Gardening brings me serenity within myself as my body enjoys the fresh air and sunshine, and my mind creates the beauty that will be my landscape. I have always cherished my time in the garden. I find my peace there.
Gardening is a very physical activity and I’ve always been a very naturally energetic person. In late winter a few years back I seriously injured my knee. It was devastating for me. My physical movement was severely restricted for more than a year after. I’ve been a gardener and a runner since I was a child and due to this injury, I wasn’t able to do either activity. This situation tried both my patience and my determination because it served as a barrier between me and the activities I loved, or so I thought.
As spring rolled around, I was determined to get out and garden, but my body was failing me. I couldn’t put much weight on my injured knee and I could only stand for a short period of time. I wasn’t able to carry garden supplies where I needed them and I couldn’t get down on the ground to work. At that point I was extremely frustrated. Then one day an idea came to me as I was resting on my kitchen step. Right outside my door was the naked stump of a large cottonwood tree that my dad had cut down several years before. I went foraging around in my shed for supplies. With a hammer and chicken wire in hand, I created a tree stump flower bed which served as a raised garden bed for me to play in that summer.
I admit my landscaping that summer as a whole was rather untidy because I wasn’t able to move around well. More importantly, however, I was once again able to find my serenity in gardening even if it was on a smaller scale. That was good enough for me. It made me realize that all things are possible with faith and determination. It also made me realize that having gratitude for what I have, instead of lamenting what I don’t have, serves me best. As they say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” While I’m still not able to run outdoors as I would love to do, I am able to “run” on an elliptical exercise machine. And, gardening on the ground is no longer off-limits although I’m not as mobile as I once was. Every day I thank the Universe for what I do have, which is the ability to move around freely once again.
If you enjoy gardening but you have physical limitations, there are ways to get around your disability. Raised wooden flower beds can be built or purchased to allow even those in wheel chairs to enjoy gardening. Tools can be found that are adapted for those with physical limitations. For example, my favorite garden tool is the CobraHead which is a large hand tool that is used for weeding. CobraHead also makes a smaller, lighter version of the same tool which my friend uses because she has naturally smaller hands and limited strength because of a stroke. Remember, there’s always a way, you just have to keep looking to find it.
Gardening not only creates beauty in the world but brings out the beauty inside of you. Don’t let physical limitations stop you from doing what you love, no matter what it is. Gardening is all about getting creative, so dig in and get creative. You never know, you may be the next Martha Stewart!
Quote of the Day
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb over it, go through it, or work around it.”
Dry shade is a difficult condition in which to grow a garden, even for experienced gardeners. Dry shade provides only limited sun and moisture for plant life. Without these two elements, most plant life will not grow. So what is a gardener to do? There are a few steps a gardener can take before starting a dry shade garden in order to have a more successful garden.
STEP 1. The first step is to visit the area where you would like to put the garden. Go to the area several times during the day to determine how much sun is actually hitting the area and at what times of the day sun is getting through.
Look up and determine how much cover is provided by trees and other structures in the area. Some trees, like birch and honeylocust, provide dappled shade because of their small leaves. Other trees, like oak and maple, may create deep shade with their large leaves essentially blocking most of the sunlight the area would receive. You need to determine what type of shade you have because that will determine the types of plants that will grow in that area. Many plants will grow in dappled shade but far fewer plants will grow in deep shade.
Next, determine what time of day the sun is hitting the area? Morning sun is much cooler than afternoon sun. This means a shade plant that is shaded most of the day but hit directly by afternoon sun, even for a short period of time, may actually suffer from burns by the sun. Believe it or not, in this case, you may need to plant a sun-loving plant in that area of your shade garden!
STEP 2. Look around on the ground. Is there any plant life growing in the area now? If so, what is it? Is it herbaceous weeds, like dandelions and crabgrass, or is it mostly moss and mushrooms? If plant life is abundant on the ground, it’s a good sign. This means that the area will likely support your new shade garden. If there isn’t vegetation on the ground, it doesn’t mean you can’t put your new garden there, it simply means you must determine why plants are not naturally growing in that area and fix the problem.
bare woodland floor
If the ground in the area is desolate of herbaceous plant life, you’ll need to determine the cause. Is the area too shady for plant life? Is it too dry? Is the ph of the soil really high or really low? Is the ground infertile? (Hint: If there was a house or other structure located on the area for many years, the ground may be sterile or contaminated. If the ground is sterile, add compost. If you feel the soil may be contaminated, contact your local authorities to determine what the contamination is and what needs to be done to contain it if necessary.)
Use your senses to determine the moisture level in the soil. Look at the soil. Is the soil dry and cracked on the surface. When you hold it in your hand, does it simply fall apart (dry) or can you press it into a ball (moisture is present)? If the soil is too dry, you need to determine why. View the area after a rainfall. Is dense tree cover keeping rain water from hitting the ground? Does rain hit the ground but simply run away from the area because the area is on a slope? Or, is the ground boggy and water pools on the surface, not soaking in as it should?
If the area is dry because it is covered by a canopy of large dense trees, the area will need to be irrigated to provide the moisture necessary for a garden. Running soaker hoses under the mulch after you plant your new garden is a great way to provide the moisture your plants will need to grow. (Hint: I don’t recommend using sprinklers in a shade garden because it creates a situation wherein the foliage of the plants remains wet for extended periods of time which could cause fungal issues in your garden.)
If the problem is that rain water is running down a slope, you may need to create small level areas called steps or terraces on which to plant your gardens. This will help the area retain natural moisture from rainfall and dew. It also stops the soil from washing away in a heavy rain.
If the water is not soaking into the ground as it should and the area is not in a low spot on the ground that naturally collects rainwater, then the issue may be compacted soil. Compacted soil is generally due to having too much clay in the soil. Clay soil holds little by way of nutrients and because it is made up of such small particles, it compacts and does not allow water to flow through it.
How do you determine what your soil consists of? There is a very simple and fun test you can do to determine your soil structure.
Fill a glass jar with approximately 1/3 soil and 2/3 water. Seal the jar with the lid and shake it up. Let the jar rest for a day to allow the soil to settle out of the water. When the soil settles, you should see three distinct layers: sand, silt, and clay. If there is any organic matter in the soil, like leaf particles, it will be floating on top. Sand particles, which are the largest and heaviest particles, will settle to the bottom of the jar. Silt particles will make up the center layer of soil in the jar and clay particles, which are the smallest, will form a layer at the top.
Now that you know what your soil consists of, it will help you to determine your next step. Sandy soil allows all the moisture to drain away and creates a situation in which your garden will need to be watered constantly. On the other hand, too much clay in the soil will create a situation in which the ground will retain water and become boggy and lack oxygen. (Hint: Plant leaves take in carbon dioxide but cells in the plant roots need oxygen to stay alive.) Also, clay soil, with its small particles, tends to get compacted which creates a very dense and hard growing medium that plant roots struggle to penetrate.
Under most circumstances, it is almost always necessary to amend the soil in a new garden area with compost. This will correct both sandy and clay soil situations. Compost adds organic matter that breaks down into the nutrients your plants will need to thrive. It also improves the soil structure by aerating the soil. Oddly enough, it improves water retention in the soil while simultaneously improving drainage creating the perfect growing medium for plant life.
STEP 3. Check the ph level of the soil. This step is optional but it may help you to understand what will and what won’t grow in your new garden. (Hint: Look around to see what types of plants are naturally growing in the area. Evergreens, oak trees, and hydrangeas like acid soil while grass, lilacs, and linden trees like neutral or slightly alkaline soil.) Testing kits for ph can be found either at your local garden store or online. They are generally under $10. The test usually consists of a test tube, a capsule that tests the soil ph, and a chart showing different colors for different levels of ph. To run this test, add a small amount of soil to the test tube along with distilled water and the ph capsule. Then seal the test tube and shake it. The water should change color. Look at the chart that comes with the product to determine the ph level of the soil by the color of the water in the tube. (Hint: Directions for each test product may vary so read the directions carefully before using your new soil ph test kit.)
Soil ph is important because certain plants grow better in acidic soil, like hydrangeas and azaleas, while others grow better in a more neutral or slightly alkaline soil, like spirea and brunnera. (Hint: You can adjust the soil ph by adding amendments to the soil but I don’t recommend it. If the soil ph is really high or really low, amend the soil with compost and imported top soil. If you simply want plants that don’t grow well in the soil that is present because of the ph, try growing them in pots because artificially changing the natural soil ph of the area may, through leaching, injure or kill the plants naturally growing in the native soil around your new garden. It’s always best to work with the soil ph that is present and plant accordingly.)
STEP 4. Is the ground fertile? There isn’t really an easy test for the average gardener to check the ground for fertility. The fertility of the ground is measured by the nutrients that are present and in what amounts. Generally, to begin any garden (or to add nutrients to an existing garden), the solution is to add plenty of compost. Compost adds nutrients back to the soil naturally. In addition to compost, you can also use a starter fertilizer when you plant your new garden plants to give them a boost and then use a general all-purpose fertilizer twice a year thereafter. As always, I recommend using organic fertilizers when you can. They won’t burn your plants and they are better for the environment.
Finally it’s time to plant. What types of plants grow in dry shade? Here is a list of just a few garden plants that will grow in dry shade to get you going. Remember also that the level of shade a plant will tolerate, from dappled shade to deep shade, will vary depending on the plant and sometimes by the variety as well. Don’t be afraid to do your own research to find just the right plants for your new garden.
Dicentra (Bleeding hearts)
Dry shade is a challenging condition in which to grow plants but don’t shy away from it. Gardening is all about trying new things and using your creativity to tackle the problem. Dry shade can be a tough venture even for an experienced gardener but it’s well worth the work when you finally get to take that walk through your beautiful new shade garden enjoying the beauty of the landscape and the scents around you!
Quote of the Day
“Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning. ”
As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting. On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have. Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form. If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.
I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders. I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers. Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.
After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings. It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac. Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.
Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so. Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved. This is not the case with trees and shrubs. It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed. A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender. This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.
Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape. Some plants, like hostas and coral bells, are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color. However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time. It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season. To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters. Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.
Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!
Quote of the Day
A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still. It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet
Saving garden seeds is easy and inexpensive. I began saving seeds in law school as a way to save money. I bought an organic acorn squash at the local grocery. I ate the squash and dried the seeds. Over the summer, I planted the seeds and I harvested 75 squash to take back to school with me. My supply of squash lasted me the entire school year!
And, saving seeds from plants you love allows you to reproduce your favorite plants over and over again without spending a dime. (Hint* If your plant is a hybrid, plants produced by their seed may look or taste completely different. Look at the plant tag or the seed packet to determine whether your plant is a hybrid. To reproduce identical plants from seed, use heirloom seeds or plants. )
Coneflower seed head
Coneflower seed heads
In order to save seeds from a flowering plant you must stop deadheading to allow the flowers to mature into seed heads. When the flowers shrivel up, seed heads or seed pods will become evident. Allow the seed heads or seed pods to mature and dry on the plant. If the seed heads or seed pods are on a plant that will drop its seeds, like petunias, or blow away, like garden thistle, simple place a piece of nylon stocking over the seed pod or seed head and secure it with garden twine to catch the seeds.
Collecting seeds from a seed head is as simple as snipping the seed head off the flower and shaking or pulling the seeds off . To collect the seeds from a seed pod, however, you remove the pod from the flower stem, open it, and shake the seeds into a container. Or, snip the seed pod off the plant and allow it to fall directly into a paper bag. Seal the top of the paper bag and shake it vigorously. This will shake the seeds lose from the seed pod. Then gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in a container or envelope. Store in a cool dry area.
If there is moisture remaining on the seeds, such as from dew or precipitation, allow the seeds to dry completely for a few days to a week in a brown paper bag prior to putting them in a sealed container or envelope. Or, lay a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer on cookie tray. Let the seeds dry in a dim, dry, cool area for a week or more before placing the seeds into a container or an envelope. Finally, label the envelope or container and store in a cool dry place.
Seeds from vegetables are generally harvested from the fruit itself, however there are exceptions. Some of the easiest plants to harvest seeds from is the squash or the pumpkin. Simply cut open the pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds and the pulp. Next place the seeds and pulp in a kitchen strainer and wash them with cool water. Continue to rinse under cool water until all the pulp is removed and the seeds are clean. Spread a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie pan and spread the seeds out in a single layer on the pan careful to remove any small, damaged, or immature seeds. Leave the seeds to dry in a dim, dry, cool place for a week or two. Then transfer the seeds into a clean jar or envelope. Don’t forget to label your container.
Tomato seeds can be saved using the same process as pumpkin or squash. Simply cut open a tomato and squeeze the seeds and pulp out into a strainer. Tomato seeds are much tinier than pumpkin seeds so use a strainer with a fine grid. Rinse them under cool water until the seeds are clean and all the pulp is removed. Lay the cleaned seeds out on a clean cloth or paper towel and allow to dry for a week or two. Periodically during the drying process, run your hands over the seeds to separate the seeds into a single layer to dry completely as the seeds tend to stick together when wet. You can also follow a more rigorous process called fermentation for tomato seeds that I found on Permaculture Research Institute website. I have never tried this method of saving seeds but I’d love to hear your thoughts about this process if you try it.
Carrots and celery, both of which are Biennials , are among a group of vegetables whose seeds are harvested like those of flowering plants, but are harvested after the second year’s growth. The tops of these plants flower and set seed after the second year. To thoroughly dry the seed heads, cut the seed heads from the plant and place the whole seed head in a brown paper bag up to a week to finish drying. When the seed heads are thoroughly dry, shake the bag to release the seeds from the seed heads. Gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in an envelope or jar to be kept for planting the following year.
These are just a few suggestions on saving seeds for a few different flowers and vegetables. If you have questions about saving seeds from specific plants, don’t hesitate to do a quick online search on trusted sites. Saving seeds is easy, it saves money, and it allows you to reproduce your favorite plants. But remember, hybrid plants don’t reproduce by seed to create an identical plant, but heirloom seeds do, so try ordering seeds from heirloom seed suppliers like Harvesting History
Good luck and Happy Gardening!
Quote of the Day
“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”
-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist and writer
I am writing this article not to scare you away from gardening but to educate you about it. I love to garden but some of the most beautiful plants in the garden are actually poisonous, even deadly. I am extremely careful about what I plant in my garden in order to keep my pets safe. If you have children or animals that frequent your garden, please research prospective garden plants prior to planting them to make sure they are not poisonous. And, if you suspect one of your current garden plants may be poisonous, please research it. If the plant is poisonous, be wise and use caution if you choose to keep it. Here is just a small list of common garden plants that are poisonous to humans and animals:
Lily of the Valley
Lilies in the Hemerocallis genus
This is just a short list of garden plants that are poisonous. There are more. If you are unsure whether or not a plant is poisonous, please do a search of the plant prior to planting it in your garden. It could save a life. For a larger list of poisonous and non-poisonous garden plants check out the University of California
If you think a child or an animal may have ingested a toxic plant, please call poison control immediately. Don’t wait.
Stay safe and happy gardening!
Quote of the Day
“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”
-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturist and writer
Biennials comprise some of the most beautiful flowers in the landscape. Biennials include such lovely flowers as hollyhocks, sweet william (also called dianthus), and foxglove. But what exactly is a biennial and how do you grow it?
What is a biennial?
To answer the question, “What is a biennial?”, it may help to first define the other types of flowers that are more well known. Annuals are flower that must be planted every year. They grow, set seed, and die within the same season. They don’t come back. Perennials are flowers that grow, flower, die back to the ground, and come back the following year and the year after and so on.
Biennials are odd in that they combine the behaviors of both annuals and perennials. Biennials sprout from seed the first year. The plants focus all their energy on growing sturdy roots and healthy greens but will not flower during the first year of growth. Biennials will then die back to the ground for the winter and come back the following spring. In the second year of growth, the biennials create a stunning display of flowers and set seed. After setting seed, biennial plants die completely and don’t come back. So a biennial grows the first year and dies back to the ground for the winter like a perennial. The following year the biennial will flower, set seed, and die, root and all, like an annual.
How do you grow a biennial?
Because of the interesting growing behavior of biennials, there is a trick to growing them. In order to have beautiful flowers every year when you start biennials, plant biennials by seed for two years consecutively or plant potted biennials for several years in a row. Thereafter, either let the seeds fall to the ground or collect the seeds to reseed the following year. This means do not deadhead your biennial flowers. Instead, allow the flower head to dry up and collect the seeds to replant the following season or allow them to drop to the ground so the plant reseeds itself. This process of planting will give you a never ending supply of biennial flowers year after year after year.
How are biennials special?
Biennials are a special type of plant. They have a fascinating mix of annual and perennial growth behavior. In order to have their flowering presence in the garden every year, the gardener must follow a special process. However, biennials are well worth the effort. They have some of the most beautiful flowers of any garden plant.
You never know what you are going to find in the garden. I am going to deviate from my normal garden articles to tell you the tale of Francis. Francis, the critter in the picture, is an Eastern Gray Tree Squirrel.
The evening I found Francis, I was outside getting the laundry off my clothesline. That’s when I heard an animal scream. It was a scream the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It sounded like it was coming from the tree but I couldn’t see what was making this awful noise. It was obviously an animal in distress. I assumed it was a bird until I saw Francis at the bottom of the tree.
Now, before I go on, let me back up a bit and tell you a bit more about myself. Not only am I passionate about gardening, but I have been an indiscriminate animal rescuer literally my whole life. In fact, as a toddler, I used to walk up and down the alley behind our house after it rained to save the worms in the mud puddles because I knew they would die if I left them there. (Funny enough, I just read an article on The Dodo , about a dog that saves worms .) And, as a child, I was known in my small town as “the cat lady” because my rescue cats would follow me wherever I went.
I have rescued everything from cats and dogs, to rabbits, turtles, a turkey, and a blind ferret. People call me in to remove an animal when it’s where it’s not supposed to be. I’ve done everything from removing a feral cat from a commercial greenhouse to blocking traffic on a four-lane highway to remove a wild painted turtle from the road.
I’ll never forget one cold snowy winter night when I was contacted by a local farmer at 9:00 o’clock in the evening. He said there was a greyhound dog on the loose near the farm where he worked. He and other workers had tried for days to catch the dog but were unable to get near it. He was worried about the dog because it was nearly -20 below zero outside that night. I thanked him for calling and told him I would head out to get the dog. I put on my winter gear, jumped in my SUV, and headed out to the last place the dog had been seen. Within a short amount of time, I found the dog. He was curled up in a pile of hay along side a road, trying to stay warm. I approached the dog carefully but in no time at all, I had the dog in my vehicle. As it turned out, he was actually a scottish deerhound and he was physically fine, just a wee bit cold. He now lives happily with his new family in his forever home.
Most of the animals I take in are abandoned, abused, and/or lost. I have dealt with a lot of different health and behavioral issues, as well as disabilities that come with rescue animals. As a rescuer, you generally have no idea what the animal’s background is or how it ended up where it was found. Your job is simply to help. It would be disingenuous for me to say that I simply love these animals when in fact, my life is dedicated to my fur-kids. It’s my life’s purpose.
So now that you know a little more about me, let me continue with the story of Francis, the infant gray squirrel stranded at the base of the tree. When I found Francis, he was frantically rolling about in the shrubbery unable to walk. I quickly looked around for the mother and noticed a squirrel laying dead on the road. It had been hit by a car.
I made my decision very quickly to take in this tiny squirrel. I ran into the house and grabbed a hand towel. I ran back outside, scooped up this little creature, and brought him into my home. He was cold but moving. He was also quiet. I prayed he would be ok. I held him against the skin of my throat at the base of my neck to keep him warm. As I held him, I frantically searched online for any articles referencing “rescue” and “baby squirrel”. I have never rescued an infant squirrel before and I had absolutely no idea how to help.
During my search, I learned how to care for Francis’s immediate needs. I also found a company called Fox Valley that makes the specialized formula Francis would need to survive and thrive. I ordered the Fox Valley formula online and used puppy formula, as recommended, until the specialized formula arrived in the mail.
As my knowledge grew, I quickly realized that rescue squirrels have very specific nutritional needs and require a great deal of care in order to grow healthy and strong in order to be released, usually around the age of 12 weeks. But, it also became clear, that Francis was disabled, likely from the fall from the tree. Francis has a bad hip which restricts his ability to move around, climb, and sit up properly to eat. His balance is off and he is abnormally small for his age, only about half the size he should be.
Due to his disability, it’s likely that I’ll be looking after Francis for the duration of his life, which may be as many as twenty years according to some experts. We are still learning as we go but I think Francis will be ok. His never-ending energy and high spirits, despite his disability, make me pretty certain, he’s an angel that “dropped” into my life to make me smile.
The moral of this short animal tail (animal tail, get it! Ok, it’s not that funny.) The moral of the story is this: Be careful in the garden. You never know what you’re going to find.
P.S. I don’t recommend that you rescue animals, especially wild animals, unless you have the training or experience to do so. Remember, I have been doing this for more than thirty years. Rescuing animals can be very dangerous, not only for the animal, but for you too. There are very real physical dangers as well as health issues to consider before rescuing an animal. Rabies and other diseases are always a consideration in these situations. If you find an animal in distress, please call your local experts or professionals that are trained to deal with these situations. Thank you.