Dec 032016
 

This post contains affiliate links to a great book.  I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration.

This post was originally shared last autumn.  Since then I have thought of it several times.  As the holidays approach, this would be a great gift consideration for the gardener in your life … or for you.  😉  Once the moving boxes are no longer a daily decoration in my home, I plan to go back and read this book again.  Yes, I liked it that much.

This past summer we were able to take a last minute trip to our nation’s capitol.  Between visits with several different friends, we made stops at various sites around the area.  Many I had been to before, but a few were new.  For our kids, they were all new and most were about times in history they had yet to learn about in class.  A few of the sites, however, really peaked their interests.

The White House was a favorite as they had heard of it before (my husband often watches reruns of The West Wing on Netflix).  The kids found it even more interesting when we finally convinced them that the President is a real person, not just an actor, AND that he actually lives in the big white house behind the gates.

A lot of the history I know about the White House itself, which is not much, has to do with random facts throughout history that I have picked up while reading.  I love history, hearing the how’s and why’s as to events, details that make it come alive in my imagination.

When I began reading All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America I expected to pick up a few tidbits here and there on the gardening practices used on the White House grounds and long lists of plants used.  In general I thought it would be a boring read that would require cups of coffee to help me stay awake.  What I found surprised me and showed me a new way of looking at this home that has become a symbol over the years. 

Gardening history is not something I have been exposed to previously.  In my past there were mentions of how the Native Americans planted and how the early settlers gardened to provide for the table during winter months.  I have also visited sites such as Mt. Vernon (Jefferson’s home) and the Biltmore Estate, learning about how they landscaped, invented, studied and produced tools, methods and plants that we now think are common.  However, I never had found a book that actually walked a reader through the history of gardening in a particular place and how the look of the gardens were also affected by events of the day.  As it turns out, I had exposed myself to a book that kept me up at nights, long after I really wanted to be asleep, exploring our nation’s history and the people and gardens it contained.

Marta McDowell did a thorough job of researching the various gardeners, plants, sources, designs, struggles, Presidents’ preferences that have resulted in the gardens and the house we now see today.  She showed how the political events of the day – protests about wars, the Great Depression, the war of 1812, etc.- also had a result in shaping the look and use of the gardens and grounds.  The reader was taken along a path showing the various gardening styles and philosophies, and how they flowed from one style to the next – English, Italian, french, formal, practical, native and exotic.

All the Presidents’ Gardens quickly became one of my favorite history and gardening books.  I loved the flow, the story behind the story feel, and how it all felt tied together in a smooth fashion.  It was so seamless that I often forgot when a chapter had ended and another began.  There were a few points that I wondered why they were mentioned, only to find a  few paragraphs or pages later how it was all tied together.

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend for you to read.  You will have to wait a bit though, as it will not scheduled to be released till April 27, 2016.  You are able to pre-order it now so you will be able to receive one of the first copies.

I also learned that the White House holds a free garden tour twice a year.  This past year’s Spring tour was in mid-April, so you may be able to get in on this year’s tour if you keep watch for the announcement.  (The fall tour was held in October.)

Sep 082016
 

pink begonias in bloom

While my personal garden does have the same begonias as those pictured above, this is not my garden.  It is one that we have visited and enjoyed.  Having seen it in different seasons and over several years, I have come to learn from what the various gardeners have done.  Here is one example, both close up (above) and progressively further away (below), of a set of beds in this large public garden.

begonia and canna beds

 

sun and shade beds 2

 

sun and shade from afar

Thoughts on the gardens above:

  • This set of planting beds lines a walkway, creating an entrance to the public gardens set further back.  Without the use of signs, the gardeners have drawn the public to the point of entrance.
  • There is the lack of variation from year to year.  The same flowers are used in the same way.  Once a good combination was found, there was no need to deviate and plant the beds anew every year.
  • The beds are on the narrow side, using only two levels of plants.  Both are bold in color or size.  The lovely coloring of the Canna lilly leaves helps draw the eye upwards without the need for a mid-height plant.
  • The trees at the start of the walkway have hostas planted underneath.  These plants do well in partial shade, which is exactly what the trees provide.  Once full sun is available, the flower beds provide a space for the full sun loving plants.
  • As the space around this section is very open (last photo), the gardeners were able to use large boldly colored plants without making visitors feel cramped.  The scale actually feels very appropriate.  Smaller plants would have felt lacking, unless the beds were larger horizontally to give the sense of size.
  • This is one of my favorite parts of this garden. Okay, I really love most of it.  Maybe I should say I really like this part of the garden because it looks good both up close and far away.  As you gain distance from it, the over all affect does not fade.  It is still bold and making a statement.

While my garden does not have the space of the one above, I have taken several of these lessons to heart and used them in my garden, or so I have tried.  Once I find a plant that works in a certain space, I go with it.  No need to try something new year after year.  On the other hand, if something is not working, try something new.

 

May 052016
 

A productive past couple of days has left me feeling accomplished and very tired.  It has also left me feeling very behind and lacking.

I have been finishing up the inside of the house, in preparation for new carpet being installed on Friday.  I have finally finished removing wall paper, priming, and painting two coats on walls, as well as priming and painting (2 coats) on the ceilings.  Old carpet and padding has been pulled. Floors have been swept.  Closets cleaned out.

So why is it that I am feeling behind?  Because my yard is covered in weeds.  Look at it! It is horrible.:

yard weeds collage

They are everywhere I look.  The kids only help by “blowing on the pretty white flowers”, not realizing how much I hate those pretty white flowers.  My mowing seems to only help for a day or two, then over night everything comes back stronger than ever. Or so it seems.

Then it rains. It all grows bigger and bigger, laughing at me, while I have been whittling time away on inside work.  All hope is gone, I may as well throw in the towel now and not even try gardening this year!

(throwing in the towel)

I decided to walk around the yard, snapping pictures of all the ways I am failing as a gardener. See, I wanted to show you exactly how bad things had gotten. The proof is not in short supply.

By the time I had completed my trip around the yard, I found more that I was expecting.

spring flower collage

See, my focus had been distracted to the one part of the yard that received the most impact from our house work during the past two years.  It is the place where a 6+ foot deep trench had been dug and the dirt piled up, where trucks had been driving, where trees had been cut down, where wood chips had been piled since late last spring, and where almost no grass is growing.  My focus had been on this part of the yard.  Even though this small part was small in comparison to the whole, it is what my attention went to every time I pulled into our yard or looked out a window.

Meanwhile, in other section of the yard, flowers were blooming and growing.  Places that in years past held no flowers or were struggling, were now showing signs of thriving.  Color was showing up everywhere, pushing out the brown and mud of winter.

Isn’t this often how we view our gardens and life?  We worry and focus on the small part we are working on, forgetting to look around, forgetting to look at those places we improved upon in the past.

There will always be bare spots, weeds, lackluster parts of our garden.  And life.  People, including ourselves, live up or down down to our expectations of them.  If all you expect are weeds, then that is what you will find.  You will find yourself too tired to go do battle to take back your yard.  Other things will call out to you which seem to have a higher likelihood of success.  You will throw in the towel before you have even started.

However, if you can look at your garden and find all the things going right, or the potential for things going right, then that is what you will see.  You will find you have more energy to make it like you want it.  The rainy days will not seem so forlorn, but instead will be watering your flowers, making them ready to bloom brighter when the sun comes out.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look again at the pictures above.  Can you tell which part of the yard I feel better about, the part I have higher hopes for?  Hint: it is not the one with the “pretty white flowers” that my kids like.  The part I feel better about I am more likely to spend time in, working to make it even better.

Yes, I am talking about gardening, though the analogy works very well for life.  A conversation with a friend this week reminded me of that very point.  I proceeded to tell her about all the ways I am failing (persistent weeds), all the things going wrong (quick growing weed), and all the ways I should have done better (deep rooted weeds).  She then proceeded to encourage me (spreading flower seeds) and remind me of where our family has come from in the past (those perennial flowers planted several seasons ago that are now stronger and flowering more).  I was reminded to stop looking over at my neighbor’s life (“The grass is always greener…”) and focus on mine.

Sometimes, our garden really is shabby.  That is when you choose a corner to start improving upon, pulling weeds and planting things you enjoy.  Other times, it is only your perspective, looking at the areas still in progress.  You forget to turn and see the things you have added to make your garden your own.  Do not get so focused on the seed that your forget to see the flower.

 

Apr 162016
 

IMG_20160416_112710424

One of the trees in our front yard was surrounded with beautifully blooming tulips last week, similar to the ones pictured above.

Their beauty brightened my day, adding a much needed bright spot as I left to take George and Drake to school.  What a display of color! “I’m so glad I saved the bulbs when we reduced the size of our front flower bed a few years ago. It was time consuming work, but sooo worth it.” ….

By the afternoon my thoughts had turned to, “Rabbit stew anyone?”

IMG_20160416_112731405

Sep 282015
 

This past summer we were able to take a last minute trip to our nation’s capitol.  Between visits with several different friends, we made stops at various sites around the area.  Many I had been to before, but a few were new.  For our kids, they were all new and most were about times in history they had yet to learn about in class.  A few of the sites, however, really peaked their interests.

The White House was a favorite as they had heard of it before (my husband often watches reruns of The West Wing on Netflix).  The kids found it even more interesting when we finally convinced them that the President is a real person, not just an actor, AND that he actually lives in the big white house behind the gates.

A lot of the history I know about the White House itself, which is not much, has to do with random facts throughout history that I have picked up while reading.  I love history, hearing the how’s and why’s as to events, details that make it come alive in my imagination.

When I began reading All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America I expected to pick up a few tidbits here and there on the gardening practices used on the White House grounds and long lists of plants used.  In general I thought it would be a boring read that would require cups of coffee to help me stay awake.  What I found surprised me and showed me a new way of looking at this home that has become a symbol over the years. 

Gardening history is not something I have been exposed to previously.  In my past there were mentions of how the Native Americans planted and how the early settlers gardened to provide for the table during winter months.  I have also visited sites such as Mt. Vernon (Jefferson’s home) and the Biltmore Estate, learning about how they landscaped, invented, studied and produced tools, methods and plants that we now think are common.  However, I never had found a book that actually walked a reader through the history of gardening in a particular place and how the look of the gardens were also affected by events of the day.  As it turns out, I had exposed myself to a book that kept me up at nights, long after I really wanted to be asleep, exploring our nation’s history and the people and gardens it contained.

Marta McDowell did a thorough job of researching the various gardeners, plants, sources, designs, struggles, Presidents’ preferences that have resulted in the gardens and the house we now see today.  She showed how the political events of the day – protests about wars, the Great Depression, the war of 1812, etc.- also had a result in shaping the look and use of the gardens and grounds.  The reader was taken along a path showing the various gardening styles and philosophies, and how they flowed from one style to the next – English, Italian, french, formal, practical, native and exotic.

All the Presidents’ Gardens quickly became one of my favorite history and gardening books.  I loved the flow, the story behind the story feel, and how it all felt tied together in a smooth fashion.  It was so seamless that I often forgot when a chapter had ended and another began.  There were a few points that I wondered why they were mentioned, only to find a  few paragraphs or pages later how it was all tied together.

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend for you to read.  You will have to wait a bit though, as it will not scheduled to be released till April 27, 2016.  You are able to pre-order it now so you will be able to receive one of the first copies.

I also learned that the White House holds a free garden tour twice a year.  (Last year’s fall tour was in mid-October, so you may be able to get in on this year’s if you keep watching.)

I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration.

May 132013
 

pansy flowers

pansy flowers 3

 

new flowers in bed pansy

 

The pansies should spread to cover a lot of the area between them. With the lillies behind them, and some sunflowers behind those, this bed has the potential for great curb appeal.  A much improved look over last year.  I made the last picture larger, even though it is out of focus, so you could also see the volunteers that sprouted up in the lower right hand corner.  This is one of the advantages/challenges of using my own compost.  Sometimes not all the seeds have composted.  I also spend a few minutes weeding out clumps of tomato sprouts.  The soil is soft, thanks to the mulch, so the chore wasn’t much of a chore.  I’m going to let these particular volunteers grow and see what they become.  They can always be removed at a future date.

Below is a picture of this same bed last fall.  All those plants are weeds.  Well, the lillies are in there but you can’t see them because they have been choked out.

flower bed preremoval

 

Jan 222013
 

Often times the beginning of a new year finds me looking forward to what I would like to accomplish in the upcoming year.  As I was thinking about that, I also thought about where I had been the past year.  Here are some highlights of things from the past year, both pictures and links, that have stood out to me for one reason or another.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

I talked about the tulip tree in some detail during a “Tree of the Week” post and gave photos and links to help others identify it.  The beauty of this tree, even with no leaves, still strikes me and makes me pause when I see them.  Perhaps it is the straightness of the trunk or how the limbs just seem to sweep out from it.  This tree is definitely not a wall flower.

Poppy flowers

In May 2012 I talked about growing poppies.  These were a pleasant surprise the spring after we bought our house.  I didn’t like everything the previous owner’s did with the landscaping, but this was defiantly one thing I was happy about.

Some of my favorite posts from this time last year involved a short series about selling at a Farmer’s Market.  Here I talked about the Trials and Lessons I learned along the way.  A few posts later I talked about the differences between your perception of what it will be like and the reality.  I went on to expand on the lessons I learned in two follow-up posts, Part 1 and Part 2. The topic ended with a list of 50 things you could sell at a Farmer’s Market, other than produce that is.

Not only have I talked about Farmer’s Markets, but also about my own produce stand and how it got started.  I went on to talk more about my local produce auction.  Looking back I will have to say that the name of the post (Amish Produce Auction) is not exactly accurate, even though that is what everyone around here calls it.  In all fairness, there are some Mennonite and other sellers that bring items.  It just happen that a very large percent of sellers are Amish.  I also shared a second “Tales from the produce auction” post about  pumpkins and the circumstances that lead to me first started having  pureed pumpkin in my freezer.  Natural Deterrents was a recap of one aspect of having a stand that I never would have thought about.  Looking back I both laugh and get a bit annoyed.  Yes, I still hold a grudge against those beady-eyed squirrels.

Flowers from my front flower bed

 At the end of November I finally tackled a flower garden project that I had been putting off for about 4 years.  This was thanks to the ebook “21 Days To A More Self-Disciplined Life” by Crystal Paine.    Even now I am so happy when I look at it.  Yes, I still need to put down grass seed, but I am okay with that still needing to be done.  Besides, on average it is around freezing this time of the year.  Grass doesn’t really grow in those temperatures.

Tulips in my front flower bed

My composting worms also made an appearance after the surprising find that they were still alive.  I went on to talk a bit more about them and how much I really do love having a worm bin at home.  A few weeks later I talked about a worm’s diet.  During that post I also recorded the amount, in pounds, of food scraps I was sending to the compost  pile.  It was an insightful exercise in that it made me so much more aware of how much household waste we could recycle at home instead of throwing away or sending to be recycled elsewhere.

Food has been mentioned somewhat regularly on here.  At the beginning of February 2012 I posted about using what you have at home.  This included using frozen pumpkin puree to make shakes and muffins. Actually, I need to check to see if there are a few more bags in the freezer.  Pumpkin shakes sound good right now.

Last May I also shared recipes and the results from my Tea Party.  If you were a reader at that time you may remember that I was practicing recipes and prep work for a bridal shower I was helping with.  I have been meaning to do a similar thing (though not for a bridal shower) this winter that would involve coffee and biscotti.  If you happen to have any good recipes you are willing to share I would love to try them out.

Most recently I have been talking about Creating a Garden Calendar to help start off your upcoming garden season.  To make this a bit easier for you I also shared at least 27 different sources of calendars, here and here.  Not all of the calendar are still available for free, but I do know that I have seen more available at local businesses lately.  Even my bank had some that were free for the taking.

There were more things talked about over the past year, but these are the ones that stand out to me.  There were also more photos, especially towards the second half of the year.  For one reason or another these have stood out to me.  Perhaps it is the memory behind them, like the last photo which is of the front flower bed after it was finished and filled with compost and dead leaves.  Or maybe it is the bright colors, like the butterflies enjoying the orange slices on the yellow dish.  This time last year I would not have guessed that a lot of these experiences would have happened.  Similarly I do not know what the upcoming year, or beyond, will hold.  I only know that I will do my best to make the most of the opportunities that come.

Dec 062012
 

Crystal from Serving Joyfully, Laura from Super Sweet Life, and Erin from Home With The Boys are were hosting a challenge/accountability group going through the ebook, 21 Days To A More Disciplined Life by Crystal Paine.  (Found here and here.)  This post follows my progress in joining their challenge.

Self-discipline Challenge

Yesterday I completed the step I had hoped to do 14 days ago – bulbs and plants were planted into the front flower bed.  I was going to take a picture, but decided a picture of a dark flower bed full of bulbs would not be all that exciting.  So, in the spring when all the flowers (hopefully) bloom I’ll take a picture to show you.

I am still waiting on wood chips to add.  Also the area that used to be in the flower bed, but no longer is, needs to be tilled and seeded.  Still, I am marking this project as completed.  Yes, there are two more steps.  Yet, they are not ones I can do right now, so I’m changing them to smaller goals rather than two final steps.

I really enjoyed doing this challenge.  So much so that I am already planning the next 21 day Mega Project for January.  It has nothing to do with gardening this time, so I’m not sure whether I’ll post about it or not.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Crystal’s book, I really would recommend it.  Even more so I would recommend doing the steps you suggests in her book.  Have you ever had the thought, “If only I had known this 3/5/10 years ago I would be in such a different place now.  I can’t believe how much time I have wasted!”  Well, that is how I felt after reading her book.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity I jumped right in and did something about it.  It feels so good to have that major goal accomplished.

As for the habit I was trying to create – setting out my clothes the night before, it has a hit and miss action.  I do it most nights, though sometimes I forget or fall asleep before doing it.  I am going to keep working on it, though, through the rest of the year.

Have you read Crystal’s book?  What were your thoughts before and after reading it?  Did you start a new habit?  How has it been going?

Nov 282012
 

Crystal from Serving Joyfully, Laura from Super Sweet Life, and Erin from Home With The Boys are were hosting a challenge/accountability group going through the ebook, 21 Days To A More Disciplined Life by Crystal Paine.  (Found here and here.)  This post follows my progress in joining their challenge.

Self-discipline Challenge

Yes, I know it is past the 21 days, but I told you I would keep working on my Mega Project and show you how it is coming along.

This is what it looked like at the end of Monday:

Here is what took place on Tuesday:

two rows of rocks.  I still feel as if some tweeking needs to be done to make it look more even and sturdy.  Thankfully there are some rocks left over.

This was the transporation of choice for moving previously mulched and piled leaves from one place to their final destination.

All done.  Well sort of.  I should say, “border finished and first layer of planting medium put down.”  It would look a lot better without the brown square behind it.

To give you a better view of exactly how deep I made the leaves, look at it from this angle:

It is to the top of the rocks and a bit above.  Though it may seem like a lot now, I know from past experience that this will break down to almost nothing.

Next comes the compost, along with the wonderful worms who will help break this down.  First though, I think I’ll plant the bulbs and plants. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy morning.  We’ll see if the afternoon allows time for the  planting, or if that will have to wait till Thursday.

Nov 202012
 

Crystal from Serving Joyfully, Laura from Super Sweet Life, and Erin from Home With The Boys are hosting a challenge/accountability group going through the ebook, 21 Days To A More Disciplined Life by Crystal Paine.  (Found here and here.)  This post follows my progress in joining their challenge.

Self-discipline Challenge

My Mega Project, redoing the flower bed in my front yard, is actually coming along better than I thought.  I had meant to take a picture so that you could see what I did yesterday.  It didn’t happen obviously.  So, I’ll take a picture before I start working on it today so that you can see what got completed.  I just need the sun to come up so it isn’t a picture of black darkness.

{Update: here is the picture}

Initially I was going to lay down newspaper as a weed barrier, then top it with mulched leaves, compost and then wood chips.  My thoughts were to follow the methods shown in the Back to Eden video, as I knew they would work.  I had begun laying down the newspaper when this little voice showed up.  It reminded me of exactly how many weeds used to be there.

“Do you really want to risk it?  That is a lot of weeds to combat.  Grass is one thing, but weeds of the sort that were here …. shouldn’t you put down landscape fabric?  You have some in the house, you know.”

Fear won out. I went inside, grabbed the two rolls of fabric (one was new and one was partiall used) and layed it down.  Turns out I only needed to use the already opened one.  It was about two inches short after cutting it and laying down the second length.  This was a problem that was easily fixed as those two inches are going to be under rocks anyway.  Rocks, which had been removed from the old bed, were placed along the edges.  Where the seam of the two lengths of fabric overlapped I placed some wood from the old tree stump that is at one corner of the bed.   I made it around three sides with the first layer of stones before stopping to make lunch.  It had taken me about 30 minutes to get all that accomplished, after my conversation with the little voice, but seemed like I just bounded into the next stage.  I had hoped to make it out there during the afternoon to finish laying rocks, but that didn’t happen.

Today, my goal with this is to finish the rocks and begin adding the mulched leaves.  When I mulched them last week, I dumped them into a nearby bed, not spreading them out.  I knew that if I could only get to this point soon, it would be easy to relocate them.  If for some reason I didn’t make it to this point, I would only have to spread them out in that bed.  They would have gone there anyway, so it was really no extra work.

I still plan on placing compost on top of them, as well as wood chips once I find a source for them.

The part of the old bed, where I’m not putting the new one down, is still dirt and needs to be dealt with.  However, I realized that this part of the project was not my main point and I was not going to let it stop me from progressing.  I can work on getting the old roots out during the rest of winter, have it tilled in the spring, then rake it out and seed it with grass at that time.

I may decide to place some plants back in the ground before adding compost.  Either way, I want to get them planted again before putting woodchips down.  There are some lillies and columbine to be planted, as well as bulbs. The bulbs are what have me stumped and where I’m looking for a bit of input from my readers.

Should I plant the bulbs under the landscape fabric, cutting a hole where they will come up?  Or should I place them on top of the fabric, but under the leaves, compost, and wood chips?  These are tulip and hyacinth bulbs.

 Though I am not on schedule to have this done in the 21 days I originally hoped (that would mean by tomorrow), I am happy about the progress and the outcome.  There was a point in this process, around day 12, where I got really down about my ability to finish this.  At that point I almost called it quites and stopped.  So what kept me going?  I think it was the accountability.  Not with anyone in particular, but the fact that this is in my front yard and all my neighbors, the people driving down the street, and those who walk along our sidewalks every day are going to see if I don’t finish this.   Several have already commented about how it is great to see us working so hard on this project or that they are curious what we are going to do with the area.  I don’t want to be known as the “pretty house on XYZ street with the dirt patch in the front yard.”  Now I’m glad I continued on, even if it was because of imagined comments being made in every single car that drives by.

Tomorrow is the last day for the 21 Day to Self-Discipline Challenge.   I can’t believe it has only been 3 weeks since we started this. Even more, I cann’t believe it took me 4 years to get it started. Now I am looking around at all the other unfinished projects and wonder exactly how quickly they can be done.

How are you coming along with your project?  Did you make it or did you have some setbacks like I did?