My Budget Spring Garden

In my previous post, I promised my readers that I would be sharing something special very soon.  Alas, this post isn’t it.  No, I’m still working on photos for that “something special.”  But in the meantime, I’m sharing a few ways that I save money while still feeding my main gardening addiction:  Beautiful plants.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we never know if we are going to have a warm, sunny summer or if we will be disappointed again.  But for avid gardeners, hope springs eternal.  This time of year, plant nurseries are packed with resilient optimists like me who are stocking up on their favorite annuals.  I can almost hear Mother Nature laughing at us in the background.  Ha ha, those fools!

I used to spend a small fortune on my plant addiction.  But now, with a little planning and a lot of luck, I can save money and still have my beautiful annuals.  Most of it involves using my greenhouse, but an enclosed porch or even a sunny window would probably work well too.

A few ways I’ve been saving money are:

Taking Succulent Cuttings in Fall

A few years ago, when I visited Cousin Lolli in Fort Bragg, California, she gave me cuttings from some of the beautiful succulent plants she had in her garden.  She warned me that they probably would not be winter hardy in the Pacific Northwest.

These succulents grow a lot in one summer, so rather than move the whole large plant into the greenhouse in winter, I just took cuttings from each one.

Succulent cuttings

Then I simply put the cuttings in soil and kept them in the greenhouse over the winter, watering them occasionally.  They sprouted roots and thrived with no special care.

Recently, I moved them into clay pots and placed them back outside where they will make attractive, easy-care container plants for months to come.

Succulents with Spanish lavender

 

Overwintering Begonias

Last season, my favorite container plant was this big begonia next to my front door.  It grew on one large main stem – into the shape of a small tree.

Begonia and Coleus

Even in fall, it looked interesting.

Begonia in fall

Overwintering begonias has never really worked for me before but, after this begonia died down, I just put it, pot and all, under the potting bench in the greenhouse.  Once in a while, I would remember that the pot was there and give it a little splash of water.

And . . . nothing happened for a long time.

But now the begonia is slowly making a comeback – along with the baby tears that were planted around it.

Begonia emerging

Soon it will go back to its place on the front porch.  It will be interesting to see how it grows this year.

Baby Tears

I used to buy four-inch pots of baby tears every spring to use in containers and garden borders.  I love this sweet little ground cover.  Early last fall, though, I dug up the baby tears from my garden, put them back into four-inch pots, and kept them in the greenhouse.  There, they thrived all winter.  I divided them several times, and my pots of baby tears increased.

Recently, I planted most of them into the seat of this garden chair.

garden art chair

Here they will expand and eventually make a nice cushion for the seat – hopefully.

More baby tears are still in the greenhouse.  I’ll use them in containers later.

baby tears

Baby tears do sometimes overwinter outdoors in my climate, but they die down a bit, so it’s nice to have these more mature plants to start the season.

Geranium Starts and Lobelia Packs

Geraniums in four-inch pots can cost upwards of $3.  That doesn’t sound like much unless you want quite a few – which I always do.  So I buy the little two-inch starter plants – which this year were 50 cents each.  Then, in the greenhouse, I move them into four-inch pots so their roots can develop.  Same story with lobelias.  I buy them in pony packs and then re-pot them.

geraniums

Placing geraniums and lobelias (or almost any summer-blooming annual) outside before the weather is warm enough only stunts them.  But protected in my greenhouse, it doesn’t take long for these starter plants to reach the size of their larger, more expensive counterparts.

Overwintering Fuschias

Fuschia plants are easy to overwinter – even in a garage window.  Last season this plant graced my shade garden.

Fuschia

In late fall, I just removed the clay pot from the “pedestal” it was sitting on and put it in the greenhouse.

Bonus Thrift Tip:  Turn a tall pot upside down and use it as a pedestal to elevate a planter. 

The pedestal you see above is actually a tall, broken pot turned upside down.

The break is turned to the back of the flower bed where no one sees it.

Making an elevated planter

And a garden stake pushed through the middle and into the soil keeps the pot from tipping.  The stake also secures the clay fuschia pot once it’s set on top.

My Garden Now

These overwintered plants just need a little time and patience now, and they should thrive.  But while I have you here, come and see what else is going on in the garden.

We’ll start in the greenhouse where my little coleus seedlings are growing strong and fast – even though they are just starting to show color.

Coleus seedlings

I am a little disappointed that I’m not seeing more variety in the leaf patterns so far, and I’ll probably use a different brand of seed next year.

 

 

This year I’m growing Pomodoro “Lilliput” tomatoes.  They are said to be compact, disease-resistant, and good producers.

Tomato Seedlings

I’ve since moved the tomatoes into larger containers, using the tomato-growing tips I learned from a dear old friend.

In the garden, things are just starting to gear up.  I did splurge a bit on this new birdbath for the shade garden.

Birdbath

I love it because it looks like it’s been here for years – like something we might have discovered one day while we were cleaning out the garden.

The Corsican hellebore is always spectacular this time of year – for months actually, starting in early January.

Corsican hellebore

Another upside-down pot, topped with a square saucer, makes a cute, low-maintenance planter.

Violet planter

While my back was turned, violets took over the pot and spilled into the soil.  More power to them.

Sweet woodruffs have moved into the flower bed above the dry stack wall.

Ssweet Woodruff

And near the shed, bishop’s weed is trying to swallow my new garden edging.

Bishops Weed

When the perennials start to pop, the flower beds will become even more chaotic. It’s a very casual and accidental garden.  But having some structure in the form of a few well-pruned trees, manicured hedges, and a neat lawn helps to balance all that chaos.

Bay leaf tree
A bay leaf tree shelters a birdbath

I will be sharing more of our garden as the season progresses.


Sources:

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

Our Greenhouse:  To learn more about our little Sunglo greenhouse, check out Our Greenhouse page.

Pest Control (Hopefully!): Last summer we had a wasp nest on the side of the house.  We don’t like to use chemicals to repel or kill insects if we can avoid it.  So this year we put this “Get Lost Wasp” visual wasp deterrent under our eaves.

Get Lost Wasp Insect Deterrent

It’s not the most attractive thing to look at, but at least it blends in.  Wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets are said to be territorial.  They won’t build a nest where one already exists, so this product (in theory) deters them because it looks like an insect nest.  It was fairly inexpensive, so we thought it would be worth a try.


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Unplugged in Arizona

It’s healthy to unplug sometimes.  It gives us a chance to slow down and actually see the beauty of the world around us.

Recently, we took a little sun break to Arizona to visit friends and relatives.  So I wouldn’t be tempted to play around with my blog while I was there, I decided not to bring my laptop.  Once in Arizona, I only checked email and Facebook occasionally (and not in front of our gracious hosts) – just to make sure I wasn’t missing something important.  And I didn’t post anything to social media.  I didn’t even want to.

And I found that the longer I stayed unplugged, the happier I was.

I was free to be in the moment and fall in love with desert blooms, the saguaro cactus, and all the soft shades of the Sonoran Desert.

Of course there was no way that I was not going to take photos of all this beauty.  But I figured photography was still okay since I prefer to use a camera instead of my smart phone.  Visiting friends and relatives took us to parts of Arizona that we might not discover on our own.  So today I’m sharing photos of my favorite places.

Casa Grande

I like to learn about the history of places we visit.  And at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, in Coolidge, the history goes way back.  We saw the ruins of an advanced farming community built by the ancient Sonoran Desert people – including the huge and impressive great house that inspired the name Casa Grande.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The tiny person to the far left in the photo gives you an idea of how large the  great house is.

Before the ruins were declared a national monument, visitors sometimes left graffiti behind.  And even though graffiti on a national monument is less than ideal, it made me think about all the visitors who had come here over the ages.  Here, history is layered.

Graffiti from 1871 in the great house.

The modern-day residents of Casa Grande are the owls that nest in its walls.

Great horned owls nesting at Casa Grande.

Other ancient structures dot the landscape.

A structure at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Saguaro Lake – Butcher Jones Trail

Near Phoenix, relatives took us on this beautiful hike.  We set out early to beat the heat.

But it was worth it.  This six-mile hike had it all.

Stunning vistas,

Saguaro Lake.
Saguaro Lake.

Wildlife,

Turkey vultures near Saguaro Lake.
Wild horses near Saguaro Lake.

And that icon of the Southwest, the beautiful and fascinating saguaro cactus.

Saguaro Lake hike.
Blossoms on a saguaro cactus.
Saguaro cactus.
A dead saguaro cactus.

Prescott

Our first few days in Arizona were spent on our own exploring Prescott.

Prescott was once the capital of the Arizona Territory.  It has a colorful past, and Whiskey Row, with its vintage taverns and saloons, is a fun place to visit.

The Yavapai County Courthouse, built in 1916, sits in the center of it all.  In its basement is a small but interesting display about crime, justice, and punishment in old-time Prescott.

Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott.

We stayed at the Hassayampa Inn.  Built in 1927, it is located in the heart of downtown Prescott.

The lobby of the Hassayampa Inn.

Our room was small, but it had a view of Thumb Butte and large windows that actually opened for ventilation.  The service at the hotel was outstanding, the restaurant was good and, while we were there, the bar had live music every evening.

We did several hikes in the area, but my favorite by far was in the Granite Dells area – the gorgeous hike to Watson Dam.

Scrambling over boulders was well worth it.  Even with a few other hikers on the trail, it felt remote and peaceful here.

Granite Dells.
Watson Dam hike.
Watson Dam hike.

My Favorite Souvenir

DisclosureAffiliate links are used below.

Back in town, we explored the many antique stores that were dangerously close to our hotel.

Did I need another vase?  Of course not.  But this vintage fan vase is my favorite souvenir from the trip.

Back home, I just plopped the tulips in it and they practically arranged themselves.

My new find made me curious about fan vases.  So to learn more, I did a search of vintage ceramic fan vases on Etsy.  I was surprised at the variety – everything from unique to beautiful to tragically ugly.

Plugging Back In

It’s time for me to come clean and admit that I still used my smart phone navigation app on the trip.  But then I put the phone away again.

And now that I’m back, I’m trying to be more thoughtful about the way I use my screen time.  After all, time is precious.  So I’m simplifying some things and restricting myself on others.  I’m challenging myself to go for longer and longer stretches of time without looking at my smart phone.

I’m already happier for it.

Thanks for reading my ramblings about screen time, Arizona, and fan vases.  I promise to have something very special to share with you in my next post.  Stay tuned!


Sources:

I took most of the photos in this post with our Canon PowerShot SX280 HS.  I like it for travel because it’s more compact and portable than my good SLR camera, yet for such a small camera it has a great zoom – far better than my smart phone.  Those turkey vultures were pretty far in the distance when I took their photo!

It’s an old model now.  If I were to replace it, I might get the Canon PowerShot SX620, which has an even better zoom.

 


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A Mason Bee Update (AKA, the Tale of Beatrice)

Around this time last year, I wrote all about our experiences in keeping orchard mason bees.  To read my original post, click here.

Insects aren’t usually my thing, but “our” mason bees are very much the exception.  I’m fairly certain that our bees are cuter and smarter than anyone else’s.

A mason bee preparing for landing at the bee house.

And since a new batch of our babies – I mean bees – will soon begin hatching from their cocoons, I thought this would be a good time to share an update on how they did last season.

But first . . .

Mason Bee Fun Facts

There is so much to know about mason bees, but here are a few fun facts:

  • Female mason bees are black and can easily be mistaken for flies.
  • Mason bees are considered solitary bees because they don’t live in a hive and don’t protect a queen.
  • We don’t need any protective gear to keep mason bees, and we never have to handle live bees – except Beatrice.  You’ll meet her later.
  • Mason bees are spring pollinators.  In our area, they start hatching from their cocoons around early April and are active only until about June.
  • Most mason bee varieties need sun and a  temperature of at least 55 degrees to fly.
  • In our garden, they lay eggs in the nesting tubes and wooden nesting blocks that we provide.
  • They fill each nesting tube with eggs, sealing each individual egg in with a mud wall to protect it.  Each nesting tube can house around six to eight eggs.
  • The eggs hatch into larvae and then spin themselves a protective cocoon where they develop into adult bees and hatch the following spring.
  • In late fall, we harvest the cocoons and keep them safe in a spare fridge until the following spring.
A mason bee at the entrance of a wooden nesting block.

Our Bee Numbers

We started the 2017 season with around 180 cocoons – 150 of which were from our own “crop” of cocoons from 2016, and 30 of which we got from Crown Bees.

By the end of the 2017 season, those bees left us with a whopping 305 new cocoons for the 2018 season.

 

What We Did Differently in 2017

2017 was a great year for our bee population.  We don’t always have that kind of success.

One thing we did differently was that, to prolong the bee season, we placed our cocoons outside in two increments:

We placed 20 cocoons outside on April 3, and we put the rest of the cocoons outside on April 8.

Chris put them in a little cardboard box with escape holes, similar to the boxes he made for this year’s cocoons, and strapped the box to the top of the bee house.

Cardboard boxes with holes for releasing cocoons.

When the little guys hatched, they could find their way out of the box and start living their busy bee lives.

In the bee house, Chris carefully arranged nesting reeds mixed with natural sticks of varying sizes.  This really appeals to the bees because the sticks serve as landmarks to help each bee find the nesting tube that she is filling with eggs.

Mason bees working their nesting tubes.

A Mishap

About a month into the 2017 bee season, most of the cocoons should have hatched – but there were still a few unhatched ones.

Chris moved the cocoons into a small clear plastic container, hoping that the extra dose of sunlight would awaken them. The container had holes drilled in the top so any hatched bees could emerge.

Then he strapped the plastic container to the bee house.

Then one day, I was outside and I noticed to my horror that the container had fallen to the ground – face down.  The top had come off, and the remaining cocoons, and one hatched bee, were trapped in the plastic bottom.

It was a sunny day, which was good for the cocoons.  I lifted off the container and watched as a few bees emerged from their cocoons, warmed their wings, and took flight.

This was a real treat since I’d never actually seen bees hatching from their cocoons before.

A newly-hatched mason been amid hatched and unhatched cocoons.
A mason bee hatching from a cocoon.

Apologies to anyone who thinks these photos are gross.  I might think the same if I didn’t know these sweet, docile bees better.  While I was sitting on the ground right next to them and taking photos, it never even crossed my mind that they would try to harm me.

 

The Tale of Beatrice

Later, Chris put all the unhatched cocoons back in the plastic container and put them on the porch to soak up the last rays of sun.

But the cocoons sat motionless – except one.  A single bee was slowly gnawing its way to freedom.  I could even hear what sounded like tiny chomping/scratching sounds.

A mason bee struggles to get out of her cocoon.

But progress was slow – too slow.  Chris carefully opened the cocoon for the bee.  It was a larger, black bee, so it was most likely a female.  She was very weak, and probably very hungry.

Chris put her on a flower to soak up some nectar.

Beatrice crashes on a flower.

I thought it would bring her luck if we gave her a name, so we called her Beatrice.  But Beatrice wasn’t doing very well.  To make things worse, it was getting late, and dark clouds were moving in.

Going on a tip that Chris had read, we soaked a cotton ball in sugar water and placed it on a small plastic lid.  Then we cut the flower that Beatrice was sitting on and put her, flower and all, on the lid with the cotton ball.  We placed the lid on top of the bee house and anchored it with a large rock.

Beatrice feeding on sugar water.

Beatrice could soak up sugar water and then, if she had the energy, find shelter in one of the bee house nesting holes.

The next day was cool and wet – and the bees were inactive.  Beatrice was still alive and clinging to the sugar-soaked cotton.  We added more sugar water.

The following day was warm and sunny.  And Beatrice flew away!

It’s not unusual to have a few cocoons that don’t hatch for various reasons.  We checked the remaining cocoons, and none of them contained live bees.

Beatrice was the last bee of the season.

A Second House

Beatrice might have been the last bee to hatch, but there were still plenty of bees around – and they were starting to run out of places to lay their eggs.

Most of the nesting reeds in the bee house were already full of eggs – with mud walls neatly sealing each entrance.

Mason bee nesting reeds almost filled to capacity.

Chris quickly built another bee house for them – a simple design but it did the trick.

Building a simple bee house.

Our Current Cocoons

We will be setting our current batch of cocoons outside soon. We are phasing out the wooden nesting block because we noticed that the bees much prefer natural nesting reeds (which are different from bamboo reeds, which we have been told by experts to stay away from) for their eggs.

Mason bee cocoons.

The variation of size always amazes me.  Females tend to be larger than males – in some cases much larger.

Mason bee cocoons.

We added a third bee house this year.

New bee house with this season’s cocoons in the cardboard container above the nesting reeds.

I can’t wait to see these little guys buzzing around our garden soon.

 

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


Resources

Disclosure:  Affiliate Links are used below.

Interested in learning more about mason bees?  Here are a few resources to get you started:

  • The Crown Bees Learning Page is packed with interesting information on the orchard mason bee and other native bees.
  • Crown Bees BeeMail Newsletters are an excellent resource for anyone currently caring for mason bees.
  • The Mason Bee Revolution, Dave Hunter and Jill Lightner.
  • The book The Orchard Mason Bee, by Brian L. Griffin, was our first resource when we began researching mason bees.  Although we have moved on from some of the advice in the book, it was an entertaining read that helped us understand these little creatures and get started.

Bee Houses and Hotels

I would love to replace our oldest bee house with something more attractive, and I’m inspired by some of the charming bee hotels and houses on Etsy.  

This one is especially cute.

If you decide to purchase a bee house, keep in mind that mason bees prefer nesting reeds that are at least six inches long.  I see many bee houses out there that are too shallow and the nesting reeds are too short.

 


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Second Tuesday Art Walk #8: Dream Gardens

This will be the last Second Tuesday Art Walk for a little while.  I’ve decided to put this monthly feature on hold because I have so many things I want to share on this blog – but not enough time to write posts about them.  So for now something has to give – and that something is Second Tuesday Art Walk.

One of the reasons that I’m short on time is that we have a large garden, and it’s time for spring garden clean up.

Spending two days taming a buttercup infestation makes it easy to lose sight of the reason that I love gardening in the first place:  Gardening is a creative outlet.  But gardeners here in the Pacific Northwest have the annual Northwest Flower and Garden Festival to remind us of that.

Last month, the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary.  My mom, Erika, and I have been attending the festival, which takes place in Seattle, every year – probably since the very first one.

So I thought this would be a fun time to share some of my favorite things from this year’s festival and some from recent years past.

Spring Fragrance

Inside the entrance, a cheerful spring bulb display always greets visitors.  The intoxicating fragrance of hyacinths and the piped-in bird songs set the mood for the show.

Spring flower display, 2016

Floral Competition

Across from this display is the floral competition.  This year, I immediately recognized the work of my favorite floral artist, Michelle Pedersen, owner of The Art of Forest Blooms.  You might remember her 2016 guest post about her masterpiece that year.

I love her use of natural elements and settings that create a story about nature.  Her 2018 installment was entitled “Forest Friends.”

Photo courtesy of Michelle Pedersen

Mom and I spent some time soaking in all the details of this piece, and photos just don’t do it justice.

Forest Friends by The Art of Forest Blooms, 2018

Michelle’s work is joined by that of many other floral artists.  Some artists even poke fun at living in the Pacific Northwest.

Singing in the Rain, 2013

 

Minted's Limited Edition Art Prints

Display Gardens

Over the years, it seems that the lighting in the display garden area has evolved into an art in itself.  The public shuffles around in near darkness, and the displays are lighted for maximum impact.

The result is a fantasy world where trees become ethereal.

Creeping branches, 2018

 

A contorted hazelnut, maybe? 2017

Large Scale Nature

Preparing for this show is an immense undertaking.  Huge trees, boulders, downed logs, and giant root systems are brought in.

A hike in the mountains is recreated, 2016

 

A dream pond in a forest setting, 2016

 

A natural setting, 2015

 

Little Pink Houses – And Other Ones Too

To me, what the display gardens do best is blend man made structures with natural elements.

Cottages, quaint shops, or even little neighborhoods are created.

April in Paris, 2012

 

An English tudor home and garden, 2017

 

A little pink house! 2016

 

A seaside cottage, 2016

 

A walled Tuscan garden, 2016

 

Pergolas, Sheds, and Greenhouses

These little (or sometimes not-so-little) structures are the stuff that dreams are made of.  They are why I always leave the show with a million ideas bouncing around in my head – even if they are completely impractical ideas that I could never act on.

After all, how many of us actually have a luxurious sleeping shed with a built-in herb garden nailed to the exterior?

Sleeping shed with herb garden, 2017

Or an island pergola?

A pergola over a pond, 2018

Or a stained glass greenhouse?

A stained glass greenhouse, 2018

Other structures seem more attainable.  Or at least I can kid myself that they are.

Statuary pergola, 2013

 

A rustic shed, 2015

 

A dream potting shed, 2017

 

A Victorian gazebo, 2016

 

Al Fresco Living

Because it’s cold and raining about 75% of the time here in the Pacific Northwest – or at least it seems that way – when the weather actually is cooperating, almost everyone rushes outside to dine and lounge al fresco.

And the festival always has some lovely vignettes to inspire us to do just that.

Conifers and tea, 2017

 

Cottage tea time, 2017

 

Outdoor living room, 2016

Al Fresco Cooking

And isn’t it everyone’s dream to cook outdoors?  How about a gorgeous built-in barbecue with a live herb garden growing on the backsplash?

Outdoor kitchen, 2017

The festival always has a few amazing outdoor kitchens for us to drool over.

An outdoor kitchen, 2018

Complete Fantasy

Of course, some displays are purely for fun.

A giant chess set, 2018

 

Who lives here? 2013

 

A stone bridge, 2016

Small Details

We try to take our time with the display gardens and really soak everything in.  There is so much to see that it would be easy to miss the small details that are often so inspiring.

A cute mason bee house, 2016

 

A miniature village, 2017

 

A carved heron, 2018

 

A shower head with air plants, 2018

 

Limited-palette planters, 2018

 

Bonsai tree, 2018

 

Small-Space Gardens

Like most big cities, Seattle is becoming denser and gardens are shrinking.  But the festival always has some fun ideas for small-space gardening.

A terrace garden, 2016

 

A vertical garden, 2014

The Marketplace

There are so many seminars offered at this festival.  I’m ashamed to admit that Mom and I have never attended a single one.  No, the festival is so huge that we are lucky just to get through the display gardens and the marketplace.

This year, the marketplace seemed bigger than ever, and we didn’t have enough time to see all of the booths.

But I always make time to visit my friend Henri at the Sunglo Greenhouses booth.

Henri Parren and a Sunglo Greenhouse at the 2018 Northwest Flower and Garden Festival

Since we have a small Sunglo greenhouse of our own, I love to see what new innovations Sunglo has come up with.

And Henri had a few indoor begonias on hand.  He gave me the two that needed the most care and said that he knew I could make them thrive.

Challenge accepted, Henri.  Challenge accepted.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only.

 


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The Wreath That The Storm Blew In

Between rain storms, I’ve been cleaning my garden.  With all the wind we’ve been having, it is a mess right now.  Little twigs from my birch tree are constantly falling.

Recently I raked some of the twigs into a pile.

They reminded me of a fun, crazy twig wreath that I’d seen recently at my favorite nursery – a wreath that was way out of my budget.

So I decided to try making my own.  And I found out that it’s easy.

Securing the Twigs

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

I bundled handfuls of twigs together with wire and attached them to a wreath form – again using wire.  I tried to space the bundles evenly around the wreath form.

I didn’t worry about concealing the wire.  You’ll see why later.

I should have worn gloves.  Between handling the twigs and bending the wire, my hands took a beating.  I used a wire we had on hand, but in the future I’ll probably use this florist wire instead since it’s made specifically for floral projects.

Taming the Monster

I ended up with a monster.  I loved it.  But it was way too wide to hang on our door.

So I pruned it with garden shears.  I didn’t want it to look too neat, so I tried not to prune it too evenly.

Now it would fit on the door.  But the wires still needed to be concealed.

Concealing The Wires

The wreath I’d seen at the nursery had chartreuse preserved reindeer moss circling the center.  So I would do the same.

I started out using greening pins but, for the amount of moss that I needed to attach, that got tedious very quicky.  So I wound up using good old fashioned Elmer’s Glue to attach the moss to the wreath.  It worked fine, and I’ve read that Elmer’s is biodegradable.

And since the wreath will hang in a protected area where it won’t get wet, the glue should hold.

The Result

My wreath looks just like the one I’d seen at the nursery.

I wasn’t sure if a dark twig wreath would look right against our charcoal colored door.  But I like it.

I could add a few pieces of spring or Easter decor to the wreath.  Or not.  I kind of enjoy it the way it is.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.


More On Twig Wreaths

With twig wreaths, the possibilities are endless.  Now I want to try grapevines, pussywillows, and even bamboo.

One place I’m looking to for inspiration is Etsy, where the artists are offering so many beautiful handmade twig wreaths that put mine to shame.

 


Want to see more? Browse my photo gallery or check out these categories:

Our Kitchen Remodel Series
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An Experiment with Coleus

Ever since we set up our little Sunglo greenhouse a few years ago, I’ve been trying to find the best way to start plants from seeds.

So early last spring, I conducted a little experiment:  I planted seeds using three different seed starting kits to learn which method worked the best for me.

Comparing seed starting kits
Seedlings planted in three different seed starting kits

With spring just around the corner, this is a good time to share my findings.

The Three Seed Starting Kits I Tried

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

There are many types of seed starting kits and trays out there, but for this little exercise I used three easily found, affordable Jiffy products.

Since I’d never planted coleus seeds before, I decided to make coleus the subject of my experiment.  I planted them in all three kits.

I planted several types of coleus but mostly the rainbow mix.

The three Jiffy kits I used were:

Seed Starter Greenhouse.

 

Peat Pot Strip Sheets.

 

Peat Soil Pellets.

The Pros and Cons of Each

In this post, I won’t go into the mechanics of how to use each kit.  I believe they all came with instructions – which I mostly followed.  I did modify things slightly to suit my greenhouse environment and to address a concern I had about one of the products.

Here is what I learned:

Seed Starter Greenhouse

 

Seedlings in the plastic chambers of the Seed Starter Greenhouse

Pros:

  • If treated right, the plastic potting chambers are reusable year after year.
  • Each tray can start 72 seedlings.

Cons:

  • The chambers are small so my seedlings outgrew them quickly.
  • Transplanting seedlings from the chambers was more difficult and disruptive to plant roots than using either of the other two methods.
  • I had to separately purchase soil to fill the potting chambers.  The seed starter soil I chose didn’t hold together well, and it seemed to dry out too quickly (which of course was my own fault).
  • Probably because of the soil I used, moisture retention in the potting chambers was uneven.
  • The plastic chambers cannot be separated so, unlike the other two methods, it was impossible to share individual seedlings with friends without transplanting them first.

Peat Pots

Seedlings in peat pots

Pros:

  • Larger chambers meant the plants didn’t outgrow them as quickly as with the seed starter greenhouse.
  • Transplanting was easy and not disruptive to roots.
  • Since the peat pots could be separated, sharing seedlings with friends was easy.

Cons:

  • This method also required purchasing soil.
  • Although the plastic tray is reusable, the peat pots are not.
  • Moisture retention seemed uneven, again probably due to the soil I used.

Peat Soil Pellets

Seedlings in peat soil pellets

Pros:

  • Transplanting was easy and didn’t disrupt roots.
  • Similar to the peat pots, sharing individual seedlings with friends was easy.
  • I’ve read other posts to the contrary but, for my little experiment at least,  moisture retention in the soil pellets was far superior to the first two methods.
  • No need to purchase soil separately.  There was no guess work here.  Everything the seeds needed was already in the soil pellet.
  • I saved a little time with this method since I didn’t have to fill potting chambers with soil – although I did have to soak the pellets in water and wait a bit for them to expand to the correct size and moisture level.

Cons:

  • The pellets are encased in a mesh, and when a seedling is transplanted, the mesh gets buried in the soil along with the pellet.   However, I have read from several sources that the mesh casing doesn’t always break down when buried in the soil.  And sometimes this restricts root growth.  I wondered about this when I was using them.  I just didn’t like the idea of burying that mesh casing.  So my easy fix was to carefully peel off the mesh when I transplanted the seedlings.  The mesh came off easily and, for the most part, the pellets held together after the casing was removed.
  • I found it just a little more time consuming to plant seeds into the pellets versus the other two methods.
  • Maybe I shouldn’t have listed this under cons but, while the plastic tray is reusable, the pellets are not.  However, a bag of replacement pellets is inexpensive and takes the place of the soil that needs to be purchased with the other two methods.

My Personal Favorite

Even with the extra step of removing the mesh casing, I liked the peat soil pellets the best. And I’m finding that they are available in four different sizes, as illustrated by the chart on this page.  So there are options, but now I’ll be careful to pay attention to which size I’m actually buying.

How the Coleus Did

So how did the coleus fare in these three different methods?  In all three seed starting methods, the seeds sprouted consistently.  However, over time, the ones started in the peat pellets did slightly better – and in some cases much better.  This could have everything to do with the poor soil I used in the other two methods.

Eventually, the coleus had to be transplanted into larger pots.  By this time, I had become somewhat attached to them.  Each plant was a little miracle of color and pattern.  The greenhouse looked so cheerful with these pretty babies.

Growing coleus in a Sunglo greenhouse
Coleus and other plants growing in our Sunglo greenhouse

Finally it was time for them to go outside.  Feeling overly protective of my little gems, I didn’t plant them directly into the garden.  I used them in containers.

In hanging baskets.

Coleus in a hanging basket

In numerous clay pots.

Coleus in clay pot

It was fun to group similar foliage colors and patterns – or to combine plants with heavily contrasting foliage.

Coleus

Some plants stayed small.  These little guys were given tiny pots and paired with larger plants.

coleus
Coleus with ornamental grass.
coleus and begonia
Coleus and begonia

Coleus plants do bloom, but the flowers are insignificant.  The real star of the show is the beautiful and varied foliage.  When backlit by the sun, certain plants have leaves that resemble stained glass.

Coleus leaves

To encourage prolific foliage, I pinched them back when I saw flower buds emerging.

I brought the cuttings inside and put them in vases.

coleus is a spectacular alternative to cut flowers

Some of them sprouted roots in the water.  I didn’t try to plant them in soil, but that may have worked as a propagation method.

In my climate, coleus is an annual, meaning that it only lives until the fall frost kills it.  But I read somewhere that coleus plants can be brought indoors in cold weather for protection and placed back outside in spring.  I have a couple of coleus plants from last summer in my greenhouse now.

Soon they will be sharing space with the coleus seeds I just planted.  I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s beauties once they sprout.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only. The little experiment I describe here was completely unscientific.


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Decorating with Vintage Glass

It wasn’t fun coming home after our recent trip to Hawaii.  Cold mornings, wearing layers again, drab gray days.  I missed all the color and the tropical foliage.

I was tempted to add some tropical decor to our living room.  But in the middle of winter, and here in the Pacific Northwest, that wouldn’t look right.

So I opted for a subtle, airy botanical look with a limited color palette.  And to keep it interesting, I used vintage glass containers.

Glass and the Weak Winter Sun

One advantage to using glass in winter decor is that it reflects and amplifies natural light.  And in winter, we need all the natural light we can get.

Patron bottle as found in a thrift store.
Sunlight in a bottle? A thrift store Patron bottle and a vintage flower frog capture the morning sun.

Shopping My Own House

Of course, another advantage to using vintage glass for decor is that it’s inexpensive and easy to find.  I had some stashed around my house:  Bottles, flower frogs, and a glass float.

My husband Chris always has cool stuff I can use.  (He is quick to remind me that I sometimes call his cool stuff “junk” until I find it useful.)

This time he had some vintage kerosene lamps.

Vintage kerosene lamp

One of them was missing the glass shade, but I liked it better without one.

Vintage kerosene lamp

A Variety of Foliage

I used a combination of artificial foliage and live plants in clay pots.

Decorating with vintage glass

 

Decorating with vintage glass

 

Decorating with vintage glass

 

Decorating with vintage glass

I’m surprised at how this little bit of glass decor has livened up our living room.  And, since it’s so affordable and easy to come by, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for new pieces.  It would be fun to try denser layers and collections of glass during the winter months.

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About Kerosene Lamps

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Before electricity, kerosene lamps were an essential source of light in many homes.  But if tipped over, they could become the source of disastrous fires.  Today, we can appreciate their vintage charm without having to rely on them for light.

In the right setting, a carefully chosen kerosene lamp can become art.  And as a collectible, they are still very affordable – and plentiful.  A search on Etsy turns up a treasure trove of kerosene lamps.

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Second Tuesday Art Walk #7: Dresser and Cabinet Makeovers

If I gave two DIYers identical pieces of furniture and said “Take this piece and make it your own,” I would get two completely different results. That’s the fun of furniture makeovers:  Everyone has a unique approach.

So in this month’s Art Walk, we’re looking at inventive ways to make over old dressers and stereo cabinets.  Why dressers and stereo cabinets?  Because there are so many of them out there in need of a little love.

You would not believe what some of these pieces looked like before their makeovers.  If you want to see before photos, or if you want to learn more about a process, click on any photo to be taken to the original post.

Let’s begin!

Hollywood Glam

I love how Tarah at Grandma’s House DIY paired black paint with glass knobs for this stately look.   She used a gloss finish over the paint to get that elegant sheen.

Photo courtesy of Grandma House DIY

The Power of Prep Work

I have long admired the work of Nicole over at Visual Heart.  Her makeovers of mid-century pieces are so airy and cheerful.  And turning an ugly particle board duckling into this beautiful swan took a lot of vision – and a lot of prep work.

Photo courtesy of Visual Heart

Dresser Turned Vanity

Over at Lolly Jane, twin sisters Kelli and Kristi didn’t just make over a vintage dresser – they converted it into a charming bathroom vanity.  I have always wanted to do this.

Photo courtesy of Lollyjane.com

She’s Got Legs

Carol at The Red Painted Cottage took a boring square box of a dresser and made it adorable by painting it and adding legs and a wood plank top.

Photo courtesy of The Red Painted Cottage

An Artist’s Touch

When Miss Mustard Seed paints a dresser, she really paints it.  The choice of colors and the careful distressing make this piece spectacular.  I only wish I were artistic enough to try this.

Photo courtesy of Miss Mustard Seed

Stencils

Stencils are a fantastic way to add impact to any piece.  A mix of wood grain, paint, and stenciling by Carrie at Dream Green DIY brings balance and interest to this piece.

Photo courtesy of Dream Green DIY

When Less is More

My husband Chris brought home a raggedy mid-century stereo cabinet that he wanted to convert to a liquor cabinet.  I was eagerly envisioning a makeover similar to something Nicole would do.

But then Chris noticed that the piece was made of mahogany.  And he is never one to paint over quality wood.  So he did an honest restoration of the existing wood.  Now it’s a handsome and timeless liquor cabinet.

Paring it Down

Sometimes removing something from a piece highlights what is left.  I found a worn little “princess” dresser covered in a cheap, dingy floral laminate.  It was probably originally intended for a girl’s bedroom.

After some chalk paint and antiquing, the dresser is more mature.  And its whimsical curves can finally take center stage.

Thanks for joining me on the Art Walk today.  And thanks to the folks who allowed me to share their work.

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From Cluttered to Cute: Ravamping a Walk-In Closet

Storage space saves marriages.  Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic.  But storage space is rarely a bad thing.

Which is why Chris and I recently took on a little rainy-day project:  Revamping a small walk-in closet to make it more efficient.

But before we even get started, I have to apologize.  Because this closet, with its tricky lighting and tight space, was really hard to photograph.  So please excuse these grainy photos.

Too Much Bedding, Too Little Shelving

Our TV/guest room has a daybed with a pop-up trundle.  I love it because it makes the room so versatile for guests.  It can be a twin-size bed, or convert to a king-size bed, or we can set up the room dormitory-style with two twin beds.  Any other time, it’s the comfy daybed where I watch TV.

But all this versatility means that we need to store bedding for a king-size bed and two twin beds.

And this is what led to the closet looking like this.

 

And this.

Occasionally, our TV watching was interrupted by an avalanche of precariously stacked bedding falling from the closet shelf.

 

 

Putting a Blank Wall to Work

It was pretty easy to see what the problem was with this little closet.

There was only one shelf on the south wall.  And the west wall was blank except for an ugly drain pipe.

Lots of wasted space on the west wall

So we decided to extend the existing shelf by eight inches and add another shelf above it.  And then add two 10-inch-deep shelves to the west wall.

And when I say “we,” of course I mean Chris.  Here is yet another instance where he did all the heavy lifting while I followed him around with a camera.

The result was two L-shaped shelves.

I didn’t want the shelves to look new.  I wanted them to look like they’d always been there.  And I think Chris achieved that.

 

Painting and Unpainting

Once we knew where the shelves would go, we removed them so I could paint the closet a cleaner white.

And while we were at it, we thought, we might as well spray paint the ugly drain pipe white to minimize its impact.  I didn’t want to paint the small copper pipe behind it.  Painting copper just seems wrong to me.

But there was something we wanted to un-paint:  The hardware on the little pocket window had received many coats of paint over the years.  Who paints a window chain?  Apparently everyone.

The chain and latch look so much better now that the paint has been stripped.

 

Moving Back In

Bedskirts, mattress covers, quilts, blankets, sheets, pillows, shams:  There is space for everything now.

 

 

And that little blue dresser that sat piled high in the closet before?  We put it back.  It is now almost empty, so it will serve as overflow space for guests to unload their suitcases.

Above it, a little surprise for guests:  A vintage mirror.  An extra mirror is always a nice touch in a guest room.

(I was tempted to style the top of this dresser for the photo – until I heard my little voice of reason say, “Oh please.  It’s a closet!”)

Not the most glamorous home improvement project in the world, I know, but I’m happy that there is just a little less clutter at our house.

Before and After

Before: One shelf on the north wall.

 

After: The existing shelf was extended by 8 inches, a shelf added above it, and shallower shelves added to the west wall.

 

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.

About the Pop-Up Trundle Daybed

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I have plans to refresh our TV/guest room a bit:  A new rug, new curtains, and fresh paint.  It should be a fun little project.

But one thing I don’t want to change is that pop-up trundle daybed.  It’s been a while since we bought it, but it is a lot like this one on Amazon.  The mattresses were not included, and we added our own headboard.


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Five Things to Enjoy on the Big Island

Chris and I are restless travelers.  For us, exploring is more relaxing than sitting poolside with a mai tai.  We’d rather be on a road trip than trapped in a resort.  And if there’s a crowd, we can usually be seen walking in the opposite direction – unless it means we’ve found a really good farmers market.

So this is why we choose the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, when we crave a tropical sun break.

Kailua-Kona

What is the Big Island?

Before I explain why we love the Big Island, I should clear up any confusion.  People often think that the term “the Big Island” refers to the island of Oahu, presumably because Oahu is home to the state’s biggest city, Honolulu, with its touristy Waikiki strip.  But the term “the Big Island” is actually a nickname for a different island:  The island of Hawaii.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the island of Hawaii and the state of Hawaii share the same name.

The island of Hawaii really lives up to its “Big Island” nickname.  Its land mass is larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined.  The terrain is diverse and includes arid lava fields, snow-capped mountains, tropical rain forests, high-country ranch lands, lush plantations, and Volcanoes National Park.

You may have heard that the Big Island isn’t for everyone, and that is true.  Some folks cite its shortage of white sand beaches as the reason to visit Maui or Oahu instead.  There are long drive times between sites (for example, the drive between the city of Kailua-Kona and Volcanoes National Park takes two to three hours).

And the Big Island’s acres and acres of lava fields can seem barren and unwelcoming.

Chris conquers a lava field

But we’ve learned to love the lava fields because hiking them can lead to some beautiful and secluded black sand beaches, snorkeling coves, or other natural treasures.

Since we just returned from another trip to the Big Island, I thought I would share the top five things that we look for when we visit.

1  Historic Sites

On the island of Hawaii, learning about native culture rarely includes a visit to a stuffy museum.  Heritage sites are fun and fascinating.  One of my favorites is a National Historic Park called Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau – or the Place of Refuge.  I won’t give away why it’s called that, but it’s a gorgeous and peaceful place to visit.

Tikis at Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau

2 The Green Flash

On the west side of the island, the sun sets over the water.  Sunsets are legendary here, so much so that in Kona it’s not uncommon for restaurant patrons to applaud after seeing a particularly spectacular one.

A sunset in Kona

Ever since our first visit to the Big Island, we’d heard about a phenomenon called the green flash.  Apparently, when atmospheric conditions are just right, the sun gives off a quick green flash just before it disappears into the horizon.

But try as we might, we’d never seen the green flash for ourselves.  Never, that is, until our most recent visit.  So now I can say with confidence that the green flash is not a legend.  It is real!

Looking for the green flash is only half the fun.  Whether on a beach, a seawall, the deck of a condo, or a fun outdoor restaurant, sunsets are a wonder to take in.

A band setting up for a sunset concert at a Kona restaurant.

3 Coffee Farms

The Big Island is the land of the coffee bean.  Over 650 coffee farms, large and small, occupy the hillsides above Kona.  Many of them welcome the public, and we try to find a new one every time we visit the island.

Trellised coffee plants at Kona Joe Coffee Farm

In addition to coffee plants, fruit trees and flowering shrubs keep things interesting.

A banana tree makes a fine house for a gecko at Greenwell Coffee Plantation

Yes we love coffee.  But most farms, by virtue of the where they are situated, also have sweeping views down the hillsides to the ocean.  They are lovely, relaxing places to visit – and to sample coffee.

A cafe with a view at Kona Joe Coffee Farm

4 Solitude

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Whether a beautiful deserted road, a beach where turtles stop to sun themselves, or a deserted cove with good snorkeling, it is possible to find peace and solitude on the Big island.

Pahoa-Pohoiki Road
Sea turtles near Kiholo Bay

Some places are easier to get to than others.  We find ourselves hiking over lava fields much of the time.  But how do we even know about these out-of-the-way treasures?

On our first visit, we discovered the book Hawaii The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty (make sure to find the most recent edition).

To us, “the book,” as we call it now, is like having a local tell us, in hushed whispers, where we can find the island’s hidden treasures.  And more than that – entertaining us with backstories, history, and amusing anecdotes.

Makalawena Beach

In pursuit of out-of-the-way gems, the book sometimes suggests hikes on (to put it mildly) uneven terrain, and it sometimes suggests activities, such as kayaking, that are dependent upon ocean conditions being safe enough.  So we are careful and make sure not to bite off more than we can chew.

(By the way, Andrew Doughty has written similar guide books for the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.)

5 Farmers Markets

I always look forward to visiting the farmers markets.  We like to be adventurous and buy fruits we haven’t tried before – even the ones that look prickly and menacing.  Vendors are usually good about describing a fruit’s taste (sometimes samples are available) and advising us on the best way to enjoy it.

Farmers markets are also great places to get locally made art and gifts.  There are several nice farmers markets, but my personal favorite is the one in Hilo.  Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to visit.

And this time we discovered the Pure Kona Green Market, which takes place on Sundays in Captain Cook and features many local artists and live entertainment.

Til Next Time

Missile scares notwithstanding, we had a lot of fun on our recent visit to the Big Island.  We’ve since left the land of sunshine and pineapples behind and returned to our home of rain and pinecones.  And while there is a certain charm to the pinecones, we’re always looking forward to our next escape to the Big Island.

Posts on this website are for entertainment only.


What I read on the plane:

Prarie Fires:  The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.  I may have been headed to and from Hawaii, but I was completely immersed in the frozen prairies of the Dakotas in the 1800s.  Using the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder and others, Caroline Fraser fleshes out the harsh reality behind the softened stories told by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House books.

I read about half of the book during our plane rides.  Because of the hardships that the Ingalls family (and all farmers in the Dakotas at that time) had to endure, Prairie Fires was not always an easy read for me.  But I marvel at the strength and endurance of these early settlers.  Let’s just say I won’t be so quick to grumble the next time there is too much foam in my latte or my laptop is a little slow.


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