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.
A while back, I briefly mentioned my current plant crush: The air plant called Tillandsia usneoides (or live Spanish moss). I’d been admiring these plants for some time, and recently I broke down and bought a few.
They are very versatile. I even used one as the outer ring for my elevated tulips arrangement.
Spanish moss is the mystical-looking stuff that hangs from live oak in the South.
At my house, it just hangs from a tall vase and resembles a beautiful sorceress.
Every couple of weeks, I soak the plants in water for six to eight hours.
Sometimes I toss a couple of small drops of plant fertilizer into the water.
After their long bath, I hang them to dry.
Alternatively, I could mist the plants every 3 or 4 days.
This plant loves filtered sunlight and good air circulation. In my climate, it yearns for the outdoors in spring and summer.
So recently, I decided to give the sorceress what she wanted. I would release her into the wild.
Releasing My Air Plants Into the Wild
Of course it’s safety first for my beloved Spanish moss. So the sorceress went only as far as my front porch, but at least she’s outdoors.
She hangs from a potted corkscrew willow branch where soft breezes and morning sun can caress her. My thought is that this closely resembles what she would be doing in her natural habitat. And here, I can make sure she gets enough mist to (hopefully) stay happy and healthy.
Kidding aside, I’m hoping to see this plant grow and multiply this summer. With more of it, the decor possibilities are endless.
Will the birds try to use the Spanish moss for nesting material? We will find out. I’m whisking the sorceress indoors at the first sign of trouble.
But right now I think the lion likes her.
A Spring Garden Tour
These photos might have you thinking that I have some tiny modicum of control over the garden, but don’t be fooled. As always, chaos is winning.
So I have decided to just go with it. If something wants to form drifts and take over, maybe that actually means less work for me? I can kid myself anyway.
After all, it’s hard to get mad at the adorable sweet woodruff that has taken over my patio garden.
Or the poppies that are everywhere.
This time of year, everything is so fresh and green.
It’s amazing what a difference a couple of months can make. Here is our front birdbath now.
And now in the shade garden, where the snow had flattened the undergrowth, the tiki is being taken over by hardy geranium.
Over on the fence line, the bees are crazy about the blooming hebe.
I am a pushover for topiaries because they can help bring a little structure and order to the chaos. Recently I pruned this succulent (which spent the winter in the greenhouse) into an orderly shape.
The peonies I planted last year are still scrawny, but I did get a beautiful blossom from one of them.
This time of year, there is always plenty to do in the garden. You could probably tell that I still have a lot of work left. Gardening (or “taming the beast,” as I think of it) is the main reason that my blog posts are so few and far between in spring.
Thanks for visiting today and coming along on my spring garden tour. If you get a chance, check out my Summer Gear page – one of the new “rooms” in my updated Shop.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.
But the bargain hunter in me could not resist the $5 apiece metal baskets that I found at a local discount store. They even came with their own coconut liners. But they had a black vinyl coating, so the rust technique would not work on them. Black they would stay!
I took the coconut lining out of one basket – the basket that would serve as the “top half” of the sphere.
I left the lining in the other basket – the basket that would serve as the “bottom half.” (I did trim the lining down a bit as it seemed too large). This “bottom half” would contain soil and plants.
Then, just to help with water retention for the plants, I fitted the inside of the coconut lining with a layer of landscape fabric.
I covered the outside of the coconut lining with sheet moss.
I didn’t have one large piece of sheet moss to use, so I just layered a few of the sheet moss scraps that I had onhand.
Then I added potting soil and, because the sphere would be hanging in part shade, I planted it with New Guinea impatiens and baby tears.
Building the Sphere
So how would I fasten the two halves together? And preferably with something that I could easily reopen? I pondered this for some time before realizing that the chains on the baskets already had clips that would work perfectly.
I removed the chain from the “top half” basket. That chain would not be needed.
I kept the chain on the “bottom half” basket.
Then I just attached the “top half” to the “bottom half” with the fastening clips from that chain.
This photo explains it better than I can.
Voila! I had my sphere.
I’d lined up the two halves so that the wire patterns of each mirrored one another.
Now I have a strange and unique “globe” hanging on my front porch.
Every now and then, I take my readers over to visit my mom Erika’s beautiful garden. But today we’re headed inside her house to tour her charming sunroom.
It’s my favorite room in her house and the one I always gravitate toward. But it was not always like that.
In fact, it was not always a sunroom.
A Porch Conversion
When Mom first moved into her mid century rambler, the sunroom was actually just a covered porch.
Even though the porch was in dire need of a facelift (as was the rest of the house), it was a nice place to relax on a warm day. But it wasn’t living up to its full potential. Mom could almost hear the porch begging to be enclosed and converted to a sunroom that could be enjoyed year round.
So that is exactly what she did. She hired out some of the work, and she had some help from my brother Dan. But she did much of the work herself – including installing the ceramic tile floor.
A door in the media room gives us access the sunroom. Let’s go back in time to right after Mom got the house. This was the media room then – and the door to what was then the covered porch.
The media room was probably the ugliest room in the house – and if this photo isn’t proof that Mom is fearless, I don’t know what is. (Actually, at the time I think we were all pretty excited about the potential of Mom’s cosmetic fixer.)
The Tour Begins
Of course, Mom immediately made improvements to the media room. This is the entrance to the sunroom now.
The sunroom is long and narrow, so Mom divided it into three zones.
The Tea Room
Coming through the media room door, this is the first area we see.
A corner of windows gives it abundant natural light. When I visit Mom, especially on a rainy day, there is nothing I love more than to sip a cup of tea with her here.
For a rustic contrast, Mom kept the original pine ceiling.
If we turn toward the bank of windows, we have access to the outdoors.
And here I must mention that my brother Dan did the interior finish work on all the windows and doors.
He did a beautiful job of trimming them, and it was good practice for the stunning dining room conversion he undertook at his own house a few years later.
The Reading Area
If we turn from the tea room, we face a teak bench. It serves as a reading area, but more importantly it helps to separate the potting area behind it from the tea room.
The bench divides and defines the spaces, yet it is low enough to allow ample light and a spacious feel.
Plus, no matter who you are, it is a nice place to relax.
The Potting Area
The newest addition to Mom’s greenhouse is the bench that my father built years ago. In my childhood home, this bench sat in the entry hall.
Mom replaced the cushioned seat with a laminate, added a little paint, and now the bench is part of her potting area. It stores potting supplies, and the top can be used as a work surface.
And from the tea room, we don’t see the potting soil, empty pots, or hand trowels.
But this is where plants are overwintered and tubers are started in Spring.
A shelf in the corner holds decor and plants.
It is still bright enough in this corner for the plants to thrive.
Sun-loving plants are placed near the windows.
This concludes our little tour of Mom’s sunroom. I hope you enjoyed it.
Now it’s time for Mom to relax a bit with her loyal companion before starting her next project. But knowing Mom, she won’t be sitting for long.
Here are my previous posts about Mom’s home and garden:
Here in the Puget Sound region, we are just beginning to thaw out from the deepest February snow accumulation since 1916! All around the area, schools and businesses were closed. Kids rejoiced. But most adults had mixed feelings – because, with all our steep hills, getting around in the snow can be pretty darn tricky.
But this snow storm was nothing like the incredible cold that folks in the Midwest recently suffered through so, out of respect for those hardy souls, no sniveling words of self pity will appear in this post.
Even though I kind of knew that our little Sunglo greenhouse was designed to withstand heavy snow, I never realized how well it would actually shed snow.
Was it the curved roof line, the fact that we never let the interior temperature dip below 50 degrees, or a little of both? I don’t really know. But that greenhouse was the only thing in our garden that wasn’t covered in six to twelve inches of show.
It shrugged off the snow that fell on it.
Inside the greenhouse, things were cozy. The plants were happy.
Back when my brother was still a bachelor, I helped him get rid of a few things that were cluttering up his basement. One of those things was an old steel bed spring that had been left there by the former owner. Judging by its size, it was probably from a child’s bed.
I thought it would make a fun garden trellis if I painted it, so I took it home. I stashed it behind some bushes along our driveway fence – just temporarily, of course, until I had the time to paint it.
That was about 10 years ago.
Earlier this summer, when Chris rebuilt our driveway fence, he came across the bed spring – still sitting, unpainted, where I’d left it. The steel had rusted over the years, and the rust looked (to me, at least) more interesting than any type of paint.
Sometimes it pays to procrastinate.
Finding Inspiration by Accident
It was time for me to either do something with this piece or give it away. But I couldn’t think of where in the garden we could actually use it.
Where, oh where . . .
Chris propped it in front of our greenhouse just to get it out of the way.
Voila! It was almost the perfect width for that space. And its vintage industrial look worked well with the greenhouse.
Now it was officially no longer a bed spring. It was a trellis.
But we (and of course by “we,” I mean Chris) had to figure out a way to attach it to the greenhouse.
In summer, the greenhouse sits empty, having done its job in fall, winter, and spring. Container plants surround the greenhouse. This year, that included a few fun succulents – a couple of which had spent this past winter in the greenhouse.
In two rectangular pots alongside the greenhouse, I mixed zinnias and salvia with rainbow chard starts. This should be a nice transitional look from summer to fall.
In late fall, once the zinnias and salvias start to crash, I’ll remove them and let the Swiss chard really take off. At least that’s the plan.
Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not intended as tutorials. No greenhouses were harmed in the making of this post.
Back in June, for about twenty minutes, I thought my garden looked almost perfect. We’d cleaned the flower beds and mulched, and everything looked so fresh and orderly. But now, with the dog days of summer upon us, the garden is once again an out-of-control monster.
But that’s okay. There are birds and bees everywhere, and they are happier when I leave things alone.
Amid the chaos that is our garden, there were a few things that went right – things that I enjoyed this season. So I thought I would share them with you.
We’ll start with my most recent addition to the garden.
On a walk in the neighborhood, Chris and I came across this footed ceramic pot that someone had kicked to the curb.
It had a few chips, and I didn’t like the color or the heavy glaze. It was also top heavy and not very stable. Still it had possibilities.
Ignoring the advice of several family members to leave it be, I sanded the pot with 400-grit sandpaper. The sandpaper didn’t have much of an impact on the heavy glaze, but it did leave tiny striations.
Then, hoping to etch the glaze even more, I sprayed it with the home made rust accelerator (basically a DIY acid) that I used to make my DIY soup can planters. I’m not sure if this step actually did anything. (Note: When working with any acid, be sure to follow all recommended safety precautions.)
The paint adhered well to the pot – with no runs. Only time will tell if the paint actually holds up on glazed ceramic, but I will be bringing this pot indoors in winter to protect it.
I turned it upside down, placed a potted plant on it, and used it as a plant stand – which is what I had in mind for it all along.
(As an aside: Since this Rust-Oleum spray paint is made to use on plastics, I also tried it on a small resin pot. The result was not the same – too dark and shiny for my liking.)
The Front Porch
Earlier in summer, poppies and Spanish lavender were blooming near the front porch steps.
In the flowerbed on the opposite side of the steps, birds enjoy the new birdbath that I found at a statuary for only $30.
The birdbath was damaged: It originally had two clunky butterflies attached to it. But one was broken off. So once I got the birdbath home, Chris removed the remaining butterfly. No big loss since the butterfly looked more like a moth – or even a bat.
A couple of new decor items – a pillowcase that I’d purchased at a farmer’s market in Hawaii and an outdoor rug – give our front porch a bit of a tropical vibe.
This is my favorite place to sip coffee and feel guilty about not doing more yard work.
The Back Patio
My favorite place for sipping wine is our back patio. It’s cool and quiet here on summer evenings.
Sometimes it’s the little things that add personality to a garden.
For months, these sweet, tiny flowers have been blooming in our front walkway.
The little cuties have spilled into the lawn, where they are short enough to escape the lawnmower blade.
Not as long blooming but almost as cute, these little bellflowers like to surround this potted quince.
My garden chair has a new cushion this year: baby tears.
Meanwhile, lavender and lysimachia are working together to swallow this urn.
Lots of plants withered in the heat this summer, but my mandevilla, which I overwintered in our greenhouse, has been blooming like crazy for months.
Near the back door, plume poppies lean toward the sun. They must love their location, because they’ve been such a reliable perennial.
I grew zinnias from seeds and planted them in front of the plume poppies and the Bishop of Llandaff dahlias.
I got the zinnia seed packet last fall at a country vegetable stand, and the packet contained a fun variety of seeds.
A Little Progress
Since I began writing this post, I’ve trimmed a few hedges and dusted off some walkways. The garden is still chaos, but I’m feeling much better about it.
And it really didn’t take me that long. It was a good reminder to me that having the right tools makes all the difference.
The fence along our driveway has been on borrowed time for years. Whenever we had a windstorm, it would whip and shake. We would joke that the only thing holding it up was the bamboo growing on either side of it.
So this was going to be the summer that we (and of course by “we” I mean Chris) finally replaced it.
But I had mixed feelings. I loved the weathered look of the old fence. New wood just wouldn’t be the same.
Happily, Chris and the neighbor we share the fence with decided to take an Earth-friendly (and budget-friendly) approach by rebuilding it instead of replacing it. They only replaced the posts and runners that were rotted, but they re-used the old fence boards – at least those in good condition.
Usually DIY projects wind up being more difficult and time-consuming than expected, and this was one of those rare cases where the opposite happened. And the best part, as far as I’m concerned, is that the fence still has that rustic patina that I love.
Of course, to access the fence, some of the bamboo growing on the west end needed to be removed – a lot of it in fact.
And it looked so beautiful. Some of it was gorgeous black bamboo. I removed the branches and left the canes.
We gave some away and kept some.
I’d already been using our bamboo for plant stakes, especially the more interesting bent canes.
But what else could I do with all this bamboo?
I was a little obsessed with the black bamboo, although I’ve been told that most types fade after they dry – just like other bamboos.
But I wanted to use it anyway to make a little trellis for a jasmine vine growing in a 10-inch pot.
An Asian-Inspired Trellis
I cut two 38-inch canes that would serve as vertical stakes, and five canes at lengths of 18, 16, 14, 12, and 10 inches as the horizontal runners.
I used my sewing pattern cutting board to space the canes exactly as I wanted them, and then I marked them with a felt pen for assembly later.
Then I suspended the vertical canes between two chairs and used Super Glue to attach the horizontal canes. The Super Glue was not intended as a permanent adhesive – only as a way to hold the canes in place until I could tie them together.
Tying them together, as I learned, is called lashing. I found this helpful video and, after practicing a little, this method of lashing became etched into my muscle memory.
I’m sure the caning material was not nearly as easy to work with as lashing cord would have been. But I think it gave the trellis a fun look.
It will be interesting to see how long the black bamboo actually stays black.
A Dahlia Fence
Now that I knew how to tie lashing, there was no stopping me. But for my next project, I would keep it simple and use plain old jute twine.
Last fall, I planted some dahlia tubers that my neighbor gave me. I didn’t expect the plants to do much in their first year, but they have exploded. By the time I realized they were getting out of hand, it was too late to stake or cage them without doing more harm than good.
So I decided to make a little bamboo fence to hold them back from the walkway.
I built the fence in place. I pounded three 36-inch canes into the soil, spacing them about 23 inches apart.
Then I used garden tape to suspend the horizontal canes from the vertical canes on either side while I tied them. I made sure everything was level and evenly spaced.
A half hour later, voila!
I have plenty of bamboo left, so I’m looking for ideas. If you have a good bamboo project, leave a comment and tell me about it.
My mom, Erika, has always been able to look at something and see possibilities. One example is the elegant portico that she designed. It completely transformed the look of her mid-century rambler.
So maybe it’s not surprising that she was able to look at a patch of dead lawn and a few scraggly juniper bushes and see what no one else could: A lush secret garden.
It’s taken me so long to write about Mom’s backyard transformation because we’d been hoping to find the “before” photos. Sadly, we haven’t had any luck with that. I wish I could show you just how desolate this area was. And it looked tiny. Not only that, it looked like it belonged to the house next door.
But there is a surviving “before” photo of the side yard. In the middle of the photo, you can see the juniper hedge and the dried grass.
The most interesting feature here is probably the fire hydrant.
Let’s take a look at the major challenges Mom faced with her back yard:
The back yard consisted mostly of a neglected lawn and some ugly juniper shrubs with weeds growing between their branches. It was not a place where anyone would want to spend time.
2. Shallow depth
The back yard is long but very shallow. It measures about 22 feet from the house to the property line.
3. Lack of privacy
There was no privacy and no visual separation between her garden and the neighbor’s.
4. Poor soil
The sandy soil dried out quickly.
Mom wanted to turn this shallow chunk of land into an outdoor area that would be an extension of her home – somewhere to entertain and to relax. It needed to be private, beautiful, and interesting.
Some serious hardscaping needed to happen. She wanted:
1. A fence between her yard and the neighbor’s;
2. In front of that fence, planting beds with new, rich soil;
3. A curved stone retaining wall to contain the planting beds;
4. A cobblestone patio between the retaining wall and the house;
5. Gravel pathways on either end of the cobblestone patio; and
6. Interesting garden structures to mark the end curve of each pathway.
Quite an ambitious plan. Some people may have consulted with a garden designer or drawn up formal plans before taking on a project like this. But Mom knew that if she could just find the right landscaper, she could simply collaborate with him or her.
She interviewed several landscapers. Some of them didn’t seem to be listening, and others wanted to change her plan. But she finally found one that “got it.”
A Secret Garden Evolves
One of the earliest “after” photos, a snow scene, shows the low retaining wall and the still-tiny new plants. I remember what struck me when I saw the new landscaping was how much deeper the back yard looked.
I had assumed that a fence between Mom’s garden and the neighbor’s would make her back yard look even smaller, but the fence actually had the opposite impact.
Still, the new fence was a visual distraction, so Mom had an idea.
Treating the fence with a dark stain made it recede into the background. And, after the plants matured a bit, the dark fence would work as a quiet, neutral backdrop for them.
After the hardscaping was done, Mom took her time finding the right garden structures to place off the gravel pathways.
At the end of one pathway, she installed a charming gazebo.
And off the opposite path, a three-tiered fountain.
I always look forward to the warm season and relaxing on Mom’s back patio.
When Mom moved into the house, her dining room had a window facing the back yard. She has since replaced it with a French door so there is a wonderful, easy flow from her dining room to the back patio.
It’s a great place to soak up the sun.
The stone retaining wall looks timeless.
The most recent addition to her back yard landscaping is this little path.
Which has already softened to look like this.
She used a fun mix of materials, including broken concrete, for the retaining wall.
Now in Mom’s back yard, eye candy is everywhere.
There is so much more to see here, and these photos don’t really do her garden justice. Still, I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of Mom’s back yard. She is a gracious host, and we’ll be visiting here again.
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.
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.
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.
Even in fall, it looked interesting.
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.
Soon it will go back to its place on the front porch. It will be interesting to see how it grows this year.
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.
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 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.
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.
Fuschia plants are easy to overwinter – even in a garage window. Last season this plant graced my shade garden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I will be sharing more of our garden as the season progresses.
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.
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.