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Jan. 28 - Filled the bird feeders and shoveled snow. Lots and lots of snow.
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Posts Tagged ‘seeds’

A Cottage Garden May Be Just Right For You…But Don’t Plan a Cottage Garden

If you like a lot of different kinds of plants…

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Asian Lilies, Delphiniums and Hollyhocks

If you like a lot of flowers blooming…

If you don’t want to worry about strict, formal lines and forms…

If you want your garden to feel natural, like it all happened on its own…

If you like using vintage pieces in your garden…

If you like the idea of plants seeding themselves or multiplying on their own…

If you want a garden that make you want to just hang out and relax in…

Maybe a Cottage Garden is just for you.

A cottage garden is loosely planned, and heavily planted. I think that most gardeners are a lot like me when it comes to plants. It seems that I’m a plant-aholic. I can’t seem to ever have too many. Even when I’m sure that I’ve maxed out the space available, I can always squeeze in one more specimen I’ve found.

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2011 - perennial bed beside deck

Plants that bloom, smell good and re-seed or spread will eventually find a way into my garden. The great thing about having such a variety of plants is that most of them bloom, but not at the same time. So I have something blooming somewhere all during the growing season. If you have all the same plants then the blooms are all done with at the same time.

I did lay out a plan of the yard but only loosely designated a certain area for “flower bed” or “berry patch”. I paid attention to the height of the plants, so they would all fit together nicely, and to the sun and water requirements. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to the bloom time but I didn’t really do that, and most of the time I was lucky. The blooms for any season, spring through fall, are spread around the whole yard pretty evenly.

If you follow the planting guides on most seed packets or plant instructions, your garden will look good eventually. While the plants are growing and reaching their full potential, there can be a lot of empty space to fill. It can either be filled with annuals for a year or two…or three, or with mulch. I like to plant things much closer than the instructions say because I like a very full garden. If the plants get a little crowded, it’s okay. If they ever get too crowded, I divide and move some or share with friends.

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Loosestrife and roses by garden gate

I like blooms. I love having flowers in the house, so I plant plenty so that I can cut plenty to use and to share. Try some of the cottage garden favorites like hollyhocks, foxglove, phlox, daisies, roses (of course), peonies or lilies.

It doesn’t take a lot of room to have a cottage garden either. A tiny plot by the back door will do. How about a 3′ border down the side of your lawn? I’d rather have the 3′ lawn and the rest in flowers, but that’s just me.

Mix in some vegetable plants along the way. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, squash and many other beautiful vegetable plants will fit right into a cottage garden.

Formal gardens are pretty but they don’t draw me in and make me feel as happy as I feel when I’m in my (slightly messy) cottage garden.

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Agastache, Sedum, Phlox, Roses and Rhubarb

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Phlox, Echinacea or purple coneflower by birdbath










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Gardening Perks


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Yellow lilies in front yard

An unexpected thing I enjoy about our garden is getting to talk to so many people as they pass by, some strolling, some on bikes and many in cars. We live on a corner just off Main Street in our little town of about 40,000 and so it feels like we live in Mayberry, with so many friendly people. Anyway, one day a man walking his dog stopped to talk and was telling me how much he appreciated me putting the names by the plants so passersby could know what they were. I told him I hadn’t thought about the people passing by, I was just trying to remember the names of plants and what was planted where.

I moved out here to the West almost 3 years ago and even though I’d gardened for such a long time in the south (zones 7 & 8), there were so many plants out here (zone 5b/6a and elevation ca.5000′) that I’d never heard of and didn’t recognize. Really, there were very few of the ones I was use to growing that would grow out here. So if you think you have to know a lot to be a gardener, then I’m living proof that you don’t. I started reading a lot, I now have 154 gardening books (I just counted out of curiosity), almost all second hand. I like to be able to look up anything I need to know about. I do use the internet a lot but I get a lot of help from books.

Back to the names on the plants…I use metal wire stakes with a metal plate to write on. They work great for helping me to remember the plant name and to mark the spot where it’s planted so in the spring when I’m looking for places to put new plants I’ll know that place is reserved for something that will be coming up soon.

When I have spaces to fill I like to plant annuals that have plenty of blooms to use and share, like Cosmos and Zinnias, which can grow quite tall if they’re happy. Last year I had a profusion of blooms along the sidewalk outside the picket fence on the South side  of our yard (our house faces West) and large areas covered in blooms inside the fence.I try to get everyone to come and cut bouquets from the zinnias and cosmos because it encourages more blooms and it makes people happy.

One afternoon as I was sitting on a little stool weeding by the front sidewalk a little girl, about 8 years old, came riding by on her bike and stopped to talk. She gave me one of my favorite compliments when she said, “Your yard looks like a flower forest.”

How could I not like that?

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Cosmos by sidewalk on south side of house

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Lavender and daisies in front yard by grape vines.

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We Are Growing Bamboo in Our Garden – Are We Crazy?

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Using bamboo in the landscape

My husband and I both love bamboo, it is so tropical looking and beautiful. Last year we started talking about bamboo and the idea of trying to grow it in our climate. I didn’t think that we could because of our harsh winters. With some research though, I was happy to see that there are some kinds of bamboo that will grow here.

I don’t claim to be an expert on bamboo, but I have done some research on it and I’m just sharing with you some of the things that I’ve found out about it. Besides being beautiful, bamboo is really amazing. It is fast growing, yet easy to control if you understand how it grows (more on that later), is an unusual plant that can provide a privacy screen or a focal point in your landscape.

Since bamboo is a grass, it needs high nitrogen fertilizers, just like you lawn. It needs sunshine and a constant supply of moisture. It shouldn’t be allowed to dry out but it can’t grow in standing water either. The soil should be well drained and rich in organic matter. Mulching helps to keep the moisture in and the weeds down so there will be not competition for the roots.

Not all bamboo is alike, it comes in a variety of colors and growth patterns. It can grow 6′ tall, 15′ or 25′. Some can get 70′ feet tall in the right environment, but in the home garden, most will probably be less tall than their maximum height.

There are basically two kinds of bamboo, clumping and running. The beautiful, exotic bamboo shown here, are all running types of bamboo. The clumping bamboo won’t get big and gorgeous like these, it has a shrubby, weedy look to me.

Bamboo has a bad reputation for being very invasive and aggressive. It takes a few years to get established but when it does, it can be very fast growing (up, as well as out). As I understand it, the plant only sends up shoots for a couple of months in the spring. After that time, no more shoots will come up till the next spring. When the shoots come up outside the area you want the bamboo to grow, just let them get a few inches to a foot tall and then just kick them over. They are very tender during this time and easily removed. What’s more, another shoot won’t come up in that spot. Also, all bamboo are edible and so the shoots that are kicked over can be eaten (especially good in oriental cooking).

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Beautiful gray bamboo in bamboo forest in China

You can also keep the area mowed (or use a weed eater) to keep the shoots from growing.

A barrier can be put down around the area as well. Since bamboo roots are pretty shallow, only going to about 12″-15″, a 2′ barrier would prevent the spread of the roots and shoots. Remember, this is a plant, not a monster that can’t be controlled.

We found a great place to get our bamboo, with very reasonable prices and a wide choices of plants. We actually went there ourselves and toured the extensive bamboo gardens. I fell in love with bamboo and I can’t wait to have ours growing tall and magnificent in our garden.

The bamboo nursery we found is called Steve Ray’s Bamboo Garden and is in Alabama.

It is found online at:

The types of bamboo we picked out for our garden are all hardy in our zone. Click on the “Zone Map” button above to see the temperatures for your zone. We chose Phyllostachys aureosulcata – Yellow Groove Bamboo with is hardy to -10′; P. humilis – which is hardy to 0′ and p. nigra “Henon” – Giant Gray Bamboo, hardy to 0′. This one the stalks can get 4″ thick. Can’t wait to see that.

Just thought you might like to consider something new for your garden and landscape.

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Unusual joints in bamboo stalks.


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Bamboo, an unusual and beautiful landscape plant

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Herbs I’ve Grown and Loved


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Growing favorite herbs in the herb garden for cooking

I started growing herbs when my Aunt Pearl, who lives in Georgia and is also a gardener, gave me a large pot planted with herbs. I’ve been growing them ever since. I like to mix them in among other perennials, although I have had beds with just herbs in them. Herbs are so easy to grow and since you need to keep pinching them back to make the plant fuller and to prevent blooming, you have plenty to use in cooking and you’ll have plenty to share, since it really is good for the plant to get pinched back. In most cases it would be hard to use that much of any herb. When I prune them back I put the clippings I’m not going to use in a basket on my kitchen counter. The smell is wonderful.

Put the ones you are planning on using in a glass with water in the fridge and they will stay fresh until  you need them. When using fresh herbs in recipes you’ll need to use a larger amount (about 2-3 times as much) because measurements are usually for dried herbs, which have much less volume. Fresh herbs make such a difference in foods. For example, potato salad is a whole different dish when prepared with fresh oregano, thyme, parsley and chives. The flavors are so fresh and wonderful.

Some can be grown from seeds and some can’t. Some can be dried and used, some frozen. If you’re interested in planting herbs, now is a good time for planting the hardy ones. Depending on where you live, Rosemary is iffy, and basil surely can’t take the cold but most others are pretty hardy. I’ll talk more about herbs later, but for now you really should consider herbs for your garden. You’ll fall in love.

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How To Start a Garden

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2011 - Agastache, Sedum, Phlox and Rhubarb

This question comes up a lot and I think the best place to start a garden is not with a shovel and dirt but with pencil and paper.

Gardening is a growing interest and a lot of people, even though they want to garden, just don’t know how to get started. Even a small bed can produce a great amount of flowers or vegetables.
Here is a link to an article I’d written that might be of some help. Check it out.

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2009 - Newly planted Agastache and sedum


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2011 - Deck with potted plum tree and flowers.


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Bamboo of Las Vegas

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Beautiful Bamboo and Bromeliads in Las Vegas


After seeing the gorgeous bamboo growing at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, I’m getting so excited for spring to get here to see if the bamboo we planted in our garden is going to survive our winters (we live in zone 6) and come up like it’s supposed to.

We planted 4 large clumps (3 different kind) and they are the hardiest of the non-clumping bamboo, so we have our fingers crossed that one day the bamboo growing in our yard will look as magnificent as what we’re seeing here in Las Vegas.They look like they could be the same species as the ones we’ve planted. (See post

I talked before about the 4 large clumps we brought back (in our SUV) all the way from Alabama. The nursery we bought from  is found online at:  I don’t think we’ll give up though, if it happens to not come up. We did get it planted a little late in the season and we would try again, maybe planting it earlier to give the roots more time to become established before the winter cold set in.

You see, we love bamboo, and we’re determined to have some in our garden. I’m sure these photos explain the allure.

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Bamboo in Las Vegas

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Las Vegas bamboo in the Bellagio Atrium









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Bamboo and oranges growing in Las Vegas at the Bellagio


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Bamboo in the atrium of the Bellagio in Las Vegas










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Flowers For Cutting – Vases of Flowers Everywhere

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Cut flowers from garden to be used in arrangements


Isn’t it too bad that cut flowers are so expensive?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have vases of color all over the house?

Well, actually, you can. If you have a few packets of seeds, and a little plot of ground that gets plenty of sunshine, then you can grow  your own flowers for cutting.

This winter, when you’re looking through all those catalogs (see post “Have You Ordered Your Gardening Catalogs?  and planning your garden, be sure to carve out a space for your cutting garden. I use my whole garden as a cutting garden, but some gardeners like to have a patch set aside just for cutting.

Clear the ground of grass and weeds. Dig and turn the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches. If  your soil doesn’t drain well or isn’t fertile enough, add some composted manure (available in bags at Lowe’s: and mix in well. Level out the top of the soil and plant the seeds. You can plant in rows, with the taller plants at the back so they won’t shade the shorter plants, or you can plant in squares or groupings of each kind of flower. To plant annuals, I put the seeds down and sprinkle more soil on top. Tamp down the soil with a hoe to make sure the seeds make good contact with the soil. Keep the area moist (not wet) until the seeds germinate and have a couple of leaves.  Then water deeply every 3-4 days. As the plants mature and the roots go deeper, water deeply weekly. Soon you’ll have plenty of flowers to cut for your own use and to share with family and friends. Most annuals improve with cutting because it encourages more blooms.

Some of the flowers listed below are perennials (plants that come up year after year), and can be planted from seeds but many are planted as seedlings, which give them a head start in the garden. Some of the flowers listed below are from bulbs that will come up year after year.

Some Of My Favorite Cutting Flowers

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Cut flowers from the yard, annuals and perennials

  •  Zinnias
  • Cosmos
  • Centranthus (Jupiter’s Beard)
  • Companula (Canterbury Bells)
  • Bachelor Buttons (Corn Flower)
  • Scabiosa (Pin Cushion Flower)
  • Marigolds
  • Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)
  • Salvia
  • Rudbekia (Black-eyed Susan)
  • Agastache
  • Dahlias
  • Gaillardia
  • Gypsophilia (Babies’ Breath)
  • Coreopsis
  • Sunflower
  • Cleome
  • Asters
  • Japanese Anemones
  • Snapdragon
  • Bee Balm
  • Lilies
  • Larkspur
  • Liatris
  • Phlox
  • Tulips
  • Iris
  • Daffodils
  • Peonies
  • Delphiniums
  • Foxgloves
  • Lavender
  • Echinacea (Purple Cone Flower)
  • Roses (a shrub, but great for cut flowers)
  • Hydrangeas (a shrub, but great for cut flowers)


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For more information and pictures of these blooming plants check out these posts:


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Peonies, roses, Jupiter's Beard and irises (with black Iris)















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Herbs In The Garden

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Agastache - Anyse-hyssop

I grow at least 31 different herbs, but I don’t have an “herb garden”. Herbs are usually very hardy plants, that also happen to be edible, medicinal or aromatic…maybe even all three. Most of them are beautiful, foliage and flowers. They blend well with other, more ornamental, plants. So I enjoy mixing them in throughout all of my flower beds. I do keep the culinary herbs a little closer though, like right off the deck, close to the kitchen. I’ve had an “herb garden” before, and it can be very handy  to just run out and grab a handful of whatever you need. Now, though, I’ve scattered other perennials among them and they are still very handy.

Some herbs can get quite large and take up a lot of space, like the hyssop or the lemon balm, while others are small and compact, like the oregano and  thyme, and just kind of creep along among other plants.

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Sometimes it might seem like herbs are a little mysterious or maybe difficult to grow. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you plant seeds (which I do a lot) or plant seedlings, you will probably have great success. Some herbs are so easy to grow that you might wish you weren’t so successful. Any of the mints will spread like wildfire and need to either be grown only in containers or in restricted areas. I love mint, especially chocolate mint, but I’ve learned the hard way that it can easily become a weed that smells very good when you’re pulling great handfuls of it out of your flower beds.

If you have well drained soil, plenty of sun and a little moisture, you can grow just about any herb you’d like. Most of them don’t even need especially fertile soil. Mulching helps keep the weeds down and will eventually break down to enrich the soil. If you can control the weeds early on, then soon the mature, spreading plants will choke them out naturally. Most herbs are perennial, meaning they’ll come back year after year.

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Many of the culinary herbs do well with pinching back, or pruning, so using them is a plus. Never remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time though. As you pinch them back, they will become fuller and more attractive.

Cooking with herbs is a lot of fun. Be experimental and try different combinations. Have  you ever had potato salad made with fresh thyme, oregano and chives? Delicious.

I  grow a lot of aromatic herbs too (See post: The Aromatic Garden just because I love them.  See also Ezine Article:

Some of my favorite culinary herbs are:

  • Tarragon – slight licorice flavor – used for cooking, vinegars and teas
  • Salad Burnet – cucumber flavor – used in salads
  • Chives – mild onion flavor – used in cooking and as garnish
  • Oregano – used in cooking
  • Sage – used in cooking
  • Basil – used in cooking and condiments
  • Thyme – used in cooking
  • Marjoram – used in cooking
  • Parsley – used in cooking and as garnish
  • Lemon Thyme – used in cooking

Some of my favorite aromatic herbs are:

  • Scented Pelargoniums – Lemon/Rose, Rose, Coconut, Green Apple, Lemon/Lime
  • Agastache Anise Hyssop – hard to describe, heavenly scent
  • Lavender – everybody knows what Lavender smells like…right?
  • Mint – also used for culinary by some – Chocolate Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, Pineapple Mint, etc.
  • Plectranthus – hard to describe smell that I love (kind of like antique wood)
  • Artemesia – nice, clean smell
  • Helichrysum – fresh, straw-like smell

This winter, when  you’re planning your garden for next spring, think about incorporating some herbs in with the perennials or even with the vegetables. A whole new world will be opened to  you.

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Purple Sage








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Feverfew and roses

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Plan Your Garden On Paper – Garden Planning Made Easy

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Raised garden beds in winter

During the winter months is a really good time to take stock of your yard to see what changes you might like to make. It doesn’t hurt to think big. If you have a plan, say for a patio to be built in a certain area, then you can begin to plant the right plants (the right height etc.) in the right place. We had to do that. We staked off where the deck would eventually go, and planted a row of peonies along that line. Behind the peonies we planted some tall shrub roses, and other things, but these plants had time to grow before the deck was built 2 years later.

If you have a bird’s eye view of your property, being able to see the house, yard, driveway, walkways, deck, patio etc., it is much easier to decide where you can have flower beds or fruit trees or raised beds for vegetables.


You can create the bird’s eye view with a simple drawing.

Using graph paper makes it a little easier and probably more accurate, but you don’t even have to do that. Try to get the

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Designing a Garden (Green is Planting Areas)

house, garage drive etc. somewhat in perspective. I used a poster board with graph line on it. You can determine how much each square represents, 6″, 1′, 5′ etc. It just depends on the size of our property. I do an outline in pencil but when I’m pretty sure of the measurements, colored pencils help to make it all a little clearer.

Winter is a great time to scour magazines and catalogs (and garden blogs) for ideas of what kinds of plants to use. It’s important to find out the needs of plants you like and want to use. Do they need full sun? Do they like to be dry or moist? How tall will they get and will they shade neighboring plants?  I make lists of the ones that appeal to me, learn as much about them as I can, then try to figure out where in the yard I can use them.

In the first sketch, I just block in areas for “flower bed” and don’t try to plan where every plant will go.  Later, when I’m sure of the size of the bed, then I can start planning what plants to put in and how to place them.

Tall plants such as shrubs or hollyhocks should be place at the back of a border. It’s important to pay attention to where the sun will cast a shadow in the summer (which is different from the winter) so that tall plants won’t shade plants that are sun lovers.

Medium plants should be planted in front of the taller plants with low growing plants placed in front of the medium ones.

Decide on a color scheme for your garden.

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Japanese Anemone and Limelight Hydrangea

Do you like warm, hot colors like yellow, red and orange? Then choose plants that will mix these colors throughout your garden. Maybe you like the cooler colors such as blue, pink, lavender and white. Another way to use color is to use complimentary colors, colors opposite each other on the color wheel, like yellow and purple, or blue and orange. Some like to use just one color, all blue or all red, even all white. A garden with a color scheme in mind is much more pleasing than a hodge-podge of color all jumbled up. Also, plant in groupings of color, instead of scrambled all together for a more effective look. But ultimately, it’s your garden, so you get to plant what you like, where you like.

Just one more thought on the subject…

Every plant doesn’t have to bloom. A garden with foliage in a variety of textures and shades of greens and other colors, is beautiful as is, even without flowers.


Finding a place for everything.

It’s good to list the things you’d really like to have in your yard. We did that when we bought our home 3 years ago. Even though our property is only 1/4 acre, our list was long. The property already had the house, a garage, a potting shed, a wide driveway and sidewalks around the property on 2 sides (it’s a corner lot). We wanted a deck, a large grape arbor, raised beds for growing vegetables, an asparagus bed, fruit trees and a berry patch. All of this plus as many flower beds as we could squeeze in.

Because we drew it all out, we were able to fit everything in. We had to move things around (on paper) to make it work, but we were able to settled on a plan. By doing that, we knew what plants we were in the market for, and we knew approximately where they would go.

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Grape vines on grape arbor with beebalm below.

We were able to have a 50′ x 10′ grape arbor (planted with 2 kiwi vines and 11 grape vines), a large deck (33′ x 16′), 4 raised beds (16′ x 4′ each) for vegetables, 20 assorted fruit trees placed throughout the yard, an asparagus bed (8′ x 5′), a berry patch with raspberries (20′ x 4′) and a berry patch with strawberries and blackberries (12′ x 6′). There are flower beds, large and small, tucked everywhere else. It wouldn’t have been possible to include all we wanted to have without a plan.

Have some fun this winter. Plan a garden.

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Pathway between deck and raised vegetable beds.




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Deck out back door, potted plum tree








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Autumn Star Peaches on Tree in September

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A Reminder…Have You Ordered Your Gardening Catalogs?

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Tulips growing in the spring garden

I have received some comments that reminded me, (I can’t believe I had forgotten) of one of gardeners’ favorite winter pastimes.

Looking at gardening and seed catalogs and planning the next garden, or garden project, is a fun way to spend cold winter hours. It helps to get ideas for next spring, trying to find a new and better strain of this or that. It is certainly a favorite thing for me to do and by the time warmer weather finally gets here, our catalogs are pretty worn and tattered.

Where do you get these catalogs? Most garden and seed nurseries have online sites and offer free catalogs to be sent to your home. Order up some now and by the time the holidays are over, you may have a stack of catalogs to enjoy. Here is a partial list of possibilities for you.

As you go through these catalogs, not only will you become familiar with gardening terms, but you will learn about each plant that interest you. You’ll know if it is a perennial and if it will bloom all summer or just in the spring. You’ll find out how big it should get, so you will know where to use it in the garden.

These catalogs are a great source of knowledge that shouldn’t be overlooked. There are many, many other online nurseries out there, so check them out, find new ones.

Start making a list of the plants that appeal to you and in which catalogs you found them in. When you’ve planned your garden, then it’s easy to order the seeds or plants and have them delivered to your door in time for planting in the spring.

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Can I Compost?

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Compost material - household waste

Composting….who does it and why?

I know who compost. Gardeners do, that’s who. To a gardener, compost is black gold. Compost is used to enrich poor soil, to add organic matter to soil that will continue to break down and become black loam. It will continue to enrich the soil and nourish plants. Compost tea is the best tonic for your plants and about the best liquid fertilizer you can use. Compost is also used to mulch around plants, to keep weeds from growing, to keep the roots of plants cool, to hold in moisture and to, again, nourish the plant. It is possible to buy compost from garden centers, but if you need a lot of compost, like we do, then you’d better have some of the yellow gold to buy that black gold.

On the other hand, making your own compost is relatively inexpensive, even free, and it’s pretty easy to make. Most of what you need to create your own compost is available in great quantities, grass clippings, trimmings from the garden, dead leaves, house hold vegetable and fruit scraps and if you are really lucky, farm animal manure. (Just so you know, cow manure is better than horse manure, because they have more stomachs to break down their food, and there aren’t as many surviving seeds to spread

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Partially composted material

around in your garden. At least that is what I’ve been told)

For those who are into recycling, this is a perfect way to recycle these wasted products, instead of taking up space in our landfills. Actually a word about that…Cities and towns are getting smarter about that as well, and many are composting the plant material picked up by their crews, and either using it in city parks etc. or selling it back to the public to use in their yards and gardens. We are fortunate enough to live where that is being done, and the price isn’t too bad. We hadn’t yet made enough compost for our yard, so last spring we bought quite a bit from the city.

Compost projects don’t have to be huge though, you can start small and still get a lot of compost. Since we took up almost all of our lawn and planted the entire yard (1/4 acre) in fruit trees, perennial and herb beds and raised beds for vegetables, we really needed a lot of compost. We didn’t have enough grass clippings (remember, we took up almost all of our lawn) so when we would see landscape workers, mowers etc. filling up a truck with grass clippings, we would just ask them to dump the load in our yard. This not only got us a great supply of beautiful green clippings, but it also saved them a trip to the dump. Leaves, raked and bagged and left on the curb for the city to pick up, are an important ingredient in compost.

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Finished compost - Black Gold

I’ll write more in depth about composting later, but the important thing to think about is…can you do it? Are you up for gathering the organic materials you need, for turning the heap occasionally and spraying it with water if it dries out?

If you do compost, then you are a gardener, because composters are gardeners.


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Fern Facts – Houseplants or Garden Specimens

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Fern frond - art in nature

Even though ferns seem like such light and delicate plants, they can be pretty tough and grow in some pretty harsh climates. I’ve always loved ferns because I think they add such an airy feel to the garden and for the longest time, they were the only houseplants that I had. There are a few things to understand about ferns that will make growing them much easier and more successful, whether the fern is in our home or garden.

I’ve found that one of the most forgiving ferns, especially in the garden

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Asparagus Fern brought in for the winter

and in hanging baskets outside, is the asparagus fern. It has tiny needles and resembles the asparagus plant. Its fronds will cascade down like a green waterfall and it is perennial in warmer climates, at least it was for me in zone 8. Here in zone 6 I do bring them inside for the winter though. The best qualities of this fern is how drought and sunlight tolerant it is. Most ferns, especially those in hanging baskets, will suffer and shed leaves if even a hint of drought is detected, but the asparagus

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Asparagus ferns under palm trees

fern doesn’t seem to notice. Under our grape arbor, because the grape vines haven’t yet completely covered the top, some of the hanging baskets get quite a bit of sun during the day, but they do just as well as the ones in almost total shade. I’ve also used it (in zone 8 ) as a ground cover under palm trees and it was gorgeous. So if you want to grow ferns, the kind of fern you choose can be important.

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Asparagus fern as houseplant

The following is taken from the Smithsonian Gardens site and is well worth checking out for more information. It is found at:


The following is a partial list of likes and dislikes of most ferns (indoor and outdoor).


Strong Sunlight

High Winds

Dryness at Root-zone


Protection from high winds

Enough space to grow to mature size

Undisturbed root environment

Filtered sun/shade



Many people are familiar with the use of ferns as indoor houseplants; you can even buy them in the grocery store! Some ferns will thrive as houseplants if their environmental requirements are satisfied.

LIGHT: Indoor ferns need bright light. Direct sun would scorch the leaves; however, a southern exposure, with a light curtain or that is shaded by an outdoor tree should provide sufficient light during the winter months. During the summer months this light would be too harsh for the ferns, so we suggest moving them to a northern or eastern location that receives unfiltered light (free of tree branches or curtains).

WATER & HUMIDITY: Container ferns should be watered when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Allow water to run freely from the bottom of the container but do not allow the pot to sit in standing water.

As one would expect, growing ferns indoors requires extra effort on the part of the grower to provide a humid environment. Home growers often use the following techniques:

Grouping ferns together

Setting containers on gravel-filled trays filled with water

Misting ferns

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Ferns in the landscape or garden


Most wild ferns prefer a moist woodland habitat with high humidity. However, there are ferns suited for all environments from rock cliffs to swampy bogs. Through research you can find the right fern for your landscape.

ENVIRONMENT and CULTURE: Ferns thrive in open, shaded areas—in the filtered light found under a canopy of mature trees. The North side of the house works equally as well. In areas that experience cold, wet winters, the best time for planting is in the springtime. Because ferns are sensitive to excess fertilizers, spreading slow-release fertilizer or well-rotted organic matter is recommended. Ferns prefer slightly acidic soils with a high percentage of humus which aids in water retention and proper drainage.

PESTS and CONTROL: Ferns are sensitive to insecticides; therefore, it is better to attack pest problems in non-toxic ways to insure healthy plants. Slugs and snails are a fern’s worst enemy in the garden. To prevent slug and snail damage try some of the following tactics:

· Scatter shallow dishes of beer throughout the garden.

· Use overturned grapefruit shells.

· Remove debris that could harbor pests and diseases.


1. Keep the rhizome/crown above or at surface level.

2. Do not damage crowns – this is where the fronds and roots develop.

3. Do not use rakes or hoes around fern plantings.

4. Create a path between ferns so that you do not damage fern crowns by walking on them.

5. Mulch with fine pine bark, pine needles, or compost – apply a new layer every year.


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Rhubarb Relocated…Finally

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Rhubarb plant, trimmed back and transplanted.

Earlier I wrote about some rhubarb growing in the wrong place in the yard. There were two, side by side, and when they were planted, the bed was plenty roomy enough. But as I begin to add more and more roses and herbs, the bed shrunk and the rhubarb just kept on growing….and growing. It was shading everything around it with those beautiful, huge, tropical looking leaves.
I knew I had to move it but I wanted to wait until the weather had cooled off a lot. As the plant begins to go dormant, the transplant won’t be as shocking for it. At least that’s the plan. So on a very cold day last week, I found a new, very sunny, spacious place at the end of one of the raised vegetable beds, and dug two holes deep enough to hold each of the plants. The plants that had loomed so large in the rose/herb bed seemed so small, with all but the new center leaves trimmed off.
I got it planted and mulched and watered. So now I have to wait until spring to see if we’ll still have those 2 pretty rhubarb plants to enjoy. If so, I will mulch them, fertilize them and watch them grow huge.

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Two rhubarb plants transplanted Nov.,2011


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Rhubarb in early July, before it outgrew its bed.





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Mulch For Winter Protection With Organic Mulches

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Raised bed with organic mulch, ready for planting

Mulch is material that is spread over the top of the soil. There are many different kinds of mulch and there are a lot of  good reasons to use mulch. In the summer, the mulch holds the moisture in and the plants have a steady supply of moisture instead of drying out and then being heavily watered. It keeps the roots cool, which is really important for some plants. Mulch keeps weeds from growing and can really cut down on the amount of time spent weeding. Mulch makes the garden look a lot better and kind of anchors the garden. As the mulch breaks down it nourishes the soil and begins to create more soil with organic matter.

In the winter, mulching the plants protects the roots from the freezing and thawing that occurs, which heaves the roots up and can expose them to even more cold and drying. It acts as an insulator, keeping the freezing air out and the warmth of the soil in.

As I’ve said, there are many kinds of materials used for mulches, some great for the garden and some not so good.  One of the ones that isn’t so good is shredded rubber, because it doesn’t break down and contributes nothing to the soil.

On the other hand, organic mulches, such as shredded leaves, composted manure, fine wood chips (not sawdust), alfalfa hay, finely shredded bark, shredded newspaper, straw etc., not only  offer all of the benefits, but as it breaks down, it enriches the soil and feeds the roots of the plants.

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Raised beds in in front of grape vines on fence in August

It takes a little time and effort to put down a good thick layer of mulch around the plants, but compared to the time you would have spent weeding, it is well worth it. Your plants will be so much healthier and robust.

If you mulch under you vegetables and fruit, then the fruits and vegetables that come in contact with the ground won’t be as likely to get ruined.

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Growing Bamboo In Your Garden – Winter Protection For Bamboo

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Bamboo in our garden.

We had gone to the south last spring to visit family and had visited a bamboo farm. We had liked the idea of growing bamboo in our garden but 2 things made us hesitate. One was the reputation of bamboo to be so invasive and one reason was the climate we live in (zone 6) and the hardiness of the bamboo.
We did find out that some bamboo can be quite hardy and we were able to get 4 clumps of the hardiest. Even so, I’m mulching it really well this winter in hopes of it surviving. We were going to have temps in the mid 20’s so I just piled fall leaves around the roots. Before the real winter chill sets in though, I’ll mulch it with some much better mulch, to give it as much protection as possible.
The spreading problem isn’t one we know about yet, but since the shoots are so easily stopped, we are hoping there won’t be a problem. Besides, the shoots are edible.
Like a lot of perennials, bamboo can take 2-3 years before it really begins to grow. There is a lot of growth in the roots during this time though.
Next spring it will be interesting to see what happens. I’m hoping for at least some shoots coming up.
I’ll post the progress here.

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Our Fresh Air Factory – Bringing Plants In For The Winter

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Plants brought in for the winter

Cold weather is officially here and the leaves are still coming down. The time has come to cut back the perennials, pull up the annuals (after harvesting their seeds for next year of course), dig up the dahlia tubers and bring the tender plants inside, where they will be kept until next spring. As soon as it’s warm enough, they will go back outside. Since our warm season is so short here, it takes plants a while to get started and by the time they are up and growing really well, then it is almost time for the first frost.

I discovered that I can bring them all inside and next spring I will have beautiful, mature plants to put out and not have to wait for them to finally start growing.

An added bonus to this plan is the fact that these plants convert the carbon dioxide, that is produced in a house that is closed up all winter, into oxygen.


Since the houses are kept so tight for warmth, it is really good to know that we have a steady supply of oxygen being manufactured right here in our own home. Seriously though, they are nice to have inside with us, especially the scented ones, because they give a feeling of

IMG 0963 300x224 Our Fresh Air Factory   Bringing Plants In For The Winter

House plants for the winter

warmth and bring a little of the outside in for us. I think they make having to stay inside all winter more bearable and fun.

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IMG 0961 300x233 Our Fresh Air Factory   Bringing Plants In For The Winter

Plants on the enclosed back porch for the winter









IMG 0962 300x224 Our Fresh Air Factory   Bringing Plants In For The Winter

Plants inside for the winter






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For A Beautiful Lawn Next Summer – Take Care Of It In The Fall

Have you cleared away the debris from the perennial flower beds and mulched them for next year? Have you removed all the spent annuals and prepared the bed for planting next spring and summer? Have you been raking the leaves and composting them? Have you dug your tender tubers and stored them away? Have you made preparations to bring in all your tender potted plants? Have you mulched the roses and other shrubs that need it? Have you…..on, and on, and on.

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No, this isn't our lawn, but it looks like a good place for an orchard.

In all of this fall activity, it’s easy to overlook putting the lawn to bed. Are you so relieved that you won’t have to mow any more for a few months, that you forgot to fertilize, to feed those roots for the winter dormancy, so that you will have a beautiful, healthy,lush lawn next summer?

What about the thatch build up? If your lawn is very thick and has a build up of thatch choking it, fall is a good time to remove that. If you have weeds growing in the lawn, fall is the best time to remove them because they, too, are putting down  roots for next summers growth. They will be much easier to remove this fall, than next summer, when they’ve gotten bigger, and more established.

When the leaves have finally quit falling, remove all of them from your lawn. The leaves get wet and slimy in the winter and can cause problems for the grass beneath them. Cut your grass to about 2″ for the winter. At that height the roots will have some protection.

If you have snow, like we do, take care not to let the salt (or the salt run-off) from the sidewalks and driveways get on the grass, as it will kill it.

After you’ve done all of this, you can then truly relax, knowing you’ll have a beautiful lawn next year… that you’ll get to mow every week.

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Putting the Garden to Bed

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Crabapple and Black Walnut Trees in Front Yard 2009

Soon the leaves will be turning some beautiful colors, and don’t you know, those leaves WILL come down. I’ve always loved the look of the colorful leaves all over the yard but they soon turn brown and they won’t stay dry and crispy. During the winter, whether from snow or rain, they’ll get wet and slimy, and pretty much stay wet. They’ll become a slippery, sludgy mess. So it’s important to remove them from walkways and steps to prevent accidents.The leaves should also be removed from the lawn, as well as flower and vegetable beds. There are plants that need mulching for protection during the winter, but it’s better to use mulch or pine needles. Using straw can cause problems because of the possible grains of wheat etc, it could contain, which could attract mice to your garden. The mice would then began to feed on the stems of plants, such as roses.

The leaves can be shredded and added to the compost pile. We even gather up bags of leaves left at the curbs for the city to pick up, to add to our compost.

Cut down perennials that have finished blooming. Annuals and vegetables should be pulled up when they’re spent. If not diseased, tossed all of these clippings and spent plants into the compost. Some plants can be left, if they add interest to the winter garden or if they have seed heads that can feed the birds.

Autumn is a good time to divide perennials, which can then be planted in other areas of the yard or shared with friends. It’s also time to dig up tender bulbs, like Tuberous Begonias and Dahlias (wait till frost has turned the leaves black), and store in a cool, dark place.

To strengthen roots through the winter, apply bonemeal to perennial beds and around shrubs and trees.

Tidying up the garden not only makes the yard/garden look better through the winter, but spring gardening will be so much easier and more enjoyable. If you’ve planted spring bulbs, with cleaned out flower beds, you’ll have something wonderful to anticipate and look forward to.


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Raised Bed Gardening

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Newly built raised beds between peach trees and deck (click to enlarge)

If you haven’t discovered raised bed gardening yet, then listen up.

There are some real advantages to gardening in raised beds, especially if you have poor soil or a lot of tree roots etc. Raised beds don’t get walked on, so they don’t get all packed down. Weeds aren’t a problem either. Plus, as you get older, it’s nice not to have to bend over so far.

You’ll need a place in your yard that gets plenty of sun and is pretty level. If possible the bed should run north and south so that the sun can get on both sides equally. That is the ideal, but all of ours run east and west and do fine.

Raised beds can be built out of bricks, blocks, cement or lumber. Lumber is the most common material used, with cedar or redwood being the best because it will last longer. If you live in an arid climate, you can even use pine. If you use lumber, then you have a choice of just nailing the box together or using metal corners that you just slip the lumber into and screw it together. We have both kinds and both work great.

You have to decide how big you’ll make the beds. If  you make them 4′ wide then you’ll be able to reach the center from both sides. You can make them as long as you like, keeping in mind the lengths that lumber comes in will save you some money. We have 16′ x 4′ beds with one cross board in the middle. So it looks like two 8′ x 4′ beds attached end to end. You can make square beds or any size you need that will fit on your available space. You’ll also want to make the beds at least 3′ apart if you’re making more than one bed. This allows you working space in between them. Also, you need to consider how deep you want it to be. Boards come in 6″, 8″, 10″, 12″. Realize that the deeper the bed the more growing medium you’ll need. Plants usually need at least 6″, but we have ours at 8″. Also the roots can go past the mixture and into the soil.

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Raised bed between peach trees and deck in July

To fill a raised bed, don’t use garden soil. There are a few things to use in the planting mixture and you can create your own mixture from these ingredients.

These ingredients are:

Peat moss, sawdust (not wood shavings), sand, Perlite and/or Vermiculite, compost, dry fertilizer (in even numbers, i.e.8-8-8 or 10-10-10). Mix it all really well either before you put it into the bed or layer it and mix it well in the bed. Level it off and don’t mound it up in the center. Water it really well to moisten the peat and perlite/vermiculite.

You’ll be able to grow a lot more plants in this rich, well drained mixture than you’d be able to in the ground. Earthworms love these beds and multiply really fast and make the mixture even more fertile.

You can build your raised beds in the fall for very early spring planting. Another something to look forward to after a long, cold winter.


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Raised garden beds in December.

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Raised beds in in front of grape vines on fence in August

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by Eliza Osborn

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If You Feed Them, They Will Come – How To Attract Birds To Your Garden

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One of 10 birdfeeders in the garden.

Of course I love being in our garden, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere and watching the breezes moving through the branches and the flowers. One of the things I enjoy most about being in the garden though, is watching and listening to the birds.

The first year we were so busy landscaping and planting that we didn’t spend any effort attracting birds to our yard. Last year we began  putting out a variety of feeders to see what birds would actually show up.

The finches and hummingbirds took a few weeks before they discovered our feeders, than they began coming in droves. The regular feeders, we filled with combinations of seeds, millet nuts etc. We learned right away that birds are picky and they are messy. They’ll fling unwanted seeds out of the way to get to their favorites. As it turns out, the seeds tossed to the ground attract the ground feeders, which means a bigger variety of birds in your yard.

There is some expenses involved, with the feeders, and the food to fill them, but there are some very good reasons for attracting as many birds to your yard as possible.

The top, number 1, most  important reason to go to the trouble and expense, is because birds eat bugs, larvae, caterpillars, you know, the pests that are eating the garden. If you feed the birds all during the year they will associate your yard with food. As your garden begins to come up and grow, just cut back on the amount of food you put in the feeders and they’ll turn their hungry, little eyes on the garden pests nearby. As the garden is finishing up, increase the food again. They’ll stick around to pick off any insect eggs they can find and gobble up anything hatching out as well.

Another good reason, is because the birds are so entertaining to watch, and so pleasant to listen to, as they sing or chatter away or even as they’re scolding each other. The community of birds you share your garden with, makes the garden come alive.

Some worry about feeding the birds and then stopping suddenly to go out of town etc. They worry that the birds will come to depend on them and they will suffer if they quit putting feed out. I’m sure the birds will still find food if the feeders are not filled. They will have to work a little harder for their food, but they’ll find food.

Check out this great site for more information.

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by Eliza Osborn

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