Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I am out of town this week and very thankful to be visiting with extended family that I don't get to see often enough.  I wish everyone safe travels this holiday season and a very blessed Christmas and New Years' to all of you and your families!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

December Blooms and... Bees?!

Well, it's now the middle of December.  Here in Massachusetts that surely means it's getting cold out there.  Winter coats and boots have been brought out and snow blowers and shovels made ready for the very real possibility of snow in time for Christmas...

Or not.

The weather this December has been so mild that I could almost call it balmy.

My new Helleborus niger 'Jacob' is in bloom and attracting the pollinators that are out and about in this unusually warm weather.

While I still have some Alyssum and even Yarrow still holding on to blooms, it is the new flowers of this early blooming Hellebore that are the most enticing for the pollinators.

This one's mine!
I am quite surprised to have flowers blooming and bees buzzing in December...

but after last year's record-breaking winter,
I'm definitely not complaining!

Happy gardening!

To find out what else is blooming in other people's gardens around the world this December, visit Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over at May Dreams Gardens blog.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

DIY Outdoor Winter Containers

I am no floral designer.  When it comes to arranging vases and containers and the like, I know very little.  However, I am a member of a garden club that has quite a few floral designers, and I have enjoyed learning at least some basic 'tools of the trade' from them - just enough, anyway, to be able to turn my two whiskey barrel planters into proper-looking holiday winter containers this year. (woohoo!)

my holiday winter whiskey barrel container
The containers were fairly easy and quick to assemble.  Most of my time was spent in tramping through our woods surreptitiously cutting branches from trees where Mr. Red House wouldn't notice.  (He has a thing about trees.)  I ended up used four different types of evergreens, some spray-painted branches, ball ornaments, ribbon, floral foam, floral picks, and a couple wire hangers to make them.

Anyone who has done any floral designs or who is more crafty than me might know about floral foam, but for me, a newbie, it was a revelation.  Ah, this is the magic behind it all!  I used wet floral foam, often sold under the brand Oasis, as I want my greens to last as long as possible.  I just stuck two brick of wet foam on top of each container, securing them to the soil by sticking a piece cut from a wire hanger down into the middle of it.

Some notes about floral foam for fellow newbies: there is wet floral foam and dry floral foam, and you could probably use either here.  You can find them at pretty much any arts and crafts store.  To use the wet kind, fill up your sink with water and just set the foam blocks on top of the water.  They will slowly absorb the water and sink to the bottom.  (It is good to do it this way as opposed to just dunking them into the water to avoid getting air bubbles in it.)  After it is wet, it is easy to cut if you need to cut it down to your container size.

The one drawback with the wet floral foam is that it is not good to keep putting stuff in it and then taking it back out, as it will start to crumble.  So you want to have a good idea about what you are going to put in it and where before you start.  Dry floral foam can be more forgiving.

I first stuck white pine branches in a ring around my whisky barrels, as it was what I had the most of and it spilled nicely over the edges.

After a bottom layer of white pine, I started to layer my other greens (fir, Hinoki cypress, and boxwood), sticking them into the sides of the floral foam.

Then I placed my tall "thriller" pieces: branches cut from shrubs out in my woods that I spray-painted white.  (Thank you, Karen, of Quarry Garden Stained Glass blog, who was my inspiration.  She is the spray-painting queen of containers!)

I picked white because that was the spray paint I happened to have, but I think red or even silver or gold would have looked quite nice in these containers.  After that I stuck many of the small pieces of evergreens into the top of the foam to fill it up and hide the foam.  Then came the decorations to give it some color!

The second trick I learned this year was to use wooden floral picks.  Also found at any arts and crafts store, they come in a variety of sizes, and it makes it a cinch to attach ornaments, pinecones, lengths of ribbon, or whatever else you need to the arrangement.  Just attach the decoration onto the wire end and then stick the wooden pick into the floral foam.

And viola!

I hope this helps any floral arranging newbies like myself!  Happy gardening...

...or in this case, happy decorating!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


“November is usually such a disagreeable if the year had suddenly found out that she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it.  This year is growing old gracefully... just like a stately old lady who knows she can be charming even with gray hair and wrinkles. We've had lovely days and delicious twilights.”
~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

This November has actually been a beautiful one this year, with long spurts of warm, sunshine-filled days in between frosts.  Because of this I've met a milestone - it's the first year that I've gotten all of my spring bulbs in the ground before Thanksgiving.  Since I usually still have bulbs laying around by Christmas, this is quite monumental for me.

Guilty confession:  I still have some of last year's bulbs sitting in my basement fridge.  My plan was to pot them up and force them.  Now they should probably be classified as a science experiment: will they come up when I finally pot them up or won't they?

Talking about me and procrastinating, I had also meant to post some of these flower pictures last week during the monthly Garden Blogger's Bloom Day that so many garden bloggers participate in...

...but I've been too busy between being outside taking advantage of the great weather, running around after the kids, and various other commitments.  I must say it's been a November to be thankful for, as I spent a good amount of time outside getting in my vitamin D before the winter comes.

The bees and other pollinators were soaking up the nice weather, too, swarming over any blooms that have withstood the sporadic light frosts.

But the warm spells had to end eventually as winter marches inevitably closer.  The past few days have seen chillier weather, and light frosts have given way to heavy ones.

But I guess there is a silver lining to the end of the warm spells and gardening outside...

Maybe I'll finally get around to potting up those bulbs waiting in my refrigerator.

Happy gardening as always,
and for everyone here in the U.S., I wish you a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Bee and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I thought that inside this Fall Crocus would be a perfect place to weather out a rainstorm.

The only flaw in my plan seems to be how to get back out...

Woohoo!  Got this leg out!

Help!  I can't get my big bee butt out of this thing!

Maybe the sun will come out soon and open this flower up?


How do I get myself into these situations? 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Abundant Appreciation for Autumn Alyssum

The weather has turned into a yo-yo, dropping into 20's and decimating the garden with frost before bouncing back up into the 70's for several days of gorgeously warm weather.  So what's a pollinator to do with most of the garden blooms gone?  The last remaining flowers are getting swarmed with bees: the Sheffield Mums, the handful of Autumn Crocus, the last of the blooming Asters, and a couple annuals that can tolerate a light frost - including the impressively hardy Sweet Alyssum.

I have talked before about how useful Alyssum is in the garden - it's drought tolerant, easy to grow, makes a great border in the garden, has a great fragrance, and attracts beneficial insects.  But it's also a great boon to a fall garden.  Sometimes it can flag a bit during the height of summer, especially further south, but by fall it rejuvenates.  And, to the appreciation of the local pollinators, established Sweet Alyssum plants can take light frosts.

Alyssum is part of the botanical family Brassicaceae, aka the cabbage and mustard family, interestingly enough.  It is native to the Mediterranean region, Canary Islands, Azores, and the Bay of Biscay in France, among other coastal regions, which is how it ended up with the botanical name Lobularia maritima, with 'maritima' meaning 'of the sea'.  It grows naturally on sandy dunes, which explains why it is so fabulously drought tolerant.

Of course, the ability to be drought tolerant and reseed itself around can be both a blessing and a bother.  As great as it is in my garden, beware that in dryer, sandier areas it can be a little too giving, and in California it has managed to land itself on the invasive list.

Sweet Alyssum thriving in my hellstrip
Would you be surprised to find out that Sweet Alyssum can actually be a short-lived perennial?  In warm climates, it will live more than a year.  It has no chance of living through our type of winter, but for now all the little blooms are a welcome addition to the fall garden...

and much appreciated by a lot of little guys.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Dark Side of Gardening

I felt something.  A terrible suspicion entered my mind, so I went upstairs, took off my shirt, and looked in the mirror.  Sure enough, there it was, crawling across my stomach.  Trying not to scream and alarm the children, I grabbed it and ran half-naked through the house to the bathroom.  (Sorry to any neighbors who might have been glancing at our windows at the time.)  I threw it down the sink and poured water down the drain for about 10 minutes, as there was no way I wanted that sucker to come back up.

There it is, folks, the dark side of gardening or being outside in general, especially if you live in my neck of the woods.  It is a very tiny but extremely scary foe:


If you thought I was going to stop and take a picture of the tick on me, you thought wrong.
Here is a pic from Wikipedia.
The next day I went out to the garden again.  This time I was prepared, having sprayed myself liberally with Eau de Deet.  I was working in my vegetable garden picking bok choy when I happened to look down and spotted movement.  There was another one, its little red and black body standing out in stark contrast as it crawled along my cream-colored shirt.

Yes, I look this good while screaming.
Apparently it did not get the memo that it was supposed to keep away from anything with Deet.  A pesticide developed for use by the Army for jungle warfare after World War II, one that I try to avoid putting on my own children, is apparently just not good enough for my backyard ticks.  Either that or I have extra dumb ones.

And yes, now I have become rather scared of my own backyard.

The scariness of ticks is not the actual tick or even the way the little insect turns vampire and sucks blood into its increasingly bloated body (ew).  It's more because of all the diseases it could be carrying.   In the Northeast, sources say 50% or even up to 75% of the adult deer tick females (the only deer ticks that suck blood) could carry Lyme disease.  Almost everyone you meet up here has some horror story of someone they know with Lymes that has had serious health complications - even including death.

"Lyme Disease Risk Map" by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention 
That's scary stuff.

And that's not even counting the other tick-borne diseases that are also rearing their ugly heads up here: Rocky Mountain Fever, Powassan Virus, Borrelia miyamotoi disease, babesiosis, and several other unpronounceable ones.

So, what's a girl to do?  I garden extensively, and my exercise of choice is hiking through the woods.  I don't want to give up my favorite activities.  (That would be letting the tiny terrorists win!) So far my plan of action has involved more Deet, tucking my pants into my socks within my gardening boots (better look like a dork than the other option, right?), and spend a good amount of time stripping in front of a mirror each time after I go outside.  So far, so good (knocking on lots of wood).

photo source
So now you know what I am afraid of this Halloween.  (I can't even imagine what would happen if some kid wore a giant tick costume and came trick-or-treating to my door.)  As always, happy gardening after reading this post - and good luck out there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jump School

All right, birds, listen up!  We are here to learn about seed extraction techniques for the Large Annual Sunflower.  
This is a little tricky, but I promise you, it is well worth it.

There are two main techniques for this here Sunflower.  First up is the Pivot Technique:

Step to the edge of your Sunflower.
Grasp the flower firmly with your talons and then pivot, upside down. 
Clamp down on the seed aaandd pull!

See, nothing to it!  Now you try.

Come on, don't be shy!

Pivot, pivot... 

No, no, don't lose your footing!

Okay, we might need more work on that one.

Alrighty, on to the second Technique!
This Jump and Grab approach for seed extraction is quite simple:

Jump up, using your wings to give lift, and grab the seed.
Then land on the Sunflower head or drop lightly back to the ground.

See?  Quite simple!
Now you do it.

Yes, good jumping.
Get that seed...

Now either grab on or drop...
No, no, no, what are you doing?!

Oh, dear.

This is going to be a long class, isn't it?

p.s. This week's guest blogger over at is yours truly!  You can check out my post on my Hellstrip Garden on their site.   And as always, happy gardening!
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