tree, and they can actually harm the tree if left alone. I like to take a sharp pruner and trim them out. You may need to check every month or two for a re-occurrence.

This is also the perfect time to trim back wisteria. (Remember January and July for hard pruning on wisteria.) Mine grows as much as 3 to 4 feet in a week, so I do lots of mini-prunings to keep it in shape. If you are growing chrysanthemum or sedum, this is also the last time for pruning back the height before blooming. I like to take mine down by a third. By doing that you will have many more blooms on a much stronger, more compact plant which will be less prone to splitting open in the rain.

I hope your yards and gardens are surviving this hot, dry summer. If you have any tips you would like to share on this subject, send them along and I’ll be sure to print them. Here’s looking forward to some healthy green color coming back!

Keeping Cool and Hydrated in the Summer Heat

Take frequent water breaks, and drink at least one glassful an hour.

We had a huge storm on the east coast last weekend followed by the hottest temperatures I have ever seen around here. Keeping cool and hydrated is a must if you plan to spend time outside in this intense heat. After just a couple of hours working to clean up storm damage, the heat got to me and I took a tumble. After both hurting my wrist and breaking a toe, I have learned my lesson the hard way. I am now very aware to drink water often and, preferably, in the shade.

Our thermometer read 108 degrees. Brutally hot temperatures mean limiting your time outdoors.

Limit your time outside while triple digit temperatures are here. If you can, try to break up your chores into ten minute segments, and cool off indoors between times. I recommend moving all small pots and containers to locations where they are out of the direct sun until the heat subsides. I put mine under my deck. They tend to dry out quickly otherwise. Try to water all pots twice daily. Add ice cubes to the top of hanging baskets to cool the soil as the cubes melt.

Adding ice cubes to your hanging baskets or flower pots cools the soil and slowly waters.

Soaker hoses are worth their weight in gold in this weather. I like to use them in the evening, and they can really mean the difference in keeping newly planted trees and bushes alive. If you have an irrigation system, set it to run in the pre-dawn morning hours. This will give the plants and lawn a chance to dry off before the sun is out.

Don’t water anything while it’s in the full sun. It will quickly sunburn the leaves and kill the flowers. The water actually intensifies the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass. Beware of setting anything like a trash can lid or even a plastic trash bag on your lawn while you’re working. It takes only minutes for them to kill the grass.

In fish ponds and swimming pools, keep watch on your water level.

If you are lucky enough to have a swimming pool or fish pond, check your water level daily. It’s amazing how quickly the water can evaporate on extremely hot days. If the water levels fall too low to recirculate, the pump can overheat and burn up. If you have a fish pond, be sure to shade it.

A portable market umbrella can do a great job of keeping you cool.

A great way to stay cool while gardening is to follow the shade around your house, and set up a sprinkler (my favorite!) to cool you down while working. When shade isn’t available, I set up my market umbrella. It can feel 10 to 20 degrees cooler under the umbrella than working in the full sun. Even a large brimmed hat can help to keep the rays off, so enjoy your summer!

Fifty Shades of Mulch

Shredded mulch in bulk. This is the most popular type and the most budget friendly.

OK, so this is not going to make it onto the Best Sellers list like the other “Fifty Shades” read, but the title is accurate! There are many mulches out there, and you can pick and choose your way through a huge selection at almost every garden shop. I’ll describe the main features and differences to help you make your choice.

First, there are many different types of mulch: wood, pine straw, cocoa hulls, rock, glass, shells, even rubber. A nice thing these days is that most of these are recycled, or by-products from another industry. Wood, of all kinds, is the most popular. Shredded or in chips, it lends a natural appearance. It comes in many color shades so you can choose the perfect backdrop for your needs.

This handy chart was printed on the 2 cu.ft. bags of mulch that I used this spring. It shows how many bags you need to cover specific areas at given depths.

In the south-east, many people use pine straw, which is great around acid-loving plants like azaleas. In the desert areas, most people use rocks in many sizes and colors. I have also recently seen the use of recycled crushed glass as mulch, tumbled to remove the sharp edges, and in a variety of colors. This last one seems unusual, but is very striking in the right garden.

Rubber mulch is taking the place of organic mulches in playgrounds these days.  Most of it is made from old tires.  Here in the mid-Atlantic coastal region we have an abundance of oyster shells, so I like to use them as well as an “accent” mulch.  They are heavy, so I use them around flowers to keep the squirrels from digging them up.

Cocoa hulls have lately made an appearance as mulch. They are a beautiful color, and even make your garden smell like chocolate when it’s damp. But — don’t put it in an area where pets or wildlife visit, because it can be toxic if consumed.

Even compost and grass clippings make a terrific mulch in vegetable gardens, because they break down into the soil quicker than most other mulches, providing a nutrient-rich boost.

I like to keep the mulch between 1-2 inches deep. This provides shelter for the roots and allows the rain to percolate through.

There are as many different reasons to use mulch as there are choices. Of course, the obvious reason is that it looks great and provides a uniform backdrop to the plants, but it can also make a huge difference in water retention and protects roots from the sun and harsh elements. I like to keep a two inch layer in my garden beds.  I use shredded mulch which disintegrates fairly quickly, so I reapply each spring. Another benefit of mulch is that it keeps the weeds down, and when it disintegrates it creates a very nice soil amendment. This is the case with all organic mulches.

Especially in open areas, keep the mulch from compacting by scratching it with a rake every few months. This will refresh the appearance as well.

Inorganic mulch, like rock, glass and rubber, will last for many years, since it doesn’t break down. It also saves effort: Once you have applied it, that’s it. There is very little else that needs doing. Organic mulches, like shredded hardwood, will need a little bit of maintenance.  I like to scratch up the surface every few months to keep it from compacting. This will also keep the organic mulch looking fresh. Tip — Don’t mix shredded or chip mulch into the soil before it has completely decomposed. Doing this could result in an unwanted crop of mushrooms.

Depending on the type of mulch, there are many different ways of purchasing it. You can buy most types by the bag, but for large gardens, many producers offer it by the cubic yard or ton in bulk orders. This is usually much more cost effective than the bagged versions, sometimes less than half the price!

So, depending on your specific needs, I hope this will help guide your choice of mulch, and narrow it from 50 down to one. Happy gardening!

 

This is my local Fairfax County mulch pile only 1/2 mile from home! I love being green!

This is my local Fairfax County mulch pile only 1/2 mile from home! I love being green!

Update: For a really budget friendly alternative check with your local government office on recycling to inquire on municipal mulch piles. They are usually free for the taking, and it is one of the best ways to support the green lifestyle!

The Iris – One of Springtime’s Most Loved Flowers

The iris is truly one of the most beautiful of all springtime flowers. There are hundreds of varieties, and come in virtually every color of the rainbow. It is also one of the simplest flowers to grow.

Preparing the garden for Iris is as easy as finding a sunny spot with good drainage. I mixed about 1/3 each of sand, compost, and soil for my iris garden. Place the rhizomes flat on the soil, and space them a few inches apart. Lightly sprinkle about 1/4 inch of soil on top. From there, let nature take over. You will be rewarded with gorgeous blooms each spring.

The blooms last a long time, in many varieties more than a month from start to finish. Although, like most flowers, the weather has much to do with that. If you experience heavy rain or high heat while the iris is in flower, it may shorten the bloom time. My tip on that is to check the news, and if these are in the forecast, treat yourself to a beautiful bouquet to cut and enjoy indoors!

This yellow flag Iris was a gift from a neighbor.

You will need to check every few years for overcrowding. When that happens, just dig out every other rhizome. Check for soft spots, and if you find any simply cut them out and discard. Irises make one of the most desired gifts to other gardeners, so be sure to share your spares! I have three varieties in my yard, all originally given to me by gardening neighbors. My yellow flag iris was originally from one neighbor’s grandmother, who received it back in the 1800′s.

The picture at the top of this post is one from my former neighborhood. This homeowner has devoted his entire front yard to iris. When they are blooming, there is a steady stream of people walking and driving by to gaze. He started collecting them decades ago, and now has more than 100 varieties.

These blue iris in my side yard are small, only about 15 inches tall, with very fine leaves.

White bearded Iris are also another favorite of mine, these grow about three feet high.

When the blooms are done for the season, the foliage is striking all on its own. I like to trim out the entire stem from the flower, instead of just dead heading. Different varieties vary in their shades of green and the height and width of their leaves. So, it’s easy to choose a variety that suits your exact needs. The best time to divide them is in July through August, if they have become overcrowded. This is also when some varieties may have foliage die back. I trim mine with a sharp knife, to about 2 inches, and they will regenerate new foliage which will look  beautiful up until frost.

So whether your favorite is Siberian, Flag, Bearded, Japanese, or one of the many other varieties that grace our lovely planet, I hope you will plant some and enjoy them for years to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recycling Ideas for the Garden

To honor Earth Day, I have some great ways to recycle in the garden that I want to share with you. I will start with some alternative ideas for things that are commonly tossed out. These are easy, but ones that you might not have tried.

This year I am adding knockout roses to my planters. They have a deep root structure, so it's important to have soil amendments like grass clippings or compost, to keep the soil light and nutrient filled.

We are still having temperatures in the 40′s overnight, so as the grass gets mowed we are collecting the clippings instead of mulching them. In our yard, this can mean eight or so bags of grass each week. As an alternative to adding them to a compost pile, one of the best nutrients  is to incorporate a bag or two of grass clippings for every 3-4 feet of soil. I do this annually where I plant flowers, and it’s great to use in the vegetable garden as well. I add grass clippings to the potting soil to give an extra boost to the roots, and to keep the soil loose. I have even used clippings as mulch in the herb garden in the past, stirring them into the soil every couple of weeks. This provides a constant source of nitrogen for the heavy feeders like tomatoes, too.

I dig up river rocks in the garden all the time. I reuse them by paving the under deck area. They also make great pathways.

It seems one of the things that grows best in my garden is river rocks.  Really — for every shovel full of soil I dig up at least 2 or 3 potato sized rocks. I recycle them by paving the area under my deck with the larger rocks. They have become a wonderful surface which prevents erosion, as well as keeping the area walkable. They make terrific pathway material, or could even become a border around the edge of a bed. Another way I use them in my yard is to disperse the water from the downspouts. I use them in place of the ordinary splash guards made of concrete or plastic.

 

You can make your own "customized" soaker hose by placing it through your garden bed, then puncturing the hose right at the root zone of each plant you want watered. This is a great way to repurpose an old hose that already has pinholes in it.

Instead of throwing away those old hoses — you know, the ones with all the pinholes that have developed over time — here is a creative reuse for them.  Go ahead and add more. This can easily be done with an ice pick. Add them every few inches, and you will have created your own “soaker” style hose. The end of the hose can easily be “plugged” just by leaving an old spray nozzle on it. An even more water efficient method would be to place the hose in the garden and puncture holes into it right at the root zone of each plant you want to water. I like to place mine in the garden before I mulch. Then layer in the mulch on top. You don’t even know the hoses are there. I leave a quick connect on the other end, and just hook it up when needed. (Better for aesthetics!) I love soaker hoses, they are such time savers and so water efficient.

This deck box was created by reusing boards from an old fence. (Those of you who have read my blog will recognize my kitty friend Stomper.)

For the more advanced recycler, don’t overlook the value of reusing old fencing boards in new projects. Quite often some of the boards are rotten, but not all. We took down an old fence some time ago, and have reused the wood in many of our garden projects. This deck box is one. It houses all of the cushions for the deck chairs when not in use, and keeps them handy when we want them. Just take an inventory of the wood you have on hand, then design your project around it. It’s always fun to have a one of a kind, useful piece of furniture,too! From the same old fence, my tool shed and potting bench were created. As nice as it is to reuse the old boards, it’s also budget friendly. You can’t beat free!

Here's another use for rocks from your garden. I use them to channel and disperse the water from the downspouts. It conforms to the terrain better than splash guards, and also does a better job.

These recycling ideas are just a few, but they are ones that if the components had been tossed, it would have equaled a huge amount in a landfill. I will list more recycling ideas in the future, but hope you will send your ideas to me. I would love to share them all. If everyone does just one small thing, the impact is great!

 

Spring is Here

My kwansan cherry tree in peak bloom. (For those of you who have asked, this is the tree in the blog page's background.)

Just like magic to me, spring has sprung. With such a mild winter this year the blooms are very early. The flowering trees are magnificent, and the phlox is beyond compare. All of the bulbs have finished, but the masses of foliage were much fuller and greener than usual. I think that this might be one of the more beautiful displays ever. Even the azaleas are opening, in all their glory.

These are two weeding tools I use. The one on the left is an ergo tool, and rocks the weeds out of the soil. The one on the right is a serious tool which can extract even the toughest weeds.

It seems all of the plants that I transplanted last fall had a very easy first winter in which to spread their roots and become acclimated to their new locations. I was very happy to see the first leaves sprouting on the three crepe myrtles, and am even more anxious to see them grow to fill out the side garden where once the purple maple stood. Really the only downside of this spring is dandelions, which always seem to blow in, and they are doing way too well. Thankfully, I have two terrific tools which easily uproot them. If your yard is prone to these weeds, I wholeheartedly recommend getting one. They make the process a lot quicker. They work great on all weeds, whatever size.

I am almost done with trimming back the liriope, euonymus, and junipers. Not a minute too soon either, they are already sprouting new growth. I am hoping to finish this weekend because it is now time to edge, and add some new mulch to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. Lots to do!

Here is a closeup of the pink dogwood this year. The flowers were so huge and perfect that it almost looked artificial.

A good tip to get your garden off to a good start is after you have prepared the soil with some weed preventer, and stirred in a little compost to add nutrients, give your garden a good watering prior to mulching. This will give it a boost, and ensure that all your plants have everything they need for the new growing season.

One more closeup -- these are the creeping phlox. When first planted, these were just a small plug, they are now more than three feet in diameter, and gorgeous. I would recommend them for my top awards honor this spring.

I hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy this incredible time of the year, whether it’s in your own yard, or even the park. Just a reminder — Garden Week is almost here with lots of inspiring places to visit.

Just Say No! Springtime Don’ts and How To Fix Them

An example of a stump cut dormant Crepe Myrtle. When this is done year after year you end up with a deformed looking tree that is prone to wind damage when in bloom.

I don’t usually start off a blog in such a negative way, but there are certain practices out there which need to be stopped, and many of these occur in the spring. I recently have seen many timely articles about the annual ritual of hacking off the top half of Crepe Myrtle trees. One in particular hit the nail on the head, titling it “Crepe Murder.” This practice involves stump cutting the entire tree down to a certain height. It is very unattractive and unnatural-looking when the foliage is gone, namely all winter, and when done year after year, you end up with knobby branches. To me, this sort of looks like the painful joints of an arthritic person. I have seen many pear trees mutilated in the same way. Many people do this because they see paid gardeners do this and unsuspectingly think it’s the right thing to do.

Tip — The proper way to keep a Crepe Myrtle trimmed is to cut the branches at the base of the branch, just like you do for most other plants. This will maintain the proper branching structure and keep it natural.

This is what happens to trees which have had the mulch piled too high, "mulch volcano" style. The roots are struggling to receive water and nutrients growing toward the surface, instead of downward where they are needed for stability.

Another really bad practice that I would like to caution against is the “Mulch Volcano.” This is when the mulch is piled really high around the base of a tree with a dip in the center where the trunk comes out from the dirt. Many so called “professional” gardening crews do this as a standard practice, and so again many gardeners follow suit, thinking it is correct. In fact, it will actually kill the tree, choking off all rain and nutrients from ever reaching the poor root system.  The example to the right shows what happens to them if they don’t die. Notice how the roots will try to grow upwards to the surface in order to reach moisture. This can cause a host of new issues to deal with, such as the roots protruding out of the dirt compromising their stability, and causing them to be easily harmed during mowing. Also, it makes the roots easy to trip over if you are walking under the tree.

Another item that I would like to caution about is spraying weed killer. If it is not a completely windless day, the mist can carry quite a distance killing everything along the way. The best tip I have come across is to dip a sponge in the herbicide and lightly touch it to the weeds you want taken out. For a large area, such as killing the grass for a new garden bed, apply it with a paint roller. Quick and easy!

When daffodils and other bulbs have finished blooming, deadhead the spent blooms but leave the foliage for at least a month before cutting it down. This will ensure a beautiful and healthy display the following Spring.

One more quick don’t- when your daffodils and other bulbs have finished blooming for the season, don’t cut the foliage to the ground just yet. Go ahead and remove the dried up blooms, but leave the foliage until the green color fades. This is how the bulb replenishes itself with nutrients for the following spring, so it’s important to allow the leaves to soak in the rain and sun for an extra month or so.

The Changing Climate

Where's the snow? This year we have not had this scene at all.

It’s official: the USDA has changed our climate chart once again. This was done because the average low temperatures have increased, resulting in many regions in the U.S. changing their growing zones. Unlike previous changes, this data was compiled over 30 years. The new map can be viewed at: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/

This was just two winters ago. At one point we had two feet of snow which lasted for a month.

 

My area is now squarely in the “Upper 7″ range. I have noticed that many of the plants which used to be marginal in my yard have not had much winter die-back this year. This is very recent though, and I am not convinced we have really changed that much, since we had an incredibly snowy and frigid winter just two years ago.

This season the rosemary, oregano, sage and lemon balm remained thriving in my herb garden all winter, and the chives were only dormant for a couple of weeks. In the past, I would have been without fresh herbs for at least a couple of months. Here is a tip you can try which can extend the growing time quite a bit: Place a terracotta pot over the herb during cold nights. The pot will hold enough warmth to keep the herb from freezing, while allowing excess moisture to escape. I once kept cilantro (which is very tender) growing for two months this way, even in the snow!

This is the first time we have had flowers on the pansies all winter long.

I am already seeing lots of new growth on the ornamental grasses which I just finished trimming back. Tip: After you have trimmed them down, rake through them with gloved hands (heavy duty gloves — I don’t want anyone getting cuts!). This will help remove the dead leaves and debris which if left behind, can make its way into the crown of the plant, choking the new growth.

The pansies which I planted last fall have been blooming all winter. Normally, they would have died back to the ground and re-sprouted new growth just this month. I am also seeing the strawberry plants sending out new leaves. It will only be a short time now until we have some on our plates, barring any late season storms.

If we do get an ice storm remember that falling ice can be very harmful to humans and plants alike, If you get falling sheets of ice, like I do, make sure that you block the area where they fall.

I hate to sound selfish, but I do love the milder weather this year so far. I am much farther along with my usual winter gardening this season. Tip: We are now at the correct time of year to apply a crabgrass preventer on the lawn. It can be applied anytime between February and April, but must be down before any 80 degree days to create a barrier.

In years past, when we have had mild winter weather, we would be in for a really wet spring, often with ice storms. We will see! It is always something different around here.

Until then, you know where you can find me — I’ll be out in the garden!

 

A Superhero for Gardeners – It’s Potman!

This picture was taken a long time ago in London, in front of one of my favorite florist's shop (Kenneth Turner). I have always loved the "Potman", and think it would make a wonderful alternative to a scarecrow in the garden.

I know that title is more than a little bit silly, but I’m hoping it caught your attention. We have all seen scarecrows protecting seedlings in the garden before, but here’s a new twist on that idea. How about making one out of clay pots instead of the usual clothing stuffed with straw?

If you are like me, you have probably accumulated way too many clay pots over the years.  Some of mine are cracked or slightly broken. Even still, I hate to throw them away. This is a perfect craft for all of those less than perfect pots you may have hanging around.

It’s very simple to create this fun project. First, lay out on the ground the pots you want to use and stack them in the order you would like them to be in. Once you have come up with your perfect Potman, measure the length of the arms, legs and body, neck and head. The sections are held together by rebar and twist-ties, so measuring will help you to determine the length of rebar you will need. (Add about 2 feet to the rebar for the legs.)

Here is a diagram of the rebar skeleton, and where to connect them with twist ties. This is just a suggestion - you might have a different pose that you would prefer for yours.

Next, pound two of the rebars into the ground about 2 feet deep for stability.  Begin stacking the pots on them for the feet and legs. Add the pot which will become the abdomen next with the rebar poking through the drainage holes in the sides of the bottom of the pot to secure it to the legs. Then attach a bent rebar in the shape of an upside down “U”. This should be secured with long twist ties to the leg rebar. The next pot will be the torso. For this pot, choose one that is one size larger than the lower one, and it will nest nicely on top to create its own seal. Before connecting them, secure a “J” shaped rebar to the “U” shaped one with more twist ties. This “J” shaped rebar should be long enough to protrude from the torso pot and into the pots you will be using for the neck and head, to secure them. Connect the shoulder and arm rebars. You may find this step easier to put together on the ground, then lift into place as one piece. Again, secure with more twist ties, and add the neck and head pots. Your done!

Some helpful tips:  To cover rebars which may be exposed, or to fill in “joints” where pots connect, use sheet moss. Your Potman will look like it has been there a long time, and it will add character to your garden. Also, it’s fun to fill the “head” pot with soil to grow grass, or a vine that you can style into “hair.”

If you live in an area prone to freezing winter temperatures, make sure to give the pots a seal with some polyurethane spray before assembly. This will protect them from the effects of the cold and wet.

I hope you will try this craft, and have him (or her) protect your garden from the crows! Enjoy!

Update: August 7, 2012. I was just on Pinterest and saw this cute variation. It is held together with ropes to make it possible to pose. The two on the left can also be used as wind chimes!

It Might Be Winter, But It’s Always A Good Time To Garden!

This is the perfect time of the year to check bushes for evidence of blackspot or other fungal related diseases. Hollies can be prone to this, but many can be helped by picking the infected leaves and removing the fallen from around the base.

So far January has been a wild ride. There is a saying in the Washington area: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes.” This week we have had gorgeous 70 degree days, snow, rain and wind storms. Which means as long as you are flexible with your time, you might find an hour or so to get into the garden and catch up on things when the weather is tolerable.

I’ve been asked to chronicle the yearly cycle of when is the proper time to do different tasks, so I will start with my own “garden to-do list” each season in hopes that it will help.

As I was putting away the Christmas decorations, I noticed a bumper crop of weeds already appearing. We did have a record warm December, so it didn’t surprise me. I quickly pulled/dug them out, and then applied a layer of weed preventer. Normally, I would not have done that, but we are really having crazy swings in the weather, so better to be safe than sorry. A little diagnostic tip: Make note of what type of weeds you have and where. It can help you determine if your soil needs help. For instance, clover indicates that the soil is too compacted. Wild onion means your soil is too soggy, etc…

When checking out your bushes, be on the lookout for over-wintering insects. These egg masses are destined for the trash. Be sure not to compost, or you could spread the insect problem!

Another task to do this time of the year is to check the bushes for insects that are wintering there. I invariably find large egg masses of scale in my euonymus and juniper bushes. If you cut these out now, you will have far less insect problems next spring and summer. It is worth checking, and you might also locate bird nests more easily with leaves down. I like to make a mental note of where they are so, I don’t disturb them in the spring.

January and July are the two key months to give Wisteria a hard cutting back. It is easy to remove unwanted branching while the vine is bare this time of year, just be sure to leave 2-3 buds per branch for maximum flowering in the Spring. Also, it's a perfect time to check for bird nests, too, so you won't disturb them in the spring. (If you look carefully you can see a robin's nest at the peak of the arbor.)

This is the perfect time of the year to cut back wisteria and hummingbird vine as well as butterfly bushes. If you cut back, leave 2-3 buds on a branch and you will be rewarded with a fuller plant next summer. This will also encourage more flowering on the wisteria this coming spring. I am also working my way around the yard, cutting down the ornamental grasses, one by one, and the remainder of the other perennials. I have dozens of irises, sedum, coreopsis, liriope, and many others, so if I cut a few back each day it will add up. When I have finished with these, it will be time to move on to the larger bushes. I like to have the hollies and the junipers trimmed back prior to March. They will then set their new growth and fill out shortly after.

It seems like this will be an early spring in this region. I am already seeing my crocus and daffodils breaking through the soil, and flower buds swelling on the trees. Here’s hoping we have many more moderate days to enjoy, and give us  a head-start in the garden!