A-to-Z Challenge, family, garden

Life is a Beach

Day 2 / A-to-Z Challenge 2020 / A few of my favorite things

I’ve always envied the people I know who have friends at the beach. Friends who open their door to visitors from the North! How wonderful it would be to hop in the car and head to the shore, without the stress of picking a beach house. And paying for said beach house. Without the stress of not knowing exactly where you are going, and not truly knowing what to expect.

Well, dear readers, it finally happened for me! My wonderful dog, Willis, moved to the beach this past summer. Oh, and he took my son with him.

I’m starting to adjust to the new sounds of our new house without them. I can hear each creak (houses do so much settling), the ice maker in the fridge, each clock that ticks in the halls. I hear water running, I know that one of the toilets needs a handle jiggle.

I can hear myself think.

I think Parker misses them, too. He doesn’t bark at every passing walker anymore. He doesn’t have Willis to protect him! He loved getting Willis in trouble, as if I didn’t know who started it all. Just like brothers, those two.

One of the most wonderful things about my new neighborhood is that it is so quiet. I never did get used to living 50 feet from the turnpike. The old neighbors assured me that it would eventually become background noise. It did not. I will never miss the traffic noise.

But I do miss the sound of laughter and (occasional) barking.

I need to plan a trip to the beach!

A-to-Z Challenge, garden

Alice’s Arbor

Welcome to my first installment of the Blogging from A-to-Z Challenge 2020! First up – the letter A!

I’ve been doing quite a bit of online shopping these days. I really don’t care much for the in-person style of shopping, never have. But online shopping? Can’t get enough of it! I remember back when the kids were small, the idea of online shopping was pretty new. I felt like I was the only person who had ever heard of Cyber Monday. It was the best way to handle Christmas shopping – no crowds, comparisons were right at the click of a button, and if you played your cards right, shipping was free!

Fast forward about 15 years, and here we are. Online shopping to avoid human contact in the shadow of COVID19, even if we do enjoy that part of in-person shopping. If I’m quite honest, this social distancing that we are living now is heavenly.

Last summer was quite a blur, I really didn’t have the energy to start designing the yard-scape. A few stress items (that I will spare you) really sent me reeling down a bit of a depressive rabbit hole. Thankfully, I was able to recognize the problem, sought the advice of my doctor, and got the help I needed to get moving again.

And thankfully, I’ve rediscovered my best therapy – in the garden. It really is my salvation.

My garden mentor, Alice, stopped by last Thursday. She helped me get started on some borders on my new property. She has so many ideas for me, and really helps me focus on one idea at a time. We started on the front lawn where we dug out the old plastic edging, created a new expanded border, dug out a dying azelea. All in a matter of 3 hours.

I’m in a quandary about what to do with the NW facing side yard, where the sun does not hit at all. I’m thinking a rock garden will be the eventual solution. There is a perfect location for an arbor, which I had thought of when we first moved in last year. And Alice was thinking along the same lines, and reminded me of that thought.

Photo credit: Wayfair

I went online last night, found a perfect arbor on Wayfair, and rather than continue to think it over (and potentially lose out on this most perfect design) I placed the order.

Don’t you know, it’s on its way already and might even be here by tomorrow! Yikes!

Here we go!!

A-to-Z Challenge, flowers

Nostalgia to grow on

There are some flowers that really take me back.

Al’s wife, Pat, the neighbor on the other side, planted some 4 o’clocks a couple of years back.  Their daughter, Pamela, had found the plant at a small garden shop somewhere between her house and theirs.  Pat swore it was one plant that had miraculously bloomed in about 5 different colors.  I kept quiet, knowing full well the chances of that were slim at best.

multi four oclock

Orange, yellow, pink, pink striped yellow, and deep pink.

Pat insisted I take a bag of the black seeds she was saving for me.  A bag full that was enough seed to last for, well, a good number of years if not the rest of my life.  I have had that bag of seeds for about 3 years now.  Finally, last year, I planted a few seeds.  I was hoping for yellow.  But when it did bloom, it was the deep pink.

 

Deep pink.  The very color my dad used to have.

pink 4 oclock

Loved gathering the black seeds from his 4 o’clocks.  Never mind the daddy-long-legs that seemed to love the plants as much as we kids did.

 

Along with that bag of seeds, Pat also shared an equally large bag of marigold seed.  Not sure where she thought I was going to plant all of these seeds.  But last year, I also had marigolds growing along the sidewalk, between the liriope.

 

Orange and yellow they were.

marigold

I used to take marigolds over to grandma’s house to plant on her birthday.  May is such a super month for a birthday.  I only did this for about 4 years, before we had to sell the house and move her away.  She always said how much she loved the marigolds.

I really hope she did.

 

N

A-to-Z Challenge, garden, garden club

What is a Master Gardener?

Only a couple of the members of my garden club are Master Gardeners.  I always thought I wanted to pursue this status, but honestly, was never sure what it actually means.  It sure sounds prestigious.

In the United States, a Master Gardener usually refers to a person who has completed a course of study conducted by the county extension agency office in cooperation with the land-grant university of the student’s home state.

A land-grant college or university is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The original mission of these institutions, as set forth in the first Morrill Act, was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanical arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education.

The Morrill Act (Land-Grant Act) signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862, gave each state a grant of federal land within its borders for the establishment of a public institution to fulfill the act’s provisions. At times, money was appropriated through legislation such as the second Morrill Act. A key component of the land-grant system is the agricultural experiment station program created by the Hatch Act of 1887. This Act authorizes direct payment of federal grant funds to each state. The amount of this appropriation varies and is determined by a formula based on the number of small farmers there. Each state must match a major portion of these federal funds. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers land-grant funds and the coordination of land-grant activities on the national level.

Many of these institutions are among the ranks of the most distinguished public research institutions, and all share the same tripartite mission of Teaching, Research, and Extension.

Each state has an extension service that provides the general public with state and county information regarding local agricultural regulations and resources, land and pasture management information, etc.

These resources may be referred to as a cooperative extension or county extension agency.

Depending on your area, you can usually find resources such as free factsheets for growing all sorts of plants and animals, hotlines for pest, disease and general gardening questions, locally produced television programs, and Master Gardener programs (typically organized by the extension service.)

I live in Pennsylvania, and the Land Grant University here is Penn State.  The Penn State Master Gardener Program is administered at the county level where recruitment, training, and volunteer service occur. Master Gardener trainees are required to participate in a minimum of forty hours of basic training, score 80% on the final exam, and fulfill 50 hours of volunteer service.

You can learn more about the Pennsylvania Master Gardener at https://extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener.

M

 

M is for Master Gardener . . . wanna be one?

 

 

A-to-Z Challenge, garden, roses

It’s a Knockout! (Rose, that is)

Knockout roses.  I have always wondered what that meant.  I don’t have any roses in my garden, even though I have tried.

For some reason, I always thought that Knockout Roses were really knock-off roses.

knockout2

Knockout Roses were introduced in 2000.  Many people assume that Knockout Roses need absolutely no care at all – no water, no fertilizer, no pruning.  That’s really not true.

 

container knockout

They do require water and always benefit from from occasional fertilizer.  And like any other plant, an occasional manicure keeps the shrub in shape.

Perhaps not a rose for cutting, these roses look spectacular in containers and in borders.  Definitely going to add some color, by way of the Knockout, to my garden this year!

K

Moving right through this alphabet challenge!  

 

 

A-to-Z Challenge, garden, shade garden

Japanese Painted Fern – It’s the J Word

Like so many of the plants in my garden, the Japanese Painted Fern was a toss-off from Alice’s garden.

JapanesePaintedFernMetallicum-2

Before she moved away, I could count on receiving numerous buckets of plants each summer as she divided her plants and rearranged her gardens.  Her yard was no bigger than mine, but the variety of plants she cultivated was impressive.

japfern2

japnastilbe

The Japanese Painted Fern (athyrium) is a lovely, showy piece that loves shade.  It looks great with shade loving plants like hosta and astilbe (white flowers above).

It’s a small fern, so you will want to keep it closer to the front of your shade border.

Japanese Painted Fern at the Pond
photo by alamy.com

It is easily divided, so you can tuck it in numerous places for a showy touch of color.

J

 

Challenging time with this letter today.  Had to laugh when I googled “garden terms that start with J” and the returned search was “empty”

 

 

A-to-Z Challenge, garden

Iris Care Basics – I is for Iris

Irises are fairly easy to grow, and with the right conditions, will give you year after year of late spring color.

 

Do iris flowers need sun or shade?

I have told the tale of my first iris experience, and learned the slow way that iris do enjoy the sun.  After 2 years of lovely greens, I finally moved my plants to a sunny location, and wala!  I chose the perfect location since iris appreciate 6-8 hours of direct sun daily.  A well-drained soil is important as well.

wpid-img_1312.jpg
yellow iris

What kind of fertilizer should I use for iris?

Fertilize in mid to late April with bone meal, superphosphate, or a fertilizer low in nitrogen such as 6-10-10 (see my discussion of organic fertilizers here).  Fertilizers high in nitrogen tend to cause bacterial rot and lush, but weak, foliage growth. When selecting fertilizers for irises, be sure that the 2nd and 3rd numbers are bigger than the 1st.

What do you do with irises after they are done blooming?

Once all of the flowers have wilted, cut back all the flower stems to the base of the plant.  Cut out any brown or damaged leaves.  Once the leaves start to yellow in the fall, you will want to cut the leaves down to about 6 inches.  My dad always cut them back to form small fans, probably because they just look better that way.

How do you divide irises?

To divide your iris, start by lifting the clump of iris plants out of the ground with a spade or fork.  If possible, lift the entire mass out whole, but if you are unable to do this, carefully break the clump into smaller parts and lift these out.

Iris
Beverly Sills

 

When should you divide irises?

The best time to plant and transplant rhizomatous iris is late July through September. Iris loves the heat and drier weather of summer and the summer dividing will reduce the incidence of bacterial soft rot. Most rhizomatous iris should be divided every three to five years.

DSC_1721
variety unknown – my baseball mom surprise

 

I

 

Trying to stay ahead of this game is nearly impossible!  But the I’s have it today!

A-to-Z Challenge, garden

Gardening on the Edge – Define Your Garden Space

Nothing completes the look of a garden like a nice clean edge.  I’ve got a few different looks in my gardens and the one you choose will be a product of the time you want to take in maintenance as well as the general look you like.

The four types of edging you will find in my yard include plastic edging, pavers, timbers, and cut edge.

The plastic edging came with the house.  The yard had been landscaped by a professional and it looked very nice when we moved in 21 years ago.  However, the strong sun we receive in the front yard has caused the plastic to become rather crispy.  When using the line trimmer around this edging, the line can sometimes cut right into that plastic.  Also, the way our ground expands and contracts in the weather can really squeeze the plastic out of the ground.

edge plastic

I have lined the Lamppost Garden and the Down Under Garden with pavers.  It takes some time to initially insert the pavers.  I like them to be flush with the ground, making it easy to mow over.  This is a very clean look and is easy to trim around.  My line trimmer cannot chew through the bricks.  The clean look and the easy maintenance make this my favorite edging option.  Once a year, I trim back the grass on the outside, pull the weeds on the inside, and the garden is ready to grow.  The pavers are easy to install and, once they are in place, they aren’t going anywhere!

edge pavers

Cutting the edge with an edging tool is very time-consuming but extremely attractive.  I really like the look of the cut edge, it’s just very hard to maintain.  Each year, I find myself having to re-cut the edge and find the right shape of my crabapple shade garden.  The newest side garden is also cut, and I was a bit more aggressive with the depth.  This helps to define the area better – just be careful not to lose the lawnmower over the edge!

edge cut

Out back, the previous owners really loved timber edging.  It surrounds the patio, driveway, and planter box beside the driveway.  It looks nice, but it’s at least 25 years old now, and carpenter ants really like it.  I’m working on replacing the parts that are closest to the house for obvious reasons.  I’m not sure I would ever install timber edging, but I suppose if it’s properly treated, it shouldn’t attract vermin.

edge timber

Some of my neighbors have invested in concrete edging.  That’s a bit too permanent in my mind.  My gardens tend to grow – quite literally.  They morph every year.  Which is most likely why the paver edge is my favorite.  Nothing too permanent in my yard, please!

edge concrete

There are many creative ways to edge your garden.  Perhaps repurposing is your passion.  Try sinking a few wine bottles.  I love this terra-cotta themed edge.  And sometimes, a simple stone wall makes a statement.

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E

 

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date — with the letter E.  Yikes!!

Think this challenge may be what it takes to jumpstart YOUR blog?  Read more about the a-to-z challenge here.

 

A-to-Z Challenge, garden

A is for Azalea

As a child, I remember stalking the neighborhoods while riding in the car with my dad, looking at the first blooms of the season, noting how lovely (or not) the azaleas were this year.  Strong, deep pink puffs of lovely on each neighbor’s lawn.  As though the strength of the winter had somehow affected how beautiful the blooms would be.  Was it actually all Mother Nature’s doing?  Or perhaps the length of time since we seemed to have seen the final blooms of fall had something to do with it.

Dad always had the bright pink varieties, and when I started planting at our first home, I loved the pale pink.

 

 

My white azaleas came with the house.  Two really fine specimens that don’t seem to care if I forget to prune them, or if I do remember to prune them but at the wrong time.  Last year, I did get to pruning them right after they bloomed, which is the recommended time to prune.  The blooms for the following year are set a few weeks after the blossoms fall, so it’s best to prune shortly after the blossoms have fallen.

I have to tell you, though, that the years I did wait until even the end of summer did not ruin a great show come spring.  It may be that my specimens are just so big that there are layers of potential blooms, and I only cut off the top layer.  I really don’t know, but I have never had a disappointing azalea show.

There’s so much that actually goes into a “good year” for the azaleas.  Let’s explore!

Weather

Azaleas do best in warmer temperatures.  I live in Zone 6a, and the azaleas do very will even our hard winters.  They prefer part sun rather than direct sun, but mine do well on my west-facing front border.  They are situated very close to the house, so that could be the reason they survive our winter.  Just know that they need that part sun in order to bloom.

Soil

Azaleas love an acidic soil.  A good mulch of shredded pine bark will naturally seep acid into the soil.  And if you like to add a boost, some Holly-Tone will always be a good addition.  Wait until after the flowers bloom, otherwise you will be feeding and encouraging the greenery.  Keep the mulch about 8 inches from the base of the plant.

Pruning

As mentioned above, any necessary pruning should be done shortly after the flowers have dropped.   Don’t risk cutting off next year’s flowers by waiting until much after 2-3 weeks.  Not only will you cut off next year’s flowers, you risk stressing the plant with any midsummer trimming.  When the flowers start wilting and turning brown, that’s the perfect time to prune.

 

Propagation

Those new sprouting stems that show up after the blooming period are perfect to cut for startings.  Strip a few of the bottom leaves off and put the stem in a glass of water.  Keep the node from where the leaves were under water for a few weeks and you should have a nice rooted stem.

My large azaleas have some smaller branches underneath that sort of lay on the soil, and those branches root without my even trying.

A

 

 

Here’s to a month of Blogging from A to Z! 

Am I up to this challenge?  Stay tuned!

garden

A brief walk

I decided to dodge a few raindrops and take a walk down the side yard today to visit the late winter flower patch. I have seen so many snaps of snow drops and helebores these past few weeks. So many of my blog friends live in climates that are just a bit warmer and ahead of mine, I always know what to look forward to in a few weeks.

I trimmed away some of the old leaves from last year, and look what I found hidden underneath!

Peppermint Ruffles
Peppermint Ruffles Helebore

I’m glad the tag survived again so I know these little flowers are called Peppermint Ruffles, and I’m glad I decided to move these helebores a couple summers back. They weren’t blooming, and were in a very shady spot. They are still in a shady area, but now get partial sun. They really responded to the new location.

My snow drops have not spread much. I get the same two blooms but it’s still very exciting. I’ve seen some established snow drop gardens that look spectacular, truly look like fields of snow on grass. I’m going to have to get a few more bulbs, or really amend the soil they live in. It’s all about that soil, you know!

The crocuses have been blooming for about 2 weeks now. My favorite February blooms. I’m always surprised by them, but my TimeHop has proven that these guys arrive every February. They are still a very nice surprise.

Crocus
Early Bloomers

Along with the flowers were plenty of hairy bittercress. This weed appeared a couple of years ago and have been popping up very reliably. Seems early this year, but we have had a few balmy weeks. These guys are itchin’ to grow. Best to get out there and pull them up before the blooms go to seed.

Hairy Bittercress

The seed pods snap and let those seeds fly everywhere. Really quite a nuisance.

It did feel good to get out there and pull some weeds. There has been so much rain this year, the ground is very sloggy (is that a word?), so those weeds come right out!