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Friday, December 30, 2011

Dave's 2011 Garden Project Review

This post is a post I've been dreading.  Mainly because this year has been tough, probably the toughest I've ever had to live through.  My garden projects fell by the wayside.  My projects and ambitions just didn't matter when compared to the situations that the course of life brought us through.  But we're getting through things, day by day.  I don't mean to end the year with a downer post but really I don't think I can write this post any differently. Dad's death took a lot of wind out of my sails and effected my projects and even this garden blog.  Suddenly things that were important to me didn't feel that important.  Stuff was set aside and I even stopped visiting many of the bloggers who I read regularly.  Reading fun and interesting articles about my favorite subject (gardening) suddenly wasn't so fun and interesting and even writing about my gardening experiences became difficult. (To any garden bloggers who may read this post please accept my apology for not visiting recently.)  One of my goals for 2012 is to regain my enthusiasm for garden projects, garden blogging, and all things garden again.  That enthusiasm isn't gone, but it has been dormant since July.  I suppose in a way I've trudged through things with a mindset similar to that of a writer with writers block.  The writer just has to plow his way through it.  He has to write and write and write until the ideas flow again.  That's what I must do in 2012, garden and garden and garden.

Now that I have mentioned the challenges of 2011 I can review my garden project progress --- which wasn't good...

I always end up biting off more than I can chew - metaphorically speaking of course.  To a certain extent it's intentional, so that I stay motivated and end up getting a lot done even though I know I can't do it all.  But the 2011 project list was way out of reach for me under the circumstances.

1) Build the vegetable garden fence!

This has been on my list for two years without much progress. Alright, without any progress! The deer have invaded my vegetable garden multiple times which means there needs to be a way to prevent future incursions tied in with whatever fence build.

My 2011 Project list began with the vegetable garden fence I've been hoping to build for several years now.  Did you read the post I wrote about the fence?  Me neither, I never wrote it!  That fence is still on the list but hasn't progressed beyond the planning stage. 

2) Finish the new garden beds.

I have three areas in our front yard that need mulching and filling in with plants. One area is around our Yoshino Cherry tree and is filled in with a bunch of plants already including irises, coneflower, dwarf crape myrtles,  daisies, and a few other plants. Another area is halfway mulched but I stopped when I discovered a nest of ground wasps. I need to figure out how to get rid of them! The third area is a garden on a slope that will be filled with Russian sage, catmint, salvia and several other favorites that are easy to propagate!

Here's one project that actually was tackled.  Although technically a garden is never "finished".  Currently those gardens are filled with plants and mulch which will allow me to claim completeness for the project!

3) Make more stepping stones for our side walkway area.

I made a few last year and I need enough to connect the area around the arbor to the backyard.

Those stepping stones aren't done yet.  One of these days...

4) Repair a couple raised beds.

My beds are made with untreated lumber and after 3 years in the weather a couple of them are falling apart. My plan is to move four 2'x4' raised beds and place them together in the location of the 4'x8' raised bed that is falling apart.

This project is kind of done and kind of not.  I moved the raised beds around and accomplished my plan but as usual my plans change!  The parterre design plan I want to gradually change the garden into is partially in progress and a necessary part of it was the removal of a few beds.  By the end of the 2011 garden season many of those beds were in such bad condition that I simply removed them entirely.

5) Build a central circle raised bed in the vegetable garden.

The four beds I'm planning on moving for the previous project will leave a gaping hole in the center of the garden. I have about 17 concrete retaining wall blocks laying around that should make a great central circle.

Here's another project I can claim completion on! The circular raised bed grew lettuce and pole beans this year.

6) Gradually adjust the vegetable garden into a parterre vegetable garden.

Parterre layouts are very cool and are both decorative and functional. In the process I'll eliminate any grass pathways in the garden and replace them with mulch - no mowing in the vegetable garden!

I mentioned this a couple projects ago in this post.  The northwestern corner is partially transformed but it looks much more like the picture in this post called Vegetable Garden Layout Parterre Style.  Although after looking at that photo I realized that I changed things again.  As the head gardener here I reserve the right to edit my garden as I wish!

7) Build another arbor.

I've collected all the materials for a nice arbor to be build near the garden shed. It will be wide enough for the riding mower to easily run under and will get covered with a Sweet Autumn Clematis that will be relocated from my deck - those things need places to roam!

I really couldn't wait to get this project done.  But I did, so I guess I could!  It's on the list for 2012.  It looks like that 2012 list will be a doozy.  

8) Fix the deck.

I'm not sure what I can do here yet but one rail on our deck has warped to the point where the whole rail needs replaced. Hopefully I can enhance the deck in some way during the repair process.
 I can rig a simple fix but wouldn't a new deck be better?  Just musing here...

9) Build the garden bridge!

I'm really wanting to get my reclaimed deck lumber used for this project and soon. A nice oriental style garden bridge is just what my garden needs - well not really "needs" but the garden does want it...
No bridge to nowhere, not yet anyway!  

10) Finish the patio walkway to the driveway.

I built the patio two years ago expecting to add the walkway last year but that got away from me. This year for sure!
Well I have a stack of paving stones sitting out back.  Too bad they won't hop into place on their own.  If they would I could claim another one down, but alas animated paving stones haven't been invented yet.

11) Finish the garden shed.

I'd like to paint the inside a nice reflective light color to increase the light. I'd also like to enclose the roof rafters in some way to improve the heat retention.

The garden shed is still needing attention.  Painting, work on the reclaimed windows, laying more floor, you name it.  It's very much still in progress but I just haven't been able to get to it.  I actually have more paving stones ready to go in, I just need the time and motivation to get it done!

As you can see my ambitious project list fell woefully short of completion.  Perhaps 2012 will be a much kinder year to our family and more of these projects can be completed.  We'll see though.  One thing I know for certain, that nothing is for certain!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I would like to wish you and your family a safe and very merry Christmas season!

Nandina berries (top left), eastern red cedar under snow(middle left), blue garden shed (bottom left), happy little bluebird in snow (middle bottom), daffodil coming up in a March snow (bottom right), Our Snow covered house (top right).

Coming up after Christmas: 2011 Project Review and 2012 Garden Project Lists!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Pretty Seedy Garden

'Autumn Joy' Sedum seed heads persist through winter.
This time of year the flowers are mostly faded and few things have retained enough foliage to be markedly interesting.  But those faded flowers have left something behind - seeds!  Seeds can do a few of very cool things:
  1. They sustain the plant species for the coming year as new plants are born from the seeds of the previous year.
  2. They provide nourishment for all kinds of birds and animals over the long winter season.  (Thankfully here in Tennessee winters are not terribly long.
  3. They provide the gardener something fun and interesting to look at when all else fails!
It's because of those three reasons that I leave the seed heads alone at the end of the fall, but of those reasons the second one is my favorite.  As you can see the coneflowers are a favorite of the finches, titmice, and chickadees.  Coneflower seed heads have spiky seeds that have a very "sharp" winter interest look

Crape myrtles produce some neat little seed pods.  These lavender purple crape myrtles produced a bounty of seeds this year.  Maybe I'll be gifted with a few free crape myrtles next year!

Garlic chives look great even after their flowers have faded.  A few seeds are still lingering on the stalks but it's the leftover flower petals that make the show here.  

Oak leaf hydrangea seeds provide winter interest to the corner shade garden.   

These small rudbeckia seeds are sure to produce beautiful yellow flowers next summer.  I can't wait for that!

The berries (which contain the seeds) of this pyracantha produce some valuable nourishment for the birds and provide us with some orange color through the winter. 

  What is your favorite winter seed plant?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

No Lexus for This Gardener

I'm sure you've seen the commercial. The one where a couple is in an elevator, then elevator music happens and they recognize it as the theme song to Lexus commercials.  That's when it dawns on the unsuspecting member of the couple that the other one is giving them a Lexus for Christmas.  Those commercials are driving me nuts.  I don't want a Lexus, sure they are nice cars, but I'm much more pratical than that.

Here's what I would like the commercial to be selling.  A greenhouse!  It's a practical gift for any gardener that just happens to be a dream gift for them too!  Imagine the cost difference too.  The starting price for the cheapest Lexus is about $33,000.  What kind of greenhouse could you get for $33,000? Hmm...let's take a look at some greenhouses:

In the around $1000 range you can find this Snap and Grow greenhouse at Plow and Hearth Snap and Grow greenhouse at Plow and Hearth.  It's 6'x8' inches which would give you 48 square feet inside.  For the price of a Lexus you could have 33 of these greenhouses!

This 8'x12' Greenhouse found at Amazon costs about $1800.  That gives you 96 square feet of plant propagating room! For that 96 sq. ft. of greenhouse space you

If you want to consider an even fancier greenhouse with tempered glass walls and a Victorian style you can find this greenhouse, which is also on Amazon. It's 10' by 15' with a price tag of $8000.  For the price of a Lexus you could have four of these! 

Now if you wanted a hoop house or commercial greenhouse you could get a tremendous amount of indoor garden space for the same price as a Lexus.  Some commercial greenhouses can be found for just under $33k with dimensions of 60'x96' - that's bigger than most houses!

I would much rather have a more backyard greenhouse than a Lexus wouldn't you?  A luxury car may be more elegant but not as practical for a gardener.  The affiliate links used above are only representative of a few of the many greenhouses available.  In fact you can build your own greenhouse much cheaper than any of these greenhouses using PVC and greenhouse plastic.  It may not look as nice but they will work just as well.  Or you could put together an eclectic greenhouse using old windows and doors.  You're imagination is the only limit!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Little Birdwatching

With many gardening activities slowing down and the temperatures dropping (although yesterday the temperature was actually near 70 degrees!) I spend much more time indoors.  Fortunately I can still enjoy the great outdoors by watching the birds stop by to visit the bird feeders.  Here are a few of the visitors who stopped by for breakfast yesterday and the day before!

The bluejay in the first picture doesn't stop by often.  He tends to gather food from the ground rather than actually eating from the bird feeder.

We have cardinals and chickadees all the time.  Chickadees are pretty neat birds.  They don't seem to mind this gardener being out there with them and neither does their cousin the titmouse.

Here's a female cardinal posing for her picture.

This little woodpecker has been a frequent guest lately.  Birds love easy to find grub!

Here he is again with a white capped sparrow.  Just two birds hanging out at the bar.  The deck bar that is.

One of my favorite birds is the Carolina wren.  Here's one perched on the branches of a 'Shasta' doublefile viburnum

And here he/she is again stopping by the bird buffet.

Here is a squirrel, a frequent visitor to many bird feeders.  You can find squirrel proof bird feeders that will close the opening when the squirrel climbs on the perch.  The weight of the squirrel pulls a door closed on the feeding openings but birds aren't heavy enough to cause it to close.  

If you haven't done all your Christmas shopping yet bird feeders make excellent gifts! Ours are getting worn out after several years of use, we could probably use a couple more (there's a not so subtle hint for anyone who is still looking for ideas for me!).

For more bird feeder options check out this affiliate link: Bird Feeders on Amazon.com

Monday, December 12, 2011

Decorating Planters with Branches for Christmas

Here's the situation. I have two pots on my front steps which each house an arrangement of Dusty Miller and cordyline.  The problem is the cordyline is looking a little worse for wear.  It's not supposed to be hardy here in Tennessee but so far it's stayin' alive, stayin' alive despite cold temperatures in the mid to lower 20's. It's also Christmas time and a little festive holiday spirit would be a welcome addition to the front porch area.

So here's what I did.  I took cuttings of several large branches of a red twig dogwood, an eastern red cedar (Juniper), and some berries from a nandina.  Then I added the evergreen juniper branches to the soil.  (I had to wet the soil first because the soil in the pot was frozen!)  I arranged the juniper branches to shield the cordyline from view and to offer them a little more winter protection.  Then I placed the red twig dogwood branches where they would be highlighted against the evergreen juniper background. Last I added the nandina berries to the pot.  I didn't want to remove a bunch of berries from our nandina since we have only the one but a couple bunches of berries from the back of the shrub won't be missed.

Here's how the arrangement looks now:

I could probably squeeze in a few more red twig dogwood branches and maybe some pyracantha berries.  Maybe I'll change out the red nandina berries for the pyracantha after the New Year. I wouldn't bet $10,000 on it but there's a possibility that could even have some rooted shrubs in my potted arrangement by spring!

Now I just need to add a big old Christmas bow!

(Also if you need a laugh this morning feel free to read about the Nandina that saved my garage and lawnmower!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The First Snowfall of 2011

Technically my title is completely incorrect!  We did have snow in January and February but this is the first snowfall of the coming winter season.  And technically this isn't even officially winter yet.  I'm just breaking all the rules for this post! I'm going wild!

Anyway...yesterday we had a light snowfall.  It was the kind of snow that was so wet that when contact was made with the ground it quickly melted into regular old H20.  What snow coverage we had on the grassy areas didn't last long as the air temps were too warm to maintain the frozen precipitation.  Despite its brevity the snow was pretty!

Snow on pot of pak choy.

Snow on deck.

Snow on chives and blue fescue pot.

Snow on pyracantha branch. Almost looks like ice.

The backyard with snow.

The Blue Garden Shed with snow!

Grassy area shielded from snow by a butterfly bush.

I suspect we'll have more snow this year than in previous years.  I've heard our winter I supposed to be wetter!  Good thing I bought sleds!

Have you had your first snowfall yet?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

5 More Plants I Want in Every Garden!

On Monday I posted about 5 Plants I Want in Every Garden.  In case you missed it the post was about plants that should I ever move I will plant again in the new garden.  As several of the commenters pointed out it's hard to just pick five!  So today I'll add four more to my list.  Neither this post, nor the last one list these plants in any order of preference.  Every plant has a purpose and each has its own unique attributes that make it worthwhile in my garden and while I have favorites, I don't have a favorite!

So here are five more, maybe these posts will get you through until your mail order garden catalogs arrive!


Salvia is all over my garden.  The 'Caradonna's in front, 'May Night' by the mailbox, Salvia greggii in the back, Salvia coccinea in the self sowing areas, Salvia elegans (Pinapple sage) in the birdbath garden, and Black and Blue all over.  I added 'Hit Lips' this year along with a Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'.  You can never have too much salvia!  And no I don't have any Salvia divinorum.


The 'Shasta' viburnum in the picture is an awesome plant but I like all my viburnums.  I have quite a few arrowwood viburnums as they are easy to propagate in addition to a Viburnum burkwoodii.  I also have a few snowball viburnums that layered off another plant.

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

The leaf shape, flower panicles, and fall color all make the oak leaf hydrangea worthy of my garden.  It can also tolerate more sun than other hydrangeas do. 


What drought tolerant garden would be complete without a sedum?  In the picture is a dragon's blood sedum which unfortunately nearly died out last year. 'Autumn Joy', 'Blue Spruce', 'Xenox' and a few other miscellaneous sedums inhabit the gardens. Sedums are so easy to care for if given good drainage.

Russian Sage

You need a little space to grow Russian sage but it is one very cool plant.  Russian sage is another deer resistant plant which is absolutely necessary if you want to maintain your sanity in deer territory. It's beautiful, drought tolerant, nearly 100% deer proof, and in my garden!  How cool is that?

What plants will you always have in your gardens?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

5 Plants I Want in Every Garden

Our current garden is still a work in progress, as every garden will ever be, but sometimes I like to think about what my next garden will be like.  We have no immediate plans to move but one day our growing family will need more room in the house (and with two girls probably more bathrooms!). When that day comes there are several plants from my garden that I enjoy so much I will be sure to replant in that new garden. My list for this post isn't all inclusive (or ranked in any way) but here are five plants that I will be sure to get established in any new garden in the future!

Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low')

I like catmint for several reasons. It's a constant bloomer.  It always seems to be one of the first perennials to get going in mid-spring and one of the last perennials to stop blooming for fall.  Catmint attracts pollinators constantly and would be a great asset to a vegetable garden for that reason but also as a pest repellent.  Not much bothers a catmint!  The leaves smell great too and can be used in herbal teas.

Catmint on lower left, Poppies to the upper  right.


Poppies would be another plant for any garden.  Poppies are extremely easy to grow and if you allow them to set seed they will self-sow.  I planted the red poppies here in this garden from a free packet of seeds several years ago and ever since they have gifted the garden with their beauty during spring.

Japanese Maple

Who wouldn't want a beautiful Japanese maple tree in their garden?  I plan on keeping several in my gardens.  Right now we have six Japanese maples planted.  They were all planted as relatively small plants (they can be quite expensive otherwise!).  My most recent planting was a 'Crimson Queen' which is a beautiful weeping maple with dissected leaves. It's a slow grower and will only reach about 5 feet tall in ten years or so. 


Coneflowers may be a common perennial, but for good reason!  They attract pollinators like magnets, they look great, self-sow nicely, and need very little care. The only issue I have had has been from caterpillar damage in the fall when the silvery checkerspot larvae are hungry.  Of course that isn't even an issue if I consider my coneflowers a butterfly host plant!


For the last of the five let's look at the heuchera! This one is 'Silver Scrolls' but I like so many varieties of heuchera I can't pick just one.  Heuchera is one of the plants in my garden that is never bothered by deer or rabbits.  The only maintenance my heucheras needs is the removal of dead flower stems and an occasional division although I don't consider dividing plants as work! 

There are so many more I could mention,  I'll have to have a follow up post!

How about you? What five plants would you plant in every new garden landscape?