Saturday, December 31, 2005

Try Jackson & Perkins for a Splendid Garden!

The company sells perennials and bulbs, help new gardeners and old plan the best flower garden in the neighborhood, and they have been around longer than anyone reading this. Jackson & Perkins was founded in 1872 and has become a household word for numerous things but perhaps more than anything, for their trademarked roses.

If you want to honor someone with a gift of roses to grow in their garden or if you want a special corner of your own garden for specialty roses, you simply must request a Jackson & Perkins catalog (also found online at jacksonandperkins.com). If roses aren't your forte, you will find bushes and trees, accessories, and ornamental plants in the catalog as well.

I will name a few of the special roses offered but it will just be a sample listing because there are others. Late spring of 1999 found Jackson & Perkins at Arlington National Cemetery of all places! The representatives were there to honor the men and women of our military for their service to the country. They did it in the way that Jackson & Perkins knows best and unveiled a new rose called Veterans' Honor (tm). It was the year 2000 "Rose of the Year" (c) and ten percent of the proceeds for the sale of this rose is donated to veteran health care. The Veterans' Honor (tm) is dark red in color and is a hybrid tea rose.

Another Jackson & Perkins specialty rose is pink in color with some specks of silver and is called the Our Lady of Guadalupe (tm) Floribunda Rose. Five percent of sales from this particular rose will go toward helping young Latinos attend college. The rose was blessed at the Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels in Los Angeles during its unveiling.

Jackson & Perkins has two roses to honor former President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. The Ronald Reagan Rose is red with white reverse and blue edge and The Nancy Reagan Rose is a dark apricot color. Both are hybrid tea roses and ten percent of net sales from both roses benefits the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

Keeping with their tradition to help fund various charities, Jackson & Perkins developed an ivory colored rose with a pink blush to it and named it the Diana, Princess of Wales (tm) Hybrid Tea Rose. As with the other roses, ten percent of the net sales of this rose also is given to a worthy cause. In this case that cause is the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund which works with various humanitarian organizations.

There are two new Rose of the Year (r) winners for the year 2006 now available at Jackson & Perkins. If you would like to be the first person in your neighborhood or town growing new kinds of roses, this is the place to obtain them. The 2006 winners are the Black Cherry Floribunda Rose and the Spellbound Hybrid Tea Rose.

The Black Cherry Floribunda Rose begins with buds that are almost black in color and then open to a dark crimson color. The Spellbound Hybrid Tea Rose is a coral color and its petals are extra thick.

The biggest problem you will have (and I had!) while looking at the Jackson & Perkins catalog or deciding what to order from the web page is where to begin and what your actual final decision will be. There are so many choices that it becomes difficult deciding which of the flowers, whether it is roses or another kind, will be adorning your yard.

In the rose section alone, you can choose by type of rose or by color. If you know what colors you want, you are on your way to decisions, but if you don't know, you will need to choose. The color options in rose selections are red, yellow, lavender and pink, coral and apricot, whites and creams, and multicolor.

A few other choices you will be making are:

Do you want roses or perennials, or both?
Should your plants be deer resistant?
Are you looking for trees or shrubs also?
Which plants grow best in your area?
Will your garden have lots of sunlight, or partial shade?
Do you want to attract butterflies or particular birds?
What time of year do you want your flowers to bloom?
What height should your flowers be? Does it matter?

Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to your Garden and Yard

By Christina VanGinkel

Attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard can be accomplished by planting certain varieties of plants and shrubs. Some of my favorites include the Black Night Butterfly Bush that thrives in full sun. It grows to approximately six to ten feet tall, and produces glorious star like blossoms from summer all the way through fall. These are commonly grown in zones 5 through 9. They have a sweet honey like scent that is pleasing to not only the butterflies and hummingbirds, but to the people who are lucky enough to encounter them too. The best part is that they are relatively easy to grow, so even if you are just a beginner gardener, if attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard is on your list of garden wishes, then be sure to plant a few of these Black Night Butterfly Bushes to give your garden and yard a head start.

For Zones 4 through 9, planting a few 3 in 1 Butterfly Bushes will not only meet your needs for attracting these delightful little creatures, they also work for creating a border along a walkway or garden path. With their cone shaped flowers in magenta, white, and lavender, butterflies who alight on the flowers are sitting so pretty you will be grabbing your camera for some must have shots.

The Blue Mist Shrub, for zones 5 through 8, is different looking enough that if you want something a bit beyond the standard shrub, which will bloom in the late part of summer, and provide a sweet fragrant aroma, then it may be just the shrub you have been looking for. Another lover of full sun, it prefers dry soil, making it perfect to plant in those areas where you wondered if you would ever be able to get anything to grow at all, let alone anything as beautiful as it is. That the Blue Mist Shrub also attracts butterflies is just one more bonus of this unique plant.

The Butterfly Flower Mix, good for zones 2 through 8, is a grandiose mixture of flowers in orange, red, pink, and lemon yellow. Listed as being drought tolerant and deer resistant, I would have to agree to the deer resistant, as when I planted this mix, the deer did nibble a bit at it at first, but then left the flowers in this mix alone. The Butterfly Flower Mix produced flowers for a good portion of the summer, and was a great addition color wise to my yard, not to mention attracting butterflies even when I had assumed the butterflies had all moved on.

While just about any bright flowering plant or bush can draw both butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard, planting a few of these tried and true bushes or flower sets will assure you of a good chance of attracting even more of these wonderful little winged creatures. Be sure that you also keep out a supply of clean, fresh water, and for the hummingbirds, a few dedicated feeders, and you will have created the most opportune habitat to draw them into your yard and garden and you could. Hummingbird feeders come is a wide variety of shapes and materials that will appeal to just about anyone. Choose a few that will blend in both in the garden or your yard, but that also will appeal to you and others who witness the hummers and they drink from them in mid flight. If you are lucky enough, you may even be witness to them as they actually settle down for a rest and a drink. I have only seen this happen a few times, but each time is as remarkable as the time before. My favorite hummingbird feeder that I have is a small, hand blown glass and copper feeder that resembles a giant open flower. The hummers just love it.

Placing out a few strategically placed butterfly houses will also entice these creatures into your yard. Choose one that will both blend into your garden area and provide a quiet place for them to hibernate. The outside appearance should be something that is both charming for the people who encounter it, and built well enough to provide a quiet sanctuary for the winged creatures who find their way to it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Enjoying Natures Harvest

By Christina VanGinkel

Last year when my son entered a new school a few weeks into the term, he was given an assignment that all the other kids had received the first day of the school year. To collect leaves native to the area they lived, and to assemble the leaves, into a scrapbook or binder, with the name of the tree that the leaf came from, along with their scientific name. What we had first thought was going to be a hard project, turned out to be both fun, and quite enlightening.

The project called for family participation, gathering the leaves, and identifying them. My son went on to place at the state level with his project, which he ended up turning into a book that he will have for as long as he cares to keep it, because instead of just placing the leaves into a binder, he actually used Modge Podge on each and every one.

What this project also did, beyond helping him learn the names of many of the trees native to our area, is to foster an interest in all things green and growing. While he was still assembling the leaf project, he began to show an earnest interest in many of the other plants native to our home area, especially those that were edible.

Thistle berries for example, are a wild plant here in the Midwest that produces an edible fruit. That each fruit is covered in a thistle makes most people assume that it is not something you would want to eat. Not only can you eat them, he found out that they are quite delicious. He also found out that not only apples grow wild, but that there are plum trees that produce a small, tart plum that even though he was not able to find out if they are actually wild or planted from some past farmer that homesteaded our property, they still grow wild today!

Wild blackberries and strawberries grow both on the edges of sustained gardens, and literally in the grass of our own yard. Strawberries so tiny that I honestly thought they were just some type of weed until my son discovered that they were strawberries, wild, but strawberries nonetheless. It would take all day to pick enough of them to fill a thimble, but you could if you wanted to, and each of them would have more flavor than a full size strawberry that you could buy at any store. Blackberries on the other hand grow so big, that picking them by the bucketful in late summer is only dependant on finding the perfect patch of them. My brother once tried to transplant a few when he moved from his house where he had a good size patch that consistently produced thumb sized berries, into the edge of our yard where we lived. I assumed they had not taken root, but about three years later, when I went into the taller grass on the backside of our yard to retrieve a kids ball that had blown there, I remembered where he had planted them when I stepped right into a plant dripping with thumb sized berries. My cousin later told me that those must have been wild, that you cannot transplant blackberry bushes, but I know where he planted them, and they are one and the same.

Fruits are not the only plants that grow wild and abundant in the Midwest either. He discovered wild onions, commonly referred to as leeks, which are both plentiful and used in quite a few recipes. A bit milder, even somewhat on the sweet side, leeks are literally sprouting from the ground in different areas around our land. At least we now know what that smell is now when we occasionally encounter it out hiking.

Mushrooms, both inedible and edible, are also abundant, but I think the favorite plant that he discovered was edible, was dandelion greens. That was one I knew about, and as his interest in all things growing expanded, especially those things that you can eat, I told him how as a young girl my father would send us kids out in the early morning to pick the greens before the flowers opened. He said that once the flowers opened, the greens turned bitter. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. However, he always ate them in a bit of vinegar and seasoned oil with onions, or leeks, and fried bacon.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Starting A Landscaping Or Gardening Business

If you are thinking about starting a landscaping or gardening business, there are a few basic thoughts to keep in mind.

First, be sure that you will have enough knowledge to get started. You can always use more, however, so read on. One of the keys will be to surround yourself with the types of information you will need. The key to being an expert is not that you necessarily have all of the answers in front of you. Instead one of the most important points is that you should be in the position to find the information. If someone wants a beautiful red flower that will match another in her garden, you need to know where to find the information. That means that you should work on acquiring a set of books that will help you.

Once you have a knowledge of gardens or the books you will need, then you should think about what services you want to provide. Some landscapers and gardening provide primarily consulting services. You can expand your business, however, if you will be planting or designing the gardens, and you will allow your business to expand even more if you consider doing work for commercials properties. You should not bite off more than you can chew, however, so be sure you think about how you will find employees, how you will pay them, and what you can handle.

Once you have a firm business plan in place, you need to take care of your personal finances. If you have a job, it is best that you keep it, at least for a little while. Do not make the mistake of trying to quit your job before your gardening business takes off unless your family does not depend on your income. If you need to continue working, it will be easy to work around your full-time work schedule and get your gardening business going part-time. You also should work to pay off all of your bills and to try to get some money put aside for lean times. Many businesses fail simply because the owner cannot fund her or his family during slow times for the business. Try to prepare for those problems now.

Once you get all of that into place, you can begin to purchase the equipment you will need. Landscapers may be more likely to rent much of their equipment. You should invest in a good trailer that can be hitched to your truck or a rental-type van. You want to be able to carry plants and other supplies easily. You also will need basic tools for digging and planting and of course gloves, hats, and other supplies for your workers. You can rent excavators, backhoes, and other equipment until your business earns enough that you can purchase that equipment.

If you are a gardener, you should be able to purchase some more of the supplies before you get started. You will need the same assortment of hand tools and the trailer as the landscaper. Gardeners need basic tools, such as shovels, trowels, and watering cans. Think about your own garden and spend some time in a gardening supply store. What are the basics? You need to be stocked up on these supplies so that you are prepared when jobs come in. You also may want to get a weed eater and a lawn mower. Some people who hire a gardener will require maintenance work, so you will need this equipment.

Once you have completed these tasks, you should be ready to start on your gardening business. You will need to print flyers, buy ads, and otherwise drum up business. Also consider networking by joining local garden clubs and the chamber of commerce. You may even want to volunteer to do a few city gardens to show off your work to the community (in exchange for advertising, of course). Remember that the biggest source of business for any service-oriented company will be word of mouth. Keep that in mind when you are dealing with your customers. You want them to be satisfied so that they will recommend you to their friends and your business will grow as beautifully as the gardens you have planted.

By Julia Mercer

Some New Year's Resolutions For Your Garden

With the new year upcoming, most people are thinking of the resolutions they want to make. When you are considering your resolutions, do not leave out your garden. Here are some ways you can improve your garden in 2006 if you make it a priority (or make time for it if it is your hobby).

One possible resolution is to start your garden! I once worked with a woman who did not cook. She spent her time reading cookbooks to "learn" how to cook. The problem was that she never actually cooked, so her family only knew restaurant cooking. It is easy to get that way with your garden, too. You spend the time researching and learning and never actually get around to the doing. So make it your resolution to start your garden.

Start a compost pile in an effort to go organic. If you have been thinking about going organic, then this year is the time to start! Your first job can be to start a compost bin. A large bin will take about a year before the materials are ready to be used in your garden, but if you start now, you will have a small amount ready by next year.

Make it a point to weed your garden weekly. If you are like me, my few feeble attempts at growing plants have turned out badly because I do not work them into my schedule. Instead of putting them on my daily to do list, I say, "oh, I'll get to it." If you are the same way, then you can try to put them on the list. You can make it a point to add watering that kitchen plant to your morning routine or add weeding the garden to your list of Saturday chores.

Add a new plant to your garden. Whether it is a herb, vegetable, or flower garden, it could always use more citizens. Make it your goal to have one more type of plant in your garden this year. Take some time in January and February to research the possible types of plants you can add. Make it something fun, challenging, and maybe a little different from your normal gardening decisions.

Get some garden decorations to add this year. You can add these decorations one at a time or all at once. Just make it your goal this year to spice up the garden's appearance. Whether you have a vegetable or flower garden does not matter, there are a number of types of garden ornaments you can add.

A few options are iridescent bulbs that will catch the light and sparkle in your garden. While there are sun catchers that children make, there also are more adult versions of sun catchers that you could try. Paving stones or walking stones are good choices, too, as they will help you to walk through the garden.

If you want to add garden decor that is a bit more exciting, then you may want to think about a fountain. They are beautiful and can make something really beautiful in your garden. If you have a colorful garden that is a joy to see, then consider adding in some benches. At the very least, you can try putting in some small garden stones or small statues. You can get small statues for little money, and they really will give your garden character.

Another possibility for your gardening resolution for this year is to put up a border. While you may love your garden, it will seem more like a sanctuary if you put a border around it. Depending on the border, this project can get pricey, so you may want to consider doing this project in pieces. If you live in a cold area, then you will have to wait until the ground thaws, but that does not mean that you cannot plan before then.

There are a number of ways you can add improving your gardening, and your state of mind with it, this year. Just think about your garden. What bothers you? What would you like to improve about your garden? Make whatever improvements you need your New Year's Resolution for this year so that your garden will be better by next year!

By Julia Mercer

Setting Boundaries: Part Two Of Garden Essentials

The second of the garden essentials articles deals with the boundary you choose for your garden. If you plan to spend any alone time in your garden, then you really should consider investing in a boundary of some sort to set off your garden.

An easy-care hedge is one good choice for a garden boundary. You can purchase hedges that are slow-growing and go the length of the garden. They will need to be trimmed annually but will need no other care after you put them up. A new trend is in using potted shrubs for hedges. Some people prefer these hedges. They, like traditional hedges, are fairly easy to shape and maintain, but they have a benefit. They can move! If you expand the garden, you will be able to move your hedge without much problem. They also are fairly easy to care for as they will be in a container.

If you want to go with a gate, try a wooden one. Wooden gates will need holes dug for the gate sides, but other than that, they are simple to install. The only potential problem with wooden gates, as with other types of wooden lawn furniture, is that you will have to protect it. Either splurge for a gate that has been weather-treated or plan to add that to your annual gardening preparation to-do list. A good wooden gate should last for many years, however, and it is a wonderful investment.

A trellis is another way to let people know that they have entered your garden sanctuary. If you opt for the open trellis boundary, then you will need to hedge the outside of your garden with gravel, chips, or some type of grass. Then you will be able to put the trellis in the middle to signal to other people that it is the entrance and exit point for your garden. The beautiful part of a trellis is that you can decorate it beautifully with vines or other climbing plants as well. Instead of just being an entrance, it will give others a taste of what to expect in your garden. If you purchase a slow-growing vine, it may take a few years, but you will have a green boundary for your garden.

A fourth option, but one that will require considerably more work, is a privacy fence. If you want to get the fence, then you will need to measure the area before you begin. Take into account your ability to reach the farthest corners of your garden for maintenance purposes. Then think about possible future expansion. A privacy fence is a major investment of time and money, so you need to be sure you are getting something that will last. Once you have the measurements, you can look for a fence. They come in numerous styles, sizes, and shapes, so you should be able to find something that suits your taste.

Now you have completed the easy part. The hard part of a privacy fence is putting it up. You will need to enlist some help, or you could be working on it all season. Get a few people who are good at following through (and following directions) and get started. If you do not already have a good pair of post-hole diggers, then get some now. Also get a good pair of gloves to protect your hands.

These boundary options barely scrape the surface of the gardening boundaries that you can find. You can get a variety of gates and fences, as well as small mesh pieces or thin wire fencing that will allow you to gate off your garden. Do not expect that a boundary will keep animals out of your garden, as that is unlikely. You can, however, keep larger animals from jumping the fence, or keep the lawnmower away when you are beginning your garden. It is important to protect the garden area as it will become something that you enjoy and love, and you will want it to be protected. Take your time with the boundary, as with the path. You do not have to make a final decision this year. If your gardening needs are still evolving, get something less permanent and move up when you are ready for it.

By Julia Mercer

Planting Your Shade Garden

Many gardeners are considering starting shade gardens. Some do it out of necessity; they do not have anywhere to house a regular, sun-heavy garden. Others are doing it because they can go for greater variety in their gardens if they consider shade-loving plants. If you are considering planting a shade garden, there are some key questions you need to answer before proceeding.

The most difficult question to answer is where the garden should be located. While you are planting a shade garden, it will need to get some sun during the course of the day. You will need to be sure that your garden gets at least two to three hours of sunlight. To determine the amount of sunlight a spot gets, check various spots at set time intervals for a week. Record how much sun the spot is getting at each check and then decide on the best spot.

Once you have determined the location, look at the soil. Is it moist or dry? Is it soft or hard? Generally speaking, moist and soft works best. It will be easier to work with. You will find that you will have better luck with planting and cultivating crops in an area with moist soil. While that does not mean that you have to abandon your plans for a garden if the soil is hard, it does mean that you will be in for some rough waters in terms of planting the garden.

Next, look for organic material in the soil. By organic material, I mean are there are trees or shrubs that leave remnants in the soil. You want the answer to this question to be yes. If you find that your selected location already has organic material, then planting a shade garden will be easier. If, however, there is barren ground, visit your local nursery. Ask them about humus or other organic materials you can put down that will help your soil nourish the plants.

Is the land level? Level land is an issue for you more than your plants although you do not want to plant them on a steep downhill slope as it will be difficult for them to get enough moisture in that case. Otherwise, you need to consider your comfort in planting the garden. If the steep is to deep, then you will have trouble planting in that area without hurting your knees. Also consider paths or stones that you may want to add and whether or not they will require preparation work to the land.

Does the area have good drainage? This question goes back to looking at the slope of the land. If the area only gets a couple of good hours of sunlight a day and is protected from the wind, the lay of the land could cause a problem that you will need to remedy. The main problem is that you will need to consider how rain in the area will leave the garden area. In sun-heavy gardens, the sun and wind will cause the rainwater to evaporate. That may not be true of the shade garden, and you will need to be sure that you take the drainage into account before you plant.

Finally, what is the soil's PH level? You can get a basic PH testing kit at your local nursery. You need to be sure that the soil reads from seven to ten on the scale, which is basically neutral to slightly acidic. Anything beyond those readings means that you need to treat your soil before you get started. There are sprays and other ways to treat imbalanced soil. You should work on the soil before you get started on the planting.

Shade gardening is fun but is not easy. Many people believe that they can get a shade-loving plant and put it out. They do not understand that like other plants, these plants also require weekly or even daily maintenance. Read up on any shade plants you are considering because you need to be sure that you can handle the workload they require. If you are unsure, ask someone at your local nursery. Be sure that you make friends with the people there. They can give you wonderful hints about how to make your garden look beautiful.

By Julia Mercer

My Resolve To Garden

Yet again, I am thinking of taking up gardening as a hobby. I had a small content site that was gardening-related for a while. My dad mentioned it in passing to an aunt, an aunt I rarely see, and she mistook the website to mean that I am a gardener. So she bought me a very cute little gardening basket and a gardening stone that says "welcome to my garden."

I took it as a sign.

While I am on semi-vacation (obviously I am still writing some) at my parents' house for three weeks, I am now itching to get around to planning my garden. Luckily for me, I got a gift card for a bookstore for Christmas. I also picked up a couple of gardening books from the library for some research for this site.

So I am set with some research materials. Now I am thinking of my yard and how I will be able to garden. To be honest, I am going to have to go the container gardening route. I am thinking that I will use a raised bed type of garden for next summer.

Our yard just does not lend itself to an in-ground garden. Last summer we had a lone tomato plant. When I am planning our garden for next summer, I definitely have to keep in mind my personality and the amount of time I will have next summer to put into the garden. Our tomato plant last summer was wonderful. We did little to it, except water it occasionally. It was our first attempt at gardening, and the results were decent.

I am probably going to expand to five tomato plants this year. First, we went all organic last summer, just because it is less expensive to garden organically. We will stick with it this summer but be a little better about taking care of the plants and picking the tomatoes when they are ready instead of leaving them on the vine for too long.

We also are going to try carrots and lettuce, so we will have a sort of salad garden. I have read that lettuce will grow in slightly colder weather so I need to make sure that we will be able to grow it. On the other hand, it may be a slightly earlier plant than our others. Still, everything I have read suggests that both lettuce and carrots are fairly low maintenance, high yield crops.

The other consideration for me is if the plants will need a significant root system. I would love to grow potatoes, for example, but I do not think that we will be able to get the dirt deep enough to allow for a solid root system for the plants.

I am going to begin a compost pile when I return home. While it is a little late to start a compost pile for this year, I am hoping that by leaving out the composting materials and putting it in a small container will help speed up the process. Most suggestions are to leave a beginning compost pile for one year, but I would like to start using mine in June, so it will have had six months to begin to compost.

The container garden also yields itself well to growing herbs. Most of them are small plants, and we want them close to the house so that we can cut off a sprig of mint as we are cooking. I am going to begin my herb garden soon although the research there is just beginning. I am unsure what I want to grow, which means that there is more to learn! The educational part of gardening will keep me busy until I actually begin to grow my own herbs and veggies. Hopefully by this time next year I will have my own herbs right outside my window to spice up our cooking.

The process of starting a new garden is one that excites me and one that I hope to share. I will admit that I am probably hopelessly unrealistic about my gardening plans, but I envision the garden as a peaceful place as well as a place I can begin to teach my son about how life cycles work and how we are part of the world environment.

By Julia Mercer

How Do Plants Get Their Names?

If you are new to gardening, of even if you have been doing it for awhile, you may find plant naming systems to make little sense. You may see a name like Helianthus annus and have no idea whether or not that plant may be something that you want in your yard. Or you may see a sign for lungwort and not know whether it is dangerous or a medicinal herb or just plain fun. If you take some time to learn a little about the naming system, then you will find that plant names will make much more sense to you.

There are three basic naming systems for plants, and you should be familiar with all of them. The first name you will see will be the common name. These are the names that your neighbors or your Grandma will know. They are names like baby's breath or sunflower or daffodil. When you go to the store, you may find, however, that some of the names are not very descriptive. You may not know that there are dogwood trees and flowers, and if you see a small plant, you may not know which one you want. That is why it is important to be familiar with common names but not to rely on them solely. The biggest reason for using common names is that people will refer to the plants by those names. Your mom may say that magnolias would look nice, and you would want to know what they are before you agree or disagree. Being able to refer to the plants by their common names, even if your preference is for the Latin naming system, is important if you want to talk to other people about gardening. Most people are not familiar with the official names of the plants but only refer to them through common usage terms.

The second naming system is the binomial system. These words are in Latin. They are all two words. The Latin naming system breaks down living organisms from their most common denominator, such as animal, plant, or fungus, down through the nomenclature system to genus and species. An organism's scientific name is the genus and species classification, such as Homo sapiens for human beings. The genus is capitalized, and the species is lower case. While more than one plant may have the same genus, there is only one plant with the same species.

It would help if you are going to garden to become familiar with a little Latin. There are simple words that you should know. In the example at the beginning of this article, Helianthus annus is a sunflower. If you were familiar with Latin prefixes, you would know that helio is the prefix meaning sun. Another common Latin word you should know is folia, which means leaf. If you familiarize yourself with some basic Latin words, you will be able to read the Latin name and know what the plant is. These names are more helpful than the common names because they typically tell you something about the plant, such as its shape, size, or even the color of its flowers.

The final point on naming that you should understand is the cultivar. There is a small community of top-notch botanists who propagate plants based on chosen qualities. These hybrid plants are named for the botanist once they become popular. The cultivar system will show the name of the two plants that have been joined with the cultivator's name in single quotation marks after it. An example is Jane O'Connor's mix, which is shown as Aquilegia x hybrida 'Jane's White'.

Understanding these naming systems will make shopping for plants much easier. You will know what type of plant you want or need and should be able to get a good idea from the plant's names if it will work for your needs. Do not depend on common names or even the help at garden stores. They may not know that there are several different breeds of many common plant names, and you may get a common named plant and not realize what it actually is and that it will not work for you. An appreciation for plant names is vital to making good decisions for your gardening needs.

By Julia Mercer

Garden In A Hurry

One of the reasons many people shy away from planting a garden or otherwise working on landscaping their yards is that they believe that they will not have the time to put into a garden. Instead, they sit back and think about how they would like a garden but cannot.

Well, never fear! Here are some ideas for things you can do in a garden or in your yard with only an hour of spare time. While you will not have a lustrous garden, you can get started and make your yard look better or start your garden today.

Find an area that could use a basic hedge. Purchase six easy-care shrubs. Once they have grown, you will need to cut them once or twice a year. You should be able to cut all six shrubs, gather the clippings, and put them in the compost pile in an hour. In a max of two hours per year, you can start a shrubbery hedge around your home.

If, instead of the shrub, you planted a hedge, be happy. Most hedges, except for the quickest growing among them, can be cut back in an hour. The best part is that like the potted shrubs, you only need to do it annually, so that one hour per year to add value to your home.

Divide your lawn into patches mentally. Now when you have an hour in the evening, get out there and mow a patch. Yes, it may look funny until Saturday gets here and you can get to the rest of it, but you will have less to do then. Unless you wait more than two or three days, no one will be able to tell the difference between the one-hour patch and the rest. If you have an hour each evening, you can mow the entire lawn in a week.

Starting a small flowerbed that edges the house is a great way to begin your gardening. If you have some time, you can weed up to twelve feet of a basic border flower garden in an hour. This garden will need weeding every week, so be sure that you have time for it regularly. Still, a few flowers is much better than none at all, and for only an hour of weekly maintenance, you will be surprised what joy you can bring to your yard.

Go online and order a flower bulb catalog or send off for one at your local nursery. When you get it, you can spend half an hour looking through it and picking out some good bulbs for next year, when you will move to 2-hour gardening. Then you can place your order, and voila, in half an hour, you have made the decision for next year's garden addition.

If you would rather go green, then you can take a trip to your local nursery or stop by on your way home from work. In an hour, you can select plants, pay for them, transport them, and get them out of the car. No, you cannot plant them in an hour, so you will not have that complete, but you can spend a weekday evening working on the purchasing so that your weekend is free for the planting.

If you are container gardening, you are in luck. You will find that you can container garden quickly. Even if you have a number of containers, each one exists in such a small place that you can spend one hour weeding, checking, and watering them and be okay. You will need to go through this process every couple of days, but you will not be spending every moment with your garden.

These tips are just a few of the ways you can begin your garden. While gardening is a hobby, it is something that many people have to grow into. They do not start with a landscaped yard and full garden. It is much easier to work your way into gardening slowly. See what you can handle and then move forward. That way you know when you need to cut back because you will fill your schedule get too full. Gardening is supposed to be relaxing, so be sure that yours is for you.



By Julia Mercer

Differentiating Herb Gardens

Before we discuss the various types of herb gardens, maybe we should look at exactly what an herb is. Herbs are plants that humans can use for non-food purposes. That definition, though, may be a little misleading. Some herbs, such basil and mint, are used as food additives, so while they are in our food and are perfectly safe to eat, they are not food items. Other herbs are valued for medicinal or cleansing properties.

Herb gardens take many forms. They can be large or small, cultivated or wild, indoors or outdoors, or in any shape or size you can imagine. A true herb garden will be a home only for herbs and nothing else. There will be no veggies or flowers getting in the way - only the sweet smell of herbs.

With that said, all herb gardens are not the same. Some gardeners do not have a specific preference. They plant basically any type of herb that appeals to them. Other gardeners, however, pick a theme and work from it for their herb gardens. Here are a few of the most common herbal gardens and a couple of the plants you may find there. Read on. You just may find something that interests you.

An herbal tea garden is definitely a specialty garden. These gardens are home to herbs that you can steep into hot teas. You make these teas the old-fashioned way, by plucking the leaves from the trees and then adding them to boiling water. Chamomile is probably the most common herb in this garden, but you also may find mints and anise hyssop.

While you may not think of herbal plants as beautiful, some of them flower into magnificent specimens. These plants, such as sage and germander, can be culled into a beautiful ornamental herb garden.

An aromatic herb garden is probably one of the most common types of herb gardens out there. These gardens are there to give off the scents of their plants. Lavender, for example, is a healing herb. The smell of lavender is known to most people, but not everyone knows that lavender's scent brings out relaxing feelings in people who sniff them. Having an aromatic herbal garden can give you a place to go to have sanctuary, where you can sit and think about your life and get some calming or uplifting scents, depending on what you need that day. You also can use these herbs for making candles, potpourri, or other items that need good scents. Geraniums (most often considered a flower, but actually an herb) and lemon balm are two common aromatic herb garden residents.

If you are experienced in alternative healing or are learning about it, you can try to plant a medicinal herb garden. Be careful with these gardens as choosing the wrong herbs could cause more harm than good, but rest assured that centuries of learning are caught up in the properties of these herbs. One of the most common medicinal herbs is aloe. Many people use aloe in lotions, but it also can be used to soothe sunburn by itself. You can take off a leaf, split it in two and rub it on the affected areas.

Most people who have herb gardens have some combination of the herb gardens mentioned and also add in some cooking herbs. Some of the most common cooking herbs include sage (also used in ornamental gardens), basil, parsley, and rosemary. You can work on your own herb garden by starting with one of these themes and working your way to a bigger and more fulfilling herb garden in the seasons to come.

As you can see, there are numerous herb gardens from which to choose. Do not worry about learning about all of the herbs. When you are first starting, it is best if you pick one or two herbs and then work on learning how to grow them properly. Because many herbs can be grown year-round or indoors, you can learn to grow several new ones in a year's time. When you are selecting a garden, just be sure that you are selecting one that will suit your maintenance and other needs. Now get going. There are herbs to be planted!

By Julia Mercer

Creating Paths: Part One Of Garden Essentials

There are three essential areas to every garden: paths, surfaces, and boundaries. Here is the first article on garden essential, which covers creating paths for your garden.

You have several options for creating paths in your garden. Unless you have a very tiny garden, a path really is necessary to allow people, including you, to get from one area of your garden to another. People need to be able to walk the garden and enjoy everything, and you need to be able to examine the garden and work in it without trying to avoid your plants. We will go over five options for your garden paths, from the easiest to set up and maintain to the most difficult.

The easiest way to create a path in your garden is to use large mulch chips or bark chips. Before you decide on the path, you need to map it out. Use tools or environmentally-friendly paint to mark where the path will go. Then you will need to measure the area. If you want to use bark chips, you will need to go to a home supply store or a nursery. They will have bark chips in huge bags. You can look at the different types although there will not be much decision for you, however, as bark chips are pretty simple. You will need to multiply the length of your path by the width of the path. That will give you the square feet (or meters) that you will need to cover. You should be able to look on the bags of chips to determine how much you will need. Simply purchase the chips, go home, and pour the chips on the path.

Another simple way to create a path is to use steppingstones. There are infinite possibilities here as you can get steppingstones at the dollar store or at high-end retailers. You will need to determine your budget. Then go back to the yard and where you will have the path. Step off the area or use a basic measurement. You need the steppingstones alternating and no more than two feet apart. Make sure that you purchase the correct number of stones. Then you will dig a small recessed area that is one to two inches deep. Put down your stones and pat the dirt around them. Voila! Your path is ready.

Gravel is another choice for your garden path. Although it is not the most attractive option, it is not particularly expensive, especially if you have a quarry in your area. The process for determining the amount of gravel you need and putting it into the path is essentially the same as for the bark chips. You will need to consider the types of gravel a little more carefully. As a general rule, finely ground stone is easier to walk on and looks better, but you will have to put it down more often as it will blow away. If no one will be running in your garden with bare feet, then larger pieces of gravel will be easier to maintain.

An less often considered option, but one that looks far more elegant, is the paving stone. These stones are basically interlocking tiles that you will put down in the area where you will have your path. You can put paving stones over areas that are gravel, sand, or dirt. You may find it necessary to move backward with paving stones and find the stones first and then measure out your path. Cutting paving stones is a task that you probably do not want to undertake. When you get your stones, plan to spend an entire Saturday creating the path. Take the time to put the tiles down evenly, and you will have a beautiful garden.

These path options are only a few of the ones you will find on the market. If you cannot decide, go with something inexpensive now and move up later when you make a final decision. A path helps keep your garden free from trampling and will show others that the garden is there for their enjoyment. You will enjoy walking through the little bit of nature you have created and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of your garden.

By Julia Mercer

Container Gardening Tips

Container gardening is all the rage. With fewer people having extensive acreage to plant their gardens, container gardening is becoming an option for more and more people. Instead of believing that you need a huge area for your garden, get into the mindset that all you need are a few containers here and there, and you can have close to a full garden without taking up the space. Here are a few of the benefits to container gardening for you to consider.

First, it is flexible, flexible, flexible! You can grow a container garden anywhere. The only real limit is your own imagination. You will find that you will be putting together the garden as you go. If you have coffee containers, they will work and may look okay in your windowsill. If you have a patio or balcony, you may want something nicer and can get a decorative flowerpot. Under the right conditions, you can use vases or other canisters from your home.

The flexibility of a container garden also is great because it permits you to have a garden when you otherwise could not. If you have hard soil that is not suitable for gardening, you can still have a container garden. If you live in a concrete jungle or in an apartment complex, gardening is still open to you if you consider container gardening.

In addition to the flexibility, container gardens are mobile. If you know that you will be using your tomatoes frequently in the next day or so, then you can bring in the plant. You do not have to trek outside anytime you need it. You also can take plants with you easily if you need to or move them if you find that the first spot does not get enough sunlight.

The mobility has another benefit - replanting. If you plant cucumbers only to find that the aphids in your garden enjoy the tasty leaves, you are stuck with cucumbers that are not going to produce much fruit. On the other hand, if you have cucumbers in a series of coffee cans, you can start over. Pick up some new containers and replant the cukes. You will find that you have much more control over pests destroying your crops if you container garden.

Another benefit is that you can control the size of your garden much more easily. In a traditional garden, you have to either use the space you have or decide on the size of the garden before you get started so that you can prepare the soil. A container garden does not have those restrictions. Instead you can keep the containers in so many places that you have almost limitless garden size. In fact, there are people who live in small apartments who grow all of their own fruits and vegetables in various containers.

You can even put corn in your windowsill if you would like. It is easy to add or subtract from the size of the garden anytime. For example, this year I plan to move from a single tomato plant to five tomato plants. If I get into it and decide that five it too much or too little, changing will not be a major problem with a container garden.

If you are handy with decorating styles, you will find container gardening suitable to you. In addition to getting beautiful containers to keep your plants, you can make your home and outside areas look beautiful and elegant with the right design of the plants. You can mask empty parts of your home with your plants or help your yard look lush if it is not. There is no end to the decoration that container gardening will allow you.

The bottom line is that container gardening has a number of benefits over traditional gardening. While traditional gardening definitely has its benefits, container gardening is a great option for people who are willing to try something a little different with their gardening to explore their creative side. If you are new to gardening or are looking for something different, then you may want to give it a try. You may find that it will be something you can enjoy for years to come.

By Julia Mercer

Bonding Over Gardening

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are both interested in gardening. They are not just interested in; they are obsessed with it. Although I am considering starting my own garden, I do not know that it will ever occupy my existence in the way that it does theirs. My disdain - and supposed inability - for growing things has become some cruel family joke. My mother-in-law will say, "let us do Julia's favorite thing - look at the garden" and laugh.

I just go somewhere else and read while everyone tours the same garden they toured last week.

The amazing part about the garden, though, is that my sister-in-law and mother-in-law do not get along otherwise. They like each other great. They are mother and daughter, but they are about as different as you can get. They do not agree on politics, decorum, or parenting, but gardening is a bonding experience for them.

When we traveled with my in-laws to see my sister-in-law at her house, she took us for the same tour of her garden! I went only because it was the first time I had been to her house, and I felt obligated. As I looked around her garden, I found this very odd bond between my mother-in-law and sister-in-law that I cannot share. The bond has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with gardening. Here are two women who could not agree on what sweater to buy if their lives depended on it, but they are oohing and aahing over the same flowers and discussing possible ways to improve some of the rebellious plants in the yard.

I would suspect that other people find that they feel the same way about gardening. They would discover that they, too, can bond with people over gardening.

I have wondered what it is about gardening that makes people able to bond. I have come up with a few ideas, and I hope that in my work with my new garden, I will discover that I am right and that gardening can help me to get to know other people and to share my gardening happiness with other people.

One reason that I believe gardening encourages people to bond is that it allows one to forget about the person. Who cares if you are the lousiest cook in the world if you can grow a beautiful rose? All of your flaws will be forgotten at least while others are looking into your abilities as a gardener.

Another possibility is that gardening is something that is universal. Although there may be some flowers that I find appealing and you do not, all gardeners can recognize the value of another gardener's work. Even if one gardener does not like a certain type of plant, he or she still can appreciate the work that went into growing the plant, which means that mutual respect is more likely in gardening.

Third, many gardeners report a spiritual renewal when they are in their gardens. Working with the soil and being part of the circle of life helps them feel wonderful and renewed, and this happiness starts to seep into other parts of their lives.

Another possibility is that gardening is an ancient art. People have gardened since the beginning of time; indeed, nurturing plants has fed people for millennia. That means that there is far more knowledge out there about gardening than one person can know. I may have heard about a special idea that allows asparagus to grow more easily. Or perhaps I saw an article the other day that made me think about why your pear tree is not blooming. Sharing that knowledge with the common goal of helping the garden to improve is a wonderful way to spend time together.

It is my sincere hope that other gardeners share the same sense of bonding that mother-in-law and sister-in-law do when they are gardening. I hope that other gardeners find that they can forget their problems and communicate, if only during a tour of the garden, with someone else. Try to spend some time with other gardeners and see if you enjoy the time because of your mutual hobby. Gardening can be spiritually and emotionally satisfying, and this phenomenon of garden bonding is but one of the ways.

By Julia Mercer

Benefits to Herb Gardening

Herb gardening can provide a number of benefits for you to enjoy. If you have been hem-hawing on starting an herb garden, then think about why you want to do it. Then read these reasons, because there may be some that you had not even considered.

The best reason, for cooks anyway, is that you will have fresh herbs available. People who do not cook with fresh herbs do not understand the benefit of them, but once you have lasagna with fresh basil and cilantro, you will never want to go back to dried herbs again!

You will always have herbs available. If you are in a rush and just want to pop some pork chops or chicken breasts in the oven, you can do it with a fresh herb garden in your windowsill. You will have a delicious meal without much effort, and you will be amazed at the variety you can find with your fresh herbs.

Herb gardens tend to be more aromatic than other gardens, even flower gardens. Many of these aromas, such as lavender and peppermint, have healing properties. They will soothe you after a stressful day. Working in your herb garden or taking a little whiff will help you to feel much better after a long, hard day.

You will be able to save money if you have a fresh herb garden. Have you ever seen the prices on fresh herbs? Even at less expensive stores, you will find that you will spend a small fortune gathering all of the fresh herbs you need. Try planting your own, and you will quickly recoup any costs of starting the garden.

Plant exchanges are one of the most exciting parts of gardening. Most gardeners love to share their goods with others from neighborhoods to church friends. You can cut some sprigs of sage or a couple of geraniums to take with you to your mother-in-law's house, or you can let your friends nibble from your garden. You will find great joy from sharing your gardening fruits with others.

There is also the point that herb gardening is just plain fun. Instead of working in your garden, you will begin to think of it as spending time in your garden. That means that you will look forward to it and want to make time for your hobby.

One of the fun parts of any type of gardening, but especially herb gardening, is that you will be able to learn. You can learn about new recipes and then start growing the herbs for them. You can read about the historical value of the herbs you are planting. You can learn all about the soil and other needs for the herbs you have selected. Overall, gardening is an educational and experimental hobby.

Herb gardens can provide two physical benefits. First, if you have a larger herb garden, you will get a benefit from the work that you put into the garden. Also, if you add fresh herbs, it can help bring out the vitamins in some foods, meaning that you get better nutrition from foods you already eat.

Herb gardens are pretty to see. They are not like vegetable gardens, which may not be the most elegant looking of gardens. Herb gardens blend well and can be put on your curb or porch without others balking. They will look great alongside your potted plants.

The variety you can get with herb gardens is astounding. You will find that you can get sweet basil, globe basil, cinnamon basil, Italian basil, and other varieties. You would never find those choices in grocery store, regardless of how upscale or health-conscious the store. They simply cannot stock that many kinds of basil. That means that you can grow basil until your heart is content and always have something new.

That said, herb gardens are inexpensive. It is not just about saving money by not growing herbs, it is also about not spending much on the garden itself. You can get containers for pretty cheap, and the herbs themselves are not pricey. You can experiment with your herb garden without breaking the bank.

So, there you have - a plethora of reasons to start an herb garden. Now, get planting!

By Julia Mercer

An Easy Garden

If you are looking a garden that is easy to care for, then here are some of the factors you should consider. Sit down and think about these questions, being honest about your abilities and desires.

Does your garden have features that you do not care to maintain? Roses are beautiful, but they do take work, such as cutting them back and covering them for the winter. There are other beautiful plants that may be more work than you want. If so, then admit it. Either do not buy them or give them away if you already have them.

Will you be starting your garden from scratch? Here is a word to the wise. Even if you are an experienced gardener starting over in a new area, do not overdo it the first couple of year. You do not know what kinds of unanticipated problems will occur, such as storm water drainage or a blocked sun. Keep it simple in the first few years of your garden and add on slowly.

Do you hate pulling weeds? Okay, if you absolutely hate it, then find another hobby. If it is just too much in certain areas, think about adding a gravel path or gravel edging to the garden. You can still use the area if you want to later, as is not the case with adding a deck or patio walk, but you will not have to worry about weeding everyday if you have gravel down.

Are you obsessive about the grassy edges of your garden? Some people want the edge of the grass to be perfect, which means they spend inordinate amounts of time working on trimming the grass. You can stop this cycle by getting a mowing strip or a layer of sod for that area of your garden. You may find that it is more attractive and easier to maintain.

Keep in mind what you can do to make your garden easier to maintain. Ultimately that may mean getting rid of your garden, or at least portions of it, but if you do not have the time or energy to keep it up, you are better off making drastic changes. For example, there are raised bed decks, or you can build one yourself, that are made for rock gardens. Many people put down a rock garden and then do not want to weed it. Try these raised beds so that you can cut back on the weeds in your garden.

If you have a vegetable garden, you could consider changing it to become a container garden. Conditions are more difficult to maintain in traditional gardens, but the vegetable garden will allow you to control the sunlight, growing area, and water more easily. If you have trouble with your veggies, pick a few with shallow root systems and switch to a container.

Ponds are beautiful, but only to the people who do not care for them. Before you put a pond in your yard, think about it carefully. First, the standing water attracts mosquitoes and other pests. Second, they are tough to clean. If you are looking for an easy garden, then a pond is not a good idea for you. Instead try adding a fountain. It will add the serenity of water without the hassle of clean-up.

Hedges can be a pain as well. One way to deal with hedges is to purchase hedge plants. They sit in their own container and are easy to manage. Another choice is to put a small fence around your garden instead of using plant hedges. The garden will still look elegant, but it will not require the kind of care that hedges need.

Get rid of any plants that you cannot grow properly. When you have plants that you do not recognize or that you cannot find information about, do not be afraid to get rid of them. It is better to have a beautiful garden with little variety that a multi-plant garden with dying plants.

If you do not have the time or energy for a traditional garden, never fear! There are plenty of options for you. Try to find plants that will be suitable to your no-maintenance needs. Look for alternatives, such as replanting annuals every year. Do not give up on your garden. Just be realistic about it.

By Julia Mercer

Thoughts On Gardening

I grew up in a farming family. It was not a mega-farm, and we sold very little that we ate. On the other hand, we did feed ourselves with the food we grew, which is great for the finances and healthy bodies. As an adult, though, I have never been into gardening. I cannot tell you why or what keeps me from gardening, but I have some ideas.

For starters, I have lived in the city. Having grown up with acres and acres of farmland around me, I never really considered the possibility of container gardening. Sure, my grandmother had a few plants, including aloe, in containers, but I did not really consider the possibilities of that type of gardening for vegetables or herbs.

Second, I viewed gardening as a sort of women's hobby, and I have vehemently opposed anything, like quilting, that I view as a traditional woman's enjoyment. It is not even because I do not like those things; it is out of principle. Gardening fell into this category. Then there are the less idealistic reasons. One is money. I always thought gardening was an expensive hobby, and we could not spare the money on it. Second is time. My life is full of business and family and chores, and I cannot add something else to my plate.

Now, though, I find myself rethinking gardening. First, I know a good deal about gardening through my work, where I have written a number of gardening articles. Then there are the bits and pieces I picked up just existing in my childhood. So I am a bit ahead of the game there for a novice gardener.

Then there are more abstract reasons that I reconsider gardening. Now that we can afford it, and I know that I can do it for cheap anyway, I am thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to try to get into it. Last year, we had one tomato plant. My husband and I joked that it was our first year planting a garden. We ate about 10 tomatoes off that one plant. None of them were very big, but they were delicious! I enjoyed picking our own vegetable from our own plant and eating it. Plus, I love tomatoes, but they are expensive in our area. It was a great treat for the family to eat what we had grown.

I also think about the spirituality of gardening. Having grown up in a very emotional evangelical Protestant house, I yearn for the same kind of spiritual connection that I had as a child. It is not about God proper or salvation. It goes beyond that. If we believe that God exists in all of Nature, because He made it, then we can commune with God and get in touch with our spirituality through everyday acts. This kind of closeness to God is what I believe can make my life feel better.

Gardening is one way that I believe I can reach this pinnacle of spiritual fulfillment. Religion and earth are twisted up together for me. Being part of the planet's natural processes, watching something grow from nothing, giving myself to nurture something else are all part of being spiritually and emotionally fulfilled. When I think of gardening, I can see those connections. Maybe I am only fooling myself, but I am thinking of giving gardening a shot this year, beyond my one tomato plant, so that I can experience the serenity that gardeners report feeling about their hobby.

The whole gardening experience can be an adventure. I will do my research, get the right gear (which for me will be little more than gloves and one of those little shovels), and try my hand at gardening. My baby will be a toddler by the spring (yikes!), so he can toddle along behind me to help. It can be fun. It can be our adventure together.

Maybe after a couple of gardening seasons, I will catch the bug. Then I can become one of those crazy women who is always obsessing about what is growing where and when. If it does not catch on, then hey, I will have tried. It will move to my list of hobbies that were not for me, and I will begin a new adventure. Life, after all, is about having adventures everyday.

By Julia Mercer

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Garden all their Own

By Christina VanGinkel

Letting kids design and plant their very own garden is a great way to get them interested in more than just digging in the dirt. A garden can help diminish their reluctance to eat many of the vegetables that they have had no interest in whatsoever. While this will not work for all kids, it will for many. By giving them the opportunity to choose which vegetables to grow, in either their own garden or at least their own space within the family's bigger garden, they gain control over what they will eventually eat. Bargain with them for the opportunity to attempt to grow anything they want. In return for growing it, they have to only agree to at least try whatever it produces. For reluctant eaters of anything that is from the vegetable family at all, this is a great way for them to at the least, try some new foods. Tell them that they can share whatever else they produce with neighbors and friends, or have them call a local senior center or shelter that serves meals and ask if they would accept the extras. This will also teach your kids that a garden can be bountiful, but it never has to go to waste!

Try to make the idea of gardening as attractive as you can if any of your goals include getting kids to garden long term. Set down with them, provide them with a journal, and go over the complete planning process from where to put the garden, to what they will plant in it, to what care beyond the basics may be required. Kids like simple, so keep that in mind. Provide them with a calendar too, showing them an approximate time of when the garden should start to produce. Kids are visual creatures and they like things in a form such as a calendar, which they can refer to when it seems like the garden may be doing nothing at all. Be prepared to get out there with your kids too. If you leave all the work to them, they may become frustrated. If they request that you leave the upkeep to them though, do.

If you live in an area where garden pests such as deer and raccoon can be a problem, get the kids involved in rectifying those problems too. It will add another dimension to this activity called gardening and provide them with other things to focus on besides when the first green sprouts will appear, or the first bud of a real, live vegetable. If a fence is to be erected, even the smallest kids can be involved with digging the holes to place the posts, and stapling chicken wire in place.

If wire fencing is not an option, or something you would rather not tackle, help them look up plants that will naturally help to keep the pests out of the garden, and act as natural deterrents. Then help them plant a perimeter around the garden of several of these natural deterrents. Several species work well for deterring animals, including deer and rabbits, two of a garden's most destructive visitors.

Kids are also easily excited by other pest control options. In addition, their fascination with the garden in general can be increased by letting them build, and erect some of these tried and true pest control techniques, such as the icon commonly thought of as a permanent resident of numerous gardens everywhere, a scarecrow! Get them to nail the frame together, with a parent's help if they are on the young side, and then dress it in some of their very own outgrown clothes. Other interesting ways for kids to accomplish keeping their plantings safe from deer and even smaller subjects such as rabbits, include hanging a perimeter of empty milk jugs, or other items that will blow in the breeze. Shiny strips of plastic work great too.

If they really take to the task of gardening, be sure to provide both inspiration and as much or as little help along the way, as they would like. Like adults, some kids like the solitary aspect of gardening, while others will be looking for the social aspect of a parent next to them as they weed and harvest the fruits of all their labor!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stepping Stones

By Christina VanGinkel

I love garden decorations, almost as much as the flowers and plants that make up the garden themselves, so when my youngest son made me a cement stepping-stone in school about two years ago, (That I will cherish forever I might add!) I became obsessed with finding more of these decorative additions to use in my gardens and to create new walkways. They not only look great, they have an actual purpose, and that is always a plus with anything in my life!

The one he made is a mosaic of a dolphin leaping out of a big wave. Made out of cut glass, set into cement, he both designed and handcrafted it. It was made by placing pieces of cut glass into a mosaic, which made up his design, into the bottom of the mold, then pouring his cement over the finished design. When he took it out of the mold, the design was then on top. He made this particular one in a middle school art class, so though it might sound a bit on the complicated side, other than taking the time to lay out the design, he said it was really quite easy to make.

I have seen stepping stones made from a variety of materials, but my favorites are made in much the same way that this first one I received was, or out of natural materials including slabs of wood and found rocks. I also love the ones that are made of an artificial material but look like stone, but each has a single word or short inspirational phrase etched into it, such as love, joy, life, laugh, or peace.

To make your own from slabs of wood, choose a wood such as cedar that will last a long time naturally, then choose to either leave the slabs in their natural state, or finish with a sealant that is both waterproof and that will not alter the look of the wood more than you want it too. A bit of caution though: Do not seal the wood in a shellac that is going to be slippery when wet. If you are anything like me, after a rain is one of your most favorite times for a stroll in your garden, and a slippery pathway is the last thing you want, not to mention a slippery walkway when you are out watering!

So imagine my incredible delight when I discovered a whole array of stepping stones and walkway molds at Outdoor D├ęcor, linked right here from iGardeners.com. With their available molds, I could essentially create any stepping stone I could dream up. They also have what they refer to as a walkway mold, which allows the user to create a complete walkway and not just a random path of stepping-stones. By creating a walkway in this manner though, instead of using pre-made bricks or pavers, you can essentially personalize the walkway in any manner you choose.

One unique stepping-stone that they had was so unique that IO had never seen one like it elsewhere. Made of cast iron, it is a floral design, called a Fleur de lis, and is stunning. I can picture several of them leading up to a small table where I can sit and enjoy a cup of tea in the early morning light, or a glass of wine as the sun sets.

Another set that they had appealed to the kid in me very much. Made up of three separate pieces, it was a hippopotamus, and when the pieces are placed in order, it appears as if the hippo is swimming just beneath the surface. These could be placed in the traditional sense of other stepping-stones, or placed in a very shallow pond, giving the illusion of depth to an otherwise shallow body of water.

If you enjoy getting out into your garden, walking the pathways, and want to lend a bit of style or a touch of character to your otherwise plain paths, pick out a few stepping stones in a fashion that will add to your garden's overall look. On the other hand, make your own for some one of kind steps that will be admired by all who walk within.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

3D garden Composer Software

By Christina VanGinkel

When you think of gardening, most people would not think of the computer, but the two have come together in some surprising ways to benefit the gardener both during the off-season and year round for that matter. There are some splendid programs that are available that can benefit both the gardener in general and those looking for some help planning their landscape.

One of my favorite uses for garden software is to plan where I am going to plant future flowers, which brings me to my favorite software program, 3D garden Composer. 3D Garden Composer will not only let me view flowers, it comes complete with 800 fully 3D plant objects, 400 3D pre-designed objects, and an additional 100 material textures to allow the most detailed planning that a user could ask for in a gardening program. This is coupled with numerous other features that make this one of my all time favorite garden programs, including a plant encyclopedia that has listings for 15,000 plants, including trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables. The plant encyclopedia is complete with 22,500 images. When I think about why I like this program so much, part of it is the uses for the garden, but I will admit that we have also used the program as a homework aid when my children had to do a detailed report on trees that grow naturally in our area. It was indispensable for this fact alone, not to mention the reason we bought it in the first place, for the garden.

With so many of us using our digital cameras in ways we never thought of before it was so easy to snap and download them to our computers, the intuitive interface of this program also allows the user to use their photos to help design a plan based on these very photos. Digital images are also included to get you designing right out of the box. If all of this sounds too complicated, no worries there either, as the program comes complete with three hours of detailed video for an animated tutorial to get you using and understanding all the available and built in features, because what good will it all do the user, if they cannot understand how to use it.

This program goes far beyond the design stage too, with an included guide to the prevention of 370 garden pests. Incorporated into the program is how to deal with, and treat them, if they do land in the middle of all your hard work. Six hundred and fifty illustrated images of plant diseases will also allow you to diagnose and better treat any ailments that happen.

For those who just do not know where to start designing a garden, the makers of this program have even thought of you, and included more than 30 pre-designed garden plans. In addition, for the garden newbie his or her self, they have included 100 animations for how to care for your plants once you take the big step of actually planting your first plants.

If you are wondering how one program could fit all of this into a single program, consider that this is not even every feature. They have coupled all of this with the ability to view a garden design throughout different seasons, and to see the growth of different plants and trees over the span of years, showing their average growth to give you an idea of how certain planting will fill in and mature through the oncoming years. This program includes a look at features also incorporated oftentimes into gardens, such as fences, arbors, walkways, and more. If you are an individual, business, or group looking for help in planning and building a garden, whether for personal or public display, this may be just the program you are looking for, as it will help from the very beginning of any planning all the way to helping you care for it in the coming years. With its easy to learn interface and the built in tutorial I mentioned earlier, this truly is a software title that anyone can learn to use, and one that you will find yourself going back to time and again for all of the useful and included information.

Hidden Dangers in the Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Let me explain that to my family, I am considered the one who worries enough for everybody else, to the point that they do not need to worry about anything at all, as they are sure I have it covered. Take my daughter and grandson for an example. This past summer, when they would come for a visit and my young grandson would wander outside into the garden, I would be constantly checking on him, ordering my daughter to also, or having my husband check on him. Keep in mind that we do live rurally, but our garden is small no matter how you measure it. By him wandering, I am referring to him stepping a few rows over, or walking to the far side of it to our rabbit's hutch, as in single white rabbit, furry, friendly, and only active enough to get up and approach whoever is at his cage door if they happen to be sporting a carrot the size of New Zealand!

Still, i9 had a million worries that would run through my mind on the hazards of a small child in a garden. Realistically, I know many of them were unfounded, such as the time I worried that a bear might be around. Yes, we do have black bear in our area, but we also have a yard full of hounds that would bark non-stop if a bear were anywhere in a quarter mile radius of the house. Not to mention that a field backs our garden past the rabbit hutch and we could see clear as day that there was not a bear around. The wildest thing out there in the garden that day was my grandson himself stomping on ladybugs!

There are dangers to be found in a garden though, and a toddler or young child, should not be left unattended in one. Spiders frequent gardens, and while the majority of them are not harmful as far as their bites go, many are. Keep in mind that some spiders, whose bite would not be a danger to an adult, could be harmful to a small child, mainly because of the child's small size. In addition, any bite, poisonous or not, is not going to be something a child is going to get over quickly. It will hurt, and they will remember that.

Bees and wasps are another danger that we do not often give a lot of thought to, until someone is stung. Allergic as I am to wasps, and after being witness to a friends young daughter have a serious allergic reaction after being stung by a bee as she reached out to pick a flower in the family's garden, I am constantly aware that small kids do not always think when surrounded by flowers and vegetables when it comes to bugs and insects. At the least, they can cause pain, and at their worst, a severe allergic reaction that will require immediate medical attention.

Other small bugs and creatures also live in and around a garden, and with all of them, including the bees and wasps, and spiders, teaching kids never to touch them is really the smartest thing you can do. If you want to show a child a caterpillar for example, have the adult pick it up, reminding the kids that they should not handle any bug or insect, no matter how cute they think they might be. If you have an older child, get them a bug kit if they are the type that is so inclined to pick up everything, and teach them how to use the tweezers and net to handle the bugs, never letting their hands come in contact. Even then, remind them that some are still not to be approached, such as wasps, bees, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions!

Living in the Northwood's of Wisconsin, I am also aware of the dangers brought on by ticks. They are known to carry Lyme's Disease in our area, and a variety of other illnesses in different parts of the country. Gardens are of course just one of the many places that they can be, but it is a concern. Some are as small as the size of a pinhead or even a speck of dirt, and illness does not always show up right away, yet even I know that staying inside is not the way to deal with ticks. They can be blown about in the wind even walking to my front door from the car, or carried in on the family dog. Being vigilant about checking for them throughout spring, summer, and fall is really the only way to handle them, wearing long sleeves and socks when you know you may be in an area that has a lot of them, and using some of the approved tick control products that are available. With my grandson, my daughter keeps his hair cut short to aid in doing tick checks throughout the day, as he spends so much of his time outdoors.

Gardening's Gift of Patience

By Christina VanGinkel

Gardening is a task that teaches patience. You ready the ground, you decide on what will be planted, you plant, and then the real work starts. You water, then you weed, and then you water and weed some more, and then when you think not another weed could possibly sprout, you pull a few more. If you are a good gardener, or a lucky one, at the end of all of the work, you are rewarded with the bounty of your very own harvest! If there is one thing, gardening is not, it is not quick to provide that bounty of rewards, so one must learn the craft of both work and patience. If you are someone who gardens as a passion, even when others have put away their tools for the winter, then your work never ends. You are constantly pruning, and clipping, and training baby plants to grow, even when others would have long ago given up and tossed in the towel.

With the holiday week in full swing in our house, and a heavy blanket of white snow outside, it is a wonder that I am thinking about gardening at all, but in truth, it is one thing that I have been reminiscing, and thinking about, the most. My mother always tended plants year round, inside and out, and when Christmas was on the horizon, she would miraculously pull out her poinsettias and lilies, all in full bloom and a wonder to us kids that something as beautiful as they could exist when everything outside was frozen over in white and nothing resembling life existed.

This of course was long before the super centers of today with their shelves lined up with a selection of both these and other plants just ready for a trip through the checkout lane. Even gardening has taken shortcuts in our modern world, by allowing others to do the work that was once required by those wanting to enjoy the fruits of labor. Where as my mother would have been planning her colorful additions to our holiday table year round, and from year to year, working in her greenhouse, or finding a greenhouse that would deliver weeks in advance, I have the luxury of deciding at the last minute that a bit of red, white, and green foliage would look lovely decorating my home or table. With a quick jaunt to the store and plunking down a few dollars, I can bring home the fruits of somebody else's harvest. From a greenhouse far off, I can even buy a few extra to give as gifts to friends and family.

I replay a speech very similar to what I just wrote, to both my oldest and youngest sons, (minus the part about me running off to buy a few plants at the last minute) as they again ask me if they can open a present. I remind them that it is still five days and counting to the big day, and they look at me as if to ask what in the world that all has to do with opening up a present early. It has to do with learning that things take time, that not everything in life is instantaneous, even though in this fast paced world of instant download software, teller machines that spit cash just by swiping our cards, and pay at the pumps, it may seem like our world is an instant version of what once was.

What needs to be remembered though, is that like the plants that we start in the earliest of spring, that do not ripen until late fall, some things take time, and the longer they take, the better the rewards. If I were to let them open a present now, I try to explain to them, they will have lost all the anticipation that would have built by Christmas morning. Like a pumpkin that has been picked in late summer, almost ripe, but not quite, that has no life as a jack-o-lantern, even though it is orange in color, but not fully-grown, not mature to the point that it could be carved, and even if it were, it would rot and mold long before the arrival of Halloween. So too would their presents be lacking the spirit that would arrive to finish them off come Christmas morning, their luster and newness already diminishing when it should only be starting. There is a lot to be learned from gardening, and patience is by far one of gardening's greatest rewards!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Benefits of Organic Gardening

There are a number of reasons one should consider organic gardening. First, most people who try organic fruits and vegetables do not want to return to other types of gardening because they believe that organic tastes better. Without the constraint of traditional gardening, such as pesticides that must be washed off, organic gardening tastes great. These veggies can be eaten straight off the vine instead of your having to wash them first. Plus, they retain a more "natural" taste if they do not have any chemicals in them. If you are not convinced of the taste of organic vegetables, try them out. Pick one of your favorite veggies. Buy one organic and one non-organic the next time you go to the store to see if you can tell a difference in the taste.

The second reason to try organic gardening is that it can save money. If you have ever looked at the price of organic veggies in the store, you were probably shocked! Organic fruits and vegetables are very expensive. Even buying non-organic produce can come with a steep price tag. Having your own garden, however, does not have to be an expensive proposition. Chances are that you can discover many of the items you will need to make a small garden for very little money. If you want to have a container garden, for example, you can use old coffee cans. Organic gardens are less expensive on a small scale because you will not have to spend money on pesticides.

Third, organic gardens are healthier for you than their non-organic counterparts. There is some debate about the extent of the health benefits from organic crops, but most people who grow organic claim to feel much better. Even if you want empirical studies to back up their claims, you must admit that there is something bountiful and delicious about picking your veggies off the vine and then eating them right then and there without even needing to wash them. There is no chance that pesticides will harm you if they are not in your food. You can experiment with this feeling by trying a few organic veggies from your grocer and see if you feel better. There is ample research available online that will help you to decipher the debate about the health of eating organic. One of the problems with buying organic, however, is that you cannot be sure that what you are buying has not been chemically treated. Because the FDA does not recognize "organic" as a category, farmers have different standards for what they label organic. Because of these discrepancies, you should become an organic gardener so that you know exactly what is in your vegetables.

Organic gardening also is better for the environment. Chemicals that we use today may prove to be dangerous tomorrow. We have seen that happen with many items from DDT to lead-based paints. If you are growing your veggies organically, then you will not even need to consider whether or not you will hurt the environment because you will not! You also will find that you are helping to replenish the soil if you are smart about your organic gardening. Using compost, which almost all organic gardeners do, is a way to recycle what would become organic waste in your kitchen. Compost is made of eggshells, vegetable peels, and other items you would throw away otherwise.

Finally, gardeners who go organic are able to reconvene with nature in a way that is not as easily possible if you use chemicals in the garden. You will need to weed more often and will be more involved with the development of each plant if you are organic gardening. The time you spend pulling weeds, nurturing plants, and checking the soil is time for you to be alone and think about your life. Growing food can help you feel better about your spiritual connection with the world. That means that you will find that you are closer to nature, which is an incredible personal benefit for you.

These benefits are just a few of those you will get from planting organic vegetables. When you try organic gardening for yourself, you will discover what you love about organic gardening!

By Julia Mercer

Is Gardening Right For You?

Gardening is a popular hobby right now. Many people are discovering that while they thought they would never do something so old-fashioned, it can be lots of fun! If you are considering planting something come spring, first make sure that you think about whether or not gardening is right for you.

Gardening is a constant hobby. It is not something that you can work on diligently for three days and then leave. You will need to use fertilizers or tend to the garden regularly if you will be going the organic route. You also will need to be available at harvest time. If you do not know when harvest times are, check your local nursery provider or look on the packets of seeds you purchase. If you will not be available during those times, then you probably do not want to garden, or at least you do not want to plant that specific crop.

You also must have patience to garden. All of your veggies, flowers, or herbs will not grow this year, and that is okay. Growing a gardening is about nurturing your garden and your soul, but some of the little guys will not make it no matter how good you are. That means that you have to be prepared to put in work with the possibility of no return.

Gardening also requires attention to detail. At least in the beginning, you will spend a good bit of time educating yourself about gardening. How do you plant a certain type of seed? What is compost? How do you get started making compost? How much water do the plants need? It is vital to put in the research time to help make your garden more successful.

Gardening also is about experimenting. Sometimes the plans in your gardening book will not work best for your area because of water drainage, sunlight, temperature, or some unknown factor. That means that you will need to get down with your plants and look for ways to make them grow better. If you enjoy that type of experimenting, then you may find gardening immensely enjoyable!

For the most part, gardening is an individual hobby. While you may find that you can work with others sometimes by having them help you with specific tasks, the majority of your time will be spent on your own, on your hands and knees, working in the garden. This solitude is great for people who love gardening and gives them time to reflect on their lives. Gardening provides a great way to get away from the stresses of your life, and people who garden often report feeling health benefits from the exercise of their hobby.

The final question you must ask is whether you like to get dirty! Gardening comes with a certain amount of dirt, by nature, and if you are finicky about your clothes or hair and will not want to get dirty, then this hobby is not for you. If you do not mind a little dirt on your hands, then you will find this hobby one that you can enjoy well into old age. One of the joys of gardening is that it is something people can begin to do at a very early age and then something they can continue through their elderly years. Gardening is relaxing and can be expanded or contracted to fit your needs at any particular time.

If you think that you have the personality for a gardening hobby, start small. You do not have to jump in completely the first time around. Start by planning your compost pile or by researching the types of plants that will grow in your area. When springtime comes around, give gardening a try by planting a few plants to experiment. Try some of the hardier varieties when you are starting out so that you can test whether or not you will like gardening with some plants that will be tough to kill. If you discover that you have what it takes to be a gardener, then you can add to your crop every year until you have enough to feed your family, at least in the summer months.

Give it a try. What do you have to lose?


By Julia Mercer

Help Your Child Plan a Veggie Garden

Children love to grow things. They also love to play in the dirt. Why not help them to develop a hobby and lifelong joy by working with them to grow their own gardens?

The first step will be to get your child on board. You can explain all of the wonderful qualities of growing a garden. Make it something a child will care about - you can get dirty anytime you are working in the garden. You also should include more adult reasons, too, however. Tell your child about replenishing the earth and that he or she will be helping the family by providing vegetables or will be making something that is beautiful if a flower garden is on the agenda.

Next, you should include your child in all of the decisions. While you are the parent and should make any final decisions, let your child in on them along the way. What does he or she want to plant? Why? If it is something that is possible, go for it. If not, explain why. Also allow your child to pick out her or his basic gardening gear - a small shovel, gloves, and a couple of buckets. It will make the experience more fun to get some new stuff for the hobby.

When you are planning what you will plant, think about the senses. Even vegetable gardens can be appealing to the eyes because of the wide array of colors. Do not leave out smell and touch, though. Think about trying some mint or something with unique leaves. Your child will want to have fun in the garden and by planting a few things that he or she can smell or touch, you will make gardening more rewarding.

Another consideration is to plant something that your child can eat right off the vine. If you are planting veggies, then you can try some tomatoes or other easy off-the-vine foods. If you will be planting herbs, think about some of the mints or others that you can pick and eat. Research edible flowers, too, and you may find something that will grow in your climate zone.

Plan to allow your child to work on the garden alone. While you will, of course, need to supervise, particularly in the beginning of your gardening adventure, you should give your child the opportunity to do most of the work him or herself. You will need to remind your child that the garden needs tending. Remember that while gardening may be fun, you should use the opportunity to teach responsibility as well. You can work with your child on a gardening schedule or let her or him know that walking the garden daily to tend to problems is an excellent way to ensure a good crop.

You can educate your child on a number of subjects while you are gardening. You can talk about math - such as, "if we have three row of tomatoes with four plants per row, how many tomato plants will we have?" You also can use the time to talk about the agricultural past or people who still may not get enough food in today's world. Then, of course, there is the general gardening knowledge your child will need to learn, from harvesting times to weather patterns. A garden is a wonderful educational tool for a child.

Finally, do not pick plants that are prone to die easily. Some plants are simple. You can grow them with little daily attendance and even if you do not give them the right amount of water and other care. Others, though, will not survive. Your child will be devastated is her or his first experience gardening yields more dead plants than live ones. It may just convince her or him that gardening is not such a fun hobby. Be sure to check for the hardiness of any plants you decide to grow.

Be sure that you make the experience a fun one. Do not be overbearing even if you think your child is making a mistake. Carefully explain why he or she should do X or Y, but do not lord over the gardening. Allow your child to have fun, and you could be starting a lifelong love.

By Julia Mercer

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gifts for the Gardeners on your Holiday List

By Christina VanGinkel

Even the cold of a snowy winter day does not deter a gardener from dreaming about the coming spring and summer, so giving gifts this holiday season that are inspired by your favorite persons love of gardening are excellent ideas.

Some suggestions to get you started on picking out the perfect gifts:

Heart shaped or word stones to place in the garden or along a garden trail. Heart stones are made of natural soapstone, gently carved into heart shapes. They can be used in houseplants as a decorative touch year round or just until spring, or even as a paperweight to hold down a stack of order forms for a spring bulb order! Word stones impart a single word of wisdom such as love, peace, or hope for anyone who happens upon one of these lucky stones that your gardener rests among their favorite plants and shrubs.

A Garden Labeler is a handy little gadget that prints labels of all sorts that will stand up to all the weather has to offer, including sun, rain, heat, even frost. It prints on specially laminated tape to make this possible, and is perfect for marking everything from rows to your tools. This handy little labeler is also ideal for all sorts of labeling needs around and in the house too, so it is even more functional then ever.

Tree-in-a-Box Kit comes complete in a very decorative box with everything for the recipient of this unique gift to plant their very own tree, including complete instructions, peat pot, peat pellet, and seeds from your choice of trees, including the American Elm (which is more and more rare), an evergreen, or a blue spruce. I highly recommend these for the beginning child gardener, as it will demonstrate through the years how lasting a plant can be, or even as a gift to a family, so that they can plant it together.

Buy your favorite gardener a pair of colorful clogs, designed specifically for time spent in the garden. One hundred percent waterproof, they come with lug soles to provide secure footing out in the garden. Easy to keep clean, they can be quickly hosed off, or tossed in the sink for a quick rinse. Easy to slip on and off, they will become your gardener's favorite pair of shoes to head out into the garden in, and save them the bother of trying to keep their everyday shoes clean every time that they want to pop into the garden for a bit of work.

Flower presses make great gifts so that flowers can be treasured long after their lifespan has ended. They come in versions as simple as wood flats that screw together, or sophisticated versions that pop in the microwave for those who want to dry their petals right away without a long wait.

Birdseed and feeders are always welcome gifts for gardeners, as most love to feed the birds year round, even when their garden is mostly dormant, or covered beneath the snow. Feeders are available in a variety of decorative choices, including glass, copper, and figural designs. Give the feeder with a bag of wild birdseed or a bag of black sunflowers, and there will soon be a colorful reminder of what spring will soon deliver.