Oct 092016


Contrast in color, size, and texture can add interest to your garden.  Here I showed you an example of a large area where this was used. Here in a smaller example.

Tucked into a corner of a garden, it would have easy to put in a plant and move on. Instead, a bit more time was spent, turning this corner into a spot that adds to the overall garden.

It also shows what you can do if you only have a small spot. While you may not be able to do everything, you can still do something.

Sep 192016


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 152016


Herbs are a great and simple addition to any garden, even this one build for children to explore.  Their various shapes, colors, patterns, textures, and scents all add fun variety without much extra effort.

For those varieties which tend to spread, burying a pot to plant them in often works well.  These pots can either be chosen for their abilities to blend in or stand out.  Imagine if, in the photo above, the post were a bright red or blue.  The burst of color would add visual interest early in the season when the plants may still be on the smaller side.

To help balance out the green of the herbs and attract more insects, various flowers were included in this corner of the garden.  Lest you think herbs have no value in the insect world, you may be surprised to find they actually play a role in helping deter certain pest insects or attracting caterpillars in various stops along the way to becoming a butterfly.  Do not let their homely colors full you into thinking they do not play a major role in the stage that is called your garden.

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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.


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.


Aug 202015

vegetable vine growing into tree collage

There are some garden issues you just have to chuckle about, while making sure they do not produce larger issues.

If left up to themselves, almost all of our vines would have grown up into trees, like this one has.  The first to try was a pumpkin vine.  I was  not exactly looking forward to having pumpkins growing 20 – 60 feet off the ground, so I kept pulling it off the limbs and redirecting it.  As the trellis it was grown up was located directly under the tree, this was an ongoing issue.  Then the cucumbers decided to try and got away with it for a while, till I noticed and pulled them out too.

What I forgot to pay attention to was the back side of the compost pile.  In previous years our vine producing plants have not grown nearly this vigorously, so it was never an issue.  Seem the pile was just high enough for them to reach up and grab the lowest edge of a branch.  That was all that was needed.  Now we have a pumpkin growing on the vine about 10 feet in the air.  I will let you know how it goes, as I am too curious to pull it out now.

Sep 112014

Bird feeder hanging from tree 2

After many tries, and threats of squirrel stew, I have decided that a bird feeder with seeds just is not for our family right now.  Birds have never shown up to eat from these feeders.  Our resident squirrels thank us for the buffet, though.

So, they were taken down earlier this summer.

On a day when I felt unusually optimistic, I took Jack and George with me to the hardware store with the promise that they could buy something with their money.  After I did my shopping (not finding what I was looking for) we spent the next HOUR looking for something for them, which they could get for under $5.

One of the items George was really interested in was a hummingbird feeder.  We had the “if you buy the feeder, you also need to buy the food” discussion.  Turns out he did not quite have enough and moved on to something else.  The seed was planted in my mind though: humming bird feeder = no seeds, no seeds = the squirrels won’t steal the food.

The purchase of a feeder was not high on my list, so I decided to be patient and wait for an end of season sale.  That is exactly what I found last month.  The boys were very excited to mix up the ‘nectar’ and hang up the feeder.  My husband asked if I was becoming my mother.  🙂  (She has about 10 feeders of various designs in her yard. The picture below is from her yard.)

bird feeders for gold finches

“It is close to the end of the season, boys.  We may not get any birds this year.  Just wanted to let you know there may not be any birds till next Spring.”  They were still okay with that, so the feeder was hung outside our dinning room window, awaiting a humming bird to bless.

George was been keeping an eye on the nectar level.  He was determined to see if a bird had visited while he was at school.  A few times he told me the level was going down.  Honestly, I was thinking it was evaporating.  As I did not know one way or the other, I agreed that it could have been a bird, which would have been “Awesome.”

Last week I kept seeing flashes of something out my window.  By the time I looked nothing was there.  “Maybe it was a car driving by?”  Then I caught sight of it … a humming bird!!

A few days later, while sitting down at supper, a humming bird landed on the shepherd’s hook that held the feeder.

“George,” I said calmly, “I want you to stand up and slowly go to the window.”  He was confused but complied.  As he was standing up I continued, “There is a humming bird sitting above the feeder.”

He almost jumped to the ceiling with excitement.  As we have 10 foot ceilings, that is saying a lot.  Jack almost hopped right from his chair to the window.

Of course, the bird flew away.

Smart bird.  I would have too.

As the days have passed, I have pointed out several times when a bird has flown to the feeder or away.  The boys have always missed it.

Last night, they got to see the bird!  Then they saw 2!  Then they saw them eating!  Then they saw them fighting!  Yes, that is a lot of exclamations points going on.

humming bird feeder

Changing over to a feeder that did not require a food source which the squirrels would  also eat was a great decision.  The main goal of having a feeder was for the boys/kids to get to see birds closer than just flying overhead.  They are learning to walk slowly towards the window to look, what birds eat and how to fill the feeders, as well as what does not work.

Do you have bird feeders at home?  I would be interested in hearing what you do to keep squirrels out, whether it be a certain design or other tip.



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May 272014

raised bed your solution

The blog has been a bit quiet these past few days as the demands of life have taken over.  While there have been some smaller details taking up  my time (hunting down the source of stinky clothes and ultimately cleaning out the washer’s drain filter, finding or requesting paperwork for taxes, IEP meetings, etc.), the largest activity has to do with shopping, of sorts.

We have begun our home search in earnest this past week, attending a few open houses, going to see a few homes currently on the market, driving around the area to get a sense for various neighborhoods, and contacting a realtor for us to work with.  We are not in a rush to purchase a home, but view it as a good time to start as we do not have to find a place to move into right away.

My time has been spent viewing details and photos online, comparing numbers, and really taking a look at our desires and needs, prioritizing them as no home will likely fulfill them all.

I also have spent more than my fair share of time mentally laying out many yards, trying to work out gardening options – current raised beds vs. adding them, container gardens, amount of sunlight (there will be many more leaves on the trees come summer) and the optimum growing seasons here, as well as balancing it with leaving room for the kids to play and us to grill out.

With the soils here, I am almost certain that raised beds or container gardening are in my future again.  The question is, what kind?  Also, how can I utilize the vertical spaces as well as the horizontal?  (I will save my thoughts on fruit and berries for another post.)

Here are a few raised beds I have seen at various places.  No two look alike or are laid out the same, as each need and location are unique.

The first one below is an example of a square foot garden, located at the U of I Arboretum.  While not technically a ‘raised’ bed, the borders would act as such if you are needing to amend the soil contained therein.


Here are more examples of a raised garden beds, from the same garden.  The first doubles as a greenhouse in cooler weather with the addition of a cold frame.  This time, the bed is raised off the ground.  This could be for a variety of reasons (ease of reaching the plants, to keep it above damp ground, etc.  These particular plants are great early spring additions to your garden.


This circular garden is actually a child’s fairy garden.  It is smaller in size, which is great for shorter arms.  It is meant to invite creativity, not necessarily economical use of space.

child friendly gnome garden with border

Here are several beds from my previous house.  These are all in different parts of the yards, addressing different growing challenges (wet ground, poor soil, weed control, etc.)  Notice how the borders are rarely made of the same materials?  Often I used what I had or could find for free.  
raised bed collage

While raised beds are not often thought of as container gardens, they are in a way; only much larger.  Your typical container garden might look something like these:

raised-container-garden- with border

blueberry bush in container pot




concrete flower container with pic border


The two photos above are of containers found either on the University of Illinois campus or in their arboretum.  I figured I should give credit where credit is due; their gardeners have done fabulous work adding color to may peoples days.

If you are interested in seeing the solutions others have come up with, here are several links for you to explore:

Container Gardening – is just so happens this is a link to the U of I extension office.  I am not trying to promote them, pure coincidence I promise.

HGTV container gardening ideas and video

Urban Gardening with Vegetables

Container Gardening With Vegetables And Herbs – Mother Earth News

Raised Bed Gardening 101 – Planet Natural

7 Secrets For A High-yield Vegetable Garden, Even When You Are Tight On Space

Raised Beds – Soil Depth Requirments

Raised Bed Gardening Tips From Master Gardeners


Are there tips you have learned along the way?  Do you use a traditional method of gardening, raised beds/containers only, or a mix?

May 232014


One Sunday, someone told me something they had done. They preceded it and ended it by saying, “I hope I haven’t caused you any trouble.”  {sigh}

Even though I wanted to say something very different than what actually came out of my mouth, I took a few seconds to think and choose my words.  With an honest smile on my face I thanked the person for letting us know.  It truly was better that we know than be kept in the dark about it and wonder in the future how certain people got certain information about us.

It was not done with malicious intent; it was a completely innocent action on their part that could have repercussions on our’s.  I understood where this person was coming from and why they did what they did without really thinking.  How often do we do that exact thing ourselves?

Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles. Proverbs 21:23 (KJV)

It is amazing how quickly the feelings of anxiousness, alertness, annoyance, insecurity, and lack of privacy came back.

I also was reminded to thank, yet again, a good friend who is beyond great about not giving out information.  Don’t even try to get her to hint about stuff.  If she does not know you, she won’t even give out hints over the phone letting you know if any of her family members actually live at her house or even if she knows them at all.  It is an amazing skill that is very useful in various situations.

My husband, in all his great wisdom, followed lunch out with dessert out, too.  Those were then followed up by a walk to the park.  It is amazing how much calmer I felt after being in a green place, surrounded by trees and flowers, birds singing and the wind rustling leaves.

This was my Happy Place.

Oak tree stand with path and bench park

garden park spring flowers blooming tree

Jan 222014



DSCN5341blue bonnets

Columbine leaves 2

Columbine leaves

Columbine leaves – if you look closely you can see the unopened blooms

Temperatures outside right now are a few degrees beyond very cold.  Add to that some snow we got Monday night and the garden does not look anything like the photos above.  That doesn’t mean we can’t look at pictures to remind us what it will look like soon enough.

For a lot of you, it will be time to start your seeds soon, or perhaps you already have because Spring always comes, even if all we can see is Winter.