Showers, Puddles, and a Deluge of Rain

Rain

Right now my life consists of doing things in between rain showers. And in between the showers we get thunderstorms. Any sunlight at all makes everyone in the family look up from what they are doing and exclaim, “Sun – oh, wow!”  I think you get the idea. It’s wet and has been wet for a couple of weeks!

My son arriving home from summer camp with a trunk full of wet clothes didn’t help raise our spirits, either. Hanging up a sopping wet sleeping bag only highlights how damp we already feel.

As gardeners, what can we do in rainy situations?

I have found it is best to wait it out and do your gardening chores when the weather dries out. You run the risk of compacting the soil if you garden in the rain or just after rainy episodes. Besides, trying to plant and dig holes in the mud just makes everything a pain. Also, the plant’s roots can have a hard time becoming acclimated in sticky mud.

With that said, I have been known to sneak outside after a rain shower and carefully pull weeds out of flower beds. The rain makes it easy to pull the little buggers out! I’m careful to stand on flat rocks or bricks placed strategically throughout the flowers. Hopefully, I’m not causing too much compaction.

I also take this time to notice any water accumulating in areas that may need addressing. Be especially careful to keep water away from house foundations. That could be damaging to the outside and inside of your home. Make sure planting beds slope away from your house for proper run-off. Keep your house gutters clean, too.

Wet leaf

If you can, don’t have any bare soil. Rain will compact bare soil and quickly deplete it of nutrients. Plants hold the soil in place and act as tiny umbrellas helping to avoid soil erosion. Plants also draw up water, reducing the run-off into sewers. If planting is not possible at the moment, put down mulch to help with erosion.

Make plans to put water barrels at gutter downspouts to catch rain water. We had a roofing company attach forked downspouts on our rain gutters. This ingenious contraption lets you flip a metal switch between your water barrel and your downspout. When a barrel gets full, you can flip the switch and let the water run out the normal course. I even attached a metal hook to a broom handle and I can reach the switch from an open window. The neighbors must think I’m crazy!

I have one last suggestion for rainy day gardening activities. Put together a garden planner. I did this one year and really enjoyed it. Taking care of children has kept me from repeating it year after year, but I really believe this can be a fun, helpful, endeavor.

I bought a very pretty but inexpensive calendar – book style – with several pages for each month. As the gardening season began that year, I made notes in my calendar of projects to do next year. Sounds kind of crazy, but if you garden long enough you begin to understand that a good bit of gardening is planning for next month or next season or next year.  Using a calendar enables you to “schedule” the idea within the appropriate month for that particular project. For instance, if your idea is to plant more daffodils, place it in the calendar in October for fall bulb planting. It helps you stay organized and have fun in the planning stage.

Let’s pray for drier weather. Have fun gardening!

Picture of a thunderstorm at the top of the post is courtesy of Bidgee and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

My 3 Favorite Self-Seeding Perennials

Balloon Flower

Balloon Flowers – Mature Flower and Bud

I love perennials in a flower garden. There are so many to choose from and they come back year after year. Some are as tough as old boots and live a very long time. In the southern part of America, you can walk through forested areas and come across a stand of beautiful flowers. The house may be gone but the perennials are still flourishing where they were planted 100 years ago or longer.

One type of perennial that I especially like are self-seeding perennials. The name says it all. They love to seed themselves around the garden. Sounds like trouble, but not really. The original clump of plant that you planted comes back the next year and brings some friends along. Sometimes the plant just keeps getting bigger and wider. And sometimes you find that the flower has seeded itself on the other side of the garden entirely. Because of this I try to be careful when I weed and let some seedlings grow-up if I recognize what perennial they are. Sometimes I don’t want them there and I just easily pull them out.

My 3 favorite self-seeding, flowering perennials are Balloon Flowers, Lamb’s Ears, and Sweet William. These 3 have given me so much joy in the garden. Every year that they come back, it’s like seeing an old friend drop by to pay a visit.

Balloon Flower PatchBalloon Flowers (Platycodon Grandiflorus) are some of the most unusual perennials. I just love how they look as they prepare to bloom. A large stalk reaches skyward and then tiny pea-like flower buds form. The upper most “pea” on the stalk will start to swell and resemble a tiny expanding balloon. When the balloon pops, you have a beautiful, open, star-shaped flower. When this flower fades the next “pea” in line starts to swell. Balloon flowers come in shades of pink, white, purple and blue. This wonderful plant has one down side, it can be top-heavy. To combat this problem, I either stake them or most often shear them shorter early in spring and this creates a shorter plant that tends to not fall over.

Lamb's EarsLamb's Ears StalkLamb’s Ears (Stachys Byzantina) are a soft, fuzzy, gray flowering perennial. This plant also has a look that cannot be compared to anything else. It is unique. The base of the plant looks exactly like ears on a lamb. It is incredibly soft to the touch and its color doesn’t clash with anything else in the garden. The blooms are also unique looking in that they are tall, fuzzy spikes of tiny pink flowers. This plant is considered to be a perennial and a herb. I love this plant in bloom and without blooms. When the flower spikes have faded, I’m just as happy clipping them off and just having the “ears” left.

Sweet WilliamSweet WilliamSweet William (Dianthus Barbatus) is a member of that wonderful, sweet-smelling family that includes delicious, sweet-smelling Pinks. It ranges in colors from white to pink to lavender to red. This is a classic, cottage garden flower. Mixed together in various hues, and planted under rose bushes, you’ve planted a dynamite, cottage combination. This is described as a short-lived perennial, but I disagree. It should be described as a prolific self-seeder. It spreads its sweet-smelling self into large patches in the garden. And I’m so happy it does. I picked up a package of Sweet William seed at Jefferson’s Monticello because it was named after my lovable hubby. Over the years, it has turned into one of my favorite flowers.

Even though these prolific seeders do a great job, I help them out. I love to cut down the spent flower stalks that have gone to seed, dump the seed in my hand, and then sprinkle the seed in a bare spot that needs flowers. One year, as I “dead-headed” a large patch of Sweet William, I whacked the seed laden flower heads around inside a paper bag. At the end of my gardening session, I ended up with quite a lot of seed to scoop out into a new flower bed.

I love pictures in gardening magazines that show a large swathe of flowers all the same kind and color. This is the way to achieve those results. And on a budget, too. Happy gardening to all!

Mosquito Defense Update

A mosquitoI’m happy to update my previous post due to new information about the war on mosquitoes.

I hate mosquitoes. I think the little creatures came from the pits of hell to annoy us. I believe I have tried every possible solution to rid my garden from mosquitoes. I’m unlucky enough to have a chemical makeup that is allergically sensitive to their hateful bites, so when I am bitten the area around the bite swells to the size of a baseball.

In my previous blog post, I talked about many different ways of dealing with them. Sprays and lotions that contain DEET are reported to work well, but recently DEET has been reported to be a neurotoxin (damaging to the central nervous system). We need to stay away from products that are dangerous to our health. Citronella candles, tiki torches, and lanterns work well, but I have found you need quite a lot of them in a large area. Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes.

Now that I have pointed out dangerous and ineffective products, let me tell you about really successful things I have tried.

Catnip! Hooray for catnip! Yes, once again we find an incredible use for a herb! What an incredible group of plants. Herbs! Hooray for herbs! An article on Science Daily reported a scientific finding by researchers at Iowa State University. It turns out that catnip repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. Why are we not hearing this shouted from the rooftops?! No animal or human tests are yet scheduled for catnip, although researchers are hopeful that will take place in the future. If subsequent testing shows the essential oil in catnip is safe for people, it should not be difficult to commercialize for an insect repellent.

I would like to offer up my own findings as a human guinea pig for the good of mankind and all mosquito haters worldwide. I have rubbed catnip all over myself in an attempt to try an experiment of my own. As you know, I love herbs, so I do have a pot of catnip growing beside our back deck. Does it work? Does it repel mosquitoes? Yes, yes it does! Once again our exceptional Creator has given us a plant to solve a problem. I have tried this experiment probably 12 times so far this summer. It really does work! And from experience it seems to last quite a long time, maybe even a couple of hours.

I have even felt safe putting it on my children. Many naturopaths suggest catnip tea for children with an upset tummy. My family and I have experienced no skin irritation or problems of any kind. I do recommend caution in trying this as everyone is different in their own chemical makeup, but I am really encouraged in how well this worked.

Herbs have microscopic oil glands all over their leaves and stems. These oil glands contain the natural chemicals which give the plant its particular scent. Simply rub the catnip leaves on your skin to release the oil from the plant. The oil will stick to your skin. It does not feel sticky or greasy like lotions and sprays.

I hope to see insect repellent made from catnip on our store shelves sooner rather than later. My plea to the scientific community: please, don’t take years to research this compound.

While we are on the subject of herbs, let’s talk about lemon balm. It is wonderful for mosquito bites. Rub lemon balm on a mosquito bite and it will reduce the itching and in my case some of the skin swelling associated with the bite. I suspect the oil in the lemon balm, the same one that makes it such a relaxing tea, helps as a sort of anesthetic on the bite. Another wonderful herb to solve a problem!

I’d like to comment on the ThermaCELL that hunters love to use. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. Our family bought this last year and tried it. It does work, and works well. I would recommend not sitting where you may breath in the repellent being dispensed into the air. As with any chemical repellent, it is a trade-off. I don’t like using chemicals, but I also hate being bit. Our family uses this about 6-8 times a year when we are having a barbecue or working on a large outdoor project, such as when my husband and I built our fruit cage. I recommend caution when using this, as it is a chemical.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. It’s effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: citronella oil, garlic, cedar oil, and lemon grass oil, among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone. The only down side to this product is scheduling. You must reapply after heavy rains, so schedule your application when you have at least 3-4 days of upcoming dry weather.

Things are looking up for mosquito sufferers everywhere! My sympathy to all the red, itchy bitten people out there. I know how rotten it feels. Try catnip and tell me what you think. Happy gardening!

Mosquito picture was taken by Alvesgaspar and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

Star Trek and Mother Earth

I just went to see the new Star Trek movie. Yes, I’m a gardener and a Star Trek fan. The movie was really great! I enjoyed it very much! I know. You’re asking – so what? Well I had a gardening revelation during the movie. Yes – I know that’s even worse. I’m having gardening thoughts during a high action movie like Star Trek, but hear me out.

The beautiful blue sky

The movie story takes place on space ships and 3 or 4 different planets. How can you differentiate planets in a science fiction movie? How do you highlight the planet Earth? The answer is green and blue. Every time they showed Earth you could see green grass, green trees, blue sky. Earth also had some futuristic, tall buildings but with them you also saw nature. Mother Earth. The big blue and green marble. Without these things it’s not our beautiful home. Our beautiful planet.

At the beginning of the movie, you see Captain Kirk on a planet. It is not Earth. As he walks, in the background you see red trees. It gives you the impression of someone walking through a slaughter house with blood everywhere. But it is not blood, it is the foliage and nature of another planet. A planet that is not our beloved home. There is no green foliage. The beautiful green that is my favorite color. It’s not our blue and green marble hanging in the universe.

A green leaf, sign of life

On Star Trek – Next Generation, one of the first shots on the show is of the resident robot, Data, in a setting that looks like the Garden of Eden. The garden is not real, it is a hologram created on the ship’s holodeck. The creators of the show wanted it to look as though gardens were a very rare element in the future. I certainly hope this doesn’t come true. An article in an organic magazine stated that as years have gone by more and more young people choose not to go into any agricultural field of study. We have less and less farmers. Less and less horticulturalists. And in the future we will have even less. I worry for our nation and for the ability for us to feed ourselves. I feel we must encourage our children to love nature, know where our food comes from, develop an interest in growing food and pass this knowledge on to their own children.

The astronauts that walked on the moon said the most beautiful sight to them was the Earth. Earth. The beautiful blue orb in the moon sky. It represented home, everything they knew and loved. I was struck during the Star Trek movie by how much I love our Earth. God must be pleased as He looks down upon his lovely creation. We are so lucky to look up to the blue sky, feel the green grass under our toes, watch butterflies twirl around us. So much of life is filled to overflowing with the trivial things of life. Today I looked up to the beautiful blue sky and the green plants all around me. I encourage you to look at the green and the blue that is around you. To plant something today. And to teach your kids to plant, too.

My Top 3 Lemon Scented And Lemon Flavored Herbs

My container herb garden

My container herb garden

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m passionate about herbs, especially lemon scented ones. I try every spring to stay on a “plant budget” at the nursery. That means I am careful what plants I buy, know where I’m going to put them, and try to not make impulse buys. Part of my money goes for flowers, then shrubs I have studied about, then herbs that I can’t live without. Three of my favorite herbs are lemon scented and lemon flavored. They make the most wonderful tea and also flavor everything from chicken to cookies.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balmLemon balm has medium green heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are slightly serrated and a little wrinkly. It is a hardy perennial growing anywhere from 1 to 3 feet tall. It grows in partial shade, but it will also grow in full sun if it has enough water. Like all herbs, it prefers soil with good drainage. The small, white flowers it has later in the year are insignificant but because of these it can reseed itself abundantly. I would try to contain it in a bed of its own or maybe a very large decorative pot. This herb needs some restraint or it might try to take over your garden when your back is turned. As a medicinal herb, lemon balm is excellent for soothing the nerves and helping with stress-related digestive disorders. In cooking, it has a wonderful lemon scent and subtle lemon flavor. Many people like lemon balm tea made with dried or fresh leaves. Its subtle flavor is great in cakes and cookies, too. Below I have included a few recipes with lemon balm.

Lemon balm

Lemon Thyme

Thyme is a twiggy little plant with tiny oval-shaped leaves. Lemon thyme is a little lighter shade of green than the normal, regular thyme plant. Small flower spikes appear later in the year and encourage every bee in your neighborhood to it. Thyme is a perennial that grows from 6 inches to 1 foot in height. It loves to grow in full sun and dry, sandy soil. I Pot of lemon thymehave cooked chicken with lemon thyme, but surprisingly the tiny leaves taste great in salads, too. I’m contemplating covering a dry, sunny hill with this plant. In the least, I would love laying on it and rolling down it. It is a problem area for me and maybe this would be the solution. I certainly wouldn’t mind it if the plant were to spread around. As a medicinal herb, thyme has a soothing affect on nerves and removes mucus from head, lungs, and the respiratory system. I love to add fresh thyme leaves to green tea. It is lemony, soothing, and wonderful. Below are recipes with this lemon wonder.

Lemon thyme

Lemon Grass

This heavenly scented plant has long, strappy leaves like the ornamental grasses. As you can see in the picture, I just bought my lemon grass. I put a pencil next to the pot to show it is about 8 inches high but will reach 3 to 6 feet in heighth if I plant it in the garden. The nursery worker reminded me that even though it is small it will end up the Lemon grasssize of a compact car. I will plant mine in a large pot to keep it confined. It loves to grow in full sun and it originates from tropical climates. Unless you garden in zone 9 in the US it will not act as a periennial for you. As a medicinal herb, lemon grass helps with insominia, stress and sore throats. Lemon grass is used in a lot of Asian cooking and due to its stringy and tough tecture should be removed before eating any dish. It is wonderful dried in teas.

Lemon grass

Recipe Ideas

Lemon balm makes a great tea all by itself. I have a teapot that makes tea for about 3 people. I add 2-3 tablespoons of dried or fresh lemon balm leaves and let it steep for about 15 minutes. Strain through a tea strainer and serve with a few drops of stevia or your favorite sweetener.

Lemon thyme makes a super tea also. I love to steep 1-2 tablespoons of fresh leaves in my 3 person pot for about 10 minutes then add green tea for the last 3-5 minutes of steeping. It makes a wonderful lemony, green tea that I love so much.

Lemon grass, lemon thyme, and lemon balm mixed together make a wonderful tea especially soothing for bedtime. All three herbs dried and then mixed together in the tea pot give a very different taste than any one of these herbs alone. (around 3 tablespoons of dried material all together – steep for 10-15 minutes).

Lemon grass and chicken make a super combo. A friend of mine told me he takes long straps of lemon grass and wraps them around the chicken pieces. He then puts the chicken in a bag with Italian salad dressing and lets it marinade in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. He and his wife tell me it gives the chicken a yummy flavor. I look forward to trying it.

I have also found a super recipe for lemon balm butter cookies over at A Busy Nest. Take a look at it here. They have a lot of incredible recipes and are an invaluable resource. I would encourage you to give them a look.

Hedges – Let’s Try Something Different

Sometimes we need privacy in our garden. To hide away from the world. I have found it is important to my soul to have privacy in my garden. I call it “marinating in serenity.” I love to walk around the garden and look at what is currently blooming or have a pep-talk with a rose bush that is looking sickly. Another prominent gardener that I admire calls it “getting lost to oneself.” This can not be done with a neighbor strolling over to gossip. Or the cable man gawking from his truck across the street. Therefore, hedges are what we need!

The English love to make “garden rooms” with tall privacy hedges of holly or hornbeams. In my part of the country, people love to make hedges with Leyland cypress. They sometimes end up looking like a row of green soldiers standing next to each other. Variety is the spice of life. Why can’t we all think outside of the box and come up with something different?

Viburnum shrubs with Jamie

These are three viburnums I have along my fence. My youngest son Jamie is in the picture for size reference, he is six years old.

My neighborhood rules state that our fences cannot be over 6 feet tall. I wanted something taller, due to the unusual height differences in the ground around our garden. I decided to plant a hedge that was unusual and something not often seen. I chose the Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’ for its beautiful blooms in spring. This is a hedge I have never seen before and it reaches a height of almost 12 feet tall. Even though the Viburnum loses its leaves in the winter, the twiggy branches that are left make a nice screening.  The tags that came on the plants said they would reach 5 feet. I knew this was not true due to the research I had done. The nice thing about this shrub/tree is that you can limb it up. In other words, you can remove the bottom branching up to 4 or 5 feet from the ground. This turns it into more of a tree that you can plant flowers underneath. I always try to put the right plant, in the right place. By placing them in front of my fence, I didn’t mind how big they got. I had hope they would grow large. And of course, they did.

Viburnum flowersThe following is a short list of other ideas for hedging material. I tried to think outside of the box.

Camellias, Tea Olives, Roses (Rugosa), Hydrangea (Annabelle), Bottlebrush Buckeye, New Dawn Roses (attached to supports), Magnolia (Little Gem)

Is My Gingko Tree a He or a She?

I think my Gingko tree is having an identity crisis. You see, Gingkos can be male or female. I bought the tree from a reliable plant nursery with the guarantee that it was a male Gingko. Female Gingko trees produce a weird looking fruit. When this fruit falls to the ground and rots it smells like the nastiest thing you can think of. On a rare occasion, a male Gingko can be hit with a late spring freeze which changes it from a male tree into a female tree. The tree coming close to death causes it to try to produce fruit in order to reproduce. It is an amazing thing and apparently from all the information I’ve gotten does not happen very often. Of course this would happen to my tree – nothing in my life is ever normal.

Gingko leaves in the fallSo, you might ask me why would I buy a Gingko tree to start with. Well, it is one of the most beautiful trees in the fall. The yellow coloring is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Then the tree drops its leaves almost all at once, leaving you with a circle of bright yellow fallen leaves under the tree. With a large Gingko tree, it is an amazing sight. I have heard there are many old Gingko trees at the University of Georgia campus and one day I’m going to go see them in the autumn. There is a beautiful example of a large old Gingko in our little town and every autumn I always plan my daily route around that particular house. But, unfortunately, my little guy turned girl is only seven feet tall and doesn’t seem to want to grow faster or taller.

Gingko leavesWhy am I talking about a problem that happens in the fall? Because for the past few springs I have stood next to the tree, begging it to not make fruit. However, my pleas of “Please don’t make fruit!” have failed, and once again I see the beginning of tiny fruit on its branches. I have come to the conclusion that I will have to cut it down and replace it with a different tree. For now, however, there is very little fruit for me to pick up in the fall but I worry that when it grows large I will not be able to keep up with it’s stinky fruit production. I think it has to go. I’m sad. Does anyone have an opinion? Should I keep it or cut “Stinky” down?

Spring Is Finally Here!

A Dogwood blossomThere is nothing better than spring! I love the look, the feel, and the smell of spring. It brings a renewed energy to my body and my demeanor. My six year old once asked me what blue smelled like. I don’t know. But I do believe green has a smell and it is the smell of spring.

I love walking through my garden every day and just noticing what is blooming or in bud or just beginning to have a few leaves. It seems everything wakes up from winter at different times. I am always mesmerized by it all.

Every year in spring, I am so thankful that I have herbs growing in my garden. One of the first plants to awaken in spring is my lemon balm. I step into the flower border, and into the lemon balm to baste myself with it. It’s aroma attaches itself to my pant’s legs and stays with me most of the day. Lemon balm tea is used by many people for its relaxing benefits. It is reported to help with insomnia. The native Americans rubbed it on their bodies to repel insects. I have harvested a huge batch of it to dry for tea. I took a huge mixing bowl outside and filled it to overflowing. Then brought it inside, washed it and dried it with paper towel. I made little bundles – four or five stems each and attached the stems together with rubber bands. I hung them all up to dry for a week. I am excited to taste the tea.

Mint drying on my spice rack

Another herb I really like is called pineapple sage. I thought I had lost all of it but suddenly I see it popping up in the border. It seems to be telling me, “You shouldn’t have worried. I’m still here.” There are so many wonderful things about it. First, it smells like pineapple when you crush its leaves. Second, it blooms in the fall the most wonderful shade of scarlet. I know many people have trouble integrating red flowers in a flower border. I suggest we stop worrying about it and enjoy the electrifiying color of red. When pineapple sage is in bloom and the maple trees are wearing their red leaves the combination is breathtaking. I wonder if it could make a pineapple flavored tea?

Every year I fall in love with herbs all over again. Yesterday, I looked over an old herb book while eating my bagel for breakfast. It was so wonderful viewing the pictures of beautiful herbs growing in overflowing gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have such riches. When you fall in love with gardening it never leaves you!

My English Garden

Okay, first I would like to apologize for not posting as often as I should. If you’re going to have a blog and not post very much – that’s kinda stupid. Sorry. I got lost in motherhood and to be honest, I love to garden much more than I love to write about gardening. I’ve spent a lot of time writing comedy lately and really enjoying it. I hope in the near future to start a blog for my comedy writing.

So often I would work in the garden and tell myself I Inside the Garden Gateshould write a post about what I’m doing but then I would go in and realize I need to start dinner or homework needs to be graded. I’ve had a lot of emails from friends, followers, and family telling me to get off my bohonkous and write. They have suggested I get more personal and less clinical. Put in lots more photos and talk about what I’m doing. Okay. Okay.

Well. I’m a forty-something lady, with two sons, a wonderful hubby and a beautiful, never to be finished garden. When I’m not in the garden, my nose is pressed against the window looking into the garden. If it’s sunny outside and I’m not in the garden I feel a little guilty. I somehow think it can’t live without me. I really do think gardening is a form of an obsessive compulsive disorder. I really do love it, though.

Garden - North SideThe style of my garden is an English cottage garden. Yes, that’s right an English garden built in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been studying lately the connection between Southern gardens and English gardens and they are very similar. You could take a picture of a Savannah or Charleston garden and swear you were in England. Boxwoods, ivy, roses. A lot of the same plant types are used in both.

My garden has lots of ivy, roses, hydrangeas, viburnums, itea, ornamental grasses, etc. I love Lamb’s ears; they add a wonderful silver color to the garden. I’m in love with flowering shrubs and plants that reseed themselves like Sweet William, and Balloon flowers. I love herbs like lemon balm, catnip and chives. I have planted lots of chives around my roses to help deter pests. My lemon balm photographs are in an Asian cookbook. If anyone has any great recipes for lemon balm then please e-mail them to me. I have a lot of lemon balm!

Viburnum - Summer SnowflakeOne of my most favorite plants is my viburnum cultivar “Summer Snowflake.” It is so wonderful when it is in bloom and in my region they can get to be 12 feet tall. More like a small tree than a shrub. I have planted many around my fence to add height to the fence. In our neighborhood we can only have 6 foot tall fences. The viburnum gives a sense of privacy.

I try during the spring and summer to cut flowers to bring into the house. I love the old “still life” paintings of flowers One of my rosesand fruit and tabletop scapes. What do you think of my “still life” photo of flowers? I’m very happy with it. Flowers make me happy. I sometimes think I would like to take pictures of my summer flowers and frame them for my walls. Then I could see them all year.

Still Life with RosesRoses Close UpI’m trying to grow fruit in the garden, too. I have a small amount of strawberries. I also have 3 small blueberry bushes which turn a lovely red color in the fall. Last year I didn’t get many blueberries as they were still too young to have much fruit. I think this year I will have to fight the birds, chipmunks, and rabbits for those blueberries! I also have a fig tree in a large pot. It came from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. No, I did not steal a cutting from his tree. They sell plants at a nursery on the grounds of Monticello. My understanding is that it was propagated from a cutting from one of his Brown Turkey fig trees. According to an arborist there, he was quite the fig farmer! Baby StrawberriesI’m not sure if that is true, but I still think of it as Jefferson’s fig. I leave it in a large decorative pot so that harvesting is easier and I can prune it to keep it small. The figs I harvest (2-3 dozen a year) taste spectacular. I am anxious to grow more fruit and veggies. I would love raised veggies beds on the south side of our garden. There is always something to wish and plan for. Bye for now. Happy gardening!

Garden - South Side

Angel with the RosesBay Window GardenSweet William

Increasing The Shrubs In Your Garden

Gardening can be an expensive hobby with buckets, watering cans, and shovels to buy. By the time you have invested in a few good tools, you find you have very little money to spend on plants. A great way to save money on plants is propagating what you already have in your landscape. Especially if you have a plant that you think is really terrific and you want more of it. It is by far the best way to save money in the garden and a lot of fun to boot. And if you have children, it’s great to get them in on the act, too. My 9 year old son has been gardening with me since he was a toddler.

There is nothing like planting a shrub that you have started from a cutting, nurtured, and then planted in the garden. The simple act of pruning a shrub to maintain size or shape can provide you with plenty of shoots to root for cuttings. Unfortunately, the more difficult a plant is to propagate, the more expensive it is in the nursery. Luckily, the majority of shrubs are easy to root from cuttings and this is the subject I will cover here.

Types of Cuttings: Soft, Half-ripe, and Hard 

Cuttings are the most commonly used method for increasing shrubs. There are three different types of cuttings you can take from your shrub: soft cuttings, half-ripe cuttings, and hardwood cuttings. Many gardening books and manuals will often tell you touse one type of cutting for one type of shrub and another type of cutting for another type of shrub. In all honesty, this does not always work that way. I have taken many different types of cuttings from a plant, been successful with some and then tried to duplicate my process the following year only to fail miserably. My best advice is to try soft cuttings first, then half-ripe and finally hardwood cuttings and judge for yourself which is working best. A pot containing a dry, dead stick or a mass of green mush will tell you how well you’re doing. And by the way – experiment – that’s how to become a good gardener. Experiment and fail and learn from your mistakes. Many famous and legendary gardening gurus when interviewed have said the secret to their success has been that through their failed experiments they have learned to more closely observe the plant – its needs and temperament.

Soft Cuttings

Trim below leaf nodeThese are cuttings taken from the growing tips of the branches and trimmed just below a node (a node is the point at which leaves occur on the shoot). The best time to take soft cuttings is during late spring and early summer. If success is achieved and roots form, you could have a well-established plant by autumn. The easiest way of taking the cutting is to remove it from the parent plant by cutting it off with hand clippers. Select a shoot 3-8 inches long. Clip the branch off just above a set of leaves. This allows the shrub to continue making future shoots from this cut area. Then take your cutting and trim the branch off just below a leaf node. Discard this bit. Next remove all leaves from bottom 2/3 of shoot. I sometimes leave only a couple of leaves on the top of the shoot for photosynthesis purposes. The bottom one inch of the cutting can then be dipped in rooting hormone. Studies have shown an excess of rooting hormone can actually retard the rooting process so use only a very small amount. I have two small children toddling around my potting bench so I choose to not use any chemical rooting helpers. My rate of propagation is probably not as high as it could be, but my children and I are not breathing in anything potentially harmful.

Inset cutting into soilAfter you have prepared the shoot, insert it into a small pot of potting soil. First, make a deep hole in the soil with a pencil or your finger, then insert the shoot. Only bury half of the shoot in the soil. It is important that the bottom of the cutting be in contact with the soil. Firm it in by inserting your finger or pencil to the side of the cutting and pack the soil around it. A mixture of potting soil heavy on Perlite will work well in rooting cuttings. I add a heavy dose of sand to the soil which can also help.

The problem with soft cuttings is just that – they are soft and delicate and prone to wilt. To prevent this it needs to be kept in humid conditions. A clear, plastic bag covering the pot works well to keep in moisture. Be sure to support the bag off of the shoot with sticks poked in around the edges of the pot. Without plastic, I have arranged cuttings in their pots under a big leaved shrub. It tends to be moist, shady, and humid under there and can work well to protect them. I am currently housing five or six cuttings under a large hydrangea bush and they all seem to be doing rather well.

Check the cuttings regularly. If any show signs of rot, remove them from the other potential cuttings and discard. The cuttings may root in as little as a few weeks or may take a couple of months. Some may not be well-rooted until spring the following year.

Half-ripe Cuttings

Half-ripe cuttings are taken between early summer and early autumn. This type of cutting is generally easier to root than soft cuttings. They are much less likely to wilt. Although the bottom of the cutting is stronger the growing tip is still soft and delicate. Take these cuttings from the parent plant exactly the same way as in soft cuttings. Prepare the shoot, trim it up, and use hormone powder if desired. However, these cuttings do not need as much warmth and humidity as softwood cuttings. They can be placed on a bench in the shade.

Hardwood Cuttings

These are the easiest of all cuttings to root. Take these when the leaves have fallen, using current seasons growth which is ripe and woody. Cut these branches 6-12 inches long and discard the soft tip part of the branch. The top cut you will make needs to be just above a dormant node and the bottom cut just below a dormant node. Prepare a pot with potting soil, as before, and insert cutting. Keep this in a sheltered spot and by late spring or late summer you should have a well-rooting cutting.

Beautiful New Shrubs

Finished cutting potted upWhen you start, remember rooting plants from cuttings is easy. I have a lovely new hydrangea all thanks to my husband and his paint brush. While painting the trim on our house, my husband hacked at a hydrangea branch that was in his way. After being handed the sad, tattered shoot I frowned at him. My husband is a wonderful man but in no way a gardener. I took the shoot, trimmed it up, and prepared it in a pot of compost. If it didn’t root, I would not have been upset. In fact, I was so busy I didn’t really check on it for a month or more. The happy end of my story is I planted a beautiful new hydrangea in another area of my garden. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have fun gardening!

Have any questions? Please contact me.