Container Design on a Budget

I wasn’t sure why I grabbed my camera as I headed out the door yesterday to visit Mom.  I only knew that there is always something interesting going on in Mom’s garden, and it’s been too long since I took my readers over there.

If you’ve been with me a while, you’ve seen her exterior home makeover, her elevated walkway lights, and the update of her front garden.  And I’ve been promising for some time to share Mom’s gorgeous, quiet backyard sanctuary.  I still intend to make good on that promise.

But in this post, I’m focusing on her ever-beautiful garden containers – and sharing a few of Mom’s container gardening practices.

1.  Accessorize Sparingly

Containers are the jewelry of Mom’s garden.  And since she accessorizes sparingly, they are always well-placed, elegant, and never gaudy.

Hen and chicks in a small statuary urn.

They don’t overwhelm her garden, they enhance it.

2.  Use Commonly Found Container Plants

Her containers are a reminder that elegance doesn’t have to come at a high price.  She doesn’t go for exotic, pricey specialty plants.  She uses inexpensive, tried-and-true garden favorites like geraniums, begonias, lobelias, impatiens, and African daisies.  These all do well in our USDA garden zone 8B.

The base of a cracked birdbath became a pedestal for this container of geraniums and trailing lobelias.

These plants are popular for a reason:  Besides being reasonably priced and easy to find, most of them bloom all season long.

Mom plants her containers once in late spring, and they look beautiful well into fall.

This year I noticed a new monochromatic theme in some of her containers.

Some were simply planted with one plant.

But that simplicity allows us to fully appreciate the beauty of the featured plant – a Rieger begonia.

Or a cheerful African daisy.

3.  Use a Mix of Bargain Containers

Since Mom has an informal cottage garden, she doesn’t worry about making sure her containers match.  Like me, she has collected her containers over the years. Some were deeply discounted or garage sale finds, and a few she even got for free.  We both love the thrill of hunting for bargains – even when it comes to containers.

Things always seem to work out.  Mixing containers and moving them around gives her the freedom to experiment with different plant groupings every season.

She can enjoy the patina of a nicely weathered clay pot,

place a sweet hanging basket where a focal point is needed,

or go larger scale where she wants more impact.

A Corokia cotoneaster Raoul in a large frost-resistant container.

When it comes to containers, anything goes.

A vintage watering can hosts trailing periwinkle.

And an upturned saucer on a pedestal is home to a display of tiny succulents.

4.  Keep Plants Happy

For most common container annuals, it doesn’t take much to make sure they look good all season long.  Some simple care tips are:

  •  Consider sun exposure.  Place the plant where it gets the correct amount of light.  Check the plant’s tag  before you buy it to make sure it will be happy where you want to place it.
  • Water consistently.  Check the plant’s tag for water needs and combine it only with other plants that have the same water needs.
  • Fertilize regularly.  Most summer-blooming annuals need a little nourishment now and then to keep blooming all season long.
  • Deadhead regularly.   This works for many flowering annuals and perennials.  Don’t let blossoms go to seed.  Instead, pinch blooms off once they are spent so the plant puts its energy into developing new flowers.
  • Protect the plant from pests.  Slugs have been known to dine on impatiens, and aphids can sometimes plague a nasturtium. Luckily, with all the environmentally friendly pest control products out there these days, there is no need to use harmful chemicals to control pests.

5.  Be Patient with Imperfection

Some plants look beautiful even when they are winding down for the season.  This pansy is past its prime but still sweet.

In My Own Garden

In my own garden, I’ve been experimenting with coleus plants that I grew from seeds in my greenhouse.  Since slugs love them, I have been keeping my precious babies safe in containers.

But that is for another post.  My favorite container right now is on my front porch:  The begonia that thinks it’s a tree.

I’m way behind on my yard work this year, and my containers are really the only things bringing order to the chaos outside.  So now it’s time for me to sign off, get out there, and finally get to work.

Happy gardening, folks!

Posts on this website are for entertainment only.

Wondering how you can view my previous posts?  The funnest way is to browse my photo gallery and click on any photo that interests you.

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  • I have found that summers are precious – too precious to spend time dragging a garden hose around, keeping it unkinked, and then spending time re-winding it.  So I’m really enjoying this self-retracting hose that my husband bought me last year.
  • Mom has many passions and talents, and writing is among them.  She currently has two books available on Amazon:  Year of the Angels, a touching historical fiction novel based on her childhood during WWII, and Cries from the Fifth Floor, a fun paranormal thriller/murder mystery.

 


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Garden Tips We Can Use Right Now

I’m almost afraid to say this but the rain has finally stopped – for now. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had an unusually cold and wet spring. But now it seems that we’ve turned a corner.

We’ve even enjoyed dinners on our patio these past few nights. This got me thinking about some of my previous posts on gardening and outdoor entertaining.  A few of them contain information that we can use right now, so I thought I would share a little roundup.

A Peony Experiment

In my garden, the peonies are beginning to pop.  I love peonies as cut flowers, but when I bring them inside there are always a few earwigs and other unpleasant cooties hitching a ride.

Well there’s an easy way not only to avoid this but to time peonies to bloom indoors exactly when I want them to.  Check out A Peony Experiment to learn more.

Tomato Tips from Mr. B

This time of year always has me thinking about my old neighbor, Mr. B.  His tomato plants were legendary, and he taught me everything I know about raising tomatoes.  In Tomato Tips from Mr. B, I pass along his old-school advice.

Tomato Tips from Mr. B.

A (Mostly) Bug-Free Patio Party

In summer, we enjoy dinners on our back patio.  And it’s even more fun when friends or family can join us.  But nothing can ruin a dinner party faster than a few pesky insects.

In A (Mostly) Bug-Free Patio Party, I share a few tips that help keep bugs away.

Using Bold Colors for Garden Structures

One of my very first blog posts was about choosing bold colors for man-made garden structures.  My writing style has changed since I wrote it, and hopefully my photos are better now.  But I still feel the same way about using bold colors for the outdoors.

Whites and barely there colors are still popular indoor paint trends. But outdoors is a whole different story. In a lush garden, accents and small buildings can get lost if they are not given a strong color.

My post Go Bold and Have Fun with Garden Structures shares the color we chose for our little garden shed – and gives a tour of the interior.

Potting Bench

But that’s enough for today.  The sun is shining, and it’s time to get out there before the weather changes again!

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Two Days in Victoria B.C.

Recently my mom, Erika, and I made a short visit to Victoria, British Columbia.  Since we live in Western Washington, we’d both visited Victoria many times over the years.

The city is named after Queen Victoria – and the British influence is strong here.

We were looking forward to visiting some of our favorite sights – the Empress Hotel, the Inner Harbour, Chinatown, and stunning Butchart Gardens.

Victoria is a user-friendly, walkable city, but this time we decided to broaden our options by renting a car.

Maybe it was good that we only had a cartoon-like tourist map, no in-car navigation system, and no cellphone reception. Because while trying to find things, we sometimes stumbled upon unexpected gems.

So today I’m pairing each of my old favorite sights with a hidden gem.

Old Favorite: Butchart Gardens

The concept of Butchart Gardens began over 100 years ago and it evolved over the course of many years.  Today it’s a paradise filled with inspiration for any gardener.

Its Sunken Garden is the site of an old limestone quarry.

There is also a Mediterranean Garden,

a Japanese Garden, and a Rose Garden.

As in many gardens, the best things sometimes happen by accident – like flower petals littering a pond.

The gardens are constantly changing with the seasons, so each visit to Butchart Gardens is unique.

Hidden Gem:  Scenic Marine Drive

Butchart Gardens is a bit of a drive from downtown Victoria.  Most visitors arrive via tour bus.  But since we were driving, we decided to design our own route to the gardens – a bit windy but worth it.

We took Scenic Marine Drive, which starts near downtown Victoria on Dallas Road – a few blocks behind the Parliament Building.  From there we drove up the coastline for several gorgeous miles before we headed inland and cut over to Butchart Gardens.

I didn’t get any photos, but we passed beautiful beaches and trails. We also saw some of the nicest homes  and neighborhoods in Victoria.  Taking this drive will cure anyone of the notion that Victoria is just a British-themed tourist town.

We relied on our tourist cartoon map and everything turned out okay.  But for this journey I would advise either having a navigation system or a much better map.

Old Favorite:  The Inner Harbour

One of the best places to sightsee and people watch, the Inner Harbour is the heart of downtown Victoria.

Surrounding it is the Empress Hotel

and the Parliament Building.

This is the kind of place where couples hold hands.  And they don’t walk – they stroll. Old world charm abounds, and no one wants to miss anything.

Hidden Gem:  Fisherman’s Wharf

But a more colorful and quirky marina is found at Fisherman’s Wharf, a short drive (or about a 20-minute walk) from the harbour steps.  It’s also reachable by water taxi.

Colorful restaurants serve seafood in a casual al fresco environment. Equally colorful is the eclectic mix of houseboats.

And the locals are friendly (just don’t feed them).

Old Favorite:  Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle is a quick uphill drive from downtown Victoria.  The castle was built in the 1890s by the prominent and wealthy Dunsmuir Famiy.  And what a castle it is.

Touring the castle is a great way to see how the upper class lived in Victorian times in . . . well . . . Victoria.

A large lawn surrounds the castle, but there’s not much of a garden.  The neighborhood is beautiful, with so many old craftsman mansions.

So after touring the castle,  Mom and I decided to just drive around.  And we happened upon a beautiful garden – one that really should be married to the castle.

Hidden Gem:  The Government House Gardens

The Government House is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor.  I was jaded after visiting Craigdarroch Castle, so I didn’t find the Government House itself to be a particularly appealing.

But its extensive gardens certainly are.

Much of the garden is nestled into a rocky landscape.  But instead of fighting the rocks, the garden blends with them.

 

There is also a formal rose garden.

And lush plant combinations.

Two More Classics

For a first-time visitor to Victoria, two other downtown stops worth seeing are

Chinatown

It’s small, but it’s the second-oldest Chinatown in North America.  It’s noisy and colorful.

You never know what you’ll find in the alleyways.

The Empress Hotel

I think of the Inner Harbour as a crown, and the Empress Hotel as its crown jewel.

The old-world elegance is tangible here, especially in contrast to Chinatown.

The Empress is worth a visit – even if  it isn’t as accessible to the public as it used to be.

I remember as a kid sitting in the grand lobby of the Empress and writing post cards – even though we weren’t actually staying there.  Back then, anyone could go in and soak up the atmosphere.

The lobby has since been converted to a lovely tea room.

Beyond the tea room is a casually elegant restaurant/lounge where Mom and I enjoyed a nice lunch.

Goodbye For Now, Victoria

Despite visiting many sights during our two days, we never felt rushed.

At the end of our stay, the cartoon map was tattered and torn.  And I sadly handed in the keys to our tiny “economy level” Yaris. (The Rollerskate, as we were starting to call it).

Our days of finding hidden gems are over – for now.

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Basil in Eggs

A few weeks ago, I took on one of my favorite spring chores:  Cleaning and organizing our small greenhouse.

The shallow upper shelves are great for holding smaller pots and collections.

 

I love working in the greenhouse and could have spent hours just rearranging pots.  But the reason for organizing the greenhouse was to make room for my seedling trays.

This year I’m experimenting with the various types of seedling trays to see which one works best for me.

Greenhouse growning

I’m also growing some annuals that I haven’t tried to grow before.

And of course I’ll be sharing the results of these experiments before next year’s growing season.

But today, I want to focus on a couple of simple basil seedling “recipes” that I’ve cooked up in the greenhouse.

Basil in Eggs

Last year I posted about these Easter eggshell planters and vases. But I didn’t mention the other little project I tried with cracked eggshells:  Using them as pots for basil seedling starts.

It was easy:  Using a toothpick, I poked a small drain hole in the bottom of each shell.  Then I added moist seedling starting mix (which, right or wrong, I usually blend with moist potting soil), and then the seeds.

Then it was just a matter if keeping the seedlings indoors in filtered sunlight and keeping them moist.

growing seedlings in eggshells

Of course this eggshell idea is nothing new.  We’ve all seen it on Pinterest and Instagram – and not just using basil seeds.  Just about any easy-to-grow herb or annual can be started this way.

It’s a fun way to share seedling starts with friends. What’s even more fun is to dye the eggshells first with food coloring

growing seedlings in eggshells

to make cute Easter party favors.

growing seedlings in eggshells

Basil in eggs are also a sweet addition to holiday place settings.

An adorable idea, but is it all it’s “cracked up” to be?  After tying it, here is what I learned:

Pros:

Basil can be a bit touchy to transplant,  but with Basil in Eggs, all the recipient has to do is thin the seedlings a little (leaving two or three), crack the eggshell so that is has enough cracks to allow the roots to grow through, and then plant the seedlings, eggshell and all, into a 6-inch or larger pot.  The roots remain relatively undisturbed.

Cons:

The eggshells are small, so the soil dries out quickly.  Unless the seedlings are grown under a clear plastic cover to hold in moisture, they will need to be watched closely and watered often.

Also because the eggshells are small, the seedlings need to be transplanted while they are still fairly small or the roots will  be crowded.

Basil Loaves

Last year I started basil in the greenhouse and later moved it outside to the vintage wash tub.

growing basil

Moving the basil to the tub only took a few minutes because my basil starts were in “loaves” of soil that were easy to transplant.

I started the seeds in the larger plastic containers that supermarket salad mix comes in.

I poked drain holes in the bottom of each container and then added several inches of moist soil and the seeds.  Then I placed the covers loosely on top.

starting basil indoors

starting basil indoors

I misted the soil occasionally to keep it moist.

When the seedlings began to emerge, I pushed the cover to one side slightly (about a half inch) to make a gap for air circulation.  When the seedlings reached about an inch in height, I took the cover off completely and thinned the seeds so they were two to three inches apart (although conventional wisdom says they should be about four inches apart).

BurkeDecor.com

When outdoor temperatures were warm enough, it was time to transplant the basil into the wash tub.  I carefully turned the first container upside down and gently pushed on the bottom.  And it all came out as one solid block – a tidy loaf of basil and soil!

If I had any trouble freeing a loaf from its container, I just used a utility knife to cut down the center of the plastic container.

Then I just plopped the loaves of basil into the wash tub (which I’d prepared with soil) and planted them.

Many people prefer to direct seed their basil outdoors.  But starting basil indoors means I can begin to harvest it sooner and it’s protected from surprise cold snaps.

Repurposing Plastic Containers

This time of year I eye any plastic food container to see if it will help with seed growing.  This cherry tomato container was repurposed as a dome for the basil seedlings I’m growing for my mom.

starting basil indoors

So the greenhouse is looking a bit like a science lab these days.

But the seedlings seem happy.

This post is for entertainment only and is not a tutorial.


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Cocoons in the Fridge: The Mason Bee Diaries

Our second fridge in the basement is filled with extra beer, surplus groceries, and mason bee cocoons.  But if you’ve ever come over for dinner, don’t worry.  We didn’t sprinkle cocoons in your salad.

No, as soon as the warm spring weather arrives, we’ll put the cocoons back outside to hatch in their bee house, oblivious to the fact that they spent the winter in our fridge.

How It Began

A few years ago, while Chris and I were relaxing on our porch bench, we noticed that a mellow little flying insect was quietly investigating the bench. Eventually it lost interest and moved on.

We wondered if it was an insect we should be worried about. But with a little research we learned that it was an orchard mason bee.

We’d never noticed one in our garden before, but now that we knew they were there, we decided to help them.  We started with some light reading, and then we set up a bee house for nesting.  We bought a few mason bee cocoons to add to the existing population.

Who could resist this face?

An orchard mason bee

Understanding the Orchard Mason Bee

I used to think of bees and beekeeping in terms of hives, honey, queens, protective clothing, angry swarms, and running.  But these things are all associated with the honey bee.

Solitary Bees

Orchard mason bees are native to North America.  They are sometimes called spring bees or just mason bees.

They are considered solitary bees because they don’t have the social structure that honey bees have.  They don’t live in a hive and they don’t produce honey.

Mellow

Because they don’t have a queen to protect, mason bees are more easygoing than honey bees.  They have no interest in messing us up, and they rarely sting.

Spring Pollinators

Various species of orchard mason bees are found in most climates where fruit trees grow.

They go about the simple business of finding a safe place to deposit their eggs and ensure their eggs’ survival.  They work hard at this.  And, in the process, they are excellent spring pollinators.

They hatch right about the time the fruit trees blossom.  So when our bees have a good year, we have larger harvests of plums, apples, and pears.

Life Cycle

In spring, when temperatures have reached around 55ºF, mason bees begin to hatch from their cocoons.  They need sun to fly, and they usually warm up for a while before testing their wings for the first time.

orchard mason bee

I was disappointed that I was at work then our first-ever batch of bees began to hatch and emerge from the bee house.  Chris was home to see it and left me a voice mail saying “Our bees are hatching!”

I imagined him, phone in hand, standing amidst a lively swarm.  But it’s not like that.  They emerge gradually over several days, and if you’re not watching at the right moment, you won’t see anything.

A mason bee emerges from a bee house

An orchard mason bee emerging

They mate, and then the female does all the heavy lifting.  She seeks out a nesting spot for her eggs.  She does not drill holes, but rather she looks for preexisting holes of the right diameter and depth.

In our garden, she has a choice of using either a wooden nesting block

Orchard Mason Bee nesting block

or nesting tubes.

Nesting tubes for orchard mason bees

Once she finds a suitable location, the work begins.

Living up to her name, she builds a mud plug at the back end of the tube. Then she gathers pollen and nectar and deposits it inside the tube, at the back.  She lays an egg on top of the pollen and nectar mixture.  Then she builds a mud wall to seal in the egg, creating a protective chamber.

In front of that wall, she deposits more pollen and nectar and another egg and creates another wall, working her way up the length of the tube until she has filled the tube with these egg chambers.

Later the eggs hatch, become larvae, and slowly eat the pollen and nectar left by their mother.  Then the larvae spin protective cocoons where they mature into bees.

This photo, taken during our fall cocoon harvest, shows a couple of cocoons in their masonry chambers.

Orchard Mason Bee cocoons

What happened to their hardworking mom?  Adult bees usually expire by June.  There is no retirement plan for the orchard mason bee.

But the cycle continues because, providing they don’t fall prey to invasive insects, extreme weather, and other hazards, the cocoons will hatch the following spring, and the process will start again.

Helping the Orchard Mason Bee Succeed

We’ve seen firsthand how hard these bees work to ensure that their offspring survive.  But adverse conditions can spell disaster.

Staying Informed

There is only so much we have control over, but we do everything we can to help them succeed. We had been reading from various sources and trying different things.

Then, about a year ago, we found a very helpful resource:  Crown Bees’ “BeeMail” Newsletters. These email reminders tell us what to do for our bees and when to do it.  They also keep us current on any new bee-related innovations.

What a Mason Bee Wants

Caring for orchard mason bees is relatively easy and not very time-consuming. Months can go by where we take little or no action.

Before the new bee season starts, we replace used nesting tubes with new ones, and some years we purchase cocoons to add to the existing population.

Natural Nesting Reeds and Cocoons

Orchard Mason Bee Nesting Tubes

Orchard Mason Bee cocoons

Then, since mason bees don’t stray far from their nesting sites, we just try to make sure they have everything they need nearby: Bee houses in the right location, access to right kind of mud, fresh water, and of course flowering trees and shrubs nearby.

Even the smallest things help, like providing a shallow water bowl with pebbles so the bees can get water without drowning.

Orchard mason bee water bowl

And in fall, we (and by “we,” I mean Chris) harvest the cocoons, put them in a cocoon humidifier, and store them in the fridge until spring.

Harvested Mason Bee Cocoons

Orchard Mason Bee cocoons

Storing the cocoons in the fridge keeps them dormant while protecting them from harsh winter weather and extreme temperatures.

How Our Bees Did Last Year

Every year is different, but 2016 was a good year.  We placed the cocoons outside on April 1st – 68 that we’d overwintered in the fridge, and 30 that we’d newly purchased.

Over the course of several days, all but one hatched. And the cycle of mating and laying eggs began.

We tried something new in summer, once all the adult bees were gone:  We placed protective bags around the nesting sites to keep invasive insects away.

When we harvested the new cocoons in fall, we had approximately 150 cocoons – a 50% increase over what we started with in spring.

In this photo, you can see which nesting tubes were  filled with cocoons and sealed with a mud plug.

Orchard Mason bee nesting tubes

Our Plan for This Year

We are constantly improving our methods.  The bees seem to favor the natural reed nesting tubes, so this year we will be using more of them.  We are thinking of adding another bee house in a different location to see how it does.

But one thing never changes:  Mason bee season is always fun.

A warm thank you to Crown Bees for providing supplies for this post.  All opinions expressed are my own.


This post is for entertainment only and is not a tutorial. Mason bees are not suitable to all climates.


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My Three-Season Greenhouse

It’s been a while since I talked about my greenhouse, so I thought I would show you what is going in there.  This won’t take long.

Because nothing at all is going on.

Sunglo greenhouse
Sunglo lean-to greenhouse

My little greenhouse is empty.

It has done its job well, so all the plants that grew or overwintered in there are outside for the summer.  Some plants haven’t gone far.  The tomatoes and a few others are in containers just outside.

Assorted plants

Seasons of the Greenhouse

The greenhouse has earned its short summer break.  Over the past three seasons, it’s been a busy place.

Fall

Winter temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest can dip below freezing, which is hard on some plants.  Before I had the greenhouse, I used to overwinter a few tender plants in our little mudroom – where they were in our way all winter and didn’t do very well.

So last fall it was nice to have the greenhouse for overwintering the plants that I wanted to baby:  Begonia tubers, small citrus trees, several tropical ginger plants, a mandevilla, and some jade plants and other succulents.

Allsop Home & Garden

It was also a good place to dry the hop vines that I harvested.

Hops drying in the greenhouse

Winter

Then came the holidays.  I love to grow paperwhites from bulbs to have as holiday decor and to give as gifts.  The greenhouse was the perfect place to start them.

paperwhites

After Christmas, I couldn’t bring myself to throw away my poinsettias even though I was tired of looking at them.  So I just moved them to the greenhouse until spring.  Then I planted them in the shade garden to live out the summer.

Spring

In spring it really got crowded in the greenhouse.  From seeds, I grew Lizzano hybrid tomatoes, basil, and an annual called love-lies-bleeding.

I also started begonias and elephant ears from tubers.

I bought two starter tomatoes, a lemon boy and a Manitoba, transplanted them into bigger pots, and kept them snugly in the greenhouse until it was warm enough to put them outside.

I also sheltered tender seedling geraniums and fuchsias that would have crashed had I put them outside too early.

So how is everything doing?  Let’s have a look.

Tuberous Begonias

The begonias went outside in May.  I’m not sure why, but this hasn’t been my best year for growing them.  We had a hot spell in spring, followed by a cold snap, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Begonias
Tuberous begonias

Begonia and bench

Love-Lies-Bleeding

In full sun, the plants are about three feet tall.  In part sun, they are puny and miserable – something I will remember for next year.

Love-lies-bleeding
Love-lies-bleeding

The crimson tassels are beautiful in fresh floral arrangements.

They also dry very easily for use year-round.  To dry them, I just clip the tassels and hang them in the shed.

drying

Basil

Basil was very easy to start from seeds in the greenhouse and transplant later into an old washtub.

basil
Large-leaf basil

Here in a corner behind the greenhouse, the plants get protection from winds and receive afternoon sun.  And since they are elevated, they are protected from pests and are easy to harvest.

Tomatoes

I always look forward to delicious homegrown tomatoes.  So I am overprotective of my tomato plants. This year, I kept them in the greenhouse until mid-July.  With the fan kicking in, the door open, and the shade cloth on, the temperature was perfect.

The fruit developed early.  Some even ripened in the greenhouse – much earlier than they would have ripened outside.

They are all producing well.

Lizzano hybrid tomatoes
Lizzano hybrid tomatoes
Lemon Boy Tomato
Lemon boy tomato
Manitoba
Tomato: Manitoba

Everything Else

Other plants that were sheltered in the greenhouse are now sprinkled around the garden.

Cleaning the Greenhouse

Once all the plants were finally out of the greenhouse, I gave it a thorough cleaning.   And now it will stay clean and empty all summer!

Or not.

It’s such a handy place to put together floral arrangements, and Chris gave me these roses for our recent anniversary.

roses

In my next post, I share the arrangements I made using these Costco roses and cuttings from the garden – including the love-lies-bleeding.

One More Improvement

Now I have just one more improvement planned for the greenhouse. The foundation, made of pressure-treated wood, looks too raw and unfinished to me. (Insert eye roll by my husband here.)

greenhouse foundation
Greenhouse with pressure-treated wood foundation

But I think we may finally have a plan to make it look better.

We will be tackling that project soon, so stay tuned.


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Simple Summer Decor Tips

In this post, we have a fun mix of things:  An elegant budget floral arrangement, a small DIY decor project, and some new decor inspiration for outdoor spaces.

Making Street Market Flowers Look Elegant

Last Sunday at our neighborhood street market, my husband, Chris, offered to buy me a bunch of locally-grown flowers from a vendor.

A $5 bunch seemed large enough.  Curious to see what he would choose, I asked Chris to pick out the flowers.  He chose a colorful bunch of assorted flowers and a single stem each of allium and foxtail lily.

Summer decor: Street market flowers

I wanted to arrange them in a tall fluted glass vase that I found a while back at a vintage market.  I love the simple elegance of the vase.  But when a vase is wider at the top than at the bottom, it’s sometimes hard to get the flowers to stand straight.

So it helps to create a simple tape grid at the top of the vase.

Tip:  Put the water in the vase before creating the tape grid.

vase with tape grid

The grid didn’t need to be very elaborate.  I added decorative rocks to the bottom because the flower stems would be too short otherwise.  (That and it makes the vase more difficult for my cats to tip over.)

The foxtail lily went in the middle as the tallest stem – with other tall stems surrounding it.  Next came larger-diameter blossoms (iris, peony, the allium), and then the filler blossoms and the greens.

Fluted vase with street market flowers

Easy and elegant.

Summer decor: street market flowers

By the way, as some of the flower vendors pointed out, it’s almost time to say goodbye to the beautiful peony until next year.  But is it?  As mentioned in Sunset Magazine and on Sunset’s blog, some farmers in Alaska are growing July-blooming peonies.  So maybe there is a chance that we will be seeing these beauties in the lower 48 and other locations later this summer.

DIY Outdoor Placemats

This project didn’t turn out quite as planned, but I think it’s still worth sharing.

One nice feature of a round table is that it is often easier to add extra place settings than it would be with a rectangular or square table.  Even so, when more place settings are added, the space between them becomes tighter.

So I decided to make some simple placemats for our round patio table.  I wanted to make enough to seat six, so the placemats couldn’t be too large.  And to follow the curve of the round table, the placemats should also be round.  And since they would be used outside, they could look rustic.

Warning:  Weird burlap project ahead!

I had a roll of burlap fabric and some liquid fabric stiffener (which I had never tried before) in my craft room.  So I used a 13-inch platter as a template and cut the burlap.  Of course, as burlap does, it immediately began to fray.

Burlap for placemats

Then, using a painting pad, I saturated each round piece of burlap front and back with the fabric stiffener and laid them flat on parchment paper to dry.

At first I was disappointed to see that the burlap frayed even more after it was saturated.  But then I realized that it was actually kind of a cool look.

The burlap wanted to curl and buckle a bit when wet, so from time to time while it was drying, I pressed it back into place.  I couldn’t wait to see how the pieces looked when they dried.

So of course they took forever to dry.

And when they did, the burlap was indeed very stiff.  No more fraying.  That fabric was not going anywhere now!  I cut off any strands that were sticking out funny or looking too crazy, but I left most of it.

burlap placemats after drying

It does make for an interesting look under outdoor plates, but I should have made them bigger.  And using colored burlap might have been fun for this project.  But here it is.

Summer decor: burlap placements in setting

There was some fabric stiffener left in the tray and I hated to waste it, so I also made some simple napkin rings using rope ribbon and some vintage buttons.

Summer decor: rope napkin rings

Summer decor: summer place setting closeup

A fun (if slightly weird) result for my first experiment with fabric stiffener.

Introducing My New Summer Style Boards

Are you planning a new outdoor space? Or maybe just looking for fresh ideas?

Sometimes it’s easier to be inspired if you have a good visual.  Visit my new 2016 Summer Style Boards page and set the right mood for your outdoor space.

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Keeping it Simple: DIY Garden Edging

The simple DIY projects always seem to turn out best for me.  It’s when I overthink things that I run into trouble.  So today, I am sharing one of the simplest and prettiest landscaping projects I have ever tried.

For the backstory, we look to my post Improvements in the Garden, where I shared a project months in the making:  Our new bluestone walkway.

The walkway connected the back porch to the greenhouse, the garden shed, and the back patio.

Bluestone garden pathway

Beautiful as it was, it still looked unfinished to me.  As you can see, we needed some sort of transition between the flowerbeds and the walkway.

bluestone garden pathway

And I worried about the soil from the flowerbeds eroding into the walkway.

Garden edging was in order here – something rustic and natural-looking so that it would look good with the bluestone and also with the old drystack wall in our patio area.

drystack wall
Back patio drystack wall.

Chris and I kicked around the idea of a similar but shorter drystack wall for the garden edging.  Getting just the right look would be tricky, but we could have Carlos (the landscaper who did our bluestone path) come back.  He would probably do a wonderful job.

But of course we were overthinking it.  And it sounded expensive.  I knew if we could just get some big, pretty rocks, I could do the edging  myself.

Finding Big, Pretty Rocks

I really think that rocks should be free – like air.  But they are actually kind of expensive, especially big, pretty rocks.

The big box home stores near us didn’t carry what we wanted, so we wound up driving to a large stone yard out in the country.

There, we found a huge variety of stones.  We quickly eliminated river rocks as an option – too round.  We needed something kind of square-ish but still natural-looking.

It didn’t take us long to settle on Eagle Mountain ledge stone, which comes from Montana.

At the stone yard

Chris and I loaded a pallet.  (Well, he did most of the loading while I wielded the camera.)

The stones were irregular in dimension.  We only had a vague idea of which size or thickness would work best, so we just got a mix.  We got a half ton, which turned out to be just enough.  The cost:  A little over $200.

Installing the Stones

My plan was very simple.  I hoped it would work.  First, I dug a shallow trench for the stones between the bluestone walkway and the flowerbeds.  The trench was at most an inch and a half deep.

DIY garden edging: valley carved for stones

Then I added a thin layer of sand for good luck.  I’m not sure the sand was even necessary.

Then the fun started. I placed the stones in the trench.   I made sure the prettiest stones were placed somewhere obvious.

DIY garden edging: stones set in valley

And I placed the taller stones where the soil was high to keep the soil from crumbling into the walkway.

DIY garden edging: stones set

I trundled 1,000 pounds of stone into place.  I spent so much time finding the right stone for the right location that I almost started giving them names.

I tapped each one with rubber mallet to make sure it was secure. These guys were heavy, which worked in my favor since once they were put in place, they didn’t want to move.

Burkedecor.com is all new

Then after the stones were set, I simply backfilled the flowerbeds behind the stones with soil and swept sand into the crack between the stones and the walkway.  Voila!

DIY garden edging: Eagle Mountain ledge stone

The stones already look like they have always been here.

DIY garden edging: Eagle Mountain ledge stone closeup

I strive for an old-world look in the garden and I think these stones fit the bill.

DIY garden edging with birdbath

DIY garden edging near shed

greenhouse and hardscaping

In fact, if I’ve had a glass of wine and the light is right, they kind of look like the remains of an ancient rock wall.  Okay, maybe that’s a stretch.

path leading to patio

DIY garden edging: center planter

All in all, a labor-intensive but satisfying project.

DIY garden edging: patio entry


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A Lapse in Judgment Becomes Garden Art

In a recent post, An Old Stereo Cabinet is Transformed, I picked on my long-suffering husband, Chris, because he brought home an abandoned piece of furniture that didn’t seem to be worth the trouble of rehabbing.  But what I didn’t mention is that, around the same time, I did the exact same thing.

Only what I brought home was too icky to even bring into the house.

On the Curb for a Reason

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know that I have a hard time ignoring any piece of interesting furniture that has been kicked to the curb, like this dresser.

One of my hard-learned lessons is that I really should ignore any discarded piece of furniture that has upholstery, cushions, foam – in short, soft surfaces that more often than not harbor bad smells, mold, and even cooties.

But this chair.  Sure it had upholstery and foam, but it also had fun lines.  At one time, I reasoned, this chair must have really been something.  And I could bring it back to its former glory.

Chair as found on curb

My inner voice was screaming “You idiot!” as I packed it into my car.

When I got it home, Chris’s only comment was, “Looks like it’s been sitting outside for a while.”

I was already planning to replace every soft surface, but now the wood was also in question.  What kind of wood-eating insects were living in there?

I was tempted to take it back to the curb where I found it, but it was too late now, and someone might see me.

But no way was this cootie-laden white elephant coming into the house.  I would have to turn it into garden art.

Garden Art and Spider’s Nests

The seat of the chair would become a shallow planter, and the chair would be placed in the shade garden.

Preparing for Paint

I started by removing the upholstery and foam padding.  The chair had been poorly reupholstered with a lavender-colored faux-leather fabric fastened by a million tiny exposed staples.

Removing all the staples was time consuming but it gave me a chance to obsess over my poor judgment.

Allsop Home & Garden

I uncovered a sturdy set of metal springs in the seat.  They were fastened so well that I decided not to remove them.  I had already been through enough.

I scrubbed the chair clean – what was left of it.  All I had at this point was the wooden frame and an interesting set of seat springs.  Kind of cool!

Choosing the Paint

The lines of the chair would really pop with the right color.  But this chair was large.  If I painted it a bright color, it would look gaudy – like a clown throne at a circus.

So I needed a strong yet quiet color – something that would look nice in the shade garden.  I decided on a satin Valspar outdoor paint in “Oceanic” – a dignified shade of blue.

I masked off the seat springs before painting.

Garden art: Chair ready for paint

When I turned the chair upside down to paint the underside, I discovered a spider’s nest.  Since I was leaving the chair outside, I just left the nest and avoided spray painting it.  Let the little guys hatch.

Creating a Planting Area

The frame of the seat was about four inches deep, so Chris built a bottom for the frame out of plywood and drilled in a few drain holes.

Now the seat was a shallow planter with a set of springs at the top for interest.

Garden art: chair converted to planter

Planting the Seat

I filled the seat/planting area with good soil and planted a common ground cover – golden creeping Jenny – between the seat springs.   The plants could wind around the springs to create a fun look.

Garden art: Chair with creeping jenny winding around metal springs

Garden art: chair with creeping Jenny winding around springs

In the Shade Garden

My garden is very colorful, especially my back patio.  So I would probably have done this chair differently if it was going to be somewhere other than the shade garden.

But the shade garden is where I can rest my eyes.  It’s filled mostly with greens, whites, and blues – cool colors.  I didn’t want an accent piece that interrupted that quietness.

The chair, large as it is, is understated enough to fit in, yet it still catches the eye.

Garden art: chair converted to planter

Chair as garden art - arm detail

Chair as garden art

The golden creeping Jenny, recently planted, is just starting to spill over the sides of the frame.

I always have a lot to do in the garden, so I wanted a plant for this chair that would be low maintenance.  The creeping Jenny fits the bill.  I just need to cut it back once a year.  And once trimmed back, the metal springs can take over with their structural interest until the plants emerge again.

I played with the idea of fastening chicken wire to the back of the chair so that vines could creep up the back.  But the chair has such fun lines that I didn’t want it to be overpowered by plants.

So the back of the chair is left open to “frame” the ferns behind it.

Garden art - back of chair as frame

Baby Spiders

A few days ago, I was weeding around the chair.  And when I bumped it, dozens of tiny baby spiders cascaded from the arm on a delicate web chain.  The nest had hatched – luckily outside!


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Improvements in The Garden

To mark my 100th post, I’m writing about something important to me – something months in the making:  Our backyard re-landscape.

Like most projects, this one started out as a small repair job that grew.

If It’s Broken, Fix It.  Then Keep Going.

Part of a narrow walkway made of broken Pennsylvania bluestone had been torn up to make way for our little greenhouse.  The walkway needed to be repaired, and things were a real mess.

New garden walkway: before
Our walkway in pieces after the greenhouse installation.

The little walkway ambled behind a large circular planting area and led into our back patio.

Old garden walkway

Cute but very impractical as this was never how we accessed the patio.  No, to get to the patio from our back porch, Chris and I – and guests – had to trudge through the lawn.

Getting to the tool shed also meant walking through a sometimes soggy or muddy lawn.

Before the new walkway
The tool shed (left) and patio (center) could only be accessed by walking through the grass.

Same story with the new greenhouse.

Greenhouse before the new garden walkway

So we decided to expand the bluestone walkway so that it connected everything – the back porch, the greenhouse, the patio, and the shed.  Hooray!

Designing the New Walkway

I wanted to keep an informal feel to the new walkway so that it complemented our cottage-style garden and house.  That meant curves instead of straight lines.

We could have drafted up a blueprint or scale drawing, but instead we simply laid out our garden hose in different configurations until we had an idea of what we wanted – sweeping lines, generous proportions.

Planning the new garden walkway

This was an easy and accurate visual aid.  Now we just had to find someone to show it to.  We decided to hire a professional landscaper since the bluestone slabs would be huge and heavy, and they would need to be cut properly to look right.

Finding Help

We met with several landscaping companies that specialized in this kind of hardscaping.  But in the end, we went with a landscaper we met during a walk in the neighborhood. Carlos was doing a beautiful walkway replacement for a neighbor so we got a firsthand look at his work.

The Project Begins

The project started last fall.  Chris and Carlos marked the outline of the new walkway.

New garden walkway: marking the path

Then the grass was removed and a gravel bed was poured as a foundation.

New garden walkway: gravel poured

Sand was poured over the gravel.  Then it was leveled and compacted.

New garden walkway: leveling the sand

We also took this opportunity to do something about the tool shed. It had begun to settle and was sinking on one side.

shed on rollers

So the shed was lifted, put up on rollers, and then set back down onto a better foundation.

Then the huge stone slabs arrived.

New garden walkway: bluestone slabs

They were cut and set into place.

New garden walkway: cutting the stones

New garden walkway: partially done

Carlos did a terrific job of cutting the stones.

new garden walkway: stones in place

The existing walkway and patio had mortar joints between the pavers.  But every landscaper we talked to advised against using mortar on the new portion because the mortar would eventually crack.

So we decided to use polymeric sand instead.  It is said to be more stable than regular landscaping sand but more flexible than mortar.

We needed a certain temperature and several days of dry weather to install the sand.  With the holidays almost upon us at this point,  the project was put on hold.

But recently, the weather cooperated – and we were able get back on Carlos’s busy schedule.   It took him just a few hours to pour the sand into the joints.  Then it had to sit and dry for a few days.

New garden walkway: facing south from in front of greenhouse

New garden walkway from back porch

New garden walkway: flower bed and greenhouse

New garden walkway: connecting shed to greenhouse

 

New garden walkway connecting to old patio work
The old and new bluestone work connects here.
New garden walkway leading to existing patio
New garden walkway leading to existing patio

It looks so new now, but over time I think it will blend well with the older patio work, especially once more of the perennials emerge and soften the look.

More Improvements Coming

I just love how our new walkway turned out, but there is still much to do.

Garden Edging

We want to put in some sort of edging between the flower beds and the walkway.  This will give the new walkway a softer look and also keep the soil from eroding into it.

New garden walkway

I want to keep it charming – nothing that looks too man-made.  We are hoping to just use natural stones.

The Greenhouse Foundation

I also want to do something about the greenhouse foundation. To me, the bare pressure-treated wood makes it look unfinished.

Sunglo greenhouse foundation

Maybe I’ll stain or paint it, or maybe we’ll do some kind of stone facade.  I’m not sure yet, but of course I will keep you updated.

Thanks for 100 Posts

My readers mean a lot to me.  Some of you have been with me from the start (hi Mom), but if you have just found me, I hope you will continue to visit.

Many bloggers map out their posts months in advance, but I usually just write about what is interesting and share-worthy to me at the moment.   Most times, even I don’t know what is coming next.  So thank you for putting up with that!

For a look at my previous posts, check out my photo gallery.


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