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!

 

Winter Curb Appeal – A Fun Project to Enjoy All Season

I want to wish all my readers a Happy New Year! It has been a busy couple of months. Please check out the new page I have posted on the 2011 Christmas Tour in which I participated. This was sponsored by The Wyndham Garden Club in central Virginia as a fundraiser for their projects. It was well attended, and they will be making it an annual event.

The house looks so festive at Christmas time, but when the decorations come down it's nice to have something to replace them with to cheer things up for the rest of the winter.

I am always looking for ways to cheer up the deck and doorways in the winter months. Things can be so drab after the summer flowers are gone, and the Christmas decorations have all been put away. I have a remedy sure to bring a smile, and brighten things up for not only the winter but the early spring as well.

Once the annuals have bitten the dust and been discarded, empty the old potting soil from your pots into your garden bed. It will help to improve the soil there, and each season of flowers should receive fresh soil when in pots. Next, with a 5 to 1 solution of water to bleach, scrub out your pots and let them dry in the sun. This will keep diseases from getting started or passed on from reusing the pots.

Closeup of a pot filled with daffodil bulbs, then topped with boxwood branches. It will look fresh through the winter, then beautiful with bulbs in the spring.

Now we are ready for the fun to begin. Using a deep pot with drainage holes, fill with potting soil up to 6″ below the rim. (If you live in a cold climate it’s best to use a resin pot for this project because of freezing issues.) Flatten out the soil and add a layer of daffodil bulbs. These can be placed closer together than you would ordinarily place them if you were to put them in the garden. I usually leave only about 2″ of space between. Try to fit in a dozen or more depending on the size of your pot. Next, fill the pot the rest of the way with additional potting soil, and water really well. These are going to sprout next spring for a beautiful show, but in the meantime (from now through March), I like to create what I call “instant plants” on top. To do this I trim boughs from my boxwoods and junipers, then simply fill the pot with the trimmings. I like mine to look realistic, like miniature boxwood bushes, or juniper bushes using single types of foliage in the pots, but a mix of greens looks gorgeous, too. Simply push the stems of the boughs into the damp soil. The soil will hold them in place and they will last for months outside. If you haven’t gotten rain, give them a watering each week.

I like to place a really large pot next to each of the doorways and smaller versions on the iron baker’s rack, plant stands, the patio table, and even the window boxes get filled with these “instant plants”.

When the winter starts to break, you will notice the bulbs pushing their new growth to surface. This is when you need to pull out the boughs and discard (carefully so you won’t disturb the new growth), and then you will be rewarded with a second season of beauty as the bulbs bloom!

I hope you will try this project, it can be done with crocuses or tulips as well. Enjoy!

It’s Autumn – What to Do with All the Leaves!

Gourds by the front door -- it must be Autumn!

Autumn is here, and with it an abundance of fallen leaves. There are always questions as to what to do with them all — rake, mulch, compost, or ignore. There are many options. I will help you figure out what is best for your yard.

If we are talking about the leaves which fall on the grass, it is my opinion that it is best to collect them. When they are left on the lawn, they can compact and mold can soon become a problem. If they are mulched into the lawn with a mulching mower, they can be too acidic and wreck the delicate PH balance that is so important to a beautiful healthy lawn. Also — a little known fact — they will not decompose properly and will become a thatch problem, once the overnight temperatures are below 55 degrees.

You will notice that these crepe myrtle leaves have spots. This is common on many trees as the leaves lose their chlorophyll. Do not apply a fungicide; when new leaves emerge in the spring they will be all green.

 

One of the easiest, back-friendly ways of collecting leaves is to bag them with the mower.  Just be sure to empty the bag frequently, as it will fill quickly! This works well if your leaves are less than an inch thick on the lawn. If they are thicker than that, your best option is raking or using a leaf blower. My personal favorite style of rake is the really wide plastic sweep with a padded handle so you do not get blisters on your hands.

 

My favorite style of leaf rake. This one has a very wide sweep and a padded handle. It lasts forever, too! This one is 20 years old.

I also like using a mower to collect the leaves, because it starts the composting process by chopping the leaves up into small pieces. If you have the space in your yard for a compost bin, this is the perfect time to start one!  Just layer in brown (fallen leaves), then green (grass clippings). When you have a few minutes give it a stir with a garden fork, just a few times over the winter should do it. By spring you will have a wonderful amendment to stir into your flowerbeds or as a top dressing around bushes.

The only place it is best to ignore the fallen leaves is in a wooded setting where there is no grass. They will provide a layer of warmth to the tree roots over the winter. As they decompose, they will be the perfect PH for their setting, because they are falling onto the soil below the tree where they came from. Thank you, Mother Nature!

One of the most beautiful flowers of Autumn is the Chrysanthemum. It is best to hand pick the leaves out of flower bushes, their delicate branches can break easily.

I know it is a common practice to use a blower in the garden beds; please do not do this. It is like putting your bushes through a hurricane with the force of the wind the blowers produce. Never a good thing! Even though it takes a bit more time to pick the leaves out, or rake them out, it’s worth it for the health of your plants.

It is so nice to get out into the fresh Autumn air. I like the chance to put the yard to rest for the winter to come. I hope you think so, too. Enjoy!

Getting the Most from Your Late Season Garden

Chrysanthemums have an entire new set of flowers beneath the first set. Deadheading will result in double the flower time!

Perennials, as you know, only bloom for a month or so, and then you are left with an ugly mass of dying flower heads and usually declining  foliage on the remainder of the plant. I am often asked about what to do and when to cutback, as opposed to just deadheading, and when to just tear something out. There are many tips I can share with you on all of these questions.

Many plants benefit from cutting back after they bloom. I regularly cut back the foliage on the hosta, yarrow, daylillies, salvia, lamb’s ears and iris to just above the crown of the plant when the flowers are finished. The foliage will re-sprout, and the plants will look fresh throughout the rest of the growing season. This is true with many perennials and herbs.

Here is an example of the second growth on daylillies and lamb's ears. Once the flowering has stopped, cut back to just above the crown and you will be rewarded with a fresh new crop of foliage to last the rest of the season.

Deadheading is a good way to keep your annuals looking at their peak. I would also recommend this for roses all throughout the summer and fall. Even some perennials like mums and dahlias will have a repeat bloom if deadheaded, giving you a repeat performance in the same season. This is also true of pansies. Budget tip: I prefer to plant pansies in the fall, they will come back into bloom in the spring in all their glory, giving you two seasons for the price of one!

I reserve tearing out only for the annuals, and usually between mid-September and mid-October. When the temperature at night starts falling into the 40’s the flowers decline rapidly, so this is when I like to replace them with pansies, ornamental kale or cabbage, or some other Autumn beauty.

Cutting back Sedums and Mums mid-season will yield fuller, more compact plants which will be less prone to splitting open under the weight of full blooms.

When laying out your garden design make sure to consider the texture of the foliage. Try to group differing kinds, because this will give you visual interest when the plants are not in bloom. I also try to stagger the groups in drifts so that as one is blooming it can mask the decline of another variety. For example: If you plant daylillies and daffodils in the same place, the foliage from the daylillies will hide the daffodil leaves as they decline for the season.

This is also a good time to give the mulch a good scratching up to make it look fresh again, and give it one last application of a weed preventer for the year. Fall weeds are really tough, so I do what I can to prevent them from ever starting.

One last tip to take your garden over the top health and beauty-wise is to apply  a coating of Horticultural oil (Volck oil) to your foundation plants. This will safely keep the spiders off while giving your plants a really beautiful sheen. This will also protect the leaves from winter burn. I find the easiest way to apply this is with a hose end sprayer, but you can also use a pump sprayer for smaller gardens.

With just a little bit of change your garden can be just as striking in the Autumn as it is in the height of the growing season. Enjoy!

Garden Lighting

Highlighting certain trees or plants at night can really enhance your landscape.

With the days getting shorter, I thought it would be a great time to talk about garden lighting. The kind I would like to highlight are the ones beyond the normal entry door lights and post lamps, and move further into the garden. There are so many types out there to choose from, and they can really enhance your landscape as well as provide some safety.

Whether you choose hardwired, low-voltage, or solar here are some things to consider. With hardwired you need some electrical knowledge, permits, and may need to bury your lines quite deeply, to pass code. Usually the hardwired lights are installed during a new build, but can be added later. Solar has come a long way in the past few decades, and has some clear advantages in some applications. You can easily find kits with multiple pathway lights, deck post-cap lights, and even stair tread lights in solar. About the only drawback is that you must get six or more hours of sun on the panels each day for them to work, and the light that they cast is not very bright, but is good for guiding your way as an accessory to a brighter light source. That leaves us with low-voltage, which I personally think is the best. It is consumer friendly being easy to install, and very flexible. You can change your layout as needed without to much effort. Also, you can determine what wattage is best for your personal application.

Low-voltage is the type that we chose for our yard, and my husband installed it more than a decade ago. We have changed it around a few times, and learned a lot about what works best. Here are some helpful tips he wanted to share.

*  When you are planning your lighting layout add up your total wattage and get a transformer that is the next size up. That way if you want to change it around, or add an extra light or two you will have the capacity.

* Up-lighting is truly a great way to highlight your house. To do this place the spotlights about 2-3 ft. away from the foundation with a slight angle toward to house. It will highlight the brick or siding and bathe your house in glow, a real professional look.

When up-lighting a tree, aim the spotlight mid way on the trunk for a great effect.

* When highlighting a tree, aim the light about half way up the trunk. It will cast light up into the branches, and highlight the bark.

* When connecting the individual lights to the main wire, leave the junction above ground. Even though it is “waterproof,” the connectors are the weakest link, and are usually the first part needing to be checked.

* We have found that using 40-50 watt bulbs works best for us, the lower wattage is just to dim to cast light beyond a few feet. Also, please be considerate and do not aim your lighting beyond your property line.

* For safety’s sake make sure to light your property’s address number, in an emergency it could make a difference!

I hope you will add some lighting to your garden, you will be amazed at how much beauty it adds.

And The Winner Is…..

The Vinca was the best performer of all the annuals in the garden this summer.

With the Emmy’s around the corner, I thought it only fitting to write about the winners in this summer’s garden. Even though the temperatures soared, and we had little rain to speak of, there were still some true winners.

I give top honors to the Vinca which bordered my driveway. It is in the full afternoon sun, on the west side of my house. It not only survived, but thrived on the awful 100+ degree days! In past years I have planted Ageratum and Begonia with fairly good results, but in comparison, the Vinca is a clear winner.

The Maidenhair Grasses add height and motion to the garden. Sedum borders the front edge, and gives color late Summer through the Fall.

I will also give kudos to the Ornamental grasses in the yard. They have just come into bloom and are spectacular. The variety that I have in my garden is Maidenhair, which has very fine leaves, and white plumes. Also, the liriope has just sprouted its lavender spikes and is a terrific ground cover for all exposures.

Also taking honorable mention are the Nandina and the Pyracantha which are both covered in berries. And, the Sedum which looked fabulous all summer and are now coloring up for fall.

The Pyracantha has beautiful flowers in Spring, glossy leaves all summer, and bright orange berries in the Fall.

These plants all did extremely well, they are all tried and true in my garden, and I would recommend them to anyone who is looking for really hardy, tough, drought tolerant, yet beautiful plants for their garden. This summer was one for the ages, and a true test of endurance for both flora and fauna. Which plants did best in your garden? I would love to know.

Liriope is a terrific ground cover, whether you are looking for variegated or solid green, they do well in shade to full sun.

 

Fall Garden Renewal

There are now three Crepe Myrtle trees where the old Maple tree once stood.

Fall is here, and in many ways it seemed like it couldn’t get here fast enough. We had the hottest, driest summer, and it really was hard on the garden. We lost one tree to intense storm damage, another to disease, and an unusual number of branches on the Japanese hollies and azaleas. Just too hot and buggy.

All summer long I was thinking about what kind of tree I would like to replace my Maple tree with. I decided that instead of one large tree, I would plant three Crepe Myrtles instead. They are not as tall, with looser branching structure, so they will be wind tolerant, and faster growing, to mask an unfavorable view, so I think it will be a better choice all round. I had to move a couple of huge bushes in order to get the spacing right between the trees, but that gives me a chance to share some more of my ornamental grass with a neighbor who is re-doing her yard. It is a big change where the new trees stand, but a nice one. I look forward to the beautiful lavender flowers that they will bring in the future.

We lost a lot of branches in storms. Thankfully, our waste collection company recycles it into compost for use in the garden.

 

The area where my Peartree stood is also where we were thinking about repositioning the front walk, so I will add another tree or two to the front when that job is complete. This will provide more direct access up to the front door from the sidewalk, and improve the curb appeal as well. I will increase the area at the base of the front stairs so that a bench and possibly a post lamp will fit. I love to have as many places in the garden as possible to sit and view from different vantage points.

 

This is also a time to add some more stone into the garden. I love using natural products, and am planning to use the huge, natural slab bluestone from Pennsylvania. It is not far, so it won’t be adding too much to my carbon footprint, which is always a concern to me when choosing something new.  It will lend a natural feel, and I will be able to reposition the slabs in the future, if I feel like it. I love that aspect of it, because its always interesting to change things around after a few years.

A fresh coating of driveway sealant can make the driveway look like new again.

 

In addition to addressing both of those areas, I have also resurfaced the driveway. We have an asphalt surface, so every few years I add new coating. It is surprising how quickly it transforms and beautifies — almost looks like new, even though it is 30 years old!

 

Thanks to two hurricanes and a tropical storm, the lawn has come back to health. Croquet anyone?

The turf in the yard had become so dry that it hurt your feet to walk on it barefooted. It was sharp and had turned brown and mostly dormant. We have been getting some incredible rain for about ten days, off and on (thanks to Hurricanes Irene and Lee), and the grass has come back green and strong. I was getting worried that I would have to do some major lawn renovating, but it’s looking terrific. Some fall fertilizer and weed control will be all it needs. Now that it is a little cooler, I will trim out the dead branches on the bushes, and of course plant some beautiful Mums and Pansies.

 

It is great to get back outside. What projects will you tackle in your yard?

 

 

Getting the Garden Ready for a Hurricane

We now have Hurricane Irene on route to the eastern seaboard. Possibly a strong 3 from all the forecasts. There is much to do at our garden to prepare for the winds and potential flooding which could ensue.

Move all potted plants to a protected place, and cluster them together for wind protection.

I started by moving all the potted plants, and other small garden accessories under the deck. The pots are touching, to give them support against the wind. We are expecting the wind to come in from the Northeast, and the deck is on the Southeast side of our house, so this will hopefully give the pots the most protection.

Next, we removed the lattice panels from the arbors, laying them flat on the deck. We then flipped the patio table, adding it to the pile, then the chairs. I strapped the whole pile to the deck and joists below.

Strap down all outdoor furniture.

We have also removed the propane tank from the grill, and stored it in the garage. The grill will also be tied to the railing, as well as the deck box, holding all the chair cushions. It is a good idea to bring in or tie down anything loose in your yard. In high winds things can become projectiles, causing more damage than anything else.

Don’t forget to check any low-lying doors and windows. We have a walkout basement with French doors that are at the lowest part of the yard. We sandbag the door, laying down plastic first to give extra protection. There is also an outdoor sump pump closeby, just in case.

Sandbag all low lying doors and windows.

If you rely on a sump pump, make sure you have back-up battery capability. If a storm is that intense, you could lose power, and will be very glad you have back-up.

Check all arbors, swingsets and even small trees to see if they might need to be tied down, or staked. Its also a good idea to check your gutters and storm drains for anything which might or is blocking them. Lastly, make sure your rain gutters on the house are cleaned out as well.

An outdoor sump pump can give added peace of mind in an intense storm. Just make sure you have a battery back-up system in place.

Mother nature is the biggest force we know, when she decides to make herself known, it can be quite daunting. I hope my tips will help you protect your garden. Stay safe!

 

 

The Victory Garden – Growing Our Own Food

Growing your own produce is one of the healthiest things you can do. Not only for your body, but your wallet as well.

With the skyrocketing price of great produce this year — $3.99/lb. for tomatoes, $2.99/lb. romaine lettuce, and even more if you want to have an artichoke or some asparagus with your meal — I am once again getting ready to grow some of my own.

I have tried many times in my current house to  have a vegetable garden, but we have problems with the wildlife eating everything we try to grow. I have had great success with herbs, they seem to leave them alone, but my strawberries and tomatoes are another story. I have decided that this fall I am going to try a cold frame, so that I can grow lettuce and spinach. I will post more pictures as this evolves. I am also going to try planting in pots and trays on my deck. I have done that in the past with limited success, as I found that things dry out quickly, so I will try putting them on trays with waterwicks.

My border of oregano

The herbs this year seemed to grow exceptionally well. I had a combination of pots, and many in the ground. I have an entire row of oregano which is now blooming, and cascading over on to the back walkway. Each year it gets more full than the last, and is as pretty as it is delicious. The other in-ground herbs I grow are chives, lemon balm, sage and thyme. These are all perennial and do best when they have become established. I grow the rest in pots: mint, because it is invasive; oregano, so that I can move it to a more protected winter spot; basil, because it is so sensitive; and catnip and cilantro for the same reason. I am hopeful that this year we will get some of the figs from my tiny little fig tree, but then again I think the chipmunks already have their eyes on them.

My fig tree, a cultivar from Mt. Vernon estate.

I am also looking forward to trying a cold frame to see how long I can extend my growing season into the cold weather. This has been such a hot and dry summer it wasn’t too appealing to spend long hours outside, so I am hoping that we will have some great fall weather, and do some catching up with some new projects.

 

Putting herbs in pots lets you maximize their best exposure.

My plan is to construct the cold frame by layering bricks about five courses high and placing my old storm door panel on top. The nice thing about doing this is you can change

location easily from year to year simply by moving the bricks. They also hold the heat and provide great insulating value.

I’m curious to know what others have and will try. So please let me know. Here’s to your health!

By the way, the beautiful “Sow the seeds of victory” vintage poster was created by James Montgomery Flagg in 1918.

The Beautiful Peartree

Storm damage to mature peartrees is not uncommon.

I am sorry to say, it has happened again. We had a massive wind and rain storm on Monday night, and it claimed 40% of our gorgeous peartree . It was a perfectly symmetrical gumdrop shape. Always beautiful, they are the harbinger of Spring opening up before anything else in the garden, looking cloud-like with white flowers. Also the last tree to lose its leaves in the fall after turning fabulous shades of yellows to maroons, and every color in between. I always have leaves on the peartrees still when I’m decorating for Christmas, so I have many times used pears in my front door wreath, and used that as my theme for decoration.

This is one of my Cleveland Peartrees, you can see how different the branching structure is than the Bradford Pears.

Peartrees are prone to having major branches break in wind and rain. They have an unusual structure that is not very forgiving. The Bradford variety usually has three or four branches which come out of the trunk, and all smaller branches grow out of these, making them exceptionally heavy. When you add rain and wind to the mix it is quite often more than the structure can support. If at all possible, in the winter months, when you can see the branches easily, prune out some of the heavier secondary branches. By doing this you will greatly reduce the weight and open up the inside of the tree. This will make it far less likely to succumb to wind damage.

Because each branch carries so much weight, they are easily ripped from the trunk in high winds.

In this picture you can see how much of the trunk was actually ripped away when the branch broke. If I were to leave this tree standing it would be very likely to die of disease, and bring it into the garden, so at this point it is best to take it down.

I have two other Pears in the yard. They are both Cleveland Pears. The branching structure is much stronger, because they are smaller in size and more plentiful. They can withstand the wind better, although they are not quite as magnificent shape-wise. They are a better choice for an exposed location like mine. But if you have other large trees to provide some wind protection, I would definitely encourage you to plant a Bradford, and enjoy its beauty for however long mother nature allows!

Unwelcome! Weeds and Insects…

An unwelcome byproduct of all this heat is really tough weeds and some very unwelcome insects. I have some effective, yet safe, alternatives for you to try in your house and garden to get rid of these unwanted visitors.

Household vinegar is a safe and inexpensive way to kill weeds.

As far as the weeds are concerned, we are getting a huge amount of them this year. I religiously put down pre-emergent (gluten-based) granules in my yard and garden beds every year, but this year we have had so little rain that they are not leaching into the soil as they are supposed to. There isn’t even any dew in the morning, things are getting so dry. As a result, the oxalis, carpetweed, sedge and even some crabgrass are sprouting. If at all possible, try to pull them before they go to seed and multiply, if there aren’t too many.  If you have an overwhelming amount, I would suggest a spray of a selective herbicide that targets weeds only. Most of these now are available with spray containers attachable to hoses. They are quick and simple to apply.

On walkways, a simple non-toxic and inexpensive way to kill weeds is with household vinegar. I fill an old spray bottle with white vinegar and spray away on all my brick pathways, and within hours the weeds are dead! This also works to spray on cement sidewalks, in cracks, or joints where they seem impossible to remove in any other way. It is totally safe to walk on by people, pets, or wildlife.

An easy method to get rid of ants is with Borax. Simply sprinkle it onto ant hills.

For getting rid of bugs, whether it’s ants or fleas, my favorite method is with boric acid. You can buy it in the laundry section of your supermarket (I use the  Borax 40-mule team brand.) Just sprinkle it on ant hills or encircle your house with it.  A couple times through the summer months should do it, but if you are lucky enough to get drenching rain you might need to reapply. The insects walk through it, ingest it, and carry it into their nests, which gets rid of them all. You can even sprinkle it on your carpets, and furniture indoors. (Just sprinkle it on — let it sit for an hour or so — then vacuum it up.) This will get rid of all kinds of bugs that you or pets might have brought in from outdoors, but in the amount used, it will not be toxic to us or our pets.

If your bushes are being attacked by spiders, it’s because they are attracted to places that are dry and dark. This is easily remedied by opening up the bush by pruning out some of the branches, creating better air circulation and light, and then really washing the plant out with the hose (each branch!). By doing that, it will create the wrong type of climate for spiders to hide in. There are also predator insects which can help rid your plants of other insects; for instance, ladybugs will eat aphids, and praying mantis will eat spiders. Some of the predator bugs are available for purchase through garden centers and online.

I would love to hear from you with any non-toxic methods you know of regarding weeds or insects. There are so many highly dangerous products on the market, and I’d love to share any safe alternatives. We only have one Earth, so we need to protect it!

Update- I have recently heard of a great way to get rid of fire ants. Club Soda- pour it directly into the center of the ant hill, and within a couple of days it will be gone. The carbon dioxide will kill them without harming the environment. One-liter should be enough for 2-3 anthills.

Keeping Gardening Enjoyable

Although time consuming to keep trained, I grow this wisteria next to my back deck just because I love it. Sometimes that is all that counts!

If gardening wasn’t so much fun, it wouldn’t be one of the favorite hobbies of so many people. It lifts the spirit to work with the earth. It also happens to be great exercise, and you can tailor it to your own level of difficulty. I want to share some tips on keeping it fun, while getting everything done.

Right now, because of the extreme heat we have had, there are some flowers that are looking pretty haggard.  I have a rule — I’ll call it the “one hand rule” — each time I go out, I work on one area and pull, deadhead or trim one-hand’s worth of debris. This way I don’t get too hot, and its not overwhelming. Since I am out probably ten times a day, I actually accomplish quite a lot.

If you pick just one handful of weeds each time you go out, you'll be done before you know it.

Keep it simple; know your limits. Plant only what you know you can keep up with. The visual clutter of an unkempt garden is never good. I have seen far too many gardens fall victim to an overly ambitious plan that requires more time to manage than the well-meaning gardener has time to spend on it.  A single pot of beautiful, healthy flowers is always a joy, and in the end more rewarding than a yard full of mess. So if that is all the time you have, then you are using it wisely!

I have mentioned this next one before, but it bears repeating: segment your yard into manageable-sized sections. I call this one “divide and conquer.” You can quickly see the results when you work and complete one part at a time, and feel a great sense of accomplishment as you work your way around the yard.

Liatris- one of my favorite perennials!

Most of all, make sure to include at least one thing that truly makes you happy. Whether its a window box under a kitchen window, or a beautiful collection of flowers by your door, it will put you in a good mood every time you look at them!

Enjoy!

 

 

Favorite quote of the day:  “Life’s a garden — dig it!” —  Joe Dirt

Summer Watering

Triple digit days are with us again!

Wow, is it hot out there! This summer so much of the U.S. is under heat advisory. Here in the D.C. area we have set countless records already, and it’s still July. After such a damp early spring we are now getting mudcracks in the garden. I would like to share some advise on watering in these extremes.

First- be careful. It is so hot I recommend late evening (8-9 o’clock), or early (pre-dawn to 7 o’clock) watering times. It can actually be harmful to the plants to get them wet in this extreme sun. You can end up with blistering on the leaves and flowers if the sun hits them before the water has dried off. It is also a good idea to drain the saucers on potted plants after an hour or two, if the water has not been absorbed. It is easy to end up with fungus and insect larva in the heat and humidity so many of us are experiencing.

I like to wear old clothes and rubber flip-flops when I’m out watering, that way I can hose myself off to stay cool as well! A big hat, sunscreen, bug repellent are all good ideas, but I really advise to just wait until the sun has gone down or at very least, has traveled off the garden before I water it.

One of my all time favorite inventions has got to be the soaker hose. If you combine one with a quick connect, and a timer on the hose, you can really

Some watering favorites- 2 Gallon Watering can, Soaker hose, Multi-spray nozzle, Flip-flops and Sprinkler.

accomplish everything you need to with out even having to brave the heat. With a soaker hose you get the water exactly where you need it on the root zone, so you aren’t wasting a bit of precious water. Even more water conscious would be a drip irrigation system, with individual emitters for each plant, but these systems are not as easily changed each year for different planting formations.

That brings me to the lawn, and whether or not to water or let it go dormant. I think that totally depends on your long term weather forcast. If you are experiencing just a short term dry spell then I would recommend watering. Most turf needs approximately 1″ of water/rain per week. If you long term forcast is an extended drought, I would suggest letting your lawn go dormant. It is healthier for the lawn to allow this, because it struggles too much when it is too hot and dry. Don’t worry, it will come back in the fall, and look healthy and green again.

Trees however should be deep watered at least every 2 weeks, if they are small, tender, or newly planted within the last year. I just let the hose trickle, so that the water sinks in immediately, or use a soaker hose coiled around the tree a few times, letting it run for about 20 minutes to 1/2 hour.

The best tip I can offer is to think cool thoughts, and imagine yourself in snow.

Imagine yourself in a cool place, it actually is proven to lower your temperature.

We will have cool weather before you know it!

Vertical Gardening

Whether you live in a city with not much space outside, or have just run out of horizontal room, vertical gardening is a great solution.

Flowerboxes on balcony in Germany

On a trip to Switzerland and Germany, I was awestruck at the beauty of the window boxes, which are on almost all homes and many of the businesses. They add a huge amount of beauty to the cityscape and really punch up the welcome factor. I was truly heartened to see the level of care people take to keep them so full and healthy looking. You see them being watered and tended carefully throughout the day. On many lamp posts there are hanging baskets as well. Most hang on cables, allowing them to be lowered to be watered. These days, there are many small drip-irrigation attachments which can be hooked up to hoses, and even put on timers, which make this task a lot easier. They allow you to place the water emitters exactly where you want them so the whole basket/box gets watered evenly.

Even walking through the narrow streets and alleyways, you see gorgeous examples of vertical gardening — hanging baskets, trailing vines, window boxes cascading with flowers.

An alleyway filled with hanging baskets and vines in Germany

In my own garden I have been training a pyracantha as an espalier to cover a wall next to my back walkway. Also, a couple of wisteria vines on arbors and a hummingbird vine onto a rail of the deck. Most recently I purchased a fig tree from a cultivar grown at Mt. Vernon. It has now grown big enough that I can start to train it as an espalier, which I hope to plant, and attach it to the chimney on the east facing side of my house. My goal is for the pyracantha to completely cover the wall in a solid mass. The fig will be trained in a more open design, allowing the branches more horizontal growth with space between. This makes it easier to pick the fruit.

When creating an espalier,  you can easily train the plant on a wooden or metal frame when they are small and still in a pot, then transplant to its permanent location as it matures. I find that masonry anchors work best when attaching the plant to my house (brick), but if you have siding there are many clips designed for this purpose. I just attach to the anchors with twist ties. On the wall  I am trying to cover completely, I have a number of wires which run horizontally, and I attach the branches to them. This cuts down on the number of anchor you need.

Wisteria on Arbor

Many vines will attach themselves without any anchors, by twisting around their supports (like wisteria), but be careful of vines with little roots (like ivy) which can literally destroy mortar and siding. Another tip is to make sure that the arbor is strong enough to take the weight of the vine. They can get quite heavy, and when coupled with a wind or rain storm, it needs to be secured strongly to take the weight. I had one topple over with a hummingbird vine attached to it a few years ago, but found that securing it with tent spikes helped during bad weather.

Pyracantha in my garden, trained as an espalier against the wall.

My last tip is for extra hydration during the hottest of summer days. Placing a handful or two of ice cubes around the base of flowers in hanging baskets or window boxes will help them to slowly absorb extra moisture and keep their roots a little cooler. This also works great in pots. Stay cool, and enjoy the beauty.

Camouflage for the Ugly Necessities

Isn’t it always the case that there is an ugly utility meter, or a garden faucet, A/C unit, or some other necessity right in the most visible location? Here are some of my solutions to camouflage, or at the very least minimize the visibility of objects which mar the beauty of our respective gardens.

Painting meters makes them less noticeable.

First, in regard to utility, we need to remember that access must still be easy. If it’s not, the meter readers and repair personnel will make their own way, which probably won’t be the way in which we would like it. I have found that a couple of stepping stones make a pathway obvious, and is usually respected. Aside from that, I have been known to paint meters to make them blend in better against the house. Make sure that is allowable first, though. I don’t want anyone getting in trouble!

As far as masking a view with plants, try to plant something that can take a bit of knocking around, and is fast growing, if possible. That way, if someone gets careless, the plant will hopefully recover quickly. I would also encourage you not to use plants which are sharp or thorny. It seems so often a holly is planted too close, according to our A/C repairman. Make sure that you know where your underground utilities are buried so that you don’t accidentally hit one when planting around meters where they come up to the surface for connection. In many areas there is a free service provided where the utility companies will come out and mark in your yard where they are, and give you their approximate depth underground.

Bushes are good for obscuring A/C noise as well as visibility. But try to leave 1-2 feet of breathing room around units.

Some might also try a small trellis, or an arbor, or a section of fencing to cover the ugly area.  We have even gone so far as to make removable lattice covers for our A/C units at our last house. I’m not so sure that it was really an improvement though, because it was even more visible, although better looking. I had one neighbor who built a cabinet with old shutters to cover their array of meters. It was quite pretty, but the meter readers didn’t know where to look, and were hesitant to open what looked like a beautiful cabinet. No matter which route that you take try to leave at least a couple of feet for breathing room and access, if possible.

With faucets, you have some new options. Simple extensions can be added which allow the control location to be changed to a more convenient and less visible location quite easily. Just be sure to drain them before frost in the fall.

Please let me know of any creative ideas you have on any of these issues, I would love to share them!

Perfect Time for a Garden Critique

With the Fourth of July here, most plants in the garden have filled out to their maximum for the year. This makes it the perfect time to take a critical look at their placement.

Lillies under a peartree in my back garden. These require careful division each year because they are exceptionally fast growing.

You can easily see which plants will benefit from a move in the fall. Even though I try to respect the garden tags which show mature sizes of the plants when I buy them, they are not always accurate. It is also the perfect time to look closely at the perennials to see which ones are candidates for being split. Long ago I heard a phrase that is very accurate about perennials: The first year they sleep, the second they creep, and the third year they leap. If you follow that rule, every third year or so you would split or divide them. I find it helps to keep a notebook on this, because as your garden grows, there can be a lot to remember! In my garden I do the plant moving between mid-October and mid-November, but in your region, just pick a time after they are past their peak for the year, but still have time for the roots to establish before the full effects of winter are upon them.

That brings up another topic — the effects of winter. We had a couple of severe winters recently, and with them a lot of snow damage. I try to remove all the broken branches, but then leave them alone for a year to see if they will recover, before reshaping them back to a natural point. By doing this you can see where the plant can redirect its existing branches, and if it can fill in the holes left by the damage. If it isn’t going to be able to heal, by that point, I like to replace it with another.

In this garden I will be adding 3 Crepe Myrtle trees to help with the intense summer exposure.

I also like to evaluate how the plants are doing with regard to the sun exposure that they get.  Even if a plant is one that can tolerate full sun, it may need some respite from the intense afternoon sun, or moved to a location that gets a half-day worth of sun.

It is also a good time to trim up the lowest tree branches. If you keep them limbed up to six or seven feet it makes it much easier to mow and to stand under them.

Not that I need any more reasons to go out and enjoy my garden, but it is really gratifying to walk the entire yard and check out how things have grown. It is an important step to critique and edit, and I love planning towards the next year and beyond. Time to go enjoy the fruits of your labor, and don’t forget your notebook!

Revisiting Your Old Home

My family home as it was in the past.

I’m originally from the west coast, but my family moved to the Washington, D.C. suburbs in 1969. Since then I have lived in 8 homes in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s true, I always heard you should never go back to see your old house, yet I am drawn to my childhood home every once in while.

I just went by the house my family first moved to in Alexandria. My parents lived there for 25 years, before retiring from the area. It was always tended with the utmost care when my family lived there, and the yard was filled with special plants and trees commemorating certain events. There were two apple trees we planted when our great aunts visited from California, my mother’s favorite little peach tree in the front side garden, a pretty row of ilex and azalea bushes grew in front of the front porch, a weeping cherry tree we planted to mark our family pet cemetery area. It was kind of a living tribute to our family’s history.

It’s now been 17 years since they moved, and the yard is an overgrown jumble of vines, weeds and untrimmed bushes. I guess I’ll never learn not to go back, but when I do next time, maybe I will put a picture in their mailbox of what the house used to look like all those years ago. Who knows, maybe they will take heart and bring it back to its once beautiful appearance. At least that’s what I’ll hope, and in my mind’s eye it will always look like it did back then.

Adding Color to Your Garden

With so many choices and styles out there it is hard to know where to begin. I would suggest considering the following things to help with your choice. The color of your house and trim, style of architecture, your favorite colors, whether you want annuals, perennials, or flowering shrubs, and the longevity of your various choices.

If you have a colonial style house you can go with a more formal and symmetrical choice; Arts and Crafts Style a more cottagey, random mix would complement; Contemporary would be blocks of color, simple in design; Tudor style a more full blown English garden, etc. Using clues from your style of architecture will greatly enhance your home’s curb appeal.

A contrasting garden with yellow and purple accents.

As far as color is concerned, aside from the obvious choice of choosing a color that is nice with your exterior field and trim house colors, make sure to pick colors that you love, after all it will welcome you home each time you return. It’s amazing  how  different your house can look with monochromatic, complementary or contrasting color schemes. I like to play with my color schemes, and alternate these from year to year for a change.

This year in my front garden I have a monochromatic scheme with all pink annuals. I like to use annuals in front so that I can easily change schemes from season to season. You can provide accents by using several types of flowers in the same color, also providing texture as well, or varying shades of the same color which can provide depth. In my back garden it is all about contrasting colors — yellows, purples, oranges come and go with perennials blooming throughout the spring, summer and fall.

A mix of foliage creates a backdrop with texture.

I like to treat the greenery with the same approach, and layer in various shades of green, textures, variegated leaves, heights, etc. It helps to show off the beauty of each when you highlight the differences between them and, it creates a lot of interest to the background.

My last tip for today is to add a little bit of yellow to every garden. Yellow makes every color look brighter. Even if it is just the yellow eye of a daisy, just a touch is all it takes. I learned that tip long ago from a fellow shopper at a garden center, and consider it one of the best tips ever; it makes a huge difference.

Bringing the outdoors in – Fresh and Dried Arrangements

Using a single type of flower in mass makes a timeless arrangement

As some of you may know, I was the sole proprietor of a floral crafts business. It was during the heyday of English & French Country design, and everything revolved around bountiful floral creations. Although today the trend is more towards the tropical end of the spectrum, my heart still lies with the roses, boxwood, and other botanicals which I am so fond of working with. As the summer moves forward, many flowers in the garden are getting to the perfect stage to be dried, and I would like to share a few insider tips.

Here are some ways to dry flowers without having them end up looking dried. Many think it’s difficult to achieve, but it’s actually quite easy. One of the best ways is simply to lay them flat on an old screen in a single layer. Another way is to hang them in a small bundle. Both ways should be in a room with good air circulation (sometimes using an oscillating fan helps), and keeping them out of direct sun.

Small bundles of roses hang to dry in my workshop.

Most require only a couple of weeks to fully dry. Some of my favorites for drying are roses, hydrangea, amaranths, safflower, larkspur, yarrow, cockscomb, and liatris. There are many that dry exceptionally well and retain their colors for a long time. Botanicals that dry well include boxwood, lamb’s ears, artemesia, lemon leaves, branches like curly willow, eucalyptus and of course moss of all kinds.

Another method of preserving is with glycerine. This requires submersing the botanical in a tub of glycerine and water, and can be a bit messy, but the end result is a very pliable stem. This can also leave a shiny layer on the foliage, so it’s best used on branches, like eucalyptus or boxwood, not flowers.

A current, and highly popular style of arranging is using a single type of fresh or dried flower in large masses, it really plays up the beauty of the specific type of flower used, giving it importance.

Gerbera Daisy stems are supported by Apples in this arrangement.

It is a style of arrangement anyone from beginner to expert florist can create and be proud of, and is the most requested design of florists nationally these days. Also a popular trend is filling the vase with fruit or nuts, or wrapping the stems with a large leaf. This can also serve to hold the stems of the flowers or branches in place.

I hope I have given a second chance to some beautiful flowers by way of drying and enjoying them inside in the months ahead. In my house I love having reminders of how my garden bloomed, and just bringing the outdoors in to enjoy again and again.

My Favorite Tools

I must admit, I love gadgets, but my favorite tools are all simple. They don’t require plugging in, or filling with gas. They are all hand tools.

Favorite hand tools - round shovel, spading fork, long shovel, scalloped edger, steel rake, pick.


I love my shark shovel, round-nosed and sharp; it will cut through the soil easily. My scalloped edger, also great, makes a perfect trench around the garden, not too deep, and with a perfect edge. Of course, the pick and spading fork for starting a garden. A long nosed shovel for transplanting, and a steel rake for scratching up the mulch. At the end of the day, I just hose them clean and let them dry in the sun. They will last a long time. None of mine were expensive, and all are more than a decade old (some three decades), but they are the workhorses in my garden.

I am not too fond of electric hedge trimmers, and I’m always sad when I see a mangled bush or hedge after it has been torn up by one. They rip the leaves in half, leaving a browned mess of a plant behind. I prefer to clip with bypass pruners. They leave a clean cut and can actually improve the health of a plant, instead of leaving it prone to disease, like a hedge trimmer or anvil-style shear can do. I am also not a big fan of blowers. It is like putting your yard through a hurricane. They are fine for walkways, but please don’t use them around garden edges or in the garden beds around bushes, where they can cause more harm than good.

I wouldn’t last too long without work gloves, or a foam kneeling pad. The gloves can save you from lots of blisters and pain, not to mention close brushes with poison ivy, and the kneeling pad from lots of joint pain, and even muddy clothes.

So there you have it – my favorite tools. Which are your favorites?

Friends in the Garden – Past and Present

For me gardening is a time to connect with nature, not just the plants I tend, but spending time with family and my furry and winged friends, both past and present.

This year we have 12 nests (that I know of), in the trees, vines and bushes in the yard. We have already had more than one round of hatchlings in several of them. Whenever we sit on our deck we can hear the baby birds squawking for more worms. I try to keep the bird baths full of fresh water, especially in the heat that we have had. Robins, finches and doves mostly, and they seem to come back to the same spots year after year.

Stomper


I also have a feral cat “Stomper”, who took up residence in the yard a couple of years ago. I share my potting bench with him, it doubles as his house, and he has a heated bed in there in the winter. When I am gardening, he is usually sitting just a few feet away watching. He is quite shy, and still won’t let me pet him, but will come close to kiss my hand occasionally. I hope that I will eventually earn his trust, after all, I do grow some pretty awesome catnip!

Buddy


But, the ones I miss most in the garden are my wonderful collie, Buddy, whose birthday falls this week, and who loved nothing more than sitting under the trees keeping a watchful eye on his family.

Also, my beautiful kitties, Mischief and Stinky, who loved to birdwatch from the roof of the garden shed my father built for me. There are so many memories to reflect on when out in the garden, another reason I treasure my time there.

Mischief (on top) and Stinky


Soon the butterflies will take over in the side garden looking for nectar in the buddleia bushes, and at night the first fireflies have already appeared, both of which remind me of my grandfather. Who is in your garden?

When Spring becomes Summer

Here in the Northern Virginia area we moved from Spring into Summer with a vengeance this year. It went from wet and mild, to dry and hot! More than 100 degrees today, and last week as well.

That means it is time to clean up the remains of Spring — deadheading iris, azaleas, rhododendron, clearing out old bulb foliage which is now brown, and I like to clean up the lilly foliage as well before it starts to bloom.

When the temperature goes back down a little, I will also start some pruning. The boxwoods have growing quite huge this year. Each spring I prune about 1/4 of the branches out. This keeps a beautiful shape, and encourages lots of growth throughout the plant. The same with the azaleas and the hollies. The rhododendrons are a little different. I break off the flower when it’s done, and trim back the new growth as needed. They shed their inner leaves, as well as the euonymus and pyracantha, so now that that has happened, it is best to remove all the fallen debris.

Shell mulch discourages squirrels from digging in pots.


I also like to scratch up the mulch a bit so that it does not become too hard. This helps water to percolate through, as well as help to hold it in. I also follow that up with another application of weed preventer (every 3 months). While I’m on the mulch subject I want to share a tip: If you have trouble with squirrels digging in your pots, like I do, fill them in with shells. I have been doing this for years. They are too heavy for the squirrels to scratch out, so they leave them alone. It also looks beautiful and is a great mulch!

Another tip I have on days like this one is to use a market umbrella in a sturdy stand that you can move around to wherever you are working. I’ve even been known to set up the sprinkler to keep cool while weeding, and of course, don’t forget the lemonade!

Despite our best efforts…

Sometimes things beyond our control can mess up even the best made plans. I have had a string of “disasters” myself.

Tornado damage- tree torn in half.


Over the last few years my yard has been attacked by a small tornado, several rounds of utility digs (one in which they dug 13 grave-sized pits), a cherry tree being killed by the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine, and most recently, my once beautiful purple-leaf maple succumbing to a three-foot gash on the trunk.

The maple tree in better days.


When the cherry tree died, I sent a branch to our local Horticulture Extension Service and the lab technician said something to me that is very worthy of sharing. She said, “Try not to think of the tree dying as a failure, but rather as an opportunity to try something new.” So when I look out at my yard today and see the corkscrew willow that replaced the cherry, I think how right she was. It is so tall and beautiful now, and so I will tell myself that, as the maple tree comes down, there will be a beautiful group of crepe myrtle trees to hold its place.

The Purple Maple today.


I guess after so many years of nurturing the trees along, they really do become my garden friends, or so I think of them that way. So, I leave you with the thought of trying something new, where you might never have thought you would, if circumstances had not changed. Sometimes a fresh change can give you a whole new perspective.

Stay tuned….

Herb Gardens

A couple of decades ago I was so inspired while looking at a cookbook that I set out to create my own herb garden. I lived in a tiny 200 year old house where space was at a premium. It didn’t hold me back, though. I started my herb garden in pots on a baker’s rack, next to my kitchen door. I tried many new herbs in different ways. I was hooked! Herbs quickly became my favorite thing to grow.

Whenever possible, use brick for paths. They radiate heat back into the planting areas.

Through the years, at each new house, I have always planted an herb garden. Here in the Northern Virginia area we are known to have awful soil and intensely hot summers, usually accompanied by a drought. Herbs love this, so many are very well-suited to our region.

 

Of all my gardens – ever – without a doubt my favorite was my herb garden at my last house. I was lucky to have extra bricks left over from when the house was built, and a sloping, west-facing area, not very suitable to growing much of anything but herbs. Laying out the design, I made sure to leave plenty of walk paths, so that each section could be accessed easily. The overall size was about 25′ x 20′, and it had 8 planting beds. After preparing all the soil, I planted at least 20 varieties of herbs and kept two beds for starting perennials and vegetables.

Although many of the veggies were eaten by wildlife, they usually left the herbs alone. It was a fantastic place to be. The scent of the herbs on a hot afternoon after a rain was intoxicating. It was also one of the most beautiful areas in the entire yard. Always one that drew notice, as well as being totally practical!

My Williamsburg Style Herb Garden

There are many perennial herbs that provide the basis for my garden – oregano, chives, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, and mint are a few, and I always plant basil, cilantro and catnip each year. Which herbs will you have in your garden?

 

A Welcoming Entrance – Indoors and Out


A gracious welcome to your house and garden is always appreciated. It sets the mood for all who enter. I like to think of my front entrance plants and flowers like “house jewelry”. It’s important to me to mark the seasons with fresh plantings of flowers and greenery — not just at Christmas and summer, but year round. Even though it’s sometimes hard to part with a flower or a pumpkin that is still O.K., I like to give each season its due with a clean slate. It creates a focal point to the front yard, and the front entrance area is most worthy of your care and attention as far as curb appeal is concerned.

Seasonal color is always welcoming


The front entrance isn’t the only place in the yard worthy of this treatment. Look at other views from windows and doors to see what you would like to highlight.

I like to frame a view of my hammock in the backyard by looking through a wisteria-draped arbor. It gives me peace every time I look out, even if I don’t have time to go out and enjoy at that time. A sort of momentary vacation.

Framing a view


Framing a view is a great way of giving greater importance to an object of art, or other feature you would like to be noticed. Another way is by funneling your attention between two taller plants or trees. Even narrowing a pathway, then widening it again, can visually create a new entrance. There are many ways to draw your eyes into a destination. Using graduating color is another way to discretely frame an object. The eye is always drawn to the boldest color first.

With so many beautiful “jewels” out there I hope you find just the right ones to make your entrance sparkle!

Gardener’s Gold – Plant Sharing

When I first moved to my house the yard was in a derelict condition. What few plants were there had all grown into each other, having been planted 19 years before. New mulch had been thrown over knee-high weeds. Nothing had been trimmed correctly. Many of the plants were dead, and the ones that remained were diseased and had grown one-sided in their struggle for sun.

I started by clearing out the dead plants, transplanting, and then pruning the others. This quickly started looking better, and attracting attention from long-time neighbors. Many of the original owners still lived here, and were so glad to see that someone was turning the place around. I started receiving gifts of plants from my gardening neighbors — 3 kinds of iris, lillies, lamb’s ear, all kinds of wonderful cuttings. Fabulous gifts!

This tree and all plants in this garden were started in the last 10 years.


I had also brought with me from my last house small divisions of my perennials and herbs. Just one of everything to start with at that point. When I look at my garden today, it amazes me to see how bountiful so many of these gifts have become. A true Gardener’s gold! It has given me the opportunity to share all of these with other friends and new neighbors, and spread the wealth and beauty. To a gardener, there is no greater gift.

So many plants are easy to divide or start from cuttings. You can really fill a yard quickly and have ample surplus to share. Some of my very favorites are: Corkscrew willow (seen in photo), sedum, liriope, yarrow, lillies, coreopsis and many ornamental grasses. These are all tried and true in my own yard; what about yours?

Garden Rooms

I love to create garden rooms.

In my current yard I do not have much shade, so I hung a porch swing under the deck. As I sat there enjoying it, I realized what a great space it could be, and set out to do just that.

My favorite space


It started out as a mulched area, but as I was adding lots of garden around the yard, I kept digging up rocks – lots of rocks! So I started a cobblestone “floor”, bordered by some spare bricks under my swing. This grew to be quite expansive, and actually is quite attractive. Never underestimate what you can do with the unexpected when you put your mind to something!

I had been using the under-deck area for new plants that I had been starting, and I still do; it is ever changing, which is fun. My potting bench and a garden hutch are there, too. All in all, I call it my “office,” although, gardening is never work to me.

This spring it was filled with flowers — Lilly of the Valley, pansies, astilbe, azalea and iris. It is just a wonderful place to sit with a tall glass of Iced tea, and look at the garden, and think about what is next.

I hope this will inspire you to make a garden room of your own. I like to think of mine as my own slice of heaven.

Choosing Plants

Now that we have created the perfect bed for our plants, we can choose what to put in it. Try to create a plan that is good for year-round beauty.

Using a background of evergreens in a cold winter environment will keep the garden interesting looking even on the coldest of winter days. I try to choose plants that I can use in holiday decorating. Some of my favorites are holly, boxwood, juniper, euonymus and rhododendron.

Example of foundation evergreens

These are easily shaped, and provide a nice backdrop. In front of these you can layer in shorter bushes or, depending on your desires, perennials and ground cover.

Emphasize entrances, walkways, and corners with taller plants. This draws your attention, and creates a focal point. It is important when planting to not plant too closely to the house. If you plant so that you keep a foot between the house and bushes, your house will be much easier to maintain, and bushes will stay much healthier. When planted too close they can become one sided with all the foliage facing out, while bare on the back. I also would encourage shorter plants under windows, for safety as well as preserving your views.

Repeat your plant material throughout your yard to keep a flow. I would also encourage planting in multiples if your yard is large. By doing this it won’t look cluttered or hodgepodge. I like to plant in drifts, or waves, with each drift comprised of the same plant, overlapping the corners of the drifts. This carries your eye through the garden and draws you in.

Example of merging drifts and layering heights


When planting in drifts, try to follow the lay of the land. You can accentuate changes in terrain, creating lots of visual impact. Using plants with varying textures will really highlight the various drifts.

Lastly, using ground cover to fill in as a border, or as erosion control on a hillside, can really complete the garden. With so many choices out there, have fun!

Garden creation

For me, this is where the fun begins.

I like to layout my garden shape by using a hose or a rope to define the outer edge. Try to incorporate large sweeping curves whenever possible, this adds grace and visual interest. Follow by cutting a smooth edge with a scalloped edger.

Curved edges create visual interest


At this point, if you have grass that needs removal this is the time to do that. I prefer to set the grass to the side for use later.

The double digging method of prep is my favorite. I start by using a pick to loosen the soil (in my area it is as hard as concrete, and this is the easiest method). If you have big strong kids, this is the perfect job for them. Then start digging — go down one shovel-full, set aside, dig down one more shovel-full, set aside. This is a  huge amount of work, but will pay off with a deep, wonderful bed.

Once you have dug out the bed completely, you can start reloading it. First, by putting the grass layer back in, but, put it in upside down. The grass will break down into nutrients for the garden. Next, layer in the soil you removed, adding any amendments you need, breaking up the soil into a smooth texture as you go. In my location, I always add compost, grass clippings and sand, but in your area this may be different. Let the garden rest for a couple of days, then with a spading fork, give it one more stir. At this point you have the most luxurious garden bed you could ever ask for.  Next up: plants!

Divide and Conquer – Segmenting your garden beds

Now that you have thought through an overall plan for your yard, it’s time to start planning the individual garden beds. In my own garden I designate a name to each bed by location (for example: front left, front right, side yard, etc.), another way would be to number them. I try to divide them into sections that can easily be maintained in less than 15 minutes on a normal schedule. It depends on how much time you personally have to spend in your yard at one time. I find that if I work my way around the garden in this manner, I can know exactly where to stop and start back up.

Prioritizing maintenance from most to least visible, is another way of making sure that the garden looks the way you want it to. For instance, I will do a quick walk through of the previously worked on sections, before starting in on another. I find this is the easiest way to keep a mental note on what to work on next time I get to that section. I always start with the front door — that’s just me — but I always like it to be as nice as I can make it.

A lot of people ask about how deep and wide to make a garden bed. For this, I think a good rule of thumb is to look at the height of your house. In general your ideal depth should be 1/3 to 1/2 the overall height. My house is approx. 30 ft. high, so my front bed is 15 ft. deep. As well the width should span to 1/3 to 1/2 the overall height beyond the edge of the house. This keeps the proportions right. You always want the surrounding beds to visually anchor the house to the land.

Now that you know my formula for sizing and segmenting beds into manageable sections, I hope it will help you to divide and conquer your own garden.

A close look – Getting to know your garden

For my first blog I am starting at the beginning.

It’s important to know your terrain. All the hills and valleys, where it’s flat, etc. Walk your entire yard, and look at your property from every window, walkway and driveway, even from across the street. All of these areas will become important in figuring out your focal points. Once that is done you can start with your plan.

There are many solutions to terrain imperfections. For instance, you might consider creating some elevation to a flat yard by adding a berm, or terracing a steep yard to maximize your usability.

Another consideration is where to steer your rain water, and downspouts.  There are many good options, and more being thought up all the time. (Dry wells, rain barrels, rain bladders, rain gardens, ponds, etc.)

This is also the time to decide where you want your walkways and drives to be. Consider installing them in the sun if you live where it’s snowy, and in the shade if you live where it’s hot. Also, designated areas for relaxing (decks, patios), and recreation (pool, open space, etc.).

Knowing your yard is your most important step in planning, and worth a lot of thought. It can save you countless hours of redoing in the future, not to mention expense and effort. I will discuss each of these topics, and many more, in future blogs at greater length, so stay tuned.

I promise to keep my blogs short and meaty, so that’s my food for thought today. Enjoy!

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