It seems that we have all suddenly stumbled into uncharted territory. I hope that you and your family are safe and healthy. My community has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 virus, and my hat is off to local authorities for the thoughtful way that they are handling the situation.
One thing I keep hearing, and that I have chosen to believe, is that fresh air and sunshine have disinfectant qualities.
So since we have been mandated to stay home anyway, I’ve been getting a jump start on spring garden clean-up.
Of course what we should not do right now is travel. We had travel plans that had to be cancelled.
So this post combines what we can do right now (garden) with what we can’t do right now (travel) to bring you . . .
Design Inspiration From A Tropical Garden
On our most recent visit to the island of Hawaii, we toured the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. This world-class botanical garden was the brainchild of Dan Lutkenhouse, and it is the result of years of planning and hard physical labor by Lutkenhouse and his team.
Touring the trails of this garden, it seems there is a surprise around every corner.
There is also inspiration. It struck me that the things that make a good tropical garden so interesting are the very things that make almost any garden interesting.
Structure can be found in the most unexpected places, like root systems.
Or unique trunks.
Vertical gardens are trending with us humans, but Mother Nature still does it best.
Although, here, Mother Nature probably does have a little help from the garden caretakers.
One of the most dramatic elements in any garden design is scale. In a tropical garden, it’s easy to feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland.
Sometimes, to get a real sense of scale, you have to look up.
Undergrowth brings contrast to a scene and provides the eye with a reference point for scale.
Pattern can bring a sense of order to a garden. Here, natural patterns are everywhere – especially on leaves.
In contrast to scale, it’s always nice to have interesting details for the eye to zoom in on – like points of color and unique specimen plants.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our mini tour of this fabulous garden. Photos don’t do it justice.
Sadly, it’s time to go . . .
Back to Reality
Please stay safe, dear reader. And remember that, even at times like this, there are silver linings if we look for them.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
No special skills are required to make these cute and natural-looking moss pouches. And the fun thing about this project is that it is not an exact science. If something ends up crooked or a little lopsided, it just adds to the natural look.
But if someone is looking for perfection, this may not be the right project. When the plant is watered, the bottom of the moss pouch gets soggy – and a bit of the soil residue can even leach out. For that reason, these moss pouches should be kept on a saucer.
I started with a 12 X 7 piece of sheet moss (specifically, Instant Green Supermoss) and a similarly sized piece of light-duty landscape fabric.
I removed the paper backing from the sheet moss to expose the grid.
And I placed the landscape fabric over the grid where the paper backing had been.
Then I folded the moss and fabric in half so that the moss was on the inside and the landscape fabric was on the outside. Then I pinned the sides together.
On the bottom part, where the fold was, I cut each corner at a 45-degree angle.
Then it was time to stitch. This project was messy, with little bits of moss coming off of the sheet. So there was no way I was going to put this into my lovely little sewing machine. I would stitch it by hand.
Because the grid that the moss is adhered to is somewhat loosely spaced, there wasn’t much for a thread to hold on to. So I needed to use a fairly thick thread. I used embroidery floss (in a mossy color) and a large needle.
And I found out the hard way that, for the stitches to hold, I would need to tie big, secure knots at the beginning and end of every run of stitches. I double- and triple-knotted everything.
With this in mind, I simply stitched up the right and left sides of the pouch and left the top un-stitched.
At this point, it looked a little like a pocket.
Now it was time to turn it right-side-out. Because the moss tended to shed from the sheet when disturbed, this had to be done very carefully.
Now I had a moss pouch with a landscape fabric inner lining. It was not yet ready to stand on its own, but I had a solution.
I folded the top of the pouch (approximately an inch of it) inwards all around the opening.
And then I stitched four evenly-spaced pleats into the top.
This was to make sure the top would stay folded inward, and it would make the pouch more likely to stand on its own. It also gave the pouch a cute little inward curve at the top – while still providing room to place the plant and soil inside.
I coaxed and manipulated the bottom of the pouch a bit, and it was almost standing on its own – but not quite.
So I tried the simplest thing I could think of: I placed a generous handful of decorative pebbles inside. This weighted the bottom of the pouch enough to solve the problem.
At this point, with the added pre-moistened soil, the pouch was fairly stout and heavy – and it was standing on its own very well. Still, I probably wouldn’t trust having it around rambunctious kids or pets. Nor would I plant it with a large, top-heavy plant.
Now, it’s worth mentioning again this these moss pouches are not watertight. When the plant is watered, the bottom leaks, so I placed them on a saucer.
I’d made several attempts at these pouches before I came up with this simple design. So I put my earlier prototypes to good use.
I used one of them as a vase wrap: I placed a little spike frog inside a baby food jar, added water, and placed it inside the moss pouch. Then I added tiny cut daffodils and some twigs.
And this all went into a cute little cage I’d found recently at a thrift store.
I love how unstructured and natural these moss pouches look. It’s fun to combine them with a few home decor pieces for an interesting mix of nature and refinement.
They will be nice for St. Patrick’s Day and then they’ll make an easy transition into Easter decor.
They would also be cute as gifts or to use in the garden.
With the right plants and decor, I could see these moss pouches looking good in just about any season.
But how long will they hold up and actually look good? That I don’t know yet, but we will see. One reader suggests misting the sheet moss daily to keep it green. That makes sense and is certainly worth a try!
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
I just secured the strand of lights with as many twist ties as was necessary, wrapping the strand around the outer circumference of the sphere several times and spacing the lights as evenly as I could.
I hung the sphere from a hook on the porch and voila – we now have a fun and budget-friendly addition to our outdoor Christmas lights.
And it’s large enough to lend a chandelier-like elegance to the front porch.
Of course, this sphere would look good even without the allium in the middle. But since I had it, I thought it was a fun addition.
I love greenhouses and conservatories because they have the power to transport us into a another world: A world with its own unique climate – one designed to give the plants living there everything that they need to thrive.
But what happens when someone takes this concept even farther? When a giant corporation with progressive ideas collaborates with some of the most innovative architects and botanists out there?
The Amazon Spheres
One beautiful summer day, I stumbled upon The Spheres by accident. I was rushing to an appointment.
I’d seen photos of The Spheres, but I didn’t realize I’d be passing them on my route. I’d sort of written them off as another one of those poorly conceived pipe dreams that blight our urban landscape.
But in real life, they looked amazing – fragile, elegant, and unique. It was love at first sight.
I caught glimpses of the plant life inside.
Then from the security desk, which was as far as I was allowed to go, I saw part of the massive vertical garden. I wanted in!
But for me to get inside, I would have to get tickets in advance and come back on a designated Saturday. And I already knew who I would invite: Someone who enjoys gardens and futuristic stuff – my mom, Erika.
Reconnecting with Nature
The Spheres were designed as a place for employees at Amazon’s Seattle Headquarters to go to reconnect with nature and do a little creative thinking. Quite the job perk!
But on this Saturday, The Spheres were open to those members of the public who had booked a timed ticket in advance. Mom and I were among them.
Once past the security desk, we were greeted by the 60-foot living wall.
We’d already learned that The Spheres are home to 40,000 plants, most native to high-elevation cloud forests. And after seeing that living wall, I believed it!
The Spheres’ structure seemed much bigger from the inside. Aside from the living wall, we really hadn’t known what to expect. There was a jungle here!
With a massive indoor water feature,
Huge tree ferns,
And Rubi, the largest tree in The Spheres. A docent told us she was transported from California via flatbed truck.
Various species of flora are tucked into her trunk.
Lights wind through her upper branches.
Nature and Structure
Modern architecture usually strikes me as cold and impersonal. Not so with The Spheres. The curved glass structure (2,636 panes of glass!) lends a quiet, airy backdrop to the natural elements inside – while reminding us that we truly are in an urban jungle set in the heart of a major city.
A huge “nest,” one of many creative seating areas for employees, seems to hang in mid-air, reachable only by a springy wooden bridge that mimics a canopy walk.
The Right Atmosphere
As with any good conservatory, the comfort of the plants comes first at The Spheres.
The temperature is carefully controlled. With all the natural light filtering through all of those panes of glass, I was surprised to see additional lighting. There were also strategically placed fans and misters. Often, we were walking through mist.
With any garden tour, I look for inspiration that I can use at home. There was plenty here, even if it was on a grand scale.
Mom had recently started a vertical garden in her sunroom. She is using mostly ferns so, as she often is, she is right on trend with the giant living wall – although visiting here has probably given her a few new fern varieties to look for.
As for me, my plant crush continues to be my live Spanish moss. For the time being, they are still happy on my front porch. But when I bring them indoors for the winter, I might be looking to set up some scaled-back version of this idea.
I could go on and on about what we saw at The Spheres, but instead I will leave you with this little slide show (which is just a tiny fraction of what we saw on our visit) in hopes that you might find some inspiration of your own.
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Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
Few things warm my heart more than seeing a child take an interest in nature and the outdoors. It’s good for the child, and it’s good for our planet. So I really appreciated this guest post, sent to me by a summer guest writer, with some suggestions for keeping kids safe in the garden.
The following is a contributed post. For more information on my contributed posts, click here.
The garden can be a great place to spend time together as a family, but there are also inherent dangers to your children when they’re playing outdoors. There are some easy ways to keep your garden safe for even the littlest members of the family.
1. Safe Plants
Find plant nursery locations near you where you can go and speak to an expert about safe plants. Children are tempted to put just about everything into their mouths, so it’s important that anything you plant is safe to be consumed, even if it isn’t strictly intended to be eaten. This is a great choice if you have pets at home too.
2. Fences and Gates
Keep fence panels in good repair. If the fence is falling down, and the gate is always left open, it’s all too easy for a small child to slip out unnoticed. Keep the fence up and add a tall gate with a catch that is either out of reach or too hard for a child to open by themselves. This will keep them in the garden where they’re supposed to be!
3. Water Safety
A child can drown in even a tiny amount of water, so make sure that there’s nowhere they could fall into the water. If you have a water butt, keep a lid on it and weigh the lid down with something heavy. If you have a pond, consider filling it in. If you don’t want to fill it in, cover it with some tight mesh. The kids can still watch the fish, but won’t be able to topple in. During the hot weather, never let a child play in a paddling pool unattended, and be sure to empty it as soon as you’re finished using it, so there’s no risk of accidents.
4. Discourage Pests
Discourage pests from visiting your garden by picking up any fallen fruit that may attract wasps. Immediately remove any wasps’ nest that start to form. Add a wasp trap to get rid of these nasties. Don’t leave toys outside overnight so they don’t get crawled over by slugs.
5. A Clean Sandbox
Cats using your garden as a bathroom can be a real issue if you have kids. If your kids have a sandbox, be sure to secure the lid carefully at night so there’s no way for a cat to get in and use it as a giant litter box. Rubber snakes left on the lawn can also discourage cats from coming into your garden.
6. Safe Practices with Garden Tools and Chemicals
Be careful with where you store any gardening tools or chemicals. Whether they go in the garage or in the shed, make sure they are locked away in a space that the kids don’t have access to. When gardening, allow the kids to help you, and use the time to teach them about the dangerous things you use and why they shouldn’t touch them when you’re not there. Don’t let your children handle any of the chemicals you might be using.
7. Providing Shade
Children are more sun sensitive than adults, so add some shaded areas for them to enjoy playing outside out of the direct sunlight. A tree, a playhouse or a patio umbrella are easy ways to add some shade.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.
The sphere was hanging at eye level on my front porch. One day, after it had been hanging there a couple of weeks, I went to see see if it needed watering. Since I’m too lazy to use a moisture meter, I put my hand into the sphere to feel the soil and see if it was dry.
Suddenly a little bird burst out of the sphere and screeched at me. She was very upset, so I backed away. Later I checked and, sure enough, there was a tiny nest in there.
Imagine this poor mama bird’s surprise when a giant hand came down and almost destroyed her nest!
The smaller leaves around the nest are from baby tears. Baby tear leaves are only about a quarter inch long at best, so you can imagine how tiny these eggs were.
We have several feeders and bird baths in our garden, so maybe this bird saw that as an invitation to build a nest here.
This mama bird had a devoted mate, and after getting a few more looks at them we figured out that they were dark-eyed juncos.
Juncos usually place their nests on or near the ground – or sometimes in hanging baskets. The sphere was a prime location: Its wire cover made it safe from predators. Under cover of the porch, it was also protected from weather.
After discovering the nest, I only watered the sphere when both parents were away, which wasn’t often. And I didn’t water near the nest.
Needless to say, the sphere did not get much water.
Soon the eggs hatched. Both parents scurried to feed the hatchlings. It was pretty adorable how devoted these junco parents were to each other and to their babies.
They ran a tight ship. They kept the nest clean by carrying away the cracked egg shells and baby bird poop.
The parents yelled at us (in the form of a “tick! tick!”) whenever we neared the front porch.
I didn’t want to sacrifice their sense of security by hovering or taking lots of photos. We stayed away for the most part, and any viewing of the sphere happened from afar.
Finally the big day came: The babies left the nest. I guess I was expecting a little more fanfare, but it happened so quickly and quietly that we didn’t even notice.
I was thrilled that they made it – and thrilled to have our front porch back. Now we could finally sip coffee on the swing rocker again!
Or so I thought.
Just a few days after the babies had left, I watered the sphere and stopped to marvel at what I thought was the empty nest.
But then I noticed something was wrong. The bottom of the nest was missing and I could see the soil underneath.
Were the parents removing the nest?
But wait, were there two nests in there? Yep, what I was looking at was actually a new nestunder construction – directly across from the old nest.
So much for using the swing rocker.
Juncos hide their nests well. You have to look pretty hard to spot them in the photo below.
Chris talked to a bird expert who told him that it could be the same mating pair who built the first nest, or it could be a different pair.
My money is on it being the same pair.
The expert also said that we were doing the right thing by trying to keep the sphere watered since the plants provided protection for the birds. We just had to be careful.
The nest took shape quickly. It was built right into the soil.
Soon four tiny eggs appeared. The devoted dad was usually close by while mama sat on the nest.
The eggs hatched, and mom and dad once again scurried to find food.
And, once again, we got yelled at whenever we neared the front porch.
Then one day I was working in the driveway and I heard that all-too-familiar “tick tick” sound of a worried parent junco. That’s when I saw an immature bird hopping around in the shrubs a few feet away.
Yes! The babies were coming out of the nest. Soon we could use our porch again.
It still feels strange and a bit disappointing to just waltz out to our front porch without getting yelled at by juncos. And it’s funny how a location that was so important to them a mere week ago now sits abandoned. The first nest has already been covered over by the baby tears.
Things did not go quite as I’d planned for my garden sphere, and it is probably a little worse for being neglected this summer. But I love that it was the safe and cozy home for eight new birds.
Next year I might try planting a fern in the sphere.
In my previous post, I shared my makeover of a dark shade garden. That makeover included a DIY garden mirror that I hung on the back fence to bring in and reflect light.
Ideally a garden mirror, one that will stay out all summer, or possibly all year, should be shatterproof and weatherproof. Now I’m not sure if the mirror I came up with really hits those marks, but I do know that it is shatter-resistant. As for the rest, time will tell.
The project started with . . .
I scoured thrift shops to find a frame made of plastic, resin, or some other weather-resistant material.
I found these frames on sale at a local thrift shop and paid about $7 for the pair. They had cheap, ugly “art” in them, which I removed. I was only interested in the frames.
I bought two frames because I had a gut feeling that I should do a small test mirror first to avoid making mistakes on the “real” mirror.
Turned out I was so right about that – mistakes were made! Very silly ones at that.
We will come back to the test mirror later, but for now we’ll talk about my experience with the larger frame – the one I worked on after I had learned from my mistakes.
The large frame would hold a 18″ X 24″ piece of art – or, for my needs, a clear acrylic sheet. I found one the right size at my local hardware store.
The acrylic sheet is lightweight, shatter-resistant, and non-yellowing.
Making an “Antique Mirror”
Step one of making an outdoor “antique mirror” is very, very important: Put a piece of blue painter’s tape on one side of the acrylic sheet.
The blue tape marks the front side – the side that should not be painted. Otherwise, things can get very confusing later in the project – especially if you’re me and you manage to find a way to lose track of which side of the sheet you were actually painting. Since it’s a clear sheet, once you lose track it’s almost impossible to tell.
So anyway, blue tape.
With the front “blue tape” side of the mirror facing down, I spray painted the back side with Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect. I chose it because I read that it gives glass the look of an antique mirror.
This paint has a heavy fume smell so, after a while, I decided to use a painter’s mask. Some of the other paints and products I mention below are pretty intense too so, if you use them, be sure to read and follow the cautions on the labels. I also tried to keep my painting project far away from things like bird feeders and bee activity.
(Please excuse my old-sheet-turned-dropcloth here which, as you can see, I have been using for years. It’s starting to look like abstract art itself.)
It took quite a few coats of paint to actually cover the acrylic sheet. And the paint looked a bit alarming when it was in the process of drying.
But I wasn’t going for perfection here. I wanted it to be a bit imperfect and patinated so it would look like an antique mirror.
After about five coats, I could still vaguely see through the “mirror” when I held it up to fence where it would hang. It needed a backing of some sort to make the “mirror” opaque. So, after the mirror paint dried, I sprayed black paint right over the mirror paint.
Yes, I sprayed it on the same side of the acrylic sheet where I had sprayed the mirror paint. This step was a bit counter-intuitive, and my paint-fume-soaked brain had a hard time grasping the concept.
I used RustOleum Engine Enamel, in gloss black, from my husband’s stash of spray paint only because I had it on hand and, since it’s intended to be used on engine parts, it seemed like it would be a durable paint.
Could I instead have used some sort of black weatherproof backing and just placed it in the frame behind the acrylic sheet? That might have worked too. Or it might not have if, at some point, water found its way between the “mirror” and the backing and caused some sort of problem. Since it’s an outdoor mirror, this could happen.
And this way just seemed like less work.
I let the “mirror” dry thoroughly.
The Garden Mirror – Or Not
I wasn’t sure how I would secure the “mirror” to the frame, but it turned out that I didn’t need to worry. That piece of acrylic fits so snugly into the frame that it isn’t going anywhere.
If anything, it’s so snug that there is a slight bow in the acrylic sheet that, if it were any more pronounced, would give it a “funhouse mirror” look.
One reason I liked the frame that I found for the mirror was that it looked like black bamboo. So I hadn’t intended to paint it.
But when I hung the mirror, I was underwhelmed.
The frame looked boring and dated.
Back down it went – back to my much-used spray paint drop cloth.
Painting the Frame
It would have been really hard to get the acrylic sheet out of the frame again, so I just masked it with newspaper so I could spray paint the frame.
I used the sports section since I never read it.
I really should look through my husband’s paint stash more often. This time I found another product intended for engine parts called Dupli-Color Adhesion Promoter. I used it on the frame to make sure the spray paint would adhere properly to the plastic frame. (Time will tell if this step actually helped.)
Classic gold frames never go out of style. And I love the contrast of the rustic fence against the polished gold.
As for the mirror itself, it is not super-clear. In fact, it is a bit hazy. Everything reflected in it has a sort of “dreamlike” look.
But I love how it brings light, interest, and even motion to a dark area of the garden.
This mirror does reflect a lot of light, so I would not want to use it in an area that gets direct sun.
Will it really hold up outside? Time will tell. But will a flying rock or errant softball break the “glass?” Probably not.
The Test Mirror – And What Went Wrong
This is how the test mirror turned out. It is the result of my doing everything wrong.
What I think happened here is that I lost track of which side I had painted with the mirror paint. And then, instead of painting the black paint on top of the mirror paint, I painted it on the reverse side of the “glass.”
To secure the mirror to the frame, I used a strong glue. The glue seeped out along the sides and, when I wiped it away, some of the mirror paint actually came off with it, leaving black paint exposed.
I had experimented a bit by using a paper doily as a stencil, and the look is fun.
But as you can see, the actual mirror part is very murky. That’s because the mirror paint is sitting on top of the acrylic sheet instead of behind it.
For the right look, it’s always best to paint on the back side of the sheet.
Now I’m intrigued about the endless possibilities of DIY antique mirror projects. I want to do a little experimenting using more stencils and finding new ways to create a patinated look. I might even use real glass next time.
Where’s my blue tape?
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
Of course I was hesitant to remove blooming perennials. After all, I told myself, this is a cottage garden which by definition is not expected to be perfect. But that reasoning is why the area had become so chaotic in the first place.
So, with my heart in my throat, I removed violets, poppies, feverfew, and even a few foxgloves – for now. I’m sure they will creep back next year, but hopefully with a little less enthusiasm.
The poor, neglected rhododendron needed pruning. So I did what I usually do with shrubs its size: I limbed it up.
Limbing up gives the plant a little more air circulation – and also a tidier look.
I added a layer of mulch to the soil, and the cleanup was done.
And now the fun could start.
Adding Light and Color
I wanted to add a little light and color to this dark area, but I didn’t want to add any self-seeding or spreading perennials. So I decided, for the most part, to stick with annuals since they die away in late-fall.
I planted a drift of trailing lobelias in front of the potted hosta ( which is actually two different hostas in one pot).
I’ve never planted lobelias in the shade before, so we will see how they do.
I brought in a footed urn that I had on hand and planted it with a sweet little Himalayan maidenhair fern.
I chose this particular type of maidenhair fern because in time it will grow enough to drape over the edge of the pot (as opposed to growing upward), and hopefully it will look amazing.
I rescued a few white impatiens from the discount rack of a local store and planted them around the urn.
I had moved a heuchera in from another area, but it was drooping and too sparse, so I bought a fresh citronelle heuchera to group with baby tears and a fuchsia (yet to bloom).
Adding Something Unexpected
Gardens are always more interesting when there is a little human touch to contrast nature. And I needed something to lighten up the super-dark area at the very back, near the fence line – something to define the boundary of the space.
So I came up with this DIY shatter-resistant garden mirror.
The faux “antique glass” softens the reflection and gives it a dreamlike look. When there is a breeze, it’s fun to see the movement of the plants reflected in the mirror.
I still think this area could use something large-scale, so my only regret is that the mirror is not larger – a lot larger.
Even so, it is a fun addition, and it brings in some light.
I feel like I could do more with this area, but for now I’m going to give the new plants time to settle in and then see what happens.
Garden Mirror How-To Post Coming Soon
The DIY shatterproof garden mirror, with its “antique glass,” was the result of a fair amount of trial and error on my part – and a few happy accidents. I’ll be telling you all about that in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.
Most gardeners will tell you that there is always some small part of their garden that gets neglected. It’s usually a tangle of shrubs so seemingly overwhelming that they don’t even know where to begin. And so they ignore it – maybe work on other areas of the garden – anything to avoid having to tackle it. I certainly can relate!
Recently my mom, Erika, tackled and conquered an overgrown corner in her own garden. And it looks so much better now that I thought this would be a great time to head over to her garden for our annual field trip.
We’ve been to Mom’s home and garden several times before and, in case you missed any of our previous field trips, check out these posts:
I wish I had a before photo to show you of the area that Mom conquered. Tucked away in a corner, it was a dense thicket of shrubs under a tall pine tree. Decades of falling needles had accumulated in this thicket to create a huge mound of debris.
In this photo, taken after Mom had cleared most of the debris, you can still see what was left of the mound. (Please excuse the poor quality of these photos which were taken with my cellphone.)
She pruned some shrubs from the thicket and removed others.
Now Mom needed to bring structure to the corner.
She terraced the soil and added a short retaining wall and walkway, repurposing stones and pavers that she already had onhand.
She brought in pieces of garden art, including an old chimenea that she had painted red and placed backwards to look like a large urn. The paint was already starting to chip and, as you’ll see in the later photos, the chipping continued. But it actually gives the urn a fun look.