Jun 172018
 

This post contains affiliate links.

Earlier this year I was looking at rain barrels to add to the garden. I was not sure what else I wanted to add to the garden, but I knew my main garden planning goal is to set up a good framework for the future. Rain barrels fit into this overarching criteria, we needed them to help balance out the moisture of the soils.

The first rain barrel was added a few months back.  The puddle surrounding the back patio after each rainfall disappeared.  It worked so well I began to consider where I wanted to place my next one.

Before I got to that stage, though, I added a raised bed to the yard as well as a fig tree.  Our first fruit tree!

While adding rain barrels never left my thoughts, it was not the immediate thing I was working on.  Summer is not really our wet season, so I knew I could focus elsewhere for a while before we really needed them.  What I needed to be focusing on was adding a planting bed along the back fence.  The plan is to add more trees and other plants to it come fall/late winter.

The soil here is not exactly nutrient rich…unless you count clay and more clay as a nutrient.  If I want to give the new plants a leg up on growing, I need to begin amending the soil with compost, mulches, and other detritus. Not only will this give them the nutrients they need but help hold in the moisture.

In order to begin amending the soil I need create an edge barrier to do so.  Taking a page from the new flower bed, I decided to use concrete blocks along the back and edging stones along the front.  This will serve a few purposes:

  1. saves on cost
  2. allows me to plant along the fence, inside the holes in the blocks, thereby saving room horizontally
  3. hopefully makes it harder for the rabbits to come in under the fence

This will be done in stages.  First, I am going to block in the areas I want to put the trees.  I will add cardboard and other items inside these blocks, beginning at the most important parts of the planned bed.  Second, I will begin to expand this areas until they connect, adding cardboard (weed barrier) and other compost items as I go along. I am hoping in this way not to overwhelm myself with the project, nor have a lot of out-of-pocket at one time.

Knowing the trees I want to plant, as well as the area I have to work with (there is a shallow drainage ditch between our fence and our backyard neighbors), I am planning to make the bed rather narrow.  At 2′-3′ wide I think there will be enough room for the trees, all of which have a mature crown diameter of about 10′.

So far I have purchased enough concrete blocks to mark where I want to plant three of the trees.  There were purchased from a home improvement store with a $25 gift card I earned on Swagbucks.  By earning a gift card earned each month I will have all the materials I need in a few months time with minimal out of pocket.  If I am able to take advantage of deals or discounts, it will happen even quicker.

All throughout June you can earn large bonuses when sign up as my referral on Swagbucks. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you’re probably doing online already, like searching the web, watching videos, shopping, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Target, or PayPal cash.

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a 300 SB bonus! Here’s how:

1. Sign up using this link

2. Earn 300 SB total before July 1st, 2018. You’ll get a 300 SB bonus for it!

I have also been adding to the compost bin and gathering used coffee grounds from local coffee shops.  This is a bit harder to do here than in Small Town as they do not save them automatically here.  I have to call, ask, and stop in that day or soon thereafter.  My best source so far as been the coffee shop inside the local grocery store.  Who knew so many people got their morning coffee from there?!

With some other, larger, more expensive things we are looking to accomplish this year, I am glad to have a way to save some money on gardening.

What are some of your favorite ways to spend money on gardening?

Jun 042018
 

A small space in your yard, either between buildings or along a border, can become a source of complaining if it requires maintenance yet does not seem to offer any benefit.  Such a space exists between our yard and our neighbor’s.  For the both of us this space is a dead-end, leading only to the backyard fence but no gate.  Neither of us have a door exiting the house at this point, nor a walk way.  While it holds utilities for the both of us, it is mainly a strip of usually forgotten grass which needs to be mowed.

When considering the garden as a whole this past winter, I realized I would rather transition this area into a large flower bed to attract butterflies and bees.  I also knew that it would be a big undertaking if I did it all at once.  Instead, I plan to take it on in stages, increasing it over time and as I have spare flower seeds to plant.

Limitations and Challenges

On our side it is about 7 feet wide, on a slight slope, gets partial light, and contains some utility ROWs (right-of-ways).  It is protected from rain by our house on one side and their house on the other, again about 7 feet further.  However, the bottom of the slight slope drains the backyard and a downspout from the corner of our house.  The result is a vast difference in moisture from the edge next to our house and the edge next to the neighbor’s yard.

These challenges actually created opportunities.  Flowers which grow in dry areas would do well next to the house, while those who can handle moisture or non-regular wetness would do very well further away.  I now was able to plant a larger variety of flowers by noticing the micro-environments happening in this area.

Beginnings

The progress of this bed did not happen over a weekend, but slowly over the past few months.  This has allowed it to grow organically rather than planned out to the detail.

{March}

Internal conversations as of late have tended along this line:

  • It is getting warmer outside.  I really need to get a move on with building some raised beds and lasagna gardens (for flowers).
  • Oh, it is cold again.  I must have been jumping the gun.  Good thing I did not plant anything.
  • Well, rain today.  Can’t do much work outside right now.
  • Warm…again. Yeah, I really should have gotten something built for outside.  I’ll do that tomorrow…
  • ::siren:: I doubt anyone would judge me too much for not improving the yard in some way while the tornado sirens are going off.
  • Oh, my, it is cold!  I think I will focus on an indoor task today.
  • …okay, so is it warm, or cold?  Warm, let’s go outside …(few hours later) my goodness, it is getting colder as the day goes on.

At first, I let this dictate as to whether I should start garden projects outside.  However, after a few back-and-forth’s I realized that if I waited till it was “perfect” I would miss the window.  Right now, something is better than nothing.

I grabbed some old packing boxes, box of shredded paper, shovel, kids’ wagon (filled with unfinished compost from compost tumbler), and headed outside.  Layering the items I began a lasagna garden.  While it is smaller than I would like, I remember that smaller can be better.  This is especially true when trying to do multiple things at once. Right now, something is better than nothing.

{April}

With a garden bed already begun, I realized I needed something for edging if I was to help keep out grass and hold the bedding in place.  A quick rough measurement of the area allowed me to pick up some bricks from the local home improvement store.  Jack was less than thrilled with this trip, though I think it had to do more with shopping in the rain than it did with the act of shopping itself.  Personally, I figured we would dry off and there could be worse things to do than shopping for garden supplies in the rain.

The total for the edging quickly added up, so I adjusted my expectations to have a shorter bed than I desired.

Once home I placed the bricks around the bed.  They reached 75% of the way around, but it was good enough for now.  The side which was not covered was against the house and a bit of the fence.

I found some more paper to shred and emptied the compost tumbler, again, to find more material to put on top of the cardboard.  We had received a shipment of cold items in the mail, the insulation of which was shredded cotton (jeans?).  This was added to the materials and has worked well at keeping the grass out.

After everything was dumped in the bed I covered it with a partial bag of peat moss I had in the garage.  While it is a light material it will mix well with the future organic material.

{May}

As seeds were bought or found I added them to the bed.

  • Daffodils from a science experiment found their home here, as did a few older daffodil bulbs from a long while back which never got planted.
  • Hollyhocks, a flower I always wanted to have in my garden, were planted in the spaces in the concrete blocks along the fence.  These should form a nice tall, colorful backdrop for the rest of the garden.  Not only will they help hid the fence, but they will attract insects as well.
  • Butterfly Weed and Chamomile seeds were spread around, as well as a few purple cone flowers.

I am starting to see several of these sprout, though I was not expecting much out of them as I planted them on my time schedule, rather than at their optimum time.

A watering dish was also created and installed in the bed.  One thing I have learned since installing this is that the water evaporates out of it at a quicker rate than I thought it would.  If we experience a few sunny days in a row I need to add water to it myself.  This is due to its shallow nature which appeals to butterflies and other insects.

What you can not tell well from the picture is the slope on which this bed is situated.  The far right block, along the front edge, and the far left top block are almost equal in height.

Apr 262017
 

lion flower planter collage

As I begin to tackle the blank canvas called our new back yard, this is one aspect I was keenly aware of.  Seeing this post which I had previously shared, reminded me of some key elements to consider.

Our yard is surrounded by two story homes with NO privacy between them currently.  There is no need for boring sight blocking plantings, they can be colorful and interesting with a bit of planning.  This might also solve the problem of planting next to fences – raise the plants above the shade cast by a corner fence.

The planter above is one I came across while on a walk one afternoon.  The planter is actually so tall, I had to told my arms all the way up to get the picture on the right.  I did not even know which flowers were in it till I lowered my camera to look.

“Why would they put these up so high?!  No one can even see the flowers to appreciate them.”

After giving this some though I realized that I was not the audience the gardeners were going for.  Surrounding this spot are tall buildings.  From their vantage point, the planters are spots of bright colors on the green canvas.

The same thought can, and should, go into plantings you do at home or office.

  • Who is going to be seeing the plants?
  • From where will they be looking?
  • Will they be moving or standing relatively still?
  • Where is the light coming from?

The planter above is surrounded by bushes.  If the gardeners had put it at ground level, it would have been hard to see.  Placed above the bushes it is hard to miss.

  • Are there other planting nearby to interfere with the line of sight needed?  Or which could visually drowned out the planting?

Even though I could not see the flowers, the planter itself caught my attention.  Such a bold piece screams to be looked at.

  • How will your planter play into your design?  Will it blend in or be a focal point of its own?

After taking time to think about this design in the landscape, I appreciate it even more than I did before.  Sometimes you need to think outside (or above in this case) the box when looking to add to your garden.

Have you done something particular, such as placing a planter in a non-traditional spot, in your garden?  Why did you make the final decision?  How have other’s perceived it?

 

Oct 072016
 

city-garden-open-space-before-planting-spring

When I first saw this garden, in its wintertime bareness, I would imagine all the different ways it could be planted and decorated. Then I began to feel like a failure for not being able to do the same in my garden.

circular-garden-in-summer-bloom-2

Later I visited the same gardens. They were taking shape, colors were starting to appear, and the feeling was less of emptiness.

circular-flower-garden-in-summer-bloom

I also realized several things:

  • There are people who are hired full time to take care of these grounds. This is not solely a hobby.
  • There is more than ONE person taking care of these gardens.
  • The same pattern is used year to year. No need to reinvent the wheel each year.
  • Annuals are used, not perennials or bulbs.
  • There is a greenhouse used to grow all of these annuals. I would have to either build a greenhouse, spending months to grow these, or else pay retail.
  • This particular garden is larger than my yard. I could not replicate it if I tried.

Reminding myself of these things when the gardening doubts begin to creep in has helped me keep a more balanced view, to not judge myself so harshly. I am also able to enjoy the gardens more, appreciating all the effort others put in so I can sit and enjoy them. No weeding required.

Sep 192016
 

full-sun-bed-with-garden-shed

Even the most beautiful of gardens will still require things that may not be so beautiful – buckets, gloves, shovels, wheel barrows, pots waiting to be used, compost piles in the process of breaking down, etc.  Whether these items must be seen or hidden in side a building or container, they are all a part of the business of gardening.

Knowing these items are needed, how do you then keep them being an asset to your garden rather than a distraction from the beauty you are trying to create? Sometimes all it takes is some consideration before moving forward.

In the photo above, you can see the top of the garden shed.  Instead of distracting, the materials used, the shape of the roof, and even the color of the building itself compliment the garden.  At some point in this garden’s history a decision was made to build in this style.  They could have just as easily put up a cinder block building with a green metal roof.  The function of that building would have been the same, but the visual impact would have been vastly different.

Instead of trying to hide a building that would have been an eye-sore, they chose to build something from the start which would add to the enjoyment of the garden.  Even in winter, when all the leaves on the trees have dropped, the flowers have faded away, and the tall grasses are not so tall, the building stands as a welcome sign, inviting you come visit.  Not often found on garden sheds, the small porch and its overhang have provided both shade and protection from the elements to more than one visitor, my family included.

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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.

 

Apr 032016
 

seeds beginning 2014 garden season

One idea to reduce your grocery bill that I commonly hear, after coupons and shopping sales and eating left overs, is to plant a garden.  While they are correct in a garden can be cheaper than going to the grocery store to buy the same items, it doesn’t mean gardening is always cheap.  It can easily cost a pretty penny, especially if you are just starting out.  Planning ahead and being aware of what you are spending, what you need and having realistic goals can save you quite a bit over a season, or 2 or 5.

Gardening can be done with very little money.  It can. However, it takes time and effort.

Feb 062016
 

This post is a one I had written a few years ago.  While it is already February, there is still time to follow through with these steps in order to get your gardening process in order before it is time to put seeds and plants in the ground.

At the bottom, I have included links to the posts referenced below.

********************************************

At the end of a gardening season I always find myself ready for a break.  However, by the new year I am ready to get going again, but always feel a bit behind.  It is like I am starting a race a minute behind all the other runners.  This year I hope to change that.

Before the end of the year I am going to do a series on creating a calendar for the next growing season.  By the time you are done, your calendar will have different important dates marked.  Things like frost dates, planting times, garden prep times and so on.  We will be breaking the process down into baby steps, doing a bit each day over the course of week or two.

Step #1: Get a calendar

With the Christmas season and the New Year coming up, we are going to start seeing offers for free calendars.  I wanted to go ahead and let you know about this upcoming series of posts so that:

  1. you would be on the lookout for a free calendar, or one that you might want to use
  2. to keep myself accountable

This series won’t run until after Christmas, so you have time.  However, don’t wait too long.  Before you know it you will be up to your elbows in cooking baking or up to your knees in shoveling snow.  This is a very easy step, so go ahead and just do it.

What should you be looking for in the calendar to use?  Preferably a calendar that has squares large enough for you to write in.  Now, whether this is a hanging calendar or a pocket calendar is up to you.  It just needs to be something that will not get put under a pile of papers, but which can be kept with your gardening supplies. You could even print something off from your computer if all else fails. Do not try to find the perfect calendar, it just won’t happen and is not needed for this.

As of right now here are the free calendars I know of :

Rural King – pick up a calendar when you visit the store.  I’m not sure what they look like.  However, if you are going there, take a look.

 – this offer is only good if you were already a member as of 10/29/12.

Live Better America – for members only.

(Here is a post from 2015 also mentioning a few sources for free calendars.)

As I come across more offers I will share them with you.  You may also find them at church, local businesses, your local municipality or utility providers, and so forth.

There are many, many free printable calendars out there.  A simple search will turn up more than you know what to do with.

Also, I have found pocket calendars at Dollar General for $1 or $.50 which would work okay for this.  They contain a calendar that goes for two years and is the one that I have in my purse.  The squares are large enough to write in, though a bit on the small side if you want to put more than one thing on a date.

The following are the steps I took to create a garden calendar.  Most of the steps are quick, though some may take a few minutes to find the information to add to your calendar.  Have fun with this activity.  It is meant to not only set you up for greater success in your garden, but also to help take away any anxiety or forgetfulness you might have.  It is not meant to be yet another chore that needs to be done.

Day 1: Getting Started

Day 2: Planning Backwards

Day 3: Begin List of Plants

Day 4: Adding Details To Your List

Day 5: “Start Seed” Dates

Day 6: Transplant Dates

Day 7: Finding Things Elsewhere, Part 1

Day 8: Finding Things Elsewhere, Part 2

Day 9: Create Wishlist

Day 10: Adding Details to Your Wishlist

Day 11: Expected Harvest Dates

Day 12: Garden Prep

Day 13: Compost

Day 14: Keeping Track Along The Way

Day 15: Order, or purchase, Dates

Jan 302016
 
Comstock Ferre & Co.

Comstock Ferre & Co. in Wethersfield’s historic district. (Michael McAndrews, Courant file photo)

Routines can be great.  They help you be able to predict what is going to happen and when.  They save on brain power, enabling you to not really think, but just do.  In gardening, there are some routines that we accept will always be the same.

  • Winter will always turn into spring, and fall into winter.
  • Rabbits and deer will find their way into your garden, or keep trying.  Year after year after year.  Even though you chase them out, year after year after year.
  • Planting takes place before harvesting.

There are other things about gardening that we also assume will always be the same.  Consider your source of plants and seeds.  Whether it be ones you save yourself, get from the local hardware store, or order online, once you have found your Regulars you often do not put a lot of thought into where you are going to be looking once it comes time to think about this year’s garden once again.

What if what had once ‘always been there’ was no longer there?

While going through the list of garden catalogs, updating links, I came across an broken link.  My first thoughts were of a great loss, an old seed company having gone the way of many such companies over the years.  No longer to sustain themselves in a culture where the public wants organic and local foods but often does not grow it themselves.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

Upon further searching I found out good news:

The historic Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Old Wethersfield will soon transform into an organic and non-GMO food market and café but retain its roots as a seed company.

The Hartford Courant article talks about “the latest incarnation for Comstock, Ferre & Co., which was founded in 1811 and is the nation’s oldest continuously operated seed company.”  As the years have passed, our culture and economy have changed.  While we may think of seed companies being immune to such changes, they are not.  They also must be allowed to change and stay modern, or else go way of many other such companies that used to common names to gardeners.

With the addition of the food market and cafe, they will be able to show customers and locals what the seeds actually grow into, what they smell and feel like, and ultimately how they can taste.

Sometimes a change in routines can be a good thing.  Hopefully this new growth in the business will help the Wethersfield, Conn. seed company continue on for many more years.

 

 

Jun 012015
 

When planning your garden at home, there are many details to take into account.  You need to pay attention to things like amount of sun, rain fall, average temperatures, length of growing season, and space.  You may also want to take into account flowering plants versus ever greens, height of plants compared to those around them, ease of care, and whether the plants are annuals or perennials.

When I worked in the urban forestry, we would also have to take into account the space needed for roots, any damage it might do to under ground utilities, the maintenance in upkeep (dropping of leaves, fruit, and limbs), height clearance underneath for vehicles if planted near parking lots or roads, scents of fruits or flowers, whether there were thorns or other dangerous attributes, and if the plant was a native, non-native or a non-native invasive plant.  There was a lot to consider when making selections.

Whether you are planning for your yard, as a part of your job, for a local volunteer project or to help out a neighbor, to help make the decisions easier there are often commonly used plants in your area that are recommended.  These are plants that tend to do well in your area (right zone, rainfall, etc.) and are popular with local gardeners.  They are also plants that local nurseries either grow or can obtain.  This does not mean that they are the best for the garden or location you are looking to plant in, only the most readily available.

In beginning to read The Allergy-Fighting Garden by Thomas Ogren, I assumed it would refer to flower gardens only, something along the lines of a botanical garden.  What I found pleasantly surprised me and made me realize some mistakes I had made in the past.  What I found was a very applicable, easy to understand case for considering not only the attributes listed above, but also those that affect our health and that of those around us.

My husband and one kid are affect more by allergies than myself and our other son.  However, we all have some degree of reaction.  Until now, I assumed it had more to do with the dirt in the air (from farmers plowing fields) than anything else, or with me spending time around so many trees in the fall.  After all, it is not like our house is surrounded by a  yard full of blooming flowers.  What I learned is that there may be other, larger sources of allergens and there is something I can potentially do about it.

The first 50 pages of The Allergy-Fighting Garden explain more about why allergies have become so prevalent in society today, what lead to the increase from several decades ago, and how we can go about correcting or reducing the effects.  It also gives a brief over view of how plants work, an important piece of knowledge in being able to understand how to counter their natural process.

The next 176 pages lists plants in alphabetical order, by their scientific names, giving a description of each and how they contribute or aide in the reduction of allergies.  While this section is not something that I will sit down and read straight through, it is a great reference resource for the future as I look to add to the landscaping around our house.  It will also be useful if I am ever in a position again to recommend plants for specific locations.

The biggest lesson I took away from The Allergy-Fighting Garden was that something as simple as planting a female plant, as opposed to a male plant, could make the difference between an allergic reaction and no reaction at all.  The explanations were such that a lay person, with even a minimum understanding of plants, would be able to pick up this book and come away understanding the connections between the plants in the landscapes around us and the amount of allergies experienced by those who come in contact with them.

Not only does Thomas Ogren show you how to plant so you can reduce your allergies, but also how you can fight those that might be around you.  The section on hedges and how to care for them is very  helpful.  As one who has lived in both the country and in the city, I can attest to how different each setting can be when it comes to landscaping and air quality.  When you live in cities, towns, and suburbs, the assortment of plants in a given area can be very  high.  Each person has their own idea of what would be good to grow.  Each garden and home has a different purpose for planting their specific horticultural choices.  When you can not change them, he gives you a way to atleast try and decrease their affects on the air quality in your home, office, or yard.  It truly is a fight against allergies from the garden.

The Allergy-Fighting Garden was an enlightening read and something that has added to my understanding of the natural world around us.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with or taking care of someone with allergies, or who is in charge of landscaping on any scale.  Being health conscious does not apply to food and exercise only, but also to creating an environment that aides in keeping us health instead of making us sick.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.