Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Attracting Butterflies To Your Garden

If you would like to have beautiful butterflies in your garden, do not leave it to chance. Instead plant and design your garden with butterflies in mind. You will find that by having the right layout with the right types of plants, butterflies will be happy to call your garden paradise home.

First, butterflies like to be in areas where they are protected by the wind. Think of it from the perspective of the butterfly, and you will have an easier time imagining why. They are very light, and the wind can move their wings, so if the butterflies are going to light on your plants, they want to do so with basic protection from the wind. Design where you put the plants that will attract the butterflies with this thought in mind.

Butterflies are cold-blooded. That basically means that their body temperatures change to match the area around them, but it also means that they cannot deal with extreme colds. Instead they love to bask in the warmth of the sunlight. If you plan on attracting butterflies to your garden, then you should put the plants that will attract them in direct sunlight. It also will help the plants grow, and you probably will enjoy the plants more in the sun anyway. Because of that, everyone wins!

Butterflies light on flowers because they love the nectar in the flowers. That means that certain plants with larger flowers are easier to get nectar from, so the butterflies will tend to gravitate more toward those plants. You can do a little research to find out what plants grow well in your climate zone that also are easy nectar-producers. Be sure that you group these plants together so that they will be more likely to attract the butterflies. That is because butterflies like to be able to go to an area and light on plant after plant, so if you are able to provide a number of plants, then you are one step ahead of the game.

When you are planning the wonderful butterfly garden, you also should consider what you enjoy. The entire reason for planting a garden that will attract butterflies is that you will want to enjoy their beauty. That means that you should think about yourself, too. Decide on where you will be able to sit to enjoy the butterflies. If you already have seating there, that is great. If you do not, then you should plan to purchase a bench or put out chairs where you will be able to enjoy the garden.

Butterflies also like to drink water, and you can increase your chances of drawing in the butterflies if you will keep a small fountain with water in the basin. The fountain should flow gently so as not to scare away the butterflies. The basin should have a small pool of water with plenty of room for the creatures to drink out of it.

Do not use insecticides if you want a butterfly garden! Butterflies are insects, and many of the poisons will harm or kill them. You will not have any butterflies in your garden if you spray for other insects, so avoid those sprays altogether.

One way that you can increase the presence of butterflies in your area is to provide food for the caterpillars, which are the early stage of butterflies. If you have plants with large leaves that are great to munch, the caterpillars will be more likely to hang out in your yard. That means that they will already be there once they become butterflies, and you will be adding to the likelihood tha they will stay.

Butterflies find themselves attracted to the same plants as hummingbirds, so if you are increasing your butterfly population, you are likely to see an increase in the beautiful hummingbirds that are flying around.

The butterfly garden has a number of benefits for your other plants, but this is one area where you can definitely put yourself first. You will find that you enjoy the garden more when there are swarms of color moving around it. You should work on your butterfly garden with that in mind because when you are hot and sweaty, it will help to think of the beauty you are making happen.

By Julia Mercer

Write A Book About Gardening

One of the ways that you can use your gardening experience to catapult you into making money from your garden is to write a book about it. Non-fiction books are really the money-makers for most authors although people tend to think of fiction books only. (Of course, if you have a fiction idea that revolves around your garden, then go for it!) For most people, however, the best bet is to try to write a non-fiction book revolving around their gardening experiences.

You should begin to think about how your gardening experience may be unique. Right now organic gardening is a popular topic. Perhaps you have been doing organic gardening for 20 years. You may have some tips that you can share. Perhaps you have won contests with the veggies in your garden. Then you are qualified to write a book about growing prize vegetables.

Even if you do not have something like prize-winning squash, you definitely have knowledge. There needs to be something unique about your experience. It is called a hook, and it is vital if you want to have a way to sell your gardening book to publishers. They need to know why they should pick you over the 24 other gardening ideas they received this month.

You may want to try attaching something to your gardening experiences. For example, you can tell your gardening tips through stories. Tell about how you learned about asparagus when your daughter accidentally trampled yours. Or perhaps you want to consider including recipes from the garden so that you can combine a gardening manual with a cookbook.

Whatever the hook you should have it and be prepared to stick to that theme. Begin by jotting down the ideas you want to include in the book. You can have ideas that form an outline or something more informal where you are jotting the experiences and tips you want to share with your readers.

Once you have finalized your ideas for the book, you can begin to work on it. You should begin by forcing yourself to sit at the computer everyday. Trust me on this one. Even if you love writing, there will be days will you will wish you had someone to duct tape you to the chair. You should focus on setting aside a certain time everyday. Start with half an hour or an hour. Make yourself write during that time for your gardening book.

As you go, you will begin to get into the flow of the writing, and it will be much easier to complete it. Before you know it, you will have the first draft of the book completed, all from your experiences with your hobby. Once you have the first draft, the tedious work begins. You will need to edit the book after you have left it alone for about a week. Come back to it with fresh eyes. Also ask a couple of people close to you to read the book. Although they probably will not give you valuable critiques because they do not want to hurt your feelings, they will allow you to get more comfortable with having other people read your work.

After the close friends, you will need to look for beta readers. It is important to think about your target audience. You will want people from this audience, whether it is old pros or beginners, to read your book. You also should try to find at least one person who is an expert in the subject you are covering. Perhaps a local extension agent who focuses on organic gardening or a wonderful cook who owns a local restaurant. It is important to have a range of readers in this group, called your beta readers, because they will share any holes or questions they have about your manuscript.

Working on a gardening book can be a wonderful way to have more time to spend in your garden. Not only will you enjoy the time because you are working on something you love, but you will have new ways to share your passion with other people. Keep working even if you get discouraged. Writing a book is a long and tedious process, but the rewards are well worth it.

By Julia Mercer

Selling Flowers and Herbs From Your Garden

Gardening can be a great way to celebrate what you have to sell. If you want to try your hand at growing flowers or herbs to sell to others, which is a distinctly different animal from selling fruits and veggies, you should begin your research well before you plan to begin your business.

You probably will want to start out small. You can sell only tulips or only cuts of basil. You will need to look at your gardening space. Do you make enough now that you would have surplus to sell? If you do, then there is little change to be made. If not, then you need to think about how much space you have. Converting your gardening area from one that is for personal use to one that allows you to sell to others can be a chore.

The amount of work you will need to do will depend on how much you want to get out of your garden. Some people want only to support their gardening efforts, so they are happy with making only a couple of hundred bucks a year from their gardening business. Others will want to begin to pay bills for their families, perhaps even supplanting a current income. Combine your goals with the space you have available and sit down to come up with a vision for your gardening business.

During the first year, you will need to start small. What plant did you choose to sell? After you know the plant you will sell, you will be in the position to make a few decisions. First, decide how much you will need to sell each plant for to be able to make a profit? If you are unsure about how much people will pay, check out your local nursery. In the case of herbs, look in the produce section. How much are people paying for small cuts of the herb you will sell? Make your decision based on these factors.

You also will need to determine how you will present the plants for sale. For example, if you are selling tulips, you may be prepared to put them into bouquets for people, or you may want to add vases as a complementary item. On the other hand, you may be germinating basil seeds and then selling the wee little plants. Decide on this part of your gardening business so that you can develop a gardening plan.

Once you know what you are selling, you will need to find out where. If you will be selling bouquets or cuts of flowers, there are a couple of good places to begin your marketing. First you should take out an ad in your local newspaper or in industry newspapers. Some people create coupon newspapers, and if you see them (they typically can be found in local stores for free), you should call the owner and ask about running an ad with a coupon. Find out the circulation and the cost of the ad to decide.

Advertising through newspapers will work for selling to individuals, but you may want to consider selling to businesses. You should approach the business owner directly with samples of your work. You may want to try local bridal shops or the gift shop in the hospital. Be creative. Who could use your product?

If you are going the germinated plant route, then think about setting up at a local farmers' market. You should get great foot traffic, and the people who shop there are likely to want to grow their own herbs. You should provide uses for the herb as well as little pamphlets to explain the care of the plant. You may even try flea markets or other places where people will be looking for interesting bargains.

Selling flowers or herbs from your own garden is something that can be great fun. You will find that you look forward to work much more when it is something that you want to be doing, instead of something you have to be doing. You should think about your gardening business as you go along. Have plans for expansion but start small. Know where you want the business to go and then get moving. Start it today while you are motivated!

By Julia Mercerhttp://www.bznewswire.com

Catnip: Not Just For Felines Anymore

Are you in love with your cats? Do you want to give them a special treat? Try growing some catnip for them! There are variations of catnip these days, so you can grow it in almost any garden and use it for many reasons, including human consumption! Remember that catnip is a close cousin to the mint plant, so it is perfectly safe for people to eat.

The plant is called catnip, as has been called some variation of it since at least the thirteenth century, because the leaves emulate the smell of cat pheromones. These hormones are related to a cat's sex drive and are the reason that your little kitty goes nuts for catnip. Still, the leaves are great for other uses as well.

You can use catnip to make a tea for yourself if you are suffering from a cold or flu. You will need to steep one teaspoon of catnip into a cup of boiling water. If you are new to making teas, steeping simply means boiling the water and adding the leaves, which you will then remove. (Some people do not remove them but do not drink them.) Add in the juice from a slice of lemon, and you are ready to go.

If you want to make a little treat for your kitty, mix a handful of rose petals with a handful of catnip. Sew a tiny little satin bag with a string on the end and give it to your cat. There will be no end to the kinds of enjoyment you can get out of watching your cat have fun with the catnip toys you make.

You (and your cat) can try candied catnip leaves. You will need to mix together an egg white with a tablespoon of lemon. Dip a leaf in the lemon and then dip it into sugar. Allow it to harden and then refrigerate for two hours before eating.

Catnip is an easy plant to grow. As a perennial, it will continue to come up after you have the first successful year. The leaves to this tree are soft and fuzzy. They often appear heart-shaped and have serrated edges. Although few people know this, catnip actually grows wild throughout the United States. The early colonists brought it to this country, and they planted it in their gardens. Because catnip is such an easy grower, however, it left their gardens and propagated on its own. There are more than 200 species of catnip throughout the world with about 20 of them growing in America.

The first year you have your catnip plants, they will grow to about a foot tall. Within two more growing seasons, the plants should reach their full height of about 2 1/2 to 3 feet. Then they will be excellent for you to grow year after year. The plants will come up quickly after the last freeze, and they will bloom through the summer. You should be able to get several harvests from them each year.

Catnip plants are attractive to a lot of insects, however, and people should be aware of that. Few of the insects will attack the catnip itself. Some of the bugs are helpful, but others will attack some of the garden's other plants. Hummingbirds are known to light on catnip blossoms, which range in a wide variety of colors, throughout the summer months.

The biggest danger to catnip plants is the cat him or herself. There really is no good way to keep cats from the plants, but you can try caging the plants in. The cats will be happy to harvest for you, however, so watch out. There is no stop the felines when the catnip blossoms are in full bloom.

The catnip plant is an interesting one. There are several different varieties you can try, and you can even try catmint, which is a mixture of the mint plant and the catnip plant. These choices make excellent additions to your garden. Your cat will love the tasty treat instead of being subjected to dry cat food or even dried catnip all the time. After all, if you are enjoying freshly grown herbs, your cat should get the pleasure, too!

By Julia Mercer

Gardening Business Ideas

If you are really into gardening, there is no reason that you cannot turn that love of the outdoors into a business venture. You will only need a little creativity and the right idea, and you will be set to have a gardening business in no time. There are a number of options you have for making your gardening hobby into something profitable.

One option is to write a book. The key to writing a non-fiction book is that you have to have a hook. People need to have a reason to pick up your book instead of thousands of other ones out there. You can focus on one aspect of gardening, such as how to start an organic garden or how to feed your entire family from your garden. If you live in a unique climate, then you can write a book on dealing with plants in that climate area. Use your general experiences as a springboard for writing a book about gardening.

The second way you could use gardening as a business is to sell your stock. There are a few options that you have here. First you can sell the plants as the flowers have bloomed. One of my first experiences with a home-based business was with my friend's grandmother. She had a knack for growing beautiful roses, ones that would make anyone jealous. She would cut the roses and sell them to anyone who wanted them, and in our small town, word got around. Eventually she could support herself entirely with her roses, and I got to see someone making money doing something that she loved to do.

Another way to sell your gardening wares is to sell small plants that other people can transplant into their own gardens. If you are going to do this, then herbs are one of the best choices you have. These plants are simple because they tend not to spread out or be very tall. You can make cuttings from your own plants or plant seeds and allow them to germinate and begin to grow. Then you can sell them to others so that they can have their own gardens.

A third way to sell the goodies from your own garden is, of course, to sell the fruits and vegetables that you grow. You will need to be sure that you will have an adequate supply if you are going to sell them, and you will need to have a place to find steady clients so that you do not end up with rotting fruits and veggies. On the other hand, this job as a side business can earn you some extra cash.

Another way to make money from your gardening talents is to make accoutrements to go in other people's gardens. Though you may not think that you have the talents, you do not know until you try. You can look around at a local ceramic store or check out wooden crafts sections at local craft places. Use your imagination. What would you like to see in your own garden? There are ways that you can make wind chimes and other interesting objects for gardens. It only takes a little creativity and a lot of willingness to work.

Finally you can teach other people how to garden. With the Internet, you can set up an online class at one of many informal "schools" on the Internet. You will be able to use your expertise to transform it into knowledge that other people can use. If you are a particularly accomplished gardener, then you may be able to give speeches or seminars locally to help other people learn about your gardening techniques.

These ideas are just a few of the ones you can try to make your gardening ideas a success. You will find that if you put your mind to it, there are scores of businesses that make use of your gardening skills. If you really have the investment capital, you can even try starting a gardening-related business, such as one selling plants or gardening supplies. Look around. Take stock of what you do and need for your own garden and use that information as a starting point for your own gardening business.

By Julia Mercer

Make And Sell Garden Ornaments

One unique business you can try that will combine your gardening passion with your creativity is to make your own garden decorations. If you have a bit of creativity, then you may be able to make this garden business work. You will need to begin by taking a couple of weeks to be observant. Look at the ornaments you have in your own yard. Think about ornaments that you would like to see. Then go to various craft and gardening supply stores. Check out the types of ornaments that they have available.

Your next step will be to take a critical eye and look at the examples you have seen. What is unique about them? What is missing? What can you do better or for less money? Then you can begin your search for the right materials.

Anytime you are making something new, you may want to consider making a prototype with items that are less expensive. That is because you probably will make some mistakes with the first one. They are part of the learning process, and you do not want to get upset because something did not turn out right the first time. Instead of worrying about making a mistake, you want to be free to be creative and experiment without having to worry about anything. So you should pick up some cheap supplies and get started.

You will need to spend several days planning the garden ornament you are going to make and then take the time to make it. Once you have the finished product, step aside for one or two days. Then come back to it and question it. What works? What does not? What could you improve and how? The creation process can be long and difficult, so you just need to be sure that you are able to critique your own work.

Once you have an idea of how to make the final product better (it can always be better!), then you should get to work on it. While you are working on making the product, begin to assemble a focus group. While this task may seem daunting, it does not have to be. You should ask your friends and relatives, particularly ones who are interested in gardening, and then ask a couple of ladies and gentlemen you know who are interested in gardening. Get their opinions on whether they would buy your product, for how much, and where they see areas for improvement. You will need to develop a thick skin for this part of the experience, but you should be able to take their ideas under advisement.

Do some work with the product until you see that you have made good changes to the ornament or designed object. Your next task will be to begin to sell the item. Now, you may have great aspirations about your gardening business, but let me give you a word of advice. Start small. (Okay, that was two words.) Start small. Do not start out by trying to send your idea to manufacturers. You want to know if people are interested in your product.

Look around for local flea markets, small garden shops, or nearby craft fairs. You will need to set up tables as well as ask local merchants if they may be willing to sell a few of your items. Offer to set up the display for them and to help them with anything they need. Remember that they are taking a chance on you, and you should be willing to help them if they need it. If you go to craft shows, you can watch reactions to your products. Notice what people buy and what they do not. Pay attention their whispers to each other. Note what you may be able to do to increase your sales.

You must work on this business idea constantly so that you can improve your product. It is important when you run a home-based business that you are responsive to others. You will get business primarily through word-of-mouth, so treat each customer with care. Be sure that you get names and other contact information for your customers so that you can keep the abreast of your business moves.

By Julia Mercer

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Versatile Basil Plant

If you are considering planting an herb garden, then you should think about starting with basil. It is a unique herb in that it comes in more than 20 varieties. If you are buying it at the grocery store, you probably will find only sweet basil on the shelves. Even at a health food store, there likely are no more than three or four choices. If you are growing your own basil, then you can try out as many varieties as you would like. They are inexpensive to care for, so you can feel free to experiment.

Basil plants will grow to about three feet tall max, so you will need to be sure that you have space for them. Still that is not a tall plant, and if you have an open window area, you can even grow them inside. Otherwise, you can grow them on your porch or on the edge of your garden. These plants are wonderful for the garden. They attract beautiful butterflies, who nibble from their leaves, and they bring in some good insects as well. They also work well as a companion plant to tomatoes and asparagus, so planting them near those crops can be a great way to boost their ability to survive. Keep them away from the cabbage and snap beans, however, as the basil can interfere with those plants.

If you are planning to plant basil, you need to live in a warmer climate or be prepared to bring the plants indoors. It is impossible to grow basil in colder areas. Instead you will need to be sure that you grow them in warmth where they will have plenty of sunlight. Basil loves water, but it also loves soil that drains well. If you are going to grow basil indoors, you will need a drainage basin on your pot or to take it outside (or to the bathtub) for a daily watering because it does not like water that puddles.

Regardless of the final destination of the plant, you need to start the seedlings indoors. Plant the seeds about six weeks before you plan to move the crop outdoors. Check your almanac for information on weather patterns in your area. The seeds will need a minimum of two weeks inside, but six to eight weeks is preferable. You also can consider planting them in the ground, but you will need to be absolutely sure that no more cold weather is coming.

The plants ultimately will need to be about 12 inches apart. For the initial planting in pots, you should put each plant in its own pot with enough room to grow. Once you move them outdoors, be sure to give them plenty of space to grow on their own without interfering with each other.

Once the plants are outdoors, it will be your job to take care of them. They attract both slugs and snails, but these are not on the list of healthy attractions. They will destroy your basil. You can control for them easily by crushing a few eggshells and putting them in a ring around each basil plant or in rows alongside them if you have a large number of plants. The eggshells will keep the slugs and snails at bay.

Watch the plant carefully. Pick the plant's leaves anytime you want to add to spaghetti or plenty of other dishes. If you want to pick the flowers of the basil plant, then you should do so just as they begin to flower. Basil works as a wonderful aid to cooking in addition to being a natural mosquito repellant. You can take the leaves, cut them, and then rub them on your skin to keep the bugs at bay. Basil also works dried in wreaths or other flower arrangements. If you are experimenting, try the lemon or cinnamon basil. Both of them work really well for potpourri and are symbols of well wishes.

Basil is definitely a plant to consider if you are just starting your garden. You may find that you will be able to plant and grow basil to season your food or for other household uses. The basil plant is versatile in the garden and the home, making it an excellent choice for a small garden where space is key.

By Julia Mercer

Save Time Mowing

Are you tired of the amount of time it takes you to mow your lawn each week? Here are a few tips that may make the process easier for you.

First, eliminate the outer area, or perimeter, of the space you need to mow. Take out any statues, birdbaths, or fountains from your yard. That does not mean that you cannot have them. It simply means that they should be on the edges or on the patio areas so that you do not need to mow around them or break out the weed-eater. Remember that the more odd nooks and crannies you have in your garden, the more time you will need to spend mowing these intricate little places.

Similarly, patches of grass, called island beds, are a bad idea if you are trying to save time on your mowing. Island beds can be very attractive. They are little patches inside walkways or near fountains or stones where you may have a couple of square feet of grass. They can have a great effect as far as decorating is concerned, but they are tough for mowing. You will need a push mower or weed-eater, and they will take up a good bit of time.

Make the shape of your garden simple to navigate. Instead of having a unique zigzag pattern, opt for your basic square or rectangle. A circular garden and yard may seem cool, but it will require much more attention to the edges. You also will need to think about the type of grass you have. If you have tall grass or one, such as Kentucky Bluegrass, that looks different depending on the grain, or the way you cut it, then these grasses are difficult to cut and look good in oddly-shaped lawns.

If you have a square, then you can come up with a basic pattern. Then you can follow that pattern around your lawn instead of needing to adjust it based on the area of the lawn where you are working currently. Be sure that you take these issues into account as you are planning your lawn.

The borders of your lawn or garden are where you could start to lose a lot of time when you are mowing. You will find that you can purchase lawn borders, which are strips of grass that you put around the edges of your lawn. If you put them down properly, they will look great. You also will not have to be as picky about the mowing at the edges of your garden if you use the strips. Another issue is that you will want some type of border if you do not have the strips. That is because people will be able to see inconsistencies on a naked lawn border. Instead using a small fence or other distracting item will mean that you do not have to spend as much time on your mowing.

Back to the shape, stick with a basic edging for your garden. If you do not want only right angles, try some gradually sloping curves. They can be great to add a little flavor to your garden without making it harder to mow it. Similarly you should avoid any really curvy patterns in your lawn.

Try to set a specific time each week (and it should be done each week) to get some mowing done. If you begin to mow on a regular schedule, you will find that you will be more apt to get all of your mowing done on time so that your lawn stays looking great than if you try to tell yourself that you will make time for it. Doing that never works. You never make time, and your lawn never gets mowed. Making your lawn a priority so that your entire garden can look magnificent, and you will be able to enjoy it year-round.

Of course, these rules only apply for people who are trying to put little work into their garden and lawn and get some great results. Try out different mowers. See what works. Heck, if you really want to save time, hire a neighbor kid to do the mowing. That way your job is just to sit back, relax, and enjoy your garden!

By Julia Mercer

Potted Christmas Trees

Getting a potted Christmas tree may be something that you have considered. These trees are huge, and they grow for years and years. They may be a wonderful way to add foliage to your yard while thinking of Christmas throughout the year.

When I was a child, my grandparents had three of these firs in their yard. They still have one. they have cut the others down. The one remaining Christmas tree has been cut back with the crown a good 10 feet off the ground. The trees basically started to overtake their yard. There were balls, bats, and bikes (I am sure of it) inside these giant firs. You had to walk around them to get anywhere in the yard. While they were cute and shaped at first, they quickly became unruly.

So if you are considering getting a potted Christmas tree, think about the factors involved. You can avoid yours becoming like the ones my grandparents owned (maybe), but you do have your work cut out for you. First know that if you are going to get one to use as your Christmas tree and then put it in the yard, you will need to get a small tree. The chance of transplant shock, a condition the tree will not survive, increases with the size of the plant, so you need a baby tree.

You also should know that even if you do everything right, there still is only about a 50 percent chance that your tree will make it. You also can only leave it inside for about 10 days before you must move it outside. While those factors may make you reconsider, if they do not, then read on. Here is what you need to know.

You may want to think about leaving the tree in its pot until the spring comes. Either way, you will need to water it often. These are thirsty plants, so you cannot skip a day. If you do replant it, then you should plant it at same depth as the pot and put mulch around it. Keep an eye on it until the spring, when you may want to replant it to get it positioned better in the ground.

Take the time to think about where to keep the tree. Remember my grandparents' yard. Part of the problem was that they planted two of the trees in front of each other at opposite ends of the porch. The other one was on the side of the house. They took over. These trees were literally 30 feet in circumference by the time they had to get rid of them. They started to take over the other trees as well as bothering the roof of the house. Do not put them near power lines or anything else. Keep in mind that they will grow much larger so plan ahead for it. One good option is to plant them in the corner so that they grow into it and do not take up as much space.

Although these admonitions may make growing a potted Christmas tree sound unappealing, they can be very beautiful plant. Just because they are difficult to grow does not mean that you should give up on them. It just means that you should consider whether or not you want to make a 25-year commitment to a tree that can be a serious pain even if you are taking care of it.

If you are willing to put in the time and effort to take care of a large Christmas tree, then go for it. They are great for decorating at the holidays, which my grandparents did for years. They must be cut back every year, though, and even then they get unruly. They become too much for my grandparents to do, and no one else had the desire to climb up to cut them because the needles itch.

When I visited my grandparents recently, I was sad to see that they had cut the final one up so that it is no longer recognizable as a Christmas tree. Those trees terrified us as children and were the source of more than one scary story. Still they were part of our childhood, and I will miss them - just not enough to plant my own.

By Julia Mercer

Gardening Maintenance

If you are pressed for time and are trying to plan your garden, then you should consider these time-saving tips. Many of them are maintenance and planning tips. Remember that as with many other parts of your life, the old adage is true. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take care of your garden from the get-go so that you will not spend as much time on it later.

First be sure that you check your borders everyday. If you walk your garden regularly (which you should do), then you can incorporate checking the borders into this daily or every other day walk. You should be able to check out the border and clean them up often. You should not allow any weeds or rotting foliage to gather at your borders. Also take care of leaves that may gather at the border to your garden. While you may think of these leaves as part of the natural flow, they are an open invitation to slugs, snails, and other creepy crawlies that you want to avoid in your garden. If you have a compost pile (and why would you not?), then you should move the leaves to the compost where they can decay and become useful.

If you are trying to plant a nice garden but do not have massive amounts of time to devote to it, then you should think about that before you purchase the plants for the garden. Ask at your nursery. You should be able to find plants that require little or no maintenance. Do not opt for plants that will need to be cut or pruned, no matter how nice they are. If you do not have the time to care for them, they will not add to the joy of your gardening time.

Also ask about the appropriate plants for your area. Most of the plants that you will find in your nursery can grow pretty easily in your temperature zone (otherwise, why would they carry many of them?), but you may find that some of them are not suitable for your garden. You need to know if the area gets much sunlight, if rainwater will soak into it, and how hard the soil is. Be sure to ask about the hardiness of the plants before you buy.

When you actually have the plants, it is vital that you take the time to plant them well. You will need to use a proper planting technique, being sure to research your plant first to find out how far apart to space plants and how large their root systems grow. Also take the time to be sure that the soil is appropriate for planting. Take the time when you are planting so that you do not spend time adjusting later.

Regular weeding is essential for your garden. First, know that smaller weeds are much easier to pull up than the big ones they will become. You do not have to contend with a tough root system, and you will find that you can pull them up in only a few minutes a day if you do it everyday rather than waiting for a week or more between weeding times. If you make weeding a regular part of your garden maintenance routine, then you will help guarantee that you are getting the weeds before they become a major problem.

Be sure that you take care of your plants. Check them out often. Get rid of dead or dying leaves or stems. Be sure that you check the soil frequently and make sure the plants are getting enough water and nutrients from the soil or your watering. Plants that are not healthy are more likely to have problems, including bringing in diseases that will harm the rest of your plants.

These quick maintenance tips can help you to be sure that you take care of your garden. The problem with some gardens is that the people who have them may not spend them time on them that they should. Gardening is not an infrequent hobby. It something that you should commit to carrying through, or it will become a hassle. Take care of your garden, and you will reap great rewards.

By Julia Mercer

Considerations For A First-Time Gardener

As promised, I am getting myself geared up for my first summer as a gardener. I have being doing a bit of research so that I will be prepared when the time comes. Plus, as I read, I realize that early preparation is the key to getting my garden together, and I do not want to find that I have waited too late to get anything done.

There are two key issues that I realize that I have to consider. The first is that I must use my space effectively. We have a backyard that will not be suitable for the planting. Plus, we are in this location for only two years, and I am not willing to put the work into long-term gardening plans because I know that this summer will be my only one with this garden. That said, the back area of our home is a concrete jungle because of how old our house is. With that said, I know that raised bed container gardening probably is the way to go, and the reality is that even with the back concrete area, space is at a premium.

That means that I have been gathering containers throughout the winter. Luckily my son has been drinking formula, so we have all of those tins. Plus my husband and I are big coffee drinkers, so we have those tins as well. We will be using the tins so that we can maximize the space. The part about using such containers, which can be plastic, metal, or even wood, is that we will be able to sit the plants wherever we would like them.

Considering foot traffic is not much of a concern for us, though it should be when planning a garden, because we will be using containers. People are not very likely to just step on your containers, so the plants should be pretty safe.

We have a ledge that is about five feet long and three feet deep, and that is where the tomato plants will go. Our job now is to plant crops that will work well in that area. We have decided that tomatoes and cucumbers will go there because we can pot the tomato plants and stalk them up. The cucumbers will (we hope) grow in a vine-like state down the side of the concrete barrier. Overall, it should look great.

Our other concern is what we will choose to plant. So cucumbers and tomatoes are on the ticket. We decided on that because we grew one tomato plant last year. We figure that we can grow another. Then there is the matter of difficulty of growing, which concerns us. We have talked to several people who grow cukes who say that they are pretty simple to grow. We have decided to give it a shot and see what happens.

When we are selecting other plants, however, such as what herbs we will grow, then we will need to pay a bit more attention. At your local nursery, you should find that you will have plenty of information readily available. The person who works there should be able to tell you what your climate zone is, which will help you narrow down the plants you want to grow. Remember that just because a plant is in the nursery does not mean that it is native to your region.

If you are in your first gardening season, then you probably want to stick to native plants. They will not need as much care, and you can learn the basics with them. Once you know your zone, then you should look at the plant tags. Find out about water, sunlight, and other requirements the plants have and make sure that you can provide that type of care. There are plants that you will have to water everyday while others will be okay just left out with the rainfall.

Be sure that you do your homework when you are a first-time gardener. You likely will find, like we are finding, that less is more in the beginning. Space and the type of plants you are considering are the most important considerations. Once you have those issues covered, all should be well.

By Julia Mercer

Planning for Spring in the Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

This past weekend brought us rain yet again, when we would normally have snow at this time of year. The local weather man reminded us that the one inch that fell on average over our county, in other My husband and I were sitting in our house, staying dry, and watching our feeders and enjoying the view of our off-season garden when the subject of adding some new focal elements to the garden come spring was broached. I had noticed that a favorite rabbit shaped planter that I have had for years, had broken. I would like to replace it, but am not sure with what. The rabbit was not large, but he sat in quite a conspicuous spot, and he was quite the charmer for the young visitors. We also talked a bit about an additional walking path that we would like to incorporate into our garden. In the end, we decided what with the rain outside, it was a good day to do some online shopping to see if we could find some new additions to our outdoor space, and maybe come up with some ideas to help us create the new walkway.

The walkway is an idea that we both have been tossing around, something to help our young grandson, and other youngsters, enjoy their time spent in our garden. At two years old, our Grandson's idea of fun so far, has been to help us weed, and picking big bouquets of flowers, even when it is not really time for them to be picked. The idea of a walkway that would be pleasing to him came about when he showed such an earnest interest in a stepping-stone that our youngest son, his Uncle, made in school. It has a fish and seaweed made out of glass impressed into a cement base. Our grandson would sit on that stone, counting the pieces of glass, and telling stories to the fish. We figured that if we could design a walkway that would be enticing to him, he might focus more just on running through the space, giving his attention to the path, and less time picking and weeding! Let me further say that when we picked this to focus on, we had no real idea what it was we were searching for, but if we found it, we hoped we would recognize it.

What we found was almost too good to be true, a set of cast iron stepping stones in the shapes of a frog, a turtle, a flower, and a butterfly. While we did not think he would be too highly impressed by the flower shaped one, the other three would be sure to captivate him. The sizes of those that we found were as follows: Butterfly, 12"Wx12"D; sunflower, 12"Wx12"D; frog, 13"W x 9"H; turtle, 15"Wx11"D. We felt that a short path made up of three or four of each shape would definitely make his time in the garden more fun. If we also take the initiative to help him plant his own patch of flowers, and maybe even a few vegetables, we think that maybe our part of the garden will have a much better chance of surviving his tender loving care!

As to another focal point, we did not have as much luck there. I did see several items that piqued my interest, as did my husband, but nothing that really made us want to plunk down the credit card and order. As it goes when shopping, I did see a very interesting cart that could be used to either sit on, to save on the back muscles when weeding, or it would collapse down and become a pad to kneel on when you really needed to get down close, and the padding would save the wear and tear on your knees. I was impressed with it, but at close to a hundred dollars, unless it pulled the weeds for me, I did not think I could really make it a serious consideration. With the new stones ordered though, I am now more ready than ever for spring to arrive. We will keep looking for something to replace the rabbit, and if we find it, I hope it jumps out at us as much as the stepping-stones did. That gives me an idea, maybe a frog to replace the rabbit, which would go along with the theme of the stones? Anybody see an oversized frog anywhere?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Songbirds Demise at our Feeders

By Christina VanGinkel

This winter has proved to be a difficult one for some of the natural habitat that visits not only our garden, but many of those in our area. Sadly, I noticed a few small deceased songbirds over the past several weeks beneath and nearby our feeders. As we purposely plant vegetation in the spring, summer, and fall that attracts these birds, then continue to feed them through the winter months, I was obviously concerned. In all the years that we have been enjoying our garden year round, we have had the occasional bird that has flown into a window, and either was injured or died, we even had a stray partridge fly into the outside wall of our house, causing considerable damage to the wall and killing the bird, but we have never had such a magnitude of dead birds. We asked around, and a few other people were experiencing the same sort of demise at their feeders. Instead of making us feel better, that we were not alone, this only served to increase our concern.

Everyone we talked to suddenly had a different opinion, from tainted birdfeed, to just being a bad winter for that particular type of small songbird. Larger birds, such as blue jays and doves, did not seem to be affected, just the smallest of the songbirds. One woman finally approached someone in authority and one of the birds was sent away for examination. The culprit was a form of salmonella poisoning. We also learned that this has happened in the past, and because songbirds will visit more than a single feeding station in a neighborhood, even a largely spread out rural one, such as the type we live in, the spread of this disease is often rampant once it starts. The recommendation was to clean up all the feeders in any given area, dump them, clean and bleach them, and do not place back out for a period of at least a couple of weeks. As this winter was not as cold as past winters, and the snowfall was not as deep as it commonly is at this time of year, the birds would still be able to find food, but not in such concentrated areas around the feeders, and the salmonella would have a chance to slow its progression from feeder to feeder. I also wondered if the lack of cold and deep snow was a reason the salmonella was so prevalent in the first place though. By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on diseases, bird or otherwise, I was nonetheless thinking that the normal cold that we usually experience at this time of year would not have allowed the salmonella to grow and spread. Spring thaw is not normal by us until approximately March, but as of this morning, the thaw was coming out of the ground in numerous areas around us.

Right then though, we still had to deal with the spread of the contamination, so we continued to do as recommended, spraying bleach around where the feeders were normally situated to help kill it off. We then went on and dumped and sanitized all of our feeders, and even burned a few wooden ones that we were unsure how to actually clean. Someone will most likely think that extreme, but we felt it was better to destroy a few feeders, than risk the continued spread of the contamination. A few weeks later when we felt it would be safe, to once again, put out feed, we invested in several new, easily cleaned, plastic feeders.

So far, we have not noticed any new deaths amongst the songbirds, but I have noticed quite a decrease in their numbers. Where on a typical morning the ground beneath the feeders and the feeders themselves would be literally covered with birds, there might now be a half a dozen, a dozen at the most. Why the larger birds were not affected I also wonder, but am glad they were not. For a while, I did have concerns about several fox squirrel that frequent the feeders too, as we did not see them for the time that the feeders were down, but the day we replaced them they were back. Keeping a garden up year round means a responsibility for the wildlife that visits right along with many of the other tasks a garden involves. If you have not cleaned your feeders lately, take the time to do so before something such as this has a chance to occur. We plan to keep cleaning ours periodically, something I realize now that we should have done more often than the twice a year we did in the past.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

When Turkeys Invade a Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Birdhouses and feeders are a common sight in and around our garden and yard. We feed all through the winter months, and living in a Snow Belt area, the birds are busy visitors even on the coldest, snowiest days. We also have the occasional squirrel, and in years past, we had a large flock of wild turkeys. The turkeys that visited were always destructive, and they would leave a mess in the garden beneath the feeders, as they dug for seeds and bugs. When we rearranged the layout of our garden and yard a few years ago, we considered this and tried to make our yard as unattractive to these large birds as we could.

We placed the one feeder that they seemed to gravitate towards on a small platform base to catch the excess seeds that would fall as the small birds ate, to keep them off the ground. We always take the time to clean up any spills that might occur at our other feeders, and all of the feeders were moved in slightly towards the house, so that we could enjoy the small birds as they fed more conveniently, even during the cold winter months. We figured that the hustle and bustle of the daily going-ons at the house would help keep the turkeys away. We also put obstacles in the pathways they used to enter the yard from the back wooded area they came in from. This all seemed to have a positive effect on the situation through last year, the first year that everything was moved. Then this past fall, they started coming again, a flock of twenty-five turkeys and a smaller group of three.

They not only brazenly walk right up towards the house; they fly up onto the feeders as if they are small birds. In all the other years turkeys came, I never once saw one land on a regular sized bird feeder. These do, and they are destructive, they have torn the wood off the base of the one feeder, and pecked or torn a whole right through the wire of another. Our snow cover is not deep this year. Most often, the month of January will arrive with a few storms dropping quite a load of snow, but a couple of dustings and one moderate snow is all we have experienced. This has also allowed the turkeys to continue their digging. Yesterday I walked outside onto our small back porch only to realize that there was a hen settled up against the side of the house. She had found a spot close to the basement wall where there was still dirt showing and had scratched it all up and made herself a dry spot to rest. She looked at me and slowly stood up and wandered back to the feeders where several more turkeys were enjoying a snack at my benefit. Looking around the yard, I realized they had all been busy digging up any spot they could still see dirt through the snow cover, and this included several areas around plantings, including a row of bulbs that I had moved this fall. The bulbs were now scattered about where one of the turkeys had scratched them all up. With the low amounts of snowfall, the ground has not frozen in most areas either, and in this instance, it made it easy for the turkey to dig these bulbs up.

I am continuing what has turned into a battle to get these turkeys to leave my yard, and in the meantime, I am starting to wonder what this mild winter with the help of a yard full of digging, scratching, and destructive turkeys is going to leave me to find come spring when the snow eventually melts away. I already know I am down one complete row of bulbs and a partial section of small plants in a tiered garden we have, as several more turkeys had taken to scratching up and resting in it by yesterday afternoon. The sun always shines on an area of it, and no snow has been able to build up there. Our dogs are as fed up with the whole situation as we are, and they spend a good part of the day barking and even chasing. Even that has not deterred these turkeys. My husband suggested not filling the feeders, and we did change the feed to mostly wild bird food instead of the favored black sunflower seed, but I am not ready to starve the small birds to spite the big ones. The battle will continue, and I hope that I can come back and tell you I won, and my garden and other plants have survived. Only time will tell though!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Furniture For Your Garden

Coming up with the right furniture for your garden is key. You will want to be sure that you can spend time in your garden and enjoy yourself, so take plenty of time to consider the right furniture for the garden of your dreams. Let us look at some of the more popular choices for garden furniture.

Many people select hammocks. They tie between two poles or trees. Some hammocks even come with their own structure so that you can simply set them up. The benefit of hammocks is that they are comfy! They are a place where you can really lie down and take a nap. I would caution you against having only hammocks, however, as they are difficult for some people to get in and out.

Another choice then is a basic lounge chair. You can find lounge chairs made of a hard plastic or of a softer fabric. They come in types that sit straight and lie down and even ones that allow you to do both. Selecting a good lounge chair means sitting in them. Make sure that the fabric is not too taut, or it will be uncomfortable. Also check to be sure that you will be able to fold them up when you need to, as difficult lounge chairs are the major drawback of this choice. The benefit of choosing lounge chairs for your garden furniture is that you can move them around the garden.

A garden bench or garden seat can be the right choice in some gardens. The plus to the garden bench is that it typically is cement, which also is a drawback. On the plus side, the cement will be able to withstand whatever type of weather you have in your area. On the negative side, the cement is not comfortable. If people will be sitting for hours in your garden, do not opt for a garden bench. If, however, your garden will attract more butterfly sitters (quick to light and leave), then these additions can be beautiful.

If you have a particularly hippie garden or one without much pruning, then you may want to get thick blankets or even rugs that you sit out on the ground. If you get the rugs thick enough, you will find that you can leave them out. Otherwise, you will need a storage area for the rugs so that you can bring them out when you want to use them. Of course, everyone who will visit your garden should be fairly nimble if you want them to sit on blankets and then get back up. This choice is great if you have children because they will enjoy sitting on the ground without the sticks and stones poking them.

A small table, called an occasional table, is a good choice for many gardens. These tables often are stone. They are very small, about the size of a two-person breakfast table. You will need to get chairs to sit around them, but the table itself is wonderful for garden furniture. You will need to select a final location, however, because they tend to be very heavy. Instead you will find that you will be able to sit your supplies on this table or even have a quiet lunch for one or intimate dinner for two.

There are a great number of other pieces of furniture you can put in your garden. You can put director's chairs, which are similar to lounge chairs but primarily for adults. These chairs are great for bird watchers. Another choice is a full dining room table set. There are great options that are made for the outdoors, and that way your whole family can have dinner in the garden.

Be sure that you are comfortable with the furniture you choose for your garden. Most of the choices are fairly pricy for most people's budgets. The furniture may be one of the most expensive parts of your garden, so be sure that you will be happy with it for years to come. Once you have your furniture, you will be able to sit out on cool nights or wonderfully bright days and enjoy the work you have put into your garden sanctuary.

By Julia Mercer

Choosing Permanent Shade For Your Garden

When you are planning your garden, you may want to offer shade to your guests. To do so will mean that you need to consider the shape, size, and permanency of any structure you may put up.

One common option is an open-area arbor. These choices are great because they offer round or square seating options and typically are a perfect size for sitting someone at your table. On the downside, they do not offer any protection from the wind or other elements because of their open nature. If you are planning to use an arbor to create some shade in your garden, consider adding some hardy shrubs around it to protect from the wind. Also plant some climbing vines on it to add to the shady impact.

A more expensive route, but one that definitely solves the problem of the arbor, is to build a summerhouse. While you will call it a summerhouse, it need not have all of the features of a house. This type of structure should be glassed in so that you can sit in it and see out into your garden. The benefit, of course, is that you will have someplace away from your home to go. If you are a writer or artist, for example, a summerhouse can be a great way to get work done at the same time you are seeing the great outdoors. The disadvantage, beyond the expense, is that you will miss out on some of the garden smells and sounds in the glassed-in area. One solution for this problem is to use a mesh screen instead of glass. It will keep out bugs but let in breezes and nice aromas.

Pergolas are a specific type of arbor, but they are another option for creating shade in your garden. A pergola will allow you to put down poles supported by a covering. The covering may be light and airy, such as mesh, or may be sturdier. Then you will need to put out plants and vines. They will grow along the pergola and create a walkway of shade. The best part about using a pergola to create garden shade is that you will find that you can create pergolas out of any type of material. They also come so that you can build them to fit any area you need. You will buy the poles and other materials, but you have a good bit of leniency in terms of how you design them. Unfortunately, they need concrete for the poles to work well, so you will need to add concrete if you are planning a pergola.

Another option is to plant trees to create shade. This choice is one that is more environmentally sound (no concrete) and will be a part of your garden as well as your shade. It is a little trickier, however. You will need to be sure that you get the right kinds of trees. For example, some deciduous trees cast what are called deep shadows, meaning their shadow (and thus shade) can cover the entire garden. That means that you will find that you have to cut up the crown of the tree by cutting off limbs lower to the ground. That will help with the shading the whole garden issue.

Trees also do not provide full shade. They only provide it where the limbs and leaves are casting a shadow. It may be difficult to plan for a garden bench or work area using trees as your shade. Still if you purchase smaller trees, then you should have a little more control over them. You should find that you can work with the trees to create the shade you want.

Be sure to take the time you will need to create shade into account as well as the financial and other factors. Many gardeners want shade and find that though they may love the heat, it is nice to create an area where they will not need to keep themselves cool all the time. A shaded area can be a perfect addition to any garden. With a little time and perseverance, you can imagine the kind of shading you want for your garden and make it happen.

By Julia Mercer

A Few Gardening Tools

If you are going to get your start in gardening, then it is vital that you are familiar with some of the basic tools of the trade. Here is a listing with brief explanations to help you get started.

A wheelbarrow is a must for any gardener who is doing more than just planting a few flowers. Wheelbarrows, as most people know, have one wheel. You lift the barrow by the handles and then roll it along. The best part about a wheelbarrow is that it helps you move heavier items as well as to carry mulch and clippings across distances. The biggest consideration when you are purchasing a wheelbarrow is how large it is. You do not need to get one that is too big for your garden because it will be cumbersome, and storage could be a problem.

A lawnmower is something that many people probably feel is essential, but it is not. If you have grass, of course, you will need one. Otherwise, you can stick to something that will eat up the clippings and turn them to mulch. You can find less expensive models than lawnmowers to do this job.

Gloves are the essential hand tool of the garden. While you may be tempted to skip out on the gloves, avoid this temptation. You will need two pair of gloves for your garden outings. You should purchase a thin pair for any light work you have, such as wedding or transplanting. Then you will need a thick pair to protect your hands if you have any prickly shrubs or others objects that could damage your hands.

In addition to gloves, you should be sure to purchase a quality pair of goggles. You will need them many times when you are gardening. Pruning is one of the primary times when you will want your eyes protected. A gardening-related eye injury is no fun, so be sure to take precautions.

When you are ready to begin digging, a spade will come in handy. It is the most basic of gardening tools, and one that every gardener should own. If you really get into gardening, you will want to buy more than one, but a single spade should suffice for now. A spade is basically like a small shovel. In fact, many people call spades shovels, but they are not exactly the same. A spade is used for gardening primarily herb or flower gardens. Most people who purchase spades get one with a short handle so that they can get on their hands and knees and work close to the ground. If you will be using the spade for larger plants, consider one with a longer handle. Invest in a good spade, stainless steel if you can, because you will use it often.

A cousin of the spade is a spading fork. Many people have seen them but probably do not know what they are called. They have short handles most often (and that is what works best) and look like a bent pitchfork on the end. Most of them have three trowels on them so that they can break up dirt. They are used to break up organic matter to make it easier to plant. Be sure that you get a spading fork that is not too heavy, or you will regret it when you get into a big job.

Hedge trimmers are a must in the hedged, suburban lawn. You will need to get a pair of hedge-trimmers if you have shrubs or hedges of any kind. If you have planted small shrubs, then you should think about shears, especially if price is a factor. Instead you will find that investing in electric hedge-trimmers will save you some work and will produce a great finished product. Avoid gas-powered trimmers if you can. They are heavier to lug around. They also are more expensive because you must pay for the gas to power them, and they are noisy.

These tools should get you started. As you move along in your gardening plans, you will discover that you will want to get more and more tools. Be sure that you have the right tools before you buy any plant so that you can care for it properly. And be sure to care for your tools. They will make your gardening life easier.

By Julia Mercer

A Garden Railroad

By Christina VanGinkel

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby. It provides activity with fresh air, scenery, and sometimes, good things to eat and smell. For some it is an integral part of their life, to the degree that some of us may look for other ways to increase the gratification we receive from our gardens. What a growing number of gardeners are doing is building worlds in their gardens, worlds that amuse the builders and the young and old alike that may stop by for a visit. These worlds are arrived at by a mode of transportation that was a building block of the real world, trains! Model train enthusiasts have crossed the tracks over to the green, or maybe it is the other way around with gardeners hopping on to the caboose of this fun filled world known as model railroading. Either way, the two have collided into what can only be described as entertainment at its most enjoyable.

If you have been trying to engage your kids into working in the family garden, or even if there are no kids about, but you have always liked model trains, combining the two can be just what your garden is in need of. Kids for example can help plan the layout of the train tracks, and in the process learn about the different types of plants. They can also help research what plants might make good additions to such a display. Some herbs, for example, make good added extras by the train station, as they resemble bushes and other big plants, just in miniature.

If you think that this would be interesting, but the railroad that you already have, or that you have seen, would not withstand the outdoors, you are probably correct. There are trains and tracks manufactured though specifically for this purpose. The building and many of the other added extras are usually made of a plastic, which will actually hold up under even the most severe changes in weather, including rain, snow, heat, and cold. The track systems are a bit more sophisticated even, and are made of a heavy duty alloy that will keep your train running smoothly, but also hold up under some of the most extreme weather changes that occur no matter where you live, reinforcing that a hobby such as this is not just for gardens in warm climates. No matter where you live, an outdoor railroad in your garden is workable. It even has the potential to extend the length of time through the year that you spend in your garden, because even after the first freeze, your railroad and track will still be calling. Keep in mind though that the trains themselves should be stored indoors when not in use, no matter the weather conditions outside. This will of course prolong their life and keep them protected from unforeseeable damage due to outdoor conditions. Because they are also quite costly, this just makes sense to keep them from becoming stolen.

A suggestion from a fellow train enthusiast, to keep the task of moving the train cars indoors to a minimum, was to build the track's layout in a way that it runs nearby a garage or other outdoor building. Run the track actually into the building and out again, with enough indoor tracks to accommodate the whole set of cars, from engine to caboose, and just drive it inside when you are going to be away or when weather may be an issue. This would sure cut down on the work of having to bring each car indoors!

Because a garden railroad is never really complete, always in need of a bit of tweaking here and there, upkeep on the buildings and cars, trimming of this plant or that, adding plants, moving them, trying new ideas, a garden railroad is an ideal hobby to keep you out in your garden enjoying it more than you ever dreamed. If gardens and trains are both passions that you enjoy, or you are looking for some way to extend the enjoyment you reap from your outdoor space, then maybe it is time that you gave a garden railroad some thought and consideration. Keep in mind that this is one of those hobbies, which seem to grow bigger than you ever imagined it would grow. Because once you lay that first piece of track and see that train take its first trip around, you will soon need just one more car, or a new engine, maybe a few additional pieces of track to make the trip round that willow tree mountain a bit more scenic!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gardening is a Way of Life

By Christina VanGinkel

Gardening is more than just digging in the dirt, planting seeds and seedlings, and harvesting what grows. It can flow into other parts of your life before you even realize it. I should make a disclaimer here that I am a gardener at heart, but not always that successful. I love the idea of gardening, I love planting things, I do not even mind pulling weeds, but I do things like pulling plants when I am pulling weeds, especially in the spring when life is first erupting in the beds. I often water plants that should not be watered, and plant things needing sun in the shade and vice versa. I am getting better though, with a lot of help and instruction from my husband, the true gardener in the family. Even with all of these downfalls, I love gardening.

I find myself in the dead of winter searching for items that remind me of the garden in full bloom. From kitchen curtains that are decorated with embroidered Thyme, Chives, Basil, and Rosemary, to the papers I choose for my scrapbook layouts, plants, both decorative and fruit and vegetable, keep cropping up in my life.

Maybe it is the mother in me, looking for things that represent life I am not sure, but the theme of gardening itself is something that I seem drawn towards. Take for example a recent shopping trip where I needed to replace some of our bathroom towels. While towels in bright colors and earth tones alike surrounded me, I kept looking for something that I was not sure existed. Then I found them, a set of bathroom towels with a border of a flower garden in full bloom. I would have settled for any of the other towels had I not found those, but the minute I saw them, there was no question in my mind which ones I would buy.

Scrapbook paper that is handcrafted with flower petals, seeds, and even paper and cardstock that are printed with garden themes, embellishments of miniature watering cans, hoes, packs of seeds, and shovels always find their way to my scrap room. Not sure exactly which layouts they will end up in; nevertheless, they all come home with me.

Maybe it is just a longing for growth when all around me is white snow, but I am mature enough to recognize and acknowledge that even last summer when our own garden was overflowing with moss roses, and Asian lilies, bleeding hearts, and flowers in every hue in the rainbow and in between, I was already searching out garden items.

Gardening can become a way of life in many ways. Walking through a craft show last summer, I had to stop at every booth that had anything that might be construed garden related in some small way. Handcrafted Thank You cards with a stamped daisy, old watering cans with decorative tole painting, a small bench that had a white picket fence for its back with flowers entwined up between the slats of the pickets. Each called to me with the song of gardening in its name, and I wanted it. Of course, I did not buy all of them, but I would rush home and make a note in my journal about what I saw, and if I though it could somehow be fit into our garden sometime in the future. My father-in-law made me a little house of wood, varnished, painted with butterflies and flowers, to be used in the garden for a place to store my hand shovel and rake, and my daughter bought me a small toad house resembling a tiny cottage with a grumpy old man standing next to it. Before I gardened, I would have looked at both of these gifts and wondered what they were thinking. As it was, they have been two of my favorite gifts I have ever received.

Having a love of gardening means much more than just digging, planting, and harvesting. It truly is a way of life. If you are looking for something that has the potential to add dimension to your days, your life, take up gardening and you will never go another day without something interesting to dream about.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bonsai Trees

By Christina VanGinkel

Ever since, I watched the Karate Kid back in 1984, starring Pat Morita and Ralph Machio, I have had a longing to own a bonsai tree. What the attraction to these miniature trees is I have never been able to pinpoint, yet I realized that I talked about them so much, that one good friend actually bought me an antique container for one when she came across it during her antique hunting two summers ago. I still have not put a bonsai tree in it, as every time I think about getting one, I remind myself that while I like plants, they do not always like me. While a dead tomato plant is one thing, or even an Aloe Vera, the thought of killing a whole tree, even if it is about as small as any plant comes, would just break my heart. Yet every time I come across gardening sites online, or visit a nursery, the first thing I look to see if they have, is a selection of these fascinating trees in miniature.

Then I discovered the Bonsai Boy of New York site right here at iGardeners.com. I have sat browsing this site longer than even some of my favorite scrapbook sites. Their catalog, broken down into types of bonsai trees through the following headings:

Juniper Trees
Trees under $30
Flowering Bonsai
Artificial Bonsai
Outdoor Bonsai
Recommended Bonsai
Medium and Large Bonsai
One of a Kind Bonsai

My budget minded part me of course headed directly to the Trees Under $30 category. One of the first trees on the page appealed to me right off. Its appearance when you first look at it, reminds one of a big, old, overgrown tree deep in some forest. The trunk looks all gnarled and twisted, and it gives the impression that it is hundreds of years old. I know it is not, but that is part of the appeal to me, actually most of the appeal. I like old things, and these trees often appear as if they have stepped through the centuries, shrinking in size as they came. A Epiphytic plant, part of the tropical distinction of plants, it requires no soil to grow, which means watering is mainly through the absorption of the humidity in the air, with a small weekly watering to make sure it is consuming enough water. Taking care of itself by it nature, it seems like it would be the ideal plant, bonsai tree or not, for me to have. It would also require bright to subdued indirect light, warmth, and a humid spot. I have a small humidifier, so I wonder if I placed it near that, if that would be enough humidity for it during the dry winter months that are common indoors in our area, due to the furnace running almost constantly with the temperatures outside dropping to well below zero much of the time. The description went on to say that, it was six inches tall, and included a 5" black oval ceramic container, with five of the air plants forming the canopy that gives the plant its miniature tree appearance. It also reads that a suitable 8" x 6" humidity tray is recommended for an additional $3.95. This particular Bonsai Tree is available for $29.95, so with shipping at $10.95, and the recommended humidity tray, the price would be an overall reasonable $45.00. Not too bad for such a whimsical addition to my home, but I wonder if it would be difficult, or even possible, to transfer the plant to the antique bonsai container that my friend gave me.

They had one other tree that was even cheaper, at only $19.95, a small Juniper Tree, that is three years old, and is consistent with what many perceive to be a Bonsai Tree, but for me personally, it just does not have that gnarled old look like the Bonsai Tree Air Plant. I also could not resist checking out the one-of-a-kind category, and there were several there that appealed to me, including several Scot Pines, but with prices in the hundred dollar range and up, I liked them, but still not as much as the first one that caught my eye, the Bonsai Tree Air Plant. I need to do some more research and reading about it, but if they can be transferred easily, and they have a long life expectancy, I think I know what I am going to ask for on my next birthday!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

More Gifts from the Garden

By Christina VanGinkel

Besides drying flowers, there are a few other projects you can create with both fresh flowers, the garden itself, or by harvesting the seeds from some of your favorites. They are a fun and creative way to share your garden with friends and family that may not be able to enjoy your garden, as they are not living close by.

Creating shaker cards with your flower heads is a fun way to send a bit of your garden across the country via good old postal mail service. With a bit of vinyl that can be purchased in your local craft department or ordered online from a site such as Joann's, you can soon be sending a bit of your garden cross-country. I use a vinyl called Heat and Bond that is very flexible, and can be sewn or used iron on style. I seal three edges of two pieces together, pop in a fresh flower head or bud, a couple if they are small, then seal up the fourth side. I then place this little clear wonder of flowers into the cut out opening of a card that I handcraft from colored cardstock. Similar to the shaker style cards that arrive in your mail from friends announcing things like baby showers and other parties; these are made with the fresh flowers in place of the confetti normally inserted into the little pouches.

You could make a similar style card, but in place of the fresh flower head, insert paper flowers or a color snapshot of your garden in bloom, and toss in seeds for the flowers you would like to share with the recipient of the card. Handcrafted paper is another unique way to share the seed bounty from your garden. Do a search online for making paper, or buy a book about this fun to do craft. Because you will be instructing others to plant the paper after reading it, be sure to use only one hundred percent natural material in the paper making process itself. Also, tell anyone that you gift with the paper to hand write on the sheets only and never put it into a computer printer. The reason for this advice is that the seeds could easily come loose from the paper, and become lodged in a printer, possibly causing damage to the machine. Once you have assembled all your needed supplies, gather an assortment of both annual and perennial seeds. You can also use dried flowers to add to the texture and appearance of the paper. When you mix the paper, it might be fun to keep track of what seeds you have added to what batch, and try to plant a sheet on your own next spring, so you know what you are sharing. Be sure to provide instructions as to how you made the paper, so they can possibly pass the tradition on by making their own the following year, and how to plant the paper, which is simply soak it in water and plant as you would any other seeds.

Photograph your garden when it is in full bloom; zoom in on a single flower, or over a span of several days, catching a bud as it first starts to open, all the way, until it is open in all its glorious color. If you do this last suggestion, open the photographs in your favorite photo editing software and create a collage of the flower from its earliest inception until it is fully bloomed, or set up in the order you would on a filmstrip, or some other creative way where the results will show the flower's progression from bloom to flower. Then use the pictures in note cards to send family and friends just because, as a thank you, or a thinking of you card.

A flower garden is such a glorious thing that it seems almost wasteful not to share it in some small way with those around you. Besides these projects, remember that nursing homes and hospitals often welcome bouquets for their greeting areas or even patient rooms, but do call ahead and inquire of their policies. If your garden is an abundant one, share it with other, so that you can experience one of your garden's greatest gifts of all, the gift of giving.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pressing Flowers

By Christina VanGinkel

At the end of the day, when the plants have been planted, the weeds have been pulled, the vegetables harvested, and even your scarecrow is the best-dressed person around town, there is still one more project you can do to enhance the enjoyment you receive from your garden. Press the flowers to turn them into beautiful creations you can later share with family and friends, or maybe even make a few dollars from at a local craft fair.

To begin, choose flower heads that will be somewhat flat when pressed and dry. While some thicker bodied flowers will dry well, they may be hard to work with. Choose an assortment, picking some complete with leaves and stems, as this will provide a more rounded array of materials to choose from when everything is dry, to make into assorted crafts.

You can go the quick route and just place the chosen flowers into various books and weigh them down, or build or purchase a flower press. If you plan to dry flowers year after year, this is probably the easiest way to assure that your flowers turn out nicely pressed and usable. You can also lay out a large piece of cardboard covered with a few sheets of newspaper. Avoid the colored print paper, choosing plain old black and white print. I save the heavy cardboard insert that comes with my wall calendar I purchase every year. It is about twelve by twelve inches and is a convenient size to work with. Continue to layer several sheets of newspaper between layers of flowers. When you have all the flowers you want to dry, stacked up, place some heavy objects over the top. A few heavy books would most likely work, though I have a couple of flat cement pavers that I use year after year. They provide plenty of weight and there is not much chance that someone may walk by and accidentally topple it. I place this complete stacked up flower drying stack in the corner of my bedroom closet, but any place both dry and cool will work well. Drying time will vary depending on the humidity level, but most flowers will be dry after a two-week period.

Once my flowers are dry, I sort them into flat plastic tubs, the sort they sell for storing shoes. This keeps them dry and moisture free and safe in my workroom until I am ready to use them, and use them I do. With these dried wonders, it is easy to make everything from collaged hatboxes, flowered covered gourds, note cards, and bookmarks. My favorite and one of the simplest projects is the bookmarks. I purchase precut bookmarks that are not punched. I may write on them first with a few words or a short poem done in calligraphy, or you could print on them in your favorite font. Be sure to leave room at the top, bottom, or to one side though, for the flower arrangement. The flower arrangement could be as simple as a single bud, or a combination of buds and greens. A bit of warning, it is very easy to lose track of time as you search for the right combination of flowers for each project you create, but it can also be a big stress reliever as the flowers take over your thoughts leaving little room for much else!

Once you have the arrangement laid out, as you want it, cover it with a sheet of self-sticking laminate. I recently purchased a Xyron 900 which adapts to a cool laminate machine besides being a sticker machine, and I plan on trying that this upcoming year, but for making just a few at a time, the self laminating sheets work good. You can find a package of them in the paper aisle of your favorite store such as Wal-Mart or Target, or online at Amazon. You can also cardstock in a size a bit bigger than an ordinary bookmark and create in a similar manner a prayer card or a favorite poem that needs more space than a typical bookmark size would provide. These make great gifts and sell well at craft fairs. If you do not want to laminate over the dried flowers, you could also use a product such as Modge Podge. It seals in the beauty of the flowers, and works well with those flowers that might be a bit on the thick side.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A True Gardener

By Christina VanGinkel

I was saddened to hear of the passing on of a good friend, who even though she was well into her nineties, was as quick as a person was one quarter her age. She was one of the first persons to give me cuttings from her garden, actually, thinking back, I think she was the very first person to do so, and she continued doing so right up through last summer.

She did this for so many people and as far as I know, the majority of her cuttings always survived. She always passed them on with bits of wisdom as to how to replant them, what size plant it had come from, if it was going to be a good producer, and so on. In addition, once she gave you a cutting or a plant, she remembered it as if she had passed on one of her own children, if she would have had any to pass along, as even though she was a widow, her husband and she had never had any children, none that I ever knew about anyhow. She would ask how the plant was doing, or if the cutting had taken hold, if it was producing , or what had I done to it to make it come to an early passing, because if it died, it was surely something I had done to it, nothing that she or the plant itself were at fault for.

Her garden truly was her child. She never read a single book or article on gardening as far as I know, yet she always had the tallest tomatoes, the biggest ears of corn, the most perfect carrots, and such a wild array of flowers around her complete vegetable garden, that she left the florists around town wondering just how she did it. She truly had what one would call the proverbial green thumb. If she planted it, it grew. If she weeded it, the weeds were afraid to come back, and the produce that came from her garden was always the biggest, tastiest, most colorful produce one could find anywhere. She would tenderly save seeds, almost a lost art, from her plants each year for the following year's garden. These she also shared with a select few. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be on that short list cherished our spots. We even bragged to others that we had been gifted with seeds from such and such a plant that she had grown the previous year and you should see how well its offspring were doing in our own yards and gardens.

With my own skills for gardening lacking, I always knew I could call her up or stop by, and fill up on some advice. I could even bring along an ailing plant to leave in her care until she had nurtured it back to health. Then, she would give it back, all green and healthy, along with a long list of do's and don'ts, and the advice that if it started to look ill again, do not wait so long to bring it back, as one of these times even she would not be able to bring it back to life. She always tried to tell me that I had more of a knack for growing things than I would admit, and even with her passing, I will continue to argue that point with her, as a gardener I might try to be, but a natural at it by no stretch of the imagination.

In the summer, she was so often out in her garden, that if I knew I needed to talk, as long as I was willing to pull a few weeds while I rambled on, she was always willing to tender care to my own self too, the same way she did so with her plants. And so, with spring many months away, I will not be looking forward to it as much as I have in years past, as I will have to rely on my own instincts and those of my husband from here on out for all things garden related. If by chance she can look down on us from her garden, as she must be in a garden somewhere, otherwise, the universe would surely fall apart; I hope that she will help make the sunshine bright. That she will make the rain fall where it is needed, and help the clouds know just when they need to linger, to provide a bit of shade for the long hot summer days of life that lie ahead.